What kind of less mobile "container" did we put all that stuff in when it arrived? The house we had recently found and decided to buy was built in the 1960s — it must have been finished just before 1970 dawned. In that way, the house is as old and no older than my lifetime experience in France; I arrived in Paris for the first time on December 30, 1969.
Les Bouleaux — that's the official name of the house and the land it sits on — was built backwards on the lot, in my humble opinion. The house faces east, but it feels more like it's facing north. The big back yard, where we have our vegetable garden, is behind the house. From the front terrace, we overlook the road and we see two neighboring houses, at least in wintertime. In summer those houses are pretty well hidden by trees. There's no front yard at all.
Maybe this thing about wanting to face west is fundamentally American. In many ways, though, it would have been better for the house to face west and south. Views from the terrace (I still call it a deck, after my years in California — it's like an upstairs patio) would have included not just the garden but also the vineyard that's right outside the back gate, as well as the woods that grow along a nearby stream flowing into the Cher River. As it is, however, those nice views are what you see from the bedroom and bathroom windows.
When we came to France in December 2002 to look at houses, we were following a plan, not a dream. Being able to live out my life here is like a dream come true, for sure, but we were not guided by romantic notions of old historic farmhouses far out in the country. Our plan was more practical. We wanted a house that we could move into immediately when we decided to leave California for France — we hadn't yet made the decision to come live here full time. We wanted a comfortable place in a pleasant environment, not in suburbs but not remote either, and with a certain amount of privacy. And we wanted enough land to have a big vegetable garden.
Out of the 15 houses we inspected and considered over those four December days, before "promising" to buy this one, many felt more suburban than rural. We ruled them out. Only one or two felt more rural than this one — we live "in the country" but only three miles by car from the center of Saint-Aignan — and those needed extensive work of all kinds. One would have almost had to be gutted. Another sat on many acres of land, but the land was barren, and there was a warehouse-type building housing an industrial bakery right across the street from it.
Several other houses we considered, including two that are also very near Saint-Aignan, sat on land that featured a significant grade or slope from back to front. One had drainage problems and the basement had a couple of inches of water standing in it. Another had no kitchen fixtures at all, and the back yard went straight up a steep hill. It had been landscaped in the French style, with little boxwood hedges lining gravel pathways, but it was hopelessly untended and overgrown. It was hard to imagine having a vegetable garden there.
The house we decided on — this one — had several advantages. It was on a decent-size plot of land that is basically flat. The land was surrounded by an eight-foot-tall hedge that provided good privacy. The house sits at the end of a paved road, so there's little traffic. But there are neighbors — eight other houses make up the "hamlet" or little settlement we live in. The hamlet and our house are basically surrounded by vineyards. And the town with its restaurants, market, and supermarkets is only a couple of minutes away, by car.
Still, it's too bad the house was built facing the wrong way on the lot. It also didn't have everything we wanted inside, either. The living/dining room seemed spacious, and the kitchen looked serviceable, but there were only two (small) bedrooms. And there was only one bathroom — well, a bathroom plus a WC, in the French style. The bathroom was enormous by French standards. It felt almost luxurious. However, we would have liked to have a third, larger bedroom and a second bathroom.
We have no regrets — that's the main thing. We've had a lot of work done on the house: new windows in the bedrooms, kitchen, WC, and bathroom. Electrical and plumbing work, mostly to add new outlets and put new faucets on all the kitchen and bathroom fixtures. We put in a shower stall. We had the
We also, finally, had the attic space converted to living space, and now we have that big bedroom/family/computer/TV room we always wanted, with as much living space overall as we had in our house in San Francisco. So here we are. It's chilly and blustery this morning. But the garden is growing, we live in France among the vines, and we haven't gone under. Unless the dollar completely crashes, or a windstorm blows us away, nous y sommes et nous y restons.