So I finally got the malware off my website , but now it isn’t working properly. I can’t see what I type. So iI have some good content ready to go but it will have to wait. Signh
Today we went for a morning bike ride because the sun was out after several days that were mainly rain.It was our teenage football playing visitor’s first serious bike ride and John went “easy” on him, only riding along the top of the ridge instead of down into the valley and up. But even so, there are some nasty hills for the uninitiated. So John felt good about being able to outclass the young’un.
At one of the hilltops where we stopped to catch our breath a woman drove by and started to chat with us. She pointed to a lovely house a bit down the hill and said we should go there to taste their wine. So we did. Not a tough sell!
It turns out that Cru Lamouroux actually owns the vines that are in front of our house at Clos Mirabel! The Cru Lamouroux winery is now into its 5th generation of being owned and farmed by the same family. They do not sell through any retail outlets; just directly from the farm.
“The triumph,” says M. Ziemek, whose wife is from the original family, “is not when people buy at a tasting. It is when they come back to buy more!” He will certainly triumph with us then, as we enjoyed all four of the wines we sampled.
We also enjoyed the wide-ranging conversation, covering topics such as the relative importance of the quality of the grapes versus the skill of the winemaker (he thinks the former is the more important, though obviously both are essential), his irritation with Brits who don’t even try to speak French, and the poor quality of second language instruction in both French and Canadian schools.
Another topic was the aging of wines. One of the ones we had today can easily be drunk 50 years from now, he says. The oldest bottle he’s tasted from the family cellars was a 1947. The oldest one they still have is 1918. By this point, although he’s confident it would taste fantastic, nobody is about to open it. Instead it will continue to be passed down from generation to generation.
I love my family. I really do. Really! But when you are living in a tiny house with two teenagers (who have no friends close enough to sneak out to), a flaky internet connection and a high-strung husband, things tend to get explosive by Sunday evening.
I love Monday mornings! It is 9:00 a.m. The kids are off to school/university, the hubby is off to work. I’ve showered, made a cup of Early Grey tea and finally get to sit down at the little corner I call my office and type. I look out the window at the still-green grass, the ivy-covered trees and the mist over the mountains.
Life’s good again.
Here are a few photos from yesterday’s bike ride. (Click a photo to enlarge it.)
I first fell in love with Amazon at the time of our previous sabbatical in France. That was in 1998. I had written and published a book a few years earlier, Canada’s Best Employers for Women: A Guide for Job-Hunters, Employees and Employers. This was still early days for the Internet, before Google and long before social media made it easy to find people on the Web.
Somebody apparently tried to find and buy my book on Amazon. I don’t know how they did it, but somehow someone at Amazon managed to figure out that I was living in France and what my e-mail address was. It had taken them a while to track me down, so their customer had already been waiting for a couple of weeks. Amazon asked if it was possible to get a copy of the book for the person who had ordered it. I was so impressed that they had gone to all that effort to find me that I send them the book by courier so the customer wouldn’t have to wait much longer (thus spending far more than they were going to pay me for the book).
Talk about customer service! I’ve been an Amazon fan ever since.
Fast-forward 14 years. I now live on a hilltop in rural France. I order books (and other items, such as a printer) from Amazon.fr. So why do I love Amazon.fr? Let me count the ways:
- I am able to get any English book I want. If you lived in a foreign country in the pre-electronic days you’ll understand what a thrill that is.
- They provide free delivery right to my door, with no minimum order.
- The prices are as good as, and often even better than, the prices I get in Canada.
- My products invariably arrive within three or four days. It is such a thrill to go to the mailbox and find lovely little Amazon parcels waiting for me. Almost makes me want to order daily, just for the fun of getting the deliveries.
Long live Amazon!
John was so pleased with his success in avoiding the rain with our trip to Barcelona, that he proposed another few days away, this time to the south-east of France. He was thinking Marseille, but I wasn’t up for another 6 hour drive, so we decided to go for a beach trip to the Narbonne region, on the Mediterranean, a four-hour drive away. We left the kids at home — they both had plans for New Year’s Eve parties, and we weren’t sure we’d be back in time.
Well, John was quite right that it was sunny and the theoretical temperature was in the mid-teens. What he hadn’t bargained on was the icy wind. We’d made the mistake of booking a hotel at Narbonne-Plage. What a wasteland! Tacky touristy town in the summer (from the looks of it) and a bleak, windy ghost-town in the winter.
The only restaurant that was open was the local fish and seafood restaurant; a dicey proposition for me, since I’m violently allergic to both. We were the first people in the restaurant so there weren’t too many fumes, but I still found my face getting hivey pretty quickly. With the aid of Benadryl I made it through the meal, up to and including the gorgeous desserts.
We contemplated heading back to Pau the next day, but decided to tour a couple of beautiful cities around here instead. First we visited the harbour town of Sete, and then went to Beziers. Both are beautiful towns, with amazing histories and gorgeous buildings.
Beziers was inhabited in Neolithic times, and became a Roman colony in 36 BC. It was ruled by various counts over the centuries, and became a hotbed of the Cathar religion — an offshoot of Christianity. Pope Innocent III wasn’t happy about the Cathars, and so he sent out a crusade to get rid of them, authorizing the slaughter of the entire town of Beziers, regardless of the religious persuasion of the inhabitants. Why waste time with questions when you want to have a big impact?
“The crusaders reached the town July 21, 1209. Béziers’ Catholics were given an ultimatum to hand over the heretics or leave before the crusaders besieged the city and to “avoid sharing their fate and perishing with them.” However, they refused and resisted with the Cathars. The town was sacked on July 22, 1209 and in the bloody massacre, no one was spared, not even Catholic priests and those who took refuge in the churches. One of the commanders of the crusade was the Papal Legate Arnaud-Amaury (or Arnald Amalaricus, Abbot of Citeaux). When asked by a Crusader how to tell Catholics from Cathars once they had taken the city, the abbot supposedly replied, “Kill them all, God will know His own” “(Wikipedia)
Saint Aphrodise (in photo) wasn’t part of that massacre; he was beheaded a few hundred years earlier. Rumour has it that after his head was lopped off, he picked it up and walked across town to another church. That’s some sense of direction!
Then we had a fabulous and amazingly reasonably priced dinner at Les Caves de la Madeleine. It was marred only a bit by the clearly not-yet-restaurant-trained toddler at the table next to us.
Tema’s Recommendations for Fine Dining With Young Children
We travelled in France with two preschoolers, so we learned a few things that might help others. Here goes.
- Go to fancy restaurants at lunch time, not dinner. This has several benefits: You save money, because lunch is typically less expensive than dinner. Your child(ren) will be much happier and better behaved, because by evening they are tired! The restauranteurs will be much happier with you because you won’t be “wasting” a table space that could otherwise have been occupied by someone who would be spending lots of money on food and drink.
- Bring quiet entertainment for your children. Crayons, colouring books, notepad for scribbling on. I suppose in this high-tech era you could bring electronic games, but be sure to turn the sounds off!
- If they start acting up, take them outside immediately. It is a good idea to practice restaurant dining a bit before going on your trip. so you can actually take them home immediately if they act up. They need to learn that if they want to stay, they must be well-behaved. Taking them outside has the added benefit of getting them some fresh air, which may help them sit quietly again for a while when you go back in.
- Accept that between the ages of one and two, they simply shouldn’t be brought to good restaurants. When they’ve just learned to walk it isn’t reasonable to expect them to sit still. And they are way too young to understand the notions of being quiet and patient. They just cannot do it. (Maybe some can, but I’ve never met them.)
Last weekend we looked at the weather forecast and saw that Pau was expected to be chilly (single digits above zero) and raining for the entire coming week. Barcelona, however, was forecast to be sunny with temps in the mid-to-high teens. So we went online, booked a well-located apartment, packed our bags and hopped into the car.
Six hours later, we’d escaped the rain and were happily strolling the streets after dark in nothing heavier than a thin sweater.
Barcelona is a lovely city. Noisy, but full of life and decorated with wonderful buildings and public art.
We toured several of the buildings designed by Anton Gaudi. His swooping, swirling patterns and bright colours are amazing. I suspect his work influenced Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss); there is a strong similarity.
I was particularly impressed by the Casa Batllo, a five-story house that contains no straight lines (see photo), inside or out; and his famous cathedral, Sagrada Familia, a project started in 1882 and still under construction.
Even down by the beach (near their Olympic village) there is lots of delightful art and architecture.
Rather than stressing out about the fact that our teenagers were more interested in sleeping in, eating, and shopping than in seeing great art and architecture, we let them do their own thing, and they had a lovely time.
A real highlight, especially for the kids, was our 2nd row seats at an FC Barcelona game. They trounced the opposing team 9-0. From where we were sitting we could see many of the goals being scored from up close, and even see the facial expressions of the players.
Below are more pictures from our trip. Click on the photos to enlarge them. I’m having some trouble with the photo album feature, so it might seem that there are more than you can see. Decided to go ahead and publish as is rather than continuing to struggle with it.
It has been three months of struggle, and we still do not have the HSBC banking working properly. Now it is the Canadian end that is causing the problems, not the French side. (To refresh your memory on the early part of the saga see Opening a Bank Account in France).
We have the French account open, and thanks to one payment from the University of Pau it even has some money in it. We’ve managed to get the bank cards working, so we can withdraw funds, and we can write cheques on it. Unfortunately, it will soon be empty and we cannot, as yet, transfer money from our main bank in Canada to the HSBC branch in Canada and from there to our account here.
How many HSBC accounts does it take to cross the pond?
After the challenges of opening the French account, the next set of problems we ran into involved getting the Canadian HSBC account opened. Although they sold us on dealing with them because we would be able to transfer funds free between Canada and France, it turned out the type of account they opened for us in Canada was not the type that allows the transfers to France. For that we had to open yet another Canadian account.
Apart from the bureaucratic delays that entailed, I couldn’t help thinking what a waste of resources for HSBC. This way they have to maintain two extra accounts when really only one is needed. Fortunately, at least we are considered Premier customers so we aren’t paying monthly maintenance fees on all of these. (In theory… But that’s another story.)
Once the second Canadian account was opened we were to fill in forms authorizing the transfer of funds between our other Canadian bank and one of our HSBC-Canada accounts.
So many weeks ago I completed and mailed in the forms for permission to do interbank transfers in Canada. When I went to do a transfer recently, I discovered that the forms had been rejected for some mysterious reason. The bank had not bothered to tell us this.
The phone number given sort it out does not work from France. So I contacted my account rep in Canada, who looked into it, and told me that there was a problem with the form, but he couldn’t tell me what it was, nor could it be fixed. We’d have to start all over, with snail-mailing them another form and another voided cheque, etc.
Tonight I started to fill out the forms again, and I think I just realized why they rejected it. Their form insists that you provide either a void cheque with your address printed on it or an original bank statement bearing your name and address. For personal security reasons, I do not have my address printed on my cheques. And we only get electronic statements. The electronic statements do not show your address!!
When I sent it in the first time, I explained these facts, and sent both a cheque, and a printout of the e-statement, and (I think) a copy of something else showing our Canadian address. I’ve now e-mailed my Vancouver-based HSBC account rep asking for suggestions about how we can make this work.
HSBC sure could use some help from eMarketing Mama!
Shortly after we moved here, I realized that I would need a printer. I’ve been a fan of HP printers ever since I bought my first, very expensive but wonderful, LaserJet in 1992 or ’93 when I was writing my first book.
This time, since we will only be here for a year and the printer won’t work back in Canada, I was price sensitive. So when I saw that HP was offering a back-to-school deal where if you bought a printer and ink combo package you would get a 50 euro refund, I went for it, pleased that I could buy yet another HP printer.
I ordered it from Amazon, so it took a few days to arrive. I couldn’t send in the rebate form until it arrived because you needed to attach the bar codes. So once they arrived I snipped out the bar codes and filled in the form. I noticed that on the form it said the envelope had to be mailed to them (yep, snail mail) within 10 days after purchasing the items. It was now 11 days after they had been sent to me, but within 10 days of my receiving the items. So I made a note of that on the form and mailed it in.
So today (two months later) I get a letter from their “Service Clients” that, apart from mangling my name (calling me Monsieur Franck Tema), denied the refund saying I was not within the 10 days.
Odds are that it is their fulfilment house rather than HP itself that has made this poor decision. But they gave no contact information for me to write back and appeal it, so I’ve Tweeted to HP-France. Let’s see if they step up to the plate and reverse their decision.
I’ll keep you posted.
In France you need a medical certificate to participate in any team or organized sport. Even going for a weekly walk with the middle-aged ladies club requires a certificate. (And a pair of legit hiking shoes.)
As a result, we’ve all had to go meet the local doctor. And, of course, before she’ll give you the certificate, you have to tell her what medications you’re on.
The last time we lived abroad we and the children were all much younger and none of us took any chronic medications. That is no longer true.
So, as each of us has had our first appointment with the doctor, we’ve had to endure her stern looks and the horror in her voice as she discovers what we have been prescribed and the dosage levels. With one medication after another she explains that it either is a medicine that has been banned in France, or that our dosages are way too high, or that they believe the medication is ineffective, or that it is prescribed only for something other than what we are taking it for, so she will not renew it for us.
All this, of course, has me wondering whether Canadian doctors are, in fact, massively over-prescribing. You would think that with modern technology and information flows, it would be easy for governments to compare notes and studies and they would reach similar conclusions about what works and what doesn’t; what is worth the risk and what isn’t.
Prescription medications are paid for with government health insurance in France, so the government certainly has incentive to disallow drugs and high/long-term dosages. I wonder what studies have been done that compare the results in the two countries. Hey, my medical friends, are there studies done on this?
As a veteran of several fresh starts in new cities and countries, I have learned that at about the 6 – 8 week mark you are likely to hit a low point. You are past the initial euphoria of the scenery, the busyness of getting your new home set up and (if relevant) the kids settled, but you haven’t yet figured out exactly how everything works, you are still struggling with the language and you don’t have any close friends yet.
Our family hit that point over the past week or so.
I was feeling lonely and envious of the others because they all have daily French contacts and I don’t, so their spoken French will improve much faster than mine. I get so frustrated when my tounge doesn’t manage to spit out the words my brain thinks. The only way to overcome that is with practice. But I’m sitting up here on a hill in the countryside with nobody to speak to.
I spent hours poring over websites trying to figure out how I could get involved in some local activities that would get me speaking French regularly. (Beyond saying a word or two to the baker or the store checkout clerk.) I had noticed, in the list of 2000+ associations registered in Pau, a city of <100,000, one that is aimed at welcoming newcomers. By fluke, just after noticing that I met one of our landlord’s friends (an Anglo) who had actually got involved with that group when she moved here, and she assured me they are very welcoming, have mainly French-language membership, and run lots of activities. It is a holiday week (or two) here in France (Toussaint — All Saints), so the Association is closed for the moment. I am looking forward to trying it out after the break.
The holidays also mean that the kids both have a couple of weeks off school and have been lacking their usual non-parental social contacts. This does not tend to lead to family harmony. And B’s electric bike is broken again (sad story for another entry), so he can’t easily go out with his one friend who didn’t leave town for the break.
Then we come to darling hubby, who is working from home (the U is closed for the holidays) and thus getting cranky about the noise and mess made by the other occupants of this small house.
We had originally imagined a happy family trip to Spain or something during the holidays, but two realities hit:
- The kids want a big city with an active night life. We want culture and/or scenery.
- Places such as Barcelona jack their prices waaaaay up for the holidays. We could spend a week on Mauritius or Martinique for the price of 3 nights in a hotel in Barcelona. (Which now has me thinking about an island holiday at Christmas…)
So we are working our way through this stressful time, each with our own coping mechanisms (B = watching sports, O = Facebook & Skype, J & I = going out to dinner, to an artsy movie, and hiking/biking in the mountains). No doubt you will all feel tremendous sympathy for us.