(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

stayin' alive, stayin' alive.

My second week in France included an invitation to a party. A “disco-themed” party, to be exact.

This party was staged at a firehouse in the countryside. My new friends Marjo and J-Y were in attendance. I called J-Y when I arrived at a nearby gas station, and he came to have me follow to the party.

It was after dark and in a few moments I was temporarily blinded by headlights in my eyes. Once adjusted, I viewed the driver and decided this was not J-Y. The driver had a cascade of blond curly locks and was driving a bright red VW beetle. J-Y, to my knowledge, drives a Clio.

Suddenly, the door flew open and the blonde emerged. In fact, it WAS J-Y in a huge blonde wig, a pink tunic and huge bell bottoms! Through the darkness, I saw his passenger had a similar wig, only bright red in color.

Laughing, Jean-Yves waved to me to follow, and off we went down a few dark twists and turns … arriving in the countryside at a brightly lit firehouse complete with spinning disco ball and loud disco music.

Several long wooden picnic tables were laden with a large selection of foods, including duck, salades, cheeses, bottles of wine, bottles of water and a big bowl of rum punch.

I alight from my camionette and make my way to the table, slightly intimidated. I am immediately presented to one of the women there, and quickly introductions continue. J-Y whisks off and I have the opportunity for a closer look at his companion. Big red wig, gold medallions, shirt unbuttoned to his navel … in short, hysterical! Christian was his name and he was immensely entertaining. No sooner are introductions slowing, I turn around and a leggy woman approaches. It is Marjo!!! her outfit consists of loud red spandex pants, a black pleated super-mini, a gold sequined tube top, platform sandals and her blonde hair tucked into pigtails. Her make-up is fantastic and she is laughing. I wished out loud for a camera and she exclaimed, “non!!” “Oui!”, I insisted, “for my blog!”

“NON!”, she reiterated, “Jamais!”

We shared some giggles, I accepted a glass of rum punch and sat down. I confess it wasn’t easy at first to acquaint myself with the French speaking folks. We did manage some small talk, but it took patience not available when folks are partying.

The girl with long platinum locks seated next to me. When she turned, I realized it was J-Y’s girlfriend, Caroline. Of the 25 or so people attending, at least 20 of them were in great costumes.

I am told that these parties occur about once a month, with different themes. There were people of all ages, children kicking a ball around, teens (Marjo’s daughter, for example) on up to people I would estimate in their 50s.

Everyone danced, including me after a few drinks. And on that topic, the drinks were plentiful!

In some ways it wasn’t much different than in the States. For example, when “Its Raining Men” came over the speakers, everyone there was on the dance floor, singing along.

No one over consumed alcohol to the point of not being in control. Everyone laughed, joked around, danced, ate, hugged, talked … basically an amazingly good time.

I arrived around 10:00 p.m. and it was 3:00 a.m. when I returned home.

The next day involved basically sleep. sleep. and more sleep. Interspersed with a giggle or 2 in remembering certain occurrences.

Like when Christian’s wig fell off and revealed the shortest haircut ever. Christian was a farmer. And danced his arse off.

Or the fellow in the dreadlocked wig who had fashioned a huge joint (fake) out of an 8x12 piece of paper rolled into a cone, filled with leaves and bits of red paper at the end to mimic it being lit. He wandered through the group, offering ‘hits’.

Or the gal in the biggest Afro I’ve ever seen. and hotpants and fishnets. Oo la la!

Everyone danced together, very little couples dancing. Most of the time there was a loose circle formed in the big room, with everyone dancing away with each other.

It was a lot of fun and I hope I can find a way to integrate myself into this circle hard-working, fun-loving people.

I was told the next party has a Science Fiction theme. Costume ideas, anyone?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Not much time today for posting, but here are some pictures of progress so far ... slide your cursor over the picture for a brief caption/explanation .....enjoy!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

deux semaines!

My second week in France ends with a true sense of accomplishment.

I have departed both hotel and apartment in Thiviers and last night, slept for the first time at my house in Brantome.

My new friend and renovator extraordinaire, Jean-Yves *tsks-tsks* it as mere ‘gentillesse’, but I must extol his kindness and generosity.

First off, imagine undertaking home repairs and renovation with someone who doesn’t speak your language? Extraordinary patience, especially *cough, cough* for a male… smiles.

Not only that, I am sleeping on a ‘mattelasse’ he has loaned me until my bed arrives. and a one burner camping stove. For coffee and such.

The weather is so warm and mild, I am going for economy and sleeping in pyjamas and doing without spending money on a blanket if I can do it. A makeshift coverlet is formed from a grand wrap I bought at Drift Denim. I had already used it as a picnic throw and now it is my duvet if required. My pillow? well I had thrown some last minute vintage embroidered pillowcases into my suitcase … they are now doubling as my laundry bag and pillow.

My room? I scrubbed the ceilings and walls with hot water, soap and bleach. The floors, several treatments. Broomswept, mopped with heavy scrubber and St. Marc (strips the wood). Then rinsed. Then scrubbed with hot water, soap and bleach. Rinsed. Then string mop with hot water, soap and bleach. The water was still coming up brown. As I began another treatment, Jean-Yves intervened and informed me the water will never be clear until the floors are sealed as the stain will keep leaching a bit. So I then just rinsed with water and string mop twice. I half believe him, but I also see the dust of the ages surrounding me.

On to the bathroom, which took applications of hydrochloric acid followed with hot water, soap and bleach.

These are to be my 2 primary rooms for the coming weeks. The other bedroom, with fireplace and destined to be my room, is the first bedroom getting the treatment.

The treatment you ask? Well, exposing and refinishing beams is a complicated job. First, the ceiling (lathe/plaster) is torn down. This was accomplished by J-Y and a shovel. Followed by a mallet. and then a heavy duty hammer removing countless nails in each beam.

I join the excavation party. We separate the mess between wood and plaster. I carry wood in a makeshift sling made from ripped-out linoleum. The wood from the plaster ceilings is stacked by me in the workshop and will be reused as kindling for my fireplaces. The plaster is shoveled into buckets by J-Y and hauled down to the grange (garage) to form a clean layer on the dirt floor. Did I mention the flight of stairs involved?

A wonderful discovery is J-Y and I share a philosophy of re-use and recycle. So we are attempting to dramatically reduce the amount of anything that must be formally dumped. We also now have a stock of excavated tile bricks that will be reapplied for repairs on the walls in small conservatory in the garden.

Back to the bedroom beams. The next step in the process is call sorlage (sp?). There are two machines used for this process. One is a large generator (on wheels with built-in hitch) and something that looks like a smallish cement mixer. The mixer is filled with fine grain sand and is attached via hose to the large generator/compressor. J-Y then dons what can only be described as a space suit (complete with oxygen) and he wields a sprayer hose. The sand is shot out at great force from the hose to abrade any surface (wood, tile, concrete, etc.). In this case the wood ceiling and beams. And the wooden door and shutters. And fireplace mantel. When complete, an original and clean surface remains.

Perhaps there is a similar thing in the U.S., but I haven’t come across it. It is quite a sight to see. When finished, the entire room is covered in a mini-beach (inches of sand) and dust that will be vacuumed away. J-Y tells me that I’ll be finding minute bits of sand for a year to come.

So, two rooms have had their ceilings removed and the remains neatly sorted and accounted for. Plus a new hot water boiler reinstalled in a new and improved location which will also house my washer. My bathroom has a new shower fixture. and I have received lessons in operating a handheld … erm … well, dunno it is kinda like a jackhammer but looks like a big drill and is used to remove plaster or anything else on a wall or drill down and make a little trough in the floor, etc. (obviously, I haven’t been to contractor school…) but anyhoo, I used it to take off bathroom-style tile and the cement layer beneath the tile to reveal a stone cabinet in the living room. yay me.

Everyday we begin at 8:00 a.m. and work until about 6/6:30. With, of course, the prerequisite break for lunch … about 2 hours. Which for me is like a mini French lesson as we sit and share a cheap meal and laughing conversation as we stammer through topics, grasping for the right word or phrase, many times growling with frustration but ultimately cracking up.

Let’s see, what else have I learned? hmmmm. Okay well a couple of other differences I have observed …… cheques are accepted everywhere.

I mean, MY checks have my address in Oregon printed on them AND in big letters “Non-Resident” and still are happily taken everywhere. I am informed that cheques are the norm here. And credit cards are used much more sparingly. Debit cards – yes, but credit is more carefully monitored.

Another thing I’ve noticed. Couples seem a lot more prevalent, particularly in just the day-to-day activities. For instance, in the grocery store. Tons and TONS of man/woman couples doing their shopping together. I mean ALL over. Same with Brico-Depot. Couples, couples, couples.

Seems to me that in the U.S. I have never noticed grocery shopping as a husband/wife pursuit. And Home Depot is predominantly man-land where I live(d).

Other interesting topics of conversation … of course, everyone is curious about our government … why people put Bush in, why is there no revolt, do I think Barack can win … do I think our economy will improve.

My visit to the bank included a conversation on that topic. (My banker is a woman, Lydie, very enthusiastic and fun). Business people are very worried about the influence of America’s woes on France’s economy. Real estate has come to a near halt. Tourism slows with each season. Just how closely we are all intertwined is abundantly clear.

Also. Folks in France are not at all enamored with the European Union and its impact on their lives. Prices have shot up steadily since the introduction of the euro. Things are tighter and tighter and in fact some believe that the creation of the EU basically eliminated the middle class in the country, or so reduced it that it is indistinguishable. What remains are the riche and a growing lower-income class.

On the plus side, most folks feel secure with the benefits (health care in particular) existent that they are not living in a panic. But more than one person has predicted a new French revolution on the part of the next generation. They feel the foundation of their ways of life have been rocked to the core and damaged in numerous ways.

Sadly, no pictures as my camera cord has gone missing. You’ll have to make do with this update and my apologies. I also remain without internet access, so type and then search for a connection … so far borrowing air space from the hotel in Thiviers when I am there.

Thanks for your patience, all! à la prochaine!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

recent discoveries.

Recently I took up temporary residence in a studio apartment in downtown Thiviers. The hotel was complete after Sunday, and the maitresse d’hotel offered a small apartment in a building they are renovating. It cannot be leased fully because the stairwell is not finished yet. I accepted with the thought that the fee would minimal.

While the fee of 40 € is less than the hotel (60 € a night), at 280 € per week, it is not exactly cheap. When I shared the cost with my new builder, Jean-Yves, he exclaimed, “Ahhh….EXPENSIVE!!”. We have agreed that somehow, I must be set-up in my house by Monday so I only pay one week for the apartment. Every week takes valuable resources from my renovation project. And adds to my financial anxiety.

Getting me set-up primarily means hot water. This small project has led to wonderful discoveries. We are relocating the hot water heater (chauffe-eau) from inside a smart little room destined to be a sun room … assuming there is no hot water heater on display … and into another smaller room which will be my laundry room and pantry. This little sun room is an odd shape, nearly pie shaped and was camouflaged with horrendous linoleum and a false ceiling, sagging and bruised with water marks. On one side there is a lovely old door, the top half with small paned glass windows and next to the door another window. An old homemade skylight, about 3’ x 2’ is set into the ceiling. Dismantling the hot water heater led to ripping out old, asbestos filled wallboard which exposed … drumroll … lovely stone walls!!! We were so encouraged by this excavation that we continued to the ceiling and exposed … drumroll … lovely petite beams and wood ceiling !!! Finally, carried away with ourselves, we ripped up the god-awful linoleum and rotting subfloor to discover … drumroll … old wood planks that can perhaps be restored to a floor. Joy of joys … I envision the ceiling and floor washed in white, offset by the amazing old, buttery stone wall. Lastly, when the pocketbook permits, installation of a real, more watertight skylight.

I feel like I am on my own excavation journey. This one small room, its discoveries all occurring on our first day of work, has been a boon to my experience.

I confess I am still battling uncertainties. I imagine many of you are baffled by my whining on this topic. Actually, I am not really whining. Instead, I am thinking out loud! HA. Also, attempting to express the gamut of emotions associated with being a corporate dropout going through a reinvention process.

It isn’t all tra-la-la and tiptoeing through the tulips. Rationally, I can express the reasons the American corporatization of society imbeds fear and cynicism into our everyday thinking. One would think that because it can be expressed, all feelings associated with the process would be eliminated. In my case at least, not so. I also think it is okay, normal and to be expected. Of course also worth working to diminish, if possible.

So little things like discovering small projects that require naught but hard work clearing out the dross and some elbow grease and paint to unveil a lovely enjoyable space … well, those little things are HUGE reassurances, especially financially!

And really, the central source of my underlying anxiety is my longer term financial security. But don’t we maintain a low level anxiety regarding finances as a permanent part of our daily lives in the U.S.? The establishment of a NEED for THINGS .. an expectation of acquisition, resulting in indebtedness and to a certain degree, financial enslavement. That is a primary source of the control of the masses. Our government, the media, the business powers that control our economic situation .. all conspire together to create an ongoing state of economic instability in our society as part of their campaign to instill compliance with the status quo. Now I don’t mean active conspiracies where representatives meet behind closed doors for strategy sessions (although nothing would surprise me …). Rather, they rely upon each other for ongoing prosperity and choreograph activities accordingly; it is critical that the population cooperates to maintain the status quo.

So I do battle with inner demons to quell the fearfullness instilled by this reality.

I was introduced to the concepts of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz by a life coach and close personal friend, Kathleen. I am an irreligious person, an atheist in fact. But that doesn’t mean I reject all thoughts of a spiritual nature. We all have our own ‘codes’ by which we live. I have a nifty little set of cards based on The Four Agreements, which allow me to meditate a bit on a precept to consider. Today’s seems particularly helpful to my current situation. Bear with me as I share it with you … maybe you too will take something from it.

“Take your life and Enjoy it!

You are alive, so take your life and enjoy it. You were born with the right to be happy, to love, and to share your love. Just to be – to take a risk and enjoy your life – is all that matters.”

Oh. And here are a few pictures for you restless masses. (notice I put them on the end in an attempt to make you Adult A.D.D. types read my post. ha.)

the future chambre du soleil ...stone wall, skylight and petite beams

the now living room, destined to be the kitchen and dining area ... leads out onto a tiny attached hothouse room/atrium (next photo, not so good) and then the first garden ... *sighs at the beaty and wonder, lol*

the petite atrium

Monday, July 21, 2008

pictures...PICTURES, they demand!

ok folks, you've been clamoring for pictures of my house. Today is the first day we will be working on it and I promise I will be taking scads of the multiple and various projects that await. On Saturday, we went to Perigueux to purchase our first round of supplies for repairs ... My agent and the builder both were so excited to recommend Brico-Depot!

That's right folks, Home Depot has either completed outreach here in France or they have been replicated ... right down to the orange signs and the little man in their branding. It wasn't QUITE as huge, but nearly (and when considered in France ... huge) and there was floor to ceiling man-heaven ... just like here. We purchased a new hot water boiler and piles of other materiel ... the bill was $315€ and when considering the boiler was $124€ i guess that wasn't so bad.

Also, I just moved to a temporary apartment for a week (last night) and it doesn't have the internets ... so right now I am parked outside the hotel scamming free usage. We are working on getting phone/internet up and running at my house. So I'm trying to keep up with the blogging but it is a bit of a chore.

For you, my dears, anything!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

a 17 euro menu pour ma petit dejeneur, a short stroll from the hotel.

Poire et bleu avec feillettes.

A delicate flaky pastry, sliced pears topped with a lovely bleu cheese.

Truite aux amandes.

An entire trout, slathered in herbs and sliced almonds accompanied by rice, all with a light buttery sauce with a hint of (less than a hint) of curry. I ate every morsel.

Oops! It was so appealing I devoured dessert without a photograph. It was a delicious bowl of "la glace", in flavors "fraise et citron". slurp.

Tack on the cost of my aperitif de maison and a small pichet of rosé, and the total for my lunch was 23.50€. Given the fact that this was basically $35.00 lunch ... at a very small, non-assuming café ... not exactly a 'deal'.

Another lunch I greatly enjoyed recently, on the terrace overlooking the canals at my town, set me back over 40.00€, and while very "gastronomique", obviously not supportable on an ongoing basis.

Until I have some sort of kitchen set-up, I've been making sure I do not miss the small breakfast offered at my hotel (coffee, juice, croissant, yogurt) and then plan a restaurant meal for as close to 2:00 p.m. as possible (usually the latest lunch is served in the countryside). Then, tea and a biscuit or small snack in my room in the evening. Lunch is obviously less than dinner and you can indulge in a better restaurant (and meal) for a smaller price at lunch.

Other ways to economize in a restaurant is to skip the bottled water, aperitif AND wine (pick one or the other or none at all) and pass on coffee or dessert (again, or both). Sometimes à la carte is less if you only have a main dish. Otherwise stick with the prix fixe menu of the day, the price will always be their best for a complete meal.

Of course, my very sophisticated and well versed audience figured these things out long ago. But you WILL be surprised by the prices and the pinch, bien sûr ...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

my first French Friday night ... Tziganes!

I had an invitation "out" on Friday night. More kindness from strangers! I was invited to accompany Jean-Yves and his girlfriend Valerie to a concert. After discovering a shared love of music, he told me about a concert at a chateau ... and offered to give me a ride with them.

Well, friends, what a special treat it was. I greatly enjoy the music of Django Reinhardt, the incomparable gypsy guitarist, and the first group performed in the style of Django.

It wasn't until I was there and hearing the music that I understood the conversation I had with Jean-Yves, and why he invited me. See, he speaks about 2% English and with my 2% French (exaggeration on both sides!), it makes for interesting exchanges. He was asking me about music and my likes. I called out Django as my first love. We went on to call out artists and styles of music. Later, he asked me if I had heard of this concert at the Chateau. I said no, and asked what type of music. He replied "Tziganes" ... sadly, I didn't know Tziganes meant gypsy. When I asked what type of music it was, he said "Flamenco"... lol, so at least I felt a little better because he was grasping for English words.

When they began setting up ... a large bass, 2 guitars and a violin ... my heart skipped a beat. Am Ketenes is a quartet who plays in the style of Django Reinhardt. ooh la la! I've found a YouTube of them playing Them Their Eyes for you (below):

The main act was Lentement Mademoiselle, a high energy group of young performers (2 accordionists, a trombonist, a violinist, a bassist and a couple of guitarists) who were part performance art, part musicians. Very dramatic and, based on audience participation, very traditional music.

I discovered that there are an amazing array of festivals occurring in the Aquitaine region and a comprehensive site has been set up to lead visitors to them all. Anyone visiting the southwest region of France should definitely check out the site.

Couple the fabulous music with the amazing location ... in the courtyard of the centuries-old Chateau de Jumilhac... the very intimate setting with the townspeople of Jumilhac and surrounds ... including children, parents and extended family, nearly all French ... and well ... what a way to spend a Friday night, eh? A flood of emotions washed over me ... one of my first trips to France, I had discovered Django. It seemed somehow fitting that in my first week here, I should be sitting listening to Django's music surrounded by much of what I had dreamed of over the years. The beauty of the historic setting, the lilting tones of the French voices that surrounded me, the amazing musicality of the performers. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry out with the joy that was welling up inside of me.

Instead, I bobbed in my seat, smiling from ear to ear. Close enough!

hello, its me.

Affirmation. Something I guess we all want or need, whether we admit it or not. Recently I shared with some of you the fact that something I wrote with my blog in mind got posted on a website. Then I felt silly and braggy and a bit embarrassed that I had done so. And then, when some positive responses came through ... I felt kinda good. secretly proud a bit. but then worried that maybe it was so trivial that I looked a fool. Damn I'm complicated. and tiresome. sigh.

Which got me thinking and we know what that can lead to. Ah well!

Blogging is such a tremendous boon for aspiring writers, isn't it? I mean, one aspect of writing pre-blog was how did one get anything they wrote read. especially semi-anonymously. or with less rejection. as in, "thanks but no thanks, I really don't want to bother reading your blather". Or accepting the request with one of those looks. You know the ones. Where the recipient is obviously wondering what the minimum elapsed time is for politesse and what generic responses can be created.

In the not so distant pre-blogging days, writers were only one half-step above salespeople. knocking on doors. dialing for dollars, risking ongoing rejection in the hopes that someone, ANYONE would want to be bothered to read. Perhaps comment. Even better still, Publish! (unless, of course, one does it for the art!)

And then along came Al Gore to invent the internets ( I worship and adore you, Al) and the rest is history. We can all wax poetic or poorly, or rant madly or bore to tears, and out there in the vast universe of internet-land sit readers awaiting. With glee even. After all, the world IS a critic, it is just matching us all up together that was difficult.

Now there is a global community forming. Not just for news and information exchange by professional journalists. But for writers and their ideas. For non-professional citizens out there to register their 'on the street' observations and opinions. For a larger dialogue to occur, spurring new understandings and philosophies. The mix is healthy and invigorating.

More and more voices have the opportunity to be heard. Debated. Debunked. Applauded. Affirmed.

I love the conversations, don't you?

Friday, July 18, 2008

my fellow exiting Americans.

Hi there! some of you come here because you have been following the details of my logistics. Things like dog travel. and visas. and carte de sejours. So I think it only fair I not leave ends loosely hanging simply because I am now here. Oh yeah, that's right. Did I mention I am HERE now. in FRANCE? well, even so it is worth repeating.


And today's goal was to complete the transfer of my new car. So, my rendez-vous with my charming car seller (funny, he didn't seem quite the snake-oil salesman that U.S. car sellers have the infamous distinction for) Monsieur V.B. Our appointment was for 10:00 a.m. which, by the way, seems to be the preferred starting time for appointments. So far, all of my arranged rendez-vous seem to be for 10:00 a.m. Sweet!

Anyway, I had agreed to meet Monsieur V.B. in Perigueux at 10:00 a.m. I also discovered I have been mispronouncing Perigueux as "Perry-goh" instead of "Peh-ree-guh". sigh. but there has been a lot of that going on. the mispronouncing thing. I'm working on it.

So, armed with some French directions (take the road to P. but watch for the sign Les Piles, it is a shortcut, it comes before Sorges (it is a French specialty to watch for something before something else!) and then there will be a long stretch downhill to a cirque and go almost all the way round and voila! you see the prefecture on the left! trés simple?! no street names or nothin'. I'm going on faith, pure unadulterated faith.

Excited, I arise this morning and make a bit fancier toilette ... a skirt, a blouse, a jacket ... a very proper French outfit for a lady going to the county hall. I found it was fun dressing up a bit! I gather my huge portfolio of a variety of paperwork because I had also decided to prevail upon Monsieur V.B. to accompany me to request an appointment for a carte de sejour. I confess I've been nervous about that. As much as I was nervous about the consul appointment for the visa. and the USDA shenanigans for the dogs. We are presented with a lot of scary claptrap on the internets about all of these processes.

So, I gather my stuff and the dogs and depart 15 minutes later than I wanted to. I needed to get gas and so there I was stressing myself out a bit in the car that I would be late for these rendez-vous (I don't know if that is the right way to make rendez-vous plural, drat, LF where are you?!). In other words, reverting to my naughty American habits. Listening to those damned voices in my head.

Psyche! Everything flowed like a dream. The gas was obtained easily and my card worked (another story there with the new Euro only cards). The directions were perfect, screw the need for street names and numbers and stuff. I phoned Monsieur V.B. when I arrived and he was only a few blocks from me. He immediately offered that I should sit tight in my spot and he would come collect me. Which he did. And then escorted me to the prefecture.

Carte de Séjour inquiry?? NO PROBLEM! Monsieur V.B. was happy to do so. The county hall was actually not too busy. Yes, there were a couple of lines (similar to DMV) but the clerks were all so friendly and smiling and greeting some of the visitors and despite my poor French were very gracious along with Monsieur V.B.'s assistance. We were issued 2 tickets for waiting, one for the Carte Gris (vehicle registration) and one for the Carte de Séjour. I paid a $120 euro (ouch) transfer fee because the car was from Departement 87 and I will be living in Departement 24. These fees, I am certain, go to maintaining the vast array of amazingly well cared for streets that wind throughout the land. The car transfer took all of about 20 minutes from start to finish.

We waited another 15 minutes or so to meet with the gentleman for the Carte de Séjour. Despite whatever scary claptrap I have read about how awful this process is (and perhaps it is not claptrap in other towns with more immigrants or other reasons, since we have seen a great deal of variation in the French processes ... even in the U.S. consulates), the process in Perigueux was smooth. The clerk spoke English and was very kind. I was extremely anxious about my passport and visa. After checking-in to the hotel, I had read more closely the slip of paper stapled in my Passport by the consulate. It indicates that one must have the police stamp your visa at the airport IMMEDIATELY upon arrival. My visa, although handed over in the airport, did not have any stamp. I had brought my ticket to prove when I entered.

Mr. Clerk was not at all surprised. "They don't seem to stamp Americans anymore." "Do I need a police stamp from somewhere else?" "No problem, just bring your ticket."

He was just a very easygoing person. They already have a sheet outlining all the items one needs for the CDS. Most of it I already had gathered and presented for the visa. One needs proof of resources/income, a doctor's visit (in France), Passport, Birth Certificate, Proof of residency, 3 Passport photos. I can return next week during regular hours and be helped.

As far as the car goes, in addition to what I mentioned above, I had to get insurance ... which you can get at your French bank or from an insurance agency. And I had to get new license plates. Which any mechanic can do, they take your Carte Gris and issue them right then and there, even installing them ... all for $25 euros. trés simple!

Both of these items were handled with the help of my new friends and without a hiccup.

I also have to take some time to extol the virtues of my estate agents, Marjo and Rodolphe Sausse of ARÈMÈ Conseils. They have been SO MUCH MORE than the regular agents. They have kindly assisted with sharing everything they can think of (or answers to everything I can think to ask!)

Yesterday I met an English couple who had bought a property and arrived, with some furniture in tow, only to discover all of the utilities had been disconnected because the bills were sent to the unoccupied property. So they were forced to take a hotel while they sort it all out. In contrast, MY agents proactively offered to assist me with this from abroad, overseeing the transfer of utilities to my name ... ensuring the correct address in the U.S. was utilized. They assisted with banking set-up, with insurance, with vendors for a car, home repairs, where to buy wood, how to get a gardener, how to find the dump, which is the best DIY store ... well the list is endless.

I have mentioned before that they, unlike many agents, have led the way in establishing partnerships with other agencies so clients have the best opportunity of seeing the right properties and having agents that work together as opposed to make it more difficult.

This entire process would have been SO MUCH MORE DIFFICULT ... if it were not for Marjo and Rodolphe. If you are even only slightly thinking of looking at property or buying a property, no matter what region of France ... I cannot urge you strongly enough to consult with them. A link to their agency is in my sidebar.

So then, on Friday, another rendez-vous with Jean-Yves to prioritize work and agree upon a starting time next week. I'm off to the races!

(image credit: geocities.com/torchhousedesign) 

Thursday, July 17, 2008

what about my new home, you inquire?

Well first off there is the matter of the keys. These are the keys to my new maison. I feel like the house should have come with a monk's gown complete with cowl and leather rope belt to hang the keys from. As I shuffle softly to the door! I should have put an American key side by side so you could see how massive the big keys are. Wait, there IS one at the bottom on the black fob, kind of on its side. That is a regularly sized key.

This morning I met with a potential contractor, Jean-Yves, to discuss some possible work he could do with my half-dollars. That's what I'm calling them these days. Certainly you understand why. Following our comical few hours spent gesturing and pointing, and speaking to each other in broken English and broken French, I decided to skip a restaurant lunch (ouch) and pick up some items for a picnic in the park that people come from all over the world to see.

One baguette, 2 Kanter beers (I love living in a world where beer (.70€) is cheaper than Coca-Cola (1.50€), some cheese and ham later, I spread out my picnic and relaxed. First I lay on my back and stared at the sky. Then I took a walk around the village. I've made a slide show below ... I tried uploading pictures throughout this blog, but I'm getting grey hair waiting for the upload to finish. I guess it is hard to cram that much beauty in pixellation.

I'll share some pictures of the nouvelle maison soon. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Verdun has me thinking.

I've mentioned before how much I enjoyed Robert Daley's book, Portraits of France. In it he writes several vignettes regarding France ... observations on cities and occurrences throughout time. They are all compelling in their own way. I've had some time in my meanderings to re-read some of these stories.

One in particular struck me today and it is in regards to Verdun. Rereading this story made me melancholy. Man's refusal to learn lessons from history, relatively recent history is nothing if not depressing.

Daley's story doesn't attempt to recreate or recount every aspect of the battle of Verdun. He tells of a trip back to Verdun he made to visit certain notable locations and personnages. While all of the story moved me, a certain observation gave me pause. He is speaking of one of the heroes of Verdun, a Lt. Col. Emile Driant. Driant was 61 years old at the time of the battle, too old to be there but yet committed to the cause. He was an old school officer who believed in being on the field with his troops. He was lionized as a hero by the French when he died on the battlefield. But was he heroic? He led them to their deaths, foolish and misguidedly patriotic deaths. Unnecessary deaths. Deaths in the name of duty and honor and dignity. Or so the propaganda goes. He speaks of the realities of this particular war and how "it is not weapons that make wars possible, but ideas, and it is duty and honor that lead men straight to the most insidious idea of all, which is heroism". He speaks of these solders, left "eating, sleeping, shitting, freezing, day after day in the same two feet of muddy trench and then subject them to a ten-hour bombardment -- when you do this you remove from them all dignity."

I suppose in our modern-day wars, improvements have been wrought. Perhaps they aren't sleeping and shitting and freezing in trenches. Instead they are baking in the sun, reaching exhaustion through extended and multiple tours of duty. Cut off from home and family with no real knowledge of an exact return date.

In either case, 1918 or 2008, the madness that is war can have the same result Robert Daley speaks of, namely, "reduc(ing) them to the level of slavering animals. They exist on the level of animals. Their psyches are overpowered by the most basic and also the basest of emotions, namely fear and rage. They become crazed. Are crazed men responsible for their actions? ... The hero may have no more control of himself than the coward."

Daley questions the heroism of Driant. And his motivations. As we should our own military and militaristic leaders. Are the lives of our men worth the shallow ideals thrust upon us by leaders seeking fame, a name of their own, a place in history?

In the general area of Verdun there were nine obliterated villages. Not just attacked. or mostly destroyed. No, completely obliterated. bombed to the point that for decades nothing would grow where these villages existed. I, for one, was unaware that in WWI man's ability to wrought the most evil of weapons was already in full bloom.

Daley's reveals that at the site of one of these obliterated villages, Fleury, there is a memorial which was erected in 1967.

Within this exhibit, there are cases with uniforms, equipment, weaponry ... not just of the French soldiers but also of the competing army. Also included are phot blowups on the wall. And this is where it really struck home to me. His words. He shares that one photo shows a French soldier, lying faceup on the ground. Fully clothed. Minus both legs at mid-thigh. Another photo displays a perfectly intact hand layin on top of the mud - not attached to anything. He goes on to say, "Press censorship being absolute on both sides of the lines, such photos did not appear until years after the war -- they might have hurt the war effort, don't you know. It was all right to sho German corpses in French publications and French corpses in German ones, but no the reverse." He also reveals that in copies of L'Illustration, the number one French picture weekly at the time, they regularly showed captured German trenches full of corpses, but in hundreds of pages and thousands of photos, there are no corpses of French soldiers anywhere. In fact, week after week, life in the trenches was made to seem not half bad.

In real life 800,000 young men died in Verdun. On their OWN LAND. In total, France lost nearly 1.4 million soldiers in WWI, Germany over 2 million, Russia 1.8 million, UK over 800,000 and the U.S. slightly over 116,000.

WWII claimed over 25 million military deaths. Staggering. France lost over 200,000.

People joke about France these days. Being 'nancies'. Cowards. I was pondering our whole bout of anti-Frenchiness in the US, our embracing of "Freedom Fries".

It is hard to toodle down a lovely country lane in France without encountering a war memorial of some sort. Personally, I think perhaps France and her people lost their taste for blood early on. Maybe they aren't 'nancies'. Maybe they're the smart ones.

In America we pat ourselves on the back for reducing "collateral damage". For fighting less bloody wars. At least on our side. Sure, we have reduced the deaths. But just as with Verdun, our propaganda campaigns are in full effect. We don't see coverage of the dead returning. We don't have well-aired reports of numbers of wounded and the havoc wreaked on their lives. We don't have running totals broadcast of total deaths and wounded, on all sides. We hear reports of how the surge is working. We are immature and cavalier as a nation. The closest we have come is 3,000 deaths perpetrated by 19 madmen. And we have reacted as if we had just had our own Verdun. Can you imagine a war on American land? with hundreds of thousands dead and countless more wounded? Of living with the fear and decimation of the type we have wrought on the Iraqis? or Afghanis?

We have a candidate who crows that he "knows how to win wars". We have a candidate who has promised us there will be more wars". We have a military candidate with his hand on the trigger, just itching to get it going. Humming bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.

Already, in my first few days, I have been pelted with a repeated question. Can Obama win? People are afraid of 4 more years of a republican president.

I know. I just moved to France. You were expecting me to regale you at first with stories of my new home. My happy little village. My new task list and daily encounters. They are coming, I assure you.

But I am also committed to being more present here in this somewhat new and strange land. I want to soak up history here, old and new. I want to learn French. Feel French. I am pondering and thinking and noticing.

So what's my point? Hell if I know. Other than sadness at man's inability to pay attention. To learn from the past. For citizens' lack of ability to take heed and recognize when they are being misled...and just lining up to get their daily ration of pap.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


After I sat down at the gate, and breathed a bit, I called my friend Marcus back. He had called around 5:30 am while I was in the midst of madness. I was amazed that he would arise at such an hour just to call me.

He said he was in the middle of texting me since he missed me on the phone. It was to be a text of vast proportions and meaning, an ode to fulfilling dreams and such.

As always, Marcus got me to laughing quickly … poor man had to listen to a Kim rant at such an ungodly hour. He was patient and kind… full of humor. It felt good to unburden myself of the last 3 hours and I hung up, thankful for such dear friendship and ready to board the plane to a new future.

I nervously peered out of my window, attempting to see the dogs getting loaded. I had let the flight attendant know I had dogs flying with me and she assured me she would bring the little cards to me as soon as she received them.

Soon, the announcement came that the airplane doors had been closed and yet I had not received a card. I summoned the attendant and she phoned “Operations”. Yes she confirmed, the dogs were on board.

I was disappointed that the orange cards hadn’t been delivered and we had to call. Another customer service let-down, a missed expectation. I gazed out the window and watched as a man drove some sort of automatic ladder thing up near the plane and climbed up to check on something. He descended and pulled away. Take-off was beginning.

I dropped asleep nearly immediately. I awoke as breakfast was being served. There, on the tray in front of me, lay two orange cards.

The attendant saw me awaken and approached.

“Those cards were handed to the pilot through the window after the doors closed. They wanted to make sure you had them.”

I smiled, my confidence in United restored. I retract my retraction of the Bomb Diggity.

The rest of the flight was uneventful. I confess I did try to picture what the dog compartment area looked like, and what they were doing down there. Barking? whining? sleeping? who knows.

I made my transfer in Dulles. Flying over Washington, D.C. surrounds, I was reminded of the beauty and diversity of our landscape. Too bad such a load of dunderheads were in charge … and most likely will be for the foreseeable future. God, what would the founding fathers think? they must be rolling around in their graves.

Not only did I score first class seats to France, I scored one of those massive planes where First Class means basically your own bedroom! I had a seat (more like a pod) that made into a bed … I needed instructions to figure out all of the various gadgets.

Dinner was tasty. Hors d’ouevres to dessert. I couldn’t begin to attempt the full breakfast. It amazed me how everyone could stuff themselves, sleep for 2-3 hours, wake up and do it again! wow.

I did the 2 cart shuffle again through Charles de Gaulle. I was told to collect my dogs ‘aprés baggage’. I loaded my luggage and exited, expecting to find them. I wandered around, finally going to an information booth. I was told I would have to go back past security and customs, the dogs would be over there!

Drat! I expected an American hassle. Picture what we put folks through to get back through International Customs, if you will. I expected some sort of security check, full body pat down or something. I stood outside of the automatic doors, waiting for them to open. I spied a group of guards collected just on the other side and caught the attention of one. I quickly explained the situation and she just waved me in with a smile. Wha’??? A SMILE??? yay France!

Ha. So I walked the entire Terminal 1 arrival area, looking high and low. Finally I spied an airport employee and asked her … and finally determined there was NO special doggy delivery area. I was pointed back to Baggage Area 6 and there my fellas sat, 2 crates loaded on cart … no one in sight. They began sniffling and whining once they knew it was me. They were absolutely fine, perfect in fact.

Two elevator rides later, I pushed-me/pulled-me our way to the rental car desk, gathered our keys, and did the 2 elevator shuffle back to our rental auto.

About 2 hours after landing, we were finally on our way.

I had promised Miss Mancha that I would phone her once we were en route. I turned on my mobile to find that the battery was dead. Boo! but in retrospect, it was still not the time to call her.

Friends and readers, I confess that for the first several hours, I was still having some sort of weird misgivings. I’m sure my passport experience didn’t help. Speeding through the countryside, navigating the well marked roadways and eyeing the landscape…my inner voices emerged.

Much of what I saw didn’t seem vastly different than where I had just departed. From the roadway, you see fields and businesses and community developments. A few signs.

Frequently placed l’aires (similar to our rest areas) and better planned service areas with stores, gas, restaurants all grouped together for an efficient pitstop.

Doubting Kim emerged: “What was I doing here? was this where I needed to be? or was it just some dream that was better as fantasy than reality? is the American way true … defer one’s dreams as a carrot to more and more work. They are never quite what they seemed in any event…”?

And then I decided, about an hour away, to get off the highway. I followed the signs toward my destination, watching the landscape change again and feeling my doubts and fears lift. I began to recognize the hills and villages that make the Dordogne the Dordogne.

Yep, there it was, the sign announcing I had entered the departement of the Dordogne. Almost immediately, I felt my excitement growing and general outlook improve. With each curve in the roadway, bucolic scenes presented themselves. More pictures and discussion on that topic will be saved for another post.

If I were a person who actually believed in such a thing, I would swear that I had lived here in another time or place. For every time I arrive, I feel as if I have come home.

I couldn’t stop and view my house on this day, as it was getting late and I was bone tired. But I could drive through the outskirts of the village. It was a warm afternoon and the town was filled with people lazing in the park by the river. Dressed for supper, couples walked hand in hand along the cliffs and caves. A girl in a canoe dawdled under the bridge.

Yes… this is the place for me. My adventure awaits me. My excitement, my contentment, my joy bubbled up inside of me.

Although I arrived at the hotel depleted of energy and much worse for the wear, I arrived GLAD to be here. I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

I skipped dinner, had a cup of tea and biscuit from my kind English hostess and collapsed into bed.

I slept through most of the fireworks (sorry, La Framericaine), awaking only briefly for the final big bangs and then went back to sleep … not awaking again until morning.

I awoke refreshed, exhilirated, and ready to see my new dwelling.

à la prochaine!

Monday, July 14, 2008

mon mésaventures.

well well well.

I am known for my misadventures. Try as I might to be all organized and shit, I always manage to have a few crises of the heartstopping sort. This trip was no exception.

The day of my departure, I managed to have my ATM/Debit card captured in an ATM. I was running around with my hair on fire cramming a week's worth of tasks into the last day (slight exaggeration). I ran out of money at the laundromat (yeah, that's right ... I was doing 5 loads of laundry the day I was to depart...) and of course they have no change machine and no money dispenser at the short-stop next door. So I jump in my car and run to the bank. I am at the ATM when my dogs have barking spasms. I am yelling at them from the ATM to BE QUIET, NO, BAD DOG...since a tweaker has appeared in a beat up pick-up and is egging them on from the next stall.

The machine is beeping ... my cash is in the dispenser. I grab it and run for the car. Race back to the laundromat so my stuff won't be piled in a damp steaming mess in a cart. Continue on with the chore at hand. As I am loading my car, my purse falls out and my wallet bursts open, sending credit cards flying under the car. Yes, it is true. I couldn't make ALL of this stuff up.

As I am crawling under my vehicle, it occurs to me that there is a card absent. Yes, THE most important card of the journey. My ATM/Debit card which accesses my checking account and funds for my journey and beyond. Yikes. I race through my bank experience. CRAP! I must have left my card! I immediately phone the bank and am told that, since my card is not from that bank, I will have to call MY bank and report it lost/stole and they will have to reissue me a card. WTF?! I immediately begin the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Accompanied by much supplication.

"You don't understand. I HAVE to have my card. I am leaving today for France. That card is essential. Please, there must be something you can do!"

"Oh my. Well, hold on".

My Irish maiden name should be Murphy instead of Fallon. See, I have this really weird luck. It fails me continuously and dangles me out over the edge of the cliff ... and then, just when I think I am going to have a nervous breakdown, it yanks me back up (not after having swung me for a loop de loop or two), snickers with delight and sets me back on my feet. You'll see. read on.

"Ms. Mancha?"

"Call me Kim."

"Really? I'm Kim, too!" lucky draw there! "Well, if you can have someone from your bank call and provide approval, we can release the card to you. Do you have a contact at your branch?"

I haven't been inside a bank branch in years.

"Uh. I'm at the laundromat, but yes I can do that. I'll call you back."

I race to throw the rest of my laundry in the car like a madwoman. I return to the house and start dialing for dollars. I had kept the name of a bank manager for our business account, and I dialed that branch. I've had accounts with my bank for over 20 years, but I've moved a lot and haven't been inside a branch in forever.

I get a helpful young man (my guy was at lunch) who offers to review everything and finally approves my request. I call back Kim, who takes the information and says she will call me back. Now so far, I'm in shock because you know how service employees can be. Your emergency is rarely theirs. But Banker Kim does return a call in about an hour and advises me I can come retrieve my card by 6:00 p.m. Are you kidding me? I immediately jump in my car and make my way there. We won't mention the fact that I have been wearing the same clothes the past 2 days as I slog my way through all of the crap I need to do. She probably thought "this chick is going to France??? she looks like she's homeless".

sigh. returning with my card in my hot little hands, I continue on with the final list of to do's, which includes cleaning my cabin stem to stern because I accepted a last minute booking for Sunday (the day after my departure). shakes head. About midnight, I brew a pot of coffee as I'm getting tired and have only just begun my journey.

I start loading the car. I drag 2 suitcases as big as me and hoist them into the car. I load 2 dog crates. I have the dog tote bag. A tote bag for all of my paperwork. A poster roll with a painting of my daughter's. and my getaway bag. Oops, don't forget 2 dogs and 2 leashes! I do a final stroll through the cabin and feel a little homesick already! (still battling strange emotions, what can I say?).

I am off at 2:00 a.m. It occurs to me that there better be a gas station open in this little po-dunk town. OMG! I left the fill-up for the departure not thinking about this minor detail. But I find one and guess what?! It is cracking busy with every stoner, tweaker and drunky! lol. But I get a full tank and I'm off.

It is a miracle I didn't drive off the road, I was so tired and fighting sleep every mile. Finally, I pulled into a McDonald's for a coke to try and wake up. It is a 2+ hour trip.

I drive to the top level of the parking structure to leave my car as agreed for my hero, Tom, who was handling getting it back to Seaside for me. At this point I realize I have to piss like a racehorse. (whaaa?? its TRUE!).

There are maybe 4 cars atop the structure. And a security car circling and circling. Eyeing me as I scramble to drag 2 bag carts to the car. You know how their wheels really only want you to go straight? try pushing 2 at the same time. At four in the morning. While you have to pee. Like a racehorse. So I unload the 2 suitcases, the 2 dog crates, the totes. And get the leashes on the 2 dogs and try and get them to pee on the asphalt where no previous doggy smells exist. Ain't happening. So I get them in the crates and then load everything precariously teetering and try to push these 2 carts simultaneously so nothing falls off. I start off with the 2 push method. I then switch to the 1 push, 1 pull method. Slightly more efficient. Did I mention that during this whole affair the security car disappears but a police car emerges? and parks about 3 car lengths from me and sits and watches all of this? grrr.

Somehow I manage to maneuver us into an elevator, off of an elevator, and through the terminal to the United First Class line. (yeah, I splurged and used extra miles. trust me, it saved my bacon on this trip). As I am called immediately and ahead of other queuers, I receive the to-be-expected glares from everyone in line. Tough shit, I think, I've paid dearly for this privilege.

As I am edging the carts up and digging for the folder of doggy passports, I have an immediate flash of a sickening realization. I left the carefully frozen doggy water bowls in my freezer in Seaside. I feel tears immediately well up. I'm a poor excuse for a dog mom. My dogs will die of dehydration in flight. They will shudder from fear AND THIRST. I rack my brain and realize there isn't a thing I can do. At 4 in the morning, nothing is open and even if it were ... there would be no portable doggy bowls that attach to the wire doors of a dog crate, let alone time for freezing water. I have failed my pets. There is naught to be done.

I begin the check-in process with the attendant, who is incredibly patient and helpful. She can tell by looking at me that I am already frazzled. She is smiling kindly at this ungodly hour. She sees that I am transporting dogs and doesn't bat an eyelash. She smiles as she verifies their information on the screen. She steps away for a moment and returns with FOUR DOG BOWLS EXACTLY LIKE THE ONES IN MY FREEZER!!! except for the frozen water. My eyes well up. She looks askance? I blubber that I was just agonizing over the fact my dogs would have no water because I left the bowls in the freezer and I was so worried and then here she was with the bowls! She just calmly smiled and said "we always provide them." She hands me some forms to fill out for each dog. Name? When last ate? drank? instructions? They will replenish water as I request! Then she hands me some orange perforated cards. At each step of the journey, I will be presented with one of these cards as confirmation that my dogs are safely stowed. United Airlines is the BOMB!

Then she tells me that it will just be a little extra time because someone is on their way to put some extra holes in the dogs crates. WHAT? She says that international requirements are that the crates are vented on all four sides, not just three as 100% of the crates for sale in pet stores are. She says it is a common problem. Here comes an equally nice woman with a special drill attachment to drill 3 holes the size of a quarter in the rear of each crate. Now, they could just say oh, sorry wrong crate. Or have had attitude for days regarding the inconvenience. But Oh No. United Airlines ROCKS the BOMB-diggity! After papering their crates with big orange stickers "Live Animals" and arrows pointing the right direction for "Up" and tagging them with multiple tags, we are ready to go to bag inspection. I rebuild the cart pyramids and push them slowly to the bag xray line. 3 people rush to beat me. When a fourth and fifth set try the same, I insist I can't keep letting everyone ahead of me. They glare. "Sucks to be you", I thought. At least I don't THINK I said it out loud.

I remove each dog, one at a time. The fellow empties each crate of dog bed, special liner, and t-shirt that smells like mom (at least I got THAT right). He swabs the inside and runs the tests. I am allowed to return the dogs to their crates. He tells me that's it. Someone is on their way for them. I give them a last little lovey-dovey and head for security. I have to stop and buy a big tote for my multiple little totes as they are being vigilant about the 2 bag rule. By now I feel like I've run a marathon. I feel sweaty and sticky and oh, by the way, I still have to PISS LIKE A RACEHORSE!!!!

I have everything reloaded into the new capacious tote bag, I have my security documents out and I decide I have enough time to dash into the women's room. That was my first mistake. As you may remember, I don't have a great track record with travelling and rest rooms. I head into the stall, lock the door, set down my tote and place my passport in its totally fashion-forward Kate Spade lime green leather holder on the toilet paper dispenser. As I'm doing this, I have a conscious recollection of my wallet experience that day long ago in France. I smile to myself and sit down to finally PISS LIKE A RACEHORSE. I am still hot, sweaty and sticky ... but finally I am relieved of this extra burden. I depart to go wash my hands. As I'm washing, I have ANOTHER conscious recollection that I have no recollection of picking up my passport. I rifle through my purse and confirm that yes, I am part of the living dead ... I run back to the stall and there is NO PASSPORT! I run back to my tote bag, emptying it. I empty my purse. I have an out of body experience wherein I observe myself in slow motion, beginning to have a breakdown. I see a restroom attendant and barely stammer out some gibberish ... "passport...stall...just a few seconds...gone!!! WHO DO I ASK????"

She looks at me as if I have 2 heads. "Why did you have your passport on the tissue paper dispenser??" I fight the urge to grab her by her scrawny neck and shake her like a rag doll. "Who??? Where??? HELP???" she shrugs and says,"ask one of those TSA People."

I squeak some sort of ungodly sound; likely one you've heard made just before cardiac arrest. I scramble out to the line just outside the door and beseech a woman on the other side of the railing to keep out unverified, unsearched, un-x-rayed individuals such as myself out. I repeat the same gibberish, feeling my temperature AND blood pressure rise.

"Can we page someone?"

"Call airport police." Points to the white phone.

I grab the phone and dial the code for paging. "The paging office opens at 7:00 a.m."

I slam down the phone and dial Lost & Found. "The lost and found office opens at 7:00 a.m."

I run to the head of the security line and ask the screener if anyone turned in a passport. in a lime green holder. He eyes me. "No, and even if someone tried, we wouldn't accept it."

"What would you do?"

"Send them to Lost & Found".

"But Lost & Found is CLOSED!"

"Call Airport Police."

There is no number on the white phones for Airport Police.Panicked, I see a security official walking through the terminal and I accost him. I incoherently tell him my story. He gives me all of the same advice all the other people have.

"But there is NO number for Airport Police. I'm flying to France in an hour. I have dogs that are already being loaded on the plane." At this point I am half crying, half hysterical. He writes a number on a scrap of paper.

"This is the number for Airport Police."

I dial the number on my cell phone. A woman answers. I recount my story. She sounds incredulous that I could have allowed this to happen. By now, in between each conversation I have had a steady stream of self-castigation going in my head. What kind of idiot, dumb ass who KNOWS HOW SHE IS could have let this happen!?!?

She gives me all of the same advice. I implore her to issue a page in the airport.

"But what would we page?"

"How about, has anyone found a LIME GREEN PASSPORT HOLDER WITH PASSPORT? If so, dial the white courtesy phone???" (Is it really that difficult???)

"We can't do that. Have you gone to the United desk? you should let them know not to load your dogs."

"I can't do that. I HAVE to have my passport back. I HAVE to get on that plane. You HAVE to do something."

"Hold on. I'm going to call our restroom supervisor."

"I already talked to the attendant. She didn't see it."

"Hold on. I'm calling."

Okay at this point, I am BEYOND in a panic. Of course, you know my passport contains my Visa. I'm sick. I keep thinking of the joke about "now don't lose it" that Randall Graves commented when he read I received my Visa.

"Ms. Mancha?"

"Yes", hopeful for good news.

"Restroom supervision hasn't received it yet. Do you have a phone number? Can you give it to me and I'll call you if we find anything."

"Okay." I give her the number, feeling sick and helpless. We hang up. I return to the white courtesy phone and dial paging. Miraculously, someone answers. An old-man sounding someone.

"I need you to do a page. I lost my passport and I need you to page to see if anyone has found it."

"We only page people. I can't do that. What would I say?"

I mean really. Isn't it obvious? "How about has anyone found a LIME GREEN PASSPORT HOLDER WITH PASSPORT? If so, dial the white courtesy phone??"

"I'll have to check with a supervisor. Please hold." Before I can protest, I hear music. My cell phone rings.


"Ms. Mancha? TSA Security has informed me that someone has turned in your passport".

I begin sobbing loudly. "Ms. Mancha, are you okay?"

"Its just that...I'm sorry. I haven't been to bed and it has been a stressful morning (blurted between sobs) and I'm moving to France and I need that passport."

"Well calm down. Go ahead and go through TSA Screening and tell them the supervisor has your passport. Good Luck."

I hang up and turn towards the wall, crying...at least more quietly. I attempt to compose myself and get into line. I have no clue what time it is. Tears continue to flow but at least I'm not crying out loud, for crying out loud. I tell the gentleman about my passport. He asks, "Is that all your upset about? Is there anything else I can help with?" I now return to sobbing out loud. He seemed so genuinely nice. I shake my head. I go unload my tote bag and backpack and shoes and jewelry into all of the baskets and step through the magic machine. No beeping. I retrieve all of my stuff and approach the TSA Counter. There was a group of about 6 people having a meeting (what did I tell you, they are everywhere). Someone walks up on me quickly from behind. "Can I HELP you?", rather intimidatingly. I turn and they see my swollen eyes and wet cheeks. They back off a bit.

Upon hearing my story, they hand me my Lime Green treasure. I sign some papers. I return it to the locked compartment in my purse and trudge toward my gate. I collapse into a seat and exhale. I'm shaking. I'm physically and mentally exhausted, worn out, doubtful and discouraged.

And I haven't even boarded the plane.

Remind you of an I Love Lucy episode? me too. If only I could have done one of her "Waaaaa..aaa..ahhhhhhs", I probably would have felt better. I swear, if any of this would have been on camera, we'd have money in our pockets.

Next episode. J'Arrive.

Yes, there's more.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

ooh! ooh!

I was wondering what my Bon Voyage counter would say on D DAY and there it is! A hearty Au Revoir!!! ZERO days left! Boarding starts soon!
And by the way.

Oh. My. God.

Do I already have stories for you all. There isn't a situation comedy on T.V. that's got a thing on me!!! Fuhgeddaboutit Hollywood, my material is unsurpassed. I've embarked as only Kimba can.

stay tuned.

Friday, July 11, 2008

à bientôt!

Today is it. My final day in America before departing on my big French adventure! I have a full day of last minute frenzy and then, I depart for the airport at 2:30 a.m. Two hour drive to airport, and early arrival for doggie check-in.

I've adjusted my blogworthy radar sensitivity index to maximum and will hopefully have an adventurous tale to report upon my next blog update, live from France.

You crazy kids be good. I'll be checking in throughout the day and hopefully will end with time for blog reading, commenting and general mischief and tomfoolery.

Its finally here. Off to the races and the start of a new life.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

wednesday's wonderful.

Okay, well it was a gobstoppingly beautiful day on the coast today. As I ran through a variety of tasks, I was kissed by the sun and everyone was in a good mood. I noticed how kind and mellow everyone in this little town can be.

My pups were groomed at the local vet, they returned with snappy bandannas. When I inquired about boarding, they volunteered a tour of the joint ... (had to twist arms at many other locations). The fellows at Ace Hardware and Napa Parts bent over backward to be of assistance. I've brought order to 2/3rds of my cabin. I've got 5 weeks booked. I'm pouring wine for a last visit with a friend here. I'm pleased to say that I could spend happy hours, days, weeks ... basically times in general in this little coastal village. And I'm confident I can spend an equal if not even more fulfilling period at my proposed destination.

Yes those crazy voices are still there. I think it is a good thing to let you (my readers) know that doubts emerge. That it isn't an easy task to buck the norm. To take a risk. To open the door to potential wonderful occurrences. You too shall experience the gamut of emotions should you endeavor to undertake an adventure such as mine.

embrace them. each and every wonderful emotion. make them yours. wonderfully yours.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

getting ready. and here I come.

Well now. I'm switching my countdown from days to hours. 78 hours to be exact. I vacillate between elation and nausea. La Framericaine inquired about my pre-departure activities.

Hmmm. Today I arose at 5:15 a.m. and drove my houseguest to Portland's Union Station to board Amtrak north to the Seattle airport. I then proceeded to Starbucks ... (where I got to see lots of meetings ensuing) and rendez-vous'd with my hero of the day, my friend Tom. He has volunteered to do the remarkable kindness of picking up my vehicle at the Portland airport and returning it to the coast where it will await my return or its eventual sale. Isn't he a wonder?

I then drove back to Seaside where, in spite of having a laundry list of small tasks and a highly compressed amount of remaining time in which to complete them ... I watched American Gangster and then began catching up on all of my belated blog reading and commenting. I'm a bit tired and overwhelmed, to be honest. I needed to be distracted for a bit. But I am also the type who seems to thrive on procrastination and last minute chaos to spur me on.

Wednesday will be jam packed. I have some goodbye phone calls to make. A mid-morning consultation with my new coastal property manager. A house to clean. Laundry to transport to the laundromat (isn't that a fabulous word?). A trip to the US Post Office for last minute mailing. A trip to my new storage space for final drop-offs. Farewell drinks with a friend Wednesday evening. Spill-over to Thursday will be a final strimmer session with my yard, and a whirlwind weed-and-feed. Targeted applications of Round-up (sorry mother earth). A good dose of carpenter ant repellent around the exterior of my shacky-shack.

My goal is to be relatively task free for Friday. Not too free though, not enough for insane levels of fretting. Leaving time for a beach day. Final luggage review. And my departure for the airport at the god-awful hour of 2:30 a.m. (90 minutes to airport. 3 hour advance arrival to accommodate doggie check-in as well as my own).

I feel my blood pressure and heart rate climb as I contemplate it. In fact, this is actually the very first time I have thought of a flight to and arrival in France with dread. Mostly because of the dogs and the coordination of luggage and kennels throughout CDG, all by my lonesome. It is like taking some medicine in order to get better, right? sigh.

An expat friend sent me the most wonderfully sane and encouraging email today. I honestly want to print it and carry it with me to read as a sort of talisman for my journey. Apparently, I'm to be assured that I am not crazy. Nor irrational. Nor throwing my life away! Of course, logical Kim is aware of these things. Logical Kim has successfully navigated so, so many rough waters through the years and not only stayed afloat but ventured into quite fruitful territories. And she knows it. But Doubting Kim rears her ugly head occasionally, with particularly poor timing.

I take a deep breath and assure myself, if anyone can do it ... I can. and so I shall. So yes, I do believe I shall be printing these friendly words of sanity for me to refer to over the next few days. That, my friend Mr. Hendricks, and some Stuart Smalley chanting should get me through.


what is it with Americans and meetings? Meetings seem to be a part of every aspect of lifestyle here. No matter where I go, it seems I encounter a meeting.

In corporate business life, your day is consumed by meetings. Teleconference. Video conference. Conference room meetings. Group think. Decision by meeting. Don't even get me started on the PowerPoint factor. I've done this myself in the business world. In prior corporate life, daily meetings were sponsored at every level of every department.

I go to Starbucks and inevitably encounter meetings. Starbucks' employees participating in meetings. Business people conducting meetings.

I step into the grocery store early in the morning and peppered throughout are people cheering each other on in mini-store rallies.

We try and spice up our meetings by conducting them in surprise locations. I've seen them at the zoo. the park. the movies.

Meetings spawn committees. And the need for sub-meetings. and groups. or what about all of the online sites for people to meet outside of work.

There are civic meetings. and hobbyist meetings. school meetings. travel meetings. meetings to plan meetings (for real, happens A LOT).

Oh. and what about religions? talk about a lot of meetings. many of them required in order to meet muster. There are sites for religions and groups to meet online. and don't get me started about the exes.

You know. the Ex-members. Of religions. Of companies. Of organizations. They all submit to this need to meet.

Hell, even our songs mention encourage the concept of meetings, elseways why do we hum the chorus *got a meetin' in the ladies room*?

Did you know there was a website devoted to coordinated meetings? Meet-Up is just propagating meetings like rabbits breed kits.

I'm going to have my meet-dar on in France to see if this phenomenon has spread. and how far.

Monday, July 7, 2008

a new me.

In the spirit of reinvention, I dyed my hair a darker brown last night.  I figured hey,  I'm going off to a new life, a new town, a new country.  How about some new hair to go with it?!  I have a houseguest and after a couple mimosas, I went for it.

Now, most women know that timing can be everything when undertaking a dramatic change in appearance such as haircolor.  Who hasn't gotten the bright idea to dye your hair the night before a big job interview or hot first date?  *buzzer sound* not always the best move.  I had a bit of trepidation while undergoing the process last night ... would this be a bad omen? if I didn't like my hair would I also be coloring my experience in a negative way?  well, doesn't matter because the hair is okay and I am continuing to assure myself my trip will be as well.

I have to confess to some anxiety.  Questioning myself a bit as the counter clicks down.  Was I crazy? hormonal? reactionary?  If this is such a good idea, why aren't more people doing it? not to mention those that I recently encountered here that had the similar intention and have turned back from their idea.  Ruh roh.  Do they have more sense than me?  Do I need to wake up and smell the coffee?

S'okay, folks.  I'm not backing down.  I've had some major life crises through the years, and I recognize the questioning as perfectly normal.  Kind of like a sounding board.  Its the answers I give myself that are just as important as the questions.   Am I crazy? a little.  Hormonal? not yet.  Reactionary? no, this has been a long and well planned effort.  More people doing it? Its my dream, not theirs.  Those whose minds have changed? It took me 10+ years, with other starts/stops, they will come along too I believe, just in their own time.  More sense than me? no doubt!  Coffee? time for a new brand.

So, while the hair may be a new me ... I'm not counting on France as some panacea to solve all of the old Kim's issues or 'flat spots'.  

I think it will be a newly expanded me,  a growing and evolving me.  Still me.  But improved.  

Kind of like Tide.  Still a best seller.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

pay attention.

pay attention.  I've been crying ruby red tears from my broken heart.  
you might notice my voice is raspy from the wailing of my silent refrain.  take heed. 
I'm wasting away from missing the usual crumbs you toss my way.  
My rampant neediness makes me irksome. you smile and pat my head, turning to your papers.  
It is hard work becoming invisible in the presence of a blind man.

I thought you'd notice the sharp odor of my growing listlessness. 
the irritating whoosh of my many sighs.
The sourness of my dissatisfaction lingers on my unkissed lips, your breath sweet in the blissful ignorance of your own distraction.  
I was here, you just didn't see me.  
It was me. through my uncombed hair and mismatched ensemble.  do you recognize your handiwork?  
Over here, its me.  I'm going now. 
The weight of all our potential is just too heavy to bear.  I can't do it alone.  
Pay attention.  that's the sound of the door to my love, closing.  softly. 
pay attention. you missed my goodbye.

Friday, July 4, 2008

my country t'is of thee.

Okay, is anyone else out there kind of sad this fourth of July? I mean even sadder than you've been the last 6 or 7 fourth of Julys? I had been riding a wave of optimism there during the spring and early summer. But ever since Obama has been declared the pre-emptive Democratic nominee and there have been a series of weird actions on his part, I'm getting more and more discouraged. disenchanted. discombobulated.

I mean first there was the whole "FISA" backpeddle. And then there was the whole "faith-based reform" hustle. Now there's the "troops out in 16 months but that could change after I talk to the generals" electric slide.

Some other citizenship is sounding more and more appealing. I'm just tired. bone tired of the foolishness. I want Obama to grow a pair, a strong pair and stand up and fight. Or if that is what he IS doing, fighting for what HE believes in ... then we are royally screwed.

I hope I'm wrong. I'm hoping the next series of announcements and actions are more in line with what most of us Dems expected. But it seems possible that the country as a whole is just so completely different than the dialogue stream running inside my particular universe.

So this whole emigration thing is making more and more sense. I think I am meant to be a woman without a country.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

single digits.

well folks, as of today I have hit the single digit countdown. 9 days. can you believe it?! now I suppose I'll still have to do some other countdown-related updates but single digits is a big deal. takes a deep breath. exhales.

t'is all.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Arte y Pico

Wow. It seems I have received an award. what better Bon Voyage than recognition for my angst and random streams of consciousness ? or (un) ... All of my best finery is packed and on its way to France, so I guess I'll just have to wear this old thing. (use your imagination, I'm sure it will be better than any description I could provide!) 

So. Not only do I get to have an amazing adventure and write about it and actually have people read what I write and sometimes even comment but now someone, namely Utah Savage, goes and gives me an award! An Arte Y Pico award. With rules and guidelines and stuff. Man, I forgot to write a speech. Or I wrote a speech and left it in my seat. or my purse. or my car. or the bathroom. So I'll just have to make do with thanks, and coming from a completely talented and gifted writer such as herself, it is quite amazing!

Now then. to the fine print. Apparently here is where I tell you more about the honorable award and what rules that are meant for you to abide by.  Since no one is the boss of me, you'll know that rules aren't exactly my bag.  But it is what it is.  So.

Upon accepting this award, one is asked to 1) select five blogs that they consider deserving of the award. Criteria is creativity, design, interesting material, and for contributing to the blogging community in any language.

2) Include the name of the author and a link to the blog, for each award designated,

3) Award winner must display the award graphic and put the name and blog link of the blog author that gave the award,

4) Include a link to the "Arte Y Pico" blog, in order to share the origin of the award.

My goal was to include some of my favorite blogs that haven't already been nominated or that some of my stateside readers might not have yet discovered. I couldn't find any references regarding declining the award, so get ready recipients ... that just ISN'T an option.

So, I've already covered numbers 3 and 4.  Now for the remnants.  And recipients.

My first award goes to Bête de Jour...an ugly man's guide to life, love and happiness. An Englishman with a wry writing style who demonstrates a voice unafraid of revealing raw emotion when sharing his past and present experiences.  I was hooked with the first read and I'm sure you will be, too.

Secondly, I would like to introduce you to Nunhead Ramblings, nunhead mum of one. Nunhead's blog is easy reading and you are quickly engaged with the goings-on of life, home and family; all presented in a friendly, humorous style that draws one in. The feel is similar, in my opinion, to Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City".

Third for me would be The Bloggess, like Mother Teresa only better. Now The Bloggess isn't for everyone, only crackpot madpeople such as myself with entirely warped senses of humour. This is one of the few blogs where I get withdrawals between posts. The Bloggess may be too big of a celebrity for my humble recognition ... but even so, if you haven't read her and you are twisted and sick and crazy ... do yourself a favor and do it DO IT!

Fourth on my list to share is Missing You Already, also known as MYA. MYA is a London expatriate living a life in Southwest France, sharing anecdotes and local color, while also writing a book. She makes me chuckle ... and can simultaneously make me take pause and long for my move abroad.

My fifth introduction would be Halfway To France. One discovers endless tips on the french relocation experience, peppered with unique insights of an American transformation to French ... and all the steps along the way. All provided with generosity, humor and kindness.

While I'm sharing this great idea called Arte Y Pico, I'd also like to introduce another blogging recognition site called Post Of The Week, where bloggers nominate their favorite posts for recognition. Check it out, all!

exits stage left.