Skip to content

Archive for

Vendre dit vendredit: Part Three – The merit of all things consists in their difficulty

An occasionally regular series charting a seemingly endless search for the perfect maison familiale.  You can catch up on previous installments by typing Vendre dit into the search box if you are so inclined.

I have to take a deep breath and cast my musty mind back more than three years for this part three.  And there are, appropriately three parts as it turns out.

DSCF1776

The Mairie, Champs sur Tarentaine-Marchal

It was the beginning of Winter and we had flown from London for a fleeting visit to this place that had welded itself to our collective heart.  We had much to do.  We were to be interviewed by the Mayor of Champs sur Tarentaine to see if he would agree to marry us.  He did.  So we then booked lunch at the very nice restaurant just outside the village.  It was a lovely lunch, followed by an in depth discussion of the arrangements for our Wedding Feast.  To take place in the garden (under the pretty, rustic awnings if it was too cool or too sunny) and to consist of a wonderful array of food (mostly what Madame dictated since our English notions of Wedding Fayre where frightfully outré) with delicious wines aplenty and beautifully decorated tables.  We sat and chatted with our very good friends and discussed the invitations which she insisted on designing for us and he explained the etiquette of the vin d’honneur mariage at the Mairie immediately following the ceremony.  All was glowing rosily in our world.  And fired up with our joie de vivre and the sure knowledge that we were entirely unassailable in our love-bubble we rang an immobilier in Aurillac and asked if we might see a house he had on his books.  He was called Eric.

DSCF5131

We arrived at Eric’s office and Eric was no-where to be seen.  We took our seats and I glanced at my mobile.  A hysterical note from a daughter indicated that I needed to send her money.  I did this instantly and seemlessly on my iPhone and congratulated myself on my epic grasp of modern technology.  Whilst cursing the downside of raising children on ones own which is that when they are in need there is only one point on their compass.  We waited some more and eventually Eric surfaced.  During the wait, his glossy assistant had gleaned that we wanted somewhere with a decent patch of land but that it would be a maison secondaire so needed to be reasonably practical until we collectively retired.  She had punched this information emphatically into her computer and not for the first time in my life, I marvelled at how it can possibly be that some women are able to maintain a perfect manicure and type whilst I need never bother with polish unless chipped and distressed become nail haute couture.  We christened Eric, Eric the Fish on account of the Monty Python sketch in which Michael Palin wants to buy a licence for his pet fish, Eric and the shop-keeper is also called Eric.  He’s an halibut.  Eric lives with a dog called Eric and a cat called Eric.  And so it goes on.  Anyway Eric the Fish bid us follow him out of town to view the house.

DSCF5205

Now it should be noted that our friend Eric (not Eric the Fish) is a motor cycle cop.  In fact he is known as Eric Motard.  That means Eric the bike-cop.  Eric had assessed the house we were going to see with a single sentence – ‘I know that place … I often have a speed trap almost outside it’.  Eric is a hero.  Later, at our wedding all my daughter’s will fall in love with him and announce he is a French Bruce Willis.  Eric keeps tropical fish.

We sped out of town behind Eric the Fish.  Two Brains was tangibly agitated behind the wheel, convinced that we were going to meet Eric Motard and his speed gun at any moment.  Imagine the embarrassment.  Our Gendarme friend Philippe (you may recall that all our friends are called Philippe.  Except Eric) had the ultimate embarassment when he was stopped for speeding in his own village.  Twice.  At the time he was the station sergeant.  On a particularly nasty bend we spied the house and beyond it a layby into which Eric the Fish shimmy-ed adroitly somehow avoiding a speeding truck bearing down the road in the other direction.  We creeped and peeped, took a deep breath and our lives in our hands and turned across the road to a white-faced halt next to the immobilier.  He waved nonchalantly at the house and said there is a garage underneath but it would be madness to park in it given that this is a route nationale and  known for it’s accidents.  He didn’t seem to think this fact might in any way put us off.  We walked down the road, backs glued to the bank and staring death in the face.  We dutifully entered the house which was clearly a maison secondaire for a family with teenaged or young adult children who took advantage of the skiing just up the road at le Lioran.  The basement garage was full of snow boards and skis and it was all very sportif.  The house itself was an interesting patchwork of purples, puces, violent ocres and magentas interspersed with the occasional and presumably strategic accent piece in lime green or scarlet.  Not to my personal taste but châcun a son gout.  It has to be said that the views out over the valley were beyond magnificent notwithstanding the road between house and view.  But we explained to Eric le poisson that really we couldn’t live on such a fast highway, even if it was not our fixed abode.  That we have five young adult children and the idea of letting them stay, go into town for a night out and negotiate the road in high spirits was unbearable and that as nice as the elevated garden was you would need to have your mountain goat Boy Scout or Girl Guide badge to get up and down those steps in the dark.  He suggested we follow him back to his office to discuss.  We should have sneaked off into the yonder the other way but being polite and English we did as bidden.

He said he had two houses that were just the ticket.  No pictures of either because they were new on the market but we would be foolish to let the opportunity slip.  We went and had lunch in the town.  Aurillac is the prefecture or capitol of Cantal and very lovely …. small with only 28,000 population but beautifully formed and very artsy with  strong bias to music and in particular, jazz .  We chose a restaurant quite badly and managed to attract an extraordinarily surly waitress who told us the menu du jour was finished and then proceeded to serve it up to several tables who came in after us but what she did deign to serve us was very nice if twice the price.  It happens.

Back at Chez le Fish promptly at 2:15 we set off and I could not begin to tell you where we went.  It seemed to take an age but eventually we arrived in a tiny hamlet.  We entered a small, rather dark house midst an explanation that it came with about a hectare of land on which the owner kept a couple of goats a cow and some poultry.  And possibly a horse and donkey.  How you can have any misunderstanding over the latter, I silently pondered as we walked straight into the main piece to be greeted nervously by a stooped very elderly man standing pointedly poking a weak and clearly freshly laid fire.  ‘I did as you said’ he said to The Fish and to us ‘The fire makes the house much nicer. That’s what he told me’.  The Fish (who it should be noted looked rather uncomfortable and had some sort of coughing siezure as this nugget was being imparted) had clearly told him that if he lit the fire all of a sudden the house would take on fresh and beguiling personality and we would be possessed of a passion to buy it.  I’m surprised he hadn’t told the poor soul to bake a fresh loaf and grind some coffee beans as well. It was a sorry little place.  Jaded and neglected like it’s sweet old owner.  He told me he was a widower.  His wife had died a little while ago and he had continued as best he could (I don’t know how old he was but I would guess either side of eighty) but now all he wanted to do was move to Toulouse where his son and daughter were.  They were too busy to come and see him but if he could sell, he could move near them and then he would be happy.  I walked quietly round the house and said his wife had pretty things.  She did.  Very few but they were pretty.  He said he missed her still but it was time to move because he now struggled to cope and it was a long way for his daughter and son to come and see him.  And they were busy.  He told me this over and over as though by referencing them enough times he might magic them up.  If we’d had the money we would have bought the house then and there and driven him to Toulouse and found him a place where he could be warm and cosy.  Near to other elderly people and people that might deign to talk to him.  I was not convinced his daughter and son would have time to spend time with him  even if he was next door but maybe I surmise unjustly.  I felt hollow when we left because I knew we could not and would not buy it and I wished I hadn’t put him to the trouble of lighting his fire fruitlessly.  As I’m very afraid it will always be.

The Fish then escorted us to his other gem.  The most bizarre house I had ever been inside though now I know it is not at all out of the ordinary.  Being a beady eyed bird, I spotted instantly that this was a décès (deceased estate) the clue being in the assertively placed post-it notes in sundry lurid colours on all the furniture and fittings presumably being code for the various beneficiary’s spoils.  The house was positively cavernous.  It was reached by a path that a toddler could traverse in two steps.  In other words it fronted directly onto the road – it was in a small and rather disconcertingly quiet village.  It had a sort of brooding silence.  We imagined that the garden which was about an acre must all be to the rear.  It felt rather Kafkaesque inside.  Arrow straight corridors with several doors either side all opening onto seemingly identical rooms.  Square, wallpapered by a latterday lunatic and gloomy.  Obscurely it had two kitchens one on either side of the corridor.  Both completely kitted out identically to include twin past-their-sell-by and quite possibly extremely dangerous old cooker, huge chipped enamel sinks with rusting taps, ancient cupboards (not lovely antique cupboards you understand, more hoary unsalvagable cupboards)  bow fronted vintage refrigerators each big enough to store a body and formica topped metal table and chairs.  This mysterious arrangement was not explained and we were too polite to ask … We were not, however, too polite to ask to see the garden.  ‘Certainly’ said The Fish.  ‘Hop in your car and follow me’.  ‘No.  The garden.  We just wanted to see the garden.’  ‘Yes – it’s about a kilometre down the road.’  This was our first experience of a phenomena which is commonplace in France … terrain non attenant where you have land but it doesn’t join your house. Sometimes it’s in several different locations but none of them ajoin, let alone surround, your house.  I had visions of lovely leisurely lunches on a long table under the trees and wondered at the sheer logistics of planning such a meal in your two kitchens.  In fairness, the reception rooms though sombre would wake up and smile with some care and there was a sweet little parlour that would make a cosy office and there was  running water though it was unclear whether hot water was a consideration.  But no cellar which is odd in such a once grandiose place. And to take coffee in the garden would require a thermos flask and to take a glass of wine would require a cool-bag.  Or alternatively a footman in full livery, obviously, to push his trolley down the road and convince the invisible neighbours that the English really are all mad dogs.

PS:  When we returned to the restaurant that was catering for our wedding party less than a month before our big day Madame had never seen us before in her life and had no record nor recollection of taking the booking AND unfortunately was now catering for a bit of a do – another do taking the entire restaurant and garden and couldn’t possibly fit us in.  That she also lost the Mayor’s dinner booking for himself and several other frightfully important local dignitaries did nothing to salve the sore.  But that is another story ….

By the way, the title is Aramis to Athos and d’Artagnan in Dumas’ ‘The Three Musketeers’ because this is a story of three and I have always rather agreed with him. 

And another thing:  When I am writing stories of houses for sale I think it a matter of decency not to feature photos of the actual places.  Therefore, the pictures illustrating  each story are just that – illustrative.  All taken by me, of course.  However,  as it happens one of the buildings featured in Aurillac is for sale … it’s an ancient presbeterie and has a beautiful courtyard garden probably best suited to conversion as flats.  In case you were interested in a bit of light property development in le Cantal ….

I’m an instant star … just add water

I often take part in the wordpress weekly photo challenge but sometimes I just don’t feel moved.  Claudette whose lovely blog is titled ‘To Search and To Find’ with the strapline ‘happiness in every day’ writes beautiful words and takes wonderful photographs and decided to invent something called Emotography and post an example every week.  I commented that it is a delightful idea (whilst also commenting on the beauty and pathos of the first example titled ‘Forlorn’) and she said that she would like other’s to get involved.  So I am and I hope you will too.  Just post a picture and write about the emotion it conjures in you and link it to Claudette’s site.   I’m certain that many of you who I interact with would enjoy this, get value and give value by participating.  There are no rules, you don’t have to commit to every week, just when the mood takes you, share.  It feels rather good to me.

So to mine … this is a picture taken the day after my daughter’s wedding last August when she and her friends were having a recovery party and my husband and I opted out and went instead to Stourhead just down the road from the venue for a recuperative walk.  Stourhead was one of my father’s favourite places – he loved the trees, loved trees in general (I wrote about his love once before, just here) and he was amused by the temples which you can see one of across the water.    For me, I just love the water and the reflection and the clouds, those very English clouds and the whole thing evokes nostalgia for England, for summer and mostly for my dad who loved the place – so I give you my first Emotograph ‘Nostalgia’ …

DSCF2958

PS:  In the week of David Bowies untimely passing, I’ve pinched his words for my title.  When speaking of stardom he said ‘I’m an instant star – just add water and stir’.  Let loose from his last illness I hope he’s kicking some stardust in Heaven.  With my dad.

Coup de Cœur – Part Five: Perhaps he’d like to come inside

An occasional series chronicling the tale of the renovation of a former medieval watch-tower in southern France ….. 

And so it came to pass that we had an almost cleaned out interior.  One little thing kept bugging me, though.  As hard as I tried, the floorboards in the  grenier just refused to be clean.  I swept them, mopped them, swept them some more and mopped them again and again but everytime I thought I had banished their dusty film so it came back.  The thing is this.  Sometimes even I can be a teeny bit unobservant.  The me, who prides herself on having the most point perfect eye for detail can fail to see what is slapping me in the face with a leather glove and blinding me with with an eye-achingly bright light like a Gestapo Officer up close and far too personal.   On the other hand it took The Myopic Brains moments to notice when he arrived on one of his famed flying visits from wherever on the planet he was saving stardust.  ‘See those holes, darling?  The holes in the charpente which you have so eloquently been likening to the ‘Bottled Spider’ image that Antony Sher conjured when playing Richard III at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1980s.  Those holes, my love – they are worm holes.’  This was an epic ‘oh bugger’ moment for us both.  Up to that point we had been convinced that the house had no major issues and that it was simply a matter of stripping back and restoring and that the most taxing issue would be where to place the bathrooms.

Woodworm is a serious issue in any culture.  I have yet to recover from my mother breaking the news to me at 23 that she had burned my doll’s house (a 1920s treasure that was home to my imagination during the decades of growing up and which I had assumed would house my dreams forever).  It took me years to forgive her so perhaps those that are devotees of the idea of Karma are now looking sagely (and, perchance a little self-righteously)  at me and quietly explaining that she, karma, is a bitch and will always eventually, and probably when you are least expecting it, bite you in the bum.  In France the major issue is Capricorne or Longihorne as some will confusingly call it.  Like turmites they will strip a house systematically and thoroughly and are impossible to get rid of.  If you are infested with Capricornes there is no choice but to have all the woodwork replaced and even then, like all good terminators there is a good chance that they’ll be back.  They are lethal.  My husband is a Capricorn.

We called in to see the mayor.  He pulled his phone from his pocket, twirled it idly in his fingers like Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’, performed some sort of sleight of hand scroll of the screen with the finesse of a seasoned poker player and found us two numbers.  Writing them extra carefully and clearly he looked at us with the heaviest and gravest of expressions and wished us heartfelt good luck and godspeed in our quest to get a verdict.  His last words echoed in our agitated minds … ‘l hope for your sakes it is not capricorne for these would indeed be a severe catastrophe’.

Bug Man Number One was more local being only 30 km away rather than the 180 km trek that Bug Man Number Two would have to make and by good fortune he was able to rendez-vous at the house in two days time.  We barely slept for those two days …. I convinced myself that if I had had the sense to recognise what the issue was a little earlier with my mop now propped in the corner eyeing me mornfully, all would have been well but since I was wearing the dunce hat and sitting on the naughty chair I had condemned the house and it would probably have to be burned like my dolls house.  And the village would hate me because it is their emblem, their symbol.  In fact any entente cordiale between Britain and France (tenuous at the best of times, let’s face it) would crumble and there would be friendly and then unfriendly fire.  Probably a war.  There was little doubt in my mind that I had brought about The Apocolypse.   And it was all my fault.  And The Bean.  She’d been there all the time and she hadn’t done anything to help.  If in doubt, blame the dog.  So I did.  But it didn’t help.  My guilt was my straight jacket.  I couldn’t eat nor sleep and consequently when we arrived for the meeting on a freezing cold February morning I had all the aesthetic appeal of mouldy baguette slowly decaying in a murky puddle.  In truth distinctly less appeal than that.  And a stomach that was growling and gurgling like a Grizzly Bear that has indulged in a barrel of rotten apples  because although I was not hungry, it was.

The man in question let’s call him M.  le Terminateur had the air of an unsuccessful travelling purveyor of quackery in the wildwest.  Wire-rimmed spectacles, slightly stooped and with a long face that was, well … long.  Slightly melancholy.  And he carried a bag – bigger and baggier than a briefcase out of which he produced an archaic looking probe.  He advanced up the two flights of stairs brandishing the prod before him, his expression  the epitome of ideal had he been an undertaker – sombre, dignified, subdued.  He spied the offending beam instantly and with no clues from Two Brains who was seemingly glued to his side, and poked it with aplomb.  He then peered solomnly at the beam and turned to walk back downstairs.  The twittering fool that was me almost fell backwards down the stairs in my haste to get out of his hallowed way.  I managed to effect a perfect study of a grovelling buffoon as I silently implored him to give us good news.  We gathered before him, we mottly three, The Bean, having grasped the severity of the situation, showed solidarity by prancing on her hind legs and adopting her most appealing expression. He delved again into the inky depths of his cavenous bag bringing out a piece of paper and a pencil.  On it he wrote one word and then handed the pencil to my husband to write down our details which he already had but just to be certain, you understand, so that he could send us an estimate.  It was only after he had left as stealthily as he had arrived (and after a total of less than 10 minutes in our house) that I dared to gibber at my husband to let me see the paper.  The word written was Vrillette.  I had no idea what it meant but I knew it didn’t spell Capricorne. I knew for now, my beloved is the only Capricorn of note in my life.  And the weight of my guilt felt less tortuous.  For now.  I am a mother so I am, of course, hard-wired to guilt but nothing so extreme as the fear of having to torch the jewel of the village need trouble me for the moment.

Of course that was not the end of the story.  When the estimate came through it was with an instruction that all the floor boards must be lifted leaving only a few to walk on.  The men would come and inject the charpente and spray the poutres (beams) only when the space was prepared.  We spent a total of 3 days working tirelessly together to get the rest of the do-it-yourself insulation out … I’d done my best but it was not good enough – the whole area had to be dust free.  We wrenched up floor boards, saving what we could and ditching the worst and relaid them in a rather fetching patchwork but without nails  which are themselves beautiful – long, crude, simple and mostly unsalvagable – to hold them.  We brushed and we hoovered using the little lightweight upright vacuum cleaner that my mother had given me the year before.  She is a little eccentric it must be said, and when I mentioned that I had left my wonderful hospital-quality, state of-the-art, all singing and frankly nifty dancing model with a friend in England and it felt a little churlish to ask for it back, she revealed that she had 4 hoovers.  All brand new.  None used because she also has a cleaning lady who has her own hoover.  I chose a sweet little bagless number and drove back to France triumphant with her nestled in the boot of the car.  This diminutive lightweight beauty has become one of my best friends.  I feel very attached to her – she makes life so much more bearable not having to sweep all the time.  A girl can only take so much Cinderella chimera after all.  You will understand, therefore that my marriage nearly ended when it appeared that the brave little beast had died in action due to the sheer mass of dirt she was being expected to inhale.  HB² had no comprehension that he had murdered  my precious. Anthropomorphising household equipment is not in his remit.  Fortunately both for him and for our marriage she had simply had a perfectly understandable hot flush but my grief did prompt him to go out and buy a cheap, cheerful and above all mighty macho and potent sucker-upper.  My Little Engine That Could is back in the civilised confines of our appartment leaving Wild Bill to rule the wilds of Marcolès.  And rule he did – spotless, dirtless and dustless in no time at all.  We were ready for the coming of the bug-men.

We waited and waited.  We waited some more.  And then we waited.  It is an often commented on fact that in France, if you aren’t actually breathing down the neck of the workman of choice they will repeatedly find other things to occupy them.  These can be other money earning jobs or just propping up the bar and putting the commune to rights with their cronies depending on opportunity and how they are feeling that day.  You do have to be prepared to get a little stern.  Actually in our case, we have not experienced this tendency but it appeared that we were breaking our duck with this fellow.  So we got stern (or to be accurate, HB² got stern and I supported him with dignity on the side-lines) and eventually the news came through that phase one was complete.  I should explain that we leave a key with my heart-throb, M. le Maire so that our absence is not an issue if there is a need to access the house.  Since vrillettes are all but invisible to the naked eye, I will just have to take M. le Terminateur’s good word that the operation had been a success.   But we do now sport plastic tubes that look a little like rawl plugs all over the charpente.  They are ugly and I dislike them and we will try and find a way to disguise them but I am not so churlish as to be ungrateful for the fact that they have saved the roof.  That is good fortune indeed.

Whilst the coy little waiting game was being played out I continued to clear through the remaining cupboards.  Nothing could have prepared me for finding a gun.  I’m very scared of guns.  I think that is a sensible approach.  My good sense told me not to touch it – I became convinced that it was loaded and might simply go off at any moment.  So there it stayed and I avoided going into the room it was in until The Brains returned some weeks later.  He assured me that Wyatt Earp himself, Doc Holliday indeed and least of all Marshall Will Kane could do no damage with it because, darling,  it is a toy.  Which you will see from the photograph is obvious.  I fear the delirium that our predecessor suffered from may be contagious.

DSCF1944

PS:  The title could only be stolen from Spike Milligan:

Today I saw a little worm
wriggling on his belly.
Perhaps he’d like to come inside
and see what’s on the telly

PPS:  If you want to catch up on the previous instalments, simply type Coup de Coeur into the search box on the top of the right hand column and it will find them for you.  Clever stuff so clearly not made by me!

Fractured pillars frame prospects of rock

France is speckled with more than her fair share of rugged fortresses and fairy-tale chateaux and every shade and hue betwixt, between, beyond and behind.  This one (le Chateau d’Arouze) stands dominant over le Vallée D’Alagnon in the commune of Molompize which has it’s own unique micro-climate enabling it to pioneer the revival of Cantalien wine-making.  We walked the terraces and we conquered the Castle. I have a tendency to hoover up the ambience and atmosphere of  buildings to the extent that my life imagined appears to play out within and without them and I find myself a player in my own drama without ever needing to put pen to paper.  This one did not disenchant as I swished and swooshed and scrambled and scaramouched my way around it, the fantasy trumpeting loud in my head all the while.

HB² (that’s my husband with two brains for new readers) took this sublime shot which seems to me to indicate weightlessness on several levels – the bristly half grown beards of grass like immature goaties on the tops of those ancient towers seem drawn upwards as though absolved of gravity, the stone skillfully, artfully placed so long ago (in 1309 for pedants such as me) reaches heavenwards vainly trying to touch the clouds, themselves apparently weightless wafting serenely and, I always think, a little scathing of that which they float effortlessly above.

DSCF4608

I’m responding to the prompt ‘weightless’ in this weeks Daily Press Photo Challenge …. all the other, more marvellous entries are here.

PS:  Sylvia Plath, that most fragile of souls, who I love thoroughly and unashamedly wrote the poem that I snatched my title from.  That she was born in the same year as my still living mother but died only three years after my birth has always resonated  poignantly with me.  Now it suddenly strikes me that she was born so close to where I am making my home for a while in Massachusetts and the echoes ring more shrilly still.

Through portico of my elegant house you stalk
With your wild furies, disturbing garlands of fruit
And the fabulous lutes and peacocks, rending the net
Of all decorum which holds the whirlwind back.

Now, rich order of walls is fallen; rooks croak
Above the appalling ruin; in bleak light
Of your stormy eye, magic takes flight
Like a daunted witch, quitting castle when real days break.


Fractured pillars frame prospects of rock;
While you stand heroic in coat and tie, I sit
Composed in Grecian tunic and psyche-knot,
Rooted to your black look, the play turned tragic:
Which such blight wrought on our bankrupt estate,
What ceremony of words can patch the havoc?
Conversation Among The Ruins
Sylvia Plath

 

 

Miles to go before I sleep

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep’ … if you know who wrote the lines you have a clue to where I am and indeed the place that is now home for some time to come.  Fancy a guess? Leave a comment below and those of you who already know keep your council a while longer if you please.

DSCF5497

The picture is in response to the Daily Press challenge to greet this nearly new year and titled ‘Circle’ – here are the other several hundreds of wonderful entries.

This place where I landed a week and a day ago has the most unimaginably beautiful light.  Gentle, pale, soft, benign and the reflection in the frozen pond of delicate sky charmed us as greatly as the ripples made static circles by the freezing puff of winters breath

Here, to make my test entirely untesting is the poem that gave me the line that seemed so apt to title this new chapter in my life:

 

 

 

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
The little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’

Robert Frost