Bonjour to all.

I think I am coming home tomorrow (May 31st).  At least that’s the plan.  But, in France, plans change at a moment’s notice – and that could happen today.

When last I left all of you I was coming off of my red carpet high and ready for some R&R in the mountains.  This has been a “non-stop” tour and some down-time sounded really good.

Ed and I took off in different cars as he’s a “2-pack a day” guy and I could not do that for 4 hours!  My lungs in France always take a beating and this trip was no different.  Besides, I like to sing along to my bad CD collection and the only thing worse than my CD’s is my singing.  We were both happy to have some quiet time not having to talk to another person – or so I thought.  As I followed Ed in his car for 4 hours I noticed one of his two cell phones constantly at his ear.  Me and Van Morrison had a sing along.

We left Cannes a tad later than we wanted (no shock there).  It was an absolute must for me to stop by my favorite shoe shop in CannesRobert Clergerie.  I have been to Cannes about a dozen times for various conferences and I have a ritual to stop by and see his incredibly unique designs.  You can get his shoes in the States now but he saves some designs for Europe only.  I had my “Carrie” moment as soon as I walked in the shop.  There on the main pedestal was his latest “creation”.

I will not do it justice but suffice to say it is a true work of architecture.  How can I be elevated 4 inches off the ground and still be comfortable?  Three small strips of black patent leather connected to a base of plastic in the shape of a squared slope.  And all for only a few hundred dollars!  “Fascinating stuff”, I say.  I was selling my house after all.  Right?  A small treat to make the pain a little less?  It was easy to rationalize.  I’m not sure I can say the same about the beautiful leather handbag that seemed to find it’s way on to my American Express card at the same time.  Tricky stuff.

The drive to Annecy was beautiful but tough.  Both of us had hit the wall.  Sleep was foremost in our minds.  We drove north out of Cannes and then turned towards Switzerland.  The scenery and villages could not be more different.  Within a few hours, the villages were now more German/Swiss:  Chateaux gave way to Chalets.  Flat fields of poppies gave way to tall mountain pines.  Straight country roads arched by great leafy trees gave way to hairpin turns and windy roads leading up through the clouds.

After 4 hours of straight driving we arrived at our destination.  A 15 bedroom chalet at the top of a mountain overlooking Lake Annecy.  Friends of Ed’s own this amazing home.  Like most chalets, it’s a large square in an off white color – this one has four floors – with dark brown wood porches and balconies.  Overflowing flower boxes with red geraniums adorned every window.  Large brown shutters trimmed the house.  It was just me and Ed and a big, big house with unbelievable views down to the valley below.

The chalet was built in the 40’s or 50’s and was originally a school.  For the life of us we could not figure out how they brought all the materials up the mountain to build such a huge place.  As the house sits on a mountain, the “ground floor” is a large 4 car garage and care takers apartment.  The entrance is up three stone steps and through a large sun porch where you can sit in over sized chairs and read books, or have dinner for 10.  The foyer is huge with a grand staircase on the right and small sitting area and fireplace on the left. There is a large living room, office, dining room, kitchen – all with beautiful wood floors, wood walls and wood beams.

The family bedrooms are on the third floor and the guest bedrooms on the fourth.  Ed was at one end of the hall and I at the other.  Large doors in my bedroom opened to a balcony and a sweeping view of the valley and lake below.  Across the main parking area, on the edge of the mountain, the owners have built a beautiful pool with Jacuzzi as well as a pool house complete with a full kitchen, pizza oven and a terrace.  The crowning piece of this area is the terrace on the edge of the slope with a dining table that can hold 16 for a dinner in the stars.

Bottom line.  Nice digs.

Although tired, we were also hungry.  We meandered to the bottom of the driveway (1/2 mile) where there were three restaurants to choose from.  We were so tired, anything would do.  After a late dinner of fresh vegetables, veal with homemade lingonberry sauce and a raspberry fruit tart (that tasted like the berries were picked that morning) we crashed hard under down comforters and fresh mountain air.

The next few days were simple and lazy.  We’ve not had luck with weather anywhere in France and our time in the mountains would be no different.  Foggy, rainy, cold.  I had packed two huge suitcases with bathing suits, summer sundresses, shorts and short sleeved t-shirts.  I looked a little odd in my strappy sandals while everyone else wore boots and fleeces.  Oh, well.  I would just tell everyone I was Canadian.

Annecy is lovely and the surrounding villages are too.  Skiing is their thing in winter and the season had just wrapped a few weeks earlier.  The summer was all about biking and hiking and that season had just begun.  It was a tad quiet with a lot of shops closed for a few weeks holiday before the madness of the new season revved up.  We drove to antique shops and flea markets, visited a man in a tiny village who makes beautiful pottery.  We had lunch wherever we found ourselves and had a couple nights in with soup, salad, CNN and an old movie.  We slept.

On Thursday the fog began to lift.  I had talked Ed into some physical activity and we embarked on a few hours of hiking to another peak across the way.  Where we hiked there are these crazy people who jump off the mountain with a small parachute strapped to their back and sail for hours down to the valley below.  There were hundreds.  From all over the various peaks you could see brightly colored chutes opening in a burst of wind and then quietly drift down.  The sun came out and filtered through the tall trees lining our hike.  It felt good to get my heart racing over something other than a restaurant or bottle of wine.

We left Saturday morning to drive back to our neck of the woods.  It had been great to see another part of France and the mountains are stunning but I found my heart warming to the sight of the South as we neared Provence.  The Mediterranean part of France with its warm colors, wide open spaces, never ending rows of vines and dedication to a leisurely life speaks more to me than the drama of the mountains.

This was it.  My last few days.  I had hoped some friends or family would be with me this last week but in the end, I was glad to be here by myself.  Yes, there was a lot of work to be done – but, seven years ago I had arrived by myself for this adventure and for 6 weeks cleared away what seemed like century old spider webs, Hoovered up thousands of spiders, ripped out shelves and benches and cabinets, scrubbed ceilings, walls and floors, painted floors, walls and ceilings, lived without water for days, sewn curtains (Girl Scout badge came in handy!), figured out directions to Ikea (this was not a small feat), debated with French electricians and plumbers and masons – and built a home.

It would only take a few days to close it all up.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday were spent finding boxes, hitting a few last markets and restaurants with friends and shipping my wine.  My new shoes were one extravagance from the sale, the other is shipping the wine I had accumulated.  In the end, 60 bottles were too much for us all to drink.  So, a few cases are winging their way to LA where I am sure they will quickly meet their end.

Making sure the paperwork was in order and that I truly understood all the information was my main concern.  I came into this experience a tad naïve and I was not going out the same way!   Since I made the decision to sell the house I have been holding my breath.  Would this really go through?  Would there be some last minute French snafu and it would all go “poof” in an instant?  Would there be a last minute revelation of additional taxes that would be owed and my profit cut to nothing?  (OK – my accountant has already explained that technically there is no profit – more went out than came in).  Would the buyer change his mind and being French know of a loop-hole that I do not?  Tuesday was spent having meetings to provide me with assurance – I’m sure the banker, the notaire and the real estate agent thought the meetings were a waste of time – but they made me feel better and I thank them for their indulgence.

Tuesday evening I packed my personal trinkets that I had accumulated.  There were not a lot of things as it was a rental house and items were purchased with that in mind.  A small serving tray, a wine cooler, a pitcher and the pig that welcomed everyone – those were my mementos.  I knew I would cry.  I just didn’t know when.  As I started to dismantle things around the house and make piles for the various people who had purchased my household items, it all hit me.  Selling the house was absolutely the right thing to do.  It had become too much.  The euro was climbing against the dollar.  The bills were harder to pay.  The house no longer made sense.

But, this was never about “sense” in the first place!  This was always a “moment of madness” that became seven years of new friends, new experiences, new lessons and new wonders.  The memories, adventures and experiences outweigh any profit.  (OK, clearly, my accountant has a different version of this story).

The tears did not last long.  I indulged them for a few moments and then played Scarlet – tomorrow is another day – and I have always loved Italy!!!

Wednesday was a long and yet quick day.  The “movers” turned out to be my neighbors two houses up.  They came with their truck to take everything to Simon’s house.  A Brit who had rented homes in the area for 17 tears finally gave in and bought one.  Almost everything in my house was going to his.  I hope to visit it all in the future.  Various odds and ends went to various friends from St. Remy so all day long friendly faces came by and took things away.

By 7pm the house echoed empty.  I went from room to room sweeping up and tidying things so the new owner did not have to walk into what I did years earlier.  Vincent has his work cut out for him.  The house needs some new love.  I was still aching to be the one to give it.  The kitchen doors need painting, the terrace needs new flowers, the upstairs bedroom some new curtains – well, OK, the house also needs a new roof and that 30,000 euro problem is now the new owners.  Bon Chance!!!

Ed, Cornelius, Willy and I had a beer in town and then I moved over to Ed’s house.  My car is packed to the top and I wonder what Air France is going to charge me to get on the plane.  Some things will remain at Ed’s house.  I have given him my market bag for safe keeping.  Every local has one.  They are personal.  Mine is a soft yellow canvas with worn leather handles.  It is a large rectangle shape with a leather bottom.  For others, it is a loud striped number, or a woven straw basket.  No local goes to the market without theirs.  Ed has promised to hold mine until I come to visit again.

I treated Ed, Willy and Cornelius to another culinary and wine feast last night.  We had hoped to go to Arles and see my new friends at La Chassagnette but with the pouring rain, lightning and thunder we decided to stay more local and drove over the mini-mountain to Les Baux and one of our favorite restaurants La Cabro d’Or. As always, the wine and champagne beat the food bill by almost 3 to 1.  The three of them had helped me so much over the years and even more the last few days – it was a pleasure to say thank you.  We indulged and laughed about the last few years.  As always, we were the last to leave.

As a note: I love that the high-end restaurants in France provide menus without prices to the women at the table.  Chauvinism is not dead here!  I love the surprise at the end though when they find out I am paying!  I an now referred to as “La Baroness”.  I think I still prefer “La Princess”.  There is something moldy about the other title!!!

Today is my last day here (I think).  The day will be spent in the village picking up boxes of chocolate, seeing if I can buy another suitcase(!), receiving my check (yeah) and sharing a last night in town saying “a bientot” to my friends.  It will not be good-bye.  Just, “see you later”.

Once again, thank you all for sharing another travel/life adventure.  Thank you to those who have ventured over to be a part of the story.

Stay tuned.  I am already planning more…


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