Monday, March 22, 2010

Hard to blog when it isn't funny anymore

I can’t be the first one to notice that starting a blog is kind of asking for it.  It’s like making a public announcement of your intention to lose weight.  Works great as long as you are actually doing it, but then as soon as you slack off for one reason or another it becomes a daily reminder of your lazy inability to stick to an old project.  “Haven’t seen any blog posts lately,” people say.  “How’s that diet coming?”
There were all the usual reasons for not posting.  Busy, of course.  But the big reason was that something happened that wasn’t amusing, mostly because it is tragic, and also because it put us right back in the old, anxious, scary, what’s-going-to-happen mode we were in when we were trying to close the deal last fall. 
It started February 24, just about a month ago.  Back then, my excuse for not writing was that things were just going too well, so there was nothing to complain about.  We were ahead of schedule and under budget.  We had bought our tickets to go stay in the apartment for the first time during the kids’ Spring Break the first week of April.  That morning we got the fateful email from our architect, Monsieur P.  Our contractor, Monsieur K., was dead.   The 24th was a Wednesday.  On that Monday Monsieur P had shown up at the apartment for his weekly inspection and meeting, but there was no one there.  A few phone calls later, he learned that Monsieur K had died in his sleep Thursday night.  He was 49 years old.  We only met him a couple of times.  He was always pleasant, gruff but deferential to our role as proprietaires.  From our perspective on the jobsite he seemed more like the foreman than a general contractor, that role being filled by Monsieur P.   He was Polish, actually, although I think he had been living in France for some time.
Work, obviously, was at a standstill, but it took a couple of days for it to sink in just how dire the situation was.  Monsieur K’s death was a perfect storm of delay that we seemed powerless to do anything about.  If the job site had caught on fire, our insurance would have paid for it.  But here we were, 3000 miles away, the project was at a standstill while we paid full freight on the mortgage, no rentals, the furniture couldn’t be delivered, and even in our deepest extremes of panic we couldn’t even imagine selling the place—who would want a half-renovated apartment?
Even Monsieur P., always cool and in control, started to sound worried in his emails.  This has never happened to me before, he kept saying.  But he had a plan, more or less.  He could find another contractor to take over the job.  But first, he had to meet with the late Monsieur K’s daughter and accountant, and try to figure out exactly what had been ordered, how much money had been spent, what still needed to be done.  He couldn’t even offer a guess about when the job might start up again, much less finish.  We had tickets for our triumphant first stay in the apartment the first week of April.  That, depressingly, was out.  We would still go, can’t return the tickets anyway, and there would have to be some kind of business to conduct, but what a bummer.  We rented an apartment in the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, there was one very mysterious thing.  Philippe went by to visit the place and take a couple of pictures, and to his surprise he found a couple of workers in there, laying tiles in the kitchen.  The guy said he worked for Monsieur K, he was just trying to finish a few things up with materials that were lying around the apartment.  OK, but it sure seemed strange that Monsieur P hadn’t mentioned any of this.  We figured maybe he was a sub-contractor, a tile guy if they do things that way over there, he had been paid already and was finishing the job he had signed up for. 
And that was about it for three weeks.  It was an old cycle.  We emailed everyone we could think of:  our lawyer in Paris, the rental agency, Mme. L at the mortgage broker, but no one answered, or if they did they just said, “Wow, that’s terrible.”  No one even had a theory about what we might do.  And as happened several times already, our anxiety started to mount, as more and more we felt as though we were helplessly hemorrhaging money, drip drip drip.

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