Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Where we are now

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.


  1. Hello Heather:
    It must be with such sadness that you are leaving such a unique and wonderful apartment which has been your home for so long. However, we do understand that it can be a little depressing to be permanently in the gloom. Our Main Hall here in Budapest is on the dark side, but the rooms which open off it are flooded in light, and so, we do not mind. Indeed, on hot days, it is good to have somewhere to escape the sun.

    But, the apartment which you are leaving is clearly historic and is full of original details. All of this, you will surely miss.

    Yet now that the decision to move has been taken, we are sure that you will be looking forward to all the excitement which goes with a new home. What is more, we are convinced that within a very short period of time you will have made it as lovely and as interesting as your present house so obviously is.

  2. It never ceases to amaze, this life, this universal benevolence. In retrospect it's all so clear, the apartment calling you southward, the house, the apartment calling you to rest, allowing you to let go, then time to let go again and let a little light into your life. What is it about "time" that opens up exactly what needs to be when it needs to be and why is it so hard at the time to fall into that with trust? A discussion for the winetree, I suppose, but light.. sweet sweet light. It would be bittersweet, but I too would move.

  3. Yes, Trace, as always, you have said it so perfectly. This move is also giving us a chance to let go of an idea of ourselves that doesn't really fit. We are not wealthy people and yet we are in this grand apartment that is built more for having receptions than actual day to day life. We both miss being our quirky selves and feel weighed down by this space. It is not the time for us to feel comfortable here yet. So it makes sense to go even if it took time for us to reach that decision.

    Jane and Lance, thank you for your concern and your support. I actually think that I will miss the garden the most of all. I was just out there setting out some bread crumbs for a Momma bird and her babies who are currently in residence. And I do need to do what I can to keep my spirits in check. As for the next apartment, it will be smaller (frigo!) but perhaps that can mean cosier too. :)

  4. Heather this is just superb, what a treasure!! I love all of the unique details. I am sure your new home will be very special as well.

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  6. ♥ nice post.)) love your blog.)) ♥

  7. Your apartment is indeed beautiful but I feel confident that you will put your lovely mark on your new home as well. And light is an incredibly important and needed commodity - you will love your new place all the more for it!!

  8. Had I only known in time I would have sent you many many many things to fill all that space... because, you know, more is always the exact answer. That being the case, I'm thinking we might consider changing the question.

  9. Thank you so much Miss Q. :) Coming from you that is quite a compliment!

    Trace, no I don't need your poker chips but thank you. ;) My life is a big ol'gamble as it is. Why can't I get rid of more? I won't ever need those cocktail gowns again. Yes, I know they were expensive but they are now three sizes too small. And that is the tip of the iceberg...

  10. Ps! Thank you so much Mary! I nearly missed you! I am delighted you enjoy it here. :) I have good company in the comments section, that helps!

  11. What a wonderful, special place. You can take the memories with you! :)

  12. good luck in all you do. i admire your ability to let go of such a thing.you have true prosperity.

  13. Darling Heather,

    The magic is "You and Remi" and that will be with you wherever you go. Good luck and Love in the sunshine of your new home!
    With love always from Sonny and Michael

  14. Yes Barbara, you are so right! And that is all we need, really. :)

    C, hooray! So good to see you here! Thank you for the kind words and I am sending the wishes right back at you.

    Sonny and Michael! You did it! Thank you for what you had to say. I'll pas it on to Rem. Hope you are loving the City of Light!

  15. Thank you for sharing the pics of your current home. I can fully understand the need for light, especially during the short days of winter. It's all about quality of life, not square footage. :)

    Knowing how you and Remi can turn any place into a charming home, I have no doubt that your new home will be perfect for you. I can't wait to see photos of it! Good luck with the move!

  16. Wow Heather the apartment you’re in now is amazing and Ben is so cute sleeping on his stuffed toy or did Mom do that? And Roman ruins, I don’t think I could leave those. Your apartment is truly special but I understand the need for light. You’ll make your new place special just because you’ll be with the ones you love.

  17. Thanks so much you two! Gldiebr, you really said it perfectly and our quality of life is not what it should be here. I mean come on, what is the point of living in the South of France if you are always in the dark?! And we are splurging for movers!!! *faint*

    And Debra, that photo was for you! :) Of course he had a liiitle bit of help but just with the one between his paws. He often sleeps on his rabbit.

  18. Sheer Bliss. I am on cloud 9, I just discovered your blog and I absolutely love this post, pictures and the accompanying story.
    I cannot wait to return to read your older posts

  19. Really? I am the one on Cloude Nine, Helen, so touched by your wonderful coment. What a nice thing to hear jusr befor heading off to sleepyland--thank you!

  20. What a lovely tribute! I am so bummed that I will miss this house, but it is YOU I come to Arles to see (hopefully sooner than later, and with Drew!). You, Remi, and Ben, that is! : ) Beautiful.

  21. Your current home looks amazing! How superb! I can imagine though how it would feel after a while not having any light. I have just moved house (what a nightmare, I detest all this packing & unpacking) and we are in a much darker home. I'm a little sad as our old apartment was so light-filled. Alas, we all have our many reasons for having to move on...

    ~ Clare x

  22. I hear ya Clare, trust me I do. I am sure that your new home though different, will be wonderful. Hopefully it will be filled with happiness, that is all that matters! That and lots and lots of candles of course. :)

    Rob, pleeeease think of coming (when you can) with Drew! We would have so much fun! And you would loooove Ben. Bumming you won't see this one too but that is ok--you'll like the new one I think.

  23. Hi Heather,Sam and I loved what you wrote after the lunch at Sonny'sI sent it to all my kids and they loved it,Sam and I want to wish you and Remi the very best in your new home,together you will be golden,Love Beth

  24. Beth, I was so thrilled to meet you and Sam, as was Remi. And I am so glad that you both appreciated what I wrote. I found that lunch to be a very inspiring experience and actually was just talking about it this morning.

    Thank you for your well wishes for our new apartment.

    With Love to you too!

  25. Finally back reading...although moving and reno's and debates seem to continue...I hope your move went well and you enjoy the light of the new!

  26. Your family are so blessed.

  27. I need to to thank you for this very good read!! I certainly loved every bit of it.

    I have you book marked to check out new things you post…

  28. Hi just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a
    few of the pictures aren't loading correctly. I'm not
    sure why but I think its a linking issue. I've tried it in two different browsers
    and both show the same outcome.

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