A lopsided stone arch at the end of the main house, which would once have let carts into the courtyard…
From The Lantern
Come with me, I want to show you something. Here’s the entrance arch to “Les Genévriers”, slightly askew but remarkably solid, but we won’t go through there just now. We’re walking behind the main farmhouse, heading down the alleyway which was once a centuries-old path up the hill from the town far below.
…the alleyway between the big house and the row of workers’ cottages.
In the building on the right is the place where a dream first came true, in the most literal sense. I’m a big dreamer, in every way – a daydreamer and a cineaste by night. One scene that recurs quite often for me, in various dream guises, is that of walking through a house where I live and finding rooms I never suspected were there.
Perhaps you have that one too. I don’t think it’s all that unusual. I read once it was supposed to signify personal development and the subconscious acknowledgement of more potential if certain areas of the mind could only be unlocked. In my dreams, it’s always a fascinating and welcome discovery, anyway.
When we bought our property in
, it was the rambling nature of the buildings that appealed immediately. As described fairly faithfully in The Lantern, it is more than a simple house: it is an old hamlet. We had seen it twice before we signed the purchase documents, once inside and out with the vendor’s agent and a second time inspecting the outside only, rather less officially. France
There was certainly an element of reckless folie de grandeur about our purchase of the place, but we had fallen under its spell and there was no going back. We’d half-joked for years that top of our material wish-list would be a ruined hamlet in the Luberon, and suddenly – totally unexpectedly - here it was, and what’s more, in what we considered the ideal location. If we hadn’t gone for it, we would have regretted our lack of courage for evermore.
Arriving that first July, ready for adventure, we quickly realized that the main farmhouse was well-nigh uninhabitable. There were ominous cracks right across the floor of the top storey and the remaining bedrooms were cramped and full of dead lizards and insects. So the first summer – and for a few years afterwards - we slept in the building across the alleyway. This long edifice was once a line of farm workers’ cottages but already converted into two apartments. At the end was another small locked house (with no key) that we had never seen inside.
The woodworm-y entrance door to the downstairs apartment leads into a little sitting room. A large high-ceilinged bedroom is a few steps below, and there is a bathroom with wonderful views and its own outside terrace.
We’d been sleeping in the bedroom for several nights before I thought to investigate what I thought must be another cupboard, tucked away down another short flight of stairs, that I’d never even noticed when the estate agent showed us round.
The wooden door was truly small, but on the other side was a fair sized room. It was damp and full of cobwebs, but thrilling nevertheless. If you’ve ever lived in a city, you know that rooms just don’t get missed off property details. But here it was – the room we never knew was there.
…the doors that opened into new rooms that hadn’t seemed to exist.
As it turned out, it was only the first such discovery, as we hacked down the overgrown garden and rampant ivy and the buildings seemed to expand organically around us. The garden door that led not to a tool store but a vaulted wine cave stretching under the courtyard, still with its old – empty! – barrels, was even more exciting. The locked house at the end of the alleyway eventually yielded to force and gave up its terrible stench of drains and ancient lintels and shallow stone wash basin.
When I look back now, that time does take on a dream quality, more so because it did feel as if we were doing something more than slightly crazy. But along the way we have gained far more than extra rooms. We’ve found that a dream really can come true – maybe more than one.