Early on in our relationship, Andy and I got into the habit of listening to podcasts when driving long distances. Our usual hours-long car ride was the journey between Buffalo and Pittsburgh to visit with Andy’s family, but the original trip that started this tradition was our 9 day trek through Iceland. Though we were pretty new into our relationship and I’m sure could have filled the time with the usual “getting to know you” questions or silly childhood stories, we both enjoyed hearing the eclectic stories and sharing our options at the end. I really do believe that you can learn a lot about a person when listening to a podcast together. What kind of shows do they gravitate towards? Does the theme of the shows align with your beliefs and lifestyle? Do the topics conjure thoughtful debates and discussions? Are you on polar ends of your opinions of those discussions? Is sitting and sharing this podcast a mutually enjoyable event? During that time our podcast of choice was This American Life, usualling listening to three on the way up to Buffalo and three on the way back.
We had packed up our car and set the Google maps to Uzès, a commune located in the Occitane region about 25 miles West of our stopping point, Avignon. We were scheduled to see two homes around Uzès and had planned to make the stop as we drove through, on our way to the hotel. It was about 2 ½ hours from Carcassonne to the agency, landing us there around lunchtime. I furiously scrolled through the episode offerings, trying to find one we hadn’t listened to yet. “I think we’ve actually listened to all of these,” I said, scrolling to the previous year's episodes. “Are you serious?! What will we listen to?” Andy exclaimed, backing out of the spot. Up until that point, we had opted for French radio for our shorter trips to home visits, but were exhausted by the continuous stream of top 40 American music mixed with the random French classic. We didn’t like listening to that kind of American music at home, and didn’t really care for it across the ocean either. “A few weeks ago I saved a post on Pinterest of the top 10 podcasts you should be listening to. Let’s try something new,” I urged, opening up my Pinterest app. “Ok, what about The Memory Palace?” “What’s it about?” “The podcaster tells the stories behind untold pieces of history,” I summarized the description. “Boring. I’m not trying to be put to sleep here!” “Ok, ok,” I scrolled down to the next one. “What about Lore? This one is about exploring legends and folklore.” “Eh, maybe. What else ya got?” “Heavyweight, Jonathan Goldstine helps ordinary people find closure for unresolved situations in their lives,” I read the description. “Any examples,” he pressed. I opened a new tab to search for some past episodes and started to scroll to the beginning of the page. “Here is one, twenty years ago, Gregor lent some CDs to a musician friend. The CDs helped make him a famous rockstar. Now, Gregor would like some recognition. But mostly, he wants his CDs back,” I looked at Andy for a response. “Intriguing, let’s do it!” He said, pulling his phone off of the holder and handing it to me so I could find it on his podcast app. I loaded the episode and hit play, settling in for the long drive.
By the time we pulled into a sunny, tree-lined parking lot in Uzès, we had listened to two and a half episodes and arrived 45 minutes early. Uzès was the first larger town we had booked home tours in. It wasn’t quite a city, with around 9,000 inhabitants year round, but it wasn’t as tiny and quiet as the other towns we had visited thus far. It was the perfect size, small enough to walk to all amenities, but large enough to have all the commerce that we had originally hoped for. I looked around, admiring the bustling neighborhood. “This could work!” I confirmed to Andy with a head nod. We got out of our car, stretching our legs and looking around for the agency. “It says the agency is across the street and down a little,” I said, pointing in the direction of the map’s arrow. “We have time to kill, let’s walk around the town and see what’s here,” Andy said, crossing the parking lot to the sidewalk lined with buzzing businesses. No wondering where the bread was here. As we weaved our way around the town, every street we wandered down had varying businesses with brightly painted, welcoming facades. Some were selling artisan ice creams, others tropical plants, some had window displays full of spices and oils, and almost every street had a boulangerie or patisserie with windows piled high with the most beautiful confections! Each street also had a packed to the brim café that spilled into the sidewalks, catering to the hungry lunch crowds. This was exactly what we were looking for!
As we got close to our appointment, I messaged the agent via What’sApp, letting him know we were here. “Parfaît!” Laurent replied, “I will pick you up in front of the agency and take you to the home.” I looked at Andy. “Ummm,” I stopped near a fountain, pulling off of the path to respond. “What is it?” Andy said as he stopped, looking a bit confused. “He says he wants to drive us to the house,” I said, flipping my phone to face him. “Maybe it’s on the outskirts of Uzès? Not sure why we’d have to carpool,” he said with a shrug. “Tell him we can’t, we have an appointment literally right after his. We need to have our car with us.” I typed the message, pausing frequently to reword things to sound more culturally appropriate. Surely he couldn’t be offended if we had another appointment after his. We were house hunting and seeing multiple listings. “You can follow me to the place in your car,” he replied, not acknowledging the mention of the second listing. We made our way back to the car so we were closer to the agency. This particular stop had one home that Andy was really excited to see and another that was at the absolute top of my list. “The Cave House '' was a home whose pictures looked as though they were mostly set in a wine cellar. Curved, tanned brick stones lined the walls and floated up to the arched ceilings, giving the space a historical, village feel. It also had an outdoor terracotta balcony that had a summer kitchen and enough room for a dining table and a plethora of potted plants. “The Chic Home” looked as though a Parisian designer had hand selected each item, carefully curating the color palette with soothing off whites and tans. These people obviously didn’t have any children, was my first thought, as everything looked gleaming white and untouched. My favorite picture, though, was of the large open kitchen, decked out with matching off white Smeg appliances and a beautiful stainless steel stove and oven. A classic chandelier hung delicately over a large, worn white farmhouse table. Yes, this was my kind of kitchen! It looked like something Ina Garten would be found working in, her linen attire floating behind her as she moved from the sink to the stove. I too could picture myself moving about the space, chopping and sautèeing as Andy worked at the large butcher block island, typing away at his computer.
“It’s almost one. Let’s head over to the agency,” Andy said, slamming the car truck closed. We followed our map across the sidewalk and down the street, finding a chic agency resting at the corner. We climbed the stairs, entering through two enormous glass double doors leading us into the cool marble entryway. I saw a woman who appeared to be the secretary at a large teak desk sitting amongst a mound of papers in another room off to the left. We entered softly, not wanting to disturb her work. “Bonjour,” I paused the expected three to four seconds. “Bonjour?” The receptionist replies in more of a question, looking up from the document she was holding. “J’ai un rendez-vous avec Laurent,” I continued. “Ah, oui. Une minute,” she replied, picking up the phone. After a brief conversation, she set the receiver down. “Il arrive devant l’agence,” she said, pointing to the double glass entryway doors. “Merci!” I replied, beginning to leave. “She says he is arriving outfront of the building,” I relayed to Andy. As we walked through the door a sports car stopped abruptly in front of the building and slickly rolled down its window. Laurent leaned his head over the passenger side seat. “Bonjour, do you want to follow me?” “Sure,” Andy began, “but where exactly are you going?” “To the house of course,” he said with a chuckle. “Yes, yes, but isn’t the house in Uzès? The listing says Uzès.” He gave Andy an exasperated sigh. “It is a five minute drive from here. Too far to walk,” he explained. “Follow me, I wait here for you,” he said, rolling up his window to prevent any more questions. I looked back at Andy, raising my eyebrows. We started towards the car, a little unsure of what we signed up for. Up until that point, our agents had been foreigners, all with a little rough around the edges, small town feel to them. Maybe the size of the town coincides with the self importance of the agent, I thought.
We pulled our car behind Laurent, who was busy shuffling his hair between his fingers in his car’s rear view mirror, trying to achieve a flawless tousled look. He caught a glimpse of us behind him and self consciously adjusted in his seat, kicking the car into drive. We slowly drove around the parking lot and headed the way we came just an hour before, out of town. Hitting the first roundabout, we turned off in a new direction, the surroundings instantly turning into picturesque French countryside. The gravel road was lined with ancient plane trees, shading us from the afternoon warmth. Sunflowers grew in the fields that lined each side of the road, tilting their faces up to sun, soaking in its rays in unison. “This is so quintessential French countryside,” I squealed, trying to take it all in. “Yes, but we are definitely not in Uzès anymore,” Andy said, scrolling out on his phone’s map. The trees started to become fewer and finally we spilled out into a paved road that led into a small village. Driving past a pharmacy, homes started to appear, lining the street. Laurent flipped on his turn signal and slowly pulled into a parking spot along the side of the road next to a small cluster of homes. We followed suit, parking next to three homes that sat neatly attached, rising up from the sidewalk. Laurent glided out of his car and to the sidewalk, taking care that his Italian loafers didn’t touch a speck of dirt. He buttoned his camel-colored sports coat and smoothed out his matching dress pants. I looked at Andy, feeling a little undressed in a simple flowy black sundress and pair of worn out sandals. We got out of the car and met Laurent in front of a tall, skinny light stoned home with large mauve shutters. Andy looked around as cars buzzed up and down the main road in front of us. “So, where exactly are we?” He asked, still looking around for a sign or placard to explain. “You are in what is called Arpaillargues, a five minute drive away from the amenities of Usèz, but with all the classic country charm of a southern France village.
It truly is the best of both worlds,” he said, turning his back to unlock the door. We were immediately led into one of the rooms from the photo. High, rounded vaulted ceilings hugged the main area, spilling around a wall that divided the large room into two separate spaces. I looked around the first room and noticed the whole left wall was complete stone, as if the room had been built into a mountain. A large piece of rock jutted out from the wall and had what looked like a plexiglass cover resting snuggly on top of it. I walked over and looked down. It was completely black. I tilted my head to catch a different angle with no help. Laurent shuffled over to the rock and flicked a light switch next to it. The space illuminated into a long, dark hole. This caught Andy’s attention who came over to see what was going on. “It’s the old well,” Laurent started. “They wanted to keep it, but make it safe and so they added this glass on top and light to make it visible.” “Is there still water in it?” Andy asked, thinking of all the damp homes we’ve toured so far. “I actually don’t think so,” Laurent said, shaking his head.
Around the wall and into the next room sat a double bed and small desk. Off in the corner of the room was a small, dated bathroom. Functional, just not aesthetically pleasing in an off color, 70’s shade of green.
There wasn’t a door to the room, with completely open entrances on either side of the wall, making it an odd choice for a bedroom. “Did someone use this as a bedroom,” I asked. “Only when they had too many guests. Despite the lack of doors, it’s quite private,” he added. The front room had light pouring in from the front windows and the small window cut into the door, but this space was poorly lit and dark, even with the lights on. The lack of windows along with the vaulted curved walls made the space feel cavernous. I turned my attention to the little bookshelf that hung next to the desk, stocked with English and French reading materials of all genres. Andy noticed my gaze. “Is this a French owner?” He asked. “It is. It is a single woman who is looking to downsize. I think she wants a home with minimal amount of upkeep as she gets older,” he said, walking back around the wall and towards the curved staircase that sat in the middle of the first room. “Up the stairs you have your kitchen and a sunken living room,” he started up the stairs and stopped at the landing that spilled directly into a terracotta tiled kitchen. The set up was shaped in an “L” configuration with floor to ceiling windows taking up the other half of the wall where the counters ended. The room felt very open with a small dining table in the center. Sunshine poured in from the windows that faced the main street and Andy walked over and peeked down to the traffic below. “Off the kitchen is a small living room,” Laurent said, tossing his hair, trying to look casual. He led us around the kitchen and down a step into a simple, but bare living room. “It’s a big enough space,” Andy said, peeking his head into the room. “Yes, enough space for some furniture, a lamp or two and bookshelf,” Laurent agreed, studying the room. “The next level is just the main bedroom and bathroom, let’s go take a look,” he said, backing out of the room. “You know, I lived in the U.S. for quite a bit,” he said, starting to ascend the stairs. “Oh, really?” Andy said, “Where?” “I was an agent in New York for a few years. I loved the lifestyle, but wanted to raise my daughter in a more traditional setting,” he finished, reaching the top of the stairs that left us directly in the bedroom. After hearing a little about Laurent’s background, his suave appearance and demeanor made more sense. I could totally see him schmoozing highbrow clients in swanky dimly lit restaurants in NYC. I looked across the room at Andy in his drawstring khaki shorts and tevas and wondered if Laurent regretted his choice to leave the big city and more posh clientele. I let my mind drift back to Pittsburgh, where while getting my masters, I worked at a local French restaurant owned by a Frenchman who had married an American. He reminded me a lot of Laurent. Always dressing as if he was attending Paris fashion week, stopping at any mirror he passed to fix his hair and straighten his suit. The restaurant was his passion project, but during the day he sold luxury cars, toting that Americans think of luxury when they think of the French. He was smooth, came across as elegant and could charm anyone into buying anything, even if it was a few hundred thousand dollar car. With his presents, appearance and accent, I’m sure Laurent did quite well in the New York City real estate market. Andy and Laurent were discussing something in the corner of the bedroom and I snapped out of my thoughts and back to our home visit.
“This house is very different from a lot of places that we’ve seen strictly based on the fact that the only door in the place so far has been just the front one. It’s fine because it’s just us, but this place really lacks privacy,” I added walking deeper into the space. “The open concept is very hot right now,” Laurent said, waving his hand to show off all of the space not restricted by walls. The room sat directly on top of the kitchen, mirroring the space below with the same terracotta flooring throughout and large windows, illuminating the space and backlighting the bathroom. The only difference on this level was that the bathroom was located where the living room had been downstairs. I walked over to the bathroom space. The sink and mirror sat open to the bedroom against a wall that held the door leading into the bathroom. “Wonder why this isn't all in the same room together?” Andy asked, peeking into the bathroom. I followed suit, looking around the functional but not aesthetically pleasing bathroom. In both bathrooms, choice of color seemed to be the common downfall of the spaces. Each were functional and even livable for the foreseeable future. If anything, it was all aesthetics. This bathroom was done in a cotton candy pink shade that made it feel as though a bottle of pepto bismol was being poured on you when you stepped into the room. I heard the clicking of Laurent’s heels and turned to see him ascending a completely metal stand alone spiral staircase to the next level. Andy and I looked at eachother, backing out of the bathroom and following suit. “This space is where most of the living happens,” Laurent said over his shoulder. At the top, was a small sitting area that connected itself via two sliding glass double doors to a beautiful terracotta outdoor balcony, the space from the photos! Andy went directly to the doors, jarring them open and slipping out. The space set back from the roof, giving the location complete privacy and it was the perfect size, small enough to maintain, but large enough to really be functional. Andy walked over to the summer kitchen and started to study all of its facets while I walked over to a little door built into the brick exterior of the house. I studied it for a moment before pulling the latch and prying it open. It was empty, with a rope hanging there and descending into the dark below. “Laurent, what exactly is this?” Laurent stuck his head out of the door and looked around for where the question came from. “Ah,” he said, spotting me. “It is a pulley system,” he said, walking over and beginning to pull at the rope. A few moments later a bucket appeared. “It is how they would get items from down stairs up here with more ease. Your wine or snacks for your apèro. You know, things like this,” he said, checking the bucket to see if anything was in it. “How cool,” Andy said over my shoulder. “There is also a waterline up here. You could use this for laundry or perhaps a bathroom,” Laurent said, pulling Andy away to look at the feature. I took this moment to check my phone. We had 25 minutes to get to our next appointment. I clicked open Whatsapp to see if Clément had sent a message with our meeting location yet. He had, “Mairie in Arpaillargues. I opened my google maps and typed in “Mairie Arpaillargues France” and my map zoomed in on the location. I took a moment, studying it when I realized my phone's blue dot locator showing my exact location was on the map, what looked to be a street away. I clicked “directions.” A two minute walk appeared as my journey time. Well, that’s quite convenient, I thought, turning back around to catch up with the boys. Resting my arm on the warm ledge of the balcony, I watched them through the double glass doors, crouched down and fiddling with the water hook up. Laurent rose and dusted off his pants and I crossed the balcony to join them in the sitting room. “So, tell me more about this town. I noticed a sign for a boulangerie two doors down, but they didn’t appear to be open,” I said, a little thankful that such delicious pastries couldn’t be purchased with such convenience. “I believe he opens every other day, this baker,” he said with a nod. “There is also a restaurant on the corner by the Mairie and, around the back road, is an incredibly famous chateau that is now an inn. People come here from all over the world to visit it. They have the most incredible lunch and gorgeous pool. As a resident you can pay I believe 5 euros a day and you can go to the pool and make a day out of it. It’s such a great amenity to have so close by,” he said, overly excited about the proximity to wealth and luxury. “Is there a weekly market,” I asked, sliding the double doors shut, signaling it was time to shut the place back up and begin our descent to the main entrance. Laurent took the hint and headed towards the stairs. “There is not,” he began, “but Uzès has two weekly markets and is a short car ride away.” We reached the kitchen, walking through it to reconnect with the stairs and get to the lower level. “I have a feeling we’d be hopping in the car and heading there for lots of things,” Andy began, “like dinner or some of the specialty shops or to go and lounge at a café.” “Yeah, it is conveniently close, I agree, but I guess we’ve never discussed the aspect of a car. Do we want one? Would we rent one? Do we want to live somewhere where we’d have to drive to do anything? It’s a lot to think about,” I said, reaching for the door handle and stepping out onto the sidewalk next to our car. “Why don’t you take a walk around the village and walk over to the chateau. It’s quite beautiful!” Laurent suggested. “That is a great idea,” Andy agreed. “Well, our next viewing happens to be in this town too and we're meeting him at the Mairie, so we’ll get to see some of the sites before the next listing,” I said, checking my phone time again. Andy, always focused on the not-so-positive, latched on. “Should I be worried that there are so many homes for sale in this tiny town?” Andy said, turning to Laurent. “I noticed the for sale sign in the neighboring home’s window. For a town that doesn’t have a lot of homes to begin with, why are so many people looking to leave?” Laurent seemed a bit taken aback by Andy’s accusatory tone, as if he was hiding some grande scandal that was taking place in the town. “I assure you this is all circumstantial for the sellers,” he said, raising his hands in a “I surrender” gesture. “And stop. Let’s go see the other home and then we can walk around the town and see what we think. We wanted to live in a town like Uzès, but have a slower pace of life. Maybe five minutes away isn’t too far?” I said, still daydreaming about the next home and the possibility of building a part-time life there. “Yes, Rachel,” Laurent said, pointing his sunglasses at me. “You will see! This town is the perfect balance of what you’re searching for,” he unlocked his car with a soft beep that punctuated his statement. “Once you get to Avignon and have had some time to unpack and grab dinner, you can let me know if you have any questions,” he said, walking over to his door and opening it. “It was nice meeting you both, please have a safe trip,” he slid into his car and before we were able to respond he was off. We looked up and down the main street, which didn’t have any open businesses on it and no people walking around, but it did have a lot of cars wizzing up and down in front of us. Seemed like not too many people wanted to stay here, but many wanted to use the main artery to go somewhere else more desirable. “I’m here!” A Whatsapp message popped up on my screen. The chime brought me back to the moment. “Clèment!” I said, reading his message. “We gotta go, he should be right up here on the right,” I told Andy, who was taking a step back and taking in the house. It was as if he was taking a mental pause and making sure that he was 100% present in the moment, taking it all in. I was eager to see the next home and so, I started walking, hoping Andy would follow me when he snapped back to. After a few steps I stopped to Look back at him. He was gazing longingly at the home and I started to panic. I knew the look in his eyes. I knew he was falling for the house.
The “English B n B” was located in the rural commune of Fraissé-des-Corbières, though I don’t know if we realized how rural it exactly was until we started driving. When Andy and I decided to begin this journey, we went back and forth about what kind of town we wanted to end up in and consistently had the same shared vision. In Pittsburgh, we lived in a neighborhood that was vibrant and eclectic with a very “city” feel to it. Within a three minute walk, you can grab yourself a French pastry, a variety of local artisan crafts and gifts, ice cream for your pups, some Egyptian food, a movie ticket, a haircut and four different styles of Mexican food and that was just on one block. We loved the convenience, but agreed we were looking for a more slow, authentic experience in moving abroad. How slow, however, wasn’t exactly discussed in great detail up to that point. “Is this a road? Or a tractor path?” Andy said, studying his google maps, ready to abort ship. “Either way, it says we have to take it,” I urged, as he cautiously turned down the path, as if driving into oncoming lava. A large family winery sat on the entire right side with rows and rows of grapes arranged in perfect lines as far as the eye could see, cascading up and over the rolling hills. “It’s peaceful out here,” I said, taking in the view. “Maybe a little too peaceful,” Andy said, directing my attention to the opposite side of the path with a head nod in that direction. “What? Do cows equal tranquility?” I asked with a laugh. “I don’t know, we're not really “farm” people,” he said, shuttering. “Well, we aren’t in town yet, let’s reserve judgment until then.” Everytime Andy and I would save a listing, we would immediately google the town, trying to acclimate ourselves with the area. A lot of times, the photos provided didn’t really show the town in the best light. To be fair, a lot of them came from retired tourists with shaky hands and a basic, if not non-existent, understanding of their cell phone cameras. A hazy 12th century church here, an overly brightened 17th century chateau there. I thought it was cruel to base our judgment solely off of someone’s blurry holiday photos. Andy, on the other hand, had a tendency to write the home off completely, wanting to take it off of the list. If I really liked the home, however, I would always tell him that we must stand in the town and see how it makes us feel and that it was unfair to judge a town based on a few less-than-flattering photos. This was very much the style of our relationship. Andy is very reactionary in every sense of the word, in good or bad situations alike and I tend to always find myself being the voice of reason and nudging him to step back and take a moment to reflect before reacting. When it came to putting ourselves in each space before deciding, it seemed to have worked in our favor thus far, knowing immediately that the town either wouldn’t gel with our expectations or left us wanting to know more and trying to envision how we fit into that community’s fabric. “It says we are three minutes away,” Andy said, taking his hand off of the steering wheel and pointing to the estimated time on his phone. A beige stepple started to appear further ahead, surrounded and rising above various heights of tanned roofs. “There are so many wheat-colored shrubs and all of the buildings are made from the same tanned colored bricks, it all blends together!” he added, not too keen on the continuity of the color palette. “Last town the warm colors were welcoming and beachy, here they are drab,” I said, reminding him to take a pause. He waved my comment away with his free hand. The dirt road began to turn into a paved small path, barely big enough for one car to pass through. Andy’s demeanor began to change and he gripped the wheel a little tighter. “We should find a place to park while this car still fits on this road, we can walk the rest of the way,” he said slowly creeping the car down the tiny alley, now surrounded by ancient, stone village homes on each side. Ahead we saw a few cars pulled up onto the sidewalk and decided to take our chances and leave the car there. “How in the hell are we going to turn around to leave!” Andy asked, shutting off the car. I shrugged, grabbing the phone from the holder and getting out. Once in front of the car I began twirling around, trying to orient myself with the map. “Ok, so, we keep walking up this path and it says that Rue de l’Église should be on the left. We’re looking for number 2.” “Wonder where everyone is,” Andy said, closing his door and following behind me, looking back down the path we came. “Is this how we get murdered?” That was Andy’s go to question when we found ourselves in prickly situations in the middle of nowhere with not a single soul around to testify to our whereabouts. “Come on, goofball, or we’re going to be late. This agent’s name is Lesley,” I reminded him, stopping at the first intersecting path. “Hey look! Rue de l’Église,” I said, pointing up to the worn placard guiding us to the left up the small hill. At the top sat a church with a few stone homes on both sides. “Ok, so we’re obviously on “church street,”” I said, pointing to the ornate building. “Let me tell Lesley we made it. Which one is number two?” I asked Andy who had started to walk ahead and look at the homes. “None of them,” he said, looking back at me. “Around the back maybe?” I shrugged, finishing my What’sApp text to Lesley. We walked the whole perimeter of the church, but there were no number 2 homes in or around the building. “Is there a number one at least?” I asked, hoping Andy saw something I had missed. “No,” he replied, shaking his head. “I’m standing in the town and I don’t like it,” Andy whined impatiently. “Oh stop. We are here and we are going to see the house and then come to our conclusions,” I said, looking down at my phone to see where Lesley was. “She says she is here and standing in front of the church.” We looked around the empty church facade. “You are in Fraissé-des-Corbières and not just plain old Fraissé, right?” Her message asked. I zoomed out on the map on my phone. “Merde!” “What?” Andy questioned, walking over to me. Though he didn’t speak French, my tone and exasperated sigh after, let him know things weren’t good.
“We’re in the wrong town. The other town is close, though,”I added, trying to soften the bad news. “Really? There are two towns with almost exact names and the same street names?” He asked. This was France, almost every town no matter how big or small had streets named after important landmarks, such as the church, saints, political figures or writers. “Yes and yes,” I confirmed, starting back down the hill. “Well, I didn’t really like this town anyway,” he confirmed. “There’s literally nothing here!” Getting back into the car, I received another message from Lesley. “The owner was supposed to leave the key with the neighbor, but didn’t. Someone else is running one over, so take your time.” Back in the U.S., agents had keys to get into the properties they sold or atleast codes for the lock boxes, but that didn’t always seem to be the case here in France. The owner let everyone into the property at the “winemaker’s home” and Michele had mentioned briefly having to go return the key to the neighbor before heading out of town herself. My mind drifted to the watchmaker’s home and how the agent wasn’t able to show the property without the family present. I bit my lip. It was the first time I thought about the watchmaker’s home that day. Was it a sign that I wasn’t as obsessed with it as I thought? Or had I just been too busy to let my mind wander?
Earlier that morning we had chatted with the young girl watching the B and B as she placed homemade jams and croissants around our breakfast table.
“That town’s close to the black mountains,” she told us, as we recounted the original and now derailed plans. “The weather patterns change so quickly and dramatically there. Perhaps you didn’t yourself a favor by not going and getting too attached,” she concluded with a nod, her tight, blond curls bouncing with the movement.
When discussing the size of the town we wanted, we also talked about weather. Pittsburgh is so gray and swaps places every few years with Seattle as being the most rainy city in the U.S. We knew sunshine and good weather was one of the top three things for us. Would we have loved the home enough to overlook such a major top three want? I wasn’t sure any house we’ve visited so far had exceeded the love or excitement we felt for the watchmaker’s home. Could they have and I just wasn’t letting them? Be open minded, be open minded, be open minded. I kept telling myself, hoping the mindset would just sink in if I kept repeating it.
I clicked on my seatbelt as Andy studied the map, trying to find a way out of town that didn’t involve us backing out slowly down the path. “Ok, so if we go straight, there will be a right that we can take to loop back to the start of town,” he confirmed, clipping the phone back into the holder. Only a few minutes drive away through more desolate beige countryside, the “English B and B '' property was located in a slightly larger town than the hamlet we just left. We pulled into a parking spot along the side of the main street, knowing we had made it based on an English-looking woman waving wildly in the middle of the road. “We’re heeerree,” I sang into Andy’s ear. “Oh Jesus,” Andy said, looking at her then back at me, unprepared for that amount of enthusiasm. I waved back, trying to match her excitement. “Last house of this region! You ready?” I asked, taking a deep breath. “Let’s do it!” He said, opening his car door just in time to catch the beginning of Lesley’s conversation. “So sorry about this key situation. It should be here any moment. I’m glad you found the right place, though!” she said, walking over to meet us halfway. “Come, let me show you the home.” she waved her hand in a “come along” motion and turned around, starting to walk deeper into the town. When we first stumbled across the listing of the “English B and B '' we were immediately attracted to the sense of warmth the photos gave. The sitting room with its light gray stone floor, the deeply-lined bookshelves housing centuries old titles, their spines split and tattered with age and use, the sunken, dark leather pub chairs framing the working fireplace, which was encased with an intricately carved oak mantle, chestnut-beamed ceilings stretching the length of the room, drawing your eyes upward and the worn, gilded-frames surrounding ancient painting of family members long forgotten. The room exuded the feel of an English cottage set somewhere in the damp, dark moors of the countryside . Not exactly the ideal vacation vibes compared to some of the other places on our list, but the character really drew us in. Being American and not accustomed to that kind of decor and ancient charm, we were intrigued. There were not many other photos of the house included with the listing, but one of the last photos showed a clawfoot bathtub resting on an old herringbone wood pattern floor with a porcelain antique washing basin in the background. “It almost looks like a B and B,” Andy said, head angled sideways in order to see my computer. He took a sip of his coffee. “It looks too hotel-y. Too pretty, too purposefully styled for it to be someone’s everyday home,”he concluded. If even half of the home was as charming as the two rooms shown, Andy and I would be in over our heads, drowning in charm! We continued up a small uneven stone road, passing old, connected village homes on both sides, but again, no commerce. Where was the boulangerie? The tabac? The café? This was France! In my mind's eye, the quintessential French village town resembled the opening scene of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast with villagers wandering down the cobbled streets at a lazy pace, baskets in hand, filled with their market selections and shop shutters stretched wide, allowing you to peek in and see their specialties, beautifully lined and displayed.
One of my favorite things about shopping in France, whether at the weekly outdoor markets or in one the small, locally owned shops was the amount of pride the purveyors had for their goods. I once stopped at a local bee keeper’s stand to grab a few jars of honey as gifts and ended up spending a whole hour hearing about his bees and the process. To me, shopping in France was a more humanistic experience where I felt more connected to the items that I bought because of the stories told from the people I bought them from. Wanting to know more about a French person’s relationship with market life, I asked Agnès what she thought. “Well,” she started, “there are really outstanding products in the Provence region, well-known all over the country and beyond. That’s why the purveyors are so proud. Sure, some people do go to the supermarket and that is quicker and more of an everyday thing. Going to the market, though, is often a once-a-week thing when you can take your time, enjoy quality food, and build relationships.” So maybe the markets weren’t as much of a way of life in France as they used to be, but the personalized aspect of the experience still rang true for everyone.
Sure, they had their big box stores like we do here, but there still were weekly markets in almost every town and specialty shops selling regional items, usually made by hand.
Lesley stopped in front of a towering stone building with a large rounded wood-slatted front door. “This looks very, medieval drawbridge-esque,” Andy said, running his finger over the ancient metal hinges and half-dollar sized handmade nails holding them in place. “This was the stables,” Lesley started as her phone rang. “Pardon, I think this is the neighbor with the keys. Allô!” she said, answering the call and walking back down the path. “The horse stable?” I looked at Andy. “We like quirky history,” he said, stepping back to take all of the house in. Lesley appeared a moment later shaking a set of keys in her hand. “So, this property is owned by a British couple. They have had it for years and even used it as a B and B from time to time,” she said, jiggling at the key in the lock. Andy flashed me a “told you so smile.” The door yawned open, slowly revealing its continents in the afternoon light. “But, they are divorcing and trying to work out the financials. It is causing them to put this on the market. As I said before,” she stepped down and inside the home, running her hand along the wall, searching for the light switch. The room illuminated fully as she switched on the lights, “this was the old stables. They converted it into a reception area/living room.” We stepped inside the space and immediately the photos came to life. The stone floors from the photos were actually for practicality, now knowing the rooms original purpose. “Over here is the old watering hole,” she said, bringing us over to a large stone basin built into the wall, originally filled with water for the animals. Metal slats on the floor rested on top of a small drainage system, used to whisk away animal waste. These were details left out of the photos, giving away the spaces original use. In the corner rested a full suit of armor, boldly watching over the estate and its visitors. I looked to the lights Lesley had flicked on moments ago. They were in the shape of medieval torches. A family crest decorated the free space on the wall next to the armored suit. “I’m not going to lie,” Andy started, “this kind of feels like it’s something out of Medieval Times.” “Ah, yes, I can see how this room would remind you of the era,” she said, eying up the knight’s costume. “No, no. I don’t think you actually have them here, but there are actual restaurants called Medieval Times where it’s dinner and a jousting show and you feel as though you are in that time period,” I explained, thumbing through a few of the titles on the bookshelf. “How absolutely silly,” she said with a smile, amused by the idea of Americans wanting to experience such an old and boring part of her country's history. “Eh, knights aren’t really something we had in the U.S., it’s kitschy and silly for sure,” Andy confirmed. He walked over to the stairs, peeking up, not so subtly indicating he was ready to move on. “I must stay, I didn’t pick up on the medieval theme when looking at the photos online, nor did I get any stable or farm vibes either. It being a cold, damp place, I’m not sure we’d use it much,” I said, a bit disappointed that one of the rooms that initially got me to make the booking turned out to be a total sham. Suddenly the cold, dark, moor feel wasn’t as alluring as it once was. “Well there is much more house to see!” Lesley said, sweeping past Andy and gingerly up the uneven brick steps. “There is a small storage space and alternative bathroom in this little section of the stables,” she flicked on the bathroom light and stepped out of the doorway for us to pass through. Bracing myself for what a stable bathroom could potentially look like, I slowly entered the room. My expectations were lower than low from the bathrooms seen thus far, but I was pleasantly surprised. It definitely felt like I stepped into someone’s aunt’s bathroom from the 90’s, but again, compared to the others, this one was clean, dry, styled in a soothing pinkish vanilla color palette with decent lighting. Growing up, I associate matching colored tissue box holders, rugs that fit around the base of the toilet and toilet seat covers as something usually only found consistently in “nice” homes from my childhood. Now, though, those three elements gave the space a dated feel. While the bathroom would have been considered out of style for U.S. standards, it definitely felt elevated and updated not only for France, but considering the room we had just come from. I drew in a sigh of relief, happy that the theming didn’t continue into this space. Lesley switched off the light and began winding us up the large staircase and onto the next level. With each few steps, the family aged behind the glass picture frames that hung along the walls, marking their decades together. My eyes followed each picture as we curved up the stairs to the next level. As my eyes reached the landing I saw it, carpet. Dirty, stained, old, fraying at the ends, crusty, worn carpet. As I stepped off of the stairs and into the second floor of the home, I saw carpet of different colors and degree of dinginess spilling out of other rooms as well. “Let’s start with the kitchen,” she said, walking forward and into a large room absolutely inundated with massive amounts of furniture. I stepped into the kitchen, not sure where to look first. In each corner of the room, there were small mounds of dead flies, gnats, mosquitos and daddy long legs piled one on top of the other, making miniature black pyramids. Lesley noticed my gaze and quickly jumped in with an explanation. “When you lock and leave your home for so long, sometimes these things happen,” she said with a sympathetic shrug. “Nothing a good sweep and mop can’t fix,” she smiled, walking to the other end of the room and opening the kitchen door to let in some fresh air. The kitchen, though a little cluttered and dusty, had been updated somewhat recently. The space oddly looked as though the family went out to grab something at a neighbors and just never came back. Bottles of wine sat unopened on the edge of the counter with two glasses and a corkscrew sitting next to them. Mail and local advertisements rested in a neat pile on the kitchen table. Coats were hung over the chairs, as if not put away due to expected use in the near future. The heavy wooden dining table was pushed up against the right side of the kitchen, almost taking up the whole wall and jutting into the middle of the room. The left side was home to a grand, decorative fireplace that took up half of the wall on that side. The other half was devoted to a stove encased in counter tops that traveled the whole length of the wall, wrapping around part of the back of the wall, encasing the sink before stopping at a door that led to an outside space.
I studied the room. “This could be a great space. There is just so much stuff in it, that it’s hard to envision things paired back,” I said, letting my eyes land on the massive cluttered hutch that took up the entire entryway wall. “Even by removing one of these big pieces,” she placed her hand on the solid dining table, “it would free up so much space,” she agreed, making her way over and through the open kitchen door. “Out here is a small stone balcony. It has a dining table and is perfect for summer dining.” We made our way out to the space, filling it to capacity with just the three of us and the table and chairs present. Large, lush trees and shrubs grew up and around the balcony, twisting their branches in and out of its stone work. The greenery completely encapsulated the balcony, giving it total privacy from the neighbors located just a few feet next door. “I like this space,” Andy said, peeking over the balcony to gauge how high he was. “I could see myself working from here all the time.” “And it’s really private and with all these trees, I can see this staying really cool in the summer. It would also be pretty easy to maintain, since we wouldn’t be here year round,” I added. “Yes, this is a great little space. When you come back, all you’d have to do is sweep off the space and wipe down the furniture. It’s perfect for lock and leave living.”
The term lock and leave wasn’t something we really had heard of until actually being in France and looking at homes. Every single home up to that point was a lock and leave property with the exception of the winemaker’s home. No one had lived there in decades, all of the children having moved into their own homes after getting married and starting a family. With the last sibling married off, the grand estate sat vacant, withering and waiting for its second life to begin. But when touring these specific types of homes, I was beginning to notice the same trademark calling cards: a heavy stale smell that hits you as soon as you enter, dead bugs and spider webs collecting in certain spots around the home, a feeling of damp moisture despite it being warm and sunny outside. At each location, the agents raced to the windows, sprawling them wide, trying to breathe new life into the closed up property. When it came to locking and leaving our property, Andy and I had lightly discussed the idea of renting, but we were very big on collecting trinkets and treasures any time we visited antique markets and estate sales and using them to decorate our space. The thought of strangers carelessly fingering through our collection of 1900’s postcards or accidentally mishandling a nick nack from the 1800’s that could not be easily replaced led us to believe our curiosities were safer in an unrented space. Some people would say, “just put the things you don’t want broken away,” and I do agree with that to a certain extent, but I believe more in having a home that is unique and exudes our personality, than having a space that feels bare, boring and like a full-time rental. Standing on the balcony, looking back into the kitchen, though, I started to question if renting was, perhaps, the best move. Locking and leaving started to give off the feeling of deterioration and decay more than preservation and protection. “There is a living room and two bedrooms on this floor,” Lesley said, pushing back through the door and out of the kitchen. We followed diligently behind her, all ending up at the landing. “This first room is considered the master and has an ensuite bathroom,” she said, entering the room. The room itself was spacious, but felt suffocatingly heavy. An enormous canopy bed sat in the center, swimming in numerous layers of antiquated quilts and duvet covers, topped with mounds and mounds of frilly and ruffled pillows. Squeezed tightly against the wall and the foot of the bed sat a massive chest of drawers, expanding almost the entirety of the wall. Long, thick beige double layered curtains hung from the window, allowing small streams of light to peek through their dated ruffles. “It feels like a grandma’s bedroom,” Andy said, letting the faded curtains run through his fingers as he walked towards the bathroom. “This is usable, just dated. May just need a little freshening up,” he said, peeking his head in and out of the space as he walked by. I walked over to the bathroom and peeked in. The room itself was small, with a toilet, small sink and shower, but kept well. Tiles surrounded the walls and continued into the shower and spilled down onto the floor in the color of a 1970’s soft powder blue. Andy was right, it wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t good.
I pulled my head out of the bathroom and followed Andy into the living room. So far, nothing on this floor was seen in any of the photos provided online and I was beginning to see why. Everything looked like it was locked and left from the 90’s, from the weighty, bulky furniture to the color palettes and the patterns used. The living room was no exception. I moved my feet in a marching pattern. “Why is the ground mushing under my feet?” I looked down at the reddish-brown carpet that looked to be buckling in spots around the room. “I don’t think it was nailed down too well,” the agent winced. “No, no,” Andy began, “that’s probably a good thing! It will make it easier to pull it all up.” He walked over to the floor to ceiling windows, pulling open layer upon layer of the long, worn, thick drapes. Finally reaching the actual pane, he looked down at the street we had entered from. Two large floral couches lined each wall of the room, both indented with years of sitting and lounging. “Are they planning on leaving everything or taking it?” I was honestly hoping it was the latter, unsure of how we’d dispose of so much heavy, large, worn items. “They are leaving it all for the lucky buyer!” she squealed. My face pulled a frown and she quickly lost her excitement. “Don’t you want them to leave items? You will be coming with nothing, right?” Andy backed away from the window to join the conversation. “We will, we just aren’t sure how much of this is our style, that’s all.” I shot Andy a “thanks for jumping in” smile as I started to walk out of the room. “How about the other bedroom?” I asked, stopping again at the landing, waiting for everyone to catch up. “Just right around this corner. It’s smaller than the others, but perfect for guests.” She led us to a small room with minimal furniture, just the basics. There was a small double bed with a plain, white quilt folded to cover half of the bed, a night stand holding a small reading lamp and a worn painting of a sailboat in muted colors on the opposite wall. The sparse items were all that it took to almost fill the room to capacity. We all stood in the doorway, admiring the space together from the outside. “The third floor has the other three bedrooms and a shared bathroom for the floor,” she said, flipping off the guest room light. As we ascended the stairs, we were greeted with even more carpet on the next landing. This floor’s carpet was a dusty mauve color, hiding the wear and dirt a little better than the downstairs landing's off white. “Here is the bathroom,” Lesley led us into the first door in front of the stairs. Here it was, the beautiful bathroom from the photos, yet, not looking so picturesque in real life. A layer of dust blanked the bathroom's entire continents. Picture frames, bathroom fixtures, and windowsills all had a haze of dust, making them look a bit fuzzy once the lights were turned on. I peeked inside of the bathtub. A ring of rust expanded around the drain and layers of build up and film rose up the sides. “Looks like it hasn’t been used in a while,” I noted. “Well, this tub isn’t working at the moment, but could easily be fixed,” Lesley chimed in. “Not working?” Andy strolled over to take a look. “What’s wrong with it?”He asked. Lesley started flipping through her manilla envelope that housed all of the home’s details and dirty secrets. Andy looked down at the wood parquet floor. “I bet the pipes,” he said, squatting down to feel under the feet of the clawfoot tub. “The floor is all warped, what a shame, I bet it was original,” he shook his head and pulled a frown. “Pipes can be replaced, it’s an easy fix,” she said, shuffling around some more papers. I turned to Andy. “This seems like a lot of house for just two people,” I said, waiting to gauge his reaction. Instead, Lesley led us out of the bathroom, “but you haven’t even seen it all!” She exclaimed. She led us through two smaller bedrooms that mirrored the guest room on the floor below before stopping at one last door. “This is quite an odd room,” she prefaced, “but I think some guests, if you were to rent it, would find it fun and charming, especially if they had children.” She opened the door to what appeared to be a narrow walk in closet. Once you stepped into the small space, it was lined on each side with storage and was loaded to the brim with all of the random effects a family would collect over decades of homeownership. Bedding was stuffed up on the highest shelves along with Christmas decorations, spare pieces of artwork that hadn’t made the cut, stuffed animals and boxes upon boxes of clothing labeled for different seasons. If you kept walking, however, the narrow space opened up to a small room that felt like that ultimate secret hideout. “I’m sure their son’s loved growing up with this space,” I said, remembering their photos through the years cascading up the stairwells. “Oh, yes! It’s the perfect private boys club, I’m sure they felt very covert!” Lesley smiled.
After a deep dive into the hidden space, which was empty with the exception of a few boxes packed away for safekeeping, we all emerged back to the landing to debrief. “Again,” I said, still waiting for Andy’s two cents, “this space is massive for two people and would need a lot of work, the kind of work we weren’t planning on partaking in.” I paused, waiting for his response. “I agree, it also doesn’t really feel like us, if I’m being honest. Also, we didn’t really see much of the town, is there a town? A restaurant? Boulangerie? Café?” He said in an almost “I’ll take anything” kind of tone. “The mobile boulangerie comes once a day, but it’s only in the morning,” she explained. “This is now the second or maybe even third time I’ve heard of this mobile breadman. How does this work? Do you have to order in advance? Does he come door to door like the old milk men did in the U.S.? Does he come set up in the town square and everyone must come to him? Does he have everything a shop would have? Just on wheels?” I guess I didn’t realize I had so many questions about this concept until they began spilling out. “It all depends on the town and the breadmaker,” she replied, a bit overwhelmed with my rapid fire questioning. “If it’s something you’d like me to look into, I definitely can,” she offered. “Maybe we will go home and sleep on and let you know what we decide,” I started, now accustomed to providing the parting diplomatic closing lines. “It’s a lot to think about,” Andy chimed in. I started for the stairs, knowing we’d have plenty of time to finish the conversation on the climb down the many flights of stairs. “I completely understand,” Lesely said, following our lead down the stairs. When we got to the bottom I took one last disappointed look around the stables. The knight glared back at me and I sighed, disenchanted in the visit, but happy that we didn’t fall for a house in a town that didn’t align with our wants. Lesely grabbed the massive metal door handle in the shape of a ring and pulled the heavy wooden door shut. We thanked her for her time and headed to the car, thankful for our time in this region, but ready to see what moving a little more inland had to offer. As we kept going east on our journey, the prices kept creeping up, but so did the days of sunshine a year and our hopes. This region didn’t feel like us, but we were starting to get our feet wet and understand expectations and we couldn’t have hit our stride at a better time!
Originally Written June 30th 2022
Yesterday, we had traveled up north to visit Cordes sur Ciel, but this morning, we were actually traveling south, making our way to the coast. Today we had the “Scandi home,” named for the nationality of the agency and the “English B and B,” named for the style that the house embodied in the few photos shown on the listing. The “Scandi home” was located in the Mediterranean fishing port of Vendres, not far from the Spanish border. The listing was being used as a holiday home for a French couple, but we were told they hadn’t visited in a few months. We parked our car in a small parking lot located in the center of the lively town. As I opened my car door, I was immediately hit with the smell of salty sea air. I closed my eyes and let the sun warm my face. Coming from gray and rainy Pittsburgh, this was the exact kind of location we were searching for. Something bright, sunny and just all around different. Looking around the space, people were going about their daily chores, baguettes sticking out of woven market sacs, small white paper bags from the pharmacy swinging from their sun-tanned arms. “I like that this is an active town,” I said, closing my car door. We had talked to enough agents now to understand that some towns are vacation spots and aren't really “working” towns on the off season. We definitely wanted to buy in a town that had residence all year round and business that didn’t shutter in the winter. “It’s funny how the colors of the towns change from area to area. Cordes had kinda darker shades and dark stones. Here, it’s all light colored sandstones and pale oranges. It all feels really beachy,” he said, locking the car door. He was right. For only being two hours away from each other, the towns had a completely different feel. Olive and cypress trees randomly lined the streets and bushes of rosemary and thyme dotted any free patch of ground surrounding the sidewalks and businesses. The home was located only a three minute walk up a tiny, tanned brick path, shaded by lightly colored village homes, all sandwiched one after another, making it look like one long building on each side with multiple doors and windows appearing at random. As we walked up the path, each occupant was preparing for the day, bustling around their kitchens, their lightly linen draped, open windows showing the scenes inside. When we reached the top of the hill, we were surprised to find a large open space, used as a terrasse by the two connected homes, one of them being the “Scandi home.” A small alley jetted off at the top of the hill to the left, leading to a large residence that shared a wall with the “Scandi home,” and continued on to share another with a small church that sat at the end of the path. “Wonder how much sound seeps through these stone walls?” I asked Andy, walking to the edge of the small courtyard and looking out. It felt very secluded and private for having the bustling town just minutes away. “You’ve found it! Excellent!” An accented woman’s voice rang out over the large, open space. She stopped as she reached the top of the hill behind us to catch her breath. Michelle was a Norwegian agent who came to France in her twenties, fell in love and into real estate and then, just never left. I was starting to feel like that bio could be applied to almost every foreign agent we had worked with thus far. France just really had a way of gripping people and never letting go!
“So, this is it!” She said, taking off her sunglasses and raising her hands towards the house in a silent “voíla!” It was so quiet in the tucked away terrasse that it almost felt too sacred to be talking so loud, as if we were disturbing the peace of this tiny corner of the town. I walked over to the group, hoping that would lower her octaves. “It’s great, but, this outdoor area, who exactly owns it?” Andy said, getting directly down to business. Michelle let out a sign, not waiting to address the home’s negatives in the first minute of meeting. “Alors, technically, it is your Parisian neighbors, BUT, they come maybe for one month a year. So, while it is their space and they had a deal with the previous owners to say they may place furniture outside of their door, they are never here and so the space can be used by you for most of the year.” “But we don’t plan to be here for most of the year,” I reminded her. She waved her hand away, dismissing my statement. “Well, you shall see! The neighbors are quite nice and very reasonable. I would believe the same deal they had with the other owners would be the same for you,” she said, trying to move past the outside and shuffle us inside the house. She unlocked the French doors and stretched them wide. “I wanted to get here a little bit earlier, so I could open the place up. Since the owners haven’t been here, the home hasn’t been aired out in a few months, but I hit a bit of traffic” she explained, walking inside the home and directly to the windows, throwing open the shutters in the living room. Light spilled in through the large windows, illuminating the tiny, musty space. The large, stone window ledges sat a foot off of the actual window, making it an ideal space for a few cushions and perfect window benches on both the inside or outside of the house. The shared dining room, living room space was small, but functional enough for two people looking only to spend their summers there. Different hues of red, thick brick made up the floor and continued into the kitchen, giving the home a sense of warmth we didn’t feel up north in Cordes. I was starting to realize that you rarely saw carpet in French homes, which I really appreciated and when you did see the floors covered, they were usually covered by lots and lots of large rugs. In the few homes we’ve seen, we noticed that in some rooms, rugs were layered one on top of another, giving the spaces a very eclectic bohemian feel. I made my way over to the large hand-painted built-in in the corner of the room, trying the latch.“What’s up with the built-in hutch?” I said, trying to gingerly jar it open with little success. “Ah, yes, it’s to hide the heating and electricity,” she said, making her way over to the doors. Michelle gave them a gentle nudge and they slowly swung open to reveal electrical boxes and meters. “Hm, not much in the way of storage then,” Andy said, glancing into the cupboard while walking past us and through a stone-lined entry way, into the kitchen. The kitchen was cheerful, with bright robin’s egg blue cabinets and long, light-colored tiled countertops that cascaded up the wall, creating a matching backsplash. I looked at Andy, trying to read his reaction to the room and could sense there were a few features that had him ready to reach for a crowbar and hammer. Despite being a creative and artsy mind, Andy was also quite handy and liked doing home improvement projects. The only issue that I had was that he would start these grand renovations and then get tied up in work for a few weeks or months at a time, depending on the size of the project. This usually left our home in a constant state of construction and made it difficult to live in, so the idea of living in two construction zones, each located on different continents, was completely non-negotiable for me. “How old is this stovetop? Does it work?” I asked, trying to flick on the switch with no results. “The propane tank is probably out,” Michelle said, opening the cupboards below. I stepped back to get a clear view of the inside. “So, wait, there is no oven!?” I replied, a bit shocked. “That seems very college dorm-y. How do they eat?” Andy had shuffled over after hearing my complaint. “No oven, who cares about that, they have an actual tank of gas sitting below the heating element!” Up until that point, we hadn’t seen a propane-tank stove top or stove, which we were about to find out, is actually very common in France. “Oh this old thing? Of course it’s here, where else would it be!?” Michelle replied, standing up with a shrug. “In the U.S.,” Andy started, but then paused, hating to be one of those people who compare everything to back home, “it would be outside with your gas grill, not in the house.” “If you want gas appliances in France, you must bring the gas to your appliances. There are no gas lines here. The homes and villages are far too old for this feature,” she explained. I stood between the two silently gaging Andy’s response. Ever since I’ve known Andy, he’s been terrified of fires to the point where you’d think he had actually been a victim of one and that is where all of his fears stem. In fact, when he was very, very young, he snuck down stairs in the middle of the night and turned on the T.V. and “Fire Starters” was playing. It wasn’t until little Andy had watched most of the movie that his dad had come down and found him intensely staring at the screen. Unfortunately, the damage had been done. From then on, Andy was obsessed with fire safety, so the thought of a propane tank living in his home was terrifying. “We could replace this old stove top with an electric top and add an oven here,” he said, pointing to where the tank was sitting. He turned around, considering the matter closed. “And this over here,” he walked across the kitchen, “is this a washer?” By now, Michelle was starting to understand that the typical things in France weren't so typical yet to us. “Having your washer in your kitchen is not that uncommon in France,” she said, placing her hand on the machine. “Around the corner here is a small storage area and a half bath,” she continued, disappearing around through the small doorway. I followed diligently behind her, sticking my head in the little door to the half bath and taking it all in. Again with the dark, dingy bathrooms. Why did most of the bathrooms in these French homes look like you would leave them more dirty than you entered? Of course, this was a huge step up from the Turkish toilets many tourists have come home warning friends and family about. To this day, however, I haven’t come across a bathroom with just a simple hole in the ground. It is said that they are being phased out and there aren’t too many left, so perhaps I never will. You know that your mindset is shifting, though, when you are convincing yourself to look past a tiny, mildew ridden closet bathroom because it’s better than a Turkish toilet alternative. We took turns turning around and going back down the small hallway and out of the kitchen, back to the main living space. With the doors and windows open, the living room area felt like a big patio. Salty breezes kept wafting in and the sun was so bright everything had a slight shimmer to it inside the home. Michelle looked out the front door. “Twenty minute bike ride to the Med!” She said, taking a deep breath of the breeze. “That is a feature none of the other properties we are seeing have!” I said to Andy, with a slight shrug. “Let’s go see the newly remodeled bathroom and the two bedrooms,” Michelle instructed, climbing the stairs. Once reaching the top, we had the option of four doors located off of a small hallway, two down the center of the wall or one door at each end. “Let’s start at the end and work our way down,” Michelle suggested, leading us into the main bathroom. The space was small, but redone tastefully, with a beautiful wood floor and light colored tiles that made the space feel not so cavernous, despite the beautiful stone arch protruding around the sink. “I really like this space,” I said, studying the arch. “And I really, really like how they kept this original feature and the colors and materials they used are timeless.” My mind went back to the few bathrooms we’ve seen so far. One with bright yellow tiles with dated green daisies, another tiled in gray, red and blue. Perhaps it is an American concept, but I wanted my bathroom to be relaxing and serene. Some of the color schemes we’ve encountered felt chaotic and seizure inducing.
“Around the corner is your first bedroom,” Michelle introduced, standing in the doorway of the bathroom with her hand extended towards the next door. We followed her lead into the room and right then and there, we were greeted with our first encounter of French carpet! I looked down at the thin, indoor/outdoor brown carpet that lined the room. Wood paneled walls and ceiling enclosed the space, making it feel like you were sleeping in a cedar chest. A tiny window allowed small streams of light to barely illuminate the room. “What are your thoughts?” Michelle asked, unable to gauge our silent processing. “If I am being completely honest,” I started, not sure how candid was acceptable for the situation. Michelle nodded, encouraging my true opinions. “I don’t want to have carpet, but I feel like if you pull this up, it would be more wood, which normally I would love, but in this case…” Andy cut in, “It would literally feel like you were sleeping in a coffin.” Michelles eyes grew wide. Was this because she wasn’t used to absolute honesty? Was that not a culturally appropriate response? Or was it Andy’s dark humor that tripped her up. Were the French usually a bit more coy with their interest, or lack of? I wasn’t sure. “I think what Andy is trying to say is that, perhaps it would be too much wood,” I tried glossing over the comment and giving a more diplomatic answer. “I see,” she said. “Well, you could easily remove some of the wood paneling or you could pick a different material for the floors of course. My partner and I renovate homes on the side and in France they are very cheap to do compared to the U.S.” I looked at Andy and shook my head. “We made the agreement, no large scale renovations!” “Ripping up some paper-thin carpet and laying down something else isn’t large scale,” he said, trying to convince me. “Well, if you aren’t sure about this bedroom, the next one is the exact same,” Michelle exclaimed, moving us out into the hallway and into the next door. Both rooms shared a similar layout with the carpet, wood-paneled walls and paneled slanted ceilings, absolutely no closet space and a small window framed out in more wood. “Which one is technically the master?” Andy questioned. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to be funny. I squinted my eyes at him then turned to Michelle. “They are both the same size and layout, so the choice would be yours,” Michelle responded, leading us out to the hallway and into the last door. The room was a long, thin rectangle that was currently being used as storage. “So, is this space why the listing says three bedrooms?” I questioned. “Yes,” Michelle nodded. “This room could have a double bed and be used as a guest room for visitors.” “A double bed and literally nothing else,” Andy said, ducking his head into the door and then quickly out, writing the room off completely.
“Is there a third floor?” Andy asked from the hallway, looking up. Michelle appeared next to him. “No, this is the final floor of this home. It is your neighbor who’s home extends on top of this story,” she replied, drawing an imaginary diagram with her index finger of the neighbors property extending onto ours. “So what happens if there is a leak in his property that gets into ours,” he questioned. I could already see where this was going. “Then it would be his responsibility to fix it,” Michelle concluded. “But what if it happens and we aren’t here for a few months and by the time we get back it has sat for too long,” he followed up. “All of this is taken care of in your homeowners insurance. I am sure it is very similar to what happens in the U.S.? Anyway, it is up to the other homeowner to pay for all damages.” “How far does their property extend onto ours,” he asked, looking back up at the ceiling. “Why don’t we go outside and take a look,” Michelle offered, trying to curb Andy’s unrest. When it came to personalities, Andy and I couldn’t be more opposite. I called him Mr. Doom and Gloom because of the way he always picked apart each situation and thought up every and all worse case scenarios that could be possible. For someone like me, however, who embraced more of a “we’ll figure it out as it comes” attitude, I think his detail oriented personality with my live in the moment demeanor really balanced each other out. He was the half glass empty to my overflowing glass full. In situations like this, I knew to just let him go and work through all of his anxieties in order to move past it. If you tried to skip over something that he was focused on, it would lead to over analyzing and continual debating for the next few days. Making our way outside of the house and down the small alley towards the church, it was clear that the neighboring home stretched the full length of the “Scandi home.” “Yeah, I don’t like the look of this,” Andy stated, neck craned and looking up. “I don’t like being at the mercy of someone else’s intelligence,” he added, taking a few steps back in order to get a deeper view. “What truly are the chances of this happening?” I asked him, trying to quell his fears. “Our luck would lean on the more than likely side,” he shot back. Sensing the ebb and flow of this home viewing, Michelle had a feeling this house was not the one. She pulled out her phone and opened her calendar. “I have another showing at 4 pm, why don’t we go get lunch and I can show you some of the other homes I have in the area. If anything peaks your interest, we can go for a visit.” It was the first time an agent had tried to wrangle us into a lunch date. I looked down at my phone to check the time. “We have to be at our next visit in an hour and have about a 30 minute drive to get there,” I said, looking at Andy for backup. While this was the first time a showing was potentially extending into a lunch rendez-vous, we did have other agents try and take us back to their office to show us more homes. I hated feeling like the impatient, impolite Americans, but I had scheduled our time so precisely that we had multiple showings on each day in different towns with different agents, not leaving us too much time for exploration or being side tracked. I had also scoured each agent's website before making the trip, making sure we didn’t want to hit up any other showings before leaving the area. I already knew there wasn’t anything I wanted to see, but how to say all of this without being rude? “This home has a lot of positives,” I started, “and I think it’s only fair to go on our other home visit and sleep on it and then get back to you tomorrow morning,” I concluded with a nod, proud of myself for the diplomatic response. “But wouldn’t you be on your way to your next destination, didn’t you say Avignon?” she responded, desperately clinging to the time she had with us. “We will, but we are here to buy a home and if we like a home enough, we will extend our stay to visit again and continue the discussions about an offer,” I reassured her. “It’s still early in our journey. I’m not even sure we’ve seen enough to know what we exactly want or like, but with each viewing, it will become more clear,” I finished, feeling as though I had been codling her. “I understand,” she said, nodding. Andy, who had walked away to inspect more angles of the overlapping houses, came back to the terrasse. “We must get going or we wouldn’t make our next appointment,” I reminded him. He turned to Michelle. “Thank you so much for taking the time to show us this home,” he said, extending his hand. They shook and we waved goodbye as we started back down the hill to our car.
“There is no way I would feel comfortable having someone live on top of me and us be gone for months at a time,” he said, stating his case. “I know, I know. You don’t have to convince me, that isn’t "the one",” I replied with a sharp head shake. “To the English B and B then, shall we!” he said, in ridicules accented English. I took one last wiff of sea salted air. "We shall!" I replied, getting into the car.
**Above is our journey from the Spanish boarder through the whole south and all the stops in between. You may notice Vaison is not marked, it was a totally by chance we ended up there!
Bonjour, Ciao, Salut! I'm Rachel and this is my story documenting our experience buying a home in France. If you are looking for advice on home buying, feel free to e-mail me or check the bottom of the home page for a link to a basic guide.