Driving Ms. Linda


A great window in a Provence village.

Driving Ms. Linda

I’m no Miss Daisy, as in the great movie, but I get driven around alot by Maurice. Now, don’t get me wrong, Maurice is a good driver and, more than that, he is a truly wonderful, sweet man but when he is driving he becomes a different person. Naturally, there is road rage in the States and I have seen some cases of it in Paris. I am just surprised to see it in mild, sweet Maurice. It can be with people pulling in front of him, cutting him off, or inconsiderate parking on a small street in one of the villages in Provence where only one car can get by at a time. These are occasions where I have learned my small but useful collection of French curse words.
Once in Paris as we were making our way around a round-about, I got a little nervous. I don’t understand the system in France very well or who has the right of way on these things. In a small village, it isn’t too stressful, but in Paris with the heavy traffic and cars pouring into round-abouts, the whole formula changes. I expressed some of this to Maurice and how it always looked like someone was going to run into us. Cars pull into the round-about and then maneuver their way over to the left, circling around until the exit they want comes up and they ease their way over to the right to get off. He explained how the car already in the round-about had the right of way and that in Paris everyone knows the rules and it is very quite efficient. Right then, at that very moment, a car ran into ours. Luckily, it was just a mild fender bender but, really, what incredible timing. I think these traffic circles can be a good way to control the traffic but, you know, you just can’t beat a traffic light.
When we are making a road trip somewhere, Maurice is usually the driver and I used to be the navigator but after being yelled at because I couldn’t find the next city and therefore the correct exit on a round-about, I now tell Maurice to pull over and look at the map himself. The man becomes Satan. I look over at him and am amazed that this is the same man whose company I usually enjoy so much, the man who can be so fun. I guess the French maps are confusing to me. The secret seems to be that you have to know the towns and cities coming up in the direction of the point of arrival. The highway numbers aren’t that important. Sometimes they are included on top of signs listing cities coming up, but not always. After desperately trying to read a map looking for a city so we would know which exit to take with Maurice’s yelling at me, insulting my (quite wonderful) intelligence as we circled around the round-about over and over again, I then vowed to never give him directions again. Of course, this isn’t just a French/American thing. I’ve heard many stories of couples of every nationality arguing in the same way.

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A House in Provence Chapter 7


Sometimes there is a little bell in your heart that is struck by things in the world that you see. It can be stuck by archetecture, like Notre Dame in Paris, or music as when an organ is being played in a dark cathedral but, with me, it is often nature that sends that little shaft of joy into my being. I happened upon a field of Queen Anne’s Lace which, really, grows like a weed here. This bud looked like a little package left by the fairies during the night, waiting to be opened by the sun’s fingers.


This is what it looks like when it opens. There is a tiny purple flower exactly in the center of each blossom group.

Chapter 7
Part 3
Back Problems

One morning we got up ready to start painting the bedroom. Maurice moved a small portable television and the next thing I knew he was clutching his back in pain. He could hardly walk, limping around all bent over. We decided he needed some medication so I drove him down to the nearest town with a pharmacy and some doctors. Luckily for us, the doctor was next door to the pharmacy and, better yet, she was there and seeing patients. After a thirty minute wait, she took Maurice in, did a check up and gave him an injection of a muscle relaxant and a anti-inflammatory. We were sent home with four days worth of medications and syringes for me to give Maurice his injections. The medicine didn’t touch his pain, even with some mild analgesics she prescribed. We called her later that day to tell her his was still in great pain and she made him go through the night that way. She said he had to wait for 24 hours before anything different was tried. Poor Maurice didn’t sleep at all that night as he had to sit on the side of the bed to control the pain. The next morning she prescribed some stronger pain pills that didn’t seem to do much more. (It finally took two weeks of morphine pills for Maurice to even be able to sleep and then he had to get over using those to sleep-about a month of recovery.)
All of this leads me to think that Maurice has more than a pulled muscle. My own diagnosis is that he has a pinched nerve or a slipped disc. I’m hoping it won’t require surgery. So, I started painting the bedroom by myself, one coat a day while Maurice sat in a chair unable to even walk without pain. I had a little pain myself at the end of the day but nothing that a little aspirin didn’t take care of.
I had one day left before I had to return to Paris and only one coat of paint to finish the bedroom and, you know what? I couldn’t do it. Just the thought of painting the whole room one more time sent me into a depression. I cleaned the stairs really well, instead, getting it ready to apply varnish to the wood. Maurice decided the wood needed more sanding which, of course, negated the cleaning I had just done. I could see the sun shining on a floor I had just mopped and could see streaks and dust. Somehow I wasn’t getting all of the dirt up. It didn’t help that it rained and that a man came to install a TV satellite dish and tracked mud all over the floors. The fire place is made out of some sort of stone having little fossils in it and it has to be brushed with a wire brush which causes a fine powder to fall to the floor. I finally just had a melt down looking at it all. I felt overwhelmed and like no matter what I did, it had to be done again the next day. I think eight hours a day of working on the house was too much and I decided that from now on a few hours a day would have to be sufficient and that my standards for cleanliness would have to be lowered. I poured myself a large glass of wine, took a nice hot bath and let Maurice cook dinner, hunched over the stove in pain. I would work on not trying to get it all done at once, and being all right with that.

A House in Provence


They are cutting wheat all over Provence and most end up in these round rolls of hay-the livestock just can’t get a square meal anymore!

A House in Provence
Chapter 7
Part 2
I wish I had had a little more input into choosing our appliances. I have to admit I wasn’t paying attention when Maurice was looking at cataloges choosing things for our house. Everything he picked out requires a PhD to operate. Maurice has an enginering degree but when it comes to operating ,say, our oven, it doesn’t seem to help much. If I had an instruction manual in English I think I could figure it all out but, alas, I don’t. The oven has three little round switches that you turn, or push, or do both at the same time. To turn off the oven you push one of these buttons twice. Twirling the same knob brings up various pictures on the front like pizza or roast and the oven is supposed to cook it at the correct temperature but we couldn’t get it to work. It only gives you fifteen seconds to set everything or it turns off and you have to start all over again. It does have a neat feature of beeping when the oven had preheated to the correct temperature. I’m sure I will eventually figure it out but I think I will be using my microwave a lot in the meantime. It is an older model and, even though all of the writing on it is in French, I have mastered using it.
The refrigerator is huge, especially by French standards. Maurice thought I needed an American refrigerator. It sticks out about a foot past the wall sturdily announcing its presence. It makes ice cubes or crushed ice, it dispenses cold water, temperatures can be changed at various areas inside and there is a strange door on the outside which can be opened to retrieve, I believe, often sought items, such as milk or bottled water. All sorts of buttons glow on the outside, giving the kitchen a green glow in the dark.
Then there is the washing machine and dryer. It didn’t take me long to figure out the washer but the dryer was another matter. It doesn’t have a vent tube going to the outside as I am used to, but it does some sort of condensation number. I managed to dry the first load all right, although it took me three times to finally get everything dry. The second load led to an irritating bell ringing. This was when I discovered that a water container has to be emptied or the dryer won’t work. The filter has to be empty, too. Maurice and I struggled for over 30 minutes trying to figure out what was wrong. It was like a baby that keeps crying after it has been fed and changed-what else can you do? I got so irritated I told Maurice that I was moving back to the States where appliances are easy to operate. I think we finally got it figured out but I think I will be doing most of our drying on a clothes rack. It is easier and much cheaper. I’m not a fan of scratchy towels but maybe I can soften them up with a Cling Free sheet-a wonderful American invention-after they dry on a rack to the texture of plaster board. (We finally got a repair man out to look at the dryer where a short of some sort was discovered. He told us he fixed it but, naturally, he didn’t and finally had to come pick it up and totally replace a malfunctioning part.)

A House in Provence Chapter 7


I love this fountain. It is at a very nice Auberge and restaurant in the little village of Saignon. The owner, an American, gave us a cutting of the vine behind the fountain with orange flowers so we can try growing it at home. It does well in both heat and cold.


Two fish in the water of the fountain looking like some modern painting.

A House in Provence
Chapter 7
Part one

The first thing I noticed when I walked into our new house was flies. I hate flies. I assumed that most people did. The next time we went to the store we got some little plastic devises that supposedly kept flies out of the room by emiting some chemical but they didn’t work. When once again at a store, almost a daily occurence, I spotted a fly swatter, I bought it. Nothing like the tried and true. It is called a “tapette a mouche” here in France. I was going to tap the flies all right. Maurice laughed when he saw it and was a little puzzled by my vigilance in killing them. He has a sort of live and let live attitude but it drives me nuts when I see two flies having, possibly, what looks like sex on top of something I am going to eat. I feel like they are dirty and can visulize all sorts of disgusting things they had been on before entering our house. Maurice was raised on a farm deep in the country so maybe he just got used to them. Someone, a long time resident of France, said, “They are small creatures and they don’t eat much.” I eventually found out the source of our flies-a sheep farm just up the road. I was told that flies aren’t everywhere in Provence, just near farms. Sigh.
I’m going to have to get used to life in Provence with flies. They are just a factor here at our house. I think Australia has the same problem. I remember seeing people watching the Australian tennis open wearing these strange hats with corks hanging from strings attached to the brim. Supposedly, this keeps the flies off of your face. I may have to look into this.
An update: July 24th, 2005. Maurice was looking through a catelogue and found some affordable screens which we will install ourselves. They look deceptively simple to install but, of course, this is not the case when it comes to actually following the directions. We had to cut them to size and, even though they are supposed to easily fit into place for winter removal, they aren’t sturdy enough, so we will have to drill screws through part of the frame to keep them in place. I’m so happy though. I didn’t think this would ever happen especially when we got a bid from some screen people and they wanted 1000 Euros to custom make a screen for just one large sliding glass door. Maurice is out there sweating right now as I write this trying to install them.

A House in Provence Chapter 6


Typical garden furniture for Provence.

Reception
Chapter 6

Finally we were told that it was time for our reception. I was working and unable to go and was frankly rather relieved that I wouldn’t be there to hear the exchanges between Maurice and Stephane. Stephane had been calling and demanding the last 5% due on the house. Maurice said no. It was the only hold he would have over this building company if things weren’t right. He had called a former customer of our builder and they had said they were extremely sorry that they had paid the final 5% as there were things that needed fixing and no one was arriving to take care of them. Maurice also told Stephane that he was bringing a professional to check out the house on the day of the reception and was told that the professional would not be allowed inside. I never did find out why-what could he have to hide? Maurice left to go down to Provence not really knowing if he would get the key or not. He had demanded that the heating/cooling unit be installed the day of the reception and they acted like he was ridiculous to ask such a thing.
It finally all worked out. There were furious arguments, the inspector was not allowed inside the house as we had been told, the heating/cooling unit had been installed, and we even had plumbing fixtures.
Maurice called me that night exhausted. He had the key. He had taken a load of things down to Provence in the event he would actually get possession. There wasn’t full electricty the first night and he slept on the floor in a sleeping bag. At least there was running water.
It was a week before I was able to get down to Provence. In that time Maurice had purchased two twin beds that would eventually be used upstairs in the guest room and the kitchen had been installed. It had been such a long time since we had ordered it that I didn’t even remember what it looked like. I was very pleased when I walked in and saw a nice modern kitchen with light yellow cabinets. The only problem that I could see was that the refrigerator was too large. Maurice wanted me to have an American refrigerator, one with an ice maker, and it stuck out to far too allow a little island to be turned the way we had planned so it was turned long ways. The kitchen still needed tile but looked bright and cheerful.
What dismayed me was looking at all of the walls and knowing we would have to paint them as painting the walls was not included in the contract. As is often the case, at least in my life, when you get a bid on painting, it is so high that you decide to save the money and do it yourself. I stood there looking at the high wall where the stairs went up and knew that there would be the need for some sort of scafolding to paint it. I felt overwhelmed just looking at all we had to do.
The house was a strange mix of quality and cheapness. We had a high tech wall heater in the bathroom, the type you can hang towels on, but the cabinets in the bathroom were made of cheap, unpainted wood and were obviously poor quality. We basically had a shell for a house. It was about a stripped down as it could be and they hadn’t done a lot of things such as pick up all of the debry outside consisting of broken tiles, huge wooden holders for various things, and chunks of cinder block. All of the land was left raw and unlevel. We didn’t even have a slope into our garage, instead there was about a four inch area between the garage floor and the ground and a pile of dirt blocking access into the garage.
I had some furniture being shipped from Texas which had been in storage for two years. For some reason it had been shipped to England, not Marseille which is the usual port for things entering France. Because of this we were sitting in an empty house. It should have taken six weeks to get our furniture, instead it was going to be at least three months. At least we had the twin beds. A kind friend gave us two ratty plastic chairs to sit in or we would have been eating on the floor. We went out several times to try and purchase a table and chairs but couldn’t find what we wanted.
And so, the next few weeks were to be nothing but preping the walls- sanding and then two coats of a special paint- followed with two coats of regular paint. By the time I finished the living room and dining room I felt like I had painted the Great Wall of China. My neck and shoulders ached, my knees hurt from climbing up and down a ladder. Maurice and I got up every morning shuffling and moaning like 90 year old people. It is great to look at a room you have freshly painted yourself-there is a real feeling of accomplishment along with the aching muscles. Our bedroom and bathroom would be next, then the entryway, those darn stairs and two bedrooms upstairs with that bathroom. At least we didn’t have a deadline to worry about unlike our neighbors in a house just being finished up above us. They had to be out of their apartment at the end of the month and we could see them and family members feverishly painting all day and late into the night. Their builder let them have a key and do whatever they wanted before their reception.
Our typical day consisted of painting until two or so in the afternoon, driving into town to buy a growing list of things we needed, driving home, eating and going to bed. Of course, we were hemorrhaging money. We needed everything-from shelves and poles for the closets, to towel racks, towels, light fixtures, and on and on. It is amazing how much it takes to set up a house. I didn’t want to buy too much as I had to see what was coming from Texas. After two years, I only have vague memories of what was in storage. It would be like Christmas when I started opening all of the boxes.