Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
We opted not to return to San Francisco to reapply for a Visa, and will be staying for the maximum 90 days allowed. At one point we thought about blowing off the restriction, figuring what was the worst that could happen if we overstayed our welcome? The answer apparently is to not be invited back. With the dollar succumbing to the Euro as the global currency, it unfortunately becomes more expensive for us to be there. But, and we view this as a significant but, it makes our investment all the better.
Foreign currency exchange, from US dollars to Euros, is heartbreaking. When the Euro first entered the European markets in 2001, it was on equal par to the dollar. Now, $1USD = 0.62 Euro. And that's on a good day. For instance, if we wanted to transfer $25,000 USD to France, what would actually be deposited in our French bank account would be about 15,000 Euros. The rest is history.
Realizing this evaporation of money was not a long-term solution, we set about applying for a French loan to finance our renovation. Actually the real motivation was to not lose touch with French bureaucracy, a very important aspect of French society. I had already completed (successfully I hope) all the hoop-jumping for Fergus' flight to France. He's been microchipped, re-rabied, IATA-sanctioned kennel awaiting outside, portfolio of paperwork in his personal dossier. With that done, I had no excuses to not be studying French.
The 'research' phase was rather enlightening, learning the relevant terminology and commonalities and differences to our procedures. What we were looking for was the equivalent of a home equity loan, using the Leran house as collateral, since we have no mortgage on it. It seemed simple and straight-forward to us. My first call to Frederic on the English-speaking line at our bank, Credit Agricole, clarified that only a very few French banks are authorized to process "equity release" loans. And of course, they were not one of them, so he suggested we get a mortgage. Things seemed to be moving along until one of the requirements stipulated that we submit bids for the proposed work to be done on the property, and these bids had to total the exact amount of the requested figure and be signed by a registered and licensed French contractor. Whoa! I didn't even know there was such a thing as a licensed French contractor. We figured that since we wouldn't be using one of these fictitious people anyway and we weren't there, it would be hard to get their input. I doubt that Frederic expected to hear back from us anyway.
Further Internet searching finally found the banks that, for whatever reason, were allowed to loan monies against the equity in a house and located their websites. The only reason we were focused on the equity release was reference made to "monies released without contractor bids" or architectural drawings, and that the money could be used for any purpose. So now I didn't feel like some inspector was going to come by every 15 minutes to see if we used that sheet of plaque de platre in the exact location stated. I started communicating with what appeared to be a very professional woman who led us through the application process, step-by-step-by-step-by-step. We applied for an equity release loan, a simple loan requiring fewer documents and a streamlined underwriting procedure.
For your enjoyment, I have included a list of the simple supporting documents we were required to scan and email in order to apply:
*Mortgage application form
*Copy of passports
*Birth or Marriage certificate
*Life insurance questionnaire
(Note: Life insurance is required, and when filling out my form I got a little mixed up computing my height and weight from inches/pounds to cm/kg. Doug informed me that when I listed myself at 140 cm and 285 kg, I was clocking in at 4'7" and 628 lb. I hope that didn't put me in an unfavorable light.)
*Copy of most recent paycheck stub
*Copies of last 2 years FULL tax returns
*Copy of Rental Agreement with management company (for our nightly/weekly rental)
*1099 from Rental Management Company
*Year End Investment income Statements for last 2 years
*Copies of last 3 months bank statements
*Copy of the deed to French house in Leran
*Name and contact info for keyholder of Leran house for inspector to contact
*Name and contact info of Notaire
Needless to say, I have had this year's fill of French bureaucracy. We're still waiting to hear if we qualify for the loan. If not, there's always le bras d' honneur! I need to get a better hobby.
Friday, April 18, 2008
(From the Sydney Morning Herald, January 2. 2008)
ONE of France's most iconic institutions, the smoky cafe, is set to become a hazy memory.
The extension of the country's smoking ban to bars, discotheques, restaurants, hotels, casinos and cafes on January 1 marked a momentous cultural shift in a country where thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir once held court while clutching cigarettes in Left Bank cafes.
For smokers this is the most distressing part of a phased smoking ban that began last February in workplaces, schools, airports, hospitals and other "closed and covered" public places such as train stations.
But many bartenders and restaurant workers are looking forward to breathing easier and to clothes that do not stink of odours absorbed from the clouds of smoke where they work.
"The French culture associated with smoking is a 20th-century thing but we won't forget the experience," the former smoker Lisa Zane, a Chicago-born singer who lives in Paris, said at Le Fumoir
(The Smoking Den), a restaurant and bar behind the Louvre. "Smoking seems insane now; we have to adapt."
The Health Ministry says one in two smokers here dies of smoking-related illness and about 5000 non-smokers die each year from effects of passive smoking. About a quarter of France's 60 million people are smokers.
Italy, Ireland and Britain previously enforced smoking bans but it is difficult to imagine the style-conscious French bundling up in blankets to smoke on chilly restaurant terraces, like some Londoners.
Almost anywhere indoors will be off-limits for smoking, except homes, hotel rooms and sealed smoking chambers at establishments that decide to provide them.
Many restaurateurs, cafe owners and disco operators, such as Christophe Mgo, the owner of the bar Le Marigny in Paris, fear lost business.
"There will be a drop, certainly," he said. "The tobacco-bar is part of the French tradition. They will surely stay less time and they will only drink one coffee or beer, instead of two."
A national union of disco owners has said it expects a 5 to 8 per cent decline in business initially, and has urged the Government to send pamphlets to police to show "understanding" in their enforcement of the ban.
About 10,000 protesters, mainly tobacco vendors, marched across Paris in November, and the Government said it would not strictly enforce the ban until January 2.
For many French smokers, such as Daniel Marierouyer at Le Fumoir, the bitterness could could take a long time to fade. "Great idea," he said sarcastically. "I love it when things get imposed on us - buckle your seatbelt; don't smoke; you need to be healthy; you're too fat."
Sunday, April 13, 2008
These photos are of course, Paris. The last is of the famous La Porte de l'Infer by Rodin, also known as the Gates of Hell. I thought you might be getting tired of pictures of Fergus, Moab, cars and jeeps.
I'd like to claim these photos as my own but I can't. The photographer allows their use as long as he is credited and linked. So here goes: The photographer is Trey Ratcliff and his site is http://www.stuckincustoms.com/. You can go there to see more of his travel photography. You can click to enlarge, but they don't go too much bigger.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Let's see.......we've got a shot of Lac Montbel looking a bit low again, but much higher than it was at times last year when it seemed almost empty. I suppose it's low because the spring thaw in the Pyrenees hadn't started. Yet, sailboats are out on the lake and there must be more than a few nice sailing days in the winter.
And a shot of the chateau in Leran through the bare trees showing more than you can usually see of the back of the building.
We're getting a little anxious to get back to France. We're ready to resume our building projects, and as quickly as possible get the deuxieme etage salle de bain finished up and ready for visitors. I'm ready for a fresh baguette from the boulangerie, a visit to the Mirepoix market and an afternoon sitting at the Leran bar sipping french wine and watching the world go by.