25 April 2015

Rainy Saturday

I hate to start another post with a picture of the crow cage, so I'll start with this one. It's raining this morning, but I haven't yet taken any photos, so these are sunny pictures.

Our every-other-year lilac bush is in full bloom. We wish it bloomed every year, but why complain when it is so beautiful right now. We planted it where it is so that it would provide a kind of screen for the back yard, which has always been completely visible to people driving or walking by on the road.

I finally got to talk to somebody about the crow cage out in the vineyard. Yesterday monring the regular Renaudie vineyard crew was out replacing some posts on one of the vineyard plots. We've gotten to know them over the years, and they love Callie, so the dog and I walked over near them to say hello and to talk.

I'm going to avoid the cage from now on, because Callie is too curious about it. I think here she was trying to get some of the dog kibble inside the cage that I assume is meant to attract foxes and maybe weasels. Could it be poisoned?

It turns out that the cage was placed where it is by local "officials" called les gardes-chasse. The French-English dictionary says they are called "gamekeepers" — their job is to keep down the local population of noxious animals like foxes, weasels, and, yes, crows. The gamekeepers also keep an eye out for poachers and generally work to protect the environment. Some are appointed officials, and some are hired by private property owners. One of the vineyard guys said such traps are numerous around the area, in woods and fields. Oh well...

We had some wind a night or two ago, and we woke up to a carpet of apple blossoms on the ground the next morning. This is going to be a banner year for apples. If anybody wants any, speak up. They'll be ready toward September and October. One man who lives on the next road over takes some to feed to his pet donkey.

One noxious creature we could do without around here is the stinkbug, also known as a "shield bug". They can damage crops. They come into the house in the autumn and winter, seeking a warm place to hide. We pick them up with a paper towel or kleenex and either throw them out the window or flush them down the toilet. The live up to their American name: they stink when you touch them. They are not North American, but I understand they are now invasive over there.

24 April 2015

12 years and counting

It was 12 years ago today that Walt and I became the owners of this house we live in near Saint-Aignan, in the Loire Valley. I'm sure that on April 24, 2003, we had no idea what our lives were going to be like over the next dozen years. But the fact is, we were homeless — we had sold our house in San Francisco with the idea that we would soon be moving, lock, stock, and barrel, to France. We were spending time with friends in the SF Bay Area and in the Sierra foothills, waiting for our French long-stay visas to be granted — with fingers crossed.

We didn't actually come to France for what they call les signatures — the closing. Instead, we made an appointment at the Consulat de France in SF and signed a procuration — a power of attorney — giving our real estate agent in Montrichard the legal permission to sign the papers for us on April 24. All we had to do was wire the money over here from the Bank of America. We had faith that it would all work out, and the real estate agent, the seller, and the two notaires involved in the signing acted in good faith.

We didn't arrive here until June 7 that summer (during a sizzling heat wave) after finishing our time in California, driving across the U.S. with the dog, and spending about a month at my mother's house on the North Carolina coast — not to mention nearly a week with old friends in Normandy. Then we spent most of a week in a gîte across the Cher river from our new house, in the village of Thésée, because we didn't yet have any furniture or appliances in the house, which needed a thorough cleaning anyway. It had sat unoccupied for at least two years before we moved in.

This was not a dream house for us, as houses in France are for so many expatriates. We had a plan when we moved here, not a dream. It was all very practical. We wanted a place with some privacy, but we didn't want to be far from towns and neighbors. We wanted to have a vegetable garden. The bonus we got was the vineyard, which is like our own big park, maintained by people who we don't have to pay or supervise. We walk the dog out there every day, rain or shine. It's an ideal location.

We didn't want a house that needed major work, but we've made the house our own. We've had new windows put in all around — double-glazing and all that. We've repainted every room in the house over the years. We had a wood-burning stove installed in the fireplace, which was pretty much useless for the first three years we were here. We've had the back yard fenced in so the dog can't wander off. Mainly, we had the attic space finished, putting in new windows and a new stairway and floor, five years ago, nearly doubling our living space. We've had electrical and plumbing improvements made, and we have now been hooked up to the town sewer lines for nearly 10 years.That was a fantastic improvement all by itself.

And we've had a lot of fun, accumulating a lot of good memories here. Many old and new friends have visited and spent time with us. Much good food and wine has been consumed. Our French neighbors have been welcoming, friendly, and helpful. We've had fantastic vegetable gardens. Our dog Collette departed at age 14, but then we brought Callie into the household — not to mention Bertie the Black Cat. Unfortunately, we've seen at least five neighbors pass on, and one good friend down in the village. As for quality of life, we have been getting bread deliveries for many years now — for the first two or three years we didn't know we could have that service. What would life be in France without fresh bread? We've enjoyed all the local food and wine, markets and supermarkets. I think we are settled in for the duration, however long that might be.

P.S. My friend CHM sent me via e-mail a recipe for the bread pudding that he used to enjoy at the restaurant across the street from his building in Paris. It was made by an African (Togolese) woman who was the chief cook, and he requested and was given the recipe. With CHM's permission, I'll post a translation of the recipe here in a few days.