Sunday, July 18, 2010

A few more differences

I want to start this post by saying that every day I realize how fortunate we are that we have the opportunity to be in France for two months!  I don’t want to sound ungrateful or complain...however, in the interest of full disclosure, I feel that it’s important to tell you about some of the struggles we are having (and in the interest of hopefully giving you a little chuckle, because in the end, it’s all pretty darn funny!)
I haven’t really had time to write about the house that we are staying in, with all the sight seeing we have been doing.  However, last Sunday was a perfect example of a few of the differences we are experiencing.  I’ll start at the beginning.  When we arrived at the house, I was quite surprised as the front of the house did not look like the pictures that we had seen.  I had a momentary flutter in my heart thinking perhaps something was amiss.  

As we entered the house, there is a long hall way with exposed stone walls and an uneven tile floor.  My heart fluttered a little more...the word “rustic” was flashing everywhere!

The entrance to the basement!
After walking in the through the hallway, I saw the living room and the dining room.  These rooms looked like the ones in the pictures...although they seemed a little more rustic than the pictures.  Rustic in the sense that the walls are all exposed stone & mortar and the ceilings are all exposed beams.  All the wiring and plumbing pipes run along the walls, as there is no way to go through the stone.  

We quickly explored all the bedrooms to determine who was going to sleep where.  Above the main part of the house is a large bedroom area with two small separate bedrooms off of the main area and a bathroom (it feels like what you would imagine a large English nursery room would feel like, but with adult beds).  At each end of the house, there are two more bedrooms upstairs with a loft feel.  The bedrooms have large windows and are simply decorated and they are lovely (although there are no closets or bureaus in the loft we keep our clothes here:

The only issue is the stairs leading up to them.  They are quite steep, with no railings!  (Have you ever felt like you’re going to fall down stairs...even when you’re holding on to the railing?  Well, I have this feeling every time I go up or down these stairs!)

The east side of the house is where James and I decided to stay (this loft bedroom has an attached bathroom with an Italian shower...meaning you stand up in it like an American shower).  Kerry, Katie & Ethan decided to stay in the large bedroom area.
The bathroom in their part of the house has a regular toilet, but the shower is a tub with a hand held sprayer.  There is no shower curtain, so you basically have to sit down and hold the sprayer.  Kerry tells me it’s quite impossible to get your hair washed this way.  Eventually, everyone has ended up taking their shower in our “italian” shower.
The one area of the house that I had been most apprehensive about prior to arriving had been the kitchen.  Our host had not posted any pictures of the kitchen, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  As it turns out, it’s quite functional, however not fancy at all.  Visions of making complicated Julia Childs’ recipes flew out the window...however we have been able to make lovely, if slightly more simple, dinners.  The refrigerator is another story.  We basically need to shop every third day because the frig is super small and only holds enough for the five of us for two or three days.  When all eight are here, we’ll be shopping every day!

One of the things we have had to adjust to is the constant barrage of bugs in the house!  It has been unseasonably warm here...there is no air conditioning and no fans.  Basically you open the windows and doors in the house and hope for a breeze.  There are no screens and we are in the country, so there are lots of bugs (flying and crawling).  We have flies, gnats, GIANT horseflies, pincher bugs, spiders (lots and lots of spiders), giant red ants and pretty much every other kind of bug you can imagine.  The one saving grace is there are not a lot of mosquitoes.  The first couple of days, we tried to kill or shoo outside many of these day 10...we just ignore them.  A perfect example are the spiders and the shower.  The second day I asked James to get the daddy long legs in the shower for me...yesterday Katie proudly announced that there were three daddy long legs in the shower with her...and she just took her shower.  (Now there have been a couple of very large spiders that are as thick as a small tarantula...even now, those require an escort outside by James...none of us are brave enough to co-exist or shower with these big guys. 
As I’ve mentioned before, on our third day here, the telephone and Internet went out (the cable tv was already not working when we arrived).  We were quite put out about no internet...but thought it would last for only a few hours.  Ha!    We have found a wonderful bar that has free wifi and have taken to eating pizza there and spending a couple of hours each day to get our internet fix!  (Unfortunately...or maybe fortunately...we were six days into the outage before we discovered this place.)  We are hopeful that the system will be back up sometime this week, but the hope is based on an American ideal that big companies (like telephone providers) tend to get things fixed fairly quickly...we are not sure that ideal applies in France.
On Sunday (the 11th), Ethan was running the water to take a shower and yelled down to say there was no hot water.  A day earlier we’d had the same problem and discovered that the pilot had gone out on the water heater (which is a tank less water heater on this side of the house.)  James checked it and sure enough, it was out he re lit it.  I sent Ethan back upstairs...he tried again, still no hot water.  James looked at the heater and followed the gas line and determined that the propane tank was empty (the tank is the size that you would use on your bbq).  Luckily (we thought), there was another tank, so James hooked it up and relit the pilot.  We then sent Ethan back up a third time (yes, he really needed a shower!) only to have him yell down once hot water!  I went in and looked and the pilot was out again.  Alas, the second tank was empty.
It was 11:30 am on a Sunday.  As we had discovered the week before...everything is closed on Sundays, except the little market in town is open until noon.  I quickly threw on my clothes (yes, I was still lounging in my pajamas...since it was the day after my birthday and I was enjoying a lazy morning) and James and I roared off to get to the market before it had closed.  During an earlier visit, I had noticed many propane tanks at the market, so I assumed that’s where we needed to get refills.  We arrived in time and were able to trade in our two tanks for two new ones.  Disaster averted.

We came home, James hooked up the new tank and Ethan took a hot shower.  I naively thought that we had survived what the house had to throw at us that day!  Oh, you have to be so careful what you think around here.
After using the same bathroom and flushing the toilet (as a side note, this toilet has a “shredder” in makes a loud noise like it’s tearing the world apart when you flush it...I’d never seen anything like it, but it seemed to work well), Kerry was climbing up the stairs to our loft to take her shower and said...”is water suppose to be dripping down the walls?”  Sure enough, the bathroom floor had flooded and the hole where the pipe went through the wall was letting water run down the stairwell wall.  Good lord!  I grabbed a bunch of towels and mopped up the water.  But when I looked in the toilet, it wasn’t stopped up.  I couldn’t figure out what had happened.  So, I flushed it again.  OMG...water shot up from the back of the toilet connection, up the bathroom wall...lots of water!  Now the floor was flooded again and water was rushing out the hole in the wall too.  I was concerned at this point that the water might cause the floor to cave in...probably a little drastic, but that’s where my mind was going.  So I checked the back of the toilet (there’s no tank), but couldn’t figure out where the leak was coming from.  I called James up (he had been shooting arrows in the backyard) to have a look.  He couldn’t see anything and said we’d have to flush again to see where the problem was.  So we did...and had another flood...and after seeing where it was coming from he determined that he couldn’t fix it.  Now we need a plumber, but it’s Sunday and we decide to deal with it on Monday as we have another working toilet.  See, France is really rubbing off on us!

The offending toilet!

After the propane and the toilet, I was starting to get a little aggravated (piling these on top of the internet/phone and car issues).  I grabbed a beer and sat down in the back yard with James.  I told him that I felt like all these things were signs.  But I didn’t know what they were signs of.  Did it mean I shouldn’t have come on this trip, rather stayed home and focused on my business?  Was it a test to see how many things we could deal with without blowing a gasket?  Or was this just what I needed to show me that where ever I am, there will always be things to deal can never really escape!  James said he just thought I should be mellow about everything, not worry and things would work themselves out.  Ah, St. James...helping me put it all in perspective.
I finished my beer and we decided to go play some tennis while Kerry and kids went to the public pool.  Our host belonged to a small tennis club (three courts in a lovely field) and he said that he had spoken to the manager so that we could play there this summer (we had done the same for him at our tennis club).  We dropped the kids at the pool and drove over to the tennis club.  Two of the courts were being used, but one was available.  We went into the small shed that they sell drinks out of and spoke with the woman who looked to be in charge.  I asked her (in French) if she spoke English, and she said a little.  I then tried to explain who we were, who our host was and asked if we could play.  She told us that there was a tournament going on on the weekends for the next few weeks, so we couldn’t play on the weekends.  She then told us that we would need to purchase a summer membership, as we could not play under our host’s membership.  She gave us the price sheet and we thanked her and left.  As we were walking back to the car James said “Okay, now I’m pissed!!!!”  So funny what the last straw is for each of us...for me, it’s exploding toilets...for James it’s not being able to play tennis.  Now it was my turn to tell James, relax...we’ll work it all out.
We picked the kids up from the pool (I will have a whole separate post about our experiences at the pool!) and we drove home.  We were going to cook dinner, but Kerry and I were tired and frazzled, so we decided to head back to St. Patricks and enjoy another couple of pizzas, some wine and free Internet.  As we sat in St. Patricks, enjoying the amenities...we realized it doesn’t take too much to make us happy...a working toilet, cheap, but good wine, pizza and access to the Internet!  We’ll be fine as long as we don’t have to ride these:


Leland said...

Steph and James, This post sounds very similar to our recent lunchtime chat at Quasi's Place.....OMG, NO, it is identical to our discussion - but with COLOR PICTURES included!!!!!

It is so nice to be back home with my full rolodex of domestic help cards for: AAA, Roto Rooter, Verizon, Comcast, Terminex and the like!!! Best Wishes, Leland and Christina

Sarah said...

Welcome to living in Europe! Now you'll understand better why when people ask me if living in Europe is exciting, I just roll my eyes!

The lesson here for you Steph is learning to put your "real" life into perspective. Your worst day in California is probably nothing in comparison to what you'll experience while in France for these two months. And I agree with James, just take a deep breath and let it go. As long as nobody is hurt, all is good.

Oh, and those disposal toilets are used so that they don't have to put in the larger diameter pipes for the evacuation. It cracks me up that the Europeans will put a grinder on their toilets but can't understand why you would want one in your kitchen sink...

Still hope to see you soon,

Anonymous said...

If I had to guess I would think the lesson is.... there's no place like home TOTO. As yellow as your grass might be it's probably going to look very green. I have a feeling that when you get home you will see that your car is a chariot, your home is a mansion and your country with all it's faults is a kingdom. Love you lots, Michelle P.S. The pictures are amazing!

KevinCromley said...

Looks like you guys will be ready to mvisit Nicaragua after France!

Andrew said...

OK, I can't help but wonder what issues the other family is having in your house. Busted for letting the kids run naked at the beach? A ticket for pouring the teenager wine at the restaurant? Communication hyjinks at the drivethru?
Maybe you should come to Yakima!
I'm tempted to go to your house and tell them I'm the gardener...

maria said... sounds like you are making the best of the situation...three cheers for St. Patricks!