If you’ve ever dreamt about owning a gorgeous French apartment, I know of one for sale. Built in the 1600s, with four-meter (13-foot) ceilings, fabulous decorations above the marble fireplaces, balconies, a lovely shared interior courtyard….all renovated according to the strict rules of the historical authorities, Bâtiments de France.
The place is the apartment of our former AirBnBs. Due to a number of circumstances which I am not at liberty to discuss, we sold our AirBnBs just before Covid-19 crashed down on the globe. The buyers–nobody, in fact–thought the pandemic would go on as long as it has. I haven’t spoken to the new owners, but I was surprised to see a familiar picture as I perused listings recently. I read them mostly out of curiosity, trying to figure out where they are, to know what is behind the sometimes-inscrutable façades of the buildings here. I sometimes look at listings in other cities, too, but I don’t get to enjoy the detective side of figuring out where they are. Call it real estate porn. There are worse ways to enjoy some moments of escapism.
You can follow the renovation by clicking on the header “Our Renovated Apartments.” I know I need to go back and clean up the blog, fixing the size of photos so they load better and putting in “read more” breaks so you can skim the archives more easily. But this task never makes to the top 10 of my “to do” list and instead languishes down around No. 125, in the region also known as “good intentions.”
It’s technically one enormous apartment, but since we didn’t want parties and because there were two entrances, we divided the apartment into two. The street side we called La Suite Barbès and the courtyard side was L’ancienne Tannerie. It would be simple enough to turn it back into a single apartment. It’s being sold furnished. I miss it terribly–the lovingly curated furnishings, the spaciousness, the ancient tomettes, the ridiculously thick stone walls. I also miss receiving guests, telling them about the apartment, the town, France. Almost everybody was really lovely (the exception was one young couple who went on a bender, got red wine on everything and then went to the airport without saying a word). I even had coffee with some guests and wished they lived closer so we could stay friends.
So even though the apartment is no longer my business, I care deeply that it ends up in the hands of someone worthy. Reach out if you’re interested or know someone who is and I’ll send you the listing.
On another note, as soon as we were fully vaccinated we went to the U.S. for the first time in six years. Between the time we bought the tickets and our arrival, Delta (the virus, not the airline…we flew Air France) had changed the game a lot. We were, happily, in a region with low infection rates but they were still higher than in France. We were tested before leaving (free for French residents; 50€ for non-residents). Before the return, we sought out testing, just to be safe, since France didn’t require tests for vaccinated travelers. What a shock. Prices quoted ranged from $200 to $450 per person. We finally found a lab that said it was free, and I sure hope a huge bill doesn’t arrive in the mail later. Every time I pointed out how good socialized medicine is, folks would pipe up that it isn’t free–that I pay via taxes. The rate is 7%, and goes up to 13% for anybody earning more than 2.5 times minimum wage–well, employers pay this tax directly to the government for each employee, but because I’m self-employed I pay mine. Guess how much my ambulance ride, overnight hospital stay and trip to the operating room cost me when I dislocated my elbow last year? Zero, beyond my tax contribution. Although that might seem like a bargain, I sure would have rather paid the tax and not have used any medical services at all.
The other thing was that almost nobody we saw in this part of the U.S. wore a mask, and people looked strangely at those who did (like us). Even at restaurants that had outdoor seating, some refused to serve us outside, leading to much googling and driving around in search of alternatives. It was miserably hot and humid, and it wasn’t much fun to dine while sweating profusely. But we were determined to avoid the risk of indoor dining, especially with people who were so lax. I had a goal of eating either Mexican food or corn on the cob (or both) at every meal, so some restaurants were necessary. Though one of my siblings made some exceptionally delicious vegetarian enchiladas–with fresh corn among the goodies inside. Heaven.
One book I picked up on the trip was “Year of Wonders,” by Geraldine Brooks. It’s a novel about a real village in England that isolated itself for a year around 1666, when it was struck by the Plague. Published in 2001, it predates the current pandemic but is so on the mark about so many things. Plus, it’s really well written. I couldn’t put it down, and read it in two days. And the author is a truly lovely person whom I had the pleasure of meeting years ago. I was remiss in not reading it sooner, but maybe it wouldn’t have affected me had I read it years ago, compared to now. The villagers moving the church services outdoors, everyone standing three feet apart….goodness, what resonance. Also, the various theories of how the illness spread, and missing the mark, so similar to the focus on disinfecting everything (groceries) early in this pandemic when in fact the problem was in exhaled air.
It feels good to be home, especially at the rentrée, when the start of the school year signals the return of “normal” life even for those without students in their household. The market was bustling with locals loading up their shopping trolleys rather than tourists shooting photos. I didn’t splurge on figs, so delicate, and instead went later to a copse of trees I know on the edge of a field in the country. The ground was covered with fallen fruit. I picked about 10 small figs and ate a few more on the spot, along with some wild blackberries that were nearing the end–starting to get a little hard from the hot, dry weather. I never expected to love figs. I knew them only from Fig Newtons and dried figs, equally revolting. Kind of like prunes and plums, where you can’t believe they are the same fruit.
On the plane, I saw a few good movies–“J’accuse,” with Jean Dujardin about the Dreyfus Affair, and “The Good Liar,” with Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen. You know they are great actors, but they are so natural that you forget it and are sucked into the story, which was enticing on its own. I also finally saw “Le Diner des Cons,” which was a little too madcap for my tastes, but still good. And “La La Land,” which I hated. Well, it was too banal to deserve an emotion like “hate,” but it was formulaic and I just don’t appreciate “Hollywood” movies. There are some movies coming out that I would like to see: “Délicieux,” supposedly the story of the first restaurant (in France, of course), set in 1789; and “The French Dispatch,” by Wes Anderson. I might venture, double-masked, into a very early showing of those two.
How was your summer? Does life feel normal to you?