So how was YOUR weekend?

Anyone living here in the South and Southwest of France had a really horrible one, I can assure you.

Saturday, the region was hit with one of the worst storms ever seen in the area. There have been at least 25 deaths and untold injuries. The damage has not yet been tallied, but it will be massive. Winds in some areas reached 184 kmh.

For some reason, we in the Possum Kingdom seem to have been spared the worst of it. There were some tiles lost off of roofs, some trees uprooted, etc., but the village itself seems to be mostly okay. The worst for us was that, like so many, we lost power for 36 hours and water for about 12 hours.

Heat was an issue, clearly, as even if you have oil heat, the furnace itself runs on electricity, so clearly, that wasn’t going to help anyone. Those of us with fireplaces used them A LOT. In fact, most of us managed to cook our dinner on them (baked potatoes and grilled steak was a popular choice). But candle power will only keep you entertained for so long, and I would imagine that almost everyone here went to bed at 8 or 9 pm both to keep warm and because you couldn’t really read or do much of anything else in the dark.

The worst of the storm was over by Saturday night and it wasn’t until yesterday morning that we were able to get out and see some of the damage. I think there will be months of clean up going on.

I can’t say enough about how our friends and neighbors pulled together to help each other. Those who had gas cooking kindly offered to heat things for those of us who were all electric; those of us with extra bread shared that with neighbors who had none. The fire department came around last evening to make sure that anyone who was alone and had no heat would be taken care of and not left to freeze in their homes. Our good friend Hazel, who lives in a part of the village that got its power back before the rest of us, kindly was ready to welcome Mom into her home for the night so that she would not have to spend a second night in the cold.

There are good people out there, and I’m pleased that we live amongst them.

Ciao for now.

Keep warm.
Randy

Calling Inspector Barnaby

Where is that man when you need him?

The Possum Kingdom has been buzzing for the past few weeks with a tale that seems to come straight out of Midsomer.

At 3:30 in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, 84-year-old Georgette Peille walked out of her home to go collect mushrooms and dandelion greens. She said good-bye to her daughter, argued with a neighbor and was never seen again.

At first, the daughter says she was not overly alarmed when her mother didn’t return, figuring she had gotten turned around in the dark but would be home in the morning. Okay, not exactly the way I would have played it, but it’s not my family. However, by the next morning, she realized something wasn’t right and called the Gendarmes.

The Gendarmes brought in 2 specially trained search and rescue dogs, and this is where things get stranger. The dogs kept going to the big dumpster at the edge of road and stopping there because there was no other trail. The neighbor who saw her last saw her standing near that dumpster.

Now, SAR dogs ALWAYS find the trail when there is one. They will either find the person or they’ll find a body, but they find something. These dogs can find nothing. Every square inch of the woods near the home have been searched, and how far could she walk, she’s 84!

This alone is fascinating, because it’s the kind of thing that gets you to wondering what could have happened. By all accounts she wasn’t the sort of person to just decide to take off. And, who kidnaps an 84-year-old woman with not much money?

It turns out, that there may be a link to the past. Because as it happens, Mme. Peille was married before and that first husband was incited to commit murder by his mother-in-law, Mme. Peille’s mother! There was a neighbor with whom they didn’t get along and whom they thought had a lot of money (he didn’t), and the MIL convinced the husband that he should kill him, which he did!

The husband was sent to Devil’s Island (they still sent people to Devil’s Island back then) and the old mother did 10 years for her part in the crime. No one has seen the husband since then.

But, does that mean he hasn’t come back? No one knows. Certainly around here most people think the disappearance is linked to the old crime. It may be, or maybe not, but it would seem an odd coincidence if the two events had nothing to do with each other.

The story has no ending at this point. The authorities are investigating. The neighbors are speculating.

Me? I’m thinking alien abduction…

Ciao for now,

Randy

Another New Year

Here we are almost 2 weeks into the 2009 and life is settling back into its winter routine.

Our friends with second homes (their REAL homes) have gone back to the daily grind that allows them to come here for holidays, which never seem frequent or long enough.

The Siberian cold front that hit most of Europe made its way down to our usually protected region and brought temperatures in the teens along with snow and freezing rain. The autoroute between Carcassonne and Narbonne was even closed overnight and into the following morning because it was too dangerous to drive on it.

I must admit to having my own concerns on Thursday morning, when I woke up to a beautiful snow covered village. I love the snow, but I’ve never been what you could call surefooted, and walking Shmoo on the icy road was a bit stressful. Anyplace where there was just snow was fine, and easy enough to walk on; but everyplace where a car had passed was a deadly mixture of melted and refrozen black ice. Nasty stuff.

Luckily, by Friday midday the worst of it was gone, except for a few places that never get sun at this time of year. Then, Friday afternoon I had to take Mom to Lavelanet for a doctor’s appointment and, of course, the sun had gone and it had started sleeting and snowing again. That was not a fun drive to make. It did prompt me to finally put my chains into the car, “just in case,” although I have to admit that I have absolutely NO idea of how to put them on should I need them.

While all this cold stuff is going on, it seemed odd, then, yesterday to be invited to a meeting of the Comité des Fêtes, which is already starting to plan the traditional Ascension weekend village fair. May seems so far away, and yet in the blink of an eye it will be spring, then summer and all those holidaying friends will have returned, like the swallows flocking to Capistrano.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Quality Uncontrolled

A couple of months ago I wrote about our adventures in buying JM a new computer. Touching wood, after 4 attempts, we finally got one that seems to be working just fine. Unfortunately, at Christmas, Mom’s 5-year-old Dell laptop finally seemed to be on its last legs. So, it was back to Darty for another new ‘Puter.

As always, they were friendly and helpful. We saw several of the people whom we’ve not come to know quite well, and were even given a bottle of Champagne. As we were carting the Packard Bell out to the car, I said, “I hope this one works.” Everyone laughed.  We got it home, I installed it and, guess what? I couldn’t even get into Windows! There was a checksum error right on boot up!

So, back to the car, back to Darty. Of course, that was the last one of that model in the store. They could have ordered us a new one, but we weren’t sure how long it would take. Instead, we got another Acer Aspire.

I brought it home and it booted up right away. Since Mom already has a beautiful HP 22″ monitor, I took the monitor from the Acer, which is also 22″ and that also works great.  So far, so good.

Unfortunately, only a few days after setting it up, I started to notice some weird issues with the mouse. I thought it was the cordless mouse not working, so put a PS2 mouse on. At first, that seemed to work fine, but after the computer is on for a while, there is something definitely wrong and the mouse works in a jerky, odd fashion. Also, you have trouble opening menus and getting anything to run until you reboot the computer. We can’t take it back and exchange it, becasue JM tossed out the box, although I prefer to keep equipment boxes for at least a few weeks.

At this point I’m hoping it’s just a software glitch and I made a few changes of different settings. I’m going to let it run for an hour or so, then go over and see what is what. If it’s not software related, then we’ll have to start getting into post sales service hell…

I would take it personally, if it wasn’t that a friend bought a new Dell laptop for her son for Christmas (from a different retailer than Darty) and discovered that the DVD drive was bad!

Then I started to think about all kinds of other things we’ve bought lately that, in comparison to similar items purchased 5 or 6 years ago for equivalent prices are just no damned good! I have clothes that I bought in 2001 or so that I’ve worn and washed dozens and dozens of times and which are still perfectly fine. Yet, I bought a pair of sweatpants a couple of weeks ago that came out of a cold water wash not in such a terrible state that I don’t think they’re wearable. Not only had they shrunk, but the seams twisted so that the legs are now corkscrewed. I didn’t think that was even possible!

At first, JM and I were wondering if it was a difference in quality between Europe and America, until I reminded him that last year when we were in L.A. I had bought a pair of New Balance walking shoes that barely lasted 6 months before developing holes in the toe box. And, the New Balance shoes that JM bought also have something that has worn out, although he continues to wear them. He had his last pair of New Balance shoes for several years.

So, what is the common denominator? The easy answer, of course, is that all of these items were made in China, but I don’t think it’s only that. We’ve all been using goods produced in China for a number of years without these problems. No, I think the real issue is that in misguided attempts to pay less and less for things, decent quality can just not be maintained. We are all victims of false economy. We think we’re saving money, but in fact we’re buying crap. We would be better off having less things that last for longer periods of time then buying more things that we have to toss out because they break, tear or plain don’t work.

I don’t know if there is a real answer, because it means a global change of consciousness, and don’t know that we’re capable of doing that. And that, I’m afraid, is going to be a real tragedy one day.

Ciao for now.

Randy

A New Year Dawns

We went to Rivel yesterday afternoon to play cards, then had a quick aperitif before heading home. Since we were already in our outside clothes and it was around the time for Shmoo Alexander’s walk, we decided to take him out before dinner.

Of course, it was dark already. As we got to the 8 à Huit, Shmoo started to bark and go nuts and JM and I realized there was an unknown dog behind us. Eventually we were able to drag Shmoo forward a bit, but the other dog just kept following. After a few minutes, I handed the leash to JM and kind of fell behind. The other dog didn’t want to get too close to the ravening beast (smart dog), and eventually we drew ahead.

We got to the end of our little route and turned back. By now, the strange dog had come really close and waited until we had passed, then crossed the road to keep following us on the same side where we were walking. JM and Shmoo were still ahead, but now the newcomer was basically at my side. The poor, poor thing. He was clearly a hunting dog, some kind of hound. He had beautiful long ears, was a kind of blue-gray color with dark spots and had huge deep brown eyes. And, he was starving.

I mean that quite literally; he was even thinner than Shmoo had been when we took him in and Shmoo was skinny as hell. This dog could have given an anatomy lesson! Strangely, although I offered him treats, he didn’t want them, all he wanted was for me to pat his head and be nice to him. He continued to follow us back to the village.

At one point, he got ahead and took off down a street going towards the river, but when he saw that we weren’t going THAT way, he quickly trotted back to where we were going.

One of our neighbors saw us and offered to call the head of the local hunting association so they could check if someone was missing a dog. Meanwhile we took the new boy back to our house. I put Shmoo inside and went to get a can of food while JM stayed out with the newcomer. He was SO HUNGRY! I was trying to scoop food into a bowl, but he was simply grabbing the pieces as they came out of the can; I’m sure he didn’t bother chewing at all. I didn’t want to make him sick, but he needed food, so I went and got him a second can that he just inhaled even more quickly than the first; this boy had not eaten in a LOOOOONG time.

Now, Shmoo was watching all this from inside the house. We wanted to bring the new dog in, but thought we should put him on a leash first, and I got the leash and was going out the door when Shmoo bolted out (very unusual for him these days) and actually ATTACKED the poor starving dog! I guess he was pissed that we were feeding HIS food to someone else. The poor guy could not fight back and with a howl of terror took off into the night.

Just about then, someone from the hunters group pulled up and she went one way and JM went another, both looking for the dog. Shmoo, btw, had immediately run back into the house once he had chased off the newby.

Luckily, they finally found the other dog and the lady from the association was going to call the number on his collar. I just got off the phone with the neighbor whom we met last night and let him know that if the hound’s owners don’t want him (always a possibility) that we will take him. I was very embarrassed by Shmoo, who has clearly forgotten what it means to be cold, hungry and alone.

If the new boy does come to stay, he’s going to have to learn to share all over again.

Ciao for now.

Randy