Life in its current condition


This sort of thing, I kid you not, is roughly what I had in mind when I moved to France. Clean, simple, a little elegant, a little unexpected-but-nice. That was it. I’d get my photographic technical chops down. I’d always have my camera handy when I wanted it — not like now, when I am in Paris and the camera is hundreds of miles away, thus forcing my to break out the mobile phone or take no photo at all. No, I’d have it together.

I was going to be an amateur still life photographer. I’d have my pretty house in the countryside. It would have a garden and a potager from which I would select lovely items to present in a pristine fashion, then photograph. If that ever felt a little small, I’d vary the routine with some landscape shots. Maybe I would learn to play the piano. What a great life. If only.


This was yesterday and is actually a little more like my life right now. No one is hurt. I think they’ll even save the wheel. But hitting a nail on the motorway was not fun. By the time I was towed to the garage all I could think was, it could be worse. The motorway wasn’t flooded, for example, nor was my house; a lot of people in France right now would happily trade places with me. I ground to a halt at the side of a busy road but I did not flip over. I did that once, a long time ago. I do not recommend it.

And the house? Well, like a snake, it is shedding its skin. Down at the far end they are popping a doorway through a wall, so my imaginary potager will have an imaginary potting shed to go with it. Soon enough I will be able to show you how it looks all shiny and new. Well, more of a matte finish and new to the 19th century. Some day. You might even find a piano inside.


Finished floors

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.


More Buried Treasure


Just about two years ago I walked through this really lovely house with a huge, unused attic. I’m a city kid. The whole idea of leaving 100-plus Sq meters of attractice space unused was unthinkable. In San Francisco,  in Paris, you don’t just let that kind of space sit empty. So I got the house and told my architect to include plans for a master bedroom suite in the attic. He said what, the four bedrooms downstairs aren’t enough? He brought in a contractor who said yes, absolutely, it will be gorgeous. All we have to do is sand the floor.

The architect is gone and the contractor remains. One reason he is still here,  two years later, is this floor. It wasn’t so flat after all. We couldn’t just clean and wax it. We didn’t figure that out until the bathroom was plumbed and the kitchenette cabinets delivered. Oops.

So, as I kept writing unbudgeted-for checks, the guys screwed down the existing floor, with screws at about 7 cm, roughly 3 inch, centers. With the existing floor as flat as possible, they poured a layer of this self-leveling, lightweight,  fiberglass/concrete mixture. On top of that, the layer of green foam pads, to give the floor a bit of spring. Finally, you can see part of the oak flooring that Xavier is installing.

When he is done, obviously all you will see is the oak floor. And how much hidden money, in the form of all those layers, will you be walking on? I don’t know. Maybe this time next year, I’ll be able to tell you. Maybe in 5 years, I’ll figure the amount will be worth it, for all that extra space. Maybe.


At some point I decided that not every room could be gray. Enough is enough. And I had stayed in a glorious pink room in a certain chateau just outside Vouvant and loved it. So, I thought, why not pink? That goes well with gray. I chose a room on the north side of the house, which I thought could use a little cheer and hey presto, serious pink.

This is Little Greene paint. The color is Chemise. It’s really very pink, isn’t it, not like the subtle, almost white at the chateau. Maybe the north side was not the best choice, as this paint looks best in bright sunlight. With the sun out and those shutters open, this looks like a brilliant choice. The rest of the time it goes a little peppermint. I do wonder how I can tone it down. Furniture will help. I have a lovely oak day bed that I can put in here. The tarps will come up and the pine floor will be oiled; that will help. I think some of the pictures that I brought from California will cover some of the space.

Even so, I like it. It’s cheerful. I could just paint it over but for now, I think I’ll try to make it work.

Come to Jesus

My geothermal system has looked this way for months.

Every so often a project reaches a point where it is clear that things are going off the rails. There is no solution other than to knock a few heads together.

Yesterday that is where my project was. I arrived after two weeks away, expecting to have the stone floors complete and the geothermal heating system in operation.  But no. The stone floors had barely progressed. The electrician had pulled off the job. The geothermal system was left just as you see it. We were still reliant on space heaters. And oh,  by the way, the electrician was refusing to return until he had been paid in full: 100%, when only about 85% of the work had been done.

Time for what one of my former managers, a staunch Baptist, called a “Come to Jesus” meeting. In other words, no more going along to get along. Time to get serious.

I haven’t needed my game face in 30, 35 years. Like everything in that back closet of my mind, it doesn’t fit very well any more. But I squirmed into it. With the help of Sophie,  my general contractor’s French wife, we got the message through to him that there would be no payment until we had a final contract amount. There would be a 10% retention until project completion. The vague accusations were to be replaced — by the end of this morning’s meeting — with specifics regarding any work that he felt was slowing his progress.

We got it all. Time for a victory lap.

At last, stone floors


Not much to look at but it does represent progress. This is the living room with the very beginnings of the stone floor installation. The walls have been painted Little Greene’s Urbane Grey. The guys call it battleship gray and they do have a point, though this gray has just a hint of blue in it. I wanted nothing to compete with the TV screen, so I went for this grey. In general the walls are coming out a good shade or two darker than I had envisioned,  so I’m glad I went for white ceilings and this light stone floor.

The stone is Pierre de Bourgogne. When it is sealed the color will darken a bit. The pattern is called Roman mosaic, I think. It looks random but it is actually very precise. By this point in the installation the guys have worked out the repeats and all. I had to leave but they had started to move pretty quickly.

This stone will cover the entire ground floor. It will be laid, grouted, sealed and allowed to settle for a bit. The electricians are working to make the final connections for the geothermal system. In three weeks we will begin the slow process of warming up a proud old house that has had no heat for five years.

After all this time I am happy to see finishes. This is by no means the expensive part of the project, just the part that makes it look expensive.

Visible Progress, at last!


This mass of rubble may just look sad but really, this represents good progress. You are looking at the most significant architectural change to the house. The contractor has removed the wall between the kitchen and dining room. Please note the bravura performance. They removed a rubble wall that was maybe 12 feet high, even more across, and about two feet thick. They inserted two steel beams, getting them dead level. They installed concrete block walls to support the beams. This was all done while working on an uneven, unstable surface and without damage to the existing, fragile, directly adjacent cornice. One day the National Trust will find out about these people and we’ll lose them to much more prestigious jobs. Today, fortunately, they are at my house.

We are now ready to reverse the kitchen and dining room. The man you see in the photo is part of the crew that is doing the rough wiring and plumbing.

At this point we have light from two sides of the room, which is already lovely. In the next little while the frames will arrive for the window and door that will be added on the wall to the left. Given the amount of light that has already been added, more light is hardly necessary. However it will be nice to connect the kitchen to the terrace, which will be just the other side of the wall.I don’t know about you but if I don’t see a space, or if it is hard to get to, I don’t use it.

Ceci n’est pas un char d’assaut.

bore hole digger

No, this is not a tank, though it looks a bit like a repurposed one. This machine digs the bore holes. To put it a little more Magritte-ly, this is a photo of a bore hole digger. It is part of my piddling anti-war protest. So, rant alert: get ready or move along, nothing to see here. I’ll cheer up tomorrow.
Last night at Cité de la Musique I heard Jordi Savall and his musicians perform the first in a series of concerts on the theme of War and Peace. Maybe the series should have been named the Art of War, Sun Tzu’s title perhaps more closely than Tolstoy’s describing the purpose. Savall performed a series of Baroque-era pieces, often excerpts from longer works, written as military music or to commemorate the beginning or end of a battle or war. He wove them together as if movements in a symphony, each prefaced by a narrator who gave a date and the purpose of the music. The overall effect was of endless war. Indeed, there were dozens of wars in Europe during the Baroque era.

The music was unfamiliar to me and mostly Spanish or Turkish in origin. Many, especially the earlier pieces, were written by the losers, as part of memorial services for the many who died during sieges. Others, such as the Janissary marches, were performed with the heroic emphasis downplayed. In keeping with this frankly sombre mood, Savall’s final piece commemorated the killing going on right now in Syria.

The other day I saw a news report on the IS push in Syria, along the Turkish border. I watched film of men who had herded their livestock to the border — IS was killing everything, so it was their only hope — only to have the Turkish army hold them there, with IS moving in from behind. I read that these men are Kurdish; I hope another story I read is not true, that Turkish officials hate the Kurds so much that they would love for someone else to kill them off, so they don’t have to deal with them. I hope the report is incorrect that many of the IS are simply mercenaries, happy to kill children and destroy farms and cities, anything for a little money.

So, to get to the point, where is that money coming from? It comes from the sale of oil, which is to say it comes from us. This endless war in the Middle East is motivated by greed and the desire for power, same as it ever was, but it can only be paid for if someone outside the conflict will buy what the warring parties sell. In this case, that’s oil and we’re buying.

I’m buying, too; what do you think fuels that bore hole digger? Even if I drove an electric car, which I don’t, somewhere in the supply chain would be a petroleum-based generator. But I am desperate to use less. So, while I talk about payback periods and building for the next century and all, the real reason for all this ecofriendliness is, I don’t like the sight of blood on my hands. Even though I know if I use less I just make it a little cheaper for the next guy to use more — thus netting zero effect on the environment and military budgets — I have to do this.

In one of my meditations I think about the earth supporting me. It has to do with relaxing, nothing more, but in this endeavor, the earth is literally supporting me. It’s all I have to work with. I am fortunate to have the land in the first place; here in Paris, this project would be possible only if the government decided to put a system into the Seine. That’s an idea for another post — or maybe a different blog.

More Stashed Cash


So, this is my entry hall, where you will go into the living room. Someone said she’d like heated floors. The contractors replied, “We love doing those,” and got to it. At the moment the living room has no floor at all. When the shutters are open, you look from the floor of the basement right to the ceiling. In this photo of course you just see a dark spot that eats money. The finish floor of the entry is long gone, along with about a foot of subfloor. On the wall, out of range of the camera, is a construction detail; paper is so easy to lose, after all. The detail shows layers and layers of waterproofing, insulation, heating coils, concrete subfloor and, finally, the finish floor. When the guys are done, expect to see pretty limestone tiles with little black cabuchon insets. Once the finish trim is in and the walls are painted, the entry should look very 19th century, as if we did nothing. However even on the coldest day, you will feel nice and toasty warm.

Speaking of dark spots that eat money, we drilled a hole behind the house, the better to estimate the amount of water available for the geothermal system. It turns out that there is plenty of water, much more than we need, even now, in the dryest part of the year. This means we can go ahead with the geothermal refurbishment — we don’t have to build one from scratch. At last we have identified a way to save some money.