My Home: Mark Rowlands
A professor of philosophy escapes the city and frees his mind in southern France. Joey Canessa reports
Wednesday 10 August 2005
or some of the year, we live in the little village of Portiragnes Plage. It's in the Languedoc region, and Beziers is the nearest city, which is 15 minutes' drive away. The house is around 400 metres from the beach, which we get to by walking through an absolutely stunning nature reserve, complete with the pink flamingos, white ponies, black bulls and the ubiquitous mosquitoes. The mountains of the Massif Central are only an hour's drive away, and ski resorts of the Pyrenees are about three hours' drive. We can get to Barcelona in two hours.
The house was constructed two years ago as part of a small development. It's open plan downstairs, with a bathroom. It was originally a kitchen, dining room and third bedroom but we opened it all up. Upstairs, we've got two bedrooms, a second bathroom, and a large and idiosyncratically shaped sun terrace.
The location was the immediate attraction. A powerful and visionary mayoress has kept development here to a minimum. There's nothing above two stories high, so it's very quiet, relatively speaking. Add to that our position overlooking the nature reserve, which can't be developed, and the fact that the beach (at least on our side) allows dogs, and it seems more or less ideal.
We bought the house off-plan in November 2002 and building was complete by July 2003. At that point, I would describe it as "basic". There wasn't even a kitchen (a slight misunderstanding with the builders that was eventually rectified). There was no shower cabinet or fittings of any description; in fact, it was a shell. It was also in the middle of a building site. The garden was a patch of mud. Even the dogs thought it was a bit primitive.
Nothing gets done quickly here and our house has been no exception. In the summer, we spend most of our time outside anyway, and so we have been content to improve the house bit by bit. The office was first to be sorted, since I needed e-mail and internet access in order to perform my university duties.
When we arrived in July 2003, it was in the middle of the heat wave that had been going on since May, in which close to 10,000 people died in France. So, not only were we unable to sleep at night because it was so hot, but the computer kept shutting down for the same reason. Worse still, because of the demand, there wasn't a spare fan to be had in the entire country. About a year later, we did manage to acquire a set of ceiling fans, courtesy of one of our neighbours.
Then, we started on the garden. We fenced it and covered the mud with gravier jaune - small yellowish stones that provide a low-maintenance garden. They seemed the best option down here, given that we are away for more than half the year.
There's a distinctly minimalist feel to the house - not particularly intended, but more the result of us not having very much in it. Minimalism by default, you might call it. Having lost a coin toss, Emma foolishly ceded authority to furnish the downstairs to me; a mistake she is unlikely to repeat. It looks like a bar, and the effect has been completed by the arrival of a pool table.
Of all our possessions, I am probably most fond of the Waterford crystal decanter given to us by my parents when Emma and I got engaged. This is probably because it's always liberally stocked with Marc de Muscat, a sort of brandy made from the Muscat grape.
The upstairs, in contrast, is all white. It's a cool, tranquil oasis, and shelter from the midday heat, Emma assures me.
In a typical year, we'll spend a month here at Easter and around three months in the summer. The rest of the time we spend in England. We are just moving to a two-bedroom town house in Wimbledon. The combination of city living in the winter, plus beach life in the summer, is ideal.
France is where I come to get my writing done, so professionally it's one of the most important times of year for me. I try to get up at 6am and write for around four hours in the cool of the early morning. Then I go to the beach. We eat when the sun goes down, and then sleep until it rises again. I'm a different person here from the wound up, type-A, stress monster I am in the UK. And, hopefully, I'll live a lot longer because of it - unless I get skin cancer, of course.
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