Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Moulin de Boursac

In the spring of 1977, an engineer working for IBM in upstate New York was looking for an adventure and agreed to move himself, his new wife and 6 kids to the small town of Vence, France for three years while he consulted at a nearby assembly plant. A survey of the claustrophobic apartments in the two and three story medieval buildings in the old town yielded nothing with enough rooms or even square footage to accommodate the American family. That is, until they came across the Moulin de Boursac.

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At the bottom of the aptly named “Decente des Moulins,” the converted olive oil mill was one of three owned and operated by the prominent Boursac family. By 1977, the only remaining family members were two brothers, identical twins, unfortunately with identical mental incapacitations. Unknowing heirs to what must have been a reasonable Boursac legacy, they were content to walk the streets of Vence, shoulder to shoulder, wearing matching polo shirts, and only occasionally wander through the gates of their ancestral home. The real estate broker assured the American family that they need only remind the brothers that they didn’t live there anymore and redirect them back towards town.

My sister in law, Meghan, was the number 5 child, the youngest daughter, in that American family and spent ages 8-11 living in the Moulin de Boursac. One day, about 6 months after her father dropped her off at the local school, conducted completely in French of course, she suddenly realized she’d absorbed the language and to this day, her accent clearly identifies her as a local of the town.

While she’d driven by the Moulin once 15 years ago while on her honeymoon with my brother, it was almost 30 years later that, while searching online for a place she might bring her new family to spend some time in France, she came across a rental listing for her childhood home, the Moulin de Boursac. Too large (and expensive) for them to rent alone, they proposed the idea of a couple summer weeks at the Moulin to the other 9 members of our immediate family and we all jumped at the chance.

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So for the past 10 days, the 13 of us have been relaxing by the large, sunny pool, a 50 meter walk across the grass from the flagstone patio featuring the one piece, 14 person limestone table where a French chef has prepared us meals two nights a week. In the afternoons, we hide from the Provencal sun inside the stone walls of the Moulin or mill (no pun intended) around the country kitchen eating juicing apricots, 7 kinds of ham and cheese that tastes better than it smells. In the morning, an early riser (whether from lingering jet lag or as a result of restless child) huffs up the 5 or 6 steep switchbacks of the Decente des Moulins to a patisserie hidden in a narrow cobblestone alley and returns with a box of pastries and few baguettes that rarely last past the time the teenagers in the family emerge from their rooms.

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Unless someone takes one of the two rented diesel minivans up the hill to the Geant Casino (not the gambling kind of casino unless you count trusting the expiration dates on the non-cured meats), we’ll walk, en masse, up to Place Clemanceau for dinner and watch the horror on the waiter’s face as one of our two communicators, Meghan or her niece Maeva, explain that we’d like a take for 13, including 5 kids, who the French would usually not bring out to anything but the most casual dinner outing. Sometimes I feel like we take over the square, but then again, normal life in the village goes on pretty much uninterrupted all around us.

More on some field trips and what we’ve been up to on the way….