23 February 2006

Back to California

I want to continue my postings about leaving California (click here to start at the beginning of the series) and moving to France. To recap, we had first decided to explore the possibilities by searching real estate ads on the Internet. Then after a month or two of Internet research, we made what was to be an exploratory trip to France in December 2002 to see what the realities were on the ground. We chose the Loire Valley because we had spent a couple of recent vacations in Vouvray and enjoyed the area. We thought the climate would be a good one for us.

Our exploratory trip ended up with us signing an agreement to buy a house near Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher. I for one had never imagined such a thing might happen so fast. But we liked the house, and especially its location and setting. And the price was right, by California standards.

Our last day in Amboise, where we had begun our house-hunting trip, was a December Friday. It was cold and drizzly in the morning, but the sun came out in the afternoon and I took some pictures in Montrichard. We checked in with the real estate agency, I remember, and with the bank where we had opened an account, to make sure everything was on track and that we had signed and gathered up all the necessary papers. We were scheduled to fly back to San Francisco on Sunday after a 24-hour stay in Paris.

We had a week to reflect on our decision to purchase a house. If we changed our minds, we would send a registered letter postmarked by December 20 to notify the real estate. French law mandates this grace period. If we decided to go ahead with the purchase, we would send the real estate agent a deposit. We really had nothing to lose at that point.

I asked the realtor, M. Bourdais, how long it would take to close the sale, if we decided to proceed. He said it was partly up to us. When would we like to schedule the closing? He suggested March 1. That seemed too fast. I suggested April 1.

Signs marking the road that leads up to La Renaudière, our hamlet

“I don’t know if you are aware of it, but April 1 in France is a day on which people play jokes on each other,” he said, unaware that in the U.S. we also observe April Fool’s Day. He suggested that wouldn’t be an appropriate closing date. What about April 15? We agreed that would work. I didn’t want to appear to be delaying, but I wanted Walt and me to have time to figure out what we were actually going to do.

We had signed a paper saying that we did not plan to take out a mortgage in France to pay for the house. Not being able to qualify for a mortgage in France would release us from the contract and we would get our deposit back, but we still didn't want a French mortgage. It seemed like an unnecessary complication. That meant we would need to borrow the money in the U.S. to cover the cost. Or sell our house in San Francisco. We had not yet decided to take that drastic step. If we sent in a deposit and then decided to cancel the deal, we would forfeit the deposit.

The road that descends from La Renaudière back to the highway

I remember that we drove back over to Saint-Aignan to take one last look at the house late Friday afternoon. It was nearly dark (that is, about 5:30 p.m. at that time of year) when we got there. I took a few pictures. We went and saw the château and church in Saint-Aignan. There were banks of floodlights illuminating both buildings, and the sight was impressive. We again had good feelings about the location.

Adrienne and Jean, the owners of the gîte where we were staying, invited us over for dinner that Friday night. Jean made a Vietnamese rice dish, and we ate well and stayed late -- too late, considering that we had to drive to Paris first thing the next morning. We were still suffering from jet lag and the cold weather. Walt was still coughing. Our heads were still spinning.

The Paris of so many dreams -- luxury and fine food on the rue Cler

We had been very coy with Adrienne and Jean earlier in the week. They were curious to find out what châteaux and other sights we had been seeing, and whether we were having a good time. They assumed the purpose of our trip was tourism. I had put them off until Wednesday or Thursday, but then I finally told them we had been spending our time looking at houses with a real estate agent.

They were surprised, of course, but also fascinated to learn that Americans would actually want to come and live in France. We’ve had that reaction from a lot of people here. Until relatively recently, French people dreamed of going to America. And many still do -- don’t get me wrong. But I think there is less enthusiasm for America now than there used to be.

I must have taken this through the glass front of a café

Adrienne and Jean asked us to come have breakfast with them in the morning before we left for Paris. We did. We enjoyed their hospitality and their company. They were our first friends in the area, in fact.

We drove to Paris but I don’t remember the day very clearly. I have pictures, so I know we took a walk along the river from near the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre and on to Châtelet. It was still cold and gray. I usually have a pretty good memory for food and restaurants, but what and where we ate on that Saturday is a blur.

Walking along the Seine: the Assemblée Nationale

I just talked to Walt about it. He remembers going to a pharmacy near our hotel, Le Muguet in the 7th arrondissement, when we arrived in Paris that Saturday and finally getting some medecine for his sinus irritation. I don't know why we hadn't gone to a pharmacy earlier. He had been miserable all week and hadn’t slept much during the whole time we were in the Loire Valley. Maybe we just weren't thinking clearly.

\View from the window of our room at the Hôtel du Muguet in the 7th

Talking it over, we now remember that we didn’t have dinner reservations anywhere for that Saturday night. We can’t remember if we ate lunch. But when dinnertime came, we were hungry, so we went to a big café at Ecole Militaire near the Hôtel du Muguet to get something. It’s called La Terrasse.

Graffitti in Paris: historical revisionism?

Walt says he had mussels for dinner. I think I had some oysters, but I don’t know what else. La Terrasse is a fine place but the food is not memorable, I guess. The next day we headed out to Charles de Gaulle airport and flew back to San Francisco to continue thinking it all over.

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