Coup de cœur

A ‘coup de coeur’ is the French expression for falling in love with something. I suppose you could say that your heart is struck by it. Oddly, the expression is rarely used to talk about romance between people but rather for the feeling you get when strongly attracted to things: clothing, pets, music, property.

‘Un coup de coeur’ certainly describes how we felt when we first came to this area. As soon as I realized we could have a house with even a partial view of the lake and within walking distance to its shores, I was in love. There is something special about the light over Lac Léman, often called Lake Geneva.

We also fell in love with the type of light-filled wood-frame house we ended up building. We were inspired by a cottage we’d stayed in a few years earlier when vacationing in Ontario cottage country near Haliburton. And it turns out that a builder in our area here in France, near Annecy, specializes in such ‘maisons à ossature bois’. They are well-built and designed to be adapted to individual needs as you can easily configure the rooms.

When we began looking for a place to buy in this area ten years ago, we quickly discovered that anything already built was overpriced and rarely met our criteria. But if you found a lot, you could build a house to your own specs and it would actually cost you less.

Our builder directed us to this lot and as soon as we saw it, we knew it was for us.

Of course, the cost of building didn’t include all of the myriad extras you need to make it a home: kitchen, window treatments, closets, fireplace. Even paint is extra in France. I suppose they do it this way so that entreprising folk with a bent for DIY can save some money. Unfortunately we are not those people. Still, since we moved in back in 2012, we’ve managed to add all those things. Even landscaped the garden, with a built of help. Back then I started my very first blog to document our journey building a house. Here’s the link, if you’re interested: http://maison-chens.blogspot.com/

Anyone who puts a house up for sale in France hopes that they will luck into a buyer who experiences a real ‘coup de coeur’ for the property. Because if they fall in love with the place, they’ll overlook certain things that less emotional buyers will try to use as negotiating points. Like: All those windows must cost a fortune to keep clean. Or: For that kind of budget, I’d expect to have fewer immediate neighbours. Or even:  It’s a slow market, can you shave 25% off the price?

We have made the decision to sell our house on our own, without going through a real estate agency. Here in France, there is no obligation to do so. For any sale of property, a notary (notaire) handles all of the legal and financial part of the transaction, so it’s not as if we’re sticking our necks out. The agents are experts on marketing, selling, pricing and negotiating. But generally there is only one agent, who handles the transaction on behalf of both buyer and seller, so how can they possibly negotiate in both parties’ interests? Also, the last time we sold our house, the agent didn’t bring a lot to the party; the buyers ended up approaching us directly and making an offer minus the 5% of the agent’s fees.

So far we’ve had a few people visit and seem quite excited about the house. But no offers yet. We’re hoping the spring will help. The garden is coming to life and soon we’ll be opening the pool.

And in the meantime, we’re starting to look at places on the Swiss side. Hoping for another coup de coeur.

Have you ever fallen in love with a place?

Faire mouche

Faire moucheThe heat of summer is upon us and with it, the hordes of unwanted guests. I’m not talking about visitors who’ve flown in from foreign parts, although we’ve had our share of them this year. Family is always welcome, at least for the first week.

No, I’m talking about the winged creatures of the Muscidae family, or common housefly, who set up camp chez nous each summer. Who soil my windows by day and shorten my nights with their blasphemous buzzing.

There are two schools: either you are someone who is not particularly bothered by such things, casually shooing when they get too familiar; or you turn into a veritable Kamikaze fighter when anything flies in your face.

I have two Frenchies (bulldogs, that is). One will look lazily at les mouches and simply twitch his ears. The other jumps to attention then tries to bite the intruder, repeatedly and unsuccessfully. It’s a personality thing.

My husband, when prompted to action, usually by me, is a fairly ineffectual swatter. Either he doesn’t have the killer instinct or his aim is off. Bref, his swat inevitably misses its target. Leaving us with a fly that’s on the alert and several marks on the walls or furniture.

I, on the other hand, will not be so easily foiled. I have perfected my fly-swatting technique to an art. If the little f—r is on a delicate surface that I don’t want dirtied, I perform a downward slash, then move in for the kill when he’s down. If he’s on the kitchen counter or another wipeable surface, I simply come down swift and hard. Always followed by an apology, of course: ‘Sorry, fly.’ In true Canadian style.

Despite these efforts, a seemingly endless troupe of understudies is waiting in the wings, as it were. As soon as one is down, another magically appears. The fly is actually quite an amazing little creature, as I discovered in this TED talk.

Every summer, I lament the fact that French houses don’t have screens. Yet, when we had a new house built two years ago, we didn’t put them in. Guess I’ve grown accustomed to the freedom of French windows, and the indoor-outdoor living that just wouldn’t work with screens. The fly swatter continues to be an essential part of my French summer survival kit.

‘Faire mouche’ means to attain a target, or achieve a goal. Mine is to make my home a no fly zone.

A votre tour: What’s your pet peeve about summer?

 

Chez soi: There’s no place like home

I love how the French word ‘chez’ describes home. It even sounds welcoming: Viens chez nous. Come over to our place. And you don’t go to the butcher’s shop, you go ‘chez le boucher,’ ‘chez le boulanger,’ etc. You learn this one early in French as it’s a classic mistake to say ‘au’ instead of ‘chez’ when referring to shops with a person behind the name.

The concept of house and home is very dear to the French. And to me: I’ve always been a homebody. They call this being ‘casanier’ in French. I like having a place to hang my hat. This means I’m not a huge fan of travel and indeed, cannot travel light. My husband always laughs when I carefully unpack my clothes in hotel rooms; he’s perfectly happy living out of a suitcase. But for anything longer than a weekend, I pack a pillow and have been known to bring the toaster.

Ever since I arrived in France I’ve been like Dorothy, tapping her heels and saying ‘there’s no place like home.’

My first chez moi was in the seventh arrondissement of Paris, a one-bedroom sublet with a partial view of the Eiffel tower (you had to crane your head out of the kitchen window to see a bit of it sticking up over a neighboring rooftop). It was furnished in someone else’s taste (there was a lot of pink). We lived there for less than a year and it never really felt like home.

Fast forward to Lyon, 3ème arrondissement. Our family’s first home in France was a roomy 3-bedroom apartment on the rive gauche of the Rhône, not far from the business centre of Lyon. Long on old-world charm, it had dizzyingly high ceilings with crown moldings, antique fixtures and floor tiles, herring-bone hardwood floors….but was rather short on modern conveniences (the ‘central heating’ was a single gas heater, centrally located in the front hall).

Although we were only renting, we (read: my husband) scraped off several layers of flocked and flowered wall paper from every surface (including the ceiling) and repainted before moving in. We had no balcony but our bedroom window overlooked a treed inner courtyard. It was only a few blocks to the nearest park for airing kids and dogs. We stayed for five years – long enough to feel almost at home.

Next stop: home ownership. After so much time in the city, we were ready for some fresh air. For several months we searched for something we liked and could actually afford. In the end, we bought a piece of land in a small town half an hour outside Lyon, found a builder and chose a plan for our new house. Building was cheaper than buying an existing house as you got a break on taxes.

Our first house was a typical new French single-family home. It was a brick construction set in a small housing development (lotissement) where several other families had each built a different house. It looked out over les Monts du Lyonnais on one side and a small farmer’s field on the other. It did not have finished closets, kitchen or bathroom fittings. Those little extras are considered as part of the décor; most new houses here are delivered as empty shells.  But we had a roof over our heads and could really see the skies for the first time in years. I felt like I’d arrived in Kansas.

Small wonder I never wanted to leave. But the day came a few years ago when we decided to uproot (for absolutely, positively the LAST time) and move on. More precisely, 160 kilometers northeast.

Our new house is on the French side of the border with Switzerland (after so much time and effort integrating here, I wasn’t ready to abandon la belle France). It’s located in another small town in the countryside, overlooking Lake Geneva on one side and the Alps on the other. We also built this house, buoyed by our first experience, equal amounts of optimism and, perhaps, foolhardiness. It’s similar in many ways to our first house – but on steroids.

It’s an A-frame wood structure with a lot of glass – based on what some call a ‘flat-pack’ or prefab home but customized and built by a professional builder (neither of us being handy with tools or implements other than those used for cooking.) It was a much bigger project – this time we were able to get a built-in kitchen and finish the closets. Even after a year and a half, we’re still working out some of the bugs.

As lovely as our new home is, it took me awhile to get over our old house. The one where our kids grew up, where we struggled through the lean years and put down roots. But I’m finally beginning to feel chez moi. Now that I’ve unpacked the toaster.