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Posts tagged ‘House renovating France’

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

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.

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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!

Coup de Cœur – Part Four: Whistle While You Work

An occasional series chronicling the tale of the renovation of a former medieval watch-tower in southern France …..  Part One is here, Part Two is here and Part Three is here   The events in this episode took place a little under three years ago.  How time flies when you’re having fun, n’est-ce pas?

As often happens once you have overcome the initial excitement of something or other and reality cloaks you in its slightly constricting mantle like a heavy woollen duffle coat a couple of sizes too small, or a pair of pinchy stiff leather shoes, you need to knock on the door of fortitude and ask for her help.

This was the moment to be gracious to Lady Tenacity.  We were SO thrilled with the news that the house was empty and once back in France hightailed it pell-mell down the road to Marcolès from our present home further north.  In fact our rented flat is in the far north-western corner of le Cantal and Marcolès is in the far south-western corner.  It’s a two hour drive each way but it’s a really lovely two hours passing glorious views of the Monts du Cantal and diving into deep tree lined gorges and delving through glacial hills. It never fails to delight us.  In the back of the car, making life less than comfortable for The Disgruntled Bean were the various accoutrements of operation clean-up.  We picked up more en-route and The Bean became ever more peeved.

Thus began the most relentless and mostly thankless of enterprises.   HB² took up a floor-board in the attic which is planted in our collective imagination as being a wonderful tranquil master bedroom and serene relaxing place when the house is eventually finished.  He discovered that our predecessor had used sawdust for insulation.  It doesn’t work.  That was abundantly clear.  The house was, is bitterly cold.  Of course the fact that the same  happy fellow had ripped several of the radiators off the wall in his spiteful retribution against those that dared to buy the house that he wanted to sell doesn’t help the refridgeration factor but the ingenious insulation wasn’t productive either.  And in places it had provided a gleeful nesting place for some or other rodent.  One that had made it’s hideaway complete with a variety of different flavours of nut.  Mercifully it was not in residence as we set about getting rid of the wood filings.  We took out something near to 30 bags from the attic. The black full sized dustbin lining bags not, for clarity, little carrier bags for shopping.  It was back-breaking and necessitated wearing a mask and goggles and the white hooded clean suits that a friend had donated to the cause.  I felt like a Ghost Buster but without the joy of a Marshmallow Man to distract me.  About half way through the exercise, husband returned to the US leaving me to continue the clean-up, now with a looming deadline brought on by a discovery to be shared in a later post.  It was winter, it was still a four hour round trip and my romantic little project began to pall noisily.

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As a bit of light relief from the attic, the husband had braved the cellar.  Despite the valiant efforts of the town ouvriers there was still ample room for improvement.  Another 20 or so bags of rubble and wood and general stuff from centuries of life came out.  But what was revealed was magical.  So magical that it is worthy of a post all of it’s own … and for that you will have to wait.

Meanwhile, Madame Balai (Mrs Mop) as I was rapidly re-branding myself was cleaning the whole place through.  The dirt of ages dissolved under my unrelenting mop and bucket and  whirling micro-cloths which I brandished with all the skill of a champion cheerleader.  The rather horrible floor on the ground floor looked marginally less horrible and the stairs and wood floors on the first floor began to look quite majestic.  I cleaned the curious loo which sits at the top of it’s own staircase complete with red carpet which I’m afraid we consigned to a black bag all of it’s own for percieved and probably, let’s face it given the abhorrent provinence of the previous occupants, solidly sensible reasons. Bizarrely it has a window to the rest of the house which begs many questions which I have not yet had the pluck to ponder.  I bravely tackled and proudly conquered the bathroom.  The loo in there is not fixed to the floor which gives an added frisson of excitement to those brave enough to use it and the bath is the very same bath that was given it’s own fanfare by the previous owner as being big enough for three, something I care not to dwell on having met him.  And I cleaned the shower on the first floor.  This was genuinely a labour of love.  The shower is a particularly odd feature of the house being on a podium in what has been the master bedroom.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for the facilities-in-a-bedroom approach favoured by many chic boutique hotels and will indeed have a tub and a pretty sink in the master bedroom of the finished house but this is simply incongruous standing with all its plumbing displayed to the world like a brazen flasher and has no virtue except for a dollop of comedy value.  However, whilst we go through the process of renovating and restoring and generally swishing and swooshing the house back to the triumph it deserves to be, a working shower is helpful.  I donned protective gloves, mask and goggles for the job because when I lifted the slats and revealed the tray it had clearly and absolutely NEVER been cleaned.  I removed the sludge and hairy deposits of the antecedent thoroughly and zealously dredged the drainhole and can categorically state that I have seldom, if ever, been so fully disgusted.  And I have lived a little.  Indeed, I may still need some sort of therapy to truly achieve catharsis.

Now you will gather, I hope, that my husband loves me.  And to show his love that very day, he announced that a refreshing shower, after all my hard, and victorious toil in conquering the swamp pit, was just the thing he needed.

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I left him to it and took The Bean for a stroll round the village.  As I was walking back to the house I had a thought.  I ran it past The Brains on the way home a little later.  As casually as I could.  I just wondered.  Foolishly I was certain.  But I did wonder.  If he had remembered to close the shutters on the window whilst he was showering.  Since the shower is right in front of the window.  The relatively large and low window.  Of course he must have.  Mustn’t he?  No?  Well that was an eye-full for the town then and in particular the very elderly lady opposite  …. remember the house has absolutely no land to buffer it.  I’m frankly amazed that M. le Maire hasn’t had complaints.    Or maybe he is just too polite to mention it.  I cringe at the thought that maybe the town ladies might be anticipating regular matinee and evening performances.

I didn’t count the number of times I went down, with the increasingly testy Bean, to clean.  It was many severals.  And it was groundhoggishly tiresome in that everytime I got it looking spruce, I had to drag more bags of rubbish and rubble through the spick and spanness and my fragile effect was royally spoiled.  But all clouds are silver lined in world of me – you just have to keep those peepers peeled and embrace the good when it falls in your path as it invariably does.  One of the shiney pieces of silver in this story is the man at the déchetterie or waste disposal point if you will.  He has the most amazing view of the mountains from his little wooden hut and he takes his job very seriously.

Actually in my experience most of the people that work at such places, with or without breathtaking views are thoroughly nice – or at least they are in England and France.  I have always been treated kindly by them.  And this fella with his bella vista backdrop is no exception.  He helped us with bags and bags of wood dust and yet more of rubble and some of indescribable and unspeakable impurity and always (having asked where we were from on our first foray) said emphatically ‘vous êtes de Marcolès, non?‘ he being in St Mamet-la Salvatat, the next commune over.  It rather feels as though being from Marcolès in some way explains our undoubted lunacy.  I like him.  The Brains was less enthralled though when swinging a large and heavy bag of wood-dust into the vast metal skip, it split above his head and spewed shavings over him in a comedy moment of epic proportions.  Or at least my laughter was epic.  He remained stone-faced.   In fairness, I did not escape unscathed … as you can see from this fetching picture of me complete with dirty lines effecting comedy whiskers.

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When the walls were washed down, inevitably, given the age of the paint, much of it flaked off.  The Bean should be less cantankerous about the place if she takes the time to notice that one of the slivers that snowed down onto my lovingly tended (a thousand times so far) staircase is an exact silhouette of Her Beanship.

PS:  Of course the title is Snow White who righteously contended that if you whistle while you work the task will be easier, speedier and far more pleasant.  It may be relevant that I can’t actually whistle ….

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