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…