Friday, 5 November
Maybe it was the travel, an activity that now seems almost unnatural to me. Maybe it was just the contrast between the two destinations, Arles one weekend and Vienna the next, the first city intimate, winding and narrow, the other outsized and of Habsburg imperial design.
My friend Victoria, at least, provided a link. Arles brought back our time in Provence together 40 plus years ago, and Vienna was our first physical meeting since carefree pre-Covid days.
Or maybe it was the Tasha-free week in between and the disruption that caused to my daily routine.
But I don’t think so. There is something about this late stage of our renovation project in the Perche that is making me feel detached and our house seem foreign, as if it belonged to someone else.
Certainly the workers spend more time there than we do at the moment. Except for the weekly réunions de chantier with architects and artisans, there’s not much encouraging us to redress the balance. The part of the house in which we are now living, with its cheerful big windows and glass doors, can feel like a fishbowl when workers are walking around outside all day. Or, with excess furniture, carpets and boxes piled everywhere, like a warehouse. We have also become a preferred destination for the local rodent population. Last summer it was a pair of dormice who ate into absolutely every foodstuff that wasn’t kept under lock and key or in the oven. At least they were nocturnal and cute...
...and their voracity made for easy trapping. After David released them in the Forêt de Bellême, a good home at a distance from which they couldn’t find their way back, we almost missed them.
Now we have mice tout court (as a point of taxonomic interest, the two species are not related*). Though less gluttonous, they scurry around day and night and do eat the strangest stuff.
Like the dormice, they poop everywhere, and in addition make nests in our bedding and once handsome Berlin sofas while we're away.
I fear this murine family has been in residence since the house was built 500 years ago, meaning they may be ineradicable (this is not their first apparition during our tenancy, and with the previous owners, they nibbled at the wiring and almost caused an electrical fire). In any case they are too numerous for gentle displacement and are thus suffering a less humane fate than the dormice (no, we are not, as many have suggested, getting a cat; Tasha would never forgive us). Accompanying the persistent dust is a pernicious stench in the living room that discourages lounging.
Meanwhile in the old house, kitchen and bathrooms are still fixture-less. The new floors have been laid, but everything’s covered up while the old paint is stripped...
...and the new applied.
Even getting to the front door is an ordeal.
If the renovated barn where we are now camped is encumbered, the old house and courtyard feel oddly weightless. As if the place were in purgatory, its old soul having been hollowed out and scraped away, and the new one as yet to emerge. The mice might not mind, but I do. For us humans, home/chez soi/zu Hause means more than a roof over our head. It is also a feeling, a mental state, and therein lies my disarray these past weeks.
Fortunately, out back the landscape is taking shape. Following our green guru Claire's instructions, the terrain has been gently sculpted. Topsoil has been laid and after buckets of rain, some tender grass is growing, even before seeding.
Replanted field maples have taken root and appear to be flourishing.
And everywhere crates of Claire's new flowers, shrubs and grasses have been positioned for planting in the coming weeks.
By spring, a few months after the inside work (we hope!) is finished, they'll have taken root. The ensemble will be glorious. I can't wait.
*The dormouse derives its English name not from 'mouse' but from the French dormeuse (sleeper), a reference to the animal's nocturnal lifestyle. In French you don't sleep like a baby or a rock but comme un loir.