Monday, 8 August 2011

Rooms we didn't know were there


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 France, 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.

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.       


20 comments:

Richard said...

Deborah, je veux t'adresser mes félicitations. Oui, tu as l'esprit français, et ça me plaît beaucoup. Ta maison, tu l'as bien choisie. Elle est typique et bien réelle. Tu partages et tu t'enthousiasmes pour la vie villageoise. Et puis, ta décoration est sobre, authentique, sans surplus qui est pourtant habituel aux Américains.
Bravo, Deborah, je t'adresse un diplôme amical de l'esprit français!

Julia Munroe Martin said...

This is very very cool! I love living in an old house because of these discoveries -- of course your house is far older so it has even more hidden treasures to be discovered. I love the way you end this post, with what you found being like a dream come true. (and I love the beautiful photos too)

Maureen said...

Wonderful post, Deborah. What an amazing property you own.

Janel said...

What a fabulous place for your imagination to go wild! Hidden doors and long forgotten rooms. I'm so glad you got to include them in your book.

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

A hamlet with hidden rooms... I would be in heaven. I read your post three times just to absorb the details and the layout.

I just received an email that my copy of The Lantern is expected for delivery on Aug 11th! Yay!!

Bises,
Genie

louciao said...

sigh. What wonderful dreams come true! Obviously, my own have been too small. Your hamlet discovery and transformation of it into your home makes for a fascinating story. I love your tours.

Jacqueline said...

Love the photos! The doors and arches would make lovely watercolor paintings.

Lisa Erin said...

Such a sense of mystery I get from this post. So atmospheric. Thanks for sharing. By the by, I'm very excited as I was alerted to the fact that my copy of 'The Lantern' has been sent off, and I should get it in the next day or two. I am really looking forward to reading it! :)

Elizabeth Young said...

Wonderful! One's imagination must truly be able to run wild on your property. Your home is one huge antique with a myriad stories of its' own to tell! What a treasure...

Pet said...

Calanques, Cassis, le Luberon. I've found your beautiful blog completely by chance, following a comment I liked at Yvonne Osborne's blog.
It's like you made my dream of always. Live in the Luberon and write. It will be a pleasure to follow your blog.

le blÖg d'Ötli said...

Des centaines de portes à pousser et de fenêtres à ouvrir comme autant de possibilités offertes par la vie à qui veut bien prendre la peine de le faire.

Je fais souvent le même rêve que toi ! et, avec ton texte, aujourd'hui, j'en ai un de plus ;) Magie de mots et des images !

MuMuGB said...

Hello from London no riots today-! Houses in Provence usually have a complicated layout with lots of hidden rooms. well done for buying a hamlet (very brave of you!. So, what did you do with the hidden rooms?

Forest Dream Weaver said...

Deborah,I love the old door in the first photo,the weathered colours and textures are incredibly beautiful.Following your bliss has certainly led you on a splendid creative adventure.
I've recently read Songs of Blue and Gold,a pleasant escape on a rainy afternoon....and beautifully written!A writer friend has borrowed my copy of The Lantern and I look forward to reading it on it's return.

aguja said...

How fantastic1 It is all I dreamed of as a child, in my imagination. I was always looking for secret rooms and passages, thinking that one day I should find at least one.
The only ones that I have found have been in my imagination. I loved following you through this post and revelled in your 'finds'.
Thak you!!

Adiante said...

Oui, le coup de coeur qui nous lie à notre maison, apportant rêve, courage ...

Mais à force de travaux, nous nous lassons parfois !

As-tu rêvé découvrir un trésor dérrière une porte cachée ?

the crafty chicken said...

what a wonderful place that must be, i felt i was discovering those rooms with you. I am currently reading the lantern and this blog is just such a clever idea to help the reader picture the scene.

Deborah Lawrenson said...

Thank you all so much again for your wonderful comments - and for buying the book, of course. And welcome to those of you who are new here.

Muriel asked what we do with the hidden rooms - we are still deciding, letting our imaginations work at leisurely pace. In their raw state, they are also part of the adventure tour for young visitors armed with hurricane lamps...

As for the treasure that Adiante asks if we ever dreamed about - well, there was supposed to be treasure here, but I suspect it has long disappeared into the back streets of Marseille if anyone stumbled across it! Or perhaps, as Elizabeth hints, the place is its own treasure.

Relish said...

When I was a little girl we used to stay in this huge farmhouse in the Dordogne every summer. Me and my brother could just lose ourselves in the spooky old corners and huge orchards for days on end :-) However, there was one door in particular that captured my imagination...in the living room (which was always so cold and dark) there was a door we could never open that led into the tower at the end of the building and I was TERRIFIED of it. I suppose it was probably full of farm equipment but I had a whole other world back there in my mind.....:-) **shiver**

vanessafrance said...

I envy you. Although old, our house contains no more secrets in that sense - apart from who built it, who lived here, etc. Many of these old French houses developed over the centuries, bits were built on, bits were bricked up, and it all adds up to a delightfully mysterious jumble.

The entrance to our barn is very similar to the archway into your property, although ours has managed to remain more upright during its almost 300 years of existence.

ARTFULEYE said...

So happy for you. LOVELY spot. Amazing home and grounds. Can't wait to read The Lantern. Sending God's blessings from Southern Oregon.

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