French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.


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No, not the holidays…..


I know it’s getting close to Christmas because the stepkids finally got their lists to us. Really, a week before the big day. In their defense, their dad tells me that he was not in the habit of actually buying them gifts, just wrote checks, so the request for a list took them by surprise. This is not our first Christmas but it is the first Christmas for two of the grandkids, so I guess we all need to adjust to the new reality. For the next five years or so, shopping for the little critters will actually be fun: I don’t want to miss a bit of it.

I’m not actually Christian, haven’t ever been, though I was sent to Christian schools, so it’s not such a big day for me. It will be nice to have everyone over, of course, but it always is. They are good eaters, not too picky. That organic, free range, humanely raised capon that I got from The Curtises will be a hit.  I’m not the kind of pagan that does a Solstice ritual, either, so for me these short, cold days are more about the end of the year. I think about what has happened and what is to come.

About a month ago, a friend died. She had been fighting cancer for decades and it finally took her out. I may have just a couple of good friends left from the time before I knew Robert. The rest fell away, one way or another. Usually I don’t think about it but this year, with Margaret’s passing, I have. It will be fine. My life has been marked by radical changes in direction but my real friends manage to tag along and new friends appear — some through this blog.

So what about next year? Well, more of the same. In my case that’s a good thing. I am fortunate to have a comfortable life. 

Now that the house is basically done, I have been wondering what to do with this blog. I have been buying time, in effect, by posting about whatever else catches my attention, mostly the refugees. My gift to you is that I will not post about refugees or other social injustice again. Well, unless something really horrible happens, or really great, like a family moves to the apartment. But I’ll keep things on a personal, “this happened to me,” level. My hunch is that anyone who wants to be is as well informed as I am. You have read the Huff Post article about refugee profiteers. Maybe you subscribe to The New York Times or another good newspaper. You don’t need my Greek chorus crying “Oh no, oh no.” The journalists do it better. I’ll leave them to it.

With Trump coming in, we will all need the occasional, maybe daily, escape. I hope that will sometimes be me. I’ll focus on Jacques and on the house. There is more work to be done here and a garden to be revived. All politics will be local. This corner of the French countryside is lovely, quite unspoiled. I’ll see what I can do about sharing more about it.

If you get a minute, light a candle for Margaret. She was Tibetan Buddhist, actually, in the tradition that does the throat singing. Very cool. But she was raised Catholic and she’ll be okay with a candle.


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Jacques Report

 When people see me alone they generally ask one thing: where is Jacques? In this case the answer is, he’s in the house.

By the time I got Jacques, I knew I would have what by California standards is a large garden, plus a couple of barns, AKA rat havens. I believe that dogs need jobs. Whatever they were bred to do, they should be trained to do. So, perfect, Westies are great at killing little rodents. Surely I could just turn him loose and instinct would drive him to catch the little critters and break their disease-carrying necks.

Westies are lively and sociable. He would need exercise, as do I. So why not play with him a little? There is a local agility training group. Blessedly, it has not been taken over by those crazed, OCD border collies. Those dogs are maniacs. They win every time but for the rest of us, when they walk in, the fun walks out. There is still plenty of fun in that agility group, along with every kind of dog imaginable. If we did agility, Jacques could play and socialize. Plus, we could practice at home. Plenty of space, after all.

Apparently Jacques sees things a little differently. Okay, a lot differently. He watches TV. Dog TV is his favorite channel, followed closely by Animal Planet. He knows the tunes for the pet food ads and runs to the set when he hears them. When he sees a dog or cat — he is so over the big game on, say, Nat Geo — he grabs a nearby rug, dog bed, whatever, and thrashes it around. It looks for all the world as if he is wringing its neck. If I get some good video footage, I’ll update this post. Meantime if the barns have rats, they lead untroubled lives. The only little critters Jacques brings in long ago died natural deaths.

And the agility? Hohoho. So far, no way. I thought I would start with weave poles. The first step is to space rhem way far apart: see above. Then you put your dog on a leash and walk through with him. Over time the poles get closer together and the dog goes off-lead and weaves through on his own.

Except, well, no. Jacques isn’t going for it. He sat on the back porch and watched me position the poles. I got out the leash. I could see the look on his little canine face. Leash, back garden, does not compute. I tried to be cheerful. Look, weave poles, what fun! No. Jacques, who loves city walks, was not going to be walked around his own back garden. Was it the terrain? Maybe it was a little rocky there? Jacques went back to the stair landing and watched me reposition the poles. I pulled out the leash. Look, fun! Jacques stood up, turned around and went into the house.

Agility will have to wait for another day.


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What was that about old age and treachery?


I guess the French administration is getting serious about recycling. In Paris they do take it seriously. At my old building, everything went in bins in the basement. To me that’s the gold standard; of course, it’s how we did it in California. In the new one we dump bottles at the corner but the rest goes into bins. It’s not bad. At the house, no, I think the trash guys must love their landfills. When it comes to recycling, they take a definite passive-aggressive attitude toward the whole thing.Some kids came out the other day to give me a new bin and instruct me in the art of trash dumping. I’m old. I can’t help but think of men and women just out of college as kids. So there they were, sweet little true believers, trying hard to be polite as they explained to the old Luddite standing in front of them that the trash was just all wrong. I didn’t have the heart to tell them they were being conned, that their bosses were the Luddites, plus I was so astonished that my French kind of gave out. Really, I’m not the type to con children into believing in Santa Claus but I’m not the type to disabuse them of the notion, either. So with all that going on in my head, I just listened and waited for them to finish.

So if you live out where the trash guys hate the whole idea of recycling and have decided to make it our problem, not theirs, here is the deal. The rule is, you separate everything yourself. That yellow bin, where you see the paper sticking out? No no no, no paper. At all. Apparently that huge bin — huge by French standards — is to be used exclusively for hard plastic, something that almost never shows up at my house. That’s the bin where I am used to putting the cardboard and paper, just like in Paris. That’s when I realized this was true, Gandhi-style resistance to the whole recycling idea. Who knew that it could be used for evil, as well? The fix was definitely in; I know from Paris, that’s the paper bin, too. You can see that it is sized to handle more than the occasional milk bottle. In fact, in Paris we even put small dead appliances in that thing. Out here, you are on your own with the appliances and the paper goes in a little shopping bag — plastic, of couse, handed to me with ceremony and no sense of irony — that the young woman so kindly provided — smaller than the ones I take to the market. And you dump it every single time that tiny little thing fills up? Do they really expect us to do that?

You will see that some of that paper is cardboard. So. The cardboard is collected and kept where, I don’t know, and eventually taken to the dump. I was given a card, also plastic, so they could track my dump visits. I live nowhere near the dump and am not sure I can find it. By this time I was getting a sense of why “bouche-bée,” mouth agape, I think I spelled it right, was taught and emphasized in my French classes. That was me. Actually, as I get used to life in France, that’s me pretty often. Anyway, finally they get to where their bosses tip their hand: the actual trash.

The black bin — new, plastic, to replace the old plastic one that was in like-new condition — is for actual trash. However no actual trash is to be visible. It is all to be put in plastic, yes, more plastic in this supposedly enviro-friendly project, bags. Ah, so now I understood. Paper, bottles, that old toaster, whatever, just put it in a plastic bag and put it in the black bin. Think of it as the “don’t ask, don’t tell” bin.

We actually have been dumping our bottles right along. We have been surprised that the bin is never even close to full. I’m not surprised any more. Our neighbors are using the black bin system. With all the roadblocks the local trash company put in the way of serious recycling, I can see why.