We felt the weight of the additional inspections during the trip from San Diego, through Dallas and London Gatwick to Bordeaux.  The airline felt the weight of all the oat bran, psyllium, toilet paper, paper towels, coffee and bicycle helmets we had in our luggage.  By 10:30 a.m. we were in the pub at Gatwick ordering up half-pints of John Smith Yorkshire ale and Directors’ Courage.  The stress disappeared.  Soaring over the French countryside, we saw the offshore islands of Ile de Re and Ile d’Oleron.  It was brilliantly sunny over Aquitaine for miles, and we could see the muddy river Garonne widen to become the Gironde estuary.  Thousands of vineyards and a castle were visible down below.  Then the white limestone buildings of the city of Bordeaux came into view on the river’s west bank. 
 
For the first few days, we rest from jet lag in a hotel before driving a car.  We reserved a one bedroom apartment with kitchen at a new aparthotel, called Appart City, near the Merignac airport.  This cost 50 euros a night plus 10 euros for high speed internet.  We didn’t find out until later that, although messages were coming in, our messages weren’t getting out!  The dim bulb attendant at the desk didn’t tell us we needed to change the outgoing server name to smtp.wanadoo.fr. 
 
Each year we book our car through Renault Eurodrive.  You “buy” a car for $30,000, then sell it back to Renault at a pre-agreed price.  The difference between the buy and sell prices reflects your daily rental.  In this case, we paid about $33/day for a 1.9 liter Renault Megane 4-door diesel 6-speed manual car.  Fuel has really gone up since last year.  Regular gas is 1.29 euros per liter, and diesel is 1.06 euros per liter.  One euro is now worth $1.28.
 
On Friday we picked up the Megane and drove immediately to a gas station (because they only give you 10 liters in the tank).  We were warmly welcomed at the pharmacy in the little town of Cestas Gazinet where we are staying.  We bought a new chip for our GSM cell phone.  It was lunchtime, so we reserved at the Clos Tassigny, where we fortified ourselves with some pate, delicate salmon and beef .  Even if you only “reserve” a half hour in advance, you get the royal treatment when you come back in earnest!
 
Xavier Guibert, the owner of this gite, suggested we check in one day early (usually gite rentals run from Saturday to Saturday).  We have been coming here since 2001.  We like the combination of the spacious, elegant house, and the location.  It’s a long, low “longere”, rectangular 2 story house.  It has 4 bedrooms, and 3 bathrooms.  The living room is wallpapered in turquoise, and chairs in yellow print.  There is a black marble table in the center, and a grey marble fireplace.  The ceilings are 12 feet high.  It is about 190 square meters, or about 2,000 square feet.
 
There was a new oriental rug in the living room, new bedspreads, chair covers and tables.  Most important to us, Xavier hooked us up to his wireless high speed internet connection.
 
The house is located a short walk from the train station (14 minutes north to Bordeaux), bakeries, vegetable market and butcher.  Behind the gite are an immense span of grass and 100 year old trees.  On the white stone terrace are umbrellas, table and a barbecue.  All around is the magnificent oak and pine forest with bicycle and hiking paths.  In the garage are our bicycles, which we bought 4 years ago.  In the attic are 8 boxes of sheets, towels, knives, phone and satellite TV receiver, everything you need to be at home in France.
 
Our neighbors Jean-Paul and Rachel came over bearing the case and a half of wine they had stored in their garage since we left last November.  They invited us on a bike ride in the pine forest this Wednesday.  We spent Saturday setting up the gite.  On Sunday we greeted the vegetable lady and the cheese person at the outdoor market in Cestas Bourg, then returned to the gite to grill duck breasts, in a sauce of fresh peaches, Cointreau, butter and shallots, accompanied by fresh green beans and garlic basil potatoes.
 
We caught up on all the gossip from our friends.  Our friends Carole and Michel just split up (they live near Spain in the Pyrenees Orientales).  The secretary of our former gite owner Evelyne Allien just lost her husband to liver cancer at 51.  Our friend Nicolas just succeeded in getting his teaching credential and will begin as an instructor in LeMans on Monday.  Jennifer and Francois, whom we were tutoring in English last fall, have gotten jobs in teaching and forestry with a long-term contract.  These young people truly deserve it, for they were willing to move to another city and even work for free, just to achieve their dream.
 
Everyone told us how unbelievably hot July was, and how it rained almost every day in August.  How will this affect the famous Bordeaux grapes?  We shall soon find out.  The ferns and corn are green, greener than we have ever seen them at this time of year.  But, one thing in the forest is not right:  the iron-rich spring down by the stream has completely dried up.  We pray it returns.
 
It’s hot this afternoon, so we have closed the tall white shutters to the terrace.  It’s comfortable and cool in the stone house.  Tomorrow we will take the train into Bordeaux.  We will pay the gite rental for October, shop for olive oil and perfume, go to the House of Japan to try to find a Japanese language tutor so I can continue my studies, and have a nice lunch in town.  Friday is the book club meeting. I am reading the books in French as fast as I can.  Saturday we will drive south to the fantastic Bazas market for herbs and sausages and then see our favorite Sauternes winemaker, Evelyne.
 
All these things unfold in the same order, at the same rhythm, as they have every year.  We can’t call this adventure travel.  Rather, we are walking down a path we have followed for many years.  We just enjoy the everyday pleasure of living in France.
 
The grass is greener over here.  But not so green when the chill winds arrive in November.  We’ll be back home by the end of October. 
 
Cheers! 
Claudia and Steve
9/7/06