Batshit-crazy.It’s a well-known state of anxiety, particularly for Dixieland women like me. My mother always told me that I was exactly like my Aunt Norma. Rather flattering given that my auntie looked like Ava Gardner with a hint of Vivien Leigh. That is until mama made a point of saying it was my overbearing, bossy neat-freak ways I’d inherited, not her sister’s glamorous looks and charm.
Still… it’s a compliment as I’ve always admired Aunt Norma. She’s a warmer, softer Southern Belle version of the perfect hostess, Brie Van de Camp… or perhaps more like a Charlotte Phelan than a Skeeter. (If you read the book or watched the film, The Help, you’ll be clued-up on that reference.) And no… my auntie wouldn’t approve of my bad language.
Over the years, my beleaguered hubby has learned the signs of impending “Southern Hospitality” mania. To Steve’s credit, he rarely disappears. Instead, he makes a manly stance and takes everything thrown his way. One of the first signs that visitors are arriving typically flashes up in neon lights with the count-down screaming in my head: T-minus 30 days… 10 days, 2 hours…etc.
I’m not entirely sure why, but once you moved to SW France, Spain, Bahamas or similar idyllic settings, you lose focus of days and dates. Yet this morning, unusually pour moi, something clicked in my foggy half-awake brain. In a blink, our three cats went flying off the duvet as the covers were thrown back and I literally rocket launched from the bed, croaking “Bleeding hell… crap, fire, hell!”.
The cats terrified of their “mummy” now turned wild berserker scrambled for cover in lightning fast military precision under the bed, the stairs, in the armoire - anywhere away from me as I raced to the loo. Throwing off my PJ’s, I took care of business whilst simultaneously dragging on my “in France work” clothes, yanking a comb through my bed-head, spraying on deodorant and splashing freezing cold water on my face.
Why the fuss? If new to living in southern Europe, I hasten to warn you that we are soon - very soon - approaching “The Season”. No not Christmas… not mid-terms… nor even one of those dozens of French, Spanish or Italian national holidays. No… tis the delightfully anticipated season of masses of family, friends, and loads more friends of friends of friends who you didn’t even know that you knew descending upon your home. All with the sole purpose of escaping their cold, dark, dreary northern lands in search of balmy heat, sunshine and the fragrant bliss of The South. This migration south is as regular as the sun rising in the east. And boy, at times like these it’s my devout wish and prayer that I actually did have “the help” that my mother’s generation blithely enjoyed.
As you’ve probably surmised with The Season approaching fast The Folly will soon host a houseful of guests. In fact, 3 or 4 waves of company are happily expected. Don’t get me wrong. Steve and I love to entertain. And, there’s nothing we enjoy more than having visitors come and stay. That’s one reason why we bought a large French property.
But, it’s the BEFORE THEY ARRIVE when the berserker comes out of hiding. No matter how eagerly anticipated the arrival of friends and family, my stress-levels rise and panic bells go into full alarm status. A strange, hyper perverseness takes over my normally laid-back persona.
Which begs the question, why is it that we women (or all my gay male friends) work so hard to make a house a home, then every time we're expecting visitors, we rush to turn it back into a house? It's true, isn't it? At least true with how I was raised down in the Deep South of the American colonies. Engrained in us from infancy is that hospitality is a sacred trust and honour. Which means making your guests feel at home in as much comfort and luxury as you can manage. Even when at times you wished they were back at their own home.
Whatever the reason, with our first batch of visitors soon to come knocking within a mere few weeks, the "WE'VE GOT COMPANY COMING" action plan has kicked into overdrive. By now, we've got this fined-tuned to a fine art.
- Husband’s Honey-Do
2. DIY & Decoration. I have not been idle, either. Complete the dozens of small decoration and DIY projects that have been left undone for weeks, even months. Involving me going about with a dozen different paint brushes loaded up with various colours touching up walls and doors. Hang about 200 pictures and paintings. The latter requires my manly man to go about holding up pictures along different walls at all sorts of angles and heights until I’ve decided on the perfect spot. Invariably to Steve’s increasing annoyance, I change my mind and we go about the whole process again!
3. Keep our creepy friends away. And if any of our friends are reading this post, specifically those of you who I told we’d be on a Costa Cruise this summer doing missionary work, I’m sorry you had to find out like this.
4. Car aka taxi cleaning. And by “I should wash the car”, I mean, Steve cleans because car-stuff never occurs to me until it’s too late. Our “new” used French Jeep is a working car for the countryside. It looks and smells just as you’d expect. Layered in mud, animal poo and grit inside and out, with the extra bonus of spilt drinks, long-lost McDonald’s fries and gum-gums hiding in crevices.
- Tart up guest rooms.
5. Bed cares. There’s nothing worse than a bad night’s sleep on an uncomfortable bed. The Folly isn’t a luxury hotel, not even a hotel, but we do our best. Including buying a real American king-size bed(special order from IKEA Toulouse), super cushy mattress (also IKEA) and ultra-high 1200 thread count linens. All of which require a lot of prepping: laundry, air-dry for that fresh clean smell and steam press for extra smooth duvet cover, sheets and pillow cases. Yhen set out water carafe and glasses, reading materials (books and magazines) and late night snack yum-yums.
6. Pillow talk. Everyone has a favorite type of pillow. In fact, some of us (like me) carried our childhood pillow around the world for 20 years until it disintegrated in the airport x-ray scanner. We don’t go so far as offering a pillow menu, but provide an assortment of pillow types: feather, anti-allergy, neck and body sausages. Of course, this means even more pillow cases to wash, dry and iron.
- Stocking up.
- Blitz House Clean.
However, this year it's up to moi... which is doing more than knock the dust around. Everything must sparkle and shine from the loos to the kitchen floors, and even the bathroom drains. Afterall, you never know when and where someone will scamper about on hands and knees. Unfortunately, this type of cleaning involves hauling out our Big-Daddy ladder to dust all the places I usually ignore: on top of 12-foot high ceiling-fan blades, monster size armoires and china dressers, kitchen cabinets and hanging picture frames.
9. Kitty Kare. People get weird about other people's pets. There are also the annoying allergic types. So, out comes the cat brush, combs, tweezers, special kitty shampoo (really a foam which is supposed to trick the cats that they are not getting wet, but it doesn't) and the all-necessary tick/flea meds for an extensive make-over session. I don't know who enjoys this less - me or the cats. With 3 cats, the fur can really fly.
1!(upload://lBBaZUiV34laSlDY2Gbf9b33fcO.jpg)0. Jungle Maintenance. With non-stop rain over the past 3 weeks, our little patch of paradise is now a thriving jungle of vegetation. I kid you not, we've got weeds that have grown to over 6 feet high! No idea where to begin, or even how. But first things first, it's gotta to stop raining SOON! Tick tock...tick tock...
That about sums up pre-Season prep. There is a plus side to pre-arrival stress. It’s a brilliant motivational tool. Expecting company with hard-deadlines does wonders for getting things done! Of course, it doesn’t really finish there. Afterall, every host and hostess has a job to do when your guests finally make their appearance. For example:
1. Schedule something every hour plan. There's no such thing as just sitting around and relaxing out here in the countryside. Oh no! We live in one of the most historic, beautiful areas of Europe, and to prove it to you, we’ve arranged 15+ different activities for tomorrow! As long as you can manage the "do your own Tour de France" up the Pyrenees' highest peaks, we can then scarf down a traditional 6-course French lunch, whilst fitting in the “How to Make Armagnac” presentation, take in a session at the Marciac Jazz festival AND drink the holy waters of Lourdes - all before the village fête and dinner.
2. The House & Garden tour. This would be much more interesting if we were middle-aged rock stars living in some Versailles-like château. We ain't and we don't. But folks still seemed interested in seeing what an old French farmhouse looks like. So Stephen often does the honour of escorting guests about to see how our bathroom differs from millions of other bathrooms, show off the pristine smooth texture of our newly plastered walls and proudly points out where he pruned all the fruit trees.
- Look and speak like a French native.
So, am I alone here or do you also suffer from this disorder? Do you do anything special to prepare for The Season? Love to hear your tips or funny stories.
For now, gotta run… scraping paint off the floors, then… well you read the list above.