Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dream house

Louise is planning her summer holidays and mentioned a house swap. This made me smile when I tried to imagine anyone wanting to swap their house for mine although one might feasibly consider swapping a garden shed for it.

I am fed up of not finding anywhere decent to live in Grenoble. I will spare you the stories of my present lodgings apart from telling you that for nearly six years now, my furniture and books have been rotting quietly in a damp garage three kilometres up the road while the four of us (once it was five) jostle about in our little box like irate sardines.

If you want to rent a house or a flat in France you need to have a job and because it is extremely difficult to evict tenants - even if they don’t pay their rent - you need to be on a long-term contract (CDI). Even if you do have a CDI, landlords will still ask you for all sorts of guarantees and will even go as far as asking that your parents stand as guarantors, which has happened to us several times. En plus, your rent must not come to more than a third of your salary.

As I’m disqualified on all counts, I thought perhaps I could build something myself. Wouldn’t it be fun if I could use my imagination like Ferdinand Cheval? He was an eccentric postman who, between 1879 and 1912, built his own Palais Idéal in his back garden. Facteur Cheval – as he is known – was obviously quite bonkers. As he did his thirty-two kilometre round in and around the village of Hauterives, he was wont to daydream. One day, he tripped over a stone, picked it up and pocketed it thinking it may well come in useful (he really was that bored). The following day, he collected more strangely–shaped stones and decided to build the palace of his dreams. It became an obsession. The locals - and no doubt his poor wife - thought he was mad as he spent every moment of his spare time carting stones to and from his masterpiece. From these stones he made an edifice quite unlike anything you have ever seen – a petrified fantasy of mythical animals, angels, shellfish, Hindu and Egyptian gods, spiral staircases, swirling turrets and secret passages. He was forty-three when he started and seventy-six when he finished.

His desire was to be buried there but French law would not allow it so he promptly set about designing his own tombstone in the local cemetery. It took him eight years and he was buried two years after he had finished it.

It's true that I'm mad but not that mad so actually, I’ve applied for a council flat. I’ve filled in all the forms, photocopied all the relevant documents, begged, pleaded and generally abased myself but I’ll still have to wait two years before they give me one. Still, it doesn't hurt to dream, does it? Or as they say here “bâtir des châteaux en Espagne…...”


Tinsie said...

OMG I'd heard it was tough to find a place to rent in France, but I'd not realised it was *that* bad!
Wish you luck with the council flat application. Tins xx

Louise said...

I like the idea of swopping my house, Gigi, but when I go and look on the differents sites, my house is shameful! I could take a few flattering photos but that isn't fair to future 'swoppers' really, is it? My chalet is just 'old' and bashed about - and in no way ressembles the outrageously priced and gorgeous chalets that one finds here.

Or perhaps I should advertise my chalet, warts and all - I mean there must be others in the same situation as us!

The question of renting in France is a very prickly one, isn't it? I found myself in the same position as yourself - although I was the owner of my farm, having bought out my ex after the divorce. When my son started school in Tolouse, I decided to rent a flat in town and go home on weekends (home being an hour and a half from Tlse. depending on traffic).

The first flat I visited was perfect, overlooked the school - perfect as a pied à terre. The agent started then asking me for pay slips, references, the usual load of stuff that I don't have, or have lost. When I told him I didn't work, he almost threw me out of the flat for wasting his time! However, I had sneaked a look at his papers (be able to read upside down is a great advantage), and saw that the owner of the flat lived in the block. So I rang him, explained the situation and said that my bank would vouch for me being a very good person who paid their rent on time. He was an absolute poppet and two weeks later, in we moved!
Renting has a lot to do with feeling, I think, so try and get to meet a landlord personally - have you tried finding something through 'particulier à particulier'? At least you cut out awful estate agents.

Good luck with your HLM application - but I wouldn't count on it. You do know that you have to renew your application every year, don't you? Otherwise they consider you have found something else (discovered that on the TV the other day!)

Gigi said...

Thanks Tins...I'm sure something will turn up!

Louise - I'm sure you must be exaggerating about your chalet. Anyway, I like 'old and bashed about' makes me feel at home. And who'd want to live in someone else's pristine house? I'd be terrified of breaking something or dirtying something...I wouldn't be able to relax at all.

I love Toulouse, by the way. I had many times in Toulouse when my husband worked there, walking along the canals, walking around the's beautiful.

Ah! Le bon vieux temps...:-)

Gigi said...

many happy times, I meant to say...

Numpty McHoon said...

Mr. Cheval's masterpiece puts me in mind of Simon Rodia's Watts Towers here in Los Angeles.

Gigi said...

That's fascinating - thanks for the link, Numpters! I see from wikipaedia that there are other weird structures around the's art, really, isn't it? Gaudi is hailed as an artist but these people are too...pity they weren't recognised as such.

Anonymous said...

It's all a pain, isn't it? We too had difficulties finding a place that we liked and that liked us. So far, so good, but I cringe to think of all that can go wrong.

Good luck with the application...I don't much care for paperwork in France. Perhaps it's because I can barely understand any of it??

Meilleurs vouex!!

Anonymous said...

Oops...I've been gone too long... I meant to say...

Meilleurs voeux!!

Sarah said...

I've heard that bugging the Mairie helps a lot too. Eventually they get so fed up with you that they house you more quickly. Letters, visits to the Mairie, phone calls asking about the progress of your dossier all help.

Think French, think belligerent... hehe

Betty Carlson said...

I've visited this strange place! But haven't thought about it for a long time. Décidément, your blog has sent me down several memory lanes today!

Balpreet said...

nice art.. Indian temples also got same kind of art on the walls

Carla said...

That is a real work of art. I would say the style is neoclassical, but I don´t know as much of architecture to tell. The colors are similar to this apartment rental in Buenos Aires I had a few years ago when travelled to Argentina. I was also very proud of the windows of that place because they had a detailed cutting at the edges that looked Frechy, and some angels at the bottom that made them kind of luxurious!

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