French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.


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The heat is on.

 Pump surround


The drill


The trench from the water pump to the house. Yes, it was as cold as it looks.


The entry hall with tile removed. To the right, that dark spot is where the salon floor was completely open to the basement.


View of floor heating cables in salon. The previous floor — mostly post-war tile, not at all sympathetic to the house — was demolished, so that the new finish floor would be at the original level.


After, view of supply pipes

 Last week we transitioned from camping in a construction site to living in a house. It took an insanely long time and cost double what I thought was a generous budget, but for all practical purposes, the house itself is finally done. The reason is simple. The heat went on.

I will recap for those who tuned in late. About three years ago I fell hard for a house that looked like the houses I used to draw in preschool. I was reeling from the death of my adored husband. The only things that were clear was that I had to get out of the old house and I had to find a place where I could be safe. What could be safer than a child’s dream house?

The thing is, since preschool I had studied architecture and historic preservation. I knew that too many people lived in houses like this but really only occupied the kitchen and bedroom, simply because they couldn’t afford to heat the rest. I knew I was in crazy widow mode but wanted, if at all possible, to shift that to crazy like a fox. I spent a lot of time with Google and YouTube, researching options, and came up with an aquathermal heat exchange system: expensive to install but dirt cheap to run. Thus the abundance of process piping. At the time it seemed so simple.

So a hole 70 meters deep was drilled to reach the ground water in my back garden. That first picture shows the enclosure where it pops up. Then they removed a huge tank, still half full of old, cruddy fuel oil, from the basement and in its place installed the pipes you see in the final photo but did not turn on the lights. Believe me, the lights are crucial. 

Every radiator was removed to be cleaned. The ground floor finish floor was ripped up — the few remaining planks of original wooden floor had warped and buckled beyond salvage before I bought the house and the tile, which covered most of the rest, was half a century old and not nice at all. In its place we put heating cables which we covered with stone tiles. The cleaned and painted radiators were replaced upstairs.

I would like to have turned on the heat right then, but no. It turns out that most houses have monophase power but houses with setups like this need triphase power. Who knew? Probably not my electricians, who let the ball drop on that, so we lost about six months while I fought with the electricians and we finally got EDF to change the electric meter. Lucky for me that triphase power — no, I don’t actually know how that works — was available in the street or we might have lost a year.

And finally, about three years to the day after I signed the agreement to buy the house, two capable young men appeared and spent several hours calibrating the whole thing. Just like that, the house became warm.

So what do I think? The best thing is that the stone floor is warm, now. I would not want a stone or tile floor in a cold climate without the underfloor cables, though I believe there are underfloor heating mats you can buy, if you don’t want to go to all this trouble. Supposedly the heated floor will act as a vapor barrier, so I won’t have to worry about rising damp, frozen pipes and various other ills that befall stone houses.

It took a few days for the heat to penetrate the house. Now we are shutting down or shutting off radiators because the house has become too warm. It may be that the stone floor will be almost enough to heat the whole house. We turned down the thermostat. So balancing this system is a work in progress but the bottom line is that it seems to be using less power than expected. As a side benefit, the system operates the water heaters, too.

I do not yet know what the operating cost will be. I was told it had a ten-year payback period. This explains why developers stay away from such systems; it is not the kind of thing most people will pay extra for. I gambled that I would live ten more years, still be in the house that long and that power costs would increase, thus reducing my payback period.

I believe it is good for the planet, as it is a nonpolluting heat source. Ground water is piped into the heat extractor and, without ever leaving the pipes, the magic happens and the water is piped back to the source. It enables me to occupy my entire house, which I love. Plus, if the house does stay mildew-free, if it does eliminate spalling on the exterior, that’s all good and saves even more money.

So that’s heating sorted. Now I’m hoping solar panels and wind turbines become more efficient, so I can move onto power generation.


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Refugee Update


So he’s going to build a wall and Mexico’s going to pay for it. Okay Don, good luck with that.

I had been meaning to write about this whole refugee thing. I had been working it over in my mind, trying to get from a long, rambling reflection on the whole issue to something that would be interesting to someone other than me. But it’s pretty hard to think about it right now.

So I’ll save you from my memories of a visit to Turkey where I came into contact with a refugee or two and with people who were trying to house their relatives who happened to be Syrian and were finding their houses full to bursting. Well, for the moment: you may hear about it later.

Right now it’s my own friends and family who are looking for asylum. I may well need that apartment for people I have known for years. I understand the Canadian immigration web site crashed last night. Interesting times.

So, refugees in France. You are steered to France Terre d’Asile, a private group that gets government funding. Those guys are keeping a close watch on their refugees, not wanting them to escape into the wild. I think that’s how they see my apartment, which I think is why they have not responded to my offers of housing here at the house. In Paris the group is a little more organized. They have you fill in a questionnaire that is heavy on inquiries about how willing and capable you are of teaching French. Again, the focus is on keeping the refugees well enclosed within the bureaucratic system. That I could teach English, well, no, I think they see that as counterproductive.

Also, though you will see many photos and hear many stories about families, the overwhelming number of refugees are men in their twenties and thirties. I had been thinking they might want to filter out a family or a gay couple or somebody that really needed to get out of the camps. Either they are just overwhelmed or the needs of the bureaucracy are being placed before the needs of kids who really shouldn’t be sleeping in a tent under a Metro line. I don’t know. 

Anyway, there may well be refugees at my house, in the little attached apartment. My contractor has been after me to put in another apartment or three in the barn. I have been saying no but now I’m not sure. Let’s see what comes in the email.


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Jacques Report


Jacques isn’t looking too good. Believe me, this is not his normal. I think he’s a little subdued because we went to the new vet today. I think maybe his rabies shot has him a little down. Or maybe he just misses his old vet.

His first vet was great fun, stylish, charming and terrific with Jacques. She was, no question, the Paris vet from Central Casting. I’d have gone to her forever but we moved halfway across town, so that was that. This new vet is no fun at all: no style, nothing that would pass for charm but he knows his stuff and is a bit of a health nut. I’m pretty lax, so I need to surround myself with maniacs, just to keep me more or less on track.

It turns out that Jacques is allergic to Paris pollution. I start coughing every time we pull into town, so I can well believe it. “See that red hair in these paws? Does he ever chew on them? Yep, thought so. Look at these red ears. What are you feeding him?” I copped to the Orijen, thinking that might keep me from having to admit that Jacques would really rather live on table scraps, and whose fault is that??? Orijen is a Canadian brand that features no corn and all healthy ingredients. Well, that’s not good enough. Take that all you folks who laughed when you read the bag and suggested that maybe, just maybe, I was going a bit overboard. No, wrong, we were both wrong. Apparently Jacques needs either Orijen Six Fish, which he hates, or hypoallergenic kibble. I was sent home with samples. I think he’s really going to hate that stuff. After all the Brie we have been feeding him? It’s going to be a difficult transition.

New Vet is a big believer in organic ingredients. Jacques also has some oil that I put between his shoulder blades, where it is absorbed, in much the same way that one applies Advantix. It smells good. I guess it’s good for his skin. Can’t hurt. We can do this for a while.

Or, apparently, we could move to the country. New Vet allowed as how the Vendee was pretty clean. It’s a thought.