Coup de Coeur – Part Three: I beg your pardon …
I’m no magician and smoke and mirrors are not part of any repetoire I possess however much I might sometimes wish they were. In arrant contrast, it was abundantly clear that the incumbent owner of the house was a maestro of the art. What greeted us was a filthy mess though there were still a number of rather lovely pieces in the house. But we had this feeling, this sense that it can be, will be, beautiful again. We signed the Acte that made us the legal owners exactly a year after we first viewed it. A year that will remain forever tatooed on my little brain and a year that provides the reference for my novel in process.
Three months after signing the Acte the process of cajoling the previous owner (who mostly spends his time in Marseilles and seems mostly to be unable to leave his bed though he was beyond vigorous when we met) to come and take what he wanted from the house before the start of les grandes vacances on 1st July or thereabouts, was ongoing. The village had been totally and remarkably supportive of us and we had agreed that they could use the ground floor as an Office de Tourisme and that they could revert to the years old tradition of using the house in their famed Nuits de Marcoles. In France if the owner of the effects wants them you have to dance a lengthy gavotte before you can retain them or eject them. We danced. The village stowed things upstairs to make way for their tourist office. We continued to dance. The summer festivites came and went. We still danced. Le Monsieur came and went sporadically and things disappeared. He was clearly suffering from the cold further south in Mediterranean Marseille because he decided to rip the radiators from their moorings excavating chunks of wall with them. All this is legal by the way. We carried on dancing. Finally about a year ago word came that he had taken all he wanted. Exhausted, we threw off our Red Shoes and stopped dancing.
I drove south to my newly empty house. Wind back. Empty? Nah! Every stick of junk he possessed was still there. Somehow my enchanting house, the place I fell in love with on the internet, remember, had turned into a cold, unwelcoming landfill site. We had known it was impossible to walk across the grenier (attic) floor, my husband had kept the worst secrets of the cave (cellar) from me on the basis that the ladder was dodgy. Lies, all lies – I’m quite the mountain goat on the quiet as it turns out and I bound up and down quite nimbly, thank you. But I chose not to argue, nor look, frankly fearful of what I might find. The truth was far worse than any imagined fiction. And sandwiched in the middle of top and underground floors are two others which somehow seemed to have sprouted their own detritus. In abundance.
Enter the town. Monsieur le Maire de Marcoles is officially my hero. His assistant can clearly trace her ancestry to celestial angels. The town would see to the emptying. The least they could do in the face of our saving their jewel (they call it their emblem) … well actually they didn’t need to but my goodness me we snapped their hands off with the speed and certainty of a Kingfisher skewering it’s supper.
The town workers (les chantiers) set about their task. They fitted it in between their routine and other jobs. I journeyed down after a month and was overjoyed. A week later I went again and could not believe it – there was even more debris than the week before. This bizarre and unwelcome routine continued for weeks. Smile-despair-smile-despair. Every single time I thought there was nothing else to unearth, the jolly chantiers found more. Not that I was complaining, they were moving the damned stuff. And it was just stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. The physical incarnation of a clearly disturbed mind. The demented collection of a frenzied, and almost certainly certifiable magpie.
In November, we were in the Mairie discussing something or other with the beatified assistant when the chief chantier came staggering in. He looked at us, shrugged the most glorious gaelic shrug I have EVER seen and told us we were entirely mad to have taken on the house. The beatifeic one laughed angellically. I felt sick.
Christmas loomed. We were to spend it in England. HB² arrived at my mother’s house on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day (his birthday incidentally), he checked email. The beauteous creature who is the assistant to the mayor of Marcoles (I’ve recommended her for canonisation) had sent us a note: ‘The house is empty. Happy Christmas’. We danced.
PS: The picture shows me clasping a rose. A rose plucked by the mayor the first time we showed him inside a house he remembered from his childhood throughout his adolesence and for a large chunk of his adult life when it was always, always part of village festivities. Until the previous denizen moved in. The rose-bush flourishes on the side of the house. The Mayor has taken it upon himself to keep it tended in our absence. And tells me whenever he has pruned, or re-fastened it to the wall with a liberal sparkle in his eye – something I have noted, he is more than rather good at. I may not have been promised a rose garden, but I beg your pardon – I got one tended by the highest official in town!