samedi 25 avril 2009

Dog's Onion

Ornithogalum umbellatum

in our garden

Well, I did say, before I erased it, that it reminded me of allium, with its flowers in a umbel aloft a scape, and 'lo, the oldest common name for this plant, back in medieval Europe, before it became associated with pilgrims in the 15th century and was then known as Star of Bethlehem, or Pyrenee's Star of Bethlehem, is Dog's Onion. I like that better than Sleepydick.

Or Summer Snowflake, or Starflower.

Although, Grass Lily, Nap-at-Noon, and Eleven-o'clock Lady are pretty nifty. Wikipedia has it in the Hyacinthaceae family, but most sources also note it as a member of the Liliaceae family (the Kansas Wildflowers & Grasses site, the source of the photo to the right, among others), which explains why I also thought it was a sort of lily.

Not bad for someone as new to all this as I am. A budding horticulturalist, as it were. Ahem. But, I'll confess that I had no idea in my joy of discovery of the lovely flowers in umbels in my planting bed that it is considered an escapee of ornamental gardens and even as "noxious weeds and wetlands invaders". I'm not there yet. I still like them.

Kinder points of view than those of certain states in the US that view them thusly speak of associating them with Hostas and Daylilies, or covering slopes and banks with them for a "blanket of white in April". I should try to dig up the onions to do exactly that, and plant them with my daylilies, or the Hostas I eventually want to put somewhere.

I'm just relieved to have finally identified it so that I can relax and worry about other things, like Joaquim's unsurprising failure to show up today.

Audouin finally let him have it in a message, specifically mentioning taking legal action and letting Joaquim know that he can promise him that he "won't let go of the bone". I see us going to court, although I'd rather see him cave, which is his only other option now because even Audouin sees that compromising with him is out of the question after today. He used his last "get out of jail free" card.

I did some research last night in preparation for today's anticipated meeting, which we set up with him when he called just before last weekend to tell us that he would be back in June, having left in March, and only having worked about two weeks (being very generous with my estimate) since before Christmas. Eric Aubrun, who you might remember if you have been following this since I started writing last March, was the person I thought was the head of the renovation firm (he wasn't and isn't, and is also known as "le crapuleux", or lying scum, by Joaquim), had called to tell me while we were skiing in Chamonix that he is considering suing them for reasons of his own, and -- according to something called an "Extrait Kbis", or papers of incorporation, more or less -- Joaquim is not the head of the company; George is.

Ah, what complicated webs we weave. There is just so much I could say.

You see, I started to suspect that there was a little bit of a sort of artless, sort of artful act that Joaquim and Georges have developed and employ. Being cousins, they have had a lot of time to perfect it, by nature and by design. It's a bit of a Laurel and Hardy thing, with Joaquim in the role of Oliver, the difference being that there are glances that pass between them, moments when you sense the mask slipping as they fall to the temptation to congratulate each other in their play-acting, or to comiserate in their failure to master their metier, and the light in Georges' eye suggests that he is not what he seems -- naive.

This was my read, and then there was what Joaquim said the last time he was here in March. Not specifically this part about drill bits (and if you knew what "bite" means in French, pronounced "beat"... oh la la), but I couldn't resist sharing that story again. No, I mean the part about Georges being naive, which I didn't write for some reason that escapes me.

Au moins il y a de soleil.

I still wanted to believe that Georges was what he seemed, as hard as it was becoming to sustain belief in the face of the mounting evidence to the contrary. I think, now, that it must be possible for people to be both at once, and you wonder what is in their heart. I have known too many people like that. The truth is probably closer to what I wrote about Joaquim; he can't imagine that he is not what he wants to be. Tell a lie again and again, and eventually it becomes your truth.

I told Joaquim that day that Eric had been calling me. I wanted to watch his reaction, and I wasn't disappointed.

"Savez ce qu'Eric m'a dit?" I didn't wait long enough for him to reply. "Vous n'êtes pas le gérant de Batrénov. C'est Georges."

"Et tu sais pourquoi il appelle Georges et pas moi?"

"Parce que Georges est le gérant."

"Parce qu'il prend Georges pour le naif." Georges smiled where he was crouched, removing the old concrete sidewalk from the corner of the house so José could apply the chaux for the base of the wall. Ca il y est, I thought, C'est un jeu. A game. An astuce to get what they want from their clients. Good cop, bad cop. The crazy one, the sane one. The clever one, the naive one.

It was Georges who, since the beginning of the work, applied the pressure evenly, continuously to abandon restoring the old windows that weren't too far gone and didn't absolutely have to be replaced -- all but 3. He always calls me by my family name and title, Madame -- sometimes Madame Jacqueline -- and uses the "vous", unlike Joaquim, who has always insisted on calling me by my first name and using the familiar "tu", which I will not employ with him, ever. Madame X, pourquoi vous ne changez pas les fenêtres pour des toutes neuves? Ca serait tellement mieux ici, non?

"Comme je vous l'ai dit, Georges," I smiled each time he endeavored to wear me down and get me to embrace his suggestion, "des nouvelles fenêtres furènt éstimées à deux fois le prix de la restauration des fenêtres existantes, et car nous avons d'autres projets à réaliser avec les moyens limités, nous préférons les restaurer." I could count on him bringing it up again on the downbeat. Not every time. No, more like every three times.

The last time was just before I left to ski. Rather than showing up with José and working, he showed up on his own late in the morning, knocked at the door late and asked to come in. He sat down at the table and accepted the espresso I offered him, which he refuses in the afternoon. He bbrought up the contract, how much money they were losing. This, I remind you, was usually Joaquim's role. He started in on the windows again, and I sat and listened, replying only, as I did each time, that we chose to spend our money elsewhere. He continued to lament the misunderstandings in the scope of work, the costs that were overrunning the estimate for everything, the role Eric had presumed to take in the whole affair. I didn't say a word.

He asked to see the contract. I pulled it out. He sat and looked at it, shaking his head to show me his disbelief.

Unh-hunh. I watched him.

"C'est vraiment n'importe quoi." He let go a sort of exhalation of disgust with a smile suggesting conspiracy, You see it, too, don't you, Madame Jacqueline? He shook his head again and slumped a little further back, "N'importe quoi."

"C'est dommage, mais c'est comme ça," dis-je. He shook his head again.

"Mais, Madame Jacqueline, pourquoi vous ne mettez pas des nouvelles fenêtres?" If Audouin isn't going to let go of the bone now, Georges wasn't about to let go of that one.

"Je vous l'ai dit, Georges. Nous ne pouvons pas. Cet argent doit aller au garage que nous devons construire. Nous n'avons pas le choix."

"Le balcon." He laughed mirthlessley again, looking at the price on the contract. They supposedly paid more than twice the estimated price for it, and we are supposed to believe that Joaquim knew that when he saw the contract Eric had had us sign, but chose to say nothing and to eat it, as a "man of his word", or honor, or something like that. A load of crap. Joaquim brought the final contract, the very same as the estimate Eric had had us sign for the bank, for me to sign. He had said nothing not because he is a man of honor, but because he didn't know any better, or it was a bait and switch. The evidence is all in favor of that since they got started. I said nothing in return.

Eventually, he left.

Eventually, they told me that they were not doing the chaux on the newer, smaller part of the house.

Today, a no show.

Au moins il y a du soleil.

I argued last night against any compromise with them with Audouin, who just wanted what he wants and out of a bad situation. It made my architect self crazy. It's what they want. They have been beating us down for months, and the longer it drags on, the weaker their position. This is not the time to let go, unless there is work we no longer want them to do, and where possible, it should be removed from the contract with no payment from us. At this point, we are entitled.

"On décide ce qu'on veut, sans tenir compte du prix, et on insiste là-dessus, et le reste, on leur le donne."

"Mais on ne peut pas ne pas tenir compte du prix," I argued. It all comes down to money. They want to make as much as they can, so they tell us how much they have lost with no proof and eliminate time and labor to boost their margin of profit. Easy as cake. We have to know how much it is worth and what we are giving them. He argued that we didn't. We give them what we don't care about, and we get what we want.

"Seulement si ce qu'on peut laisser tomber sans peine vaut dans leurs têtes le temps, le matériel et l'argent dans la banque qu'ils veulent. Et pour ce qui reste à faire, je ne pense pas qu'il y en a assez." I was beyond irritated. I was very worked up from frustration and unable to speak in civil tones. "C'est pourquoi il faut que tu appelles ton frère. Tu es médecin. Tu as passé ta vie à travailler dans un hôpital publique; tu ne sais pas la première chose dans la gestion des contrats et des gens comme eux. Il faut que tu apprennes à penser comme un homme d'affaire si tu vas à avoir affaire avec Joaquim et Georges."

"Tout dépend de si on va droit au tribunal ou non. J'essaye de finir cette affaire sans aller au tribunal."

"Si on va au tribunal ou non dépend de si on arrive à les faire marche arrière et décamper de leur position car c'est nous qui avons raison. Qu'on leur donne un rien dont on a rien à foutre, très bien, mais il faut rester sur notre position pour les amener là." Give them a crumb, but not money.

"Ils peuvent fermer la boutique."

"De toute manière, leur boutique ne vaut pas 5 centimes. L'entreprise est capitalisée à seulement 8,000 euros et elle a perdu 50% de sa valeur l'année dernière. Il y a une décision du greffe de leur permettre de continuer leurs activités soi-disant professionnelles malgré cette perte, alors il y a une sorte de preuve de leur part d'une volonté de faire vivre la boutique."

Moreover, beyond the loss of 50% in the company's value last year, there is record of a change in the head of the company and the status of the company, filed September 30 last year and decided on November 14. The very period when Joaquim talked non-stop about his divorce, his wife's betrayal, and his sexual frustration. Sigh.

Half the company's value went to his wife. Georges became the owner to protect Joaquim. That's what I surmise.

Joaquim appears to own other businesses in Orléans, three which are associations of owners of a building and one at the same address as these others, which builds houses and has a higher annual revenue and is in the black, unlike Batrénov, which is looking more and more like a front to distract his ex-wife, while he holds his income elsewhere. Peut-être c'est là où ils disparaissent toutes les 15 jours pour travailler, said Audouin, sounding a lot like Georges looking at the contract.

We decided unceremoniously and acrimoniously to disagree.

Until he no-showed toay.

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