Bonjour to all my family and friends –

Many have been asking how things are going with my new project so I thought
I would write a general recap of my first two weeks here and let you all in
on the fun of this adventure.

For those who have been the recipients of some panic stricken phone calls –
rest assured.  I finally took today off and lay by a pool at a local hotel.
I ate a lunch of Soupe de Poisson (fish soup) and Salade de Chevre Chaud
(Goat Cheese salad).  Naturally, there was a pitcher of local white wine
and fresh bread.  With a long phone call to my friend Allison and an
afternoon nap I can say it was the perfect Provencal day.  It took me a
while to get there but I’m getting in the groove.

So – here’s the story to date:

The house is in the village of St. Remy just 1 kilometer from the center.
It is an old shed (about 60-70 years) that housed the machinery and
vegetables for the local farmers.  An artist bought it in 1992 and turned it
into a “dwelling” – of course, being French, the artist decided to forgo
the formalities of permission.  So, the property is not actually legal.
More on this issue later.

Friday, June 15

I have finally arrived after 18 hours of travel. For the most part it was
all quite easy.  Since the Marseille airport is very tiny and quick to get
the luggage out, I was practically running for the Hertz counter.  Of
course, with an overloaded cart of luggage the customs man chased me right
through the gates and wanted to know why a “petit fils” needs so much
luggage.  “But monsieur, one must dress fashionably – non?”   I hope
overalls and Tretorn tennis shoes are in vogue right now!

The drive to St. Remy was beautiful – all the tree lined streets along
country roads, the late sun beaming through the leaves, the farmhouses with
their green and blue shutters – it was a dream come true.

I caught up with Andre-Pierre at the real estate office.  Andre-Pierre
informed me that he was able to secure a mattress so I could spend my first
night at the house in comfort.  We drove the 1 kilometer to the house,
unlocked the large gates and pulled up in front of my new house.  My heart
was beating so fast as I truly wondered how all this happened.  I actually
owned a house in France.

We walked inside and then I really freaked out.  The house was cavernous
and so very empty – no furniture, no curtains, no stove, no refridgerator,
no lights – nothing.  There was a small mattress on a wooden platform and a
single lamp in the next room – and – the most enormous cobwebs and spiders
I have ever encountered.  Ugh!  The house looked so warm and inviting in
the winter light but now in the bright summer evening sun every flaw was
visible.

Andre-Pierre dropped my luggage on the stone floor and said,
“Congratulations, here are the keys, I am off on holidays for one week,
good luck.  By the way, there is no hot water.  Maybe tomorrow.”

After 18 hours of travel no hot shower?  Really big spiders?  Dust and dirt
everywhere?  No refridgerator for my Diet Coke?  I threw sheets on the
mattress and took Tylenol PM.

Tomorrow has to be a better day.

Saturday, June 16

I’m sure if I drive around long enough I will find a store that sells
vaccuum cleaners.  If I find a strong enough vaccuum cleaner I won’t
actually have to touch the spider webs and bugs.  Thirty minutes later –
voila!  I found the equivalent of a Major U.S. Supermarket meets K-mart.  One
hour later I had every cleaning supply known to man and one really strong
sucking vaccuum.

The day was spent scrubbing the half of the house that would be mine for
the next couple of weeks while the construction takes place.  Three rooms,
2 bottles of windex, 2 bottles of Mr. Clean 1 bottle of Ajax, three sets of
rubber gloves, 5 rolls of paper towels and three vaccuum bags later I was
really ready for a shower!

At 3 pm, a Frenchman named Alexander (with a black dog named Bonsai) showed
up with a propane tank.  I didn’t know there was a BBQ but it was a nice
surprise none-the-less.  Of course, my surprise grew when he took the tank
into the bathroom and hooked it up to a hose that ran into a match-lit
burner.  “Chaud pour le salle de bain”.  OOOOOhhhhhhh – that’s the hot
water for my shower!  How charmingly ancient.  He explained in French that
the flame always goes out when the wind blows and must be re-lit.  Of
course, one should be careful as the line is faulty and it could blow up.
Great!

At this point all I cared about was having a hot shower/bath.  The bathroom
has an antique claw footed tub which looks like thousands of people have
bathed in it.  It actually sits in the kitchen with an open window
separating the cooking area and the bath area.  While someone cooks dinner
you can have a chat with the person in the bath – very French, non?

As Alexander tested the temperature the shower head broke.  So, now it
doesn’t mater if there is hot water – there is no shower.  Of well, buckets
of warm water will do just fine.  Problem is that the mistrals (high
mountain winds) are blowing and the flame keeps going out.  A kitchen cup,
cold water and a strong desire to be clean can overcome anything!

Sunday, June 17

Everything is closed except the church and the bakery.  I opted for the
bakery.  A couple of “pain au chocolates”, a diet coke and a walk around
the village had me feeling good.  The architecture of the buildings are so
beautiful, the colors so warmly faded, the pace is so slow and the shops
are just jammed with great shopping potential.

There is still more cleaning to do – so much more!  But, for a few minutes
I sit on a bench under a big tree and just soak it all in.  The town is so
charming and so removed from the sounds and sights of LA.
Aaaaahhhhhhh…time’s up.  There are spiders waiting – back to the vaccuum.

Monday, June 18

Alexander returned at 7am and quickly got to work knocking down walls,
throwing things out the windows and in general making a complete mess of
the yard.  (Note to self:  hire a gardener).  The construction supervisor
(Mireille) showed up and informed me that the mayor has not given
permission to build the pool.  “But, why?”, I cried (literally).  She shrugged and gave me the French look of “one could never know all the
reasons” – for a further description on the artful “shrug”  which is
considered the main form of communication in Provence, read Pater Mayle’s
book “Another Year in Provence”.

I tried in vain to explain, “without the pool there will be no renters,
without renters, there will be no rent, without rent there will be no
mortgage payments”  – oh dear God, what HAVE I gotten myself into?!  They
assured me that a lunch with the Mayor would “unstuck” things.  Lunch is
not until next Wednesday – I’m not sure my nerves can take this.

Tuesday, June 19

A quick morning meeting at the bank with my new interpretor Charlotte who I
now refer to as “my saving grace”.  I need to know how much money is in the
account – or not – as the case may be.  All seems to be in order except the
money for the furniture that the bank promised as part of the loan.

Mr. Martini, the man who assured me the money would be available is on
holiday for 5 weeks and there is no record.  I begin to panic but the woman
at the bank uses a phrase that has become my favorite French thing to hear.
“There is always a solution, we just need to find it.”  And find it she
did!  There was a lot of papers being shuffled, numbers being re-written
and winking of the eye.  It seems a lot of business runs on the theory that
what people don’t know won’t matter.  And if they do know, well, there is
always a solution!

I return to the house planning on a hot bath/shower as they assured me the
tub would be fixed.  No sign of anyone but Bonsai is chasing mice around my
yard.  I hate mice!

I return to town thinking a good goat cheese salad will make me feel
better.  I am right.  I visit the Bistrot des Alpilles where the waiters
are beginning to know me.  Sebastian knows a little English and between
what he knows and what French I know we can actually have a conversation.

It doesn’t hurt that he is a total hottie.  So, a little salad, a little
wine and a little Sebastian and the day gets easier.

I return to the house with great hopes that the tub will be fixed.  It is
not.  Another cold rinse from the kitchen sink.  I’m sure I am beginning to
smell – but that’s sort of French too, non?

Wednesday, June 20

OK – a new day, a new plan.  This house is just one big production and I am
going to tackle this job the same way I would a shoot.  Armed with a list
of everything I needed for the house I drove to Marseilles and tackeled
Ikea – 9 hours later I had accomplished quite a bit.  3 couches, 2 chairs,
a set of outdoor furniture, a bed, dresser, nightable, dish cabinet,
armoire, mattresses, glasses, plates, cutlery, pots & pans, garbage cans,
coffee tables, end tables, carpets, etc. – it’s all showing up at the house
next week!

It’s been a hard day of shopping but I return to a new shower head AND hot
water (it’s actually luke warm).  Alexander shows me how to turn the gas on
and light the bunson burner (that’s what it looks like to me).  When you
turn the hot water on there is a big boom and the door rattles from the
flame igniting larger.  Alexander promises he will clean up the pieces if I
blow up with the water system.  C’est bon!

Life is glorious.  I fill my antique, claw footed iron tub to the brim with
warm water and some lavender and dive in for a long soak.  I have a great
sense of accomplishment as I think about all the furnishings that I have
ticked off my list.  A good night’s sleep and I’ll be ready for the
electronics store tomorrow.

For now, I just lounge in the tub and enjoy a proper shampoo and soapy
water for the first time in 6 days.  I look around the kitchen and wonder
– where did all those spider webs in the ceiling come from?!!!

Thursday, June 21

Electronics.  Off I go to Avignon and the supertstore named Darty.  Gregory
is the poor soul who gets me since he knows 15 words of English.  I explain
in my basic French I need many electronics (tres beaucoup electronique).
Gregory follows me around the store as I point to one of everything – a
telephone, a stove, a refridgerator, a washing machine, a dryer, a
microwave, a DVD player, a stereo, 6 speakers for the stereo, a coffee
machine, a toaster and 3 fans – everything delivered please.

I thought all had gone well except for the shell shocked look on Gregory’s
face.  I guess they don’t get a lot of Americans in the store.  It took him
75 minutes to write up the order.  I know because I really had to go to the
bathroom and the only one in the shop was broken.  The French do not rush
anything.  Bummer!

We are complete with the order and I am leaving – if I remember correctly
there was a Mc Donalds at the entrance and they must surely have a
bathroom!  But, not so fast!  I am now an important client and must meet
the manager who wishes to thank me personally.  Great.  Dennis is very
sweet and charming but now wants to sell me 5 year warranty’s on all the
appliances.  63 minutes later I have successfully managed to only buy the
warranty on the Washer & Dryer.  The store hands me my receipts and a
special bottle of champagne – bottled by Darty, of course.

I just need a bathroom!

Friday, June 22

I wake up late (8am) and walk into the studio area of the house where I
find Alexander and my construction supervisor in grave discussions with
many other French men who are smoking up a storm.  It seems there is a
large problem.  They look at me, they look at each other and silently elect
Alexander to deliver the bad news.

The electric and the plumbing – brisee.  I have learned to hate this word.
It means broken.  I was OK when it was the shower head.  Now we were
talking about something major.  How broken?  There was a lot of shrugging.
First there will be exploration, then discussion, then some more
exploration, then a discussion, then an estimate, then a discussion, then a
revision, then a discussion and we will find a solution.

I try to explain the concept of “Patty time” which generally translates
into “Now” – I need to know “Now”.  There is much shrugging – perhaps
Monday.

It has been a blistering hot day and the night continues in that manner.  I
need to get away from the house so I dress for dinner and head to Bistro
des Alpilles.  As always, the waiters are charming and now familiar
friendly faces.  Best of all, they will not discuss plumbing, electric,
tiles, construction or paint.  I start with a half bottle of Sancere from a
local Chateau – fabulous!  It’s perfect with the hot night and the olives
that they serve.  Bread on the table and the smell of lavender in the air.

I am early – 8pm – the French do not eat in the summer until 9 or 10.  It’s
good  – I need the quiet to think about the new problems and make shopping
lists.  Chicken with artichokes, a huge plate of pommes frites and FONDANT
AU CHOCOLAT – with another half bottle of Sancere the problems don’t seem
so bad.  There is always a solution.

Saturday, June 23

Alexander is incredible – he works every day and often well into the night.
His portion of the work is coming along quite well.  He picked up paint
for me so I can start on my half of the house.  Alexander offered to paint
but that would have to wait for three weeks until he finished his other
work.

Again I try the concept of “patty time” – it’s just lost on the man.  I
enquire if he knows other people who could come help.  “Non.”  Okey-dokey
then, I’ll just get on with my painting.  16 hours later I wonder why I
refer to this as my vacation.

Sunday, June 24

Make lists – tons of lists.  Figure out everything that needs to be done
and put it on the list.  There is a list for everyone and everything.  My
favorite thing to do is cross things off the list.
Monday, June 25

Frenchmen are crawling all over my house – estimates for electric,
plumbing, gardening, the pool – of course, that’s what I thought they did last week.  I am informed that last week was the “visit”, now they are looking at the work to be done.

I’m going shopping.  It’s familiar and safe.

When I return there is no electricity.

Alexander:  “They cut the electirc to start the work.”
Patty:  “Great, they did work today?”
Alexander:  “No, they just cut the electricity so they could come back soon
and start work.”

I can’t even vaccuum up the spiders which has become my evening
entertainment!

Tuesday, June 26

More of the same.  No pool permit, no electricity, endless shopping and hot
weather.

I have been invited to dinner by a woman I met through Alexander.  She has
many connections with furniture and I am bored with Ikea.

It’s a lovely evening with Dominique.  She is a decorator for hotels and
pours a great drink.  We sip Anis on her patio and I learn a great deal
about the town and the growth it is going through – and some pretty juicy
gossip.  It gives me great hope for my investment.  She whips up a salad
and Chicken Cordon Bleu.  It’s a late night with wonderful company – for a
while I forgot about my “lists”.

Wednesday, June 27

Pool permit day.  I have already spent time with the pool man and selected
the exact pool that I want.  All I need is the permit.  Today my
construction supervisor meets with the mayor.  I assure her I will do
whatever it takes to get this permit right away – l’affair, le bribe, la
vacation home in LA – get me the permit!

Andre-Pierre and my construction supervisor return after lunch.

“It is a good day,” says Andre-Pierre.
“Voila!  I have my pool permit!” I say.
Andre-Pierre looks perplexed, “No, it was a good lunch.  We will know about
the pool permit soon.”
“Soon?!  What is soon?!  Define soon?! – tomorrow?  Next week?  two
months?”, I plead.
They shrug.

The phone rings.  The plumber won’t make it today.
AAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!

Thursday, June 28

The electricity is back on and all my appliances have been delivered.  It’s
a good start to the day.  However, there is one small problem.  The
appliances cannot be plugged in.  Now, the electricity in the kitchen is
also bad and no one will plug the applicances in because it is too
dangerous.  So, I have a stove, a refridgerator, a toaster and a microwave
but I can’t use them.

No word on the pool permit.   Off to Bistro des Alpilles and Sebastian.

Friday, June 29

I hit rock bottom.  I have spent too many days running through stores,
painting walls, sewing curtains and pleading with construction people.  No
one shows up today.  No plumber, no electrician, no Alexander.

I paint the kitchen and completely give into the thought that I should not
have bought the house.  There is so much to be done and it’s so hard doing
it in another language.  I get half done in a day because I don’t know
where I am going.  (For those that know my sense of direction in LA you can
imagine the hours spent looking for the right exit in France!)  There is no
mapquest here!

I’m thankful that Chris calls and gives me encouragement.  Cyndy calls with
the wonderful news that she and Dan eloped to Bermuda and are now married,
Ikea called and said they are making another delivery and best of all
Alexander showed up at 8pm with a bottle of wine.  We sit in the yard in
the late evening light (it stays light until 10pm) and throw balls to
Bonsai.  He assures me the work will be done and he works through a plan
with me.  We both know it will change a number of times before the work is
finished.  But, I have an inkling that Alexander is beginning to understand
“Patty time”.

Tomorrow is another day!

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