When we pulled up in front of the house it was dark, and it was cold, and we were tired. We had been driving all day, not because it was a particularly great distance, but because we had made so many stop-offs on the way - a chateau here, a market there, a lemonade stall by the side of the road... Anything would do. It was summer, it was France and it was hot. Didn't we have to sight-see, eat and drink? It's only natural.
So the next morning when the sun rose high over the hills we opened the shutters and saw everything. Saw the view of the seine, stretching out languid as a teenager before us, saw the town, just a few smatterings of ochre-hued roofs dotting the greenery here and there. And we saw chocolate cake. Triple-layered, tall and proud, filled with raspberries and chocolate buttercream, sitting on the kitchen bench like some kind of gift from the Gods. It turned out it was just a gift from the owners of the house, welcoming us to our stay and wishing us a pleasant journey, but my goodness, did it seem like something otherworldly that morning. We stood in front of it. We admired it. And we ate it. Literally, stood around the cake, forks moving with a vicious, competitive energy that knew no bounds, hand-to-mouth. It was delicious. It was shocking. Like fresh raspberries the size of a thumbnail from a marketplace in Provins, like going to sleep in darkness and cold and mist and waking up in sunshine and heat and the perfect country cottage house right on the river with a chocolate cake sitting in the middle of the kitchen.
Finding peace in the madness of modern life isn't easy. This isn't about a retreat to the pastoral - even though it may sound like it - this house could have been in the middle of the city and it would have been the same. It wasn't the green and the trees and the river, at least, it wasn't all about that. It was the wooden floors, the hand-stitched quilts, the wide windows, tea, books, crusty white bread with fresh butter. A week in a house with no TV and no computer was less about how to waste time than it was about how to spend time, and that is the tale of true escape. Distance, comfort and cake.