Having managed to overcome all the bureaucratic, technical and medical obstacles in the way of anyone wanting to travel abroad from Israel, we finally managed to make our way onto the plane taking us to France. For the last few years we have got into the habit of spending a month or two in the depths of rural France, staying at a spacious house set in a quiet village. Apart from the chimes of the nearby church clock, there is nothing to disturb the bucolic peace of the area.

until this year, that is. This year the regional authority has decided it is time to install fibre-optic cables and a new electricity grid underground. And that means digging up roads throughout the village, making huge holes and trenches to accommodate the new system. Each such hole or trench is neatly surrounded by barriers to make sure that no one falls into them.

one day in the distant future (perhaps even by this time next year) the job will be done and all will be serene once more. This year, however, all is anything but serene. Huge machines, reminiscent of space-age. Ontraptions, some painted yellow, others red or blue, are to be found all over the place, blocking access roads or even cutting them off completely. Huge piles of gravel and sand have appeared at strategic points (fortunately for us not too near our abode), and strapping men in orange overalls and hard hats emerge from around corners as well as lanes and side roads, whether on foot or driving one or another of those vehicles.

But all is not lost. The house is well-insulated, with double-glazed windows, so very little noise penetrates the cosy interior. The workmen seem to take a long lunch-break, as is the custom in France, and although they start work on the dot of eight in the morning, by four o-clock in the afternoon there isn’t an orange-clad being to be seen, and the monstrous machines are parked as neatly as possible at the sides of the roads and squares. That gives us four hours or more of peace and quiet to enjoy the little table and chairs outside, where we can have coffee and cake in the sunshine, and chat to anyone passing by.

Because that is the nature of French village life. Anyone who happens to pass, whether you’re out for a stroll or sitting outside, must be greeted and saluted for a little chat (preferably in whatever French we can muster). Also, when the occasional vendor of groceries, baguettes (five la baguette!) or meat comes by with his or her van, then toots their horn to signal their arrival, anyone within earshot gathers at the open aperture and buys what they can find, or even what they might need. That, too, is an opportunity for a little light conversation. For some people, particularly the elderly and less mobile villagers, that is the only chance they have to socialise.

it has taken us a few days to get used to our new-old surroundings. Unaccustomed to things not being in certain places (“a place for everything, and everything in its place”), we find ourselves constantly looking for our mobile phones, keys, pens, etc. In one instance a hearing aid that had been lost somewhere in the big town was miraculously found when we retraced our steps to one of the shops we had frequented several hours earlier.

people on the whole are nice, kind, good-natured and patient. Everyone is masked almost everywhere, both inside and outside. An alco-gel dispenser is waiting to be used at every entrance point. Social distance is observed almost everywhere, even in the checkout line at the supermarket. No one seems to be in a hurry, but that is the nature of life in this part of life. It’s gradually getting through to us, too.

The harrowing Thursday afternoon drive south from the Paris CDG airport together with the hordes of Parisians who were on the road at the same time, is already a distant memory. Thnkdully, we reached our destination with no harm done, though badly in need of a good meal and a good night’s rest. Praise be, there’s no shortage of either of those where we are now.