mercredi 28 janvier 2009


Absolutely nothing happening

Their tools sit untouched out in the weather since two days before I left for the States nearly two weeks ago.

I left Audouin a note while I was out walking the dogs Monday evening, asking him to call Joaquim. I didn't trust myself not to say what I am thinking and have him walk, which might not be the worst thing right now. So what that the house isn't finished, worse, that it is two-tone, the old part covered in the new stucco that is not yet the right color and the newer part undone?

So what, not.

I am deflated. This is as close to my worst nightmare, what I most dreaded getting into this as I can imagine. Worse still, there is absolutely no one to blame but myself. I didn't listen to the voices in my own head (and outside, Audouin would remind me), telling me that I was starting not to trust first Eric, and, later, when it was far too late already, Joaquim. In an ironic reversal of roles (we always seem to do this), Audouin would say that I am being hard, unfair even. He would say "Attends de voir," but he's just as worried as I am that we're in trouble now, and this fact obliges us to say precisely the opposite of whatever the other has just said. This is necessary to maintain equilibrium and hope.

When, I wonder, will we both be ready to concede that we are beyond that?

Oh, sure, he'll show up again, or the guys before he does, and they'll get to work again, but my confidence in them is shot. First, there was -- oh! Where shall I start? There was way they approached the windows, which left doubts about whether either of the guys had ever restored one before, and the fact that right from the start, Georges never stopped asking me why I wouldn't just change them.

"Mais, Madame de Floris, vous pourriez avoir des neuves, double vitrage. Ca serait beaucoup mieux."

And I explained every time that Joaquim had gone over each and every window with me and determined that they were essentially in good shape and could be restored, with the exception of 3 of the old ones, that this would cost about half the price or less of new windows, and because we have other things that we need to do with our money for right now, we'd restore the old ones and save a replacement for the future, if at all. But, he never let up. Not once. It started to occur to me that Joaquim was using him to get to me, to convince me that we should change the windows so that they wouldn't have to do the work they didn't really want to do once they had the contract signed.

The last time we went over this ground was the day before my flight to Philadelphia. Georges showed up alone, to talk. In what could have passed for conversation, he managed to bring up every possible complaint they could have about the money they are making on this job. I listened. I didn't allow a single point. If they were losing money anywhere, it's because they made mistakes estimating the job and have handled the organization of the work miserably, making their progress perfectly lamentable. Then, add to that the fact that they show up at the very earliest (when they come) at 9:30 am. How much can you get done between 9:30 am and 4:30 pm? You tell me.

He looked at the contract as we sat at the table, empty coffee cups in front of us, and shook his head.

"C'est terrible," he said, adding with a rueful, incredulous smile, "Qui a fait ce devis?"

"C'est plutôt à vous de me dire ça," I answered, feeling really nervous now, although I wasn't going to let him see that, or give an inch, "C'est votre societé qui l'a fait." He continued to look it over, shaking his head and sighing.

"C'est mal fait, je vous donnerai ça," I said. "Imprécis. Pas détaillé. Mais, personne ne voulait nous donner mieux que ça." He just continued shaking his head, and looking at me as though he was waiting for me to give in and ask how much more they wanted.

The answer? The difference between what they said the balcony would cost and what they say it actually cost, or 7,000 euros.

And that we agree to replace the windows with new ones altogether, for more money, so they won't have to bother with the labor.

That's what I think. And, no.

But here's the thing: if we maintain our wall of patient, smiling silence in the face of the unspoken final request and we don't give them what I suspect they want, there will be precious little investment from them in the job, for all the gentleman doth protest -- Joaquim, bien sur -- that he takes great pride in a job well done. He's past caring now, whatever he says, and it's obvious, even if I am not supposed to see that, regardless of the fact that we are not responsable for their losses. Only he has control over the quality and regularity of the work they provide.

The other thing that I suspect? That they were never up to the extent of the job and everything that had to be done.

Take the metalwork. Joaquim was furious when I said out loud what Audoiuin would only say to me, namely that the paint job on the shutters was pretty poor. Not that I hadn't noticed myself. I preferred to take pictures of the Jackson Pollock-like splatters of paint that covered the drop-cloth spread on the floor that attested to the careless work I watched José do. But, Joaquim had sat there with his eyes practically popping out of his head in another sort of incredulity, while Audouin looked like he wished I had never said what he thought. That's the thing; he would spend eternity reminding me of it if I hadn't said something, but he'd rather complain to me until death to we part than say anything to the person responsable.

"Savez-vous ce qu'un peintre ferait? Hein? Vous le savez? Bon, je vous le dirai. Les peintres sont nuls. Ils vous font payer très, très cher, et ils s'en foutent. Ils s'en foutre de leur travail. C'est une bande de cons. Vous dites que José n'est pas peintre, mais il sait tout faire mieux que ceux qui s'affichent peintre ou menuisier." He wasn't stopping to draw breath, and Audouin was nodding like he had never, ever thought José was anything less than painstaking in his work and very, exceeding professional and I was crazy to think otherwise, much less say so. "Vous savez ce qu'ils feront, les peintres? Ils ne mettraient jamais l'attention de José dans le poncement. Ils ne ponceraient même pas. Ils peigneraient n'importe comment et vous payeriez très cher pour cela."

Audouin mouthed his agreement; of course they wouldn't sand by hand, carefully. Of course they would just whip through the preparations and slap on the paint. Of course.

And it had gone on and on, from one topic to the next, until I finally had to go to the grocery store or have nothing for dinner, and found them chatting companionably when I returned, Joaquim staying for dinner, "On verra si elle sait cuisiner!" dit-il, and what did I do? Turn into Betty Crocker, or my grandmother, pulling out all the stops, flourishing the cinnamon (men love cinnamon) as proof of my mastery of the male senses. Idiot.

Me. Not him. Relieved, I was, that all was patched up; he wasn't stomping off the job. And, here we are, the house half done, they more than half paid, and the delays piling up, while our disappointments outstrip even those.

The window, first. A cheap piece of ugly crap purchased at Lapeyre. Anybody building a cement block addition to their ugly house can go to Lapeyre for an inexpensive window. I was in shock. He made me know that my rejection of the window had cost him. He couldn't return it.

"Vous aurez du me consulter avant de l'acheter. Ce n'est pas de tout ce qu'il faut pour ce projet." Yeah, he should have known better if he had really understood this project and cared, which it was starting to feel like he didn't.

Then, the brick with which Georges showed up to cover the old, crumbling chimney on the gable end. Brand new and ugly as merde.

"C'est pas bien, Madame de Floris? C'est pas ce qu'il faut?" No, it's not okay, Georges, and no, it's not what is needed here. Joaquim had shaken his head, as though Georges were the biggest of idiots himself, and nodded toward the brick on the wall across the street, an old farm building.

"Ca c'est ce qu'elle veut." So, then, why wasn't I seeing samples of old brick? How many times have we discussed the brick for the pillars, the entry court paving, and I have still never seen samples of what we can get from the places that sell old building materials? How many times have I said that I would do with them to choose?

And the tile for the new roof over the entry. Audouin couldn't get over it. I had given in. It was ugly. I knew it. I agreed with him.

"C'est tout ce qu'ils font aujourd'hui." Why hadn't I refused when Georges showed me? Because he had shown up with a load of it without showing me a sample, and I was sick and tired of things going that way? His being so nice and my refusing. Nice, or is that a time-proven way to get your way and he doesn't even stop to think any more about whether he is sincere or not?

Then, the little roof structure. A hack job compared to the balcony, which appears to be carefully crafted, the little we have seen of it. It supposedly has been ready and waiting for months now, and on the phone Monday evening, Joaquim told Audouin that they are just waiting for some of the little pieces. I swear to God that they had decided not to do the decorative middle sections in front of the windows. Georges' eyes grew big and round (more incredulity) when I had expressed my disappointment (another) that they clearly hadn't done the little balcony with the long one, and that they were counting on just repainting it, which wasn't the contract, pointing out that they did have to do the decorative motif there, too.

"Ah bon? C'est vrai?" He stared at me like this was news to him. Maybe it was. Hey, even if it wasn't and he had only forgotten, I could understand that. Months have passed since they started working, and several more still since we signed a contract. I recalled this moment when Audouin told me that they were finishing the "little pieces" of the balcony.

And guess what. The protests about our criticism of the paint job on the metal shutters? Some days before I was to fly to the States, Joaquim gave me a run-down on the sequencing of the work to come, and the shutters? They, along with all of the metal -- the gates, the fencing, the window grills -- would go to a shop to be sand-blasted and then painted. It was my turn for my eyes to pop out in disbelief.

"Mais, c'est moi qui vous ai dit de faire comme ça depuis le début! Pourquoi vous ne le faites que maintenant?"

"Tu veux que j'en souffre en peu plus?" he had grinned at me. "Vas y."

"Mais, vous avez travaillé une semaine dessus déjà, alors vous aurez perdu d'argent là-dessus!"

"Vas y, vas y," he continued to grin, "dis moi ce que je sais déjà."

"Je ne comprends rien." And all this time they have continued to sit in the smaller extra bedroom, all of the furniture crammed into the larger one, both rooms lost to us for months now.

When Joaquim told Audouin that they couldn't work last week, while I was gone, because it had rained so much, and he said "Oui, bien sur. Je comprends" 12 thousand times as Joaquim made his excuses, to my enormous aggravation -- and I was the one who wanted him to call so that I wouldn't say these things and piss Joaquim off again --, I waited, and then said, "Ils auraient pu emener les volets à l'atelier, et ils sont toujours dans la chambre d'appoint."

"Je sais," dit Audouin.

The neighbor who brought the census papers today said we should sue them; tell them to pick up their tools and get out of here. I pointed to the house, "And leave it like that? What if the next guy can't match the work? What then?"

Et que ferait-on alors? Quoi?

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