Thursday, June 04, 2009

Le gîte

As usual, cooking was a scavenger hunt for a knife that could cut. Or at least cut straight without the handle shaking. The cutting boards were in sad shape and made me almost glad the light in the kitchen was poor, for they were also impossible to get truly clean. And as in every French gîte, or rental house, there was one of those rustic corkscrews with a handle made out of a chunk of gnarled grapevine. More than one vacation has been cut short by a heart attack provoked by the incorrect use of one of those, I'm certain.

The cupboards were populated with useless kitchen cast-offs, like ice cream glasses and tiny forks, but there were no potholders and only three proper wineglasses, plus two champagne flutes which were promptly broken.

The bathroom was just as thoughtfully equipped, with a useless bidet but no useful towel racks. There was an old musty armoire filled with hangers that kept falling out. And naturally, there wasn't a shower curtain. I've determined that the French detest shower curtains, and I believe we've the only family in the entire country to own one.

Then there was the leaky kitchen sink, that went from slow drip to swimming pool over the rainy Tuesday we spent inside. The plumber promised he'd arrive at five o'clock but showed up closer to eight, then stayed to chat about bullfights and bricolage until nine.

But stumble out the back door and none of that mattered. The house owned the hillside, the well-tended lawn curved down, and the view stretched forever. There was a château on the hill across the way, endless grapevines and fields of nascent sunflowers. And the house itself was beautiful, despite the funky kitchen and the faulty plumbing. It was a 12th century chapel, according to the rental announcement. I had my doubts, and the gothic-arch windows seemed a bit too perfect to be old, but the warm Gers limestone was genuine.

The location was perfect, what's more: halfway between Condom* and Montréal, hiking distance from the fortified village of Larressingle, and a stone's throw from the Way of Saint James. During le Petit's nap time, I spread out under the locust tree outside the front door and decided that those who had named Gascony le pays de cocagne were right.

* Yes, that is a real place name. One of the biggest towns in the Gers, in fact, although that doesn't mean it is a big place by any stretch. The pronunciation is closer to condo, though, so don't giggle.


Isabelle said...

There are different levels of comfort when you rent a gîte. Of course the more comfortable, the more expensive it will be.
We always rent the most comfortable ones, and funny enough we've always had shower curtains ;)

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

It was considered pretty comfortable (and certainly is expensive enough in high tourist season, although we got a good deal for the month of May) but still no shower curtains. There were those glass half-door things that cover part of the side of the tub, though.

Even the fanciest gites I've been in don't have knives that cut. Maybe I'm picky. But there was a dishwasher and a washing machine, what more does a girl need?

Isabelle said...

The glass half doors are considered much more fancy than a shower curtain, and they are way more expensive too!!

caramama said...

I learned from my mom that if I'm driving to a rental place, pack a few good knives, corkscrew, wine glasses, paper towels, etc. Even here in the US, the rental places don't always have the best (if any) of those types of things. She also packs coffee and sugar and her own wine, because if you get in late you will be glad to have the wine and glasses before bed and the coffee and sugar in the morning!

But overall, the place sounds wonderful! I can only imagine what a gorgeous view and location!

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@Isabelle: yeah, I know those glass things are supposed to be better, but they drive me nuts. I'm always getting water on the floor with them anyway, and for my tall husband it's worse.

You can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think most French people hold the shower head when taking a shower rather than leaving it anchored to the wall à l'américaine. My theory is that that is why shower curtains are optional, but when I try to shower that way I end up both awkward and freezing cold!

@Caramama: You mother has a very good idea. I wished I'd brought some of the surplus wineglasses I found in the kitchen reorganization. We have about a bazillion freebies from an biannual wine growers' exposition we go to. I'd have been more than happy to bring some of them and leave them, honestly.

The wine itself we did bring in plenty, but I was traveling with my dad and my husband: they more than took care of picking up bottles along the way!

Isabelle said...

Showering is a kind of "new" concept for the French, in the sense that we were used to take baths and not showers. That's why in old houses you will always find bath tubs (and no shower enclosure) and, yes, a bidet...
Of course, if there are no shower curtains or glass half-doors, you have to hold the shower head in your hand if you really want to take a shower.
It's just a question of culture I guess, people of a certain age don't take showers, because they are not used to (but they do take baths!!).
I hope that this isn't the reason why there is this terribly mean stereotype about the French not washing themselves...