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!