March 30, 2011

Small things

In-flight back to France
11 hours is the transition between my two worlds.
Two cultures that for the most part overlap, complementing each other in us, changing the people we are, making me wonder where it will all end up??

Oscar and I fly between two homes.
While in California, Seth and Stephanie had a dinner party, a normal and remarkable collection of friends which made me comfortable with their lives and perhaps a bit uncomfortable with mine, but that's a different story.

The story I want to tell started with this dinner party and an"only in Berkeley" discussion on local eating, just dinner conversation, but well informed: omnivorous dilemmas, and farmers markets. The conversation moved through Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan, Michele Obama and Walmart, from  organics and French traditions to eating locally. All of the above was seated at the table, well at least people who could speak to all of the above. There were very few degrees of separation seated here. The table was as culturally diverse as the Moroccan fare Seth had prepared, and the California wines were some of the best I've ever had. It was a window into the lives of others, and I felt a part of the family that I was. It was a wonderful night....

At the end of the meal, the conversation ebbed from the boutique California vineyards into French foie gras. There was as much curiosity as there was controversy over the non-PC creation of the incredible comestible, and I think we misread the crowd. Stephanie quickly opened a jar of foie and toasted the baguette and then, as if a foul smell had entered the room, everyone decided to leave (!?).
This was a moment of foodies colliding with a politically correct California zeitgeist, and a surprising turn of events. It just happened so fast, and we poor conscience-less who remained had to do to ourselves what had been done to the goose...lucky for me we were few because the jar was none too large!
But the point is not the clash, but the sweet spot; the flow of words between minds that don't exactly overlap but that come from a pretty small pond of cultural diversity. I only notice this because it's a rare part of my current life. While I can have conversations in French, and I have tumbled upon likemindedness, it still seems a rare synchronous moment that falls my way. I feel like I miss that and need that and must find that.
The Vines of St EmilionThese days of blogging meld together. When I started typing I was on a plane between continents, feeling the time zones flow through me, and the smooth textures of foie gras and thick wines not far from my lips. Now weeks later, I am rolling through the back yards of France between Bordeaux and Martel. I'm on my way back to work for one of the few paying jobs I have, and to polish up the little house to get it ready for the market. The view from here (a train window) has always been one of my favorites. I recall two cross country train trips in the US, one East to West and another North to South, and the unique opportunity to see into peoples lives. The trains tend to pass between two "wrong sides" with the least fortunate homes backing up to the tracks, but as I type I am passing through Bordeaux grape vines just starting to bud out! St. Emilion vines to be precise!! Much more controlled but no less interesting than the kudzu of the South and the Rockies of the West of the United States.   But again to return to the point, rolling along looking into peoples lives I see activity, some neglected, some mere intentions, like a grown over stack of lumber, or a lawn mower lost in tall grass, but activity. I shouldn't complain as I roll towards tasks and lament the family that continues without me for another week in Bordeaux, but I do... complain.  This is all "making hay where the sun shines".
 idle tower building in San Francisco
Looking upon other peoples activity and stewing over my own idleness has been interesting. I feel like I am looking into a void which I have not been able to understand until now. I'm not there, but I can see it from here, I think it comes from a lack of activity. I am wired for a high level of greatly insignificant work. I need to be busy making things, not great things, but things that coalesce into great things...melting chocolate, plastering a wall, sanding wood....these are the things I need, and without this there is an empty space. So let's get busy!

We have found a new project. We are trying to buy it and if everything comes together as it should, we will own 900sf of a 300 year old stone apartment in the center of Bordeaux by June.
We have been looking for the past six months and then this property caught my eye. We are calling it St. Paul for the neighborhood it's in. It needs a kitchen and a bathroom and entirely new plumbing and electrical, but it's relatively small and having cut our teeth on rougher pastures, this one should fit in nicely. It's on the fourth floor in a fun part of town, more lively than the luxury we have grown used to in our current apartment, but when it's finished it should be great. Small things, great sums. We will make some of the walls natural stone, and the tall ceilings will get radiant heat, we'll fit in a luxury bathroom and a new idea of a kitchen. It will be small by American standards, but ample for the French, and perhaps a cinderella's slipper for us.
We are the 5 windows on the third level, there is one more level at the street with a wedding gown store in it.
I'm determined to make this kitchen different, to recognize it's importance in our modern culture and let it drive the design of this refurbished apartment. So far it's just an idea, and certainly we have all lived in our kitchens for years, and opened them into our dining rooms and even our living rooms. In this house  the area shared by the kitchen and the living room and the dining room will be 300sf, so some poetry is going to need to happen.
The apartment will be closer to Oscar's school and much closer to the farmers market we like, but understand, Bordeaux is a small city. The walk from our current apartment on one side of the centre ville, to the new one on the other side of the centre ville is only ten minutes! Everything is close. Oscar thinks he is looking forward to the project as much as I am, but the truth is, I NEED this. We tried to make the investment decision on empirical data, but in the end, the largest words on the cocktail napkin looked something like "Dan needs this".
Now as the idea settles in and we start our pattern of getting excited, this all feels wonderfully familiar, the anticipation is like adrenaline for my soul, the kinks in my back working themselves out in preparation for the challenges of fourth floor work. It's my antidote, not inexpensive, but effective and better than the options.
I would include more photos, but when I first showed Patricia the photos, she said "no way", only to fall encouragingly towards the project (our new next home) when she first visited it. So I will share images and stories once I have more favorable views. But the important answer here, is YES, it does have a guest room!

The Bordeaux FairAt the Bordeaux fair, they zip your kid into a plastic ball and then he gets hyped running around dry in a small pool! and there is how much oxygen in there?Meanwhile, as that rolling stone sheds it's moss, we are starting to appreciate where we are. Bordeaux is waking up to the spring in the air. Oscar is in spring training with his baseball team, Le Pessac Panthers, the festivals are starting and the weekends are getting busy.  I am waking up.
This is how Bordeaux makes me feel!