Friday, October 17, 2008

Full Circle

I remember when we first signed the papers for the house 3 years, 9 months ago. We were so excited. We didn’t care that the house was dilapidated, filthy and smelled strongly of pigeon shit. We loved it and couldn’t wait to get our hands on it.

A day or two after signing, I went to the local department store to poke around their hardware department. It tickled me silly to buy a rake and a pair of wellies, and I must have spent a good hour mulling over which canvas gloves to buy. Heavy-duty polythene sacs, dust masks, secateurs, and industrial-strength disinfectants all went into my shopping cart, and when I returned home, my fingers were cramping beneath the weight of all the bags I carried. But I was so thrilled – these products marked the start of a great adventure. Cleaning our house would be our first act of love towards it; the first step toward making the place our own.

Today I found myself in that department store once again. Like last time, I contemplated the best cleaning supplies for the house. But this time, I bought ordinary stuff – rubber gloves. Brooms. Sponges. A dustpan. Mr. Clean (or as it’s called here, Monsieur Propre). Yes, people: the rumors are true. Three years and nine months after buying the place, our house is finally habitable. This weekend we will stay overnight there for the first time.

I must admit, I’m a little nervous. I have only seen the house at night twice. The first time was when we just happened to drive past it in on our way to a local chambre d’hôte. The second time was when a meeting with the workers ran late, and we ended up racing against the sun, like anti-vampires, trying to lock up the house before darkness fell. We didn’t quite make it but we tore out of the village as if zombies were on our tail. The house, with its grimy cobwebs and crumbling walls and missing floors, was just too creepy to be in after dark.

Now, all that’s changed, of course. The walls are all white and gleaming. The new floors smell wonderfully of freshly cut wood. And there’s nary a cobweb to be seen, let alone one black with dirt.

But I’m still the tiniest bit weirded out by staying overnight there. The house has been creepy a lot longer than it’s been nice. I feel oddly shy and apprehensive, as if I’m about to go on a date with an old friend, who used to live out of his car and eat from garbage cans, but has since cleaned up really, really nicely.

What shades of the old house will remain, I wonder? It’ll be so familiar and yet unfamiliar, too. I imagine, like any really old house, it makes lots of weird, creepy, settling noises. But it’ll take us awhile before we know the sounds of the stairs creaking is normal, and not some 19th century ghost coming to reclaim the house, or the village axe murderer creeping upstairs to chop us to bits.


Still, I can’t wait. We’re on the brink of a whole new adventure.

I’ll let ya’ll know how it goes.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Getting my Goat

Architects (or lack thereof) aside, we are doggedly moving forward. Soon we will actually be able to spend a night in our house, possibly as soon as mid-October. Originally, we thought it would happen by the end of September. At the last meeting in late August, the carreleur (tile layer) swore that he would be finished tiling the bathrooms by Friday, September 19th, so that the plumber could connect the toilet, bathtub, etc. and we would finally have a functional bathroom.

Well. We made an impromptu visit to the house on Wednesday, September 17th – two days before the carreleur was supposed to have finished. And guess what?....

Come on, you’ll never guess....

The bathrooms weren’t finished.

Steady now - I know you’re shocked. But actually, so were we. We bounded in, full of hope – but the bathrooms looked exactly the same as when we had visited weeks earlier. Dust-covered boxes of tiles lay on the floor. A half-empty bottle of mineral water was perched on our useless sink. Some tumbleweed rolled by. Our bathroom was a ghost town.

Enraged, Dawg fired off phone calls to both the carreleur and the stone mason (who had subcontracted the work) and threatened to institute penalties if the bathrooms were not finished by the agreed upon date. (Mind you, they told us in May that the bathrooms would be finished by the end of June…which became mid-July…which became the end of July…which then became the end of September.) The carreleur called Dawg back hours later, bumbling with apologies, swearing that he had been planning to finish up that very weekend! He swore that he would be finished by Monday, Sept.22nd at the very latest.

But the very next day, he calls to inform us that a big box of tiles had gone missing, and that he had to order more, which would take 10 days. Now, does someone smell a rat? Of course, it is possible that the tiles were really stolen. Once some wooden floorboards that were waiting to be installed were stolen. But isn’t that just so convenient? We now have to wait 10 days for the new tiles to be delivered.

And to top it off, the stone mason – who has been extremely reliable for the past three years – has become increasingly unreliable. For the past few months we have been waiting for the delivery and installation of stone so that the mason can finish the floors near the fireplaces. The mason, M. Carbourdin, said that there were delays with the quarry. Fed up, Dawg again threatened to institute penalties on the stone mason. A few days later, M. Carbourdin called to say the problems with the quarry had miraculous cleared and said the stones would be delivered within the week.

That was last week.

Today* Carbourdin calls to say that “the stones fell off the truck” en route to delivery and he’d have to order more. Can you believe this? Neither do we. It’s the builder’s equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework.’ Dawg simply told the mason that what happened to the stones was not his problem, and that Carbourdin had been find a solution by next week or else we were going to find someone else to do the job. Sigh.

I mean, can you imagine making such excuses at your job if you fail to deliver to a client? Having worked on construction law cases for 2.5 years, I do know that delays are to be expected, especially from suppliers. But I also know that you need to make reasonable efforts to circumvent delays – like having a going to an alternate supplier if one fails you. It is just. So. FRUSTRATING.


The house, though still uninhabitable, is looking good.

No longer scary. Almost warm.

In July, we invited our friends (whom I’ll call Tollie and Skip) to see the house. And for the very first time, we had guests that looked impressed with the house instead of shocked. Skip who studied landscaping was very excited about our garden (well, potential garden) and we had fun chatting about where raspberry or blueberry bushes should be planted, whether a cherry blossom tree would thrive there, and how to get rid of the many, many, many, many weeds without using industrial strength pesticides. Half-jokingly, I said that we should get a goat. It really was a half-joke, but now each time we think about it, we get more serious. But we have so many questions – like…is it really possible to rent a goat? Would we have to feed it more than grass and weeds? Does a goat require a lot of care? Would it really eat everything in our yard? How long would it take for a goat to eat a 1500 sq meter yard? What if we rented several goats for a week – would that be enough time for them to clean out our yard? If there’s anyone out who knows a thing or two about goats, please feel free to chime in.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with some pictures of the house as of Skip and Tollie's July visit. Feel free to ooh and ahhh.

Living Room:

View of Living Room from Kitchen:

View from Living Room of doors to library (left) and doors leading to hall. (Aren't the doors goregous? The person who made the doors also made the windows. By hand. Just wonderful.)



Master Bedroom (note the beautiful view!):

Close-up of beautifully restored fireplace in master bedroom (I have to do before and after's of this fireplace, the difference is amazing):

Guest bathrooms in-progess!

Guest Room:

And just for fun... Skip and Tollie pushing Lil'Dawg around our lovely village:

*Note: Although I'm posting this on Oct. 11, this post was originally written on Sept. 24th.