Life as Art


Yesterday morning dawned grey and cold, raindrops dripped from tree branches, the trees mourning the last of summer's softness. We grabbed our heavy sweaters, packed the car with picnic goodies, and drove down our muddy lane, dodging potholes and discussing the three hour trip ahead. In my internet search for 'people who travel in alternative ways' to live in today's world, I had found the Long Rider's Guild site. Therein was a link to a website by a family who has been living in their roulotte (horse drawn wagon) for 13 years. Since leaving Holland in 2000 they have travelled almost 2500 km a year throughout Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal. Now they are back in France. For weeks I kept returning to the site, looking at all the beautiful photos by the father of this family, André. Finally I sent off an email boldly asking if my husband Mark and I might visit, explaining that I am planning to build a roulotte, that I had never actually stepped inside one, and that I had many questions. I received a friendly response from Judith, his wife, and we arranged a visit on November 16. This was a very auspicious date for us, because it is the day, 4 years ago, that Mark arrived from the United States to live with me on the Montagne Noire. I could not think of a better way to celebrate this anniversary.

We drove through rolling farmland and forests with the last of autumn color clinging haphazardly to nearly naked trees. Although we were driving under a dreary canopy of grey skies, we were in awe seeing the snow covered majestic Pyrénées Mountains appear on the horizon, shining under a sunny sky. Our road became narrower and narrower as we continued; and at one point, the surprise of the ruins of a Cathar castle rose and stood out against the sky on a distant hilltop. Finally the car climbed a steep incline and we followed the instructions to our destination.
At the end of the lane, clustered together under a bank of trees, the brightly colored and beautifully decorated roulottes greeted us. Lettuces and flowers grew in wheelbarrows and various pots. Chickens strutted around and puppies bounded out to meet us. Arrival was an instant pleasure.


André, a man overflowing with energy, a face etched with years of laughter, gave us a warm welcome. His tall and beautiful wife, Judith, came striding towards us, waving a windblown welcome. A traditional kiss on each cheek, an invitation for a coffee, and for the first time I stepped inside a roulotte.

The interior of their roulotte is about the same size as Tòti Bleu will be. It felt cozy and comfortable, and as Mark who is a sailor remarked, just like being in a boat. Although the day was cold and damp, a tiny woodstove kept the inside warm. I felt we were with friends lost to us for a very long time, then reunited. ( When this feeling comes over me, and it is not often, I really believe that we must have known each other in another time.) There was so much to say and not enough time to say it all.

I had brought a picnic lunch, so with the two girls, Saphire and Yentl Rose, we were six people inside for lunch. It didn't seem cramped or crowded. It felt friendly and comforting. (Perhaps we are much too far away from each other in our big houses.) I had planned to interview Judith and André for this blog, prepared to ask them about their travels; but I never did. There were just too many other things to discuss. So I don't have the story I had thought to write. In place of that story, I am left with a warm and wonderful impression of meeting extraordinary people who live their life as if it were a work of art. They are beings filled with love–love for each other, love for life, love for nature, and love for humanity. Judith mentioned several times the joy of living so close with nature: the owl hooting in a nearby tree, the birds flying overhead on their way south at this time of year, the day to day life with the horses, the slow rhythm of traveling through the countryside, the meeting of new people. They are living the life they dreamed of so many years ago. I'm sure they have made a change in the lives of those who have met them. They make a difference in the world.

This is one of the two sturdy Fjord mares that have pulled Roulotte Papillotte over 2000 km each year for the past 13 years.

Judith and André both gave me valuable information for the construction of my roulotte, for the choice and care of the horses, tips for life on the road, and where to buy proper harness at a reasonable price. They answered all my many questions with interest, supported by their knowledge and years of experience living this lifestyle. We discovered that André builds a great little wood burning stove for a roulotte, and I hope to have one in Tòti Bleu for chilly evenings. They explained that it is best to travel within France as traffic conditions in Spain and Portugal are just too dangerous. We discussed the building of the roulotte and they had great ideas for using space wisely. I came home with a head full of ideas and new information. Most of all, I came home feeling that I had spent an afternoon with exceptional people. I know Tòti Bleu will become a reality and I know I will love slowly clip-clopping along small country roads with fields of sunflowers blooming all around. I know I will share this joy with friends.

One of the nicest parts of this journey is sharing it with Mark. He is as interested in the dream as I am. He drives me around, takes photos, has great ideas, and gives me the benefit of his boat building knowledge, since this is really just a “land yacht.” We talk about everything over our morning coffee. I could never realize this dream without him. How very lucky I am!!

I suggest a visit to the site :

There are also videos on Youtube and Vimeo, just tap in Roulotte Papillotte.

The photos on their site are lovely. Don't miss the portraits of their daughters Saphire and Yentl Rose



About Suzanne

American living in France. Artist and lover of nature, gardening, all living beings. Married to the love of my life, mother of two wonderful daughters and grandmother.
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2 Responses to Life as Art

  1. Robin Dillon-Mahon. says:

    Knowing you as I do, your project feels to me like a glove you are slipping on to your hand. You make me smile! XX Robin.

  2. N2 says:

    Somehow I’d missed these last two entries. Love knowing about your latest project. The journey has begun and these stories and the first steps you are taking are wonderful in themselves. x0 from CA N2

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