Wednesday, December 22, 2010

And the hits keep on coming


We are at the point where things are starting to come at us pretty quickly. Cindy, to her credit has been so organized, and not unlike Durga; one of the Indian goddess’s with 8 arms, she has been keeping each of her eight hands busy, nonstop dealing with documents, tickets, and family matriarch-ing. Our container company has been balking at delivering the container down the driveway for fear that they won’t be able to turn around at the bottom. So Saturday one of their drivers stopped by and concurred that he wouldn’t be backing down our driveway anytime soon. He would leave the container off to the side of the road at the head of our driveway. I guess I’ll leave my truck at the bottom of the driveway so I can use it to ferry our belongings from the house and up the driveway to the container. Then I received another call from them stating that I will be responsible for attaining the required street use permit. At this point I’m thinking that we’ll just park the 20 foot container off to the side of the road, and partially down our driveway. There shouldn’t be a problem as our street is a narrow road, and cars naturally slow down when they approach each other, so drivers are cautious as they drive, so a container off to the side won’t impede traffic. But just to add another process to this process I call the Sheriff’s department, get referred to Dept. of Public Works. Then after exhausting their index and talking to a few departments, I manage to get a hold of the correct person. Brief answer, if the container’s on wheels it doesn’t need a permit.
Then there is the protracted equity loan from our bank, FDIC insured. We had initially started with two lenders, then chose one, then let them go and went with the first. Then we had the most bizarre experience with a few appraisers, to the point that we honestly felt like Zillow .com was their deciding value factor. Now as we are three weeks away from stepping on the plane, the loan company is asking Cindy for a letter of employment from her employer. We leave in three days to go to Boulder, Colorado to get a Drivers license, by trading in our California license, with a leasing agreement for an “apartment”. The reason for that is a license from Colorado is one of the half dozen or so states that have a reciprocal agreement with France regarding driving license. The other option is to take a very expensive and time consuming driving course in French, then take their test in French, and finish the two year process that includes a round white sticker with the letter A in the back window of my car. The cost of Cindy and I doing this process would be thousands of euros, plus we get the added bonus of seeing Cindy’s cousin and his wife and two sons.
The day before we were to head to Boulder Co., to try to get Colorado licenses, we still have not heard back from our bank (we never did make the trip, as we had to baby sit the loan process). Cindy is crying on a daily basis, because at this point we could be in real dire straits if this loan is not approved. We would have quit our jobs, still owe mortgage on two homes, not have income, and have already let everyone in kingdom come know of our nitwitted life plans. We have a container showing up in a week, have plans to have family help load it up, and our flight is two weeks after that. So that leaves us waiting on the bank to say either, sorry not today in which case we will have to scramble and adapt, or the bank approves it and we continue forward scared silly. A week later we discover that my employer has incorrectly filed the last two years worth of W2’s for the entire company. The loan company needs Verification of Earnings statement filled out, and even thought we are seven weeks into the 30 day process, it must be received. The last two days spent on the phone with the IRS, have been educational, so the plan is for me to go to the local Social Security Association and get a letter from them. This letter would state that the amount filed on my tax return would be the same as the amount that my employer’s w2 declares. I go to the social security office and take my ticket, after a half an hour I am summoned. I sit down and present my tax returns and a copy of my W2’s. I explain that I am currently refinancing my house and getting, or trying to get, an equity loan. My employer did not file the W2’s correctly and nowhere does it indicate what my earnings were for 2008, and 2009. She understands instantly, and takes my copy of the W2 and my tax returns looks at me and inputs it into her computer. She asks me if there is anything else she could help me with, and I look at her amazed at how easy this is.
“If it wouldn’t be an imposition could you write a letter stating that the 2009 earnings match the 2009 W2?”
“Of course, that would be no problem.” I leave walking two feet off the ground, letter in hand and proceed to my truck parked in the basement parking level. As I leave the concrete bunker I call my loan person.
“I got the letter stating that my 2009 earnings were as submitted on my tax returns.” I tell her, so proud of my ability to work with the system.
“Wait a minute; you didn’t get the 2008 as well? She replies.
“Ah, um..no, that was input into their system as well as the 2009, but the 2009 wouldn’t be showing on their records until a few days.” I start to turn my truck around knowing full well what that means to me.
“I really think we’ll need that letter as well if we want to submit your file to the underwriter.”
I enter the building and take the elevator up to the third floor, walk into the waiting area, take a number, and sit down. I am envisioning a couple hours of wait time, but after ten minutes from the window beside where I was helped a lady summons me by name to come over to her window and I dutifully sit down and tell her what has happened. She asks for my W2’s and my tax returns, and the letter her associate typed, and proceeds to type me the corresponding letter to the 2008 tax year.
I leave after making a point of thanking them and telling how much they have helped me and my family.
Well , from there it went downhill, the bank called and they want it reworded by Social Security to state that my employer filed the w2’s, and that they could certify the submittal. So the next day I return and go to a new window, another really helpful lady reviews my request and says unfortunately she cannot reword the letter. I get home and that night while reviewing the progress of the re-finance with our account supervisor I am asked to set up an online account with the California franchise tax board. So after getting online discover that my state taxes were also misfiled for the 2009 year. So I call her and describe how yet again my employer has misfiled my state taxes. You have to know at this point that I have filed and paid taxes for the last thirty years. It is unnerving that my taxes to date are paid and spotless.
I will admit that evening at home while Cindy and I were discussing our plight, there was a little red wine and a couple cigarettes smoked. (We were outside in the cold dark Topanga evening air.)
I presume that there is a lesson here, in my mind there are a thousand lessons here, but we have trusted in our dream and await the outcome.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

three weeks out


Well as of today, it’s three weeks until we depart for Los Angeles International Airport, with luggage, carryons, and three animal carriers. In two weeks from today, we will have a 20 foot container dropped off on our driveway with two days to load it. Today Cindy is picking up our renewed year long Visa’s, and we’re getting really close to critical point on a lot of fronts. We have a portion of our items inventoried and packed for the container, another third is in the garage awaiting being photographed and packed, and then the remainder is in the house breeding in cabinets. I fully expect to be surprised by the amount of unaccounted for items. I’m really not worried though, as when the container is filling up we will weed out the least needed items, we already have pruned our belongings to essentials.
We have revised and re-revised our plan for months on end, from renovating for the Gites, to renovating the house to have a couple rooms to let as a bed and breakfast, then doing the renovations for the Gites the following year. The budget has been an interesting cornucopia of numbers throughout this process, ebbing and flowing as the plan evolves and the housing market continues its freefall. We have fine tuned our financial exposure to the point where Cindy and I can talk on the phone and quote the different item costs on the three page spread sheet from memory. I think I am at the point where my biggest focus is on what has to be done prior to the container showing up, the animals have their required shots and implanted microchips, we have loads of packing material in part thanks to our new neighbors that just arrived from the Ivory Coast. I am still working for the same company that I was employed by when we left for France for four months last year; it’s hard to stay focused when my heart is elsewhere, but they have been so good to me that I maintain a high level of quality.
We still have our cars to sell, find good renters for the house in Topanga, celebrate Caleigh’s fourteenth birthday, slog through Christmas, ho, ho, ho. And to top it off the equity loan is slowly finalizing itself, we still have the little battles like the value of our house via the appraiser, where he got his values from was a complete fiasco, and the comps were from another community, so that affected the loan amount. The required amount we need for this little endeavor will require the loan supervisor to relook at the comps we submitted, and hopefully jog the amount upward a little. But anything worth having is worth fighting for, we have our sights focused on the life we want and I think we will get there with a lot of effort and a little luck.
Cindy just called and told me that when we applied for the year long Visa renewal and the original visa extension permit, they approved the Visa extension permit. That is quite a bit of good news, as we can hopefully then apply for the Carte de sejour (yearlong resident visa)have the local Marie (mayor) stamp it to renew it annually, which is much easier than going to the Prefectionaire and resubmitting reams of documents, that all have to be less than 3 months old. Ever try getting an original copy from Maine of a birth certificate then have it sent to France, sure it was surprisingly easy from California, but I can’t even imagine the process from overseas.
As I said it will take a lot of effort and a little bit of luck, just like life.

Monday, November 8, 2010

reality isn’t the world you imagine it to be.


When I was young growing up in Maine, we would visit our grandfather at his cabin on a lake in the summer. Before we arrived, we would imagine motoring about in his shiny aluminum boat, or sailing in his sleek fiberglass Sunfish sail boat, and camping out on the lawn overnight. The week would consist of summer weather, starlit nights, and cool breezes. We would talk about having a fishing contest, swimming to the float platform 50 yards off shore…life was limitless and food never tasted so good ,ah ‘youth.
Most of those memories still hold true in the back of my mind, but if I think back real hard, I remember a different reality, one of mosquitoes and no-seeum’s, a smelly old sears and roebuck metal boat with two inches of bilge water, and splintery oars as the motor invariably would not be working, and the sailboat was useless on a lake with no breezes but plenty of leeches. I felt like Humphrey Bogart playing Katherine Hepburn’s future betrothed pulling the African Queen through leech infested waters, except the water in Maine is a constant 52 degrees, warm enough for leeches to breed like… well horny leeches I guess, and cold enough where a guy wanted indoor plumbing, if you get my drift.
If any of you have visions of Cindy, Caleigh, and I living a lifestyle of walking about fields of grapevines, or sipping Rose’ in the comfort of a shade structure overlooking the garden and orchard, or traveling all about the environs of France stopping at roadside café’s, well that reality is three to four years off. The reality of it is more likely going to be planting and pruning vines into the wee hours of the night, with blistered hands and a certain young lady griping about not having bunches of fun. And we will also have to replant the garden, dig and plant trees and build a shade structure long before we will enjoy any shade from the arbor. And as for driving about stopping at these to die for café’s, we won’t have the budget for the café’s or even the frivolous gas money to waste, nope we’ll be not to unlike George and Lenny walking about our constant renovation projects.
It starts with Cindy asking.
“Tell me again about the plan, living the life of riley and having people coming in droves to rent our holiday lets.”
To which Caleigh will add.
“And rabbits Dad, and how I can have one for my very own, and I can hug em and squeeze em, and keep em all my live long days?”
To which my reply will most likely be.
“With our budget darling, I invited your rabbit to dinner last night, and he was delicious”
We have been doing a constant re-planning of our departure to France, and getting our seed money together. The process has taught us that no matter what we learn of the process, you have to relearn it anew and differently each step of the way. We have applied to two different lenders and chosen one, only to restart the process again, as there were limitations to the policies that weren’t discussed with us. We had attained a yearlong Visa, and then applied for and was accepted for a Cart De sejour, a yearlong residency card. However the visa ran out Nov. 1st, and it cancelled the residency card due to not having the local Marie (Mayor) sign it prior to us leaving last time we were there. So we now have to reapply for a second yearlong visa, and then apply for the residency card. There should not be much problem getting these documents, but had we known what was required back then, we would not have to go three steps back. But then the real reality of it strikes home, the help in so many different ways from family and friends, documents are e-mailed from continent to continent, time zone to time zone. I can’t even start to list off all the phone calls made on our behalf, to neighbors asking if they wouldn’t mind watching the farm and our mail until we returned, those same neighbors are even turning off the water to the house, because we aren’t going to be back until after Christmas, and don’t want an ice rink in our living room, complete with burst pipes. Sure we have had to go back and forth on so many things, but reality isn’t the world you imagine it to be.

Friday, October 8, 2010

That's a brilliant idea, Stanley!


After being back in Los Angeles for a couple weeks and reviewing how powerless we are with the housing market, and our perceived desirability of our house, another idea has arisen from the ashes. We could refinance our house and get an equity loan, rent our house and start the required work needed on the French farmhouse. Cindy could stay in L.A. temporarily for a month, and complete her obligation at her work. This would allow Caleigh and I to go to France with the two dogs, allow Caleigh to get into her school, and I could get the house running. This mainly consists of updating the Kitchen and bath, adding a bath upstairs, and getting the house into the 21st century, phone, satellite, and wifi. The broader idea is that we could tap into our equity and keep the house in our name, then re list it in a couple years, when the market would be hopefully more desirable. There are so many variables in the entire plan that we have tried to adapt without placing ourselves squarely in the field of fire for the financially inept planners. Not unlike tap dancing in the middle of a chapter 13 minefield. It reminds me of that hysterical scene in the old “Black Adder” British TV show, when Black Adder (Rowan Atkinson) has been ordered to lead a charge against the numerically superior German line in World War I . “I would rather stand on top of a 10 foot step ladder in no man’s land at midnight, and have a lantern strapped to my head, while I lit a dozen cigarettes, and sang God Save the Queen.”
Our thinking is that while we are working on the modernization of the French farmhouse, we would be adding substantial equity to it, while our house in Topanga rides out the drastic decline that has been the housing market. If we rented our house in L.A., it would generate the mortgage, and property taxes, basically placing it in financial hibernation. Well that’s our two year plan, don’t try this at home. The main reason I’m writing this is to illustrate the many tangents that are followed in order to follow ones dream, as we chronicle this process I wanted to include the highs and lows and a good look at what transpires and changes in all facets of our journey. There are so many different things that we have to consider on a daily basis that the casual onlooker might not realize that these are decisions we have to make. Some decisions are easy and some hard, and the possibility that one decision could financially ruin us. But Cindy and I agree with that old line I keep throwing out, “There are no luggage racks, on a hearse.”

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Is time on your side?


After signing the required documents with the Notaire in Duras, Cindy and I followed the seller to the property where he gave us a quick tour. The word I remembered the most from our guide was the word “canalization”, while walking in a certain moist area of the pasture near the small pond he would point his finger and trace an imaginary line from one area to another and look at me and say canalization. Then while walking to the front of the main house he would mention the kitchen and shower and again point off to the low area of the property and say canalization. I understood him to imply that there was a gray water system that was not described in the septic report. Canalization, I now know from looking it up means, “Pipes; main pipe; pipe work, ground level pipe work, and so on.”
When Cindy and I were in the early stages of planning, some would argue that we were at the early stages of madness, I put together a spreadsheet and schedule for what I thought was the full scope of required work. This scope of work luckily included an entire mechanical system for the guest quarters, including the purchase of a used small excavator or “mini pelle” as they call it if France. As we were walking with the seller, there was a point where it all seemed so gigantic in scope, but after a few days cleaning the farmhouse, I was able to walk the site and rethink the scope, and must say that I still feel it is possible. That belief could be the results of the bacterial infection, from cleaning centuries of spider feces, to my nervous system and the added result of good French wine, but the longest journey starts with the first step…..right off the cliff.
I think the biggest obstacle is going to be the roof and treatment of the “poutrage” or girder work, framework of beams. Firstly the waterproofing of the entire roof structure, and then the aesthetic treatment of the interior beams from the standpoint of how it looks when you are in the unit and everything is finished. I know things will work themselves out, but this is the kind of sequencing and coordinating area that takes so many trades into account. If you start down a path in construction without a game plan, things will work out, but costing twice the time and money as a well planned project should require. I know my first project for the income aspect of the property, will be the foundation strengthening and coordinating all the conduits and sleeves required to be laid out prior to pouring a slab for the finished flooring to be installed on. That will be the most difficult planning to do, a real Rubik’s cube, but also the most rewarding as well. I really look forward to trenching for all the mechanical system requirements, then installing the conduits and pipes before finally covering everything with concrete and starting the forward part of construction. The initial demolition and trenching can’t be started until there is a complete agreement as to the final design of the three separate units. This will be amusing to look back and read this right before the concrete pour, thinking what an imbecile, “I looked forward to this, my kid hates me, and my wife ran off with a mime and didn’t say a word.”
It is at this stage where none of the accessory perks or fun items even sink into my head, the vines, farming the land, or even swimming in the planned pool. No at this stage I’m completely focused on the early stages of construction, and how I can’t wait to start. Cindy unfortunately is mired in the here and now, is our house going to sell, will Caleigh be able to start her school in time in France, how are we going to manage getting our property tax up in time , and sometimes even if this is meant to be. I am operating from the vantage point of ignorance, thinking that this is meant to be and things will work out, which isn’t really fair when Cindy wakes up at 5:00 am with constant doubt swimming through her head, and getting ready to start her day. In a few months we should have a better feeling as to where we are, but that’s true of life. Perspective is a gift of life, the longer you live the more perspective you have.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Trying to get a few rooms ready for our hopeful return.


There have been so many events happening in the process of selling our house and buying the French farm that one could draw parallels and see things as signs. The most striking “sign” that this was so meant to be was that while signing the final papers for the farm, across the oceans, someone had made an offer on the Topanga house. WOW!, talk about your lattice of coincidence, kismet party of two. Regretfully a week later, the buyer had to back out as there were unresolved family issues, which caused family issues at our home. So we continued cleaning the farmhouse, and taking the ever growing pile of debris, bag by bag into the barn. Having accomplished the cleaning to the degree that our time allowed we set upon the next critical item we needed to accomplish prior to our departure back to California, the painting of Caleigh’s bedroom. She had expressed wanting a bedroom that wasn’t like some old museum exhibit, and it so happened there was one room in the whole house that didn’t belong in “Brideshead revisited” or the “Bride of Frankenstein” for that matter. In the front hall as you go towards the main stairway there is a room off to the left that was added later in the history of this house, kind of non descript, but the door way to it is another of the architectural details that I love so. It’s a deep wall the goes into the room, so they built in paneling in the surround as you enter, on the wall and above at the header there is nice light blue stained woodwork. The effect is that of entering a formal reception room, however small enough that it could be a nice bedroom, 3 meters by 4 meters with an eight foot ceiling height, add in a folding screen and the divider could make a fun room for a teenage young lady. Ok, so off to the hardware store to get the needed supplies, so let’s get to it. I leave the house and head for the nearest large town, Saint Foy Le Grand, how fun. Cindy had stayed behind to tackle the front walkway with the Cat urine infused foliage.
I remembered seeing a rather nice looking hardware store the size of a small home depot that looked promising a few days earlier, the phrase of Keep it simple stupid escaped me as I drove further and further into the Dordognian country side. I could have sworn it was this way, as I reached Saint Emillion 40 minutes after I had set out; I guessed the gig was up, , and headed back the way I had come. Half way home I stopped at a rather unrewarding looking junior varsity hardware shop and went in. Malibu Barbie’s friend without benefits, Ken, would have been right at home here, it looked like an overpriced 99cent tool store on meth. I made my way to the paint-paint brush- lawn care aisle and proceeded to shop for the needed items. The first thing I needed was paint, “something off white but not to dark and not to white” Just so you know, I knew when Cindy described the color she….we wanted, that it was a perfect setup for “didn’t you listen, I said not to dark or to white”. So I chose green, no actually I chose Ivory, not the soap either. Then I looked over all the brushes and bought a decent one, not one of those 25 dollar masterpieces either. The rollers were a lot narrower than in the States, but what you gonna do. I also bought some more of the miracle acid, paint tray for the paint and returned home to the cleaner farmhouse. Well the paint was not unlike rolling on yogurt, and turns out it was this soupy consistency, and the disposable rollers could barely apply it. After the 2 liter sized can was empty, with only the short wall covered it became evident that we would need more paint and a much better painter. I have painted so many walls, ceilings, and house exteriors that this experience blindsided me, after screwing up the courage and the first attempt of painting in a foreign country Cindy and I set off to get more paint. Let’s just say the discussion about the trek I took to get the first pail of paint didn’t go swimmingly. After it was determined, unanimously I might add, what a bumbling nitwit my navigational, decision making skills, and that my overall attitude was lacking, we continued on our romantic drive across the country side. After stopping at two hardware stores trying to find the exact same make and color, we struck pay dirt. We also bought another roller, as the one I bought didn’t have the ability to have an extension pole inserted into it, boy did I wish I was that particular roller at this point. I tracked down an associate working in the paint, paint brush, lawn care aisle and pointed at my hands, she walked a few steps down the aisle and pointed at the white spirit labeled bottle. I bought two, turns out the paint was oil based, not the acrylic I had thought, I swear the label said Acrylic, but probably said it covered as well as acrylic but harder to get off. Gleefully I left the store with our new purchases, Cindy was slowly getting out of her funk and so we returned back to the farmhouse. We managed to get Caleigh’s walls and ceiling painted, and cleaned out; but needing to sand the floor and then seal it, but that would happen upon our return. The photo at the header is of Caleighs bedroom entry, as a before photo, with some chairs that were fortunately gone when we returned. We love the Farmhouse with all its shortcomings, the property has potential, and the community has been so kind to us. Petit Clos, its name and it’s address, has a sign to it as well, take the first initials of its name, and the first initial of my last name and Cindy’s maiden name Carlyle, and they are the same P and C. But again that’s just the lattice of coincidence, which I’ll probably have to paint as well, because I love painting lattice.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Part two of the Andromeda Stain


Having finally shaken the worst of the mutated flu strain, we approached the next day skeptically, should we go out and purchase hazmat suits? With the windows open and the plug in air scent freshener installed, the house was manageable. I spent a couple hours cleaning the stairway and felt there was a spot now in the house that was spotless, the wooden handrails, balustrades, risers and treads are one of my favorite architectural details of this house. I then made my way upstairs and surveyed the elevated bedchambers. The second floor hall runs the entire length of the building, two meters wide by ten long, there are two bedrooms, side by side, each five meters square. The ceiling heights are roughly nine feet high. My plan is to add a bathroom on the second floor, and possibly a powder room for the other bedroom. The details that really made the building was the fireplaces; the first floor bedroom has a carrera marble fireplace that is beautiful, the second floor has only one fireplace, it is also quite beautiful. As I walked the second floor I couldn’t even start thinking of the potential it held, I was so distracted by the stacks of junk. I started filling bags and taking down loads to our ever filling barn and finally only had to sweep the floors. This accomplished I brought up Cindy and showed her the future suite we would hopefully call home, aside from the lingering fecal swampy aroma, it was romantic. We ended the day with a walk between the rows of sauvignon blanc vines which were harvested earlier in the day, it is such a small quantity for this area (one acre) that the mechanical picker managed the task in a hour. We each brought a glass of the local red wine and unwound by making our way from the vines to the five acre woods. As we approached the house, we weren’t intimidated by the existing aroma, we had wanted to make our mark on the house, it seems we have to eliminate someone else’s first.

Pack all your troubles in a big trash bag.


After a couple days at the farm, we realized that the grocery store variety cleaning solvents weren’t making a dent in the accumulated film of disgust. We drove to a couple different shops and got bolder and bolder with cleaning solutions, unfortunately they weren’t the solution. The French have an odd assortment of DIY hardware stores, they start at the really cheap quality type small hardware stores, and work their way up the ladder to Brico-marche, and end up in trade specific stores that are really expensive. We found a good compromise and I chose some type of acid that could be diluted down from mild to varying strengths. We also bought a couple rakes that were really cheaply made, but we needed something to get the cat urine infused leaves out of the front yard. We were getting depressed and also slightly hallucinogenic due to the stench, after breathing this infusion in for the third day, Cindy was the first to fall. It started with her throat being irritated and worked its way into her sinus, what with the existing blend of the jet lag and hanging on effects of the canned airline air already stored in her system, she was a candidate for a mutated flu. So she slowed down, and went to bed earlier and woke up later, but she still worked at her nonstop pace. I meanwhile started using the acid in a couple different dilutions, and really the only formula that worked was with the acid uncut. So I decided to attack the worst offender, the first floor bathroom; who am I kidding, the only bathroom in the house. Well I poured a quarter cup of the bubbly on the floor and using rubber gloves spread it over a 2 foot square area of the floor with a floor brush. The result was instantaneous, the acid ate into the grout lines with bubbling, foaming efficiency, then using a water soaked rag, I went over the foaming results and swiped up the grime. The underside of the rag was loaded up with forty years of filth, looking down at the floor was rewarding. It resembled one of those T.V. commercials, with the scrubbing bubbles and the spotless streak in the wake of the cartoon scrubbers. For the rest of the day I was on acid watch, I finished the rest of the bathroom, and did a test sample in the kitchen, same results. We were making a dent in the first floor, and then I got hit with the modified plague, so we went for a drive to blow out the stench from our systems. We went to a store that sold appliances and furniture and browsed around. We did need a refrigerator for our temporary kitchen setup, so we milled around the fridge isle, then made our way to the mattress area. I didn’t mention that our furniture collection consisted of a bed, mattress, bedside table, and an armoire. It’s my belief that this bed was the final resting place of the sellers mother, may she rest in peace,… elsewhere. So there was the need to get our own mattress, even though Cindy had brought a new set of bed linen, mattress pad, and duvet. We even placed one of the existing linen table clothes under the mattress pad; still we need to feel unaccompanied while we sleep. We got a dormitory sized refrigerator and stuffed it into the rear of the little Renault. We finished milling about the store and drove home. I placed the fridge in the decidedly cleaner kitchen and Cindy and I continued bagging debris and shuttling it out to the barn. Our collection of trash was getting sizeable, but we wouldn’t be scheduling a container until our return. There were still a couple days of hauling bags-o-crap from the house, but the flu set in and we quit early that evening. I would wake up 40 hours later and venture from the bed, weak but glad the worst had passed. My main memory of this plague was the constant waking throughout the night and fighting for a comfortable position while trying to sleep. My body has never ached to the degree it did those 40 hours of hell, I would get up every 10 minutes and stand up gingerly stretching to alleviate cramping. I guess if you want to make lemonade from lemons, the good thing was I was so stuffed up; that the ringing odor of stench was barely perceivable due to my sinus’s being stuffed. We were now over the halfway point of our trip, but more than halfway completed with the house cleaning.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

And on that farm they had some furniture....E,I,E,I,..No!


After our meeting in the notare’s office with our immobilier, and the seller, we left her office and made our way onto the century’s old sidewalk of Duras. As arranged the seller was to meet us at the property and give us a tour and an overview of the various systems. The best way of accomplishing this was for us to follow him to the farm. We were used to a few of the main roads, but he chose to go the back roads, we quickly arrived at the property.
Driving up the driveway there were minor indicators that all was not the way we left it. Previously there was aluminum corral fencing, now gone. There were half a dozen agricultural tractor attachments on the right side of the driveway, gone. A trailers parking spot was vacant; looking into one of the three garages just showed a pile of broken boxes, empty cloth bags piled in a disheveled burial mound off to the side of the garage. As we rounded the driveway and approached the old girl, I noticed that she was still in her spot, looking off to the neighboring fertile fields with envy.
She was built in the beginning of the last century, very well built and typical of the formal farmhouses of the time. The family was obviously wealthy and paid for details that spruced up the attractive structure, had only the family that built her passed down to their generations the care required to maintain a building of this quality. She had seen annual crops planted, cared for, and harvested. Also livestock bred, raised, and invited to dinner. As the crops were repeatedly harvested, and winters reeled off the calendar, she watched. The roof suffered the most, by repeated beatings by rain and snow, the maintenance was neglected. There were telltale signs where water meandered from the roof leaks, down the walls to the dried puddles of wall plaster on the cupped floorboards. The second floor landing bore the brunt of the weather allowed inside the house, the floor boards are now in need of replacing. Wall plaster show cracks and ceilings are shrouded in spider webs, like some old Vincent Price set. But it was her complexion, the outer surfaces that require the most attention.
As we parked our cars, I got out and regarded her. I was thinking “ I hope being away for so long that first seeing her, that she is still the beauty I remembered her as from across the world.” This was a frightful test, looking at her, walking to a couple different vantage points, she did not disappoint.
The seller led Cindy and I into the nearest barn, the one attached to the back of the farmhouse, and indicated where and how to turn on the house water heater. And yes I noted the deserted nature of the place, there had been a lot of misc. tools, another of those trailer vacated parking spaces, and small piles of debris. We had inventoried the property six months earlier, and the seller reviewed it and crossed off different items that he had either committed to others, wanted for himself, or weren’t his to give with the property. The revised four pages and what existed now were not remotely the same. It turns out the seller’s son and daughter had escorted a dealer through the house and added up anything, and I mean anything that was worth a cent. The seller was horrified and ashamed, but didn’t want to cause a row with his children, so he compensated us with the large tractor, and some euros. We were happy with the accounting, but none the less deflated as we walked around the ghost town. We had wanted to put our personal touches, just not that many, as we now had an essentially blank canvas to work with. This blank canvas however required a rebuilt frame and new canvas, but again we knew what we were getting into. Hard to complain about buying an ancient farmhouse in France, and whining about the work you knew it required. We continued to walk the property and be instructed in one hour the acquired knowledge that had been passed down the generations of his family; he skipped the maintenance aspect of the farm and kept it pretty simple. We did not tour the inside of the house as that might have been too depressing for the seller, and to tell you the truth, he was a pretty special man, we knew he had been a man of his word, undermined by his younger generation. After a walk in the pasture, he parted.
Our plan was to set up a bedroom and temp. Kitchen, and clean up the house, so that after our house in California sold we could transfer over to the farm. We entered the house; it had been closed up for a year or so and hadn’t really seen the bottom of a mop in probably 20 years. The smell was terrible, opening windows only brushed off a stronger stench from under the floor boards. It was depressing and took probably three days to air out the house, that and Cindy and I investing backbreaking cleaning, strong chemicals, and a couple bottles of Wine. When the dust settled we were able to slowly transform the abandoned house into pretty nice temporary digs.
The majority of the furniture, for that matter all the worthwhile contents in the house were gone. We did have one bed and a mattress. We spent quite a while bagging trash and transporting discarded items into the barn, we were going to have a container come and pick up the collected waste. As the week progressed we got the house sorted, and swept away spider webs from the inside and outside of the farmhouse, especially the windows. We had a lot of things to accomplish during this ten day recon, appointments for extended stay visa’s, doctors appointments for the residency visa’s, and buying supplies from Home Chateaux type stores.
We awoke the next day and I drove down the street about 600 yards to the Boulangerie and bought a fresh warm baguette from decidedly one of the best bakers in Aquitaine, France. It made up for all the perceived shortcomings of the property, hot coffee and a piece of baguette.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Old MacDonald bought a farm....E,I,E,I....Doh!


I write this back in the comfort of our house in Topanga, Ca., where warm autumn breezes lift the aroma of roses and rosemary from Cindy’s garden through the window to the living room as I write this. The ten days we took off from work, were basically seven days working on the farm house, like the exchange rate it didn’t really favor us too well. The one break we got was being bumped from coach to premier class, this was a hopeful sign. We arrived at the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris and transferred to a smaller plane for the flight to Bordeaux. Once we deplaned in Bordeaux, we made our way to the car rental counter; the Peugeot 206 I was hoping for was substituted for a Renault Clio, thankfully not the STD Clio. The Clio was Frances answer to the wrong question; Sherlock Holmes could not have found an identity for this car. I’m just saying, if Malibu Barbie’s friend without benefits “Ken” drove a car; this would be it. Anyway after getting the car loaded, Cindy and I drove off to Duras, as we had treated ourselves to a night in a hotel. We ate at the hotel’s restaurant and had an incredible meal. Cindy started off with an aperitif of Champagne blended with raspberry and a local flower infusion. The waiter then arrived with a small slate, shingle shaped, dish on which were four different flavored foie gras’s on small toasted pieces of baguette. We each had our assortment which was part of the 26 euro special. I had ordered a nice bottle of the red wine from Duras (considered from the Bordeaux region), 2005. (I had read an article that mentioned that Bordeaux’s of the 2005 vintage were spectacular, and was riding that horse for all it was worth.) After the stuffed goose liver we were given a citron sorbet floating in chilled vodka. I embarrassed Cindy by slurping and licking the small shot glass it was served in, then did likewise to Cindy’s amount she had missed, the table beside us were telling a joke or something as all I heard as I put her dry shot glass in front of her; was the sound of laughter.
The very observant waiter returned and inspected the now desert dry glasses, shrugged and walked off. When he returned, he brought the main course, mine was rump sirloin, and Cindy had the sturgeon. She won that round as mine was chewy in a kind of chewy way; I think it was nearer to the saddle than the rump. The sauce was however spectacular and I sopped that up with the accompanying bread. After the main course we finished with dessert, Cindy chose to have three different cheeses from the frommage cart, and I had the Crème brulee assortment. Cindy had a piece of Roquefort, a commte, and a local cheese. We left the restaurant, and that was the most comfortable period we had all trip, also the nicest smelling part.
The next morning we had a quick cup of coffee, and made our way down the street to the Immobiliers office (Realtor) after a quick recap of the last six months since we had seen them we made our way down the rue (street) to the assurances office (house insurance), they had pre-prepared a dossier for two policies, one for the farmhouse and one for the land. We signed the assorted documents, and again walked down the rue to the Notaries’ office. Once we were all seated in the waiting room, the owner of the farm arrived and we all shook each other’s hands and again sat down. It was at this point as I was saying how much we loved Petit Clos (The name of the farm, also the initials of Cindy and my last names) that I chided myself for slacking off with my French lessons. He understood what I meant, just that he looked at me the way you look at someone in a tuxedo saying “I reckon I oughten to git them thar sponges outta the cement pond.”
Once we all paraded into the notare’s office and were seated, the show began. The Notare is in France, even the Marie (mayor), the most respected person in a town. This woman, in our case, was on top of everything, each document was scrutinized for any discrepancy, and each question was rolled around in her head as she dissected it from each point of view. In France if you have a document go thru a notare’s office and something is incorrect, she is responsible for it, financially; completely.
Then the notaire reviewed the parcels that made up the property, each and every parcel, of which there are over thirty pieces that make up 20 hectares ( a hectare is about 2 and ½ acres). There were times when the Notaire would dwell on one parcel and ask a few questions over and over, the seller waffled and would amend his answer until the notaire was satisfied with his revised answer. So then the next act was the signing scene, firstly the seller who was recovering from a stroke, labouredly signed his Jacques Hancock. Then Cindy and I Initialed our documents, I initialed in French. HP see.
We all shook each other’s hands and smiled, I murmured “Viva Le France”, and the seller kissed me.
Tommorrow, We arrive at the house and all is not well.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Petit Clos a go-go


We have landed; our flight to Paris from Los Angeles was great. While waiting in the holding area, they announced about twenty names, of which Cindy and I were included, so I went to the counter and gave them our boarding passes and we were bumped up to premier class seating. Thats a first, with our usual luck i thought we were to be bumped to either overhead seating or the cargo standby. We arrived Paris and then caught our connecting flight to Bordeaux, no problem. At Bordeaux we collected our luggage and made our way to Sixt car rental and picked up the Renault Clio. Sounds like a std but not as roomy. We were operating on an internal time clock that made our systems think it was actually 3 in the morning, our drive to Duras was fortunately uneventful, we swang by the farm and noticed that anything not bolted down was gone. We checked into the hotel and enjoyed one of the best dinners in years. We managed to stay awake until 9 ish and then go to sleep, waking up throughout the night and awaking at 5:30 am.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sitting here in Limbo, after buying the farm.


So a week before we left, we found a farm. The farm is located in a small village called Saint Jean De Duras, down the street from the local boulangerie. ( bakery ) The picture above is of the property, with the farm house in the foreground, behind it is a large barn. The barn appears closer than it actually is, luckily its 40 feet away from the farmhouse. We put in a strong offer for it, and it was accepted. There were proviso's for the seller and buyer, so that both parties are protected. We have gotten to the point now where in a couple weeks or so it should be ours. Our house in Los Angeles is still on the market, and after four months we have a couple interested parties, who knows? The stress has been mounting, and mounting for weeks, as we don't have much say in our lot these days. We are fed by the limitless possibilities, and starved by the realities that bind us. The amount of pre planning has been monumental, we've had a garage sale where most of my power tools went fast, too fast. We've had three different international moving / shipping companies come to our house and give their best guess, sure to have a fuel surcharge dropped on us once the order is placed. I've been researching different cars vs. trucks, depending on our needs when there, right now the vw transporter turbo diesel with removable seats is the front runner. And possibly a Peugeot 406 sedan for family duties, another dependable little diesel. We have worked on a few budget spread sheets, and linked one to a weekly schedule program, it looks very impressive, but will be outdated the minute it is printed, typical of project schedules in residential construction. The house is in a constant state of readiness, should the illusive buyer want to meander into the snare...um potential home that will complete their lives. It has been a fantastic home for us, all the improvements over the years, it will enable us to realise our next chapter....likely a chapter 11, but a chapter that Cindy and I have dreamed of, and one we hope Caleigh will thank us for after the Kramer vs. Kramer chapter of her life.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The End


So we are in London, having an exhausting time walking everywhere. The Blog is finished for now, there is a part two that I'll start in a few months, an ambitious part two so two speak. I thank you all for investing your time in reading this semi-regular posting service. I will update you-all when there is printable news, as we have to protect the innocent, and more importantly the guilty, may god have mercy on my soul.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Le Bricabrack


Cindy and I joined Hannah’s parents for a trip through the countryside, with the purpose of browsing through a couple of the French flea markets. We followed their car as they meandered through the towns, it felt as though we were following someone to their hidden bat cave or moonshine still. There was probably little chance we could have found it ourselves the next week, also the thing is in a different town every week.
Once in the initial French bazaar, we walked the circuit of stalls. The difference between a flea market in the States and in France, is the one in France had a lot more older stuff. The adage that one mans/woman’s trash is another mans/woman’s treasure was illustrated today. If we had a house over here, we would have needed to buy a trailer, because I felt as though there were tons of things that struck my fancy. I have no idea where someone’s fancy is located, but I know mine was struck quite a few times. The need to sift through the needless stuff, to pan out the occasional gold nuggets, would require a jewelers eye. Luckily we were being shown the ropes by our good experienced friends, I would point something out that struck my you know what, and our guides would glance at it and advise. Usually they would give a history of that type of a piece, and tell me the market value, most often it would be the price quoted, and they would walk to the next stall, kindly implying save your money for something that’s a more desirable deal. We finished the first flea market and drove together to the next flea market, we were in the right town, but not having any luck finding this weeks location, and I spotted this mid-80’s Peugeot 505 turbo that had been at the first flea market, and suggested we follow it to the next flea market. So we followed it down a half dozen streets, and started feeling a bit stalker-ish, and started wondering if this guy knew we were following him. Well after ten minutes of winding our way down various streets the guy pulls into his driveway, and we continue on past him as though we had business in this residential community, and hoped he wasn’t a drug courier with a bad temper, a hangover, and a full Glock 9mm.
That seemed to reset our internal compass, and after a couple moments asked at a local Tabac , eh Voila! When Hannah’s dad returned we made our way, armed with Le directione’s.
We enjoyed the second market more than the first, and my fancy was getting quite the work out. So hoping kids aren’t reading this. There were some beautiful old plates, bowls, and silverware sets; all antiques. Even got a history on the mending of old broken ornamental bowl, serving plates, that were mended a hundred years ago. Seems this traveling metal smith would go from town to town and the residents would bring out their nice plates that may have broken, and this gentleman would piece them back together with these malleable staple devices, which was usually the sign of an important plate, or ye olde pissed parents who wanted to teach their ye spoiled clumsy kids a lesson.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mr. Speaker of the House


The “La Sauvetat Du Dropt sans frontieres” presentation was a success. The whole town, it seemed, turned out. I was impressed by the effort of the council, the presentation was informative, fun, and completely worth it.
The evening started out with us leaving our rented farmhouse and driving into town to pick up Madame Delaporte. She is our French teacher, who does a lot more of filling us in on her French history, than the actual teaching French. I must say that after we had a few “lessons” with her, we pretty much knew that it was more of a life lesson than a language lesson. But that was O.K. as it provided all involved with a nice change of pace, and that’s why we’re here. So we meander down the local road from her little apartment in Eymet to La Sauvetat Du Dropt, and arrive at the meeting hall. After helping Madame into the hall, I park the Citroen and join the crowd. The set-up is local, Mayberry RFD local. We had all helped decorate and unstack chairs and arrange them in rows earlier in the day, the music they have piped in is the Star Wars theme, ( to inspire a journey ) and after everyone is seated, it starts.
One of the Council members (Germaine ) takes the microphone and with the aid of an English speaking woman ( Claire ) describes the journey that all these “actors” will take them. After the English interpretation, the first guest is called up.
Danny and Claire- Belgium
In a presentation full of history and color the Belgian country is described. He is from Antan (?) near Antwerp, the city know for diamonds, and a coastal picturesque beauty.
Then;
Carol and John Phillips -Cornwall
John gave a very nice speech, about Cornwall, noted for it mines and the wonderful Biosphere project. He had everyone in the audience cracking up when he noted, “In the bottom of every hole, there’s a good chance someone from Cornwall will be at the bottom“. Nice pictorial history of the area, and the people, charming.
Then;
Hank, Cindy, and Caleigh- USA
Aside from my hand shaking as I tried to read French, the audience did appreciate when the photo of the Statue of Liberty was shown, I pointed to it and said clearly, “ Merci beaucoup pour le cadeau” ( Thank you very much for the Present) and actually got a round of applause, and a lot of smiles. I’m sure we sent a thank you card? When I handed over the mic to Cindy for her chapter, she did really well, and elicited a laugh as well. Caleigh spoke seamlessly and we were done. As we left the stage, somehow the canvas screen material got stuck in my zipper and I pantsed myself, and pulled down the screen, Of course I didn’t. Jeeze, give me some credit.

Then;
Julie and Bob - Essex
Their presentation was a combo presentation, they spoke alternately about their home in Essex, the life here and there, and their extended family.
Then;
Petra-East Berlin
Her presentation was a selection of images from East Berlins history from Soviet occupied to the unification of Germany. She was very fluent and described her city well, having the audience follow her on a trip through the city’s growth.
Then;
Helen and Jerry-Scotland
His presentation described his involvement in the development of the facility in Scotland, that is being used to update the nuclear power plant, and his life in that beautiful, although remote area of Scotland, to the further development of energy resources. Then to his life in the area. Very informative and an impressive look into the development going on for future power.
Then;
Dino - Italy
His presentation spanned three generations of his family, from his grandfather, to his parents, to his schooling in the area. A popular individual with a humorous take on him meeting his wife. Wonderful images of his history that he was not only proud of, but shared so nicely. I felt privileged to view it, and envied him for his cavalier attitude and comfort with the crowd.
Then;
Peter and Maggie- Scotland
His presentation (pictured) started out with the black watch bagpipe march, and continued with him walking on stage in a full traditional kilt suit. He gave a tour through the beauty of Scotland, the history, and pictures that were gorgeous. He spent 32 years and finished his police career as a Chief Inspector. He seemed very proficient in the history of Scotland’s Châteaux’s, Whiskey, and golf. Wonderful presentation, and you ain’t heard French till you’ve heard it with a Scottish accent.
After the presentations, the Mayor got up and with the help of an interpreter, he nicely thanked all the participants, and group photos were taken. He then offered all some refreshments. We mingled for awhile, and excused ourselves temporarily so we could take Madame Delaporte home and drop off Caleigh at the farmhouse. We accomplished this and headed back to the hall, it was 11:30. After visiting for a couple hours we were invited by Peter and Maggie to join them for a wee drink at their house close by, Julie and Bob joined us as well.
After a three minute walk we shared a glass of red wine at their wonderful stone residence. It capped off the extended trip, around the globe and back to France, with a nice red Bordeaux.
I’m posting this a week late, we have been non-stop busy. We are off to Perigueux, Dordogne’s capital, for some Passport hi-jinx, low-jinx, I hope this really doesn’t blo-jinx. I’ll get back to you-all.

Latest update, as I gotta run, we made an offer on a 13th century Presbytery, that has planning approval to be run as a Chambre D’Hotel.
You understand that they have April Fools Day over here as well?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thanks for the memories


We’re not taking much of anything back with us from this trip, our luggage is going to be pared down to the absolute minimum. We have the possibility of shipping a crate back to the states through the contacts of
Hanna’s folks, thank God. Cindy and Caleigh have made mention of the fact that they are sick of their limited wardrobe, I on the other hand would have been fine with two of every thing and just alternate as laundry dictated. Cindy will be so happy to read this as her free time usually consists of paying bills in France and in the States, the aforementioned laundry, meals, Caleigh’s school requirements, well the list is endless. She views my list with a callous eye, driving about, writing, sleeping, eating, researching wine, photography, more writing, it seems I have as much to do as she does, except mine is fun stuff. It’s good to be King.
We have so many things to be thankful for on this trip, Cindy’s Father Wylie, and Ginny have sent us care packages during the trip. These packages have included items not available to us over here. Caleigh has been blessed with the latest American versions of a plethora of teen magazines, she takes them to her friends sleepovers and they devour all the latest news. They have included everything from the complete makings of a taco dinner, except the hamburger for obvious reasons, to real Cheetoo’s, books in English, A red sox’s hat (more on that later), heavens the list seems endless. Thank you Wylie and Ginny, there were a few dark days that were lightened by your thoughtfulness. The constant E-mails and Facebook postings were really appreciated, my apologies for my occasional political postings, family is more important than my frustrated posts, and I hope they weren’t too biting. There were so many nice things family and friends took time to do, it was not unappreciated.
Then here in France, we have lots of memories to take back with us in lieu of luggage, I was going to say baggage, but I’m stuck with mine. The people we have met, and our experiences will always be with us. Whether it was the three boys on the school fieldtrip to Bonaguil, spending time with Hannah’s family, or Isabelle and Thierry Janssen, the couple who run the Gite we are staying at.
All these and scores more, and recently Hannah’s younger brother, Jules (who funny enough is an absolute Jewel) had admired my green (St. Patrick’s day issue) Red Sox cap. Caleigh mentioned his like for it to me a few days earlier, and I asked would he like it, she said, he would love it. When picking up the girls at Hannah’s house, a couple days later, Jules was standing by the car chatting with the girls, as I was speaking to the parents. Caleigh got my attention through the car window, as they were waiting in the car for me, and motioned to Jules, my cap was between the two front seats, so I nodded to Caleigh that yes, please give him the cap. I go back to talking to the parents, and I see a blur running around the car and Jules leaps at me and gives me a huge hug, while hanging from me, so I hug him back and gently lower him, after an eternity he lets go, as my eyes well up. Even writing this now I’m a little choked up, the nicest thing that’s happened to me in years it seems. So Wylie and Ginny, thank you so much for the cap. I’m going to go online, when I return and order another of the exact same, and it will mean even more to me knowing that its mate is being genuinely loved back in France, as mine will be, where ever I am.


P.S. I posted this ten minutes ago, guess what just arrived, an overnighted package from Wylie and Ginny, multiple packs of flour and corn tortillas (you can't get them over here)and the required spices. It is so nice to have an occasional taste of home. Thank you guys!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring has sprung


Spring races into focus, vibrant in its color, and rapid in its employment. The birds seem more animated, we’ve watched them gathering horse hair to line their nests, after Caleigh has groomed Tequila (The initially white farm horse, who quite often has found mud to bathe in.) The grass is now almost fluorescent, after shedding its winter shroud. The sheep are followed around the pasture by their little delicate babies, grazing in an idyllic setting that Maxfield Parish would covet. All the gray shrubs have come out of their dormancy, and now parade about in the most festive of costumes. (Yes, a straight man is writing this, happily married and father of one.) It is such an incredible display of spring, that comes quickly here. ( anyway )
But as I have mentioned before, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This may not be for the faint of heart, but in all the surreal beauty there is the reality, farm life is about necessity. The dandelion and small white flowered pastures are a stunning visual, but in the back ground you hear the cows mooing with a deep angst for the calves that were taken away a few days ago. They have been sold for the needed income a farm requires to stay afloat. It is a deep mortal moo that they issue as if to direct their little ones back. Yes spring in the southern regions of France is glorious, but a price is paid for the panoramic beauty. You wonder how such docile creatures have endured for the ages, with the perpetual rites of spring.
On a brighter, much brighter note, there is also the comical, the rooster that wakes us up at five a.m., now has a pupil, for the past couple weeks the little bantam will echo, although in an adolescent call, the older seasoned rooster. We have nicknamed the little pupil, snooze, after the alarm clock setting that goes on after the initial rooster.
And Cindy, who is a sundial , has been stalking any signs of spring that remotely start to show promise of budding, she is happy. We made a trip to Marmand to get a basic spring outfit. She has kept a eye skyward, hoping the southern French countryside would deliver the promise it has always held for her.
Caleigh has also gotten her report card, and she did quite well. For an English speaking kid to be dumped into a French local school, and to have caught on so adeptly, we are very proud. The assistant principal said she would be more than welcomed back, which says so much about her integration into this environment. It probably helped that she had a French boyfriend, as her conversational French was boosted by his influence. But enough about that aspect about spring.
Spring races into focus, vibrant in its color, and rapid in its employment. The birds seem more animated, we’ve watched them gathering horse hair to line their nests, after Caleigh has groomed Tequila (The initially white farm horse, who quite often has found mud to bathe in.) The grass is now almost fluorescent, after shedding its winter shroud. The sheep are followed around the pasture by their little delicate babies, grazing in an idyllic setting that Maxfield Parish would covet. All the gray shrubs have come out of their dormancy, and now parade about in the most festive of costumes. (Yes, a straight man is writing this, happily married and father of one.) It is such an incredible display of spring, that comes quickly here. ( don’t even want to comment on that)
But as I have mentioned before, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This may not be for the faint of heart, but in all the surreal beauty there is the reality, farm life is about necessity. The dandelion and small white flowered pastures are a stunning visual, but in the back ground you hear the cows mooing with a deep angst for the calves that were taken away a few days ago. They have been sold for the needed income a farm requires to stay afloat. It is a deep mortal moo that they issue as if to direct their little ones back. Yes spring in the southern regions of France is glorious, but a price is paid for the panoramic beauty. You wonder how such docile creatures have endured for the ages, with the perpetual rites of spring.
On a brighter, much brighter note, there is also the comical, the rooster that wakes us up at five a.m., now has a pupil, for the past couple weeks the little bantam will echo, although in an adolescent call, the older seasoned rooster. We have nicknamed the little pupil, snooze, after the alarm clock setting that goes on after the initial rooster.
And Cindy, who is a sundial , has been stalking any signs of spring that remotely start to show promise of budding, she is happy. We made a trip to Marmand to get a basic spring outfit. She has kept a eye skyward, hoping the southern French countryside would deliver the promise it has always held for her.
Caleigh has also gotten her report card, and she did quite well. For an English speaking kid to be dumped into a French local school, and to have caught on so adeptly, we are very proud. The assistant principal said she would be more than welcomed back, which says so much about her integration into this environment. It probably helped that she had a French boyfriend, as her conversational French was boosted by his influence. But enough about that aspect about spring.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

As time goes by.....



It is Saturday morning in France, last night we had our rehearsal for our part of the presentation in “ La Sauvetat Du Dropt sans frontieres” (1). I was incorrect (imagine that? ) in that it’s actually being held next Saturday night. It is a collection of seven different couples, and a description of their native homelands and their reasons for moving here.
In a rush of memories, I am reminded of the people that we’ve met and how they have wholeheartedly taken us into their life, with no reservations. Isabelle Janssen who is the proprietor of the Gite we are renting, and her nonstop help with everything. The parents of Caleigh’s friend Hannah, who allowed us some sanity by embracing us, and sharing their experiences of seventeen years on this soil. Our friends Arlette and Andrew, who have been our lighthouse during some dark days in the planning stages, when we first arrived, and Arlette’s constant positive encouragement.
And of course it reminds me of the first time I left the comfort of the East coast and moved to California, some twenty years ago. After living in Los Angeles for a year, I met Cindy through a friend of mine Joe. ( Thanks Assclown!, It was actually the best thing that happened to me. )
I started dating Cindy, and I pretty much had a black tone of sartorial attire, and not even remotely having a clue about beach life, or relaxing and enjoyment of the simple things. Well through the years Cindy’s folks had watched initially thinking, “How long is this experiment going to last?” and they weathered my peculiarities, my love for all teams from the Boston environs, being a boy from Maine, and constantly trying to be funny. ( a trait that annoys even me)
As time passed, I hope I’ve passed their test, well not test so much, as to see that their Cindy is happy and respected by her partner. Because it works both ways, as these eighteen years have passed I’ve also seen something.
I’ve seen Gary and Susan grow stronger together, travel the planet together as they broaden their horizons together. I’ve seen the photographs from their trips together, and admire the shots of them together, smiling and at ease, on one of their many, constant, unending paradise island vacations. I read Susan’s and Gary’s e-mails, describing with details the places they visit, and I wish I could capture Gary’s sense of at ease in any environment they land in. Just so you know this blog would have died on the vine, were it not for Gary’s constant comments, and support. But these grapes (blog entries) reached their Cuvaison, in large part, because after all these years Gary and Susan’s approval still means a lot to me.

Happy Anniversary Gary and Susan Brown.

All my Love. Henri’
Go Patriots…..And Chargers!

Cuvaison….I’ve always wanted to incorporate that word, how fitting.
The French term for the period when juice from the grapes is kept in contact with the skins and seeds during both fermentation and maceration. Critical in the making of red wines, cuvaison allows color, tannins and aroma to be transferred from the skins and seeds to the juice. For rosé or blush wines the cuvaison would be very short (measured in terms of hours) so that not much color or tannin would be extracted from skins and seeds.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Saint-Cirq Lapopie Review


Saint-Cirq Lapopie; Heaven on earth, the most romantic village I’ve ever been to, they also have the food and wines to match. We have not however stayed the night, I think we will look into that. The approach to town is either the high road, or there is a low road. ( no comment needed I would think! ) Our first time here two years ago, we approached from the low road and wrapped our way up the mountain, its effect was wonderful, you were driving up a hillside peering over the edge into certain doom, then you arrive and are greeted to a storybook village. This year, due to coming from the southwest we were already high in elevation, and as we approached the town we saw great vistas beyond the town, and eased our way to the upper parking area. We first had lunch, as described yesterday, and my maladroit handling of the wine selection, then made our way to the overlook. A cliff pathway that you climbed, even higher than the towns already vertigo inspiring effect. The path was stone steps, that were worn smooth, and rounded, all you needed was a little regular rain, a little moss / alge, and viola! The French equivalent of Six Flags water amusement park, mixed with Disney’s, Raiders of the Lost Arc ride, mixed with an episode of House. “ You say this body was flung from 200 feet and bounced off twelve medieval arches and landed in a river bank, buried up to his waist?” House queries, then continues. “ I know this man, and he deserves it.” So we make it to the precipice, and I take a dozen photo’s and not one does it justice. We look around, Me walking around the Darwin fence, and Cindy resting in the center of the landing, away from the edge and any indication of how high up we really are. Glorious, then we walk back down the pathway, and make our way into the heart of the little jewel. It was after we returned to our rented farm house that I decided that I would focus on taking more photo’s of buildings elevations. After reviewing our photo’s I was blown away by the incredible beauty that these wonderfully crafted and aged houses possess. Anyway back in Saint-Cirq Lapopie, we meander around the labyrinth of alley ways and streets, every where there are boutique shops, wine shops, artisan wares, art galleries, and as it is not season, ( tourist ) there is a lot of construction going on, getting ready for the hoards. We spend an hour hiking about the town and have to get back on the road, as our drive back to our temp. home is a couple hours. We drive down the low road, so to speak, and take a couple snaps (photo’s not football ) of the town as seen from the road out. It is the photograph at the top of this entry. For anyone planning a visit to France, I would strongly recommend you look into, Saint-Cirq Lapopie, Domme, LaRoque Gageac, Rocamadour , and Sarlat. These are all near each other and you could spend three days and thoroughly enjoy some of the most beautiful spots on earth. Oh and if you want to throw away a lot of money, and really, really love lots of people, go at some point in late June, all of July, or August. We went in mid-March there was no one, free parking, great service at restaurants, most things were available, and the local people were great, as they weren’t frustrated yet and inundated by swarms of the worlds stupidest people….Tourists. (For all of you playing at home, I’m well aware of the fact that I am by definition a tourist. ) But if possible, when planning a trip abroad, I strongly recommend off season travel, ideally just before the “season” starts. Cindy and I now joke that, “ We winter in France.”

A new Wine for Henri'


Caleigh left for school, bright and early and Cindy and I got up and out of the house and drove off for another full day type road trip. Our destination was Cahors; and then Saint-Cirq Lapopie, a revisit of two years ago, it was along with LaRoque Gageac, our favorite beau plus villages. I had reviewed the route we would take, and decided that we would first drive just past Cahors and drive up to Mont St. Cyr. to a look our point above Cahors. This would allow us to get a birds eye view of the town, and scope out where we would focus on visiting. Then we would scoot over to Saint-Cirq Lapopie for lunch, hopefully to the place we ate at two years ago, after reading about it in a Conde Nast article. So as we’re driving ever more west, Cindy leafs through the various guide books and as we drive, and we learn; our lunch destination is closed for the season, another thing we learn is an alternate lunch place.
So we continue ever west and realize that the environs of Cahors are dry in appearance, and Cindy and I joke about maybe that’s why Cahors wines are so dry and dark, no water, harsh heat in the summer, having to fight for every drop of water, well you get the point. The trees have a dry lichen coating them, kinda like a dry swampy look, or as we joked “it’s a dry, kinda dry.” Finally we enter the outer burbs of Cahors and make our way to the main bridge, instead of entering into the medieval town, we head out of town, up a winding narrow road. We found out halfway up, that it was only one way. Nothing worse that driving up this windy hilly road, thinking that at any moment there may be an oncoming delivery truck, with the driver concentrating on the list of items that he needs to drop off in the next town. So after 8 kilometers of the Burma trail we reach the peak overlooking the town of Cahors. Man Oh Man is this town packed with Architectural beauties. Sure the burbs may be mundane, but cross that bridge and there is a lot of photo’s begging to be taken, coincidently enough the bridge goes over the Lot river.
The town is surrounded by water on three sides, as one of the towns leaders, diverted the Lot by building damns and escarpments to direct the natural defense. Then they built some bridges, the beautiful medieval one still remaining is said to have been completed, because as it was way behind schedule, the architect made a deal with the devil. In exchange for his soul ( some contractors (yours truly) might debate the validity of an architect having a soul) the architect made the arrangement that the devil see that it was sped up, and completed. When the job progressed quite rapidly, the architect got cold feet, he asked the devil to fill a barrel using only a sieve, the devil made a historic attempt but alas could not fill the barrel, the architect got his soul (?????) back, and while finishing the last keyway stone on top, the piece repeatedly kept falling out, through the years. In the renaissance some masons ( probably without the direction of an architect ) finally secured a piece, which interestingly enough had the added detail of a devil trying to remove in chiseled into it. So as we looked upon Cahors, we decided to drive straight through as the drive was longer than anticipated, and truthfully, I really wanted to photograph the town from a distance. We decided to continue on this narrow widow maker of a road, which shortly thereafter turned into a two way road. Cindy was surprised to find out that the map was correct and we dissected the mountain between us and lunch in no time flat.
We finally arrive in Saint-Cirq Lapopie and it is pleasantly deserted. We park the gasping little Citroen, and visit our old friend. We made our way to the substitute restaurant, and wow did we make the absolute correct call, or Cindy did anyway. We asked for a recommendation for the wine to accompany our meal, and this wonderful waitress, who proved to be the best, most helpful, non rushing, not standing over you every second, not replacing water after every sip, young lady said. “Well this is a nice Cahors wine, pointing it out to Cindy. I could have sworn you could hear a duck being stepped on under our table, accompanied by, “ Wah, Wah, Wah, Waaahhhhh.” We had spent fifteen positively sophomoric moments on the drive over chuckling about the wonderful black tar Cahors dry, dry, dry wine. We looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights. I thought I should ask “Well, if you say so, do you have Chicken, duck, or crow on your menu?” We countered with “We like Bordeaux, red wine.” She smiled, honestly and just said. “This is a red wine that will pair nicely.” Again pointing at the Cahors wine. We knew we had no choice, because how would this sound. “No thank you, we will skip the tar laden local swill and have the toffee nosed Bordeaux,but good luck shilling the local
product." There is no way anyone reading this could remotely side with our dipshit logic, I think we’re good people overall, but I was about to get served…in so many ways, a lesson which is best served room temperature. Cindy being the ambassador looks at her and smiles and say. “That sounds great, we’ll have that with our lunch.” I look at her as if to say, “Enjoy your bottle of pitch tar local dry wine, Baby cose I‘m having an aperitif.”
We both order the Chef’s Suggestion, as we ordered the waitress’s selection might as well keep symmetry. Cindy and I ordered an aperitif, I had the Truffe Vin and Cindy had the house special called Fenolon which consisted of some Cahors wine, cassis and brou de noix. For some reason I love, adore Truffles, there is an earthy flavor, difficult to explain, I just connect with it, this white, sweet wine was infused with truffle. I don’t care for sweet wines, to me they’re an oxymoron, but this sweet truffle flavor was good, it was silly, it was so good. You can quote me on that. Cindy’s house special was like Kir, but darker and syrupy. The young lady returns with our bottle of Cahors, and leaves it on the table, no ceremonial “Would you like to sniff the cork, you nitwit poser, lick the top of the bottle and breathe through your………..She wanted to let it breath while we enjoyed the aperitifs. Being the whistledick that I am I’m thinking. “they probably have to come back in five minutes and add a thinning agent to the wine.” Anyway we finish the aperitifs and nibble on the bread with Truffle butter, and I pour a glass of the Cahors wine for Cindy then myself. Hmmm interesting color, darker than a pinot noir, but a little lighter than a Bordeaux. Doesn’t smell like a diesel and limestone blend, tastes kinda light but full bodied, but not like you could stand up a fork in it. “Let’s get Mikey to try it, he‘ll try anything….He likes it!” As we ate our main course paired with this wonderful red wine, I savored the lesson. You know what you nincompoop, at least you didn’t make a fool out of yourself in front of the waitress, I think we handled it pretty well.
She walks over smiling in her genuine way and asks how I like it. (She actually meant the meal, but shiferbrains me answers. “ Wow. that’s really great wine, I’m surprised.” Cindy, thank god interjects nicely. “ We don’t have any much of a selection of Cahors wine in the states, but we will now look.”
Lesson learned;
A preconceived incorrectly, biased non factual, set in ones ways elementary life lesson. Check
Tomorrow our spoiled ingrate blogger will describe the beauty that is Saint-Cirq Lapopie.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Saturday Night Fever


They say in life “when one door closes, another door opens“, well in my life, when one door closes, more often than not, I’m on the other side locked out, with out the key. This is especially true when it comes to cars, friends houses, rented farmhouses, etc. And usually the missing key is easily spotted by looking through the window, there it will be highlighted in a ray of sunlight, or hanging in the ignition, in plain view, shining gleefully.
But there is also the old saying “every once in a while even a blind squirrel will find an acorn” I think that’s how people view my finding Cindy, what on earth did Cindy do wrong in a previous life to deserve this flub. Well the easy answer is, it’s balanced by the wonder that is Caleigh, the ledger is even. Well then you think, what did Caleigh do to deserve her father?, I don’t know, but if I ever meet the guy…..I’m joking for the love of God, relax. Caleigh has a pet saying about Cindy and I, “See, two wrongs can make a right.” Delightful child; so bright and witty.
Well, they also say “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger“, (except leprosy, polio, rickets, syphilis, dengue fever, and malaria, but you get the implication, gonorrhea however may build up immune systems, if treated with liberal dosage of penicillin) and that brings to mind my thought for the day.
In a few days we have our rehearsal for the La Sauvetat Du Dropt sans frontieres (1). La Sauvetat Du Dropt (the name of the town, Du Dropt (over the Dropt river)) Sans frontier- Without Borders.
A night with couples or Families living in the area from other countries. These brave people have volunteered to get up in front of everyone in a gymnasium and present a slide show of where they are from, why they chose this area, and things about themselves. I don’t remember volunteering, but somehow I got roped into presenting with Cindy the views of the average American (North American) family. The image of the typical North American family will be lowered considerably after this shindig. Cindy and I chose a bunch of photographs together, she then edited out mine, and made a power point presentation, and translated it into French, after editing out my jokes. Rehearsal is Friday evening, and we then present on Saturday evening. I’ve never had public speaking, and am by nature a nervous type. So I’m counting on a half bottle of liquid courage and Dramamine. In as much as they seem like really nice group of people, I am reminded of my final quote,
Or as Groucho Marx said, “I wouldn’t want to join a club that would allow me as a member.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On one side of the Atlantic longing for the other.


I was driving back from our latest fieldtrip, to Arcachon, on the Atlantic coast , with Cindy and listening to the radio and the song from the movie; Breakfast Club started to play Don’t you forget about me. And funny enough, I started thinking about the states, that song encapsulated a block of five years in the late 80’s for me. And I realized with alacrity, the importance of the experiences that it held for me. It was a time in my life when I was living in a loft in Boston, and it held a lot of romantic memories. I want to clarify that I’m not talking about relationship types of romantic images, moreover the retrospective collage of friends, experiences, and what it was like to be young and experiencing life. There was an unparalleled music scene in Boston at that time, that a lot of my friends were part of. I was able to have a front row seat and watch history, for that chapter anyhow. It seemed like that old cliché’ where everything tasted better, every shared experience was larger than life, there wasn’t a lot of spending money back then, but life was over the top. My friends were icons to me, we had a pretty magical time. And as much as I have been spending time in France, and loving it, it doesn’t hold a candle to what I’ve had in the states. There are too many instances in my life that will never be supplanted by France, but I know that there is an infatuation with France that has a hold, a promise, a chance at a better quality of life for me and my family. I find myself standing out on the patio, of our rented farmhouse, and looking off to the adjacent field, and they are fertile with promise. I realize, as I’m living over here, that I am consciously aware of how good it is over here. When I was living in Boston, it wasn’t until years later, that the gift of perspective allowed me to see how wonderful my time in Boston was. There is a guaranteed life back in Topanga, there are job offers looming, there is our wonderful house that Cindy and I have remodeled into our dream environment. But there are also fires, traffic, and earthquakes that are ever present. Storm clouds are gathering, my country has dropped to the level where in politics, the hope is for the failure of one party, so the other party can hold up their collective hands and say “These guys failed; so we win” It‘s just that, at that point, no one wins, well the country loses, kind of like the two guys fighting over the steering wheel as they drive off the cliff. I really do not want to write about politics, but it is really something that does effect our sojourn. Being away from the American news and T.V. cycle does let you get out of the constant bickering. I wish for better, the USA deserves alot better, we must be going through a growing spurt. The photo is of me in a WWII german shore defense gun emplacement, that has slid down the dune, like three more inthe area. Like I said , “Don’t you forget about me“.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The three wise guise guys


Today Cindy and I decided we would take a road trip to Fumel, and tour the Chateau De Bonaguil. We drove Southeast for just over an hour, and arrived in the pretty little village of Fumel, not known for its Fumel cakes, interestingly enough, or not. Outside of the village a few kilometers lies the Chateau De Bonaguil, it is located between a tall outcropping of rock and a hill, which was serendipitous because it gave the chateau a ready built foundation. The other nice aspect was that there existed a vertical fissure, enlarged by hand to form a well, which gave fresh water, some believe its name is derived from “Fresh water” or Bonaguil. Without this gift of fresh water, life would have been impossible living within the fortified walls. ( O.K. it’s obvious I’m getting some of this from the brochure, but this allows me to save energy for jokes later on, lucky you.) Around 1271 there was only a tower and a rudimentary wall. (probably stone, not rutabaga,(Thanks, Gary) see how that works, not even tired yet.) Then in 1448 for the next thirty years they constructed the fortress that it is today. Then in the 1750 Marguerite de Fumel got rid of all the drawbridges, added bridges and had the royal apartments “fitted” out. I wonder what the decorators were like in the 1750’s? O.K. present day Cindy and I are buying tickets to enter the Chateau. …..Action.
“Gee, I’m really glad we drove here today.” I say.
“Me too, only three other cars and a tour bus” She says.
“Here is your ticket, sweetheart.” I say.
“Thank you, you are the best.” she says. (Quite often I must add)
We join our couple as they walk over the bridge that leads them to the Chateau De Bonaguil.
“This fortress has it’s own well, hand carved out of a vertical fissure” I say
“Boy I bet life would have been a real downer without all that fresh water within those walls.” She replies.
Eh hem!! Anyway, Of all the Chateau’s we’ve toured over the three years visiting France, this was by far my most favorite. The workmanship of the stonework alone is staggering. The layout of Windows and doors all having radius edges, O.G. sills at some windows, I can understand why it took thirty years to build it. I was surprised that it’s well was not a common feature for any fortification. If under siege and running low on water, well that would really stink. ( Literally) Poor planning, I know a lot of places had all their water diverted to cisterns, but that is still a limited supply. As we’re walking around this awe inspiring group of structures we are aware that the one group in the tour bus are actually a school field trip, and that they have split off into groups of three and are running about doing different research items from a master list from the teacher. It seems that they would race to one part of the fortress and take dimensions of the ten foot thick base walls, jot down four or five dimensions and race back to the staging area. Well Cindy and I are making our way around the fortress, observing stone O.G. window sill detail’s and the like, and as we are walking across one of the walking bridges, below I hear one of the groups of three squeal, “anglais” and out of the corner of my eye, I see them dash off below the bridge we are walking on and say to Cindy. “We are about to be inundated by a hoard of French seventh graders. Cindy asked how I knew. “Well when that kid mentioned Anglais and pointed to us, and raced towards us I knew we were about to be swamped.” Well, it wasn’t that bad, the three boys bounded into the keep we were in and politely asked.
“Anglais?” The front man (boy) asks. Looking at us as though figuring what to charge, the way a shop keeper does in Provence.
“Oui.” looking at him and waiting for the pitch.
He hands me a slip of paper with instructions of a homework looking assignment.
“We are needing sentences.” he says.
“O.K.. lets see,….je regarde.” Trying to say I’ll look.
“Ave’ vous un stylo?” I ask, impressing myself at remembering the word for Pen.
“non…” Then the quiet one behind them says in a quiet tone. “ Portable”
Which I found out then meant cell phone, and the bright quiet one was saying, transcribe the sentences on your phone. It was adorable, there was the brash idea man, who upon recognizing our language didn’t miss a step and raced towards us to procure the easy smart way of problem solving. Then there was the quiet nonplussed guy, who was cool headed and didn’t panic, except probably when around the fairer (Fair? Ha!) gender. And the third guy, the social chameleon, because I don’t remember a thing about him, other than this occasional giggle when I would mispronounce something.
So on their handout were instructions that they should write two sentences in English using the matrix of words on the bottom of their sheet, and that one sentence should be present tense and the other past tense. So we spoke for about five minutes, spelling individual words to construct their sentences. Every once in a while there would be a stealthy giggle, and the idea guy would sort of respectfully giggle and continue typing and showing me for corrections as needed. I will say as much as I loved the fortress, the experience of being a part of these guys problem solving escapade was priceless. And after an hour and a half of touring this stone beauty we made our way through the entry courtyard, where all the kids were spread out having lunch. As we were nearing the front arch to leave Cindy tugs my sleeve and says, “You hear that?” and we both turn around and see our group of three, waving and saying in perfect English, “ Thank you Guys!” Cindy and I wave back, saying “Good bye, good luck.” And I notice all the other students looking at the exchange and the three guys beaming, I smiled and turned around and Cindy and I left the fortress. I imagined that those three would be questioned on the return trip back, and them smugly telling their classmates, how the Americans helped them with the sentence assignment, and all the other kids would respond. “Sacre re bleu!, why was I not thinking this? ” (Well, o.k. maybe not that, but close.) We spent the next fifteen minutes comparing notes on the three guys and cracking up, just like kids anywhere. But these three unknown kids will stay with us forever.
The picture at the top of the post is of the kids having lunch.