I dont believe it would pay nowadays to pursue the French language
for snob appeal; its not there anymore. But there are other
compelling reasons for learning French. A large part of the worlds
truly great literature is written in French and learning French is
the key to participating in this literature. Also, French is a beautiful
language for its own sake; it is a joy to hear it spoken or sung well.
French is also a key to enjoying the many beautiful regions of France
as well as its great cuisine.
As the following section of this book suggests, France has been an
important part of my life and that of Leticias. Together we
have enjoyed attending four of Frances regional universities,
and we have enjoyed life in our Château de Courcelles-sur-Vesle,
as well as living in Paris.
Gîte of Madame Levêque
Leticia and I arrived in France the first time together, anxiously
awaiting the total French experience. We started looking
for a place in the countryside not too far from Tours, where we would
Our first lead came from the Vicomptess de Bonaval. She is the gracious
wife of an authentic noble who has opened her château to paying
visitors, using the proceeds for restoration and upkeep of the beautiful
edifice and its spacious grounds, moat and lake. We chanced to stay
at her château on our way from Paris south to Lyons. During
one of our very nice discussions with her, she mentioned we should
look into the possibility of the Gîte de la Manoir de la Gatinière,
which was owned by the area director of tourism.
We thought no more about it but when we arrived in Tours a couple
of months later, we saw advertised a Gîte de la Manoir de la
Gatinière which was available for renting by Madame Levêque-Mirgan,
located in the country near Tours. Thus commenced our acquaintance
with Madame Levêque.
Our first telephone call to Madame Levêque made it clear that
we had found an extraordinary individual. She dominated the conversation
as she did subsequent ones as well. She wanted to know about us, where
we were from and what we were like. She in turn described all the
loving attention she and her Renaissance sons had put into the restoration
of the manoir itself and also what a truly special gîte they
had. The first step in consideration of our staying at the gîte
was to come and visit at a time when there was no one there. She would
never disturb an occupant! The second step was to pay a formal call
at her manoir, receive a tour and meet her Renaissance sons.
We were very busy at the time and were having a terrible time with
our car. This made it difficult to set and keep appointments, so we
tried to shortcut the procedure; in the end we had to make three trips
to her country manoir.
Our first trip involved a short but delightful drive through the country
and we were impressed with what we saw when we arrived. Particularly
moving were the candles in the little chapel at the far end of the
manoir. It was a showpiece.
She told us that she had been headmistress at an English school, that
the war (she didnt say which one) had deprived her of her husband,
and that she had been sad ever since. But that she was not to be pitied;
she was strong and she was happy with her memories, or something to
The Son of Madame Levêque
She said her sons were truly Renaissance men, particularly her oldest
who was an artist, musician, lawyer, and student of history! The climax
of our meeting came when we were to meet her son. She thought he would
be in the garden or in his library. It turned out he was upstairs
in the library. He came down the stairs with gracious dignity, a handsome
man in his loose-fitting silk blouse. He broadly suggested that if
we stayed at the gîte he would show us his harpsichord, which
The gîte itself was a little building next to the driveway,
not special on its own. The way it was presented was special. When
we finished visiting the gîte, I asked Leticia if she wanted
to rent it. She responded, How could we do anything else?
I asked her how she liked the Renaissance, gay son and she replied,
Well, what can I say? Of course, he is very handsome.
At that time I was equally charmed. How could we be so lucky to find
such a perfect situation?
During our interview, I had asked what the rent was. Madame Levêque
said It is really nothing. For the months that you would be
here (autumn), I am charging the same amount per month as I charged
for one week during the summer. I persisted in asking how much
that was, and she said 1,200 francs. So I said, Then for us
the rent would be 1,200 francs per month? and she said, Yes.
Twelve hundred francs was equal to about $250 per month, which was
about the going rate for small apartments in the country during off-season
months. Of course, all the utilities had to be paid in addition.
The Contract with Madame Levêque
Then another meeting would be needed to sign the contractshe
assured us it would all be very legal since her son was an attorney.
After all, there was no hurry since we wouldnt move in for six
weeks. When we returned the following week to sign the contract, she
carefully checked her schedule and said, Oh, by the way, I have
rented the gîte for two weeks during the time you wanted it
so you have to move out during that period. We were so sold
that we accepted this inconvenience. Then she told us more about her
house, how important it was, and how her Renaissance sons had contributed
so mightily. She kept saying that obviously we were very busy and
she wouldnt take more of our time than necessary. She handed
me a two-page contract (handwritten in French) and a pen showing me
where to sign.
I had a premonition that I was being rushed and instinctively said
I would take the contract with me to read and mail it to her. She
said, Dont hesitate about this matter because my phone
is ringing every day and the only way I can save the gîte for
you is with the contract signed. I told her we wanted the gîte.
Since we didnt want to make another trip and we trusted her
explicitly, we left a deposit of 1,200 francs, the amount she requested.
It seemed reasonable since it was a little less than a months
That night I deciphered her handwritten contract. At first, I couldnt
believe it; but it was apparent that instead of a contract for two
months, she had written the contract for two and a half weeks. Instead
of 1200F/month, she had written 900F/week. There were several other
clauses that could be sticklers. There was the implication that, in
the absence of any other agreement, the rent would continue at 900F/weekabout
three times the going rate. Other clauses suggested further deposits
on furniture inventory before moving in. All in all, it was quite
a different contract in French than the very clear understanding we
had previously had in her perfect English. We could have easily afforded
whatever she charged but we didnt like being tricked so we didnt
sign the contract.
When I questioned her the next day, she said, Any misunderstanding
was on your part. She also added that she would return our deposit
as soon as someone rented the gîte and that was that.
The gîte didnt even have a bathtub so it wasnt all
that desirable after all.
She made the business affair quite over complicated but she did put
on a terrific act for us. Her act was so good that it was probably
worth the deposit that she took from us and never returned.