Window by window, door by door, one by one till door twenty-four. Unlock and lock our 2016 Château storybook.
Château mail is always a box of chocolates - sometimes junk, though mostly unexpected, inexplicable, and expensive bills. Thankfully, on occasions, mixed amongst this regular assortment there are cards with warm and heartfelt messages from around the world.
On one particular day not long past, I walked casually down to the letter box to discover that a very formal letter had arrived indeed!
And inside, were these carefully written words...
We are glad to inform you that the council of the Foundation Prince Louis de Polignac is pleased to discern you the Medal of Honour 2016 of the Foundation, in order to thank you for the remarkable worksite restoration of Château de Gudanes in the Pyrénées Ariégeoises, part of the French historical patrimony in the south of our country.
After recovering from a premier reaction of shock, I conducted some research.
I found out that the Prince Louis de Polignac Foundation was created in 1997 to promote French and European culture, and contribute generally to the development of science. Each year three awards are given within different fields of science, the arts and preservation. Over the last few years, the prestigious medal of honour has been awarded to several historical monument restorations, including Château Saint-Clou in Provence and the Hermitage Pavilion at Fontainebleau.
I immediately returned the R.S.V.P with our guest list, and a few days later received the official invitation. Apparently, Prince Albert II of Monaco will be attending!
Upon receiving the official invitation, all the red, white and blue tape, which we have tightly wrapped ourselves up in over the last year, and all those obstacles along the way, gently fell aside.
This award is a wonderful surprise, just like the incredible journey the Château continues to take us on.
We would like to extend our sincerest thanks to the Prince Louis de Polignac Foundation, the Institute of France, and also to the kindred spirit of our kind hearted nominator for believing in and recognising our beautiful place on Earth.
Château de Gudanes
Sharing the Château makes wonderful sense - it's how it has always been done here. From as early as the 12th Century, when the site was once upon a time a stony fortress, its walls protected those who sought refuge. And when repurposed into an elegant neoclassical Château in the 18th Century, it was lovingly built for entertaining and enjoyment. Now embraced in a renaissance, her walls are once again able to hear not just the whispers of the passage of time, but to also the voices of now and the future.
In this re-enchantment, life has gently returned to the Château. As the work has continued, so have the people who have passed through, from all walks of life, bringing with them their own stories to tell.
It is the joy of sharing that melts the moments over the past three years of stumbling, hard work, and the odds against it all. There are always the endless red, white and blue bureaucratic problems, great and small.
I am sorry to say, we haven't progressed any further with the Historic Monuments, although we have a meeting scheduled with their chief architect later this month (which, of course, we organised). A year is almost approaching since they sent the refusal letter for the restoration. Are we expected to sit tight and wait forever! The only word has been a formal letter from the Architects Tribunal instigated by our current local architect, after we refused to pay another mystery invoice. We ended up settling out of court, by settling I mean, weighing up my mental health against money.
Frustratingly, there will always be the ongoing fumbling with my french as I try to speak the language (I'm thinking of having a t-shirt made with the words - I parle franglais - printed on the front)!
With tenderness that each of us face, are the difficulties which are encountered living apart and hemisphere hopping between Australia and France. Trusting and believing in each other and in what we are doing as we live endless months apart. This has been the longest time we have been separated, almost six months! Craig visited for two weeks during this time, along with Serena and Ben for three weeks. Naturally, there are times of doubt and self doubt. And sometimes these fears and doubts are driven by others wanting us to fail. One book publisher even mentioned to me recently that our story would be a bestseller if there was a divorce!
As the Chateau becomes an extension of our home and family life then it also becomes a structure of our beliefs and values. I trust wholeheartedly that the odds are in our favour, I have to.
(Craig, if you are reading this can you make a start on the six months of washing which I know are waiting for me on the laundry floor when I return to Perth).
You just can't achieve anything without commitment.
And six months have passed since the last captain's log entry. I know!
My daughter, Jasmine, and I arrived in April ready to start work with our friend David who lives nearby. David is the master of medieval architecture and restoration. He was putting back together his ancient walled castles in the region, well before GOT (Game of Thrones).
As you might remember, David built the Château dining table from an ash tree that had fallen in the parc.
Then, our small team began to grow even more. First, Tim joined us. Just graduated from University in Perth, Tim arrived seeking adventure, eager to lend a hand and develop his passion for photography and writing (this is a good time to thank Tim for improving the quality of the Château photos).
It wasn't long before David was teaching and showing us his old world ways.
Later that same month Pete Bunyan, a retired decorative painter and awesome artist, arrived and was put to work. Pete met the Château on Facebook and in spring last year he visited for the first time with his three sons. We couldn't wait for Pete to join us again this year!
With a growing team, rooms began to take shape.
We began with the laundry, which seemed a very good place to start! We knuckled down - tiling using old terracotta flooring, mixing our own "Château Vert" paint colour and installing the laundry sink. Pete helped us mix the paint, matching it to the original colour in this room.
Pete stayed for two weeks until his knees gave out. The night before he left we crept into his room in the middle of the night( the gold music room temporarily used as a bedroom, empty except for an old piano we bought at a brocante for 50 euros) and played some music. He awoke half expecting some tomfoolery was going to happen at some point. I'm still laughing as I type...
Next was the installation of the temporary bathroom - 5 toilets and 3 showers, installed in exactly the same place when the Château was used as a school holiday camp. The 70sqm room underwent an extreme makeover. Water and waste is now finally connected to the village supply.
The bathroom space was being used to store the original 18th Century stone flooring during the consolidation phase in 2014. So, in usual Château hard and heavy style, all the flooring had to be removed and stored elsewhere.
With all the stone flooring now stacked up in the rear hallway and in the way, we decided the time had come to to re-lay it back where it belonged - in the vestibule.
During this time, family, friends and flowers found their way to the Château in June. Craig brought his mum, Elaine for the first time. Seeing the Château was something both of his parents had wanted to do for sometime but sadly his father passed away late last year. Craig needed to show his mum the Chateau, and what it means to us as a sincere part of ourselves. In their normal hardworking style, Craig got stuck into cleaning the attic and Elaine tackled the vegetable garden.
Mid July, my dearest cousin June set about establishing Le Château de Gudanes Nail Bar!
And as our family and friends gathered together, so did the flowers - wild and cascading in a cacophony of colour, in all sorts of places.
Inviting the perfume and beauty of spring and summer inside...
We sowed the front terrace with seeds hoping to add to the wildernesses of wildflowers, rather than try to tame and order.
Broken down windows and doors have been repaired to simply make do and to make the Château watertight. A day's work of David's medieval magic sprinkled with buffoonery, rather than the 8000 euros that we were quoted to remove and replace with new.
On a few occasions, in between the work, we had the pleasure of welcoming guests to stay, who have been a part of our journey, following the Château story. Sitting around the kitchen table, walking through the woods, time spent together, sharing a part of each other lives. Enjoying heart to heart conversations and and truly connecting as we listen to each other's stories. At other times the evenings were spent with a good game of cards, a game of Carcassonne, or heated debates over 'animal vegetable mineral' (Maxine, has the name of your granddaughter been decided yet? My favourite's still Charantina)!
Summer days in July were filled with anticipation for the upcoming Restoration Workshop, with 12 guests soon arriving. I look forward to writing about this in the next captain's log (very soon, I promise!).
Naturally the much needed cleaning was far-reaching and ridiculous! Sue (TANON) and Cheryl helped out with jobs they had never imagined.
Everyday over the past three years the Château has opened our world and our hearts. She has her way of doing this.
She brings us all together. Sometimes I feel she is just like my mum was, welcoming everyone who knocked on the door with an honest smile and a cup of tea. On the last evening of the Messors Restoration Workshop, we all shared our own stories of what the Château meant to each of us and spending time together. We took turns sitting around the table, openly listening to and sharing in intimate conversation.
Francesco, who is part of Messors, was the last to speak. And when he spoke, his eyes watered and we all listened, as he recalled his mother explaining to him that we all have our own story to tell. We all experience joy and sorrow. We are all a little broken and a little shattered inside. It is what makes us human. Telling our story is what makes us real.
The Château makes you think and feel differently as you re-evaulate everything. It encourages you to discover who you really are as bare bones. Everything is stripped away, at your most basic self. It is impossible to have a superficial conversation here either with yourself or others.
Family should be anyone who walks through your door. It is about our human family. Maybe we have become so socially conditioned to think nuclear that we don’t even think of our extended family as our planet, and our family can span centuries.
This is what the Chateau has taught me. Here, at the Château, it's about embracing everyone.
This isn’t idealistic.
This is actually happening.