Anytime we travel, Buck and I try to find a house to rent — what our British friends call a “self-catering” — no maids, no other guests: left alone, thank God, to fend for ourselves.
There’s a bit of extra trouble with that, I suppose. No room service. And when you’re halfway up a twisty mountain road that is guarded by a cantankerous billy goat with a long beard and the most astonishing curved horns. . . well, let’s just say if you forget something on your grocery list, you find a way to make do without it.
Nowhere do the idiosyncrasies of a rental house show up more than in the kitchen. In the same room, you may find a complete set of plates for eight, but only one dull paring knife. Drawers in a strange kitchen are so interesting: three spatulas, a couple of large plastic slotted spoons, several unidentifiable small pieces of metal, and a golf ball, for instance.
Or in this kitchen, where I found the most marvelous heavy, copper-clad pots. For the first time, I gain an understanding of what the big deal is about a good copper pot. It’s not all vanity, after all. In town, I buy copper polish for the sheer joy of rubbing the metal and making it gleam.
When there is a shelf in the kitchen with a few cookbooks, or, glory be, loose pages stuck in them with additional recipes handwritten or printed from a computer, the kitchen begins to talk.
I love the way someone else’s house has a way of telling stories to you. Some vacation rentals are stripped down, polished and impersonal, clearly an investment property where the owner has never lived. Others are so imbued with the owner’s essence that you halfway expect to find still-warm slippers by the bed.
This home is somewhere in between, but more clearly than most, it has been someone’s much-loved home place. I suspect the time will come when the owner will no longer be able to bear to be away, or to lease out his home even to the nicest of strangers.
The polished oak floors feel good to my bare feet as I pad about in that special twilight of dawn. I note the extra sturdy wood railing in the hallway between living room and bedrooms, and the hidden rope light added to provide safety in the darkness. In the master bedroom, there is a chaise covered in a soft, nubby fabric. There is a good reading light on a small, dark green velvet-covered round table beside it. I feel this arrangement was put here for someone deeply loved by the owner.
There is a certain sadness, sweetness and care in the young rose bushes coming up in cream, pink and red.
Yesterday’s rain perked up the strawberry plants, and I counted two pea pods among the tendrils winding up their climbing strings.
The two white ducks are twined together out on their favorite rock, insular in the way of lovers. The lone black duck swims in circles in the pond.
Sweet basil from the owner’s herb garden enlivened our farmer’s market frittata supper, which I cooked in an over-sized copper clad skillet. We ate leftover wedges of the fritatta for lunch yesterday, with a few slices of densely sweet cantaloupe.