e see Godot’s people in a state of disrepair, much like a house can be in disrepair. One of them has a problem shoe. They talk about going places. The play ends with the stage direction, “They did not move.” Did you ever wonder about where they were before? Did they live in a house, a house like yours or mine? Or a house like the one we moved into in France?
The rusty gate creaked open. Spiderwebs, spun across the path, brushed against our clothes. To our right was a dilapidated small house where no one lived, and because of that the pipes froze, then burst.
Further on a large house loomed, decrepit at the end of the garden, covered in a brown crepe, which is a nubby surface where small parts of it can break off, as witnessed by the house we were approaching. An overgrown ivy hedge encroachesd upon us on our left, running the length of the cracked sidewalk, as we made our way toward the house.
In the middle of a yard, surrounded by thigh-high grass and fallen leaves, stood a scaffolding, an eight-foot structure, on top of which sat a sprinkler jet, aimed squarely over the fence at the neighborhood children.
If you have ever read the novel Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier, you will be familiar with the eerie, unkempt power of Manderly, the house Mrs. de Winter describes: “Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way, had encroached upon the drive with long, tenacious fingers … . The trees had thrown out low branches, making an impediment to progress; the gnarled roots looked like skeleton claws.” Ominous, n’est-ce pas? (isn’t it?) What secrets lurked inside our version of Manderly?
We were greeted by a petite, white haired women, a pleasant person who had in fact learned English to teach it to French adults. (Happily for the children.) Her secrets were sad ones, as secrets often are. She had inherited the house from her family, but not enough money for its upkeep. She fell into despair and in fact attempted suicide. (Of course she herself did not reveal these intimacies.) She had recovered her vigor, though, believe me. First, with great reluctance she sold her home. She received the money from the sale, tucked it up in her French bank, but decided against leaving. Can you imagine? How many trips the poor treasurer of the Archives had to make from Holland to try to persuade her, that in fact if you sell a house, you do leave it. Finally she moved into a beautiful apartment near the Suresnes vineyards, with gold streaks marbled into the tile.
Second, as testimony to her vigor, she never did dismantle the home-made weapon of water torture. The kids from subsidized housing next door were forever kicking their soccer ball over her fence, and had even breached the fence to retrieve them. She was not about to walk down that long sidewalk every five minutes to open the door. Hence the rapid fire water weapon was loosed upon them.
This anti-soccer playing children was a prevailing feeling in the neighborhood. The woman who had preceded us in the Archives, likewise was the victim of many soccer balls either heaved over her fence or kicked with a thud against the house wall. She had collected a goodly number of soccer balls, refused to return them, and toted them down in a large garbage bag to the magistrate as proof that something needed to be done. A fine was imposed.
War with children. Check.
Inside, the lay-out of the house was fairly straight-forward. An entry hall, tiled in exquisite red and beige small tiles, led directly into the kitchen, where one large window faced out the back, framing overgrown trees gradually being strangled by unrestrained ivy.
War with nature. Check.
If you turned left at the entry way you were ushered into a large open room, separated by French doors, living room to the left with a large bay window, and to the right, a dining room fronting the deteriorating back yard. There were no windows along the walls of the house, just the back and front. Well, of course not. The neighbors wouldn’t want you to see in.
Only two problems presented themselves on this floor: the floors themselves, covered in a horrible carpet stuck fast and faster; and the walls covered in an ancient tiny Japanese flower print, long faded by the continual smoking which had penetrated the wallpaper so fully, that the walls were now exuding smoke of their own.
War with house. Check.
The great essayist Montagne says that when faced with adversaries, he turns all his weapons over to them. A buzzer and intercom was installed at street level. The kids buzzed, we let them in, they got their soccer ball. We saved the trees from the ivy out back, and made a flag-stone patio. We negotiated with the house to return it to its original pristine glory.
And the troops came in. M Ludovic was the head contractor. There was a giant oil tank that he inflated with air and then removed to install central heating. He took the Little House, as we came to call it, down to the nubs. An architect designed what was to become the new Little House, its purpose to house the Archives’ board members. As for us in the big house, we were pretty much left to fend for ourselves.
How did that work out, you might want to know?