Owning a house is a constant source of stress and expense – especially an older house in the boondocks of southern France. Something always needs to be replaced. Things stop working. Leaks, cracks…it never ends. Finding experts to do the necessary work is a challenge. The next hurdle—will they show up? …the $64 question.
Our house is probably 30 -35 years old—not an ancient ruin that we restored. God Forbid! We’d have never survived that ordeal. But, we have lived through gutting a dreadful kitchen and having a beautiful new one installed, replacing the insulation which we learned had been installed backwards, (no wonder we froze during those early winters) , then installing heat pumps . A fire place is not enough to keep you warm in winters when temperatures dip to below 10 degrees F. And, it can be dangerous. We’ve experienced a chimney fire – scary, but fortunately the house was not in flames and by the time the volunteer “pompiers” (firemen) arrived, all was under control. Just lots of smoke everywhere.
We’ve had extensive roof repairs and major septic tank work. More of the latter, very complicated and costly, lies ahead. The system must be “recanalized” or some such, but first an expert soil tester must come to see how best to install new “canals.” She’s already warned us this project would cost “many thousands of euros.” The latest crisis: the hot water tank needs to be replaced. No wonder I have headaches
However, the biggest, most recent (and controversial) project has been replacing the pergola – a lovely white wooden structure just adjacent to the pool which provided shade, shelter and a pleasant place to sit. It was covered in climbing white roses when we bought the house, a thing of spectacular beauty. Alas, those roses have died, as have most of the other gorgeous roses on the property — but that will be the subject of yet another blog.
What kind of a new structure did we want? Who would do the work? BB (he doesn’t deserve to be called Bicycle Bob these days as it’s been ages since he’s been on a bike, but I have hopes that he’ll get back to pedaling, so BB he shall remain) had ideas. I was not so sure. The easiest and cheapest would have been to find a ready-made structure, buy it and assemble it. We did not like any we saw – not in stores, nor on the Internet.
So, friends of ours recommended a friend, a British builder – great! BB could communicate with him. Attempting to translate building, plumbing and electricity terms into French when you don’t even understand them in English does a number on the brain. Yet another source of stress! So, I was more than happy to bow out and let the”boys” move on with the project.
First was demolition. BB was determined to save all the wood for the fireplace, but friends cautioned that the paint would be toxic and we should trash it. That meant numerous trips to the dump. Poor BB. Of course, the dump is only open on certain days, and at certain hours. They are also not averse to changing those times and days with little forewarning. Too often he’d come back with the Toyota still full. Dump Closed!
The construction project got underway in November. We rent the downstairs apartment n the summer, so the new structure had to be finished by spring. The British worker showed up on time, worked diligently, and slowly a new structure emerged.
As I watched it grow, I grew skeptical, nervous. What the hell was happening? This was no pretty, delicate pergola. Massive posts were erected to support a tile roof. The roof connected to our house – BB wanted that. It is practical, I must admit, as those downstairs can walk right out the door under shelter in case of foul weather. But, it was mammoth. And, in my mind, not attractive. It’s a State Park Picnic Shelter (SPPS), I declared. A sturdy picnic table and a sign directing one to the toilet was all that was needed to make it an official state park structure.
Friends came for a viewing and were complimentary. One pointed out that from our balcony the sloping roof directed one’s eye to the gorgeous view we have of the Luberon hills. Several said it was a great improvement. I was suspicious. They are just being nice, I assumed. French neighbor Nicole just took a long, cold stare and said nothing. It was obvious she did not approve. Finally one comment: “There is no protection from the wind.”
True, but I wanted to leave the sides open. The view of the pool is lovely. And it’s nice not to feel closed in. During those blistering summer days (we have many), breezes provide welcome relief.
But, it needs help. Sections of trellis would be perfect, we thought. We combed the countryside, checking out building supply stores – in nearby Manosque and Apt, then on to Avignon and Marseille. We decided the best option was skinny trellis panels we had seen in Manosque. We set off to make the purchase, only to learn that they had sold out and would get no more. Fini! Back to square one.
Meanwhile, input from an expert: Glamorous Gloria, a California decorator who is a friend of our friend Lynne, and who visits every year. “It’s too leggy,” she said. “You need to soften it.” She proposed a rather grandiose landscape scheme, or so it seemed. Plants with paths or borders in between…flower beds…I told her the last thing we needed was more garden work and flowers and plants to water. In the summer, we have week after week with no rain. Every evening something must be watered. I’d rather be sipping a glass of rosé on the balcony than traipsing through the yard with a hose in my hand every night. Not to forget – the cost of all that water! And, flowers need more than water. Gloria assured me that what she proposed would require little maintenance. No doubt it would be a sensation and make us eligible for a Landscape Architecture Magazine cover. However, at this stage we need to keep things simple. But, thank you, Gloria,
Of course, we do intend to plant climbing vines, perhaps some roses, at the base of the monster “legs.” Our wise and wonderful gardener Bernard said best wait until November for planting, with November 25, the feast of St Catherine, being the optimal day. “Nothing can go wrong on that day,” he assured me. With St. Catherine’s blessing, we will plant on Nov. 25.
Friend David, a computer whiz and Internet sleuth, came to the rescue, forwarding several web sites with a great selection of trellises, including the ones we had originally decided to purchase. And, we could get them in Marseille. Last week we embarked on the trek to that fabulous city (see my blog post,”A Taste of Marseille”) , convinced this time we could come home with the needed décor for the naked SPPS. No way. The store, Leroy Merlan, carries them, but they must be specially ordered. Waiting time: 3 months. Merde Alors! We were devastated,
but then the salesman mentioned another one of their stores located in Marseille Littoral (wherever that is) that stocks them. Yesterday we made the nerve wracking trek (driving in Marseille is not for sissies and requires nerves of steel) to this giant shopping center. And, the mother of all “bricolage” (handyman) stores, a gargantuan Leroy Merlan. The selection of trellises was overwhelming. We found something we liked even better than what we had planned to buy, and loaded two in the car.
We’ve learned that not only is the SPPS in need of decorating elements, it needs to be hazard-proofed. The builder installed two sets of mini steps as a way to access the structure both from the garden side and the apartment. They are attractive, but… Our first renters this summer, who come every year, said the steps were frightening. Both BB and I have tripped on them . Nicole called them “mortel,” (lethal). Alas, a lovely Swiss guest recently fell on the nasty steps and broke two bones in her foot. Fortunately for us, she was nice about the accident and did not blame us. But, it could have been far worse.
We’re working on a solution to that problem. Meanwhile I consulted Webster on the true definition of a pergola, still convinced we were stuck with a SPPS, not a garden pergola: “ A structure usually consisting of parallel colonnades supporting an open roof of girders and cross rafters.” ?? Even the original structure did not fit that definition, but perhaps the SPPS comes closer.
For a delicious and easy first course, see recipe in column at right for ”Grilled Scallops with Melon and Avocado Salsa.”
What do you think? Is it a pergola, SPPS, or does it merit a new designation? I love to hear from readers. Please share your views. See “Leave a Reply” below under Comments. Subscribers also welcome. Don’t miss future posts. Click on Email Subscription at top right.