The Good Life...can she take it?

The heavy iron gate squeaks open and there she is, an estate in south west France that friends have leased for the blossomy month of May. What do do?  Gasp, offer gifts, accept a glass of wine, and then...

A villa perhaps two centuries old, situated in the midst of Languedoc Rousillon wine country, among undulating vineyards, this place is anything but simple.  Original terra cotta floors, a marble spiral staircase whose dark oak bannister was burnished by hands that probably lifted clusters of grapes only to inspect their quality and order them picked or not. Four bedrooms that include sitting rooms lofty with cushions.Two smaller, charming bedrooms that overlook the red roof tiles of a cottage where once resided some of the many workers required to maintain the estate; two living rooms, a formal dining area, a snug with a table big enough for a large family or a family of friends to sit around while a wood fire crackles beneath a mantle lined with maquettes of roosters in various sizes and materials.

There is much eating and drinking. The plan for the week is for each guest to present a five course meal in return for his or her stay. One evening, a young British wine lecturer arrives to offer the eight visitors from Canada, England and Dubai a tasting of eight local wines, including the blanquette particular to nearby Limoux, and a port that enhances a creamy, locally-produced blue cheese, and dark chocolate-covered prunes from Agen. The charcuteries plate includes sangliers, wild boar, and is paired with a Cuvée Classique, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourverde grapes, from Corbières.

In the groggy morning light serrated by the vista of the Pyrenees, she thinks, this is too much. Of everything! Too many perfect croissants, too
much wonderful cheese, certainly too much wine, and more daily conversation with people she barely knows than she can normally abide.

She has known lean times, when she borrowed from her credit card to pay her credit card bill. She drives an antique car, so called, because it is over 25 years and still runs. She instinctively follows Thoreau's advice to "simplify, simplify"; and it is not a hardship to do so. She has never felt deprived.

And then.... it is her turn to present a meal. She visits a local market, and simplicity - farmers in stalls, piles of radishes, fluffy heads of green and purple lettuce, petit pois, broad beans, asparagus, small, sweet melons  de Maroc, refrigerated cases of recently killed chickens and ducks - segues into excess. She buys not just one canette, but two. Fraises des bois. Chocolate that will become the dark chapeaus atop flutes of the berries she plans to drizzle with orange Armagnac she brought from Lectoure. Fromage de brebis, de chèvre, des vaches des Pyrénées. Following Julia Child's recipe for Duck à l'orange consumes the entire day, but her frequent trips between the kitchen and the pantry take her over the flat, sun-warmed stones of the terrace. She takes off her shoes.  She can sit beneath the awning to peel the oranges, stem the haricots verts, the slender kind that seem so particular to France. While the sauce is simmering, she walks down the hill past vines producing the season's first grapes, past a horse farm where mares and foals graze on an emerald hillside.

The sautéed new potatoes are perfectly crisp, the berries impossibly sweet, and the temperature mild enough that the company can enjoy tea and the Armagnac outside. As the host is filling his glass, a pink spot of sun just going down at this hour hits his forehead. Everyone is smiling.

The good life... hmm. She gets it.