A Wife, A Mother, An Entrepreneur
Walking up the gravel path to Odile’s home is like walking through a secret garden. Branches overhead bow in welcome and faded brown clay pots hold petite trees offering oranges to the awe-struck visitor. Towering bushes relieve the entry from the summer sun and hide any sight of the house from the main gate.
The path gently winds to the left and the home comes into breathtaking view: a two-story wonder, covered in thick ivy that floats nearly horizontal six or seven inches out from the stucco. White checkered window panes are framed with pale green shutters, and more brown pots—this time holding cacti and complex bonsai—complement the traditional red roof.
Odile is the master of her creation: the physical oasis, part-home part-business, that is her property tucked in the hills east of central Marseille.
An adorable and fairly ridiculous Pekingese saunters out to greet me, head held high. He stares, a permanent frown on his face and pout on his lips. The more annoyance he conveys the more comical the scene becomes.
‘Dai, my little one!’ Odile sweeps him into her arms, at once comforting and mocking. Dai’s expression remains fixed. She switches to English, ‘He’s such a funny dog. I just love him!’
Odile is a picture of grace. Every movement is calm and calculated, and she wastes no words on idle chit chat. She wears simple, comfortable, well-fitting clothes. Her grey hair is styled and pinned loosely; classy yet effortless. She carries her slim physique with care, placing each step thoughtfully and gently. Her elegance is less a barrier and more a peaceful invitation.
The inside of the home perfectly mirrors her look and mannerisms. Antique furnishings in simple, pale hues have been refurbished for function but still exude their years of experience. Most of the walls are painted in muted, solid colors. The smooth floors are composed of tiles almost the same color as the brown clay pots outside. The rooms are no bigger than needed—vaulted mirrors make them seem much larger.
But this is all a backdrop to the artifacts. The home itself is a museum of French relics passed down through generations. The plain walls are heavily adorned with paintings and photographs perfectly arranged and hung. Her interest in East Asia is undeniable as I peek into the dining area and see on a recessed shelf a white sculpted figure in red robes sitting in meditation.
Odile takes great pride and comfort in her home, which she recently opened up as a full-time bed and breakfast operation. Her husband, a wealthy businessman, has nothing to do with it. Their children have long left home, and the business is hers in idea and execution.
In preparation, Odile re-did an entire wing of the home to allow privacy for her guests. Day in and day out, she cooks, cleans and plays with Dai—also understood to be only hers—while her husband talks shop in the front yard with his dog, son and business partners. Odile doesn’t interfere with his goings on and he grants her the same space.
In many ways her life has remained largely unchanged over her many years. She lives in the same home, surrounded by the same objects and furnishings that accompanied her parents through their lives. But she says the only reason she keeps the large house is so her children have someplace to come home to.
“It’s too big for us. I’d be perfectly happy in a smaller place. But the business is good for me.”
Her time is spent fastidiously studying English, running and promoting her business, and staying healthy. I ask her how she looks so healthy and young.
“I’ll tell you,” she says gently. “No sweets, no coffee, no drinking. Lots of vegetables, rice and potatoes.” As she goes on, it’s clear she’s done a great deal of research. Her interest in East Asian tradition is prominent in her gardening, decor and meals, and her self-motivated discipline brings it to life in Marseille.
And with that, she gives me a wink and knowing smile as she serves me the chocolate croissant she noticed was my favorite from the day before.