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.

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.

The Guest Rooms

Looks pretty bleak, doesn’t it, like maybe the only guest is that crazy aunt you’ve heard rumors about. Fortunately this is a before shot.

Here is the same or a similar window from the inside. Note mildew, lambris ceiling and walls that never did look very nice. When they could afford a maid, she lived here.

I have to apologize for the haphazard nature of this post. I’m upgrading and changing computers and frankly, it is a nightmare. The new operating system has taken over. All my tidy files are trashed in favor of date shot date uploaded or who knows what, but it’s like Catalina decided to play 52 Card Pickup with my pictures. If I find better shots than these I will update the post. For now, I’ll have a full house at Christmas, so I’d better show you the guest rooms while they are more or less tidy.

There are two of these rooms, almost mirror images of one another. Some time after the main house was built, wings were added. The room in the top photo was a maid’s room and was given paneling at the windows. The room just above was never used and never detailed. A you can see, once we removed the ceiling covering we decided to stay with the exposed beams. Frankly I think the workers would have refused to cover them up.

The photo above shows the outside wall. The one below shows the wall facing back into the house. I don’t have a photo of the nasty peeling linoleum that the guys removed. Those floor boards are original to the house; I don’t know why they were ever covered.

The landing toward a guest room.
From the landing toward the other guest room, during construction.
The same spot, now.

So from the landing — seen here but I’ll also upload a floor plan, if I can find one — you would enter either a bedroom or, as you see below, a bathroom. Then beyond, for no apparent reason, there would be a door to a little tacked-on room. I could have retained the bigger bedroom and used the wings as bathrooms. However I didn’t like the idea of chewing up one wall with circulation, plus putting the bedroom at the end gave it more privacy. Plus I thought it made sense of the space, removed the tacked-on vibe. Maybe I would choose differently now but, too late.

The former pink bathroom, with a new sink and Jacques communing with the local fauna.
Former bedroom, which became the bathroom you see below. The drop in ceiling height was made to accommodate wiring and plumbing in the attic. This room became the bathroom you see below, plus a small laundry/utility room. Each floor has a backstage space.

Here is a progress shot of the other new bathroom. Toilets: before there was one, in the utility room. Even that was a step up from the outhouse with its wooden seats — yeah, family style — and huge stinky collection pit. To the left will be/now is a shower. The sink is on the opposite wall.

One guest room now — the curved window above. Below is a small apartment in what were the porcherie offices.
One room, with a mix of things inherited, bought and won at auction.
The other room, functional but not at all finished.
And the view, which I liked too much to relegate it to a bathroom and which, to my mind, is not as well framed by the larger windows.

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.

Jacques Report

Bonus points if you figured out right away that that’s not Jacques. It’s his fault the little guy is there, though.

It being nearly April, everything around here is popping. Jacques had me up at 4:30 this morning — he fooled me into thinking he had a tummy ache — which is how I discovered the meaning of the expression “up with the birds.” It was at that point when you can just tell that the sun will soon appear. The birds are going nuts. You never hear that much from them in daylight.

I determined that Jacques was faking me out — he took off running the second the door was opened — and went in to make coffee. Then I had to go out again. Jacques had cornered the fluffy white psychopath from across the street. Unlike the little sport killer, Jacques thinks the thing to do with prey is bark at them. So he barked and barked until the psychokiller found an escape route. It made Jacques’ morning, but I wanted to go back to bed. I left the front door open. Jacques likes to hang out at the entrance, keeping watch over his domain.

Thus the bird. He found his way clear up to the top of the house and into my bathroom, the most remote corner at the top of the house. There he perched and probably pooped until he flew out the skylight that I opened for him. At least Jacques didn’t bark.

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Jacques Report

Messy Jacques
As there is absolutely nothing going on at the house, I will give you an update on Jacques.
He is six months old now and is making his move into adulthood. In a couple of days we’ll be cutting that short, so to speak. Still, I expect him to keep busy in his newly self-appointed role of house guardian. He does his best to be where he can keep an eye on both me and the door. At night he generally chooses the door. Basically he walks on me until I let him move downstairs.
You can see what’s going on outside. He is perpetually covered in burrs. He smells from rolling in dubious substances. He patrols the yard, keeping the ducks out of his pond and the leaves on his trees absolutely still. He flattens molehills; I can’t wait to see what will happen if he actually finds a mole. The other day he had a great time with our pond rat, almost caught him, too.
He gets tougher by the day but still is devoted to me and to Hortense, his big drink of water on the other side of town.

Jacques Report

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So here he is today. I think he has doubled in size since I brought him home, what, a couple of weeks ago? Notice how he’s not holding still? That’s typical. I believe I got this shot just as he was about to jump up and check out the iPhone. I am making chicken soup for dinner; he may have thought a bit of that lovely poulet noir was attached.

The word for this dog is “mignon.” Fashionably dressed young women leave their shops to run out onto the sidewalk to tell me how cute he is. “Il est si mignon!” It’s one of my new standard phrases, along with “Quel age a-t-il?” Okay, I knew that one, but I didn’t have “how old is he” on the tip of my tongue. Jacques is teaching me French.

If you move to France you have to give up on the idea that your life will function in an efficient manner. You could run into a strike or a demonstration. It could be Sunday or some part of your local merchant’s day or lunchtime off. Or, well, you could have a French puppy. Jacques thinks every moment is another opportunity to play. Today at the flower shop I stood in line and tried to hold my purchases as Jacques tried to consume the nearby tulips. I tried to sweep the floor as Jacques tried to eat the broom; when Moses arrives in June we’ll see about posting video of that. If I were holding Jacques in my lap right now, he’d be walking on the keyboard. He is great fun. He is teaching me to be more French.