Sunday, July 17, 2005

How It All Began

I have always dreamed of restoring an old house. Don't ask me why. I’m not a ‘handy’ person. In fact, I’ve never so much as attempted to repair a thing in my life. Before I met Dawg, when something broke, I either: (a) bought a new one, (b) continued using it until it was completely broken, or (c) decided I didn’t really need it anyway. But dreams are rarely based in logic or common sense, and the idea of restoring an old house stuck in my head anyway.

When I met Dawg, we quickly discovered that we had this restoration dream in common. Lucky for me, Dawg is handy. He installed our oven, washing machine and dishwasher when we first moved into our apartment. He rewired the electricity in the dining room and bathroom, while I stood by, cringing in fear. He takes apart, cleans, and reassembles the pipes under the sink when they get clogged. He has a big toolbox. Need I say more?

After fantasizing about it for a few years, about a year ago, inspired by passing a weekend in a fabulous 18th century manoir in the Loire (, we decided to go for it. For the next 9 months, we spent every day eyeing profiles of centuries-old houses on the internet (, pouring over the grainy pictures in a real estate magazines, calling owners and agents to set up appointments. Every Saturday morning, we'd get up at the crack of dawn to drive the 2 hours down to the Loire or Burgundy, check out 2-4 old houses, ask questions, scribble notes, take pictures of everything, do some more poking around the region, and then fight the traffic on the A6 to get back to Paris time for dinner.

House shopping is a lot like dating: you have a number of false starts before you find The One. There were houses we lusted over, even though they were bad for us. There were houses were couldn't get away from fast enough. There were houses that we liked only okay, but tried to work up lots of enthusiasm for because we thought they were what we should like. And, a few times, there were houses that we thought we loved.

There was:

  • the goregous 19th century farmhouse in the Loire, with the weeping willow in the courtyard, and phalanx of gnarled apple trees in the garden...situated in a town full of hideous cinderblock houses, and right next to a very loud and busy street.
  • the maison burgeoise in northern Burgundy, with the exquisite tile floors, spacious rooms, a vast and wonderful barn, lots of land....and a really good view of the 18-wheelers that rumbled by the living room window;

  • the cozy U-shaped farmhouse that lost its charm after we learned it was located in a town that was a deportation camp for French Jews in WWII;
  • the lovely overpriced house that had lots of land, tons of character, and a long-eared donkey in the backyard that liked to sneak up on you;
  • the sprawling farm with 9 rooms and no bathroom;

  • And then, all of the sudden, there was The One.

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