Do What You Can

If you are a right-thinking blog follower, you may have tried to access my refugee support page. It’s there, but the link is broken. No idea why.

The Ukrainiens have not yet reached Paris, so those links, which are to Paris-based groups, are not all that useful anyway. But the two million and counting, including over a hundred thousand unaccompanied minors, are going to go somewhere. The way things are shaping up, many will stay. During the months — years, if we’re talking about the kids — that they will need to sort out their lives, they’re going to need some help. As will the Afghans, etc. It’s a scary time, a dangerous world right now.

Everybody is saying give money and be sure to research your charity. Good advice, nothing I can add to that. But if you knit, consider the “Knitters for Ukraine” fund, which gives its money to the Red Cross. It was started by the Finnish magazine Laine, so it’s squeaky clean. Or even if you don’t knit, if you just like the anarchic weirdness of a bunch of folks banding together to knit Putin back to the Stone Age, go for it.

In fact in general, let’s face it, for the rest of our lives we will be dealing with refugees or worse, be refugees. To avoid compassion fatigue, we’re going to have to get creative about how we help. My thought is to choose one thing you already do or identify with — one action, one charity — and make doing it or donating to it a part of your life, now. Just normalize it.

It’s Getting Expensive, Here

Look what landed in my mailbox, yesterday. A guy in a fancy car personally dropped off this thick volume of real estate listings. A look at the enclosed card told me he drove from Nantes, a good hour away, to make the drop.

Your first thought is likely, what was the stylist thinking with that possibly naugahyde, definitely way-too-diamond-tuck sofa? Neither nauga nor Chesterfield should ever be put through that, then slammed against those tasteful gray-green walls and actual trees, just to emphasize the point that sickly chartreuse does not make it.

But the real question is, why did a high-end realtor drive so far? the answer, of course, is that if he sells one house down here, the drive will be worth it.

I bought here because the location and weather were decent and the price was rock-bottom. At the time, even after I had signed all the papers, the realtor mentioned that prices here were low, even compared to adjacent areas, and were sure to go up. Yeah right, I thought, I signed the papers. You can stop now.

But yeah, he was right. Prices were stable, then rose slowly. Then Paris became unaffordable with Bordeaux and Lyon not far behind. Ordinary mortals moved to close-in suburbs. That pushed up prices farther out. Then covid hit and finally, finally, the French caved in and allowed telecommuting. Prices are now going up all over the place. All these little villages with communal land are chopping it up and selling it in tiny parcels as fast as they can — and these days it’s pretty fast.

Mr. Realtor is hoping for my house because I fixed it up. Even at today’s prices I’d probably just break even. So no, it’s not for sale. And honestly, I think being able to sell without taking a loss is good for me, but on the whole, not so good.

I bought into an agricultural area. In the several years that I have been here I have seen the housing subdivisions grow along with the junky roadside businesses. The gravel easement outside my wall just became a sidewalk, a fancy one, with exposed aggregate, and it is well-traveled. I now live in a suburb.

The villages will soon run out of communal land to subdivide. That will put pressure on politicians to change zoning laws, to allow farmers to subdivide and sell their farms. All that talk about buying locally-grown produce, fields being good for the environment? That talk will go away. Folks will rail against Bolsonaro burning down the Amazon rain forest and never link his actions to their own habit of building over rich agricultural land. And the economic hazards of depending on outsiders to grow our food, the way we now depend on Russia for gas and China for nearly everything else? They will not come up for discussion.

The terrain is flat here, thus easy to develop. Easy money. Climate change projections show the sea level rising to almost across the street from me, but that’s a couple decades down the road. No developer plans to stay here that long.

Wind turbines are our only hope. At least I think so, as they need open land to work. Buildings screw up the wind patterns. Say what you like about the turbines being too heavily subsidized; I’ll probably agree with you. But the wind developers will fight against the land developers and they have the money to do so effectively.

This is a bit of an anxiety rant, I know, but I think there is good reason to be anxious.

That’s enough. No photo of Jacques this time, but he left me this, which I will now share with you.

And here are my Valentine’s Day roses, a few of them, which I am spreading all over the house, definitely not sharing. Thank you to the lovely man who sent them.

The Demise of the Wild Wood

I feel a bit guilty about this. Until yesterday I had this tangled stand of trees, bushes, raspberry vines, who knows what all, but the birds loved it and it was green. It was about the only thing that survived years of contractor depredations. Then I sold the rental house, which gave me a bit of money, even after taxes, to fix the front garden. So I had a little plan done, which I showed you a few posts back. And yesterday, Kieron started work.

Kieron and Eddy rebuilt this house. The two of them, with very little help, and they did a great job. So once I heard that Kieron was off on his own, I told him to put me on his calendar, which he did, and now he’s here. Julien is working with him and his brother in law will appear in a couple of weeks.

We marked the outlines of the new garden plan. It’s hard to see, but there is spray paint all over the grass. The grass is seasonal and barely covers a thick layer of gravel and construction debris. That won’t be missed. But as we worked out the plan we realized that if we wanted to properly back out of the garage (the gash in the wall will be enlarged and the appearance improved), the Wild Wood would have to go. And now is the time, as the birds are wintering in Spain.

So Julien fired up the chainsaw and went to work. The hazelnut trees will stay. Probably the stuff screening the street will stay, but we’ll see. bay laurels are death on walls, so we might have to take that out. At the end of the project I’ll probably plant some bushes around the hazelnuts. I’m not a big fan of grass and I want to do something for the birds.

And do you see the concrete truck off to the side there? The commune decided to give me a sidewalk. There is literally a sidewalk starting at one side of my street frontage and stopping at the other. That’s the whole project.

So my little country refuge is moving to the suburbs. Or maybe the suburbs are moving to it. My ratty front garden — a friend — yes, still a friend! — once said coming here was like stepping onto the set of “Withnail and I” — is getting tidied and organized. And this weekend, as I was preparing the house for Sunday lunch with friends, I realized that I could actually clean, not just stuff everything into a back room. Okay, some things went into a back room, but much less. At least Jacques is still himself.

Jacques Report

Remember Poodle with a Mohawk? Linda Barry? Never call him Fifi again? Hah. Poodles. It’s all about fashion for them. Westies take action. And Jacques has gone rogue.

It’s his new dog door. Reignoux finished buttoning up my house. It’s all bulletproof now, assuming I remember to lock it up. As part of their work, they designed a dog door, custom-made for Jacques. We drove out to their shop, where they measured him as carefully as would a Saville Row tailor. Chest height, shoulder height, head height, body width, they got it all. Then they designed a door to fit Jacques, of course, but also to suit the look of the door. It’s hard to see, but the knob on the left goes to a sliding metal panel. The vertical reflection on the right, halfway down, is a latch. When the panel covers the dog door, the latch pins the panel in place. Hey presto, nobody is getting in. And no nasty white plastic.

This is the thanks I get. Here the little delinquent is, on his grooming table in the utility room. He loves his door. I can’t keep him in. He runs out and barks, randomly, just for fun. Then he runs back in, probably hoping the neighbors will complain, so I can say “Jacques? Barking? no, see, he’s right here.” Yesterday he brought in a dead pigeon — dead for a while, so at least he’s not killing pigeons, yet. I guess he wanted to give it a decent burial, maybe in the sofa cushions. Fortunately he changed his mind and took it back out again. I have no clue where that pigeon is now. And today, look. Did he really need to roll in the mud? Is being clean all that painful?

I basically triage-cleaned him. Of his various dry shampoos, it turns out the mousse is better than the sprays. He’s sort of tan, now, which I hope won’t rub off on the furniture. I put some antiseptic and skin soother on that ear, so it’s a normal light pink. A little work on the nails and job done, he’s back in action. Not clean, exactly, but better. For now.

Merry, Happy Whatever

Here he is, fresh from the groomer, looking nothing like a guy who’d rather be digging up the rose bed. So sneaky.

It’s time to wish you all a happy whatever it is you celebrate. Celebrate something, please, it doesn’t matter what. Celebrate everything. Isn’t it time for Solstice ceremonies about now?

It has been a rough year. I don’t even want to think about it. But Jacques and I will be spending Christmas with Jean-Yves’ brother and his family. They demanded that I bring Jacques, he being basically the only critter that one can snuggle up to without fear of catching some dread disease. On my last visit there was a brief return of the bise but now — new wave, new variant — I suspect that’s over.

Home again, home again, for the new year and friends over for lunch. Will Jacques manage to stay bright white for that long? I doubt it.

I have a new project that will take up most of next year. I don’t want to jinx it, so I won’t say a word until and unless it becomes official. So we’ll see. And don’t worry. I won’t sell you anything or ask for a donation. It’s going to be fun, though, at least for me.

Well, two projects. I’m finally going to do something with the front garden. You’ll be seeing a lot of that.

So, 2022 looks better than 2021, at least from this vantage point. I intend to celebrate my way right through the end of this awful year. I’ll spend a few days pretending it has all been just fine. I hope you will, too.

Belle Ile

I just got an email from a friend, with photos of herself and friends at a Paris museum gala. I had to laugh. They looked so nice, all dressed up, and here I am trying to keep the mud out of my car and the ticks off Jacques.

Why, you may ask, why would I subject myself to this? Well, remember when I was so pleased to have passed the intermediate-level French exam? I got over it. Not long ago I actually gave a paper in French, did I mention that? But a friend had to edit it for me, Google French being not quite the same thing as real French. It was necessary, but a bit embarrassing. I’m a big kid now. I want to do my own editing.

So here I am, in my one-room, one-student classroom.

So here Jacques and I are, for two weeks, staying in the little cabin to the right of the not-much-bigger house, in that top photo. I figured, rightly, I think, that it would take two weeks to bring my French to a dead halt — my faking-it French is not all that bad — and then let me spend some time beating my head against the wall of my own ignorance. I am at the head-beating stage now. My goal is to get past it, get past the baby talk that I get by with and add in, you know, adverbs in the right place in the sentence, that kind of thing. French has these things called pronominal verbs, I think they are verbs, which I avoid like the plague. I need to get over that. Verb tenses other than basic past, present future? French has a ton of those. I need to figure out what they are and what to do with them. It’s a tall order. I’ll get there, but right now I’m mostly glad I didn’t sign up for three weeks.

Belle-ile is pretty, though, no question. Right now the weather is okay. And the teacher is good. Michel Denance: I can highly recommend him. He balances friendliness and professionalism quite well and he has patience to burn. Plus, bless his heart, he makes lunch every day. Another French thing I haven’t worked out is how they cook actual meals in those awful kitchens. If it weren’t for Michel I’d be eating some ghastly packaged food.

This picture is of a neighbor’s garden, Le Jardin de la Boulaye. She has five hectares, which she has cleared and organized. It’s stunning and open to the public by reservation for paid visits. One day I may go back and walk her replica Chartres labyrinth. I don’t have a photo of Sarah Bernhardt’s house. It is perfectly sited, protected from the wind but still right at the ocean. But the state owns it now and it is all cleaned up and ready for hordes of summer visitors. It’s conceptually very cool, but this garden is prettier.

I think Jacques would be happy to stay here and no question, it’s a lovely place. But at the end of my two weeks, I think I’ll be ready to go home.

Which Way is Costa Rica?

This is the image. My happy home, which it is, with a beautiful, landscaped garden, where I now have only gravel. But soon, maybe, depending…

I won’t even show you the reality. Reality may well suck up my landscape money. It came in the form of a notice from my utility company. They informed me that electricity prices would increase, which I knew. I thought maybe 5%, tops 10%. But no. For the next seven months my electric bill will go up 50%. Then will it go back down? Not from what I’ve seen so far. My money seems especially attractive to them.

I had been looking at solar panels anyway. Honestly, it was throwing the dice to see whether I would live long enough to see them pay for themselves. It could be time to run the numbers again.

Or, maybe just move to a warm climate. Granada is nice, as is Barcelona. Maybe Malta or Sicily? Or, I hear intriguing things about Costa Rica.

I’d hate to start over again. I have friends here, ones I didn’t know before I moved to France. My French has improved to the point that it is only half bad. Maybe I’ll just pay up. Ugh.

Harvest Report

We haven’t actually had much in the way of summer weather. It looks like spring is going to morph right into fall, with only the length of day to cause anything to grow. Well, plus all the rain. It has rained pretty much every night and quite a few days, too.

It’s a pattern that has favored smaller fruit and vegetables. You can see that the San Marzanos are doing great, as are the cherry tomatoes and this smaller variety that I hope sticks around. The big guys are a sick yellow, still, and splitting from all the water. I put a reflective mat under the vines, to encourage early growth. I think the bees were drawn to the warmth as well, because the germination rate was huge. The neighbors hardly have tomatoes at all. Heh heh heh.

This butternut squash is actually bigger than it looks, close to being as big as Jacques’ head. I have two or three that size, thanks to all the rain. I guess I can roast and freeze it.

I won’t be showing you an overall shot of the potager. The potato leaves are yellowing and the weeds are everywhere. Julien and I weed enough that he takes a truckload of green waste in every couple of weeks and still, it’s bad. So, a bumper crop of dandelions for all you winemakers out there. My liitle kitchen garden looks pretty ratty, but it’s producing like crazy. I’ll keep it going until the Brussels sprouts are finished.

You also won’t see the berries because I keep eating them. Content yourself with my first tiny crop of grapes. I had to look a while to find a bunch that hadn’t been taste-tested into oblivion. They really are excellent, seedless and better tasting than the ones I buy at the market. These are trained against a wall across from the terrace. Looking at them, you might almost imagine that it’s warm outside.

The peaches are small, but getting there. And this apple tree is almost doing too well. I’d like to start picking them, but I don’t know when a Reine de Reinette is ripe. Maybe that one at the upper left?

Last one, I promise. Rose hips. Julien stuck some rugosa rose cuttings into the ground intending to transplant them. Then he didn’t. Apparently the spread by their roots because they are taking over, and fast. They, along with the sumac and raspberry roots, are likely Julien’s full-employment program. I guess the rose hips are for me.

It’s tea time. See you!

Quite a Day

I don’t usually think through my posts. If they seem stream-of-consciousness to you, that’s because they are, pretty much. This time I’m hoping to think it through enough that I don’t write something I’ll regret.

Afghanistan has just fallen. Yesterday, I think, Kabul was taken so, game over. My theory? I have one, but it’s pretty uninformed, based on a little reading, conversations with friends who served there and my own trips to the Middle East, though never to Afghanistan. So really, more opinion than theory and no point in posting it. But if my barns are suddenly filled with little apartments to handle the new influx of refugees, don’t be surprised.

Instead, let’s talk country house bling: my new rider mower. The old one, after five years of hard service, died. Julien pushed it way beyond its recommended limits but kept it maintained. Eventually, like an old car, it required a repair that would cost almost as much as a new mower, and would still need lots of work in the future, so a new mower it is. Julien has a buddy who soups up old tractor mowers and races them, so, win-win. He gets a new toy and I get a little cash. I hope to find one of these races and tell you all about it.

The new mower was delivered yesterday. The brand came out tops in my online research and this is the new model — not more than the top of my price range and with a new feature that facilitates cleaning. The old one had these handles for steering, which I found rather intimidating. This one, as you see, has a steering wheel. I may start mowing my own lawn, unless I can get Jacques to do it.

Politics, show-and-tell, now for the dirt. I signed up for one of those dating sites: Elite Rencontres, if there are any lurkers out there thinking “How can I meet this wonderful woman?” Elite, that’s your ticket. It’s actually quite interesting. These guys are serious, frankly more serious than am I, and I’m not wading through dozens of posts written by married guys looking for a fling. I’m okay with dating sites; I met Robert and Jean-Yves through them, after all. The guy that I spoke with yesterday, one that I met through a different site which shall remain nameless, gave me a new appreciation for the men that are my friends.

I’m not going to go all Andrew Cuomo, “balance ton porc” on you. You need to be able to make a power play to merit that and with me at least, what gives this guy his power, money, is irrelevant. He wasn’t a sleazeball — well, okay, maybe a bit, but the class version, like the VCs who hang out at a certain Silicon Valley restaurant with upstairs rooms. But the VCs hire the hookers in the bar, so at least the women get a bit of cash for themselves, and this guy didn’t want to pay. Well, maybe he’d put the drinks on his tab.

So it was basically a job interview. And, having been through a few of those before, I knew to listen for clues regarding what might be in this job for me. Spoiler: it wasn’t much.

He inherited his father’s house and was renovating it. He let his dad live in the crumbly old pile just as it was. Now that it was his house, time to fix things up. Maybe Dad said no thanks to any improvements, but still. Hmm. Then, first question, mind you, would I be willing to sell up and move to Normandy, where the weather is awful but I guess the cider is pretty good. Really, give up my whole life? I’ve done it before and would do it again for the right reason, but was he offering a right reason? Ah, no, not really.

Marriage, with all its legal protections, would be out. That was the second thing he brought up. The last three guys died on me, so believe me, I think a lot about what happens when it’s all over. Robert and Jean-Yves, each in his own way, made sure I was protected. This guy, nope, apparently not what he has in mind.

So I’m thinking deal-breaker right there, let’s see what else he has to say. Maybe he can salvage things. I think you get the drift: he didn’t. I think he had a list of questions; he kept looking down, then looking up and asking a pretty standard job-interview-type question. This deal was going to be on his terms, plain and simple. Her terms, whoever she may be, were irrelevant. He wanted someone pretty enough to impress his friends, good company, good in bed. End of story. To his credit, he was quite open about it. If he had any deeper connection in mind, he gave no hint of it. He loves his kids but the women in his life, maybe not so much.

He’ll find what he’s looking for. There is surely some very pretty, more-or-less age-appropriate actress, maybe — no disrespect to actresses, just saying they know how to present themselves to the public, a trait I do not have at all and which I sometimes wish I did — barely making ends meet who will go for it. I’ve been poor. I never took the deal but I get it. Or maybe someone who is doing fine, thanks, but wouldn’t mind a presentable companion, so more a social than an emotional connection. Whatever. I hope it lasts and I wish them both well.

Me? I had friends coming to dinner and bolognese sauce simmering. I sent off a couple of messages to guys in Affiny — the “lots of fish in the sea” gesture — and set the table.

Time to shake it off, I guess. Dinner was terrific, the best antidote. Piano lesson tonight. Other friends are coming this weekend. Music festival this weekend. Beach house with another group of friends next week. Then more music festival. A pretty busy few weeks after that. I have other things to do.

Country Life Report

Here you go, faithful readers. Do I sit around all day reading the essays of Montaigne and sipping rosé? I do not. Well okay, sometimes, but today I’m chipping crepi from the barn wall. How cool is that?

Crepi is like stucco, except it’s thick and spread over stone instead of chicken wire. Every so often it starts to fall apart and should be replaced. But not here. The plan is to leave the stone exposed.

The money from the sale of the rental house has come in. Eight months to close the sale and about eight minutes to spend the proceeds. I have shutters that are being held in place with bungee cords: time for new shutters. I have this truly hideous hole in the wall, see above, that will become a larger and more sightly opening, maybe even with a garage door. The apartment roof is going green, in its own way, sprouting all manner of growth on the tiles: time for a new roof. And did I mention that the guy who took away my handrails never brought them back? So, new handrails at the stairs. A hefty tax payment. My summer kitchen. Trees in the front garden. Gravel drive and pathways. I do believe that’s all the money and then some.

The good news is, this work is cosmetic, basically all finishes and furnishings. Longer-suffering blog buddies surely remember the five-figure sums that were buried in walls and under floors. This time, you’ll see it. Or I’ll see it. You guys will be thinking yeah, so, a room with a pizza oven. Oh, well. I take my pleasure where I can.

While I was wandering around trying to figure out how to finance my ambitious to-do list, I noticed that the crepi was starting to fall off, all on its own. So, why not, I spent a couple of hours helping it, chipping off bits here and there. I could do more of that. It’s kind of fun. In the end I’ll have to hire someone to get the upper walls, but that’s later.

The good news is, summer may have arrived. It took its sweet time and this sad little bunch of grapes is an example of how my produce production has taken a hit. That said, grapes, the first from vines I planted maybe two or three years ago. The cherries are gone. I may have to adjust my expectations, just think of them as bird food. By way of thanks, maybe, they are now hopping around on the ground; I hope that means they are munching bugs. They ate every single cherry, there being nothing else available to them. So, okay….

The tomatoes are happily throwing out leaves, which Julien is dutifully chopping off. I might have half a dozen tiny tomatoes on two dozen plants. At this point everything else in the kitchen garden is just leaves. We shall see.

Fortunately birds don’t like apples, at least not so far. I also have just the beginnings of other fruit: peaches and plums, mainly. No apricots, figs or persimmons. The pomegranate? I don’t know, yet. Lots of pretty flowers, though.

And that’s the news.

The Comeback Trail

Here you go, a more-than-slightly over-edited shot of the back garden on this rainy day. Jacques shines, as always.

Well. I was in Paris, then I came back here and got sick. So, long time, no blog. I’m well now, no worries.

Paris was newly open, which was a blessing, but no one had restocked, so it was a bit sad. Toward the end of the visit deliveries had been made and people were out. Things had picked up a bit.

I have to think about the direction I want this blog to take. I have a couple of projects to do this summer, but that’s it. My blog’s original reason for being — documenting the renovations — will be no more.

The thing is, I like you guys, so I want to keep writing something. But do you really want to read about my daily life? I sew, I knit, I garden, I brush the dog. Classic old lady stuff. Local politics, no, too boring. My current rabbit hole, my piano lessons, no, crazy boring to anyone but me. Or the other rabbit hole, chess: no, please no. So, must find a way to refocus. Right now it’s all a mystery.

Tested

So I just finished an all-day French exam, level B1, which is lower intermediate level. To become a citizen, I have to pass this thing. I figure these are my options. Photo 1, I passed. We can all relax. Photo 2, didn’t pass, misery. Photo 3, that’s me when it sinks in that I have to do the whole thing all over again. I’ll find out which applies in a couple of months.

For anyone in the same boat, the school giving the exam is Langue Onze. The hotel is Hotel Croix Baragnon: very basic but cheap, clean, well managed and just across from the school. I can recommend both of them.

I’m in Toulouse, for the first time in maybe a decade. With lockdown, many tests were canceled and trying to get one in Paris, well, forget it. So here I am, staying in the original city center, which is now pretty upscale. In general, Toulouse seems to have gentrified since I was here.

This neighborhood is full of antique stores and, as you can see, some interesting food: French if you must, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, take your pick. Within a 10-minute walk are more independently owned shops of all kinds, some incredible parks and gorgeous apartment buildings of all ages. They have trees here, big, old trees, with grass around them. Grass, not grates: take that, Paris. They haven’t done infill projects, so the apartment buildings still have big, leafy green gardens. In short, I like it here. I want to buy the storefront below and do something with it, I don’t even know what, don’t even care.

It’s getting hot. Chances are I’ll be happy to be back home, near La Rochelle, which is much more temperate. But to help ease the tension while I await my exam results, I’ll sip my new tipple, a bottle of armagnac from the ultimate Toulousain mancave, Domaine de Lastours.

Update: Cue the swans or the ducks, whatever they were. My results arrived: 94 out of 100. I should have done so well in school. There is plenty of that armagnac left, by the way. Come on by: we’ll celebrate.