The Crazy Cows of Normandy
(FOR SUBSCRIBERS ONLY)
February 9, 2006
Bonjour French Property Insider Subscriber,
Today’s FPI takes us to the region of Normandy, where I spent a glorious Sunday afternoon with chef and author, Susan Herrmann Loomis, in her centuries-old house in Louviers. The house is a sprawling half-timbered house typical of Normandy architecture which has taken on many different shapes and configurations over the centuries of life within it. The town of Louviers has a long history and oozes with charm, most particularly the parts untouched by World War II, and it’s Romanesque/Gothic church that dominates the village landscape.
Normandy is well inhabited by the British and now discovered by Americans mostly for its history during the war and the American cemetery which draws thousands of visitors each year. We explore Normandy today for all its virtues as both a wonderful region to visit as well as to live a rich and varied life.
Take note of the crazy cow parade that just began at the beginning of this month right here in Paris and I offer up a personal photo or two of cows I discovered in Prague on a recent trip that caught my fancy. Seems so appropriate to our Normandy theme…as we bring you properties in Normandy to dream about life with great cheeses, butter and cream!
On a humorous note, I recount my recent experience at our annual homeowners association meeting which is both a privilege and responsibility, if not a hair-raising experience! After publishing the tale, I received dozens of letters from readers recounting their own memorable meetings. One reader accidentally replied to us, clearly it was meant for someone else…"Thank goodness we don’t live in France!" he wrote his friend. Well, to this I say…if it’s the worst experience you have living in this glorious place, then I accept gladly!
Property prices are reported on once again, more for prices in the countryside than in Paris and we offer up a Leaseback property in the gorgeous and chic Côte d’Azur town of Saint Tropez. Thanks to our friends at the City Hall, we make available a free brochure Guide to City Services — a pdf a click away.
And for what’s coming up…
We have a great way to meet other readers — be sure to join us Tuesday, February 14th (Valentine’s Day!) from 3 to 5 p.m. for our free coffee gathering, Parler Paris Après Midi — at La Pierre du Marais. Visit http://www.adrianleeds.com/parlerparis/calendar.html for more information.
And I’ll be speaking at the AWG February Coffee: New Orleans Post-Katrina Update (and a little Mardi Gras fun!) Monday, February 20, 2006 on the subject of Hurricane Katrina and how it struck New Orleans, but it struck the hearts of the French as well.
Read on for all this and more…
Editor, French Property Insider
P.S. Learn all about the ins and outs of property ownership in France plus much more at the Living and Investing in France Conferences coming soon — Paris and New Orleans! Visit http://www.adrianleeds.com/parlerparis/liveinfrance/index.html for details.
Special note regarding the Paris Conference: Now through February 28, 2006, $1 = Euro 1! When you register before March 1st, instead of investing the usual conference price in euros at $1.20 per euro, you’re going to invest the conference price at $1.00 per euro — a savings of 20%! Visit http://www.adrianleeds.com/parlerparis/liveinfrance/LIF_PARIS_2006/LIF_PARIS_2006_home.html for details
Volume IV, Issue 6, February 9, 2006
In this issue:
* Your Guide to Services in Paris size="2" face="Verdana">
* Property Owners Meet in Le Marais
* A Country Feast in Louviers
* A Look at the Five Areas of Normandy
* Visiting Historic Normandy
* Cost of French Property is on the Rise
* Adrian Leeds’ Update on Post-Katrina New Orleans
* Upcoming Conferences: Special Paris Offer – For a Limited Time Only!
* The Cows are Coming to Paris!
* FPI Property Consultation, Search and Relocation Solutions
* Today’s Currency Update from Moneycorp
* Next Parler Paris Après-Midi: February 14
* Hot Property Picks: In the Heart of Le Marais
* Hot Property Picks: Five Homes in Normandy
* Leasebacks: Bastides de Ramatuelle, Saint Tropez
* Classified Advertising: Leeds Marais Apartment Available May 19-30, 2006
* Classified Advertising: Coming Soon…Parler Paris Apartments
City of Paris Guide to City Services
Thanks to our "little birdie" at the Hôtel de Ville, we have a special treat for French Property Insider Readers…the newest City of Paris Guide to City Services brochure in ENGLISH — everything new residents would want and need to know — now available for immediate download FREE by clicking on the special link on the left panel of the Parler Paris Web site — http://www.adrianleeds.com/parlerparis/CityofParisGuide.pdf
Friendly Meeting of Marais Minds
By Adrian Leeds
Reprint from Parler Paris February 8, 2006
Photo by Erica Simone
Every February, my "copropriété (homeowners association) meets for the annual "assemblée generale" (assembly meeting) that they lovingly call an "Amicale du 43 rue de Saintonge." I find this in itself amusing, since "amicale" means "friendly" and has the second meaning of "club" or "association," but I wouldn’t call this particular meeting very "friendly."
At the end of the session, which lasted 2.5 hours, I whispered to our volunteer "Syndic" (managing agent, or president of the association), that he was "un ange" (an angel) — and he understood the meaning — to have patiently presided over such a collection of individuals as French property owners.
A "bénévole" syndic is already a blessing for an association, that is, if he does a proper job, as it saves the owners agency management fees. Ours happens to be very much in that category and there isn’t a single owner who’d be willing to take over his thankless job.
I was the only American among them, although not the only American owner in the building of about 30 units. When I first began coming five years ago, my level of French was poor and I understood only a smattering, which, looking back on it, may have been to my benefit! Now, I understand just about every word and am much more a part of the process, although I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut for good reason.
The first order of business last night was a discussion about the few owners who refuse to have their bi-annual "charges" (fees) automatically debited from their bank accounts and are therefore usually delinquent on payment, causing a deficit on the books. There was a vote to assess all the owners a small amount each semester to act as a cushion (70 euros) and a very unpleasant argument ensued between the owners who were themselves at fault, the syndic and the rest of the owners. A few people came to the rescue of the syndic, whose services save much more than cost of the assessment. There was another vote to increase the interest penalty on late payments from 1% to 2% and I spoke up (for once) that it should be 5%! That got a big laugh — I guess they thought it funny coming from the money-minded American!
In the end, the guilty owners wrote a check to the copropriété right there and then — and for one euro more as a gesture of generosity!
From this auspicious beginning, I began chuckling to myself…then it got worse. One owner sitting next to me came in reeking of alcohol and tore every tissue into three before using one tiny portion of it. She became the center of attention when an offer to purchase the WC on her floor (in this 18th-century building, there were communal toilets on each floor, now being transformed into storage spaces or incorporated into apartments) was put before the assembly by an American owner currently in the States in the form of a letter and "pouvoir" (power) given to a neighbor. The owner next to me quickly upped the offer by 200 euros and then the neighbor with power of attorney increased it again and the bidding war started. When the letter was shown, she had given power to offer a large sum, at which point the owner next to me realized she would surely lose and flatly refused to engage any further in the discussion at all. No, the answer was no!
Madness broke out when the neighbor’s cell phone rang with the American owner at the other end of the line from the States, hoping they could speak and settle it at that moment. A suggestion was made by another owner to simply make copies of the key to the WC and allow everyone to share it, as we do on my floor. In the end, nothing was accomplished and another year would pass before a second attempt could be made, as it’s a function of the assembly to make these kinds of decisions on the common areas.
In another issue of primary importance, the owners almost voted the destruction of two large balconies which existed, but were never assessed for fees, because they were never legally included in the sales deeds — even though the owners clearly paid for them richly! I thought the one owner present would cry if they had denied her the "pleasure" of paying the fees and keeping her beautiful terrace. I was rooting for her.
When you’re a property owner in Paris, it’s not only your right, but your responsibility to participate in the collective decision-making process. Owners who can’t attend can give power of attorney to someone else to vote on their behalf. I’ve done this on several occasions myself for absent property clients. Memories of these meetings are vivid and become very much a part of one’s natural life in France.
By the end of the lengthy session, with no dinner in my belly at 10 p.m., my amusement was spilling over and thought to myself, "I wouldn’t have missed this for anything."
Lunch in the Country on Rue Tatin
After reading Susan Hermann Loomis’ "On Rue Tatin," I had a strong urge to see it for myself — this sprawling half-timbered centuries-old house in the little Normandy town of Louviers. The trek from Paris isn’t difficult or expensive — a regional train from Gare St. Lazare takes you to Val-de-Reuil and there a big red bus awaits you headed for Louviers a short ride away. All total, about 1.5 hours from Paris.
Louviers is the "Venice of Normandy" — once an important textile manufacturing center with factories and large houses lining a network of canals, now with a population of a little less than 20,000 situated on the Eure river. The remains of 17th-century Franciscan cloisters from a convent are known to be the only cloisters in France built on a canal.
In the center of town is a "lavish Romanesque/Gothic church, which is so imposing that everyone refers to it as a cathedral, though is isn’t…" as Susan describes it in "On Rue Tatin." Her house is directly opposite the church which is visible from almost every window.
When I first entered the gate at #1 rue Tatin, my first reaction was "Wow, it’s the witches house!" Ell-shaped, imposing, too, ancient and almost eerie in the middle of winter when the trees are without their leaves and the vine and rose-covered walls are barren. Inside, the house is warm, cozy, lived-in, charming and magical.
Life in the Loomis house centers around the spacious sun-lit kitchen with its larger- than-life work table dead center, pine green eight-burner Cometto double-ovened stove, large rectangular zinc sink, waist-level high fireplace, wood-burning stove and glass roof. Susan is master of this room, casually preparing a multi-course scrumptious lunch for just the two of us, her son Joe, her live-in student and whoever else happens by that afternoon.
Copper pots sit happily on the gas burners waiting for Susan’s creative hands. Susan Loomis has written two memoirs and six cookbooks. What her bio on her site DOESN’T tell you is that although she is an accomplished chef and author, she was also French cuisine guru Patricia Wells’ right arm for many, many years.
Kohlrabi (sometimes called "turnip cabbage") drizzled with walnut oil and toasted cumin was pre-prepared and waiting to whet our appetites as we poured the first glass of red wine. Then she served braised Brussel sprouts with garlic and almonds noting that it didn’t sound like a very sexy dish, but it was in fact, and buttery delicious.
Meanwhile, chicken tajine with honeyed apples and orange flower water were bubbling away on the stove. She dished up our plates and we shifted to the more formal atmosphere of the living room/dining room at the front ell of the house to finish the meal, complete with three cheeses, freshly made sable cookies, fresh lychees and coffee.
Over this amazing meal, we decided that although she is offering a five-day course in Patricia Wells’ own personal kitchen in Paris this coming April, and a mother/daughter week this coming May on rue Tatin, that it would be fun if I would bring a group of special Parler Paris readers one Sunday afternoon very soon for a "Lunch in the Country."…
Editor’s Note: "A Lunch in the Country" with Susan Loomis became overbooked within two hours after the Parler Paris issue was distributed. The plan for this lucky group is to arrive in Louviers about noon on March 12th. Over apéritifs, Susan will demonstrate much of the meal we will be privileged to have in the dining room…
After this amazing meal later in the afternoon, we’ll tour the town before heading back to Paris on the 5:30 p.m. train to arrive at Gare St. Lazare about 7 p.m.
If you’re interested in taking one (or more) of Susan’s fabulous courses, visit her site at http://www.onruetatin.com and if you want to read all about it first, then go buy Susan’s books — visit: http://www.adrianleeds.com/parlerparis/books/cuisine.html for cooking books and