All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Beauty and History Intertwined at Nogent sur Marne

Renowned in the Middle Ages for its pure air, the Kings of France would escape the noisome atmosphere of Paris to stay at the manor of Beaute sur Marne ......Charles VII giving the manor to his mistress, Agnes Sorel, who thus became styled la Dame de Beaute, although best known for her associations with Loches.

Standards of beauty vary over the centuries, styles change, but the painter  of this image of the Virgin, Jean Fouquet, is popularly supposed to have used as a model the face - at least - of Agnes Sorel.

Where kings lead, the nobility follow and in their turn the bourgeoisie. Nogent sur Marne became a town of stylish seventeenth and eighteenth century houses and remained a mecca of secondary residences for well off Parisiens down to the twentieth century, attested by areas of Art Nouveau and Art Deco houses.

The less well off appreciated Nogent sur Marne as well. The advent of the railways allowed poorer Parisians to take the air of the quiet was the epoque of Sundays spent fishing, boating, dining and dancing
in the riverside guinguettes.....restaurants offering simple food and the local white wine. A wonderful break from the working week. One of these guingettes still exists...Le Verger...but in these days of austerity no dancing is on offer.

For Nogent sur Marne has not been exempt from the economic problems which have befallen France. It has a significant number of people in poverty...not all confined to the descendants of the Italian labourers who came in the days of the railway construction boom.
Such is the level of poverty that the council have issued an edict forbidding people to rummage through the waste bins....whether this is to prevent health problems or to preserve the bourgeois image of the town is a moot point.

However, austerity bows before popular culture and the mayor, although of the right wing UMP, has decided to honour the memory of the women who worked in the feather industry...the 'plumassieres'.
Fashions in dress, as well as in beauty, change. These days the feathered military headdress has been replaced by the utilitarian beret.....the vast hat of the Edwardian lady by the fascinator. 
Ostrich feathers are now thought to look better on the ostrich.
However in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century feathers were big business and formed an important economic activity for the area.
These days there are very few workshops working in feathers...and none in Nogent sur Marne. The remainder are in Paris itself, sub contracting to the couture industry...and making the costumes for 'les girls' of the Moulin Rouge and Crazy Horse.

What shape will this commemoration take?
That of a bronze statue, some two metres high, costing over 80,000 Euros and depicting one of the 'plumassieres' in working costume
The mayor, who took this decision unilaterally, without discussion in the council, does not agree that money is a problem. 
Half has been donated by a big construction firm....out of the goodness of their black hearts....the people reduced to rummaging in waste bins will only have to pay the other half.

He'll have to make up his mind where to place it...the Architects of the Batiments de France - equivalent of English Heritage - are very choosy what can be done in the 500 metres surrounding listed buildings, and Nogent sur Marne has five of them....because he'll need to have the paperwork in place by May which is when he intends to inaugurate the monument.

May...but that's the month of the Presidential elections!
Indeed it is and the mayor will no doubt be hoping that the official UMP candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, will be re elected. 
For the model for the statue, chosen with a nod to the connections with the fashion industry and to the Italian immigrant community is none other than

Carla Bruni Sarkozy.......that well known working girl.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

It's Not Necessarily Because You're Stupid....

Old french house                        Image via Wikipedia
Over the years in France I've seen any number of people come to live there...some stay, some go back and some go on.

There are any number of reasons for there are any number of reasons for not.... but it disturbs me that the those who depart are so often regarded as stupid and feckless by those who stay.
'Didn't do their homework...'

I've muttered about this niggardly attituide before, here, but a suggestion from Susie Kelly, whose books I will even pay for, led me to to a sad tale which shows what can happen even when you think you have covered all the angles.

Take a look at this blog

Hobos in France

And wonder how you would have coped with the concatenation of disasters which befell this family.

They bought a house in France. An empty house. They inspected it several times together with the estate agent and the architect they engaged to do the renovations.

After signing the compromis....the agreement to buy...and paying their deposit they discovered a sitting tenant who had suddenly manifested himself.

Here is where the horrors of France take over...they were advised that if they backed out they would not only lose their deposit, but would have to pay the estate agent's commission and would probably be sued by the seller.

Who advised them of this? The estate agent....but also the notaire.

Now, when buying property in France much is made of the protection offered by the notaire...crumbs, you can even seek compensation from their own insurance scheme if they cock it up!
Well, you can claim. Whether you get is another matter.
Their 'protection' is a total sham.

But to whom else should they have turned  for advice and information on the legal aspects of the problem?
The know all hindsight merchants of the Britpack community...the ones who tell people that they have brought their  misfortune on themselves?

As you read the blog you will see how the incompetence and, it has to be said, malevolence of French institutions - everything from the electricity board to the local Maire - reduced the house to an uninhabitable state...except for the rooms occupied by the sitting tenant....and forced them to take to the road.

Meanwhile, they sought further legal advice. From an avocat...equivalent of a barrister.
To whom else should they have turned?
The 'helping hand' ladies of the Britpack, who 'do you a favour' which ends up costing you an arm and a leg only to be pushed further in the mire?

This avocat, incompetent to a degree, led them up the garden path as to fees and failed signally in his duty to provide adequate representation.
They lost their case, their money and their health.

These are not feckless people...they followed advice given by appropriately qualified persons and have ended up - effectively - on the road, but they have not given up in the face of injustice...they are carrying on.

Ill but indomitable.

I have had experience of the French legal system.
From that experience I would trust no notaire as far as I could kick him and avocats a damn sight less.

But I wouldn't have known that when starting out in France...I wouldn't have known about crooked lawyers and courts without French friends to tell me.
Show me the book on 'moving to France, all you need to know' which puts you wise to this.
I don't know of one.

It is a pity that the knee jerk reaction of some in the expat forum world deters people from telling their stories as we all lose a chance to learn something which might help us in the future...put us on our guard....not to necessarily put our trust in a 'professional'.

I've known of unbelievable things happening....people who are victims not only of French people and systems, but of exploitative vultures among their compatriots.
Most do nothing about it....some even keep on visiting terms with the exploiters....few talk about it whether for fear of being thought an idiot - mostly they weren't - or from social pressure - the expat colony can be a small world.
I understand the reluctance to name names....the legal consequences can be financially discouraging...but a compilation of horror stories would be a useful tool for the person thinking of moving to France.

Any ideas, anyone?

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