Remi and I signed the contract for our new rental on Friday and so we will soon be moving on. Before we do, I think it is worthwhile to say a few words about our current rental as it is truly something exceptional. We first started making trips down to Arles with the prospect of moving here in 2003. We visited several astonishingly inexpensive houses to buy (oh, if we had only known how much the prices would go up!) but the real estate agent wanted us to see one rental that was on the market because it was so unique. "You will never see anything like this again," she said and she was right. We fell in love with the space but did not yet have all of our ducks in a row enough to move. Back in Paris, we told all of our friends about the most incredible apartment that we had seen and that was--gulp!--the same price per month as our tiny duplex. We never forgot it and it became a symbol of what the quality of living in the South could be. It ended up taking nearly two more years for us to find another possibility, which we pounced on. That was the house that we ended up buying and then selling with a heavy heart. Can you imagine our surprise when shortly after, another real estate agent started to describe a new rental that just come on the market? "It is in a hôtel particulier and has a garden attached to the back of the Frères-Prêcheurs Church." Remi and I turned to each other in disbelief, it was the very same apartment that we had visited all those years ago!
At the time, it seemed as if life was giving us a gift, an encouragement to ease the transition of leaving our house behind. And we settled in so quickly, celebrating with a garden party for 35. We lit a million candles everywhere as night came on. Actually the photo below of the font in the hallway is from that evening. I had filled it with rose petals for the occasion. So many happy memories.
There are many things that make this apartment special. And to think it was in ruins when it was bought in 1993! Luckily, the owner took the greatest of care in the renovation process, including hiring experts to restore the hand-painted wooden beams that top the two bedrooms and the hallway. There are one of the reasons why the building is listed as a Monument Historique. He once told us that the delicate flowers actually graced the beams in the living room but that the process was so lengthy that he couldn't afford to save everything!
Ben loves to recline on the cooling dalles de pierre, the large stone blocks. They are quite rare today, even in Provence.
There are many interesting details--the woodwork in the bedroom, the mosaics and the vaulted ceiling in the bath. The cast iron hearth in the fireplace is marked with the date "1777" but we do not know if it is original to the house or not.
But, what makes this apartment so very special is a feature in the cave, the lower level. A group of archeologists were brought in when vestiges of Roman ruins were discovered during the renovation process. The owner decided to construct a glass flooring above them so that would remain visible. Sadly, the thick glass panels have become slightly fogged with time but we can still make out what was the road leading from the Rhone and the remains of what is thought to have been a market building. This makes for a rather dramatic movie room for us!
Back on the ground floor, arched glass doorways lead from the first courtyard into the house (where there is a well that purportedly once led to a tunnel that ran under the river as an escape route) and from the house into the garden.
I took the final photo below the night that we signed the contract. Ironically, the light had never, ever been more beautiful. So why are we leaving this special place? Because dreams and reality are not the same thing, as we all know. We are going for me. I am incredibly sensitive to light and there isn't any here. Even now, at 3pm on a June afternoon, I have to have the lights on while I type. As we both work from home, we are forever in the dark. The thought of spending another Winter here is unimaginable. The street-facing rooms all have bars on them for security, leaving us to feel as though we are, if not in prison, then at least in a gilded cage. And so we are moving on to a smaller, humbler apartment (an aspect that also pleases both of us enormously) but we will always, always have such gratitude for this special place that brought us to Arles and comforted us when we most needed it.