Monday, September 19, 2011

The Pettersons build their dreamhouse

It was a year ago this week that Cindy and I flew to France, to sign the final papers and take possession of our French farm. We stayed for a week and cleaned up the house as best we could. I remember the aroma was the biggest obstacle; we could deal with bagging all the remnants that had accumulated for the twenty years the elderly lady lived here alone. Although maddening that they had sold all the houses furnishings, (which were agreed to be included in the sale) it was like rubbing salt in an open wound the fact that they hadn’t at least cleaned the house. You could walk into any room and there would be a minimum of six large plastic trash bags worth of junk, mind numbing random things. It is best described as the remains left after a pack rat was evicted and anything of worth was removed. I’m still working through this one issue; it is lessening with time and replaced with a growing pride of what we have accomplished.
So what’s been done in a year? Well technically it’s only been nine months as we returned for good on December 27th of 2010. Our first order of business was to get the bedrooms up and running, the bathroom had been acid dipped to disinfect it as much as possible, and the kitchen had been arranged for basic cooking. Our first week included everything from the process of getting Caleigh into her new school in Duras, shopping for school supplies, buying and arranging for delivery of new mattresses, buying a small refrigerator, getting electrical service, phone service to the house, cell phones. Obviously this was all accomplished in the still daunting language of France. Grocery shopping is always fun, now that we’re seasoned veterans, shopping is second nature, but our first few weeks were bizarre, a simple task like buying half a kilo of apples included weighing them on a computerized scale where you have to identify the fruit or vegetable. There are roughly twelve options for apples, in French, needless to say initially we bought easy to identify fruits and vegetables. Then you print out the price sticker based on the weight and type of fruit, bag it and off you go, we were typically sent back to the scales once a shopping trip for screwing up the process. And of course you need to bring your own grocery bags, or buy new ones each trip, and always have a one euro coin to insert in the grocery cart lock that releases it from the row of carts. It is a pretty good system as it ensures that everyone returns their cart to the cart corral to retrieve their coin.
The car we rented had a diesel engine, so naturally I hunted for diesel; wrong what I should have been looking for is Gazole (gas mixed with oil). Looking back it seems so basic, but at that point I was mortified of filling the tank with the wrong fuel. Each morning I would drive Caleigh to the school bus or to school and then start with the most pressing of priorities. The weather was freezing and we had these cheesy electrical heaters plugged into our few outlets, I could literally see ten euro notes disappear in front of my eyes. We had a month of house cleanup, including weather-stripping doors and windows, painting, waiting for our furniture to arrive in the container. The furniture set up we had was abysmal, a little depressing, I remember just trying to sit comfortably on a wooden side chair. The kitchen set up was laughable, but knowing it was temporary made it less frustrating, there were our small dormitory fridge, our one burner electrical stove, and our 1960’s ceramic sink in a dark kitchen. The only saving grace in the kitchen was the wood burning fireplace.
It was around that time that I noticed a post on one of the English forums, about living in France, regarding any American family’s moving to France and planning to renovate a room or two. So I sent a reply, and after a few exchanges with the production company, Cindy, Caleigh and I made a five minute video as an introduction of us, our situation, and our house. It turns out our timing was impeccable, what they wanted, when they wanted it, and where they wanted it. For us it was an interesting experience, process, and a lot of stress. It was stressful, because the 3-three day groupings of filming required us to erase any work we wanted to get done on any of those time slots and work with the dialog they were envisioning. Sure they were telling our story but through their eyes, it seemed. We met some really nice people during the process and look forward to seeing a DVD of it as we don’t get the HGTV shows over here. When we find out when it is to air I will post that information should any of you desire to see a family out of their element.
Incorporated into this initial timeslot we were also dealing with the farm itself everything from setting up legal farming contracts for the farmer who was leasing the land, to having “inherited” two Belgian draft horses and an ass, plus one of the Belgian’s was with filly. One hears horror stories about people buying a house in France and adjacent farmers having fights to see who gets to take the land away from the new foreign owners. This land stealing is accomplished by working the land then declaring the revenue gained from the farming is now needed to support the farmers family, the land is then able to handed down through generations, while still being “owned” by the person who bought it, but not being able to sell it in the future. Cindy researched the bejesus out of this and the short answer is to set up a “Commodat” (contract or lease) through the Notaire, who ensures that no such behavior is allowed, one learns quickly over here, the last thing you want to do is mess with the Notaire.
At about this time we have been here six weeks, and I had been researching for a good stable daily driver. We choose a 2001 Peugeot 406 sedan, diesel, not anything flashy but really dependable. The process of buying a car is a little different over here, we bought it through a garage, we test drove it and agreed on a price and were told “O.K. see you next week”. In the states you drive in drive out with the new car , here they do all the paper work; put new tires on it, check it all out to ensure that the car is in perfect working order, or near to it, then you get it completely ready to go. We added a tow hitch and electrical requirements for the trailer, a couple hundred euro’s as quoted. We had to extend our car rental a week because of not knowing the car buying process.
We were settled in and were now ready to start the remodeling of the house, starting with the kitchen; the film crew arrived for their first three days of shooting. After they filmed the squalor that was our temporary life, they focused on the kitchen remodel, each detail was scrutinized, whether to tear down the ceiling or not, where to put the new window, buying the new window, was Cindy happy about this or that, Caleigh’s reaction to her new surroundings, how well had I thought things through, was I fucking bonkers moving my sweet family to the frozen southwest of France in the middle of the coldest winter on record, did Cindy have access to a shotgun, did the French health plan supply me with Prozac. Ah! We were living the dream, and the best thing about it was our trials and tribulations were being filmed in glorious High Definition, and it was going to be aired for all to see!!!!!!
My next posting will get into when the hammer hits the nail on the head, and we increase our work output considerably.

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