Monthly Archives: July 2006

Fini…ou presque



Exhausted but satisfied, we are ALMOST finished readying our latest vacation rental, Le Relais du Vieux Beaune, for our first guests The Zahlers who are arriving from Israel on Saturday.

It’s truly amazing how time-consuming the finishing touches and last minute troubleshooting can be. Even now, Franck is down in Beaune kicking up a stink at the France Telecom office – the phone line was booked to be connected as of July 17th. As of this morning it still wasn’t done. There’s also a page that I forgot to insert when I was doing up the info. binders, and we seem to have misplaced the instruction manual for the microwave…and so on and so forth. It really doesn’t stop until the first guests actually arrive, and even then there are suggestions that need to be taken into account, appliances that decide not to cooperate, and last minute bits of furniture to be added to our “search” list.

And I don’t want anyone to be under the false impression that it is a smooth process that we just glide through like a couple of swans. The past week has been insane. Even after the the couch was catapulted through the window, we had to do constant juggling trying to find childcare while we dashed about like farts in a mitt (and yes, as everyone in my family knows, I stole that wonderfully evocative expression directly from my aunt Sharon) trying to get everything bought, cleaned, and set up in a very compressed period of time.

To compound matters the recent heat wave in Europe has, over the past four days, sent temperatures skyrocketing to as high as 39 degrees. Needless to say, we are all feeling tired and extremely grumpy.

This is the third house we have done over here in France now and it is becoming increasingly clear to me that clashes are a common, perhaps even requisite, part of the creative process. Over the past forty-eight hours Franck, I, Charlotte, and Camille had grown increasingly tired and fractious, and last night Franck and I got into a huge argument; it was technically about the format of the information binders, but like all fights when one is tired and at the end of their rope, it expanded to include so many Bigger Issues that seem so pertinent to an exhausted brain.

Afterwards, I fell into an agitated and sweaty sleep, only for Franck came to wake me up again at midnight.

“You have to get up and see this,” he said, and lead me to the living room window that looks out over the valley towards Beaune.

It was as if God had been feeling as on edge as us, but had decided to do something about it. The entire sky was lit up with huge forks of lightening, followed by a concerto of crackles and booms. The wind howled and the rain poured and it felt like the Apocalypse. It was terrible and magnificent, and one hundred times more beautiful than a puffy white cloud in a sunny blue sky.

Afterwards we crawled back into bed. There was a sense of release, not just from the cooler air that had just banged up against the warm air and pushed it away, but also from nature’s reminder that conflicts are not only necessary in order to create something beautiful, but sometimes they have a strange allure in and of themselves.

Mission Impossible II

Friday 5:00 rolled around, but Georges didn’t. In fact, he was nowhere to be seen. This was very un-Georges-like behavior from what we knew of him so far. We were all worried.

Saturday morning Plasterer Franck, My Franck and I were back at the apartment doing the finishings and the recalcitrant couch was still out in the hallway. Occasionally one of us would experience a burst of optimism and think we had figured out a new way to get the couch through the hallway (take the cushions off, squeeze the top of it down as much as possible, lift it higher – isn’t the hallway wider at the top than at the bottom, or is it only an optical illusion?). No go. We had to figure out a way to get it through the living room window.

Then we had a Georges-spotting out the said window, and Franck rushed down to find out if an execution of The Plan was imminent. He came back quickly, dejected.

As it turned out Georges would have liked to have helped, but couldn’t. There was the little problem of the fact that at that very moment he was going back to the hospital to get hooked up to IV antibiotics. The combination of going back to work immediately after his accident and the heat wave hanging over Europe, driving the temperature in Beaune up around the 35 Celsius mark, had meant that his gash had become badly infected. He could hardly walk, let alone participate in The Plan.

In a fit of frustration, My Franck declared that he was going to get that couch into the living room TODAY, come Hell or high water. He called his friend Martial on the cell phone. The conversation was quick, and when he was finished he rushed into the bathroom where Plasterer Franck and I were installing the rod for the shower curtain.

Allez, we have to get everything ready. Martial will be here within fifteen minutes,” he said.

A suspicious thought entered my mind. “Did you just ask Martial to come and help you move a couch, or did you inform him that the idea is to lift the couch through a second story window?”

Franck shrugged. “Actually, I just asked him over for a drink.”

The two Francks hurried off to assemble the ropes and other equipment before I could conduct any further interrogations. They hauled the couch downstairs and stood beside it, occasionally glancing up at the window I was peering out of, and looking very engrossed in discussing what I could only surmise were hoisting techniques. Plasterer Franck lit up a cigarette and took several deep drags – to help him think or calm his nerves, I couldn’t be quite sure.

In a matter of minutes Martial roared up the street in his Skoda, and extracted a huge extension ladder from his trunk – rather well equipped for a mere aperitif, I noted.

I watched in fascination as the three men tied a complicated series of ropes to the couch, then huddled together and planned some more. Eventually My Franck hollered up that I was needed to come down and block traffic, so I hurried down, gave Martial a quick bises hello, wished them Godspeed and ran down to the end of the street.

By the time I got there and turned around they had already gotten the ladder up, and the couch was in the middle of the street. A beat up white car came zooming towards me and I made frantic hand signals for the driver to stop. Luckily the long-haired man behind the steering wheel was very zen, not to mention amused at our little furniture moving endeavor. He even offered to pull ahead a bit to block other oncoming cars with his own.

I jogged alongside him until he stopped, and then looked over to the men again, and my heart stopped. Martial was half way up the ladder with the couch ON HIS BACK. Plasterer Franck was hanging out the window where I had been only a few minutes before, and My Franck was standing directly UNDERNEATH the couch that Martial was balancing precariously over his shoulder.

The nice driver was as transfixed as I was. “Ca alors…,” he murmured.

And then all of a sudden, the situation decanted; Plasterer Franck gave a huge yank from above and Martial a mighty thrust from below, and the couch was in the living room at last.

My Franck gave a whoop of triumph, and thanked the helpful driver.

“It was nothing,” the man said, but then nodded over to a panting, sweating, yet grinning Martial who had just descended from the ladder. “But you owe that guy a drink.”

Progress, and a lot of Petards


We had a welcome break from the apartment work. NOBODY works in France on July 14th. Well…I suppose they still need to have a few doctors and nurses around to stitch back the fingers that have been blown off from the firecrackers (petards), but that’s about it.

The Bastille Day festivities spanned two days. First there was the “retraite aux flambeaux” on the evening of July 13th. All the kids (and more than a few of the adults) picked up a coloured lantern at the salle des fetes in Villers-la-Faye, and then we all walked in a motley, lighted procession towards the little chapel between Magny and Villers (which was, incidentally, built after WWII to thank the Virgin Mary for sparing the two villages). There, we met up with a similarly lantern-bedecked contingent from Magny.

We all paraded through the streets of Magny to the sports field, where the village put on a fabulous fireworks display to music. After, there was a festive “Ball” on the tennis court, complete with Merguez in baguettes just off the BBQ, accordion music, and cups of warm beer.

On the 14th we all got up rather late and then trundled down the road with our coolers full of plates, cutlery, and bottles of water back to the salle des fetes to partake in a huge lunch outside under a tent.

While we ate we (170 villagers in total) were entertained by the village kids setting off “petards”, something very noisy and at times extremely annoying that I think would have made their revolutionary ancestors proud.

But they were finally outdone by one of their elders – our neighbour Victor (same age as Franck) spent about an hour and a half in the blazing sun setting up a chain of 100 or more petards that, once he set the first one off, all went off one after the other in a huge petard concert that Victor and the children seemed particularly enthralled by.

After the four hours of eating and drinking chilled rose wine, the games began. The highlight of the day was undoubtedly when Franck won the trophy for the village champion of “les quilles” – a game sort of like vertical bowling where you have to knock down three wooden pins all stacked behind each other with these very beat-up looking wooden balls. The girls were enamored with their father’s garish silver and shiny blue trophy, and it has held a place of honour on our mantel every since.

And then on the 15th it was back to work, and back to solving the head-scratching dilemma of just HOW to get our chic leather couch into the living room. We managed to squeeze the three antique armoires through the hallway, inch by inch, but the couch remains recalcitrant.

Luckily deliverance arrived came in the form of Georges, the darling general contractor working on the jaw dropping renovation of a beautiful old wine domaine just across the street from Le Relais du Vieux Beaune. The property was just bought last year by a Baron who also owns a huge wine company (Regnard) and has so much money to throw around that he employs all his tradesmen, including Georges, as salaried employees – no small commitment in France.

Georges has a house and family in Brittany, but lives in the building across the street while he is working in Beaune during the week. Franck had started to chat with him on a regular basis, but their “amitie” was inadvertently cemented last week when Georges had an on-the-job accident with a circular saw.

Despite the huge gash in his upper thigh he somehow managed to make his way to the Emergency ward in Beaune where he lunged through the door, clutching at the bloody rag he’d fashioned into a makeshift tourniquet and shouting “MEULEUSE!” (the word for a circular saw in French – now you’ve learned your new thing for the day). The kindly and competent nurse who got him on to a stretcher ASAP and sewed up the gape with 18 stitches while keeping him distracted by asking him questions about his home in Brittany was no other than my sister-in-law Stephanie. Georges was, as most of us would be, very grateful. The upshot of this was that Franck shared our couch dilemma with him, and the two of them have concocted The Plan which involves hoisting the beast through the second story window.

The Plan goes something like this:

Time: Friday evening at 5:00, after the Municipal Police of Beaune have all toddled off for the weekend, or so Georges figures.

Place: rue Rousseau Deslandes, the street between our apartment and George’s workplace and temporary abode.

Equipment: A ladder, several thick cords of rope, and several pulley things, whose use is still an utter mystery to me

Team: My Franck, Georges, and the Other Franck (our cherished drywall / plasterer Franck, who always seems to be around to help us pull us out of this kind of predicament), and Me.

My Mission: I have been informed that I am expected to figure out a method to hold off the multitude of irate French drivers on the street while the other team members perform their magic.

To be honest, I’d rather not; but then that would be cowardly of me. Besides, it was I who picked out the blinking couch in the first place. So it’s my mission, and I guess I have to accept it.

Dum, dum, dum dum, dum, dum dum…

Hallways, and other such nuisances

This time around I had planned everything so as to leave us ample time to get Le Relais du Vieux Beaune ready for our first guests who arrive (and arrive from Israel, no less – a first!) on July 29th

I make a lot of mistakes in life, just like everybody else, but I do try to learn from them. Renovating and equipping La Maison de la Vieille Vigne last year was an experience that I will never regret; it is also an experience that I would never want to repeat. To get a ruin completely renovated from the new roof to the new floor, furnished, and ready for guests in four months…it was not done without a fair amount of screaming, exhaustion, and despair. There was immense satisfaction when it all came together, to be sure, but we arrived in Canada afterwards feeling like we needed to be scraped up by a spatula.

So, trying to learn from the experience, I have turned down guests who have wanted to book the property before the 29th, and we have been very diligent about getting the renos done and ordering the mattresses, couch, etc. and getting them delivered well ahead of time.

So there I was standing in our (freshly installed, plastered, and painted) kitchen the other day, beside our newly delivered couch, congratulating myself on my foresight.

Then I happened to glance down at the width of the couch, and then over to the narrow width of the end of the hallway, and then back again at the couch, and then back again at the hallway.

Crap.

Gods of football, I repent!

Having been brought up in a very rugby-crazy city and educated in a particularly rugby-crazy prep school, I have frankly always considered that football (soccer in North America) is strictly a sport for pooftas. All of that rolling around on the pitch in agony when their ankle gets a little kick, whereas if a rugby player has their ear ripped off in a scrum they just bandage it up and soldier on.

So it was with alternating groans of annoyance and barks of derisory laughter that I watched France’s first couple of games in the World Cup. And then there was that match with Spain, and I wasn’t laughing so much as cheering them on…and then they beat Brazil…

So now, one day before the final, I have only one thing (OK, a few things) to say:

ALLEZ LES BLEUS!!! ALLEZ LES BLEUS!!!! ZIDANE IL VA MARQUER!!! ZIDANE IL VA MARQUER!!! ALLEZ LES BLEUS!!!

Off to buy red, white & blue facepaint.

Les Soldes


In France “les soldes” (sales) only come twice a year and are very heavily regulated by the state. Outside of these specific dates – two weeks in the summer and two weeks in the winter – stores are not allowed to put merchandise on sale unless under very specific circumstances (bankruptcy or liquidation, for example).

Believe it or not, I am not a rabid shopper. I was in my teens and early twenties, but that got beat out of me with the advent of children and having to try to shop with a two year old in tow, as well as having to start to pay for boring things like groceries, a mortgage, gas, etc.

Now I shop mainly to decorate the gites, and that, I must admit, is a heck of a lot of fun. Especially on days like yesterday.

For many months I had been lusting after a gorgeous and HUGE hand-made Venetian mirror in one of my favorite boutiques in Beaune (called Colour & Tendance – just across from the Place Madeleine). I knew it would be perfect in the apartment, but, sniff, it was about twice the price I was willing to pay for it.

When “les soldes” began last week I went to see if it had been reduced. It had, but only a measly 15%.

Then when I was back there yesterday, trolling for the perfect light fixture, I looked up and had a religious moment – the price of my mirror had been reduced by 50%. I swear I could hear angels singing.

So now my mirror is waiting in our basement, and in a week or so it will be hanging on one of the walls in the apartment. I haven’t decided exactly which one yet, but that is another one of the fun parts.

"Colours", or "How to scare a French Painter"


We just got back from a meeting with the painter who will be painting the apartment (which we have baptised Le Relais du Vieux Beaune – a stroke of genius on Franck’s part).

He gave us a queer look as we walked in the door.

After the customary “bonjours” I kneeled down eagerly in front of the four huge pots of paint stacked by the front door.

“Are these the colours?” I asked, feeling like a kid in a candy store.

“Ahhhh…yes,” he said, slowly.

Our two village houses, La Maison de la Vieille Vigne and La Maison des Deux Clochers both sport mainly yellow walls, albeit Les Deux Clochers a more lemony hue and Le Vieille Vigne more like creamery butter. I love yellow, and it is always tempting to use as it is so easy to live with, but there are just so many other colours out there…besides, when we finally get around to redoing our website and make it photo-rich, as per our plans, I want people to be able to tell the difference between the three different properties. If they are all yellow, it may get a tad confusing. So at the start of the renovations of Le Relais du Vieux Beaune I took the very bold step of declaring the apartment a Yellow-Free Zone.

I started opening up the paint pots one by one – a cornflower blue (kitchen and hallway), dusty lilac (living room), mauve (one bedroom), and a gorgeous bluey-green (other bedroom). I sighed with delight. The painter stared at me, confounded.

Franck laughed. “She likes colour. At first I was very worried about it, but it always turns out looking great when its all done, so now I just shut my mouth and trust her.”

The painter looked unconvinced. “Well,” he said. “I guess I’ve seen worse.”

Oh, he of little faith.

I have always been drawn to colour. White walls look very nice in magazines, but when I am living within them I always feel vaguely wary, as though a blood test or a rectal exam might be in the offing.

More importantly, when there are all these glorious colours out there just begging to be enjoyed, how can I possibly resist? Maybe it runs in the family – my older sister Suzanne has a long-standing love affair with pistachio, and one of the happiest days in my youngest sister Jayne’s life was when she bought a new red couch.

I remember when I first painted the green bedroom in Les Deux Clochers seven years ago. I had always dreamed of an apple green room, but as it turns out I was a bit of an oddity in that respect. I had villagers stopping in the middle of the road outside the house staring into the bedroom, and then going and getting their friends to come back with them and look some more.

I continued to valiantly paint away, assailed by doubters on all sides. Franck swore that he could never sleep in such a bedroom because the colour tickled his brain.

Franck’s father Andre dropped by one day as I was almost finished and surveryed my work with a grim look. “Maybe it won’t look quite as green with furniture in it,” he said, at last.

But very quickly that bedroom became Franck’s favorite room, and Andre was actually right in the end. Coloured walls look very overwhelming in a bare house or apartment but when the room is furnished, with pictures and mirrors on the walls, the colour fades into the background. It sets the mood with a whisper, not a shout.

And this will be the same for the apartment, or at least I hope…