Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My dream house in Provence

"I want to show you something." Remi makes a swift right onto a tiny lane in the middle of the Alpilles. As often as we have traversed these roads, this one is somehow unknown to me. I am left to wonder where we are headed and why now. The sun has already started its descent and I am hungry, thinking ahead to the time remaining for the drive home, what I can rustle up for dinner. We wind around corner after corner to spy olive grove after olive grove, each ghostly in the waning light. 

He pulls over at a seemingly random spot and unloads Ben from the back. "Come on." I follow him down a rock-strewn path. The point of a terracotta tiled roof raises up like a cowlick over the hillside. And soon, we were standing in a clearing gazing at an ancient stone farmhouse, or mas with a massive diagonal stone fortification reaching up on one side and a pebbly garden wall rolling down the other. 

"Over here, " Remi calls out as I carefully pick my way down the path. I turn past the ivy and let out a gasp. 

This mas was certainly something more, at least it had been, long ago. A series of arches extend off of the main structure into nowhere. No roof above, no form remaining to give a clue as to its origins. Was the home built onto the remains of a chapel? Possibly. A sculpted column in the loggia makes me wonder if it was a cloister.

Enough of the past. There are no ghosts here and the faded beauty of this batiment is still very pertinent in the present. I inhale it like a perfume. 

The roof looks as though it could fly off with the next gust of Mistral but there are little clues that this home has not been abandoned, not entirely. Certain windows have been replaced. A wicker chair is placed in front of the arched entryway with a shirt slung over it, left out to dry. An extension cord snakes through the grasses to a generator hidden in a dried out well. Someone is living here à la Robinson Crusoé. My guess is not all the time, perhaps just in the warmth of summer. 

Remi and I are both such dreamers. Soon the conversation falls away and imagination takes over. What we would do if we could somehow buy the property and make it ours? I know that I would clear out the fountains that have been nearly crushed by the surrounding vegetation. Remi suggests putting a small pool, a bassin, under the arches. Lovely.

I am sure that both of us have a hard time understanding the whys of the mas being left to slide in to such a state, even if we find it all the lovelier for it.

We linger and let the last of the light pull across us. A speck of moon pops over the olive trees. 

"Have you ever tasted figues de barbarie?" Remi asks he spies the fruit exploding out of a group of cacti at the base of the house. I admit that I haven't so, gentleman that he is, he gathers one for me, getting pricked in the process. I take a tiny nibble. The fruit is as soft as the sun and the magenta juice stains our hands.

The desiccated trunk of a tree fascinates me. "How did it get like that Remi?" It smells warm, the wood. "It has just been left to rot, that's all, maybe for twenty years, maybe more." I can't imagine just leaving something be for so long. 

Perhaps the mas is more alone than we think. 

As we head back towards the car, we can hear snatches of song echoing through the hills. "Algerian", Remi confirms, workers of North African origin. Joyous notes bob and fade. Perhaps it is a celebration for the récolte, the end of harvesting the grapes. We stop to listen for a moment before heading home. There is always music in the best dreams. 


  1. beautiful images and wonderful prose--lovely journey! come visit me soon-I'm hosting a giveaway!

  2. Buy. That. House.
    (p.s. favorite pic of Ben, ever).

  3. Whether you end up buying le mas or not, this was a lovely visit. It never hurts to dream, does it? I was most impressed with your finding a figuier de barbarie. I have not seen one in years (we have more evergreens than I can count here in Seattle, though ;-) A bientôt, Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  4. You should try checking with a realtor to see if the house is available because now I’m curious. I wonder if someone owns it as the chair and shirt say or if a drifter was simply passing through enjoying the remains of a peaceful domain. Ok check with a realtor and if it’s available every blogger has to chip in to buy it….lol, it should be saved it’s beautiful.

  5. I swear I poked around that very same house once. I've poked around so many at this point it's hard to know for sure--but it looks verrrrrry familiar. Great story and pix. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Oh Julie, I was hoping one of the locals might have some info on it. And truly, it is so unique, with those arches--I can't imagine that you would forget it!

    Welcome HH! Thank you for signing up--I'll look forward to hopping over to discover your blog. And who doesn't love a giveaway? :)

    Robin and Debra, we would need the world to pitch in, even if it was for sale! People do not give up such property easily--either that, and this is the more likely explanation now that I think on it--it is caught up in a lengthy family inheritance dispute.

    Vero, do you like those figs? The color was gorgeous but les epines m'a fait peur!

  7. Dreamy indeed!
    I can't get my mind to stop thinking about this house.
    I want it for you.
    It would be a wonderful project :)


  8. Oh...oh...oh....that is one fabulous dream.

    Well you know, sometimes things are simply meant to perhaps it may become yours one day if you are lucky. Stranger things have happened! Those arches and the colour of the stone radiate such beauty.

    Is it a prickly pear, this figues de barbarie cactus fruit? Virginia xx

  9. Brooke, silly goose, even if someone GAVE it to us, we couldn't afford to redo the roof! That goes for you too Virginia! But I know that we will stop by to say "hello" to it now and again.

    As for the fruit, well, when I googled the images, it actually looked more like a prickly pear than a barbary fig--it's a mystery for a mysterious house!

  10. “Dreams are like may never touch them, but if you follow them they will lead you to your destiny.” (Winning the lotto would help!)
    Warm wishes

  11. Oh Elizabeth, that is so beautiful--where is that from? And sometimes it is just having a dream that is enough.

  12. What a stunning story and dream you have discovered, punctuated at the conclusion with the haunting music of the harvest. Your photos and descriptions had me salivating as you tasted the figues de barbarie.


  13. Another post I can relate to, I can't tell you how many derelict, old houses, I have come across and dreamed about. That one is a beauty, I suggest a visit to the local Notaire or the Mairie, and ask them about it, they will be sure to know.

  14. Inutile à demander, Dash! Nous sommes les gens modest mais heureux. :)

  15. "There is always music in the best dreams."

    Beautifully said and absolutely true.

    There's actually a similar property near me. Well, not a similar property but a property in a similar situation. It's an old farmhouse, set back from the road, with trees surrounding it. Unfortunately, it's going to rack and ruin because there's a bit of a bust up going on over who actually owns it. And even if they manage to figure that out and put it on the market, it wouldn't be worth my while. I might even be able to afford the house valuation as it stands, as it's in such bad shape but that's the point. It's in such bad shape and what I saved on buying it, I'd certainly have to spend on making it safe to live in.

    And it's a listed building. There's all sorts of rules and regulations stating what you can and can't do. And it's sad, because I have a horrible feeling that it's just going to be left there and eventually forgotten.

  16. Mel, we have seen that happen so much here in Arles and in the region. Usually it is over an inheritance dispute and so the house is just left, unused and unloved for forever. It breaks my heart. Actually, there are so many of such homes here in town that the mayor has passed a law saying that they need to be kept up to code or the city would reclaim them! That has at least spurred a tiny bit of work on the roofs (which is a good thing as falling roof tiles can be very dangerous when our Mistral winds roar) but what about the rest? This situation is one we know well as (and it is a bit of a catch-22), we can only afford to buy a fixer-upper, but can not usually afford the fixer-upping. Hence, we will stay renters for now...

  17. Houses do have to be loved, without a doubt. Otherwise they do die. It sounds ridiculous but they really do die.

    I suppose that some action taken is better than none at all. (I certainly wish our Mayor would kick someone up the backside over my lovely farmhouse)

  18. I most certainly agree with you Mel. I have been in abandoned houses where you can no longer feel...anything. None of the memories, whether good or bad, just a void. But I have also been in such homes (here in Provence it is a bit of a hobby to walk and dream) where you can still feel the fire burning in the chimney, even though it has been empty for years. Strange isn't it?

  19. It is strange but I find it quite comforting in some ways. Not so much when you get the sense that the house is full of bad memories but I think I'd even prefer that to nothing at all. I think houses can be woken up and brought back to life but it's like you have to start from scratch. And you'll always know that something was lost.

  20. Your response made me think of an apartment that we considered buying on the ground floor of a hotel particulier here. As soon as we walked in, my shoulders shot up around my ears with tension. When we walked into the next room, we saw a big bunch of electric cables sprouting out of the center of the floor--turns out the space was previously a dentists office! You could practically still hearing children crying, I swear. We knew that no amount of sage-burning shamany shindigs were ever going to get that place to be livable. No way. And yes, the eventual buyers had to completely gut it in order for it work!
    Bon Weekend...

  21. Oh my... prose, photos, and experience make your visit all the more dreamlike, and me all the more envious! It must be wonderful to live in such a place and dream our life away, but I'm sure making it habitable in that state is difficult already!

  22. You and Mel make a good point. There's something... comforting about a home filled with good memories. Sometimes you get a spark of inspiration and realize that there's still a lot of potential and memories left to be made in the house.

  23. I really agree with you, Carmen. I think that so many people (true not those on the deco obsessed blogosphere) tend to go to sleep in terms of seeing their homes. It is like when you come home from a long trip away and think "what on earth was I thinking, that lamp needs to go!" and then you keep the space alive by adding something new, that fits where you are right now! I am constantly on the move and can only imagine what it must be like for someone to have lived in the same space for thirty years. All of the memories. Like a living journal.

  24. Dear Heather, I love reading your posts. So beautifully written and such wonderful photographs of places that the regular tourist does not see. Have gone over many of your posts and have made notes. Our visit to France this September will be enriched because of you. Thank you. ox, Gina

    1. Oh that makes me so happy to read, Gina--it means I am doing something right! :) September is my very favorite month here. After the "high season" so everyone is quieter and yet the weather is usually perfect--still warm enough for dinner outside too.

      If you have any questions before you come don't hesitate to ask. I love to help.
      Bon weekend!


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