After a long plane ride from Atlanta to Madrid, I saw the sun rise in a deserted Madrid airport, got a cafe and sandwich with euros, and read the entire Psyche and Cosmos. Then five hours later I took the final flight to Paris. After customs thank God Dorothy and Claude met me. We drove to Ollainville and Claude showed me the house. It is messy, large and needs renovation. At first I said absolutely no and then began considering what would help. Tremendous renovations. After a day at the Louvre fighting the Japanese to see the art and another day at Musee d’Orsay and Notre Dame, I decided that Paris is too crowded and too big for me. The 50th reunion of Sweet Briar Junior Year in Paris at Reid Hall was poignant and the dinner after very congenial. Old remembrances of Malinda, Gordon Chase and John Aniello. After for days of supreme hospitality from Claude, we cried when we drove off in our little Renault Twingo from Orly and took the road to Chartres.
After circling the cathedral a few times on very narrow streets we found Hostelerie St Yes only steps from the grand dame. Dinner at Le Serpent and a tour the next day of the stained glass, architecture and labyrinth. Then following back roads to Tours and the Loire Valley. One more round about and I would have lost it. Third gear down to second then first and back up the line. My legs are stronger than ever.
We are amazed by this beautiful house where Jacqueline and Jean live near Tours and Chinon. They have 3 children and five grandchildren, four girls who are 15 thru 20, all looking forward to their careers and no boyfriends. Too much trouble.
We are having summer weather. 70 degrees. A beautiful vegetable garden we ate from there with the whole family. I gave an English lesson and they spoke in French finally. Claude only spoke English.
We changed all our plans so that we can look for a house in Sarlat or Figeac. We cancelled St Jean de Luz, kept Carcassonne in spite of floods on the River Aude, and are building time for Figeac. Jean and Jacqueline say it is the best town on the Lot River. Dinner with Jacquelines twin brother and sister and all their families. The men flirt and spar over who has the best garden and biggest beans.
Then we left with tears and my French much improved and drove south to Bordeaux on the super highway in our little Renault Twingo with 5 speeds. Luckily I can still drive a stick shift after 45 years.
We arrived in Salleboef just now and Dorothy is sketching the vineyards. We spent two full days with her cousin near Tours and did not have a moment without family. I decided that Paris is too touristy and too big for me. Claude’s house is too expensive and requires too much renovation. I would have to sell the Florida house. Perhaps I will just sell the office building and retire to France. The people are more intelligent, kind, interesting and the food is so much better, so much healthier.
I am looking at the map of Dordogne and Lot. Figeac is below Rocamadour. It is near the mountains and the weather can be cool. I saw my house there and I am going to see it in three days. We arrive in Sarlat tomorrow.
The biggest problem is weather. Do I want to live in a place where it can be cloudy and cold. 23 degrees and then 18 or 8 two days later. The house has disappeared. Green Acres lost it. I am now looking at French realtors in the Loire Valley and Figeac. Carcassonne is another Mediterrenean city with southern houses. Enough of tropical life.
I am looking for ancient, sunny, small, with enough land for a garden. A porch and balcony. Stone but large windows. Four rooms is plenty.
I will write to the realtor about the confluence of La Loire and Les Viennes. Two rivers joining may be a twin thing. The energy is terrific.
We have now driven over beautiful mountains and pastuer lands, through towns with amazing names, up into Rocamadour, a pilgrimage site with the black virgin and bones of a saint found in the rock wall.
The house that I have wanted is back on the market for 195000 euros, 6000 sq meters or 1 and one half acres, a sunny porch and rock wall behind. It is not near Figeac. It is two hours west and the owners work so we had to postpone until after Carcassonne. The town is Mascat south of Soulliac and several kilometers from La Dordogne.
We made our way to Figeac and will meet a realtor tomorrow at 38 Avenue Joseph Loubet, m2c immobliers, Hubert Evrard. The people at logis auberge say that Figeac is a very beautiful town. The river is Le Cele. The Lot is still south. Dorothy is sketching and painting everywhere.
Back to Sarlat it is a wonderful cite medievale but claustrophobic. We wandered and shopped, spending time in cafes, always in the sun. We ate snacks of olives, tomato paste, pain, peppers that we found in the market in our room. The first night we got lost four times and went around in circles – our labyrinth. The hotel misled us about parking. We loved rue de la republique and the 17th century buildings. This is a tourist destination but warm and not too crowded in October. We ate menu de terrain of goose pate foie grass, duck breast and walnut cake. Always cheese and le pain.
We headed down the road to the caves with Cro Magnon drawing les Grottes de Cougnac. We saw bison, ibis, horses, humans, finger prints from 25000 years ago way back in a cave. Why did they come in there over calcified stalagmites? Why did they draw representations of their world? Symbolic indeed. Power over, gratitude for, identification with wild animals. We were amazed and I remember the discovery of these caves from childhood.
Last night we ate cassoulet with pork, veal and sausage with beans followed by a delicious apple and apricot custard. Too good for words. We awakened to a sunny morning on top of the world in Rocamadour.
A lovely drive always through small ancient villages that disappear when you blink. Mirages. All farming and more farming in the Dordogne and Lot Departments.
Dorothy is the navigator and carries the atlas everywhere. I am looking at houses on Green Acres, French properties, local sites. The English and Germans are coming in droves so we use their sites. Then I mark routes to follow. We are still on schedule with Travelocity reservations and we must if we are to make our planes in Paris in six days.
Dinner at the auberge de Dieges in capdenac gare across the Lot and the Cele from Figeac with excellent potato soup, lamb and cream brulee. Food is a gift here, so lovingly prepared from local farms. At least five vegetables turnip parsnip carrot potatoes lentils pureed and displayed on one plate. And the inn keepers are so kind to us except Sarlat.
We went into Figeac to meet with the realtor Hubert. M2cimmoblier. He talked about himself more than us. He showed us nothing except the terrain near the Massif Centrale and the ancient volcano. We will communicate by email. We could not park to see the market. Top many shoppers parked everywhere. The center of town and the river Cele were beautiful but small and closed in.
Started down thru the countryside to Carcassonne thru another confluence winding up and down through stone villages. Came to Albi a big city and followed signs to the Cathedrale. Cloudy weather now as we head south. There were floods in Carcassonne river Aude last week. People killed. We do not understand the weather patterns. The cathedral is huge and inside very ornate with painted walls. A wedding was taking place and the bride arrived as we left.
The road south thru Carles was urbanized and we despaired of finding the route with hundreds of roundabouts. My arms and legs were tiring with the shifting.
Came into Carcassonne throough narrow streets with cinder block houses close to the street. Following poor signage to three Ibis hotels. Found ours on Place Gambetta a few meters one quarter mile from La Cite. Dorothy discovered in the car park underground that she had left her black bag at auberge de La Diege. We were panicking. She remembered where she left it and we located. Claude arranged for Fed Ex to his house and Dorothy worried thru the night.
After achieving some calm we walked up and up around and around to Porte Narbonne more stairs entering the medieval city where the Cathars were defeated. Wandered to a square with restaurants and chose one outside among many. Steak tartare with capers and onions. Stumbled home and into bed still unsure of ourselves.
Back in thru the ramparts after climbing and steps Porte Aude. Pedestrian bridges small row houses steep rocky streets. Coffee in the same square and crepes. Crowded with tourists. Activity everywhere a local cat and strollers dogs children finally sun breaks thru the large old trees. Waiter from Cameroon. Dorothy let go of all and went shopping.
Shopping in the sun silver jewelry Italian fabrics Medieval clothes local teas and Petit prince mugs. Nothing is worth loving that can be seen. Another beautiful cathedral with small buttresses and gargoyles and another sad story of relics destroyed during the revolution as happened with the Red Guard in China. The old order overturned. Was Pluto in the 10th house? We are hungry and the kitchens are closed. Back in the main square planning dinner when the restaurants open. The Bastide is past our square. We can see tomorrow. La Cite is a circus of people. I just realized that I scheduled the wrong day to see the house in Masclat. Oh no. Our schedule is deconstructing.
In the square dans La Bastide eating croissants and drinking cafe au lait. Beautiful shops and a square with a fountain. La cite is wild and packed. La Bastide is calm and civilized. We were able to change the house showing so today so we head north to Masclat. The Ibis turned out to be well located walking distance to the city center, near the Aude where our heroine in Labyrinth began her journey and accessible to both gates Narbonne and Aude. Dorothy is sketching the square. The flower store was a feast for the senses and the tourism office had an amazing card of the cute and a suffering gargoyle. We are excited to head north. The house is right on the border between the Lot and Dordogne with a river running nearby and a cliff behind. Good feng shui with the turtle. 6000 square meters and permaculture. We shall see soon. We will take the auto route to Toulouse and north. Carcassonne ends up to be a beautiful city with museums and once again lots of young families.
We will return to Claude tomorrow and spend another day in Paris Eiffel Tower and Montmartre for Dorothy to see. A little boy is feeding bread to the pigeons happily. He went back for more bread. Reminds me of feeding the seagulls on the beach at Lake Huron with Malinnda and creating Indian villages in the sand. We had driftwood families on the rocky point.
Driving on A20 the superhighway past Toulouse, past Cahors into the hills of Le Lot my home in France. It includes Figeac, Masclat, Gourdon, but not Sarlat. That is above in La Dordogne and fine. I only claim Le Lot as mine. Dorothy is fuzzy. My right shoulder aches. The phone is out so we are navigating by the tablet on a wifi for the auto route not recommended.
We got off after many hours on the highway into the Lot then onto the D level roads and winding thru beautiful valleys in shadow with overhanging trees. Beautiful little villages without the endless empty houses in rows. Just churches houses set back with gardens tabacs boulangerie postal. Near Souillac. We met a lovely woman and child at the gas station in Masclat who took us to a lovely house with 1600 sq meters, a vegetable garden and many outbuildings
The house itself is stone with extension and southern exposure looking out over trees and fields. It is not the house I saw in the Figeac ads but there is a large porch. The rooms are chopped up for the children. There is a large fireplace with the possibility of use. Pellets and wood for heat. Sunny. 168000 euros is asking price. The town is wonderful with cafe restaurant and boulangerie. Huge trees and speckled shade. But this turns out to be not the house that I saw near Figeac with the 6000 sq meters and the rock face behind. I got the two confused. There is nothing in this area to do except write a book. The Dordogne is right nearby but miles from nowhere.
Then we drove towards Souillac to find a place to stay in the waning sun. We turned into the centre ville and along a canal with someone impatient to go. Dorothy said to look in Travelocity. She was afraid and I was tired so I did. One minute later we passed un auberge but had booked La Belle Vue up the hill. Fell in bed without dinner. Just a chocolate bar. Awakened to warm sun streaming onto the bed. Croissants and coffee, goat cheese and many miles to go. Six hours on the auto route, rest stops for gas and coffee, more French bread and cheese, prosciutto and shifting third, fourth and fifth gears to pass the truck’s. Tickets and Tolls. Finally near Chartres, then Paris, and we skipped off onto a country road through small villages and Ollainville.
When I saw Claude I burst into sobs and could not stop. Relief from stress, safe at the house, that now feels like home. A French lesson with paper and dictionary, sausage potatoes and sauerkraut, a little laundry then major crash. This morning I tried to explain to Claude about buying the house. I would have to sell everything in Florida and that scares me. It is warm and sunny there and not here. In Paris now it is cool and gray. He would have to wait for me to sell house and office. This is the only home he has ever known for 20 years after they left China and he raised his two daughters here with his ex wife in the same town. We jumped in the cars after talking to take the rental car back to Orly Airport. Traffic and accidents everywhere. Dorothy dreaded going back to Paris to see Montmartre and I wanted to know the house better so we came back and took naps. Tired little travelers.
Criteria for the house:
100 years old
One acre actually one quarter
Room to garden
Room for Sasha
Stones and wood inside
Big windows double paned
Near lake in Egly
Whoops no view
Whoops not a confluence of rivers
We made a fire in the late afternoon in the big living room and sat here chatting. I wrote a long email to the realtor Catherine Naudin using the French dictionary and offering 475000 euros for the house, listing a few more renovations such as bathrooms enlarged or eliminated. I forgot the painting. We shall see. I have done my part. The rooms are huge and have ornate cornices. I love the living room the best with the huge window looking south and bushes with berries in orange. Claude’s friends came, a handsome couple, who drank beer and exchanged words. I cannot understand them in French when they speak quickly and use slang. L’argot. Dorothy made a delicious vegetable dish and I poached the cod. Laura, Claude’s daughter, came for dinner and chatted about her dreams in perfect English. She was sent back from Las Angeles to Paris because her Visa pattern indicated illegal work in the US. This was crushing for her. She has wild hopes for endless happiness. She lost her driver’s license due to pot smoking. Uh oh. Claude’s English is also improving. My French is measurably better. I watched Netflix cuddled in bed and slept forever. Today is our last day.
Dorothy and I made a list of English expressions that we cooked up for Zoe, Jacqueline`s granddaughter, for school. She is copying them to add definitions for Claude and Laura also. We laughed about how incomprehensible they are and yet how metaphorical. Claude gave me a few. I am a peach. Ca. C’est fait. Today the sun came out for a while after two days of haze and overcast, mostly cool and barely rainy. Claude does not open the shutters by the road and so afternoon sun is scarce. He thinks people look in. He says he is a hermit or an old bear.
Sitting in the sun warm with birds chirping harvesting figs.
Claude and I went over the maps of the house and corrected them and Dorothy did a walk thru of the shadow side with me taking notes and pictures with the tablet. We call the extension the shadow because it is unconscious for Claude, undeveloped and perhaps a source of sadness during WW2 when many families lived here with subdividing. It needs to be completely renovated and opened to the light. The highest parts will be broken through and all cabinets gone. Bring in the light of day. Bring the unconscious into consciousness.
In the middle of leave taking the realtor Catherine Naudin called and asked to meet with me. She had no translator so we brought our dictionaries. She discussed the ways she can prepare a comprise or agreement: one is I already have the money and two is I get a promissory note from a bank with the property I own as collateral. Naturally there is no such instrument in the US, so she suggested a custom agreement for us. She had received my offer and said that Claude would not accept less than 500,000. I said I would not pay more than that so that is the number. I would need time to sell out of Florida perhaps 6 months. The closing costs including mostly taxes are over 36,000 and the deposit is 5%. I will provide a proposal in one week. Then Dennis said that his mother is ill and he needs to see her so we need to discuss that also. No telling what his brother Don is recommending thru his beer haze.
Dorothy took us out to dinner to a wonderful seafood restaurant and I ate buckets of mussels for once in a long while. It was a lovely opportunity to thank each other for all the support. Once home we dropped into bed.
5am came early. The limo came for Dorothy for a midmorning flight to Charles de Gaulle airport and Claude drove me to Orly, accompanying me as far as customs. I was sad to see him go. He has been immersed in Chinese culture for so long, living in Hong Kong and learning their language. He has absorbed their gracious hospitality also. He was an automobile engineer and founded a company to consult with the Chinese. His profound attachment to his two beautiful daughters, born after he reached 40, is endearing also. He helped me with my French immensely and we helped his English.
I will miss him and the house. The window in the living room into the garden, the glass door, the large rooms, the high ceilings, the cornices, the hearths are all impossible to find in newer houses. Of course Claude would love me to buy the house and renovate the back side for an office. We would still see each other and he would be reassured about letting go after 20 years. He wants to build an energy self sufficient house. His girlfriend Francette would not live with him. He prefers to do his own way, usually without help.
After 2 hours to Madrid from Orly and a five mile walk to the gate for Atlanta with five passport checks, I am finally on the plane for a 9 hour flight. My sister Catherine would not have survived Claude’s house with its clutter never mind five hour waits in airports ‘being herded like cattle’ as she put it. The two weeks driving a stick shift and staying in second class hotels, hiking into La Cite or Sarlat would have driven her home. Even the stalwart Dorothy was challenged. I will also be glad to be home.
I have many photos of my trip, view my albums at these links:
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