Bonjour to all –

It’s been a while since I last wrote but I hope all of you see that as a
positive thing.

Besides the fact that I have spared you with many more  ridiculously long
e-mails, it also means that things have calmed down.  Keep in mind that this
comment only refers to the construction – not the emotional roller coaster
of a quickly depleting bank account.

I returned from Romania late Wednesday night (without my luggage).  It was
an anxious drive from the Marseille airport with constant thoughts of:

“Did anyone show up for the work that still remained?”
“Would I find some new disaster that was unearthed while I was gone?”
“Were my house keys in the luggage?”

As always the drive to St. Remy is inspiring – passing rows of vineyards, farmhouses with the late afternoon sun bouncing gold off the stone, The plane trees arching across the roads making a leafy tunnel – it’s just stunning.  When I arrived at my house I opened the gates and gasped – I could SEE the house.

When I arrived in June, the garden had become so overgrown that only the top portion of the house was visible.  Before leaving for Romania, I had hired a gardener, named Noel – “like Christmas”, he said – who promised he would cut all the overgrown bushes/weeds down, clean out the garden beds, plant “les petit fleurs” and trim the vines while I was gone.  And he did!!!!  Truly, he was not French.

I sat in the car with the last rays of light falling over the house (10:15
pm) and smiled.  It’s such a pretty house with great doors and windows –
the faded greens and blues of the shutters are soft and inviting – there is
even a stone bench at the front door that I did not know existed.

I like Noel – he is like Christmas!

I find the keys and open the front door – the whole time holding my breath.

Wow, again.  The grand salon has been completely painted, the bar has been
completely finished, the bedrooms upstairs have a sense of completion – a
few minor details to be attended – but nothing overwhelming.  Now if the
furniture shows up on Friday this place will really be something!  I pray
to the gods of Ikea – please bring all the parts, please bring all the
parts…..

Thursday morning brings the most drastic change of all – my social life
picks up into a whirlwind.  Please keep in mind that with the exception of
Fred and Mitch, my wild nights to date have been spent with 22 year old
Sebastian at Bistro des Alpilles (which closes at 10 pm) and Alexander who
orders bad Chiense food, smokes like a fiend and drinks all my wine.

Tom Cosgrove and his wife Kathy drive 2 hours from Grasse just to see me
and my house.  I quickly get the house in order and dash to the store for
some basic necessities – toothbrush, shampoo, etc.

One small problem – no suitcase from Romania meant no bra.  I packed the
basics to France and that’s what went to Romania.  I am wearing a white
linen dress (I had very little to choose from) and no bra.  What’s a girl
to do – non?  Of course, I didn’t want to be a total floozy so I decided to
ask Alex a mature fashion question.  He’s French – right?  He’s used to
women who sun bathe topless and don’t wear bras in the summer, and besides
– there was no one else to ask.

The French do not call them breasts, boobs, hooters or tatas.  They simply
refer to them as “les tits”.  So I quickly ask Alexander:

Patty:  My luggage has not arrived from Romania.  So – no brasiere.
Alexander:  Yes… (spoken very warily)
Patty:  I wear a white dress and wonder if you can see my tits.
Alexander:  Yes, please.
Patty:  No, no – I am not offering, I am asking.
Alexander:  You ask the question and I say yes.
Patty:  No, you don’t understand – the dress is it see-through – yes?
Alexander:  Explain see-through? (a look of total confusion)
Patty:   Errr, never mind.

OK, so I have had smarter ideas.  At least in France it can’t be considered
sexual harrassment – in general it would be considered a perk.

I’ll risk it…I go to rendevous avec Tom and Kathy.

It’s great to see Kathy and Tom – of course, lunch is at Bistro des
Alpilles with Sebastian.  It’s now part of the official tour of St. Remy
(be sure to check your Fodor’s guide next year)!  They love the lunch, the
town, the shopping and they even love my house (at least what’s done).

I realize that this is an ingredient of the process that has been sorely
missing – friends who will give you encouragement and tell you what you
want/need to hear – even if they do exaggerate.

I quickly try to get Kathy & Tom to commit to 6 weeks between November 2001
and March 2002.  No luck.

For dinner I have big plans, as well.  Ed McDonnell (the infamous  Ed) is in town.
Infamous, you ask?  He’s the guy who got me and Stephen into this mess.  Ed
was the first to buy a house – a charming 17th century mas on the outskirts
of St. Remy.

Ed was just what I needed – at the very right time.  He listened to my trials and tribulations and assured me that he experienced much of the same thing.  Of course, while I found this to be very friendly of him I had to wonder – if things were that difficult why did you suggest WE buy houses?

Friday all the remaining furniture arrives.  It felt so good to arrange the
carpets, place the couches, make the beds, hang the towels and complete
some of the rooms once and for all.  Of course, the process never seems
finished.  As I put things together I realize other things are missing.  OK
– I have just enough energy to make one more shopping trip – tomorrow.

Ed was coming to see the house tonight.  Cold white wine and tapenade
served in the Grand Salon.

“Honey, I love it – just love it.  You didn’t do it justice – it’s
fabulous!   Oh doll, you  must love it!”

I keep dragging Ed back and forth and up and down – I can’t get enough of
positive comments.  I’ve lost perspective and know where every problem or
potential problem lies.  “Really, Ed – you think so?”  I hang onto his
every word like he is a psychic reader!

Ed takes me to his favorite restaurant Cafe Lezard (Cafe Lizard).  We sit
outside and drink a bottle of Bordeaux and eat Route 66 burgers, French
style.  Great portions of ground beef grilled to perfection and served open
face on a small piece of toast and a large green salad.  I am so giddy that
Ed likes my house that I down a great deal of red wine.  I am thankful Ed
is driving.

Saturday I am up early and out the door ready for one last shopping assault
in Avignon.  I drive like a local passing cars on the right, zipping down
back streets, taking the short cut under the overpass and whipping into a
perfectly shaded spot in the parking lot.

By now I have the store memorized – I cruise through the aisles passing
shoppers on the right, zipping down only the aisles I need, taking short
cuts through the office and juvenile furniture and whipping into the
check-out line.

A quick drive back to the house to unload the car.  I am hell-bent to make
this day the very last day of work on the house.  I paint the water closet,
I sew the remaining drapes, I finish washing all the linens, I vacuum, I
sweep, I dust.  Alexander arrives and hangs all the pictures and remaining
towel bars.

It’s 9:30pm and the house is finished.  It’s finished!

Alexander and I are not sure what to do.  Surely there is something that
needs to be painted, screwed, hammered or sawed.  We look around the house
walking from room to room.  We look at each other – we look around again –
we look at each other and laugh.

“It’s a good house”, says Alexander
“It is a good house”, I sigh.

All the overwhelming days of heat and hard work, the frustration of messed
up bank loans and missing construction guys, the non-stop check book, the
never-ending shopping trips…

Ma maison est finis!

Alexander shrugs, lights a cigarette and declares:

“Now we celebrate”.  He knows where the wine is and he comfortably grabs a
bottle and two glasses.  We sit in the grand salon opposite each other on
the couches.  We admire the house and laugh at how unattractive both of us
look after a long day of work.

The bottle of Montrachet is finished quickly and Alexander jumps up and
announces he is taking me to dinner at his favorite restaurant.

“It’s 11:30 – nothing is open that will serve food.”
“Ahh, you are a tourist – I am Alexander and my friends will serve me at
anytime.”

OK, he’s a cocky Frenchman but he was right.  Alexander scrambled home for
a shower and I hit the antique tub.  25 minutes later we were sitting at
Cafes Arenes – Chez Roland.  Roland is in his mid sixties and sports a
handlebar moustache.  His bar is filled with pictures of his adventures in
India, Morroco and a short stint in the 60’s as a rock n’ roller.  It looks
like drugs is the theme that holds it all together.

Roland is only too thrilled to cook for us and soon a steak for Alexander
appears and I get a bowl of steamed mussels and frites.  Roland, Olivier
(the bartender) and Claire (the waitress) join us.  I have made the inner
circle of St. Remy – it’s a locals only joint – not only is my food served
with courtesy, I am positive they didn’t spit in it!

I understand little as they all jabber on in French but I am quite content
to sit outside on this warm night eating one of my favorite french dishes
and polishing off a bottle of fine rose.  My house is done and I have 4
days to enjoy it.

Sunday Ed shows up at my house promptly at 8:30am for a day of antiquing
In the beautiful village of L’Isle sur-la-Sorgue. Sunday is also the day that the town has its market so the place is hopping.  Streams run in and out all over the
town with paddle wheels leftover from their silk making days.  We wander in
and out of  market stalls and endless stores of antiques.  Ed is a buying
machine.

Even my prowess at this sport can’t match Ed.
Ed:  “What do you think of the chaise lounge?  I think it’s to die for – non?  $500 it’s cheap – done deal”
Ed:  “Did you see this chandelier – perfect for the kitchen table.  The price –
you can’t beat it.”
Ed:  “That dresser is perfect for the guest room and it’s small enough to pass
through the window.  Do you have another one by chance?”
Ed:  “I just adore these two little red chairs – can they be delivered
Wednesday?”

I leave the market with a small black pail and two weights to use as door
stoppers.  Ed leaves with 6 major pieces of furniture and thoughts of
purchasing 4 others we saw that day.  Ed is a shopping god and my new hero!

We share another dinner that evening in St. Remy and decide to write a
restaurant guide for the area – the benefit being that we get to try them
all out.

Monday I sleep in (8am).  When I do awake my immediate reaction is to make
a list of everything I need to do but, it really sinks in that everything
is complete.  I was afraid I may come up with something to do so, I quickly changed
into my bathing suit, grabbed a book and ran out the door heading for the
Chateau des Alpilles.

The Chateau is from the17th century and has been restored by two sisters.
I stayed with them while I looked for the house in February/March.
Patricia is one of the sisters and she is thrilled to see me.  The sisters
have a gallery where they provide exhibit space to the local artists so
they know the previous owner of my house.  She insists that I send pictures and I
promise that the next time I am in town I will invite her to see the house
in person.

The Chateau has a stunning pool and visitors can use the pool if they stay
for lunch.  They drive such a tough deal!  I lounge for hours by the pool
soaking up the hot French sun and then roll over to the terrace for some of
the best food I have eaten in France.  A fresh goat cheese salad and raviolis
with spinach and truffles.  A half bottle of rose brings it all together
and puts me into a stupor of sheer content.

Adam is arriving at 5pm – one final guest to share my last few days.  It’s
a total whirlwind of showing Adam my house and St. Remy.  Tuesday we drive
to Les Baux and walk around one of the most beautiful villages of Provence,
we drive to the village of Gordes which clings to a cliff and overlooks a
valley of vineyards and finally, we drive to Avignon and eat dinner with Ed
at the number one restaurant in Avignon – La Mirand.

Wednesday we wander the market in St. Remy and then retire to the Chateau
and lounge by the pool.  We sleep, swim, eat a fabulous lunch and manage an
afternoon bottle of Rose.  Life is glorious.  We run back to Avignon as the
city hosts a month long festival and the city is so full of life.  Adam and
I share our last night drinking wine under the Palais des Papes (the papacy
was moved to Avignon in the 14th Century and remained for 70 years).  We
ride the carousel, watch street perfomers and go in search of a crepe
stand.

Vive la France (or at least Provence)!   Adam’s visit has renewed my faith
in the decision to buy the house.  Lying in the sun, sipping cold rose,
exploring beautiful villages and sharing evenings with friends – it’s a
dream that I was allowed a glimpse of and one I will continue to chase.

Adam leaves early Thursday morning and the day is spent packing and
organizing 6 weeks of my French life to return to America.  I am tired and
ready to return home.  I need perspective on everything that has occurred
and assess my next steps.  The house was bought on an impulse – the
excitement and vision of a lifestyle keeping my energy high.

It was so much harder than I could have expected.  Tackling this project by myself
seemed impossible at times.  Tears were shed and many regrets snuck into my
head over the weeks.  But, as I walked through the rooms one last time, I
realized that within a few short weeks a house had been transformed and I
was one step closer to that slice of life I had dreamed about.  OK, so the
pool didn’t happen and it may never happen.  The risk is great and I need
time to consider my options – including a grand fountain (thanks to all of
you who gave me your thoughts).

I leave for one last dinner at Bistro des Alpilles with Ed, his friends
from Amsterdam and Alexander.  Sebastian takes care of our table and
insists that I send him a postcard from the beach in LA.  We toast my
accomplishments and make a promise to return soon.  It is the perfect end
to my adventure…thank you all for sharing it with me.

Au revoir Provence…a bientot.

© Copyright 2001- property of Patricia La Vigne

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