A House in Provence Chapter 15

This is a photo of a great red leaf in a vineyard taken recently here in the autumn. The article below was written almost 2 summers ago. We’ve come a long way since I wrote this.

Chapter 15
Swimming Pool and Landscaping

As might be expected, building a pool in Provence is right up there in the stress and disappointment we experienced in building our house. I’ve met an American lady living in Aix who says she will never, never (she said repeated this twice) have anything built in Provence. She did need some work done in her house and had a man come out to look at what was needed and now she is waiting for the estimate of the work and has no plans to hear from him any time soon. If you have expectations and want something down right away you will end up with a stress ulcer and have periods of time when you think that your head is going to explode. I should add that even Maurice, being French and all, has the same reactions and can’t believe how hard it is to get something done here.

My American friend thinks it is just different in Provence. According to her, people in Provence always put their families first in their lives. This is one reason why shops close for lunch with those long breaks because this is a family time for getting together over a meal. Friends come next and in France this means that these friends are ones you have had since childhood. They might have other acquaintances, different levels of friends, but never one they value more than the ones made first. Down near the bottom of the list is work and this certainly appears true to me. I often see shops closed for lunch around the various villages in Provence, as well as the rest of France, and think that if this were done in the States, everyone would stop shopping there; Americans would take their business elsewhere. Customer service, as we in America think of it, will probably slowly make its way into France mainly because customers will start demanding it and, most probably, because the shops will discover that they make more money this way. I could be wrong but there are more and more shops in Paris doing this. Can it be far behind in the country?

Back to the swimming pool. Maurice picked out a local builder who, in fact, lives three houses down from us. He first talked with us in October and told us they could start sometime in January. January came and went with Maurice calling and leaving messages several times. Finally we were told they would start our pool at the beginning of February. They didn’t start digging until the end of the month. They decided that we needed two support poles under the end of the pool nearest where the land dropped off so two deep holes about ten feet deep were dug. Maurice and both the pool builder and landscaper all thought that the pool needed to be very near the end of the land so it would be in the sun more time. To me this wasn’t an important factor as once summer sets in and the temperatures start soaring, it isn’t that necessary to be in the sun. You aren’t going to get a serious chill sitting in a tepid swimming pool in the shade if it is in the 90’s or more. I put up a little protest but let Maurice put the pool where he wanted.

When they started digging it looked like the pool was going to be way too close to the house, like we could jump into it from our porch with very little effort but that didin’t turn out to be the case. The pool, because the land was so low in realtion to our house, was built as a cement square sitting above the ground at first. To get to it for a look we had to climb down from the porch or consider putting a plank across from our porch to the pool but never did. Eventually the landscaper came and filled in two porches with dirt right by our house which helped to get around out back.

Progress on the pool was in fits and starts. Sometimes there were workers everyday doing something but we went most of April with not much of anything being done. We had been told, and had started hoping, that the pool would be finished by early May. This didn’t happen. We were planning a trip to the States at the end of May and Maurice didn’t want to leave without the pool being finished. He had learned to be around as much as possible when work was being done or something was done wrong. One day our neighbor across the street came roaring over as we came home from a trip to the grocery store because a huge truck bringing equipment had torn off a branch of one of their trees trying to turn off the very narrow road into the even narrower entry way to our house. Their house was the first one built on our street and the wall surrounding their land was built much too close to the road-we were required to have about 6 feet between a fence and the road-and some of the braches of their trees and bushes hung out into the road. I didn’t understand what the big deal was. It was an oak tree that grows all over the place and I’m sure they didn’t plant it, and they couldn’t even see the damaged part of the tree from their house or land, they had to walk out onto the road to see it. I think they were mad that the truck driver didn’t come tell them and just threw the branch over the wall into their yard. They thought Maurice should have been there to supervise. I don’t know how this could have been done when we never knew when anyone was going to show up and I doubt that Maurice would have been out on the road to watch the truck in any case. Half the time we didn’t know anyone was at our house until we looked out a window and saw a truck pulling up near the pool. I learned not to open the shutters to the bedroom until I was fully dressed as I sometimes was surprised when a workman or two strolled past on their way to work.

Our landscaper couldn’t do much of her work until they put the soil around the pool. Maurice had the name of the man who was supposed to do this and called him one day to see when he was coming as the swimming pool supervisor had told him the dirt mover man was due on a certain date. The digger knew nothing about it. The supervisor of the pool was doing the same thing the supervisor of our house did, telling us what we wanted to hear while, at the same time, collecting money. Maurice was able to get the digging guy to come out-he had his own earth moving machine-and finally fill in the area around the pool. It made such a difference and gave us an idea of what the yard would finally look like when we, some day in the distant future, got it finished.

Maurice would often jump the space between our porch and other walls before they were filled in with dirt as he tried to get a little work around the yard done. One day the front door opened and I heard him calling for me. When I arrived at the front door he was bending over holding his forehead from which blood was dripping to the ground. He had slipped on our “non-slip” porch and his head came down on the corner of a wall. There was a gash in his forehead and nose, large abrasions on his arm, a deep scratch on his glasses lens, a tear in his jeans and his thumb hurt. He was lucky he didn’t break something or end up with a concusion. For the next week he sported a spectacular black eye.

The landscaper put some nice gravel on one of the porches and planted lavender and rosemary on the hill below the pool. She said it was really a little too late to plant them as it would be a little too warm so we had to water them every day or so. I wasn’t in Provence at the time and Maurice bought the flat green hoses that spray out thin misty little jets of water. I had hoped for the hoses I used to use, soaking hoses, as I think they do a better job while saving water. I think Maurice didn’t want to bother with burying them or pay the higher price so we were commited to this type of watering system. I feel like it is worth the time and price, not to mention the labor, to get soaking hoses installed at the beginning. You can’t see them and I like the idea of saving water. Well, maybe some time down the road this will happen. The hill where the new plants are is huge and it will be an enormous job. Maybe they won’t need much water once they are established. Right now we have two bright yellow hoses that run across the yard to attach to the watering hoses-not very attractive. I found out later that once the plants were established, we didn’t need to water them. This worried me, not being used to this mentality, but the plants all survived although I think they would have grown more and produced more flowers had they been watered but with water being so expensive here, I’m just happy that they all survived the summer.

We have huge expanses of land behind the pool that will require landscaping and I would like to, at one point, build a little pool house/covered area or cabana to put chairs under. This will be a year or two down the road when we aren’t putting out masses of money for other things needed for the house and yard.

The pool after it was built, before the dirt was put it around it and the drop from our porch.

The pool after the dirt was put around it. The pool filled with water in the front of the photo is our neighbor’s pool up above our house.

Les Arcs

There are several places is France called Les Arcs. I’ve been to one of them in the French Alps for skiing. On the drive down to the Cote d’Azures I had often noticed an exit sign for another Les Arcs along with a sign saying, “Medieval Village” and I had read, some time ago, that it was an interesting village to visit. So, on the way back from our day trip to St Raphael, we took the exit and went into the old section of Les Arcs. It is full of ancient narrow streets, lined with stone that meander their way up a hill to the top. It was interesting to walk around and it had the feel of Eze, but without the hoards of tourists and no shops except for a few artists selling their work. At the top was an interesting looking hotel which used an old chateau as part of their building called, Le Logis du Guetteur. You enter an ancient gateway into an courtyard with an incredible view. There was an interesting looking restaurant up there as well. Maybe someday we will try it.
A few photos from Les Arcs, mostly doorways:

Plastic-less in France

A nice line of trees in Provence in the Autumn

France has passed a law outlawing the selling or use of plastic in France. Smoking, however, will continue, at least for now. We can no longer get plastic bags in the grocery store when it comes time to load up the food just purchased. We have had to buy several bags that are reused, sold to us by our grocery store, Hyper U, to get things from the store to our car, to our house. Plastic, as we all know, doesn’t decompose in land fills but lingers for hundreds of years so I happy to try and do my part and find other ways to do my usual things. I miss plastic bags as I used them for recycling and kitter litter cleaning. We are now waiting for new bags to come out made of cellulose that will decompose. I wonder if Zip Lock will come out with something that will decompose? I usually bring a supply from the States as I like the quality better than what I find here. I guess things will be a little inconvient but I’m sure we will manage. Gasoline won’t be around much longer either. I wonder what will be available then? We are going to do our traveling now while we can both get around well and while there is still gasoline for flying. Things do change.

The vineyards are all changing the color of their leaves and the sun travels lower in the sky slanting with golden light through the leaves.

Must Love Cats

Maurice and I are talking about taking an around the world trip. This will, of course, be without our cat. We have taken short journeys and left Elliot, our cat, in the apartment in Paris and a nice lady comes twice a week to feed him and change the litter box. It would be up there with animal abuse to leave him like that for 3 months. He is very friendly and likes to interact with people and I think he would pine away.
I once looked into someone to cat sit. I found the name and phone number of a man in FUSAC, a magazine for Americans in Paris-mostly-advertising all sorts of things. This man’s ad said he loved cats, had a screened in porch and reasonable rates. Since he was French, I had Maurice call him. The first thing the man asked was, “What do you feed your cat?” Maurice didn’t even know and had to ask me. The answer is Friskies, the stuff you buy in any grocery store. I have actually tried the expensive cat food that you must buy in pet stores, IAM’s and Science Diet. My cat hates both of them and actually starts to look unhealthy with his coat getting dull. He perks up again with Friskies. He, by the way, won’t touch canned cat food or even chopped up liver. Anyway, when the possible cat sitter heard the word, “Friskies”, he yelled, “You hate your cat!” And hung up the phone. Well, gee. I don’t.
So we are now looking for someone to sit the cat. If anyone out there knows of a cat lover who won’t charge me the cost of an around the world plane ticket to cat sit, let me know. I wish I could figure out a way to get him to my daughter, a true cat lover.

Here is Elliot, sweet little thing.

St Raphael

When Maurice and I first started talking about building a house in France, we talked about living by the ocean. Maybe it is because I was raised in the Southwest in the dessert amongst the cactus and road runners, but I have always loved visiting the ocean. We looked at one French coast town, le Lavendou, but never found anything there plus it seemed really dead during the winter. We still talk about doing it sometime, selling our house and getting a small place by the ocean. With this in mind, we visited St Raphael, a town west of Nice. We arrived on a beautiful, sunny day and really liked what we saw. It is a lively little city, very clean and it had a really nice abiance. Will we actually ever pack up and move? Who knows–not for several years at least-and then it might be for a place in the States. Who knows what the future holds, but it is fun dreaming about it.

I loved this mermaid on a carousel there.

We stopped at a restaurant for lunch there and, interestingly, the place served tex-mex. I am always a little sceptical about mexican food in France because of this:

Mustard on the table and no salsa, only some hot sauce from Louisiana, but I ordered some enchildadas anyway.

Here is what the plate looked like. Only one enchilada and the rice was yellow but it turned out to be very tasty with a sort of tex-mex chili sauce inside a corn tortilla.

A House in Provence Chapter 13

We are back in Provence for two weeks. Here is the view from the back of our house our first morning with mist floating in the “Valley of Water”.

I think these are persimmons. Don’t they look like jewels against the blue sky?

Chapter 13
Country Living

Living in the country takes a lot of getting used to for someone who has always lived in a city. I guess the small town that I grew up in, in the early years of my life, would be fairly country in feel, a little town called Silver City, New Mexico. I have a few memories of it, the small yard in front of our house, the downtown with a single street and no stop light, and a phone number consisting of three digits. But, being young, it all seemed huge to me and I still remember the surprise of the height of the counter in the principal’s office when I went to see the school again years later.
No, I am used to city living. I love Paris and the ease of getting around by metro or bus, how walkable the whole city is, filled with small local parks or the larger Luxembourg or Tuleries gardens, the walks along the Seine, puttering around the Louvre, all of this is what makes this city great to me. A movie is just a short metro ride away, a book store the same. There are so many restaurants to choose from that we never will get to try them all. Huge department stores are available and tiny boutiques abound, shopping heaven in other words.
With the nearest city 45 minutes away here in Provence things get more difficult for me. Going to a movie is a major production requiring a lot of planning. I save up a list of things to do so we don’t waste the trip. Meticulous grocery shopping lists must be made or you end up cooking something very simple when a necessary ingredient was forgotten on the trip to the grocery store. There are small grocery stores closer to us, but most have just the basics and the fruits and vegetables are not usual at their peak, lettuce being soft and tired, tomatoes dull and bruised looking. There are great and fun local markets just about every day of the week but, again, it requires loading up in the car and arriving before noon or so or everyone is packing up for the day, especially in the summer when temperatures start to climb. None of the better markets are near us but there are a few nearby villages with one man selling cheese, olives and nuts and a lady selling vegetables and fruit. Not of lot of choice, but good for last minute buys. And, of course, nothing is open for two hours at lunch time. They call that quality of life-getting to have lunch with family. I don’t always agree, being an impatient American forced to wait for the two hours to pass before I can buy anything-what about my quality of life? Some shops are the same in Paris, but most of them are starting to stay open, especially the larger stores.
I have never had to worry about garbage where I have lived before. Here we have to haul everything up to a garbage collection center. As the garbage bag in the kitchen gets full, I take it out of the container, tie the bag and put it out in the garage. We are trying to keep cans, bottles and platic containers separate, like good citizens, for recycling. So far we have just been putting them in plastic bags but I am thinking we need to invest in some special containers out in the garage. Sometimes we just carry the garbage up the hill, not too great a distance, to the collection center, but we often have so much we have to use the car. It is quite a chore and I miss the convenience of wheeling out my garbage can to the curb.
For some reason, the electricity goes out quite frequently in this region. Sometimes it is because of violent thunder storms but sometimes it is a bright, blue, sunny day with nothing much going on weather wise and off it goes. We always go to see if our neighbors are without electricity as well and they always are. There is a lot of building going on all over Provence so maybe some line gets cut miles away from us. I’ve never found out.
We are lucky enough to be able to use our computer here in Provence. We had some sort of digitalized connection that speeded up the phone line use in some way but it isn’t that wonderful high speed internet connection. We we first moved here, Maurice called the phone company and found that they didn’t expect for us to have DSL connection until 2007 but when he heard that nearby Grambois had it, he called and tried to get it connected. They told us that they would make the connections, give us a modem but they still didn’t know if we would be able to get the connection. This seems very amateurish to me and makes me realize just how different country living can be although we did have some problems in Paris as well, come to think of it.
One thing we get here that we didn’t in the city is quiet. It is so very quiet and in the morning birds are easily heard. When one of the mistrals blows down the mountain, moving through the trees, it can sound like a pounding wave of the ocean thundering to shore. From the back of our house we can see some low mountains in the distance. At night there is an occasional set of car lights as they come through a little pass. We drove one day to find where this was and it was a drive of about 5 or so miles. A little closer in is the road we take when driving to the house. Occasionally, I will have a window in the house open and off in the distance I can hear the sound of a car or truck motor. A few minutes later I spot the vehicle on a road far below us. Five minutes or so, the car actually passes the road by our house. When waiting for someone at the house, I can usually spot them heading our way by hearing their motor well before they arrive here.
Of course there is the pleasure of seeing the night skies without light polution from cities. Every star stand out brightly and the moon is wonderful to watch as it moves across the sky. Early in the spring, when I lean out our doors to close the shutters, I see Mars and Venus low in the sky, even Saturn and Jupiter for a while, still amazing me that planets in our solar system are visible to me as I go about getting the house ready for the night
As the heat increases in the summer it can be a little hot on our porch where we like to have meals. There is usually enough of a breeze that eating outside is fairly comfortable at lunch time and the porch is in the shade until 3 or 4 PM. If there is a mistral blowing I don’t bother setting up our table outside as napkins get blown away and glasses get blown over. As it gets later, towards dinner time, the sun is at a slant and the light, and heat, pour onto the porch. Around 8 PM as I start getting dinner together I’m thinking we will have to eat our meal indoors but at 8:10 every evening the sun dips behind a nearby hill and the porch is in shade and it’s perfect for eating there. The evenings really cool off in Provence and it is wonderful to sit outside, have a drink and watch the fading light followed by one star and then another.