THAT time of year!

Thursday is May 1st, which is International Labor Day almost everywhere in the world except the U.S.  But, this year, it also coincides with Ascension, which means it’s also the weekend of our village fair.  And, as it does every other  year, it will take place right outside our house!

During the day, it’s not really all that bad, especially with the windows closed.  But, at night it’s another story.  Two years ago the discotheque was so loud that we had plaster fall from the ceiling due to the vibrations!  Of course, the bandstand was also right at the corner, only 5 houses away, so I’m sure that made things worse.

I’ve heard that this year, as they did last year, the bandstand will be under the Halles in the center of the Bastide.  The roof tends to dampen the noise a bit, so even for the houses on the Place, it’s not as loud as it is when it’s at the end of one of the Cours. For some reason, that creates a tunnel effect and amplifies the sound to almost a painful degree.

Still, it’s nice to see events in the village, even if they’re not always something everyone likes and enjoys. It brings commerce and life, and that’s never a bad thing.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Sun and Sightseeing

One of the things about living in a location that attracts tourists, is that you often don’t do any of the “touristy” things yourself, because you never get around to it. I lived in Philadelphia until I was in my early 20s and NEVER went to see any of the sights on my own. I certainly never went to Disneyland in L.A. unless I was begged to do so by visitors.

Here in the Possum Kingdom, it hasn’t been a lack of desire to do things as much as a lack of free time. But this week, our friend Brian came to visit from the UK and we decided we would have a mini-vacation ourselves as we showed him around.

Luck was with us and the weather has been glorious. The temperatures have been running 22 degrees celsius, the sky is brilliant blue and it is just stunning. I convinced Mom to come with us on our jaunts, and the four of us have been having lunch out, then afternoons visiting the sights.

Thursday was lunch at Le Commerce in Mirepoix, followed by the drive to Carcassonne then a tour of the Cité. It was great, although I think we were all a bit surprised by how many people were there on a midweek day, but both Brian and Mom loved it anyway.

Yesterday was Montsegur and Foix. Lunch turned out to be a true treat, as we tried the Restaurant Costes in Montsegur. Everything was organic, local or made on the premises, and it was an outstanding meal. They made their own ice cream, and I think I’m ruined for the store bought stuff forever, to be honest. It was definitely one of those meals that is “worth the detour” as they say in the Michelin guide.

Today was a Science Fiction and Fantasy writers’ lunch in honor of Brian. There were 16 of us at the Hotel de France here in the Possum Kingdom. Chef Didier made us a regional lunch of salad with gesiers (don’t think about it; they’re really good), cassoulet and flan with a coconut topping. The cassoulet was truly outstanding, if difficult to finish because there was so much of it! No one walked away from the table hungry.

Our guests came back Chez Possum, then a few of us took Shmoo on a walk through the gardens. The village was at its best, and I think there were several converts to life in the country.

Now, we’re all feeling full and happy. A perfect day.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Ground Breaking

As of yesterday, work officially began on Mom’s flat!  It wasn’t much work, but it was work nonetheless. Plumber extraordinaire, Christian Drouin turned off the water and removed various bits and pieces that needed removing to enable Manu Montoro to start demolishing walls as soon as his current job is finished.

In fact, this week has been a good week for the future of the renovation.  The bank miraculously approved our request for a loan, which is pretty impressive when you look at the fact that we earn practically no money and have no jobs!  Of course, the house itself will eventually provide the income necessary to repay the bank, but that remains virtual at this moment.

Then, we got a letter from the ANAH.  Now, to look at the letter, you would think it says: “You are absolutely NOT authorized to begin any work if you want to ever get any money from us.” So, to be honest, we were a bit taken aback, as that was not the letter we were expecting.  JM called to talk to the person in charge and SHE said, “Oh no.  This letter means you can go ahead and start doing the work.”

“But it says we can’t do any work.”

“Maybe, but it really means you can.”

So, although we are perplexed, we are not looking the gift horse in the  mouth and will, therefore, go ahead with things.  Madame ANAH, as we call her, has said our file will go in front of the mysterious commission that looks at files on 29th of April, but that it is really only a formality and should all be approved.  From her mouth to God’s ear as we say.

In anticipation of an eventual actual finished apartment, I have contacted the storage company in Rotterdam that has Mom’s furniture and arranged for delivery the last week of June/ first week of July.  So, the work had better be done in time, or we’re going to have a lot of furniture sitting out in the middle of the street!

Ciao for now,

Randy

The Big Spender

Since before we moved her here, we’ve been promising Mom we’d take her to a casino.  She LOVES casinos! In Hemet (the Hellmouth of California) she was very close to several Indian casinos, and only a bus trip away from Vegas, Baby.

Here in the Possum Kingdom, we have easy access to two casinos: Alet-les-bains and the brand, spanking new Theatre Casino La Barriere in Toulouse.  Now, the one in Toulouse has several restaurants, shows, a couple hundred slot machines and all the table games. I’m sure it’s fascinating. But, it is also 1 1/2 hours away via the autoroute. Neither JM nor I gamble and after walking around looking at it for 10 minutes we would just find a corner where we could sit and read.

Alet is 30 minutes away, and although it is much, much smaller, we decided that was the one for us. At least it’s in a beautiful location and an easy drive.  So, last Wednesday that’s where we went.

If you’ve been to Vegas or Atlantic City, I think the word you would use for the casino at Alet is “quaint.” It has about 50 slot machines and the table games weren’t open while we were there. My guess is they only open at night.  We had gone right after lunch, so it was pretty empty as well. Except for the people who worked there, JM and I were the youngest people in the place, so that should tell you something about the crowd that it draws.

Still, Mom was in her element and spent about 2 hours playing slots.  Well, I should say “playing A slot,” because apparently the way this works for those who do it is they find “their” machine and stick with it. She won a little, lost a little and came out of it only losing 35€, which I suppose is a not overly expensive form of entertainment for a couple of hours of happiness for her.

She really loved the place, and now I’m thinking that it’s not a bad trip to take her there, drop her off, go do my big once every two-week marketing run and swing back around to collect her.  I couldn’t sit there for a couple of hours, but clearly, I’m not a gambler.

And, who knows, maybe one time she’ll win enough to make it all worthwhile.

Ciao for now,

Randy

It’s not going to last but

We have had superb spring weather for the last few days and everyone is feeling happier again.  Meteo France tells us that we should enjoy it while we can, because the rest of the week is scheduled to go back to rainy and yucky.

But who wants to think about that when the sky is a brilliant blue, the fields are starting to be full of flowers and sprouting things, the trees are starting to bud and the birds are singing?  Yesterday, JM and I had a book signing in Carcassonne and we thoroughly enjoyed the drive there and back.  When you drive through the countryside on a day like yesterday, it puts all of your problems in perspective, because no matter how gloomy you feel, the scenery can’t help but make you feel better.

On top of that, the Pyrenees have truly benefited from all the bad weather.  While we had rain, the mountains have been having snow and they are always an impressive sight when covered in white. We particularly enjoy the mornings, because we have a great view of them rising in the distance, tinged with the pink rays of dawn and almost glowing. We can hardly wait to get outside to see them, and almost don’t want to turn away to come home.

The whole Possum Kingdom seems to be happier with the sunshine. Even Shmoo is in a happier mood.  I swear that dog suffers from SAD, because on days when it is rainy, he kind of mopes around and looks at us accusingly when we go outside. But, as soon as the sun is out, he suddenly becomes his own, bouncy self.  Who says dogs belong in the wild?

Ciao for now.

Randy

The World According to the ANAH

The ANAH is the authority that give people money for renovating homes under certain circumstances.  Private individuals living in older homes can get grants for doing things like replacing windows with double glazing, upgrading electricity and plumbing, etc. How much they get is based on various factors, including income.

ANAH also gives money to people who renovate older homes into rental accommodation for people with low incomes. There are various levels of grants, going from the most if you take people who are on real welfare, to a medium amount for taking anyone you want as long as their income passes a means test, to a small amount for being able to rent to anyone no matter how much money they make.

With the house that we’re renovating for my Mom, we’re using the middle level to fix up three rental properties besides the one that she will use.  Probably over 90% of the renters in our area fit into the means test, but we will be able to choose our own renters without being forced to take just anyone that social services wants to put in an apartment.  Part of the rent will be guaranteed, and we need to accept to do this for 9 years.  It seems to be a good deal, as with the grant almost 50% of the work will be paid for, and the rest will be covered by a low interest bank loan.

The downside of the operation is that you can’t really begin the work until the grant is approved.  We are not the only people in the area who have applied for a grant. The commission that approves the grants meets once a month. Do you see where I’m going here?  We turned in our file at the end of January and we’re still waiting.

We knew, of course, that the chances of it getting to the top of the pile in February were relatively slim.  We had hoped that we would make it for March.  But, no.  Now we’re counting on April. We can’t apply for the bank loan until we get the grant.  We can’t really start work until both parts of the operation are in place.  So, Mom is still living Chez Nous.

We walk by our other little house and look at the windows sadly.  Some day, Mom will be in there and we will recover our bedroom.  Someday, but not today. The wheels of the ANAH turn slowly…

Ciao for now.

Randy