French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.


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Algae, too much algae

I’ll start with the pretty picture. Not my house, not me, not Jacques. No, thanks to a blog buddy’s suggestion, I was able to escape my algal difficulties by going to a Fete des Plantes, just outside Niort. Is that a chateau or just a really big house? Anyway, I picked up some lovely drought-tolerant, easy-care plants that I have not seen in garden centers here. I am delighted with them. Also it was nice to see that these people, who have a front garden multiples bigger than my entire property, have it under control. It gave me hope. Someday my lawn will come.


And here are the algal difficulties. You are looking at the pond at the house that I am selling and, in the meantime, make Available for holiday lets. I’m not sure this is the best pitch for it, but anyway… The pond is part of the municipal drainage system and must remain. Normally it’s quite pleasant, covered with duckweed, to be sure, but pretty and frog-filled. I have been a little worried about it. The previous gardener would cut back the bushes and just let the branches fall into the water. This cannot be good, I thought, so I let that gardener go, but too late. His carelessness turns out to have created huge problems. Julien tried to clear the pond with little success. He says the bottom is sludge filled. Trapped in the sludge are huge, fat branches, rotting away. He says it would take mechanical equipment to clear it out but the straight sides of the pond — the whole thing is cement-walled and I think has a cement bottom — plus there is all that water — make it impossible to get anything down there.

I need to get the house ready for renters, so I went over to review the current state of things. Oh, it’s bad. Apparently the algae is bad everywhere this year but so what. This algae is trespassing on my pond and it has to go. So I put on my rubber clogs and a bathing suit and waded into pleasantly warm water, pool net in hand. Jacques loved it. Oh the gaseous smells, as I disturbed the pond bottom. Oh, the squelching sounds, the froggy croaks. And the sludge, he couldn’t get enough of it. As I netted tens of kilos of thick algae, thick enough to prevent my new water plants from settling, Jacques attacked the piles of crud, pawing and biting it. As I cleared a horizontal cement siding, Jacques would run out and sniff the debris. Then he figured out that he could safely step right onto the sludge and attack the algae while it was still in the water. Terrier heaven: my water-averse dog waded in up to his tummy. The muddier he got, the happier he was.

Despite Jacques’ assistance, I cleared maybe 20 square meters of algae from the surface, for which the frogs are grateful. I found that it is possible to clear algae faster than it grows, for which I am grateful. I am left with a whole lot more, out in the center, which is too deep for wading. Maybe I can head out there with a couple of little flat-bottomed boats, one for me and one for algae, and clear it out that way. So where can I find a couple of those?

The water is clear but brown, thanks to the sludge and rotting debris. I decided to try some pond chemicals, which worried Julien. He likes the frogs as well as I do and didn’t want them hurt. Then he did some calcs and realized that my chemicals — anti-algae plus a couple of water-clearing agents — won’t even dent the situation out there. The pond is just too big. We both hope they don’t dent the frogs, either, though they are so diluted that I think my little croaking friends are safe. The next step is apparently to find some activated charcoal. Maybe a ton of activated charcoal. Then I can clear that out.

Sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? Not many people dream of moving to France so they can clear massive algae infestations. I sure didn’t. However I’m finding that I like all these garden challenges. Gardens are low-tech, easily understandable. They tire you out, so you sleep extremely well. Once in a while something pretty comes of it. For the pond, especially, I find myself driving to places I would never otherwise visit, aquatic plants being rather specialized, so occasionally a bit of adventure is involved. I think about this as I sludge-proof my car seats, so Jacques and I can drive home, looking and smelling like Mrs. Swamp Thing and her little Swamp Dog.

No YouTube uploads of the original, just the campy 1982 remake. Sigh. You’ll just have to imagine.


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Paris Christmas

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Grand Rex mural detail

So, Christmas is coming. It’s interesting this year. Folks are afraid to take their kids to see the shop windows, so that means I can see them. It’s an ill wind… Every conceivable place, inside and out, is decorated with plastic snowflakes, lights, the whole deal. They don’t have Thanksgiving here and for all the other holidays, people usually leave town. This is the one time most people stay home, so they make a very big thing out of it.

My favorite thing so far has been the massive party thrown by the legal firm August & Debouzy. They want to celebrate their 20th year in business, Christmas is almost here, a whole host of other winter holidays are on their way or just happened and Star Wars just came out. What better thing to do than rent the entire Grand Rex theater, for two nights, no less. Ice cold Champagne and plenty of it, very decent sandwiches — did I prefer the foie gras or the crab, hmmm, hard to say — and the big movie of the season in 3-D. In the realm of the parties I get invited to, this is about as splashy as it gets. Plus, given that I’m not Christian and way short of family, this qualified as an excellent way to mark the holiday season.

The Grand Rex theater is an old-fashioned movie palace, built in 1932. It claims to be the largest movie theater in the world and that could be true. It features a massive ground floor and three, maybe four, balconies. I think they multi-plexed it but you sure can’t tell from the main theater. I was told that Disney poured a fortune into the place to completely restore it, for use as a showcase for their films. If it’s true, good for them. It looks great. You will find it at the Bonne Nouvelle Metro station, line 9. It’s worth seeing most anything there, as long as it is playing in the Grande Salle.

And the movie? Do you really want to know that the story and characters are predictable and that it seems to be mostly a handover from the Old Guard — Carrie Fisher looks great — to a new crowd? Clearly this franchise will continue for a long, long time. But who cares about all that? The bar scene was worth going for all by itself and the special effects are incredible. As an old movie-reviewer friend would say, this film deserves to be seen on the humungous screen, in 3-D, preferably after kicking back a couple of glasses of excellent champagne.


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More Buried Treasure

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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.


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Fête de la Musique

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It’s a lovely Sunday afternoon, a rare, almost summery day. Here in Paris the city has organized something called the Fête de la Musique, which I think means Music Celebration Day, or near enough. The idea is that if you play an instrument,  on this day you should get it out and play it in public. The amazing thing to me is that people do. Everybody is on the street and a lot of them are carrying, even playing, instruments.  It’s free and great fun.


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Deux ans, déjà!

Robert Colmar

So Robert has been gone for two years, now. It’s hard to believe, partly because it feels like forever, except when it feels like I just saw him yesterday or else like I made our whole dozen years up. This is him in Colmar one holiday season. Did we really spend that Christmas in Colmar, laughing at our belief that the Christmas market would be interesting, or would I just like to have done that? The Baroque music concert in the church, the near-hour spent with the panels of the Isenheim altarpiece, lunch at L’Atelier du Peintre, really? Yes, I think so, really. I think so.

The question is, what if he came back? What would he think of the changes I have made in my life? Some would infuriate him. “But honey, I thought you were dead.” I don’t see that flying, as I try to explain why I sold the California house. Some he would love, like the house I bought here. Some he wouldn’t notice, like the improvement in my French. Bless his heart, despite the evidence, he always thought my French was terrific. I’m sure we’d work it out — unless, of course, I took a few photos, maybe downloaded them from the internet, then wove a 12-year story around them. I could look at the stamps in my passport but those can be forged, can’t they?

So, as I head into my third year of this strange new life, I thank the man who made it possible. I think that’s how I got here. Next year, as I head into a fourth year, will I do another memorial post? I don’t know. We’ll see. Maybe it will feel too weird.