French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.


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The previously pink bathroom


We are kinda sorta getting there. Long suffering readers know that when I bought the house, this was the only bathroom. As in a room with the setup you see and a bathtub, just this side of that low wall that is sticking out. If you wanted a toilet you had to head downstairs.

And now, voila, sort of.



My apologies for that very dark, rainy day image; clearly I’m not ready for my Houzz feature. I hope you can see the pluses, that the cabinet has been replaced, a towel rail added and the walls painted. They are white, really. We have a toilet now and a shower with a little bench and shampoo niche. There is a tub, if you must have one, in the bathroom — yes, a second bathroom! — just across the landing. The minus? Did you notice the missing window? My contractors keep saying they are missing four windows, which means they are only counting the ones that are not on site. If they counted the others, like this one, we’d be missing six. Yes, there is a little tension around these sorts of disparities. And, um, the radiator hasn’t been replaced and the shutter not refurbished. And I hope that the hideous pipe at the top of the shower enclosures is temporary.

It’s getting a little tense around here. They see a nearly finished project and I see a house that is still uninhabitable, with a “to do” list a mile long. Sometimes I think I should be wearing a wire and hidden camera, so I could record the conversations where they tell me they are nearly finished and I say something like, “I have no kitchen.” To which they respond, I kid you not, with, “Come on. One kitchen.” Then they don’t laugh. I have worked with contractors who gave Oscar-worthy performances but these guys really mean it.

Every day I thank my stars that when something is finally done, it looks good and works well. If I also had quality issues, I don’t know what I’d do.


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Les Alouettes s’envolent


We were driving along looking for I forget what, when we got hungry. There aren’t a lot of choices out in the countryside, so when we got here we thought, well, how bad can it be, and stopped in.

It turned out to be quite decent. We got a whole meal, starter, main and dessert, all house made, for 12 euros, I think. Apiece, but still. And it was good. As the owner was clearing up she said, “At the end of the year, this place is closing. We are retiring and we don’t have a buyer.” 

The place was reasonably full and there was no competition. It must be one of those signs of the times, depopulation of the countryside, something like that. I certainly can’t imagine myself wanting to live in this drab building, commuting downstairs, cooking and feeding folks all day long, then heading back upstairs to fall asleep until the next day, day after day for decades.

It’s understandable but it’s sad. In a way, these aren’t bad jobs. That nice couple must surely make more than the cooks and waiters at, say, Buffalo Grill. But of course they have to do more than those cooks and waiters: accounting, all those other support jobs, no one to fill in during vacations. 

A whole series of things would have to change to make a business like this truly viable, apart from summer, when the empty villages fill with visitors. It would be like turning the tide. As I am neither economist nor urban planner, I wouldn’t know where to start. So, I don’t know. I guess my choices are boiling down to packing a lunch or learning to love Buffalo Grill.


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Birthday Boy

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Robert would be 80 today. His birthday was always fun,though it took a few years for him to admit that he was looking forward to it. He had a favorite colleague, Ted, who shared his birthday and would always send us a message. Bless his heart, Ted continued that tradition after Robert’s death, obviously writing to me instead. I hope to hear from him today.

But, you never know. Life changes. Robert and the life we shared is gone. This photo for example, is of Christmas dinner in 2010. It shows Robert’s younger son Edward, his daughter Tracy and two of his grandchildren, Moses and Zachary. I never see and rarely hear from them any more. Now you may be thinking well yes, dear, you moved to France. But really, psychologically, the distance between France and their homes is no farther than the distance between their homes and the Berkeley hills, where we used to live. Would I see or hear more of them if I were still in that house? I doubt it.

I thought that this year I would shift from writing about Robert on his death date to writing, if I do, on his birth date. Death is so depressing. Birth, new beginnings, all that life, that’s better. As I sit here, wondering what to write, all I can think is that I should have made this shift last year. This year whatever new life I may have going is well established.

My life has more or less been shaped in chapters, usually marked by a significant death, one that sends my life in a completely different direction. Always before I was glad for the change. This time, no, I wanted the old life to go on forever. Too bad. Think again.

No question, though, this is a new chapter. I hope it won’t remain as bumpy as it has been. We shall see. I am blessed to have a few good friends who have made the transition with me. Friends that I have made since I moved to France are delightful, valued more than they may realize. I think when I look back the bumps will not seem so serious — still no completed house, for example, but completion is bound to happen, some time — and I will be able to focus on the many blessings that I have received.

Recently I read that in most traditions the belief is that the spirit moves from earth to the spirit realm, whatever a given society believes that to be, by the end of three years. Could be less but rarely more. My life has had that feeling to it. I could call up Robert to help solve a problem, help me fall asleep, face a difficult issue, whatever. Toward the end of three years, that feeling faded. Robert was never one to stick around unnecessarily or have any trouble adapting to a new situation. I think he’s on his way now. If a major issue comes up, can I call on him again, bring him back from wherever? I don’t know. I sure hope so.

So happy birthday, to someone who is now outside time, to whom a birthday has no meaning. You are loved and missed, every single day. When days and birthdays no long mean anything to me, I hope to see you again.

 


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A moment of calm: Keukenhof


My obligations as accompanying person required my visit to Keukenhof, a flower show that takes place just outside Amsterdam. The focus is on tulips but they also display peonies and other things. It’s good. If you have a chance, go there and hope you have the kind of warm, sunny day we had.

That’s it. Back to real life.


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Small miracle: Bob’s Red Mill, in France!

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Comfort food will get you every time. Here I am in the land of pain au chocolat on every street corner and every breakfast I have been thinking, you know, I would love a bowl of oatmeal. Then I console myself with that pain au chocolat. Gotta make do.

For a brief, shining moment, they had it at Bon Marché. Then Markal moved in with their flocons d’avoine, I think it’s called. It’s organic, it’s French, it’s a lot cheaper than Bob’s. That it has no flavor and no texture, well, what right-thinking Frenchie would look up from his/her tartine beurre/confiture to even notice?

However, that brief appearance was proof that the Red Mill was exporting to France. The local US food shops didn’t have it; “how about some Froot Loops?” At least they laughed.

I was forced, forced, to check out Amazon. And here is the result. Four bags, delivered to my apartment, within 24 hours and on a Saturday. Ah, comfortably breakfasted, once again.


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Auction Find: Turkish tablecloths


I have been trying to renovate and make decorating decisions that respect the house without getting all museum-restoration about it or worse, without getting all Miss Havisham, which is to say heavy and dark, cobwebs optional. These tablecloths, I don’t know, too Havisham?

They are Turkish, early 20th century. I had thought that they were cotton but now I am leaning towards silk. The bottom one is densely woven, heavy fabric with copper and silver threads. the top one is gossamer thin with silver thread. They were pretty dark until a certain blog buddy who knows all about textiles explained how to pull the yellow out and, while I was at it, remove the tarnish from the threads. I had to wash them twice to get them to look like this.

The idea is that I have some dark corners in the guest rooms. I like dark but I also like sparkly things glinting in the darkness, reflecting the light. The plan is to get a couple of simple tables and hide them under these cloths. We’ll see. Combined with the kitschy Orientalist lampshades that I have earmarked for the same room, they could be fun.

So how did I get the yellow out? Each cloth got its own mesh bag. Into the machine on a low-temperature cycle with mild laundry soap, 2 of those Decolor-Stop stain-absorbing cloths and, because I tend toward the foolhardy, a little Vanish. I ironed them dry.

Rumor has it that the windows in the guest room are going in. Soon enough I’ll be able to show you how things are coming together.