Archive for November, 2009

Repainted entry

Posted in Home improvement at 20:07

Entry, after
After the preparation mentioned in my previous post, today I was finally able to tackle painting my entry. Above is the nearly-finished product!

There is still more to do. The entry was done oddly by the previous owners, leaving a strange section to fill in above the WC door. I also need to get better-quality paint brushes in order to finish smaller areas where a roller won’t work. The cheap brushes I had worked all right for the primer, but left enough marks that I’d rather wait to buy nicer ones before putting on the finishing blue coat.

I’m very happy with how the main wall looks now. To think, it used to look like this: entry in May 2009, before I’d started removing tile and the textured paint. The main wall looked like this with the textured paint off.

Priorities, priorities

Posted in Home improvement at 16:28

Almost finished
My apartment has been giving me all sorts of opportunities to work on it lately. After the latest water damage (upstairs neighbor’s bathroom leaking into my living room), I discovered that the textured paint in my apartment could be removed by using a wallpaper glue dissolver. I started removing paint in my entry, since its walls have the least surface area of the rooms in my place. The paint removal went quickly and easily, but I discovered that a floorboard was hiding a shallow but long hole in the wall.

This had several implications: I’d also been removing tile in the entry. With the floorboard out and the wall needing repaired, I realized it would be best to finish taking tile off the floor before patching and painting the wall, in case I ran into any other areas that needed patched. I finally finished that difficult undertaking today, as shown in the photo above! Here it is “finished” (all tile removed). I’m glad to say that only the one floorboard area needs fixed, so I should be able to do that and repaint soon.

As for the entry flooring, I may try to remove the old, grey linoleum and restore the original floor beneath it. Easier, though, would be to find some nice-looking carpet tiles. My main criteria for replacement flooring are removability — no more adhesive! — and ease of trimming to my entry’s odd shapes. A floating parquet could do the job too, but would be harder to trim with the limited tools I have. Carpet tiles would be great since they would do double duty as an entry rug, and would be easily replaceable if/when they get too dirty. After all, my feet aren’t the only ones running around on it — my cats love to sleep in the entry, since the building’s heating pipes run under it before reaching my radiators and going to the rest of the building.

Then there’s still the living room! I started removing paint in the damaged nook first, since I’d like to paint it a darker, complementary color to the one I’ll be using for my living room. That way I can finish it first, then move furniture into it to make repainting the ceiling easier. Then I get to tackle painting the ceiling, removing paint from the rest of the walls in my place, then repainting those! And I still have to finish removing tile from the kitchen area. It’s nice to be making progress in the entry though, since it feels better to come home to a tidy entry.

36 hours in Geneva

Posted in Travel at 15:20

Tower, St. Pierre
Earlier this week I took another mini-vacation, this time to Geneva. As with Corsica, I had visited Geneva before, several years ago, since my ex-family-not-quite-in-law lived nearby in the Ain département. I didn’t remember much of it, however, and so thought it might be nice to take advantage of Nice-Geneva flights to spend two days in the city.

It turned out that the flight was gorgeous! We flew over the Alps, which shone in the early morning sun; I took nearly a dozen photos. I suspect I may have photographed Mont Blanc, since it looks familiar, we were pretty close to Geneva, and the mountains seem to fit satellite views of Chamonix. A few minutes later, the weather, time of day and the plane’s altitude all came together for this beautiful shot of sunlit clouds.

Apparently I took Nice’s weather with me to Geneva, since it was lovely that day. All my photos of Geneva are in this set. As usual I wandered around with just a map — no guide book. I’ve always enjoyed cities more with the thrill of discovery that comes when, for instance, you notice amazing lamps, approach the building to see just what it is, and it’s an incredible concert hall covered with the names of famous composers. (You can learn more about Victoria Hall here.)

My favorite “discovery”, however, was the towers in Cathédrale Saint Pierre, which was the church where John Calvin preached. (This year is Calvin’s 500th anniversary of birth — you can see banners on the cathedral announcing it.) For four Swiss francs, you can walk up a first steep, narrow spiral staircase that takes you to an ancient room midway up a first tower, then cross a cramped, dark passageway through to another room, with a door to yet another staircase, even steeper and narrower than the first. In that room I used my flash for the only time during my trip — you can see the ceramic roof tiles are laid directly on the roof frame. I was alone with the huge, cracked wooden beams and dark passageways during my visit, which made it very easy to imagine myself back in time 450 years ago, when the towers were built. In addition to bird’s-eye views of Geneva, you can see the roof tiles from above, and a nice information chart on the church’s bells (one weighs more than six metric tonnes!).

The second day was damp and overcast, so I spent it in two museums: the Natural History, and Art and History museums. The Natural History museum was filled with every sort of animal and mineral imaginable, which was great for learning the French names of birds and mammals I often see here but didn’t know in either English or French. The Art and History museum had an exhibition on Rembrandt, Rubens and Ruisdael, as well as another on 17th- and 18th-century Flemish and Dutch painters. It also had several rooms that were fully done — furniture, floors, ceilings and all — in the style of a Swiss castle.

All in all it was a great visit. These mini-vacations are a fun compromise: cheap, and the brief stays make it possible, paradoxically, to visit more places in a given city. You don’t need anything more than a single bag, so never have to worry about luggage, and since it’s so much cheaper, you worry less about spending money on food, museums, and souvenirs. Physical fatigue is also less of a concern since you know it’s only going to be a day or two, so might as well make the most of it! While you do miss out on getting a better feel for a place, and on visiting surrounding areas, you can identify what you’d like to see and plan to return another time. In the case of Geneva, two days seemed just right for the city itself.


Posted in Gardening, Journal, La France at 22:36

A few weeks ago I became one of the many “lucky” folk to catch the H1N1 flu (“swine flu”). For the first time in my adult life, I understood how someone could die from the flu. Not to sound alarming, mind, just that on the fifth day of a high fever, bad cough, and exhaustion, I was so sore and tired that I barely had the strength to cough well enough to clear my throat to breathe. And that was with medication, and I was in pretty good physical shape before that. Flu vaccinations. It hurts less to get one than to get this flu.

While I was ill, the French national police knocked on my door. At first I wondered if I were in a movie, seeing the plain-clothed gentleman present himself with blue-white-red-striped official ID in hand and firm look on his face: “Bonjour madame, police nationale.” He was looking for one of my upstairs neighbors (the eldest son of his parents, who also live there, along with their two younger sons and the eldest son’s daughter), who has a warrant out for his arrest. Delightful. I swear my apartment is in a nice neighborhood overall. It would seem I’m just in a bad micro-part of it.

I finally recovered to the point where I was able to get back on my mountain bike yesterday at noon. Taking in the fresh autumn forest air on the rocky hills was wonderful, and raised my spirits. Then, this morning (on foot, not on my bike), a car driver decided that she would rather risk killing or handicapping me than lose ten seconds at a stop sign, which also had a clearly-marked pedestrian crossing. She accelerated — yes, accelerated, to my horror as I kept trying to signal “stop” with my hand and even shouted at her — then swerved to the side of the road to go around me, missing me by a few centimeters. I spent the rest of the day taking short breaks to pull back from my desk, wiggle my legs and look at them, happy they’re still attached and in good working order. Before that, however, I called the police. Again. It’s to the point where I recognize the dispatchers’ voices now. Good to know in this part of the world where there is no shortage of drivers who have a sense of entitlement the size of their hurtling metal narcissism machines: if a driver runs you down in a pedestrian crossing, you can write down/memorize their license plate, then go to the gendarmerie and file a complaint (porter plainte), also giving a description of the car as possible. The police will then contact them and handle it from there.

I could write a book on interactions with the police and gendarmes in France. I’ve now dealt with pickpockets, a drunken upstairs neighbor who would tip over his furniture at 2 in the morning while watching football, a mentally ill East German woman who’s hit her children, husband and niece, insults everyone in French and threatens to poison my cats, an upstairs neighbor who threatens his own mother (yes, I had called the police on him a couple of times — the national policeman’s visit didn’t entirely surprise me), and dangerously irresponsible drivers. Have a complaint? I probably know how to file it. In French!

Besides that, though, I found some beautiful chrysanthemums at a florist. They reminded me of Chinese and Japanese paintings. Earlier I had potted daffodil and iris bulbs I’d dug up and stored this summer, and am pleased that all of them are starting to sprout. From the two daffodils and three irises I had originally, I now have four daffodil and seven iris plants. Work on my apartment is also coming along, although very slowly.