The key to happiness
Even before I ever thought I would live there, I used to daydream about living in France. Then when I knew it was a possibility that I was going to live there, I used to continue to entertain those daydreams.
At one end of the scale the flickering image in my head was me on a bicycle, swishing down a French country road, with sunflowers poking out of the carrier basket. I would be looking “oh so chic” and whistling away to my heart’s content (Whistling?!? Because I am completely useless at it in real life! Hey it’s my daydream!).
At the other end of the daydream scale, the images leaned more towards the panicky nightmarish! I would be standing in someone’s office, with something important to sign and they would be speaking at me. Their voice getting louder and louder, and me, wide-eyed, not understanding a single word.
The daydreams rarely fell in the “normal” range of the scale! We don’t really daydream about reality do we?
When we had definitely taken the decision to eek out a life in the land of sunflowers and panicky paperwork, we told all of our Burgundy crew to keep an eye out for accomodation for us. We were going to stay with mon homme’s uncle and Granny for a few weeks, but we wanted to have a good idea of where we would live pretty quickly. We knew it would be difficult as neither of us had jobs in France. On paper – we didn’t look like a good bet!
As it happened two of our friends were renovating an apartment for clients. Not just any apartment – this was in an 18th century townhouse, hidden away in the ramparts of a medieval town, overlooking a river valley. I kid you not!
They suggested to us that this could be ideal. It was around the corner from a primary school and the town was big enough to allow access to most services. The maternity hospital was there too. They said they would ask the notaire who was managing the building if there was a possibility that we could rent it (notaires are responsible for a huge amount of legal paperwork in France. Everything from property to marriages). He in turn asked his clients, the owners of the townhouse.
When I first saw the photos, I was sitting at my desk in work. I got a phonecall from mon homme, words tumbling over the phoneline at speed, telling me to check my in-box quickly. Even though the photos were taken on a grey day, I still couldn’t quite believe the fairytale like images before me! I called my colleagues in to have a look. Everyone agreed – we HAD to live there!
It was very, very strange looking at those photos. The daydream was taking on a physical appearance. When daydreams and reality suddenly decide to hold hands and sing Kum ba yah together, the clash in your mind can be both exhilarating and daunting!
We actually didn’t get confirmation that we could rent the apartment until we had arrived in France – a huge four months after the idea was first bandied about! Bienvenue en France! This is how long things take! We first received photographs of the apartment in April in Ireland, and finally took residence in September.
We had one quick viewing of the apartment, and it didn’t disappoint, looking all the more French on a sunny day. Cobblestone courtyard, stone staircase, massive rooms, big windows and a secret passageway that led to the garden! An insanely beautiful view over a bend in the river complete with a hump-backed bridge. Pinch me!
The couple who owned the house agreed for us to live in the apartment as long as we had a co-signatory. Grandmère was delighted to do it for us. An appointment was arranged for the last week in August for the signing of the lease.
The experience was slightly surreal to say the least. We arrived at the office in plenty of time. Grandmère and I shuffled in to the waiting area alongside each other, while mon homme did the talking. As soon as the door to the office opened, we were greeted by a very large (and beautiful) dog. A Weimaraner, boundy as they come. The secretary proceeded to chase around the office after him until she managed to get a handle on the abundant energy! French people love their dogs and it’s not unusual for an owner to bring their trusty companion to work!
Safely installed in the inner office, we commenced the task at hand with the notaire. A little advice for anyone thinking about moving to France – if you have an appointment for something – doesn’t matter what it is – double (or treble!) the amount of time you think it will take. Then leave an extra margin of fifteen minutes!
I didn’t know before going, but to sign a lease you have to read through every page, yes all forty-something of them, with the notaire. This took two hours.
I was sitting there, not understanding a word. Sounds a little like the scary daydream eh! Except it wasn’t that nightmarish – only the most mind-bogglingly boring two hours I ever spent in my life. I felt like a toddler and wanted to get down on the floor and start throwing a tantrum, but that wouldn’t have been a good move would it? Between you and me, I suspect that Grandmère had a little secret snooze!
Mon homme had to listen to it all and then translate the important bits for me. These are two hours of my life I’ll never get back – but we had the apartment and we had the keys. And you should have seen the size of the main key. Longer than my hand – a great big old hunk of metal.
When I was a child I used to play with another little girl who lived up the road. We often used to pop into her house for a snack. Her mother was Italian, so snacks were usually quite copious and unlike anything we would get in anyone else’s house! I used to be fascinated by a certain wall in their house. Adorned with an impressive collection of antique keys. I used to ask my friend why the keys were so big. She used to answer “because they’re from Italy.” That, of course, answered my question perfectly.
I eventually realised (with a few years worth of growing up) that big keys meant big doors. Big heavy ones. Now I had a big key of my own.
As I left the notaire’s office that day, clutching the big key in my hand, I wondered what my six year old self would have thought about it!