It is the thin strip of light piecing through the barely opened shutters that wakes me just before 10am. It’s Sunday, traditional day for the grasse matinée, French for ‘sleep-in’, but literally translated as ‘fat morning’ and what I have ingeniously termed as having a “Fat Martin”.
Next to me Nicolas is reluctant to wake, odd seeing as he is generally always the first to rise. I quietly jump at the opportunity to grab the first shower and enjoy breakfast in the kitchen undisturbed before he plonks his large, lovely, French feet on the floor and proceeds to wake himself up. I haven’t felt the morning time boost since I moved in with him and I realise that it has a lot to do with our living space.
Come in Space Control…
Nicolas and I live in a 35m² apartment in the south-west of France in an equally smallish sized town, oddly named Pau. Before moving here I lived in a 37m² 4th floor apartment of my own with a view of the Pyrenees mountains and the grey tiled roofs of the town, their terracotta chimney pots dotted in sporadic lines. Being high up has it’s advantages in adding a rare sense of space as you look out over the pointy a-frames and shadowy eaves of the buildings below. The vide from the balcony also gives you a sense of free-falling, which is fine as long as you don’t suffer from vertigo that is.
Living in such a small space takes a lot of self control and discipline, plus order, and if you’re sharing then add to that a great deal of mutual respect and self-ease. Most importantly is being sure to constantly clean up after yourself, for as the mess grows larger, the space you have to hide grows smaller. Over three days leading up to my moving in here, Nico took on an epic ‘remodelling’ of his apartment, in order to offer me some space of my own and to make things easier on both of us with regards to those stock standard daily gests such as moving, sitting, standing, eating and of course, breathing…
Battered from jetlag after a trip home to Oz, I arrived to find Nico’s one-room 35m² apartment had been split in four designated “areas” segmented by a small crossroads! There was the sleeping area (bed on the floor with bookshelves proffering the tell-tale classics… notably in comic form), the working area (a desk in the corner with vintage leather one-seater cornered off by mid-waist open-backed shelves creating a ‘bordered space’), the dining/entertainment area ( large, low, square coffee table with bamboo poofs, cd player and speakers and Nico’s guitars) and finally… would you believe it.. a walk-in wardrobe and dressing area, ingeniously created by taking the doors off the existing inset wardrobe and surrounding the space exterior with easy build shelves where we store out clothes.
Sadly, as much as I appreciate the “feng-enuity” of Nicolas in creating a more habitable abode for us and his clever ideas to create a more user-friendly room, never in my life had I imagined myself living in such an elfin space, not to mention sharing it with an Ent. Australian houses are enormous in comparison to 1-2 room French apartments in which around 45% of the country’s population live; my family home would have covered at least 200m²!* I can’t say I didn’t profit from every fresh-aired opportunity, as I fiercely appreciated that wide open space. Having grown up in country Victoria, I was left to run wild with an innumerable count of bugs, birds and beasts as my companions across 5 hectares of land, and so I live evermore intensely the claustrophobia from being in such a small residence now. You can no more stretch 5 hectares from 35m², than you can stretch 36m², and the absence of my never-ending green horizon, the field attached to my backdoor, haunts me slightly with the feeling that I know longer have a parcel of my own.
* family home : http://www.homehound.com.au/listing/details-popup.php?id=3560581&pos=3560581_02As
To deal with this claustrophobia, Sunday mornings are not often filled with “fat martins” for Nicolas and I, as we go in search of hill pastures and hiking trails to expire our town legs and expel our cooped up apartment ambitions. The French countryside is always full of little surprises and today is no exception. Despite the showers predicted for the afternoon, we grabbed our jackets, jumped in the car and headed out to find Le Chappelle de Rousse and a vineyard trail we had noted a few months back.
Arriving at the Chappelle after dodging several cows coming back from pasture and stopping off to say hello to some baby donkeys, we got lost (a French pastime) within the first five minutes of stepping out of the car. We had of course ignored any sign of direction in our haste to move and took the first muddy path that presented itself to us. After taking the steep turn down the hill and struggling back up again, we re-examined the placard, actually read the directions and set off between the vines.
At the domain Lapeyre, a small vineyard falling inside the Jurançon appellation, the Larrieu family has been cultivating wine for three generations, with the most recent generation taking the farm down the path of organic viticulture. They have opened up their land so that people like us who lack field exposure can wander through their property and learn a little about the cultivation of the grape at the same time. We set off taking our time to wander through the vines and read the panels of information informing us of the history of this quaint little cepage, hoping the rain would hold off long enough to walk the hour long trail. We regrouped at the bottom of the hill and followed the arrows around, climbing back up the other side. With the air warm and humid and the dirt soft underfoot, you could almost mistake yourself for being in a plantation in Africa, the noise of crickets in the grass and the smell of clean earth.
Following the arrows, we rose midway up the hill and admired the hawks circling in the mottled grey sky, sporadic drops of rain glancing off our cheeks. We looked up the hill to survey the climb and notice a small wooden bank with a blue box underneath it… Qu’est-ce que c’est?
1/ Take the bottle of wine from the icebox
2/ Serve yourself 5cl of wine (and not 7!)
PS : Even if the best wine is always that which we want to repour ourselves,
don’t fall into the temptation, rather… take yourself off to the cellar!
As we sat back, chinked our glasses and looked out over the sloping hill covered in lines of sprawling spring vines, my thoughts trailed back to my own adventures in paddocks, crouched down in long yellowing grasses, enjoying goodies I’d pilfered from the kitchen. These thoughts lay far from the cramped conditions of our apartment as we giggled and raised our glasses, cheekily pouring out even more than 7cl each and praising our luck for having passed by on this day. In hindsight however, it was not so much luck that aided us to happen upon the bottle of fine dry white, but more so our apartment and our need to stretch our bended limbs; to seek out new horizons which traverse the space of others and cultivate territories softly with our feet, as they cultivate our minds with the memories they replant.