Wed, 3 May, 2017 –
What I need to say tonight is that finally, after months and years of searching for a life in France, we are experiencing our first night in our house, La Busaneth, in Loubés Bernac, France. There is a fire in the wood burner, and we are finally able to start the process of warming up and drying the house that has been cold and empty all winter. The walls of the salon have been scraped by Tanja and still require attention from the wire brush before they can be painted. We have created a cozy arrangement of sofas, tables an lamps before the fire to make it feel like home. There are still dirty dishes in the kitchen after our first meal prepared in this house, but they can wait. It is time I started our blog about a journey that we together started six years ago, but that each of us started years before that.
I have hesitated to begin to write about what has been a deep, meaningful journey because the topic seemed way too busy and complex. I have dreamed of returning to live in Europe ever since I was a graduate student in England in the 1970s. Tanja has been itching to leave the U.S. as well, with her dream being to start a B&B. We have visited France several times, the most recent this winter when we looked at many properties and eventually settled on the two property solution: one for a gîte business and the other for our dream home. We signed the compromis de vent in January and went back to Louisville to settle our affairs there.
Our three months in Louisville were very busy as we said good-bye to many friends and family many times and distributed our worldly goods to family, friends and complete strangers. We sold our house. We sold our cars. We managed to get many of our family heirlooms to our children while we are still living. We had a yard sale on a cold, rainy Saturday in late April, and we sold many of our earthly possessions to those who wanted them more than we did, and who were willing to part with small amounts of cash to own them.
We discovered that what we had thought would be easy, dismantling a life in Louisville, turned out to be much more difficult, emotional and complex than we had envisioned. Our family in Louisville especially, daughter Emily, son-in-law David and of course grandson Edwin, as well as Tanja’s son Marnix, all have broken generations of family wanderings and have returned home. We never thought we would be leaving them but expected the opposite. Fortunately they all have rich, full lives, so we don’t worry about them…too much. And we know they are keeping our Louisville alive by being there. Still the breaking away was more difficult than I had imagined. The others, Peter in New York, Saskia and Dan in Maryland, and Sebrand in San Francisco, have all separated from Louisville so it feels a bit easier with them.
So, what is happening here in Loubés Bernac? What happened today especially? We awoke at the B&B Petit Clos of our new friends, Cindy and Hank Petterman. They moved to Saint Jean de Duras seven years ago with their fourteen-year-old daughter to seek their new lives in rural France. They now have a B&B and Hank is spending most waking hours creating two gîtes for guests arriving this summer. Cindy is managing their website and keeping the place beautiful. And they both are exquisite hosts. We knew we needed to stay somewhere safe and friendly for the first few nights here. We had no idea how great it would be to stay with them. They have given us a warm welcome, have wined and dined us, and helped to create as seamless a transition as one could hope for.
So awoke to our fifth morning in France knowing we would be moving into la Busaneth. We had the usual delicious continental breakfast at Petit Clos and packed our things. I had discovered when mowing the lawn over the last two days that the ten-year-old Toro lawn mower’s transmission was not pulling its weight. So Hank offered to take it and me to the local repair shop of Ramon Miranda. We drove in his entirely functional ancient Land Rover to Señor Miranda’s establishment and left off the mower with this jovial, kind young man, who promised to have the belt replaced an the mower avancement functional by tomorrow morning. We drove back to Hank’s farm, and he gave me a bumpy tour of his hay fields and vineyard from the Land Rover.
Tanja and I packed up our car, said our good-byes to our new neighbors and friends, Cindy and Hank, and drove to our new home. We had several errands to run, so we dropped off our clothes in a pile by the front door and drove to Pineuilh. Unfortunately, the best place to shop is now a gigantic strip mall on the bypass around Sainte Foy la Grande, which runs right through Pineuilh. We found pillows at the bed store and lots of good stuff for the home. We got kicked out just after noon so the employees could go to lunch, a very cultured French custom, so we decided to drive into Sainte Foy for lunch.
Sainte Foy la Grande used to be a thriving market town on the Dordogne River, but is has seen better days. However, it has the region’s best Marché every Saturday. We had just been a few days ago, but we wanted to see it when the market was not present. The town was quiet. We found a small café for lunch and enjoyed the buffet. We walked through town and eventually back to the car.
Since we arrived a few days ago, we have been on a quest to ensure adequate internet service at la Busaneth. We drove to Bergerac and spent hours at the Orange Boutique to attempt set it up. Unfortunately, we discovered that internet is not provided to our area of Lot-et-Garonne. Being Americans and not taking no for an answer we decided to do some research. It took us to our new neighbors, Jean Louis and Thérèse and their daughter Marie Pierre. They have some sort of satellite arrangement, but it is not clear how effective it is. But Hank had told us of the helpful geeks at Expert, so we decided to pay them a call.
We were greeted by Nicolas, one of the owners, a gregarious, talkative young man who spoke fluent English (thank God for a change!) and who came up with some solutions. He recommended using the 3G cell signal as being a better solution than satellite, so off we went back home to try using our cell phones as WiFi hot spots for our computers. I spent an hour with poor download and upload speeds before I eventually gave up and started a fire in the wood burner as Tanja prepared dinner. By the time we ate we had a warm fire to set the mood for a lovely, quiet evening, where we are both typing away despite the late hour.
Friday, 5 May 17 –
Good Lord, two more days have passed and it has now been one week since we arrived. We have had to get so involved so quickly that it seems a distant memory when we had tables piled high with stuff for the yard sale and turned the keys of 621 Wataga over to the new owners. Now we are on our new quest of getting La Busaneth ready just to live in, let alone rent out. We have found it to be a much bigger job than we anticipated, so we are trying to be patient and to take our time. We met with Eric and his two sons, Mark and Nick, who will be doing the renovation work in the maison d’amis and the big house. We found huge cracks in the floor of the maison d’amis running up the back wall, so the job is going to be a bit bigger than we thought. They are going to have to shore up the back wall with steel and we will use wood on the floor instead of travertine stone. It was really nice to have some people who know what they are doing planning to start in a week or so.
To save money we will be purchasing much of the supplies, and that means buying some sort of transport vehicle. The best and hopefully most reasonable option will be to buy a small van such as a Citroën Berlingo or a Renault Kangoo. There are a few used ones advertised (les voitures d’occupations) on the French website leboncoin.com, so we have to start looking. We have also been told we have to have a small trailer, so as soon as we get the van we will get a trailer too. I can learn how to back up a trailer as well as how to get around in French. New skills are very interesting at my age. Although I approach them with great zeal, it just takes longer to acquire the skills than thirty years ago. That’s OK. I really think it is good for the brain and good for the soul. Plus that is part of why we are here, to keep life from getting dull.
Today I managed to reclaim the lawn mower from the shop all by myself, navigating the French quite well if I do say so myself. Of course I didn’t understand all of the extremely rapid run-on sentences that Ramon hurled my way, but I got enough to have a two-sided conversation. I also traversed the French countryside without the GPS. Small victories! I met Hank on my way out as he came to pick up a sprayer he ordered for his vines. He was bemoaning the fact that while downshifting his Land Rover he bent eight valve lifters and shoed me one. He has ordered new ones from England. We both chuckled about the life we have chosen, full of twists and turns.
We restarted the process of looking for our dream home with Jerry this week. So far there has been a major deal breaker with each of them. One has been populated by an inebriated young caretaker who knocked holes in the walls and ceilings looking for leaks in the sewer drains. I don’t think he has mowed the lawn at all this spring either, for the grass was knee high and felt like an overgrown meadow. Another was on a busy highway. One was on a steep cliff and had been renovated by a young man to his eclectic tastes. We found what he had done interesting, but when we mentioned to him what it must be like living in the middle of the mess, he told us no, indeed, he was at the end. The last one was a house beautifully renovated from a structural standpoint, but on the middle of vineyards for miles around. We found anothr house closer to us in the varied geography of fields and forests as well as vineyards, so the vineyards alone are a bit monotonous. Besides, we are growing fond of La Busaneth, and if it takes awhile to to find our dream home, we actually like it here more than we anticipated and we have plenty of work to keep us busy. So we have discovered it is better to accommodate the turns life brings rather than tenaciously clinging to preconceptions that just aren’t working out as we had thought. Welcome to France!
Tomorrow is Saturday, the beginning of another three day weekend. That means all stores will be closed Sunday and Monday. So when we go to the Marché in Sainte Foy La Grande tomorrow, we need to be sure to have enough food for a few days. It is a huge Marché covering the streets of several square blocks with vendors of all stripes, from fish to clothing cheese to beds. It is fun to be part of the swirling mass of humanity stuffing their baskets full of good things. I can’t wait to show it to each of you when you come to visit. It is so much fun!
We also hope to finish spackling and painting the walls of the living room this weekend so we can put the furniture back where is belongs and make it feel like our room. Who knows what or who will stop by to alter our plans? We don’t know, but chances are it will be great fun.
So we are having a blast, full of highs and lows, successes and set-backs, but over-all enjoying ourselves immensely. We miss you as our thoughts continually return to our fantastic children and grandchild. We send you lots of love and will send more news as it develops. I am developing a blog, and if we ever get enough bandwidth I will blog all this. Until then, we have threatened each other to spend a couple hours with a cup of coffee at MacDonald’s the only place with reliable internet. Go figure!
Thunder rolling. Our first night at La Busaneth in a rainstorm. Oh boy!