Striving for…imperfection (and an aside on oily fish)

Living in France has taught me that perfection isn’t always the best goal.  A slightly wonky stone wall is beautiful and wouldn’t look right of someone came and straightened it up (shore it up, yes that is OK, you don’t want it falling on anyone!).

I don’t mean that you settle for less or just accept mediocre…it is more about recognising the value of imperfection….and then (on a short philosophical detour here, bear with me) applying that to your broader view of life.

It is a hard lesson for me, and I fight it all the time. When Dom and I first moved in to the house here I started making lists…never ending lists of what was wrong, what needed to be changed and when we needed to change/fix it (in my mind it was usually, “now”). 

About a year ago we were invited to our friends Laurence and Jo’s house for apéro (a supremely fabulous thing here in France which more often than not includes very tasty food).  Their house is beautiful, warm, classy, welcoming…with high ceilings, lots of wood and manages to retain amazing old features while still feeling ‘modern’.  It isn’t a huge home, but it is lovely and inviting.  While nibbling away on some of the amazing treats Jo had whipped up I was lamenting how we weren’t going to be able to finish all the renovations in the immediate future and we were facing reprioritising a lot of work. 

OK, a little aside here.  I don’t like oily fish.   I want to like it- I appreciate the beauty of the fish, and the health value and when I see gorgeous little tapas with a glistening filet of sardine – I get it, I want to like it. But somehow my mouth is wired in such a way I find the flavour way too intense.  I used to think if I just kept trying it I would finally like it (kind of like avocados and asparagus when I was young, hated them, now I can’t get enough) but no, no matter how much I try, my mouth rejects oily fish.  Anyhow, anchovies in particular are a difficulty (ask Dom who tried to ‘sneak’ some anchovy oil on a salad once…didn’t end well).  I always have anchovies in the fridge, I appreciate what they add to a dish – in small portions – they work in roast lamb or a rich winter meat sauce…or something with lots (and I mean lots) of capers…anyhow…one of Jo’s treats was anchovies that had been sandwiched between two sage leaves, then battered and fried.  I figured I would be a polite guest and try one.  I did.  It was good.  I was shocked.  I still don’t like anchovies, but something magical happens when they join up with sage and hot oil.

Back to my non-anchovy revelation.   Jo responded that my stymied renovations were probably a very good thing…she told me she and Laurence had been working on their home for 25 years to get it where it is, applying their evolving ideas of what worked best and their evolving selves as they lived longer in France (they used to live in London).  She noted I would likely have very different views on what to do with spaces in the house after living in it for a while and I should relax about living within a ‘project’ that would be ever-changing.   

She is so right, ideas of what I’d like to do have already radically changed (and again, getting briefly philosophical), not just with the living space around me- but with myself in that living space. I look around and realise some of the imperfections are good things and I try to stop thinking too much about the end result and just enjoy the journey of living in an old, funky, unpredictable home. 

I’m still making lists, and I am still frequently annoyed with the bathroom next to my office, and the plastic primary-coloured door handles some idiot put on a lot of the doors (what were they thinking, the house was built 200 years ago, yellow and green plastic, really?!?!)…buuuut the terrace is great and it is hard to get stressed sitting on it looking out at the gorgeous countryside I am so lucky to live in.

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