Not a Trip Report - France

Old Sep 22nd, 2012, 08:26 PM
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Not a Trip Report - France

Not a Trip Report: France 2012

I’m not aiming at travel or itinerary advice here. It wasn’t a “vacation” or anything remotely like one. It was a mission, with a purpose that actually changed as time passed, but you’ll see that, if you read it. If you’re looking for descriptive, flowery language about the wonders of the SW of France, pass on this, though there will be moments because I can’t help it.

I have a house in France that I was under the impression that I needed to sell (related to divorce agreement…not a court order to do that in principle, but related to paying ex-spouse a king’s ransom for being an ass, and having gotten screwed royally in the sale of a house in VA which was expected to cover those very divorce costs, which it did not, and which have me tied up in all manner of lawsuits with the lovely company Chase which apparently defrauded a lot of people like me in housing sales), which in principle broke my heart, but I was ready to do it and move on to something else because the place is remote, with steep staircases, a pool and cabana and veranda and a lot of land to deal with – more than this 60-year-old at the time felt was manageable, especially as she’d mangled her ankle at the end of August and was on crutches until the last two days of the trip, when she could hobble on emaciated legs to a café. After a few days in St-Cirq, we kind of re-thought our position on this, but more later….

First I want to say that both Air France and the SNCF came through with flying colors with handicap services (which I’d never used before in my entire life and was loath to do and frankly apprehensive about). We got our local gas station here across the street in Dupont Circle to find us a cab driver, Ahmad, to take us to Dulles for an agreed price of $50 flat, and arrived 3 hours before the flight. Delta (code-share) immediately put me in a wheelchair and took care of our one checked bag (usually don’t check bags, but in this case insane not to). There was a bit of a hitch when we tried to go to the Air France boarding gate in a Delta wheelchair (insurance issues, they said…OK), but got an AF wheelchair and we were whisked past everyone else who wasn’t infirm, went goodness knows where all around Dulles, and parked at the boarding gate. Boarded early on an Airbus 380 (OMG I love those planes, and I’m a wimpy flyer to say the least!), took off on time (they have these computer screens for each seat where you can see your very actual plane taxi-ing for takeoff, then taking off, then in flight…the whole way to Paris until you are watching your landing! It’s amazing, but I must admit I did keep thinking that if something went wrong, would you want to be wanting your own crash?? Highly unlikely, eh?).

Air France personnel on board were really accommodating. Food was good. Wine was free. We arrived in Paris at 6 am, and a wheelchair was ready for me. Went to Relay to get Lebara SIM – didn’t have it, so bought SFR SIM, then on to the SNCF station, where we had tickets on the TGV to Bordeaux. We’d allowed almost 4 hours, partly because I was so slow and partly because of schedules, so we got handed off to an SNCF attendant who parked us at a café, where we had a coffee and croissant. He came back to pick us up to take us to the train about a half-hour before departure. It was a long, jetlagged moment at the café but we survived, taking in the familiar salty-sweaty-yeasty-coffee-gasole smell of Paris and just savoring being there and hearing French all around us.

Train was on time. Attendant wheeled me up to it and helped me on board with my crutches. Uneventful ride to Bordeaux. We had an hour and a bit more than half in Bordeaux before the local train to Périgueux. Toni met us as we arrived in Bordeaux and wheeled me outside to a café in the sun to wait. We shared a Leffe – who the hell cared what time it was on our clock at this point anyway? Toni came back and wheeled us to the Corail train to Périgueux, where we scrambled on at just the last minute and had a delightful conversation on the ride with a woman from Clermont-Ferrand who is some sort of magic scientist who does “architectural biology,” a concept that is as hard for me to understand in English as it is in French. At this point, SO’s French was in faible mode, while mine was just kicking in.

Arrived in Périgueux about a quarter to 6 pm, just in time to pick up our rental car. Wheelchair attendant waiting for me as I got off the train (God bless every single one of them for calling ahead and arranging this – it was a godsend!). I waited at the train station while SO went to fetch the car, right around the corner, and come back to get me. 15 minutes later, there he was, and attendant wheeled me out to the car with the luggage (very little, but still more than I could manage). Got settled in the car (we’re 30 hours into travel at this point, and a little crispy, but thank goodness I know the route like the back of my hand), and we immediately bump forward and stall the car. SO says “It’s been years since I drove a stick shift.” I didn’t know this. I’d drive, but I’ve got this bum left foot that won’t work. Moments of apprehension, since we’ve got 44 kms to go to get to my house and I know what the roads are like – winding, hilly, and loads of frenetic French drivers on your tail the whole way. Wish I had a Valium, but I’ve never had anything like that. Might be smart to invest in something like that at this age, though.

Fortunately, it’s rush-hour in Périgueux, so everything is slow until we get out of town, at least a 20-minute drive. Then we get on the main route…and by main route I mean a D-road that is small and tortuous for about 25 kms to my house, and drivers are tailgating us like crazy, and SO is still getting used to the car, and the manual transmission thing is still an issue, and I am NOT a good passenger…I like to be the driver and in control, and I can’t.

But we get there, with a stop at the Vival in Le Bugue to get some basic provisions. And as has happened so often over the past 20 years, driving up the road to my house is such an incredible experience (Google Grotte du Sorcier, Saint-Cirq, and you’ll see the road that goes to my house), SO was just blown away. It’s magical; it defies description.

Then we find that the wooden gates to my house are not in such good condition; the one on the left is somewhat rotted, but we can force them open. And even more wonderful, the keys to the house work and open the front door. And it’s still light out, and the whole valley is bathed in glorious color, and…we’re here! It’s been 32 hours in transit, but…we’re here! The bedrooms are habitable, the Macy’s sheets are dry and clean, the pillows are still dry and soft, the place is gorgeous still, though needing a lot of work.

It’s chilly and there’s a lot of logs under the veranda, so we start to make a big fire and sit outside until it gets too chilly there, then move inside before the fire. I am having a moment where I am just so heartstricken to be able to share this place with SO, and he is having a moment where he is so heartstricken to finally understand what all this fuss is about with me and the French house, and it’s all gorgeously and intricately and jetlagged-ly orchestrated to be “a moment” that it calls for kisses and hugs and gazing at the stars and silly philosophical moments to be forgotten, thankfully, by the next morning when the fog rolls in.

To be continued...
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Old Sep 22nd, 2012, 08:41 PM
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Glad to hear you got there safely, found it habitable, and made it comfortable enough for that first night!
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Old Sep 22nd, 2012, 08:44 PM
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Oh, it was so comfortable! We slept like babies for 12 hours!
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Old Sep 22nd, 2012, 08:46 PM
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Beautiful. Can't wait to read more. This is often how our trips to my mother-in-laws place in Vezac feel. Jet lagged, happy, content, familiar smells and sights, magical light.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2012, 10:07 PM
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That was a long first day but so rewarding at the end.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2012, 10:08 PM
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Topping to follow what looks to be a wonderful non-trip report.

How did you mangle your ankle, BTW?
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Old Sep 22nd, 2012, 11:31 PM
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A great read so far. Thank you.

I presume that you will file a trip report in due course.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 01:07 AM
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You really can write StCirq. I have tears in my eyes.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 01:33 AM
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Loving this and waiting for more!
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 01:49 AM
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"as has happened so often over the past 20 years, driving up the road to my house is such an incredible experience (Google Grotte du Sorcier, Saint-Cirq, and you’ll see the road that goes to my house), SO was just blown away. It’s magical; it defies description"

Sounds like your heart is home....
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 05:14 AM
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I am trying to guess what the ending to your house sale/house hunt story will be. I am sure it will be a "happily ever after" tale.

This is a great read, St. Cirq!
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 05:43 AM
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I can't wait to read more...
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 06:49 AM
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First off, you might want to take a gander at this, which will show what the drive up to the house looks like. The lane that goes by the grotte is the lane to my place; I'm just 30 meters or so up the hill to the left (at 35 seconds, you are actually looking out at the valley over the roof tiles of my veranda):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUBWPfew5JE

I didn't keep a trip log much on this voyage, so much of this is just general impressions, but I do know that on that first morning we woke to the usual rooster calls and tractor buzzings and a thrilling azure sky, threw open the bedroom windows, and SO said "Boy, this is a place that really makes you want to get up in the morning!" I, on the other hand, gazed down at the property below me and the now greatly obscured view of the valley and mentally prepared myself for a whole lot of hard work, and probably a whole lot of euros, before I scrambled downstairs on the dusty, winding staircase on my tush to have coffee and make a plan.

We have no water or electricity, so that's a priority. But food seems to trump many things in France, so after coffee we decide we'll go into Le Bugue and stock up on a few things, and I will show SO "my town." The overgrowth on what used to be a long grassy space between the house and the wall that rises up from the pool terrace is so great that trying to get through it on crutches is like trying to maneuver through a field of long rubber bands. Every time I put a crutch down, long pieces of dried grass and weeds wind around it, so I have to literally rip my way to the car, tearing each crutch out from the grasses on each step forward and waving it in the air like a madwoman. Good thing no one can see us. Then there are the rocks, and twigs, and branches...it's a high-end obstacle course.

As we start to pull out of the driveway, a SOGEDO (water service) truck goes by slowly on the lane, which goes up and over my house. It crosses my mind that someone (the real estate agent, the notaire?) has actually contacted them to hook up my water, so we follow him. Sure enough, he stops at my neighbors' little house on the other side of mine, and we stop too. He is indeed looking for us, and after a brief discussion about how to find the water main (hidden under four years of growth by the side of the garage), we arrange to pay him the hookup fee, and we're off and he'll circle back around and hook us up. So we'll have water (actually, it wasn't that much of a concern, as we have a marvelous spring; hot water is another issue, though).

SO is captivated by Le Bugue, which surprises me a bit, since to me it's just a working town, pretty enough, but not a tourist magnet. Seeing it through his eyes, though, I "get" its charm, probably as I did 20 years ago when it was my first time here, too. The bridge over the river is bedecked with huge pots of geraniums, ducks zoom down among the river weeds and skate to a squawking halt, the old market hall has been nicely restored to a graceful, simple place that is perfectly to scale in the main town square, people are briskly doing errands and stopping to exchange kisses and greetings, gigantic trucks filled with logs or pigs or tobacco leaves are maneuvering around the tiny traffic circle, bicyclists are ringing their bells, and a hawk is self-assuredly sailing above it all over the hills behind town.

I can't deal with the Intermarché yet, so SO takes off with a shopping cart while I go to the little telephone boutique just inside the store to iron out some SFR SIM card issues. In order to get Wifi, they tell me, I have to get a Clé 3G, which they only carry for those who have Orange as their opérateur - I'll have to go to Sarlat (which I'm fairly certain I will not be able to navigate on crutches, at least not yet). So, after SO has our foodstuffs, I say let's go to Les Eyzies - I bet the tourist office there has Wifi.

And they do, in a little room at the back, and it's free, so we check our email and then go across the street to the Café de la Mairie for a Perrier and dish of apricot sorbet. Les Eyzies is teeming with tourists, many of them cyclists traveling in huge groups. It's hard for me to find anything to love about this town, but again, I have a fresh pair of eyes with me, and SO, while not captivated, is quite content to be here.

Back to the house, where we survey the mess of a landscape we've got to deal with, get tools out of the garage, and get to work weeding, clipping, and ripping. I sit on a chair, which I move from time to time, and pull 10-foot strands of ivy from the front of the house and the wall until I have a pile that is five times my size. SO goes down to the pool terrace and starts removing wild raspberry bushes from under the pool cover. The pool cover seems to be intact, but there's a murky, miasmic build-up of about 5 inches covering it, a haven for salamanders and frogs and water weeds. It's appallingly ugly.

Periodically, someone calls my cell phone: Patricia, the real estate agent in Le Buisson; Yolande, the real estate agent in La Rochelle, where I am thinking of relocating to, should things work out as I hope; Dominique, some other real estate agent in Périgueux, who calls simply to tell me he's too far away to help and that Patricia will be my point of contact. The cell phone is quirky and fun, and I get a silly little thrill out of seeing it light up with French names and phone numbers and answering "Allo!."

We work until mid-evening, then scour the house for candles and lanterns and set ourselves up for another fire, some Bergerac red, some confit de canard that SO found in one of the cabinets (marked 2004, but as SO says, "It's confit...what could be wrong with it?") and baguette, until it's time for me to face backwards and haul myself up the stairs to running water to brush my teeth, and bed.

Exciting upcoming events: electricity, laundry, and Franck and Onuma.

(nukesafe, at the end of August, I tripped on some cement steps, really cracked and irregular, in our back yard here in DC and wrenched and twisted the heck out of my ankle - doctor says it would have been far, far better if I'd broken it, but I didn't. So there's no remedy except time and exercises. It looked like a big eggplant for 3 weeks; now it just looks like a small one, but I can hobble around)
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 07:34 AM
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Lovely non-TR, StCirq, and a magical place. Looking forward to more.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 07:39 AM
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You should write this as a book.
Waiting for more.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 08:27 AM
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Your house sounds idyllic. I worked on grounds crews at golf courses all through high school and college and I'm also a stone mason.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...0312512&type=3

I'm good at landscaping. I do work vacations in the Dordogne in exchange for room and board.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 08:50 AM
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Hi, FMT. I thought about contacting you while over there, as we had talked about meeting up, but by the time we got to Paris I was pooped, and couldn't really get around anywhere except on foot, plus I actually had to do some "real work" for a client back here and that meant hobbling to the Café La Factorie in the 20ème every day to use the Wifi.

But....stone mason??? Seriously? One of my biggest obstacles, as it turns out, and as will be described later, is I have a huge fissure in one of the walls of the house, and the prognosis is that I'm likely going to need two tirants installed, which sounds like a big job to me (though I haven't received the devis yet). I'm not on Facebook, so can't access your link, but you can reach me at StCirq at aol dot com. On doit discuter!

I could certainly arrange free room(s) in exchange for landscaping...not kidding. We'd have to work something out about board, but everything is possible in St-Cirq, including fresh eggs, fruit of every imaginable kind in the orchard, Onamu's homemade nems, and Madame L.'s confit and pâté.

It's idyllic for sure...un vrais paradis!
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 10:45 AM
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Try this link:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...3&l=fc578ccb94

I'll drop you a line later as I'm heading out for the evening right now.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 10:49 AM
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I'm enjoying reading this "not a report" and hope you update soon.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2012, 11:13 AM
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Well, that's one impressive wall, FMT! Thanks for the link.

Talk later....
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