Two years ago I did a short exchange with a family in Southern France. Axel, a fellow young man who grew up in southern France, spent two weeks living with me in the fall of 2016 then later that year, in the spring, I spent two weeks at his home in l'Isle sur la Sorgue. This past weekend I got to visit him, his mother Cecile, his father Loic, his two dogs and his cat. Axel has changed a bit since I last saw him two years ago. Obviously he has grown up a bit. He had a little more facial hair than I remember and he started studying history at the University in Avignon. Some things have not changed though. Axel’s general curiosity about the world around him still leads him to constantly ask questions about why his community looks this way, or what is happening over there. This general interest has turned Axel into an incredibly good, personal tour guide. My weekend was filled with Axel explaining why his community looked the way it does, how it’s changing and how French culture plays into it.
l'Isle sur la Sorgue feels like a whole other planet. It has that small suburban charm that I’m used to in Wisconsin, but with added flare of European age and French culture. According to my lovely tour guide and good friend, people from this area are simple minded, they enjoy the smaller things in life. Things like riding bikes through the countryside, enjoying small markets in town, open spaces, visiting their grandparents and just enjoying the freedom that comes from living in a small, open spaced community. Axel told me that the people from this area hope to settle down in a house outside of town, close enough to see their family everyday, which is exactly what his family did. His father, Loic, and his nine siblings, all born in L’Isle sur la Sorgue, still live there. Axel’s family lived in a beautiful classic French house, next to an apple farm. His old stone house held up by thick wooden beams connected small ancient farm life with the modern world. His only neighbors are his uncles and their families, living directly behind them in the same structure but separated from Axel's immediate family, fulfilling the dream life that Axel described to me. During the two days I stayed with Axel we visited his grandmother, who lived in town, four times, often running into other members of Axel’s family while we were there. After parking our bikes outside her door, Axel would give a quick shout from the street into her second floor window before opening the unlocked front door and walking upstairs to meet her. We would grab a drink, maybe a cookie or two and be on our way. Everyone in his family makes this quick pit stop to say hello, grab a drink of water or let her dog Tina out whenever they were nearby, according to Axel. There is a lot to love about this community, lifestyle and region of France. Axel’s family is full of hardworking people, working for others around them. Judging from the amount of people who greeted Axel and asked about his father or mother, I’d say their family is somewhat famous in L’Isle sur la Sorgue. Cecile, Axel’s mom, works in the hospital not far from her home as a nurse and administration figure, while Axel’s father works for the city. From my understanding he’s the go to handyman for whatever the city needs. While skipping rocks in the river, biking through town or sitting in the park, Axel was constantly pointing out dams, houses or monuments that his father has helped restore. Axel’s family even makes an appearance in a populaire postcard from this region.
Like I already said, there is a lot to love in this area. This region and culture was the first taste of France that I received, the taste that I fell in love with. A convincing reminder of just how love-able this region is, was given to me within an hour of arriving. After getting off the train and enjoying a big, anticipated hug, Axel and I spent some time walking through Avignon. We visited a beautiful castle overlooking the city where I received a brief history lesson from talkative companion. After that, we drove half an hour through beautiful apple and wine farms until arriving at his house, where I proceeded to sip coffee in his backyard. While watching his geese scream at the new foreign person invading their space, I threw a ball into the apple farm and watched as four dirty, happy, free dogs ran after it. I immediately felt the freedom, family centered, culturally rich, happy, simple life that Axel had described to me. Once again, I found it hard not to love.