April (or May) in Paris?
May / June 2002
House Hunting in France
[ PLEASE REMEMBER THAT ALL UNDERLINED ITEMS THROUGHOUT THIS TEXT ARE ACTIVE LINKS TO APPROPRIATE WEB SITES. JUST CLICK ON ANY ONE OF THEM!]
We are about to leave for France and hope to stumble upon a perfect little country house -- one, of course that will be priced just right and where all the red tape we have heard about will somehow (miraculously) not rear its ugly head. Owning a house in France has been a dream of ours for years, but we have never acted upon it. We should have. We hope we didn't wait too long.
If you have been thinking along these same lines, whether half- or whole-heartedly, be advised that a few things have changed, much of it in the past six months.
First, the friendly franc, comfortable like old slippers, is gone. Call me suspicious, but have the prices of homes in France suddenly gone up? Where are the bargains we passed up one and two years ago?
We revisited familiar web sites -- a few of which are excellent by the way, kept updated weekly or even daily -- to see what's available. Homes that used to be listed in francs (and when converted to US dollars often turned out to be real buys) today are listed in euros, and as we convert those into dollars it seems that tens of thousands of dollars or more just fell from the sky and attached itself to the price! Has the cost of homes only coincidentally risen with the introduction of the euro, or are we imagining things? We heard that the price of everyday goods might increase ever so slightly as amounts were "rounded up", but perhaps those with real estate to sell have done a little more than rounding. The economic situation in France hasn't changed radically in this short period of time, but it seems that the housing market is on the move upward -- all by itself! Hopefully, the EU isn't "managing" this -- you know, trying to bring up the price of homes in France to be more in line with - say - Britain!
Second, we have noticed that some regions of France (at least on several web sites) have run out of property! There used to be at least a small selection and now there is no selection in some locations -- at any price! Now we can hear you saying, "Don't look on the Internet. Look elsewhere." Well, the Internet sites we like do provide a great deal of information and assistance and are run primarily by British realtors with offices in France. We want future negotiations and any legal questions answered in our native language, so we'll start with these. Of course, the reason for the sudden absence of properties has a lot to do with the bargains that have been available to other Europeans in recent years. The Dutch, British and others have found many a second (or permanent) home in France irresistibly priced.
Third, eight months ago a UK realtor sent us email after email in an attempt to set up appointments to visit property in France. Now we never hear from them and often don't get a response from those we have contacted. Some have told us in correspondence that once a property hits their web site, it's only a matter of days before it's sold. Only today, a real estate agent said we should make an appointment through their London office quickly if we want to be shown some houses -- May is almost completely booked! And, if you are an American, you have stiff competition from the Europeans because they can cross the Channel or a border to see several properties and put a deposit on one before you or I have time to book a trans-Atlantic flight!
Considering how the price of housing in the United States seems to be rising ahead of the rest of the economy, this similar situation in France should probably not surprise us. And, it might only confirm what we already know: that a home purchase here or there is a good investment. So the question is, if we find something we like and can afford, do we go ahead and plunge in? Since we already regret waiting this long to buy a house in France, if we don't buy something now, will we live to regret that as well? Should we " just do it", as the commercial says? Who knows, we might end up authoring an hysterically funny book on the trials and tribulations of our "new" old home in France. The revenues from a book might even pay for the euro hike on our dream house!!
Here are some property web sites we like. Green Acre Real Estate, Prestige Property Group, Internet French Property, French Property News and French Property Links. Even if you are not in the market for a house in the French countryside, an ancient townhouse in a medieval village, or even an apartment in Paris, these web sites are fun to visit to see what is available -- and at what price!
A Visit to Paris' Père Lachaise
Visiting cemeteries is really not morbid. We have visited many American cemeteries, little ones hundreds of years old tucked away in overgrown New England churchyards, and cemeteries in crowded New York City boroughs where the space between headstones is but a few inches. There was the American cemetery near Normandy's Omaha Beach -- white markers on a sea of green grass -- very still and quiet. And, who can forget the solitary grave of the unknown World War I French soldier at the Arc de Triomphe -- its eternal flame whipping in the wind on a clear, dark night? Cemeteries and graveyards are history lessons.
When in Paris do visit Père Lachaise. It's a world unto itself -- silent, beautiful and quite peaceful -- and visiting it is a bit like being on a treasure hunt as you seek out the famous and infamous interred there. One hundred ten acres, the Cimitière Père-Lachaise is a lovely park for strolling. Fine sculptures by David d'Angers, François Rude and Charles Garnier adorn the grounds. It had many owners over the centuries and served first as an estate and later a Jesuit residence called Mont Louis, and it was Jesuit Père François Lachaise who added land to the property. In 1763, the Jesuits were told to leave. Several years passed, and in the early 1800s it was obvious that land for burying its dead was in short supply in Paris. Three cemeteries were needed, and one should be in the eastern part of the city, and thus the Cimitière Père-Lachaise was born.
Landscape architect Alexandre Brongniart (1739-1813) was brought in to make the site accommodate its new purpose. All that is left of the Jesuit's landscape is the principal allée beginning at the gates, and the current chapel on the original site of Père Lachaise's chapel -- a monument to Resistance fighters and victims of World War II concentration camps.
Our visit to Père Lachaise was on a sparkling clear September day, and we arrived by Métro from the 7th arrondissement -- changing lines at Opéra and exiting at Père Lachaise -- discovering that we were coming above ground just across the street from one of the cemetery's gates. It couldn't have been easier. After entering the grounds, we were able to obtain a map of the cemetery, without which we wouldn't have as easily been able to locate some of the graves that brought us there in the first place.
Colette's grave was the first found on our search, and the first of many where we would see a vase of fresh flowers left as a sign of admiration and tribute. Jim Morrison's grave was one I could have passed up, but curiosity got the best of me -- and we were not alone in our visit. A young woman with multi-colored hair dressed in red and purple was there as well. Her presence seemed perfect. A guard stood nearby -- graffiti around this grave is a problem, and we assumed he was there to limit further contributions.
There were two favorites: the monument to a wonderful French artist, Camille Pissarro, which we found behind a bounty of pink geraniums, and that of chanteuse Edith Piaf -- no grave in the entire place was festooned with as many freshly cut flower arrangements and potted plants. Most amusing was the resting place of Oscar Wilde. The base of the monument erected at his grave was covered in red lipstick kisses embellished with occasional signatures left by admirers.
Of course we have only touched upon a few of the famous people who wanted their final destination to be Paris. You will have the opportunity to visit monuments to Molière, Delacroix, Balzac, Proust, Isadora Duncan, Gertrude Stein, Maria Callas and others, all in this leafy green, quiet and intriguing part of the city.
Do visit Père Lachaise on your next trip to Paris. There is much to see and you will find your time there has been restful and rewarding. Wear sturdy shoes, however, because the pathways are rather uneven and paved in cobblestone.
French Quiz 13
Which of the following cathedrals in France are Gothic?
will find the correct answer at the end of this newsletter.
Situated on the left bank of the River Seine, Rouen began as a Celtic trading post, was later a Roman garrison and then a Viking colony. In the year 911 it became the capital of the Norman Duchy. One of its claims to fame is that in 1894 Monet painted its cathedral over and over again from his tiny apartment across the street. You have probably seen one or more studies -- some were in bright sunlight, others in early morning, and others late in the day. He just couldn't get enough of Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Rouen.
The Gothic cathedral is distinctive for its two towers, Tour St-Romain and Tour du Beurre, the latter named for a Lenten season dispensation given in exchange for paying for the privilege of eating butter. It all began in the 12th century when stones were laid for Tour St-Romain on the foundation of a cathedral built by William the Conqueror. The Gothic arches give way to a Flamboyant design that is seen throughout the western façade of the cathedral. The central porch, not completed until four hundred years later, is Renaissance by Jacques Roux and his nephew. They also built the Tour de Beurre, unfortunately on a subterranean lake. It began to lean while in its early stages of construction, but its cracks were filled and it is still standing, having been completed with its octagonal lantern in 1517. Most interesting is the fact that cast iron was used for the central tower, completed forty years after the death of its architect, Alavoine, in 1874.
If you walk to place du Vieux Marché, you will be standing where markets were held a thousand years ago and where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. Her ashes were thrown into the Seine. Where the fire was lit, there is a 65-foot cross and the Church of St-Saveur. Not far from that is the Church of Ste-Jeanne d'Arc, built in 1979, not regarded well by many because it is starkly modern with a steep slate roof. However, stained glass adds warmth to the interior, and it is worth a visit. Also, visit the Jeanne d'Arc Musée across the square where wax figures are used to portray events in Joan's life beginning with her childhood in Domrémy. The commentary is in several languages.
Rouen is a pleasant city with distinctive architecture, cozy narrow winding streets in the old town, and several churches. We most enjoyed the Abbey Church of Saint-Ouen. It has a splendid lantern tower and was built on the grounds of a Benedictine abbey beginning in 1318 and not completed for more than two centuries. This church is also controversial for its architectural changes -- 19th century spires constructed in Gothic style to replace unfinished lantern towers. The interior is immense and lofty with restored 14th century stained glass windows. A vast lawn behind the church is used by neighborhood families as a site for picnics and gatherings on a weekend afternoon.
Delightful strolls in Vieux Rouen will take you past colombage (half-timber) houses, warm and inviting with pots of geraniums in their window boxes and French lace curtains behind the glass.
Make a point of visiting some of Rouen's museums, among which one of the best is the Museé des Beaux Arts on Square Verdrel, closed on Tuesdays. They have an excellent collection of the works of Caravaggio, Boudin, Dufy, and Velásquez as well as a Monet of Rouen Cathedral entitled, " Rouen Cathedral, The Portal, Gray Weather". Rouen was the birthplace of Gustav Flaubert, and his family home is now a museum displaying two centuries of medical equipment -- his father was a doctor. We hope you will make every effort to visit and enjoy Rouen - a rich and cultured city on the Seine.
Southern Brittany at its best: Château de Talhouët
We were thrilled to be able to add this marvelous sixteenth century château to our web site in early April. We hope you have taken the time to visit it there, and will try to make it your home base the next time you visit the Morbihan of southern Brittany. Here are some additional facts and photos about the château.
Talhouët is a dream come true for its owner, Jean-Pol Soulaine, who purchased it in 1989. After extensive and personally supervised renovations, Monsieur Soulaine is proud to call it his home. He takes great pleasure in sharing it with his guests.
Perhaps you will stay there soon and find yourself enjoying La Chambre Louis XIII, a room that offers views to both the countryside and the gardens and has a magnificent 17th century fireplace. Or, your room might be La Chambre aux Oiseaux, a large double or twin room, with the same lovely views. Remember, breakfast is always included in the price of your room at Château de Talhouët.
Yes, this part of France is filled with prehistoric sites, from Carnac near the coast to those treasures you might just come upon at Château de Talhouët. Visit the château on our web site to learn more about the activities in the region, from Breton fishing villages to voyages to area islands and all the interesting towns and villages of the Morbihan.
We hope you have enjoyed
this little visit to one of the great château properties of Brittany,
and that it will tempt you to be a guest there the next time you are in
City View: the Market
This photo may be a slight
departure from those we
[Photo Cold Spring Press © 1995 - 2002]
French Quiz 14
Which city listed below was an inspiration to painter Auguste Renoir?
You will find the correct answer at the end of this newsletter.
Quick and Easy Recipe: Sauce Béarnaise
If you have never visited the Béarn of France's Pays Basque, we suggest you make a point to do so. This misty green region near the foothills of the Pyrénées Atlantique and an easy drive to the Atlantic coast itself, is not a place that tourists know very well. You will find yourself enjoying the lush scenery, the peaceful countryside and regional cuisine among the locals -- and loving every minute of it.
Named for this area is Sauce Béarnaise, a sauce served with fish, eggs or beef. Here is one version you might want to try:
You will need 1/4 cup of white wine, 1/4 cup wine vinegar, 1-1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon, 2 tablespoons of finely chopped scallions (many recipes call for shallots which is a fine substitute), 2/3 cup butter, 3 egg yolks, a dash of salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
Combine wine, vinegar, 1 tablespoon of tarragon and scallions in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Boil uncovered until liquid is reduced to only two tablespoons. Strain liquid and set aside. Set aside two tablespoons of the butter. Heat the remaining butter in a saucepan until hot and remove from heat. Beat egg yolks until thickened and add to them the wine and vinegar that was set aside. Cook over medium heat, adding one tablespoon of the cold butter. Cook until the butter has melted, stirring as needed. Add the other tablespoon of cold butter, and follow the same procedure. Once that butter has melted, remove the saucepan from the heat.
Off the heat, gradually add the hot melted butter that had been set aside, stirring quickly until it is all incorporated into the sauce. Season at this point with the remaining tarragon, salt and pepper. Your Sauce Béarnaise is complete! Bon appétit!
We hope you have enjoyed au Château News. If you have, please forward it to friends and encourage them to subscribe. It's FREE!
answer to Quiz 13 is "all of the above" and to Quiz 14 is Cagnes.)