I don’t believe it would pay nowadays to pursue the French language for snob appeal; it’s not there anymore. But there are other compelling reasons for learning French. A large part of the world’s 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 Leticia’s. Together we have enjoyed attending four of France’s regional universities, and we have enjoyed life in our Château de Courcelles-sur-Vesle, as well as living in Paris.

The 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 be studying.

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.

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 didn’t 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 that effect.

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 was upstairs.

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 contract—she assured us it would all be very legal since her son was an attorney. After all, there was no hurry since we wouldn’t 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 wouldn’t 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, “Don’t 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 didn’t 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 month’s rent.

That night I deciphered her handwritten contract. At first, I couldn’t 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/week—about 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 didn’t like being tricked so we didn’t 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 didn’t even have a bathtub so it wasn’t 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.


Home | Grandfather | Father | Myself | Main Index