Le Pouget

It’s the name of our hamlet of three houses or the “lieu-dit” in French. Le Pouget doesn’t mean anything, so it must be a family name. No one seems to know. It’s also our address: Le Pouget, St Avit-Sénieur, France. That’s it. No street or house number. We met the post woman, so she knows we go with the house. Her name is Bernadette and she thinks we have lots of courage. We bought a mailbox, not like US boxes — it is big, green and square and locks with a key.

Before we returned to New York in December, we had the “first” signing to buy the house, rather like an intent to purchase with a sizeable down-payment. The second signing and actual purchase occurred after all the inspections (many more than in the US) and a two-month waiting period during which a neighboring farmer could buy our house for the agreed price if he felt he hadn’t had a fair chance. That gave us pause. Not until after the final signing did we realize the legal system in France is set up to protect the buyer and the community. The seller is assumed to be the rich adversary, ready to cheat the buyer and short-change his or her neighbors. Remember Daumier cartoons?

A local farmer didn’t buy Le Pouget and we returned to the Périgord in March for three months – to claim our house and start the renovation. Claire and Francois welcomed us back to the Domaine de Beaucour.

The work started well. In the first few days we opened up the walk-in kitchen fireplace that was built over in heavy cabinetry and uncovered a beautiful limestone fireplace, six feet wide and four feet tall. We tore out a spiral staircase that was dangerously weakened by bugs, vastly increasing the space in the kitchen. The demolition was proving difficult with the only tools we had found in the barn – a ball hammer and crow bar; it was time to invest in real tools. Armed with a French dictionary, we drove to the quincaillerie or hardware store in Beaumont, our closest “big” town. Owned by the Bariat family for more than six generations, it is an old-fashioned hardware store that sells everything from teapots to ladders, horse saddles and shotguns and traditional wicker furniture. The front of the store advertised the variety: MENAGE (houseware), CHASSE (hunting), baskets hung on a grill, a wheel barrow was parked by the door. Nothing seemed to be in a logical order, rug beaters next to weather vanes, nails shared a shelf with canning goods. But there is nothing you can’t find, eventually. We needed work gloves, a claw hammer, shovels (I could find the French names in my Larousse pocket dictionary), but I also needed a garden sprayer to remove wallpaper. My dictionary didn’t have garden sprayer or sprayer, so we pantomimed sprayer, then garden sprayer. M Bariat followed us patiently and understood, even the segue to removing wallpaper. By this time, several members of the family had gathered around us, offering suggestions for other methods and equipment. Smiling and exchanging congratulatory handshakes, we returned to Le Pouget better equipped to continue our work.

The house is full of its past owners: goose fat smells in the kitchen; dog scratches on doors; an under-the-stairs closet decorated to the nines in flowered contact paper and matching ruffled material; hand-written labels on shelves for “foie carnard,” “pâté cochon” and “les petites patates de Georgette”; a collection of newspaper articles about Princess Diana; and dozens of old wine bottles hidden near the cellar entrance.

Being here is agreeing with me. One evening after a long day of work, we were driving back to our gite in the sunset and we passed a field of sheep with some new-born lambs, black with white tails, following their mothers in the bright green grass. It is so very beautiful here. And after the sun sets, owls hoot — soft, long notes in the night air.