French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.


Skylights are in!


These are the big lights on the north – facing roof. There was some concern expressed that they would create a cold spot in this area. Plus, as I may have mentioned, years of condensate drippage plus a little full – on leakage caused the attic floor to rot. So really,  extra little ones plus three big ones?

Yeah, of course I want that. So in they went. I think they will be fine. The temperature is even throughout the space. I think no cold spots translates to no condensate.  Despite hours of pouring rain and winds that drive the rain horizontally, there are no leaks.

Well done, guys. They placed windows to provide views of the brick chimneys. They laser – aligned the bottoms of the windows. They refrained from rolling their eyes when I said the window placement had to look right from outside the house, too. And, not least, they had the expertise to rework a slate roof with a complex slope to remain watertight while accommodating the skylights. I like my crew.




Finally,  my skylights have arrived and are being installed. On the left you see the “before” skylight: single – pane,  condensate – attracting, generally leaky, thoroughly problematic. No wonder there were only a couple of them. Beneath each existing skylight is a patch of skylight – sized rotten floorboards.

I had been thinking the attic would have a more casual vibe than the rest of the house, with its dark wooden beams and rough, character – filled floorboards. Art fart country loft, I thought, I cannot wait. Then I found out what insulation and plasterboard do to walls and an old ceiling; basically they cover up so much that what is left looks a little out of place. I thought well, okay, with the right paint and lighting, and of course those way cool floors, it will still be great. Now big chunks of floor are going.

With its kitchenette and bathroom down the hall, the attic is in danger of coming out looking like an upscale country pub. Maybe I should put in a tartan carpet and submit to fate.  Eew, no, such a bad idea.

Whatever I do, I’ll be happy to have skylights like the one on the right. These are Conservation roof lights, approved for listed houses in England. They maintain the proportions of the old lights but they are double paned and have sturdier frames.

I added some skylights. Back during my fantasy loft phase I specified huge ones for the north – facing roof, so the spaces should be light – filled.  The guys are waterproofing and insulating like crazy. The rotting floorboards should be a thing of the past and it should feel toasty warm up there, even in winter.




There’s an eighth deadly sin, right? Thought shalt not cut down trees? Or is that ninth, after though shalt not wear fur? Since I just got an amazing deal on a vintage mink — 40 euros and I thank the souls of those little guys every time I take Jacques on a late – night,  below – zero poop run, believe me — I might as well go for the trees.

I had a visit from the tree surgeon today. He tells me the century – old chestnut trees that you see in the photo were badly pruned. They are now hollow. We take them out or they fall on the barn. He showed me the damage. It’s bad.  So out they go, starting in a week or so.

He says thw new ones will grow relatively quickly. I hope he’s right.


The postcard French market experience


If you are in the Vendee and want good, local food, you can find it. You will have to do a little research and a lot of driving around. However it can be done and I think it is well worth the effort. If you ever try living on Leclerc food, you will, too.

The local markets are one place to start. Mine is on two mornings each week. The market is off the main drag and there are no signs until you are already on top of it but once you find it it is easy enough to find again. Does it have an ATM? No but a short walk will bring you to one. How about a place for coffee and a croissant?  Sort of, a scruffy little place across the street.

So okay, it’s no San Francisco Ferry Plaza. Anthony Bourdain will likely give it a miss. But it is replete with local producers and organic goodies. You can get house – made patés and sausages. This morning I picked up five kilos, yes, kilos, of grown-by-the-vendor apples for six euros, so deals are to be found.  The vendors are honest, pleasant and patient with my limited French. For me, the market run is always enjoyable.

The goat cheese in the photo above is from Bellevaire, perhaps my market’s only A-team vendor. If you know them it is probably because of their spiced butter, which is sold in fancy markets in Paris and elsewhere. Nobody out here buys spiced butter. However Bellevaire does a big local business in raw milk products. They also sell perfectly stored cheese and carry a large selection of locally produced cheeses.

I’m having way too much fun with this. I’ll save the other local producers for later.


The era of French – Mex cooking is now!


This is where I do most of my shopping. Paris has Monoprix,  which pretty much stays in big cities. The countryside has a whole raft of options — Intermarché, HyperU, a bunch of them, all pretty similar. I go to Leclerc because it’s new and because of all the cheesy cafes that most of them have, Leclerc’s is the least bad.

These used to be big supermarkets. Now, though, they have gotten into draining the life of the city centers in a big way and are using the market as an anchor tenant, renting out space to pharmacies, laundries, all kinds of things. They add their own areas to sell clothes, housewares, appliances, so basically you are looking at a minimall.

I’d love to go into a rant about these evil city – killers but the French make that so difficult. When I finished my shopping at Leclerc I went into town and left empty – handed.  You see, it was midday on Monday. The shops were closed because they do that for lunch and also on Mondays. Double whammy. I’ll have to change my watch battery another day. Or maybe there is a watch guy at Leclerc.


After all, look what I can get there! I don’t want to think about what Old El Paso does to a tortilla to get it to last more than a day. I’m just going to wrap one around the poulet fermier I just roasted, maybe add some grated comté cheese and enjoy.


Goodies from the French countryside


For several months now, people have been telling me to remember how much cheaper things are, once you leave Paris. Their objective is to keep me from letting people overcharge me. Honestly, so far, I have not experienced that or if I have, the prices are still so much lower than in Paris that I’m fine with it.

These bedside lamps (sorry for the puppy detritus in the background) were made by a friend of Julien’s. Said friend finds old stuff and transforms it. Sometimes I’m sure he just cleans it up. Other times, as with these, he assembles parts into a new whole. He is a skilled artisan and has an eye for what works in homes today. The lamps are unique, just this pair in the whole world, yet they cost less than assembly line lamps from my local-In-Paris housewares shop — and that in turn has prices that are a fraction of those at, say, Galeries Lafayette. Was there room in the price for a finder’s fee for Julien? I hope so.

I was horrified by the cost of bedframes in Paris. I’m furnishing four bedrooms at once, so it was starting to look like I was going to have to put the mattresses on the floor. Then I found a shop out here that just opened; the whole store was at January sale prices. Hey presto, I picked up three bedframes, nice ones, for the price of one in Paris. Pillows were half price. And delivery is free.

So now, with everything I brought from California, I think I have about what I need to move in. Well, except for the house.