mercredi 29 juillet 2009

Managing hopes and disappointment

An unfinished mess


It's so depressing. I hate it, and I can't bring myself to admit it, nor how disappointed I am.

What's wrong? Let me count the things.

It has gone on too long. Far too long. Back in December or early January, I said (kindly) to Joaquim, "Mais vous allez perdre votre enthousiasme."

"Mais, comment ça que je vais perdre mon enthousiasme?" he said, faking it. How could that be that I could lose my enthusiasm for this wonderful project? Let me count the ways.

"C'est normal. Quand un chantier dur trop longtemps, pour n'importe quelles raisons, des bonnes comme des mauvaises, on perd son enthousiasme. Un chantier n'est pas sensé de traîner. Si ça traîne, c'est pour une raison, et ça entraîne, forcément et sans rater, une baisse de moral et une perte d'engagement." It's true, projects and building sites have an inherent rhythm, and when they lose that, it always means that something is wrong. Whether the loss of enthusiasm is the cause or the consequence, it always ends in the same thing: a loss of commitment and morale. He looked at me with that incredulous, idiotic, insane grin that inhabits his face, when he is not outragé, which is more often the case, and shook his head.

"Mais non!"

That was before the dicussions about not doing the somewhat newer part of the house because it was not part of the contract when we all knew perfectly well that it was. Don't take me for an idiot. Tell me the truth, I can't do it unless you pay me more because I never should have signed that contract, which, I acknowledge (c'mon, give the poor dog a bone here, would you?), I was wrong to sign.

That was before they disappeared weeks and months to do another project to put money in their coffers to pay themselves.

That was before they returned after our letter to work out the new contractual conditions, and he went on and on, defending himself, attacking us, misunderstanding everything with a deliberateness that took the breath of even this American who has seen the Bush-Cheney years and the insurance industry battle fiercely to protect their wealth at everyone else's peril, while they defend their God-given right to do so. As though God would ever have envisioned savage capitalism. We all here in Europe know perfectly well that God imagined capitalism at the service of the social good.

That was before they finally did return (sans Joaquim) and began again, but seeming, to me, without the same care for detail.

And then, yesterday.

I spent the afternoon at my laptop working on the terrace paving plans just on the other side of the window, where Georges and Jose labored to install and reinstall and fix and install again the metal shutters on one -- count them, 1 -- window. I sat in dread of my husband's return from the hospital, when he'd ask, "Ils ont fait quoi aujourd'hui?" and then add his commentary, "Parce que je ne vois pas grandes choses," and I would say, "Oui, ils ont payé cher le fait qu'ils n'ont pas anticipé la réinstallation des volets, et ils ont bavé." I want to criticize them and protect them at the same time, like big children, who are making a brave effort, but haven't quite figured out how to do their job. I could tell them, but it is their job.

"Ils sont bordeliques," he'd say. Yes, they are poorly organized. He'd shake his head and get worked up over it. He'd tell his son that he probably wouldn't spend all the two weeks he'd taken in August in Dordogne because there were "too many things to do here," and I'd say, "You can't do that. You know, your children count on having a vacation with their father, the grown and the growing."

"On aurait du (understand tu aurais du) être en train de peindre les huiseries (windows) depuis longtemps. Chaque week-end en juillet on aurait du être en train de travailler sur des choses à la maison." He forgets that he was on duty at least two of those Saturdays, and had his daughter at least one, and perhaps two, of the Sundays. The painting of the windows was one of the items in the contract we took upon ourselves to make the contract sum go farther for them.

"Je te l'ai dit que je ne veux pas peindre les fenêtres avant qu'on ne voit la couleur définitive du marron des motifs." He didn't want to hear me.

"Si on avait commencé quand il l'aurait fallu --"

"Je t'ai dit que je ne veux pas perdre notre temps. Je pense qu'il faut attendre de peindre les huiseries quand on sait ce qu'ils peuvent vraiment faire pour foncer la couleur des motifs." If we paint the windows before we see the final color, we risk a disharmony. If we wait, we can try to adapt the color of the windows to the brown we can obtain. It's important to me. Color is important to me, and I have already had to make too many compromises when I am already compromised in how good I am. He started to argue again. I spoke.

"Je peux les peindre là," I pointed to the open space that is neither living room nor entry nor dining room, unfurnishable space behind the backs of the armchairs and the stair and dining table, "en septembre et octobre." He was stuck on the end date. We had said July. It wasn't going to be July. It was never going to be July, and there is more work to do.

"Je ne vais pas passer encore un mois de décembre avec les huiseries démontées." There was a threat in that utterance. I had best not be painting them in December, or I'd have hell to pay.

I still hadn't shown him the changes I had made to the entry and terrace plan, changes I made to take his concerns into consideration, and he was right about a number of them. My confidence was doing a nosedive. I was starting to feel like a useless, time and money-wasting idiot. Who needs a terrace plan is really is only point of view. He likes the fake stone stepping stones that lead from the entry courtyard to the doors. I hate them. He doesn't care that the grass doesn't grow properly around them, that it leaves a strange band of difficult to care for grass stranded between them and the planting bed at the foundation of the house. It doesn't concern him that whenever we cross this area and walk into the house, we dirty the floor because it is normal to have some kind of more continous mineralized area to walk on leading to one's doors. What's more, there has to be a way to lead people -- our guests staying overnight -- to their rooms in the petite maison. A continuation of the fake stone stepping stones left all over the place by the previous owners is not a solution.

"Je ne sais pas," he said later, when I was finally able to show him the new plan, "je me demande si la terrasse là n'est pas trop importante, ne prend pas trop de place, ne soit pas, enfin, trop de brique." He was referring to the terrace I would like for the table he likes. The one from Morocco. It has sat on the grass, on a slight slope, threatening to send us and anyone dining with us off their chairs that wobble dangerously on the uneven ground, which, what's more, wets and chills our feet as the dew forms.

"C'est prévu pour la table. Il faut de la place pour elle, pour les chaises, et pour pouvoir circuler autour."

"Oui, mais, je ne suis pas convaincu qu'elle soit nécessaire. On peut (here it came) mettre la table sur le gazon (lawn) comme on fait maitenant." I explained about the uneven ground, the dew, and the importance of creating outdoor space, just like indoor space; that a paved area creates a room with a purpose. "Je n'ai jamais vu autant de... brique. D'ailleurs, je n'ai jamais vu que ça soit nécessaire de faire tout ça." "Tout ça" was the path along the front of the house, made narrower and pulled farther away to diminish the paved area and increase the area left for planting against the house to address his concerns. "Et," he went on, "j'ai aimé les arbustes dans l'entrée mais si tu veux les supprimer --"

If we have bushes in the entry area, then we can't, I explained, have the entry addition to the kitchen. It's one or the other. You choose.

"Non, non. C'est bien l'entrée."

"On peut avoir des plantes en containeur, des plantes grimpantes. On peut mettre de la verdure."

And so it went. I still felt depressed when we woke up this morning, he announcing again that he hadn't slept all night, I thinking that my efforts are superfluous, inconsequential, inane compared to his work -- "real work" -- at the hospital. Or that's how it feels. Who cares about the creation of a sense of outdoor space? It's like a parent patting a child's hand in absent-minded praise of something he scarcely notices.

"Tu sais, ce n'est pas juste trois ou quatre traits tirés sur un papier pour montrer une organisation d'espace. Il y toute une réflexion derrière pour pouvoir le faire. Les matières, leur coloration, leur tailles et la question d'échelle, de direction, de géométrie --"

"Je sais," he said.

"Non, tu ne sais pas. Tu ne le vois même pas. Tu vois un endroit pavé et tu dis 'Oh la, c'est un endroit pavé; il faut le réduire' pas 'Ca serait bien pour définir la place de la table et rajouter à notre confort.' J'ai l'impression de vivre sur une autre planète. Tu me demandes de marquer les terrasses et les chemins avec des piques et de la ficelle, mais tu sais quoi? Les architects et les paysagistes ne peuvent pas faire ça pur leurs clients. On fait des dessins et des maquettes, et on vous demande de faire un éffort d'imagination pour visualiser le concept du projet. Si tu ne peux pas, peut-être ça voudrait dire qu'on sait finalement mieux que toi parce qu'on peut. C'est notre métier, c'est pourquoi on est architect et pas médecin."

Rant over.

He tried to recover the thing.

"Mais, je voudrais qu'on le marque au sol, et il faut savoir combien ça va coûter car si c'est 6,000 euros, ça ne vaudra pas la dépense. On a aussi le toit de la petite maison qui va coûter cher --"

"Ca ne va pas coûter si cher que ça."

"Oh si. Quand on voit déjà le prix qu'il a demandé pour les goutières... il va pas s'en privé."

I agree that we need to know how much it is going to cost, but I also feel much more strongly than he that it is essential work to finish the renovation. Why would we put several tens of thousands of euros into redoing the exterior of the house to leave the terrace the way it is, the garden front of the house sitting in an unplanned yard? That makes no sense. I told him so.

We need to live in an apartment closer to Paris where I can go work for someone and make enough money to help us do these projects once we can better afford them, rather than live with the constant stress -- for me -- of not really having what we need to make this house -- inside and out -- something of which we can be proud.

"Toi, tu peux vivre comme ça et ça ne te gêne pas, mais je ne peux pas. J'ai honte de chez nous et j'en ai marre de me sentir comme ça, de ne jamais vouloir recevoir les gens ou même faire le ménage car la maison est si vite sallopée par tout le monde, qui s'en fou, d'ailleurs, comme toi."

These are the things that depress one. To not share a common vision. To fight for every little thing and then be reminded that if it was done, it was because you insisted. To hear that what you believe is necessary is only frivolous, and worse to hear it as an attack on what you spent your university and working years learning to do. It is profoundly demeaning when you wish to be valued. They say opposites attract. Perhaps they do, but they also need to be able to appreciate deeply the qualities they lack.

Time to scrape my morale off the floor.

The representative who took me to the offices and warehouse facility the other day told me the facing brick he represents works just fine in a paving application. I contacted the same company, one whose products I used in the States, in the UK, where they offer paving bricks, and they forwarded my query for information to someone in France who handles this product, mysteriously absent from their French website, but, it turns out, available here. I put the same question to him, and this person replied a few minutes ago to tell me that the facing bricks are not, as I feared, adapted to the humidity conditions and the freezing and thawing cycles to which paving is submitted. He attached a product list and website links for Germany and Belgium and is sending a catalog.

And then there are the holes where the workers had to reinstall the steel angles for the shutters where they had removed them, along with the shutters. Holes that I am supposing they will have to patch, and which patching will not be invisible to the naked eye.

And so it goes.

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