October 5, 2014

Hermit crabs?

We are getting closer to changing homes.  The last few major renovation strokes are finding there way to completion and its getting easier to imagine living here.  Refinishing the floors was a lesson in humility. Once the polyurethane dried I could see my folie.  Sanding floors that have perpendicular grains is not for beginners, and while I have done this a few times, here I should have sought more help than one you-tube video.  I think the correct tool would have been an orbital sander, there are lines everywhere!  but from the photo's view it looks swell.

The handrail is the provisional one that was there before.  We intend to source some old wrought iron, but there is a deadline and this was all on hand, and perhaps a decent modern approach.

Poetry:  this table is made from a door we took out of our first french home more than 10 years ago!  It was next to that roman column we uncovered. Fitting that it be here in this dining room several hundred years younger than that original location.

A birdseye view, showing the LED cove lighting, there is also a coloured strip letting us set the mood, but no disco ball....yet
This is the bathroom, the window was there, but the view was not!

Daniel taking a selfie
Paris always on her mind!

Oscar casting his mind across the atlantic
This is what was happening on our road yesterday.  there is a painting studio there, they closed the road and had an artists session....I gotta get out more!  You gotta click on the photo and appreciate the scene.
This is the neighborhood we are soon leaving, they have been tearing the streets up over the past two years and soon it will all be new and pedestrian friendly, for now it looks like a war zone, the shops are still open, moving around the bulldozers and the dirt as they rewire the ancient quartier with new sewers, lead-free water lines and finer optic cables, next granite pavers and stone sidewalks,  soon we will be tourists in that zone and resting in the upper-crust new neighbourhood.

The changing of shells has been great (with the 20/20 vision of hindsight). While in the process of boxes, it's less fun, but it is often amusing. I brought home flowers from the marche yesterday to find that the vases had already been moved across town!  But that's what jelly jars are for, right?!

Each shedding and rehousing brings to mind all of the past palaces and humble hovels, and I miss things about each and every one!  The Annex on Richmond Place, the flashing antennas on Clark st, the skylights on Valley road, the stairs on Oldham rd, everything about the Cabin in Sharon, isolated moments through school daze, then the rooftops on Golden gate, the windows on Yosemite, the hot tub on Oak Grove, the view on Glen, the simple space of Harrison, the aforementioned roman column on rue Droite, the beams at rue Droite #2, the attic at chez Louise, and the sunlight at what we currently call home!

I wonder what will be my takeaway from this next home, perhaps staring out through the stained glass, or fires in the copper and walnut fireplace? But the real affect of serial habitation is the molding of the future.  I think each home has something to do with all of those that follow. Like the door that continues in our lives as a table, that each experience changes us and that there will be shadows of them all in the next.  So the demenagements make me reflect of the future homes as well as the past. I'm not sure if its getting closer to the sweet pith or if its adding layers and insulating that core?  It's both.  Each home is getting closer to the ideal, towards the "forever home" that one which reflects and resembles..... and insulates.

I've said it before, change is good!  the boxing process even has its merits!

July 6, 2014


This time next year we will be boxed up and executing our return to the USA.  The idea seems so strange. We have only just completed our 11th year and time creeps as it speeds by. I still don’t speak the language well enough, I still don’t know my way around the bureaucracy, I still feel like a yankee tourist, but as well I feel like I am home, its an odd dichotomy.

Fears start to settle in about what is next, not the day to day, but what we might be giving up, and what me might be settling for.  We know and love our Californian lives, and we know what will occupy the days upon our arrival, the days, the weeks and the months, the settling in and the maintaining of deferred friends and homes,  but perhaps it is the fabric of our lives that is in for a change.  From the french homespun, to a long staple cotton? or is it silk to wool?  maybe its wool to silk?  point being, the background is important and it is the background fabric that is going to change. 

Obviously the Urban Fabric of a french city will be different from the tie-dyed fabric of a California city.  Its the stone and the grass, and the pharmacies and the cafes and the density and the river and the trees and the stones and the stones and the stones…. Its the opticiens, and the boulangers, the fromagers and the bouchers that shake your hand a they wrap your meat…. and the stones…

Its the cadence of our days here vs. there, the speed and the scale from east to west, the strolling pace and the 2 hour lunches. So I’m starting to see things “for the last time”, many wait till next year moments, and feeling distracted already, too soon, too soon.

France has been a penny candy store, and it has been an un-reality, and I have fell in love, but it was not my childhood, that’s American, and those comfortable shoes needs wearing.  I’m not sure about Oscar?  His childhood is a mixed up thing, like his language, we has a foot in two places.  I hope that its two full glasses and not two half empty ones, I hope that this experiment lacking a control group, turns out healthy, wealthy and wise. Perhaps where I keep comparing the two homes, he will simply be playing his B side in the background for all his years.

Perhaps I have figured it out: I’m constantly making a choice, he is not.  When I speak I am translating (unless I have had enough to drink) Oscar is not, it doesn't have to be a choice!  Its like the old idea that Europe is an ocean away….and it doesn't need to be!  We can hold them both in our hearts and minds and be citizens of the world! Or maybe he can at least…. Me, I am headed home.

If you can hear the conflict in my words then I can stop typing… I am both ready and trepidatious   .

We are well into the “last project”, painting and tiling and installing the lights. still working on the lower level, les chambres and the salle d’eaux.  Soon I will get to clean it all up and get started on the cuisine and the salon, it’s all falling into place.  The humidity of basement rooms is a tricky one. Mildew loves to eat up the paper tape I have used on a few corners, so I have removed and re-plastered in a few areas, the walls need to breathe, the healthiest solution is bare stone walls, but we like those!  My goal is to finish enough of this apartment to comfortably move in, while leaving enough undone to keep me busy next year. So the doors and windows will all wait unpainted, but I do need to get a new furnace…

Oscar starts his senior year in the fall.  We are still awaiting his grades from the year we have wrapped.  He has taken two sections of his BAC, the highschool exit exam, Francais and science, which means he is done with both subjects. Next year he has philosophy and literature in their place.  The next few months we will focus on college wish lists and the preliminary work on his essays.  The list so far looks like UC Davis, Berkeley, the Claremont colleges and a short list of others yet to be combed through. The stated career choice is still foreign service/ diplomatic corps. But something that involves skydiving is still of interest.

February 2, 2014

First impressions

This is what we bought.  Our apartment is one of eight in, what used to be, a mansion on the edge of the city park. Our apartment is comprised of the garden and the salon adjacent (plus the kitchen, baths and chambres that we are replacing entirely).
This is where the doors used to be. once upon a time, they were removed and bricked up, and then the small door to the left was cut in to make this apartments front door.
This is what the other apartment doors in the building look like.

This is what I uncovered on the inside when I removed the inner layer of plaster and brick

I found an old pair of doors, salvaged from a nearby home, a perfect fit!  Sanding, painting, fitting 4 pairs of new hinges and adding a biometric lockset.

But old doors are seldom sold intact with thier frame, so I had to make the frame.  I had some fir milled to the correct size and then sharpened Stephanies chisels (long story) and created the mortise and tenons.
Glue and two screws  at each corner and I have a door frame!

I don't know what these anchors are called, but it's how the french connect wood to stone. They are 3" long shooting star shaped metal straps cemented into the stone and then a single screw into the wood
Here is the view of the new doors from the inside.
The new doors from the outside.

The view from the street door, up the steps, through the glass lobby doors and onto our new doors

Bullseye Röst

I think it came to me in a dream....why not stuff a pork roast with a beef roast!?

I searched the web, assuming their was a recipe for anything, but was surprised to find no advice.  I found pork stuffed with crawfish, with jalapeños, and even with lobster, but no pork stuffed with another meat....

 I called my grill master friend Mark and got some advice
"cook it slow, use bacon, marinate the chef" and I chatted up my local team of butchers (that was an event).  I tried to be discreet and have the discussion with Jean Claude, the one looking at the camera, but it soon involved the entire equipe, fortunately there was a lull in the meat-buying business and
they were happy to help.  We selected a rib roast, they
removed the bones and butterflied the beast and then laid in
a nice strip of steak, a cut the called a
"cour de tete", a splash of salt and pepper on the beef and then tied the amalgamation into a "normal" looking roast.

I dry rubbed in some classic spices and let the thing warm up to room temperature for a few hours.  Set it into our french/dutch (?) oven with half a stick of butter and some white wine. The challenge was in the timing, but we were lucky, warned by the butchers, that this would be the important part, "undercooked pork is worse than overcooked beef". But I dislike over-cooked beef more than I dislike under-cooked pork, but I respect the principle. With the oven set at 375 F, I roasted it for about an hour and it was perfect!!  Letting it stand for 20 minutes until we were done with the appetizers was a dumb moment, but there is protocol here in France, and abbreviating the meal is a no-no 
(non in french).

The bullseye is the beef, the donut shape is the "other" white meat and the next ring out is the darker portion of the pork.
This was just too cool a photo not to include!  I love our farmers market.
Thanks to all the hands and heads that made this meal, and to the beouf and cochon who gave their all.

January 3, 2014

Tough Work

Im not complaining, but vacationing is tough work!  We are however, getting pretty good at it. It’s something of a tupperware list for us more than a bucket list, we do have a list and we are not so much checking things off before we shed this mortal coil, but rather stocking up for the winter, the winter of our mal-content; that is the day when we are longer Residents of Europe.  It’s the opposite of a burning fuse, i’ts this self imposed deadline where we will call this adventure to a close and move onto the next one, so we are dotting our geographic i’s and crossing our cultural t’s. Making certain not to have missed too many of the important corners of Old Europe.

If I had made concert T-shirts for this vacation, they would have been black, duh, and some lone rooster on the front, maybe 3 cocks, and the title would have been something like “Playing the B-Side”. 

Rome without the Vatican
Athens sidestepping the Acropolis
Istanbul sans Hagia Sophia
Naples -no- Pompeiians
The Back door to Ephesus

In all of our international richess, we found ourselves in (personally) conquered cities  with the time and energy to dig a bit deeper, to visit the B-List of attractions, to attempt to see a more genuine article.  Caveat, we were on a cruise ship, so our visits were brief and shallow, between 6 and 36 hours in any one port.  We did a lot of research and hit the ground strolling. We packed a lot of absorptive attention into our days, fueled by coffees of various thickness and quality. And spent a fair penny on public transportation, always our M/O in a foreign country. 

It was interesting to be in Turkey for the days before Christmas, there were a few Christian churches we wandered into, which were shouting their Christ-Was-Here story, but for the most part there was very little evidence of Kris Kringle about.  Lots of roasting Chestnuts competing with the turkish sesame bread and floating fish sandwiches, but not the deluge of music and lights that is greater Europe.  

The Mosques (a plenty) were as wonderful as my memories had colored them. We re-visited one and ducked into another under renovations, avoiding the main ones looking for the “other” and trying everything not to look like Western Tourists.  As we rode out into the suburbs of Istanbul we were amazed how its fabric seemed to be shopping centers and mosques, is this what America looks like to Europeans?  churches and fast food joints?

We bought our next few years worth of peppercorns and apple tea at the Egypt Spice Market
, some himalayan rose salt as well, because after all aren’t the Himalaya’s closer to Istanbul than is France? No rugs this time either, I told you it was the B-side tour!

In Athens we spent our day next to the Acropolis, they have built a world class museum there and have collected the treasures of the Acropolis and brought them into a proper environment for interpretation and study. The museum effectively houses the Parthenon, while being 500 meters away from it, everything but the building stones reside IN the museum, and in a manner that facilitates comprehension. All the ART is there if and where it can be separated from the architecture, that is to say the sculptures and the frieze. It was a treat!  It also made clear the controversy over the Elgin Marbles. While I think it is time for them to be restored to Greece, thanks go to the British who, having removed them from the site, were able to arrest the deterioration process, and it is clearly the removed statuary which is in the superior condition.  The Museum has reconstructed all the bits and bobs, with plaster casts of the (now) British sculptures, and the quality of the removed pieces is so evident, it makes one instantly glad that the Imperialist thugs bought  and borrowed what they could, and a bit afraid for how caustic our environment has become in the past hundreds of years.  The Acropolis has survived for 2500 years and in the recent past our air and rain have become so harsh, that its washing away our civilization!

While much newer, our Ship of Dreams itself, the Norwegian Jade, was a pleasant floating hotel. The seas were mostly calm, the food was mostly excellent, the entertainment was mostly bad, but life aboard a ship like this is a fun way to pass ten days. It’s a vacation, and being on a ship combines the ease of a beach holiday with the work of historical adventure, our days were full of culture and the nights were bacchanalian. We played volleyball and trivia on the “sea days”, passed hours on bikes in the fitness center, hot tubs and art lectures and then dressed up for cocktails and dinners, making new and never to be seen again friends from the wide world.  We had our favorite corners for breakfast, our favorite staff to chat up, our secrets spots onboard, and we learned, by the end of the cruise, which piano bars to avoid.  

For Oscar it was an interesting cruise, it took him a while to find his tribe. The days were so busy with historical fare that there was scant time to find and make friends. Some families leave their kids on the ship, but we are from the school of FFF, so we tugged and pulled the entire time.  By about mid-cruise, Oscar had a few room numbers and started staying out later than his wiser parents. We met a lot of military families, upper level officers, posted to one base or another for 3 years a la foix, so it was interesting asking the kids about that life and comparing their responses with their parents.  One thing we noticed is that they are usually educated on base, and therefore never get a chance to learn the culture or the language of their hosting countries, what a shame!  Oscar was “suited-up” from the first day, looking great in his slim black suit, this set him apart from the casual Americans and the rowdy Italians (lots of rowdy Italians). The Italians seemed to band together, taking over entire stairways late at night, too cool to sit in an empty lounge, too young to be served alcohol, not wanting to be reminded that they all had parents sleeping somewhere on the ship and being oblivious to the people walking through their midst.  Life on a cruise for an adolescent is a chance to play grown up, its a insular city, new rules, safe and yet exotic; everyone is new and equal and its interesting to watch the mechanics. Its not too different from what the oldsters are doing, everyone inventing themselves, talk comes easy, table-mates rotate, one has neighbors and friends for a week and then we all get to move back to our real lives.  Its interesting listening to Patricia and I as we keep changing our introduction story:  we are from France, we are from America, we live in Bordeaux, we are from California, New York, Missouri.....  Its nice to have a second language on a european cruise!  Next time I’m going to wear an ascot and wander the decks with a walking stick and a monocle....Daniel de von Bain III, maybe I’ll wear white gloves and start smoking for the occasion.

Our close friend Linda was traveling with us, so we had our own posse from time to time. A cruise is a great event to share, and while our days were sometimes apart, the beginning and the end of each day was always a fun time to come together and enjoy the retelling over a flight of martini’s in one of the dozen bars on the ship.  Christmas morning, was quiet, but we got the tempo up a bit once we started opening some presents and tossing about balls of streamers Linda had imported from England, some strange and wonderful traditions there. The wine and the beef were pleasantly from America, the chef was from Barbados, and the ship itself was of Hawaiian origin (built in Germany). The crew was as international as possible, with plenty of Croatians amongst the brass for some reason. Everything on board is in english, and a few secondary languages too. The ship was refurbished in 2011, but seemed new to the touch, they seem to be continually updating and upgrading every surface and element, there is no waiting for anything to NEED replacement, it’s done before anyone might notice. The entertainment was lacking on this cruise so fortunately we had each other. The singers couldn't sing, and the piano players seemed to only know how to play medleys!?  There was one fantastic show, part magic, part cirque, loud music and great lights, acrobats in the audience and it left us wanting more, kind of summing up the whole experience....what over already?...bravo...bravo!