Sunday, April 21, 2013

Quoitus with Pan ...

... given his perverse sense of humour, playing silly games with the old goat-legged god is bound to end up in tears. Or worse. Being flayed alive is not unheard of, the guy is so not a good loser. And other possible spellings of that word would have consequences you might not like either. Still, gives you an idea of the sort of search terms that the great Google sends this way. It's not as though I ask for them, you know.

Anyway, I decided, having nowt better to do last Sunday, and it being - exceptionally - fine, not to say bloody hot and pardon my French, to head off to Chanaz, up at the north of the lac du Bourget and on the canal de Savières, from the Rhône to the aforesaid lake. That turned out to be a mistake, at least in the short term.

For it is a tradition, or an ancient charter or something, that on a Sunday the French will dress up to the nines in all sort of improbable, uncomfortable, and sometimes unbelievable costumes, leave their homes en masse to go find some unpolluted spot of great natural beauty, and then spoil it, by being there.

And so it was that, having cunningly left home around midday, confidently expecting most families to be tucking into the second pastis before immolating the sacrificial lamb chops (the barbecue, when feasible, is also sacred around these parts), I discovered that half Chambéry had had the same idea as I.

As the voie rapide was never intended to hold 10 000 cars on it at any given time, not all  - or any of them, in fact - doing 90 kph anyway, this did mean that the trip was just a little less rapid than I could have wished.

And when I did finally get out of the steaming cloaca, things were not helped by my having taken a quick look at the map before leaving home, and then promptly forgetting the road numbers, and important directions like "turn left onto the D914" (which would have been unmarked anyway) "at the second roundabout in Bollène". (This is apparently called "preparedness", or "not being at home to Mr. Cockup", and we will have no part of it around here.)

Also, did I mention that it was hot? I had dressed for winter, completely neglecting the fact that it was slowly climbing up to 28° out there. Bugger.

Random neurons firing, bringing to mind the plastic bag I saw at the supermarket the other day, proudly marked as being "oxo-biodegradeable". Does this, I wonder, mean that it only breaks down if boiled in Oxo? Not a nice thought.

And then, driving down to the nationale following what I at first took to be a builder's van, until I woke up enough to see that it was marked "Bardiglio Déconstruction". I can only assume that these are the people you call in when you're having trouble with some obscure passage in a text - probably Beckett or Pinter or something, I always have trouble with those - and need help. Never be ashamed to call in professionals when it's needed, I say.

Splenetic thought - ate at les Barjots again the other day. Still can't think why. I took the foie gras, which is - in my admittedly limited experience - usually edible, but it still looked very lonely down at one end of its foorball-field sized plate, with a thin dribble of unnameable jus connecting it to a small sad pile of salad leaves at the other end. And there wasn't enough bread. Still, on the bright side, the drinks arrived on time and in the correct order - with the exception of the coffees, which turned up before dessert. People have been shot for less.

Knowing full well that we were heading off south the next day, we could think of nothing better to do Friday night than go down to Grenoble to see - probably for the last time - the annual Upstage production, and to say goodbye to the long-suffering Mr. Simpson, who organises them. And as it happened to be their 20th anniversary they'd chosen to put on the first play they ever did, Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy.

An unfortunate family name if you ask me
We've been going for years, ever since Malyon first got involved when she was at the Cité Internationale, in fact, and we've never seen a dud. Always impresses me, the dedication and the professionalism and, let's face it, the talent of the kids involved - mind you, I suppose I shouldn't be calling them kids. Especially as many of them seem to tower over me. Whatever, a real pleasure - as always: sad that we won't be around to see what comes next.

Anyway, not totally satisfied with getting to bed around midnight I set the alarm for 4:30, it duly made cheery noises at me until it was satisfied that I was sort of awake, and I stumbled downstairs to catch a short nap whilst the coffee machine gurgled happily in the kitchen. And so it was that we left about 5:30, under driving rain and a particularly violent, gusty, spiteful gale, for points south.

The future Shamblings
First stop Siran, to meet with Peter's tame notaire, Me Vasseur. Who turned out to be a friendly woman with an extremely competent air to her, and also excellent english. Which I suppose is normal enough, given the number of them in the area. She asked us a few questions about our plans, we explained, and she gave us some advice as to the best way to set things up ("keep it simple" was basically what it boiled down to), and we left, after promising faithfully to e-mail her copies of the odd document she'd need to establish the compromis de vente. (From our point of view that would be the compromis d'achat, I guess, but you know what I mean.)

And from thence, after a quick pit-stop in Lézignan (hint: supermarket club sandwiches are every bit as dreadful as those to be found on the autoroute, and for much the same reasons), we met up with Peter and Lesley and James the Builder outside the house at Moux, and finally got to take a proper look around inside the barn.

For some reason I had expected James to be a large solid man of about my age, rather given to sucking the end of a pencil and nodding dubiously: he turned out to be a young wiry English guy who'd spent about five years in the South Island and who had, through no fault of his own, picked up a Noo Zilder girl-friend.

So our whole little procession, tailed by a tall ascetic-looking ginger-headed Frenchman dressed all in black (whom I initially took for a decadent poet, such as one finds in these places, but later discovered to be Lesley's dancing partner) trooped into the barn for an inspection.

The place was bloody huge: about 360m² on the ground, two floors and you'd probably want to build a third one in on top just to avoid wasting the space: we had thought of two gîtes but you could easily have stuck four or five in there, along with a large sunny terrace and a courtyard garden, plus an office for me and a couple of workshops for Margo ... after an hour or so wading through batshit and just admiring the sheer volumes of the place we left, and decided against buying the place.

Let's face it, the seller was asking 69K for it, we could probably have got someone to beat him down (which is kind of like beating up, but more painful), but the actual purchase price rather faded into insignificance when we looked at the work required. Could have done something really wonderful with it, if we had the money to sink into it, but there is no way we are going to even think about investing half a million, even if we could persuade the bank to lend it to us.

Given that the chiffre d'affaires for a single gîte is estimated at about 4K a year on average, an ROI of 3.2% is kind of frightening, so we've reluctantly abandoned that idea. On the bright side, it does mean that we can pay cash for the house and take out a teensy loan to pay for getting it up to scratch for some top-notch chambres d'hôte, so that's alright then. Or maybe we should not pay cash and borrow what we can, and put the money somewhere to earn interest. Will have to look at that.

Whatever, Lesley and the moody black-clad guy went off to Narbonne to tango, and we went back to the house to take a better look around with James and, incidentally, to meet the owners. Who turned out to be Celine and Jim, an English couple in their late sixties I guess, and so of course we got offered tea ... they seemed quite pleased to see us, surprising really considering the insultingly low offer we made for the place, and as we left she said that it'd be nice to see a dynamic young couple moving into the village. I looked around to see who she was talking about, then realised that it was us. I suppose everyone's young, from a sufficiently distant viewpoint.

And finally, before driving back, we managed to find the time to wander about the village. It's one of those provençal places which you tend not to notice very much because the houses are built of stones and those terracotta roof tiles that are all more or less the same colour as the surrounding earth, and after a couple of centuries of baking under the sun they've just sort of faded into the landscape so that from a distance it looks like just another jumble of rock in the countryside, with only the odd quirky roofline and the church tower sticking out from the hilltop to indicate that people have actually been there and built things. That, and the great black pines that mark out the cemetery.

I suppose there must have been some quite wealthy families there at some time too, because the cemetery is full of imposing mausoleums testifying to the obscene wealth, poor taste and odd names of past generations. Still, it's rather pleasant in the shade of the trees, with the resinous smell of pines in the air. Be rather a good spot for a picnic, really. If you're careful not to step on anyone's toes.

And then, as we walked back to the car in the place de l'Eglise we passed the open door of the little chapel dedicated to Saint Régis, horny-handed son of the soil and, it seems, patron saint of bobbin lace-makers (only 1€ the taper to burn away your sins, a bargain if your soul could do with washing and you can't afford to have it dry-cleaned), and a wall-eyed kitten that had been comfortably curled up on the infant Jesus looked at us curiously, stopped paying such immense attention to its privates, and decided that we were its new friends. I guess we'll be seeing one another again.

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