What Makes a Home Sweet Home?

Top floor was ours, above a special effects shop.

Over the years I’ve lived in many places, in two countries, and have pretty much figured out what I like in a home. I’ve owned, rented, and borrowed places and understand that no home is absolutely perfect.

I do know that I like living in the urban core – a warehouse loft off of Bathurst in Toronto for instance (pictured above*) – or in the country – I’ve even had chickens** in the past – but can’t find anything appealing about being in that vast suburban wasteland between the two.  Being forced to rely on a car, shop only in chain outlets, and having neighbours cheek by jowl watching everything that you do is not for me. And strata councils…. don’t get me started.

EPSON DSC picture
What was commonly called “The Kentucky State Flower. The lawn mower came with the place.

Privacy is nice, and being on a big acreage in the country – or down a holler in Kentucky – is often the best way to get that.  That seclusion was best summed up by a friend who lived on top a mountain in Virginia who once said,

You know what I like to do? When there’s a really big summer storm, and the rain is coming down so hard that you can’t see to the road, I like to get nekkid and go outside and dance!

So, rural, farmland, room to grow some vegetables, maybe some chickens for eggs.

A nice old house. Old because they’re better built, have better proportions, and in general are just more comfortable for living.  Stone is good, and Normandy has no shortage of stone houses.  Wooden beams. mancheAt least a few bedrooms, a big kitchen with room for a table, and a living room with a big fireplace or woodstove. (It’s interesting that throughout France and England the practice is to install airtight woodstoves in fireplaces. Why hasn’t that become the norm in Canada?)

Some renovation is fine, especially cosmetic stuff. I can look past bad choices in wallpaper and drapery.  But we definitely want a place that we can just move in to.  I really, really want relatively recent electrical wiring and plumbing, and a good well and septic system.  And a half decent Internet connection, although EU cel phone prices are low enough that we can possibly work around that.

A second building already kitted out as a gîte would be very, very welcome because we do actually want some visitors, or even paying guests.  And some kind of an outbuilding for a workshop or studio as well.

A view that will take our breath away, and enough distance from major roads that we don’t hear traffic.  Good walking trails in every direction.  Fairly close to train lines, and within walking distance of the nearest town.  A good local library.

And, important to me, and a sure sign of the impact that Kentucky had on me, is a proper big porch, with enough room for a proper porch swing.  If there’s one thing that I miss from the South, good porches are it.


* Across the street from a major pig slaughterhouse. Guys that kills pigs for a living coming out to their cars at 4am on their coffee breaks don’t really help your sleep. Behind us was a former car battery recycling plant. Eventually all of the topsoil in the neighborhood was replaced, and we all were blood-tested for lead poisoning.  There’s a daycare there now.

** Chickens are stupid. Real stupid. Bright new coop. clean straw, food, heat lamps.  Chickens are sitting on the fence. In an ice storm. If I hadn’t have come out we would have had chicken-sicles

Baby steps in Normandy

Today we went from just spending hours poring over property listings on the Internet, and actually emailed an agent immobilier in Normandy.

We have just begun our search online and this property is EXACTLY what we’re looking for.
We aren’t quite ready to make an offer on properties; Our plan is to smarten up our house in Vancouver, sell it, buy a property in Normandy while renting in Vancouver until we’re ready to wind up our business here and make the move to France.

Brexit has slightly thrown a spanner in the works, and I’m thinking we should do something before the deadline in 2019, or at least before the extension deadline which is a year or two later

I don’t know if you have the patience to help us make the move from Canada to France. We’re right at the start. We’ve been looking online for two or three months, and you often are the agent for properties we like.

We want a rural property, isolated is good. Some land. Under 200,000 Euros is best. We don’t want an over-improved property (once I see potlights I run), and prefer something that has retained its original traditional, rural, farmhouse or cottage identity. We don’t want a big renovation project, but are able to handle some repairs or updates and of course painting and cosmetics.

Somehow this makes it all feel much more real.  It also makes it feel like we really need to get busy with renovations, repairs, and paint.

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.

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.)

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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.

The Journey Begins

We’re at what is nominally considered retirement age, and have pretty much concluded that North Vancouver is not where we want to be. Or North America for that matter.

After a lot of searching we seem to have decided on Normandy.

Normandy in FrancewThank you WordPress for titling the default blog entry so perfectly.  This is indeed the beginning of a new journey.

For a year or two, and certainly since the election of Donald Trump, we’ve been considering our options for the next phase of our lives.  We’re at what is nominally considered retirement age, and have pretty much concluded that North Vancouver is not where we want to be. Or North America for that matter.

After a lot of searching we seem to have decided on Normandy – that’s the red bit on the map above.

This decision reflects a lot of thought and research.  It began with a very short trip to Britain, and London in particular, which convinced me that there was much more to life than what was on offer in Canada.

We considered Montreal, and towns on Vancouver Island, and even narrowboats in England.    Then barges when we realized that a home that was only six feet wide wasn’t really enough.  Then small towns in England and Wales, then Shetland, then Provence, then finally Normandy.

Aside from the obvious appeal of French culture, and the social supports offered by  a country that is still highly unionized, the single biggest factor is property prices.   Even a mediocre townhouse in North Vancouver can run you a million dollars, while a €167,000 will buy you this in Normandy.

Normandy – Manche Center – 1 hour from the ferry boat – 5 kms from the local amenities and 15 mins from the nearest town Coutances or Saint Lo – 25 kms from the sea

Stone 5-bedroom house with the possibility to convert the contiguous part.
– on the ground floor: kitchen with fireplace, sitting-room, shower-room, bedroom, toilets.
– on the second floor: 2 bedrooms, large bathroom, toilets.
Outbuildings, yard, garden.

Our schedule has yet to be finalized, but we are beginning to do the research and make the plans for our move.

A note on translation : anything en Francais is the result of Google translate + French classes thirty years ago.  Wish me luck.