A journalist and fiction writer’s account of how a crumbling house he bought on a French island became his family’s unexpected refuge and salvation.
Wallace (One Great Game: Two Teams, Two Dreams, in the First Ever National Championship High School Football Game, 2003, etc.) and his wife, Mindy, were two wayward surfer-writers with big dreams when they first saw Belle Ile. Their other island home, Manhattan, “was doing its best to shake [them] off, the way a dog does fleas.” A French professor friend named Gwened told them about a cottage that was for sale in the Belle Ile town of Kebordardoue. Broke but craving stability, the couple bought the house almost sight unseen. Only after they saw the cottage two years later did they realize how they had been lured into becoming property owners by the charmingly manipulative Gwened to help spare Kebordardoue from becoming a seaside tourist attraction. The cottage was unlivable and needed costly repairs they could not afford, and it was also located in a village that did not easily accept new residents, especially foreign ones with the idea of becoming absentee landowners. Monetary and logistical challenges threatened to derail the Wallaces’ restoration plans, but with pluck, humor and help from the indomitable Gwened, they made the ruined cottage livable again. They also learned to navigate the tricky social waters that separated them from their colorful, often eccentric neighbors. Over time, Wallace and his wife went from being the laughingstocks of Kebordadoue to beloved community members who helped popularize surfing on Belle Ile. Family, career and financial crises inevitably intervened along the way. But the “maison saine, ”or healthy house, that Gwened helped them rebuild to preserve a small island town became their own “sane” space of tranquility in the midst of life storms.
Warm, funny and full of heart.