It had been a long drive. A ferry from Helsinki, Finland, to Lübeck, Germany, then a drive through Germany and north-east France, stopping to sleep around Hamburg. We had been traveling all day - my father drove, my mom read the map, and us, the kids, were dozing on the back seat. It was just before midnight when our mother woke us up saying: 'Hey, kids, this is it. We're here.' Driving into what seemed a bush but was actually a tiny country road covered with oak branches, and finally turning to a yard covered in white gravel.
The night was one of those pitch black summer nights, and the only thing that we could see were the stars above. A milky way stretched up there and gave us a little light so that we could find the front door. We stepped in the smoke-smelling house and since my father wasn't able to find the electric switch, we stumbled up the stairs with a flash light, dragging our camping mattresses with us. Each kid found a floor to sleep on, and before I feel asleep, I listened to the crickets for a while. 'I'm in France for the first time in my life', I thought. 'I'm fourteen, I'm actually here, and I can't see a damn thing.'
Morning. Tiny bright-yellow rays of light pierced the dark green window shutters waking me up. I didn't know where I was, for a while, but hearing my parents shuffling around downstairs, it all came back to me. I opened the shutters, and there it was, attacking from every direction. Paradise.
A gently rolling Sancerrois countryside with lush green and yellow fields, plum and cherry trees, and old shed and a large pond down the hill. Birdsong! My, what birdsong! And crickets and cows and... what is that smell? Croissants? I looked around me in the room, and wandered through the large old 'longère' farmhouse. Huge rooms, 18th-century tile floors, oak stairs and beams. I ran downstairs to the kitchen where my mother made breakfast. 'Look', she exclaimed, 'fresh croissants!' The fireplace was huge. More tile floors, more beams. And tiny little holes left into the walls. What were those, I wondered. My dad, a history fanatic, explained to me that the house had been built on the year of 'La Révolution', 1789, and the holes were for shooting. There had been battles outside, right there on the field. My head was spinning. I could just picture myself writing a great historical novel, right then and there, here in these rooms! (Little did I know that I would work up the nerve to write that historical novel only 21 years later.)
The Finns that we are, my parents made a sauna in the shed outside. We put candles in the old barn attached to the house and ate our lunch there. We hung a hammock between two plum trees. I would just lay there, listening to the blatant frenchness of my surroundings. I was in love. Desperately, irrevocably in love with this house called 'Les Machereaux', the castles nothing but a few kilometers walk away from our house, the village called Sens-Beaujeu, the region called Berry, the French countryside. It was my first summer n France, and I decided, then and there, that this is where I would spend my life.
Some twenty years and four countries later, here I am.