Posted by: Corri van de Stege | July 1, 2007

Back at last – it’s been quiet.

I kept a travelogue  whilst away and will place some of that over the next few days / weeks.   The first entry was to tell you, Lara, that I kept notes so that, even though you were not there, you would be able to read about it later.  After all, you should have been there: that was the original purpose of taking on such a huge place.  Unfortunatley, it did not work out.  However, we must take you to France some time, the Vendee is lovely.  The notes will also serve me well for future stories, I hope, part of the recommended ‘notebook’ for all aspiring writers…

Week 1: entry 2 

The gite is very large, one of four or so on an estate, ours the largest it seems, near Fontenay le Comte in the Vendee. 

Coming off he motorway we take a wrong turning, tired and irritable after a long drive from Dieppe through alternating downpours and hot sun on the windscreen.  We find the right road, and arrive some ten miles later.  The high chair is there, ready for your use as well as a baby cot, the swimming pool and swings in the garden.  Inside the cottage is a mixture of very old, heavy beamed ceilings and modernised white tiles downstairs and wooden floors upstairs.  Downstairs, the rooms are all large across the front, wooden window frames, a couple of patio doors looking out on the large gravelled yard with the swimming pool, gated for safety.  It does not seem quite warm enough yet, although the sun, when out is quite hot, even this time in late afternoon.  It’s all a bit of a horsy affair downstairs, the dining room has a huge old dining table, seating 8 comfortably, with rickety chairs around, wooden, and the first one I sit on collapses so we decide to change them all round with the higher, more solid affairs that are placed around the room against the wall. Saddles, stirrups, reins, cart harnesses as well as picture frames with more horses and carriages adorn the four walls of the high ceilinged room.  The dining room has the kitchen on one side and the ‘lounge’ cum sitting room on the other.  The latter again adorned with pictures of horses, a very old piano, closed, and a huge imitation leather brown sofa with on each side a sagging comfortable looking chair, all facing the open fire, inviting you to sit down and read. 

The kitchen has all mod cons including dishwasher and microwaves, and a door opens to the front yard.  Further along the other side of the sitting room a hall with toilet – one of three or so in the house – stairs lead upstairs with three large bedrooms divided with a long corridor across the back of the house and two bathrooms at each end, one an en-suite.  The bedrooms are all colour coordinated, one blue, one green and one soft white and red.  Although modern bathrooms, the floors are all dark wood, and creaking, heavy beams everyhwere

We pile our books, laptops and dictionaries along the walls in the dining room and on the table.  This will be good for writing and pondering.  My next  ‘creative writing’ submission will have to be forged here over the next two weeks, and I am also determined to write further chapters of the book, in the back of my mind. 

The owner speaks English with a heavy accent, he looks a retired jockey, trim, slight and completely in charge.  His partner’s English is non-existent so I try my best to retrieve as much of my French as possible, not having used it for years on end and tired after the long drive.  It turns out she is his sister.    She has the tanned leathery look of someone who has spent a lifetime sunbathing, skin destroyed but very dark, giving it the deceptive healthy look, pink lipstick to set it off.  She smiles a lot but otherwise does not say much, apart from nudging him once or twice.

They show us around the place, obviously proud of the space, he is business like and back in the sitting room I get out the deposit from my handbag, remembering the instructions that came with the travel papers telling us to hand over 500 euros as a deposit, not making them ask for it.  I have the 500 euros but all in 10 euro bills, the local post office in England had run out of all larger denominations and although I had a few 20 euro bills I show him the pile and start counting, wondering again why England is so determined not to join the euro, it would make life so much easier when going abroad.  When I get to 400 euros he tires of it: ‘that’s enough’ he says ‘keep the rest, 400 will do, you will need euros.’  He probably thinks that this is all I have.  ‘It’ll be the deposit against breakages’.  Can I also have a cleaner at the end?  I have no intention of spending my precious holidays trying to keep this huge place clean and tidy, as instructed by the travel papers.  ‘You don’t want to do any cleaning?’ he asks ‘Pas du tout?’ and he makes the gesture of finality, palms down, spreading out his arms.  ‘Pas du tout’ I confirm.  That’s all right then, he will deduct 20 euros from the deposit at the end of our stay, his wife will organise the cleaning.  Small price to pay I think.

Travelogue – entry 3 

I have now finished ‘the Shadows of he wind’, reading while on the ferry, waiting for the ferry and finally the last chapter or so before going to bed.  It really is quite a simple story, about a good boy, David, supported by a number of good adults disguised as father, a poor beggar picked up from the street who turns out to have been a good guy in the civil war and various other acquaintances and people he meets on his quest for a mysterious author, who has vanished.  Unwittingly, but because he is trying to find this writer, David unleashes the anger and murderousness of a bad guy, Fumin, supported by some cowardly henchmen who are too scared to obstruct the wishes of their boss, who is out to kill of anything or anyone that has ever caused his wrath, in particular during the civil war.  There’s a yarn of plenty of murder, melodrama, love, mystery and thriller wrapped in gothic plots and ghosts to keep you reading, just enough links to reality there that you could think this was happening for real.  Yes, a good read that certainly has kept my mind of treacherous work thoughts and stressful and sleepless nights.  Time for more books now – will keep you posted.


  1. An excellent description. I see everything you describe, seachanges. Welcome back. By the way did you try the “beurre en boule”? home made butter French style.

  2. Unfortunately I didnot. However, we did sit in a very deserted village in a very deserted coffee place that had not served any but obviously was a ‘jeux de boules’ (quite different!) gathering place with lots of prizes etc. : the only thing that kept the place going I think! The coffee took a long time coming!

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