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August 26, 2007

Open Season

Whew! We’re not sure what just happened….

Today was Pat’s birthday, I’m not saying which one, but it was pretty nifty.

I’d like to say it started with breakfast in bed, and ten-lords-a-leaping, but we’ve been celebrating for about a week, since Dan’s birthday (he’s sorta-sore), and there was our town yard sale going on, So Daniel went shopping and Pat followed a couple of hours later. Oscar too, he was the only one with a purpose, as he was selling! Old books and toys, he did sell more than he bought, but it was close. Anyhow, back to the story, the town yard sale dragged on all day, then at 5:30 there was the “rue Droite fete”. I’m still unclear on why, but it was picking a date, the 1950’s, and showcasing what was happening on rue Droite. Which houses were which stores and where the artisans ateliers were. It included a small play with the Mayor, the mailman and 3 others, and it then a wine party in our courtyard. We are still unclear why, but as our courtyard is in the middle of the block, and is a large open space adjacent to the street, we were asked to provide the space. Then we thought we would sieze the opportunity to show off the house to neighbors and friends who hadn’t yet seen it. Where everything started to go right was as we invited folks up and into the house (one by one) everyone else followed in what became a steady stream of familiar faces and enough strangers to make me hide the silver! Probably 100 people came through our house! It became an extension of the block party and the yard sale! It was a wonderful moment.

One must take a moment to understand the French….. maybe more….. one doesn’t invite another into their house in this manner, the concept of an “open house” is unknown, and never without a direct invitation and never past the first room or two. Now here we had 100 french people, and a not a few Belgian tourists wandering about. Dan was working the first floor, and Pat was on the second, Oscar was in his tree house, and it really was exhilarating for us. We got enough “chapeau”’s to motivate us through at least the winter. The Mayor was here, the vice mayor, the farmers and the Boulanger, the guy who makes false teeth, the news agent, the priest (who still thinks Dan IS jesus) and his mother. The real estate agents, the marriage counselors, our doctor, artists and even a few friends. It was spontaneous and culture clashing, we weren’t breaking rules because they are the unwritten rules of French society, we were mixing and matching and surprising everyone.

August 21, 2007

The winter of our discontent...

The winter of our discontent…
Made glorious summer... in some readings our winter was such and our summer again, but in all ways therein lies no complaint. Trying to live up to the traditions of our adopted homeland, we have taken a “pause” for the month of August, conveniently marked by our birthdays, Martel’s town fete and the Rue Droite fete (along our street). Summer has indeed been made glorious. While our winter was labeled one of discontentedness, it was far from. There was work to do, but it was a great fortune to have such an assignment. So many people came through our “project” incredulously, warning us of how much work still remained and offering solutions as to where we might live this summer since completion seemed too far off. Mais voila, here we are, comfortable, contented, made glorious. It’s been hard work, but what an opportunity! I’m not sure that William Shakespeare ever made it to Martel, but King Richard the Lionheart did. If it had been a summer like this one, then the story may have been different. It has been a perfect summer for moving and re-establishing our patterns in a new house, as it has been cold and stormy. It has made the point that a house is shelter first and the rest is gravy. It has been easy to be inside and seldom too hot to be moving boxes, and climbing stairs. The tourists are complaining, the river has been raging, and the markets have been bustling, restaurants are full and the town around us talks about lighting fires and turning on the heat in August for the first time in 60 years! We have been moving furniture, rearranging kitchen drawers, and socializing on a grand scale. Somehow this is the summer that we have discovered a new circle of Martelaise, a group of Parisiens who summer here and move from one house to the next dining and wineing, like some French bohemian version of a Fitzgerald novel. Interesting people, speaking several languages, and surprisingly talking to us! We have had the opportunity to visit some real homes, steeped in history with real art and real furniture, very impressive! While our home is old and new again, these other homes, in families for generations, drip with the emotions of old Europe, they feel the ages and have attics replete with lives and history, again, very impressive and making us feel our age, like America itself, thoroughly new at all of this! It’s almost as if we are “playing house” in comparison, with art on cardboard and furniture from Goodwill! But that’s certainly OK too. Marking our arrival into the new house we held a birthday fete last weekend that would have pleased Bacchus! A sit-down dinner for 20, a flow of English and French conversation and food! Food found perfect from weeks of testing and tweaking, wine and champagne poured from magnums that seemed bottomless, and a musical soundtrack that quietly played in the background as the hours past. We always felt that this house would fill nicely, and it did. If we can find a way to have a party like that without all the prep, then we might do it more often. Perhaps we need to introduce the high concept of “pot-luck” into the French culture. For now we will be contented with leftover chocolate mousse and melon gazpacho. In what must be a sign of good luck, our house was visited by a colony of bats. We returned home one evening to find bats par tout! Oscar sounded the alarm as they started to fly circles above his under-the-covers head, with a scream: “there’s a bird in my room” and then two more started running the length of the hallway and then at least a dozen in the guest room, creating a Hitchcockian scene. They came in for unknown reasons and then were thwarted from exiting by the gauzy curtains. When the windows were opened, they quickly found their way out, leaving behind nothing but a strange memory and a Chinese blessing of good luck on the house!


School starts up again next week (fifth grade!) and our glorious pause should curb and we will return to the tasks at hand. We have left behind enough large projects that I suspect we will stay busy for another year. Big things like opening the stone arch to the street and recreating the entry from the Middle Ages. Small things like finishing plaster walls in the bedrooms and hallways. Fun things like adding a skylight into the attic, and dull works like re-pointing the stones in the guest room. Challenges like the room sized shower pan in the master bathroom, and mindless choices like replacing the handrails on the stairway landing. Daunting tasks like finishing the electrical panel to divining a means for announcing a visitor at the street far and away below, something other than a pile of pebbles and a sign instructing them to launch the pebbles at the window over and above…

But again, we are pleased for the opportunity, it’s good work and we feel lucky to have it, the days are still impossibly long, and it might feel like summer for another two months and perhaps we’ll have ripe tomatoes by Thanksgiving!

Our guest room has a candle perpetually burning!

August 6, 2007

A day at the Movies

I had such fun making the panoramic photo of the Kitchen, only to be asked for movies!! So without cleaning or calling for extras I spun around a few rooms to share the moment.

Video of the Salon:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WQD0_c91hY

Video of the Kitchen:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuTgQ3wIRDo

Video of your room:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKrrTXsfmPs

I must say I feel so 21st century to be uploading to youtube. After watching every clip of Eddie Izzard, then Cirque du Soleil's Wheel of Death from Ka, and various moments from the Daily show, it's humbling to put a video of your wife on line. What an amazing way to while away the days!!!

My first thought on posting the videos was guarded, I wanted to save the surprise, wait for the moment.... but then.... I thought that we might entice a visit instead. It's strange, when we show the house to someone both Pat and I want to be a part of the tour, to watch the faces, to hear the expressions...the gasps...in contrast to the gasps of horror on the faces of the tours we gave two years ago. Not too many people had seen the place before, which is important. I have selected a half dozen before photos and want to hang them in the positions they were taken, at the entrance to each room, to get the point across of what we have done. Six pictures must be worth 6000 words, right?

Come see for yourselves, or wait for the movie.

August 1, 2007

Welcome to our Kitchen



I finally figured out how to use the "panorama mode" on our new digicam, funny how it lets you repeat the subjects. Sorry the image is clipped off on the right side, but if you double click on the image, it will open it up large enough to see the details, details, details and you can even pan right and find Daniel. And to be fair...Pat is not that blurry in real life and Daniel hasn't lost his right arm, pictures can lie!

So here is the kitchen. We already miss the last one! We had such a rare opportunity there to convert the giant walk-in fireplace into a large cooking area, that anything would be too small in comparison. We did manage to bring the "no-back-burners" idea to this kitchen, and added a yet untested BBQ in the wall behind it (behind the righter Oscar). The wall behind Daniel was plastered and had the frames of two cabinets, we removed all that and discovered the brick arch and the walnut lintels. The sink is to the right of the center Pat and then there is a small table over by the cute french couple on the left. Directly next to them is the door to the yard and the town center beyond.

Tonight is August 1st, and a Wednesday, so there is a dance underway, a new set of tourists, all the regulars, a few locals and more accordion music than you could possibly enjoy (unless you fall into one of the aforementioned groups). We have as well started a vacation mode. Still working a few hours a day, unpacking and arranging our lives constantly, but in a different mindset. A friend came by for coffee and I felt unusually at ease, no drive to wrap it up and return to pressing matters, somehow the social work was the work, the pleasure in it had/has returned. Not that we hadn't been enjoying life as we plowed through it, but changing the page on the calendar has had a profound affect this month. I found myself gazing out the window today,,,twice! And it's quite the view from way up there on the third floor, with a full moon and clear skies...I feel like I can see you from here!