Plumbing problems, Ten Years More, and Memories of Thanksgiving...
It has always amazed me how things can change from one day to the next. Yesterday, while Ted was struggling with the plumbers to fix our leaky pipes and valves to restore our heating system, I received a friend’s newsletter.
Mark Greenside is an extraordinary talent and one of those erudite writers who encouraged me to write my memoir and is by far one of the most amusing memoirists in the genre.
I came upon Mark’s two memoirs shortly after moving to France as I nursed my two consecutively-fractured feet. He’d give me a good case of the giggles when otherwise there might have been nothing but tears. As the story goes, some twenty odd years earlier Mark bought a house in Brittany on impulse and began a faux-pas-laden Francophilic life. His delightful tales of being
an American living in France -- in his two best-seller books (Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living and I’ll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do) -- are clearly a duel-monument of affection for Finistère and it’s nurturing and patient inhabitants who practically adopted this American stranger (or strange American). Mark’s good nature is infectious and makes his many adventures sparkle throughout his introduction to the countryside that has become his home away from home.
In this latest issue of Mark’s newsletter he tells a hilarious tale of a calamity that was not so far from that which happened to be taking place in our own home at that moment. His way of recounting the past as if it were the present gave me a sense of not being so alone. The incident was centered around his need for a new furnace. I encourage all to sign up for Mark’s newsletter at www.markgreenside.com to read his account first hand as well as many stories about better times in beautiful Finestere in Brittany. I was laughig so hard I was almost in tears and I wrote to Mark to share my story and to tell him how he had saved me from dispair. When he received my letter, he replied "You Win!!!!! Your story tops mine…. You should write it up for real. It’s terrific…. And I’m glad it’s your story and not mine"
So, here I’ll share what I wrote to Mark in response. "So excited to get your newsletter today. As I read your story about the furnace, Ted was in the other room dealing with the plumbers who’ve been here for three days total over two weeks time trying to repair our heating system. It’s a gas system with pipes that run hot water under the parquet floors, and the stone tiles in the kitchen and bathrooms.It's been very effective, with the exception of the thermostat, which hasn’t functioned properly since we moved in, 5 1/2 years ago. But even that wasn’t so bad because we could turn the heat on and off manually. That said, one day we discovered another problem. The carpet in our master bedroom developed waves like the Atlantic ocean in the wintertime literally overnight. We didn’t have a clue as to what had happened, so we called over our friendly handyman, Arben, who can fix just about everything and is totally trustworthy. Arben said it could be repaired, but the complication was that all of the furnishings had to be dismantled and moved and only then could the carpet and the padding underneath be re-stretched. Afterwards, he assured us, everything would be reassembled and put back in its place.
This Halloween horror story was going to cost €2,500. Our furniture is very large and complex and cannot be moved, so the work would take two men and a week’s time while we lived in chaos. I was heartbroken and also feeling broke. In any event, the work couldn’t commence until October so we could put it off our dismay and the household upset for a little while. However in the meantime, our house boy, Jeffrey -- who does everything for us including windows and floors and most things that a handyman can do -- said that he wondered if the problem with the carpet was that we have had the heat turned off in the master bedroom for at least two years (because I get hot flashes if it’s warmer than 67° in the bedroom, another broken thermostat.) Jeffrey said he thought if we turned on the heat, maybe everything would tighten up and the carpet would look fine.
We thought it couldn’t hurt and it wouldn’t cost anything so we turned on the valve that hadn’t been turned on in two years. That’s when our problem started. When we turned on that valve, we could see that it was corroded and leaking. We called the plumber to come out to see what was needed. He said the valve would need to be replaced, that the two valves adjacent and attached to it would also have to go, that this grade of plumbing is difficult to find, and it would take probably ten days to get the parts, that is if the fornisseur could obtain them. In the meantime, the plumber capped-off the valve so that it wouldn’t leak into our water closet. This was semi-good news as we discovered that by turning the heat on in that room for 24 hours completely straightened out the carpet and the padding, and the surface of the Moquette (wall-to-wall-carpet in French), was now suddenly as smooth as a lake without a breeze in July. This savings put us even with the pluming expenses.
Of course there was a catch that reminds me of your question "Shall I do it for two years or for ten, and maybe it would be even be 20 since the house was only lived in half-time?” The plumber said that he could see that all of the other valves were corroding and would soon need replacement.He asked if we wanted him to fix just the one set of three and to call him back in a few months, or did we want to do all of them now and get it over with. Of course we said "please do it all now" because we could just imagine things beginning to leak while we were away, if we ever were able to get away. So 10-days later all the parts arrived and he came back and replaced everything, after which he told us that the €2500 pleasure wasn’t really going to repair all of our problems, because he could now see that the pipeline below this one needed to be replaced, Another €1500. Ted asked the plumber about the radiators in the two bathrooms, which we had never used when they worked because, when the heating is on, those floors get very, very warm. But Ted decided to do it anyway and since it was only going to cost about €600 we thought it was worthwhile. That work entailed draining the two radiators, which apparently hadn’t been drained and cleaned with a magic fluid for at least 20 years. At this point, Ted and I were both cursing the former owner under our breath multiple times as we had in the past when our stove-top, garbage disposal, washer, and dryer had to be replace shortly after we moved in. The black gunk that came out of each of those radiators was unbelievably scary. We were shocked when he opened them up to drain and hadn’t bothered to ask for anything to put underneath to catch the gunk.
Apparently, when he'd opened one of the drains, it splattered all over my white draperies in the master bath, which wasn’t so bad, since I’d been thinking for weeks that it was time to take them down and wash them anyway. But after he finished all that he informed us that there was another problem that he hadn't foreseen; The heater still didn’t work because the valve the turns it on and off was shot; the threads were stripped and just went round and round without turning anything. He said he could come back after the weekend if he could find the parts. That is always the big question in France, can they find the part! And of course they were 'very high grade’ valves, which had to be ordered. So another week went by without the work being done, while we cleaned everything around the radiators, which had been smeared with gunk, and I
washed and pressed the draperies. As I read your article, Ted is with the plumber, the radiators don’t yet work with the new valves, and for some reason the heat has been operating even when we turn it off manually and nobody seems to know why.Your stories about your lovely neighbors and how helpful they try to be sound like a walk in the park -- any of the best parks even the park in the palace of Versailles -- compared to what one goes through in Paris where you’re often at the mercy of strangers. Now we have radiators that have cost us over $1000 to repair and still don’t work, and although the pipes in the valves are all replaced and everything looks shiny and new, we now have a poltergeist residing in our thermostat. I will probably spend the rest of my life having hot flashes that wake me up all night. Luckily I’m so used to 22-years of my menopausal malfunction that although I wake up, I can go back to sleep immediately. By now it doesn’t even interfere with dreaming, and that is a blessing!"
However that’s only a piece of our story.The next day we appeared at the Prefecture of Paris to receive our new cards attesting to our legal residency in France. We had been producing reams of paperwork every year since 2016 to renew this card. But this year we had fulfilled the requirements for a Longue Duree Carte de Residence -- in other words, we might be covered for the next ten years! I couldn’t sleep all night on the night before we were to fetch our cards not knowing whether they wold be the same old Title de Sejour that would expire in a year, or if they would be the golden cards we had applied for. We were relieved and ecstatic when we looked at the cards to check for accuracy and to sign the receipt; They were the official Carte de Residence, good until September of 2031!
Outside the building I jumped in the air as and squealed with joy as we strolled to our customary cafe at the corner to celebrate, as we had done each year from the very first. It was still morning and we enjoyed our chat with the waiter, our cafe creme and croissant, and we pinched each other to make sure we weren’t dreaming. We were both beaming.
We’d done it!! The day was bright and sunny, if chilly, and we walked home on our usual route along the riverside. Our next special occasion will be a visit from our long-lost friends, Mona and Philippe, who fled to beautiful Porto by the Atlantic over a year ago and decided to stay forever. They’re returning to Paris for a short period to put their French affairs in order and we will have the pleasure to see them mid-month for dinner at our favorite restaurant, Les Climats. It will be a joy to see them in the flesh once again, although a daily exchange of photos has kept us in touch.
After our reunion with our friends, we'll take a short trip. Jeffrey’s aunt is staying with his family and he will be able to accommodate us by staying at the apartment with Mickey for three nights spanning our four day trip to Reims in the area of Champagne. Les Crayeres is a renovated Chateau that was built just outside the town of Reims, where the famous Gothic cathedral has stood for hundred’s of years. Before returning home to Paris we plan on filling our trunk with a few cases of Champagne in the hope that in the near future we will be doing more entertaining
once again. And if that’s not possible, there's nothing better than a glass of the bubbly to lift our spirits in isolation. We have planned this trip to cover both Ted‘s birthday and our wedding anniversary with Thanksgiving right in the middle. This is a consolation prize because I have sadly discovered that it is impossible to celebrate an American Thanksgiving in France.
The closest we can come is to contact our Los Angeles cousins, with whom we had celebrated the holiday for over 30 years and to wish them a joyous gathering, and to look back on the beautiful photographs of those who are now grown-up children and the older generation, some of whom are no longer with us.
We miss you, Cousin Silvy, who shared his birthdate with Ted!
When we return home from Reims, it will be time to light our first fire in the chimney and to decorate our Christmas Tree, an activity we both adore and one that brings light and warmth to our home.
I would very much like hearing about how you plan to celebrate the holidays in your part of the world.
Do send photos too, and Enjoy!