Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Living in Angers

View of house from entry gate
After a week in our rented house in Angers (pronounced ahn-JAY), it is beginning to feel like home.  All of the worry about whether we had picked a good spot or whether we picked the right school for Joan seems to have been unnecessary. The house is at least as charming as the pictures we saw on the internet although it is not without it's quirks. Yes, the electricity kept going out on the first day, but that problem seems to be solved. More importantly, Joanie came out of school on the first day with a smile on her face and a friend on each arm. All of this is due to a large part to our good fortune to have found wonderful, helpful landlords, who spent many hours trying to help us understand their 16th century home and interviewed school headmasters to find the perfect school for Joan.

Living Room
The house is four stories of lovingly restored medieval quirkiness. After banging my head on low beams, doorways and stairs for six days, I think that I have finally learned to remember (most of the time) to walk around the house in a crouched position. I have also learned to be wary of the winding irregular stairs, particularly at night. We've even gotten into the habit of saving a few scraps of fruit for the turtle that lives in our courtyard. More importantly, Bronwyn has figured out the approximate temperature associated with different positions of the knobs for the oven.

Although the house is at least 450 years old, and probably older, the owners have done an amazing job of updating the house.  The kitchen is the most spacious and modern kitchen that we have seen in France. All of us have room to work in the kitchen at the same time. The three full bathrooms are thoroughly modern. Unlike most of the places that we have stayed over the past two months, you do not have to be a contortionist to take a shower.

The part of the city where the house is located is full of timber fram medieval structures similar to ours, including several former and active abbeys and monasteries, as well as various other ancient buildings. The streets are narrow, cobblestoned, and in some cases very steep.

View from Joanie's window
We are finding that it is easier to walk or bicycle most places than to use the car. Using the car means walking a block to the courtyard where we pay to park the car, unlocking the gate, carefully backing the car out of the courtyard with about an inch to spare on each side of the car, relocking the gate and then finding a parking space wherever we are going. Of course, we can only use the car if nobody has decided to ignore the "no parking" sign and illegally park their car on the sidewalk in front of the gate.  (You have to wonder why you need a sign to tell people not to park on a sidewalk in front of a driveway gate.)

Additional signs of our comfort with Angers are that we no longer use the GPS to find places (even though the medieval streets are a labyrinth) and we no longer notice dog excrement on the sidewalk. We seem to have developed a sixth sense to unconsciously avoid all of the dog excrement.  It has been weeks since any of us stepped in dog poop.

It also has begun to seem normal to go to three different kinds of shops and a couple of street vendors every day to buy our food. European refrigerators generally are smaller so it simply makes sense to buy what you need each day.

View out my office window (50% of cars on sidewalk)
Of course there are a few things that we haven't figured out yet. For example, where is it safe to park? The French seem to park everywhere. They seem especially fond of parking on the sidewalk. I've seen a French driver struggle park his car on a sidewalk instead of paying to park in an adjacent open parking space on the street so it is not simply a question of convenience. French drivers seem to have almost as much disregard for the rules of the road as their Italian neighbors although speed and traffic cameras are everywhere.

As a foreigner I feel compelled to try to follow most of the parking and driving rules, but I respect the French disregard for parking and driving rules. In this respect, Americans seem more similar to the French than the Germans or the English, who seem to rigidly follow all the rules. Perhaps the American habit of challenging authority started with our French ancestors.
View from our house tonight


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