“Diggin’ Holes in France” – by Porter Scott

porter        Welcome our guest writer, Porter Scott!   It was as a student of painting and photography that Porter Scott first began his love affair with Paris. Determined to continue the romance, Porter tried several careers before finding his true niche – renovating and managing furnished rental properties. Now, with over 30 renovations to his credit and an impressive portfolio of rental properties right in the heart of Paris, it should come as no surprise that Porter has developed some clever tactics for dealing with the quirks, foibles and bureaucracy an American will encounter when living in France.

Dig right into his story and write a comment below.  He will understand if you only say: “Hi ya’ll”

Alabama white dogwood in the front yard of Les Lanceroux

Southern U.S. white dogwood in the front yard in France.  Click to see inside this beautiful home lovingly restored by my parents.

While other kids from the East and West Coasts were studying calculus in grade school, I was learning the finer points of how to handle a pick and shovel in the outback of Alabama (not to say that I did not get a good education, nevertheless). I took great pride in my ability to wield a pick as well as any man out there, letting the pick do the work while my back simply gave the necessary thrust and guidance.

Post-hole Digging: Learning the Basics

Another one of the outdoor handyman skills I learned as a boy was how to use a post-hole digger in order to build fences and string barbed wire. When you had a lot of holes to dig, you rented a special, heavy-duty machine, with a huge augur bit, that took two people to handle and hold while it screwed into the ground and dug a nice clean, deep hole. Once dug, all that was left to do was to insert your post and give it a few wallops with a mallet to secure.

Good ol' "Copperhead" post-hole digger

Good ol’ “Copperhead” post-hole digger

Getting hold of the right tool for the job …

On a lesser scale, when you only have a few post holes to dig here and there, you use a manual post-hole digger, which only needs one person to get the job done. For the life of me, I have not been able to find one of these manual contraptions in France in the 30 plus years I have been living here. Finally, a few years back, I decided to ask my mother’s new husband at the time, who was then 81 years old (but spry as could be), to bring me a post- hole digger in his luggage the next time he came over to France. Being an engineer, I knew that he would rise to the challenge.

 So how does one go about getting a post-hole digger into an airplane these days?

Well, first of all, I decided that I did not need the long wooden handles. Those can be found, or made, here in France. That left the metal base mechanism which consists of two narrow, curved shovel-like elements facing one another with a hinge joining them. It may set off the metal detectors in the airplane, but I did not foresee my father-in-law being taken into custody as the first post-hole digger terrorist. In fact, my stepfather not only rose to the challenge, he managed to bring the post-hole digger in its entirety…handles and all!

Me and my post-hole digger - Alabama born and bred!

Me and my post-hole digger – Alabama born, bred and raised!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The days when someone like my own father (back in the 1980’s) could carry in his luggage all kinds of garden tools and other familiar items (including some sapling trees) are probably long gone. To this day, I have a well-worn double-edged swing blade for cutting grass that is probably the only one in the entire country of France.

Beautiful!  Alabama pink dogwood thriving in French soil, thanks to the post-hole diggers

Beautiful! Southern U.S. pink dogwood thriving in French soil, thanks to the post-hole diggers

Every time we get it out to cut weeds and such, the country neighbors start gawking at those crazy Americans…flailing there arms about us just doin’ things differently. We are also probably among the few people in France who have two dogwood trees (native to the southern United States) thriving in our yard, thanks to my father’s desire to put down American roots in France.

Missing the bare necessities…

There are numerous familiar items that Americans have a hard time finding or cannot find when they move to France, or any other country for that matter. For instance, every time I go back to the USA, I stock up on men’s mid-calf dark socks  because I cannot find the quality that I like in France, not to mention the outrageous prices that the French charge for what they think are quality men’s socks. Good quality permanent press shirts are also hard to come by in France. For some reason, the French feel that 100% cotton shirts are the only shirts that are worth buying, so there are almost no comparable permanent press alternatives.  I just wonder who does the ironing for these guys… My wife marvels at the space taken up by all of the socks (winter, summer, and heavy sports socks separated into three categories) that I have in my dresser, or rather, she complains about not having enough space for her clothing. I have still to show her the ten-year-stock of dental floss that I have accumulated (but fortunately, it doesn’t take up much space).

This little lot should take me well into my eighties

This little lot should take me well into my eighties…hopefully I’ll still have some teeth left for flossing at that stage.

Yes, having the best of both worlds, as an American living in France, is an impossible dream; but with foresight, you can at least maintain a stock of imported familiar items that make you feel a little closer to home. Unfortunately, you cannot import many of the less tangible things that you cherish as an American: fundamental values, flexible thinking, entrepreneurial concepts, a different understanding of freedom…

Thankfully, a little American dental floss can go a long way in comforting you. No matter where you are in the world, with just a bit of thin, wax-coated string, you can maintain at least one American standard that you are accustomed to:  good dental hygiene.

Diggin' under my Opp, Alabama dogwood

Diggin’ under my Opp, Alabama dogwood

Debbie’s comments: Thanks to Porter for sharing some of the differences between the U.S. and France, from the ground up to those white, pearly teeth born and raised in Alabama.  No worries.  We will continue sharing the U.S. dental floss with Porter if he needs any.  Uh, I don’t mean actually sharing our used dental floss.  We will sell it to him, or lend it. Or, would we need an international trade agreement? I can see already that we may need to have a meeting in Switzerland on neutral grounds; do the Swiss use dental floss?  Now, how can I get myself out of this fiasco? Anybody know where I can find a good post-hole digger, so I can dig a hole big enough for me to crawl inside and hide?

Just so you will know, I won’t see you here at A French Opportunity next week.  I’m taking a few days off.  Be safe and enjoy!  Thanks for comin’ around to visit us.  Take a look here for the holes that Jim dug in Florida coral rock with chips flyin’ … Kindle has a great sale going on, starting at $5.99.  Grab it while you can.

“Impressions de France” – by Debbie Ambrous

b14Mid-afternoon on a beautiful June day, we were seated on a boat ready to glide down the Seine, craning our necks for the best views of some of the most beautiful architecture in the world.b4  We never took the boat rides in Paris previously, choosing to spend more time in museums and gardens instead.  Expectation was higher with this delightful excursion delayed until a later day.  I will admit that I was influenced by the film shown in Epcot at Disney World in Orlando.  Have you seen the wonderful show “Impressions de France” on the 200-degree screen in the Palais du Cinema?

Once the audience is seated in front of the velvet curtains with ornate trimmings, a French lady in costume addresses the group with a few words in her language and presents the movie.  The curtain slides open to show a waterway in the countryside with deep woods on each side.  The music is gently flowing, and the movement is peaceful, promising the beauty that lies ahead.  Those settled into seats are rewarded with magnificent scenes of France, from Provence to Brittany, and stirring music to accompany every emotion on the screen.  The music alone is grand.  (Ask for a list of the music at the desk outside the theater.)

b9b2Paris is the outstanding finale, just as in our trip to France.  A romantic, young couple is shown standing on a boat for a ride at night with powerful beams of light playing across the ancient buildings and bridges of Paris.  Happiness and glorious hopes for tomorrow wrap the audience into the scene as the music surges.  The young lady with long black hair, wearing a white dress leans close to the handsome young man laughing the laughter of love.  Every time I see her in the movie I think she looks so much like a friend who worked with me many years ago.  She had the same dark hair, dimples in her flawless skin and a deep laugh of contentment.  Maybe I will tell you someday about the Mary Kay makeup party where I was seated next to her.  “Debbie, the eyeliner is too thick.  You really can’t wear that color.  No, not that one either.”  b6 No looking at the mirror on the afternoon of our boat excursion to check my messy makeup; forgetting my image, I enjoyed the ripples of the waves of the river with the bright blue flag flapping in the breeze and announcing our excitement.

It seemed that only sunny days would shine for my friend Patricia, the sweet lady with the beautiful face and happy disposition.  Then, tragically, her husband died in a plane crash.

When the embracing lovers on the Parisian boat at Epcot pass under the bridge into the darkness, I always think of my friend.  I hope she is happy now with her full laugh, deep inside, like music to those around her – wherever she may be.

b16With all of this as a preamble, how could a tourist boat compare?  Where was the musical score with the orchestra soaring at just the right moment?  Floating under the bridges didn’t hold the same excitement.  Hundreds of balloons were not released into the air on cue with the soundtrack.

b7Why did I think these thoughts when Paris was all around me, literally to touch, feel and smell with its own theatrics and special effects?  Do you get caught up in the past instead of being in the present?  Hope I’m not alone.

I looked around at the group of strangers, some seemingly bored and others punching keys on their smart phones instead of observing their surroundings.  I looked down and saw hairy legs.  No, not mine!!  I wore purple leggings with boots to the knee and my flashy gold and silver jacket to celebrate Paris in style. A few of the fellow passengers were standing and staggering around – just like on the bus.  I thought maybe I should move up front and sit near the driver, just to alert him so he didn’t run into anything, like the bus driver.  Now that’s what I call really being in the moment!!

“Powder Express to the Eiffel Tower” – by Debbie Ambrous

powder1Screams!  I was sure that I heard screams, and then along the side of the street I saw young people throwing something.  On top of the tourist bus, I felt a bit of a scare creep along my spine.  I thought I had read too many stories of riots, and viewed too many news clips.  Closer to the scene, I heard laughter and saw a group of students throwing powder (plaster of Paris??) at each other while most of them wore white coats.  Squealing louder since they had an audience, they waved arms in the air and put on a performance including water pistols aimed at us. powder3 Were they art students?  I wished I could jump down and join them with my camera in closer range, if I could protect it from the powder bursts.  If nothing else, I was fully awake then, full of anticipation on the first morning of our Parisian tourist bus tour, ready for whatever came my way next.

Top of the list for us, and surely for anyone visiting Paris, was the Eiffel Tower.  When we had our first good view, everyone rushed to the right side; it is totally a wonder that the bus didn’t tip over sideways! We couldn’t believe we were there at the foot of this famous tower once again.  Many years had passed with several trips to France, but not to the Eiffel Tower.  Ten years ago, we were high above the city together on a cold day in April, hugging each other and thrilled at the view below.  Jim was here with his sister Virginia later and met students from Alabama, but I was not part of that escapade.  It is still unbelievable that they found their way around France and back home again!  Would you like to read more about Jim and Virginia meeting the young man from Slapout, Alabama on the Eiffel Tower? Just take a look for info on the book “A French Opportunity” by clicking here.

powder4A giant tennis ball was suspended between the first and second floor on the tower, paying tribute to the famous international tennis tournament of Roland Garros.  Maria Sharapova celebrated her win with a photo shoot in front of the Eiffel Tower just a few days after we had returned home.  I wish I could have been there on the sidelines with other amateur photographers for this event. 

The line for tickets was long, but not as bad as I had expected.  When we reached the ticket booth, there were two options: all the way to the top for a higher price, or the level just below the top for less.  I insisted, “Why don’t you buy the lower-priced ticket?  That will be gracious-plenty high enough for me?”  I leaned heavy on saving money, hoping to appeal to his cheap-skate blood.  It didn’t work. Jim said, “We have to go to the top!  You will thank me when you get up there!  He had stood high in the Parisian sky with Virginia, but I had missed out since it was too cold and windy when we visited together in early April many years ago.  I didn’t think I had missed anything except the possible scare of my life.  I went with his crazy ticket-buying, thinking I might back-out at the last minute, or cling to him with my head buried in his all-weather jacket.  We ascended to the level below the top, and it was simply grand with the sun shining beautifully on the city below.

Do you recognize the buildings far in the distance at the top, center of the picture?

Do you recognize the buildings far in the distance at the top, center of the picture?

 

Now, even with my shaky hands aiming this photo you probably recognize Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre hill.

Now, even with my shaky hands aiming this photo you probably recognize Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre hill.

I was in heaven, almost, with my camera aimed below.  Yes, definitely below!  I can look below, but forget about looking up when I am at any level above the top of the tool shed.  I saw tourists taking pictures of each other from one level to another, and I nearly lost it, while Jim was not in sight to catch me!  We met two smiling southern ladies who agreed to take our picture to record the moment.powder5 My hair was stuck to my head, probably reacting to my brainwaves and trying to hold my foolish noggin in place. 

Then, Jim excitedly said we should go up the stairway to the elevator for the next level, like a kid ready to jump off the high-dive.  Oh, no!  Strike those thoughts.  My bladder was not ready, and I called for a pit stop.  Jim said he could go, too.  He did, but I didn’t!  The line for the ladies bathroom wrapped around forever, but the men’s had maybe two people in line.  Here’s a bit of tourist advice for the Eiffel Tower that you are likely not to find in tourist brochures, “Go, before you go!”  With my eyeballs floating and fear in my feet, I had to decide whether I would ascend with Mr. Fearless to the top.  I thought about those youngsters in the street, having fun and letting loose to enjoy the moment.  It was my time to rise above with nothing holding me back.  I stepped into the elevator, which by the way was an Otis elevator.  Remember that I work in construction, so I’m always looking to see how things are put together.  Good old, Otis!  Let’s climb to the top, keeping my eyes on Jim who was wearing my Cornerstone jacket, and not looking, or thinking, about what I am doing.  No, that isn’t sky out there, just a pretty shade of blue from a Sherwin Williams paint selection.”  I stepped into the first section which had glass windows, easy enough to just look below and think wide-screen television.  Just above was the challenge!  I hugged the wall until I adjusted, and then my Canon-camera-adrenaline kicked in with my lens stuck through the heavy-grid enclosure that safely keeps people from danger.powder7

When I adjusted to being on top of the world, I focused on the places I would like to settle into for a month or so.

When I adjusted to being on top of the world, I focused on the places I would like to settle into for a month or so.

 powder9powder13

DÔME CHURCH - The gleaming dome cannot be overlooked.  Napoleon lies in the crypt.  His final wishes were to "rest on the banks of the Seine"

DÔME CHURCH – The gleaming dome cannot be overlooked. Napoleon lies in the crypt. His final wishes were to “rest on the banks of the Seine”

I don’t know if it was the weight of my bladder, or the desire to capture the city of Paris below with my camera, but somehow I did conquer the top of the Eiffel Tower!  I still haven’t sent Jim a thank-you note.

Are you dreaming of Paris?  Just click here to see beautiful apartments ready for your visit.  Just take a look!  I have received a gracious invitation to write a story and share pictures for the blog: www.ILoveParisLife.com   Do you think I can handle it?  What subject should I select?  What would you like to see?  More of the street scenes?  What about Luxembourg Gardens?  Our boat ride on the Seine?powder12 As long as they don’t think better of having Jim and me over there on the pages of loving the Paris life, we will be eating biscuits here in Alabama and dusting off the computer for the next time.

I will show more photography on my Facebook later in the week. Thank you very much for your wonderful comments!  If you enjoy the blog and pictures, think about sharing the links with other cool and savvy folks like yourself. You are just the most wonderful folks in the world to us!

All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.

“Top of the Parisian Tour Bus” – by Debbie Ambrous

My last photo of Paris, until we meet again...

My last photo of Paris, until we meet again…

From the top of the tourist bus, I shot my last photo in Paris and said good-bye to the Beatles, Bob Marley, the Eiffel Tower, Mona Lisa and Le Chat Noir in the tourist stand souvenirs by the River Seine.  A quote credited to Bob Marley says: “Some people feel the rain.  Others just get wet.”  I thought it rained in Paris continually, but it fell only enough for us to feel it this time and not get wet.  Jim and I felt Paris with all our senses, plus our aching feet and backs.  Still, we fell into the bed and woke in the morning hardly believing that we were in Paris!! 

We arrived on the train at Montparnasse train station around mid-day on a Sunday and checked into our wonderful hotel, more about that later.  Then, we walked and walked.  Our excitement carried us with adrenaline surging.  Dragging back uphill at the end of the day, we were reminded that we were not as young as the energetic couple who did a whirlwind tour of Paris years ago.

Our view of Paris through the glass, on the front seat, on the top of the bus - Wow! It was fun.

Our view of Paris through the glass, on the front seat, on the top of the bus – Wow! It was fun.

It was a difficult decision to plunk out the money for the hop-on, hop-off bus instead of taking a regular bus or metro, but it was totally worth it, plus we paid just a few extra euros for a wonderful boat ride.  It wasn’t a Disney bus with recorded voices saying, “Keep your hands inside at all times.  Stay seated with buckles fastened.  Nope.  People stood on top of the bus, leaning for the best camera shot while the bus was moving, turning and lurching.  Tourists boarded the bus when all seats were taken and stood on top of the bus in the aisle.  No worries.  Where are the chickens and sheep for a third-world bus ride?  What comes next?  Still it was fun, and you know I didn’t stand for the best photos!  Surely not!

Surely seat contact is not required at all times.

Really, is seat contact required at all times?!

Beautiful light for this photo, but not for all of them

Beautiful light for this photo, but not for all of them

I loved the colors of these buildings.

I loved the colors of these buildings, like the flavors of sorbet that I savor in the afternoon in France.

Stop the bus!!  Time for shopping, or in my case, just looking.

Stop the bus!! Time for shopping, or in my case, just looking.

All went smoothly until we were slowly approaching the Arch of Triumph in an advancing parade of traffic like the French army.  Patiently waiting for the movement of the platoon, I noticed the bus was inching forward toward a big tow truck.  What was the bus driver doing down there?  Slam!!! top1 The tow truck driver flew out of his vehicle in a rage with his neon yellow pants flashing in a bee-line toward our bus driver.  Stinging words buzzed non-stop in a loud voice, like nothing you would hear on the Disney monorail in two languages.top2  Tourists gathered to take pictures of the accident.  Of course, what else would tourists do?

A television crew was filming a young man on the street outside a sports equipment store. top4  Leaving the scene of the accident, we rushed to join this action.  I took the young man’s picture thinking he might be a sports star.  When the interview was over, I asked the news lady who the young man was.  She said he was just a random person, and they asked for his viewpoint. top3 I don’t know why she didn’t interview me; I’m a random person who survived a bus crash. 

We saw a handsome man signing autographs just three tables away from us in Tours at Place Plumereau, but we still don’t know who he is because I wasn’t assertive. 

Do you know this famous person?

Do you know this famous person?

This time I was bold and discovered an average, ordinary person.  Maybe he is wondering about my famous identity.

Get your copy of “A French Opportunity” in paperback or Kindle and read about a similar incident between a taxi driver and a truck driver that happened when I was on a solo trip to France.  Just click here to read more and order.

Another bus arrived, and we circled the Arch of Triumph feeling sorry for the bus driver and his accident.  There was too much excitement around us to feel sad. top5

Now why did they park that yellow truck there?  Ruins the property value of the whole neighborhood!

Now why did they park that yellow truck there? Ruins the property value of the whole neighborhood!

People, famous and ordinary, are attracted to Paris, and simply mentioning Paris fills the imagination with grand expectation.  I asked Jim when we were stopped by the vendor’s stand with the photos of notable visitors to Paris, “When do you think we can return to France?”  He answered, “When you can arrange it, I will be ready.  Now, that’s what I call an agreeable, fabulously famous husband!

Where are the pictures of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the café life? We experienced too much for only one blog.  More will follow with pictures, some of them not taken from the top of the bus.  Thank you very much for coming around to see us.