Friday, 15 January 2010

Bits and pieces of a house by a Roman Highway

"Oui Lizzy it's EN here. Bonne Année to you! Just wanted to check we were on track for the sale of the house and that everything has been sorted out with the neighbours and the SAFER. If so, we look forward to seeing you and the buyers sometime within the next two weeks or so."

"Mon.sieur. E.N," Lizzy's raspy voice drawled out at the other end of the phone, " I've got a 39° fever running and I've put enough effort into you and your house." Click.

Laughing I said to Beaker, "I think she forgot to say 'Go to Hell' before hanging up!" And  from the tone of her voice, I'm sure that's the polite version of what she was thinking.

Such was the last we heard from the real estate agent, who is supposedly selling our house, a week ago...

Your story starts here! Ours started 7 years ago when I fell in love with a crumbling but stately stone  house in Provence... this house! Sold to me, idealistic and ridiculously positive Antipodean, with no little to no effort at all, by the very one and the same above mentioned Lizzy. A Lizzy who had at the time just returned to her very scrumptiously authentic home town in the Pays de Forcalquier... after a number of years abroad to set up in real estate...

Her name is La Fontiane.
Not La Fontaine
La Fontiane.
Although the name still pertains to her spring or 'source' as we say in French
She is noted on maps of the area from the times of some or the other King Louis
as La Fontiane so that is good enough for moi
(note to self, check with Michou about the origin of the word: spelling mistake or Patois?)

Her first stages of construction, dated loosely at around the early 1500s, can be found in a small, perfectly vouted wine cellar complete with old wooden keg. The entrance of which you can see behind the cherry tree at the end of  the path along the outbuilding on the right. Of course, wine buff that husband Beaker is, he sees saw this as her only redeeming feature and it thus became the cornerstone upon which I built up my case in order to convince him over the course of a year that we should buy her.

You see, the first time Beaker laid eyes on La Fontiane, once he'd gotten over the initial heart attack, he virtually floored me with that look one saves for people that should rapidly be certified insane before flatly categorising her very astutely as nothing other than a huge, gaping money pit... Admittedly I was only at the beginning of my research for a house in Provence. But I was sure it was her. She called me. Beckoned me. Wooed me. Ma FOI - she had my name written all over her! 'Bloody negative French men,' were my famous last words before spending the next year visiting numerous other houses that, each for different reasons, fell ever so short of La Fontiane.

Underneath whose cellar are presumed to be the ruins of a Roman Villa, possibly also a temple, or maybe a rest stop as the house was built right next to the busy Via Domitia (Roman highway) in a still authentic but now out of the way part of the Luberon. La Fontiane has, shall we say, a certain magnetism about her. Earth magnetism it would appear as well...

She was built up and created bit by bit over the years with pieces unashamedly 'thrifted' from the ruins of nearby chateaux and other crumbling estates, by her successive owners. I always find this ironic, given that if you want to renovate in Provence and indeed just about anywhere in France now, there are strict regulations governing anything and everything pertaining to general overall outside appearance so that houses comply with official historical standards. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the Luberon is classified as National Park and as such I'm sure you can imagine the gleefull conversations yours truly has had with the resident Government architects and petty local beaurocracy, namely, the DDE with respect to a certain piece of paper known as THE BUILDING PERMIT.

"Given, Monsieur, that the house was built successively over a period of 350 years or so from any bits and pieces the owners could scrounge locally (thrifters after my own heart I can assure you), including the arched doorway of an old chateau, and some stones that may date back to the Renaissance; I was wondering if, to be in conformity with your historical records, you may  like me to also do away with my overtly modern idea of laying tiles or floorboards in favour of keeping the traditional beaten earth floor, and inviting the livestock in to eat with us as this would be most fitting for the 1500s period!"

Mais Non! - I didn't really say that. It only briefly flittered across my mind once or twice in the odd, very rare moment of intense frustration. GOLDEN RULE NUMBER ONE: Never argue with a French public servant. It is good form to be both obsequious and chipper in the face of blatant incompetency. Remember, they are legends in their own minds, heady with  their own power, and you must keep that illusion alive at all cost for fear of your tiny little 'building permit' file being unceremoniously buried for months and months and months under the thousands of other building permit requests... But we shall get to the perils and pitfalls of the French administration later...

For in the beginning, there was no building permit. Just 900 square metres of charming old, pieced together house, all the way up to her proud pigeon tower, and out buildings, on nearly 3 hectares of prairie land, with a spring that was important enough to take up a 3 page mention in the contract. If you want to further understand the importance of having your own spring within Provence, I suggest you read or watch Manon des Sources.

So go and grab a cuppa (maybe even a snifter of something stronger) for the tale is going to be a long one and you will certainly find out a few snippets of interesting information.

You may wish to ask how we could pay a rather hefty loan on such a house for 7 years and never (aside from the obvious holey pocket syndrome), never do her up. You may then be forgiven for asking what strange events prompted us to start her renovations last year. And of course, it would not be completely ridiculous of you to ask either, why, after starting renovations, we suddenly decided to sell on a whim...

Let me know when you're cuppa's ready and we shall begin. For now though. I'm afraid that I shall have to call it a night and take my cuppa to the covers with me. You see - I have a Paris Episode to write tomorrow for my other blog. A girl can not move to Provence, or even dream of moving to Provence, until she has left Paris.... and we've only touched the surface there too ;-)

Bonne nuit les petits!


  1. Oh, i so look forward to the next chapter, Ange! This was well worth waiting for, and unfortunately all too familiar. I almost, i say 'almost,' bought a croft on Skye. Not a simple process, by any stretch. Secret bidding is involved - but the highest bidder doesn't necessarily get the property, architect's plans and applications to the Crofter's Commission with 5 year plans are required, as are archaelogical watching briefs...they find one pottery chip from the stone age, all building stops. Then there are routine inspections, everything needs to be exactly right or work is stopped. More submissions, more fees. The constant delays and soaring costs are enough to make anyone give up their dream. The sad part is, it all comes down to who you know. So, you already have my admiration for getting this far. Ok, i've poured myself a wee dram, am ready for more!
    Lizzy :)

  2. Fabulous start Ange. I'm hooked already. We looked into buying a property in France a few years back. Heh,heh,heh. It sounds so romantic but hugely impractical when you live on the other side of the world...and the cauchemar that is French bureaucracy. I'll live vicariously, reading your story.

  3. ~wonderful start and i was not quite ready to leave yet...will be waiting for more...the house is so beautiful and seems to bear such mysteries and hold such history...i could see why she called you and why you were so drawn to her...will be waiting! brightest blessings~

  4. Goodness me! I didn't realise you had already started reading! And I wasn't alerted to the comments this time. Fabulous. I am going to write the next chapter very quickly then. Lizzy - (My Real Estate Agent shares your name but only because it is part of her own... otherwise you can be sure I would've named her otherwise!!) it's the same here. Not that I'd say it's reassuring to know it's the same at your end. But wait - you too will hear about our archeological dig. A Roman battle was held on the plains around the house ;-)

  5. Oh, I love this! It sounds so intriguing! Your storytelling is superb.

  6. Oh I am so going to enjoy this story! -Lili

  7. Ange, I found this blog days ago and kept the page open and just got back to it tonight. I am so glad I did. What a gem you have added to your life. And a spring is indeed a treasure. My wee cabin has an artesian well and I am ever so appreciative!
    I so look forward to the unfolding of your tale, for you are a grand story teller!

  8. I can see why you love her so much! When can I move in? I could help paint or do something...

  9. Ange, I have only just realised that you started another blog. I can see why you fell in love with her. I bought the Cote Sud magazine Dec/Jan magazine, the whole of which is devoted to the Luberon. Maybe it is meant to be.....all I need to do now is sell a house or two :-)

    A tres bientot mon budgie,
    L x

  10. I await your next chapter. Soon, soon.

  11. What a story,I'm hooked. You write so well Ange, what an adventure this is going to be.

  12. Ok Ange,
    I'm in. Tell us more!!
    You tell a wonderful story!


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