I am bringing you this grainy image from the Tapestry of the Apocalypse because you don’t want to see the house now. Really, the situation is better but it looks a lot worse.
The guys put down a sheet of plastic, a vapor barrier. It looks like a huge Hefty bag. Then, while two guys wait, one guy takes a wheelbarrow outside and dumps sand and concrete into it, then adds water. How does he know how much? I don’t know, trial and error, maybe. Then he wheels it back inside and dumps it out and the two waiting guys spread it out — they do at least have a spirit level — and wait for the next delivery. So, why didn’t they schedule a concrete delivery truck, which could easily have backed up to the house, and used a pumper to load it into the house? You know, with uniform strengths, slump tests, that kind of thing. I can’t believe this third-world mix-it-yourself process was cheaper, not with French labor costs being what they are. Once I get over the shock, I’ll have to ask. I expect to hear that outside the big cities –La Rochelle is 45 minutes away — concrete trucks do not exist.
The floors in the house will not bear any significant weight. It’s scary to see that kind of thing going on but really, the entire ground floor is level and each room is at the same elevation as the next. It will be fine. And what about the garage, where, you know, folks drive cars onto that floor? That job is months down the road. I’m not going to stress about it now. France teaches you to take one day at a time.
Or maybe it’s a different message altogether. Maybe France sings a sort of siren song to all us readers of Colette, Voltaire and Montaigne, we fangirls of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the like. All that beauty sucks us in, gets us to drop a little here, a lot there, then spits us out. People have been telling me stories that suggest that I should maybe get out now.
The other day I walked onto a huge stone yard with not much going on; in the States there would have been a dozen guys at work, all busy with customers. Here it was me and the owner, who did not especially want to talk about stone. First he wanted to know why anyone who could live in the States would choose to live in France. I didn’t have the heart to carry on about rabid Republican obstructionism, so I just said my husband died and I had to get out for a while. Then he wanted to tell me why he was alone in this huge stone yard. He can’t afford employees. He could use them to grow the business. He could make regular shipments to the States. The thing is, when business slows down — construction is cyclical, after all — he can’t lay them off. He won’t grow because he can’t shrink.
This is true. Yesterday I heard about a woman who took over a business with two employees. A man owned apartments but was tired of managing them, so he turned it all over to her. A couple of years later he changed his mind — took back the apartments but not the employees. To get out of her legal obligation to pay these guys forever, she had to declare bankruptcy. In the States you just do and several years later you are okay again. Here you are kind of ruined for life. This is a bright, talented woman and I don’t know how she makes ends meet.
So okay, enough stories. Other people hear these stories, too, so when they hire people, they pay them under the table, so they can let them go. Undeclared income is not taxed. The government meets its sometimes insane obligations — have I told you yet about the mandatory campgrounds for “gens de voyage?” — by increasing taxes on income that is declared. Sometimes those taxes are levied on previous years’ income, which creates a whole new reason to go out of business or work on the black. So the government raises taxes on everybody else again. It’s a death spiral.
The point is, whether you are in business or not, you don’t want to get into the French tax system. I had thought I would give it five years, then review my situation. Now I am meeting people who are acting like kids watching an old horror movie, you know, the one where everyone yells, “Don’t get in the car!” I’m like the hitchhiker on the road. I don’t really have a Plan B. Time to think fast.