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Posts from the ‘French History’ Category

He watches from his mountain walls

When we have visitors or, as often, without and just because I can, I  go and have a little tête-à-tête with Napoléon.  He sits on his mount, ‘Marengo’ surveying Lac Laffrey about half an hour out of the city.  The statue of him was originally installed in Grenoble in 1868 and was moved to it’s present site where he can look out over the water and the mountains in 1929.

On a recent visit one of my daughters asked me why people  still think Napoléon was a  such a great man.  Of course that is a major simplification and I don’t intend to go into a detailed account of all the pros and cons of his undoubtedly iconic era but it would be wrong not to note that it includes the institution of the Napoléonic Code (or French Civil Code) parts of which are still in use around the world today.  It forbad privilege based on birth, allowed freedom of religion and stated that government jobs must be given to the most qualified all of which might sound pretty musical to modern ears, I would contend.  These facts might be received with some surprise by those brought up with the British version of history which tends to tell of his war-mongering and unabandoned desire to dominate the planet.  The joy of Nelson’s triumph over him at Trafalgar ranks high as does his catastrophic mistake in trying to conquer Russia in winter.  And of course Waterloo where he might have quoted the equally iconic Benny and Bjorn of Abba, in admitting that he was ‘finally meeting my Waterloo’.

So I told her the story of what happened at Laffrey in 1815.  After the messy mistakes of 1814 when his armies had been frozen and starved into submission in Russia and simultaneously the British had made rather more headway than was cozy on French soil, he surrendered.  The allies had him sent to the Island of Elba in exile.  It’s not far from France – in fact rather appropriately it lies between Corsica, where he was born, and Italy from whence his parents both haled.  Unfortunately for the European allies who were collectively breathing a sigh of relief, patting themselves on the back for a job well done and adjourning to a jolly fine restaurant to celebrate their undoubted brilliance,  this was not a man who was going to wear a stripey prison suit and stare wistfully at the nearby mainland coast dreaming of prior greatness.  Not a bit of it.  Even before he was dispatched he had negotiated what might seem rather decent terms.  He was allowed to keep his trusty and, by all accounts magnificent, Marengo, he dressed everyday in his customary cashmere culottes fresh pairs of which were shipped in weekly, his fine military jacket and crucially his trademark hat which he always wore in a jaunty horizontal,  jutting out right and left far beyond each ear rather than the traditional North-South in order that he could be picked out instantly by his troops.  He strutted around content that he was simply taking a little rest, a retreat if you will, and he plotted.

In March 1815, just a year after his surrender, he made his move.  Abetted by his so called guards, he sailed back to France (complete with horse) landing in Golfe-Juan on the Côte d’Azur his plan to march with his 900 fusiliers back to Paris.  Waiting for his arrival were plenteous  faithful on standby for the word that it was game on.  Avoiding Marseilles where the ‘desiré’, King Louis XVIII, had a copious barracks full of his own soldiers, he landed and processed through Grasses, Digne les Bains and Sisteron en route through the high French Alps.  This passage forever after and to this day known as la Route Napoléon is, to be frank,  not the easiest of drives in a modern car  and I can barely imagine what it must have been like on horse-back and foot over 200 years ago in March which is frequently still wintry and bitter in the mountains.  Admittedly it was probably a wise move not to insist on elephants as Hannibal had in 218 BC, but I equally don’t doubt that there was a nod to that feat, our Bonaparte being well disposed to all things Roman, even their defeat at the hands of a mighty strategist in them there hills. As he proudly progressed, more and more soldiers joined his ranks and by the time he reached Laffrey he had a very decent batallion with him.  But here stood a problem for here stood the Kings men, guns pointed and cocked, swords ready to swash out of their well-oiled buckles and swipe lethally at the merest deft twitch of a hand all under orders from their Monarch to stop him.  And stop he did.  Slowly, Napoléon dismounted his horse and stood, cashmere culottes giving him the comfortable and familiar feeling of Emporordom, west to east hat reminding all fore and aft that they were facing or following Napoléon himself and uttered calmly:    ‘Soldats ! je suis votre Empereur. Ne me reconnaissez-vous pas?’ – ‘soldiers, I am your Emperor, do you not recognise me?’.  Then he took several steps forward, stuck out his admittedly rather fine example of a barrel chest and declared ‘S’il en est un parmi vous qui veuille tuer son général, me voilà !’ – ‘if any of you want to kill your General, here I am!’  There followed the tiniest nano-nod to the briefest micro-pause and then a riotous and tumultuous cheer.  The entire troop, all the kings men themselves, fell in behind him to march decisively onwards and later that day he descended triumphant into Grenoble.

Now what stands out to me about this story is the sheer force of personality, the charisma and the brazen confidence that he was indeed the leader and that no-one would dare to stop him.  We are, of course led to believe that he was a tiny man though I understand that this was British propaganda and that he was actually of average height for the day, but nonetheless and whatever his stature, really that is quite a stunt and I adore the story.

The picture is taken from le Vercors looking over to the slopes of le Grande Serre and specifically Taillefer.  Look closely and you can see that the forest on the slope is in the shape of an eagle.  Some say it is a natural phenomenon but it seems to me quite a strange coincidence that the trees should have naturally taken the form of Napoléon’s preferred emblem by happenchance.  I was told that he ordered a forest be planted in the shape of two eagles and if you look to the right of the intact one you can make out the wings of a second which has seemingly and rather unfortunately lost it’s head in all the unfettered excitement.  Perhaps he didn’t have the time to issue such grandiose orders, after all he only relit his fire for a further hundred days before  succumbing to Wellington at Waterloo and being summarily dismissed to live on Saint Helena, remote in the South Atlantic where he died supposedly of stomach cancer. In fact many believe he actually died of arsenic poisoning.  I tend to believe the latter theory – after all, who was going to risk this hypnotically powerful man casting his charming spell on a fresh batch of conspiritors and causing a mighty headache to Europe all over again?  If that is my given, then I prefer to believe that the people themselves either planted or felled trees to create the eagles that would forever remind those casting their eyes towards Laffrey that it’s place in history was earned at the hands of this mesmerizing and magnetic man.

History, you see, is not entirely finite, it lies in the hands of the storyteller.  Is it myth, legend, a story so old that no-one can remember what is true any more?  Probably.  And I rather like my version.  It sits kindly and if you would kindly remember, out of all things can come good if we let it.  No one wants another Napoléon hawking his desire for conquest across a continent, but in the end it must be reconciled that he left a legacy that benefitted not just his own kinspeople but those that live, for example in Western Europe  – even if he would have preferred the whole of Europe to be called la France ….

And what has promted this little detour into French history as retold by me?  The weekly photo challenge is titled ‘Story’ and since recanting stories is what I do, I thought I would go for a big one and leave you to spot the eagle(s).  You can find a glittering gallery of entries to the field, here.

Disclaimer:  No-one has been harmed in my retelling of this tale so whilst begging your pardon for my poetic licence I beg you not to throw rocks at me for any sins of omission or erroneous embellishment

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PS:  My title is taken from Tennyson’s powerfully simple poem ‘The Eagle’:

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
The Eagle
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

And your bonus …. The Eagles – well I would, wouldn’t I?  Desperado seems to fit the mood of those last hundred days and the film has horses and guns and you can by all means make the rest of the story up for yourselves … personally, I find it a lovely diversion.

Coup de Cœur – Part Eight: As if a hand has come out and taken yours

This giddying excitement is almost too much for a girl to take so I can’t imagine how you are coping!   Here we are on the second Monday in a row and I’m still keeping the promise that I will devote each start of the week day to a post in the series chronicling the tale of our restoration of a former Medieval Watch Tower in Southern France.

Today, by way of wrapping up the satiating feast of retrospective posts I delivered last week, I thought I would write a little about the history as we now know it, which, it turns out, is rather different to the original tale we were told at the start of this neverending story.

When we first laid eyes on the reality of the place on a freezing cold late January day in 2013 we were assured that the tower, built in 1203, simply fell into neglect and disrepair over the years and the that villagers had, quite understandably, swiped what they fancied and upcycled it into their own abodes.  Not so, mes braves.  In fact the tower was wilfully destroyed at some point in the early 1790s when news filtered through that the revolution  had brought down the Monarchy and flattenened (for a while) the old feudal systems, replacing them with a République that had no need for visible signs of the rule of church and king, hand in glove.

The correct name for the tower as it stood was ‘un tour seigneurial’.  Ours was the first place built in what would become the village of Marcolès.  It was inhabited by a feudal Lord who was, as in many cases, also the priest.  After it was constructed, and satisfied that he could survey everything around him, a church was built, and then another.  I think we can rest content that our Seigneur was a man of some excess.  Two churches within what is a tiny city wall seems a trifle indulgent. Rather the medieval equivalent of those, so much richer than I, who bring out my most churlish streak by insisting on parading an endless array of unfeasibly expensive motor cars a single one of which would buy me a perfectly good house in which to live a quiet and unobtrusive life.      At this time, the population was several thousand in the minuscule area that constitutes the walled ‘cité’ … these days in the whole commune, which is one of the largest in hectarage in the whole of Cantal, we number barely 500  in the village and all it’s hamlets.  It must have been quite something.

The present Eglise de Saint Martin was built in the XVth Century and at that time was one of two churches surveyed by the Tour Seigneurial

Thus, during the revolution the tower was deliberately toppled but in fact much of it remained.  To attic level for a little less than half of the building and up to first lintel height for the rest.  My mind conjures an image of zealous villagers, positively inebriated with joy at the  news of the fall of the Monarchy and the old-guard, advancing vigorously on that ancient and extremely sturdy construction and giving it utter hell for some while, bearing off their plundered stone with fervored delight.  After the first flush of frenzied looting I imagine them losing steam, scratching weary heads and agreeing that honestly?  Honestly, enough was enough, they’d done their bigger than needed bit and shrugging they retired to a hostelry to congratulate themselves over jugs of rough red wine.  Vive la France! Now to get on with the important things.  It’s entirely imagined and wholly affectionate, but I have a sneaky feeling there might be a bitty grain of truth in the notion.

Fireworks at the village fête de quinze août represent the fervour of the revolution

It should be noted that by now there was a fine chateau called les Poux, built in the early 17th Century which had hopped about between owners as such places often did at the effect of tussles and scurmishes but which, hold the thought,  had been snaffled by Huguenots early on.  By 1666 as London fried to cinders, its lethal combustion blamed for ever on an unfortunate baker who, in turn, protested his innocence for the rest of his life, yes, as London blazed, the present owners were already the incumbant lairds.  I find this significant.  It means that they escaped with their heads intact as the villagers, enraged and full of hope that the rich would no longer dictate to them, razed the tower that stood as a symbol of all things archaic and readied themselves for their brave new world.

The tree-lined avenue at Les Poux and a view back to the village from it’s land last winter

In the early 1820s that same sassy seigneur decided something should be done about, what must have been something of an eyesore in the middle of the village.  It was surely safe to pop his head above the parapet by this time since the Republic had been abolished in 1804 in the run up to Napoleon declaring himself Emperor.  This is not a French history lesson but suffice to say we are, at present, languishing in the fifth Republic of France and that 1824, which is credited as the year this chap decided it was safe to rebuild, was nestled neatly between the first and second.   I rather think he thanked God himself for the fact that he still had a head.  I think this not because I am harboring pious thoughts but rather because what he did, was to order the building you see now, but not as a house.  Instead he created a hospice.  Nursing nuns were installed to tend to the sick of the parish and to debilitated nuns from their Mother Priory in Aurillac which lies about 25 km North East of Marcolès and was, and still is, the most important town in the close area.  In fact these days it is the préfecture, county town if you will, of le Cantal. 

The priory still stands in Aurillac though these days it is occupied as apartments.  Gerbert of Aurillac became France’s first Pope in 946 AD declaring his papal name to be, rather splendidly, Sylvester II

The nuns worked gently and serenely, one hopes,  for the rest of the century administering to the needy.   In 1914 as yet another war, that war that was to end all war, which I still find the most tragic epithet of all time, seered and permanently scarred the   fields of Northern France, they departed.  I have much research still to do, but I imagine that, skilled as they were, they were summoned to tend the wounded and maimed boys despatched as cannon fodder from France and around the globe.  The building became empty and silent.

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In 1917 another bevy of revolutionaries, this time in Russia unleashed hellfire on the Czar and aristocracy.  They overthrew their own feudal rulers and a chaotic bloodbath ensued.  That is the nature of revolution. Sitting and intellectualizing its manner and outcome is fine and dandy but the reality will take it’s own messy course peppered with unknowns and unthought ofs. Some years earlier the daughter of  the Chateau les Poux had been dispatched to Russia to be governess to an unfeasibly rich family.  She loved her Russian life, took to it like a little French duckling to water and had no intention of ever returning to the middle of no-where-land to pass her days as a spinster.  That French was the first language of high-born Russians at the time and that all things French were considered to be the most elegant and sort after of treasures amongst the wealthy, explains why she would have been an appealing appendage to the family she served.  It was actually very common for well-educated desmoiselles who had been unsuccessful in securing a husband, leaving all around them scratching their heads and wondering what on earth to DO with such an embarrassment,  to be floated discretely off to Russia to live the fine life as an educator of the children in that strange limbo that governesses inhabited – something between family member and servant.  1917 therefore must have come as a colossal blow to her …. the family would necessarily have packed hastily and in their own chaos pointed her back towards France on the turn of a sixpence.  All fine and dandy.  Except of course France was at bloody and terrible war.  Take a moment to imagine what her journey might have been like over sea, overland and eventually, in heaven knows what state, returning to the familial home in far-flung,  and blissfully erased from her mind, southern France.

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What we do know is that she turned up at Les Poux and was soon installed in the now empty Maison Carrée as it afterwards became known.  There are still people who remember her.  She habitually wore long, rather old fashioned clothes complete with astrokhan or fur-trimmed coat sweeping the floor, her unusual height exentuated by a tall velvet or fur toque depending on the season.  She was a forbidding woman by all accounts and insisted on speaking Russian even though no-one understood a word she was saying.  I rather fancy that when this apperition turned up at the bucolic chateau, her sister-in-law ordered her husband to get rid of her, and that is why he cunningly requisitioned the house for her, given it was conveniently empty of nuns.  Wholly unsurprising that she was what the French call un peu spécial,  which translates as odd, weird or barking mad depending on context.  Poor love, she was sent to Russia, fell in love with the place and who knows, maybe with a beau too, only to have to rudely flee for her life back to a place that was less than welcoming and which by then had little to do with who she had evolved into.  I have a huge fascination with her, not least because I too, am frequently the lankiest bird in plain site  and am, undeniably foreign.  Not forgetting odd.   If the toque fits, I’m happy to wear it ….

Our not-Russian Russian lady  lived in the house til her death, around the time that I was born, when it was inherited by a woman, widowed or divorced, no-one can remember which, and which fact I find quite charmingly indicative of the lack of busybodiness that is part of the fabric of being French.  But whichever had rendered her alone she had two daughters and was, in some way yet to be discovered, related to those pesky poux. On her death the house was sold to the aberration of a man who preceded us in tenure, his wife and their two daughters.  Therefore, since the destruction of the tower and it’s rebirth in 1824, my husband is only the second man to have resided there.  I am comfortable that, wherever he registers on the eccentricity richter scale and which I am far too decorus to have an opinion on,   he is also the only vaguely sane man ever to have lived in the building since the Revolution of 1789.

Finally Cast your minds back to the early 17th century.  I mentioned the Huguenots.  I have spoken before about my father-in-law, cheese guru and eccentric delight.  His name was Patrick Rance.  Therefore my name, since he was my father-in-law was also Rance at that time.   In fact, had I not chosen to revert to my maiden name after that husband and I terminated our matrimonial bond, I would have been Mme Rance at the time I first set foot in Marcolès. The name is Huguenot.  It derives from de Rance, a family of that provenance who lived in southern France.  The river that Marcolès is built above is called la Rance.  Sometimes, things just feel as though they are meant to be …..

PS:  The quote is Alan Bennett from his glorious play ‘The History Boys’ :

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you.  Now here it is, set down by someone else, a  person you have never met, someone who is long dead.  And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

Discovering the history of this place feels exactly like that.  Even though it is not written in the conventional sense, so much of it is being pieced together from scraps of records and jumbles of recollections often told by extremely old people, we feel led towards it by the hand.  And the hand undeniably belongs to la Maison Carrée

Hand in glove

Until I was fifteen, I had two Grannies.  My paternal granny was always known as Granny Kim on account of her eponymous, over-stuffed cat which resembled a large tabby cushion and used to lie on the half-landing of her staircase in a sunspot meditating fatly.  Granny had only one arm.  The other was lost in The First World War.  Amputated on account of gangrene, not mislaid.  She was a nurse as so many of the women of her generation were.  She never expected to marry after losing her limb.  With the over-abundance of women to the dreadfully depleted stock of men when peace followed the tragically dubbed ‘war to end all wars’, she rather felt that her fate was dancing with other spinster women and dreaming of a never-to-be love.  However in time, quite some time, she met my Grandfather who had had his vocal chords severed by the village doctor during an emergency traceotomy as a child and from then on could only speak in a whisper – as a point of interest he spoke nine languages fluently in his whisper.  From time to time I remember to contemplate the thanks I owe the physician who, respecting his hippocratic oath, in that moment saved a young boy’s life and by doing so gave me the chance of birth.   Granny Kim used to say that they were two cripples together.  I imagine these days she might be shushed and cautioned against deflowering delicate sensibilities with her candid comment.

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Granny Kim (who I have written about before) was irresistibly irreverent.  She had seemingly no filter between what  was in her head and what came out of her mouth.  For example the busty girl tottering down the seafront in tightest of tight, scoopiest of scooped angora sweater must clearly  have heard the shrilly uttered ‘VERY uplifted’ from the neat tweed clad old woman tottering toward her.  And the French neighbour of my own new to motherhood mummy proudly showing off her own newborn to Granny was asked what she had called the child.  ‘James’, replied Madame.  ‘And James was a very small snail’ said Granny.  It’s A A Milne, from ‘The Four Friends’ but the French lady, so my mother reports, was visibly and vividly offended and operated the etiquette of ‘on ne peut plus se voir’ which  as Mel of France Says explains ever eloquently her means ‘one cannot see you any more’ and literally makes the recipient invisible ever after.   My mother wondered if she imagined Granny was calling her sprog a frog.  She wasn’t.  She was saying the first thing that popped into her head.  I have the same tendency.  I try to control it.  I frequently fail.

So what is that preamble about.  Well, with only one arm Granny had a drawer FULL of single gloves kindly donated by countless people over the years who had mislaid it’s pair.  She found it ceaselessly amusing that people never stopped in their surge of waste-not-want-not good heartedness, to think that their gift was only useful if it happened to be the correct glove for Granny’s remaining hand.  Therefore she had a quite magnificent collection of single gloves languishing in tissue paper which she had graciously accepted rather than burst anyone’s bubble of well meant intent.

Which brings me to Grenoble.  Grenoble was, for many years the capital of glove-making in France.  The giants of glove-making made fortunes and the most revered of all was a man named Xavier Jouvin.  He has an entire quartier dedicated to his name – looking over the river it is lovely and there is a large statue of him in the middle of it’s main square.  I have become very fascinated with Xav and found out that he is most revered for having created a form of mass-production of gloves.  He fashioned a machine that could cut up to SIX pairs, six mind you, of identical gloves at one go.  Breathtaking in 1838.  When I leave Grenoble, it will be with a pair of hand-made Grenoblois gloves to remember my time by.

You might recall that I was previously living in a positively palatial apartment  provided by the institute that my husband was doing a tranche of work for in the first 6 months of this year. Amongst other delights it had corinthian columns and  as the time approached to leave it  I seriously considered chaining myself to these pillars and refusing to leave.   I had however, a last-minute change of heart and decided that I would leave quietly and with gratitude for the time we had spent there.  Sugaring pills tends to provide incentive, I find.  My candied pellet is this:  the place we found, the small apartment that is less than a third of the size of the other, is contained in what the French call Un Hôtel Particulier which is in effect a grand residence built as the town house for someone of importance.  Guess who?  Well so far, I know it was one of the great glovemen but I am not able to finitely say which one.  Of course I hope its M. Jouvin Xavier.  I am currently researching more thoroughly but this oasis in the centre of Grenoble has given me the rare chance to live in a very special building that retains much of it’s original fabric.  From the hand painted walls in the entrance hall to the beautiful tiling and ceilings it is wonderful.  I have the luxury of a terrace and a garden and best of all I have a double curved staircase up to the front door which makes me feel that I should be wearing kid gloves and matching slippers with some sort of an empire line Lizzy Bennet dress and bonnet with thick silky ribbons neath my chinny chin chin, at all times.  My quarters are exquisite, dare I say better than the last place  and also retain a cornucopia of original features.  If you would like, I will share the innards of this place I am occupying … I’m happy to  but I never want to overtax with tedium..

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PS:  Granny Kim was fond of reciting this poem and peeling with laughter at it’s quite gasping ghastliness.  I had never paid it much heed except to recite it idly and wince when having flashbacks to Granny Kim in her hammock.   Until today, when incubating this post it popped into my head spontaneously and inevitably. I thought I should find out who IS responsible for this vacuous verse.

It was written by a woman called Frances Darwin Cornford.  She was the grand-daughter of the immeasurably brilliant Charles Darwin.  Ironically it seems that the father of evolutionary theory had a somewhat poorly evolved grandchild.  As it turns out

G K Chesterton agreed with me.  Read his wonderfully ascerbic response to this quite appalling effort, please do …

To A Lady Seen From A Train

Frances Darwin Cornford

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much

The Fat White Woman Speaks

G K Chesterton

Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves and such?
And how the devil can you be sure,
Guessing so much and so much,
How do you know but what someone who loves
Always to see me in nice white gloves
At the end of the field you are rushing by,
Is waiting for his Old Dutch?

And as a bonus because I swiped it for my title, The Smiths belt out ‘Hand in Glove’ in Glasgow on this date (September 25th) 1985 – it fits perfectly, as all good gloves should

If youre afraid of butter, use cream!

The entirely marvellous Esmé asked me to write a guest post for her blog ‘The Recipe Hunter’ so I offer up to you a little light legend Grenoblois and a recipe for REAL Gratin Dauphinois.  Dig in, do!

Follow the link and you will be magically transported Chez The Recipe Hunter ….

Source: G…uest #21: Le vrai Gratin Dauphinois

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PS:  The title is Julia Child – une heroine culinaire

Long Time Passing

Some time ago, when we were fledgling lovers, existing in the protective bubble reserved for the newly amorous,  Two Brains brought me to a place called Vassieux-en-Vercors.  The drive up from Grenoble is littered with sombre reminders of a time, only decades ago when the spectacular landscape played backdrop for the most merciless realities of a world at war – we stopped at various places, never idly.  Here it is impossible to forget how cruel and cold humanity can be.   Here no bubble is sufficient to protect you from nauseating emotions wrought from the darkest, starkest of realites.

Vassieux sits on the Drôme side of le Vercors.  The Vercors is nicknamed ‘the flat iron’ for a reason … it is a high plateau with higher peaks frilling it, thrilling visitors  and chilling those that know the secrets that it keeps.  Mountains tend to do that.  They look, are, so magnificent but they are unyielding, unforgiving places by default without being privy and council to the Résistance called le maquis in a brutal global war.  Huge harsh lumps they are – they don’t actually ask for delicate humans to impinge on them but sometimes flimsy mortals have no choice.

The war, that war of 1939-45 invited such necessity.  Men whose country was overtaken by a callous regime they did not invite nor condone, who wanted it freed and reverted to the values it held dear, who did not want the uneasy treaty of Vichy but rather actual and total freedom, those men, those women for can we just agree that men and women are equally people, those people formed the Résistance.  And the ones who under that same treaty were told they had to go and do work in Germany.  STO it was called (Service de Travail Obligatoire … I don’t honestly think you need my translation) – those young men, they said non and they joined the Résistance.

What happened in 1944 was disgraceful.  Not simply by dint of the deeds of the enemy (German in this case) but actually and tragically because of the behavior of the high fallutin’ tootin’ allied commanders.  Another time.  Really another time I will feel fully equipped to tell the story.  In the meantime all you need take to heart is that this village, and all the others barborously besieged, is a defenseless duck sitting pretty on a flat plane.  That it can’t have been difficult to overpower it, however hard les maquis tried to fend  off the merciless assault is painfully, graphically clear.  And there are references to the places they fought  and fell all around and not just here, throughout this great monolith known as le Vercors.  Villages burned,  Villagers slain. Men rounded up and annihilated standing proud against cold walls in the place they called home because it was.  Their home.    It is not pretty.  Not at all.  It is tough beyond the bounds of that pathetically soft word.  And then you visit the Nécropole and you  walk, sapped of strength, sorrow wrenching bile from your throat among the bare little crosses, pure white standing proud in pristine gravel and you pathetically collapse as though a razor has slashed your heart because you are facing a family – a grandmother, her two daughters and all the children of one of them including a baby lying side by side, their lives extinguished mercilessly.   Every single one of them.   See it, feel it and tell me, tell me not to weep.

My husband  had the immense privilige of spending time some years ago, with Robert Favier (known as Mattres) who was created Chevalier de Légion d’Honneur having been a high ranking leader in the Maquis.  Monsieur Favier,  died in 2010 aged 96.  HB2 also met Joseph la Picirella who founded the original museum in Vassieux.  He made it because he could and because no-one should forget what happened.  Really no-one should.  He also died in 2010 aged 85, he was little more than a boy, therefore, when he joined the Maquis.  His museum is still there where he built it, just behind the church.  The French Government built another museum, the official museum, which sits perched 400 metres above the village and is of deliberately austere design.

To walk the walk I walked, in the footsteps of those braver than brave maquis was humbling.  A privilege beyond privilege.  And here are some photos.  Because my words are meagre and poor.  I will leave you to imagine it for yourself or simply to enjoy the beauty of the place.  The choice is yours.  Mine is not to tell people what to do, simply to bring you to a place that savages my senses and of which, when I am confident that my thoughts and facts are accurate and well-founded, I will write in greater depth.

PS:  When you have digested the place, when you have taken it all in your sturdy stride, you might answer me a simple question.  What did we learn?  Because from where I am standing, sitting, lying down on a bed of flowers, nothing has changed.   When will we learn to leave well alone?  When will greed release it’s toxic grip on humanity?  When?  Can I have it now please?   Because little girls picking flowers should NOT be perpetuating a scenario that ends in their husbands pushing up daisies for the sake of yet another bloody war.  When will we ever learn?

I asked the faithful light

Diu absentia … long in absence I have been.  I make no apologies.  It’s just a bit of life in my life.  Nothing dramatic.  No imprisonment, no hospitalisation nothing really to write home about.  Nothing to write about.  Except write I will.  It’s what I do.  Potted and neatly in a nutshell I have been moving rather a lot these past two months – US to England, England to France, France to England, England to France – friends and relics (stet) and Christmas with my most loved.  In Grenoble a temporary tiny flatlet with a view of snow topped mountains and on February 1 moving all I own from the flat in Cantal that I persist in calling home because it’s where I feel home, to our permanent Grenoble place-until-summer.  And beautiful it is.  But more of that another time.

No shadows lurking in my cupboard, nothing to make me startle and stare wide-eyed in horror, just life and settling and I will give you more of it, I promise … much more.

Shadows and startling seem to be the order of things in this world just now.  I rather feel that people are having to wear their most politically correct attire for dread of offending someone.  Anyone!  But I have always been the gal to stick her head above the trench and get it picked off by a beady eyed sniper far away out of sight on the other side of no-man’s land.  So I have a commentary on the world at large.  It is unhappy, it is uncomfortable and it is unpalatable for many.  For many others it is hopeful because it has been increasingly uncomfortable and unpalatable these umpteen years and they desire that there will be green shoots which might give they and their loved ones a future in what has been their shiny world rusted and corroded to dust.  Whether I agree or disagree with either side is neither here nor there but I  give a gentle reminder that alongside it’s bolder, brasher brother ‘Greed’, that ‘Fear’ is the greatest eroder of hope, of decency, of love that we, as humans  have in our armoury of weapons of mass self-destruction.  Try not to be led by fear.  Try instead, to be led by love.  It is, after all la fête de St Valentin who was beaten, stoned and decapitated under the rule of Claudius because, put simply, he believed that young lovers should be allowed to choose to marry as Christians.  Choice.  That’s the thing old Valentine was about and he suffered a particularly appalling death for his conviction.  In 269 AD.  Please let me trust that we have evolved and progressed in almost 2,000 years.  Just please.

My picture, which shows a rather perfect half (insert favourite cheese) moon, sentinel above a stone tower whose keepers can’t make their minds up whether to restore it’s authentic stone or leave it suffocated by the corset of concrete rendered upon it some aeons ago by zealous betterers, taken in the last 10 days in Gieres, a pretty commune just outside Grenoble it is offered for this week’s photo challenge captioned ‘Shadow’ (you can find the glories of the entire gallery here) – the moon’s shadow may not be apparent but it is there and, I would postulate, is not alarming at all.

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PS:  The title is taken from Cat Stevens’ (one of the enduring loves of my life) beautiful song ‘Moonshadow’.  Here are the lyrics and, as a bonus, a lovely clip of the man who stole a little of my heart in nineteen seventy-something singing it …. give them a read if you will – if I ever lose my mouth –  I won’t have to talk ….

Moonshadow

Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow—
Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow—

And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plough, lose my land,
Oh if I ever lose my hands, Oh if I won’t have to work no more.

And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes, Oh if I won’t have to cry no more.

Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow—
Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow—

And if I ever lose my legs, I won’t moan, and I won’t beg,
Yes if I ever lose my legs, Oh if I won’t have to walk no more.

And if I ever lose my mouth, all my teeth, north and south,
Yes if I ever lose my mouth, Oh if I won’t have to talk…

Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
Did it take long to find me? And are you gonna stay the night?

Cat Stevens

Only those who attempt the absurd

The first time I saw this place, I was on honeymoon three years ago (or thereabouts).  The place my husband had chosen for this special moment is owned by the most delightful of men.

A self-proclaimed Royalist, he is married to a psychiatrist who practices her head shrinking in Marseilles some 5 hours south-east of his bijou chateau in Aurillac.  They speak every day, and lovingly, by phone and sometimes he goes to see her and sometimes she comes to see him.  At the time we had no concept that the next 2 ½ years would see us in the same tub.  The mere notion would have seemed absurd.

 A man of short stature and with magnificent, almost Dali-esque, waxed moustachios he is quite clearly Hercules Poirot’s long-lost, should be discovered twin, separated at birth.  He is positively a mine of information, a historian and a trawler of knowledge with that sponge-like ability to soak up every last teeny drop.  Rather like a human hoover, he vacuums up all the   specks of material in his path, then assimilates them, files them according to relevance in the boggling laberynth that is a mind and brings them forth at the precise moment of crowning relevance.  And with quiet aplomb.   Like nurturing a perfect fruit to pluck and present it at it’s precise moment of optimum ripeness.  His great joy, therefore, apart from providing an impeccable interlude for his guests, cooking delicious local recipes from local ingredients and sharing, free of charge the contents of his not insignificant cellar, is to impart tips and advice and to guide his guests to even greater enjoyment of what is  already a perfect break.  Never to debate or undermine, he coaxes your holiday spirit out of hiding, assesses it with the expert eye of the head of a great household assessing the crystal and silver and porcelain laid for a banquet and only then makes suggestions which are as carefully and thoughtfully shared as a glorious vintage from a gleaming decanter and your breath baits as you wait for the treasure to be revealed.  For treasure it will surely be.  He is quite one of the finest  souls I have ever encountered in a lifetime studded with fine souls.   The most absurd thing, or perhaps the most sensible, is that he does not advertise his wares at all on the interweb … like the wild mushrooms he served to us in a perfectly executed sauce, you have to know where to seek him and sometimes I wonder if we dreamed him into being in our collective-romantic.

On our second morning he suggested we visit Rocamadour.  It is just over the border in the Lot departement.  Although it attracts tourists like a swarm of bees to a pollen filled flower-garden I would recommend anyone in the faintest locale to go.  It quite literally is built onto the rock and cleaves and clings to it with majestic defiance.   That it is medieval and that they managed to believe and then achieve this is beyond my puny imagination ….

Since that entrancing start to our married life, I have been back to Rocamadour just once with my eldest daughter on a blistering hot July day when even the rocks seemed to be clammy with salt perspiration rather than the usual cooling dampness of vast stones.  I took this picture that day and it seems to fit the weekly photo challenge this week titled ‘Look Up’ and as ever you will find all the other laudable entries here.

The staircase screams to me of Escher and so I snipped him for my title:

‘Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.  I think it’s in my basement – I’ll go upstairs and check’ – M.C Escher

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PS:  Last year we revisited the chateau we had stayed in for those first enchanted days of our marriage, armed with a book.  It was a copy of my late and always lamented father-in-laws opus‘The French Cheese Book’ because our host had lit up at the unimagined absurdity of an Englishman taking the time to journey throughout France discovering  well in excess of 700 cheeses, but more than that to have spoken to multitudes of makers,  farmers,  dairy owners, researched the history of the terroirs, their people and their production and produced a work of such magnitude about FRENCH cheese one of which,  by the way is a delectable little chêvre disc made in Rocamadour.  These two men come in many ways of a common mold and it seemed entirely reasonable to give him a copy of the book, inscribed with our thanks for making the first days of our married journey so magical.  He regarded it with the exact same reverence with which I look upon him.

Coup de Cœur – Part Six: Do you see what I see?

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

The previous owner of the house was a photographer of some talent.  He could make the silkiest purse out of a lady pigs ear, of this I am certain.  When we looked at his wonderful images on the numerous websites that carried Maison Carrée to her adoring public eager to stay for a few days and sample the delights of his culinary skill as well as the comfortable and welcoming interior she offered, we never once worried about wall coverings.  Downstairs was pristine white and upstairs had some sort of nice neutrally wallpaper.  When we arrived to view what turned out to be the Wreck of the Hesperus, one of the stand-out moments was the realisation of what that nice neutrally  wallpaper actually was.  Not wallpaper in fact.  Not fabric.  Nothing so outré for our Monsieur.  Nay, nay and thrice I say nay … he’d gone a whole new road – a positive Route Nationale, a Motorway, an Interstate Highway.  I can imagine the sprightly conversation he had with himself inside his head:

‘What shall I cover the upstairs walls with?’ 

‘How about floor, old chap ..?’

‘You genius!  Floor!  Of course – floor is the way forward for these walls.  And shall we perchance wallpaper the floor?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous.  Obviously not.  That is an absurd notion’. 

And so it was.  Laminate clip together floor.  But not just any laminate clip-together floor.  Oh no!  This was laminate clip-together bargain basement, below economy starter range floor.  The floor that the salesman guides you too first before pointing out that absolutely anything at all that you choose from here will be better, even spending tuppence halfpenny more and thus securing himself an extra portion of fries on the commission he earns.  That sort of laminate clip-together floor.  And it had been slathered all over the walls.  Look closely at the top picture …. do you see what I see?

 

 

 

 

Having done as bidden by the kind M. Terminateur so that his crew could busy themselves ridding our roof of those pesky vrillettes we occupied ourselves as best we could, whenever we could (remember it’s a four hour round trip from North West to South West tip of le Cantal on winding backroads descending and scaling deep gorges and negotiating tight épingles (épingles de cheveux being hairpins) and though I am presently living in the land of mahusive distances and ludicrously cheap fuel, I honestly think it’s a stretch  for a daily commute that you aren’t getting paid for.  I was polishing the staircase for entertainment one day when there was a thunderous crack followed by a thud, and a whisper later, a riotous crash.  I dropped my bottle of special wood oil and rushed up the stairs (killing the chances of the oil drying to a gratifying sheen in the process) to find HB² looking frankly irritatingly smug.  He had taken a crowbar and jemmied a generous sliver of the offending floor from the wall and underneath looked rather  interesting.

 

 

 

 

He proceeded to slice his way through both the front bedrooms and the back one – the one with it’s cleverly placed shower delivering to a spontaneous auditorium at the back of the house for the ladies of the village, should he decide to give of his famed full frontal peep show once more.  I’m considering selling tickets if we get desperate enough that we need extra funds.  By lunchtime the walls were fully delaminated and revealing the secrets of their pre-veneered days.  My nerves were in shreds because this stuff was razor sharp and entirely rigid.  Two Brains clearly should have been wearing a helmet but instead favoured an interesting series of movements that echoed accurately St Vitus Dance to avoid being brained or scalped by the merest slither of a second.  We had a car full of laminate to take to the lovely man at the déchètterie with the enviable view.   After two p.m.  Obviously.  This is rural France and everything stops for lunch.  For two hours.  It took multiple trips in Franck our trusty unalluring but reasonably priced car and a deep and meaningful conversation to ascertain whether this vile material computes as wood.  It doesn’t.  It is to be viewed in the same way as a carnivore regards nut cutlets.  It simply is not meat.  Nor indeed wood.

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Do you see what I see ….? It’s Franck skulking sneakily waiting for his next load of laminated booty

 

Meanwhile back at the ranch The Brains was eulogising over what had been uncovered.  Previously we had paid scant attention to the one unplastered wall on the stairwell merely having a cursory discussion over whether we should give it too a smooth finish.  But in  that deluge of lethal laminate everything changed.  It was akin to the moment in Carl Sagan’s Contact when Jodie Foster sees the universe with fresh eyes from a beach somewhere out ‘there’ that she has landed on after being lunged through space at a squillion miles an hour.   In the comedy shower-closet bedroom are exposed the same  glorious planks, cut by someone with an eye for rigidly even lines that rivals my mother’s.  By way of explanation – my mother is a wonderful letter writer but has always shunned the slip of lined paper popped under the page to guide the pen evenly approach and consequently, although she commences elegantly (even now in her mid-eighties) she rapidly starts to wander at an angle so that by the time she reaches the bottom of the page she is writing at a 45° slope.  It’s a  foible that no-one ever mentions, but all notice.  These walls were clearly made by a kindred charpentiere.  They are of tongue-in-groove construction, about 9″-10″ wide and slender.   They slot together very well sporting the odd large flat headed nail to complete the perfectly rustic and rather naïve effect.

 

 

 

 

 

And still the excitement continued.  The layout of the house, and we had assumed the original layout, was a small landing with doors at right angles to one another.  One into a bedroom with a square double doorframe through to a further room and the other into Peeping Tom’s Joy – the room with the freestanding shower in front of the window.  But taking the cladding off the walls had revealed a door from PTJ into the back bedroom.    This poses new questions about how we lay out the upstairs.  Our thought process is fluid and a teeny bit erratic so this revalation just adds a zesty new spritz to the operation.

 

 

 

 

On the other side of the wall were further, piquant delights – loose hessian overlaid with several layers of historic wallpaper.  A couple of florals, a groovy grey linear embossed which immediately took me back to the dull horrors of my childhood and my favourite, a sort of squarial pattern each square containing a picture – a flowerhead here, a windmill there, there again a boat, and even the makings of a medieval town.  I wonder about the person lying in bed looking at the pictures – I wonder if they had ever travelled from Marcolès and whether they dreamed of getting on that boat and searching for treasures in far-off lands.  In fact we know that a very tall Russian lady lived in the house for decades last century – maybe she was put in a boat to cross the sea or maybe her journey escaping White Russia as a small child was overland.  Either way it must have been arduous, gruelling and not a little frightening.

 

 

 

 

I am reminded of another house long ago and far away in England.  The girls and I lived in the grounds of the, by then closed, only Jewish Public School in the country (US readers Public School obscurely means Private School in  England).  Carmel College.  There was a house called ‘Wall House’ which was perfectly invisible except for a front door with a letter box.  In it lived a very very grand Russian lady of advancing years who wore astonishing velvet and brocade ensembles which cascaded to her ankles and conjured up vivid reminders of an age so bygone that I never knew it.  She invited me to take tea.  I was seated on a glamorous and very upright silk upholstered  chair.  She called out in Russian and clapped her jewelled hands smartly whereupon and instantly  in the corner of the room a shabby bundle of cloth shifted revealing a remarkably decrepit and faintly moth-eaten man.  He bowed and moved into the kitchen from whence he returned after a pause during which she and I continued a rather formal and resolutely non-probing conversation, bearing a silver tray complete with very ornate fine porcelain teapot and guilded and delicately painted teacups with their dainty matching plates on which were slices of terrifically inebriated fruit cake.  He served us sombrely and then went back to his corner, disappearing like the Psammead into his quicksand of sheets.  I suppose he had been with her all his life.  The world is full of surprises and some of them are quite uncomfortable.

Anyhow, there was a statuesque Russian lady for many years in Marcolès.   Hold that thought.  Particularly the height.  Because the other curiosity hidden behind the disgusting veneer is a series of oval holes.  You might remember there is one that casts down on the stairwell from the privy giving it an air of anything but privacy.  But there are more.  Some have been boarded over and some stuffed with newspaper.  But why?  They are reminiscent of those holes you stick your head through on an English Pier and have your photo taken as a pin-up girl in an eye popping bikini or a muscle-bound man in striped bathers.  The odd thing is the height of them.  If you wanted to stick your head through them you would have to be a VERY lanky lady indeed.  I imagine they were crude internal portholes to let some light into the middle of the house but I rather like the image of a Frenchman on stilts, complete with compulsary moustache peering through various cut-out holes just for laughs.

 

 

 

 

PS:  When I arrived back after taking the very last load of the offending clip-together laminate flooring to the dump (and we have kept a plank as a grim reminder of the way it was) the elderly couple opposite were arriving back from a toddle out.  They meandered across the street and asked me how it was going.  Oh, really good I regailed them.  We’re progressing well with the clear out of all the dreadful things – can you imagine, he had cheap laminate flooring on the walls.  Lunacy – he was clearly mad.  They nodded in that slightly absent way that polite people have and took their leave.  As they opened their front door, I swear I could see laminate flooring on …. the walls.  Just another oh bugger moment and a further reminder to self to keep thy big mouth shut.

The bonus is entirely to indulge my mother and the child-me that she raised – she used to play Johnny Mathis to us on the gramaphone in the drawing room on rainy days amongst so many other 45s of Unicorns and Doctor Kildaire, Nellie the Elephant and Dusty Springfield and Ferry Cross the Mersey and Doris Day, as we puzzled our puzzles, stuck our fuzzy felt and honed the skills required for taking tea with grand ancient Russian ladies  by making our own tea party for the teddy bears.  Those halcyon days when I didn’t question her lack of ability to keep a straight line when writing her comments on my report cards or the milk order because she was just simply ‘My Mummy’ ….

If you enjoyed this you might like to catch up on previous installments by typing Coup de Coeur into the search box in the side bar.  The more the merrier at this party – so much more fun that way. 

Coup de Cœur – Part Two: Therefore is wing’d cupid painted blind!

We fell in love on the internet.  It’s the modern way.  The one touts their promise, the other falls under their spell and happily ever after they both live.  House and owner.  You didn’t think I was talking about Two Brains and I, did you?  You got  that I am talking about our fragile hearts being ensnared by our Maison Carrée?

The house was advertised all over the place – every single immobilier in France seemed to have it on their books.  Clock forward two and a half years and hindsight and a bit of experience has taught me that this means nothing.  Often an agent will have grabbed the content from an unprotected site and will be advertising it as his own.  But we knew where it was and we knew it was the former Tour Seignoural for the perfect little city it sits plumb central in.  And it is officially a city even though it would appear to be a small village to modern eyes, and we simply swooned when we found the website for the proprietor who was currently running the little jewel as a Chambre d’Hotes.  The description, down to the seductive promise that he is an accomplished masterchef and would  cook you local food  magnificently if you wished and that breakfast was all conjured from the local boulangerie, epicerie, charcuterie, fromagier,  had me wondering why he was selling at all.  After all this three bedroomed beauty, including the miraculous bathroom all  newly fitted, was kitted out with the most elegant antique country furniture clearly snaffled from local houses of some note and auctions and brocantes and the owner certainly and assuredly had excellent taste.  Hold that thought.

Beware the power of the picture!  Beware the interweb!  What greeted us when we arrived was entirely a different picture.  What on earth induced us to go ahead and buy I am not convinced I will ever know.  A certain madness unexplained.  Assuredly bull-headed stubborn-ness and a sense that this disaster of a place can be, will be, really special and an uncharted recognition that we should be the people to return the house to it’s former unpretentious glory.  And give it a properly appointed bathroom rather than what greeted us which I have flatly refused EVER to use.  And a kitchen that does not stink in that sickly sweet way of festering food complete with maggots and fresh fly-eggs – sadly it became clear that this was the state that unsuspecting visitors who had booked in on-line found the house in and I sincerely hope that none ever took their host up on the opportunity of his unashamedly trumpeted home made meals – rather they hot-footed it to the Mairie to complain loudly and threaten nasty reviews on the very internet upon which we had found the house languishing apparently so alluringly.

Once we had bought the place, once the place was ours we were hit with the reality that HB² is mostly on the wrong side of the Atlantic and that I, although more than once invited to row that ocean on account of my once-upon-a-time Olympian prowess as an oar puller, I was simply not equipped to begin, let alone complete the task of emptying the house once the ancien proprieteur had taken what he wanted … you guess that bit surely – anything nice, anything pretty.  Well, he would, wouldn’t he! There follows the account of the next nine months in which we, collectively being Winnie the Pooh, never lost heart.

 …. In the meantime, here I am looking somewhere between despairing and disgusted in the best of the bedrooms the day after we took ownership.

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PS:  The quote is Twelfth Night – Helen declares of her Demetrius that ‘Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is wing’d cupid painted blind ….’

PPS:  Part one of this saga is here

Coup de Cœur – Part One: Let’s start at the very beginning

Actually, Julie Andrews, let’s not.  Start at the very beginning that is.  The fact is that this particular serial .. Oh! I feel the need to digress – I LOVE a serial!  All those wonderful adaptations that the British do so well – from The Forsytes, through The Pallisers, much Jane Austen, many Thomas Hardy’s and no doubt a glut of Dickens whose great works were written as episodes for a variety of journals, only later being published in book form.  This explains two things – firstly, why he serialises SO successfully on television and secondly the minute detail in his descriptives which can be the finish of many a secondary school student’s tolerance of his work …. his narrative can feel achingly slow to the modern reader  but gathers pace and impact on the screen.  Not so for everyone but I have carefully explained to four teenaged daughters and many attendant friends that he should not be dismissed as boring without giving the films and series a whirl first.  And it is not just a British phenomena – for instance Alexander Dumas serialised The Three Musketeers (Three Musky Queers as my first husband irreverantly and, quite possibly these days  illegally, always referred to them) in 139 episodes in Le Constititutionnel.

Back on piste … I do love a serial and this will be one.  But I can’t quite start at the very beginning for the simple reason that the story of finding and buying this place is currently my novel in progress.  Based in the factual, it is a work of fiction with all players and places concealed and touched up with the clay and paint that an Author has the licence to apply at will.

So here it is.  We bought a village house that needs renovating in France.  Other’s do that too.  And they blog – I follow one in particular because she captivates me.  You can too, if you want to – just here.  So that’s not unique.  Where we bought it as English people is unique:  Marcolès: newly recognised as ‘Une Petite Cité de Caractère’  In fact only three villages in the entire Auvergne region currently hold this accolade and the award  was made to the three as recently as May this year.  But most important is what it is.

Looking at the picture you would be forgiven for thinking – nice but so what?  It’s a nice little town house.  In a village.  Somewhere in France.  What makes it special, if you will, is that it is a Monument Historique de France … gosh, wowy zowy.  Boom!!  But take a closer look and ask the question beloved of toddlers and indeed, I think,  the smartest people throughout their lives …. why?

The thing with this little baby is that it was originally built as the City Watchtower.  It is a tour medieval  – this is what it would once have looked like in 1203 when it is  first accurately recorded:

As a point of interest, all of these examples are within 50 km of our own village

Sadly the community of Marcolès was less caring then than it is now.  Or more accurately, I am sure, had other vital criteria for survival.  The tower fell into ruin and the stone was pillaged for other buildings.  However.  For reasons unrecorded (but we intend to do our darndest to trace and clarify), the village or perhaps just one villager, decided to rebuild it from what was left (and some other stone they found lying around).  And the result …la Maison Carrée.  For non French speakers, that means ‘The Square House’.  Which it is. It is also the only house within the city walls to stand entirely on it’s own.  Detached.  Reliant on no other.  As the locals charmingly put it – you can walk right around it.  Completed in 1830 it has been  inhabited by a variety of people including a very tall Russian lady who the present Mayor (Marcolèsian born, raised, elected and something of a saviour) remembers vaguely from boyhood.  I’m very tall and I love Russia and all things Russian (shoot me – I know its not de rigeur just now) … I rather hope I’m remembered too.  As someone who DID something for the Commune.  Gave something back, if you will.  My HB² of a Spouse feels just the same.

So here we are.  We have the house.  Without giving anything away we signed the papers for the purchase in March 2014 exactly a year from the start of the purchase …  but we didn’t get the keys til Christmas 2014.  Stick with me – Part Two is all about le vider.  No!  NOT the la vida loca! though translated as ‘Living a Crazy Life’ it could be apt in this instance. Vider means ‘to empty’.  You also use it when referring to gutting something prior to cooking.  Which is about right in this case.  It’s a whole story in itself.

À très bientôt

DSCF2219PS:  I’ve called this series Coup de Cœur because it is the expression that French Immobiliers – those are Estate Agents to my UK readers, Realtors to those in the US (and apologies to everyone else) – use.   Coup de Cœur means a favourite thought that doesn’t cover it, really it is more something that pulls at one’s heart strings.  Immobiliers generally use it to imply an  irrisistible attraction to a house.  That overwhelming almost lusting for a place the moment you lay eyes on it, much less walk inside.  A feeling which doesn’t necessarily have either foot in the common sense field ….  which in this case, fits perfectly!