“He’s impeccable!” said our accountant. I was admiring the work – or perhaps it was the chestnut coloured domes that constituted the upper arms - of her stone mason. “Not only an artisan, but an artist!”.
The next day I was on the telephone to Monsieur Reymond asking if he had any time this summer to build our terrace. I explained we had many visitors starting mid July and that it would be marvellous if the area in front of our house were not only not life threatening but perhaps even pretty.
A price was agreed and the ‘devis’ signed. My only suspicion was that our mason did actually seem to have the time on his hands when most waiting lists are a year long. “I’ll start on Monday. Eight o’clock!” he said. We couldn’t believe our luck.
Monday rolled around. I was up early to go for my interview with the social worker in Avignon. We had close friends from America coming to dinner and I planned to shop in the covered market afterwards. Julian was dying for a lie in but he rose almost eagerly, ready to discuss the new project.
“How did the interview go?” Julian asked when I called home from Avignon.
“How’s the terrace?” I responded.
“He never showed up”.
“You are kidding right?”
“No phone call?”
Nor did he show up the next day, or the next.
“That’s just the way it is here, darling. Please don’t hound him otherwise he really will think you are a pest and never come back, ever.”
I waited till Thursday, when I got hold of his wife.
“Ah yes we spoke about you last night at dinner…”
I should bloody well hope so, I thought. “When does your husband expect to start work? It’s just that, well maybe he could phone to let us know….?”
“I understand, yes, I do. It is not right that he did not contact you. I know that with all this rain he has been dealayed working on a roof but he will definitely’ – and here she used the ambiguous word ‘passer’ – “come on Monday. Eight o’clock”
Another Monday rolled around. It was not the ideal week for jcb’s and banging given that we had thirteen guests wanting profound repose from city life and school exams between Saturday and Saturday, but we thought that we’d better not tempt fate by refusing the offer. By eleven thirty there was still no sign. I took my half sisters and friends off to market to sniff lavender and buy various flavoured ‘saucisson’ and Julian stayed home hoping. Whilst I was at the market I couldn’t help admiring the village terraces, all ‘ombragées’ with bay laurel, wisteria and vines, and dream. On our return we saw Julian puffing as he moved the remainder of the wood pile and the tiles both clean and plaster-backed. He was tired yet triumphant. Things were finally moving.
“He was here. He’s coming back with a jcb…” Our guests and I planned on being out for the afternoon, and a hasty wine tasting was organised. When we got to Domaine des Gouberts, over sips of Cuvée Florence, Mireille Cartier and I discussed builders. I could hear bangs in the distance.
“It is probably your mason!” she said. “You know once someone came to do the chaudière. It took seven years. They are not tempted, even by money, to fulfil their engagements. They all have somewhere else to go. Once a guy arrived three days early to do his job! Can you imagine how that took us by surprise?” Our friend Hugo from Domaine de Mourchon also had stories to tell of folk – after all the contracts had been signed - just shrugging their shoulders and thinking they can’t be bothered for such a big job. Because they don’t have to. There is enough work.
“How many ways are there to be non-commital?” Julian asked when we returned fuzzy from Gigondas and Séguret tastings, and wind blown from the open top wheat-sweet ride.
“A toute à l’heure? A plus tard?” I ventured.
“A bloody jamais. He hasn’t shown up again. ‘Il va passer’ obviously meant simply that; that he will pass by.”
The week frittered on, jam packed with all the delicious things in which we never indulge on our own – boating in the calenques, eating fresh bread every day, afternoon screenings of Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, all in delightful company. At one point we had eleven for dinner on what might one day be a terrace and, making sure no-one’s chair fell in the holes or toppled over from the uneven ground, we played the humming game whilst digesting pink beef, roasted provençal vegetables and new potato salad with chervil and chives, the cicadas providing a ‘scratch orchestra’ accompaniment. My heart was so swollen with love for and irritation from and need to take care of and pleasure in all these people that I hardly gave a thought to the terrace until some of them left on Thursday and I realised Monsieur Reymond had still not showed up.
Going slightly against my husband’s advice, I picked up the phone this morning. Luckily I got Madame R.
“I don’t want to be ‘bête’, and perhaps it is because I am English, but I don’t quite understand…”
An hour later, Mr R on the phone for the first time: “Excusez-moi. Lundi matin, sûr, sûr, sûr.”
‘Sûr, sûr, sûr?” I said, glad there was some humour in the air.
‘Sûr, sûr, sûr!”
Roll on Monday.