Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Great Evening of Laura Faroult

If you're in Leran, you already know that Mademoiselle Laura Faroult, formerly of Leran, didn't win the Miss France competition that took place in Martinique in the Caribbean. Laura's parents, Nelly and Thierry, ran the bar in Leran our first summer there. Thierry and Nelly had two daughters, the other being Virginia, and I could never tell them apart. I was always asking "Which one was that?" after one of them greeted us with two or three bissous. Beautiful Laura became Miss Albigeois Midi Pyrenees and had hopes of becoming Miss France and then Miss World. She had my vote, indeed, if I'd had a vote.
Thierry and Nelly live in Lavalanet now and I do believe that Laura is attending college somewhere, perhaps in Montpeiller. If you peruse the archives of North of Andorra from the summer of 2007, you'll find pictures of Laura (or perhaps it's Virginia) before she was famous.

This little article mentions that all of the region of Laroc d'Olmes, and beyond, were totally behind the idea of Laura becoming Miss France. Alan and Eileen Simmons, who sent this article with their Christmas card, wrote on the page, "Sadly, Laura didn't win, but it was good to have a celebrity close to here for a time!"

Monday, December 28, 2009

Passing Gas

When we first looked at our new/old house we liked it and it didn't take a second viewing to sign on the dotted line. However, when we accompanied the home inspector on his tour, we noticed a foul odor in the house. We made the incorrect assumption the methane gas smell was coming from a dried up p-trap. A little water to the suspected trap and a infusion of fresh air and the odor was gone.

When we next visited the house the odor was not present, so we assumed the best, and then, as we were moving in, the odor became overpowering. It turned out there was a broken sewer drain pipe, and I will not bore you with the details of the sleuthing it took to find the culprit. But eventually, after a couple of plumbers, the home inspector, the gas company emergency crew, the city sewer experts (?) and a host of other workers offered their opinions, we ripped into a basement wall and found this drain pipe.

For scale let me tell you that it's a 4" cast iron pipe and it had a half inch crack running the length of the piece. The crack was on the top half of the pipe, fortunately, because no sludge or waste material leaked out, only gas. Sewer gas contains a host of bad stuff that can make you sick or give you headaches at the very least. And it stinks. The thermostat would turn on the furnace and begin to combust air, and when that happened, because it's a tight house, the combustion would begin to suck air from the sewer pipe and spread it throughout the house. Dee-lightful!

All things considered, it could have been a lot worse. We haven't gotten the bill for the work yet, and it won't be cheap, but whatever it is we will gladly pay it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Moving In

We're spending money like drunken sailors. Today a new furnace is being installed so that we cans save money down the road. Likewise, the electricians are here, working in the attic, so that we can safely insulate up there and save money on our heating bills. Money to the electricians and the insulators and furnace installers,and before long we'll need a plumber. It costs to hook up the phone and the TV and the Internet. It's only money.

Boxes are everywhere, loaded and unloaded. Tabletops and counter tops are full of stuff. But moving in is more fun than moving out, that's for sure.

Monday, December 7, 2009

We're Out of Limbo.....

...but technically, we're homeless (in the U.S. anyway). We've closed on the property in Moab but we don't close in Montrose til Wednesday morning. Half of the deal is done. The credit union released the money to our buyers late last week, but it has been like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Technically we are squatting on their property. But they are nice folks and we have the rest of the week to get our belongings moved out. We had to cancel the movers when the deal was in limbo and we couldn't get the same dates again.

Snow is falling in Moab and Montrose and the adventure resumes tomorrow when we head for our new town.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Livin' in the Land of Limbo

Today was supposed to be the day we closed on our new house in Montrose. Yesterday was supposed to be the day we closed on the sale of our place in Moab. None of it happened.

Our buyers, through no fault of their own, found themselves without the funding they had arranged for months earlier. The credit union association had picked last week to do an audit on 13 credit unions in Utah. Funding was frozen. Our sale and purchase were on hold. And as I write this, they still are. There are rumors that the funding may reappear at any moment. Until that happens, we are living in the land of limbo. Most everything except our toothbrushes are packed and ready to go. But there is nowhere to go.

Our buyers have scrambled to find alternative financing, both private and with other financial institutions, but it all takes time. A week ago, when we found out that everything was on hold, we were sure the entire sale would fall through. But now, I know it will happen. We just don't know when. Tentatively, we are set up to close on the 14th in Moab, and the 15th in Montrose. If the funds from the credit union re-appear, it may be sooner. Try arranging your movers with those parameters, not to mention your life.

It was a stressful week and we can hope the worst of the shit has already hit the fan. If it hasn't, were standing by with shovels.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's Agony

Moving is one of the most distasteful things you can do in life. I wonder why we do it so much? It must be that we can understand the concept of delayed gratification. For some time now Nancy and I have been packing up our belongings into boxes, wrapping up artwork and taking apart bedframes. We were working towards a closing date of December first. And now that date has been pushed back by at least a week due to financial turmoil on the part of our buyers.

Meantime, we're living out of boxes, and the boxes are all over the place. You know from experience that the things you need up until the last minute are always the things that are most awkward to move. The first day you box up the books and the things you haven't used in five years and will probably never unpack when you get to the new place. On the last day it's the toiletries, the cofffe maker, the unknown contents of the containers in the freezer that you have to deal with. In between those two very different packing days, there are painful decisions to be made. "Do I want this? Do I need to keep this? Should I donate it? Is now the time to pack it away?" Agony. Agonizing.

We eat dinner on a table loaded with boxes, next to a pile of boxes. You know how it is, you've done it too.

After the agony of moving is over this is what we have to look forward to. This is just down the road between the towns of Ridgeway and Telluride, on the way up Dallas Divide, about 25 minutes from Montrose. In the background are the San Juan Mountains. If you could look off to the left, you would see the Uncompaghre Range which are equally beautiful, if not more so.

I took these three pictures out of the truck window, going over Dallas Divide at a speed of 50 miles and hour, and without looking in the viewfinder. Therefore, I can say with some certainty that it's pretty easy to take good pictures in this neck of the woods.
On the other side of Montrose is the Cimmaron Valley which is not quite as spectacular as the San Juans but pretty awesome. On the third road out of Montrose is the Escalante-Dominguez canyon complex, which is pictured below. Mountains, valleys and canyons. As you can see, Montrose is in a fairly good location. In a week or two the agony of moving will be over.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Long Time, No Post

This morning I got an e-mail from Gwenda, our friend in Leran. It was full of news about what was going on in town, who was going home for Christmas, news of the choir, who’s going off to Amsterdam and Australia…….and other news. We’ve been busy working on finding a house, buying a house, selling a house and moving all of our junk, that we’ve not been thinking much about Leran. But Gwenda’s letter brought us up to date.

The letter contained some very sad news as well. I’ll quote Gwenda……“I guess you will have heard that a nice man in Rue de Four has died. Can't remember his name but he lived opposite Alan and Eileen and had a wife who was blind. He used to ride a bike and had an allotment. I hope that this isn't all old news to you.”

We hadn’t heard this news from anyone else and so it was very sad for Nancy and I to learn this old gentleman had died. If you have visited us in Leran, you will no doubt remember this old fellow and know exactly who Gwenda was referring to. Nancy and I called him “the little old man”. He always wore a blue beret, blue French workman’s pants, and generally a short sleeve plaid shirt. I never, ever, saw him without his blue beret and I thought I had all the time in the world to take lots of pictures of him. Sadly, I never took one shot of him even though I wanted to very badly. But I thought it would embarrass him to be the subject of my attention. Yes, stupid, I know. I had introduced myself one day, not long after we bought our house, and asked him his name and he told me. Tragically, before I walked the 100 feet to our house, I had mangled his name in my memory. It was something like ‘Pascal’, but I wouldn’t swear to it. I was so embarrassed to have forgotten it, or mangled it, that I could never work up the courage to ask him again for his name.

He had two garden plots and three or four times a day he would walk by our house on his way to get his bicycle and ride the two or three kilometers out to his plot. He would reappear later in the day with products from his garden piled on his bike. In June the pickings would be slim, but by the end of August he would bring home quite a haul. Leeks, onions, lettuce, turnips and all kinds of garden goodies. We were very envious.

In the evening, he would sit outside their house, in a chair or on the windowsill or curb, often with his wife, and they would get some sunshine and fresh air and chatting with the neighbors. Nancy and I would always “Bonjour” and “Ca va?” as we walked by. I had a few conversations with him, very limited on my part and we generally discussed the weather. I doubt he spoke even a single word of English. I never saw him at the bar, or in Mirepoix, or anywhere else for that matter, except on the Rue du Four and at his garden plot out towards Lac Montbel.
I suspect he lived on a pension and he must have survived on very little. They didn’t have a car and I never saw him riding in one. He must have used the services of the meat, fish and grocery trucks that show up weekly in Leran. The items from his garden were most likely a very important part of his diet. He must have been on the far side of 80 years old, but I thought he would live forever. He was thin as a rail, getting lots of exercise on his ‘velo’, eating food fresh from the earth and he was always seemed happy as a clam (there must be something happier than a clam).

I only saw him once without a big smile on his face, and although I couldn’t follow the French, he was angry at our next door neighbor for the crass language, the noise, or something our neighbor had said. Whatever they were arguing about, I was on his side, because he was always a perfect gentleman.

So, here’s to you Pascal, if that was indeed your name. May you Rest in Peace. You had no way of knowing how much we enjoyed your presence and how much we’ll miss you.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

We're Number Thirty-seven! Go USA

Americans should be proud to have the 37th best health care system in the world. But who is first? Find out. (Thanks for the tip, cousin Kathy.)


Friday, October 2, 2009

New House in Montrose

We abandoned the idea of moving to Santa Fe after a few days there looking at houses. Our money wouldn't buy much there and we we were not ready to live in a tiny, poorly taken care of house in a generic subdivision or a generic house in a brand new subdivision 25 minutes outside of Santa Fe. In short, Santa Fe housing prices are like Aspen, Jackson and Telluride. We knew that but thought that prices may have come down enough for us to sneak into town. No such luck.
We went over to Montrose, Colorado a week ago and after a few days of looking we got lucky and stumbled upon this old house in the old part of town. Yesterday, we finalized the buy/sell agreement and now we just have to wait til the first of December.
Sorry about the size of some of these picture. You can click on them and see if they enlarge. The smaller ones are from the realtor's website offering the house for sale, and the larger ones were taken by our real estate agent.
It's kind of amazing to think that only 15 years ago, we were living in a tipi and building a log cabin.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Some Baggage to Unload

We arrived home safely, Nancy, Fergus and I, but all of our baggage stayed in Europe. There was a baggage handling snafu in Frankfort, but they say we should have it by Monday. A lesson lies somewhere there, but I'm not sure what it is.

Our old friend, Smokey, the Toyota pick-up has been sold and it's all over except the transfer of money and paperwork. Smokey served us admirably, but it was not a vehicle well suited to travel around Europe, so it had to go. Our renovation is over for the most part and we no longer have a use for Old Smokey. We'll rent or lease a car next time we go to France. We'll get better gas mileage, not have to maintain it, and be able to carry more than two people. We won't have to buy insurance or worry about where Smokey spends the winter. Nonetheless, we'll miss you old buddy.

We're not sure about when we will return to Leran, but possibly next September, or late August. We have other things on our plate right now. As many of you already know, we've sold our property in Moab and need to find a new place to dwell. Where that will be, we are not yet certain, but a lot of this fall will be spent looking at houses. Houses in Santa Fe, New Mexico to begin with. If that doesn't feel comfortable, it may be elsewhere. We have come to a point in our lives where access to extreme outdoor recreation no longer dictates where we want to live. We want to take into account better summertime weather as there might come a time we won't go to France every year, as well as a little better access to medical care and more cultural opportunities. Santa Fe might work just fine, or not. We'll see.

And lastly, do not expect many posts until we do return to France. We might feel inspired write about the upcoming move, but don't count on it. In any case, thanks for stopping by and see you soon.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dinner for Four at the Abbey

If there is a better restaurant in this part of France I don't know what it could be. This is a picture of the courtyard at the Abbaye de Camon. You can see Bill and I siting in the center of the photo. It was a beautiful night with a slight chance of rain and we were protected in any case. The restaurant is located in an old Benedictine Abbey. Legend has it that this abbey was placed under the protection of Charlemagne, in 778, who was back from a campaign against the Saracens. It's been a restaurant since 2006 and has absolutely wonderful food.
This is Bill's dinner which was the Maigret de Canard, we think, which would be breast of duck with prunes and potatoes. Bill can confirm in a comment if he remembers.

Nancy and I both got the Supreme de volaille avec lardons et marrons, which in American is a big chicken larded with bacon and marrons (not sure what these are), with some excellent scalloped potatoes. Kathy had the salmon and declared it fabulous. Pictured below are the diners, Kathy at the dinner table and the rest of us at the terrace where we were served a drink while waiting for our table. The best part was that Bill and Kathy picked up the tab. Thanks guys, we hope you had a wonderful time in Leran and in France.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

We Remember a Fallen Hero

Near the little town of Alet-les-Bains is a gravesite. It sits hard along side the road, and there is almost no place to park to investigate the grave. We went over to see it today because I had read something referring to it on another website. Yesterday, August 17th marked the 65th anniversary on one Paul F. Swank. He was an American, a First Lieutenant in the US Army in 1944.

The Allies had invaded southern France on August 15, 1944 for a number of reasons, but they are complicated and I will not try to explain them here.

Lieutenant Swank was part of a small party parachuted into the area as the Germans retreated. The Germans had invaded Vichy France shortly after the D-Day landings. According to local legend, Swank and his co-Lieutenant had planned an ambush along the road in this narrow river canyon, intending to block the German retreat and attack the convoy. The Germans, expecting an attack, and being the ruthless bastards they were, took hostages from the nearby town of Couiza, (citizens who volunteered under pressure knowing they would probably die, and if they didn’t volunteer knew the entire village would die) and strapped them to the roofs of their vehicles, intending to frustrate or stop an ambush. Rightly undeterred, Swank descended to the level of the road and attacked from there, hoping to kill Germans not hostages but exposing himself and losing his life in the process. Reportedly, Lieutenant Swank had said he wanted to be buried where he died, wherever that happened to be.

He was buried nearby but the US Army insisted on bringing the body home, as is the custom in most cases. The family later disinterred Swank from his resting place in the States and re-interred him in Alet-les-Bains.

The entire story and the report on the mission in which Swank lost his life can be found at this website. http://www.languedoc-france.info/1016_ww2.htm

I recommend you go there and learn all about Swank and his mission. Please scroll down or read as far as "Operation Peg" for a history of the mission itself.

There are slightly different translations between the French and English versions on the marble plaque. Below are the texts on the opposite sides of the monument:
AUGUST 17 1944
17 AOUT 1944

During the battle, two French Resistance died and they are remembered every year along with Paul Swank. UPDATED: the two French Resistance were from the Maquis groups Jean Robert and Faita. You can read about them on the above referenced web page.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bill Goes to the Mirepoix Market

Click on 'em to enlarge 'em.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Quelle est la plante, monsieur?

Not too far out of Chalabre, on the way to Limoux, is a sweeping U-curve in the road at St. Benoit. It courses around a crop that I haven't been able to identify. Every time we've passed this way, I've anticipated another glimpse, in hopes of yet another clue. The other day, with Bill and Kathy in tow to the Limoux market (and lunch at Alaigne), a monsieur was out tending the crop. When I asked for the group's opinion and no one knew, Kathy suggested stopping and actually asking.

"Tabac", he identified as he proudly plucked several of the flower stalks and presented them to us, as if pinning a corsage on our prom dresses. The thought of tobacco leaves had fleetingly crossed my mind, but I asked him if this was not unusual for France. In this neck of the woods, everything is either sunflowers or vineyards. His reaction seemed to imply NO. Through "20 Questions" we determined that his tabac was used for cigarettes---and not just any cigarettes, mind you---MARLBORO! Quelle bizarre.

It's Beautiful Here! Bill's Guest Post

It’s Beautiful Here!

Flying in to Toulouse (pronounced “Too-loosh”) looks like flying into Oregon or Ireland compared to our home in Arizona. Lush, rolling hills, much of it farmland, beautifully groomed and billboard and trash free.

Upon arrival in Leran (the story of the toll booth is a whole story by itself – as was just trying to get out of the rental car lot) Nancy prepared a delicious tomato based spread for some of that famous French bread they buy from the la boulangerie (pronounced “that bread place down the street”). Doug even had a bottle of the Famous Grouse (pronounced “scotch”) waiting on ice.

So far we’ve visited Mirepoix and Limoux (pronounced “Mirapocks” and “Limocks”, respectively), Chalabre and a wonderful little cafĂ© in the small town of Alaigne where they were preparing a 40th anniversary celebration of Woodstock.

Marek and Shirley’s Le Rendez’vous is right around the corner and they, too, had stocked a bottle of Famous Grouse. Great place to meet Doug and Nancy’s neighbors.

It’s quiet here…no background freeway ambient noise. I’m sure Doug and Nancy would like some peace and quiet before they head for Moab but we’re here for at least five more days. Stay tuned for further pix.

It really is beautiful here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Noah's Guest Post

pleese edit for grammer and punktooashun. And speling. Thanks.

Well, our first trip is on the books. But our first blog post isn’t, so here it is. With the bar set high by cousin Kate I will attempt a guest post. This was our first time in Leran, and what a place…. Little Britain as we have called it has treated us well. The town itself is so small I’m not sure more than a handful of Reids should visit at any one time, or they might not all fit. It has everything you need, a bakery, a mayor, a castle, a river, an old lady (or two, or three) who watches you from the doorway and says a kind bonjour, and even an old man who rides his bike back and forth from the garden to his girlfriends house. Outfitted with the iconic beret on his head, he would ride by a few times a day looking like a postcard each time. Once with a bunch of carrots and lettuce in the basket, once with a loaf of bread, and once with a bottle of wine. ALWAYS smiling. This guy broke our hearts he looked so sweet. He also marked the passage of time for us as we sat around in the apartment doing absolutely nothing but reading and talking and staring out the window together.

We had ambitious plans when we arrived. A side trip of four days in Marseilles, a night in Arbois, lots of wine tasting, but we cancelled them all when we arrived in Leran. We decided to take it easy and get to know the Midi Pyrenee instead. The first day Kari caught up on three months worth of sleep and by the second day I was struck with a fever. A few days into it we had it diagnosed as swine flu then in a frightening moment (with a stiff neck and terrible headache) I figured it was maybe meningitis. We were discussing contingency plans on how to get me to a hospital, and when to make the decision when Sally stopped by. In that wonderful way the Brits have of reducing you with a smile she just laughed and said “Just like a man. You’ve only got a touch of what was floating around”. She then teased me every time we saw her by asking how my “Man Flu” was progressing. Proud to say, it wasn’t meningitis after all, nor was it swine flu. Most likely just a touch of Man flu I suppose.

So, it ended up being a week of sleeping, reading, navigating French pharmacies and laying low. Which in the end was exactly what we needed anyway. In spite of this we made it to dinner at the abbey in Camon, which was an absolutely lovely night. We also managed to drop the key down the grate in front of the door to the house. Something I had worried about the whole week. When it finally happened we could just see the glint of the key down the little shoot to who the hell knows where. We asked a neighbor for a coat hanger or something, and he came over to help. He arrived with an antique looking pair of fire tongs, and managed to grab the keys, get them right within reach and then drop them again, this time sliding away into oblivion. I figured the key (which had the front door key, as well as the rental car key) had slid all the way down into some sewer or storm drain runoff, and that we were screwed royally. The neighbor who was helping felt so bad about dropping it a second time that he rallied the whole street, which caused a wonderful neighborhood wide council on what to do. This culminated in a neighbor who is employed by working under old houses being remodeled. We climbed into the window (which was unlocked thankfully) and found a trap door in the kitchen. This nimble little kid scrambled down a set of rotten steps, past Fergie’s kennel, grabbed the key and hopped right back up. Everyone cheered when he emerged with the key.

I baked about ten tarts and gave them to some of the neighbors; we attended the Marche Gormande in Leran on our last night. We ate mussels, frites and snails, and watched a torrential rainstorm move through. Everyone was either safely inside the garage of city hall or across the street at Marek’s watching each other from across the street. All in all it was a wonderful week of relaxing and getting to know this beautiful little town. Thank you both for your generosity and kindness. We were amazed at what you’ve created and all the hard work it must have taken. We love you both.

Noah and Kari