Week 2

Saturday 25 May 2002

The second week of our great move has, fortunately, been far less hectic than our first. It had seemed very foolish to have visitors staying in the farmhouse for a week commencing 3 days after the departure of the removal van! But in the end, it had the great advantage that we didn’t feel the pressure to achieve anything during the week And as we had more sunshine than had seemed likely from the weather forecasts, it was all very pleasant.

Both Sunday and Monday were holidays here, celebrating Whitsun. The village vide greniers (“empty your haylofts”) are great fun in fine weather – you visit tiny villages you wouldn’t otherwise detour to, occasionally find a bargain, and it’s often pleasant to rest weary feet at the food and drinks stall and watch the world go by. On the Monday we drove through lovely forests to a tiny village called Fremifontaine. The sun beat down as we wandered through the streets, lingering particularly at a stall with postcards (unused) from an old shop which dated from about 1940 (all those French film stars– even the men looked very heavily rouged by the lurid tinting process), where we bought some Christmas and Easter postcards and some later colour scenes. John also looked at some photographer’s black and white glass plates, but they were mainly studio portraits and outdoor family groups; the studio had been in Lyons, so nothing of local interest – it would have been an amazing bargain if it had been interesting. The day before we’d bought a 1939 Guide Bleu to Lorraine and Alsace, which is interesting as many things in it were obliterated during the war, whereas other archaeological “finds” didn’t seem to have been found yet (including a nearby Celtic fort). This Sunday should be interesting as it is the Entre-deux Eaux flea market and also there is another one at which the owners of one of the St Die patisseries (who are friends of our friend Nicola) are selling some his mother’s possessions, following her death a few months ago. I’m not sure what they will have tomorrow, but they found old Christening robes, wartime letters, books, exquisite linen, pre-war clothing in bedrooms and the attic which they’d never really been in (and they might have thrown much of it away had Nicola not persuaded them to try selling it. I think it highly likely that we will get involved in the book side of things, and will research the local book village, Fontenoy la Joute, to get an idea of values).

We’ve settled into the “west wing” without any problems, having managed to make sure we had most items we needed for the week’s stay – and with some rummaging in boxes we have been able to retrieve all we were missing. We’d made the new apartment very homely, if chaotic, as it had somewhat too many tables, chairs, and boxes of computers and hi-fi equipment. Nicola had dropped by early on to bring us some huge crimson peonies and some delicately scented lilies-of-the-valley which have added a touch of elegance. Living up there for a week has also meant that it’s been easier to envisage (for Helen who hasn’t lived in it before) how it will look. Consequently I’ve changed my mind again about bathroom tiles! The Rowes left earlier today and I feel quite sad at the thought of moving out of the conversion (and starting work on it!). So we’re taking it in stages. We’re cooking and eating in the farmhouse tonight, reclaiming a bit of it, but sleeping and breakfasting in bed in the “west wing.” Writing the “west wing” sounds very grand, but it seems to be the only definition (albeit jokey) where we both understand which bit we’re talking about

Having people here has not only slowed down the pace of unpacking and renovating, but it has also provided some diversions. Having expressed an interest in purchasing property here, they discovered quite how laid back the methods of selling houses seem to be here. The son (who is an estate agent) said in perplexity, “but don’t they give you some kind of printed particulars and an address to visit? And don’t they have some kind of structural survey done of properties?” They didn’t manage to find any of the properties that agents told them about ( with directions like, “it’s on the road between Taintrux and Rougeville” with no photo to take with them to identify it. And there are very few for sale signs outside properties.). We spent one evening showing them the photos of our first two years here (amazing how much, looking back, we managed to do or get done during short holidays! No wonder that Toby and Leila complained that we never did anything else whilst we were on holiday!) And on their last evening (Friday) we all went out to dinner at a ferme auberge at Taintrux which we’d never noticed before. It was very picturesque there. When we talked to the couple who ran it, it transpired that it was up for sale as they were hoping to retire to a chalet as soon as it was sold. So thereupon we all fantasised about how the Rowes could all buy it jointly and run murder weekends there, a camp site, inn, curry house etc etc. The trouble is that I can’t imagine any French people trusting themselves to English cookery! However, there it is, if any one dreams of running an auberge – only £250,000 and a claimed turnover of £200,000/year!

Our other socialising consisted of a day of John doing some plumbing investigations for Nicola whilst I curled up in an alcove and dipped into her art books and looked at her latest paintings (one of a local barn interior, and one of her daughter Emma on the beach in the States), and a depressingly wet and misty day (Thursday) when all 3 of us drove in the pouring rain to a garden centre (roses haven’t survived this winter) and a DIY shop (for plumbing bits). The garden centre was very busy as it’s French Mothers’ Day tomorrow. No doubt all the restaurants will also be crowded tomorrow lunch time.  I’ve also gone back to the library for my entitlement of 6 books – my annual subscription of about £20 must be nearly due (it goes very much against the grain, as it’s a PUBLIC library – hardly likely to attract socially excluded people!)  – the local section continues to furnish all my reading, though I did look a the two and a half shelves of English books, but wasn’t tempted. At present I’m reading a book of reminiscences about growing up in a little hamlet outside the nearby glass making town of Baccarat – all the parts about keeping 2 pigs, some chickens and rabbits sounds like life round here when the old couple lived in this small holding. We’ve had a couple of afternoons in the sunshine doing some gardening – the combination of hot sun and heavy downpours has produced a huge growth spurt and lots of different flowers are coming out this week – and unfortunately the bindweed is also sprouting and coiling wherever it can. We’ve waved at all the neighbours as we’ve been in the garden and they’ve been driving past, but our neighbour Mme Laine (who keeps an eye on the house for us when we’re not here) is the only one who’s come up to say “welcome!”. Even the Mayor drove past in silence when the big removal lorry was outside.

Well, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s vide-greniers, despite the rain that’s forecast. Then it will be back to emptying the “west wing” and getting started on a bit of work on it.

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