Rant Alert: Yanqui Go Home

So Jacques and I were walking across the Champs de Mars yesterday when he was set upon by two pit bulls. For pit bulls they were friendly, so no real damage was done. However these two fundamentally dominant dogs were off-lead. Their owners did not have them under voice control. They mobbed Jacques and scared the shit out of him.

The owners were these classic overprivileged Americans, East Coast, probably New Jersey, to judge by their accents, and beyond clueless. I don’t know how they even found pit bulls in France but putting that aside, haven’t they noticed that Parisians don’t have aggressive dogs? Seriously, the 7th arrondissement, where the Champs de Mars is located, is all about Westies and dachshunds, chihuahuas and Silkies, maybe the occasional hunting dog. Didn’t they notice that an area of the park that is normally pretty full of dogs was empty, except for theirs? Wonder why… 

I called one of them on it. I told her if she didn’t have her dog under voice control, she should have it on a leash. She claimed she was in a dog park. Excuse me, a dog park with no fences but with “no dogs allowed” signs all over? Maybe she was too busy sipping her Starbucks latte, there on the bench chatting with her friends while her dog was running wild, to notice.

Those dogs were just puppies, barely reaching the stage where they are truly going to assert themselves. I could easily imagine them taking a nip out of a toddler, just playing, probably, though pit bulls have been known to go for a full-on attack. The worst effect would be on the toddler, of course, and on the dogs, who would likely be put down. After that, it would be bad for the reputation of pit bulls and for Americans — all of us, not just the witless ones that their parents are paying whatever it takes, just to get them out of the house for a while. 

Regardless of whether anyone is bitten, if the Champs de Mars starts filling up with aggressive dogs, the police will start enforcing those “no dogs” signs and we’ll have one less place to let our regular pets socialize and run around a bit.

Okay. Rant over. I feel better now. If you stuck around this long, honestly, I’m amazed.

Carte de Séjour


Well, so there, propped on what is about to become my dining room window sill — I admit, it still requires a bit of imagination to see that — is my residence permit. Did I watch Casablanca too often? Did I grow up too close to people who lived in fear of la Migra? I don’t know, but it felt huge to get this.

Once I figured it out things were pretty straightforward, actually. Here in the countryside they are not so inundated with requests, so it is easy to get an appointment and all. A friendly young woman looked at my documentation, waited while I filled out the missing bits, disappeared for a minute and came back with my card. The permanent one, which should arrive in a couple of months, will, I hope be a little smaller.

So there I am with a hole punched in my head. It feels good.

Deux ans, déjà!

Robert Colmar

So Robert has been gone for two years, now. It’s hard to believe, partly because it feels like forever, except when it feels like I just saw him yesterday or else like I made our whole dozen years up. This is him in Colmar one holiday season. Did we really spend that Christmas in Colmar, laughing at our belief that the Christmas market would be interesting, or would I just like to have done that? The Baroque music concert in the church, the near-hour spent with the panels of the Isenheim altarpiece, lunch at L’Atelier du Peintre, really? Yes, I think so, really. I think so.

The question is, what if he came back? What would he think of the changes I have made in my life? Some would infuriate him. “But honey, I thought you were dead.” I don’t see that flying, as I try to explain why I sold the California house. Some he would love, like the house I bought here. Some he wouldn’t notice, like the improvement in my French. Bless his heart, despite the evidence, he always thought my French was terrific. I’m sure we’d work it out — unless, of course, I took a few photos, maybe downloaded them from the internet, then wove a 12-year story around them. I could look at the stamps in my passport but those can be forged, can’t they?

So, as I head into my third year of this strange new life, I thank the man who made it possible. I think that’s how I got here. Next year, as I head into a fourth year, will I do another memorial post? I don’t know. We’ll see. Maybe it will feel too weird.

Pierre de Bourgogne

Today my contractor Stuart and I went out to Poitiers to select the stone for the ground floor. This is it. It is called pierre de Bourgogne, which just means stone from Burgundy. My hope is that this mellow, muted tan will hide a multitude of dust bunnies and other debris. I’m not much of a housekeeper.

The top image is of the stone that will be used everywhere except the entry, where we will use the stone in the lower image.

It could be eight weeks until this stuff goes in. I am more impatient for this than you can possibly imagine.

Jacques Report

Poor guy. I chose this extreme filter because I think that’s about how he’s feeling right now.

Strawberries are just coming into the market now. It’s too early for strawberries, I know, but it’s cold and muddy out here. There they were, these bright red gariguettes, my favorites, right after Mara des Bois. They were talking to me so I bought a few, just to continue the conversation.

Once I got them home I realized that like so many sweet pretty things, those guys were a little tart inside. They needed help. In such emergencies Pineau des Charentes comes to the rescue quite nicely, so I chopped up those lovelies and macerated them overnight.

I can totally recommend macerated strawberries for Sunday breakfast. The thing is, Jacques wanted a taste. I didn’t think I gave him a whole lot until I realized he wasn’t bugging me at all. He was totally passed out and when he did get up he was dragging and his tail was down. Poor baby. All I could think was “muy borracho.” That tells you all you need to know about my teenage summers spent in Mexico. If I were speaking French and wanted to tell you my little guy was totally drunk, I couldn’t. “Ivre,”okay, but how does one turn that into an expression? My friends are so well behaved that I have no clue. Is that good or sad?

Anyway, he was coming to when I took the shot. Now he’s back in my face and wanting to be let out. He’s fine but he failed the sobriety test. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

Spring again

I have left the big city for the big muddy, I guess. It’s cold and wet. The wind blows right through my house, which is still not heated. The guys are working hard, bless them, but they are digging trenches, then refilling them. Infrastructure is not photogenic. What looks good are the hundreds of daffodils that have popped into bloom. I’m about to harvest a few dozen. No one will even notice they are missing.

In France, anyone can be an artist. Even me.

car poster

Now of course I am not in favor of vandalism. Surely no one reading this blog, you classy and tasteful readers, you, would vandalize anything, leaving little bits of glass all over the bus stop. Certainly not. That said, it looks pretty cool, doesn’t it? Like that Fiat is just so peppy that it burst right through its little glazed cage? So what’s the story? Artistic statement — in which case Fiat owes somebody a lunch — or smartass thug who got lucky?

I think, best case, it’s a smartass art fart, not yet mature enough to realize that all the world is not his studio. I’m showing my age, aren’t I?

Seeing this poster got me thinking about something I like so much about living in France. People here value the life of the mind, to an extent and depth that we just don’t, in the States. David Lebovitz wrote once about having trouble with some bureaucratic nonsense at his bank, the usual “we’re not sure you’re legitimate” thing. The trouble vanished when, one day, he happened to walk in with a couple of his books in his bag. Almost in frustration he showed them to the banker saying, in essence, look, this is what I do. As it turned out, that melted the final resistance to whatever it was. There were no problems after that. You see, the banker realized that David was an artist. Well, okay, and a wildly successful published author, but he had had the numbers all along. This was something else.

I regularly have similar experiences, though to be sure with much less justification. A while ago I had cards printed with a few of my photos. I hand them out in preference to constantly repeating and spelling every last detail of my contact information. The cards started as a whim, a project for late one night when I couldn’t sleep. They have turned out to have a significant effect on my dealings with people here. It doesn’t matter, who, really, my vet, salespeople, could be anyone, they stop and really study the photo. Then they often say oh, you’re an artist. It goes from there. They could say most anything after that. What those cards stop cold is any question of why I am in France or why in the world would I be fixing up that house. Suddenly it all makes sense to them. Of course an artist would come to France. Of course she would put massive time and energy into creating a personalized environment, away from the distractions of the city. An artist needs a suitable atelier. So just like that, they start to see things my way.

After nearly a decade of coming here for much of the year and another year of living here — I am just about to renew my residence permit — I still feel like I just arrived. Thus I have no explanation or theory for this. I just know that I have this experience pretty regularly. I like it. I want to find out more about it.

Drywall.And about time, too.


One of the interesting things about this job is that we are doing it in three languages. So I can’t tell you whether we are looking at the salon, the living room, the library… Who knows? I’m just glad the Armenian workers speak English, so I don’t have to add yet another language to the mix. I also can’t say for sure whether the great leap forward has to do with plasterboard, drywall or placo-plātre. I can tell you that the guys are buttoning up the walls, starting here.

I can tell you that this is huge. Until the drywall, let’s call it, went in on the ground floor, they couldn’t put in the cabling and all for the heated floors. Also, psychologically, the vibe changes from just hard work to a focus on project completion. The pace and the mood have both picked up. It feels good.

Apartment insulation


Back when people could afford live – in help, the people who lived in my house had some. This is a corner of the aoartment where they lived. I’m not entirely sure of the original floor plan. I know that there was a room that connected the apartment to the house. I’ll use it as my photo studio. What remains will be a fairly decent one – bedroom place.

You are looking through the framing toward the bedroom, on the right, and the bathroom. I am standing in the living room. The kitchen is to the left out of camera range. To give you an idea of the scale, that bedroom will hold a 180 cm (California king-size) bed with room to move on either side, plus an armoire.

As you can see, the light is good. Not only are there large windows in the bedroom and living room but the three doors to the outside are windowed. Behind me and to the left is a small private terrace, sunny and protected from the wind.

The space is smaller than before because of the massive amount of insulation that is going in, of the old – school,  fiberglass variety. If the guys had asked, I think I ‘d have gone for the sleek, shiny NASA stuff like in the house but they didn’t and probably saved me some money. It will be fine.