Friday, January 27, 2012

Maison temporaire

As I lay about recuperating after 4 hellacious nights of coughing, night sweats and headaches, instead of having the strength to be able to develop our final "master plan" and schedule the finishing of the house over the next two months, I find myself instead fixating on all the little unfinished details in every room I find myself recuperating in. I'm sure that Hank wishes that I would just stay put in one room.

Doorknobs are a big one. We've got ancient doorknobs that do not close easily, doorknobs that inexplicably lock us out of a room, or my favorite, my very own bedroom doorknob - that truly and literally consists of said "knob" - that comes off in my hand about half the time if I'm lucky enough to catch it (that, or Ella the kitty finds it and you can hear it going back and forth over the stone tiles down the hallway in the middle of the night).

I've also found myself focusing on our ancient french windows and doors and I'm seriously wondering about our wisdom in keeping them as they all need attention as well. Most need new panes or at the very least, putty applied to make sure the existing panes do not fall out when you open them. All have special instructions like "do not open this one," "cannot lock that one," "if you open this one, don't expect to be able to close it." Right about now I want big-ass, strong, double-pane, weather proof windows. I guess this explains why we have found people throwing beautiful, authentic and original french doors and windows away at the dump (which I of course made Hank go in and retrieve for the gites).

We have house rules for everything. How many showers can we fit in per day under our current water heater and not to use the water when someone is taking their allocated shower to avoid scalding each other. How many flushes we can make before the septic system needs to be pumped? I cannot think of a more fun guessing game, especially when expecting guests.  What time in the middle-of-the-night should I program the washer to do laundry or should I run the dish washer instead tonight? Cannot seem to do both, so I have to decide.  Many of these rules will of course be lifted once we install the new water heater and septic system, but both require time and money, something that is still in short supply here.

Sometimes, I just find myself longing for a non-ancient, non-stone, fully insulated, even,  modern home that I now look at longingly when we're running one of our errands through the countryside. A house  without drafts. One with wall-to-wall carpeting sounds really tempting right now. Who really needs gorgeous hardwood or original tile floors? They're frickin' cold!  I also want one of those fluffy toilet seat covers so I don't have to sit on my hands when I have to skip to the loo in the middle of the night. Does anyone know if they still make those? Mom, can you knit me one? I want; I mean, what I really would like right now is a house that is no longer a, "maison temporaire" I think to myself after a year of living here. Rather than carrying a portable electric heater from room to room, I'd like to feel heat throughout the house rather than sound like Darth Vader when forced to have to make the run down the Arctic hallway in order to get to the toilet. Not sure why I sound like Darth Vader, but I just do. Maybe the heavy breathing out is my lamaze method of keeping warm.

I know it's the dead of winter and I've been sick so am obviously in a funk right now which of course will pass. In fact, I think I had a post like this last winter just to keep myself in check as in, "are we really sure about this?" which of course, we still are.  But, I decided to record this anyway so we do not overly romanticize any of this and that we always remember what it was really like this winter. Also, if anyone else happens to be going through the winter doldrums like I just was and imagines that living in southwest france would be a dream come true (I cannot tell you how often I did this as I stared out my office window), maybe after reading this, you will think again and just appreciate where you are today and how nice modern conveniences really are.

p.s. oh, we did not pass the written part of the driving test last week, but we actually did pretty well and just missed a few more than we could to pass, so we'll take it again in March. In the meantime, we just try to avoid the gendarmerie or "flics" as they say here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


 Okay, I get it now.

but, it's gorgeous...

À santé 2012

Happy New Year, bonne annee and a votre sante (to your health)! I don't think I have ever really appreciated just how fortunate we have been to have our health, but after Caleigh's mysterious and frightening episode on Christmas Eve and lingering headaches, backaches and non stop hacking for weeks since, I have been forced to take our health very seriously. "Could it be due to living in this old, cold, stone house?" I pondered and began to worry that moving here could be the cause of her illness and having back-to-back colds and flus. But maybe it was just due to new and foreign viruses that her body was not used to; much like the ones that the Spanish explorers brought to the the New World. Maybe she was being attacked by "Old World" viruses that her body had not had time to build up immunities against. And maybe instead of this major move improving her life and expanding her horizons, we had turned a healthy teenager who scoffed at colds or flus when living in California into a sickly child prone to every virus or bacterial infection that reared its ugly head? Fortunately, the only reason I think I can write about this at all now is that I am confident she is finally on the mend and after all that she has gone through this past year and I'm sure she is slowly building up her resistance to these local bugs. Just another precautionary appointment to see a brain specialist in a week (for her seizure) and finish off 15 days of antibiotics for a bacterial infection that was diagnosed in her lungs, and we should be good I am thinking. Below is a photo of all three of us in the hospital on Christmas Eve after I noticed that her gurney in the emergency room was right next to a cute little Christmas tree and was attempting to make light of the situation.

One of the things I think I learned during these past few weeks is that the french healthcare system is amazing; i.e. real good for what many back home might call and insult as "socialized medicine." If that's what it is, then, please, by all means, socialize me! From the care and attention we received from the speedy arrival of the paramedics out to our farm located out in the boonies, to the thorough and exhaustive tests including a spinal tap, catscan and beaucoup blood tests that were performed in the emergency room and the cautionary advise to keep her overnight in the hospital (even suggesting keeping her longer if need be), I could not help but think that she would not have received the same treatment back home - in fact, I truly doubt that she would have even been advised to go to the hospital in the first case. And nor would it have been remotely affordable. Not to say that her and our doctors in LA were not great. They were and are. It's just that it might have been a lot more difficult for them to recommend a hospital visit knowing that we would have been out thousands of dollars for something that might have only amounted to a bad flu. In France, they just don't seem chance such odds  and for us, it gave us a huge sense of relief knowing that we were receiving the best care available.

Okay, it's not a perfect system here by any means. Seeing your personal doctor in a timely manner while sick is not as easy as we found out this week when our only option was to wait in our doctor's waiting room for a minimum of 3-4 hours with the first actual appointment not available until late February. Caleigh was too weak to do that so I spent countless hours trying to find a new doctor, explain her situation and latest symptoms and request that her hospital records be transferred. Luckily, when calling the hospital for her records, they instead suggested we just come there first thing the next morning and they were able to perform the necessary xray that ultimately finally determined her lung infection. This sure beat a typical office visit which would have entailed sending us off to a radiographie office in a separate town where we would be required to take a number and wait; then possibly stop and wait at the local lab for blood tests (again, take a number and wait) only have to return for the results and go back to the doctor's office (who cannot make an appointment for over a month so we'll wait again for 3-4 hours) who would then issue a prescription for such and such that we'll have to fill. So, a simple one hour's doctor's visit can easily turn into a day's event which is not easy to get used to, but at least I won't go bankrupt over it or the hospital stay either.

There was one sad outcome from this whole ordeal that I sincerely hope is only temporary. When we had to cancel our Noel fete with Colette on the morning of Christmas eve, she was clearly and understandably disappointed and told me, "oh, don't worry, I'm used to being alone."  I know she had lovingly prepared various canapes for our party and for the first time in years, she looked forward to spending this special evening with friends. I did too. When I called to to let her know that if Caleigh was fortunate enough to be released from the hospital on Christmas day, we would try to move our celebration a day later. She was clearly annoyed and told me that she had already given our canapes away. "That's alright Colette, we have plenty of things to eat for the party," I told her which in retrospect may have been considered more of an insult since the appetizers she had made and quickly gave away were really her "gifts" to us since we had earlier decided to forego exchanging gifts and here I had just dismissed them as easily replaceable. Who knows, she might have also dreaded what fare I planned to offer knowing that I was the one doing the cooking. Whatever the reason, hopefully with some time, she will be able to understand some day that we did not have a whole lot of control over what happened and that contrary to her opinion, we did and will continue to, provide our child with a nourishing diet (along with Caleigh's dietary teen supplements consisting of chocolate and an occasional Mc Do's). And even if we failed at that, she still eats better than most due to the gourmet fare offered at her school cafeteria 5 days a week.

I've read some other's observations about the differences in our cultures and how Americans are prone to be more on the vague side of making plans and will often say, "yeah, we really ought to get together soon," but not actually schedule a time and date. Hank and I unintentionally learned this early last year when we said to new acquaintances, "Oh, you'll have to see our progress at the house," only to be asked immediately and matter-of-factly, "When?" and then fumbling around for an answer until we just said, "Well, how about this afternoon?" when we still did not have a kitchen to sit in, had only meager offerings of instant nescafe and stale biscuits and the temperature inside the house was about about 0 degrees. But, it was more than worth it, as Dominique and Patricia have become some of our closest friends.

The French are also more direct and precise and when they make plans which are rarely broken. Now I'm sure most of my younger french girlfriends would have understood completely about canceling a party because our daughter was in the hospital, but due to my limitations with the language I have also learned how awkward and/or unintentially one can make (or inadvertently, break) plans in France. Throw in the french style of telling time based on the 24hr clock and add a few metric conversions in the directions just for the hell of it, and it's a miracle I have ever made it anywhere remotely on time which I have to admit, I often do not.  In fact, I have driven to the wrong town (Moustier instead of Monsteir) and been late for a few appointments - arriving at 3pm when it should have been 1pm (or as they say, treize heure).

Anyway, last summer, when my dear friend Patricia assisted me in signing up for a few of the local vide greniers (village garage sales) because I had mentioned to her that I wanted to test the waters in selling our gift line, I had no idea that she actually wished to join me at them at my table which was unfortunately lost in translation. When I decided to change plans and participate in a different vide in another village so I could help out a friend, I failed to inform Patricia because I did not realize that she planned on attending. About a week later when I entered the mairie's office where Patricia works and where I typically receive enthusiastic kisses, "ca vas," etc., I could tell something was wrong when she quietly said hello. Luckily for me though, I did not have to wonder long about the obvious slight because she soon asked, "where were you?" "Where was I when?" I innocently asked. "At the vide grenier. I waited and waited for you all day, but you didn't show up." she said.
"Oh, please tell me that she didn't just say that," I thought to myself slowly becoming mortified when I visualized her so kindly introducing me to the locals and helping me sign up and then waiting for me the day of and ultimately being stood up. By me. I then struggled to explain in my god-awful french that only Patricia is kind enough to always somehow understand and apologized with tears in my eyes. And not only did she understand, thankfully, more importantly, she forgave me.

Well, Hank and I take our first written driving test tomorrow which reminds me that rather than blogging, I should be studying, so I'll have to update you about that next time as well give a progress report on the house.