The Renovation of La Breche
The trials and tribulations of buying a house in France have been written about many times before. A long admiration of Winifred Fortescue’s writings on her move to France in the 1930s had made me acutely aware of the dangers of currency fluctuations and we waited with bated breath, checking the exchange rate every day, sometimes several times a day, between the two stages of the signing, the compromis and the acte. It was an exciting day in February, clear and sunny, when the house finally became ours, meeting the vendors for the first time at the signing in the notaires’ offices, reading through the contract in French, word by word, that we had so carefully translated weeks before. Lunch with the vendors at a nearby restaurant followed by way of celebration, a French custom to celebrate the signing of such an important contract. Maybe not customary but certainly charming was the visit the vendors wished to make with us to the nearby convent, unusually a Greek Orthodox one, on the way back to the house, to wish the sisters goodbye but not before introducing us to them, as well as showing us the wonderful array of organic wines and other produce from their farms and vineyards. We have enjoyed making further visits since.
Once back to the house, the overly-large bunch of enormous keys reappeared (a further pile of which Duncan is still sorting) and the vendor started to issue many and arcane instructions regarding the workings of everything, including, finally, the swimming pool, the last thing on our minds as we stood, shivering, in the, by then, icy-cold house as it grew dark, longing to lock it up and drive back to the rented, warm, eco-house we were staying in, to relax.
The time allowed for the necessary building work and refurbishment predictably overran, as time was taken for such things as the removal of a ceiling and several pounds of honeycomb from a deserted in-house hive. We might have known from our reading of Virgil about bees in southern Europe! Bees still love the house, swarming in a pendulous, black ball amongst the ripening apricots earlier this year (the swarm now happily resettled somewhere north of Avignon) but they seem to be attracted to the many flowers here rather than us, so we live happily alongside each other: they have been here far longer than we have. Redstarts, too, love it here, regularly building nests and assiduously raising chicks who venture out of their nest to take their first tentative steps along the high beam outside the studio before taking flight under their parents’ watchful eyes.
Our refurbishment continues, now in fits and starts as our other projects get underway, although our previous experience of old houses suggests they are ongoing projects, a labour of love. Approaching milestones, such as our first guests, our first artists’ workshop, our first writers’ workshop, all have been and are spurs to initiate and/or finalise the next stage of ‘development’. There is still work to be done at La Breche, but we want the integrity and character of this lovely time-honoured building to remain while adapting it to our needs, as well as those of our twenty-first century guests, so it can continue to offer its own special welcome to those within its ancient walls.