Friday, April 9, 2010

Petit Clos "coup de foudre"

Well, a lot can change in a few days. Especially when you have decided to go for it - "it" being to take the biggest risk you have ever taken or probably ever will, in your life. We loved our first farmhouse down the hill from the village of Sumensac and were able to view it the day after Paul had called the owner for us. Since the owner lived out of the area, his neighbor (who happened to be Theirry's mother of course because things like this just keep happening to us) was able to show us the house and property which we loved. It had so much potential and we were seriously entertaining how we could turn the barns into gites. Only problem was, there was a neighbor living in one of the barns who had not paid rent for years. A "freeloader," as Isabelle was so keen on saying after I introduced her to this new English word, whom the current owner could not legally force out. French law is very interesting in this regard and once again, the people are very well protected, except in the case of the owner in this situation.

Plus, we found out that the owner was not interested in selling this barn even if we could get the man out. So, as much of we loved our first farmhouse that we had been fantasizing about since January, we had to set our sights elsewhere which just happened to come up the next day.

While "websurfing," as my old fart husband likes to say, Hank found this sweet little farmhouse with large barns and loads of land on our British acquaintance/realtor's website: . Rosalind is the same woman that we almost rented a beautiful apartment in Duras that she and her husband renovated when we thought we could stay through the end of June. Anyway, as he is driving through the countryside looking for this farm (with no address mind you), Rosalind phones to let me know that the farm is in a village called St. Jean de Duras, just past village's only boulangerie and just down the road. With Hank on the other line, I begin to relay this while he informs me that he is right in front of the exact boulangerie as we speak. Another sign perhaps?

So, he sees it, falls in love, picks me up. I see it, it's "coup de foudre" (love at first sight) and with just days before we are due to leave the area, we make an offer, meet with our bank representative at Banque Populaire to discuss a loan, have our offer accepted, schedule the "diagostic de l'existant," prepare a complete inventory of the house and barns as the owner has asked us if we would like him to leave any house's contents (why, yes please, we'll take all the antiques, tools and equipment thank you!), meet with the notary and sign a "compromis de vente" the day before we depart. Oh, and Thierry informs us on our last night that when he worked on this farm as a teen (bien sur), there was a bucket of gold found under one of the trees. Maybe there was more buried long ago and now Thierry and Hank plan to be partners when we return and of course, Hank is already shopping online for metal detectors. All we need now is the rainbow to guide us.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


I’m not sure whom I have told, but as many of you know, we have decided to return to the States on April 15, when our rental agreements at both our current gite and the one back home in Topanga, are up. We return a bit reluctantly as we would actually have liked to stay to at least the end of the school year (late June), if not longer, but dealing with weekly issues of house and pets from 7000 miles away, became just too frustrating, not to mention, expensive. And if not for our dear friend, Fariba, who has really been the one dealing with these problems in our absence, we probably would have returned much earlier.
Anyway, even though it is quite a disappointment, we still appreciate just how fortunate we have been to have this 4-month experience at all. And since we still have a little over a month remaining, we decided to make the most of every second we have left. At least, that was our mindset when we set out to plan a 10-day trip to the north of Italy. I mean, “why not? We’re here, who knows when we will return? Sure, it’s thousands of miles to be driven in a relatively short period of time, but we are Americans and as such, this little jaunt is a cake walk.” Well, yes and no, I think in retrospect. A drive like this could be if you were just with your partner and broke up the drive by stopping in cute, little romantic villages or having leisurely picnics along the way. A drive like this could definitely be doable if someone didn’t have the asinine idea of taking not one, but two 13-year-old girls. I believe Hank’s quote some 12 days ago was something like, “it will be much better having two…they will keep each other entertained.”
Well, that they did. Actually, I do think that they had a great time (and I really do hope they did) as they were completely oblivious to the effect that their annoying behavior had on anyone.
I’ll start with the slob factor. Both girls had no idea the effect of leaving their clothes, toiletries and towels all over the small confinement of the rooms that the four of us shared. Which brings me to what they brought with them and what we were lugging around for the first few days until we realized the extent of their “packing.” When I decide to be “cool mom” and let them have some control over what they are bringing on vacation (with some guidelines), it inevitably backfires with “mean mom” returning to demand in frustration, “what the hell were you thinking when you packed short-shorts, light weight summer skirts and dresses, strappy, high-heeled sandals (remember it is winter still and COLD), FIVE toiletry bags (because caleigh didn’t want to have to go through her stuff so instead, threw them all into the already bloated suitcase), about 20 lbs of fashion and gossip magazines?!” So, after this discovery, we bagged up the unnecessary items and left them in the trunk of the car for the remainder of the trip.
Then, there was the constant battle between Caleigh and I over what exactly constitutes hoochie attire. Caleigh definitely used the “we’re in Florence and want to shop” argument which I countered with, “if you cannot wear your purchases, then why waste the money?” Every day she would drag me to some store to hoping that I would give my blessing on some high-heeled, sequined cfm boot and to avoid yet another argument, I would just sigh and say, “ask you dad what he thinks” which knowing better, she never did. And after a few days of this, rather than get hit up for money every day for shopping, we gave them each of the girls a 70 euro budget (about $100) to be spent between Florence and Venice any way they saw fit, but emphasized that they should only purchase items that they could actually wear. Unfortunately for Caleigh, I did not have the same control or influence over her friend and she was forced to jealously watch as her friend used part of her stipend to buy the cheapest suede and plastic made-in-china knock-off boots that she awkwardly teetered in over cobblestone streets for the remainder of the trip. It got to the point that just hearing the click-clack of those heels would cause me to grimace because it was so uncomfortable to watch. But then, a part of me also remembered being that age and having that 13-year old perception of what glamour and beauty was and I did understand, if just a little bit, just how glamorous she must have perceived herself when wearing those damned shoes.
In Florence, I did manage to find a nice mom-and-pop leather store (Gioia Chiara) on my way back from the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (long fancy name for the coolest and one of the oldest perfumerias around today that was recommended by Patsy – thanks!). I spied some fun colorful leather wallets in the window and was pleasantly surprised that they were reasonably priced. I decided to splurge a little on the girls as I really wanted them to have something from Florence that they might actually keep beyond this week’s trend and I was so happy that they liked them and wanted me to take them back when I mentioned that there were plenty of cute purses as well. Since we had already seen the prices at some of the expensive leather stores and didn’t want to risk being arrested for buying the cheap designer knockoffs outside the Duomo, this moderate shop seemed to suit everyone and both girls found purses that we were all very happy about.
While in Florence, we also managed to drag them to the Galleria digli Uffizi (Da Vinci, Botecelli), Galleria dell’ Accademia (Michaelangelo’s David & much statuary and religious tempera on wood panels), Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo & Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (all 460 steps to the top!), Plaza Signoria for a very overpriced and wonderful snack, Ponte Vecchio Bridge & the Salvatoree Ferragamo museum (tres importante for any girl).
Onward to Venice which was prettier than I could have imagined. We had a great first day getting lost and just smiling stupidly over how quaint and beautiful the buildings and canals were. The water appeared clean and didn’t smell as I had heard it could. In the evening, we had dinner in a cute little osteria called “La Patatina.” Retired to our cozy little quad room at Hotel Alex which was a nice, clean and modest family run place with hand painted furniture and views to some of the canals. Nothing fancy and I was really hoping for more of a suite setup, but it was adequate, or so I thought. At this point, I didn’t realize just how much the girls were beginning to get under my skin.
So, the next day we decide to see some sights and go to the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco. After lunch, the thought of just returning to the hotel for a few hours was unbearable to the girls as there was no internet and since they refused to read books or even play a game of cards (do anything, other than stare into space, literally). We found an internet cafĂ© and it wasn’t cheap and since I am (by this time in the trip we have spent about twice what we had originally planned), I put my foot down and said that they needed to entertain themselves without the internet. Well, that goes over about as well as you can expect and for some crazy reason (okay, maybe I was acting a little irrational by this time), Hank sort of sides with them which completely sets me off. We’re in this shabby little pizza joint run by pimply teenagers for lunch and I just get up and leave…without my map of Venice. But I don’t care, I cannot stand the thought of spending one more minute with these whiney, ungrateful and spoiled girls (well, my daughter at least) and now Hank is the enemy as well. So, I walk. And I walk. And I get lost. And I cry a little. And I really, really want to find a super nice and fancy hotel for myself and have a very nice glass of wine. If I hadn’t gotten lost, I probably would have found that hotel, but I wouldn’t have had time to cool off, which I eventually did and finally figured out my way back to the hotel. When I returned, Hank and I smoothed things over (i.e. he apologized and admitted his digression) and decided that as much as we loved Venice, it just was not the place to spend with two 13-year-old girls and we decided to cut our visit short and leave the next day.
Bellagio, Italy
I think this is where Maxfield Parrish must have found his inspiration. What an awe-inspiring place Lake Como is and Bellagio in particular. We drive north on the west side of the lake and end up in Bellagio sometime around 2pm and find a pizza/gellateria called Carillon to compliment the road food of Italian cheese puffs (not bad!) and cokes that we have been consuming on the drive up. It is really a nondescript place that is nothing like the super chi-chi hotels and restaurants that are still closed up at this time of year. We are so glad we stopped here though. The owner was incredibly friendly (similar to the nature of all the Italians we met on this trip. In fact, I don’t think I have met a warmer or friendlier nationality as a whole in my life). When he found out that we were from LA, he informed us that he had lived and worked in Santa Monica and his buddy still does run the Locanda del Lago restaurant on 3rd St. Promenade that we will definitely check out when we return. We asked him if he could recommend any place to stay for the night and since just about every hotel was still closed (and was probably out of our price range anyway), he called a friend who ran a sort of residence & resort up the road. It was called Borgoleterrazze ( and our room was amazing. Again, not the little suite I would have preferred, but large, and beautifully decorated, a view to DIE over and most important, a beautiful bathtub that I planned to take the nicest soak in.
So, we feel like we are in heaven for a bit. All that nasty, negative vibe has left my body. Caleigh and her friend seem happy too, so Hank and I decide to go back to town and scout around for a dinner place and take some late afternoon pictures as the girls begin their baths. We are gone for at least 2 hours and when we return, the girls are still in the bathroom. My big, beautiful fluffy towels are wet and scattered on the ground. The nice hotel toiletries are completely drained. Their clothes, including dirty undies are strewn about and lastly, I notice that the hair conditioner is emptied and the container in the trash can. On a scale of 1 to 10, conditioner is a 10 to me in beauty product importance as I may as well forego a shampoo without it unless I feel like looking like a puffed up poodle after a grooming. So, it was with more than a little bit of annoyance that I walked into our beautiful room and now, trashed bathroom. “What the hell?!” Caleigh’s friend suggests that I put some water in the conditioner bottle that they just finished because “sometimes that works.” I want to suggest something else, but I don’t. I start the bath water, sink into the large, luxurious tub and l think to myself that we are almost finished with this adventure so I had better make the most of it, with or without conditioner.
We end up going back to the same restaurant for dinner, which was mainly due to the niceness of the owner and also the fact that nothing else seemed to be open. We are all glad that did as I think that this dinner with her friend in her first pair of wobbly heels and Caleigh and Hank was one of our best. The manager on duty was told by the owner to expect some nice Americans from LA and they gave us incredible service. Today, I cannot remember what we ordered (and all shared) or laughed nonstop about, but I do remember that our last night in Italy was extremely special for us all.