Monday 23 July 2007

Two weeks in "Summer"

It is now 12 months since we decided the old granary is the right house for us.

In that time we have paid many visits to the house, but work has been restricted by the amount of time we can spend there. The longest stays we have had in Preuilly is a week; Christmas 2006, February 2007, and May 2007. This time we went for broke - 2 weeks, half of which would be spent working on the house. We had booked Mme. Fouchécourt's house in Roux, near Boussay. My parents were with me, and Susan was going to join us for 4 days next weekend.

We arrived at about 19.30 on the Saturday evening, and immediately drove over to the house to pick up our supply of food and clothing. Amazing, although it hasn't stopped raining this year (this will become a lietmotif) the house didn't feel very damp, even though there were pools of water on the stairs. I think this is a result of the house being made of limestone. Hopefully, once the hole in the roof has been fixed the house will feel dry and warm during winter, and dry and cool in summer.

On Sunday it rained, so being tired from the drive the day before we had a quiet day, shopping and visiting some of the local villages. We visited la Roche Posay and walked along the abandoned rail line across the Creuse river. Although we didn't get wet we had some amazing views of approaching storm clouds, and by the time we got back to the car it was obvious the weather had set in. As we drove back through the village I was amazed that the end of the market square we were entering town by was in sunshine, but it was raining so hard at the other end (about 80 metres away) that we couldn't see any of the buildings there.
Approaching storm, la Roche Posay
On Monday it was raining (again) so we went to Richelieu and Fontevrauld. The weather turned out not too bad in the end, and we had a good day exploring the garden at Richelieu before moving on to show mum and dad the abbey which Susan and I had visited in November.

The rest of the fortnight was spent doing a couple of hours work a day, followed by an excursion. Dad and I made a shutter for the window of our storeroom (currently the guest bedroom) and mum chipped all the weeds out of the garden. In addition to this we stripped all the "lovely" 1980s wood panelling from the kitchen and the remainder of the wallpaper from the upstars rooms.

The back of the house showing the new shutter
We also paid a visit to the Philosophical Roofer. He had originally scheduled our roof for May, then June (It is now the middle of July and still no sign of work). The main problem has been the rain - he hasn't ever know anything like it, apparently. Certainly we can understand how continual rain affects how much work a roofer can do, and we certainly don't want our roof taken off while the "sunshine" is more than 99% liquid, but it is frustrating. I suspect it is just as frustrating for M. Galland, because he keeps on getting two Australians cluttering up his office and looking naively hopeful.

The main hole (or one of the main holes) in the roof is directly over the stairs, and it does get rather damp. Unfortunately, the staircase would appear to have breathed it's last, having given in to the stresses of being soaked every time it rains. The fact that mum happened to be standing on the stairs when gravity took it's course is not coincidental. No bones broken though! Of course, the damage means that we have to speak to a menuisier (roughly tanslates as joiner) to get the stairs either restored or replaced. This may be an advantage in a way - at least now we know how long the stairs will last..................

The kitchen in progress.
Our big excursion was Chenonceau, which Susan has already written about. We also visited Poitiers, a town we have driven to and through, but never spent time in. The churches are magnificent! I am not sure if the painting in them is original, restored or recent, but they are jewells. I never cease to be amazed by what can be found in the least likely of places.

Church interior, Poitiers
One of the advantages of having spent 2 weeks in the house is crystallizing our ideas for what we want to do with the house - and how we will progress.


Wednesday 18 July 2007

A Trip to Chenonceau

Chenonceau doesn't look promising from the car park. There are a dozen coaches and it doesn't look like there are many empty parking spots - but it turns out to be one of those places that swallows the punters up with ease. A few minor bottle necks in congested doorways in the chateau itself, but otherwise the numbers of visitors is not a problem. We had a simple lunch of blue cheese on 'tricolor' ficelle with fresh apricots to follow - all from Loches market earlier in the day. We had to sit on the canal bank and fend off very bold and persistant mallards because all the picnic tables were occupied, but were quickly fortified for the stroll down the driveway to the chateau. Everyone seemed to be streaming in through the front door, so we took a left turn and started in the impressive formal garden. When the crowd had dissipated we nipped in past the faded but still beautiful carved wooden front doors and began our exploration of the chateau.

Chenonceau is presented as a house of women - Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medici, Louise of Lorraine, and Madame Louise Dupin who saved it during the revolution. Any men - Louis XIV, César de Vendôme are presented in light of their relationship with the women. This is a charming conceit that I am sure is an effective drawcard to romantic women everywhere. I did think it was a bit rude of the curators to hang a 19th century 'portrait' of Catherine de Medici in the 'bedroom' of her principle rival, Diane de Poitiers though (Diane was evicted by Catherine on the death of Henri II).

The house is fairly sparsely furnished for display, but there are many fine paintings, fireplaces, painted exposed ceiling joists in the best French tradition and of course, stonkingly rare and valuable tapestries (several of which are quite entertaining if you take the time to look at the detail). Many rooms have most interesting painted textile wall coverings, albeit heavily restored in places, and of course, a range of very grand beds. The visitor reception room on the ground floor once had the most beautiful floor of blue, white and yellow maiolica tiles, now with their glaze completely worn away except on the tiles closest to the walls. In every room there were also enormous flower arrangements featuring foxtail lilies, agapanthus, copper beech and ferns and the like. Frankly, many of the visitors were much more interested in these than the furnishings. I think most people vote Louise of Lorraine's black painted bedroom as the best bit, decorated with the symbols of tragic widowhood (Henry III was assassinated) at the top of the house.

The grounds are extensive and heavily wooded, with many walks criss-crossing. We were treated to a Banded Demoiselle female in perfect glittering condition indulging in a bit of seductive wing waving in the long grass by the river, and a nuthatch hopped about up and down the base of a cedar tree long enough to be photographed several times, completely unbothered by excited wildlife enthusiasts gibbering and pointing at him from a distance of about 10m. There is a delightfully perfect 'model village' and a huge potager. Simon and I were sooooo envious, and it was soooo neat and tidy, with a section for cut flowers and some friendly donkeys at the end.