Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Hunt is on...

"Dear Mr N, 

It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to organise a meeting due to problems with coordinating everyone's schedules. At last check, the 'buyers' would be available on Monday 24th of February 2010 at 2pm in the offices of Mr. Twisty. Hoping this will fit with your own arrangements.

Yours sincerely,

Your Notaire (property lawyer)"

Ahh - you see, the sale is close! But it ain't over, as they say, till the Fat Lady sings. Not even humming the tune yet - I can tell you ;-)There's still things a hangin' in the balance. Patience ...

Now, where were we? That's right, we had bought La Fontiane and returned to outer Paris where the family, then of 3,  lived in a wee apartment of 67 sqm in a darling residential suburb. 

So why oh why did we wish to buy a house in Provence? Why would we want to give up Paris and all its excitement for the provincial life?'WE,' originally, did NOT! I did! Call it my outdoorsy NZ upbringing but the day I observed myself sternly telling my toddler messmonster that under no circumstances could she run in the grass on the way to the market because there was quite simply too much dog poo, was the day it dawned on me that Paris and I had nothing more in common. We had both changed, grown up and away from each other. From within his comfy office in Vélizy, Beaker was not affected by this of course - and as such was rather hard to convince that a move to greener pastures for the benefit of the whole family was such 'a brilliant idea!' He reluctantly came round though and Provence was the obvious choice because he had grown up there, not to mention the fact that the rest of the family was still entrenched living in the Pays Dignois. Provence is his home. France, for Beaker consists of Provence (pause) and Paris, in that order. The rest is just filler.
photo from here
So he set about trying to find a fulfilling and similarly paid job in Provence. Not an easy thing for a man who sells military aircraft to the Greek Government for a living. It meant a career change. Not an easy thing indeed for anyone, let alone a Frenchman, and a conservative 43 year old to boot. Changing your career at that age in France is the equivalent of professional suicide. But that's my Beaker! You don't spend 3 years negotiating a contract for 15 Mirage aircraft without a little patience and a passion for challenge.

So find a job he did ... one that would be situated eventually in the lovely city of Aix-en-Provence after an initial period at the Sales Headquarters in Paris. I had the go ahead to start the house hunt. Barely, just barely I contained my excitement. 

As you can imagine, there were some memorable visits. I'm sure you've had some yourselves when looking for your own dream home. We had a set budget in mind, which at the time was in Francs. We had very strict criteria: old stone, immediately liveable - with some renovation work, South facing, not near a main road or highway (ie. NO noise pollution so not under a flight path either, not more than 30mts from Aix,and certainly not under any of the huge high voltage power lines that litter the French countryside. Oh yes - not near one of the Nuclear Stations either for that matter... 

I would make appointments from Paris and as soon as I had enough houses to look at over a two week period (sometimes 3 per day), I would pack nearly 2 year old Chickpea into the TGV to Aix where on arrival, we would stay with friends who very generously loaned me one of their cars each time in order to conduct my mission. It pretty quickly became apparent though that anything worthwhile either disappeared before I arrived in Aix, or was waaaay out of our budget. We found La Fontiane almost immediately while I was still pregnant with Libellule. You may remember Beaker's unequivocal response: Too far from AIX. A money pit. FORGET IT! So with heavy heart the hunt for something 'better' began in earnest...

After what seemed like hundreds of duds, I eventually, I visited a house in Robion that a real estate agent had gushed was EXACTLY what we had been looking for! So I literally dropped everything and RUSHED down to see it. South facing: check! Renovation work - PLENTY. Actually it was a complete pigsty ... but nothing that a couple of coats of white paint couldn't fix, I was sure!! No - What got me, apart from being 300 000 francs over our budget, was a low rumbling NOISE that I could hear from inside the house. After espousing the environmental benefits of double glazing in all the south facing windows (this should've been hint enough), and while I was still reeling from the  the extreme state of filth and squalour inside the house, we all ventured outside into the 'landscaped garden.' Squinting in that bright Provence sun... I could just make out the tops of the lorrys jolting along the main road at breakneck speed, from behind a grey bessa block wall that was in the process of being built at the bottom of the garden.(Note arrow points to said road...) 

"BBBBut you have double glazing," the real estate agent stuttered at me as I dropped my jaw in a mix of horror and amazement. When I'd recovered from the shock I explained to her, incredulous,that after being holed up in a small apartment with a hyper active toddler for 2 years, in a climate consisting almost entirely of drizzly, grey weather, one did not move to Provence for DOUBLE GLAZING! One moved to Provence to sit in one's garden and admire one's children carvorting in the dog poo-free grass! One may also like to invite newly acquired friends over for an apéritif outside without having overtly raise one's voice merely in order to ask what one's friends would like to drink! I could've spared my breath!

House after house, stone after stone: too dark, too small, too noisy, no olive trees, too far from Aix, too dodgy, too expensive, bad renovation work (so too expensive), nothing suited Beaker. Some weekends he would join me and we would visit together. Beaker hated the idea of renovating. In fact, he still does. He's the 'what you see is what you get' type with no capacity to imagine anything other than what IS. But without budget, it would seem we were destined to buy a ruin. There were no 'ruins' in the Real Estate books... only houses with 'potential!' Lots and lots of really expensive potential. Slightly cheaper if there was no roof left to keep the walls together, but much harder to get a building permit for(Ref chapter 1). I still ask myself to this day, should potential not make you money rather than cost you money? ;-)
photo from here 
I took a bit of time off from the hunt to have Libellule and get her settled over the winter months following her birth before actively searching again between March and September. 

September. Date of my own birthday. That very day, the search stopped in a rather abrupt and spectacular manner. Even Beaker saw the light, realised that resistance was futile and finally capitulated. We would contact Lizzy, check if La Fontiane was still on sale ("Hardly likely", thought I, "she would be snapped up! Boohoo")and put in an offer. 

No but really, what else do you say to your wife on her birthday when she calls you from the ambulance to say ... "We 3 girlies are fine dear, but Lolo's car's been completely written off and they're just taking us to hospital for overnight observation as Libellule has a wee lump on her head, most likely from tapping it against the window when the car finally came to a halt on its side, after a bumpy roll down a wee slope into a freshly plowed field."  

As I sat on that very slope, holding my two panicked wee girls tight in my arms,and looked down to notice the bunch of silverbeet and frozen chicken that I had bought not half an hour earlier, lying nonchalantly after being catapulted out of the car, just metres from my shaky feet ... did I even once take this as some sort of OMEN not to move to Provence. NO, I did not! I just vaguely sort of thought, "Bugger, I've wrecked Lolo's car and I can't even cook my birthday dinner to thank her for loaning it to me now cos I don't know where the rest of the vegetables have disappeared to..."
(clicking on this link where I found the above photo should take you to the tarot definition of 'plowed field...' Eerily apt in retrospect ...)

Well, after all that excitement, I really think that next time you need to meet some of the characters without whom La Fontiane would lose some of her charm:
Mr Buze, who sold her to us. She belonged to his grandmother...
The Famille Vittel, adorable next door neighbours who keep La Fontiane's grass neat and tidy with their herd of cows: from dog poo to cow pats - amazing how that transition seems normal!
And the gentle self-taught, English speaking woodturner who has been waiting (with our complete blessings of course) for us to start renovations before getting up the impetus to move the wood that now fills almost all of the barn and stables, and start up a workshop at his own house ... 8 years and two house moves later - he's thinking about retiring !!


  1. I love your story !! I've just discovered you blog and I loke the way you made us following you

  2. okay, WHERE do you find the time??? you amaze me~
    I love this story~

  3. ~a BOOK this SHOULD be...nothing more said! i was so thrilled this morning to see it pop up on my blogroll...more to come, i can only imagine what lies ahead...thankful you three made it out very frightful...will be waiting...brightest blessings~

  4. Good on you for not being put off from your dream - car crash an all. I have family who live in Aix. It is such a lovely region and I can't blame you for wanting to live in Provence. I'm enjoying your story.

  5. Ange you are a wonderful teller of tales! This indeed could be a book or a television show that would have my intrigue, well actually you have captured me in the telling. So glad you ladies survived the car wreck all fine! I look forward to the next telling.

  6. I have read Peter M.....'s book on Provence dans le sud de la France! Good... but from a woman's point of view I'll be following this with very keen interest!
    A great story so far! I'll make it my weekender hide away in my study with a cuppa .... reading serial type of stuff.
    Go for it my girl!

  7. I love it...can not wait to read more...Cate

  8. Hello Ange, i found you through both Anita (Brismod) and Julie at Being Ruby. I was like i have seen that name before..who is this lovely person Ange whose comments I enjoy..Love your story somehow it reminds me of Wind in the Willows..The part where the horse ends up "in the deep ditch at the side of the road". Anyway, thought i would say hi from OZ, hope you are having a fun day, cheers Katherine

  9. MOVE over Frances Mayes and Peter Mayle, Ange has arrived and she has it spot on and hilarious.

    I LOVE THIS. You are a great writer and I so look forward to tuning into more of the saga. Keep your chin up girl!

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  10. HI!
    Thanks for dropping by my blog. I read this post with facination. Being an auctioneer who sells all sorts of things, including realestate on weekends PLUS having the desire to live in france, I found it a really enjoyable read! :o)

    ( I must confess I did find Paris a bit "busy" the last time I was there..)

  11. Hey Ange, wow you made my day...thanks for your visit and becoming a follower...what a total honor... I shall be delighted to follow you and your wonderful adventures...I love everything French and want to learn tell an amazing story..

  12. What a fabulous story, you are quite the story teller xxx

  13. Gadzooks!
    An excellent tale, although I am having a hard time getting all the Parisienne dog poo out of my head.

    I've only been to Paris once (77) and they laughed at mon 'Franglais' pathé était si piétonnier :(

    I may have stopped blogging per se, but I still enjoy scampering about and reading from time to time.
    Thank you for dropping by..toodles!

  14. Hello Ange,, the house in your header was always a house I had dreamed of living,, those old French country homes. We visited France a year ago and travelled from the south to the Gorge then a small part of Provence. We were thinking of moving there, my husband is from Paris. We have a farm in Dominican Republic after living in Miami for 14 years.. how I love this farm life for my children, they are so happy and carefree, so connected with nature. I don't blame you for wanting to move from Paris, as beautiful as it is, it's another dirty city full of pollution. Enjoy your new adventure.


Not only can you leave comments, you can ask questions! Let's make this as interactive as possible. As if it was a real story time situation... Thanks for coming along!