The Exercise Room

I have one “before” photo of this room, which actually makes it look more cheerful than it was. This was the bedroom of the previous owners. The man died in the 1980’s, I think, and his wife died a couple of years before I bought the house — in this room, I believe. There was a nurse’s call button still plugged ino the wall, though the room was otherwise empty. The entire house had issues, but this room in particular was drab and dark. The paint and wallpaper looked to be decades old. The pictures on the wall took the form of pinned magazine photos. Though the entire house was neglected, in this room you could smell poverty.

We are talking about my first visit to the house, almost exactly seven years ago. Robert had died in our California bedroom only months before. There was no bedside button. I called the paramedics, who did their best, to no avail. I was still coming to terms with living without him. So, walking into this room, where a woman slept without her beloved for decades until she died in apparent destitution, well, it hit me pretty hard. The whole house needed work. This room needed an antidote.

Thus the pink paint. I tend to favor saturated and grayed colors. Here, no, it had to be bright. So, bright it is. Since then my challenge has been to tone it down with the brown of the sofa and floorboards and the blues of the carpet and reformer. I’m auditioning that lithograph right now. The colors are right and it’s a strong image. I just don’t know whether it is strong enough to hold that entire wall.

Thus too the choice of this room for the exercise equipment I brought from California. I found the vibe in this room to be too disturbing to put guests here and anyway, the stuff had to go somewhere. Why not the room that needs to be livened up?

The place is pretty well equipped. I have a rowing machine, a TV to distract me from the boredom of rowing, a Pilates reformer, a DVD player with way too many exercise DVDs, a yoga mat and props, hand weights, a balance ball, a medicine ball and miscellaneous books and other stuff. Yes, I do sometimes use it, generally in winter when going outside is not fun. I also have my meditation altar here, right where the bed used to be; I try not to think about it.

That’s basically the story of this room. It still has a different feel from the rest of the house, though no longer a problematic one. It is quite practical and peaceful. I have read that pink is calming and it does seem to be the case. This is no longer a difficult room to be in at all. Jacques seem fine with it.

Potager Report

Well, so, it’s harvest time. There are thousands of cherry tomatoes that I could neither eat nor give away. They are pretty much smashed on the ground, so I predict many volunteers next year, too. We could have all manner of tomatoes, given the unharvested remnants of this year’s bumper crop. I was able to rescue a few San Marzanos from the rotting mess. That’s it. Those mice can have at it.

We are clearing the kitchen garden. We could have gone for a winter crop, but Julien and I were so sure we’d simply repeat the failures of previous years that we didn’t plan very well. Plants went all over with no though of sunlight or water requirements. The whole irrigation setup was piecemeal. It’s too chaotic to simply continue.

So, out go the old plants. There are a few straggler butternut squash still ripening, plus some beets and carrots that I’m in no rush to harvest; I’ll leave them until last. Julien is a no-dig convert, so once we have cleared the area we’ll spread some aged horse poo that he gets from his neighbors — ah, the aroma — then a thick layer of cardboard. Then we’ll probably replace the plastic and walk away.

We’ll come back in spring. We’ll relocate the plastic sheeting to conform to whatever planting plan we dream up, then do a proper soaker hose/drip installation. I added a couple of hose bibs in the area, so that should go pretty well. There should be no neglected areas and thus no need for standard sprinklers.

We have had a long spell of steady rain, so the fruit trees are happy. I think we got four tiny apples plus a couple dozen mirabelles. But nothing died, which is a big improvement over my usual results. I see a few crossed branches and all so a winter prune will happen in January. We’ll also take a closer look at the Wild Wood. We found a hazelnut tree in there, and a quince. We need to encourage them and engage in further exploration.

I should be doing a winter pruning of my roses, but, well, lazy. Roger did a couple of them, most unexpected, thank you Roger. I should also weed around them and figure out what to plant under them that will choke out the abundant grass — abundant only around the roses, of course. Dream on if you think I’ll be able to get an actual lawn going.

So that’s it: the kitchen garden and the rest of the property, too. Long story short, we are tidying and settling in. It’s nice.

Kitchen & Dining Room

So okay, inquiring minds, at least one inquiring mind, clamored for more house pictures. The terrible truth is, they are just crazy disorganized. They came from half a dozen sources over what, six years now, so they are scattered all over the place. And while a great mind, Frank Lloyd Wright’s, declared the fireplace the heart of the home, this mind declared fireplaces to be energy inefficient space hogs. In this house they were not even pretty. All were removed. Wright’s symbolic heart, gone. So where to start? Why not the middle?

Okay, too weird. Why not the start? This is the old dining room. Note the gorgeous, probably elm, flooring that has buckled and become unusable because for three years before I arrived, nobody heated the house. Don’t ever do that to your house, not in a place with freeze/thaw cycles and lots of rain.

The guys removed the wood. My request to have it stacked for reuse was met with “Nah nah, can’t hear you,” and every last bit of it was burned. Why did I fire my architect? Here is one reason. So, out came the floor, leaving this odd half-basement that I think was filled, sort of, with rocks. Eventually, out came the fireplace. Of course the icky dark gray marble remains in the garage to this day.

Stone, pierre de Bourgogne to be exact, replaced the wood. We installed heated floors in most of the ground floor, reducing the need for radiators and giving the house nice, even heat. There are no hot or cold spots and the heat is lower than with radiators, so the air is not so dry. That said the heated floor does create a barrier that eliminates mildew, at least in the rooms where it is found. The basement and the utility room can still have problems.

Mildew, this in the old kitchen, is not your friend.
The guys removed the old ceramic tile. Jacques supervised, as only he can.

I must have a better photo of the old wall, but where? Anyway, you get the point. The kitchen and dining room were separated by this thick stone bearing wall and the kitchen was a dump, destined to become a big storage area if we didn’t fix that. Honestly, it was awful, useless as a kitchen and, as a dining room, just sad. So they removed the stone and put in a steel beam, thus joining the two spaces. Now the light flows from the front of the house to the back. I have a big kitchen where the elm-floored dining room used to be — note fireplace that warmed Dad while everyone else froze — and improved circulation and access to what is now the dining area.

Here it is, open, free space. Note the hole in the wall. The old dining room had a solid wall flanking the fireplace. I wanted natural light from multiple directions. Also I wanted a terrace at floor level to replace a kind of poky corner outside. So I had the guys put in a window, for which you see the opening, and a door which you see below. It was quite a fight, another nail in the architect’s coffin. But I won and really, it is so nice to have those things.

This, too, gives you some idea of how much nicer it is to have that wall gone. You can see the Lacanche stove where the fireplace used to be. A range hood has since gone in. The plumbing and wiring are in. The walls are insulated and finished; Stuart had a painter buddy who had some free time, so the entire house was painted way too soon, but it was a good job and the guys protected it, so, okay. Stuart and Liam are installing the cabinets, which were made in his workshop. Stuart also made the windows and the door.

The kitchen needs its range hood, but you get the idea. It is big, by French standards, light-filled and highly functional. The bar stools are by Thomas Moser and came with me from California. Most of the lighting is LED spots. The one hanging fixture is from a shop in Melle.

It is so nice and open. Maybe I should have left it like this, but I stood in the dining area to get the shot and I can’t relax at the table if my view is of the cooking mess that awaits me. So I had Stuart add a low bookshelf that is just enough higher than the countertop to hide a world of cleanup.

Here is the dining room without its furniture and, in general, with quite a bit of work to be done. The stone flooring is cut in to make room for bookshelves. Someone, can’t say who, exactly, has a bit of a cookbook addiction.

This is my only immediately available photo of the dining area. The furniture came with me from California. The bowl is made by Soy, in Istanbul. The view came with the house.

Checking In

It’s almost fall. That seems so crazy. It’s not as if nothing has happened.

In the real world, RBG, RIP. Am I worried about what comes next? You betcha. In my world, I might possibly have sold the rental house, for the second time, don’t want to jinx it but maybe, maybe. We have a new house guest, this time a young man from Afghanistan who left 15 years ago and has yet to find asylum. He’s almost legal, here in France, and finds our guest room to be a step up from the rat-infested basements and all where he has been staying. Supposedly he is about a month away from finalizing the paperwork. Hope so.

I know I have been promising you photos of the house. Before and after, all that. I’m getting there, sort of. Where my motivation has been sidelined by overthinking, mainly, my friend Roger Stowell has stepped up. I encourage you to search Instagram for roger.stowell.35, where you will find his take on the place, along with the many other images that he posts. Brilliant guy. Please like, comment, subscribe, etc. Let’s keep him going.

Jacques Report

Yes, Jacques has been digging. It’s okay: the mice have found the kitchen garden. This is war!

In general the garden is doing pretty well. We are eating all the tomatoes we can stand and reducing the rest to sauce, which we are freezing for winter.
Sometimes things grow where I wish they wouldn’t. You see morning glories burying my nonblooming jasmine. I hope when it clears out I will find the anemones I planted this spring.
To get back to my little wild man, I was prowling the potager, wishing Julien had taken maybe twice as many tomatoes home with him when, underneath the plastic sheeting, I could hear the pitter patter of little feet. I had noticed that something was actually eating a tomato — not a bird or a worm or snail, no, actually eating it. And now here, on the opposite side of the garden, was an actual culprit. No no no: I’ll share, but this was getting out of control. I had no choice but to say the magic words: “Jacques, come here!”

Now, Jacques comes when he figures there is something in it for him. The rest of the time, forget it. Maybe he heard the scratching too. He was there in a flash, pouncing on the little moving bump. Yes!, though I think the bump got away. Since then Jacques has been on permanent mouse patrol. He actually goes through the plants, nudging leaves aside so he can sniff and peer through the foliage.

Sometimes he digs. Yesterday I decided to harvest some potatoes. The tomatoes and squash are fighting for space and the potatoes were looking a little peaked anyway, so why not pull them out. It turns out those little shit rodents were eating the potatoes, too, but only from one plant. Go figure. So of the half dozen plants I pulled out, with a little canine assistance, only that one hole held any real interest for him. I’d pull up a plant, he’d sniff, then look at me. “So why are we here?” Then he’d return to this spot, where he spent a good hour, pretty much the way you see him.

I think he wore himself out. He’s been pretty sedentary for the last 12 hours or so. But I’ll head back out there this afternoon, it being tomato time. I’m sure he’ll be right there with me.

Jacques Loves Summer

He does. Who can blame him? He is sitting on a picnic-blanket-sized towel made by an old friend, who is reviving the handwoven towel craft in rural Turkey. I took this on the terrace the other day — our first sunny day in quite a while. And if you find Jennifer’s Hamam (jenifershamam — If your Instagram feed is a full as mine, you’ll want to find it, look at all her photos, and like mine. Vote early and vote often!) on Instagram and vote for this picture, I just might win a few towels to help us all enjoy our summers a little more. No pressure. He’s so cute, I might win anyway.

Charron

Here is Jacques, just before he decided to roll in all that ooze that has his attention. At least he didn’t roll in the dead jellyfish.

Someone got me thinking about beach towns. When I was a kid, they were great. Some towns were built up, some not, but a cruise along Pacific Coast Highway was always a fine, cheap summertime thrill, especially when we went as far as the beach towns in Baja. So here it is, the Fourth of July. PCH is far away but still, time for a beach run. Sort of. This time the border crossing took us to Charron, in the Charente Maritime and at the mouth of the Sèvres Niortaise river.

Charron is pretty downmarket, perhaps because of a flood that took out of goodly part of the surrounding area. For my American friends, 1m10 is about waist height. 1.5 milliard is 1.5 billion euros. 52,000 hectares is almost 130,000 acres. No wonder people aren’t in any hurry to move back.

It’s not a bad place, though, as long as it’s above sea level. We parked at a dry dock, where some boats were being repaired. There are also fishing companies and Bistro La Ponetère, which is just what you see, plus a couple of tents. A nearby sign gave a number to phone for reservations, though I doubt that you’d need one today.

The government has made the best of a marshy situation by declaring much of the coastline to be a nature preserve. Kinda sorta, pretty much. I’m not sure agriculture fits, but whatever. Those bales of hay in the distance are also in the nature preserve.

The Tour de France will roll by here in a couple of days. I’ll be off at a family party, so I’ll watch on TV, which is probably the best way to see it, anyway. Folks are excited, though, and towns are hoping for their fleeting moment of fame; 15 minutes might be a bit optimistic. Here are a couple of shots from a nearby town, located at a turn in the course.

Happy Fourth, all. Light a sparkler for me.

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.

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.

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.