In 1973 I was offered a job as caretaker of a farmhouse in the south of France. My on-again off-again romance with a young woman named L. seemed to be on again, so we decided to join forces and take the job together. We had both run out of money by then, and without this offer we would have been compelled to return to America–which neither of us wanted to do just yet.
The place was beautiful: a large, eighteenth-century stone house bordered by vineyards on one side and a national forest on the other. The nearest village was two kilometres away, but it was inhabited by no more than forty people, none of whom was under sixty or seventy years old. It was an ideal spot for two young writers to spend a year, and L. and I both worked hard there, accomplishing more in that house than either one of us would have thought possible.
But we lived permanently on the brink of catastrophe. Our employers, an American couple who lived in Paris, sent us a small monthly salary (fifty dollars), a gas allowance for the car and money to feed the two Labrador retrievers who were part of the household. All in all, it was a generous arrangement. There was no rent to pay, and even if our salary fell short of what we needed to live on, it gave us a head start on each month’s expenses. Our plan was to earn the rest by doing translations. Before leaving Paris and settling in the country, we had set up a number of jobs to see us through the year. What we had neglected to take into account was that publishers are often slow to pay their bills. We had also forgotten to consider that cheques sent from one country to another can take weeks to clear, and that once they do, bank charges and exchange fees cut into the amounts. Since L. and I had left no margin for error, we often found ourselves in quite desperate straits.