After touring the first house on realtor Bourdais' list, we drove back down the hill toward the river and downtown Montrichard. At the intersection between the road to Amboise and the road to Chenonceaux, we turned right toward Chenonceaux (the famous château is only 6 or 7 miles to the west). Then almost immediately we turned left and drove down a long street lined with platanes, plane trees, all pruned in the French style. We came to the little road that runs parallel to the river and turned right. We were in a suburban, residential neighborhood.
The house we were going to see was on the side of the road farthest from the banks of the river, just over a kilometer (about half a mile) from the center of Montrichard in one direction and also a kilometer from big supermarket in another. Directly across the street from the house there was a campground, which was of course empty on this December day — however, we immediately imagined it crowded with noisy campers partying on summer evenings. The house itself was attractive enough from the outside — two stories, very typically French, with a big yard.
The main living area was on what we call the second floor in the U.S. It's how our house in Saint-Aignan is built. This style of house is called un pavillon sur sous-sol — un pavillon is a detached house surrounded by a yard or garden, and the sous-sol (basement) in this case is not underground but at ground level. The elderly woman who lived there was at home. That surprised us, because in San Francisco the people who are selling their house are always asked to leave the premises when potential buyers are coming to see the place. It's hard to express your honest opinions about a house when the person or people who live in it are listening.
The owner's husband had passed away recently, and she was going to move into a retirement home. The house was stuffed full of furniture and knickknacks. The rooms were small. It was all dark and kind of gray. No lights were on, and some of the windows were shuttered (that’s typical in France). The kitchen needed work, but at least it had cabinets and a sink. It seemed small and crowded. There was a fireplace in the main room, but it was oddly placed so that you couldn’t really enjoy it from the sitting area. It was only visible from the dining area, which was closest to the hallway and kitchen. It wasn’t a very spacious living room. I think there were just two bedrooms.
Above is a wonky photo of the house now that I grabbed from Google Maps street view. On the ground floor — le sous-sol — there was a garage and an improvised living space, including a little sitting area, plus what is called une cuisine d’été (a summer kitchen) and a double bed. But none of the space was completely finished. Concrete block walls and rugs on poured concrete floors were the style of the downstairs — it was a basement. There were areas where a lot of boxes full of who-knows-what were piled in corners. I imagined the couple who lived in the house would retreat to the basement when the weather turned really hot in the summertime. That's how people live here because they don't have air-conditioning.
We also went up into the attic, which was an unfinished space. It was spacious and could be converted into more living space, Bourdais said. There was fiberglass insulation just laid on the attic floor, with its paper backing turned up. Somehow, the river and flooding came into the conversation. The woman told us that in the last flood, two years earlier, the water had only come up to the front door but hadn’t actually come into the house. She showed us how far up it had come. That information and explanation didn't inspire confidence.
Next door, there was a long, narrow strip of land that was partly planted as a vegetable garden and partly covered in what you could only call junk — an old car, I think, piles of rocks or paving stones, firewood, and farm equipment. It wasn't a junk yard but it was definitely had a rural appearance. The neighbor's house was on the back end of the lot, a couple of hundred meters from the road. I guess it was far enough from the river to avoid having water come up to its front door during floods.
This house had an enormous back yard. It was nicely planted with fruit trees. It was flat ground (probably a little soggy). That was a plus. But it wasn't at all private. As we said au revoir to the owner and got into the car, Bourdais said he needed to point out to us that there was a "gypsy" camp just up the road, only about 500 yards distant. That's it in the photo above, and I've marked it and the house on a Google Maps aerial view above that. Bourdais took us to see the site and explained that one of the elders of this group of gens du voyage had died on that spot a few years earlier, so it was considered sacred ground by his descendants. They returned every year and stayed a while. Since the road we were on dead-ended at the encampment, the only way to get there required passing by the house we had just looked at. Disclosing all that was a legal obligation, I think.
We drove back to the realty office. I was feeling more than a little discouraged. When we got there, Bourdais asked us what we thought. We said we wanted to continue looking. Good, he said. I’d like to show you some houses over near Saint-Aignan, which is only 10 miles up the river. There are some good prospects over there. Fine, we said. We didn't remember having ever heard of Saint-Aignan. I needed to look at a map. Bourdais asked us to come back at 2:30 the next day, so we'd have a free morning before continuing.