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You’re leaving North Vancouver?! For FRANCE?!

When we tell people that we’re planning to pull up stakes and move to Normandy we get one of two reactions.

gîte
Your specific gîte may not be exactly as illustrated.

About half of time we’re told “Oh wow! That’s exciting!” Followed quickly by “Can I come and visit you?”  That’s from the people who understand exactly why we’ve decided to leave, and for whom no further explanation is needed. They’re also usually the people who are, in fact, invited. It seems that it’s impossible to buy a property in Normandy that doesn’t include a “gîte,” the uniquely French guest accommodation that Wikipedia describes as:

… to be called a gîte, the owner must live close by in order to provide help, assistance, and a warm welcome to guests. Gîtes are generally old farmworkers’ cottages or converted outbuildings and barns within proximity of the owner’s principal residence. This type of holiday accommodation is sometimes regarded as “basic”‘ in terms of facilities; however, most gîtes are generally very well kept, and a growing number will have excellent facilities such as fully fitted kitchens, en-suite bathrooms, TV, DVD, and access to a swimming pool or other sporting activities. The term gîte nowadays encompasses most forms of holiday cottage and even holiday flats or apartments. Many gîtes will also accept pets.

So yes, if you know our phone number and email you can consider yourself invited.  As for the people who ask “Can I come live with you?”….. that’s subject to negotiation.

The other group of people get confused and ask “France? Why?” and are harder to deal with because their expectations and aspirations are so different from ours.

I was born and raised in Canada, and gained my national consciousness during the 1967 Centennial year, a time when Canadians from coast to coast (with some exceptions in Québec) actually felt proud and hopeful about this country – with no cynicism or irony.  It was an era that came before Canadians felt the need to explain, “Well, at least we’re not Americans.”

Maybe I’m just older, or maybe things really have changed, but that optimism and pride seem to be long gone.   In recent years I’ve played a game with people on-line and off.  I’ve asked them to tell me what are the attributes that define a “Canadian” person.  I tell them that they aren’t allowed to choose from the usual Canadian clichés: Tim Hortons, hockey, peacekeeping, poutine, or maple syrup.   Without exception they come up empty-handed.

When I look at Canada today I see a country that has lost its sense of direction, its soul.  Culturally we’re once again overwhelmed by American entertainment, and even our most successful Canadian artists are either living in the US, or create nothing that is distinctly “Canadian.”

There was a time when I truly thought that would change, when our Federal government understood the value of developing our own culture. Some of that was done through the use of broadcast regulation, some through publishing, and some though generous funding of writers, artists, and performers.  Since that time the “Arts” became the “Entertainment industry,” and success came to be defined by sales in the American market, or by the number of movie people employed here by American production companies.

Living in North Vancouver I’ve always been conscious that there really is very little interest in building a strong artistic and cultural community.  Even though we’re home to many musicians, painters, dancers, and other creative individuals, we lack the sort of venue that most other places have – a Shadbolt Center for instance, where all manner of arts are developed and encouraged.

I don’t know why Burnaby has made this investment, while North Vancouver hasn’t.  Yes the new Polygon Gallery is nice but it isn’t the hub of learning and exploration that the Shadbolt offers.   I suspect that North Shore politicians are just reflecting the priorities of more senior levels of government,  For instance, while Scotland spends $20 per capita on Arts Grants, Canada manages a paltry $4.15. (ten year old figures, but nothing has changed for the better.)

Screenshot from 2018-04-15 17-14-29
Yeah, but how much does Ireland spend on hockey?

And keep in mind that for many, many years British Columbia has had the lowest provincial arts funding in Canada by a significant margin.  We’ve been literally starving our creative people to the point where they either leave, or just give up.

And France? €15 Billion a year, or  roughly €225 per capita or $350 Canadian dollars per capita – and that’s after funding cuts during the “restraint” era.

If art museums, opera, concerts, and other cultural pursuits are important for our quality of life, where do you think that we want to be? North Vancouver or Normandy?

Trust me, when we’ve left behind the North Shore we’ll be humming “Non, je ne regrette rien.”

Post-script: And then there’s Iceland…

Screenshot from 2018-04-15 18-19-02


Postscript 2018 04 22 – From the beginning I wasn’t entirely happy with the Arts funding statistics above.  I did some further research, still couldn’t seem to nail down anything concrete, so finally contacted the excellent people at Hill Strategies Research.   It turns out that the reason that I can’t find reliable figures on Canadian Arts spending is because they are no longer collected by Statistics Canada.  Thank you Stephen Harper.

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Planning our Cheese Purchases while still in North Van

The dream lives on, and we’re still poring over property listings. We’ve expanded our search to include Burgundy, which is also insanely cheap.  Check out this property, which is listed for €220,000.

I imagine a day that goes something like this….

Wake up late. Maybe 10 am, although if past experience is anything to judge by there will be animals that will make sure it’s earlier than that.

Coffee, breakfast, maybe a newspaper or something similar.  Putter in the yard. Maybe go for a long walk.  If needed, head into the closest town or village for shopping.

Lunch, which feels a lot like wine and cheese with some good bread on the patio.

Reading, writing, maybe a nap at some point.

Dinner, something that takes a long time to cook, with the absolute freshest and most delicious local ingredients, maybe some fish or chicken.  More wine.

And cheese, from these guys – seriously, you need to go look at a their web site! Talk about a farmer out standing in his field!

But still, leave aside my smart comments and chuckles, and look at how these people showcase their products. Look at how there are three generations of farmers and cheesemakers carrying on a tradition.

Imagine any of the cheeses you find in Safeway or Save-On describing themselves like this:

Nous fabriquons des fromages depuis 1895, nos recettes n’ont pas changé mais notre savoir-faire s’est amélioré et nos méthodes se sont modernisées. Notre seul but : la recherche de l’excellence pour un plaisir intact.

Nous sommes fiers de fabriquer chaque jour des fromages authentiques, qui s’affinent avec le temps et dont les goûts et les arômes peuvent varier suivant la période de l’année.
Nous souhaitons décrire leur goût, retranscrire leur histoire et vous initier à leur fabrication afin de vous faire plonger au cœur de notre univers…

Admittedly there are some fine cheesemakers in British Columbia, and in Quebec especially, but overall cheese in Canada is the province of multinational cheese factories turning out tons of cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and Velveeta each day.  Bread is something manufactured in equally large factories, sliced, and packed in plastic bags before being shipped by the truckload to your local store.  Eggs come from nasty. overcrowded factory farms, and need refrigeration because they’re scrubbed of their natural protection before packaging and shipping.

The best eggs that I ever tasted were actually from West Vancouver, from a family with a chicken coop on their property. This was forty years ago, and presumably was at a time when such things weren’t heavily regulated.  The eggs that I was given were the result of a couple of days of chickens being fed with broccoli scraps.  They were nothing short of divine, with yolks that were like something out of a van Gogh painting.

All of this leads me to believe strongly that having good, honest, unadulterated food around us will make our lives longer, happier, and more satisfying.

Back to the Land

Mirare
Mirare, a sculpture by Cheryl Hamilton and Michael Vandermeer, was first placed in Deep Cove, but after outrage by people there was moved across town to Princess Park

Two events are convincing me that leaving North Vancouver for France is our best choice.  The first, part of the research for a newspaper article, is that the District of North Vancouver’s funding for public art is a meagre 57¢ per capita.  The neighbouring City of North Vancouver spends nearly five times as much – $2.40 for each resident.

The second sign that Canada is a place to leave is the election in Ontario of right-wing nutcase Doug Ford. (Brother of the late, crack smoking Rob Ford.)  If Canada continues to elect Trump clones it’s a place that I want nothing to do with.

All of this madness and outrage leads me to think that it’s time to take a step back from the wild and crazy social media driven, all electronic lifestyle for something simpler and more satisfying.

Already we’re abandoning a lot of on-line content for actual, physical books, and printed newspapers.  I’m reminded yet again that a Sunday New York Times is a much more engrossing and wide ranging way of becoming informed than any Facebook or Google algorithm will ever deliver.  Somehow having that big page of newsprint encourages you to read entire long articles, and turning the pages leads you to topics and ideas that never would have grabbed me on-line.  A strong lede will always beat click-bait.

Perhaps because the quality of food shopping is so low around here, and because living in a strata means you can’t grow carrots, I’m looking forward to doing some small scale gardening.  Vegetables, maybe some fruit trees… who knows.  Maybe we’ll grow wheat and make our own bread.  Chickens for eggs for sure, and who knows what else. A cow?  Fresh milk? A goat? Cheese?

Eturntablenough of MP3s. I want CDs at least, and preferably honest to god vinyl.   Just last month I hauled the stereo downstairs and started working through the big box of CDs.  Listening to an entire album, as the artist intended it, really is a lot more enjoyable and (here’s that word again) satisfying.   Now I find that I’m really craving the sound and feel of good old fashioned record albums. (And not just because I wasted a half hour on the Third Man Records web site.  Jack White not only sells records, he built an actual record pressing plant! On the Cass Corridor in Detroit!)

I would love to make live music, galleries, and movies part of our lives again – things that are always in short supply in the suburbs, especially in Canada where almost all governments consider art and culture to be silly frills that really don’t deserve funding.  And I would love to have the time to really stretch out with friends and visitors and just enjoy reconnecting and rediscovering each other without feeling the need to rush off back to work or to prep for the next morning’s grind.  One of my fondest memories of Kentucky were the afternoons and evenings spent doing nothing except, as my mother puts it),”visiting.”

Ultimately what all of this is telling me is that I want to take back all of the hours spent on the Internet and spend them doing real things, in real time, with real people.  I want to sit in front of a fire with a glass of vin ordinaire and a good book.  I want to slow down enough to actually enjoy the world around me, go for long walks, and have enough time to do all of those little things – cleaning the car, making small household repairs, tidying the yard and garage – that tend to get lost in the great rush of life.

It’s very important to understand that living in a place like North Vancouver is a lot harder than living in other places.  Just worrying about the amount of income needed for housing can become all consuming, and one of the hard truths about living in Canada is that a lot of everyday tasks seem to be much more difficult than should be the case.

So, as the song says:

Green Acres is the place to be.
Farm livin’ is the life for me.
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan North Vancouver, just give me that countryside.

 

 

Stumbling towards Normandy… ou peut-être Provence?

ProvencePerhaps inevitably our thoughts have turned to Provence.  As Normandy is to the north-west of France, Provence is to the south-east.  More sun, less rain, and of course the locale for no end of books and movies.

One one hand, the improved climate, especially near the Mediterranean,  is surely tempting, as is the proximity to the Côte d’Azur, Cannes, and Marseille.  On the other hand property prices are half again what they would be in Normandy.  We would likely be investing something like €300,000 or about $450,000 Canadian right now.
You can still get a farm with outbuildings, (priced at €199,000) although one that needs lot of work, but it is a property with “good bones,” and has room to expand to have space for guests (paying or not.)

Saint Trinit – Big Provençal farm to be renovated, in the Lavender Fields of the Plateau d’Albion, between Luberon and Ventoux.

With a current habitable space of 51m2, an old farm to be renovated of more than 300m2 on the main building plus 155m2 of cellars and 115m2 of barns, this rural property layed-out around an inside yard offers great potential for a gites or B&B project. The ensemble is located on 3250m2 plot of land in a small rural hamlet surrounded by lavender fields.

Provenceweb.fr tells us that:

Saint Trinit is a minuscule village located on the boundary of the Vaucluse with the Alpes in Haute Provence in the heart of the magnificent landscapes of the Sault area.

Lavender fields surround you and extend as far as the eye can see and if you are lucky enough to visit in the month of July when the lavender is in full bloom you can enjoy the fabulous spectacle with the mauve fields set against the gold of the cereal crops… It’s truly magnificent.

The village of Saint Trinit and its houses clustered around the classified Sainte Trinité church from the XIIth century offers a simple and kind welcome to visitors.

Far from the main roads and isolated amongst authentic and generous countryside you’ll get the impression that time has stood still.

It certainly has that isolated feel that we seem to want.  And weather wise?

Rain days in North Vancouver: 155
Rain days in Vaucluse: 65

Average Temperatures in Vaucluse are roughly between  5°C and 23°.  Freezing temperatures are unheard of.  North Vancouver averages are almost the same.  And of course, Vaucluse has lots more sun!

PS: Complete France has nifty guide to buying a whole chateau for the price of a North Vancouver condo. “You could buy a stunning French château for less than you think”

Normandy – More than just Bryan Adams

cabourg-mon-amour-2017-jpg

Admittedly the North Shore has been home to at least a handful of well known and/or respected musicians, not the least of which are Bryan Adams, Sook-Yin Lee, and of course the legendary Al Neil.  Still though it’s hardly a hotbed of music thrills.

North Vancouver has one big theatre (the Centennial Theatre in all of its 1967 charm), one medium theater at Capilano College University, and a couple of bars that sometimes have some bands.  Really, music and the Arts just aren’t that big here.  If you want serious music you drive over to Vancouver.  Or galleries. Or anything “avant garde.”

Which I guess is fine if you’re more into hockey and soccer.

There are a few pages which claim to list famous people from Normandy.  I’d certainly include Jean Luc Ponty, and used to have a couple of his albums back in the seventies.

There seems to be a reasonably lively jazz, chamber music, and classical music scene in Normandy, including the Festival Des Nouveaux Talents  – Musique De Chambre.  I’m not sure that the picture that accompanied their listing tells me much, but it looks good.

FMANOR014V500NM8_1

Evènement phare de la musique de chambre sur la Côte Fleurie, le festival des Nouveaux Talents dessine sur sa portée un programme éclectique à l’originalité toujours renouvelée.
Autour de 7 concerts donnés par des musiciens de grande renommée, le festival rend encore et toujours la « Grande musique » accessible à tous. Venez assouvir vos envies d’œuvres à découvrir et à redécouvrir grâce à des interprètes d’exception dans le cadre unique de Villers-sur-Mer !

At the other end of the spectrum is the Pete The Monkey Festival, which seems be one of those hippy influenced, eco-friendly, three day camping, dancing, chilling kind of events.  Sort of a Shambala meets Vancouver Folk Fest.

Screenshot from 2018-05-14 23-09-31

Jazz En Baie looks interesting, or at least has an amusing poster.

jazz-en-baie

For serious music it looks as if the Opéra de Rouen Normandie is the hub in Normandy for orchestral music, Opera, and other “serious” music.  At a glance their programming looks like a good mix of old favorites and lesser known (to me) works.

(Metropolitan Rouen has a population of 655,013; Vancouver 603,502.  It’s striking to compare the programming and the overall attitude towards music between the two cities.  As mentioned before, it really does come down to funding, which in turn depends on a population that considers Art to be an essential, not a frill.)

Once again I harken back to Kentucky.  When living there I felt surrounded on all sides by a rich, vibrant, and very well entrenched culture. That sort of culture permeates everything from music, to art, to food.  I just don’t find that in Canada, but I do feel that I need it.

Postscript : the other striking thing about all of these organizations and events is the refreshing lack of corporate branding.  In Canada  the “Vancouver International Jazz Festival” is now the “TD Canada Trust  Vancouver International Jazz Festival,” the theatre at Capilano College is now the “Blueshore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts ,” and the “Presentation House Gallery” is now renamed after a real estate development company called Polygon.

All of this inevitably debases the organization, the work being done, and undercuts community support.  Plus you’ll often find that marketing money offered for naming rights us usually pretty paltry.

Is France METAL?

I will admit to a fondness for Ace of Spades, although a lot of Speed Metal and Death Metal doesn’t really do it for me.  So it’s probably a good thing that France has relatively few Metal bands per capita.

DUJaIgNWsAI-CkD

And where is Canada in the standings? A pathetic 73 bands per million people.

Screenshot from 2018-05-12 22-23-54

And, how can I resist….RIP Lemmy.

 

Normandy Quiet and North Vancouver Noise

Earlier today I was hiking a back trail, high above the Ballantree Trail in West Vancouver. I was high enough up that I almost couldn’t hear the traffic on the Upper Levels highway below. I was reminded of the nearly constant wall of noise and sound that surrounds us at every moment in our days. It’s very sad that genuine quiet is almost impossible to find, and I’m reminded of being told, about thirty years ago, that there is no longer any spot on earth where you won’t eventually see the contrail from an airliner overhead.

That need for quiet, for natural sounds, is one of the big reasons why people choose to move out of the city and into the country. The sound of cars and stereos and leaf-blowers hurts all of us, heightens our stress, and whether consciously or unconsciously makes our lives sadder and less fulfilling. You can’t have peace of mind when you’re surrounded by noise.

That endless wash of noise is a large reason for the number of people who wear earbuds or headphones almost all of the time.  They’re trying to get away from the racket, but are really just masking one set of sounds with another one that’s on the phone or iPod.   Trying to escape urban noise is a positive thing, but they wind up isolating themselves from the world around them, and more importantly from the people around them.  If three hundred people on the SeaBus are all wearing headphones it’s a sign of a pretty significant problem.

(That’s not to say that I don’t like listening to music on the stereo, or even high level amplified music at a concert. The physical experience of a deep bass and the psychic shiver from shrill high tones are an integral part of the rock and roll experience. Power tools and equipment are noisy too, but when you’re using them to create something beautiful you don’t mind that. Also I always wear ear protection.)

This is one of the important reasons why I want us to live in a rural, somewhat isolated, setting. I want to be, to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, on a side road, off the side of a side road. What’s French for “Officer Obie?”

I’ve lived beside highways, and truck routes, and behind slaughterhouses. As I write this I’m listening to slightly drunk neighbours chattering away down the street, growing louder with every glass of wine. I’m tired of listening to other people’s conversations at home, in stores, in restaurants, in parks, and everywhere else that I go.

(A special note about cel phones. As annoying as the ringers are, no matter where that you go, including on forest trails, the real irritatants are the people who won’t hold their phone to their ear, and instead turn on the speaker so that they can shout back and forth with the person on the other end. At least if you can only hear one side of the conversation you can give your imagination a workout. If you’re forced to follow both sides you quickly realize that you just don’t care. Someone needs to explain to these people that the reason why people on TV hold their phones like this isn’t because it’s a good way to use them, or even that it gives better sound quality, it’s because the TV cameras want to pick up both side of the conversation and turning on the speaker is the cheapest way to do that.)

So, a farm on a quiet back road somewhere in Normandy, where can hear the birds and the wind and the thunder rolling in from far over the hills. Maybe even the soughing of the trees. (A word that I learned in high-school which is still a favourite) or the lowing of our cattle, or the brrrping of the chickens.* We already are blessed by the snoring of the dog.

I’m realistic. Living in the country also means trucks and tractors and manure spreaders, and all kinds of heavy equipment that keeps a farming community going. And there are always our own sounds – appliances, hair dryers, water pumps, coffee grinders – but at least we can contain them. What we really want is a whole lot less of the sounds of machinery and motors, and lot more of the sounds of nature and wood and plants around us.

We need a peaceful environment to pamper our peaceful lives.

* In Kentucky one of our neighbours rented a house in the bottom of the holler below a guy who raised fighting cocks. (Yes, that’s still popular down there.) One rooster crowing can be novel and entertaining. Fifty is just plain overwhelming and annoying.