April 2004
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"Follow me, I'm right behind you"

Thursday 1 April

Today you could see the Pyrenees so clearly. Larreule is on a flat plain so they seem even higher and more unbelievable. Caroline went for a quick bike ride and was completely overwhelmed by the sight of them, towering over the horizon like the opening credits to a Paramount Pictures movie.
To Bernadets-Debat, a hamlet between Miélan and Trie-sur-Baïse. We had a rendez-vous with an agent who represents Bluehomes.com in the area. He had sent details and photos of the house to us by Email, so we had called to take a look. We pulled up in the square and saw a man on a scooter waiting for us. His name was Hannes, a german, but we conducted our conversation in french, peppered with german and english words when necessary. He led the way in his Red Baron flying jacket, to the house shown below.
€ 100,000.- with 2 hectares and a view of the Pyrenees, but the house had only two rooms and the neighbours were just 20 meters away. There was also a road along the back of the house. Although, it was the closest yet to what we seek.

Friday 2 April

Our first letter to an address in France arrived yesterday with lots of fun and interesting newspaper clippings from Caroline's parents. It also included a few bills that we can pay by internet (what did we do without it?).
Today is also change-over day as our friends return from their trip and we return to our pavilion. That meant lots of cleaning, packing and trying out our Twinny Load double bike rack on the back of the car. Marvelous.
We then drove to Marciac with Steven and ate out for the first time since we arrived. Three course menu for three, including wine and aperatif for € 58,-. Keep the change, Garçon.

"You're next, Taylor!"

Saturday 3 April

We woke up late, to a warm, sunny morning, giving Caroline the excuse she needed to put on her shorts for the first time this year. On with the factor 4 and out with the electric razor. Not for her legs, but to give Steven a close shave before his departure to Spain and Portugal. He too is on a big adventure. Good luck Steven!
  That afternoon we saw a new and rather interesting house in the window of the agent in Miélan so shoved a message under their door to arrange a viewing on Monday.
  We also saw a sign for oysters in the shop opposite. 12 for € 4.-, so bought 18. Into the shop next door for an oyster knife and on to the shop on the corner for a local white wine. We dined outside in the evening sun.



Sunday 4 April

I woke up at 6am and couldn't get back to sleep as the dawn chorus soloists called in the backing singers and went for the big finale. Leaving Caro to her dreams, I dressed and grabbed my camera and binoculars, slipping on my wellington boots outside as the dew glistened in the grass. Walking to the uninhabited farmhouse along the lane, I could see the Pyrenees, all pinks and blues. For the naturalists among you, I saw: a black kite fly close over my head with a snake in it's claws, stonechats, flycatchers, a green woodpecker, a Montagues harrier (kiekendief), sedge warblers, kestrels, buzzards and swallows. There was also a cuckoo and other woodpeckers making a right racket all around me. I also disturbed two water rats as big as cats.

  After breakfast in the sun, we drove down to Tillac for their annual Floralie. Flowers, shrubs, trees and lots of crappy arts and crafts stalls. It is quite a social occasion, proved by the fact that we bumped into nearly everyone we know here. Kisses and handshakes, conversations shuttling back and forth in french, dutch and english, we relaxed with a beer at the Relais de la Tour. Carol and Barry came and introduced Caroline to a couple with a problem dog. She has her first session with them on tuesday. Way to go Caro!

After lunch, we cycled to Bars and back, about 16 kms, along the ridge of the hills with fantastic views on either side of us. At one point we found a hedgehog in the middle of the road looking rather dazed. Caro stuck her hand out and stopped the traffic to rescue it from the mad french drivers. I took my fleece off and Caro used it to pick it up and place it in safety among the bushes.
  We saw a few beautifully positioned houses with views to die for. The hills in Gers seem to roll at you like huge swells at sea and the spring greens and yellows are getting intenser by the day. Bars, by the way, is a small village with three dogs, a church and no bars.



This is hard work!

We hope you don't mind, but we are going to reduce our daily tales to weekly highlights. It's not every day that we have something to report anyway. But rest assured that anything newsworthy will be reported in full! So here goes.


Between April showers at Nieke's house

Caroline was disappointed to discover that Perry really did want to show her his etchings!

5 - 11 April

The week started with rain and a visit to a house that looked great on the photo but turned out to be a tumbledown shack at the edge of a dark wood. Something right out of the film Deliverance. Did I hear a piggie squeal or was that just a banjo playing?

Tuesday delivered Caroline her first client. An elderly English couple with an English setter that runs off for hours each time they go for a walk. With a bag of dog cookies and cold, wet nose, Caroline sailed through the diagnosis session and hopes to see them again soon. In the meantime, Perry did a round of the agents in Marciac and took a coffee in the café, where he discovered a group of women sketching each other. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, he pulled out his sketchbook and sketched back. Contact was made and he has been asked to give drawing lessons! He also received a few tips on how to be in the prints and postcard business when the jazz festival begins.

Wednesday, we visited two houses with an agent. One was enormous and characterless, with huge hangers and barns. The second stole our heart. We fell in love with it immediately, but bit by bit, we discovered that it was too small for us. Perry took photos and did some tricky retouching to see what it would look like with an extension to the small barn and a tower. Finally we gave in since it would be more a new house than old.

  On Thursday morning we were woken by the most awful smell. At first we thought that the septic tank had backed up, but it turned out that the farmer next door had begun with spraying liquid manure. Stuff that had been fermenting for months. We were gagging, even with all the doors shut, so we jumped on the bikes and cycled for about twenty kilometers around the south east of Miélan. We saw some beautiful old farms and some small, ruddy, leather-skinned farmers in buttoned-up shirts and black basque berets. We managed to dodge all the showers falling left and right and got home before the heavens opened.
  Easter was spent doing odd jobs with the weather blowing hot and cold, but mostly wet.


The Pyrenees just 60 kms away

12-18 April

A week of rain, wind and sun and not much in the way of houses. Monday brought squally april showers. We got the bikes ready and it started to rain again. We retreated inside and caught up on admin, the newspapers, Caro's dog report and Perry's drawings. Walked through Laas, a pretty village up the road, and left a few of our adverts (we like your house, is it for sale?) pinned to doors and in letterboxes.

  On Tuesday, Perry went to the drawing club in Marciac, sat outside in the sun getting more tips for houses and how to sell his drawings. We also handed over the car to the garage for a test drive to find out what exactly is wrong with the thing.
  Wednesday. Caro cycled to Miélan for the "32", the local free newspaper. On the way back down the hill, she was chased by a savage dog and had to swing her legs up to avoid being bitten. A new client, one feels. In the "32", there was a farm for sale, so we called and arranged a visit. Perry did some DIY for Nieke; placing curtain rails and a shower curtain. As a thankyou, she took us out for dinner at a routier restaurant nearby. Great food (four courses) and wine for €17 p/p.

  Thursday, and the sun is shining. We scouted out the farm we were due to see and found it too close to the Route National, so we cancelled the visit. Arriving in Auch, we watched the old guys playing petanque. One came up to us and started talking in such a thick patois that Caro turned away and left Perry to nod and shake his head at the moments where he thought appropriate.
Fabienne, our agent in Auch, took us to an isolated farmhouse, with a kilometer long private lane. Unfortunately it ended near the RN between Auch and Vic Fézensac and we didn't leave our apartment in Amsterdam which was situated a long a busy through road, to see and hear trucks passing all day. We took back roads home and stuck our ad in postboxes and gateposts of properties that took our fancy. The Pyrenees lining the horizon and the rape seed fields glowing an almost impossible yellow. Back at the garage, our car was ready and we left €220 poorer. Thankfully it's still under guarantee in Amsterdam.

  Spent the Friday morning trying to get our internet admin done, but Yahoo was not behaving, so our telephone card took a bashing. Standing in a cold, damp telephone booth, we hear that it is 20 C and sunny in Holland! That afternoon we walked to Miélan with Nieke, where we had a beer in the local bar. Neon strip lighting, formica tables and an assortment of inbred characters at the bar. The heavens opened as we walked back, so we were happy to light the fire and warm up.

  Saturday, and it's raining. Quelle surprise! Caro went to help Nieke with plant shopping at the garden centre and Perry - suffering with neck ache from drawing at the dining table - sketched, sawed and screwed an adjustable drawing board together from an old plank.
  On Sunday morning we were up at 7am, ready to go to two Vide Greniers. We arrived in Maubourguet in the rain, and left with a wood burner and a few wooden items before setting off for Isle de Noé around 10am. There, we found a huge field of stalls near the chateau. Halfway round, we stopped for a baguette with merguez sausage and a glass of red wine. Nieke bought two three meter wooden benches for €65. We managed to get them and our own purchases into the car (am I glad we bought a station wagon!) with the back seats flattened and me crouched in the back like a dog for the journey home.

Vide grenier (means Empty attic)

Agricultural tools, Iron bedsteads, Johnny Halliday 45s, Marvelous. Here's what we bought:

A. Godin wood burner. Old, iron and very heavy. Uses four logs a night instead of ten and warms up the house a treat, instead of just the chimney and the nearest bum!
B. Two pots formerly used for making confit de canard. Great colours and nicely aged.
C. Wooden trough. Caro will hopefully be creative with some flower pots here.
D. Eight antique crystal port glasses. €1 each!
E. Fisherman's box with leather strap. Perry is using it to carry his painting material.
F. Vindange basket, used for gathering grapes.
G. Salad cutlery made from cow horn.
H. A simple, but chunky cutting block.
J. Coat rack. Might have more life in it than required, so we will be treating it before bringing it indoors. Bought from a Dutch couple, who's house we will see on tuesday.

There's a vide grenier in May. Who needs Ikea?

Oh, those rolling Gers hills!

19-22 April

On Monday we went to Mirande and phoned the "32" to place our "Couple seek farmhouse to renovate" ad for three weeks. The sky was so moody against the landscape that we drove the pretty route home and Perry stepped out every now and then to take photos. Good reference for paintings, hopefully. Caroline delighted our taste buds with a chinese stir fry, a welcome diversion from the French fare.
  Perry joined the ladies at the drawing club on Tuesday and was confronted by a local basque man who didn't take kindly to being drawn. That afternoon we tried to find a house near Pallanne, using rather vague instructions, with no success. Later, we visited the Dutchies from whom Caroline had bought the coat rack. They had bought a ruin five years ago and renovated it with style and ingenuity. Fireplace in the bedroom and a wonderful bathroom. The location was superb. They were planning to sell it and buy another ruin. Unfortunately, it was too small for our needs, otherwise we would have seriously considered buying it.

  Wednesday morning we met with one of the agents in Marciac. He took us to a house five minutes away, near Auriébat. We both really liked it. A house with a tower and a huge barn, as well as a small stall, a hectare of land and a view of the Pyrenees. The roof was good, the spaces inside were large and the floor tiles were fantastic. The owner passed on his tractor and stopped to tell us more. We saw great possibilities in the place. A covered terrace, a gîte, my atelier and Caro's library. The only minus was that it was situated on the flat and not in the hills. He wants €214,000. It'll go quickly. That afternoon, we went back with Nieke and it still seemed a good idea, but it still wasn't in the hills...Hmmm. What to do? Tomorrow we have another house to see, so let's wait and not be too hasty.

The house near Auriébat. Nice house, shame it's not on higher ground.

Yes, our French dictionary comes in handy.

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, all together now...

Bedankt voor de bloemen!

The west wing. Just 20% of the whole house!

23-30 April

After two more visits to the houses in Auriébat we decided not to pursue it. It has to be in the hills. A view of the surrounding countryside is so invigorating. Our ad in the free newspapers is working. The first two calls were from farmers with properties to sell. Both of them to the north, where the hills are more open and the vineyards more plentiful. The two farms were on hillsides, one completely isolated and very small (two up two down), the other was like a museum. The farmer and his wife showed us round the house and barns, filled with old wine presses, vats and an assortment of medieval looking impliments all covered in dust. Caroline was fascinated by it all (see Caro's May notes). But, it was backed on to the main village road, there were two huge modern barns in front and it had twenty hectares. An area 2kms by 2kms square. We'd need a month to mow it all!
   25 April was Caroline's birthday. We had breakfast out in the sun and called home. There were some cards from Holland the UK and a french book on dogs from Perry. That evening we ate out at Le Relais de Bastidou, where we first stayed last spring. The owners, a young french couple who also stepped out of the fast lane a few years back, invited us for a nightcap at the café in Marciac. The first time they had gone out since they opened the restaurant, so it was an honour to be invited.
   On the 26th we drove to Sabeillan, a village 35kms east of us. There we saw a house on top of a hill with the most spectacular view of the Pyrenees and the surrounding countryside. Yet another result of a divorce, the woman owner was forced to sell after two years of hard work renovating it. Unfortunately there were roads in front and behind, so that gave no privacy. Also, one of the barns was about to fall down and the neighbour was starting a horse riding business right next door. Next!
   On Tuesday, we met Barbara, an american woman who started the drawing club in Marciac. She told us of a house belonging to a friend of hers, up in the hills of Pallanne, a much sought after area. Following her up the hill, we pulled up in front of a house that fulfilled all our dreams. Wild flower garden, a well, gob-smakking view, etc, etc. But it is not for sale. We left a message that we had passed by, but she called Barbara and told her off for bringing strangers to her house. I think that was a "no". That afternoon Perry made some more ink drawings to present them to the Conseille General in Mirande. There will be an exhibition of artists on the theme "Rurality".
   Wednesday, our ad went out in the 32 newspaper. The mobile was ringing all morning. Unfortunately, most houses were far to the north where the land is much flatter. Been there, done that. But we did go see several prospects, none fitted the bill. We still drive the small country roads in search of undiscovered gems, covering almost a thousand kilometers a week.
   Thursday morning, Perry and Barbara showed their work in Mirande and both were accepted. Each of them must deliver seven paintings/drawings by the end of May. The exhibition is open the whole of June, so if you are in the area...
   On Friday, we went to Vic Fézensac to see an old, stone walled farm. Fantastic. It had a central courtyard, two houses and two huge barns. The position was great and the garden, perfect. They only wanted €230,000.-, but we realised that it was way too big for our needs and would need too much money to get it right. It caused heated discussions in the car all the way home, but Caroline's common sensed ruled in the end.
   Well, that was April. A month of trials and tribulations, but we are still enjoying the experience and we still love each other, so it's not all bad. Read on if you'd like to know what happened to us in May.


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© 2004 Perry Taylor and Two Can Productions, France.