What a year it's been, what a year
This week is our first anniversary of owning the giant sandcastle on the port. I look back at our adventure, and give you a recipe for Sentimental Chicken.
A dozen years ago, we rented a house in this village for the summer. When I wasn’t scrutinising stains on antique linen sheets in brocantes (did someone die on this? Would bicarbonate of soda get that out?), cooking mussels in pans far too small for the job, or sipping Marseillanais cocktails on the port, I’d sit on the terrace of our villa and look across the road at this tall, elegant Belle Époque house. Beyond its heavy front gates, the garden was filled with an impenetrable thicket of bamboo. The paint on the shutters had peeled to the bare wood. The render on the front and side of the building was as cracked as the top of a tiger loaf. Sometimes, in an upper window, I saw a light on.
Each summer after that, I’d walk past this lonely house on my way between the village and the port. I asked friends if they knew anything about it, about who owned it. Someone told me that when she was a girl, she thought an old lady died there. Someone else told me they called it the Piano House, because of the ceramic tiles above the windows that look a little like piano keys. (Now, lots of people tell me they call it the Piano House, as though that name is unique to them, as though I haven’t heard it a hundred times.)
In 2020, that crazy year, as soon as we could escape the claustrophobia of London we did. In September we came to Marseillan, renting another house this time, down at the bottom of the port, opposite the smallest Capitainerie in France. Each day, I sat at the long dining table and worked on my book, or tested recipes in the tiny kitchen. When I walked into the village, I’d go past the lonely house and peer through the railings. One day I found out it was for sale.