“A disaster,” my husband says for the tenth time, in case I missed his point. The chateau, he means: the ruin, the lack of water, electricity, not to mention the no bathroom(s) part. "But if we put in a pool,” I offer gamely, knowing that here "in the middle of nowhere,” as he likes to say, a swimming pool would be an essential link to the civilized world. To be accompanied, he hopes, by a plasma TV (just coming on the market then) and a decent Internet connection. That is, if he decides to come.
“Why do you keep saying that? If you don’t want to come, don’t,” I say, on edge.
And the next day things get worse.
M. Brocco arrives. On the phone M. Brocco has assured me he knows how to build a proper American pool. Not a French one with a removable plastic liner. (So far, talking to other local companies about building a pool out of plaster their astounded reply was "Plaster, what kind of plaster? Non, c'est impossible!' they said.) So I'm feeling lucky.
The three of us stand in the chateau garden, below the chestnuts and the old boxwood circles, a grassy plateau where the last owner used to dry her washing. A perfect spot, we agree, a little on the tilt, but directly in line with the view.
My husband is pacing off the land, trying to imagine a not too laborious walk from the house in the morning, carrying a Herald Tribune and his cup of espresso. M Brocco, armed with a can of aerosol paint, follows him, sinking plastic stakes into the ground, spraying orange lines to mark the boundaries. My English neighbor Kathryn once suggested that having just bought 8 acres of land, a pool might be better farther away, perhaps hidden behind a wall; a delightful discovery at the end of a stone pathway, flanked by Provencal urns. I’m wondering now if she’s right, but M Brocco is shaking his head, saying something about expensive retaining walls.
Nevertheless, I walk to the very edge of the plateau, a spot farthest from the house and mark the site. M Brocco crosses out the first neon lines, comes over and sprays new ones. “That's too FAR,” my husband shouts.
“No. We don’t want it so close to the house. Do we?” I say.
“I think we DO! ”
“But this is the countryside. We’re not in Los Angeles. This isn’t a suburban back yard in the San Fernando Valley, for God’s sake, “ I say, realizing immediately that I’ve gone too far.
“That’s insulting,” he replies, then shouting to M. Brocco, he walks to a spot even closer to the kitchen than before. “Over here. S’il vous plait!” And M Brocco obliges. He pulls out the stakes, crosses out my lines, and sprays a third set. “Too near, ” I shout defensively, suddenly tearful about this bleak strip of land. “I want it here, ” he says. “But I don’t!” “Fine. Then forget it!” he shouts, and leaves, marching up the back stairs and into the house.
M Brocco seems unphased by the argument, even amused. After all, we’re married. This is France. Casually, he crosses out the last orange lines and then, reminding us that it’s a quarter to twelve, says he’s going home to lunch. He knows exactly what we want, however, so he’ll send over the estimate right away.
The next day my husband is leaving for Bulgaria to produce a movie. We shuffle silently past each other, busy showering, taking vitamins; in the kitchen, we toast slices of yesterday’s baguette like martyrs. By nine o’clock his suitcase is packed, even though his plane isn’t until three.
Feeling bad about the quarrel, I book a table for lunch in Toulouse, at the Brasserie des Beaux Arts–– Chez Flo–– a traditional fin de siècle establishment, similar to La Coupole, in Paris, the walls romantically appointed with opalene sconces, mirrors and walnut paneling. On the drive down, we are silent. But at Flo’s my husband’s mood brightens. The place is packed: the tantalizing sound of laughter, tinkling glasses, and the waiters are suitably hostile. “Ah, civilization,” he says. He’s in heaven. We order foie gras, crab and langoustines with home made mayonnaise and a bottle of the palest rose.
“I’m sorry we argued,” he says.
“Me too,” I say. I slide my hand over his under the table and squeeze it –– like I used to do in restaurants years ago, when we were married to other people.
“It’s just that the house is your thing,” he says. “Your love affair with France.”
“Don’t get defensive.”
“I’m not,” I say defensively.
“It’s your passion. It’s just not mine. I’m just trying to explain exactly why I…”
“You don’t have to..."
“But you know I do!” he says. He’s laughing, at the same time giving me his slant-eyed look, showing me how patient he’s being.
“Look. It’s an investment, ” I say.
“Good. When can we sell? My guess is you’ll get tired of it in a year or so, anyway.”
“Well–– it’s a possibility.”
I am silent. Obviously wounded. What can I say? That I don’t know how to live with him anymore in L. A? I certainly can’t say that leaving him might actually solve our marriage, because I’m not even sure the marriage needs solving.
“Look, I’m thinking out loud, that’s all,” he says, apologetically, then adds, because he can’t help himself, “I’m just trying to figure out what the fuck we’re supposed to do there all day in the middle of nowhere!”
“Nothing” I say, looking away. “That’s the whole point.”
My husband Leaves. Two weeks later still no estimate from M Brocco. I can never get him on the phone.
Finally, I manage to reach him during his lunch hour–– forgetting, of course, that the only time to reach a Frenchman is between the sacred hours of twelve and two. A young girl answers. I hear the clink and scrape of crockery in the background, then she hands him the phone. "Where," I ask, barely able to restrain myself, "is the promised estimate? And why didn’t you call me back?” (I am unaware at this point that French workmen never call back.)
I hear a sigh. The sound of plates crashing again. Finally he tells me that he can’t do it. He doesn’t want the job. The slant of the land, the probability of shifting cement. “Non. C’est im-poss-ible!” Impossible! he says, and hangs up.
Finally, I get someone to come and dig a hole....but digging the hole is not actually part of building the pool, they tell me...
You can read more about rebuilding the chateau ( and myself) in my new book, "Mistakes Were Made ( some in French)" available now on Amazon.