Purchasing a Home in France - Part I (The Search) 

Chantilly, France

After four years of living in Chantilly it is time for a change. I've decided to become more social, let's just say I want to experiment in communal living in a manner of speaking. In July my significant other and I decided to make a plan to live together. Her apartment in Paris, at fifty square meters, sadly runs counter to my American inclination towards vast open spaces. But seriously, I do feel the need for some clearly demarcated personal space and furthermore her apartment is just not well situated for me to get to my place of work some 60 kilometers north of the capital. On the other hand, my apartment is too far outside of Paris for her to get to work and remain in close proximity to friends and all of the benefits of city life.

I enjoy living in Chantilly - for its provincial charm, its stately castle, gardens and royal stables, the Saturday market with not one but three stands selling fresh fish and that stand specializing in locally made goat cheese. The surrounding forest and countryside, full of ponds and mostly gently sloping rises are just perfect for long bike rides on weekends and after work during the warmer seasons. During my rides, I have often seen big game animals, wild boar, stags, red deer and roe deer, a fox or two, the horses in the fields and stables. The fauna is just as interesting with beautiful wild flowers blooming in Spring including carpets of wild daffodils, and many wild Orchid species. The smell of the Linden trees in bloom is unforgettable. One learns to avoid the sandier ground when on the bike and the places where water collects and muddy patches form after raining for several days at a stretch. There are many quaint medieval villages in the area to discover, each with its Romanesque or Gothic chapel and its "lavoirs". I love the experience of discovering a new route, a new glade in the forest, a new vista.


(The Chateau of Chantilly)


(The Royal Stables of Chantilly)

But with time comes familiarity so I suppose that it's only natural that today it seems not quite as exciting as it was at first, as new paths and vistas start to become more and more difficult to find. Oh, it's by no means a place that I've become tired of, but rather a place that I can leave, knowing that I have been able to take advantage of many of the good things it has to offer.

So I'm off to become a Parisian ... again. I've already had four different addresses in Paris, or in its inner suburbs. My first on the east side on the fifth story of a charming building "sans ascenseur" in Vincennes not far from the Parc de Vincennes and with the castle turret visible from my window. The second was a brief stay in a rather gloomy lower floor apartment with a northerly exposure near the Trocodero in the 16th arrondissement. I spent a year living on the west side in Neuilly just across the street from the Bois de Boulogne "holding down" a spacious luxury apartment with a terrace over looking the towers of la Defense for a senior colleague who had a dream to return to it one day. And then I went farther west, to the other side of the Bois living for four years in Suresnes in a more modest, but comfortable furnished apartment. Those were the days of the expatriate assignments. This time I'll be going back as a "local", without the assistance of relocation specialists. It won't be the first time I've done a European move solo as I organized my last move from Stuttgart to France on my own. And this time I'll have the benefit of good company.

I have never purchased property before so for this project I had to be sure I was ready for an adventure, even more so being in a foreign country. I felt confident that my language skills and general knowledge of the society were good enough to be able to sufficiently negotiate the ins and outs. I know of course far more now about buying property in France than I do in my own country. I'm quite sure after some cursory reading through guidebooks specializing on the American experience, that most of the underlying principles are the same, with many of the details being different.

The first step for Karine and I was to decide how to narrow our search for a home. Our home needed to be strategically located so that Karine's commute to Porte de Vanves on the southern edge of the city would be no more than 45 minutes, and so that I could gain easy access to the freeways leading out of Paris to the north and towards the provincial town of Compiègne in Picardy which is were I work. Proximity to public transportation was important for Karine with as few transfers as possible. So we traced metro line 13 which is not far from Karine's place of work northwards until it came into proximity with the freeway heading out of Paris in my direction. Ok, so admittedly social class was also a factor - largely immigrant and working class neighborhoods dropping out of the picture somewhere along the way (despite the temptingly affordable prices). We sadly did not find our diamond in the rough! So the search for the most practical option directed us to the north west inner suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine with some consideration given to the peripheral communities of Bois-Colombes and (to a lesser extent) Colombes. Asnières is far enough north to provide a more or less quick route by car out of Paris for me and is well served by the metro line 13 and the trains destined for the Gare Saint Lazare. If you looked at map you might wonder why we didn't consider Gennevilliers or Saint Denis which are also served by the line 13. Well, it's back to that little matter of social class ...

Our next step - to find out if there is anything on the market in Asnières that we like and that we can afford. There are different approaches to prospecting - relying on an agent, periodically scanning the classified ads in newspapers and flyers, wandering the neighborhood streets looking for "for sale" signs, or reading the postings outside of the realtor offices. We chose a less sportive method, signing up to realtor internet sites offering the ability to search listings based on personalized search criteria like surface area, price, number of bedrooms, etc. Our favored sites offered search engines that would automatically send e-mail alerts as soon as new listings appeared that matched our criteria. I would create sub-folders by realtor to which my e-mail software would automatically sort and direct the alerts based on rules such as sender address. When new alerts came in, the folder name would appear in bold until I read through all of them. I would sort through the alerts and forward the ones I took an interest in to Karine who then evaluated them herself. For those that passed our collective criteria, we would organize visits (mostly on Saturday as it is difficult for me to get to Paris in the evening on a regular basis). One of our most productive sources was a site specializing in properties being sold by the owners (www.pap.fr). Here we found two properties on which we made offers but which for different reasons didn't amount to anything. In our particular case, we had better luck with a realtor. In France, we never came across the concept of a realtor working solely on behalf of the buyer as I believe happens in other countries. A seller can work with multiple realtors in listing a property, and a buyer feels no particular loyalty towards any one realtor in searching for a property. You generally end up working with the realtor through whom you discovered the property. We never felt that we could rely on one realtor to offer us a sufficient selection of properties.

We went through over 20 visits before finding a property we were ready to make an offer on. We benefited from each visit in developing and refining our list of criteria. We considered the importance of storage, parking, covered and uncovered, the size of the bedroom, the number of rooms, on what floor an apartment was situated, exposure to sunlight, etc. Our mutual "coup de coeur" was elusive. We looked at both apartments as well as houses. I was attracted to the independence of owning a house and particularly seduced by the French villa, especially those made of brick or decorated with brick, and let my sentimentality carry me away. Asnières and the surrounding communities have residential neighborhoods in which these villas are common, often built in the 1930's for the working class. The villas in our price range, although often quaint, also mostly needed fixing up or required significant makeovers, and had impractical layouts and small rooms. Apartments in late 19th and early 20th century buildings also captured my imagination, especially those with interesting facades, but the layouts were also often equally impractical and the buildings often lacking in essential conveniences such as elevators. Karine, unencumbered by the notions one has as a foreigner, kept a cooler head. Having lived many years with her parents in a home undergoing restoration, she was loath to undertake a project requiring significant fixing up. In the end we gravitated towards modern apartments with good storage and more practical layouts.

Once you find an apartment for which you are ready to spend money, you first enter into a non-binding negotiation with the realtor in the case the seller is using one, or directly with the seller if no realtor is involved. Through the course of our visits we built up our stock of market intelligence, getting to know neighborhoods and keeping track of the asking prices of different apartments and calculating prices per square meter.

After having visited some 30 odd properties we ended up seriously considering 3 apartments and one house. The house had charm and was located on a nice block, but unfortunately no storage and no parking. We kept it in the back of our heads as we considered other properties. We were still trying to figure out what we considered a reasonable price for an apartment when we stumbled across one at the end of a long day of visits in a neighborhood close to the attractive 19th century town hall. Upon visiting the apartment we both sensed that it was a good value and met almost all of our criteria but we were, in the end, too late to negotiate a price as a buyer had already beat us to the finish line with an offer which was acceptable to the owner. We had a second somewhat similar experience with an apartment in the same neighborhood but which was different in that it was more expensive and better appreciated by Karine than by myself. True, it was sell located in a quiet neighborhood with terraces on the North and South but I found the living room too small for my liking. We entered into non-binding negotiations but were out-bid.

So the search went on ...


[ add comment ] ( 1 view ) permalink
What's Behind the Development of Tools? 

Chantilly, France

What is the secret behind man's capacity and desire to develop more complicated, powerful, precise, sometimes abstract, and specialized tools?

Is it survival that drives him?
Is it curiosity that lures him?
Is it a desire to be the master of his environment that incites him?
Is it a need for stimulation that urges him?

The answer to this question could help to anticipate future technological trends.

I was just in Langres yesterday visiting the Musee d'Art et d'Histoire. The exhibits on Paleo and Neololithic human development and the development of metal working brought me back to this question that has been brewing in the back of my mind when I get a spare minute to think about it.

I'm reading McClellan and Dorns "Science and Technology in World History" that I ordered from Amazon. The authors describe the Paleolithic hunter/gathering liftstyle as a sort of "Garden of Eden", a mode of existence which was not given up willingly. Several hypothesis are put forward to explain why humans moved from the hunter/gatherer mode of existence to the Neolithic settled argricultural existence. One is depletion of resources. The human population had grown to the point where the availablilty of game, wild nuts, fruits, and mushrooms could no longer sustain it.

Does the above theory validate the Biblical account of the early history of Man? Was it the experience of the depletion of natural resources which formed the basis for the story of Cain and Abel? The two seem to represent the new technologies of herding and farming which defind the Neolithic human experience.

And what about the concept of the Noble Savage which was so much a part of Rousseau's philosophy and also the development of the ideas behind the American and French revolutions? Is there a connection?

Fire

The discovery of fire was a key element in the history of the development of tools. Fire provides heat for warmth and hardening wooden tools and for cooking which made digesting food easier. It provides light and protection from wild animals. Without fire, materials which can be used for tools are limited to stone, wood, and animal bones, horns and shells. This also includes plant fibers for basketmaking (because baskets decay easily, it is difficult to establish when this technology first appeared in human history.). Fire opens up a whole new realm of available materials in the use of fired clay, glass, lime (concrete), and metal smelting and forging. Fire also allowed man to more easily work the earlier materials of stone and wood by providing secondary tools for this purpose. The early story of tool development is the story of man being able to achieve higher temperatures from fire and the addition of new chemical processes.

Pottery

The temperature of a fire depends on the material being burned and the environment in which it is burning. Campfire temperatures are said to be in the range of 600-650° C. In discussing the firing of pottery according to Derry and Trevor "Primitive man probably had to be content with firing temperatures in the range of 450°C to 700°C ... At higher temperatures (750 - 800°C) such as can be obtained in large open fires or simple kilns chemical changes take place in the clay, making it stronger and less porous." According to McClellan and Dorn "Neolithic kilns produced temperatures upwards of 900°C".

Metallurgy

The discovery of the process for making charcoal permitted an increase in the temperature for fires. Higher temperatures can be achieved through the artificial creation of a draft in a kiln or furnace (as increasing the delivery of air (through a device like a bellows) raises the rate of combustion and therefore the heat output). To make charcoal, wood is burned slowly (smoulders) in an oxygen reduced atmosphere which results in a high carbon content fuel. Charcoal burns at a temperature of 1,100°C.

The principal tool making metals were copper, lead, tin, and iron. Most often these were found as ores, combinations of the metal elements with other elements such as oxygen or sulphur. Copper was often found as Malachite (copper carbonate), Chalcocite (copper sulfide), or Cuprite (copper oxide). A temperature of 700-800° C is necessary for reduction of Malachite (copper ore) to produce copper nodules. The melting point of pure copper is 1,083°C. Lead was found in the ore Galena (lead sulphide). The production of metallic lead from its ore is relatively easy and could have been produced by reduction of Galena in a camp fire. Lead is highly malleable, ductile and noncorrosive making it an excellent piping material. The most common form of tin ore is Cassiterite (tin oxide). Temperatures in excess of 1200°C are required to smelt tin. Iron is found mainly in Hemitite (iron oxide). It must be smelted at temperatures above 1100°C. The melting temperature of pure iron is 1,535°C.

Smelting involves more than just "melting the metal out of its ore". In most ores, the metal is tightly combined with other elements, such as oxygen (as an oxide) or sulfur (as a sulfide). With the exception of mercury oxide, which decomposes at about 500 °C (932 °F), these compounds will resist temperatures much higher than those that can be attained in a wood- or coal-burning furnace. Smelting therefore requires providing suitable reducing substances that will combine with those oxidizing elements, freeing the metal. The carbon or carbon monoxide derived from it removes oxygen from the ore to leave the metal. As most ores are impure, it is often necessary to use flux, such as limestone, to remove the accompanying rock gangue as slag.

Historically, the first smelting processes used carbon (in the form of charcoal) to reduce the oxides of tin (cassiterite, SnO2), copper (cuprite, CuO) and lead (Lead(II) oxide, PbO), and eventually iron (hematite, Fe2O3) according to the overall reactions

Bronze

Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It was one of the most innovative alloys of mankind. Tools, weapons, armor, and various building materials like decorative tiles made of bronze were harder and more durable than their stone and copper predecessors. Copper and tin ores are rarely found together, so serious bronze work has always involved trade. Though bronze is stronger (harder) than wrought iron, the Bronze Age gave way to the Iron Age; this happened because iron was easier to find. Bronze was still used during the Iron Age, but for many purposes the weaker wrought iron was found to be sufficiently strong. Archaeologists suspect that a serious disruption of the tin trade precipitated the transition. The population migrations around 1200 – 1100 BC reduced the shipping of tin around the Mediterranean (and from Great Britain), limiting supplies and raising prices. As ironworking improved, iron became cheaper, and cultures learned how to make steel, which is stronger than bronze and holds a sharper edge longer.

Agriculture

Agriculture provided the basis for civilization in that it generated a food surplus. In the Neolithic period, wheat and other grains were domesticated (first in the fertile crescent and then moving outward to neighboring parts of the world such as Europe). In order to keep a surplus of this grain in a way that it doesn't spoil you need to store it. This spurred the development of basket making and pottery. It also saw the domestication of the cat to protect the grain surplus from rodents.

The first uses of fire probably came in the form of an evident benefit obtained from accidents or unintended outcomes which man learned how to systematically repeat. For example, man may have observed the affect heat has on clay when a fire was built on a hearth of clay.
[ add comment ] ( 2 views ) permalink
Do Shifts in Population Drive Technology Change? 

Chantilly, France

As an IT professional I am interested in peering into the crystal ball to try and discern the future development of technological trends.

I am also convinced that what has happened in the past, i.e. history, can tell us much about what could happen in the future. Within the development of mankind, there are certain things that change, and certain constants which don't change or change very slowly with respect to other changes happening concurrently.

I was recently in a Paris cafe talking with some acquaintances about a number of subjects. One was expressing dissatisfaction at being forced by computer software manufactures in to regularly investing in new tools when he was perfectly satisfied with the ones he was using. It's a good question. Why should be be eternally forced into making these kinds of changes? And then I thought about the need for innovation in our current market oriented society. Without constant innovation, all products will tend to become commodities. When products become commodities, efforts are focussed on reducing the cost to produce them and this in the direction of economies of scale which results in fewer numbers of increasingly larger producers until at some point a monopoly is established and kills the market. Innovation leads to prosperity. Therefore we need to accept the accompanying and constant change.

Then we talked about the present state of the (shrinking) economy and the sustainability of constant economic growth. One driver for economic growth is population. An ever increasing population produces and consumes more and can result in increasing growth. If economic growth does not keep pace with population growth, prosperity declines. If productivity increases so that economic growth outpaces population growth prosperity grows. Today, technology has been a factor in increasing that productivity growth. But increased productivity means increased production and increased consumption of raw materials (oil, metals, wood, fibers). Can the world continue to increase its consumption of a finite quantity of raw materials? No, because at some point we will arrive at a scarcity followed by an exhaustion of raw materials.

And the growing world population complicates the picture even more.

Scarcity forces society to reorganize.

I'm reading a book on Technology and World History, and the author compares the life of Paleolithic man to living in a garden of Eden. At that time, Man was a hunter gatherer. Man stayed as a hunter gatherer society for 2 million years and over that time society changed very little. During this time, man was spreading around the globe and there were always new territory to move to in the search of sustenance. There was therfore no need for society to change or technology to evolve much.

It was only after the resources were exhausted that man was forced into the Neolithic age to move from a hunter gatherer society to a food producing society.

In this case, in the face of a growing population, scarcity forced society to reorganize and develop new technologies.

When will the effects of an increase of the worlds population beyond the ability of the planet to support it begin to be felt in the developed world and how will it be felt? When and how willwe begin to really feel the effects of the unsustainability of the current socioeconomic model?
[ add comment ] ( 3 views ) permalink
Suspending Judgement 

Chantilly, France

About 17 years ago, when I worked as a programmer for a software company in Ann Arbor Michigan I took the Myers Briggs test which was offered by the company. It was offered as a way of helping employees understand how they relate to their coworkers. I think the idea was to help emplyees understand that there are fundamental characteristics of one's personality which can determine how well one relates, interacts, and gets along with other people. Certain personality types work well together. Between others, there could be certain barriers which, when understood, can be overcome.

Without getting into the details of this test, I guess the most understandable part about it is its characerization of people as either introverted or extroverted. I tested strongly introverted which was no surprise to me. Although I enjoy being around friends and trusted acquaintances, I am at times able to tolerate being alone quite well. I'm often surprised that others who I would characterize as having introverted characteristics really hesitate to describe themselves as such. Perhaps its because they associate introvertedness with anti-socialness. I think one very helpful aspect of the test is its clarification that introverted does not mean anti-social. As was explained to the test takers at the time, it is often impossible to superficially distinguish introverts from extroverts. They both attend parties. It's just that when the party is over, the introverts go home and the extroverts go on to the next party.

Another measurement of Myers/Briggs is the Judging/Perceiving "dichotomy"´. This concept is a little more difficult to understand. I remember testing high on the judging side. I also remember being told that a high judging score does not mean that one is judgemental. But the memory of this test score remains with me today.

A less helpful aspect of the test was the fact that (and this may have no link to Myers/Briggs itself) we were given an indication of which personality types performed better in different roles. I remember that my personality type did not come out favorably in the management role which I found to be somewhat discouraging as it ran counter to my ambition to take on leadership roles within an organization. In this case I found the use of the test to come dangerously close to stereotyping and I didn't like the way that it could be used with the effect of possibly discouraging people to take certain career paths. Am I / was I being overly defensive? I still think that the idea is at least controversial.

I scored high on the judgement/perceiving dichotomy. So am I overly judgemental? Even if it is unrelated to Myers/Briggs, I have a suspicion that I can at times be overly judgemental and that when this happens it distorts my world view. I think that being overjudgemental/critical results in a lot of personal dissatisfaction and unhappiness. When I am overly judgemental, I sometimes justify it by describing myself as dedicated to excellence, or as someone who has high standards. I imagine that for those around me, I come off as being arrogant and close minded.

But as for my adult life, I would also characterize myself as someone who enjoys (selectively) seeking out new experiences and reflecting on cross cultural understanding has long been a hobby of mine. Pursuing this subject has allowed me to gain a perspective on my judgementalness. I remember reading a book on cross cultural experiences many years ago in which it was advised that the best way to avoid culture shock and adapt to a new cultural environment was to suspend judgement. This advice has stayed with me over the years and I think it has served me well. I have certainly obtained an enormous amount of personal satisfication in having successfuly lived by this rule in my life outside of the U.S.

Upon reflecting on my experiences in living and working in a foreign culture, there have been numerous times in which I used old habits and ways of thinking from my own native culture to try and interpret the meaning of events happening around me, and most often I was wrong in my interpretation. I have since learned to mistrust my first reaction to interpreting the messages I receive from people and events and to live with a certain ambiguity when understanding what is happening around me. I have also learned to better accept unexpected reactions or behavior from people without taking it personally. What a blessing this international experience has been as it has allowed me to look much more positively at the world around me.

And yet, I have not been able to transfer this experience in an enduring way to life in my own culture. When I return to the U.S. it is too easy after a certain time to fall back into old habits and to reenter a persona of "closed mindedness".

Generally, I think that Western Society values the part that critical thinking plays in society and views scepticism as healthy. I guess I would agree with this, but up until what point? I think this is one of life's questions for which there is no clear answer. Judgementalness is good in some cases and bad in others. Maybe the most important point has to do with the way we judge people and the way we respect or disrespect them. But that is a topic for another day.


[ add comment ] ( 3 views ) permalink
An Artist never Creates in Isolation 

Chantilly, France

I visited the exhibit "Picasso et les Maitres" today at the Grand Palais in the center of Paris. The exhibit is explained as "210 works from the world's leading collections illustrate the inspiration Picasso drew from the great masters." The reserved tickets are sold out months in advance and if you don't have a reservation, you can stand in line for hours to get in. It can therefore be described as a real "event".

The exhibit juxtaposes a selection of Picasso's works with works from other painters which served as the inspiration for Picasso's art. I did find it very interesting. It provides a perspective on an artist and his inspiration which one rarely finds in a museum.

It's very easy when one visits a museum to look at each work in isolation. The visitor rarely has any insight into the context in which the work was created. This you have to find in the art history books, but I think it's fair to say that few people take the time to do any research before visiting a museum.

I came away from this exhibit with the impression that the development of an artist is very complicated. An artist is very much a product of his environment, his associations with other artists, and the past.

Take Van Gogh for example. In the television series on art history developed by Simon Schama, it is clear that Van Gogh was also very much influenced by the history of art and by other contemporary artists - although he started to paint very late in life and his style was quite distinct from anything that had been done before.

What does this say about originality? Can any art be said to be truly original, if it is in part derived from the past and borrowed from the present?

Is it then just not possible to become an artist from one day to the next? I wonder if there are any cases of a successful artist developing in relative isolation, creating works completely without influence from art and artists of the past and present?
[ add comment ] ( 7 views ) permalink

<< <Back | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | Next> >>