I drove up to Blois yesterday morning. I had several errands to run up there. Walt stayed at home to start sawing some wood for the stove this fall and winter.
My first stop was across the river in Noyers-sur-Cher at the offices of the company that we have a contract with for maintenance and emergency service on the boiler that heats water for our radiators — our central heating system. I had called last week and told them that something called the vase d'expansion, the expansion tank, needed to be replaced. The old one was dead, according to the plumber who installed new radiators upstairs this summer.
When I called last week, Béatrice in the office told me she would get a price for me right away and I should have it by Friday. Then they would be able to do the work, if I approved the price. We pay for parts but labor is included in the service contract, so it's in our interest to have boiler repairs done by this company instead of bringing in anybody else. Needless to say, we still hadn't heard anything from Béa on Monday, so I went over to show my face there yesterday.
I was ready for some kind of confrontation, based on the fact that a boiler repair — it needed a new fuel pump — last winter had taken about three weeks, with constant delays. I was not happy then, because the weather was very cold and we needed a working boiler. I expected the same kind of hassle this year. But I was very polite. I waited a few minutes while Béatrice took two or three phone calls. Then I explained who I was and why I was there.
She got out a big notebook and started thumbing through pending orders and estimates. There must have been a dozen of them. Mine was the last one, on the bottom of the pile. Oh yes, Béa said, I was going to get back to you. Ha! Anyway, there it was, and the damage was minimal — la douloureuse came to just 50 euros.
And the best news was that she said she'd send out a technician later that very same day to replace the tank. So now the job is done and we're ready to turn on the heat as soon as we need it. The man came to the house at about 3:00 and the work was done in less than half an hour.
So that was a success. I left Béa's office and headed toward Blois on narrow roads through villages, fields, and vineyards. I saw people out harvesting grapes in several places. And I got kind of lost, but it was no big deal. The little roads are not very well marked out in the country. I saw a sign for Sambin, a village I know, and went that way. Well, there were no more signs, and I guess I took a wrong turn, because I ended up in Feings and Fougères-sur-Bièvre, villages I'm also familiar with. But I had gone out of my way, but not very far.
My first stop in Blois was at a big antiques/second-hand store right on the banks of the Loire, across from the center of town. I've been there before and wanted to check out the furniture again. We're looking for night stands and maybe a new coffee table. When I drove up, it was obvious the store was not yet open. It was 10:15 a.m.
I peered in the windows and saw no sign of anybody. The sign on the door said « Ouvert tous les jours de 10h à 19h ». Sure! But not today! Typical in the French countryside — you can never be sure a store will be open for business, no matter what the normal or posted hours are. So I gave up on finding furniture.
I drove on over to the new Auchan hypermarket just on the south side of Blois. It was open, as you'd expect. We needed a few things: some nightlights we had seen there last week but had not bought, and a can of paint for repainting an old piece of furniture. We had checked for these things at Bricomarché and they were twice as expensive there as at Auchan.
We also wanted some more walnuts. We had bought some last week. They were noix fraîches, fresh walnuts, sold in bulk, and they were less expensive than the walnuts sold in cellophane bags. The nuts were kind of damp, as if they had just been removed from their green husks. Walt wasn't sure he wanted them, but I did.
When we first cracked a couple of the fresh walnuts, it was obvious that they were too fresh. They needed drying, so we set them on a pan out in the sun for a while, and even dried them in a low oven for a while. When we cracked a couple more, it was obvious they needed to be toasted in the oven before Walt baked them into a zucchini... well, a patty-pan cake. It all seemed like a lot of trouble for just a few walnuts in a cake.
But guess what? After toasting in the oven and then being baked into the cake, they were the best walnuts we've ever tasted. It was worth it. So I went back to Auchan and bought another three pounds of the fresh walnuts yesterday.
I also saw that Auchan was selling sweet potatoes from Spain for one euro a kilo. Usually they cost about 2.50 €/kg, so that was a bargain. They're orange-fleshed sweet potatoes — the kind we like — and not the white-fleshed ones we find more often. So I bought three big sweet potatoes for today's lunch. I would have bought more if we had room for them in the freezer.
On the way home, I drove down to the town of Selles-sur-Cher to go see the people at an electronics/appliance store there called Gitem. Again, I thought I was lost on back roads for a few minutes, but I soon saw village names I recognized on road signs and found my way. It was getting to be 11:30 or so and I wanted to be sure to arrive at the Gitem store before noon, thinking that it probably closes for two hours at lunchtime, like a lot of other stores do.
Gitem is an agent for the CanalSat satellite television company that we get TV service from. With the move into the new space upstairs, we decided it was time to upgrade our system. We wanted new decoder boxes, with better features and more recording time. For now, we have only one decoder that has a hard disk for recording in it. The other is just the standard box, with no recording features. (Life is tough, right?)
We've never been in love with the decoders we've had for the past seven years. The one that's a PVR (a TIVO kind of thing) is unreliable and hard to use. Sometimes there are jumps and skips in the movies and documentaries we record to watch later. Recently, I've been recording and then transferring to DVD a lot of old French moves by directors like François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, and Claude Sautet, and I want the recordings to be good.
CanalSat now offers a new decoder with double the recording time and HDTV capabilities. But figuring out how to exchange our old boxes for new ones had seemed like a hassle, and inertia had set in. Auchan is also a CanalSat agent, but last week when we went there the man in charge told us he couldn't help us. He said we needed to call CanalSat in Paris and probably ship them our old satellite boxes before they would send us new ones. That didn't sound like an attractive option.
Then I thought about the Gitem store over in Selles, just 10 miles up the river from us. That's where we had gotten our receivers seven years ago, and Gitem had sent out a crew to install the satellite dish on the side of the house. For a price of course, but it was convenient and fairly painless back then.
At 11h40 yesterday, I went into the Gitem store and stood in line with two or three other customers, waiting to talk to a clerk. The clerk who finally was free to help me said he didn't really know anything about CanalSat when I told him what I wanted. He said to wait and somebody more compétent would come to help me. More and more people were coming into the shop, and there wasn't really a line or an order of priority.
After a while, a woman I recognized from seven years ago looked up from behind the counter and said « C'est à qui maintenant ? » — who's next? I jumped in and spoke up right away, knowing that if I didn't three other people were going to get ahead of me. One or two of them glared at me, but the fact was I had been there waiting since before they arrived.
I explained what I wanted and the woman said, oh, no problem. You just have to bring me the old boxes and I'll give you new ones. She even went back to the stock room to make sure she had two of the new decoder units available. She did! What a relief. The new decoder is called Le Cube and it has a recording time of 80 hours.
So this morning I'm on my way back over to Selles with our two old decoder boxes. If this all works out, it will have been a lot easier than calling CanalSat, being on hold surely for 30 or 40 minutes, and then dealing with the hassle of shipping the old decoders back to the company warehouse. Not to mention waiting who knows how long for the new ones to arrive. Wish me luck!