I left home for boarding school when I was 16 and never came back to live there permanently.
Then my life took me to many places in France and abroad but I always came back to enjoy the pleasure of the countryside and to plunge in a family “bath”. This house, lost in green Burgundy is a sort of port to my ship. I come and drop my anchor once in a while, check that my roots are well attached and leave again.
My family is a large one. Dad has 5 brothers and sisters, mum has 3. I am the eldest of 4 kids. I have three of my own and two of my siblings add four kiddos to the list.
My parents are on the left, my two brothers in the middle, Wendell and I on the right. You can see my 3 rascals dressed in white. My sister was having a baby while we were taking this photo.
Since I have moved to Australia, at the end of 2010, the house has been much more silent and empty.
I miss all these old things, most of which having been in my visual “landscape” since I was a newborn. I miss my mum’s extreme care for décor, her special little vignettes that she created on any horizontal support and her “all year round bouquets”.
I miss the family ghosts, these dead people you live with all your life who have their story, their frozen outfit and pause, forever. In my new life, I don’t have family portraits or even pictures on my wall. It is a different atmosphere made of recent and simple acquisitions which definitely lack soul.
One of the things I miss the most is the family Sunday lunch. A special moment where my mum would have prepared something special, with the freshest ingredients from the large veggie patch, the orchard and the village market. The heated discussion where usually my dad and I would monopolise the conversation to the despair of my poor mum.
It seems easy to make something beautiful of the accumulation of objects and furniture that generations have gathered in one space but it is not. It requires a special skill that my mum has. She knows how to live with other people’s stuff and not invade the space with hers. She knows how to keep the golden wheat sconce and add a collection of mini frames underneath.
I love this portrait of my grand-mother because it’s not how I have known her all my life, it’s a younger “Mam” with dark hair, the same green eyes and her ever so chic looks. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to go back in time and meet her at this age. My known version of “Mam” is closer to Downton abbey’s dowager with her harsh arrow like sentences which never missed the target. Hilarious when you’re not the victim.
I love my grand-mother. She was always very kind to me. When I lived in the country with my parents she would take me at 14 to the red light district of Paris by bus to go to a special shop she knew. Today at 93, she takes the bus, goes buy her food at the local market in Paris and is definitely the matriarch.
I feel very sad not to be near her, not to be of any help when she most probably would need some. It is the price to pay for being an expat.
My brother Pierre bought this Alfa-Romeo Julietta a few years ago, calling “her” Bruschetta. It is the type of car you should buy only if you are either a mechanic or a millionaire because in never ever works… But geez, it’s pretty in the picture!
One of the amazing aspects of growing up in the country is the space. All these old buildings where the perfect playground for kids. This is where we played hide and seek, built our own cabins, found the wood, the mud and the crazy object to create our own world. This is where we found hidden litters of kittens. It was paradise.
Look at my three kittens here with their “Papili” going around all day helping with wood chopping, making a huge fire or pruning trees.
There is a special light in this place. The house is all windows and it makes you feel as if you lived in a greenhouse. Rooms and lawns are the theatre of a chase between the rays of the sun and the shadows of the trees.
Some little treasures are noticed especially when you’re little. Adults often get a general picture of their environment unless you’re an antique dealer or an interior decorator, but when you’re a tiny person all you see is tiny things. I remember the micro-flowers of this clock and its funny arms. I loved the fact that Dad can open it and needs to turn the key every week.
The cellar is a favourite of mine. This is where my dad produced his more or less 300 bottles of cider a year. For his own consumption mind you…
Wendell tries to convince him to use a more controlled process such as the one he uses in Australia for beer brewing. But dad relies only on Mother Nature and can end up having a grand cru of a cider or an opaque liquid which you would hesitate to use for your window cleaning (sorry dad…). But with the large quantity produced, there is actually always a good bottle of cider, cellar cold, ready to be drunk. This cider is probably the best I have had ever. Nobody beats my daddy hey!
The process is pretty simple but time consuming and requiring elbow grease. The house is surrounded by apple trees including probably half of them producing inedible apples, so sour that when we were kids we used to play “dare” and as we bit into one of those small apples, our mouth would get half paralysed and the air would instantly dry our tongue. It was really bad but really fun. The mix of good and sour apples is the secret to a good dry cider. If you only use “knife apples” as we say in French, meaning good to eat, the cider will be too sweet and more or less like a fizzy apple juice.
My Dad picks the apples alone (I don’t remember how many hundreds of kilos), puts them in hemp bags. With his tractor and trailer he goes along the apple tree lines and piles the bags up. He then calls the “press guy” who brings a massive machine built on a trailer which is basically a giant juicer. A pipe with a petrol station style gun is inserted into the big and very old wooden barrels you can see above, and here goes the 300 litres of juice.
The fermentation phase involves lovely poetic words such as defecation, when the juice start to throw a brown thick matter throw the barrel’s top. Dad uses a test tank with a floating top which tastes pretty sour for the first few months. He loves it.
Visitors are always welcomed by a glass of cider from the previous years, always fresh, very bubbly and delicious.
The property is made of several farm buildings. My parents have turned each little space into lovely gardens where people come with their glass of cider or local Burgundy wine and sit down to enjoy the sound of the forest.
Amongst many other things, Mum grows edible plants such as borage. She uses them in her cooking and offers great hunting grounds for my brother’s three beehives.
She chooses a long list of vegetables and herbs which my Dad and her plant in a more than impeccable veggie patch. I love his tomato swirly sticks. The yellow flowers next to the tomato plants are called tagette and are supposed to keep the nasties away.
The farm house is a very modest building, always fresh in summer with stone sinks and a massive fire place. It’s the ideal place to stay away from the buzzing main house or invite friends with large families.
Wendell and I main activity is to pick fruits and berries and turn them into something delicious.
This makes me think that I should ask my mum to give me her recipe for “cherries in liqueur”.
My mum is obsessed with three things in the garden: ancient roses, clematis and peonies. You can see the three of them here. She has a long and faithful passion for roses, can name any rose in French and Latin instantly. She collects “David Austin” roses and many others. One of her prides is to have taken part in the creation of a rose with the famous ancient roses creator André Eve.
Well… this is a very usual and nearly boring sight for the inhabitants of this house but when you have left it, this becomes a constant source of envy and homesickness.
You can spot all sorts of pâtés including rabbit, campagne (country style) with mushroom and one with green pepper, the fresh baguette from the village’s boulangerie, the saucisson or dry sausage and finally the gougères, a sort of savoury profiterole made with Gruyère or Emmenthal cheese.
My little Léonore is enjoying walks in the forest with her “Mamina” and the marvellous cheese platters.
You can’t go anywhere without being watched by the placid eyes of an ancestor.
The house is the best place to play hide and seek :)
A little while after coming to live in Sydney, I discovered the fabulous world of styling thank to THE Australian stylist extraordinaire: Megan Morton. Through her School in Rosebery I met with my favourite photographer in the whole wide world: Kara Rosenlund. She taught me how to create vignettes: small still lives using products you want to enhance or arrangements to make a gorgeous photo, or simply tips to style little corners of your house like a pro.
I then realised that it is what my mum has been doing naturally for years on every piece of furniture that has a sufficiently large horizontal part…
This house and its surroundings are all about bike rides, preferably on a tandem and nature walks.
When it is sizzling hot, staying by the pond, in the shade of a large oak reading a good book is a great pleasure.
Dad is passionate about woodworking. The whole family uses his workshop to make things. Here my very pregnant sister is watching her husband make a change table.
Here it is all about family: mobs of kids, day long meals and discussions.
It is also all about gathering, harvesting and sometimes even stealing from the veggie patch…
This strange little wood house was built buy my great-grand-mother for her grand-kids. She called it the kid’s castle. In there you can play with an ancient Frog Game. It is a wooden shelf looking thing where a big cast iron frog sits with her mouth open. There are also several holes and arches hiding other holes. The idea is to throw large and heavy metal coins and get into the holes. The coin then falls into a maze of wood and ends up on one of the shelves where a number of points is indicated. The frog’s mouth makes you earn maximum points.
My mum’s secret garden by the pond. This is a beautiful clematis.
When Summer gets too hot, Dad closes the house down. It stays fresh but a little claustrophobic. One good idea is to go around in a bike and head to the village’s public swimming pool.
This was a biiiiig post. Thank you to the people who had to courage to reach this paragraph! It was all about the delights of country life is France. I created this post and photo-album to go back to when I’m homesick.
I hope you enjoyed this little trip to France :)