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An Artist’s Love Affair with Champagne

In Sophia Coppola’s version of “Marie Antoinette,” that we watched on an inflatable screen Friday evening after having picnicked on the grass of the Parc Montouris, Champagne overflows the glasses of the aristocrats like water. I have often wondered if the word “vignoble” actually means the wine of the noble class…and if so, Champagne is definitely it.

Champagne bubbles in more ways than one. There is the region of Champagne and then there is its premier product, the bubbly wine it’s so famous for. The vineyards abound, covering the subtle hillsides with leafy little vines and clusters of pure Champagne grapes that will eventually find their way into the bottles that get corked and uncorked with a pop at every special or even unspecial occasions.

Saturday I boarded a brand new TGV (Train de Grande Vitesse) headed to the medieval half-timbered Champagne town of Troyes where my hosts, Janet Hulstrand and Steve Rueckert with their two sons, picked me up for an overnight stay in their just-purchased A-frame home in the heart of Champagne — a tiny town made famous by Pierre-Auguste Renoir who is buried there — Essoyes.

Janet and Steve signed the final “Acte de Vente” (sales deed) on Friday, a grueling event as I was told, thanks to a temperamental country Notaire who resented interference by the citified Parisian Notaire with whom he had to contend. “Tant pis” (too bad) — the deed is done and they are now the proud owners of a magnificent diamond shaped property, complete with the home, pool and future atelier for Steve, planted with a wide variety of beautiful trees, including a Sequoia and one they call the “Dr. Seuss” because of its comical shape.

This French town is where their lives together all began when as post students, they picked grapes to have an adventure while earning a few francs. Now, he a sculptor and teacher, she a writer, editor and teacher, with two sons soon to enter college, are planning for their future in this very place…Essoyes. When I first heard their story and saw photos of the property, I fell

in love, too — with the romantic story, with this beautiful “nest” in Essoyes and with their inevitable future to live there the rest of their lives in bliss. With our help, they negotiated with the (now) former owner and the lending institutions, spoke with advisors and consultants to put them on the path to make their dream come true. There was no doubt that this MUST happen for them because it’s all part of the grander plan already set for them long ago by some mysterious fate.

And it did…and there I was, seeing it unfold for myself.

There is something quite magical about this little corner of the world one cannot explain. As the sun set Saturday evening, the glow of the bright orange orb glistened through the bordering row of pine trees shedding a warm glow specifically on Janet’s face, illuminating her like a Madonna. When night fell, having had a sumptuous dinner at the patio table next to the backyard pool, we looked up to see the stars of the Big Dipper we never see from Paris. Overnight, you could hear the owls hooting from the tree tops. In the morning, a half-moon hung in the sky looking like a surrealistic element in a painting by René Magritte.

Renoir painted my favorite painting of his in this very spot — “Chemin montant dans les hautes herbes” — which hangs in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. We visited the “chemin” and cast our eyes on the very scene as he had in 1875. His home and atelier still stand and one can visit the atelier. There are no original paintings there, but its a pleasure just to see the photos, letters, memorabilia and gifts.

His grave is nearby, where he is buried along with his three sons and his wife Aline who was a native of Essoyes. Atop the tomb stone is a bust of his head. Atop Aline’s, the bust of her head which was once there, is curiously missing. Not far down the road, the house in which Aline grew up is landmarked by a huge painted canvas copy of one of Renoir’s paintings of his son, Jean, with his nanny.

Steve and Janet have no doubt found the place where their true purpose in life will be discovered…as they make their plans to create a center for art, literature and culture, in collaboration with the administrators of the town of Essoyes…a place where anyone can come to fulfill their dreams as they have, and as Renoir had.

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Editor’s Note: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, born February 25, 1841, in Limoges; meets his future wife, Aline Charigot in 1879 and marries her in 1890 after having their first son, Pierre in 1885; buys a house in Essoyes in 1989 and in 1919 dies, being buried next to Aline, of course, in Essoyes.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

P.S. Steve and Janet made their dream come true…and it all started with their subscription to French Property Insider. When you subscribe between now and August 26th, you’ll be entitled to participate in a Free Conference Call for all FPI Subscribers!… “How to Save Money Transferring Dollars to Euros.” Meet Jody Cracknell from Moneycorp Global Money Services during this one-hour special event, exclusively for FPI Subscribers. Learn how to buy property in France. Visit /frenchproperty/insider

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