French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.


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Antiques Fair: Foire de Chatou

Yesterday Jacques and I had a little too much fun. We went to an antiques fair just outside Paris, the Foire de Chatou. I spent the day picking through the great selection of reasonably-priced stuff for the house. Jacques spent the day checking out the many other dogs and the food on offer. You can see him in the photo above, scanning for dogs. One of the best things about this particular fair is that they make a point of offering good food of all kinds. So, oysters and chablis for lunch, a couple of things to figure out how to get home, what’s not to like.


Here’s the little guy in front of a table that I got to use as a dining table in the tiny apartment attached to the house. Now I’m thinking maybe the finishes might not take the kind of abuse heaped onto a dining table, so we shall see, but it will be nice somewhere. Really,  bottom line, antiques fairs and auctions are all about the hunt. After all, once your place is filled with great finds, you can’t really shop any more. I believe this particular fair happens twice a year. I plan to be very picky, so that Jacques and I will have years of visits to look forward to.



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Serious rain


I moved here from California, at a time when we had had drought for nearly five years. I had a xeriscape garden and a spring out back. Still, the water bill was 300 a month for two of us, our low-flow appliances and a relatively small suburban garden. It rarely rained and never froze. When I moved I knew I wanted a place with water and I was willing to put up with a certain amount of inclement weather to do that. I got both.

I hadn’t realized what that does to a house. When I bought this place I thought stone house, newish slate roof, no problem. I had no clue what persistent rain and wind would do to the wooden shutters, windows and doors. I thought the rotting wood must be half a century old.

I’m not so sure any more. I have new wood all over the place and I am wondering whether it can handle more than a decade of 80 km/hour winds — believe it ir not the winds are worse up north in Brittany and, I believe, down just to the south — and drenching rain that just stays put because for months it never truly warms up, never dries out. I am foreseeing a future where I am the crazy lady in the ramshackle house because I just don’t want to deal with contractors any more. In the photo you can see a patio table that blew over and had its glass top smashed. Ramshackle furniture! Augh, it’s starting!

Once and done is more my speed. I may be stuck with the shutters and windows — sunk cost and all — but I am looking forward to having those old, leaky doors replaced by steel ones.

The rain itself is a great novelty. I’m enjoying it and enjoying the excuse it gives to web surf. I may be the last Francophile on earth to have seen this but at last I did. Don’t I wish it were reality!


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Winter in the country

Jacques with exercise ball
Well, here we are, dealing with some seriously rainy weather. I am happy to report that exercise keeps the cabin fever away. I play something perky — today it’s Johnny Cash — and my little workout goes by just fine. My favorite is using the reformer while Jacques settles onto my chest and licks my face. There’s nothing like it. You can see that Jacques is trying to figure out why he is on the reformer and I am not. He keeps trying to climb onto my lap while I am rowing but so far, no luck.


This is the big excitement. Not only did the sun come out, just for a bit, but the sheet of 5 mil plastic that covered an easily accessed opening — that’s a public park on the other side — has been replaced by bulletproof glass in a steel frame. Reignoux said they would be here on Wednesday and of all things, they were. That used to be my normal. Now it feels like a miracle. The guys are putting in a new gate right now. Pictures soon.


Next up — way next, like this time next year, maybe — is downspout replacement. I am so glad this is the garage and so glad we have sandy soil. Water collecting at the foundations is not a good thing.


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My new doctor


I don’t know. Maybe it’s these cold, dark, wintry days that are getting to me, making me wonder why I left my little people’s republic of Northern California (these deportation orders! My friends would be hiding their cleaning ladies in the basement, if California had basements…) to move to a place that can be by turns ossified in its bureaucracy or ossified in its self-serving excuse du jour (take that, artisan français). Surely there was a third option, maybe Amsterdam or Barcelona. Then something happens. Maybe the sun comes out. It may not shine exactly but it will give us a nice rosy glow, so flattering to my crepey skin. Or maybe I finally, possibly, have found my doctor.

Medical care here is generally excellent. I, however, am the patient from hell. I don’t get my blood work, don’t take my medicine. I’m constantly losing the same 5 pounds. It’s all so boring. I once had a boyfriend who skipped a blood test, the one that would have detected his colon cancer in time to save his life. You’d think I’d have learned, but no. Back in the States, every so often I’d have a Douglas LaPlante Memorial Colonoscopy. Now I’m over it. 

I found this smart but easygoing doctor who has seen my type before and has learned to roll with it. I like her but I don’t know, doctors, medicine, so dull.

And Then. I’ll spare you the tacky details but suddenly I needed an ENT guy right away. I didn’t dare call my doctor. She’d ask about that blood test she ordered two months ago. So I made M. Wonderful find a doctor in the neighborhood who speaks English and could see me at once. I don’t know how he puts up with me. But off I went, to the usual Paris doctor’s office in a stunning antique-filled converted apartment. Even the examining table was an antique.  No clerks, no front desk. I was greeted by the doctor, this tiny, skinny woman in black leather everything, I think, apart from a mohair sweater and the ropes of pearls that keep her anchored to the ground. No white coat. Her Pomeranian sleeps next to her desk.

She found the problem and fixed it, just like that. Then, right after she answered her own phone and complained to me about the patient who called — not in detail, just a general, casual, “I hate the French,” — she let me know that she advertises one specialty but has five and if I wanted, she could be my regular doctor. Well, I was hooked. The Pomeranian, the diamonds and cubic zirconia peeking through the mohair and pearls, this is my kind of doctor. And where but France, maybe where but Paris, could I find someone as eccentric as she is competent? And a French francophobe, to boot, maybe worse than me. I’m going to love this. I may even follow her advice.


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The paneling crack’d???


No, that would have been Agatha Christie’s first draft. She wound up doing much better. I’m the one with the cracked paneling.

These panels are original to the house. They didn’t have kiln drying 150 years ago, so there would not have been the problem we face now, dealing with shrinkage for years after we build/trim whatever. Plus, in 150 years you would think the wood would be whatever size it was going to be, kiln dried or not.

I think this is happening for a couple of reasons. First, the house is now pretty weathertight. The leaks are few and are being found and sealed. So when it rains, inside the house it doesn’t feel that different. That is the good news. The other news is that for various reasons, when I leave for a few days, the heat goes down but never off. My pipes don’t freeze. Mildew inside and spalling outside are over. But I think the air inside the house must be drier than it has ever been. I’m not sure but that’s all I can figure.

Well, no, maybe it’s this. There is no insulation behind the panels. They lie flat against the stone, at least I’m pretty sure they do. So maybe the wood is caught between the consistent dry warmth of the interior and the changeable heat and humidity outside.

The contractor says he’ll run around with caulk and touch-up paint to make all this invisible. I don’t know. Even if he actually follows through, cracking panels could be an ongoing phenomenon.


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Jacques Report

An idle dog is the Devil’s workshop. Yesterday I got too busy to take Jacques for his daily walk, some 45 minutes to and from what passes in Paris for a dog park. It doesn’t tire him out but he gets a change of scene and a little socializing. It beats jumping around in front of the TV set. But I had work to do and plans for the evening, plus the weather is awful right now, so no walk. When I caught him chomping on my yarn, did I take the hint and move everything to a table? No, silly me, I just said “No, Jacques,” and went back to whatever. Then I went out.

Look what I came home to. My nice, eco-friendly bamboo knitting needle, chewed. It catches the yarn, now. I’ll try taping over the divot but I have a feeling it’s time for a new pair of needles. He didn’t touch the yarn again, all credit for that. Maybe it was because he sniffed the lasagna takeout container in the recycle bag, which he then ripped open. Poor thing. Even plastic tastes better than his kibble.

I could argue that the lesson is to take him to the park every day, rain or shine, snow, sleet, hail, etc., but really I think the lesson is, spend more time at the house.


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Design quandary

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This gives you some vague idea of what my living room looks like and also what I’m up against in terms of storage, or the lack thereof.

The room is pretty square, about 5 meters by 5 meters, maybe 6×6, I’m not sure. The ceiling height is up there, more than 3 meters. So you walk in through a door placed in the center of the wall. To the right is a window in the center of that wall. Straight ahead and to the left are blank walls. As is befitting a proper reception room, it is axial and formal. So I have a couple of concerns about how to deal with this room, how respect its character while also respecting mine.

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You see, this is how I live. Nice stuff but books everywhere and what a mess. I even use duvets, so I don’t really have to make the bed. Not that there will be a bed in the front room but you get the idea. Super-casual, a cleaning lady’s nightmare.

I have to figure out how to furnish this room and where to put all that stuff, especially all those books. Do I even want books and DVDs and all — yes, I still like DVDs — in what passes for a public room? Would I rather have them upstairs, where I am more likely to actually use them?

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One option is to say, yes, bookshelves everywhere. I like the way these shelves turn the corner. Stuff display can be a little difficult and having these corner shelves is a nice way to handle it. The furniture would have to be away from the shelves but it’s a big room; that’s not really a problem. I love the fixed positioning of these shelves but for me, that could be a problem.

credit-to-daniel-farmer_el_5oct12_pr_bt_190x190 My original plan was to make this a media room: thus the darkish walls. I don’t do the kind of entertaining that requires a formal living room. Even at my housewarming, at which I think I was the only non-French person, everyone crammed into the kitchen, around the kitchen island. They had a great time, that being where all the food and drink were to be found. So there is no social pressure; I can do what I like with the room.  But I like watching TV upstairs. Do I need two TV setups? When did need come into it?

Anyway, if I do that, and if I do shelves, I’ll need a niche. How many niches? What size? TVs are only getting bigger and they never seem too big. Should I go for something more flexible?

real-homes-6-easy-living-19dec13-paul-massey_bt_426x639_1 I had been thinking I would put shelves on the blank walls, ahead and to the left. But what if I put them on the wall with the doors? My floor plan is actually quite similar to this. With the doors open you look into the kitchen, which has a stove directly ahead and openings to either side. Great minds…

This idea is a real contender. The books have a home without dominating the room. The furniture can be placed such that no one has their back to the door and the circulation is not blocked. The TV can go on the wall opposite the door with pictures, mirrors, who knows what, all around it. I’m not sure how I’ll work the wiring but overall it’s not a bad plan.

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Maybe I should put books on all the walls, with generous openings for paintings, the TV, etc. Nah, probably not.

2873374-house-21jun16-simon-upton_bt_190x190 Maybe I should forget about built-ins, give myself the flexibility of furniture. The room needs a formal treatment, though. I can’t just run to Habitat or see if one of my local sources has reclaimed shop shelving or something. That works for me but not for the house. Furniture or built-in, I may be stuck with something made to measure.

I am used to living in small spaces, as tightly organized as a sailboat. This large space thing is great, no complaints, but it does have its own challenges. In a small house, those shelves would go on the wall with the door, no question. That space to either side of the doors is effectively lost; what better way to make use of it? But I don’t know. I’ll have to kick it around.