“Le bonheur grande nature.
Une seule année aura suffi pour nous faire regretter cette maison à deux pas du Paris-Brest dans les Yvelines.
Au rez-de-chaussée, les pièces communes, petit salon, grand salon, bibliothèque et salle à manger lambrissée.
A l’étage, les parents. Leur deux bureaux, leur chambre avec celle de bébé attenante, et les deux chambres d’amis.
Au-dessus, les enfants. Quatre chambres et une gigantesque salle de jeux. Ils ont pu inonder leur propre salle de bain, détacher la robinetterie et enlever les porte-serviettes sans que les parents soient au courants.
Les photos suivantes captent de manière peu satisfaisante la joie que nous avons pu partager pendant cette année bien trop courte.”
La Bellanderie had been a dream for us, a total lucky break. Daphné made friends with a girl named Sarah at l’école d’Hermeray. Sarah’s mother Martine was a free spirit who lived in a lovely home just outside the village of Hermeray. It turned out that she also was the proud owner of another house in the nearby village of St. Hilarion, and she was worried about it remaining empty, even though these was a caretaker on the property.
With our growing family, she wondered if we might be interested in renting it. . . .
Just one look, and we were sold. The rent was only a couple of hundred dollars more a month than the rent at Le Tahu, and there were individual rooms for every child, even baby Charles. Although it was a generous wide-open space to play in, the collective bedroom for the four older children at Le Tahu did not really give any of them enough private space. And La Bellanderie had an enormous playroom as well as individual bedrooms!
Martine had had the whole house repainted before moving out herself, but we moved in during the spring of 1996, and decided that we needed to repaint the kitchen ourselves. That mischievous urge to spring clean should frequently be restrained! It felt like the painting took forever, but then we were in. Life was good for us all in that sprawling home. Alex may never have lived at La Bellanderie, but as likely as not was conceived there!
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A door-to-door salesman came to the door of La Bellanderie one day, selling of all things oriental rugs. Despite the deterrent effects of the imposing arched gateway and the caretaker’s cottage just inside it, we were visited by two door-to-door salesmen over the course of the year, one selling wine and this one his rugs. Marie-Hélène rather likes oriental rugs, and somehow sensed an opportunity with this particular salesman.
They bartered for hours, on and on, until he finally sold her a total of thirteen rugs, some admittedly small but all of good quality (like the goum in the above photo), at a price that was less then his initial price for two or three! He couldn’t bring himself to leave when she continually talked him down, although he probably should have. As time went on, his eyes began to have a hunted look. Maybe he made a little money on this sale, but not a lot. By the end of the day’s trading, it was all a matter of pride. He was going to prove to this woman that he could make this sale, and he did. Hope for his sake that he was self-employed!
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La Bellanderie was above all a very inviting and social home. Its generous spaces inside and out simply called out to be occupied and peopled. Even the decor was social: check out in the photo on the left the lighted stained glass window above the oversize fireplace in the dining room: medieval party time!
So party we did, even in 1996, the year which for several reasons unrelated to La Bellanderie was probably our worst together. We held our 1997 wedding reception in the dining room, of course, as well as several children’s parties. Guests were constantly coming in and out, and to stay. We loved that feeling, and a few photos follow to catch it.
It was a quirky house, which of course only added to its character. Martine had managed to repaint the entire interior without repairing it first after years of neglect. There were occasional reminders of that omission if you looked carefully in the form of paint already peeling here and there. No big deal: at some point in the not too-distant future, someone was going to be required to pay a lot of money to repair the innards of the house and then repaint it properly. Not us.
Then one day, we had a storm, quite a powerful storm, pouring rain and plenty of wind, but nothing out of the ordinary. Something caught my eye in the lighted stairwell: it was late in the evening. There was water flowing down the rear wall of the stairwell. In fact, when we examined further, there was water flowing down the entire rear wall of the house along the first floor corridor, inside!
It never happened again while we were there. I have no idea why it happened that time, and neither did Martine. But in an ideal world rain should not run down the wall inside your house!
As I said, quirky. On the other side of the coin, the best quality and top performing side, Martine had installed a massive German oil-fired central heating system. The boiler, sitting snug in the basement, was the size of a small room. This state of the art central heating system did manage to heat the entire house, but even with all that power, all those BTUs, it had a difficult time doing so.
Remember, the repairs that years of neglect required but had never been made? Well, in addition to rain, the structure of the house let in wind, or should I say a lot of air, or something in between. There was more air circulating than in a normal home, particularly from under the various floors, but it was not to the point of being open to the air. The old phrase for that was “drafty old house.” Indeed.
Back to the central heating. In the cold weather, the absence of any insulation and the constant drafts obliged it to power away for hours at a time. With a thermostat, the boiler in a normal insulated home will turn on and off regularly. Not here! As the winter advanced, we discovered that the monthly cost of oil almost exceeded the cost of rent!
We did stay warm, however, in all of the fourteen rooms!
My hobby was exploring the grounds of La Bellanderie, several acres with a stream crossing it, and man-made ponds to complement the stream. Much of the land had been left in its natural forest state, and most of the parts that had not had relapsed by the time we arrived. I was thrilled to locate, buried under the undergrowth on a bend in the stream, a terrace that must have dated from the nineteen twenties or thirties. We tried to find out what had happened to the home that caused it to deteriorate so drastically, but without success. There was some talk of Nazi occupancy during the war, but nothing very clear.