Michele and Franck were our Couchsurfing couple from heaven. After our day of interminable rain we arrived in Saint Marie-du-Mont at 6pm. We knocked on a tall plain looking door. It was just off the provincial town’s main cobbled roundabout encircling a beautiful church. The door opened and behind it was a petite, kind faced, middle aged woman. She smiled sympathetically at our drenched bodies and pointed to another door of the house that faced the street, which imminently opened too. Behind this door was a short, stocky, middle aged man with very sparkly eyes. He opened the two French windows and gestured for us to bring our soaking wet bikes and bodies into their home.
They bundled us shivering into their downstairs shower room with two clean, fluffy towels. Oh what joy.
Strange that after an entire day of battling with inescapable water the glorious remedy for this should be more water but with a temperature gauge that you can control.
After such a hard day my anxiety simmered up again in the the prospect of having to really test my schoolgirl French and attempt to be an engaged and helpful house guest. Couchsurfing brings together people who are relaxed and trusting enough to open their homes to strangers for free and people who are sociable enough to be comfortable in a strangers home. I think this combination only works well, when the Couchsurfer is willing to make some efforts to repay the host for their generosity in whatever small ways seem appropriate. Unwritten rule No.1.
Somehow me and Haydn managed to make fractured conversation for about an hour. Conversation aided by bountiful gesticulation, Michele’s very good English and my less good French. Then there was mention of dinner and we must have been very bad at containing our excitement because both Michele and Franck laughed at our expressions of excitement. We had barely eaten throughout our gruelling day and were both ravenous but you can’t just walk into a host’s home and demand food; unwritten rule No.2.
We helped to prepare the food and then ate a delicious dinner in a number of small courses.
Fresh bread, a beautiful tomato salad with tomatoes from their garden that tasted like distilled red sun and walnuts grown by Franck’s friend. The next course was cauliflower cheese with a wonderful green salad, also from their garden. We spoke about gardening and the joy of growing your own produce. We told them how I had worked in a garden centre and loved to grow plants and vegetables and how Haydn had worked as a gardener in Dorset for over a year. This love of gardening, a golden point to connection between us all. Then we had a course of cheese and biscuits and after that was natural yoghurt and an incredible compote that Franck had made himself. All topped off by the most delicate and intense orange tea. WOW. What a culinary experience. Delicious simplicity encapsulated.
We went to bed feeling very lucky.
We spent the whole next day with Michele and Franck. In the morning we walked to the near by brasserie and bought some beautiful French miniature tarts and pastries for the house. I bought a tiny orange rose and wax flower posy from a woman sat inside a tatty white van, parked on the edge of the central cobbled roundabout. I gave this to Michele as a tiny present and gave the pastries to Franck, a small offering for their generosity. We had another glorious meal with them at lunch as the rain hammered on their conservatory roof. Franck offered to take us to our next place to stay in his van. We had booked an Air B&B just outside of the small town for one night in hope that by the following day the rain might have cleared.
I felt a genuine pang of sadness as we said goodbye to Michele in the pouring rain and bundled our bikes into the back of Franck’s van, tying the door closed with string. Me and Haydn crammed onto the front seat and the three of us trundled off down some winding country lanes away from Saint Marie-du-Mont. I had to pull my left knee up to my chest every time Franck needed to change gear. I couldn’t stop smiling for that ten minute journey – what kind and generous people we had met already! I knew they were out here in the world but the reality of meeting such brilliant human beings was only just dawning on me.