The first farmhouse we visited looked perfect when viewed from the front garden outside. The walls were restored so that just enough sandstone was exposed and a neat walkway led up to a front door framed by a clematis vine. I held my breath, expecting to fall in love.
When we walked inside, the main room was spacious and cool. As typical of old houses in the southwest of France, the windows were small to keep precious heat in in the winter and equally precious shade in in the summer. There were oak rafters on the ceiling and dark red irregular tiles on the floor. A giant fireplace dominated the center of the room. I couldn't have dreamed it better.
This was it, my farmhouse in the Gers. I thought I'd have to wait until I was retired, and even then only assuming the dollar stabilized and the predicted crashes of Social Security and la Sécurité Sociale didn't come to pass. In moments of optimism I thought perhaps I'd eventually become indispensable enough to my company to negotiate an ongoing telecommuting arrangement, but I had to admit that it would most likely never happen, certainly not in the near term. And was it truly prudent to consider buying a vacation home an eight hour drive away from Paris?
Yet here I was with a real estate agent, and with very little information, I'd just made an offer. We walked through the main room to the kitchen where we had a view of the garden out back. The view from the window above the sink looked as stunning as I'd expected and I was already imagining cooking up the fruits of my labor in the vegetable garden when I realized something was quite wrong.
The garden ended abruptly in a cliff. There was a fence, a few tufts of grass, and then a drop-off that would give Wile E. Coyote vertigo. I turned to the real estate agent and started to panic. Was it too late to back out?
I started to explain that we had a toddler and that such a backyard would never be safe; that I came from a land of abundant rain and frequent landslides and I wasn't sure most homeowners insurance would cover a building disappearing in a storm. She claimed she understood in the insincere way real estate agents agree with everything you say, but at the same time looked ready to wage a fight. In the meantime, my husband got a call from the bank. They wouldn't approve the loan and we could legally back out. We were saved.
Without missing a beat, the agent said she could show us something else, something more in our budget. It was an historic townhouse in Lectoure, with a first floor in stone and a second half-timbered, just beyond the town wall and with a sweeping view of the valley. I knew just the house she was referring to, for I'd noticed it on our last trip. It was one of those houses that from just a few stolen glimpses through windows you can imagine yourself living in down to the details of where you'd place flower boxes and how you'd orient the dining room table. It was my house, and it would finally be mine.
"We'll go take a look," I said, trying to hide my enthusiasm. I could see Lectoure on its hill in the distance, and knew we'd be there in minutes. I could be signing a letter of intention to buy in an hour. My husband and I exchanged a meaningful look. We were in agreement.
We were in the car winding closer to now-hidden Lectoure -- roads in the Gers are never straight, and one grows accustomed to seeing a destination appear and disappear behind small wooded hills and rows of grapevines -- and I knew we couldn't be far. Then, suddenly --
Heh? What? The car disappeared, the fields disappeared, the grapevines were gone in the time it took to blink my eyes open and see le Petit standing in his crib next to our bed. We weren't in the Gers, we were in the tiny family house in Troyes, and it was quarter to seven in the morning.
I wasn't getting up quickly enough. Le Petit had no idea I was hauling myself back up the autoroute A20 and in my confused half-awake state had barely reached Limoges. My head arrived as my bare feet hit the cold wooden floor.
Yet another case of parenthood anchoring me firmly to reality.