January 31, 2017
La Vieille Bastide
The order of our move here was particular. #1: House. #2 Sell the other house. #3: Find jobs and stuff. When people ask us about it, they often look at us with arched eyebrows, questioning the order. But, the house was really key. As the French say, it was a 'coup de coeur' (to fall in love immediately) - we walked in the house and forgot our other life. Immediately imagined the one we could have here.
This house is full of saga - it is palpable. Colette was convinced she felt and saw ghosts when we first arrived. I don't doubt it. It sounds dramatic, but we are living among 400 years of history and layering our story on top of it. We feel undeserving sometimes.
We went caroling around Christmas time to our neighbors (we have 3 near us). Each has a very specific take on our house. Historically, it was built and then theirs were built in relation to this house. I can always feel the scrutiny in their eyes when we meet - sizing me up: am I a good attendant/curator of this place? (I have a few strikes against me right off the bat as an American - I am seen as having very little appreciation for history, my own is far too short). To them (and maybe objectively) we are merely a historical episode in the long thread of this story. We listened to one of our neighbors play back some of her memories in this house when she was a girl; she had lived here with her family when the house was configured differently. The stonework out front chronicles a time when there was a large pond in front of the house and she spoke of when she and her sisters would try to catch the fish swimming in it. She has stories from the staircases, the old kitchens. I want to have her over and follow her around as she narrates the space.
All of the neighbors are curious about what we are up to and how we are changing the house. They are all connected in some way to it. Most riveting is the question of water! Jean-Marie, the prior owner of this house, was not exaggerating in our introductory meeting when he cited water as the key issue in this region. Both lack of it and flooding. Everything is extreme in Provence. When it rains, we are inundated. One of our neighbors has taken the others to court over water pathways and lines of property in relation to rain. Xavier is making good friends by having huge pits dug around our house, filled with stones, and then re-covered (puits perdus) - essentially, pits to consume the floods.
I like the small details best. The ceilings and the walls and the floors. Nothing we fill it with is interesting compared with the bones of the house itself.
This is the original kitchen/oven of the house (on an upper floor) - now laundry room
I love where the floors meet like a strange puzzle that wasn't assembled quite right
Shutter people, heads holding the wooden shutters open when the mistral comes whipping things around
And the roof tiles. Xavier told me that these tiles were originally molded on women's thighs - hence their shape!