(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

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!


Our Juicy Life said...

me first...
Sounds so exciting and a bit exhausting, but when it's your place I'm sure it makes it a bit easier. Sounds like JY is a true find. Glad you are out of the hotel and apartment and had your first night in your home.

Do you know the last time people lived in the house? When was it built? Sounds like the washing of ceilings/walls over and over and over would make you yearn for a great massage.

Stacey said...

All these finds under the modernization! Your house must have been very well-built.

Utah Savage said...

Yours is the most interesting life in my blog world. I so enjoy each new discovery, conversation, views on politics, impact of our collapsing currency and economy in general on the rest of the world.

I have grown sick of myself, and will retreat a bit, hopefully quite a bit, to my real writing--trying to learn to edit myself a bit better. Writing new stories. So tho I will be visiting France to hear of your adventures, I will meet you in our secret place.

Randal Graves said...

Hydrochloric acid, huh? Bet that figures in your story for utah's murderin' mademoiselles.

It truly does sound exhausting, but things are getting done and it's very groovy to hear about!

See, France is just like the US, towards two classes, feel that fraternité. Couples shopping? Isn't that a chance to get away? Heh :)

La Framéricaine said...


Congratulations on your real life in France! I just love living in a job site. It makes me feel so free, like anything is possible. I hate sleeping in the "bedroom" just because they named it "bedroom" on a architect's drawing.

Le Framéricain and I sleep in the "living room" of our beater trailer and the "bedroom" is our office.

I am so happy for you and can imagine how happy it makes you to be working on your own home with your own French friends!

Bonne continuation!


Stephanie said...

Perhaps couplehood is coming into your life whether you like it or not? :-)

b said...

Wow! You are making incredible progress already! I love hearing about your experiences, observations, etc. I notice so many couples in Paris, too. Although, with Paris, I more instantly assume that many couples come here and engage in public displays of affection more willingly, given the romantic nature of Paris! :)

I leave Paris in two days. I'm so sad about this but feel strongly that I will return sooner than later! I hope that we can meet up next time!! Looking forward to reading more!