It’s funny where you meet Kiwis. Even in a small village in the midi-Pyrenees, in the relatively lightly populated area of south-west central France, my wife Gail and I bumped into three couples with Kiwi connections, running businesses and loving the French lifestyle.
We spent two weeks with New Zealand friends in the village of Puy L'Eveque beside the river Le Lot, which also gives the area its name, The Lot Department.
A PUKEKO IN FRANCE
Across the river from our medieval house was a cafe with the giveaway name of Pukeko, owned and operated by David and Rosie O'Donoghue. So, of course, we had to pay them a visit. David is originally from Whangarei and went to school in Auckland. It was there some years later he met his English wife. Moving to London they worked as journalists, Rosie for the BBC and David at Radio 5 Live but they wanted a new challenge and way of life for their family. So in 2006, now with their four children aged eight, six, four and 9 months, they bought a run-down, and long-vacant house on the banks of the The Lot looking for the good life.
Getting the kids into the local school was important to Rosie and she told the real estate agent she hoped the local headmaster knew his school was in for a bit of an influx. Rest assured, said the agent: "The whole town knows you are here", and on Monday morning the entire school was waiting at the gate to welcome the new kids in town. So began the challenge of learning French and embracing a new culture. Rosie’s biggest faux pas to date was complimenting a local on their bread with no "preservatives" in it - unfortunately preservatifs translates to condoms. "It is way more foreign than we expected,” David said. It’s not so much of a can-do culture and it takes time to get anything done.
The couple set up a French-style cafe in 2008 but then decided to do what they knew best and Pukeko was born. However they were unable to get a liquor licence so they checked with the "Maire" – the mayor – who confirmed what they had been told - in true French style you can have beer and wine but no alcohol. (In French terms alcohol only refers to spirits). In 2012 David returned to NZ to do a barista course and the resulting flat whites went down well with the locals as a change from the French short black, as did the Kiwi staples of eggs benedict, fish and chips and pavlova.
Markets are a way of life in these villages and this is where we met another Kiwi connections - Lisa, who was there selling wine. Lisa is married to Kiwi Kim Stanton and they run an organic vineyard, Domaine des Sangliers, in the hills of Puy l'Eveque, one of the oldest wine-growing regions in France. They sell reds ("Stanton black") rose wines and aperitifs. They met in Paris when Lisa, from Britain, was an airline stewardess and France was the compromise of where to live. They had seen the run-down vineyard during a visit to the countryside but nothing more was said. Then Kim rang Lisa while he was on another trip to the area. He reminded her about it and asked if she had liked it. "Good" he said, relieved when she confirmed that she did. "Because I've just bought it!"
That was in 2004 and the next year they arrived with their five children, now a family of seven, to a crop which had just been wiped out by hail. With no experience in winemaking they had a lot to learn. In 2008 they applied to become officially organic, which they achieved in 2011. They are now selling online and hope to do boutique selling in New Zealand. Lisa is fluent in French but only recently found out that you must only say “bonjour” to someone once a day. "Apparently, if you say it a second time it's terribly rude, implying they are so insignificant you forgot seeing them earlier on." Also the to-kiss-or-shake conundrum has always flummoxed her. However she must be doing something right because she has just become the first foreigner to be invited to join the Maire (mayor’s) team, which is a six-year appointment.
Lisa also helps expats in the region to settle in, and even has time to further her singing as a classical soprano by holding local concerts. Kim is involved in motorcross and is amused to note that come lunchtime at the local circuit, “these petrol heads and grease monkeys down tools, clean up, set up tables with table clothes and lunch is served.” No sammies from the back of the ute here. "France is like New Zealand on a good day, with the same lifestyle of 30 years ago," Kim says.
A LOVELY LAVENDER FARM
Our last Kiwi connection came in the form of a small lavender farm, Lavande de Lherm, close to Puy l'Eveque and run by Ian and Suzie Dick.
Suzie is English and was a ballet teacher while Ian was brought up in Christchurch and always wanted to fly, which he learnt to do at Canterbury Aero Club. However he moved to England and joined the RAF. I asked why didn't he join RNZAF - "They already had a pilot," he replied with a wry smile. Wing Commander Ian Dick had a successful career including being Team Leader of the Royal Air Force aerobatic team The Red Arrows. When he became team leader, his first directive from his commander was to "thrill the ignorant, impress the knowledgeable, but frighten no-one".
After living and working around the world, they bought this property 25 years ago as a place to retire with no idea what to do with it. But 11 years ago they visited a lavender farm in Akaroa, near Christchurch, and decided they had the perfect place in France to grow their own lavendar farm. With help from Dr Noel Porter in New Zealand, the art of making lavender oil was perfected and they have won three silver medals from New Zealand Lavender Growers' Association. The Kiwi link doesn't stop there though, Ian has bought a labour-saving lavender cutter, an adapted Japanese tea cutter, from Harvester Concepts - a company owned by Merv George in Feilding.
So our day and trip ended on a very English note of tea and scones in a lavender farm in the French countryside.