It all started back in 1999 when we bought an abandoned fruit farm in Provence. It was going to take time to establish the olive grove that would one day make the farm a viable notion and to renovate the crumbling farmhouse as our home. We were unable to live permanently in France at that time and had chosen London as our base – we needed somebody local to help supervise and co-ordinate our dreams. That is when I met Gérard and that was the start of our ten year ‘relationship’. When I use that word ‘relationship’ I cringe for all the icky connotations that this over used word brings. Yet I can think of no other word that would describe so well how things are between us. It is not a partnership in the way one would imagine because we are not equal – I am the boss – yet it is a partnership in the sense that we are co-dependent. We have come to respect each other and the cultural differences that divide us. I have learned patience and that all decisions require hours of mind numbing chat before a qui or d’accord can sign things off. Gérard appreciates my limited concentration span and recognises that glazed eyes and a lack of response mean it’s time to wrap it up.
Gérard would never contradict a decision that I make even if it was the wrong one. This is where I find the ‘relationship’ a conundrum. As le patron in this French system, my word is the one that goes. This antiquated practise has cost me much in time and money. I am a novice farmer, I am an Australian woman operating in a foreign land and more often than not I have been clueless about many things. I am also comfortable with engaged and informed discussion between employer and employee. Where I come from every one has their say and the information is assimilated and the best practise followed. It is a more informal approach, not so here. The truths sheepishly hide themselves until le patron’s ways are well and truly proven a folly. Afterwards, there is much, ‘I would never have done it that way’ and ‘that’s not the way we do it here’ conversation accompanied by vigourous head shaking and hand gestures with a most definite, ‘I told you so’ hanging in the air. Only the French gardien didn’t tell me so and he never does tell me that I am doing it all wrong and he never would. That would be far too familiar and not his place. I have wised up a little now, after countless frustrations, and always ask for his opinion. When resistance and reluctance to share his pearls stand in our way I cloak my question with an, ‘If it were you’…This way I get to the heart of the matter; I save face and my pennies.
The French gardien and le patron are emotionally dependent. Well Gérard and I are at least. It is very simple; if he is happy, I am happy. (See the word ‘relationship’ is perfect…) We meet every morning when I am home and talk…at the risk of repeating myself, I mean talk. We talk until there are no words left, until the subjects have been thrashed and thrashed over and over and then some. It is the tumble dryers of conversations but without the timer. There is no such thing as a quiet morning at the farm and as much as I make fun of it, I love it. It is the way it is; it is my status quo. In amongst our farm talk, our garden chat and our household natter we gossip about the nitty gritty. Health (always lots of that) and family matters pepper our professional dialogue. Gérard seeks out and values my opinion when it comes to matters of the heart or family dramas. I listen, for that is my role as le patron. He has confided in me many times over the years yet I would not with him; that would be crossing an invisible line of propriety that must remain to preserve our relationship. That is the strangeness of our pairing. We are more than friends but never that.
Today’s meeting ran for hours and included much tree lopping talk and a garden tour to evaluate the snow damage (yes lots of that – we had two heavy snowfalls this winter that created havoc with the olive trees and the more fragile plants in the garden). We measured the quantity of camouflage netting we will need to recreate the shaded area at the swimming pool (more snow damage) and we chose the colours for the re-painting of the outdoor furniture. I heard all about an Elvis concert in Paris that he attended with his wife (he lost me there for a moment…all I could say was, ‘long live the King’…), the trials and tribulations of elderly beaux parents living alone in the mountains and most importantly we discussed the name of our new puppy who will arrive at the end of April.
It was a busy morning.
Like all things there are French gardiens and then there are French gardiens. Gérard is one in a million. xv