Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chalet Shenanigan - Chapter 7

It is blizzarding tonight in the mountains and Mr. Big is outside playing with his new snow blower so I am going to sit inside, drink some wine and write to y’all.  I would light a fire, but the fireplace is one of those things on the demolition list and it is laying in about 12 pieces on the floor next to the Christmas tree, so I’m just picturing a fire.  Which is not really working for me, but one does what one can in times of difficulty.
I am getting ahead of myself.  I can’t talk about snow until I tell you about my geranium adventure.  Mountain gardening is quite different than gardening in, say, South Carolina.  In South Carolina, where it gets so hot and humid in the summer that my children used to come inside from playing and walk directly into the fridge to cool off, (we have a walk-in fridge in the SC house because I used to cater a lot when I was a real working person and not just a Trailing Spouse), you have to worry about your plants burning up and you have to water them every, single day or they will die overnight.

Here, you have to worry about your plants freezing.  In October.  It snowed here in Chatel three days after we moved in.  It was October 3rd.  The previous owner had left me all of her geraniums which were growing in planters along the balconies.  This is a very typical chalet thing.  You line your balcony railings with geraniums in the summer.  She also left me about 20 potted plants and bushes on the two patios.  In the garage, there were about 10 empty burlap bags.  These were the only clues I had about alpine gardening.

Well, when the first snow flake hit the first tender geranium leaf, I freaked.  I quickly got on Google to see what one is supposed to do with geraniums over the winter.  Because I was definitely not throwing these suckers away.  I counted my geraniums and there were 80.  80!!!  The cheapest you can buy geraniums around here in the spring is 15 bucks for a little guy.  My overwrought brain was multiplying a mile a minute and once I reached a thousand dollars, I was in serious panic mode.  Save the Geraniums!  Save the Geraniums!  Where’s That Stupid Burlap?!
I was hoping, when I Googled “overwintering geraniums” that the answer would be something simple like, “bring them inside, you idiot”.  No.  Well, okay, you can bring them inside if YOUR HUSBAND WILL BUY YOU A GREENHOUSE, which mine will not.  I asked.  He laughed.  He is such a tightwad.

For us non-greenhouse-owning peons, we have to manage our geraniums the old fashioned way.  First, you have to take them out of their planters, shake all the excess dirt off of the roots and hang them upside down inside a burlap bag.  Then, once a month, you soak the roots in water and hang them back up.  You keep doing this until spring.  I would rather give birth without an epidural than commit to this archaic and painful process for the next six months, but visions of a thousand-dollar-bill kept flashing in front of my eyes.

Y’all, it took for-e-ver.  Day after day, shake, bag, hang, shake, bag, hang.   I did do the scheduled root-watering routine in November.  I was good.  I was following the rules.  But now it is December and there are two feet of snow on the ground and it is freezing.  Would you want to trudge out the garage, take down a million burlap sacks, spread them out on the snow, water them and hang them all back up?  Neither do I.  It’s a dilemma, I tell you.
These durned geraniums are going to be the death of me.  About two weeks ago, when I first started getting in the Christmas spirit, I was eyeing all of the lovely, empty planters in which the geraniums had recently resided.  Hmmm, I said to myself.  I could make some really alpine-y Christmas decorations out of those planters for the balconies.  So, I spent two days cutting down evergreen branches from my yard, filling the planters and attaching big red bows on the front.  Awesome!  Look how pretty!  I’m like a Swiss Martha Stewart!  I even made Mr. Big install four spotlights in the yard to shine up upon all that loveliness.

Yeah.  That didn’t work out so well.  During snow storms, the winds whip through this charming valley with surprising fury and the entire planter boxes, the jaunty bows and the carefully placed hanging pine boughs were strewn from the house to the Swiss border.  The first morning that I woke up to this mayhem, I thought, “huh, fluke occurrence”.  I chased down my errant decor and painstakingly reconstructed all my prettiness.  BY THE THIRD TIME, (yes, I give new meaning to the term “exercise in futility”), after rounding up my bows, which now look like they’ve been through a Cuisinart, hurling the stupid greenery any-which-way back into the planter boxes and drinking large quantities of wine, I got out the rope.  The planters are now TIED to the balcony with rope and they are not going anywhere.  It looks like shit but they are in place.  (You thought I was going to hang myself with the rope, didn’t you?)

The neighbors must think I’m right out of an asylum.  Oh, wait.  No, they must think WE are right out of the asylum.  It is pitch dark outside, it is pouring down snow, it is about 5 below (C) and my husband is blowing snow off the driveway.  The snow is piling up behind him faster than he can blow it off BUT THAT IS IRRELEVANT.  He is Man With Large Machine v. Nature and he is losing but he is having so much fun, I can’t tell you.  I did ask him how he could even see because it was so dark and he looked at me with no small amount of manly contempt and said, “Woman, it has a headlight.”  Well, of course it does.  Silly me.  I’ll just go back inside, dear, and bake some cookies or something.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 6

We Have a Little Cow Problem

Is there anybody here who didn’t read Under the Tuscan Sun or see the movie?  The funniest parts of the book were where the author had to adapt to the ways of a small, Italian village.  I have been doing some adapting myself to life in Chatel.  Remember I told y’all that the name of the valley is the Vallee d’Abondance?  Well, it turns out that we have our very own cows in our valley called, obviously, Abondance Cows who make, of course, Abondance Cheese.  Go ahead, google it.  It’s legit.  So, if you ever go in a Dean and DeLuca, ask the deli guy if he can get Abondance cheese and then we can have like a Karma connection across 5,000 miles and eat our Abondance cheese together.

Anyway, one of the farmers in Chatel has one of his “high” alpine fields just across the ice rink from our house.  Every day, all day, I get to work on my renovations while being serenaded with cowbells.  It’s very cool.  But.  The farmer also has another field somewhere up above and behind my house.  There must be some farming system of which I am unaware that makes “my” farmer move “my” cows back and forth between the two fields every other day.  So, picture about 30 giant mama cows and about 5 kid-sized cows trundling along our neighborhood roads being followed by the farmer’s wife, the farmer’s young daughter, the farmer’s young son and the farmer’s dog, swinging long sticks and yelling.  (Except the dog—the dog is neither carrying a stick nor yelling.  He is just running around and barking.  Duh.)

And they do this every other day.  I have no idea WHY, but it is what it is.  Cow exercise, maybe?  I don’t know.  After about a week of watching these random cow migrations all over the side of the mountain, I hear the bells one evening.  The bells are really close.  REALLY close.  They almost sound like they are in my yard!  Well, they were in my yard.  They were Cow Escapees.  Cows on the Lam.  The sun was setting and, apparently, Mrs. Farmer was home making supper and the Farmerettes were doing their homework, so it fell upon my farmer, himself, to come round up his errant charges.

He drove his SUV right up in the driveway, let his dog out of the truck, got out his long stick and herded the cows back up the road and into their correct field.  Meanwhile, I’m out on my porch waving and “bonjour-ing” and taking pictures because I think this is really fabulous, right?  Wouldn’t you?
The very next day, the cows got out AGAIN!  Obviously, once they had had a taste of a manicured lawn they were unhappy with their wild pasture land and they were back for more deliciousness. 

Except, this time, they walked around the lake directly ON THE LAKE PATH just like tourists and settled in my neighbor’s yard to happily munch away.  Now, my neighbor is not a nice, American ex-pat like me.  She is French.  And she was not happy, no sirree, bub.  She came screaming out of her house just about the time my farmer rolled across all of our lawns in his SUV again. 

Man, did she let him have it.  I have no idea what she was saying because it was all in super-rapid French at about two octaves above normal, but he got his cows out of her yard tout de suite.  He and his little daughter had those big, fat mamas RUNNING around the lake.  At one point, he looked across the lawn at me.  I waved and took his picture.  I think I gave America a good name that day, at least compared to Cruella de Frenchie.

The next day the whole Farmer family came to get all of the cows.  Apparently, the cows were being banished to their barn for the winter for misbehaving and running amok in our neighborhood.  I was so mad!  It was all my neighbor’s fault!  No more cowbells ‘til spring.  Now I just get to listen to Mr. Big swearing at the walls all winter long.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 5

1994 Called.  They Want Their Décor Back.

Well, they can have it.  We bought the chalet from the original owners, a lovely British couple who built the house in 1994 and lived there year-round.  Obviously, they picked out everything from the tile to the layout of the rooms to the carpet in 1994 and were completely content to let it stay that way. . . forever.

People, if it wasn’t breathing, it got stenciled.  There were flower-y and mountain-y paintings everywhere:  going up the banisters, on the bathtub surrounds, on the door jambs, you name it.  And this wasn’t some tacky, do-it-yourself attempt at home décor.  It had obviously been done by a professional and it probably cost a lot of money.  It was all free-hand and accurate down to the minutest detail.  For example, if you look at the alfresco painting above one of the sitting rooms, it depicts a mountain scene with cows, a wood-carver with a miniscule chain saw, some teeny goats, and, if you look very, very closely, two tiny parapenters floating down the sides of the slopes.  (That’s the only painting I’ve kept.  The other adornments have all succumbed to 40-grit sandpaper.  Au revoir, edelweiss.  Hasta la vista, wild strawberry vines.)

Acrylic paint a la 1994 is easily annihilated.  Piece of cake.  But the actual floor plan?  That’s a little more difficult to change.  Remember, in 1994, not many people had “great rooms” or “open floor plans”.  Well, OK, maybe Californians had them because they are ubercool, but regular people?  No.  They had separate EVERYTHING.  Separate living room.  Separate dining room.  Separate kitchen, etc.   And so does our chalet.

Now, when a person from 2011 walks into a house from 1994, they are going to feel cramped.  It’s natural.  How will I entertain?  Where will everybody go?  They’re all going to try to cram into the kitchen and the kitchen is only as big as a shoebox!  Where am I going to fit my sectional sofa and my cool, industrial coffee table that is approximately the size of Utah?  Huh?  Where?

So walls were coming down.  That was a given.  But which walls to choose from among so many?  Which walls can come down and not make the house fall onto our heads?  Normally, in a regular house constructed of 2 x 4’s and sheetrock, Mr. Big can find the load-bearing walls and plan accordingly.  Here, not so much.  This house was constructed “en madrier”, which means no framing, no sheetrock, no nothing.  Just logs.  Logs that have been specially planed at the sawmill to fit one on top of the other EXACTLY LIKE LINCOLN LOGS, only squared off, not round.  So, to build a wall, you stack.  And, at the junction where two walls meet, you interlace.  Tres, tres, tres complique.

We found a construction expert who spoke English.  His name was Music.  Yes.  You heard me.  Music.  I asked him to spell it because I didn’t believe him.  I thought it was possibly some weird French name that I had not yet been acquainted with.  No.  He was Irish and I guess his mother was partaking of recreational pharmaceuticals back in the day, but whatever.  As long as he knew about building with Lincoln Logs, what the heck did I care what his name was?   Music was not a bringer of glad tidings.  Apparently, because our renovation plans involved ripping out the fireplace wall and the fireplace, we would not be able to start until after Christmas.  (Remember, it was October 2nd, three days after we moved in.)

Really, Music?  And why the delay, pray tell?  Well, because “the fireplace guy” is busy until after Christmas.  THE fireplace guy?  What?  There is only one guy in all of France who builds fireplaces?  Surely not, Music.  France is a pretty big country, after all.  I mean, compared to IRELAND, or something.  It turns out there is only one fireplace guy IN THE VALLEY, who speaks English and whom Music trusts.  OK.  I can accept that explanation.  Mr. Big, however, is really feeling cramped.  When Mr. Big is feeling cramped, he starts to feel itchy, which leads directly to claustrophobic, which leads directly to the Land of Power Tools.

Y’all.  It took about 3 hours after Music left with his sad notes, before Mr. Big was muttering around and measuring various things.   You have to realize that he and I have a motto.  “If someone with no teeth can do it, we can do it.”  This motto has served us well in the past and saved us multiple thousands of dollars.  I’m not saying Music had no teeth, (he had a full set, as far as I could see), but you get what we are saying.  We ain’t skerrt, as we say in the south.

You saw in the previous blog post that he started practicing on the powder room.  That one wall involved at least 8 trips to the hardware store (which is 20 minutes each way up and down the mountain into Switzerland).  I now know every word for every kind of saw in French, because I had to buy every bloody one of them.  And then, I had to return every bloody one of them because the engines burned up.  BECAUSE THEY DON’T CUT THROUGH FRIGGIN’ MADRIER.  Apparently, it’s like trying to cut down a pine tree with a pair of pinking shears.  You need a chain saw.

Please tell me you can picture in your mind’s eye, Mr. Big, INSIDE THE HOUSE, cutting down walls with a chain saw.  Yes.  Picture me rushing around like a madwoman trying to protect what few pieces of furniture I have purchased from flying DEBRIS that’s coming out of the back of his saw like ordinance.  Please try to picture this scenario.  I finally resorted to staple-gunning bed sheets DIRECTLY TO THE WALLS in a semi-circle around him.  Truly, it was like the Texas Chain-Saw Massacre inside my house, except with projectile pine shrapnel instead of brain matter.  Oh la la, indeed.

It is now one month later of being “weekend warriors” and the fireplace wall is gone.  The fireplace, itself, is a story for another day.  The additional, 6th bedroom, that we don’t need, has now been incorporated into the “great room”.  This is a slow process but soon Mr. Big will be able to retire from The Company and just become an expert “en madrier” renovation and fireplace construction.  I hear there is a real shortage in the area.  I can see his little placard now, “Have Chain Saw, Will Work”.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chalet Shenanigans, Chapter 4

Renovation Rules

Once we finished with the notaire and officially owned the house, (which is called Chalet Ruisselet, or Chalet Near a Little Stream), we drove directly up the drive with plans to start immediate demolition.  This is how we roll.  We are crazy people.  Ahh, see, none of you really know THE REAL US because I’ve only been writing this blog since we moved to Switzerland.  Because we RENT an apartment in Lausanne and our landlords live directly below us, I think they might notice if we started ripping out walls and jackhammering through the floor even though we really want to and we have to restrain ourselves on a daily basis.  I don’t think we are even allowed to paint, if you want to know the truth.  I’m not sure because I haven’t been brave enough to try.

But, now that we OWN something, we are off like hounds to the scent.  Happily for us, Mr. Big and I each have our own different paths that we follow when a renovating a house or a commercial building.  This time will prove to be no different.  We pull up in the driveway and say to each other,  “Off we go then.  Ta ta, luv, see you next Wednesday!  Come find me if you do anything really spectacular!”

Here’s the key to a happy marriage and a happy project:  don’t try to do anything together.  Ever.  It will end in disaster.  Trust me.  In fact, the more square footage you can put in between you and your spousal unit, the better.  If he is working in the upstairs bedroom, you should be working in the basement.  Get it?  Meet for dinner and compare notes.  Works every time.

Our General Rules For Renovation Projects work so well because he and I operate in two completely different solar systems .  I tend to gravitate to the THING THAT IS BUGGING ME THE MOST AT THAT PARTICULAR MOMENT, get rid of it, fix it and make it pretty.  That’s my modus operandi in a nutshell.  Mr. Big, however, just wants to wreck stuff.  He finds the biggest project that involves the most power tools and the most demolition and the most dust and he is as happy as a pig in slop.

For example, take Day One.  Day One, I just wanted to set up the air mattress so we would have some place to sleep, go to the grocery store so we would have some wine and cheese and make sure the fireplace was working so we could light a fire.  Mr. Big wanted to take four doors off of their hinges and dismantle the jambs because they were giving him claustrophobia and making the hallways “too squishy”.  So he did and I sat in front of the fire and had some wine and cheese.

At dawn, though, on Day Two, I was up and at ‘em, Atom Ant.  I had decided that the thing that had to go first was the pink and purple kitchen.  Oh, let me be more specific.  The pink and purple kitchen with the orange terra cotta tile floor and the red painted stenciled flowers on the cabinets.  Yeah.

So, I was up with cows tearing out the backsplash, taking the tiles off the floor, pulling the oven and hood out onto the patio and generally having a heck of a good time.

Mr. Big wakes up groggy, stumbles into the kitchen and says, “Um, what happened to the oven?”

I glance up, way up, actually, because I am sitting on a tiny footstool dislodging floor tile with a hammer and chisel.  I nod in the general direction of the kitchen door and say, “It’s on the patio.  Why?  Did you need to bake something?”

“Er, no, just wondering.  And the microwave?  And, um, the countertops?”

“Already in the dumpster with the range hood and the backsplash.”

He knows he is in violation of The Renovation Rules just by virtue of asking me these questions, but I am in a forgiving mood because it is not even 8 o’clock in the morning.  Technically, he should not even be stepping foot into the room where I am working, but I will let him slide because I know that all he is really concerned about is if I have thrown away the coffee machine or not.

“Um, honey”, he ventures tentatively, “will there be any coffee available this morning?  Or should I look elsewhere?”

Snookums!  Good Christ, of course there is coffee!  What do you think this is?  Guantanamo Bay?   Look, there’s the Barbie fridge, still intact, and, directly on top of it, voila!, the coffee machine.  OK, now, only in Europe is the fridge the size of an under-the-counter appliance upon which one can put things.  In America, if one put something on top of the fridge, only Yao Ming could reach it.

Off he went, coffee warming his little fist, to do whatever he wanted to accomplish on Day Two.  Which, apparently, involved a Sawz-All because the house shook when he fired it up.  I didn’t even have to leave the kitchen because I knew that he was attacking the bathroom-slash-powder room.

Here’s the deal.  Europeans don’t get the concept of the powder room.  I don’t know if it is because they don’t have guests or entertain, or what, but they just don’t get it.  They are trying, bless their little Froggy hearts, but they are not there, yet.  Consequently, you wind up with the most bizarre bathroom configurations imaginable.  The most common attempt is to put a separate toilet, by itself, somewhere near the living room.  No sink.  No, no.  The sink AND A RANDOM SHOWER/BATH is in another room by itself, somewhere in the general vicinity.

So, say I am having a party and a friend wants to “freshen up”.  Do they go in the room with the sink?  What if they have to pee?  Do they go in the room with the toidy and then go into the room with the sink?

  And, why is there a shower in the first place?  Do we need this extra shower?  It is adjacent to the living room.  It’s bizarre, I tell you.  And don’t even get me started if there is a bidet involved in the equation because it just makes my little head spin.

Anyway, I know what Mr. Big is up to.  He has a plan to turn the two weird bathroom configurations into one room.  Picture this:  there is one skinny, little coffin of a room with just a toilet sitting in one end of it.  (I wouldn’t even pee in it.  I felt like Patty Hearst.  It gave me the creeps.  The outside of my calves touched the walls when I was sitting.)  Then, directly adjacent, there is another long, skinny room with a sink at the end and a random shower.  You know what’s coming don’t you?  Mr. Big was taking out the wall in between so we could have one normal sized bathroom with A SINK AND A TOILET IN THE SAME ROOM.  No so much to ask, right?

However, it was not going well.  Major curse words were coming out of the two bathrooms.  Why?  Ah, well, that is a story for another day.  Let me just say this.  We are not dealing with sheetrock and framing here, folks.  This chalet was built “en madrier”.  And there I will leave you until next time when you will learn that “en madrier” are big boys’ Lincoln Logs and why French children within one half of a kilometer radius of our house now know multiple swear words in English including, my favorite, Rat Bastard.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chalet Shenanigans Chapter 3

The Rights of the Bloodline

The process of buying a property in France was not nearly as painful as I had expected.  Really, for me, it wasn’t painful at all because I didn’t actually do anything.  Mr. Big, on the other hand, scurried around for three months gathering copies of documents and transferring money back and forth across the Atlantic in two currencies.  To buy a house in France, the French like (read “demand”) you to use a French realtor, a French bank, a French mortgage company and, most importantly, the French Notaire.

Oh, our notaire was so cute, I wanted to ship him back to the US and send him on tour as a Quintessential French Person.  In France, you don’t go to an attorney’s office for a house closing, you go to the notaire’s.  He’s somewhere in between a lawyer and a paralegal and he handles all the property issues for his village.  You just know he’s got all the dirt on everybody in town and could tell you a thing or two about your neighbors.

He had to conduct our two meetings in English so Mr. Big would understand what he was signing.  His accent was so French, I wanted to listen to him all day.  And, it was very important that I listen because he was explaining why Domestic Son and I were about to be screwed.  Yes.  Inheritance rules in France are set in stone.  It all has to do with Droit du Sang (Blood Law) and the Napoleonic Code.  Monsieur Notaire actually said the words “Here, we still live by the Napoleonic Code.”  Not a sentence one hears every day.

M. NOTAIRE:  Eet eez quite simple.  You, Madame, weel only inherit half of zee property upon zee death of le Monsieur.  Zee other half weel be divided between your daughtaire and your youngest zohn, zee true sheeldren of le Monsieur.

ME:   Wait.  OK, so if Mr. Big croaks first, NO MATTER WHAT IT SAYS IN HIS WILL, the property doesn’t go directly to me?  The kids don’t have to wait until I kick the bucket, too, to get their grubby, little hands on my stuff?  And one of the kids is shit out of luck no matter what happens?

M. NOTAIRE:  Well, um, oui, Madame, alzough I am not sure what eez zees “sheet out of luck” zat you speak about, but, usually, zee sheeldren are kind enough to let zaire old maman leev een zee house unteel she dies.

Well, that’s mighty nice of them, isn’t it?  Generous, those French children.  I had visions of Charming Daughter redecorating MY kitchen and ordering new curtains while I withered away in the attic with a bowl of gruel.  I could see my two sons battling it out with swords on the front lawn over the right to inherit the snow blower.  Dude!  It’s my snow blower!  Napoleon said so!  En garde!

And, poor Domestic Son.  True sheeldren, indeed.  He wasn’t about to let those two youngsters usurp his place in the family.  Who has wrecked more of the man’s cars?  Huh?  Me, that’s who.  Who made the man drive two hours each way at 5 in the morning to bail him out of jail at the beach, huh?  Me, that’s who.  And, need I remind you, who taught the both of you how to drink the man’s liquor and refill it with water?  Who was that again?  Right, me.  Take my third of the chalet?  I think not.

Of course, this situation was untenable, but, happily for me and Domestic Son, enough foreigners with their “strange” ideas and blended families had come before us and had the exact same problems with ol’ Napoleon and his code, so that the French were forced to devise a system to deal with our issues.

First, Mr. Big and I had to sign a special paper leaving each other the property when we die.  This paper, however, is not valid until all three children come to France, get their own notaire from an adjacent village, meet with our notaire, and sign what’s called a “Pacte de Famille”.  It’s a treaty.  True story.

So, when it’s all said and done, our family will have its’ own treaty whereby we all agree not to kill each other over the stupid chalet and divvy it up according to Mom and Dad’s wishes.  Now, until I get all three of them over here to sign this document, which could take no small amount of time, Domestic Son and I have made our own secret pact that it is of the utmost importance to keep Mr. Big alive and breathing.

I will be in charge of regulating his diet, (no fois gras), and away from potential avalanches and power tools.  Domestic Son will filter out all stress-producing news from the homefront and try to keep the money requests to a minimum.   A healthy Mr. Big means no maman in the attic and no duels at dawn.  I really think this whole experience has brought us much closer together as a family.  What with the treaty and all.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chalet Shenanigans Chapter 2

Switzerland Versus France

For one year, after we arrived in Switzerland and got the lay of the land, we searched for the perfect “dream” spot for the chalet just for fun.  Last year, we got serious.  Now, those of you in North America who might think an Alp is an Alp is an Alp,  no, no, no, messieurs et mesdames.  The Alps stretch from Slovenia to Italy into Austria, back into Italy, then into Switzerland and France.  Every valley has its’ own personality.  Some valleys are so isolated that only locals go there and tourists are either “verboten” or “interdit” according to whether you are in the German-speaking Alps or the French-speaking Alps or whatever the word is in Italian.  Last year, we limited our choices to the French-speaking Alps because my German sucks and Mr. Big’s German is completely made-up. 
How do I know he is making stuff up?  (Aside from the fact that he quotes the Saturday Night Live phrase “gleeben, gleiben, glauben, globen” like he thinks he wrote it?)  Because I had one semester of German in college. That is the extent of my German.  He thinks German is easier than French, (it is), and he thinks his fake German accent is better than his fake French accent, (it is), so he tries to talk German.  Really, if all y’all could just follow Mr. Big around Europe for one or two days, you would have cocktail party stories for a decade.  He’s hilarious.  For example, in a FRENCH-SPEAKING restaurant, he will just yell out a random “bitte!” to the waitperson.  Sometimes, he says things in Spanish.  Just randomly!  Ask, Charming Daughter how funny it is to travel around with her dad. 
She and I, when we go into a restaurant, sometimes, just out of sheer entertainment value, let  Mr. Big go first.  He always wants us to go ahead of him and “pave the way”, but, no.  It is soooo much funnier to let him go barreling on in and then watch and see what he does.  Usually, he comes to a SCREECHING halt when he realizes that neither she nor I is ahead of him and glances around frantically for us.  We, evil creatures that we are, just let him flounder.  When he sees that he is completely on his own, he will ask in some amalgamation of French-Spanish-German-English, if there is a table available for three.  It sounds something like, “um, jah, bitte, table pour trey”?  Jeez, we are mean.  We don’t do that to him very often.  Just every now and then when we need something to update our Facebook status.

Anyway, we decided on the French-speaking Alps for the chalet purchase just for ease-of-language value, which limited us to the southern part of Switzerland or France.  Well.  Let me see.  A miniscule house, by American standards, in the Swiss Alps costs the equivalent of 3 million American dollars.  The same doll-house-sized house in the French Alps costs much less than 1 million American dollars.  Guess where we picked?
Riiiiiight.  OK.  For those of you reading this who think we are the Rockefellers, you need to think again.  We are regular people who have chosen not to die with one stinkin’ penny to leave to our children.  They can make their own durned money.  (At this point I need to explain that I have many, many Mormon relatives, my own mother included, who read this blog and they do not swear.  Ever.  So I try to tone down  my heathen language.  Feel  free to insert your own dirty words wherever you see fit.) 

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  Money.  Oh, my God.  It was so unbelievable during our house hunt.  I would send an email to various and sundry realtors and they would send me back pictures and so forth of their offerings at, get this, 33 MILLION Swiss franc.  Thirty-three million Swiss franc.  That’s around 38 million US dollars.  For a house in Zermatt, or a house in Gstaad.  It was a joke.  Excuse me, monsieur, but you have me confused with a real Swiss person.  No.  I am American.  How much does the OUTHOUSE cost at your vast estate, because I can probably fix it up real nice.  Add a few geraniums and a gnome in the yard and I am good to go.
In all fairness, we did give Switzerland a good, hard look.  Probably, a dozen houses or so.  The problem was, we need a righteous amount of space in order to accommodate our growing family.  Like 5 bedrooms.  There is nothing in Switzerland available of that size for under a million dollars, no matter what its’ state of disrepair.  We looked at two former hotels that had enough rooms, but they required a complete “gut and redo” and both of them were over a million, even before the renovation.
With my experience with service people and estimates in Switzerland, I knew that we would be in well over our heads before even one bathroom or bedroom was finished.  Hence, France.  Vive la France, here we come!

Just over the border from Switzerland, in the French Alps, there is a ski area called the “Portes du Soleil” which means Gateway to the Sun.  This huge ski station encompasses 8 or 9 villages in both Switzerland and France.  The biggest, i.e. most famous town in the circuit is Avioraz.  Within this circuit of ski resorts is a valley in France called the Vallee d’Abondance, or  The Valley of Abondance.  How precious is that?
Within this one valley, there are three villages:  Chatel, La Chapelle d’Abondance and Abondance, itself.  Period.  That’s it.  At one end of the valley is the Swiss border near the town of Morgins and at the other end is the main road which leads to Thonon-les-bains and Lac Leman.    At this point, I’m sure some of you are confused.  Here’s how it goes, geographically:
    •     There is a lake called Lac Leman.  In English, this lake is known as Lake Geneva.  It is shaped like a giant croissant.
    •    Picture the outside curve of the croissant as Switzerland.  Picture the inside curve of the croissant as France.  There are two big cities on the outside curve:  Geneva and Lausanne.  There are two big cities on the inside curve:  Thonon-les-bains and Evian.  You’ve all heard of Evian.  They were the first ones to capitalize on bottled water.

    •    Just inside the French curve are the Alps.  We are in the first valley on the right-hand side of the INNER curve.  Google map it.  Look up Chatel.
Once we had the general area pinned down, Mr. Big got himself busy finding a realtor who spoke English.  Lo and behold, Chatel is chock-a-block with English speakers!  Who knew?!  When Mr. Big found “Sam”, our English-speaking realtor, he was over the moon.  He was, as they say, ON BOARD.  Now, which chalet to buy?

First, let me explain, when I say “chalet”, I mean any mountain house.  It doesn’t matter if the house is a tiny shack, it is still a “chalet”.  Like the word “cabin” in English.  It can be a little piece of shit, er, crap, but it is still a cabin.  Or, conversely, it can be a bleepin’ mansion in Aspen, but it is still a mountain “cabin”.  See?

Now, and in the blogs ahead, when you hear me speak of the chalet, you need to picture a “petit chalet” and not a massive, Aspen-like cabin with a 5-car garage, a Gaggenau kitchen, a Jacuzzi, etc.  You need to picture your Uncle Al’s fishing cabin in the Ozarks, okay?
Much to our delight, “Sam” finds us Chalet Ruisselet.    And, now, you have to wait for the next blog to find out what in the heck a ruisselet is.