The French Diaries!

The French Diaries: Part 6 “Finding Treasure on the Streets!”

It's move in day for me and Edouard! Wanting a palace with a peasant budget, we take to the streets to find hidden treasures!

The next day, we moved in. It was as fast as that. We were also expecting Edouard’s grandmother to visit us all, so everything became a big rush.

Waking up early in the morning, we grabbed the entire contents of Nici and Jeremy’s cleaning supplies, got into the car and drove there with excited grins on our faces.

Stepping into the flat again felt different.

The place didn’t feel asleep anymore. It felt as though it had just opened its eyes and was blinking blearily at us.

“Oh!” it seemed to say. “Hello!”

I could almost sense the apartment’s surprise at our arrival. Throwing open the windows, we started the process of cleaning our new home from top to bottom. Black water filled the sink as we scrubbed down the surfaces, cleaned the windows and set about sweeping and mopping the floor. The scent of chemicals burnt my nose as I continued to scrub.

Edouard was keen to make his own solution using natural products and I couldn’t blame him. I wanted to live differently this time. Back in England I suppose I didn’t really think about things like eating organically, upcycling and what products I bought. I didn’t think about whether items were kindly produced, whether they had involved animal cruelty or had been pumped full of chemicals.

I wanted to start afresh. And this was my chance.

I pushed a stray bit of hair from my face with the back of my hand, smearing water across my forehead. The sun was streaming in through the windows and against my skin. Birds flew up high in the sky and I could hear the stray remnants of a piano being played further up.

There was no sound of traffic or people shouting across the street to each other. Just the sound of Edouard whistling in the other room and gulls crying out to each other in the air.

Darting out of the flat, I bought us some pain au chocolates and a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

Having no furniture, I opened out a blanket on the floor and spread out the goodies I had bought like a picnic.

“Edouard!” I called.

He walked in and blinked in surprise at the bottle of champagne in my hand.

“Wha-?”

“Happy moving in day!”

We sat there together in the sunlight on a blanket sipping champagne, excited for the future, happy to get settled and moved in.

This is it, I told myself. This is where it’s going to begin. This is where I am going to live the life that I always wanted to.

It’s mine. It’s mine. It’s mine.

And no one can take that away from me.

We discovered quickly that although we had hot water and electricity, we had no gas and no wifi. The next few days were spent in arranging people to come to the flat to get all of the “grown up” things organised. I escaped most of the frustrating calls, seeing as I didn’t speak French. Sometimes language barriers have their perks.

As for the furniture- we were incredibly lucky. We found an immaculate mattress on the street, which at first, I was incredibly dubious about.

“I thought you wanted to buy one?” I said to Edouard, hesitantly looking at the floral mattress that had obviously been owned by a little old lady. “Wait- isn’t that the one I saw last night by the trash?”

“Yeah!”

“I joked about you taking that!”

Edouard shrugged. “It looks good to me.”

I inspected it carefully, seeing no stains, tears or any other suspicious marks. The overwhelming scent of Grandmother poured over me as I nodded quickly and waved him inside. I didn’t want to pay 200 euros for a new one and guessed we could have it cleaned or double up on a mattress protector.

“I suppose it’s ok for us to sleep in hotel beds, why not a little old lady’s mattress?”

I knew I would never have said such a thing a year ago. But over my travels I had learned that I could and would sleep anywhere.

Our next goal was to head to Emmaus, a fantastic second hand shop where they employed people in need in exchange for a little money, food and lodging. There were people from all over the world and we made friends with a man from the Caribbean, a Hungarian and a Greek. I wondered how they got there, what their stories were and if they were happy.

But they met us with wide smiles, selling us things much more cheaply than what I thought they would have sold them for, mainly because they loved Edouard. I just smiled and pretended I was the sweet and quiet little English girl that everyone thought I was.

We went back and forth from Emmaus for the next week, grabbing the extra things we needed along the way. Each time I watched Edouard as he laughed and joked with the people who worked there, mainly the Hungarian, the Caribbean man and the Greek. He talked with them as if they were old friends, speaking sentences of their language and asking them how their day was. I hadn’t met one person who hadn’t liked him so far and was starting to think he really had a gift with people. I think it’s because he genuinely cares about people that makes him so special. He never sees himself higher or lower than anyone and never treats anyone differently.

We continued our search, finding a table for 10 euros and four chairs for 14 euros in total. We picked up all of our kitchen equipment, including a wok, good quality knives, and about a dozen of other things for cooking for under ten euros and a gas cooker for forty euros.

Realising with a shock how much stuff we had bought, we were forced to strap the table and chairs to the roof of Edouard’s car. People stared at us as we drove slowly back towards the apartment, their mouth agape at the ridiculous spectacle of an ancient car strapped down with an entire kitchen.

But I grinned, feeling rejuvenated and eager to start turning the flat into a home.

We found plenty of wood on the street. We would halt the car so many times in the middle of the road, just to fill up the boot with pallets and discarded planks of wood. Edouard would make shelves for my books and anything else I wanted, including a whole set of huge drawers for the kitchen made out of timber, two old drawers we found on the street and old wooden wine boxes.

We then found an old 70’s coffee table and a green flaking cupboard door. Removing the ugly top of the table, Edouard then sanded and nailed the cupboard door as a new surface.

The apartment was finally coming together, each item Edouard had made from scratch for absolutely free. We found more pallets and even an old mirror which I put in pride of place between the two huge French windows in the lounge.

We hit the jackpot when during a visit to Jeremy and Nici’s we discovered a huge corner sofa a few doors down from their home. Looking barely a few years old, it was a dark blue/grey and way too stylish for us to ever be able to afford to buy in a shop.

Eager, we huffed and puffed as we dragged the enormous thing into the foyer of Edouard’s brother’s apartment, harbouring it away like pirates hiding treasure in a cove.

A few days later, Edouard’s friends heard he was living in Marseille. All keen to help, they arrived one by one, more and more people until we had eight people and three cars to move the sofa that came in two large jigsaw pieces.

Part of me was relieved as we arrived at our apartment as the four men powered through moving the sofa up the winding staircase. I busied myself with looking after Edouard’s grandmother who had been staying at Jeremy and Nicki’s for the past couple of days. Originally Spanish, I didn’t understand a word she said as the rapid French poured out of her mouth as she laughed and giggled as the boys finally brought the sofa into the apartment.

A sweet woman and barely coming up to my chest, I think she was happy to see her grandson settled in a new home.

The sofa fit in perfectly, the lounge being huge enough to accommodate it. Rushing out to buy beer, we sat down with everybody on the couch, nodding with appreciation at its new place.

We spent the next few days getting the extra things for the apartment, crockery, a beautiful teapot (essential for an English woman), a fridge and a washing machine. Edouard finally bought the things he needed to make his own natural cleaning agent and we bought only good food from the organic store. We ate well and would sit at night on the couch with a glass of wine, staring at the stars outside.

I don’t know why I had ever thought that the view outside was ugly. The windows were so huge that all we could see was the night sky. There was a beauty that I had missed when I first stepped into the apartment, seeing only the rooftop of the steel workshop just below us. I had missed the beyond, the huge expanse of blue and black that I had gazed upon so many times on Delos.

“How many people have that in Marseille?” I said to Edouard, remembering the apartments that looked over at other buildings, camped and suffocated by the pollution of the road.

“We are very lucky,” he told me, pulling me closer for a hug.

It was an incredible sensation to wake up in my own apartment, having my own space where Edouard and I could sit down at the table and eat breakfast together. The table was a very simple and sturdy thing, looking more suitable for a barn dance than anything else, I loved its village charm. I traced my hand over the deep grooves and scratches in the wood, imagining the day it had first been made. What year had it been? Who had it first? Several layers of brightly coloured paint were exposed in the few gashes here and there, and I wondered whether it would be more beautiful to keep it as it was or sand it completely.

We recently had a new edition of furniture to the flat, of a writing/painting desk and chair for me. Originally a large set of drawers, Edouard removed the lower two drawers, removed the plank of wood at the base so I could slide a chair under and made handles out of thick rope. Finishing the table and chair he had found with an all over sanding session, we wiped it down and set it against the wall for me proudly.

“Now you can paint!”

It was a wonderful moment for me, having somewhere utterly mine to be creative. I eagerly set up my photographs of my crew from Delos, a polaroid of my big bro Brian, paintings from Mr Brady, mottos from Alex and beautiful letters from Lisa and Karin on the wall around my desk. I placed my watercolour paper on the desk, pulled out my paints and did three paintings there and then.

I felt motivated and so inspired in this place. It poured from me as I painted waves, whales and boats in all weathers, changing sometimes to paint the greenery of the countryside and then switching back to that bright blue of the ocean.

When I lived back in England, I was going through so much that I hadn’t wanted to paint. That source of creativity had dried up in me as I sought to keep my head above water. Delos threw me into a new world of living, forcing the blood to run again in my veins, forcing me to face the things I had buried for so long within myself until I could open my eyes and see a new world.

And here I was pouring out of me as the watercolours exploded onto the paper, the blues and purples merging into a new vibrant hue as my paintbrush swirled and turned across that pristine white.

It was about creating something new.

I looked up to see Edouard drawing on a piece of paper, figuring out how to build something to put my guitar on the wall. I smiled and looked down at the painting on the table. It was Delos, in the middle of the ocean surrounded by waves.

I had Delos to thank for everything. For helping me to say yes again. Yes to adventure, yes to risks, challenges and taking terrifying leaps of faith.

Delos was the very thing that had made my heart start to beat again.

“Tea?” Edouard said, standing up, covered in sawdust.

I grinned.

‘Yes,’ was becoming my favourite word.

 

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2 comments

  1. Beauitful.
    Simple.
    Love life.
    Oh I need some of that badly.
    I owe my soul to the tax man…. again.
    Where’s that bridge… get my mate to put a plug under it to charge up the mob before I move in. lol.
    Ed I understand you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You and Edouard make a lovely couple. You even look alike – as though he’s your brother from another mother. Has anyone other than me mentioned that? Happy trails.

    Liked by 1 person

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