Our first Summer season of guests at the Chateau has been interesting to say the least…not to mention a little scary, a lot frantic and hugely chaotic.
This is going to be a marathon blog as a lot has happened and I need to remember it all for the ‘diary’ part of the blog but also to share with all the many friends and family (and welcome strangers) who are sharing the journey with me.
We muddled through our first few weeks of visitors, trying to get the hang of which linen fitted what and a stove with no numbers – at all..so we grilled a few things by mistake and under-cooked a few other things…but on the whole, it all went ok.
And then the American businessman arrived. Now we had been primed to get everything ready to an extremely high standard. He expected a full time chef, he wanted an internet connection that rivaled the States at 50-100 gig download speed and he wanted an office set up with printer etc. He would be here for a month and have various people and clients coming in and out all the time so the linen had to be changed for the next visitor whenever it was needed. He wanted dry cleaning done, personal laundry and good coffee.
He was a very altogether person, very kind, very complimentary and his biggest complaint was that the internet connection wasn’t anywhere like America. Now here, I found it very hard to keep a straight face. I tried to explain to him that he was in rural France, in a Chateau built in 1641 with walls a meter thick..and yes, I was aware that the Internet speed was bad….yes…it was 5 gig download speed…and yes…America was wonderful..it was 100. Only after a day or two did I learn that one of his mates was ‘Bill’ (who couldn’t make it) and another that was coming was ‘Zack’… The ‘Bill’ was Bill Gates and the ‘Zack’ was Zack Nelson..the CEO of Net Suite..no wonder the internet speed was an issue.
Either way, between the Estate duties, the House duties and the Kitchen, the Dear One and I worked a 16 hour day every day. After the first week, we asked him to please go to a restaurant to give us a break. He said he really didn’t want to as the food was really good at the Chateau (a great compliment but at that point, I didn’t care). Eventually after much mumbling, he took himself and his guests off to a restaurant down the road.
Then it was American Independence Day – July 4th and the Special Person in his life was arriving – so could we do something to make her feel welcome. So along with the cake with the flag done in strawberries and blueberries, we decided to let off some fireworks on the stone steps beyond the garden fountain. The Dear One had it all worked out..in fact he was extremely excited and spent a while working out the sequence. He collected wine bottles for the rockets to stand it while they were lit and cascading fountain lights were placed on the two pillars leading down the steps. Then we had one or two other firework things that promised a great display.
So after dinner (they usually wanted to eat around 9) we asked them to wait on the balcony terrace until it was dark which was about 11. There they stood, and we charged down to the bottom of the garden to provide them with a ‘grand’ USA tradition that they were missing out on ‘back home’. The Dear One set off the rockets and we heard clapping, then some other rocket-type-things went off while he quickly lit the side display with lights and sparkles cascading down the pillars. Cool! Then he lit some other thing set in the middle of the steps for a clear view…and there was silence….we waited…they waited….the string burned…and one lonely ball of lights shot into the air for about half a meter with a disappointing ‘sput’ sound and that was that. I could NOT stop laughing at this point. To make it worse..we heard polite clapping. And then, much to our amazement…another lonely sputtering ball of light shot into the air..this time, about half a meter. Now by this time, I was just about paralytic I was laughing so much and the Beloved had a hard time lighting the others he was shaking with laughter. He put the last of the lights-to-be on the step and lit them…the first one went off with a great display..the second one sputtered to a halt and then a small light danced inside the bottle instead of zooming out into the air and then all became dark. I couldn’t breath, I lay flat on my back wheezing with laughter. The from a lofty height in the darkness on the balcony came a booming voice that said..’Well if that isn’t the best fireworks display I’ve ever experienced!’ It was such a lie but so very sweet.
Two weeks in and it was taking it’s toll. The gardener’s wife who came in every day to make the beds and clean kept telling me to sleep as I had ‘tres bleu’ circles under my eyes. Fine I thought..but when?!
Then some more business partners arrived and we needed to ‘wow’ them as a deal needed to be made and papers needed to be signed. I poached some pears, half in rose wine and then turned them over and poached the other half in white wine syrup with vanilla. We were serving them in a caramel basket with hot chocolate and orange sauce and creme fraiche. Most of all the cooking and baking is done in my little kitchen in the cottage. Everything is there equipment-wise and I know the oven. Then it’s just simple to take it all the few meters to the Chateau kitchen and plate it to make it look beautiful (I hope). So I held the chilled pears on the plate and walked towards our garden gate with the Dear One just behind me. I turned to ask him if I looked ok as I was a bit of a mess and had tried to cover the circles with a bit of make-up. The plate stayed where it was on the palm of my hand, the pears didn’t. Three of them flew off the smooth surface of the china and landed with a plop in the gravel. Fortunately they landed bottom side down (which ultimately made it easier to fix by just chopping off the bottom) but it was yet another moment uncontrollably giggles. We stared at them, first I think in disbelief, then in concern as to what the heck we were going to do and then we saw the funny side. I think – in my case at least – the laughter was just slightly bordering on hysteria. With a bit of doctoring all was fine – admittedly the pears were reduced in height by quite a bit after the much needed surgery to get the gravel out of the first centimeter. The not so Dear One has reminded me of it regularly since then.
Then towards the last week of their stay, we all went to Liseux to see the firework display for Bastille Day which was a 30 minute Story of not just the Storming of the Bastille, but also the sadness of the D-Day Beaches and as the Narrator told the story, the fireworks and music pictured what she was saying. It was beautiful It was touching, sad, breathtaking and spectacular. I’ve never seen such an amazing display – incredible…needless to say, it made ours all the funnier and I still get the giggles every time I think of it.
We had to do a quick change over for the next lot and they were taking the farmhouse as well. We went over there to check that everything was fine and ready for them and also to get a child’s cot for the Chateau. The mutts came with us in the tractor trailer and then I let them down to have a run around while we checked the place out. The Farmhouse is lovely and has a big patch of lawn all around it which is great for children to play ball etc as it’s really flat. Towards one side, the ground slopes away down into the valley and the entire garden is surrounded by a meter and a half high hedge.
I went inside, the dogs went off to sniff new smells and the Dear One went up the outside stairs to check the room there. All of a sudden he saw the tractor hurtling down the hill on it’s own. It had jumped out of it’s breaks and, despite being in neutral, had taken off. Before we knew it, there was a tractor shaped hole in the hedge and it had ground to a shuddering halt on top of the broken bushes. Samuel thought it was the funniest thing when he arrived the next day for work. Life is indeed never dull.
Our next group of visitors seemed to have thirty million children all under the age of ten. Breakfast every morning – the Madam at the Boulangerie knows the Beloved so well now that he comes home on a regular basis with a different patisserie as a present – was a loud scrabble for the fresh croissants and panne chocolate. It was crazy. The most mouth opening moment was when we served dinner ‘family’ style (that’s when it’s not plated and served, just left on warning trays in the kitchen for everyone to help themselves whenever they want to and then they do the clearing up as well). I walked in with a whole lot of fresh baguettes, placed them near the warming trays, announced that dinner was ready and then walked out – carrying one baguette which was ours. I’m never very hungry when I cook and neither is the Dear One so we sat down to a light snack of cheese and the baguette with a glass of wine and enjoyed the wonderful moment of putting our feet up. The next minute the gate opens and a young guy walks down the path and knocks on the door. I opened it and asked if everything was ok. Oh yes he tells me, all is fine, we’re having a lovely time and dinner is great. We know we’re piggies and we’ve eaten about five baguettes between us but I saw you walk away with one so I’ve come to ask you if we can have it. I think you could have knocked me over with a feather. I just stared at him because my brain failed to comprehend the request. Eventually I said ‘Well, I guess you can have what’s left, let me just see if my husband has had enough to eat first.’
Without batting an eye he said ‘oh..was that yours for your dinner? Well sorry to deprive you of it but yes, we’ll take the rest. And off he went. The next morning, I found it in the bin. People are quite amazing!
I think I will save the rest for another time – this seems to be a marathon session and I’d hate to ramble on and send you to sleep.
Take care and have a lovely week