A House in Provence Chapter 11

A sign on the side of a building in St Remy. You can tell we are in wine country.

These types of ruins are very common in France. This was at the top of a little village near St Remy.

Chapter 11

We’ve Got Bigger Problems

Well, the beast under the house died. The plumbing problem has turned out to be a disaster. The plumber came out twice with a roto-rooter and the problem remained. Next he pulled out the bathtub which involve removing tile around it, breaking most of it. Then he pulled out the shower and discovered a huge hole in the pipe under the floor. Apparantly this was the source of our problem. He thought that perhaps someone doing the maisonry dropped something heavy and broke it. Whether they knew it at the time or not doesn’t really matter. The plumber fixed the pipe and, since it was a Saturday, quickly took off without test anything.
Maurice turned the water on in the sinks and went out to watch the flow from some port outside that let him look and he watched huge amounts of debris flowed by. (On the street, by our house, a lid can be pulled up and the flow of water in seen in a little open channel as it goes down hill to the water purification area.) Finally, the pipe couldn’t handle it and it clogged up somewhere up the line and the flow went down to a trickle. We were told the toilet upstairs was connected to another pipe and that it was going to work.
Well, things went from bad to worse. The toilet upstairs slowly started slowing down and finally, when I took a bath upstairs and let the water out of the tub, something seemed to break under the house and water poured under the floor. We think another pipe broke, maybe due to the backup in the former pipe. We think we now have two problems, the first broken pipe and a new broken pipe.
To say we were depressed is an understatement. Here we had a beautiful house and, really, we could’t live in it. There is a fabulous view and the skies are blue with incredible light pouring on the trees. There is a gite in the village up above us and we thought there was a possibility that we would be reduced to going up there to use their shower and toilet. We decided we had had enough and made reservations on the TGV to go back to Paris on Christmas Day. We did’t plan to come back until the problem was solved. I felt like Scrooge and had visions of boiling Stephane in olive oil and burying him with a sprig of lavender in his heart. Merry Friggin Christmas. Bah, Humbug.
Plumbing problems continued to abound into February. A plumber came out and finally got the pipes unplugged. The shower was reinstalled along with the bathtub and it’s tile covering. Everytime I emptied the bathtub or flushed the toilet I said a prayer. And, to add to my sense of doom, there was an unexplained odor in the bathroom smelling like wet cement. Maurice went under the house to see if it was wet but found only dry dirt. Fianlly, the toilet started doing its ineffective swirling thing again and I was unable to use the upstairs bathtub in the bathroom without the odor. There was some sort of new blockage involving the upstairs bathroom and the downstairs toilet.
We called our trusty building supervisor again telling him our problem only to be told that at least we had a working toilet and could take a shower. He had bigger problems to deal with elsewhere. We called our insurance company and reported the problem and started getting our own people out to start finding the problem.
In thinking about all that has happened we have decided that the plumbing problem started when they dug the foundation and discovered more rocks than they expected. We feel that they didn’t dig the foundation hole deep enough and as a result the pipes weren’t installed properly.

A House in Provence Chapter 10

A week or so ago, I drug my husband out of bed at 6 AM so I could get photos of the Senaque Abbey in good sunlight before the lavender was all gone. It is one of the most famous places in Provence as fields of lavender run up to the old abbey providing wonderful photos. So we get there and darn if the abbey isn’t in a valley with a big hill blocking the sun. I took photos anyway and we hung around for 45 minutes and still the sun wasn’t on the abbey or the lavender. It was very peaceful and still there and we were the only ones around and got to hear the bell in the tower chime for an early morning mass. I had to photoshop the heck out of the photo to get any color. I will try again next year for a photo and not bother getting up early.

Chapter 10

November is a rainy month in Provence. It rained so much last year in November that the laying of our foundation was delayed for months and, once again this year, November was proving to be wet. Every morning we woke up to gray skies and pouring rain. I understand this is one of the reasons vineyards do so well here with the combination of heavy autumn rains and hot dry summers with the sun baking the roots under the rocky soil, leading to juciy grapes and the famous wine. There was a lot of flooding in the south of France with Montpellier getting more rain in two days than it usually did in two months. Marseille had massive flooding as well with loss of lives.
At least, being situtated on a hill, we didn’t have to worry about water flowing into the house as I had seen on TV. We were elevated enough that most water should just flow under us and around us. We had several worries, however. Our neighbor above us had just installed one of those prefabricated swimming pools and with all of the rain I could picture it sliding down into our yard if the soil and large rocks didn’t hold it. Maybe we wouldn’t have to build our own swimming pool after all-we could just use theirs and landscape around it. But, in the end, it held.
We badly need rain gutters which aren’t allowed in our area. I suppose they ruin that “Luberon look”. When we opened or closed the shutters every morning and evening the water fell from the roof to our heads. Also, water made its way into our garage, even with a newly built water drainage system around our house. A small lake formed in front of our house, but at least we could now get into our garage so we didn’t have to trudge through the mud to enter the front door. We had a river of water running down one side of our house going where the swimming pool would eventually be. I could foresee a lot of work needing to be done to redirect the water flow and I was sure it wouldn’t be cheap.
I started noticing that the toilet wasn’t flushing well. Finally, one morning, it didn’t flush at all, but dumped water on the floor. The plumber came out later in the day, removed the toilet, tinkered around and then said he would have to come back the next day with a roto-rooter type device. It had been pouring all day and he had tracked large amounts of mud and rocks into the house. He had also gone into our bathroom and done some work under the sink. The place was a mess. We did a minimal clean up and had to brush our teeth in the kitchen sink. Luckily, the toilet upstairs seemed to be working fine. Maurice was really upset that this was happening but I told him that, in my experience anyway, there were often some sort of debris in the plumbing pipes dropped there during work on the house. I’d had to have plumbers out to a new house in the States as well. Luckily, we weren’t able to see into our plumbing future at this time or we would have been plunged into a dark depression.
The plumber returned the next day and did his thing with the rotto-rooter, making a huge mess once again. I hadn’t done the acid wash needed on the bathroom floor tiles yet as I had just finished painting the bathroom and was really glad as I think I would have had to have done it all over again. I still needed to one more coat of paint in the water closet and was glad that hadn’t been done either when I saw his black handprints on the wall. He was really a slob. He told my husband that we should have elevated our house more-that that was one of the problems with the toilet. I guess he meant that we needed more gravity for it all to work well. The toilet seems to work alright after he left, but I had a feeling the problem wasn’t really taken care of. He told us that if what he did didn’t work, he would have to pull up some of the tile, maybe the shower and tub, and dig some holes to get to the pipes. Now that’s depressing.
The next morning, after the plumber’s visit, I could see the toilet having the same problem it did before any work was done. At night I can hear a double glurging sound, glurg-glurg, and I imagine some sort of underground, snake-like animal slowly dying, emiting it’s death rales. We called the plumber, as well as the house supervisor, to try and get someone out to solve the problem but were told he was fully booked for the entire week. I wondered if they knew what is going to be involved, knew that it would be expensive and don’t want to bother. I imagined that we would have to get a plumber on our own to take care of the problem.
If I could only flush the toilet without praying it was going to work, I would be one happy woman.

A French Recipe

A little market shop in Gordes

Favorite French Recipes

I’ve developed a complex in France. It has to do with cooking and the fact that I am an American. Many French assume that Americans can’t cook, or at least cook anything that they would want to eat. On a walk in our neighborhood we stopped to talk to a nice man about the progress of his swimming pool. I should say, Maurice stopped to talk to him while I stood there, mostly mute, trying to catch all they were saying. I had put some osso bucco in the oven before we left and I looked at my watch and realized that we needed to get back so it didn’t overcook. Maurice told our French neighbor this and this nice man expressed surprise that I knew how to cook this dish, even though it is Italian and not one of the famous French dishes. Too bad I didn’t have him over to taste how good it was.
This isn’t the only time something like this has happened. We had some French friends over for a quick meal before we went to our village to see a little musical entertainment. I made a salad and a quiche. They took a bite of the quiche and the lady actual had the nerve to ask me if I had help making it, like I wasn’t capable of making a quiche by myself since I was an American. I was glad I was able to surprise them.
Somehow, the French are under the impression that Americans are bad cooks. I wonder where this comes from? Maybe from years before when we used to scandalize the French in restaurants by asking for ketchup or drinking coke with our meal?
I’ve become a little paranoid when cooking for French visitors, even my husband. I never know when he is going to get that look on his face that makes me feel like I am a culinary failure. I am being weighed in those French scales of hundreds of years of tradition and famous food.
Anyway, I have been trying French dishes since coming to France and while I am far from being at the professional level, I thought I would periodically share some of my favorites. I have found that some of the best dishes I have made are the most simple and that fresh ingredients is usually the reason why. The French don’t use processed foods in their cooking. You won’t find any canned cream of mushroom or chicken soup in the recipes, nor that dried onion soup mixed on top, all of which I used to use regularly.
We’ve had a surplus of zucchini from our garden and found this recipe so we could use some of it. We like it better than the ratatouille that we usually make.

Zucchini and Tomato Bake (Tian Provencal)

1 Tbsp olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
1 large onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 pound tomatoes, cut in slices
1 pound zucchini, cut in slices, diagonally
1 tsp dried herbs de Provence
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a heavy saucepan over low heat and cook the onion and garlic for about 20 munutes until soft and golden. Spread over the base of a shallow baking dish. Use a pretty one, if you;ve got one.
Cut the tomatoes and zucchini into slices.
Arrnage alternating rows of zucchini and tomatoes over the onion mixture and sprinkle with herbs, cheese and salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil then bake for about 25 mintues until the vegetable are tender. (Arrange the tomatoes in the center of the dish and surround them with the zucchini for a really pretty dish. We use more Parmesan cheese and olive oil than is called for.)

Provencal Fete in St Remy

St Remy is a very pretty little town near Avignon. It advertised a festival with a bull run. I really wanted to see how it was done. It involves horses and just a few bulls running down the street at a time, from what I’ve read. I guess there is a chance the bulls can run into the crowds lining the street and we saw big fences that were to be put up for the occasion but we never did get to see any bulls. I wan’t willing to hang around for four hours until it started. We did see a parade involving huge horses all linked together with a giant rope.

Some of the horses.

Nostradamus was born in St Remy. This statue of him is on top of a fountain. I don’t like to read of possible future happenings, so am not familiar with much of what he wrote.

I liked this tile on the outside of a shop by the same name.

A few minutes outside of St Remy, are these old Roman structures which fascinate me. Across the road is an excavation of an old Roman settlement that had been built on top of a Greek town. This is also the area where Van Gogh was in a hospital recovering from the ear cutting incident. He did many painting while here.

A House in Provence Chapter 9

I don’t have these steps in my yard, but I wish I did. These were in a Provence village named Joucas.

I am now back in Provence enjoying the warmth and blue skies.

Building A House In Provence
Part 9
The Dining Room Table

We had a really nice kitchen, but no table to eat at. Even when our furniture arrived from Texas we would’t have a table as I sold it before we moved. We don’t live near a big city, or even a large town. The nearest village has 300 people and not one shop. Aix is around 45 minutes away if the traffic is flowing, which it seldom seems to do. I kept hoping we would find a table at some sort of used furniture store somewhere in Provence but we had no luck.
We made a trek down to a huge industrial area right outside of Aix. Almost every store selling anything for homes or home repair can be found there. The traffic can be a nightmare and even the famous round abouts don’t handle the flow well. I always dread going here but we often end up at some store in the complex, such as a huge Castorama, that will usually have what we need being similar to the Home Depot in the States for home improvement projects. We had to have a dining room table as we were really tired of eating off of our coffee table, so gathered up our courage and set off on our search. We found a parking place with difficulty-this place is always packed- and walked around the area going in many stores. We found one table we liked but the price was more that we wanted to pay and the store manager wouldn’t deal with us no matter how we tried. In fact, the table had been several hundred dollars cheaper when Maurice had seen it about 6 weeks earlier. So we left without our table.
We needed book shelves really badly as well and while looking at many in several stores, I couldn’t get Maurice to pick some and buy them. He wanted to see as many as he could, think about it, and then come back and buy his selection. I am not this type of shopper. I want to get in, buy what I need, and get out. I don’t want to return if at all possible. Maurice does the same thing with paint. Instead of buying all that we need at once, he only gets one or two containers at a time. He did the same thing with the shelves and poles we needed for the closets. We need to fix four closets but had only done two because of this, I call it strange, habit. We have to spend the money anyway so why not just bite the bullet and do it? It one of those things in marriage where you look deep into the eyes of your loved one and swear you see another life form there.
When we got home, three hours later, without a table, paint, or bookshelves, Maurice decided to look at the possibility of buying a dining room table on the Internet. This is what we ended up doing. It is a little scary just looking at a photo and picking it out, but it costs a lot less than the store where we were, there is free delivery and they will even put it together for us as a promotional gimick. I’ve never bought a dining room table before that wasn’t assembled which gives me pause. It didn’t arrive for several weeks but, in the meantime, our furniture from Texas arrived, and we had an “elegant” folding card table to eat at. I was really curious to see what would arrive.
Several weeks later two men delievered our table. It wasn’t bad for something picked out via a photo on a computer screen. It has a sort of “farm table” look, can seat eight people, and 6 more or so with extensions. We only bought four chairs to begin with and will have to order some more somewhere down the road. What a pleasure to have a table and matching chairs when eating a meal. It seems like decadent luxury after holding our plates in our laps while sitting on ratty plastic chairs.

A House in Provence Chapter 8

I obviously have a thing for door and windows. This was a lovely one in the village of Goult.

A House in Provence
Chapter 8

Because of the four foot drop out our back door and back porch we realized that we had to hire a landscaper. It was going to be a huge job requiring porches and steps all over the place. Our property was actually divided into two sections with half of it a good 25 feet below our house. Someday I wanted to have some olive trees planted there as well as a vegetable garden and we would need some sort of steps to get down there. We were also going to have a swimming pool installed to help us make it through the long hot Provencal summers. Several people suggested that the pool be put down below. I admit that it might look better but I didn’t want it to be a big production to get to the pool on a safari just to go swimming. I wanted it to feel like it was part of the landscaping attached to the house.
A landscaper was recommended to us by the girlfriend of one of our new neighbors, this being a guy, an artist, who was building his house himself. I had gone in and looked around and really liked the design of it. We could see an interesting sculpture he had created from our kitchen window. He and Maurice didn’t hit it off very well, though. The first thing he said when meeting us was that they had built our house too quickly, that the foundation wasn’t going to be good. We found out he was going through a divorce so maybe that made him crabby. Eventually he wasn’t able to finish the house for whatever reason-lack of money or just a job beyond him- and he sold the house. The new owners had to completely dig out under the house to fix a drainage problem.
It turned out that the landscaper was a woman wearing ankle high work boots with socks, short shorts, a muscle t-shirt and a really great tan. She did a lot of hiking in the area and she looked like she was in incredible shape and her hand shake was one of those that had me checking for broken bones afterwards. We liked the plans she came up with and she was very affordable so we hired her. She was going to trim some of the big trees around our house, replant some old olive trees growing here and there and get some porches built.
The people who would be putting in the pool were concerned with the stability of the soil and dug several holes in several places to check it all out. If it wasn’t stable enough, some sort of support beams would have to be installed to support the pool so it wouldn’t go sliding down the mountain. This, of course, would add greatly to the cost of the pool.
Another thing that was new to me was the way the various porches would be built. I assumed they would just pour some cement and that would be it but, again, if we wanted cement immediately we would have to have support beams adding to the cost. What they do is build the walls of the porches, fill them with dirt and then top that with small pebbles. Then, a year or two later, it can all be covered with cement or some sort of paving stones.
The first time it rained we had a lake in front of the house. Because of the pile of debry and rocky conditions, we couldn’t even get in our garage so that had to be taken care of too. It was depressing to look out the window and see all that had to be done. I had to keep in mind that a year from now it would probably all look great.
We were told to go to a nursery and look at some plants. I was expecting to see all sorts of varieties that I had never seen before but they all looked like plants I was used to in the States, plants such as photinia and oleander. One tree I really like in this area is the Parasol Pine. They have such a wonderful sillhouette, especially as you are driving into the Cote d’Azure. I like the way several of them join together looking like a cumulous cloud on the horizon. I mentioned them to our landscaper but she wasn’t too happy about them. She wants the landscape to look natural with the same vegetation already growing on the surrounding hills. I think I’m going to stand my ground, though. It is going to be our yard, not hers. Cherry trees do really well in Provence and I would love to have at least one planted by our house too. Wysteria grows everywhere in France and we are going to have what they call a tunnel, a curved frame, that the wysteria can grow up and over providing shade and a lovely sweet fragrance when the purple flowers are in bloom.
I had pictured quite a few trees in our yard but trees and swimming pools don’t mix, not if you don’t want to spend most of the day skimming out leaves and blooms out of the water. We are trying to come up with creative ways to have trees, along with the relief of shade, as well as a pool. We may just have to have man-made shade for the most part, at least near the area of the yard near the pool.