Set back from the street was a small square filled with tables belonging to the adjacent cafe. It was the end of lunch time and only two of the tables were sat with patrons enjoying some rosé and conversation. Behind the cluster of tables sat a peach colored building with bright teal window frames and a terracotta tiled roof. The French flag was perched proudly above the first row of windows, dedicating it as a government building. We looked around the square and saw Clèment scrolling on his phone taking refuge from the afternoon heat under a flourishing plain tree. Though I had never seen him, his appearance matched the voice I had been chatting with on the phone.
Tall and thin with messily gelled spiky dirty blond hair, Clèment couldn’t have been any more than 23 years old. He wore a soccer jersey over some ripped worn jeans and a pair of black and white Puma sneakers.
I had probably sent out close to 50 emails to different agents requesting a showing or more information about a property. Clèment was the only person who called the next day, explaining in rapid fire French that he was excited to receive my email and wanted to know when we were coming to the area. I made out that he asked me to call him back and ended with a hopeful “à bientôt.” He sounded young, but warm and friendly, giving me a little more confidence about returning his call. Up to that point, email had been my safe haven. It allowed me to carefully craft my grammatically perfect emails in French, taking as long as I needed to look up unknown words like freelance to describe Andy’s work or kidney failure to describe his health ailments and the reason why having a well stocked hospital close was top priority. I’m a pretty shy person and tend to hate the act of talking on the phone, even in English. So the idea of talking to someone in a different language whose face I couldn’t see to gauge their reactions or facial expressions was a little terrifying. I don’t think anyone realizes how much they use social cues during a conversation, until they are having a telephone conversation with someone in a foreign language. You really depend on the other person’s reactions in order to know what direction your conversation was taking. When it came to speaking French, I tended to freeze in situations that made me nervous, no matter how elementary the conversation tended to be or how many times I’ve used the words or phrases before. I took a deep breath, sitting down at the dining room table with a piece of paper and pencil, considering what my talking points were going to be. I had decided to write out my conversation, that way if I got a little nervous or unsure I could just look down and see some key words and phrases and hopefully guide myself back on track. After about seven minutes, I looked down at the bullet points I had listed out; the date we’d be in the area, times we were free to see it, things that were on the top of our “wants” list in case he asked, followed by things we absolutely didn’t want. Going back into my voicemails, I found Clèment’s message and hit “call.” The phone rang only twice before a voice appeared on the other line. “Bonjour?” I paused, drawing in a long breath and then exploded in a handful of phrases, as if by doing so, he wouldn’t be able to respond and derail my perfectly planned, pre written conversation. “Bonjour, je m’appelle Rachel. J’ai reçu votre message et je voudrais un rendez-vous pour la maison proche d’Uzès. Nous allons rester à Avignon entre le premier juillet et le quatre juillet, mais le premier est mieux pour nous, après déjeuner.” (Hello, my name is Rachel and I received your message and would like a meeting to see the house close to Uzès. We are going to stay in Avignon between the first of July and the fourth, but the first is best for us, after lunch.) There was another pause as I caught my breath, reflecting on if I had answered the questions in his voice mail. Another beat of silence, perhaps he was waiting to see if I had anything more to blurt out, and then he began. “Bonjour, Rachel! Je suis content que tu m'appelles. Zu zu zu… zu zu zu, juillet… zu zu zu deux heures zu zu zu avec moi.” He paused, letting me know that he perhaps asked a question. “Uh….” I looked down at my notes, trying to see if any of my notes may have applied to his question. “Désolé, je suis américaine et mon français est pas bien,” I said, going off script and feeling a bit defeated. (Sorry, I’m american and my French isn’t that great.) “Anglais?” He asked. “Oui, s’il vous plaît,” I said, a sadly. He chuckled. “I am sorry, my language is not so good,” he said, taking his time to enunciate each word. We took the next few minutes carefully balancing in a state of franglish. “The owners are looking for a… how you say…sale très rapide,” he explained. “Ah, a quick sale?” “Oui, yes. That is it. Their daughter is… mortellement malade,” He said, searching for the right words. “Mortellement,” I repeated. “Ah… mortel.. comme… dead sick?” I guessed. “Peut-être,” he said, not quite satisfied with the final consensus. “Wait, she is very sick. She is dying?” I said, finally catching all of the information. “Bah oui! C’est ça! It’s very, very sad. Elle a deux enfants,” he explained. “Two children? Are they young?” “Oui, yes. Under ten. The sellers want to sell quickly to move to be with her,” he explained. My heart sank. It was a horrible weight to add onto this visit, knowing the story behind the move. By the end of the conversation, however, we had set a date and a time despite the barrier and found ourselves wishing each other a “à bientôt et merci!”
As we came closer Clèment looked up, feeling our presents and gave a soft wave. He was completely different from the flashy, more established Laurent and, for some reason, felt more approachable and trustworthy. He reminded me of someone’s kid brother who was starting their first ever adult job and really trying to make it in the world.
“Bonjour! My English,” he moved his hand back and forth to insinuate so-so and we nodded. “I last speak this in school,” he confirmed with a boyish grin. “C’est n’est pas grave,” assured him. “Mon français est pas mal, mais pour acheter une maison….,” I let my voice trail off. (My French is not bad, but to buy a home…) “Alors, ensemble, we will work in les deux langues!” “Together we will work in both languages,” I told Andy. He nodded with a smile and we started to walk. “I have a very silly question.” Clèment looked at me waiting for the inquiry. “How do you say the name of this town?” He laughed and then stopped to break it down for our American ears. “Arr- Pie- Arug,” he said, overly enunciating the clusters of syllables. “So, this home is, how you say, connecté to the old church. In the,” he paused, then gave up, continuing in French, “Les quines cents ans, they needed a more private way to bring… les cadavres into the back, so this entrance was made,” he said, stopping outside of a tunnel-like entry completely made out of light colored stone. “So this is the entrance to the home?” Andy said, becoming more interested than he had been before. This house was completely turned key, which appealed greatly to my wants, but Andy thought perhaps it was a bit too polished, too styled. He was essentially just tagging along for this viewing, as I had done for the last. “Oui, yes. The entrance way is built into the tunnel wall. Come, they are expecting us,” he said entering the tunnel. “Qui?” I said, trailing behind him. “The owners,” he said, stopping at a massive wooden planked door with an intricately designed metal door knocker in the shape of a delicate woman’s hand. “Does this stay?” Andy asked, picking it up with his hands and lightly setting it back down on the door. “Bah, oui. It is part of the porte… door,” Clèmence confirmed. I took a deep breath. Knowing the owners story and why they were selling made it slightly uncomfortable having them there for the viewing. Clèmence lifted the door knocker and tapped it three times. A few moments later, a man in his 60’s opened the door. “Bonjour,” he started. “Bonjour,” we all said in unison. “Entre, S’il vous plaît,” he said, waving his hand into the door to coax us in. He had soft eyes and a warm smile, which made my heart break even more for his current situation. He closed the door behind us and we all stood in a small entryway that was completely made out of the stone used to construct the entrance outside. There was a place to hang up coats on the wall facing the door and a large stone staircase, “original to the home,” Clèmence added, leading up stairs to the home. The staircase was lit with just enough light to bathe all of the curiosities purposefully placed on the stone ledges that protruded out of the wall, but soft enough to set the mood for the home. Old books with worn spines and lightly colored dried wild flowers in brocante-style vases were placed here and there, giving the space a presence and personality. At the top of the stairs, we arrived in the kitchen I had seen from the photos. It was quite possibly the most stunning kitchen I may have ever seen. The color palette was an off-white and gray lending itself to a calm and cool feeling. At the island counter stood the seller’s wife in beige linen pants, a soft, flowy white oversized button down shirt, accompanied by a large chunky necklace. She was petit, with the aire of a former ballet dancer, poised and elegantly awaiting our arrival. “Bonjour,” she greeted us, walking over to the entrance. “Bonjour,” we all said again in unison. “They do not speak English,” Clèment said, looking between us and then back at them. We nodded in understanding. I looked around the kitchen. “Is it ok if I look?” I said to Clèment. Everything was so immaculate, that I didn’t want my presents to throw it off balance. “This is why we are here, non?” He said, with a chuckle. “Oui,” I said with a smile, walking past him and deeper into the space. “It is so, so beautiful,” I said to him over my shoulder, “I love it.” The owners looked at him, waiting for him to explain what I had said. I looked back at them and felt a pang of sadness. Both had an almost panicked, on edge look on their faces. A lot was riding on this visit. Clèment explained that I loved the kitchen and the woman looked as though someone had taken 100 pounds off of her shoulders. She signed and smiled and then began speaking rapidly to Clèment. I went back to walking around the kitchen inspecting all of the high end appliances, knowing he’d relay her message when she had finished. “Alors,” he started. “Everything is new. They have retired from Paris two years ago and moved to the sud to live.” “Sud?” Andy looked at him. “South,” I replied. “Does everything stay?” I asked. He looked down at the women and they exchanged a few phrases before he turned back to us. “They need to leave with as little as possible, so most things can be left. Did you want something in particular?” My eyes fell on the massive farmhouse table with worn white and gray accents and to the huge chandelier delicately balancing over it. He and the woman went into more phrases and he began to point in the direction of the table and chandelier, then looked at me. “They are moving to an apartment and these items can not be taken,” he confirmed. A door opened behind me and I turned around to find Andy heading outside. “There is an outdoor space?” I stated, more than asking. “Yes, it’s perfect for dining as it is à l'extérieur de la cuisine,” he said, walking over to follow us out. It was the perfect shaded balcony decorated with potted olive and lemon trees and a small cafe table for two. Below cars wizzed past on the main road. “This space is nice, but the cars are constant. I feel like it would be hard to focus on work here. It’s been nonstop since we arrived over an hour ago. Is it always this busy?” “This is a main road connecting many towns, but the mairie has petitioned to get a stop sign put in to slow down the cars,” he said, hoping his solution would calm Andy’s discontent. “This really is the perfect space. When we aren’t here, it wouldn’t need any maintenance,” I said, popping my head out to the balcony. “The living room is just off of the kitchen, come see,” Clèment said, leaving the balcony and walking through the kitchen that opened into a small similarly colored living space. A large fluffy white couch stacked with light gray pillows sat in the middle of the room with lightly stained wooden pieces of furniture purposely displayed around the space; a bookshelf here, an end table there, an antique rocking chair. The style was minimalist, clean and chic and it felt very elevated compared to a lot of the places we had seen before. My mind wandered back to the stone tub set into the wall for slaughtering the pigs at the winemaker’s home. “Now, going back to the top of the stairs of the main entrance, there is another case of stairs that lead up to the bedrooms and bathroom,” Clèment said, shuffling us past the owners who stood statue still, trying to read our reactions or thoughts. At the top of the wooden steps was a small landing that had a door straight ahead or you could curve to the right and continue up another small flight of stairs to the next level. “This is just storage,” he said, opening the door and flicking on the light. Everything sat neatly stacked in boxes and baskets, filling its designated place in the room. He flicked the lights off and continued up the rest of the stairs entering the first room off of the staircase. “This is the guest room,” he announced, walking to the other end of the room to allow us to enter and take it all in. It was bright and peaceful, with high ceilings and a minimalist Scandinavian-style platform bed wrapped in beige and white linen sheets. A small chest of drawers in a light sand colored wood sat at the foot of the bed. Small decorative objects had been placed on it to give the space a personal touch, all consistent with the colors of choice from the floor below. We left the room, walking down the open, loft style hallway, passing a small desk and entering directly into the master bedroom. The room felt huge without the presents of doors or one of the walls. In the middle sat another Scandi-style platform bed with cream colored lamps on each night stand. Again, the decorations were minimalist and tasteful, giving the room an airy and light feel. I thought back to the English B and B house and how many of the bedrooms just felt smothered in things. Furniture, linens, decorations, it was all too heavy handed. Andy started walking ahead and into the bathroom. It was a completely open concept, having only a partial wall jutting out and creating a shower. A bamboo vanityt with a stone sink basin helped solidify the zen feeling. “This is probably the nicest bathroom we’ve seen this whole trip,” Andy said, looking at me for a reaction. “I mean it’s updated, clean, modern, pretty, spacious,” I said, holding out my arms. “But if we had guests, they would have to come through our bedroom to use the bathroom and they couldn’t even knock since there isn’t a door,” I said, thinking about awkward moments when a future guest would have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. “Yeah, it could be a thing,” Andy agreed. “There is another level to show you,” Clèment said, trying to keep the visit positive and moving along. He walked through the bedroom and over to the metal staircase, placing his hand on its railing. “Vous êtes près?” “Sure,” I said with a shrug. As we followed him up the stairs our eyes landed on the floor of the next level. “No way!” Andy said! The mezzanine-style hallway’s floor was done in complete glass. “Is this safe?” I asked, my fear of heights kicking into overdrive. “Completely!” Clèlement answered, pointing up, “and here are your puits de lumière.” We looked up at the massive amounts of light pooling into the space. “Ah, skylights,” I confirmed. “Come, you can see this next…how we say…salle bonus,” he said in an almost questioning tone. “C’est la même chose,” I confirmed, “bonus room,” I replied in air quotes. “Oui, c’est ça,” he said, nodding his head. At the end of the small glass walkway sat a room with an off-white lounge sofa and walls lined with books. There was enough space to enter and crawl on to the long couch and that was about it. “Oh this is such a nook!” Andy exclaimed, taking a seat on the couch. “It’s a fun room,” I agreed, but I can’t imagine us ever using it. “What are you talking about? I’d be up here all the time!” he said, letting himself fall back into the cluster of pillows on the couch. “So there is no attic, but is there a basement?” I asked, trying to get the lay of the land. “Bah, oui. Sort of. Come, I will show you,” he started back down the stairs, through the master bedroom and down the main stairs to the kitchen. The owners stood at the island where we left them, silently waiting for our descent. Clèment explained that we were going to see the last space and the man handed over a set of keys. “Suivre-moi,” he said, heading towards the stone-staired entry. “So, this last space is quite,” he paused, searching his English for the best words, but came up short, “formidable.” Andy, taking note of his excitement and deducing that it was a good thing, nodded his head as he followed us down the stairs and out to the main street. Going back to the front of the house, Clèment stopped at a garage door. “Here you have a garage and cave,” he announced,fiddling with the locks. Andy leaned in close to me. “Did he say cave!? This place keeps getting better and better!” “No, silly. Cave means wine cellar here.” He shrugged, “that is still really cool.” It was the first home we had toured with an actual wine cellar, which was quite surprising as the actual wine maker’s home didn’t have one.
Clèment released the lock and the door creaked open a few inches. He grabbed the ajar door and swung it open, revealing a tiny garage, stuffed with a Volkswagen bug and lined with a long workbench on one side of it cluttered with tools and forgotten projects. The other side had a narrow walkway between the stone wall and the car with two doors, one at each end of the space. We shimmied past the workbench and their car, walking around the front of it in order to access the furthest door. “This is the space the owner used as a… studio de musique,” he opened the door and switched on the light. It was a small, cavernous space with recording equipment set up on tables and guitars hanging on the walls. It literally was a man cave and I could picture the monsieur in the space, tinkering with the electronics and strumming a few notes. I took a deep breath and slowly let it out. When they bought this little home a few years back, they spent months meticulously renovating and decorating what they thought was going to be their final home. It was sad to think about them having to part with it and the conditions their sale was under. Clèment headed towards the entrance, waiting until we passed through to flick off the light and shut the door. “If you walk down to the end,” he instructed, "that door is the cave.” We shuffled, single file inbetween the car and the wall until we made it to the end and a doorless room appeared. I peeked my head in, looking for a light. “There are no lights, just the sun from the window,” he said, appearing behind us. The room was dark, but bright enough to make out the layout. The whole wall was lined with shelves that held glass jars, some of them empty with rusted lids, some of them still holding things from owners long ago. I picked one up and read the faded cursive scrawl. “Apricot jam,” I translated, holding the jar up for Andy to see. He smiled, loving old treasures that were left behind. We carefully shifted our positions, trying not to bump into anything in the small, narrow space. The back wall was lined with an empty wine rack, giving just enough space for one person to collect or deposit items and that was it. I looked down at the dirt floor, wondering if my great grandmother’s root cellar from a lot of our past family stories resembled something like this. “This would be a great space for all of my canning,” I said, running my fingers along all of the jarred items on the shelf. “It is the meilleure temperature,” Clèment agreed. “The best temperature,” I relayed over my shoulder to Andy. We emerged out of the cave and started our shimmy around the car to get back to the entrance. “There is a lot to like about this house!” Andy said. I was surprised that he liked it, but was happy we were on the same page. We exited the garage single file and stopped in front of the house. I looked across the street and a little ways down at the previous house we had just visited with Laurent, but Andy didn’t. Hmm, maybe that was a good sign. Perhaps he wasn't as head over heels for it as I thought. “We have heard from the other agent that there is a chateau behind this street that is a famous hotel and a part-time bakery, but no weekly market,” Andy started. “Seems like a lot of our typical Q and A portion was already answered by the last agent,” I smiled. Clèment shot me a quizzical look. “C’est quoi ça Q and A?” “Question and Answer,” I replied. “Ahhh,” he shook his head showing he understood, “so, what do you think? Do you like the house in general?” He asked, knowing the owners would want a full update. “I love the style,” I started, “but I’m just not sure of the location. If we want to go to a restaurant or to the market we will need a car and it’s just not something we’ve discussed in too much detail.” “Many people in France go across the frontière to Italy and buy their car. It is much cheaper this way,” he advised. “That’s really interesting,” Andy said, “and this is the only place so far we’ve seen that has a garage,” he said tilting his head towards the garage as a reference. “It’s a lot to think about. I know we talked about the potential of renting the home when we weren’t here, but with a world renown chateau next door, who really is going to come to rent this place. This town doesn’t really seem to be a tourist destination,” I said looking around at the empty streets. I really loved this home. The home’s history was quite interesting and the fact that it didn’t need any work done to it and that the updates were timeless and beautiful made it the perfect choice. The price was well under budget and it had an incredible kitchen to boot, so why was I picking it apart? I wanted to help this family, I wanted to give Clèment a sale and help boost his career, I wanted a home that looked like it was plucked from the pages of a Provence magazine. Andy and Clèment were engaged in some small talk when I focused back in on the conversation. “We’ve had a long day and still have quite a lot of driving left to do before making it to Avignon,” I said, waiting some alone time with Andy to shuffle through our thoughts. “Well, please, come say goodbye to the sellers, I’m sure they’d like to thank you for your visit,” Clèment said, locking the garage door. I looked at Andy who shrugged with a simple, “ok.” He knew what he was doing. Let’s put them back in front of Madame and Monsieur so they can see their deeply sunken stress lines and sad faces one last time. I sighed and followed behind. Clèment gave a quick synopsis of the tour and let them know that we were heading out, but that he’d be back to discuss with them after he walked us out. They nodded, seeming happy with the little news he provided and then turned to us, both giving a “merci et une bonne journée” accompanied with soft and kind handshakes. We left Clèment at the main entrance and told him we’d get in contact once we were settled into the hotel and had more information. “It was fun, you know, to practice my English,” he said with a smile. “Your English is parfaît,” I said with a nod. “Merci! Et um.. Drive.. Bon? Safe?” I nodded and looked at Andy. “It was nice to meet you!” he said, extending his hand to Clèmence, “but how do you say this town’s name again?” I looked at Andy, could we really buy a home in a town we couldn’t even pronounce? We had one more house showing to do about 35 minutes away from Avignon, again, located on the way, but the car ride would provide plenty of time for a much needed tête-a-tête!
**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.