So I just finished an all-day French exam, level B1, which is lower intermediate level. To become a citizen, I have to pass this thing. I figure these are my options. Photo 1, I passed. We can all relax. Photo 2, didn’t pass, misery. Photo 3, that’s me when it sinks in that I have to do the whole thing all over again. I’ll find out which applies in a couple of months.

For anyone in the same boat, the school giving the exam is Langue Onze. The hotel is Hotel Croix Baragnon: very basic but cheap, clean, well managed and just across from the school. I can recommend both of them.

I’m in Toulouse, for the first time in maybe a decade. With lockdown, many tests were canceled and trying to get one in Paris, well, forget it. So here I am, staying in the original city center, which is now pretty upscale. In general, Toulouse seems to have gentrified since I was here.

This neighborhood is full of antique stores and, as you can see, some interesting food: French if you must, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, take your pick. Within a 10-minute walk are more independently owned shops of all kinds, some incredible parks and gorgeous apartment buildings of all ages. They have trees here, big, old trees, with grass around them. Grass, not grates: take that, Paris. They haven’t done infill projects, so the apartment buildings still have big, leafy green gardens. In short, I like it here. I want to buy the storefront below and do something with it, I don’t even know what, don’t even care.

It’s getting hot. Chances are I’ll be happy to be back home, near La Rochelle, which is much more temperate. But to help ease the tension while I await my exam results, I’ll sip my new tipple, a bottle of armagnac from the ultimate Toulousain mancave, Domaine de Lastours.

Update: Cue the swans or the ducks, whatever they were. My results arrived: 94 out of 100. I should have done so well in school. There is plenty of that armagnac left, by the way. Come on by: we’ll celebrate.

Meet my architect, Leonard Drohomirecki

Drohomirecki panel So one day we noticed, way up the side of a side wall of the house, this plaque. From the ground you can’t read it. To get this photo I had to hang out a side window and crank my zoom lens full out. Then I had to Photoshop like crazy to get this balance of contrast, enough so that you can sort of read the letters but not so much that the contrast blots them out. Once I got that all done, it was no surprise at all to see that they had rolled the credits: architect, owner and builder.

The owner’s name according to the archive records was a M. Forgeau, a notaire and son of a notaire. The notaire who is named, is someone whose name doesn’t appear in the ownership records at all. Notaires back then had a fairly good income in addition to farming or animal rearing, which is what most people did in this area; when a property is sold, notaires handle the paperwork. Also, compared to most of the locals, they were well educated. At a time when teachers were often paid according to whether they taught students just to read, or also to write or to do math — three separate rates, paid by the parents, who were often dirt poor — a good education was in itself a mark of prestige. That said, I could find nothing online about M. Forgeau or M. Martine/Martineau/whoever.

Jean Plissot, builder, meh, regular guy extraordinaire, nothing more. He must have done all right, as the one entry I found noted that he had donated work on a hospital, those being, back in the day, charitable institutions. He did a terrific job on this house, which is structurally solid to this day. For that I am grateful to him.

Now we get to the good stuff. The architect was Leonard Drohomirecki. Once Kieron and I worked that out we looked at each other, two minds with but a single thought; this guy’s not French.

These days, to not be French in France marks you as a permanent outsider. Kieron and I both own property here, live here, speak enough French to do most things. Most people are pretty nice to us. Others, well, Kieron had to shop around to find a dental surgeon, as the first guy refused to work on him; no way was he touching an English guy’s mouth. Kieron is an EU citizen, so at least he can work here. The French put up with me because I spend a lot of money here, no other reason. Unofficially the snobbery and xenophobia, at least toward white people, are fast fading; officially, dealing with the bureaucracy, it’s a whole other story. So I had to find out about this Drohomirecki guy. How did he get a commission for a big house like this?

The answer is, he was by miles the best local guy for the job. Jacques-Leonard Drohomirecki (no, I didn’t name my dog after him, but if I had known I might have) was born in Poland on 6 November 1811. From then until 1838, I just have to speculate. I think the most likely story was that he was well-born and well-educated, probably as an engineer. He would have learned French; back then, educated people did. In 1830 the Polish people revolted against Russian rule; students and intelligentsia took the lead. The revolt failed and a lot of people had to get out of Dodge, Warsaw, Krakow, wherever, to save their lives, they just had to go. I think, oh, let’s just call him LD, went to France.

He next pops up in the records I could find getting his job as Assistant Director of the division of Bridges and Roads in 1838. He obtained his permanent residence card on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1843. By then he had become Director of Bridges and Roads for what was then called the arrondissement of Bourbon-Vendee. He was based in Fontenay-le-Comte, though I found another record that referred to him as living in Lucon. I don’t know why you would live in Lucon if you could live in a grand Renaissance city like Fontenay. Let’s leave his place of residence an open question. The point is, he had a government job and in just five years had worked himself up to a position of some importance.

I think he dabbled in architecture. The railroads used to hired people as crossing guards. They would build houses for them, right next to the places where the roads crossed the train tracks. While driving around I have noticed these jewel box houses, small but extremely well proportioned and picturebook pretty. I have thought that I might try to research their design and construction. If I ever get around to that, I think I’ll find my guy LD did the design work.

He would have socialized, met people like contractors and notaires. One thing leads to another — he did finally marry at age 52, to a woman from Vouvant — and deals are done. Lucky M. Forgeau and his heirs, lucky Honoré Prudhomme, who bought the house in 1940, and his family, to whom the house was passed onto and eventually, lucky me. For all my grousing about every possible thing about this project, I do love this house. Surely he designed other large houses as well. At this point I just don’t know the details.

LD retired in 1879 after 41 years of service. On 14 July 1880 he was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Will Kieron or I ever manage that feat? Somehow I doubt it.