A House in Provence Chapter 5

Beginning Building

Chapter 5

Months later the walls went up on our house, and finally, the roof. Now the building could really start to pick up speed since the weather wouldn’t be a factor. I hadn’t seen any of the progress on the house since the foundation and was looking forward to seeing what it looked like. It turned out that it looked smaller that I thought it would be at first. And it was all cinder block- the stuco plaster finish would be one of the last things done. When I walked around the back of the house I noticed that there was a four foot drop off out of our back door and back porch. The house had been built up on a foundation due to heavy rains experienced in the area. There had to be, by law, an area under the house for water run off. Due to my lack of understanding of the technical French, I didn’t comprehend a lot of what was said to Maurice during many meetings that went on between him and our supervisor. I could pick up quite a bit if the conversation was about general things but once it entered the technical stage my comprehension plummeted to zero. I wasn’t expecting our back door to be floating almost at my eye level. I could see right away that we would have to have some extensive work done to make the back of our house accessible.
We made a special trip with family to show them the house. It was locked up tighter than a drum. There were no workers there and Stephane wasn’t answering his cell phone. So we all got a good look at the outside. I asked Maurice if there was someway to get a key to the house so we could get in when no one was there. He told me that it wasn’t allowed-if we had the key then the building company couldn’t guarantee the work or items in the house. I couldn’t believe it. I found out that we wouldn’t get the key at all until the house was completely finished and we had what they called a reception and a walk through was done of the house.
One visit we actually were able to get into the house. We were looking at the kitchen area talking about counters and cabinets when we realized that the kitchen counter would stick out about 6 inches or so into the doorway. The door had been placed over too far. At first we were told that it couldn’t be fixed but in the end they did move it over. Then we were called one day and asked if we had to have a sink in the little room holding the toilet. (Most homes here have a separate room for the toilet with the bathtub and/or shower being in another room.) Maurice told me what they asked. I thought for a minute and said, “You know what? I’m not budging. I want the sink. What are they, a bunch of amateurs?” We would get the sink, or so I thought. When the house was finished, it wasn’t there.
The work did go more quickly and it was looking like the house would be finished before September. We got our hopes up forgetting about August in France. It seems that almost everyone takes off for vacation for the whole of that month. Work starts to taper off in July and it is well into September before everything is back to normal again.
It was then that Stephane started demanding 95% of the money owed on the house when only 75% or so was done. He was offended that we didn’t trust the company to finish everything as it was supposed to be done. The compressor for the air conditioner hadn’t been installed, nor had the plumbing fixtures. We were told that this was because there was a possibility they would be stolen. At this point Maurice and Stephane got into horrible arguments. I was afraid blows would be exchanged. The French often do this. You will hear two French people really arguing sounding extremely angry. Later, when you ask what the problem was, they are puzzled. Nothing was wrong, they were just having a discussion. This was a little different. I know Maurice was very angry and I was guessing Stephane was too.
We were at the house about 3 weeks before our so called reception when I noticed there was no light fixtures and I realized that this was something we had never picked out. We had only selected the location of light fixtures. There were bare wires hanging from the ceilings where, at least, we could screw in light bulbs so we wouldn’t be sitting in the dark. I noticed that there wasn’t a light of any kind in the entry way. I asked Stephane where it was and was told there wasn’t one. He pointed to the electical outlet on the wall. This was where we would plug in our lamp. I blew up and said it was ridiculous. How can you have a dark entry way without any light? Both he and Maurice looked at me like I was crazy and over reacting-this after their many arguments.
I found other things to be missing: no heating vents into the “water closets” holding the toilets so in the winter the toilet seats will be freezing. I assume they think that because you won’t (hopefully) be in the room for very long that no heating or cooling are required. There is a little window in these rooms which makes it even colder in the winter. The bathrooms with the shower and bathtubs only had wall heaters as well. They work effectively just taking a short time to warm up the room. The laundry room didn’t have a vent, either, but I was to find that the dryer made it a very warm room. The closets were empty of any shelves or poles to hang clothes on. The cabinets under the sink weren’t really cabinets. They were just door fronts,made of the cheapest wood possible, and the inside was empty with no shelves and old cement left on the floor from the tile installation. There was also no kick board under the bathroom cabinent, just an empty space which Stephane informed me was so there was a place for your feet to go when you were at the sink. There were no mirrors on the wall, medicine cabinets or drawers.
I wasn’t a happy camper and I wasn’t even in the house yet.