As the wheels of the aircraft took off in sheer delight, the joy of my wishes coming true in a big way overwhelmed me. I was travelling solo with my dreams. Small is bountiful. Since childhood this phrase has fascinated me in infinite ways. Looking back now I realise how this fascination has moulded my thinking and even my personality. Right after middle school I started seeing small joys in almost everything. French language was kind of first love. Naturally Paris happened, Parisian lifestyle followed. The expression ‘small’ for me became immeasurable happiness growing in every grape in a Rhone Valley vineyard. France and the accompaniments became my bonsai world. So much so, living in a small French town became my most ardent dream.
Born and raised in a metropolitan city, Gurgaon in a quaint home nestled in greens amid concrete jungle and manmade chaos, played its part too in ensuring that I always dreamt of living in a small town in its bountiful glory. So when last summer, I got the opportunity, a copy book small town just came to life in front of my eyes the moment I landed in Yssingeaux, a small commune in Haute Loire in the South Central part of France.
I arrived in Yssingeaux for a pastry programme at Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Patisserie (ENSP). My residence was at an idyllic location, facing the hill, the joy of living there was impeccable. It took me a fair amount of time to understand why one of the most celebrated and respected pastry institution has a campus here.
The one thing that really stood out to me was that everybody greeted anyone walking past. “Bonjour, Ca Va?” every 5 minutes was like a daily ritual. By the end of two months I almost recognized everyone since the town was so small. There were limited number of shops around, hardly two bars, some restaurants and cafes and a pizzeria with a few boulangeries (cause when in France eh?). After going to literally every café, bar and supermarket, there was nothing left to do. We were a group of 8 people and whenever someone asked to grab a drink we had the same spots over and over again with the same people around.
It was then the concept of integrated living with simple thinking built with timeless compassion embraced me. Life and time can be seen here enjoying and appreciating everything nature and mankind has created together. There is no race, no competition here. Everyone values everyone. There is no ulterior motive lurking in any corner of any resident of this quaint town. No wonder, there were some very meaningful lessons learnt.
I never really understood the whole idea of finding beauty in small moments until this one time I sat with my friends at a bar with a glass of rosé. At that very moment, an old couple walked in. The man could barely walk but with the support of his wife it made us feel like he could run a marathon. That couple was the very definition of ‘I want to grow old with you’. “I want to be like that one day”, said Anjelee, my party animal Indian American friend. This one small moment became a big awakening for me.
Suddenly I started valuing my surroundings, things I used to ignore began to give me small joys and precious learnings. The long stay of 60 days brought many more such experiences. The beauty of small settlements is at times surreal. You don’t get to see such involvements on a daily basis in a busy city. Still the idea of living in one forever, seems implausible to me right now, but I do understand why the people who love small towns, love them.
For now, I shall wrap this up here. Hope to see you again xoxo!