Our second day in France, we awakened to find we were in a duplex gite. A retired English couple occupied the other half and invited us in for coffee and to meet the very good English carpenter working on the roof. We told him we could use some help. He offered himself and his French electrician partner to look at our place and give us an estimate.

Pat and I left Reg, Sandy, and cats discussing plans with John the Carpenter and headed for the house with our own plans for renovation. Loaded with cleaning supplies, we found the cottage and within minutes concluded that dynamiting the place might be a better plan. But we soldiered on.

No front door on the street side, we entered through a shabby little glassed in porch on the right side that I could see becoming a conservatory in the future. It led to the shed which I had seen in the photo Reg had emailed me. I had such hopes for that shed as a sunroom or maybe even a living room, but now I could see it had a dirt floor and was barely standing. It was full of junk and had probably been the home of the man’s small dog. 

Through another door, we saw another little room, a staircase to upstairs and a small, smelly bathroom. Through another door (the REAL front door), we stepped into one large room with an archway serving to divide it into what could be two rooms. To the left of the door was a tiny kitchen stuck in a dark corner and not fit for cooking a decent meal. It was separated from the rest of the room by a dinky sort of bar. That would have to go! But there was running water and a stove top. Other than that, there were no lights, and no other fixtures of any kind. However, there were two large windows that let in plenty of sunshine and the floor was in good shape, possibly the original brown tiles. And there was a fireplace that worked.

Pat and I dug in. As we toiled I made a mental list of what we absolutely had to have. It had to be a slim list considering one day soon our own truck and trailer would arrive with our goods. There was no sense straining our budget when we would soon have our own stuff. Floors clean – well maybe not clean but better? Next came an inspection of upstairs. 

It matched the room downstairs and would be our bedroom. To the right of the stairs a door led to a smaller room. From the frolicking lambs on the wall paper, I assumed it had been a nursery. We knew the couple had split up, hence the sale of the house. The upstairs was almost pristine compared to downstairs and I (being a writer of romance) assumed the man and small dog had avoided going there. Too many painful memories. I decided the “nursery” would become our computer domain and a closet. Now I added something to hang clothes on, a chest of drawers, and some sort of desk to my ever-growing list

On his first trip, Reg had inspected the roof which was sound. The agent declared the septic system worked. Well, maybe. From the odor in that bathroom, I figured it had been “working” since it was installed in the late 19th century – obviously an after thought and possibly illegal.

Now mindful of the two Holy Hours of Eating, we picked up Reg at the gite. The cats were content inside but Sandy insisted on jumping in to sit next to his new best friend, Pat. Over lunch, I recited my list: a bed, a sofa bed (for Pat), refrigerator, cook stove, a table and chairs, a few pots and pans and lots of paper plates, cups and utencils. Lunch consumed we went grocery shopping and I spotted a white plastic patio table with four chairs on sale. First purchase made.

Back at the gite, cats and Sandy fed, I began to worry. We had the gite for five more days. Could I possibly find everything on my list by then? Those five days would be a frenzy of buying. Armed with directions from the carpenter, we set out the next day to improve the economy of Brittany. We bought the bed and sofa, refrigerator, cook stove, vacuum cleaner and light fixtures. We stashed the smaller items in the van and had a promise that the big items would be delivered the next day. And so it went: buying stuff one day, cleaning and waiting for deliveries the next. Pat’s knowledge of French was put to the test. How would we do it without her help? We simply had to get as much done as possible before she left.

Just when the cats thought the gite was their new home, we moved them to the cottage. Fearing they might escape with people coming and going, we confined them to Sandy’s carrier when we left them on their own. Sandy, of course, went with us, sitting proudly beside her new best friend, Pat. And somehow, in five days, our little cottage became liveable.  Not perfect, but we could manage. We had been forced to get to know our new land and  how to ask directions in French. Not perfect French, but our version of the beautiful language. 

When stumped for a word, there was all that “bon jouring” and kissing going on which makes up for a lot.

You gotta love the French. They are such a tolerent bunch.

Next: A mini-album of our early days (including our animals).                The house you see at the top of this post is where we now live after an extensive renovation and the purchase of adjacent property. The house we bought for less than $30,000 is the little white stucco house on the right side of the photo.  

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