Monthly Archives: March 2008

Antique Tour – La Maison des Deux Clochers (cont’d)

Nope. The mirrors aren’t antique. Neither are the beds (mattresses are one area where I absolutely refuse to go “antique”). However, the cute little bedside table from the 1940’s with its marble top, and the bedside lamp with its base made out of local stone are just two of the things that were included in the “contents” that we bought along with the house.

We never actually met the woman who was the previous owner. She had already been ensconced in a cushy retirement home in Uzès in Southern France by the time we had our first visit, and the house was being sold on her behalf by her adult children who were all very nostalgic about waking up to the sound of the church bells across the street. They were also very interested in who should get what piece of furniture, and during our visits we were witness to many heated debates on this topic.

Finally the day of the final sale rolled around. At the Notary’s Office the children began to discuss who was going to actually move the furniture. This dampened their enthusiasm considerably.

The Notary, who also happened to be a very florid drunk, was still noticeably squiffy from lunch and was probably desperate to go and enjoy his afternoon bottle of wine in the broom closet. He shooed us out of his office just as the younger son was embarking on an exegesis about his lumbago with this parting advice, “Why don’t you just sell the furniture to Monsieur and Madame Germain? That way nobody will put their back out.”

Deep in thought we all migrated back to the house, where someone started serving kirs. The seller’s children reminisced, and we listened with interest about how their father had been in a German prisoner of War camp for three years during WWII, and how their mother and the wizened old woman next door had had an argument over the best way to prune roses and hadn’t spoken in the past ten years. And the kir flowed right along with the memories.

In short order we all got sauced. Then, with tears in their eyes, they agreed that none of them wanted to actually move the furniture, so they offered to sell us most of it plus all of the flotsam and jetsam in the attic that nobody wanted to troll through for the paltry sum of 10,000 francs (about $2000 CDN).

We agreed, bien sûr. We weren’t so sauced that we didn’t know a good deal when we saw it.

Over the years we have found countless treasures in what was left us, old cooking implements, ration tickets from WWII, old school books, etc. etc.

But as far as furniture, one of my favorite things is this lovely wooden buffet that we left in its original spot in the kitchen. On top I’ve displayed some of the things we found in the attic, such as a metal salad spinner, huge thick wooden homemade cutting boards, and enamel milk jugs.

It was Franck’s Mémé who made the little lace runners that go along the bottom of the shelves. She taught me that no French woman would ever think of having an armoire or buffet in their house that didn’t have this little womanly touch.

The kitchen table is also original, but as I don’t have a good photo of it let’s continue to the living room!

In my opinion, the huge Burgundian stone fireplace is what makes this room. I also happen to have a penchant for the little white cupboard to the right of it that is embedded in the stone walls which are several feet thick. This used to be the fridge before the house had electricity, and even if you stick your hand in there on the most scorching of August days it is lovely and cool. But I digress again, these things aren’t furniture…

However, the two wooden chairs did come with the house, although we got them completely refinished and reupholstered. The coffee table with the screw-pull legs did too, and although we bought that little squat wooden cupboard behind them (called a confiturier” as it was where jam was stored) so did that cool red-tasseled lamp.

And next time, we will move the camera a little to the right and discover the pièce de resistance of the furniture we bought with La Maison des Deux Clochers.

Antique Tour – La Maison des Deux Clochers

La Maison des Deux Clochers was our first house in Burgundy, so this is where I’ll start my antique tour.

A bit of background: we bought La Maison des Deux Clochers nine years ago. At the time I had just completed a grueling two year law degree at Oxford and was planning on continuing on to the BCL Master’s Program. Not, I am embarrassed to say, driven by any great passion for justice like so many great lawyers, but because I had no idea what else to do.

When the post-exam stress finally dissipated, however, I became aware of a wrinkle in my plan; I hated law. It dawned on me that if I actually became a lawyer I might indeed earn a lot of money, but I would also be committing a slow and painful harakiri of my soul.

So I did what has since become my modus operandi; when in doubt purchase real estate.

I happened to have a small inheritance from my grandfather, just about enough to buy a dog shed in my hometown of Victoria BC.

However, it turned out to be just enough to put a down payment on a little village house in Burgundy at a time when prices were still very, very cheap. Franck and I figured we’d always want a place to stay when we came back to Burgundy to visit his family and, like I said, I had no idea what the heck I was going to do next. I was in desperate need of a project.

And La Maison des Deux Clochers was definitely a Project with a capital “P”. The house was in truly dire shape when we visited it the first time, but there were a few things that I nevertheless fell in love with;

– The fact that the house was built in 1789, Year of the Revolution. Had to be an omen…
– The fabulous view out on to the village church, which dates back to Roman times
– The old cement floor tiles with their funky star and flower patterns
– Its crooked walls.
– Last but not least, this gorgeous wooden front door with the metalwork flower design and insanely complicated and fragile lock mechanisms.

Now I suppose if you want to get technical about it this shouldn’t really be on the tour as it isn’t an antique we purchased (it came with the house). However, I can safely say that it is an antique I have fought for time and time again. It turns out that old doors, while very pretty, are also rather drafty. Many people (*ahem* Franck in collusion with the heating specialist) have argued that we should replace it with a new, hermetically sealed front door.

Jamais!” I say.

So that’s where this tour will start, with this door that I still love and which I will continue to fight for.

On to the bedrooms!

First we’ll start with the green bedroom with the queen-sized bed that looks out onto the church. Just an aside, I initially got a lot of grief for choosing this pale, crisp apple green paint colour.

Franck protested that it “tickled his brain” and my father-in-law diplomatically assured me as I was frantically painting my final layer that “maybe the room won’t look quite as green with furniture in it”. Turns out Franck fell in love with the colour and to this day still wants to paint everything apple green. And as you will see below, the room does look less green with furniture it in.

We bought this armoire eight years ago at one of our favorite antique places just outside of Dijon. I loved, and still do, the simplicity of its lines. At the same place we also picked up these two chairs, and you’ll notice that the one on the left is rather a funny shape; that’s because it’s a prayer chair from a church – low to the ground for ease of kneeling with a flat part on top so that the person sitting in the prayer chair behind this one can rest their bibles.

Next is the blue bedroom with the twin beds. Here you’ll find the twin sister to the armoire in the green bedroom, plus a neat wooden chair that we found in the attic of La Maison des Deux Clochers with a weaved straw seat. It was a hideous rust colour so I stripped it and painted it white.

Note how all my armoires have those cool little colour-coordinated tassels on the keys. As anyone who has ever stayed in one of our rentals quickly discovers, I have a bit of a thing for these tassels and believe one can never have too many.

Next is the kitchen, which includes a kitchen buffet which we bought from the owners of the house along with lots of other furniture.

However, Clémentine is declaring rather stridently that she is hungry so the story of how we negotiated the purchase of several of the owner’s antiques over a bottle of cassis must wait until tomorrow.

Key to Secret French Birth Announcement Society

I finally broke down yesterday and demanded my friend Charlotte what the French secret is to getting birth announcements handed out mere days after a baby’s birth.

She promptly inducted me into the secret society, and I have now been enlightened as to the three cardinal birth announcement rules :

1. The French always keep the birth announcements very austere in design.

2. They pre-order them leaving only the name, date, and time of birth blank and then call the printers and insert that information milliseconds after their baby is born.

3. French birth announcements never include photos.

Whoops. Too late again.

The "Faire-Part" Photo-Shoot from Hell

I will post more photos of our antique purchases tomorrow, but there happens to be a more pressing post at hand.

I have discovered that here in France people distribute birth announcements of their newly born children (calledfaire-parts“) days after they are born. I find this deeply disturbing.

How can they possibly have their act together enough to decide on a layout, write up the text, place and order with the printers, etc. etc. with a really new newborn at home?

This is one of those things that makes me feel like everyone has colluded to leave me out of some important secret society that holds the key to prompt birth announcements. An alternative explanation could be that I am an inferior mother. I decide to go with the former.

I can’t even blame my tardiness on having other kids at home. My friend Charlotte’s daughter Mahault is her fourth child and she had her husband handing out birth announcements at school before she was even out of the hospital. Also, the embarrassing truth is that from the photos on them I would estimate that for my big girls’ birth announcements Charlotte was about three months old and Camille closer to five months by the time I handed them out.

So in a nod to my adopted French culture (not to mention to set a personal record for speediness) I made a herculean effort yesterday morning to take a decent photo of my three girls for Clémentines’s birth announcement, in hopes of distributing it before she hits the two month mark.

In retrospect, I now know why my subconscious had been procrastinating.

Imagine this: get all three girls bathed and dressed in pretty clothes, nix the ballet outfit for Camille but capitulate over strange purple cone-like Merlin’s hat to go with her fairy outfit, find crown for Charlotte, jiggle Clem because she has started to cry, twist big crown into smaller one to fit Clem’s tiny head, find camera, find camera card buried under piles of flotsam on Franck’s desk, find suitable spot on couch with decent light, jiggle Clem because she is crying harder now, sit down two big girls and then plop Clem between them…


Merde. Clémentine crying really hard now. Pick her up and jiggle her in one arm while trying to frame perfect shot with camera in other hand. Really start to sweat now. Belatedly realize that fleece dressing gown is not the ideal outfit for such an ambitious endeavour. Find soother. Pop in Clem’s mouth (will worry about orthodontic issues later). She calms down again. Plop her between big girls. Focus camera with one hand and very gently take soother out of Clem’s mouth with the other.

Crap. Didn’t press the shutter fast enough. Realize with sense of impending doom that I will have about a millisecond between time I extract soother and time Clem starts screaming. Really sweating now. Wish I had worn light linen shift in style of Annie Leibowitz or perhaps no clothes at all. Feel impending hyperventilation event coming on. Remind self to breathe. Breathe. Try again.

CHARLOTTE AND CAMILLE! LOOK AT THE CAMERA! AT THE CAMERA! NOT THE FLOOR!!! Am shouting like a special forces’ Drill Sergeant. Consider possibility that maybe girls will not have particularly fond memories of this special mother-daughter bonding activity. Oh well. Will pony up money for psychotherapist for the three of them once this #$!&*! birth announcement is completed. Maybe should look into group rate.


Ahhhhhh. Finally. Clem’s crown is a bit whiff-skew and I’ve cut off the top of Camille’s pointy Merlin hat, making it look like she’s wearing a velour purple toque, but it will have to do. I need to take a shower too badly.

I emailed the photo shoot tale of woe to my sister Suzanne yesterday and attached a few photos. She wrote me back this morning.

“Don’t tell anyone else you were sweating because they look like the girls just drifted out of bed, glowing, sweeping and singing while doing light housework, on their way to the couch, where perfect crowns fell from the sky onto their little heads, and the sun broke out to cover their sparkles in sunbeams, while bluebirds burst into song outside! No one need ever know that effort was involved in any way.”

Whoops. Too late.

New Antiques for La Maison des Chaumes

One of Franck’s and my favorite hobbies is trolling Burgundy for antiques. As you can well imagine, however, dragging three children on antiquing excursions pretty much sucks 100% of the pleasure out of it.

I too would have also considered antique shopping monumentally boring when I was their age, so even though it annoys me I can understand their whining and general cheese-offedness when we do drag them along. Let’s face it – antiquing isn’t really a compelling activity until you have a place of your own to put all those treasures you find.

Whenever we can we arrange babysitting, and we’re also as focused as lasers when all the planets are in alignment and we get the rare chance to go. We do not waste a single minute, which means we tend to return to the same reliable antique spots that we have sussed out over the years and where we have had particularly good luck in the past. We don’t have the luxury of time (have to get home for the sitter!) to stray too far afield.

But over the past few years we had heard so many good things about the amazing antiquing to be had in the town of Chalon – just thirty minutes South of us here in Villers-la-Faye, 20 minutes past Beaune – that we decided to give it a try.

Taking advantage of the last few weeks when the glow-worm (aka Clémentine) was still in my stomach, we went there for the day at the beginning of January.

We were not disappointed in either the town or the antiquing. Chalon is really worth a visit and has a fantastic pedestrian only shopping area full of beautiful old buildings, as you can see here;

It was trés froid the day we went, which is why the café tables outside are looking a little deserted. However, when things are a bit warmer apparently this area of town is bustling.

The medieval building have tonnes of amazing details, like massive wooden doors with door knockers that look like this;

The area of shops clustered around the cathedral is dominated by antique shops of every description and price range.

We liked this one in particular and in it found an armoire with which we fell in love. Unfortunately it was just a tad too large for the wall space we needed it for. Dommage.

But I did find the perfect buffet, or bahut as it is known in France, to fill the wall of our newly renovated and painted Maison des Chaumes. We’re currently working away at getting our house ready to be rented out this summer in July / August when we’re on vacation in Canada, and plan on renting it out full time as a sabbatical home and vacation rental when we make the move back to Canada in the summer of 2009.

Anyway, I just love my bahut, which I unearthed in another antique store in Chalon under a pile of old wooden drawers. It is what we call a meuble de métier“, meaning that rather than a piece of furniture for the home it was used in a shop, probably a small village grocery store for counter and storage space.

It looks perfect and is the first thing you see as you walk in our front door. Only problem with the antiques we find, as you can see from my photo, is that once we get them chez nous they seem to become clutter magnets. However, rest assured we always clean up our flotsam and jetsam before renters arrive!

Tomorrow I am going to try to scrounge up and post photos of some of our other antique finds that we have used to furnish our vacation rentals here.

I’m still on my quest for that perfect armoire and I think if we dress her warmly and bring enough bottles I might just be able to warm Clémentine up to the idea of being dragged along to Chalon with us.

The Proof Is In the Birthday Party

Here are Charlotte and her friends at her 8th Birthday party on Saturday. They all have excellent taste as if you look closely you can see they are devouring my French Chocolate Cake which Charlotte requested (again), as per family tradition.

One thing I love are the names of the children here in France. As you may have read a while ago while reading my “The Name Game” post in preparation for naming the glow-worm who we now know was Clémentine, I love thinking about names. If it wasn’t for the C-sections I might have had ten children just for the fun of naming them.

At Canada our birthday parties were populated by Ethans, Dylans, Laurens, Emmas, etc. (which are all lovely names) but I love the fact that the children’s names over here are so different from those at home. In an era when you can find both McDonalds and Starbucks within 1 kilometre of the Eiffel Tower it’s nice to witness firsthand that cultural diversity still exists.

From Charlotte going around the table clockwise we have;

Baptiste (partially hidden but you can take it from me – very cute)

Fatal Bazooka feat Yelle – Parle à ma main


If you were labouring under the misconception that France is a country that is incapabale of bad taste, this video will set you straight. This is what all the little french children in their adorable “Petit Bateau” outfits (Charlotte and Camille included) are singing at the moment to drive their parents crazy.

I refuse to let my girls watch the video but I’m sad to say they know all the lyrics.

And what do I have to say to that? Duh. “Parle à Ma Main!”