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The difficulties of keeping up the ch^ateau

THE Count and Countess de Souanc'e wear corduroys -- speckled with paint. Inside their 18-century ch^ateau, the furniture is threadbare. The rug is tatty. The wallpaper is fading. ``Just heating this place costs a fortune,'' grumbles 30-year-old Bernard de Souanc'e. ``And the plumbing is a disaster.''

What's a poor count to do? Work, of course.

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Count de Souanc'e farms 425 acres with the precision necessary to raise a good harvest of peas.

To make ends meet, he also imports agricultural machinery.

A revolution in class relations has taken place during the past generation. Like many other counts, de Souanc'e's grandfather leased out his land to peasants who lived in the little village of Souanc'e, below the ch^ateau.

Whenever he walked around his fields, the peasants would tip their caps and call him ``Monsieur le Ma^itre.'' The young count grew up surrounded by servants. Two cooks, a valet, a housemaid, and five other employees made up the staff.

All this now has disappeared. De Souanc'e's wife, Pascale, does the housework. She can't afford to work because it would cost too much to hire a governess to raise their two boys, 3-year-old Edouard and 1-year old Olivier.

The count employs three farm workers. That lets him avoid doing the plowing himself. Still, he must work 12 hours a day in his office managing the business.

Many of his aristocratic friends don't understand. They have gone off to Paris and given up struggling to maintain a ch^ateau. Others have turned their homes into luxury hotels. But de Souanc'e remains.

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``My family came here in 1750,'' he explains. ``This is my home. It would be too sad if we had to sell.''

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