I spent 3 weeks in Mombray at the home of Dominique and Patrick. This lovely French couple live in an old three story mini-mansion with tall windows and wooden shutters. The building dates back a few hundred years and was originally built as a hunters lodge for wealthy families escaping the busyness of Paris in the 1800’s. Before this, on the same spot, there stood a castle. The only remnants of the ‘Mombray Castle’ are a water well (still functional) and a few granite stones (now re-used in the kitchen to frame the cooking stove). The home, along with the front and back garden, is closed in by a wall. There is a patch of ground which once was a graveyard, and next to that is a small stone building which was originally built as a chapel. Judging by the views all around, it is clear why this was a great site for a castle. From the back of the house, you can see the town of Condé sur Noireau lying peacefully in the valley. Judging from the sounds of guns and barking dogs, my stay coincided with the local hunting season.

An old home such as this has no shortage of repairs and upgrades, not to mention all the gardens, trees and shrubs. I shared my first week with another WorkAway’er, Jakub, who took responsibility for all the outside work to be done. One of his specialties was creating multiple composting sites. This was the first time I shared a stay with a fellow traveller, and although Jakub is not a big talker, by the time he departed, I felt that I knew him a little better. I am certainly curious about the reasons others have to be ‘on the move’. It is as if, each time you take the trouble to understand someone else’s situation, you are helped along in the understanding of your own. Not everyone is as curious or open as I am, but I value every bit of insight I receive.

Before I had arrived, Dominique had already described one possible project for me to work on: the wine cellar. In the basement was an original wine cellar, which consisted of little more than the bare stone walls, bare earthen floor, a few old wine racks and dim lighting. As she described her vision of the finished space, I began to see the potential of this challenge. During the three weeks I spent working in their basement, there was a slow, beautiful, almost organic, melding together of all our ideas. While I put my energy into creating something practical and personal, Dominique and Patrick made sure all my other needs were met. Endless entertaining and animated discussions were held over often simple yet delicious French food. The kitchen is Dominiques domain. And when it comes to billiards, guitar and music, that is the territory of Patrick. He taught me a few new cords and I had my first real ‘jam session’. I also discovered, somewhat to Patricks chagrin, that I play a halfway decent game of billiards. This is the first couple I have met who have a billiard table engulfing most of the living room.

The wine cellar turned out better than any of us could have imagined. It went from being a bare, poorly lit and unused space to an inviting, intimate and cozy, even hip place to entertain a few friends. The evening before I left, we opened this years beaujolais nouveau to celebrate the success of this project. I could not have asked for more loving and caring hosts. Dominique and Patrick went out of their way to allow me to feel at home. WorkAway, as the name implies, is certainly about getting work done, however, when you get the added bonus of creating dear friendships, it is worth all the dust, dirt, cuts and bruises.

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