Monday, September 12, 2016

Hénon reprise

I've posted about Hénon before. We stayed there for half of July and all of August in the end, at the holiday home of J & B, some friends of a friend. We didn't know them really at all, met them just once before, but when I rang up and asked point blank if we could have it for six weeks instead of two, they very quickly agreed with good cheer and friendliness; I did suggest they ring me back so they could discuss it; we'd perceived they were a couple who liked to check with each other before agreeing to things of mutual concern, which is something we like to see, having fairly strict rules within our own marriage about it.*

Anyway, B rang back withing a couple of minutes and said of course, that's fine (we and our insurance between us had agreed to pay them a decent rent), so we stretched ourselves into their reclining armchairs and heaved a sigh of relief. And very largely, that's what we spent quite a lot of the six weeks doing, when we weren't communicating at length with the expert's office, trying to pin down artisans, or having the mother of all bonfires of the vanities, Emmaus and the dechetterie grew fat on our discarded worldlies. 

The other thing we did was walk a lot, getting to know pretty much every track and lane around the place; there were many safe and pleasant paths where Elfie was able to take her first off-leash walks in safety, and many other well-socialised dogs and cats, and even an African grey parrot at one house that used to whistle and chat as we went by. People round here who don't live there often pull a face when you mention Hénon, it's an unglamourous little commune that has nothing special about it, except for a massive 19th century Gothic church which serves as a landmark and makes the place easy to get back to when you get lost walking its environs, as we did a couple of times, and of course the celebrated dechetterie; it only has quite minor roads to it and isn't on the way to anywhere much else. Like many such bourgs - commune centres where the mairie is to be found - it is expanding to a surprising degree, with many lotissements and other new-build houses spreading further and further out, while in the village centre is rather dying, the dingy and poky old stone houses with hardly any gardens can scarcely be given away and stand empty and decaying; Tom likened the place to a mint plant. J & B, who live in Guernsey but come over often, said that when they first bought the house about twenty-five years ago there were three shops and five bars, not all of them open at the same time, now there is one bar, and the last general shop has recently closed down, though there is a bakers and Gaetan at the bar keeps a few shelves of groceries. Gaetan's other half, Fred, runs a cosy little hairdressing salon opposite the church and gave me the best and most enjoyable haircut I'd had in a long time; I would say more than the mairie their establishments are at the heart of the community.

J and B's is one of the older village houses, but a bit away from the centre, where the original buildings merge into the newer developments, and quite a popular residential area for young families, it seems. Our stay coinciding with the hottest and most relaxed period of the long summer holidays, we were kept awake by very noisy all night parties a couple of times. Despite this, however, and despite the horrible experience of finding the body of the young family next door's cat (who had earlier launched herself at Elfie with a savagery only a nursing mother cat can show), strangled in the opening of a slippery pvc window in the act of trying to get back in to her kittens when her owners went out leaving them separated and no easier way in (Tom reached up and unhitched her,  I wrapped her up and left them a note, so at least their kids didn't see), we generally quite enjoyed our stay, the old house was cool and the walking was good.

It was indeed hot, so evenings were the best times to walk.

As I said, you can see the church from the fields all around,

and all its fancy Gothic nooks and crannies serve as roosts for a huge variety of birds: swallows and house martins and swifts, jackdaws and pigeons and doves, yet it didn't seem to be plagued and eroded by bird droppings, which can be a problem in other churches I've seen.

Something else I never knew, country church clocks here strike the hour twice, Plemy's does it too. This, it seems, was so that those working in the fields, like in the Angelus, or otherwise at a distance, who heard the clock strike but perhaps missed the start of it, could straighten up, wait a few moments then count the second lot properly.

I think Hénon must have been quite devout, lots of houses of all different periods have a niche above the door for an statue of Jesus or the BVM or other saint.

We saw the Bogard balloons a number of times.

And some sheep safely grazing.

There are a few quaint things to be seen here, this bizarre, oversized and completely architecturally anomalous thatched cottage, with naff replicas of classical sculptures - a midget Michelangelo's David, a nymph or two and a rather manky Renaissance lion - in the garden:

and this miniature Alpine chalet in a front yard which I've often wondered about as I drove past.

It turns out it is a cold-frame on wheels. The people at the house were funny and friendly too.

Our friend J was just down the road, we were able to use her internet sometimes, including by squatting down on the pavement at her windowsill before she was up in the mornings and picking up the wi-fi through the window, which the good citizens of Hénon found quite amusing.

Really not a bad place to pass a month or two, but we don't mind being on our way either.

Sometimes when I called Elfie at this point, just before a field where some hares lived, she would bound towards me all silhouetted with light and looked like a spirit dog.

* for example, the number of women who cheerfully volunteer their menfolk, without asking, for jobs involving DIY, car mechanics and heavy lifting is deplorable. Ask them how they'd feel if their husbands offered to lend them out to other people to come and clean for them and they'd look a bit surprised.


Zhoen said...

Something about living in a place for a short stretch. Easy to see it for all it is, and not mind the drawbacks, since you don't have to stay.

Dylan and I always check with each other, not for permission, but out of kindness and consideration.

susan said...

I'm glad to know you and Tom (and Elfie) are all well and in good spirits now your lives appear to be returning to normal. Before I looked at your lovely pictures I searched online for Henon and found the website. It's most charming even though it's no longer what it was.

the polish chick said...

quite an interesting post for an urban planner. thanks!

Nimble said...

I'm glad to hear you navigated the summer passage successfully. I love the backlit picture of Elfie. Looks like sunrise.

Catalyst said...

Fascinating story of your stay and not at all naff. (See, I learned a new word, too!)

Roderick Robinson said...

Hénon sounds a bit like Drefféac where we had the house. Large church in the centre with the occasional dead body of a swift or swallow in the car park below. These birds seem to have crashed into the church in flight and that saddened me; I thought they were famed for their aerobatics so how can they have failed to avoid the church?

A bakery arrived and then departed; I tried to support it while it lasted by ordering a special cake iced with Bienvenue à Drefféac for some friends who were staying the night. Wondered whether I should - sort of casually - remind the bakery about the accents; decided they'd be offended but then had a brilliant idea, chatting about the erroneous (official) sign on the road outside which had invested the village's name with TWO (count them!) accents. All went well.

Two bars, both squalid and full of hopelessness which, despite my intentions to embrace everything and everyone, I felt unable to patronise.

A hairdresser who explained why friseur no longer applied to his trade.

And a Huit à Huit which one day offered oysters. I told the prop. I'd buy them all but I still hadn't learned the knack of opening them. He volunteered and arrived that evening with a huge plate, keen nevertheless to keep his newly bandaged hand behind him.

And now I can descend on the village, courtesy of Google Earth. Using the Little Man symbol I can stand in front of my old front door and note the A Vendre signs on the shutters. But all is forlorn. Of all useless developments Drefféac has gained an Immobilier (on the site previously occupied by the bakery) but our house is not listed. The Irish businessman who bought it from us for a mere £15,000 converted the attic into a third bedroom and listed it for sale at €75,000. Nobody took the bait.

I mention all this as a reminder that should you, in future, wish to dwell on Hénon's attractions you don't need to get in the car. Messrs Google can transport you there in virtual safety. Even during the heure d'affluence.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Wonderful report, full of happy details - apart from the mother cat misadventure which fills me with sorrow - but very glad you're back in full creative flow. My warmest wishes to you and Tom and your restored homestead.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Or will eventuallly be restored honestead.

Anonymous said...

Good to hear you are all well. Love that last picture of Elfie. Hope all is progressing with your home and the insurance company is behaving itself.

Susan (HHB)xxx

Wendy Mewes said...

Lucy, so sorry that I have only just caught up with what has been happening and read your awful news. Wish I had known as I now have a house at last and could perhaps have helped at the crucial time. So glad to see your new addition - beautiful girl!

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

Z - indeed, now it feels rather strange to pass through Hénon already, like it's a closed chapter. I don't know why it is that people feel they can do it, not checking; sometimes it seems to come from a certain, rather oddly expressed, pride - look, I've got a clever husband who can do that! - or a need to show your not possessive, - look, I don't mind sharing him! Sometimes it's about proving your not under the thumb or needing permission, which is often ignorant and unkind even when it's something that mostly concerns yourself but is downright rude when it's appropriating your other half's time and energies on their behalf, other times it seems to be about getting the kudos for being a helpful person without needing to put the effort in yourself. Like I say, it seems to be more acceptable for women to do it than men, though maybe it wasn't always so. The boot on the other foot equivalent I suppose was the man who brought people home then expected the woman to feed them.

Susan - always a pleasure to see you here! We're doing OK, it really hasn't been so bad.

PC - it occurs to me that really the municipality could do with buying up some of the old wrecks in the village centre, gutting them and turning them into some kind of low-cost housing. I think that's a bit more what's happened in Plémy, which has a lot of bigger central buildings which are 'La Residence de...'this and that and seem to house older, poorer, more vulnerable people. Sometimes Napoleonic inheritance laws mean old places stand uselessly empty and decaying as heirs can't be found and/or it's not worthwhile sorting out possession and sale. Sometimes they're bought and patched up a bit but not really fixed.

Nimble - we have done, we've been lucky. It was sunset, in fact, we had some lovely evening outings.

Cat- thanks! Americans often seem rather taken with the word 'naff'!

Robbie -surprising the bakery didn't make it; the bare minimum a commune seems to be able to sustain is a bakery and a hairdresser, sometimes a florist - mostly subsisting on the fairly consistent funeral trade. Your description of the bars very much chimes with my feelings about the two in Plémy, I walk past them and observe their clientele and wonder how they can survive on it, since it doesn't look like a very prosperous one and they make no attempt, perhaps recognising the futility of any such, to expand it. However,the Hénon bar is actually quite inviting, with its 'beach' and loungers in the summer and it's fairly bright appearance and friendly atmosphere, I think it's down to the guys who run it, they also host partied and have music events, and are held in affection not only by the old ladies but also by the latter's husbands and a bunch of mixed youngsters. So much in France doesn't seem to get off the ground though, so many places look like they've seen better days, or at least once hoped to have done.

Natalie - glad you liked it. The cat was a sad business, we felt a bit cross with the people for their fecklessness about their animals. The kittens seemed to be doing well when we left, though. The restoration of the homestead suddenly seems to be gearing up, the menuisier having stolen a march on the electrician, who was dragging his feet...

HHB - thanks my dear, and once again for your lovely gifts! The cheque came through a few days ago and we are much relieved.

Wendy - lovely to see you here, and how very kind of you, in fact we have needed to be fairly close to the house to sort things out, but I'm sure we would have had a lovely time and you would have enjoyed Elfie, who is a star and a comfort. I'm not sure we'd have made so much progress with her and her training in fact, without the changes in situation we had thrust upon us, which also provided opportunities, and seemed to strengthen the bond between us.

Anonymous said...

Hurrah for the cheque!
Good to know the parcel got to you ( Australia Post can be a pain).
Onwards dear hearts, onwards!

marly said...

Cold-frame on wheels as Alpine chalet! So funny!