She was nine years old. Her teacher was asking the class about their ethnicity and nationality. She remembers hearing big words like “Caucasian” and wondering if she was one of them. She grew anxious as the teacher made her way through each student, asking them “What is your Ethnicity?” This moment in time could have been her earliest memory of feeling confused about her identity and where she belonged. But instead, the teacher labelled her “the perfect child of the future”. I wonder if the teacher knew the seed of pride she had planted in a little girl’s heart? This was the story Dewi-Ann told me as she recounted her incredibly international childhood.
Before I go on, you should know how to pronounce this pretty name properly. I called her Dew-ee-Ann for a bit, then I moved on to Dev-ee-Ann before she very graciously corrected me in her perfectly posh English accent. Dave-ee-Ann is her name. Cute huh? She’s the first Dave-ee-Ann I’ve ever met, and I think she is rather interesting. So much so that I wanted to tell you her story.
Born to a Dutch botanist father and a Malaysian mother who were living in Thailand at the time, Dewi-Ann spent the first seven years of her life in Indonesia where she attended an American International school. Following this, they lived in Holland for two years before moving to Rome. Dewi-Ann lived in Rome until she was sixteen. This is where she feels she grew up. Can you imagine her language repertoire? She speaks English, Italian, Dutch and French and I wouldn’t mind betting she has a basic knowledge of Malay to add to this impressive selection.
Dewi-Ann and I met mainly because we both speak English! One of the unexpected bonuses of living in the South of France, has been the expat community we have found ourselves enjoying. My husband has taken up playing his long-forgotten love of soccer. The local village team is half English, half French and I am helping him to translate the weekly emails he receives with instructions on where and who they’re playing. I get a giggle every week when for every email he receives with details about the actual game, there are six more with details on who’s bringing what for the team meal that happens after each game. The meal starts at about 10.30pm … I still don’t know how these guys get up and go to work each Friday after such a late night! But I love the community spirit and importance placed on creating a time to eat together … very French indeed.
Together with her husband Will and their three children Amy, 10, Tom, 9 and Mary, 6 (plus her two eldest Dylan and Pia who pop over regularly), Dewi-Ann took the plunge six months ago and moved from England, which had been home for her since 1985. As an Aussie, I’m jealous of their short trip across the channel to such a land as this!
Now with an upbringing like hers, you’d think this move would have been no big deal for her – in fact I figured she’d been in Will’s ear about it for years. Not quite. It was in fact Will who suggested the move at first. After some changes in his accounting career he suggested that this adventure could be just the thing for their family. Dewi-Ann was quite happy to start looking at property to buy in France – who wouldn’t be? They’d holidayed here plenty of times before. But she admits it took quite a while longer before she had truly internalised the fact that they were moving to France to live.
As I sit under her huge platane tree, so typical of this area in the South of France, I take the time to admire the gardens, trees, vines and ancient looking pots and statues that all have more history than I do. But what I’m most drawn to are the crisp white shutters and crawling green ivy that accent this 130 year old farmhouse that soars above us. It was a twenty month process from the time Dewi-Ann first laid eyes on Domaine Codaїgues to when they actually moved in.
Domaine Codaїgues means “le Mas des eaux” … farmhouse of water. It refers to the abundance of rain water that runs down the hill from their village of Montréal into the surrounding fields. Although the original farmland surrounding Codaїgues was sold off by previous owners in the late 1970s, the house remains on eight acres of established gardens dotted with century-old farm machinery to decorate the aptly named “park” that is Dewi-Ann’s front yard. The original concrete slab of the barn declares 1885 as the year it was laid and together with a huge garage, it bookends a building that could comfortably house three families. Dewi-Ann, Will and their family are living in one end of the farmhouse with five bedrooms in use. Add to this a workshop, horse stables, two lounge rooms, a sitting room, a kitchen with the original fireplace, three bathrooms and a grand entry foyer complete with a marble and wrought iron staircase and a feature stain-glass window, and you have an impressive home indeed. I can’t help noticing there is also a hallway closed off with four more rooms that aren’t currently in use and an enormous attic that can be found through a “secret” door … I’m guessing they are on the future “to do” list”
It would be easy to get overwhelmed by the task at hand and although Dewi-Ann first thought five years would see their renovation project completed, after six months of slipping into a slow-paced French life at Codaїgues, she feels no sense of urgency, preferring to take the time to respect the history of the place and repair it accordingly. It’s almost as if Domaine Codaїgues and her new owners need time to get to know and understand one another before they walk together into the future.
Although Will has started renovating the two-storey, four bedroom residence adjacent to their living quarters, they have other projects that will be done in time including the barn, three-bedroom chalet, installing a pool and building a pool house from the existing structure that was once an orangerie. The original owner, Madame Vidal, had this built to honour her son who died in WW1. The gardener was charged with growing flowers in the orangerie all year round to ensure his grave was always decorated with fresh flowers
There are other stories that Domaine Codaїgues has been witness to. Monsieur Laquire’s wedding took place in the park in 1971. He was the son of the owners at the time. There are remnants of the white foot bridge where he and his bride would have had their photo taken. The two 60m3 grain stores and idle farm machinery in the barn hints at the productivity that once went on at Domaine Codaїgues. Despite the charm of rusted machinery and aging stone walls, the new life in the chicken coup and fruit tree orchard brings hope for what Domaine Codaїgues will once again become.
Dewi-Ann admits that during their first, very cold winter where she wore beanies and gloves inside the house, she may have had one or two moments where she questioned her sanity. But as she sits in the Spring sunshine with her happy, soon-to-be-bilingual kids and the two beloved family dogs squabbling at her feet, she admits she feels it’s a real privilege to be on a journey such as this.
Apart from having a really cool name – one you could never forget – Dewi-Ann is someone who finds herself “at home” not so much in places and things, but in family, good friends and meeting interesting people along the journey of life. She’s happier meeting new people and swapping stories in a foreign land than she is in a shopping mall. She would rather spend a day entertaining under her platane tree overlooking the sprawling eight acre grounds of her new home than racing around the city trying to impress people. But what I think she doesn’t realise is how this love for the simple things in life, the way she makes people take a big deep breath and just relax around her, is really impressive. She doesn’t need to try very hard at all.
I ask her if she thinks she’ll have itchy feet again – or if this is it for her. As she finishes her cup of tea, she can’t hide her smile and doesn’t hesitate … “of course I’ll get itchy feet again … there’s lots to do in this lifetime.”