When you buy a house in France you find that there are often many depondances which are une surprise – usually pleasant ones. We didn’t really need a piggery, derelict cottage, a hen house and a huge barn but they felt like added value. Sadly our huge beautiful barn needed much work and money to keep it standing – not such good value. A conservationist re-tiled the roof (a jobbing builder would have been OK but our French didn’t run to jobbing builder so we spent a lot of money but now have an impressive roof done in old tiles).The same conservationist told us the back wall needed rebuilding before he could finish the roof. Barns are like cars, conservationists like mechanics; how could we argue when we know nothing? So work started on the massive back wall. Our old Devon friends, Mike and Lesley who now live in France, emailed us photos of the new wall and reported it was magnificent. Then followed more news: the new wall had fallen down. Our conservationist emailed too,‘This is bad for you and bad for me’. Particularly bad for us as he wanted lots more money.
Ohh La La!
When we arrived in France for our writing and art courses half the wall had gone up again. Our neighbours were full of stories of the collapse. "It was like 9/11" they told us. I was glad to learn they meant the noise and the dust from the rubble; the workmen had escaped without injury. JC, Jean-Claude the conservationist, came to discuss the mauvaise surprise. Fortunately Will Randall, our writing tutor, speaks fluent and fast French so offered to translate. He was brilliant at communicating and arguing but for the sake of entente cordiale and getting the job finished properly we agreed it had been une mauvaise surprise and we agreed to pay up.
However it is an ill wind ...and we all thought Une Mauvaise Surprise would be a good subject for a writing exercise.
The Bonnes Surprises came on the final day of the course. Under Rosemary Catling’s gentle tutoring the artists produced an impressive Private View. Our water jug, the almost-black geranium, the beams in the préau and the full moon (together with Howard Hodgkins and Francis Bacon) had inspired an amazing range of work and we felt we’d brought Tate Modern as well as 9/11 to sleepy little Leygonie.
Will did a wine tasting amongst the paintings and got us all in pairs to articulate our criticism of local wines. I’ll remember his advice in future: “you can’t go wrong with a Côte du Rhone.”
The writers each read a favourite piece of work from the week except Boris who had written a short and witty play inspired by Wagner’s death which Steve and Will acted. This involved an improvised gondola and Steve singing arias. Very entertaining – as were all the contributions. Rona’s painting of the water jug had inspired an impressive poem from Pam which closed the event.
We packed in the film Couscous, a competitive game of boules and a leisurely last dinner together with a big log fire and candles for ambience.
It’s sad to say Au Revoir but it was just that as we know many will return to Leygonie for more Bonnes Surprises.