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Vendre dit vendredi: Part Two – Chasing down a daydream

The occasional series of stories relating to our relentless quest for the perfect house continues ….

I used to remark that I had to kiss a lot of frogs before I found my Prince.  The same principle seems to apply to our search for a maison principale in France.  We actually began looking three years ago and due to my emphatically stated obsession with towers and turrets, were drawn to the idea of finding a place with Rapunzelling potential.  Up sprung a perfect peach.  The right amount of land, a decent sized but not over-humungous house and vaguely in the right location.  That is to say it was in le Cantal.  Our departement of choice.  We have since revised this rigid proviso but at the time refused to countenance anywhere else at all.

These are all houses I wish were for sale, sadly none are but I can dream …..

One fine and sunny morning we set of to rendez-vous with an immobilier underneath one of the many viaducts that pepper our area.  The house had been described as being in St Saturnin.  At a stretch you could accept that conclusion but as we have since discovered, estate agents are deliberately vague about the accurate whereabouts of property they are selling for fear of a sly deal being struck behind their back.  The car window lowered, an arm materialised and a piece of paper was thrust at us and we signed it.  This is normal practice here (the signature, not the disembodied arm) – you are acknowledging that you viewed the house with this agent and therefore should you wish to buy it, they are entitled to the commission on the sale.  Actually, quite often, the agent will not technically have been instructed.  They will have hoovered the property from one of the many property marketing websites and will have spent some time tracing the owner and pursuading them that they have an interested buyer and enticing them with promises of the worthiness of the said buyer and their bulging pockets and desire to buy this and only this house in the whole of France eventually hitting the jackpot of being allowed to introduce the buyer to the house.  It is all rather fragile and nervous and smacks of men in grubby raincoats, with numerous pockets filled with contraband nylons.

We set off behind the rather feisty and over-painted lady realtor and nearly lost her as she hurtled into the distance and turned abruptly  up a steeply rising and very twisty little road.  Several twists and turns later she again did a hand-brake turn and tore down an even narrower lane before screeching to a halt and getting out of her car.  This was our first glimpse of the whole person and it came as a relief that she was indeed a whole person and not just an arm armed with pen and paper.  We proceeded calmly and sedately behind her and eventually reached the same point.  These days I like to think I drive rather more confidently but this was a year before we moved to the area and we were cautious.  Very cautious.  In fact a casual observer might even have mistaken us for a teeny bit scared.  Wearing an unfeasibly tight skirt and jacket combination that gave her slightly dumpy figure the appearance of an overstuffed cushion and on tottering heels, she asked us to follow her through the gate and then stop whilst she got back out and shut it.  We offered to walk up the drive but she would have none of it presumably because the heels (they are called  talons  in French which is highly appropriate) were entirely unsuitable for walking on anything but the flattest surfaces and certainly not this predictably pitted and potholed driveway in the middle of no-where-land.  She bounced and bumped at some speed ahead of us and I had an unfortunate image of her plumptious form bursting forth from its upholstery and wondered how on earth we could reasonably repair her should she actually explode.  We continued to drive in our discreet and dignified manner.  The drive was moderately long and graced by a few trees and flanked by a  field, home to two horses of the local genus with their glamourous flaxen manes and glossy coats the colour of rich scandinavian polished pine.


And there was the house – Rapunzelling Tower to the right and a hefty  front door.  Out of the front door came an extremely slender, delicate to the point of fragile, lady clearly flirting with a  certain age and looking frankly rather suspicious.  I hoped we were actually in the right place.  She pulled herself together and extended a tenuous hand.  I had the overwhelming impression that she didn’t really want to shake anything let alone our hands.  She managed the most ephemeral of touches and immediately turned away, limply beckoning us to follow her in.  As we did, this nebulous illusion of politeness was shattered.  By her dog.  Her enormous and very boisterous dog.  Her entirely uncontrollable dog.  Her dog whose black and wild coat matched his mistress’s hair which was also deranged, pitch-dark and seemingly too big for her head.  Her dog who was very, very eager to show us his home.  Actually, it was a second home.  She is Parisienne.  The house was inherited.  And she didn’t really want it.  Inside this was abundantly clear.  It was a curious place.  The ground floor consisted of a giant room with one small window appearing even smaller by virtue of the thickness of the stone and a huge fireplace, off which lay a small dark kitchen tiled very expensively and highly inappropriately, the shiny nauseous green arguing loudly with the original flagstoned floor which extended throughout.  It was a space devoid of any softness and indeed any natural light. The tower had been turned into a boiler room and didn’t feel in the slightest bit romantic.  Upstairs were four of the largest bedrooms I have ever seen, one of them altogether empty except for an ironing board and piles and piles of clothes clammering to be rendered perfectly pressed.  The fifth bedroom was devoted to a vast wardrobe of  apparel presumably because the dog regularly towed her through undergrowth, streams and mud wallows necessitating many changes of costume each day.  She walked round behind us vainly trying to control the canine.  It was clearly a fun little private game.  I jest.  She was clearly deranged.  One room had a bathroom in the tower.  We didn’t make it to the top floor – she appeared extremely reluctant to allow us to see it and jarring estate agent lady looked acutely forbidding when we suggested that we might like to.  All my dreams of sitting in the tower letting down my hair were being systematically exterminated and the dog was apparently growing bigger by the minute.  And more boisterous.  Flakey Parisienne was clearly feeding him sneaky steroids.  I on the other hand, rather than feeling inflated, was punctured and rapidly deflating and feeling SO unwelcome, went out to the garden.  The views across from the Plateau de Cezallier to the Plateau de Limon are spectacular.  I didn’t actually know that was what I was looking at at the time, but I have since grown to know and love it.

As we made our dignified exit, we could see the dog dragging it’s  evidently certifiable and, by now virtually airborne owner enthusiastically across the drive, their twin hair flapping and waving in formation and the fleshy disembodied tightly clad arm of the be-taloned estate agent regally waving from it’s car.

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Later that day, lunching with friends, they remarked that their research via Philippe (all our friends are called Philippe) in the next hamlet to the house had revealed sinister goings on with the farmer next door.  I idly wondered if that was the reason Mme Looby-Loo de Paris had looked so startled and alarmed at the thought of us going up to the attic ….

Of course we didn’t buy the house and I revised my plan to nonchantly Rapunzel my life away.  For the moment.


PS:  The title is from ‘I See The Light’ which is in turn from ‘Tangled’ which for the uninitiated is Disney’s version of Rapunzel … indulge me, to utilise it thus amuses.

28 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ah Osyth, I have been in ‘raptures’ (sorry) reading this post. SO much to love about it, I don’t know where to start…..
    Lady Estate agent – I am seeing ‘Imelda Staunton’ in a puce and purple (or maybe red) Chanel style open check suit with hair that is either red or dark auburn with a red ‘tint’ (Please don’t burst my bubble….)
    Parisian ‘chalk woman’ I see a lot of her out and about (sometimes her contemporaries have red hair also)
    I adore the photographs of the horses – what a beautiful breed, and your description of polished Scandinavian Pine is sublime.
    OK – how did you make that slideshow? I am seriously impressed now……
    Lastly – as you might have guessed, I have a bit of a tower (and indeed Rapunzel ) fetish.
    Have you read the book ‘Bitter Greens’ if not then do so, it is her story and a thumping good read with enough towers to satisfy your obsession…..
    Maybe though, most important of all – you made me laugh – gorgeous photos too – what more can I say – I am a fan x

    December 4, 2015
    • You are far too kind and far from bursting your Imelda bubble I embrace the image! People ask why I don’t visit the hairdresser in France and my answer is in those red-heads you so accurately point to! Our horses are beautiful … they come in deepest bay too and they are very hardy – out all winter high up when even the Salers and Aubrac cows have been brought down to the safety of gentler altitudes. Now! The slide show. You make a gallery as usual by selecting more than one picture to insert and then you will see various options in a drop down … different mosaics and at the bottom of the list ‘slideshow’ – it does all the work for you! I’m so glad to make you laugh – we all need to and it has been a sombre few weeks, I fear. I can think of no greater compliment than to have you, who I so enjoy reading and interacting with, as a fan 🙂 xx Off to find Bitter Greens now … it feels like an essential x

      December 4, 2015
      • I actually almost bought a house with a sort of semi tower attached to it in Liverpool – then realised that I would have a problem getting my existing sofas in – I will take a photo when I am over, over Christmas and post it on here.
        Ha ha ha the hair dressers – all I can say is I fly mine in specially from the UK to cut my hair – and my Parisian friend Mireille now waits until she is over to have her’s cut!.
        When I first moved here I asked a group of students how I asked for to have my layers trimmed in French and they don’t me that it didn’t matter what I asked for, they would do what they wanted, one girl told me that she went in for a trim and came out with a Cleopatra! She had very curly Arab hair and needed an industrial hairdryer to tame it while it grew, otherwise it just shrunk to a curly basin cut – true story.
        I complimented another on her new ‘asymmetrical’ l’ fringe ‘do’ and she said that she liked it also – just as well as she had not asked for a fringe and definitely not an asymmetrical one…..

        December 4, 2015
      • A scouse tower! Love it 🙂 My hair is actually visibly curling in horror at that story …. I knew I was justified. But darling, how I LOVE the fact that you fly your coiffeuse in! Glamour encarnate you are 🙂 xx

        December 4, 2015
  2. love your post and I get the attraction with the towers… will happen just keep looking, when it is the right one everything will fall into place as it should…..are you growing your hair our just in case??? LOL kat

    December 4, 2015
    • Glad you enjoyed it Kat! I’m quite happy waiting. We have our little house (more on that one on Monday as part 3 of the saga of the renovation goes to press) and the family house will fall into our laps when we are least expecting it. Of course I won’t get my hair cut – far to risky not having long enough locks if we DO find a tower 😀 xx

      December 4, 2015
      • lol look forward to part 3….

        December 4, 2015
  3. Ha ha ha – I shall have to write a blog post on French hairdressers and show you my very glamorous one (Jill) who comes over twice a year and checks in a bag to ring her scissors,
    The other times, I fly over to her………….

    December 4, 2015
    • I shall look forward to it 🙂 x

      December 4, 2015
      • Massif Central has a mention in my latest post ….

        December 5, 2015
      • Just about to give it a read – thank you for the heads up 🙂

        December 6, 2015
  4. haha this is hilarious! I love the real estate lady and how you describe her! It sounds like a very undercover operation dealing with real estate!!! That would be amazing to live in a house with a tower!! Wow!!! I love the pictures of the houses you wish were for sale! looks like a fairy tale! 🙂

    December 4, 2015
    • So glad you enjoyed it … You need fortitude and a sense of humour for this bunch of realtors but the dream if that tower calls me on!!

      December 5, 2015
  5. Great pictures Fiona and what a lovely story.
    I love the towers myself, I suppose it might be something to do with our quirky creative nature.
    It is a very beautiful place that you describe too.
    I think you should say all be damned and buy your tower. The of course HB2 and yourself should invite me to come and stay for the weekend!!

    December 5, 2015
    • Be sure of that invitation once we are settled in the chateau with the gateau, Cam. Just got to find the damn thing first 🙂

      December 5, 2015
  6. great storytelling. I was right there.
    Viz mad hair shades, many ladies of a ceratin age in our village of choice sport interesting shades of tomato, aubergine and once ( I swear) teal.

    December 5, 2015
    • My youngest daughter is 20 and like I did at 20 changes her hair colour more often than I change my mind. In Liverpool she’s a talking point with her belisha beacon orange hair of choice at the moment. In our village, no-one looks twice because she matches several of the old ladies who reside chez les coiffeuse thrice weekly! Glad you enjoyed it and more than glad you found it – I’m having issues with WP at the mo and getting increasingly gnarked 🙂

      December 5, 2015
  7. or even a certain age. We joke that when we are REALLY living in France I will have to visit the hairdresser also for a makeover (that is so NOT happening)

    December 5, 2015
  8. I wish your search had been on the show HOUSE HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL (if you’re familiar with it). I would’ve loved to have seen this on TV. Compared to some of the house-hunting searches on the program, no way would I have fallen asleep halfway through!

    December 19, 2015
    • What a wonderful complement … thank you so much! I’m really glad you are enjoying the trials of our search – there is much more to come – I’m trying (and failing miserably) for a fortnightly cadence and will try to keep you awake!

      December 19, 2015
  9. Love your writing!!!! Makes me think of my experiences living in France some years ago… though I wasn’t shopping for a castle back then (or even a tower!) Lovely pics, too! ;D

    January 10, 2016
    • Thank you so much – that’s really very kind. I’m pretty sure a lot has not changed and won’t in the foreseeable future in France which is part of its magic and its frustration and why I love it so 🙂

      January 11, 2016
      • Magic and frustration – well said, so true! I had a love-hate relationship with France but now time has erased the frustrating memories and I sometimes even dream of going back… to the countryside this time. Provence? Or maybe Italy’s Toscana instead 🙂 We’ll see..! Have a great week!

        January 11, 2016
  10. It was always going to be a toss-up between Italy and France for me … I lived in Italy in the 80s but France one by dint of it being my husband’s adopted homeland from homeland. But I will take him travelling through Italy just to rub in what he has kissed goodbye to 😉 You too, have a wonderful week 🙂

    January 11, 2016
  11. I was just thinking, “so, estate agents are universally dishonest”, when you started on your hilarious over-stuffed cushion imagery…
    Good decision on the house; you’d only find bodies and dodgy-happenings in a place like that…

    December 16, 2017
    • I hadn’t read that piece for a long time but your comment has the memories flooding back. That was 2013. The house is still on the market 😉 I helped people maximise the potential of their houses for sale for a spell and people would say ‘so you’re an estate agent’ I always refused to be associated. I’m afraid I think they are generally a pretty bad lot the world over with some noble exceptions, of course. In fact, we will start the hunt for the Maison Principale in Ernest again in the second half of next year and have two Immobiliers that we will use and no others. In theory …. but what is life, but to break one’s own rules 😉

      December 16, 2017

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