Same Again, PLEASE

Elegant in grey for four centuries, but now out of fashion?

I arrive at the Mairie, sans maquillage, and the lovely guy at the desk recognises me, smiles warmly and calls me by another woman’s name. As soon as I try to correct his error he apologises, remembering that he did the same thing the last time we met, and we both laugh. Do she and I look similar? He thinks so, he says. I explain that I’ve been told there is a grant toward restoring the outside of the house, and he says he’ll get me an appointment. I wonder what does this other bloody woman look like – is she actually my doppelgänger?

He phones me in the afternoon, while I am on the balcony with colour charts, matching the shutters as closely as possible (somewhere between ‘gauze deep’ and ‘bone china blue’ – though closer to ‘gauze deep’). I am on my way, I tell him, and I go straight there, just slightly grubbier than in the morning. He hadn’t realised how complicated the matter was, that there are forms to be completed for the permit, that 2 quotations must be obtained, and that we must then write a letter to the Mayor and the work inspected before money can be awarded

His English is good, but I try to keep him in French so we mix it up a lot. He’s apologetic about the amount of time involved – six months just for the permission, and longer for the grant – but I’m undeterred

He sends me upstairs, and as I climb the staircase I see that the building is very beaux-arts inside, though municipalisation has disguised much of this. I arrive at the correct office where a well-dressed and (as I discover later) very fragrant lady greets me somewhat coolly, having been pre-warned that this Anglaise was on her way. Her colleague at the other desk is in charge but is clearly a man who would prefer to spend ten minutes explaining to her what needs doing than to do it himself. As it turns out, she’s very kind and she accompanies me back downstairs to the guy I was speaking with before, because, as she explains, he speaks English and she doesn’t. Once installed at his desk she shows us both the extent of the paperwork and produces a sheet of twelve potential stonework/shutter colour combos for which I may request the permit

The choices illustrated are yellow stonework with shutters in mauve, dark or light blue, beige stone or red with brown, orange stone with brown, light or dark green, pink stone with brown or pale blue, or blue stone with light or dark green. It looks to me like the plans for a Disney resort

I am, shall we say, ‘unimpressed’

I explain that we don’t want to change the colours, only to repaint exactly as it is (grey front and white-ish back, both with the same pale blue-grey shutters, minus the rust stains). But no, they explain, there is no white or grey option, only the colours on the chart, though neither is championing these colour choices, and both are sympathetic. I simply will not renovate at all, I say, but of course this is not an option as the Mairie wants it sorted out. This is the stage at which I become aware of the fragrance of the elegantly dressed lady as she sits down next to me, in my stinky wallpaper-stripping clothes and we ponder the colours together. Upon their request I translate the French ‘beige’ into the English ‘beige’. Still beige. He points at the beige desk. ‘What colour is beige in English?’ I point at the desk and tell him it’s the same colour, we all giggle and it’s good-natured and conspiratorial

Forty minutes and several (mainly unrelated) phone calls later, they are still both sitting with me and all three of us are still disillusioned with the horrible colour sheet, perplexed that the authentic existing colours of this house which has stood elegant and French in grey for four centuries are simply and suddenly out of fashion. And I am sure that the irony that the Mairie does not fit into this scheme does not escape either of them

My only hope, they say, is to complete the forms and explain in a heartfelt letter to the Mayor exactly why I don’t want to change anything, I only want to preserve what is here, and just hope that he will give an exceptional permit for this

I didn’t fall in love with an orange and green house. But I would quickly fall out of love with one, so I have to hope that reason prevails…

To be continued (but most likely not for a few months – I’ve obviously got a lot of paperwork, thinking and letter-writing to do). And there may be a spot of crying