Sir Renaissance has roots in Auvergne. This is one of the reasons we wanted to come, so he could share them with me. (Another reason was the cheap holiday and the kids club, but more on that later).
We decided to go visit the town where he spent his summers so we packed the kids in the car and drove an hour to a completely different stretch of volcanos. Where we’re staying in St Sauves, it’s quite wild looking, but over near Clermont-Ferrand it looks more like country with rolling green hills, farms and oak forests covering the hilly volcanos.
The drive was melodic. We drove up and down roads as they curved through canopies of flowering trees. Clouds of pollen would float towards our windshield before darting upwards in aerodynamic harmony as our car drove by. Occasionally we would hear birds singing in the trees through our closed window and the hum of the motor.
As we approached the village, we decided to stop first at the cemetery to visit Sir’s grandparents.
We went to three
before finding the right one.
We were prepared; the children had stopped to pick daffodils on the way,
which I tied into bouquets.
His grandmother loved wildflowers best.
She was a wild one herself, come to think of it. When she was a teenager, she took a boat alone to Costa Rica to stay with a family where she spent the summer riding bareback on the beach. And once she traveled unannounced to visit the famous artist Kisling with her paint set and canvas, saying she had come for painting lessons. She knew he didn’t actually give painting lessons, but she was counting on her good looks. Sure enough, he said he didn’t give lessons, but took pity on a young (beautiful) woman who had traveled so far and ended up giving her some anyway. In the end, her mother commissioned him to paint her wedding portrait.
We found Sir’s grandparents’ tomb, which was probably the most unassuming one in the whole cemetery, according to their wishes.
A simple, concrete slab.
From the cemetery, we could see the medieval fortress in the distance that she had inherited. She eventually gave it up because they could only afford one house and she preferred the manor over the drafty chateau.
I know you will think I am joking, but I am not.
Sir’s grandmother came from an old family. As is the case with most of the French, this prestige didn’t trickle down, except in name only. You see, after the French revolution, laws were put in place to create equal social-economic status through little things such as inheritance tax (which ensures that the only way you can afford to actually pay the tax on that little mansion you inherited is to sell the property to pay it, or to sell off bits of the land around the house until you have this gorgeous mansion surrounded by condos). In addition, the inheritance is divided equally amongst all dependents (including the children of mistresses!) so there is no way a large property can remain intact within one family.
In England (please correct me if I’m wrong Brits), the firstborn son still inherits the entire property. The benefit of this is that the property remains large enough to continue to generate income substantial enough to support the lucky families. Well .. the lucky firstborn son. The second son has to become a curate or something. In France, this could never happen. Once you divide the majestic properties into part and parcel, the only way to generate income is to sell it. Or to actually work.
So we trekked over to see our family inheritance, now in the hands of other people.
We stopped in the café that was located in the old wine cellar and had some ice cream.
We chatted the lady up and mentioned that Sir’s family used to own it, at which point she asked “which part?”
“Euh … didn’t it used to be owned by just one family?”
“Ah, not since the French revolution.”
Drat that revolution. So I guess Sir’s family only owned part of the medieval castle. However, it is a medieval castle (first stone laid in 1381) that even has its own dungeon where an unfaithful wife was cast by her husband before being tied to the tail of a horse and dragged to her death. Sigh. How romantic! How his grandmother could have given this up is beyond me?
And then we went to visit the other house, the one she kept. The one my beau-père and his sisters were born in, and the one Sir spent all his summers growing up. This house has great nostalgia for my husband, with its vast grounds that housed orchards,
and parks, and springs from the ground that you could drink from, fountains kept on all year long, branches that could be bent into bow and arrows and bushes where you could pick as many red currents as you like. He remembers the evenings spent in the living room where all you could hear was the slow toc, toc of the grandfather clock and the crackle of kindling and magnolia leaves as they burned on the hearth.
This house used to have such extensive property associated to it that the village was an afterthought, but with each generation, land was sold to pay the taxes and it was reduced significantly while the town grew in its place.
This is the house.
My husband is the firstborn son.
And to think, of all this I might have been mistress.