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Posts tagged ‘Medieval’

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


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 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 feels as though it should be a novel.  Based in the factual, it would be 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 médiéval  – 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!