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.