Sunday, September 18, 2005


We went to the house-warming party of some friends who have settled in France. They live in a little town to the west of Paris called Verneuil. It seems to be a town that is changing rapidly, with quite a lot of building work going on and a slight air of being unfinished. There is a property price boom going on to the west of Paris which encourages people firstly to buy, and then to look further and further afield in order to find something.

Our friends have found a very nice 1930s house made of brown and yellow stone. It is built on three floors so gives them plenty of room. Apparently there was not too much competition to buy it, as it needed quite a bit of work, which is expensive if you source from local builders. They, however, brought a team of eight builders over from the UK for a few weeks.

The house has a garden that is nearly a hundred metres long. Along the wall at the side there are vines, and at the end is a little vineyard. The previous owner, an old gentleman, used to crush his own grapes in a trough and then put them through a wine press that is still standing in the garden. It is worked by hand with a large green handle like a wheel on the side. We had a peep in the outhouse which our friends have thought about turning into guest accommodation, once the chicken coop on the side has been knocked down. On a dusty shelf, an old photograph of a little French girl peeped out of the shadows. She was seated in a garden seat, dressed in the style of a hundred years ago, the garden around her crowding in to form a cosy bower.

The building work on the house went quite well. A lot of the house was overflowing with junk that they had to chuck out, particularly in the basement which is now converted into living space. One room down there used to keep 500 bottles of wine, bottles of ancient home-made Calvados (French apple brandy) and pickled preserves circa 1972. While the builders were clearing this lot out, they decided to drink some of the brandy. One of the builders drank too much and then picked an argument with the foreman. A brawl ensued and the builder got punched, fell over and cut his head. He ended up being carted off to hospital.

There were lots of friends at the party and the French neighbours were there as well, mixing in. Quite a number of the guests work for an American newspaper that publishes out of Paris. Our friend works there as a copy editor. They were a nice bunch, amusing, mainly in a self-deprecating way. It was interesting to hear about their work, how they get material ready to go to print in the morning with 9pm and then 11pm deadlines. One of the journalists was standing next to a bottle of champagne as it was being opened with a loud POP! Oh my God, he said, grimacing, I thought I was back in Kosovo...

No comments: