Touching Earth

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Angers, France – July 2016

The French have an expression for a secondary residence, a home away from home. They call it a pied-à-terre, which means “foot on the ground”. After drifting along rootless for several years, my husband and I now have such a place. Our home remains the road. From time to time we return to Earth in Angers, France. A container of possessions has sailed across the planet from New Caledonia.

“It’s depressing to have so much stuff,” my husband sighed.

“Now you know what I mean,” I replied. He used to tease me about my habit of throwing things out.

We now have a stable point in space, but our journey defies the laws of motion. Our orbit will only become more vast and unpredictable in the future.

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Here I am, on the ground. The final apartment, just below the attic, in a small corner building. Romantic French doors and wrought iron railings. From the balcony, I can see the morning fog rise over the Maine and the distinctive blue-gray slate rooftops of the Anjou region. The Cathedral is almost close enough to touch. Tolling bells, cafe chatter, chirping birds. I throw the doors open wide and let the music in.

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Colors are chosen, supplies bought. It is a novelty to be able to fully understand and communicate with everyone. At the home improvement store, I provoke amusement and surprise. I know what I need and know the correct words. Most of the renovation was done by professionals. A wall knocked out, rewiring, new plumbing, new kitchen. The carpet was stripped away to reveal the original hardwood floors. My husband is baffled by my desire to paint the place myself. We can afford to have someone do it.

Paid workers are often careless. A nail sticking out here, a forgotten plug there. We’ve already had problems because of their negligence. Disappointment. I come from a family of obsessive carpenters, and I’ve painted several apartments myself. I want to put my energy into these walls.

After nine solid days of work, I begin to regret my decision. I discover that the ceiling needs a third coat and notice those tiny spots I missed on the French doors. My hands are cramped into claws and my whole body aches. My hair is speckled with paint. Then more mistakes appear. Every little pinprick-sized mistake. I sit on the floor and put my head in my hands.

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Go outside. Feel the streets. There is a festival tonight at the castle, a five-minute walk away. A Celtic rock concert in the square. Scenes from the Apocalypse Tapestry are projected onto the towers. It is a celebration of Anger’s hero – King René of Anjou. The music weaves its spell. My usual aversion to crowds vanishes. A woman makes space for me on a stone bench. I bring my agitated feet to a halt and sit down beside her.

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And then the work is done. Kitchen, hallway, living room, doors. The long shadows of hushed Sunday morning streets are my reward. France is in turmoil, but you would never know it here.

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Floors and windows are washed. Tools are put away. The countryside beckons. A land of waterways, wetlands. Birds, everywhere. The hypnotic swoop of long wings over languid water.

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Confluence. The Mayenne and the Sarthe flow into the Maine, which flows into the regal Loire.

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Gentle paths through villages and vineyards. Smiles and bonjour. La douceur Angevine is what it’s called. The Anjou sweetness. Such is the nature of a placid land. A fresh baguette and some vieux pané cheese in my backpack. Yes, they even sell tiny bottles of wine. The tartness of ripening grapes perfumes the soft breeze. I lie on the grass and seep my spirit into this sweet Earth.

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63 thoughts on “Touching Earth

    • I’ve only been there twice so far. It was inhabited by the in-laws for a year while they looked for a house. I hope to go several times a year, and/or for longer periods of time. We need to find a way to bring the rabbit without stressing her out too much. It needs her presence to really feel like home. 🙂

  1. A very romantic looking apartment with wonderful views – it must be good to have somewhere like that to call home. Is there a lift/elevator or is it all stairs? The latter might restrict acquisition of too much stuff. I can sympathise with the decorating – I am currently painting the outside windows – there are 21 and I am working on number 5 😦

    • It is really so charming, Robin. We have a lift, but we still need to be careful about what we buy, because it’s tiny and the staircase is very narrow and circular. My husband had to send back the first bed he ordered, because the delivery guys couldn’t get it up the stairs, and they tried for hours. 21 windows…you have my sympathy.

  2. Awwww dear Julie !
    How beautiful you write , you are belonging in ” the Anjou sweetness ” . Your photographs , like that glorious cathedral , touching heart . I find those tapestry scenes on the towers unusual yet familiar . Be at peace there in your apartment home ….the water must be so restful , a place of contentment like Lake Michigan is for me ….I know that if we were to meet you would certainly ” provoke amusement and surprise ” ….and love .

    • Hi Meg – the water is indeed soothing. I love rivers more than any other body of water. Always changing and going somewhere. The scene on the castle tower is the “Harlot of Babylon” from the Book of Revelation. You may have recognized the image from a post I did quite a while ago about the Apocalypse Tapestry, which is on display in Angers Castle. May your wanderings along the shores of sacred Mishigami bring you peace, dear lady.

  3. What a beautiful place to have, and yes I am a true believer in a pied-à-terre. It gets the blood flowing when you have home and then you have “home” ~ each one bringing a place of unique comfort. I’d be hanging around the water at all times ~ wonderful photos and elegant writing, making the pain of making this pied-à-terre a home must have felt worth it 🙂

  4. Hi Julie,

    I’d love to have such a pied-a-terre, but – more importantly – to have decided where this pied-a-terre has to be. London isn’t our home, even though we live and work here, Italy and Hungary aren’t either, even though I’d love the latter to be. Plus, there’s the age old question, do you settle for a place and find a job, or do you let the job decide the place?. How to decide? How did you do it? (if you don’t mind me being nosy).

    On another note, I have sweet if fuzzy memories of Angers, from a school trip circa 2000. I remember us eating half a roasted chicken each in a square, houses with wooden beams and other that made my shamelessly Francophile teacher say “Oh, it looks like Paris”.

    Good luck with your renovation, at the end of the day those tiny spots are made to be sorted out during rainy weekends!

    Fabrizio

    • Hi Fabrizio – you’re not being nosy. 😉 Because of how unpredictable Europe (and the world) is right now, we decided it was best to have a place in a country where we both have citizenship. As my husband is not a US citizen and has no desire to become one, France was the answer. He did a lot of research to find out where he wanted to focus the search and decided on Angers. I left it up to him and he chose perfectly. We still live in Prague most of the time, but it’s good to know we have a refuge. Hungary seems worth checking out, if you love it so much. Cheap real estate and one of you has citizenship there.

      I’ll deal with those mistakes next time. 😱

  5. Not just France or even Europe, the world seems to be in disarray. So happy you have found some peace in such a beautiful spot. The pictures are lovely. Wonderful post, Julie. 💘

  6. Oh what a terrific post, so beautifully written. What a beautiful apartment in an architecturally stunning building. The kind of place we point at and say ” that would be an amazing place to live.” I am wondering what the inside looks like….

    My husband is French and grew up in Paris so we have enjoyed many trips to France. I would love extended time there in a pied a terre!

    • Thank you, Peta. That’s what I used to say when I’d see this kind of apartment. And now I get to hang out in one. The inside is “getting there”. Walls, floor and ceiling of most of it look good, but it’s pretty devoid of furniture. The new paint makes the view from the windows stand out even more. It has changed so much since we bought it. There are many apartments in these beautiful old buildings that are neglected.

  7. Because I always have one foot out the door, it’s hard to settle into a place and stay put. If I had my way (and a lot more money!), I’d have many small places around the world to call “home” on an alternating basis. While it’s not really accurate to call our small new apartment in a pied-à-terre since we are pretty permanently living there now, it feels like one in that it we have very little there. Life is simpler.

    I love your location; it looks serene and nourishing, cultural and natural. The problem with my itchy feet and soul is that now I want your pied-à-terre, too! Finally, I am always – despite past experience – tempted and eager to paint, but it crumbles into frustration and exhaustion every time. Thumbs up for sticking with it!

    • Actually, several little “homes” around the world is our plan. We might not buy places everywhere, but we have a crazy plan to bounce around every few months – Asia, Central/South America and then back to our place in France. This is a couple years or so down the road, though. Life is indeed simpler with a small place and less stuff. Love it.

  8. An Enchanting post.

    The words, ‘France is in turmoil, but you would never know it here,’ and the photographs that follow, are impressive.

    You prove that being a ‘Vagabond’ has its depths!

    Kudos and Regards. 🙂

  9. Plus mon petit Lire que le mont Palatin
    Et plus que l’air marin la doulceur angevine. 😊
    Hey Julie. So glad you touched base nowhere else than Angers. A pretty town in a pretty region. Lots of drizzle though. 😉 Hence the douceur angevine. Du bellay’s poem speaks about going home. If you don’t know it ask Hubby or google du bellay ulysses. I’m in paris. Home of sorts. For a few days more. Catching my own brand of douceur parisienne. Take good care of yourself. Amities. Brian

    • Hi Brian – I haven’t yet experienced the drizzle of which you speak. Being on the edge of Bretagne, I can imagine that it exists, however. The poem is lovely. “Plus que le marbre dur me plaît l’ardoise fine.” Ca,c’est chez soi. Enjoy your time in Paris.

      • Thank you I will. The poem is a jewell. About coming home. And who cares about glory. Et l’ardoise fine… One can tell driving from ile de france, normandy how the tiles sudden,y change to ardoise fine. I am so glad you have a “foot-on-the ground”. It brings peace. Are you still in Angers? Or are you back in Praha?

      • Oh and about the drizzle, same weather as Brittany ( my homeland, where my lqrents are from) it is just that, in winter, a drizzle, un crachin, (a spittle). Enjoy Angers my friend.

  10. Hi dear Julie ❤
    The apartment is gorgeous… It kind of remind me of similar ones in Buenos Aires… as you might know… there was a considerable influence coming from French peeps over here, particularly when it comes to urban architecture 🙂 Having a foot on the ground could be great at times, I guess. Sending love and best wishes, happy sunday! Aquileana 😀

  11. Oh, budge up, Julie! There must be space for me in a little corner 🙂 🙂 The apartment looks absolutely exquisite from the outside and I won’t be nearly so picky as you when it comes to decor and finishing. Just let me sit there and dream! Oh, well- maybe just a patch of grass? That’s free 🙂 🙂 Looks like heaven. Enjoy!

  12. Anger your appartment and your story are absolutely gorgeous. We were in this surrounding when visited the Loire castles! Je vous remercie beacoup de nous avoir parlé de votre résidence permanente.Bonne nuit et salutations Martina

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