Fourteen months ago we embarked on a journey, an ambitious undertaking many years in the making. We liked to think of it as a voyage of self discovery, though some may have regarded it as an aimless extravaganza of escapism. Either way, it was an unforgettable and eye-opening adventure.
This week, our wanderings took a momentous twist, as we moved into a house of our own and signed a 12-month rental contract. Our far-reaching Work-Away tour gave us a wonderful opportunity to explore more than a dozen different regions of western Europe, and we gradually came to agree that our favorite spot was right here in the valley of Cerdanya, straddling the Spanish-French border, in the high Pyrenees. So our new home is one of about 20 residences in a tiny mountain hamlet called Pont de Bar.
This semi-remote Spanish village is perched atop a tree-covered hillock, at about 3500 feet, overlooking mountains, valleys and streams, and purportedly dates back to the tenth century. Our house seems to have been built in the 1980s, so it has the modern amenities, but also uses the ancient building techniques and beautiful stone masonry consistent with the overall appearance of this charming, historic village. The home’s exterior looks like a page out of the middle ages, and some of the walls are nearly a meter thick. You might say that we are both isolated and insulated.
Despite the sense of solitary seclusion, Bar sits about halfway between two larger towns, with populations of about 10-15,000, each about 30 minutes away. But most importantly, we are very close to a small school with which our children have already grown enamored. It’s in a neighboring village, about 15 minutes away.
I recently described a private French school that we went to have a look at. We liked what we saw, but the following week we visited a small grade school on the Spanish side, for consideration for the next school year. The exceedingly friendly school staff invited our kids to drop in for a half day and see how they liked it.
Matter of fact, they both liked it so much that we were unable to pry them away. Maybe it was the Montessori influenced style of teaching that appealed to them, or maybe they were just starved for a little interaction with people in their own age bracket. Neither the teachers nor our children were the least bit concerned that the kids don’t know a word of Catalan (the primary language of the school) and only the most rudimentary Spanish.
We basically enrolled them on the spot, and they attended school for two edifying weeks, right up to the last-day-of-school party, which included an all-ages water war at the fountain in the town center, followed by refreshments, a couple of student-made films, a hearty potluck and an authentic 80’s dance party. (Lest there be any doubt, siesta and fiesta remain the cornerstones of Spanish culture and society.)
With or without proper schooling, the kids continue to progress wonderfully with their education and development. We spent the last two months living in a small apartment behind the semi abandoned but no less magnificent Sanilles hotel and resort, of which I have already written prodigiously. Over the course of our stay, we and the kids had the pleasure of meeting an incredible group of permaculture enthusiasts and a variety of random passersby.
We continue to be astonished by the confidence with which our daughter has been engaging the various visitors, children and adults, whether English, German or Spanish speaking. We have repeatedly been approached by parents and perfect strangers telling us about the striking first-impression she has made with them.
“We just met your daughter down by the pool,” they tell us. “Wow. She is really… I mean she is so…”
In light of their speechlessness, I offer some suggestions. “Single-minded? Precocious? Obstreperous?”
“It’s like talking to a teenager,” we are told. But I think they mean it in a good way. If that’s even possible.
If you knew her a year ago, you might be astonished by the bold and outspoken girl that our 7-year-old daughter has become. Despite her occasional outbursts of smart-aleckiness, we are generally very pleased with the results of this unorthodox year without schooling. She may not know the capital of Vermont or the atomic weight of hydrogen, but she’s extremely capable of walking into a strange situation and quickly assessing how safe it is, who’s in charge, and whom she wants to make friends with.
But that’s not all. Thanks to our rural and varied expeditions, she now knows the difference between a julienne cut and an ordinary slice. She can tell a cow pie from a horse dropping. And thanks to the lengthy and circumambulating conversations with her dad, she’s even learned to discern between good old-fashioned horse sense and plain old bullshit.