La Cascade is our 17th century house situated in a tiny medieval village in southern France. It lies on the banks of a small river that flows between between the steep walls of the valley. The village fans out of the valley onto rich surrounding planes which have been fought over by a succession of Francs, Romans, Visigoths Vikings, etc. The longest period of peace was under the Romans, but there was also a period of peace that accompanied the rise of a mysterious dissident Catholic sect called the Cathars. After a couple of centuries of prosperity, they were wiped out by papal decree in the 12th century.

Durfort is presently occupied by artisans whose families have been making copper vessels since the 15th century. The name Durfort can be translated as "hard and strong". You can still hear the ring of hammers on copper in the narrow streets. People come form all over France to buy copper made in the Viergnes atelier as well as the less expensive copperware made in North Africa from classic French designs.

I had fallen in love with this unspoiled corner of France during past visits, so when my husband Jerry and I saw a large house for sale at a price we could afford, we went ahead and put the whole thing on a credit card. Although it was a little hard not to be turned away by the dismal state of an interior that reeked of feral cats and was in a serious state of disrepair, we put on our rose colored glasses and envisioned a house filled with light, color and joy. It took a lot of stubborn denial to overcome the doubts expressed by well meaning friends, doubts that mirrored our own. Nevertheless, we had faith in Remi, a skilled restorer of old stone buildings. Working together, we were able to turn a ruin into the gracious retreat La Cascade is today. To achieve this miracle, doors were knocked through three foot walls, piles of old plaster were tediously chiseled away to reveal old stonework, new floors were laid with old tiles. Where there was no plumbing, plumbing was installed, likewise with wiring, bathrooms and kitchen. The studio, which is now a bright, cheerful room, once looked like a set for a horror movie.

We named the house La Cascade after the lively little waterfall that spills over a sluice gate facing the back of the house. It fills the rooms with its music and when I go to sleep at night I hear voices in its complex medley of rumbles and splashings. La Cascade, a large three-story house, sleeps eight (not counting our own apartment on the top floor), has a couple of riverside terraces, a cozy stonewalled living room and a large sky-lit studio. Although the house is on a typical medieval village street, once you're inside; it's a world unto itself. Across the river the hillside rises dramatically creating a dense backdrop of tangled brush and chestnut trees with their luminously pale blossoms.

The hydrangeas that flourish along the banks of the river add a theatrical touch to the ramshackle charm of the old gardens. The houses on our street, when viewed from the front, present well-maintained facades, but the backs of the houses tell the real story with their exposed stone walls and huge beams blackened by time.

La Cascade is full of the eccentricities that I've found in the vide greniers that are held in local villages. Each season I find something new to collect like, workmen's lunchboxes, puppets, or 19th cen baby shoes.

The photos we take on outings will kindle nostalgia for days of sun and laughter once we return, but the real value of a creative retreat at La Cascade is a deeper understanding of oneself as artist.

 

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Photos by Arlene Finocchiaro

 

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