News from the Pipemaking Workshop with the Funk.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

About to go offline

Today is our last full day in Brittany. Outside this morning it is grey, overcast, occasionally raining in cold drizzles, and about 50 degrees. Tomorrow at noon we depart by TGV to Paris, where we will stay overnight and then fly back to the US on Friday. I am likely to be out of touch for some few days, however long it takes to get our new internet connection installed and working, though I may try posting from the hotel if they offer wireless access and it works for us.

Zowie, big life-changing events. Thanks to contributions from very generous family and friends, we were able to ship a lifetime's worth of our Ligne Bretagne stock to our new shop. The funny thing is, while I took enough stummels and stems to keep me busy till age 150, I still leave behind probaby twice what I am taking, and the briar cave barely looks as though anything has been removed from it.

This is the one Snowman, signing off for now. I'm west bound and down!
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Friday, April 17, 2009

Keeping up to date

I doubt I will have time to post much (if anything) during this coming week as we rapidly approach our departure date from France. I hope to have a little time to collate and write my thoughts and reflections on the adventure once we've arrived, but for the immediate future this is likely to be a quiet blog. However! Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, those who have an interest in quick, frequently-updated quips and state-of-the-move commentary can follow my regular updates on Twitter and Facebook, where I'm at least keeping a more or less ongoing storyline of events as they unfurl. Seven days and counting...
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Monday, April 13, 2009

No Friction Required

Just a very quick note on our progress - We are buried in moving prep. Our own meager personal possessions are mostly packed, but the packing and transport of the business stock remains. Movers arrive next Monday, so between now and then we probably will not sleep. Oh joy.

I wanted to post a quick word regarding blame, flames, etc. I knew there would be some degree of anger over our circumstances in some quarters. The first manifestation of this was from some asshole French poster who thought the best response to the wrenching and extremely difficult circumstances of our move was to post a comment along the lines of, "So, you don't like our country? Go back to the US then, we don't want you here - the US is the cause of all the world's problems and caused the depression that's eating the world economy! Etc, etc..." I read this, shook my head over the idiocy of the poster, and yanked the comment because I knew it would only incite flames from our US friends and in the current situation, I have absolutely zero tolerance for having the blog turn into a flame war between offended nationalists.

A lot of American friends and folks in the business have gotten extremely offended at the French in general over what has happened to us. The level of anger expressed in emails and calls has been high, and a friend even opted to cancel a large order of French champagne over this (I posted a personal reply asking that he reconsider, that none of our misfortunes are the fault of an innocent champagne vendor who probably needs every sale he can get in these difficult times). I wanted to post this quick note to stress that there is no need for either side to get angry on the basis of nationalism - Our problems are not with "The French" in general, but with some very specific aspects of the French system. French people are not all evil malcontents - in fact, most are incredibly warm, welcoming, friendly, intelligent, and great fun. The French pipe club has been incredibly nice to us ever since we arrived here.

No, our problems boil down to three areas that most native, salaried French citizens never encounter -

  • Accounting. Through bad fortune, we got hooked up initially with a pack of accountants who are the most useless pack of verminous assholes one could never want to meet, and have had our energies and time drained for seven years by having to flog them to get any results at all, all while struggling to understand a foreign tax system with no help from these shits.
  • Administration. The French themselves understand this one very well - It's the overall fixation that the government has on paper, regardless of its impact on the lives of its citizens, and the inane difficulty of getting anything done here, on a business level.
  • TPB. Yep, "That Préfecture Bitch" has been such a feature of our lives that she even has her own shorthand initials. The level of paperwork and hassle required simply to justify our residence here, year after year, has been beyond imagination, and this is not even counting the fact that the official in question would regularly lie about what papers had been received, never file anything on time, and required constant hounding just to get her to do her damn job. We've done all we can to live here legally, we pay taxes - HER salary - and still every year it's the same... weeks of lost working time chasing down visa papers plus multiple trips in person to Nantes, because of course nothing will get done unless we actually go there in person. Fax? Email? Forget it. Meanwhile all around us, illegal immigrants live and work unhindered by all of this, and while we pay half our income to support the French state, they burn buses, cars, schools, and entire neighborhoods just for kicks.
So, in a nutshell, while I have no control over what rancor may erupt among blog readers on either side of the pond, I just wanted to stress that I personally have no problems with the French citizenry at all, and think they're wonderful people. Indeed, I think living under the weight of the bureaucracy they must endure has helped to shape them into kind and understanding folks with a keen insight into the BS level of "the system". We've met some of the best friends we have in the world here.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Falling towards home

Today we had the big meeting at the mairie, and it was quite a gathering - the mayor of Herbignac himself was there, along with the head of town project planning, translators, etc. I made our displeasure known from the start. Naturally, all parties involved denied any responsibility and put the blame wholly on our "depressed" buyer, but of course they would do. The crux of the problem was apparently that we live in a high visibility spot in an area very shortly to be gentrified and upgraded. Our buyer is the president of what amounts to the local Chamber of Commerce and there was some political infighting over his snatching up such a prominent bit of property in a key location for himself, to the extent that he bailed on the deal.

Of course, I care nothing about this, all we want to do is get out of here. To this end, I insisted on a signed attestation direct from the mayor certifying the limits of usage of the property, that it is open to buy for all commercial entities, and so forth, as well as the limits of modification (The original buyer wanted to do some extensive changes, but structural modifications are frozen till the gentrification project is complete next year).

Overall, it was one of the most productive meetings I think I've had during our time in France, and I didn't hit anyone (which frankly, there were odds towards). In some ways it was oh-so-typical, with everyone involved showing great concern about how terrible our situation was and stressing that, of course, it wasn't their personal fault at all. But in other ways, we did obtain some crucial info and some significant concessions.

Bottom line - The deal is still dead. We should receive at least a small payoff as compensation for their breaking of the contract, which can go towards the moving cost. And there will be a move after all - To our everlasting gratitude, a coalition of family members and friends in the states (including some pipe folks, I am told) are gathering together to help cover the cost of getting us back, and many very fine people have come forward with basic items to loan us to help out, given that we'll be arriving minus a lot of furniture and goods to trim the moving expense.

(It's odd to find myself needing things like a lawnmower and curtains again. But then, if I just leave the yard unmowed, the grass may handle the window covering problem...)

Anyone wishing to help out by donating any funds or goods should contact my parents at their work phone - (336) 884-4026, ask for Glenn or Bonnie Talbert. They're coordinating the bail-out on that end, which will include getting hold of some loaner workshop equipment that we'll need (Motors, mainly, since we have to leave everything electric behind - Thankfully our gear is mostly belt-driven). Much appreciation to all! Emily and I have been literally overwhelmed by the flood of good wishes, emails, IMs, and calls that we have received from people in the US pipe community and abroad. There are some very fine folks out there.

We'll be arriving in late April, to find out if Sharkey has chopped down the party tree back home.
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Friday, April 03, 2009

The Plot Thickens

A quick update for today - The head of the realty agency has hit the ceiling over this, and we all have a meeting with the Herbignac mayor on Monday. It turns out that the office of the mairie (town hall, essentially) is behind our disaster - Our buyer himself was willing to go through with the purchase, but the mairie pressured him to back out because apparently he owns a great deal of property in this area and there were politics involved. With Herbignac booming and our shop a prime commercial spot, they feared this fellow gaining such a central location and quashed the sale. They may believe it was just any other business deal, a bit of political jockeying for power, and have no idea how much they have hurt us in the process.

Either that, or they knew how much this would hurt us, and purposefully waited until it was likely the house would be lost to foreclosure, so they could snap it up cheaply for the town government to own. I realize a lot of people may believe this too cynical or paranoid, but that's the shape of my experiences with French officialdom.

I guess we will find out something Monday in our face-to-face with the mayor. We get to spend the weekend with our lives hanging in the balance, oh joy, though truly I have absolutely no hope that this will be sorted to our advantage. That simply is not any part of our experience here. We will probably be lucky if we don't leave France in Indiana Jones style, with me clinging to the retracting wheels of our airplane as petty bureaucrats hurled sharpened pencils and attestations at us.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


As of this afternoon, with less than a month until our scheduled departure from France, the major contract that we were counting on to pay for the move (the sale of our French property) has just fallen through.

The news leaves us devastated on multiple levels. We have closed down our business in France, so we can no longer legally work here. Our visas are soon due to expire, and cannot be renewed without secured employment, yet we cannot restart our business in the time we have before the visas expire. All our travel reservations are already made, and of course are nonrefundable. We can leave as scheduled, or remain at most another couple of months and then pay for the travel all over again. This leaves us with nothing to pay the movers with, nothing to live on after our arrival in the US, and a gigantic lead weight of debt to crush any future we might try to build in the states.

We are probably going to fly back on schedule anyway, but this leaves our financial futures and any future for the pipemaking in serious doubt. At the least, we will almost certainly have to abandon the Ligne Bretagne stock due to inability to pay for shipping - a huge loss of both our money and a good little pipe brand. Though I must say, at this point the idea of simply leaving pipemaking for good, for a "normal" job with a paycheck, has a considerable degree of appeal. If I sound a bit disjointed, it's because I am - We are reeling, once again, from another "French disaster". The past seven years often seem like little but one long stream of knotted stomach, cold sweats, paralyzing worry, and fear of what new and worse surprise may be waiting around the next corner.

So... It is likely that we will still return to the US on schedule, but most likely penniless and unable even to pay for the shipment of most of our workshop stock. Obviously any sort of future plans regarding restarting pipemaking or attending US shows is now totally up in the air. I really can't begin to predict where we will be just a month from now.

Oh, and our buyer's reason for breaking his contract at the last minute, after we'd closed down the business and terminated all our French business and legal connections, thereby leaving us without recourse and financially devastated? He is "depressed".

He should be in this household tonight.