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A Working Holiday
Chapter 1: We Leave for France
Chapter 10: Looking for Mr. Goodstone
Chapter 11: A mission to la Clape
Chapter 12: Dinner at Château de Lignan
Chapter 13: Antiques and plunder
Chapter 14: The vintner next door
Chapter 15: The rooftops of Nézignan-l'Évêque
Chapter 2: Comes the crusade
Chapter 3: The 13 colonies
Chapter 4: Our curtains are dreadful
Chapter 5: Naked beaches
Chapter 6: A visit to Château des Estanilles
Chapter 7: A pilgrimage to Toulouse
Chapter 8: Remembering Collioure
Chapter 9: The priest and the mayor
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A Working Holiday
Chapter 15: The rooftops of Nézignan-l'Évêque

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The house before, with green shutters...
By 6 a.m., Alain is up and plastering. It's still black outside. From the entry downstairs, we hear the faint scrape, scrape, scrape of a trowel. I crawl into my bathrobe. Alain and I have the same silly creme-caramel-colored bathrobes, purchased in Béziers at the Auchan supermarché. Woven into the terry are chocolate elephants and palm trees. We wrap ourselves in these cartoons and feel good-humored. Like fun is at hand. I flip-flop into the hall and through a door. The hall is blazing. "Hey," I announce myself from the top of the stairs. Alain looks up. "Good morning, Thomas," he sing-songs. "You're up bright and early." He's already done a deal of work. All the holes he made last night are filled with cement, fixing in place the 19th-century decorative doorknobs that are now a row of coathooks. The broom (our all-purpose handyman's helper) is wedged between the walls, bracing a handrail while cement dries around its supports. Yesterday's festoons of gray ribbed electrical conduit have disappeared, hidden behind fresh plaster. "The moon woke me up," he explains.

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The house after, with freshly painted blue shutters. The road sign tells trucks to stay out of narrow Rue du Portail..
It takes me a moment to realize the implications. "Really!" "Don't get too excited," he warns. "It's overcast again." I race to look. The moon is in and out. And stars. Clouds gallop across, thick but broken. Yesterday's air smelled like the sea. Salty. This smells clear. Coming from a different direction. I pee. Brush my teeth. Wet my hair and comb it. Simone gets up. I sit on our drooping bed and drag on my work clothes. Jeans, T-shirt, socks, boots. Nothing fresh. They feel like paperdoll clothing: unbending, grime-stiff. Our good clothes are in exile, in the armoire. I like wearing work clothes. They keep me focused, ready. Valros is a working village. I feel like I have a job. I'm doing something useful. The kitchen sink is back in working order, so I make a pot of strong, black coffee. Another day of doing begins. On the agenda: removing the front shutters, for repainting. The shutters look so picturesque. Arched, beckoning. With iron hardware and squarehead nails and hinge ends hammered into heart shapes. I imagine throwing our bedroom shutters open, greeting the day and neighbors, my arms outstretched to embrace whatever came. Hopelessly unlike me. As it turns out, our shutters aren't so easy to throw. They are double thick, made for the ages: heavy boards nailed back to back. It takes two men, straining, to lift one off its pegs. The shape of the shutters reminds me of angels' wings, the kind I stared at during my Catholic boyhood. Though with wings this heavy, even angels won't fly. They'd fall from the air with the grace of grand pianos, bursting into celestial music as they hit. The teakettle is hissing. Not with steam, but with vinegar, an acid, which is dissolving the kettle's crusts of lime, which is a base. The water here is extremely lime-rich. Every drop dries to a little white atoll. Alain has the same problem at home, in Indiana, which sits on a thick, hard shell of limestone. Simone and I, on the other hand, don't have this problem. And we're somewhat appalled: mild sulphuric acid is the cleaning fluid of choice in Valros. The sub-surface here is as interesting as the land above. Speleology, the study of caves, began in the Languedoc in 1883, with Èdouard-Alfred Martel, a Parisian lawyer who that year first explored the underworld in the Causses region. His published accounts and observations established speleology (underground geography) as a new branch of science. You don't have to drive far to find a cave in this part of France. A half-hour from Valros, on the Hérault River gorge, is the Grotte de Clamouse, a cavern discovered during a dry spell in 1945 and rated two-stars by Michelin.
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The vineyards around Nézignan-l'Évêque..
What do you do to restore a house that is centuries old? You scrape. To remove the googie built up from millions of footsteps and hundreds of thousands of meals.

Late morning, we drive to Nézignan-l'Évêque, the next town over. We're headed for a construction site, where John Platings is laying his new kind of roof. The church steeples in Valros, Nézignan-l'Évêque, and a third nearby town form a spiritual triangle, according to some mystic that Rob Thorne tells us about. Maybe it's true. I am negatively qualified to judge. If it is true, the triangle passes directly over our house, which I assume is a good thing, all superstitions considered. Religion has kissed this land. Actually, it's more like hickies all over its neck. Earlier this year, the Dalai Lama chose the town of Lodève, an hour north, as the site for his European fund-raiser (again, the news according to Rob). Thousands of Buddhists sought lodging anywhere they could find it. And for a few days, men with shaved heads, wearing saffron robes, strolled the inclined streets of Valros. Nézignan-l'Évêque rises on crooked lanes to a stone church high on a hill south of Pézenas. We get stuck in a traffic jam: five cars on a narrow street blocked by a truck unloading radiators. Everyone piles out and walks on. I back up and find parking. We hear John Platings before we see him. A good loud English voice. He's in the street. We follow him into a large stone house, up the central staircase to the top floor, an attic. A bear's coat of brown dust covers everything. He shows us the components of his system; a thin insulation sided with aluminum foil, covered by a corrugated rubber membrane, and the roof tiles glued to that. Seems impermeable. We lust for weather tightness. A ladder leads up through a small trap door. John climbs. Then Alain. Simone takes a peek. I go up. The view up top has the charm of fresh perspectives. The sun is out. A light wind from the vineyards. Chickens hunt and peck around a neighbor's balcony: free-limited-range chickens. We are at the top of a small world. Looking down. The perspective of the gods.
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