Thursday, November 28, 2013

Turkey Day

Though I'm not in the US to celebrate Thanksgiving with family this year, Lionel and I are still having Thanksgiving dinner tonight with friends.  And I'm hoping to get a little Skype time in with my family while I finish cooking. 

I feel like we have a lot to be thankful for this year - we both now have jobs, we are finally getting settled into our new life in Bordeaux, we are in good health and so are our friends and family - things couldn't be better. 

I hope everyone has a very Happy Thanksgiving and I'll be back soon with pictures of our Thanksgiving feast (assuming I don't burn anything)!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Anniversaries

Lionel and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary on Friday and to mark the occasion we decided to take a little trip.  So I took Thursday and Friday off work and we spent four days exploring Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon.  Our original plan was just to do "les sites Cathares," but in the end we threw some other places in as well to mix it up a bit.

We had a great time and really enjoyed every place we visited, though the trip would have been even better if the weather had cooperated a bit more.  We went from rain and snow in the Midi-Pyrénées to 120 kilometer an hour winds in Languedoc-Roussillon with barely any sun or blue skies, despite the weather forecast prior to leaving.  And this past weekend it certainly felt like winter decided to make it's appearance in France!  Regardless, we decided to make the most of it and though we were prevented from doing some of what we had planned because of the weather (for example the road to the Château de Monségur was closed because of snow so we not only couldn't visit the château, but we also couldn't even get a view of it because of all the snow), we still had an incredible time and are already planning to go back and explore some more in the spring/summer.

Medieval city of Mirepoix

Foix and the Château de Foix above the city

View over Foix from the château.  Lionel is grinning like crazy because he was so happy to be in Foix.  He lived there for 4 years as a kid and hasn't been back in 25 years.  He really enjoyed seeing the city again and showing me where he used to live, play and go to school.

The ruins of the Château de Peyrepertuse perched high on a mountain

A view of the Château de Quéribus

Les Gorges de Galamus

Collioure, an adorable town on the Mediterranean

visiting Collioure

Collioure

Collioure

An étang near Peyriac-de-Mer

Flamingos!  I was incredibly excited to see tons of flamingos in their natural habitat in the étangs along the Mediterranean coast in Languedoc-Roussillon

Another étang along the coast

more flamingos!

view over the Mediterranean from Cap Leucate

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Hiking up to the Châteaux de Lastours, four châteaux situated on the same mountaintop

An overlook onto the Châteaux de Lastours

the four Châteaux de Lastours
 
Then yesterday was our "anniversaire de rencontre" as Lionel likes to put it...8 years since we met one fateful night at a bar in Paris!  It's easy for us to remember the date since it's only four days after our wedding anniversary.
 
We also got some great news over the weekend.  While we were visiting Collioure on Friday Lionel's phone rang and when he answered it was a job offer after an interview he had last Wednesday!  So Friday night we spent the night in Perpignan and went out to celebrate not only our anniversary but also Lionel's new job!  He starts on Monday and I'm so happy for him! I know he's extremely relieved to finally have found something and he's really looking forward to starting work.  Looks like things really are falling into place!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Afterwork in English

As the weather starts to turn cold and our renovations are slowing down until the spring (unfortunately for my desire to have a clean and functional bathroom...but at least we have a toilet again!), I've been working on motivating myself to try to get out of the house and meet some new people.  I have a lot more free time now that we are taking a bit of a break with the major renovations and my in-laws aren't always here.  All of this free time is making me realize just how badly I need to meet some more people and make some friends here in Bordeaux.  After a long day of work cooped up in the house I just want to get out, see people and do things and Lionel is quite the homebody.  So, despite nearly three weeks of constant rain, last Tuesday I forced myself out of the house. 

I've been a member of meetup.com since living in Paris, originally using it as a feeble attempt at networking when I was unemployed.  But in the end I found a few groups I really enjoyed and I would attend their meetups whenever possible.  Then, when Lionel and I moved to Ohio, we used it to find other French speakers in the Cincinnati area.  So, now that I'm in a brand new city where I know almost no one, I thought it would be the perfect way to meet some new people.  And that is how I found myself at Bu Bar à Vins in downtown Bordeaux last Tuesday for the Afterwork in English.

Afterwork in English is a group for people who want to have the opportunity to speak English here in Bordeaux and they meet once a month at a wine bar in the center of town.  There are some native speakers who are expats or students here in Bordeaux and a lot of non-native speakers (mostly French) who want the opportunity to practice their English.  Most of the non-native speakers seem to have spent some time living in Anglophone countries and now that they are back in France they don't want to lose their English.

At first I was a little nervous because sometimes I can be a bit shy when meeting new people and I find that as I get older I am becoming more and more awkward with polite conversation and new social interactions (I'm not really sure why but this could probably be the topic of an entire blog post).  I even almost changed my mind about going at the last minute but then I told myself I shouldn't be ridiculous and I should just get out there and meet some new people.  I am very happy I listened to my more reasonable side!  As soon as I arrived I started chatting with two French girls who spoke English very well and the next thing I knew it was almost midnight on a Tuesday night and definitely time to head home!

About 40 people showed up for English conversation, wine and a few activities including a quiz in English.  Unfortunately our team didn't win, but we actually did surprisingly well.  Not only did I have a lot of fun but I also really liked the location.  Bu Bar à Vins is a small and modern wine bar in the center of Bordeaux and they have a great wine selection, good food and reasonable prices.  Overall I really enjoyed the Afterwork in English meetup and I definitely plan to go again next month!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Everyday excitement à la maison

Not much has been going on chez moi recently...or at least nothing particularly interesting or exciting.  The weather has been absolutely miserable for the past few weeks with rain every day.  As a result we've spent a lot of time just relaxing at home, not feeling particularly motivated to brave the nasty weather.

However, two weekends ago we were so desperate to get out of the house that we decided to just go for a drive for a few hours to explore.  We figured that if the rain let up for a little bit we could always stop somewhere and go for a walk, and well, if not then at least we could see something other than the inside of our house.  So we jumped into the car, decided to follow La Garonne south and just started driving.  Along the way we made all kinds of discoveries from beautiful churches and chateaux in all states of repair to some cute little towns and cités médiévales.  The rain even let up a bit at one point so we were able to get out of the car to explore.

the ruins of the Château de Rauzan
 
La Réole
 
the cité médiévale de Saint-Macaire
 
Saint-Macaire
 
Saint-Macaire
 
Langon
 
a church surrounded by vineyards near Langoiran
 
Then yesterday Rasteau decided to go on his own little adventure when there was a break in the rain.  Apparently he didn't learn his lesson last time and he thought it would be fun to visit our roof and the neighbor's roof again.

Rasteau peering down over the edge of the neighbor's roof
 
A little Rasteau, king of the neighborhood, perched on the neighbor's roof and surveying his realm from the highest point he could reach
 
Heading off to investigate a different part of the roof and to check out the view on the other side
 
And finally, because this just wouldn't be my blog without some kind of disaster happening in my house, we are currently without toilet and shower.  I've been roughing it for two days now and there is no end in site.  It all started early last week when we noticed that our toilet wasn't working normally.  As the problem got worse I finally said to Lionel that it had to be clogged.  So I sent him off to the store to buy a plunger and didn't think anymore about it figuring the problem would be solved as soon as he got home.  Of course, it wasn't.  The plunger didn't do a damn thing to help and in the end seemed to make the situation worse because suddenly used toilet water started slowly leaking out of the pipe and onto my bathroom floor.  We tried every trick in the book and on the internet to unclog a toilet.  I even sent Lionel to the hardware store to buy a snake.  The situation didn't get any better and the water continued to leak.  Finally we gave in and called my father-in-law because he at least has some plumbing experience.
 
My father-in-law came last Thursday and tried everything he could think of and it still wasn't working.  So finally he removed the sewage pipe behind the toilet (let's not even talk about the extremely disgusting mess that was all over my bathroom floor at this point) and managed to get it unclogged.  He then put everything back together, we tested it out and it seemed to be working.  I was thrilled to have a functioning toilet again, though none of us understood how it managed to get so clogged in the first place.  My father-in-law went home and then Friday morning we noticed that the toilet was acting very strange again.  That's when I knew I was in for trouble.  At first we tried to ignore it, but finally on Tuesday we realized we were in deep shit (pardon the pun) and called my in-laws again.  Clearly the problem wasn't just a clog, it was something much bigger than that.
 
Lionel's dad came early yesterday morning with the parts and tools necessary to redo all the plumbing to the water closet.  My morning started off with the sound of jackhammering at 8 a.m. as he and Lionel had to remove a chunk of the cement path next to the house to access the pipes outside and remove the cement foundations under the bathroom to access the pipes inside the house.  In the process, for some reason unknown to me, the pipe that the shower and bathroom sink drain into was also removed.  So, since yesterday morning I have been without a shower, bathroom sink and toilet.  And then, surprise, surprise, my father-in-law had an out-of-town meeting today, so he left last night and isn't coming back to continue the work until tomorrow.  Just prolonging the 19th-century-chamber-pot torture for me!
 
Now, naturally, because nothing gets discussed in this family, I don't know what the plan is for the next few days.  In my mind I figure that since the concrete to the pipes and sewer system is already all torn up, half the plumbing in the house is removed, the toilet is sitting in the garage and the bathroom is currently non-functioning, this would be the perfect time to just make a final decision on how we want to proceed with the bathroom and water closet renovations and just get it done.  I can suffer the chamber-pot toilet and glove-and-bucket-of-soapy-water shower process a little longer if the end result is going to be a fully renovated bathroom.  But, from what I understand, my father-in-law has every intention of just fixing this little toilet issue, redoing the shower drain so it connects directly to the toilet's sewage pipe (very poorly thought out in my opinion because if he really follows through with this plan we will have the pleasure of enjoying the smells of the toilet all the way upstairs in the bathroom), reinstalling the same old toilet (which could, for all we know, be what was causing the problem in the first place), pouring new concrete, leaving a hole in our WC floor and calling it a day.  And then, a few months from now he would like to install a new toilet in the WC at which time we would finally tear up the old linoleum floor and install the new floor.  Then, early next year as well, we would proceed with the bathroom renovations. In theory (if he agrees to do them correctly, which unfortunately isn't a guarantee) this would require us to tear up all the newly poured concrete to access the pipes again so we could redo the bathroom plumbing.
 
Now this seems absolutely stupid to me.  As much as I would kill to be able to use a real toilet and wash my hair right now, if we are already half way there, why not just get it all done now?  Especially for the WC.  I just don't understand why you would reinstall the old toilet if you have every intention of replacing it with a new one in a few months.  Just go and buy a new toilet and install that one now.  And finish the floor at the same time rather than leaving us with a ripped apart disaster for a few months before tearing out the toilet again and redoing it all.  It's not like I particularly want to have to repeat the chamber pot experience in a few months!  Oh well, it's not like I have any control over it anyway.  Tomorrow I will hopefully find out what exactly the plan is and I fully expect to be frustrated and disappointed.
 
Lionel working on tearing up the concrete
 
The current state of our WC 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Final resting place...ou pas?

A couple of weeks ago I was watching Capital on M6.  I generally enjoy this show and it’s a welcome change from all of the crime shows that generally seem to be the bulk of my options on French TV.  Each episode of Capital focuses on a different topic from a financial/economic point of view.  This particular episode discussed the financial side of death…everything from funeral costs, budget funeral companies, the prices associated with different options for death and burial and even the costs associated with the death of a pet.

While I’m not generally that much of a doom and gloom person, I did find the show to be quite interesting (especially when they talked about an American woman spending $150,000 to have her dog cloned when she found out he was dying of cancer!).  But what really shocked and surprised me the most was discovering the hidden (or perhaps not-so-hidden) truth behind your supposedly “final resting place” in France.  Imagine my shock and horror when I came to discover that your final resting place may not actually be your final resting place!

Apparently, there is an entire second-hand market for funerals here in France.  When they first mentioned delving deeper into the second-hand market to lower your funerary costs, right before a commercial break, my mind was spinning trying to understand what exactly could be reused and sold on the second-hand market to make a funeral cheaper.  When the show came back on I was shocked to find out that they were actually talking about your plot in the cemetery.  I had absolutely no idea that this was possible.  From my understanding, in the US, you purchase a cemetery plot, you are buried there, and you stay there.  At least for the foreseeable future.  I’ve never heard of anyone being removed from their plot in the US before (without of course court orders or the family’s permission).  I mean sure, I’ve heard of very old cemeteries being lost or forgotten (especially Native American cemeteries) and then rediscovered when they attempt to construct something in that particular location.  But someone who was recently buried (say in the last 50 years or so) is going to stay in their plot.  In my lifetime, I don’t expect to ever see them removed.

Here in France, however, that is apparently not the case.  As I so unexpectedly learned while watching Capital, apparently in France it is very common to “rent” your concession.  Meaning that someone has to continue to pay the “rent” on your plot otherwise you risk eviction!  How often your plot has to be renewed seems to depend on the city and the kind of plot you choose, though in some cities, “perpetual” plots are also available.  I say “perpetual” because even paying for a “perpetual” plot apparently (as I discovered after hours of google research) does not guarantee that this will be your final resting place forever.  There are conditions otherwise you still risk eviction.

I was shocked.  I literally think my jaw dropped to the floor.  Poor Lionel just looked at me like I was crazy and then acted like it was perfectly normal to evict a body for failure to pay “rent”.  But I just couldn’t leave it alone.  Questions and what-if scenarios were flying through my mind.  What happens to the person once they have been evicted?  What if they have no family left to pay the rent?  What if the surviving family members are unaware of the fact that the rent has come due?  What if the family members forgot to update their address or moved out of the country?  How is this even possible?

Since Lionel seemed to be unable (or perhaps unwilling after my millionth what-if scenario) to answer all of my questions, I took to google to do some research of my own.  And after hours of investigating I realized that it is nearly impossible to find out what happens to the people who are evicted from their graves.  I stumbled across one woman’s blog, the only place where I found anything written on the issue, and she claimed that there were three possibilities depending on the city.  The evicted person is either 1.) reburied in a common plot, 2.) their bones are place in a community ossuary or 3.) they are cremated and their ashes are sprinkled in the jardin des souvenirs.

My research also left me far more horrified than I already was.  Imagine my surprise to find out that there are pompes funèbres forums out there to assist people with their questions.  As I was scrolling through the forums, hoping to find some answers, I was literally floored when I discovered how many people in France had “inherited” their family’s concession and were wanting to know if they could sell it (apparently this is not a possibility…if there are occupants inside you can’t just sell the plot, you have to wait for the rent to come due and then fail to pay at which point the city reclaims the plot, pays you nothing, and your family members are evicted), in an attempt to make some cash!  

Anyway, I digress, back to the evictions for failure to pay rent issue.  So, you might be wondering what happens to the plot once the city has decided to reclaim it and has evicted the occupants.  This is where the second-hand market comes in.  On Capital they showed two fonctionnaires with the city of Lyon, I believe, appraising a concession that had recently become available again following the eviction of the occupants.  They eventually came to the second-hand price of 200 euros for the used monument, plus of course “rental” costs with the city.  In determining that price they considered the type of stone used to build the monument, the size of the monument and the “extras” that came with it, i.e. plaques, vases for flowers, etc.  The city then sanded the names of the previous occupants off the monument and put it up for sale.  I couldn’t even believe it.  I just can’t imagine something like this being seen as acceptable in the US.  My hours of googling also led me to discover that this is not just a French thing.  Apparently with the economic crisis in Spain, more and more people are being evicted from their graves as their families can no longer afford to pay the rent!

Then a light bulb went off in my head.  About a month and a half ago Lionel’s aunt and uncle were visiting from Bretagne and while they were here we went to the cemetery to visit Lionel’s grandparents’ grave.  While we were walking through the cemetery I noticed a tomb with a little sign next to it stating that the concession needed to be renewed.  At the time I remember finding that to be extremely strange and I couldn’t figure out what on earth would need to be renewed.  I think I finally settled it in my own mind as being an empty plot that someone had purchased in preparation for their eventual death and they needed to confirm that they still intended to use the plot.  But now, thanks to Capital, I know that it was in fact the grave of someone who risks eviction if their family doesn’t respond to the letters from the city or visit the grave to see the sign and pay the rent.  Horrible!

After watching this episode of Capital I discussed the topic with a few American friends.  They were just as shocked and horrified as I was to learn that in France your final resting place is not necessarily your final resting place.  And here I am, a few weeks later, posting about it because it still bothers me.  So what do you think?  Have you ever heard of this before or am I just out of the loop?  Maybe I’m just crazy to be so disturbed by this?  But one thing’s for sure, as I told Lionel when the show ended, now that I know I could risk eviction I definitely don’t want to be buried in France!  !  I mean, I get it, we will eventually run out of space for all the dead people, but really!?  There isn’t any other solution?  Nothing better than potentially evicting a body while their close family is still alive? 

Oh, and I apologize for the extremely dark and morbid post, but I really just can’t get over this.  In fact, writing this post has inspired me to start googling the subject all over again.  And in my additional research this evening, after writing this but before posting it, I stumbled across this interesting article written on the subject in 2006.