Monday, June 19, 2006


Anyone still there? It's me...the really old house owner....hello? HELLO?

I'm very sorry for my absence. I have no real excuse except to say not much has changed since I last wrote. In March, we took up more floors, knocked away the plaster covering the beams on the house's perimeter, discovered more rotting beams. In April, we tore down some walls. These days, in some parts of the house, you can see straight up to the roof from the ground floor. That's how much stuff we've torn down; how many gaping holes we've made. I know that all this destruction is considered progress -- there's no way to get a stable, secure house without doing this -- but at times it sure don't feel like it.

The worst was in February and March, where not only were we constantly tearing down everything, watching our beautiful house turn to dust and rubble, but we were doing all this dirty, tiring work in the freezing cold. Sometimes, I would have to sit in the car with the heat blasting, waiting until my fingers unfroze enough for me to continue. And sometimes, if we needed to warm-up but didn't want to go to the car, we would simply step outside the house for a minute or two. Yep, that's right. In the winter, it's warmer outside the house than inside.

Okay, I bet now you're picturing me and Dawg as proficient and knowledgeable craftsmen, rubbing our dust-streaked chins as we stare thoughtfully at blueprints; wielding our crowbars and sledgehammers with inimitable skill, grimly continuing to labor until the job is done, despite artic-like conditions.

It's not like that.

To tell the truth, Red, our neighbor, does most of the work during the week. By the time we get there on Saturday, there's very little left to do. We spend maybe two or three hours working, and then spend another two or three hours eating lunch and guzzling wine at Red's family's chateau. Or sometimes we work for an hour or two, then go to the nearest bed and breakfast, rent a room for the afternoon, take a hot shower, take a two-hour nap, and return to Paris. We're the laziest house-restorers you'd ever want to meet.

Anyway, I suppose it's not entirely true that nothing has changed since I last posted. To keep things simple, here are the top 5 things that have occurred since I last wrote:

1. The house is warmer. And not just because it's now June. No doubt tired of my incessant whining about the cold, Dawg and Red finally cleaned out and opened the fireplace on the ground floor. Now, we can have a lovely, huge blaze going while we work. It doesn't warm the whole house, so, to get warm you have to keep returning to the fireplace (at times I actually sit in the fireplace), but it's really nice to have something in the house that not only keeps your warm, but actually works! Other than the roof, the front doors, a few beams and the stairs, this fireplace is the only thing in the house that currently serves a purpose.

2. We got electricity. Despite my insistence that this house has nothing, it does have electrical wires (some of them appearing in frighteningly random places) and a circuit box. To our surprise, we learned that all we needed to do to get power in the house is call EDF and have them flip a switch. Red made the call for us, and now our house has more juice than a smoothie bar. But fat lot of good it does us - because the wires are scarily dangling all over the house, we are only keeping one outlet live. How we do this, I don't know, but Dawg and Red assure me that all other wires in the house are currently (or current-less, ha!) harmless. Better hope so.

3. We have flowers. Or rather, we had flowers. Last November, Dawg's sister very kindly, though naively (she had yet to see the yard), gave us Daffodil bulbs to plant in our junk-filled wilderness. And we gamely did, one very cold December day. I remember that we looked doubtfully at the little mounds we created amid the rubble and weeds, and wished them luck. But apparently, they didn't need luck -- daffodils can grow just about anywhere. For, one day when we went to the house in late March, there they were, rising up beside rusted metal and old ceramic sinks, or pushing through the stony ground at the back wall, bright and pretty as anything. Yes, their loveliness was a bit incongruous what with all the other havoc occuring in the yard, but it was still a very pleasing sight and happy reminder of what our garden will one day be. Pictures to come.

4. We got a mailbox. Okay, I'm stretching for stuff here, but it was very exciting to get the key and see our name (well, Dawg's name) on the box. And yes, we do get mail. Flyers for local events, store circulars, and - only days after EDF turned on our electricity - our first electricity bill. For 259 euros. Which seemed awfully high, considering that we've never actually used any electricity. Luckily, the person Dawg spoke to at EDF was very understanding (this is not something one can assume 'round these parts) and we got a 259 credit on the next bill.

..and last, but far from least.....

5. We got some state money to restore the house! Incredible, but true. For my birthday, a friend gave me an amazing book called, "Fermes & Maisons Villageoises: 30 exemples de rehabilitation" which details 30 house/farm restoration projects in various villages around France. If you're restoring a near-ruin in France for the first time, it really is a must-have. For each project, the book shows before and after pictures, miniature blueprints or floor plans, detailed descriptions of the works undertaken, the cost of the entire project and the length of time it took to complete it. It also has a glossary of construction terms, listings for architects, artisans and other workers, and -- best of all -- a bunch of public organizations that deal with the safeguarding and restoration of old houses. One of these organizations is called Fondation du Patrimoine ( Clever Dawg realized that, under certain conditions, this outfit actually gives money toward the restoration of old homes. And not only that -- if you are awarded a grant from them, you are entitled to deduct up to 100% of certain building costs from your taxes!

Basically, to get a grant from them, your home must be:

-- old (how old was never really clear - we think our house was built around 1850, give or take 20 years, and that was old enough);

-- in close proximity to a landmark, in an protected area or in a natural park (our house is next to a landmark church dating from the 16th century);

-- be visible from the public space (this is key because they only pay for works that will be visible to the public eye. If we had needed a new roof, this really would have been a godsend!)

We figured we met all the requirements, so we put together a really slamming dossier, which included estimates from all the workers with regard to works visible to the public eye, photographs of the exterior of the house from every possible angle (including a reprint of an old postcard of the house from the turn of the 20th century), and a rockin description (prepared by our architects) of all the works, both exterior and interior, that will be done on the house.

We submitted the dossier in May and found out in June that it was accepted. We were granted 8% of the total costs of our exterior works. It's less cash than we'd hoped for but we're thrilled anyway since it means that we can deduct 50% of the cost of the exterior works from our 2006 taxes. That's some 30,000 euros!

Naturally, we're taking the friend who gave me the book out to a fabulous dinner. That book was the most expensive birthday gift I've ever received.


John W said...

Can you make your ribs in the fireplace? Now that would be something to write about.

Hannibalian said...
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