Mike’s wound

We had a little medical emergency, with a surprise nice resolution. We had bought some inexpensive drinking glasses to tie us over until our belongings arrive in a couple months. Mike was washing one of them by hand, and it suddenly snapped into pieces, slicing across is right-hand little finger. Lots of blood! It was obviously more than just a small cut, but it wasn’t deep either. He held his hand up above his heart for a while; the bleeding slowed, but didn’t quite stop. We were wondering what we should do in this new town and in French.

All this happened just before we were scheduled to go over to our landlord’s house so he could help with a call to the internet/TV company. Mike stayed at home, with hand raised high, and I went to the appointment. I explained what had happened, hoping that Georges and Michèle would have a recommendation for where we should go to get the cut inspected. Surprise: Georges said (in French): “But I am a doctor! I would like to see the cut.” We didn’t know that he was a doctor! So I went back home and brought Mike back to their house. Out came a little supply case of tools and medicines. From the way Michèle behaved, instantly supportive at Georges’ side, I think she must have been a nurse. Or: They do have 3 children, so lots of parent training as well. George agreed that it was a cut above average, but quickly applied a tight butterfly suture to hold the skin together, and wrapped it all up in a bandage. He even gave Mike a tiny finger condom to protect the wound when he showers.

We think we have landlords with super powers! I’m writing this a few days after the day of the wound. George emailed last night, insisting that we stop by today so that he can see how it is healing. We have great good fortune with such nice helpful people here.

Shopping

Since we left all our furniture behind in Hawaii, and since we won’t receive the rest of our belongings (clothes, kitchen tools, art) until about April, we need to go shopping to set up our new home. Mike enjoys shopping more than I, but if I have a shopping purpose (and supportive budget!), I get into it as much as he does. It certainly isn’t very often that we get the chance to create a new home.

Our list includes big stuff — like new TV and bed — and lots of smaller things — like linens, dishes, flatware, soap dispensers, collanders, etc.

We have discovered so far that in the town center, which is the historic gridded city from the 14th century, there is a mixture of low-price local businesses, some mall-brand mid-range clothing stores, and few expensive clothing stores. There are a lot of empty storefronts. We think that it probably comes more alive in the summer, during the tourist season. On the outskirts of town are Zones Industrielles (ZI), which include lots of big-box stores. All French and European brands, although disappointedly peppered with KFC, Burger King and McDonalds — but we ignore those. The Carrefour is out there, along with quite a few other large general purpose stores (household items, furniture, electronics, etc.), and ones like Best Buy and Lowes. Here we are at last in France, and we shop as if we were in suburban LA! But that is where the stores are.

One of our contacts recommended a store out in the ZI called Gautier for furniture and beds. We were met by a very nice, attractive and effective sales woman, named Carine. She was able to be pushy and helpful all at once, and very kind with my level of French. In French, she explained the details of spring versus foam mattresses, pillow tops, breathable mattresses, and hygiene. My French vocabulary has now grown. We explained that we really wanted to receive the new bed by the time we welcome our first house guests before we leave on our trip to South America, which was a little less than 2 weeks from the day we were in the store. She said that the mattress, base and headboard would take longer than that, unfortunately. But to our surprise, after a short pause, she said that they would be able to lend us a bed during the time between our needed date and the availability of the bed we would purchase. I wasn’t sure I had understood correctly, but she confirmed that yes, they could help us out in this way. I guess making the sale was important to them! As it turned out, the mattress was available before our due date, and they would lend us the base. After we get back from our trip, they will deliver the base and headboard. I’m sure we will still run into our share of cold uncaring French sales people, but so far, we’ve experienced the opposite.

When we mentioned to Rachel (our Franco-British consultant for financial and property matters) our quest for household items like linens, towels and kitchen items, she said we should check out a big outlet mall near Barcelona. She said that she and her husband go there regularly because of the great prices, quality and variety. It is about a 2.5 hour drive from Carcassonne. The idea of a road trip, feeling the distance, without having to drive around an island a few times, was very appealing.

So, we set out last Sunday on a road trip to Spain to go shopping! It was a cold rainy day. In France, almost every store and restaurant is closed on Sunday. We thought that perhaps there would be a few shoppers who like us want to take advantage of Sunday stores. But when we arrived, at about noon, we were amazed at the number of people. The ample parking lots were all full; all the side streets were lined with parked cars. Luckily, we noticed a dirt area that people were starting to park in, so we found our space.

The mall is open air; really just a string of storefronts along a central meandering walk, designed like a 2-story Spanish village, full of brand-names. (I can picture the meetings with the retail people and developers when they were designing the place.) Shoppers from all over the world everywhere! It turns out that there are seasonal sales now, so in addition to the outlet store prices, there were additional mark-downs. Good for us — and apparently very many other people. All the shoppers and activity really just made it lively. We had a bite to eat at an Italian / Catalan restaurant, to make sure to build up optimal shopping strength. And then powered through our list. We found quite a few very nice things, and had a good time while doing it.

A day’s worth of shopping meant that we needed to drive back home in the dark, and in the rain. The highways on both sides of the border are quite good, especially in France. But there is a stretch of road on either side of the border that is curvy, narrow and is partially undergoing construction. In the rain, it was very hard to see the lines on the road. That part of the drive was a little tense. I think that the next time we go outlet mall shopping, we’ll combine it with a nice B&B in Barcelona, and drive to and from in daylight.

Our dinners at home

We are just in the beginnings of finding new rhythms and ingredients for meals. As much as we’d like to eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the budget won’t support that. And I think the waistlines would complain as well. But this is hardly a hardship. Between the fresh produce, cheese, olives and bread from the town-square weekly market, and the rest of the French supermarket food, we are already noticing the freshness and local flavors.

The other night, Mike heated up pre-cooked duck-confit legs from the supermarket, and prepared some fresh leeks from the market (with white wine, and locally mixed sea salt / dry mushroom spice). I know that whatever he prepares will be good, but we both raised our eyebrows at how fresh the leeks tasted, how the salt flavor highlighted the wine and leeks, and how crisp and delicious the duck legs were. We had assembled a few cheeses for a taste after the main course, followed by a piece each of napoleon dessert. All with a bottle of local red wine (which, truth to be told, isn’t always that great, but it only cost EUR4 or about $4.50!). We all know that the hype about French food celebrates freshness and local ingredients. It turns out to be true. As you all know, this was one of the main reasons for our wanting to move here. Much relief that daily living and eating here can meet our expectations.

Our house

The house we are renting was built in the 1930s. It is the only colorful house in the neighborhood, matching our colorful characters? The main living spaces are on the upper floor, with the bedrooms on the ground floor. There is a small pool in the back, on the south side (not that we were aiming to have a pool!). The kitchen and main living room face south through tall windows. So, even though it is cold outside, when the sun comes out, it is delightful in these rooms.

So far, the temperature has ranged from about freezing to 50 deg F, but a cold snap is predicted starting today (Tuesday), so it will likely hover just below and above freezing for a few days. The house has a fantastic electric radiator system, with controls in each room. We have been very comfortable day and night. The house is a bit too large for us, so we have left a few rooms closed off and set to cooler temperatures. The bedroom is nice a cool at night — the comforter feels wonderful — and the bathroom is always nice and warm.

The French approach to toilets is to put them in their own little rooms — for obvious reasons! But the toilet rooms in this house don’t have their own radiators. So, if we forget to open the door before going to bed, the morning presents a chilly experience!

The owners provided some chairs and sofas, two beds, a kitchen table with chairs, and a dining table with chairs, as well as a few miscellaneous tables and lamps. All a bit on the worn side. Beware when sitting on the main sofa; you’ll get swallowed up! But all this is OK. It allows us to move in and start living, without pressure to furnish an entire house all at once. We do intend, however, to buy a good large bed as soon as we can.

Our landlords

The owners, Georges and Michèle, are about our ages, recently retired themselves, and they raised their family here. They have just finished a new construction adjacent to an older house that one of their sons had recently bought, not far from here. So, they are still in Carcassonne, near their kids and grandkids.

They are wonderfully warm and friendly. Since this was their lifetime house, it is obvious that it is a little strange for them to be renting it out to strangers, Americans at that! We have already agreed with them that we are Hawaiians, rather than Americans — in general, and especially in the light of the next president.

Upon our arrival, they toured us around the house in detail, explaining the heating system, the appliances, the propane tanks, etc. Obviously, they have cared deeply for the house.

Georges insisted kindly that the next morning, we go over to their current house so that he could help us establish our account with the electric and water companies, as well as the internet / TV / telephone company. I sat with him and Michèle while he made the calls, waited on musical hold, and then explained the situation: his house, new renters, etc. On the first call, he explained that his renters are American. On the next two callers, we are Hawaiian.

There is quite a bit of chicken and egg here regarding setting up service accounts and setting up a bank account. The internet / TV account requires that we have a local bank account and a specific number (RIB). So we couldn’t get internet going right away; we have a phone appointment later this week with the internet service, by which time we need to have our bank account. Georges was patient through all this, offering to keep helping. Without his help, I’m sure we wouldn’t have all these services before April!

(A couple days later, we went to a local bank with our British+French consultant, Rachel, to start the account set up. As anticipated, the bank wants lots of documention — passports, US IRS forms, past tax returns, past US utility bills, current French utility bills (which we don’t have yet), copy of our lease, and a formal attestation by our landlords that we exist and aren’t nefarious. Rachel and the bank person noted that in the US and UK, banks want customers and their money; in France, not so much. Basically, to get a bank account, we need to have lots of evidence that we really live here, but in order to get that evidence, we need to have a bank account. Catch 22 (mostly; Rachel and Georges are helping us through the French bureaucracy).)

All the conversations with Georges and Michèle are in French. Fortunately they are patient with my French; they make it easy to talk about the house, where to shop for different things, as well as their own history. Nice people: so far a great balance of helpful without intrusiveness.

Bits of France

On the drive from the Toulous airport to Carcassonne, we stopped in a rest area to get a snack. So France: a complete French hot deli, and a wall of local specialties opposite the chips and cookies. So, if you are on the road in France, and suddenly crave some foie gras or confit de canard, just pull into the next rest area, and you will be fine.

There is a large Carrefour store on the outskirts of Carcassonne: Combination Target and immense Safeway. Shopping at Carrefour is the other part of the real France, along with the traditional town-square weekly market. On our first evening, we needed to get some supplies. And on the second day, some more. The food part of the store is amazing: huge arrays of produce, cheese, charcuterie, nuts and more. Probably 8 times the size and selection as our old Kaneohe Safeway. The bounty means every choice is a (good) challenge: which of the 30 mustards? Which of the 100 cheeses? Which of the 40 butters? Which of the 4 euro wines from the region (it was hard to find anything more than 12 euros)?
But fortunately, as well, there is the weekly Saturday market in the main square. Even in the 40-degree morning, the market stalls were many as were the customers. Seasonal, of course, meaning endive, root vegetables, lots of greens, cabbage, artichokes… Warmer weather choices from Spain and Morocco as well. And really affordable: we spend only about 15 euros for about 4 days worth of produce, some cheese and bread. Great fun! Fulfilling one of the images of our French life!

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B4v4jYfgBYPfM0lveW5fU1BOS28

On a winter’s day, Carcassonne is a little gray town. But during market day, lots of people are out at the market and the shooing streets, so the gray comes alive with activity. The main square, at dusk, started to light up: the combination of the warm lights, the dim sky, the leafless trees, and some good old French architecture revealed the charm of the place. That said, there are plenty of drab streets, and not a small number of empty store fronts. I remind myself that, on the surface, Kaimuki, Moilili and the rest aren’t exactly gorgeous either!

Carcassonne: First days

We don’t have internet at the house yet so we go from café to café to get their wifi! It is Saturday morning here, that day of the weekly big market. We have walked to the town square (about 10 minutes, and it is about 35 degrees! But we have lots of layers, hats and gloves, and it is a sunny day).

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After our pain au chocolat and coffee, we’ll do our shopping for local produce.

We’ve had two nights in the house so far. The cats are very happy not to be traveling any more. They follow us around like puppies. I keep needing to remind myself that this isn’t just a week-long vacation rental – this is where we live now! It is going to take a little while to sink in, even after all this anticipation.

We have spent two long shopping sessions at the town’s Carrefour – big box store, a mixture of Target and the largest grocery store you have ever seen. The range of choices is mind boggling. There are just a lot of little things you need and use around the house and take for granted, like towels, toothbrush holders, laundry detergent… So we are little by little filling these in.

Our landlords are a couple, Georges and Michelle, also recently retired, who have lived a very long time in this house, raising their family. They just finished building a new house for themselves a little ways away, close to their son and his family. They have turned out to be very nice, immediately helpful. George insisted that I go over to their house yesterday so he could call the water and power companies and the internet / TV / telephone company to get our accounts set up. Water and power are set up, but it will take a couple weeks for internet (hopefully by the time Paula and Jerry get here) – so emails will depend on which café we find!

So all is going well. We have certainly gotten what we asked for, and that is pretty fantastic. And still, takes some time to adjust and learn a new rhythm of life!