French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.


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Jacques Report

  
Jacques before his haircut.

   Jacques after his haircut. Can you tell the difference?
I had this idea that Jacques should have a regulation coat, a hard outer coat and a soft undercoat. He’s a country dog and that hard outer coast sheds water and dirt, while the soft undercoat provides insulation. The thing is, shampoo softens the coat. You just have to let the harsh coat grow out. As you can see, I was there. 

Then I had to leave him with the dog sitter. When Julien brought him back he said look, we gave him a bath! So, okay, a lot of people in the States don’t get it either. And maybe it’s just as well. Much of the time he’s a city dog and besides, he looks pretty cute in his pupwear.

Do you see all those rugs and all behind him? We are trying to keep the floor covered. Jacques loves his TV shows.

  
Sometimes, as in this provides the bulk of his exercise, he gets a little carried away.

  
We don’t want all that jumping around to irritate the downstairs neighbors. Bless them, they swear they haven’t heard a thing.

The rest of the time, he plays with his treat pyramid.

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This is the greatest toy ever. You put the treats in little holes in the pyramid. It’s like a treat ball, except that the treat ball constantly rolled under furniture. I was constantly having to exercise myself, horrors, crawling around looking for the thing, then fishing it out from under the sofa or wherever. The pyramid does not roll. It stays where Jacques can get at it. It can take him half an hour to get half a dozen treats out. I love that.

If Jacques has noticed that the streets are relatively empty, he hasn’t let on. 

The Paris attacks just made everybody angry. Now, after the Brussels and Pakistan attacks, people are rattled. They are staying home. I have read that tourism is down and it may be. I don’t spend much time in tourist areas, so I can’t tell.

I can tell you that when I went out for groceries yesterday, things were different. Cars left in odd locations — you have seen those scofflaws, leaving their hazard lights blinking while they run in for “just a minute” — are being ticketed. Paris has meter maids? Who knew? Though really, does a guy leaving a car bomb care if he gets a ticket? Camouflage-clad soldiers — sort of, though everyone outside the military knows that city camouflage is not some tan/sage/gray patchwork but solid black — used to be positioned outside synagogues on holy days, that kind of thing. Yesterday I found a pair outside a Metro stop. I see police on the Metro now, not the guys checking to see that you have paid the fare, real cops. My store had private security with muzzled dogs — bomb dogs? They don’t patrol, so what are they doing? — outside. Heading inside, instead of waving a wand vaguely in my direction, the guys really checked, even made me show them that my suspiciously bulging pocket contained only a pair of gloves. Police and security people used to be a bit of a joke, wandering around in groups, mostly paying attention to each other. Now I am more likely to see them in pairs, actually vigilant, doing their jobs. No surprise, neither playgrounds nor restaurants are seeing much action.

It’s a bad time out there. Better to stay in and watch Jacques dance in front of the TV.


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Finished floors

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We are getting there, little by little. You see before you the upstairs landing with the original pine, I think, floors, now given three coats of sealer. You can also see how much remains to be done — walls painted, baseboard installed and painted, radiator installed, window frame painted, window hardware installed, shutters refurbished and yes, painted, bannister unwrapped and a whole lot of cleaning and tidying. A whole lot. And this is just the landing. The whole house is like this. Still, I think we have turned a corner. The money goes into results that we can see. We are talking about finishes. This is good.

Now to paint the radiators. Somehow I’m just not in the mood.

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I want to eat here every day.

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Sorry for the fuzzy image but you get the idea. I love my life in France, no question, but I’m just north of San Francisco right now, so I stopped into a place I’ve been wanting to try for ages and seriously, I want to move around the corner from this place and eat here every day. Keep the Louvre. I want a reliable source of good, cheap tacos.

There is how we were raised and then there is how that morphs into what we become. I was your basic white kid who morphed into your basic old white lady. 

The thing is, I grew up in a largely Hispanic neighborhood and spent a lot of time in Baja. So tamales, carnitas, guacamole, that’s all pretty normal for me. At home in Paris I have started slipping cumin into everything. I have been thinking I need to learn how to make tortillas because those Old El Paso things from the HyperU just don’t cut it.  In my souvenir pile are seed packets for cilantro and tomatillos.

The other thing is, I love a good coffee shop. Back in the day, you could smoke indoors. So the parents would settle in with their coffee and cigarettes and, just for a little while, stop arguing. It was heaven. To this day, eggs with hash browns, burgers and fries, my my my, talk about your comfort food.

Over time I developed a taste for something a little healthier than fried potatoes with everything but I still like the old stuff. So what a treat to find a coffee shop run by somebody who could have sat in my high school home room, who also morphed in many of the same ways. From the outside the Shoreline Coffee Shop looks pretty old school. Inside, nope. They stripped out the linoleum and the Naugahyde booths, preferring polished concrete and molded plywood seating. While the food is organic, local, all that correct bla bla, you can still get a plate of fries. And the mix of Mexican — their term — and Marin is brilliant. 

When I get home, just as soon as the cilantro and tomatillos come up, I’ll be making some of those duck confit tacos. And when I work out an acceptable approximation of their cumin vinaigrette, I might possibly share it. Maybe.


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Change? What do you mean, change?

  
I have spent the morning beating my head against the wall. I woke up thinking come on, French Country? Can we be more specific here? Really, waking up with a hangover might have been a better strategy. I’d have the headache I have now but at least I would have a fun evening to look back on.

Thus the Google search ensued. I looked for every variation on the theme of living the good life in France — as an outsider-but-not-refugee, of course. This magical new name would have to encapsulate who I am and what I am doing in my new home country. Now there two good questions, neither of which may ever be answered. So, a title that is specific but not too much so. I don’t want to have to go through this exercise again.

So. I sit here with a headache and a new understanding of how many expat-in-France blogs there are out there. Every variation of every option I could think of was taken, plus a few that I didn’t think of. I’m one of a zillion, all mining the same vein. It’s kind of scary.

Suggestions welcome.


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Visit to California

  
I have some things to take care of. They have brought me back to California, just for a bit, not long. I am staying at the home of a friend and his lovely wife. These days this is as close to a home as I have in this country.

I remember so much about this house. One afternoon, almost 20 years ago, I got a whispered telephone call. “Lynn, there is a place about to come on the market. I don’t know, it’s so expensive and it’s not in great shape. The realtor will ‘forget’ to lock the back door but just for one night. You have to come down to see it.” So I did. We wandered around with a dim flashlight while he pointed out flaws and I pointed out the reasons I felt they were cosmetic issues, nothing structural. And the price? High, but everything was. He bought the house.

Blame it on Lou Kahn, I guess. One of the first things I told my friend was that the house didn’t “want” to be white. It wanted to be blue and yellow. I was thinking sky blue and lemon yellow but as you can see, he took that idea and ran with it. I think it has worn rather well. He was right, too. The bolder colors go perfectly with his art collection. I remember making a midnight run to a 24-hour Home Depot — only in America! — for exterior paint because his painters were arriving in the morning and he liked my ideas for the inside so well that he wanted help with the outside, too. Well, the outside did want to be white, with a band of something, well, not quite on the paint chips. At that time of night we had the store basically to ourselves and the clerk was only too happy to play around a bit. It came out great. For years afterwards, folks would knock on his door to ask what that gray color was, it was so perfect.

He found a contractor to make a few upgrades. He found seconds and overstocks for the kitchen and bathroom. He found bargain furniture in moving sales. From dozens of unexpected sources he pulled together a house that fits together, that wouldn’t look right if it were any other way. Meanwhile the house was quadrupling in value. At least. 

So, all good. For what I need to do, I need a refuge. I am most happy to have found one here.