Three Immigrants

Last night, when we came back from our evening walk, our neighbor, M. Martinez was in a bit of a panic. He is taking care of his daughter’s cat while she is on vacation and he couldn’t find it. We opened up the apartment where the workers had been all day, just in case she’d gone in there, but no luck.

This morning, when I saw him I asked if he had found her. He had, but the news wasn’t great; it appears she’d fallen out of an upstairs window onto the back street and he’d found her outside his backdoor. She was bleeding a bit and limping. Clearly, this was not a happy cat.

I told him if he needed to get her to the vet that I would help. A couple of hours later he rang the bell. He had decided that all of us who were giving him advice were right. So he loaded her into her cat carrier and off we went.

It turns out that the poor critter had broken a couple of the small foot bones, so our vet sedated her and wrapped her up. Now, she looks a bit like a mummy, poor girl.

After he’d finished, M. Martinez, Dr. Un Ren and I were standing in his office chatting a bit and I had a sudden revelation: all three of us were immigrants. It was a very odd and also meaningful moment for me. Three strangers from different backgrounds, with different educations and different accents, all standing around in a veterinary office discussing the injured paw of a cat. The world can be an interesting place.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Tour de France Day

I have to admit that I have been very geeky about this whole thing. JM and I used to watch the Tour in L.A., just to get little glimpses of France. Now, here we were, expecting it to come right through town!

It was obvious from looking at the schedule that was printed in the newspaper that we’d have to look fast and not blink, otherwise we would miss it, but part of seeing the Tour is the experience of being there as much as seeing the racers.

Mom was also very excited, because she has been following it on television this year and she used to watch it with Bob, so I think there was a nostalgia thing going on there as well.

It was not sunny today, and a little drizzly, which I think was probably a good thing, because standing outside in the sun for a couple of hours would not have been great fun. Of course, people complained about the weather a bit, but they always do.

The Gendarmes started closing of the streets at 11 am, and the neighbors and visitors started to gather then too. I would say that just about the whole village was out on the Tour route and there were tons of cars parked everywhere.

A brief aside about the cars: there were signs up everywhere that the Tour was going through, and yet cars kept coming down Cours Colbert (which wasn’t blocked) and trying to go through the village and over the bridge (which WAS blocked) and then seeming surprised that they couldn’t get through.  Yes, if you’re not interested in the Tour, I can see that it would be annoying, but this is not an unknown event. Certainly most people can change their schedules for 3 hours once a year to let everyone else have a bit of fun, no?

Anyway, that aside, almost everyone was in a good mood. I always find the Gendarmes friendly and pleasant at these kinds of things. They’re always happy to chat and kibbitz with the bystanders, and not at all looking like they’re just waiting for an excuse to shoot you down where you stand.

We went out for the first part of the event, which is the Caravan. It’s all the publicity vehicles that go along with the tour: very loud, very bright and amusing, lots of completely useless items being tossed to the crowd and loads of fun.

Of course, Shmoo came with us, and as usual was a big hit. There is something about this giant dog with the goofy ears that just appeals to people. Everyone wanted to pat him or get a kiss and he was quite the spoiled baby. I was impressed by how good he was, and not the least bit frightened of the crowd or noise. He only got upset when I left him with JM while I walked away with the camera; he did not like the pack separating at all!

The caravan came through for about 20 minutes to half-an-hour, but the racers weren’t scheduled for another hour-and-fifteen minutes, so we came home to have lunch, although most people just stayed in place.

At 1:30, I went back out and JM waited for Mom. I got a good place to take some pics but was surprised not to see them. Mom decided to go up to the bathroom at the last minute, and she and JM missed the peloton coming through! I couldn’t believe it! All that time waiting, and they missed the event itself. So, hats off to my dear husband for being a good son-in-law, even at the cost of not seeing the Tour.

When the riders did come through, it was unbelievably fast; I have to admit that you almost can’t see a thing, it goes by so quickly. I was in a good spot, but actually had to move so as not to get run over! It was odd to see something that we’ve watched on TV so many times that up close and personal.

We’ll be eagerly watching the repeat TV coverage tonight, because one of the riders did actually fall in the village, so I’m hoping there will be at least a few shots of the Possum Kingdom for people to see.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Eye see you

I do NOT have a detached retina! I was starting to be relatively sure that I didn’t, but we went off to the ER at the Clinique Solano in Lavelanet this morning, just to be certain.

The doctor on duty came in to examen me and said they always have an opthalmologist on call for emergencies. When I told him I had called and been told otherwise, he actually seemed pretty annoyed (not at me!). I guess the person I spoke with on Sunday didn’t want to be bothered.

At any rate, he thought I definitely needed to be seen by the opthalmologist, so the nurse took me upstairs to the proper department. I was taken in ahead of a couple of other people who were there before me (they were not amused) and examined, then had drops put in, then went back to wait. After a bit, I went back in again where an even more uncomfortable eye exam took place.

The upshot of all of this is that it’s something that happens to many (if not most of us) as we age; the vitreous layer of fluid in the eye changes texture and kind of collapses. The floaters that we see are from cells that are floating around in the fluid. However, it is ALWAYS a good idea to get anything like this checked out, as the fluid can put extra pressure on the retina and cause tears or eventually seep behind the retina and cause it to detach.

Those of us with severe myopia (even if we’ve had laser surgery to fix our vision) are particularly at risk, as are those with diabetes or anyone who has suffered an eye injury.

I feel relieved and will be happy again once the drops wear off and I can see in the light instead of sitting in semi-darkness!

Ciao for now.

Randy

Never on a Sunday

Or a holiday of any day in the week!  That is: get sick.

France is not a good place to have an emergency during the summer holidays or on a holiday weekend like this one (14th of July), at least not when you are not in a major city.

Saturday night, I started having some weird stuff going on with my vision. It could be the beginning of a detached retina, or it could be nothing at all. Unfortunately, you can’t really tell without a thorough eye exam. Since it didn’t seem to be getting worse, I figured I’d wait for Sunday and reassess the situation.

Of course, Sunday was ALSO the village-wide vide grenier (garage sale) and I had an entire garage full of stuff that I wanted to try to sell. We got up, walked the dog and set the stuff outside, and I told JM that if he would stay there and sell it, I would call the local ER and see if they had anyone who could look at my eye. Nope, not on Sunday. They suggested I call the bigger hospital in Foix. I did and the person who answered said I should just call “15,” which is the number you call to get the local doctor on call. I doubted that he or she would be able to do much, so I am going to tough it out until Tuesday.

I know, if it’s a detached retina, that could be stupid, but it has not gotten worse so far, and I’m being very cautious.

Emergencies were one of the things we did think about when we moved. After all, we are both used to life in a big city where almost everything is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Still, with emergency rooms closing down right and left in L.A., and the fact that by now we would have probably been uninsured, I’m not sure I would have wound up doing anything differently on a holiday weekend there either.

Life is all about choices, and sometimes you just have to choose and hope you did right. Besides, now my garage has room in it again!

Ciao for now,

Randy

They’re here!

In a sure sign that summer really IS here, the vacation people are showing up all over the place. True, the first clue is all those license plates that aren’t from “around here.” But it’s also the accents, the cars driving around with people looking out the window in confusion and all the different faces on the street.

Since there has been some doubt as to how the falling pound and dollar would affect tourism, it’s actually nice to see them. Although, I’ve noticed that there is a higher percentage of cars from the Netherlands and Germany than there are from the UK. It could be that it’s too early for British visitors to arrive, but I would imagine that the low pound is partly responsible.

Unfortunately, all the work on Mom’s house is blocking several parking spaces, which I’m sure is not appreciated by everyone, but there’s nothing that can be done about that. I apologized to the folks who live next door to her (who come from Montpellier) and they were very gracious about it all, saying not to worry. I should probably take them a bottle of wine as a peace offering though.

So far, the weather these last few days has been cooperating with the nice visitors, and the sun has been shining but it hasn’t been blisteringly hot. Pretty much ideal conditions for most of us. The little plants all seem very happy about things as well, and I’m expecting to see all kinds of produce showing up in the gardens.

The tourists also mean that our friends from Ireland and the UK will soon be here as well. It will be a pleasure to see them. Indeed, Bernie from Dublin is due tomorrow, although as her sister, Fiona, gave birth to a baby girl yesterday, that might be on hold for a day or two so that Auntie Bernie can say hello to her new little niece. CONGRATULATIONS FIONA AND JOHN!!!!

I’m also pleased to report that Mom is starting to feel a bit better. I suddenly had an inspiration yesterday, when I realized that on the nights following her physical therapy sessions, she was in far more  pain than on the nights when she hadn’t had therapy. Well, you think I could have figured it out earlier! We cancelled her session for today, and she is in a much better frame of mind and with far less pain. Now, if only it continues this way, she should be in super shape by the time she is ready to move into her new digs at the end of the month.

May the good times keep on rolling.

Ciao for now,

Randy

American Food in France

Just a quick note for any American ex-pats in Europe looking for certain things like Bisquick, Pam or other American food items that are almost impossible to find here and which cost a fortune to have shipped by friends and family from the States.

This morning I found a great website called AMERICAN MARKET Food Store which  is located in Geneva. Okay, it’s more expensive than going to your corner store in Los Angeles or New York or wherever, but it strikes me as simpler than begging people to send me care packages.

I can’t speak about the  quality of their service at this point, as I just placed my order this morning, but the info was too good not to share with anyone who might be interested.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Festival de Rues Chalabre 2008

It’s that time of year again.  For a change, in spite of forecasts to the contrary, we did NOT have rain (so far!). There are also a great number of vendors already set up, and the whole village has a festive air about it.  My problem is that there are some great clothes stalls and I’m seeing far too many temptations. I may have to lock myself inside for most of the day, just for the sake of safety!

Tonight, there will be a variety of street food being prepared and lots of drinking and music.  I could really do without the drinking, to be honest, but that is life at a street festival.

Locals are complaining that there wasn’t enough publicity given to the event and so they don’t think enough people are going to come. That remains to be seen.

One thing I do know, is that I wish our regular market was this varied and busy. I think it’s a bit the chicken and the egg. We don’t get a lot of vendors, so there aren’t a lot of customers, then the vendors don’t come, and fewer customers come.  I don’t see a real solution, but I wish there was one.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Spending Money in France

As the work on Mom’s apartment continues, we have found ourselves having to go out to make purchases of items like lighting fixtures, appliances, etc.

France is much more complicated than the States for many things.  First, stores here do not tend to carry stock. Part of that is because you have to pat VAT on stock, even if it hasn’t been sold. So, clearly, lots of places don’t want, or aren’t able to do that.  Even at the big chain stores, there are often lots of items that aren’t in stock and which have to be ordered.  We went to Pamiers, which is about 45 minutes away, to a big store called Conforama, which is a bit like an Ikea.  When we moved into our place 3 1/2 years ago, we bought all our appliances from them and discovered that they are very willing to give you a deal when you make large orders, so we tend to go there first.

We chose appliances (fridge, washer-dryer combo, cooktop, microwave), the kitchen cabinets, a dining table, chairs, a bedroom closet and a set of drawers. They were in the midst of a big sale, so between that and the discount they gave us on the items that weren’t on sale, we saved over 500€!  Plus they threw in free delivery.  Some of the items aren’t in stock and have to be gathered from other stores in the region, but it will all be delivered on the 28th of July.

Now, here is where another weird thing about France comes into play. We couldn’t pay for it! We had Mom’s checkbook (it’s a joint account so I can sign), but the store’s policy is that for amounts over 1000€ they will only take a cashier’s check.  Our bank is in Limoux, which is in a whole different direction than Pamiers, and it takes about an hour to go from one town to the other.  This was Tuesday. Wednesday was booked with other stuff, so we said we would go to our bank on Thursday morning and then go back to the store to pay in the afternoon.

You might be wondering why we didn’t pay with a credit card. We could have paid with one of our American cards, but then you lose money on the exchange rate, plus if use it to buy stuff, as opposed to just getting a cash advance, they also charge an extra percentage on top of the exchange rate for purchases in other countries, so all the money we saved on the stuff we bought would have been eaten up in fees. We have one French credit card, but the fees suck, so we don’t use it. Our other French cards are debit cards, and those limit the amount of money you can spend on them per month and weren’t useful for a really big purchase.

You might also wonder why the store doesn’t just take your check and wait for it to clear before they turn over what you bought. There is no answer to that other than “they just don’t.”

JM called the bank to arrange an appointment for us to go in, transfer money from Mom’s savings into her checking and get a cashier’s check.  This is where another “fun” thing comes into play. BNP (our bank) doesn’t let the local branches write cashiers checks! The main, regoinal branch (in our case, Montpellier) has to do it, which means you can get a cashier’s check, but it takes 4 or 5 days to do so. However, we could get the whole sum we needed in cash; I guess they’re allowed to have that in the local branch.  So, we went to Limoux and got cash. Drove back to the Possum Kingdom to drop Mom off and walk the dog, then drove back to Pamiers to pay Conforama.

Conforama closes for lunch between 12 and 2:00 (but really, 2-ish, more like 2:15 by the time they open the doors), but that was cool, because we did have lunch out at our favorite Chinese restaurant, which is a bit of a treat. And, I was able to do some other errands at Carrefour, which doesn’t close for lunch.

Finally, we got inside and found our friendly sales clerk, Michele, who had been helping us.  That’s where we discovered yet another very “French” thing. You CAN pay with cash, only no more than 2999,99€ in cash!!!! We thought it was a joke by this point. Why didn’t these people want our money???? Apparently it’s one of those efforts to keep people from laundering money, but, my God! It’s an appliance and furniture store! A lot of purchases are going to be over that limit!!!

So, in order to not have to come up with yet another method of paying for our items, poor Michele had to rewrite our invoices so that we had two invoices, neither of which went over the mystical number.

We made it through, but just barely. By the time we got home we were exhausted by the absurdity of the entire situation. I love France, I really do, but sometimes you just have to shake your head in wonder at some things.

Ciao for now.

Randy