It has been a strangely hectic couple of weeks here in the countryside, and my blogging duties have suffered as a result. Apologies.
Urgent business at hand: The main structure on the property is quite old, as you know, and the roof has a number of leaks, as you might have guessed. Buckets, pieces of cardboard, and sheets of plastic stand guard in numerous top floor rooms and hallways. Exposed beams drip with rainwater when the Weather Gods choose to be unkind to us.
Fortunately, rainfall has decreased in its volume and frequency, allowing us to clean up and prepare to make a good presentation to one of the government agencies here in France who regulate the repairs of properties like ours that have been classified, in whole or in part, as Monument Historique. (Only our roof, facade, and chapel are classified, so we can do what we like with the interior, but we will keep the remodel tasteful and traditional, of course.)
The good folks at MH were scheduled to arrive on Thursday afternoon, but cancelled for some reason on Thursday morning. The appointment had been on the books for a month, due to the urgent nature of our required repairs (the roof, the rain, and the risk of their prolonged interaction without professional intervention).
In our brief time as chateau owners, we have become somewhat accustomed to delays. What is urgent to us may not be urgent to others. Thankfully, we can still have repairs done to the interior of the place…it just doesn’t make much sense to do much more than update the electrics and some of the plumbing. Anything more than that could be a waste if rainwater still pours in from the gaping holes in the roof. Which it does.
So we wait patiently and do what we can. We consider ideas for the place. We give thanks for the warmer weather. We enjoy the company of the cows, who, by tradition and common sense, graze on our front and back pastures.) We have lunch with our neighbors (at their place, as they know the condition of ours.)
Unexpected reality: Even in this rural, pastoral, and isolated setting, carving out time and space to write can be difficult. People tend to just drop in, either to discuss work on the chateau or just to say hello. My desk is positioned at a window, so I can keep an eye on the front door and front pasture as my wife whirls through the rest of the place, planning renovations, organizing possessions, and making the place a home. (And she does a fabulous job of it.)
This means that I see people coming…and they see me. Our car is parked out front. They know we’re home. It is impossible not to greet them. It would be rude to rush them. Everyone knows I’m a writer. They simply haven’t connected the dots as to how writing happens, i.e., that I have to sit in silence for large blocks of time, uninterrupted, and work. I need to think, type, review, and revise, in order for something coherent and possibly entertaining to emerge on the other end. Frequent guests and phone calls aren’t helpful. Interruptions are the enemy.
However, the blessings of having neighbors has far outweighed the hassles. And there’s more to the equation…
For my part, I never realized how hard farmers work. In Paris. I just went to the grocery store (sometimes) and grabbed fruits and vegetables. They could have just popped out of some top-soiled filled vending machine, as much as I thought about it.
The investment in terms of machinery and labor–and love–that goes into growing crops and raising animals is enormous. The rewards–like my roof–are at the mercy of the weather. So I’ll limit my shallow complaints to the blog and express my deepest appreciation to my neighbors. I don’t understand much about their lives, and they know little of mine, but they have my enduring and heartfelt respect.
In other news, we recently received an invitation from some of our new British friends who live here in the area. We are going to join them at their place for the coronation of King Charles on May 6th. It will be an interesting afternoon, as I’ll have a chance to learn more about their perspectives on the monarchy, and what it means to them.
I am acquainted with British citizens on both sides of the monarchy issue. Some are supporters of it, believing it unifies the country and is a good tradition on the whole. Some believe it’s seen its day and needs to be reformed, trimmed back, and monitored more closely by the government. No one thinks it’s going to be abolished tomorrow.
Uncomfortable questions, though, have been raised recently. How much of the royal household’s expenses should be paid by British citizens being one. And the untidy manner in which the British royal family obtained its wealth and position in the first place being another.
I’m not in the ‘give it all back to the people’ camp. Politics and war push some individuals and families to the top of the socioeconomic pyramid. Privilege happens. Traditions are enshrined. Power endures. Its origins–violence, conquest, colonization, slavery, and the pillaging of art and natural resources from the conquered–are a reality that Hello! magazine rarely covers in its breathless articles on any royal family. It’s not part of the fairy tale.
So it’s only natural–and right–that people question the British monarchy’s role, value, and validity in today’s world. As an American, I don’t really understand the whole thing. I don’t grasp why the royals take up so much oxygen in the room. The idea that the members of the royal family might serve as role models has been blown out of the water, in my opinion.
Queen Elizabeth was a role model. She did her duty, as did Prince Philip to a lesser extent, in his lesser position. That concept was buried with her, and the behavior of other members of the family whose personal dramas, knuckle-headed exploits, and extremely poor judgment shall go unitemized. They have only hastened the dulling of the patina she so diligently sought to burnish through a lifetime of public service.
With her passing, there remain millions who adore the royal family…and a growing number who are fatigued by the whole thing and questioning the nation’s priorities. The less recognized change may not be the one going on with the public, but one going on inside the royal family: will its members still be willing to live their lives in a ruthless tabloid soap opera from birth to death, without relief, pause, or mercy?
Will their personal appearances at charity events and the comfort of wealth and privilege be enough to sooth the scrutiny and balance the burden that tradition thrusts upon them? Not only does the public have to be willing to accept and embrace the monarchy as an institution, but the royals have to have enthusiastic and competent participants to play their roles in the spectacle.
As the internet–and occasional Netflix documentary series–continue to reveal more and more about the inner workings of what it really means to be ‘royal’, the less people might be willing to buy into the whole idea. As a larger section of the British public feels the pinch of higher energy prices and inflation all around, the less receptive they may be to foot the bill for the occasional and ongoing expenses of a so-called royal family that does little to contribute to the overall good on a daily basis.
And it may have, in the end, nothing to do with math: the UK’s economic problems may not be helped or harmed one bit by reforming the monarchy, limiting their privileges, having King Charles pay for his own coronation, or having the next remodel of Buckingham Palace be paid for by its inhabitants. It may just be the appearance of the thing.
But as any royal watcher will tell you: appearances are everything…especially when you exist at the pleasure of the people.