Monday, October 24, 2005

A scrappy job

In our second act as homeowners, on Saturday, Dawg and I spent the entire day clearing out all the scrap metal from the house and garden. I cannot believe that we: (a) had so much scrap around, (b) used our own two hands to dispose of it, and (c) had so much fun doing it.

It was exhausting, sweaty work. For some reason, there was never-ending amounts of tangled chicken wire strewn about the garden. Chicken wire is surprisingly heavy, and when it has been sitting around, exposed to the elements for several years, difficult to maneuver. The better part of the afternoon was spent staggering around underneath the chicken wire, trying to throw it over the edge of the trailer without letting it crash back down on our heads. The fun part was climbing aboard the trailer and stamping the wire down with my feet to make room for more. I'm such a ten-year old.

The most disgusting part of the day was attacking the mess in the attic. The attic is a lovely space, but is filled with -- no lie -- several hundred pounds of filthy old clothes. These clothes are filthy not only because they have been lying around in a dirty attic for an untold number of years, but also because an animal of uncertain species left rather large turds all over the clothes. Ewwww. Okay, it's not fresh shit. It's several years old and is grey and crumbly with age. But still. Oh my lord.

It is a testament of our love for this house, and how badly we want to restore it to normal, that Dawg and I got rid of the clothes ourselves.

Let me repeat that.

Dawg and I got rid of the shitty, dirt-laden clothes ourselves. Me - who gets freaked out by touching wilted lettuce leaves! Dawg - who has a phobia about Other People's Dirt! We did it. Who'da thunk?

Of course, we wore masks and heavy gloves and used a pitchfork so we wouldn't actually have to touch the clothes. But, gah! Feeling those bits of turds crunch to powder under our boots; blinking particles of God-knows-what out of our doesn't bear thinking about. But now, it's done, and it never has to be done again. Well, not the clothes part anyway -- there is still a lot of shit (literal and figurative) up in that attic that we'll have to get rid of somehow.

All in all, it was an honest day's work, and we congratulated ourselves all the way back to Paris for being rugged, hardy sort of people. Then we went out for sushi.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

So we own the house. Yay. Now what?

The first thing that Dawg and I want to do is clean the place up. The house is filled with junk. Real junk. Not, ooh-maybe-some-of-this-could-be-antiques, junk. I'm talking smashed mirrors, rusted cans, beer bottles, filthy mattresses type of junk.

Technically, the owner was supposed to clear out the house before title passed to us. But, given that he is a festering piece of crap himself hadn't lifted a finger to clean the house in the 30 years that he owned it, we didn't expect him to start now. Instead, our notaire and agent had a shouting match with him at the closing, insisting that he contribute some money to our cleaning costs. The FPC refused. (BTW, I no longer think of him as the gypsy as I'd be inadvertently insulting gypsies. The man looked like a crusty heel. And he stank so bad I got a headache.) After lots more shouting, bulging veins, and flying spittle, the FPC agreed to pay taxes on the house for the rest of the year, and the agent agreed to chip in 200 euros toward cleaning costs. Dawg and I were so sick of the whole thing, we caved. We just wanted our house.

Two days after signing on the house, we drove back to Burgundy, armed with masks, rakes, shears, disinfectant and 15 heavy-duty garbage sacks, and spent the day hacking out a path in the wilderness-like garden, and clearing out some of the crap in the house. It was a funny day. We filled 10 sacs full of crap, and would have filled more but we kept getting interrupted. Curious neighbors would wander by and we'd have to stop and say hello and be friendly. In this neck of the world, we have to be super-friendly and open to make sure that we are not pigeon-holed as Parisian or American snobs. And God knows, what with Dawg being German and all (our village was occupied during WWII -- German soliders used the kitchen in our house), he certainly doesn't want to give any bad impressions or fit a stereotype. So, we smile broadly and wave and say "Bonjour" to everyone we see.

Some people ignore our frantic overtures of friendliness (a few even look annoyed) but mostly everyone has been welcoming. Our next door neighbors (very nice people, but with horreneous taste) have already invited us over for an aperitif. Another neighbor, Jackee, has agreed to help us cart away some of our garbage. The person I liked best was our nearest neighbor, Titi, a tiny wrinkly guy of about 85. He told us that he's gardener, and still seems to be at it, despite his age. When we met him, he was wearing green wellies and a mackintosh, and was effortlessly pushing a big wheelbarrow full of manure into his yard. He stopped to chat with us, clapped his hands with delight when he learned we were officially neighbors, and told us he'd be living next door to our house since he was a boy. Dawg and I are dying to pump him for stories about our house. But we can't exactly invite him over for tea yet.

What I didn't like about our neighbors was this: every. single. one. of them looked at the house, grimaced, and then said: Bon courage. Translation: Good luck -- you're gonna need it. We always respond with a wry shrug and smile, and insist that it'll be hard work but fun. Still, I always feel a thrill of panic when they say it. Are we crazy for taking this on? I'm not entirely convinced that we're not.

Anyway, in other next steps, we have arranged for a meeting with our architects friends at the end of the month. F. and K. will drive to France from Berlin with their favorite carpenter and F's dad, who is also an architect and who speaks fluent french. Dawg and I, for our part, will arrange to have local masons, roofers, electricians and plumbers come to talk to the architects while they're here.

Since my french isn't really up to making arrangements and talking shop with the various builders, my job will be to deal with Red, the English guy that lives in our little village. I'll have to write another post about him, he's a character, but for now, I'll just say that he's a very handy guy, and has agreed to help us out as much as possible. He has already voluntarily strimmed half of our garden. No more hacking through the jungle!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

More pictures

Hmm. I've not yet mastered adding pictures. Excuse the mess.

These pictures were taken at various times in February and March. The photos with snow are pictures of the front of the house, though we never enter that way because the door is locked and no one has a key. In the end, we'll probably keep the door facing the garden (see, e.g., the sunny pictures) as the main entrance.

So, do you get how this all goes?

Picture #4 is the house from the street. You enter the property though the rusty gates shown in picture #2. Once you're inside the gates, you are facing the barn/garage (or, as we like to call it, the "guest cottage/wellness area") as shown in picture #1. When facing the barn, the house is to the right of you, as shown in picture #3. Picture # 5 is the back of the house, which we use as the front.

Got it?

Here she is!

It is Amityville-esque, is it not?

Now, mind you, as rotten as the house looked on this day, this is the house at its best. It looked even worse the day we bought it. This picture was taken in March, on our second or third visit. It don't look like this anymore. These days, weeds have completely overtaken the yard, and any attempt at a stroll through the "garden", requires safari hats, scythes, and effortful, jungle-like hacking.

Still, you can see why we love it, can't you? The potential for an amazing place is there. Scrape that ivy off, slap some paint on, replace all the windows and the front door, and you've got yourself a mighty nice-looking house! Of course, it'll still be uninhabitable, but whatever.