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Fête de la Musique

Tonight (June 21st) is the “Fête de la Musique” all over France.  To celebrate la musique and the longest day of the year almost every town and small village in France has some sort of free public musical event on offer – we’ll be heading to Beaune to listen to the notes under a soft June sky.  

The Grape Years – La Maison des Deux Clochers

This week’s excerpt has the heaven-sent notary inspecting the Marey property for Laura and Franck. The man seems like an angel, but is he really a Judas?

 

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The next day, Franck and I found ourselves scuttling back to our hiding spot under the washhouse in Marey. We peered through the round window for a glimpse of either Maitre Ange or the realtor.

This time I didn’t roll my eyes or complain. I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone interfering with us buying the property. In bed that morning Franck and I had already decided that if we saw signs that our Maitre Ange approved of the place we would make an offer on the spot to the realtor. I pressed my hot forehead against the cool stone. It was all happening so fast.

Soon Maitre Ange arrived in a majestic silver Mercedes that somehow seemed to repel the dust that billowed up from the dry country road. I checked my watch – he was actually on time – inconceivable for a French Notary.

Franck and I covertly slid out from the washhouse and crossed the road to greet him. His blue eyes roved over the property. “Alors, this the place?”

Oui,” Franck said. “The two houses you see here and the two granges further down the hill as well as all the land – it goes all the way down to the vineyards.
The Maitre merely raised his eyebrows and began to walk towards the gate. He unwound the knot of chain, opened it up, and walked right in as though he owned the place.

“The agent hasn’t arrived yet,” Franck clarified. “Perhaps we should-“

“I seem to remember you mentioning that the owners had already moved out.” Le Maitre smiled at us winningly.

“They have,” Franck said. “Still…I’m not sure if we have the right-“.

“They wouldn’t mind prospective buyers such as us looking around, now would they?”

Franck’s eyes questioned me and I shrugged. I had argued pretty much the same thing when we first visited the property. Still, it felt more like trespassing when it wasn’t my idea.

The Maitre Ange didn’t wait around for us to agree or disagree. He strode into the yard as if he owned it, his shining head of silver hair tilted up so he could take in the vast expanse of stone and roof.

Franck and I both waited for a sign from him, what did he think of the place? Nothing seemed to escape his scrutiny. He himself , however, remained inscrutable.

A shrill honk came from behind us. Franck and I whipped around, guiltily. Le Maitre turned slowly, majestically, with one eyebrow cocked to detect the identity of the culprit who dared interrupt his inspection. The agent lurched out of his dusty car, shedding stray pieces of paper and expostulating excuses all the way across the lawn to where we stood.
Franck made the introductions. The real estate agent, taking in the gleaming personage of our Notary, was struck speechless.

Le Maitre rubbed his fingers distastefully after shaking hands with the realtor. The realtor blushed, apologetic rather than offended. “I take it you don’t sell a lot of properties around here?” Maitre Ange demanded.

Non. This is quite out of my secteur. Quite an unusual set of circumstances, actually-“

Très bien,” Le Maitre said, neatly nipping what was surely going to be a tedious story in the bud. “I would like to be shown around the property, s’il vous plait.”

Trembling, the realtor led us over to the low house first. Even though I was keeping my eye trained on Maitre Ange, I couldn’t help noticing things that I hadn’t noticed before; the huge keyhole in the thick wooden door that led into the kitchen, the marvelous, heavy key to unlock it hanging on the wall by the stove, the smoothness of the wooden banister in the tall house that ran under my palm like silk…and then there was the wild purple clematis growing up towards my little garret up in the far outbuilding. Each new and perfect detail drove home an undeniable fact – my future happiness depended on owning this place.

Maitre Ange remained silent during the entire tour, much to our frustration as well as that of the realtor who became more obsequious and nervous with every minute.

Surely Maitre Ange didn’t disapprove, I told myself. How could he possibly object to such a marvelous property at such a bargain price?

 

A suivre…

The Grape Years – La Maison des Deux Clochers

The hunt is on for an honest, non-alcoholic notary to help decide if the Marey house is a steal or a money pit.   If you want to catch up you can go back to the first excerpt.

  

 

There were almost as many notaries in Beaune as there were winemakers I realized as I flipped through the yellow pages.

We hopped into André’s little red car, drove down through the vineyards, past the medieval walls surrounding Beaune, and found a parking spot in the shadow of the Nôtre- Dame church.

We emerged from the car and began to wander towards the rue Paradis towards the Place du Marché. Before we could take more than ten steps we spotted a shiny gold notary seal hanging outside a pair of sleek looking glass doors.

“Look at that!” I said to Franck, who looked as thunderstruck as I felt. A Notary’s office, and a lovely looking one, right here beside where we had parked our car? I had walked around Nôtre-Dame hundreds of times and I had never noticed it before. It was like this notary office had materialized out of the ether just for us.

Franck and I hurried over to read the fine print under the golden plaque.

Notaires Associés – Maitre Ange et Maitre Dupont.

“Maitre Ange? Maitre Angel? You’ve got to be kidding me,” I muttered to the sky after a few moments of stunned silence.

Franck took a step towards the door. It slid open to allow us to enter.

The inner sanctum was just as perfect as the outside. At the reception desk sat an impeccably turned out secretary with a gravity-defying chignon. Franck, who had that French gift for charming secretaries, went up to her and explained our dilemma in regards to the property. We knew we loved it and we wanted to put an offer on it, but we really felt we needed someone like a notary to assure us we weren’t making a gigantic mistake.

Bien sûr,” she nodded. “That is most prudent. I’m sure Maitre Ange will be available to assist you in a few moments.”

Franck and I exchanged glances. The waiting room – this was surely the place where the fairy tale ended. At Maitre Lefabre’s every visit necessitated a tortuous wait in the purgatory of his stuffy waiting room filled with sticky, ripped plastic chairs and dog-eared issues of Paris Match from the 1980s. The waits seemed to be meticulously timed to test human endurance. Maitre Lefabre’s clients were always called in to the inner sanctum of his office just milli-seconds before they were about to give up and leave, not a minute before.

We edged our way towards the sleek chairs and glossy magazines that sat opposite the reception but before we could even sit down a door to the left of the secretary opened. A man with a head of silver hair and a sharply cut suit ushered us in, shaking our hands warmly and introducing himself as the Maitre Ange.

“Pleased to meet you,” Franck and I mumbled, both a bit dazed. To be able to see a notary without waiting…this was a completely novel experience…

Franck quickly gathered his wits about him and after we had sat down outlined the problem admirably to Maitre Ange.

“And what, may I ask, is the selling price?” Le Maitre asked after Franck had given a full description of the property.

Franck and I exchanged a worried glance. Was this the moment of truth when the Maitre would snort and say we had just escaped being horrifically ripped off, or that we were idiots not to have bought it for that price already?

“Two hundred and fifty thousand francs,” Franck answered. I watched Le Maitre, but his composed face revealed nothing. He merely rolled his Mont Blanc between his thumb and his forefinger.

“It does seem perhaps a tad on the high side,” he said, non-committal. “Then again, after a long period of stagnation there is renewed interest in these villages and there are a limited amount of properties for sale. I believe I must see it before I am able to give you my professional opinion.”

Franck winked at me. This is exactly what we had wanted to happen.

“How would you like to be… ah…remunerated…for your time?” Franck asked delicately.

Le Maitre clicked the top of his Mont Blanc pen and bestowed a warm smile on us. “Don’t worry about that. We can figure that out later, depending on whether I am able to assist you or not. Now, when shall we arrange for a viewing? I have some availability tomorrow.”

Fifteen minutes later the viewing had been set up and we floated out of the Notary’s office, feeling divinely protected now that we had the Angel Maitre on our team.

If only life unfolded like this all the time, faith would be a snap.

 

A suivre…

The Grape Years – La Maison des Deux Clochers

This new chapter picks up after we return from the house tour in Magny and realize that although we love the property, we have no idea what we are doing.  If you haven’t read from the beginning, just scroll back and read from the first exept onwards.

 

 

I was sitting on one of the chairs at the table outside, holding a wad of vinegar soaked cotton against my foot under Mémé’s eagle-eyed supervision.

The wasp sting had not only made my foot swell up and itch like the diable, but it had split my brain in two. On one hand I was desperate to cling to the belief that the Marey property was our destiny and that any problems would magically work themselves out with the assistance of Franck’s guardian angels and the Virgin Mary. Each throb of my foot, though, reminded me of all the things Franck had pointed out to the realtor – the warped roof, the grotty wallpaper, not to mention the need to rewire the entire house. The money we had to put as a deposit on the house was finite. Neither Franck nor I had a job or really any prospects of one.

Franck, on the other hand, had no problem believing in only the good omens and discarding the bad. He had already moved us to Marey in his mind.

“We could do a B&B, or a chambres-d’hôtes!” he said, squeezing my hand. “I’ll set up that little room for you in the grange and you can write fabulous articles and pourquoi pas a novel?”

I longed to be swept away with Franck and his plans but the burning reminder of my foot tethered me to the ground.

“What if the property is so cheap because it’s defective?”

The idea had obviously not occurred to him. “Like what?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never bought a house before. Terrible neighbours could be one possibility.”

“The neighbor is Victor’s brother. I grew up with him. He makes and sells honey for a living. He and his wife are charmants.”

I thought for a few seconds more. “What if there are Roman ruins under the ground?”

Franck went pale at this, as I suspected he would. When Franck was just a small boy his grandfather had found some Roman coins while tilling his vineyards. He gave them to Franck on the condition that Franck was sworn to secrecy. Finding Roman artifacts or ruins was a real problem in Burgundy. If it got out the government and the archeologists would get involved and the upshot would be the expropriation of land, a thing to be avoided at all costs.

“I know my Dad always has properties inspected before offering to purchase anything,” I said to Franck who was still mulling over the Roman ruins scenario. “Do you think we could do that?”

“Maybe,” Franck conceded. “But I have no idea how to go about it.”

***

We spent the next few hours searching for property inspections companies in the pages jaunes, only to find that like so many surprising things such as peanut butter and money orders and until recently, dental floss, they simply did not seem to exist in France.

“How can that be?” I paced the garden, the pea gravel crunching under my flip flops. “There must be somebody that people can turn to here to check out a place – someone they can trust.”

Franck snapped his fingers. “Notaires!”

“What?”

“Of course there aren’t any property inspectors here. Everyone would just ask their notaire to do it.”

I flopped down on the step beside Franck. “You’re right – that has to be it.”

Notaries were as essential to life in rural France as country doctors like Le Père Durand. Each family seemed to inherit one from their ancestors and the family notary basically possessed a huge file (or files) of paperwork pertaining to their lives; birth certificates, marriage certificates, the buying and selling of vineyards and houses…The files of some Burgundian families spanned back to the 1600s.

My first and only exposure to Franck’s family’s notary – the incompetent Maitre Lefabre – was not felicitous. He was a notorious drinker who cared far more for a good Gevrey-Chambertin than doing legal work. The previous summer he had been responsible for filling out all the forms for our marriage and he had forgotten to get us to fill out several essential ones. The secretary from Villers-la-Faye’s mayor’s office called us a week after the ceremony to inform us that despite the copious amounts of wine and champagne that had been consumed, as well as that epic pièce montée that had been gobbled up, as far as the French government was concerned, we weren’t officially married yet.

“I’ll call Maitre LeFabre’s office.” Franck stood up.

I pulled him back down again. “Not so fast. Remember our wedding papers?”

This checked him for a moment, but then he shrugged. “But who else could we go to?”

“There has to be other notaries around.”

“But none of them know me, or my family. Maitre Lefabre may not be the best notary around, but he’s our notary.”

“He’s an incompetent alcoholic.”

Franck shrugged as though this was hardly damning enough to justify going elsewhere.

“You know, I wonder if all that drinking means that Maitre Lefabre has a loose tongue?” I continued. “Doesn’t he do work for almost everyone in these villages? Are you sure you could trust him not to blab all about the property, especially after a few bottles at lunchtime?”

Franck fiddled with a stray tendril from the wisteria, troubled now. “No,” he admitted, finally.

“We need to find someone a bit more anonymous,” I pressed my point. “There must be several notaries in Beaune.” I hopped up to retrieve the page jaunes from the house before Franck could change his mind.

 

A suivre…

Latest Review of La Maison des Deux Clochers – Our 18th Century village house in Magny-les-Villers

Nadia Craig from Montreal just sent us a great review for her recent stay at our 18th Century village house La Maison des Deux Clochers.  Merci Beaucoup et à bientôt Nadia, Ben & Josephine!


Hi Franck & Laura,

We absolutely loved our stay at La Maison des Deux Clochers. What a beautiful home you have created. We had everything we needed in the fully stocked kitchen, and slept incredibly well in your comfortable bed. The baby cot was so cute and comfy and our daughter slept well too. The binders of information were invaluable in helping us find restaurants, activities, grocery stores and, of course, winemakers!

The welcome bottle of wine was the perfect end to a long day on the road to get to your house from Brussels, on a very rainy drive. It was also one of our favourites, though sadly we didn’t make it to Naudin-Ferrand because of poor planning on our part, and weekend and a national holiday getting in the way!

We loved the location, nestled in the vineyards. Tiny Magny-les-Villers is a great jumping off point for everything in the region. We spent lots of time in Beaune, sometimes eating dinner there, other times coming home to cook the goodies we’d picked up at the market or one of the fabulous grocery stores (we loved E. Leclerc and Grand Frais).

We were lucky enough to stumble upon the wine festival in Savigny les Beaune, and spent the afternoon wandering around that beautiful town, tasting many a delicious wine, including some fabulous cremant!

Some other highlights – Patriarche wine tasting was lots of fun, so neat to see their cellars; vespers service at l’Abbaye de Citeaux was a good rainy day activity, Chateau Rochepot was a beautiful spot; and of course, the Hospice de Beaune is a must see.

Our week was not enough to scratch the surface of all the wonderful activities. We will hopefully be back again one day soon for more!

Many thanks to both of you.

Nadia, Ben & Josephine

The Grape Years – La Maison des Deux Clochers

I’m a day late in posting this, so I posted a much longer excerpt than usual today.  This picks up as Franck convinces me to join him up in the idyllic hideaway on the top floor of one of the barns while touring the property for sale in Marey, despite the realtor’s protests that we are going to fall through the ceiling!

 

 

This was perhaps the only chance for Franck and I to whisper our opinions to each other away from the realtor.

I pushed thoughts of rotting floorboards and termites from my mind and scrabbled up the last few rungs. Such worries were slightly unnerving, but in a reassuring, concrete way. They were infinitely preferable to the other kind of anxiety that had been running in a continuous loop through my mind in the past two years – “Am I going crazy? Am I having a heart attack?” “What if I just stop breathing?”
My head poked out just over the level of the wooden beams and Franck, beaming, grabbed my hand and pulled me up beside him.

Franck led me, boards creaking ominously under out feet, to the far end of the mezzanine to a little waist high stone wall. His arm wrapped around my shoulders as we gazed out to a stunning and completely uninterrupted view over the vineyards. He kissed my earlobe.   “You could write here.”

I fingered an ivy leaf from the vine that perfectly framed the view.

“I can’t believe how perfect it is,” I said, mesmerized. I could become someone else here – someone who didn’t struggle on a daily basis with black thoughts and fear – I felt that in every cell of my body.

Still…how could we possibly make it work? How was I supposed to live here and also finish my masters at Oxford then establish a legal career in London? But still, this place was perfect. Everything about buying the property seemed so easy and self-evident, like it was meant to be.

Even if I was miserable practicing law, how could anything go truly badly when I owned a place such a magical place as this? A wave of need almost knocked me off my feet. This sacred little spot represented everything that I yearned for – safety, protection, belonging…even a bit of immortality – all of those butterflies I had never managed to pin down in my life. I felt all of my zen-like faith pop like a soap bubble. My bones ached with desperation to make this place my own.

Franck must have sensed the sudden urgency in my mood because he squeezed my shoulder and tilted his head towards the real estate agent pacing the grange floor below us.
“Don’t let on how much we like it,” Franck said. “He’ll realize that he’s priced it too low.”

I nodded. It would be difficult, but I knew it was essential.

We made our way back down the ladder and Franck lost no time in telling the realtor that indeed most of the floorboards had been rotten up there. “Termites, sans doute,” Franck concluded off-handedly.

I followed as Franck led us all back to the first low-slung house and pointed at the roofline. “That house will need to be entirely re-roofed.” Now that Franck pointed it out, I noticed that the tiles did undulate like a wave. Franck clicked his tongue. “The beams will probably have to be replaced as well.”

We made our way back towards the gate as Franck enumerated the herculean amount of repairs required, the epic number of hours it would take every week to mow the very substantial hunk of land, and the constant danger of children falling down the very charming old stone well that Franck laid his hand on as he pulled to a stop.

I hadn’t noticed any of these things before, but I couldn’t deny that they were all true. My palm itched to slap Franck. He was ruining the spell the property had cast over me, even if it was merely to put the realtor off our scent. This house was destined for us, damn the roof and the rot and the backbreaking lawnmowing.

As Franck gave the well a final, dismissive pat I felt a piercing pain under my baby toe. The pain hop-scotched down the sole of my foot. Jab. Jab. Jab.
I dropped to the grass and clawed off my left sandal. A half-squished wasp fell out onto the grass.

I gave an explosive and impressive demonstration of my command of French swear words. The realtor stared down at me, both confused and impressed. It had been years since I’d been stung and I’d forgotten how much it hurt. Not just the pain, but the burning and the itching that made me want to tear off my foot.
C’est quoi?” Franck leaned over me.

Un gep,” I swore one last time and then took Franck’s proffered arm and hobbled back to our car. I noticed twitching curtains at the three houses across the street. So Franck hadn’t been completely wrong about the spying villagers.

By the time I collapsed in the scorching leather car seat my foot was beginning to swell. What could this mean? Franck’s guardian angels were sending distinctly mixed signals. The perfect house, a feeling of nearly captured peace, then multiple wasp stings. That was the problem with believing in signs; if I believed in the good signs from the heavens, I felt honour bound to believe the bad signs too. Only Franck could have such exasperating guardian angels.

Mémé made me press a vinegar compress against my foot for a good hour after getting back to Franck’s parents’ house. The pain subsided gradually, leaving the more painful contemplation of what such an omen – and it would take more imagination than I possessed to believe it a good one – meant for Franck and I.

 

A suivre…


This is an excerpt from my first book project about our adventures buying, renovating, and renting out our four homes in Burgundy. I’m currently searching for a publisher and / or agent, so if anyone knows of anyone who would be a good fit s.v.p. send them vers moi!

The Grape Years – La Maison des Deux Clochers

This is an excerpt from my first book project about our adventures buying, renovating, and renting out our four homes in Burgundy. I’m currently searching for a publisher and / or agent, so if anyone knows of anyone who would be a good fit s.v.p. send them vers moi!

This excerpt of “The Grape Years – La Maison des Deux Clochers” picks up as Franck and I tour the magnificent (and dirt cheap) property we have found in Marey-les-Fussey.

 

 

The second house was built vertically, whereas the first one was slung horizontally alongside the main road through the village. This one was much newer, according to the Châlonais realtor; it was built a mere two centuries ago instead of four.

Each of the four floors had one or two rooms, and they were connected by a graceful wooden staircase that spiraled up the middle of the structure and which became steeper and steeper the higher we climbed. The final room – a bedroom under the eaves – took up the entire top floor. It was a perfect spot to come and escape from the world …once the dead flies were cleaned up, that was. Right now the carpet and the windowsill were dotted with them.

Once the house tour was done, the realtor took us down the hill to show us through the first of two massive stone outbuildings which had been used as barns for the past few hundred years. Amongst the other treasures inside we discovered a rusting mobilette, an old wooden cart that was missing two wheels and four giant glass bon bons used for distilling poire william and other hard alcohols.

“These granges can also be renovated and made into other houses,” the realtor said, caressing the wall. It was true, the rough stone and massive oak beams provided an amazing canvas.

The farthest grange commanded a view of the entire valley – yellow wheat fields giving way to vineyards and then back up to fields again, topped off by a ridge of green trees. Inside, a rickety wooden ladder was propped up against a wooden overhang. Franck squinted up its length and then swung his leg over and began to shimmy up.

The realtor clutched the ladder. “Can’t guarantee that it is safe up there you know! You could come through the floorboards – probably completely rotten.”

Franck had already disappeared above us.

“Laura, come up here!” Franck shouted down a few seconds later.

The realtor shook his head. “I wouldn’t if I were you.”

“What if I fall through the floorboards?” I called up to Franck.

“I’ll catch you.”

I put my foot on the first rung and began to gingerly make my way up, ignoring the realtor’s look of consternation. How much scarier could this really be than climbing the stairs of Oxford’s Examination Schools before my first final exam? Whatever waited for me up top, it couldn’t be as bad as the vertiginous terror I had felt then. A small hope flickered inside me that this splintering old ladder was there to lead me to a completely different kind of place – a place where I could become the kind of person who never needed to feel that way again.

 

A suivre…

Our latest guest review for Le Relais du Vieux Beaune

Cellar in Corton

We just received a great review from Bob Love (who works in the wine industry in Kelowna, BC) and his family.  A big merci to Bob, Andrea, Adam, and Evan and we hope to see you back in Beaune soon!

Wine and food lovers rejoice now!

Beaune Burgundy, with this apartment as our base was gorgeous.  We had the best weather this week that was possible in early April, blue sky at several well appointed wine tastings!  What could be better.

This comfortable and spacious apartment was always nice to arrive home to after sightseeing and exploring.  Burgundy is foodie paradise, baguettes to pastries you will be amazed.  We were always able to prepare great meals in the kitchen.

The region is blessed with excellent wine and many parks and sites that will interest all ages.    Magical memories were made- never forget the charge and counter attack between the kids and the Beaune city park geese, the geese triumphed as the ‘charge’ and ‘the hissing’ was comically played out in the birds favour!

Hope to return, really.. had a blast.