Sanctuary: lessons learned from a wise man in France

Sanctuary_title picA few weeks ago (though it seems like longer) I bought a small patio set for our communal garden, on what turned out to be the last sunny day before a month of solid drizzle and gloom. That day, I assembled the flat pack furniture with immense satisfaction, poured myself a glass of elderflower cordial, and went to sit in the garden. An hour went by in the blink of an eye. I was captivated by the sheer amount of life in this small urban space, something I hadn’t really paid attention to before. Our apple tree was beginning to bow under the weight of its fruit, plentiful and ripening to perfection. A group of around 40 sparrows appeared to have made a nest in the larger hedge at the far end and were oscillating between there and the shed roof next door, presumably looking for grubs to feed to their young. Bees were everywhere; our garden is far from manicured and so insect life is abundant, attracted by the tall colourful blooms and wild grass. I felt incredibly grounded during that afternoon, as though I was recalibrating after a few non-stop weeks of running around on autopilot. One word lingered in the forefront of my mind as I sat there- sanctuary– and it brought back distinct memories of when I lived in Bordeaux, France.

I lived with a host family during my four months in France (as part of my University course) and the father had an almost obsessive compulsion in checking the thermometer on the back wall of the house. When I arrived in March he would step outside each evening and sigh, as the mercury hadn’t risen high enough yet this season. The first day that that thin red line hit 14 degrees Celsius, he bounded into the house like and over excited puppy!

“We’re eating outside this evening!” he pronounced gleefully.

I heard the scraping of wheels on concrete and plastic covering being thrust aside with a passion reserved normally for young couples in love- tearing at clothes to reveal what’s underneath. But my French host was simply enthusiastic to de-robe his “plancha” or gas powered grill, for the first time.

His excitement was palpable. In anticipation of the weather warming up to the agreed threshold, his wife had been to the market to buy fresh fish to celebrate this inaugural grilling of the season. He went out to the garden and laid the plastic table with all the finery you would expect from indoors: embroidered napkins, a wine carafe, the cheese cloche. He then set about gathering salad that he had so lovingly grown himself: fresh young lettuce leaves and peppery radishes- he wiped one on his trouser leg and chomped into it with absolute glee. We wined and dined as decadently as you would expect for France (they’ve got their priorities right when it comes to the dinner table!), and it was only as we were clearing away that it dawned on me. There this simple French man stood tipping ice cubes onto his grill and wiping it clean, whilst it was still hot, with all the care of tending to a new-born child. His face was relaxed completely, no sign of the busy day at work he had mentioned when he first returned home. The garden had soothed and nurtured him down to the soul. This simple space was his sanctuary.

As I sat in my own garden in Oxfordshire I thought back to my time in France and smiled. Some pleasures are universal.

Now it’s autumn and the nights are closing in; there’s a different kind of sanctuary to be found indoors. I’m looking forward to slipper socks and mugs of steaming fruit tea; fleece blankets and DVD nights spent cuddling. There’s still a place for time spent outdoors, though the baby birds will be replaced by crunchy fallen leaves and bracing winds leaving cheeks and noses ruddy.lantern-827784_1280 (1)

I’d love to hear what you think of this, what’s your sanctuary? Any tips for making the most out of the change in seasons? Point me in the direction of any posts you’ve written on this, I’m always looking for reading to while away these cosy evenings in! 🙂

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