31 December 2013

Oléron oysters, Portuguese beans, and the local vino

It's going to be a busy morning. We have to get everything together for our drive down to southern Touraine for a New Year's Eve dinner — load up the car, get the dog psychologically prepared (she hates riding in the car), and make sure we don't forget anything. Cameras? Check. Batteries? Check. Android tablet? Check. Power supply? Check. Dogfood? Check. Leash? Check. Dog? Check...

And then there's the food and drink. We got oysters. It turned out that there was no special New Year's market in Saint-Aignan yesterday. There had been a market on Monday Dec. 23, and we assumed there would be one on Mon. Dec. 30 (the normal market day is Saturday). We drove down there yesterday morning and we were disappointed.

Two kinds of oysters (4 doz.) spending the night in our dirt-floored cold pantry downstairs

But suddenly our mood brightened. While there wasn't a full market, there was a truck parked on the main square. Out it it, a young man was selling oysters that he had brought up here from the town of Marenne and the island of Oléron, which is about 4 hours southwest of Saint-Aignan. On était sauvé. We bought four dozen Marenne-Oléron oysters, as they are called — two dozen of the ones called pleine-mer (open sea) and two dozen of the ones called fines de claires.

 Like me, you probably can't tell which variety of oyster these are...

They are the same oysters, but they are treated differently. The pleine-mer [plehn-MEHR] oysters stay in seawater until they are harvested, sold, and served. They have their own particular taste. The fines de claires [feen-duh-KLEHR] are gathered in the sea and then put into salt ponds (claires) to spend the last three or four months of their life. They have a different taste because of that method of "finishing" — they're called fines because they are extra "refined". Millions of oysters from Marenne-Oléron, Brittany, and Normandy will be consumed tonight at New Year's Eve dinners all over France.

Bubbly wine made from grapes grown in our village

As I mentioned yesterday, before going to get the oysters we went down to the village hall and dropped off a CD we had burned after gathering up a total of about 130 photos. We figured the mayor or whoever on her staff is in charge of organizing her New Year's ceremony could pick out whatever photos they wanted to use for their slideshow or whatever. We hoped they wouldn't feel completely overwhelmed.

Right after lunch, the mayor came by and rang the bell at our front gate — she's our neighbor. Walt went out and talked to her. She said they were thrilled with the photos and had decided to use all of them. It was nice of her to stop and tell us. She urged us to attend the event on Saturday. Embarrassingly enough, we've never attended before. We'll have to make a big effort to get ourselves there this time. To thank us, she brought us a bottle of the local bubbly, which is made like Champagne but using local grapes like Chenin Blanc instead of Chardonnay.

Cornilles or black-eyed peas imported from Portugal, cooked

Finally, I cooked up a big pot of black-eyed peas yesterday for our New Year's Day dinner. For people from the U.S. South, it's considered good luck to eat black-eyed peas (called « cornilles » [kor-NEE-yuh] in France) on January 1. I love the old superstition, because I love black-eyed peas. Most French people seem never to have heard of them before. Luckily, they eat them in Portugal, so I can always find them, either dried or in cans, in the Portuguese products section in all the local supermarkets.

Beans bubbling in boiling broth on the stove

Black-eyed peas are beans, actually but they have much thinner and more delicate skins than other beans. And they have a distinctly different flavor compared to white beans like navy beans, French lingots, or Italian cannellini, or like red kidney beans and pinto beans. It's hard to describe, but the taste is kind of grassy and rich. It resembles the flavor of lentils, I think, and goes very well with duck, including the slow-cooked confit de canard that we'll have with them, and with pork and pork sausages. I cooked my "peas" in a broth flavored with onion, garlic, spices, and bay leaves in which I had simmered a big slice of salt pork to have with our Christmastime feast of collard greens.

Walnut biscotti by Walt, great for dunking in wine or coffee

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that Walt made a big batch of crispy walnut biscotti to take to the friends who've invited us for dinner tonight. There they are.

30 December 2013

En panne...

« En panne » in French means "out of order" (a vending machine or telephone, for example), or "broken down" (speaking of a car). One expression the dictionary uses to translate the expression is incapable de fonctionner. What's en panne here is me this morning. Physically, I feel fine, but I'm busy with things other than this blog. The weather, which the Télématin presenter just described as une pertubation par jour (one rain front after another), hasn't been conducive to a lot of photo-taking.

 These are some gratuitous photos of a broccoli quiche we made a while back....

Maybe we'll make a quiche later this week. But first we have to have all the New Year's food that we like to have. Oysters, for example. We'll be going down to the special Monday market on the main square in old Saint-Aignan this morning to buy a few dozen of them.

We'll spend New Year's Eve with friends who live about an hour from here, and they are planning the rest of the menu. On Wednesday, January 1, back at home, we'll have a sort of cassoulet with Toulouse sausages and a couple of pieces of confit de canard that I made back in September or October. It's ready to eat now, after "curing" in its own fat for three months. Oh, I'll make my cassoulet with black-eyed peas, because eating those on New Year's Day is a tradition where I come from.

...just because I think it looks appetizing,

Meanwhile, the mayor of our village (population 1100) has asked us to give her a batch of photos of the local area and vineyards so that she can run them as a slide show during her cérémonie de vœux this coming Saturday. The vœux du maire are a tradition in all the villages of France — it's the mayor's official greetings to her or his constituents and a kind of kick-off for the new year. We've burned some 130 photos onto a CD that we'll take down to the village hall this morning. Then it's off to shop...

29 December 2013

Le temps passe...

28 décembre 2003

28 décembre 2013

28 December 2013


Callie the collie will be seven years old in a couple of months. And she doesn't even know it. Or do you think she does? Who knows what goes on in a canine mind. Here's a holiday portrait for 2013. I don't think she could figure out why I was taking her picture.

The news here in France mostly has to do with the weather these days. There's flooding in Brittany and there are avalanches in the Alps (two skiers were killed yesterday). We've been having heavy downpours of rain over the past few hours. The noise woke me up a couple of times during the night. I can hear a hard rain falling right this minute.

27 December 2013

La météo du jour

Here's my periodic weather report. We're back in a rainy pattern for the next few days, but it's not cold. Today it's windy, but not nearly as windy as it was a few days ago, when a major storm went through.

Remember, France is about the size of Texas — 250,000 sq. mi. or so. That makes it five times as big as U.S. States like North Carolina, Illinois, and New York. It's not quite twice as big as California. By comparison, if you add up the areas of the states of NY, NJ, PA, MD, DE, VA, NC, and SC along the U.S. East Coast, it comes to 250,000 sq. mi. The shape is different, but that's how big France is in surface area. The combined states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois are similar in size. Sorry to be so nerdy.

Revenons en France. Big swirling low pressure centers keep moving in off the Atlantic Ocean. The center or "eye" of these storms passes well to the north, over Ireland, northern England, and Scotland, but bands of rain and wind extend far to the south and brush across France. Brittany, the western point of the country, often takes the brunt of such weather.

I added city names to this weather map so that you can get oriented. Paris is in the center-north part of France. You'll see the city of Tours 150 miles to the southwest, and Saint-Aignan is just 35 miles east of Tours.

As usual, you can click or tap on the images to see them at a larger size.

On the map above, you see that winds are at 80 kph over Brittany and Normandy. That's about 50 mph. Over the center of the country, including Paris and Tours (and Saint-Aignan), wind velocities are 70 kph, which is between 40 and 45 mph. With rain, that's not so pleasant.

To the right, you'll see this morning's low temperatures. Paris is at 6ºC, which is in the low 40s F. Tours is at 8ºC, which is closer to 50ºF. That's pretty warm for a low temperature in late December. Brittany is even warmer, because air is flowing in off the warm Gulf Stream ocean current. 12ºC is about 55ºF. Only in eastern France are temperatures approaching or going below the freezing point, which is 0ºC.

The weather isn't supposed to get much better in the afternoon today. Rain and strong gusty winds will continue to blow over the northwestern part of the country, especially over Brittany and Normandy. Toward Tours and the center of France, there will be less rain and slightly less violent winds, but we won't be doing much outside today — except walking the dog this morning and again late in the afternoon.

Temperatures will be falling from their morning lows out in Brittany. But pretty much over the whole country, temperatures will stay unseasonably mild. Notice the two 18s in the southwest, near the Pyrenees mountains. That's close to 65ºF. It'll be 15ºC, or 60ºF, in the southeast at Nice. That's nice for them.

Here in Saint-Aignan we'll have about the same high temperature as Paris, with 13ºC or the mid-50s F. That's pretty warm. The first winter we spent in Saint-Aignan, 11 years ago, we got snow at this time of year. It's hard to tell what to expect from year to year, because the weather is very variable.

The weather report in France is called la météo [lah-may-tay-OH]. We keep tabs on it very closely, because we are gardeners and dog walkers.

26 December 2013

A thingamabob and a guineafowl

Do you have any idea what this little thing is? Have you ever seen one before? Have you ever used one? Can you imagine what purpose it serves?

I won't make you guess, really. Here's the answer. It's a doohickey that you use to "sew up" a chicken or other fowl so that the stuffing you put inside won't fall out. Even if you cook the volaille on the tourne-broche (rotisserie) in your little French oven. But I think we bought the gadget in the U.S. I can't really remember.

I stuffed the cavity of the bird with a kind of sausage meat dressing and then used the whatchamacallit to "sew" it up...

That's what we did yesterday. We had a 4¾ lb. chapon de pintade for our Christmas dinner. That's a "Guinea fowl" capon. I don't know you are familiar with Guinea fowl. I know my great-aunt in South Carolina used to raise them, back in the 1960s, but I don't think they are easy to come by in the U.S. And I'm not even sure if my S.C. relatives ate them. I think they kept them for the eggs.

...before putting the guineafowl on the broche ("spit") and roasting it in the oven.

Guinea hens or "guineafowl" are available year-round in French markets and supermarkets. At Christmastime, you can find capons everywhere — both chicken and Guinea fowl capons. They are especially fattened birds that people serve for holiday feasts.

Here it is with the whatsit still in place...

Guineafowl resemble partridges, Wikipedia says, but they have featherless heads. They make their nests on the ground. They are related to chickens and pheasants, and the French name for the bird is la pintade.

...and finally with it removed so we could start carving the bird.

Guineafowl meat is darker and more flavorful than chicken meat, and I like it better than turkey myself. Guineafowl are African. There are both wild and domesticated species. Try one. You'll like it.

25 December 2013

Christmas Eve activities on a stormy day

This morning I'm seeing stars, and I mean that in the very best way — out the bedroom window, in the sky. One is so bright it might be the legendary star of Bethlehem. I think it's probably Jupiter. Yesterday, after the winds came the rains. The high winds lasted all day. At nightfall the skies opened up and dropped buckets of rain on us all night. I'll be interested to see how much water is in the rain gauge tout à l'heure.

We stayed busy all day yesterday, almost racing to get things done in the kitchen in case our electricity went out because of the strong gusty winds. The first thing I needed to do was wash and trim about 4 pounds (a peck, I think that is) of collard greens. I had picked them out in the garden the day before. I wanted to cut out the stems and just save the nicest leaves to have as a side dish with our Christmas Guinea fowl capon and oven-roasted buttercup squash. It took me less than an hour to pick through the collard greens one leaf at a time and trim them up. Out in the garden, I left the plants in the ground with their newest and smallest leaves still growing, hoping that they will give us new crops January, February, and March.

A 12-liter pot of fresh collard greens, grown in our garden outside Saint-Aignan

At the market on Saturday, I bought a chunk of smoked pork belly, known here as poitrine de porc fumée (smoked breast of pork), from the charcuterie stand where I used to buy things a lot more often than I do nowadays. I don't know why I've sort of stopped going to the open-air market in Saint-Aignan. Maybe it was because nearly every Saturday over the first six months of 2013 was rainy. And then I was in Paris for a few Saturdays in July, just before the vegetable garden harvest kicked in. Anyway I'm glad I got the poitrine fumée this time. You can see how I cooked it with the collard greens. I also had a good chat with the woman I have in past posts called Mme Doudouille.

That's a chunk of smoked bacon about an inch thick. Most of these greens will end up in containers in the freezer.

The next thing to do was to start the process of making the stuffing for the chapon de pintade. I had got a piece of veal (200 grams or about 7 oz.) from the butcher and also used a packet of supermarket lardons fumés of the same weight. Walt ground all that meat using the grinder attachment on our KitchenAid stand mixer. I wanted to lightly cook the meat with some flavor ingredients — a chopped shallot, a pinch or two of dried thyme and ground cloves, a smashed garlic clove, some hot red pepper flakes and black pepper — and let it cool and blend overnight, before it was time to stuff it into the bird.

Pork, veal, and shallots for stuffing

Today, I'll add some chopped, cooked chicken livers to the mix, and a couple of raw, beaten eggs as a binder. Oh, and a handful of shelled and coarsely chopped pistachios (pistaches californiennes, it says on the label). Then I'll stuff the Guinea fowl before putting it on the rotisserie in the oven to cook for a couple of hours.

I'm trying to make a meat stuffing like I remember eating with poultry in restaurants in Paris back in the 1970s and 80s.

Finally, it was time to get the Christmas Eve fondue savoyarde — a cheese fondue — ready. That meant weighing out 200 grams each of Gruyère, Comté, and Emmenthal cheeses, and then grating them. We didn't take any pictures of the fondue as we made and ate it, but I can tell you it was good. Maybe not as good as last year's, when we used a cheese called Beaumont de Savoie instead of Emmenthal.

We couldn't find any Beaumont de Savoie this year. I think it melts more smoothly and liquidly than Emmenthal, and has at least as good a taste. Maybe next year. This morning I have to get to work on finishing the stuffing and getting the bird into the oven. Walt roasted the buttercup squash yesterday, so lunch is almost ready. Oh, he also made a beautiful blueberry tart, using blueberries that he picked at a farm over in the Sologne last July and froze for use in cakes and pies all winter.

Merry Christmas and Bon Appétit...

24 December 2013

Tempête !

I don't think the wind is as bad as the weather reports said it was going to be. They told us to expect, and to prepare for, virtually hurricane-force winds of 120 kph (72 mph). I think Brittany got the worst of the storm, along with the British Isles. Here's the post I wrote yesterday, thinking that we might be in the dark this morning:

* * * *

It's not often that I write my blog post the day before I put it up on the 'net. My normal routine is to get up between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m., go down and make some coffee or tea, and then sit down in front of my laptop computer and put something together.

 The view out the back window at about 6 p.m. Monday night

Today's post is pre-programmed. We are supposed to have a heavy-duty windstorm starting around midnight tonight (it's Monday afternoon as I type) and continuing all through the day tomorrow, which is Christmas Eve. Even though the electric lines coming up out of the river valley to our hamlet have now been undergrounded, and we stand less of a chance of having a local power failure because of trees falling on the lines, we could well be victim to a much wider-scale outage when this storm comes through.

This the 4.85 lb. Guinea fowl capon that we are hoping to be able to cook Weds. a.m., Christmas Day 2013.
It's fermier et élevé en plein air, which means farm-raised and free-range.

So here's a post for Christmas Eve, written on Christmas Eve eve. We have a plan in place that will allow us to enjoy our traditional December 24 cheese fondue, even without electricity. Maybe the current will come back on — if it does indeed go out tonight or tomorrow morning — by Christmas Day so that we will be able to roast our Guinea fowl capon and cook our squash and collard greens.

I went out to the garden this morning picked a big mess of collard greens to cook for our Christmas Dinner.

If you are reading this, it means we are in the dark today, Tuesday, Christmas Eve, 2013. The wood- burning stove will keep us warm. Winds are supposed to gust up to 60 mph. Earlier, they were predicting 70 to 75 mph winds, but they've scaled that back. Our house is especially vulnerable to high winds. Wish us luck.

* * * *

The wind is really whooshing through the trees outside, but TV, Internet, and electricity are still on here. I imagine we are having gusts at 60 mph (100 kph) right now, and the vents tempétueux are supposed to continue until this afternoon, with heavy rain. I think I'll get to work sorting through my greens and preparing them for cooking this morning.

23 December 2013

Fish tacos with salsa and avocado

In December, between the 21st (Walt's birthday feast) and the 25th (the Christmas feast), we really need something spicy and tasty to eat that doesn't seem too heavy. Yesterday, that turned out to be fish tacos. I'm not even sure where the idea came from. Walt might have mentioned it first.

We had fish left over from the soupe de poissons we made a couple of weeks ago. It was frozen Alaska pollock, a fairly neutral white fish, in fillets. I found a recipe on Simply Recipes, Elise Bauer's site. She's in Sacramento, California, and the recipes she posts are unfailingly good. Here also is a French recipe that's similar.

These were soft tacos, the kind we used to enjoy in San Francisco way back when. They're full of fresh ingredients, including a tomato-pepper-garlic salsa that has some sting to it. Ours was a pico de gallo that I made last fall, when we were overwhelmed by a bumper crop of tomatoes from the garden. I had put a few containers of salsa in the freezer.

I thawed some fish fillets, dried them off, and sprinkled them with hot pepper, chili powder, and ground cumin. Then I sauteed them briefly in olive oil in a big skillet. I also sliced an onion and sauteed that briefly in olive oil, with no salt so that the onion would retain some crunch and just brown a little bit. Here's the cooked fish:

I cut up some roasted red bell peppers (poivrons rouges) out of a jar, and a fresh avocado. To keep the avocado from going brown, I squeezed a fresh lime over it. Lime juice is a flavor you want with Mexican-style food. The other ingredients in the tacos were iceberg lettuce and fresh cilantro a.k.a. coriander. We each made up our own tacos at the table.

We used small corn tortillas (Mexican tortillas, not the Spanish tortilla, which is a potato omelet). We can buy corn or wheat tortillas at the supermarket nowadays  — the supermarket chains have their own brands and they're good. We heated the tortillas up very quickly in the same non-stick skillet that I had cooked the onion and fish in. As for salsa, you can of course buy it in jars at the supermarket, or you can make your own with either fresh or canned tomatoes.

The pico de gallo salsa is very easy to make, by the way, because you just have to roughly chop some fresh or tinned tomatoes, hot chili peppers, onion, garlic, and herbs, put everything in a pitcher or other tall container, and blitz it all quickly with a stick blender. If it's too liquid, pour it into a fine-mesh strainer and let the liquid drain off. Don't throw it away though. Freeze it for later use in soups or sauces.

Along with the lime juice, I think a little dash of hot-pepper vinegar adds good punch to the taco. We put a lot of jalapeño, cayenne, and banana peppers up in vinegar in years when we have a good crop, and we save the vinegar for uses like this after the peppers are gone. The hot pepper vinegar is good with beans like black-eyed peas and with greens like collards.

22 December 2013

Moving on...

You probably think I am suffering from some terrible, terminal disease, after all my posts about dying and testaments and heirs. It's not true. I'm fine, as far as I know. We are all terminal cases, however, when you think about it.

A recent sunrise at La Renaudière

We went to the market and the supermarket in Saint-Aignan yesterday and bought the makings for our Christmas dinner. It will be a stuffed chapon de pintade — a Guinea fowl capon — spit-roasted and served with collard greens and pureed winter squash. The first course will be escargots à la bourguignonne — snails, Burgundy-style, which means in garlic-parsley butter. Walt is going to make a blueberry tart for dessert. Too bad we have to wait until Wednesday...

21 December 2013

One more post about heirs and inheritances

This morning I got an e-mail from a long-time reader (her term) who is French but has lived in Australia (Queensland) for a long time. She sent me a link to a web page entitled Successions in France. It's pretty interesting, and probably explains things better than I have done.

Here are some quotes from the information on the Successions in France page. The underlining for emphasis is mine:
The law applicable to personal property in the succession is the law of the country where the deceased had, at the time of his/her death, his/her habitual residence.

On the other hand, for real estate, the applicable law is that of the country where said property is located. French law does not authorise any derogations from this rule, so that it is not possible to choose the law applying to a succession. 

For personal property, even property located abroad, the French authorities are competent if the deceased, irrespective of his/her nationality, had his/her last domicile in France.

However, the French authorities consider that, in principle, they do not have competence for real estate located abroad.

French law does not provide for a choice as regards the law applicable to successions.
I do know that inheritance laws and estate tax rules are evolving in Europe and therefore in France. I hope the information above is up to date. The only way to know is to consult with a notaire.

As to the need to have a last will and testament (un testament) in France, I think this is the most relevant consideration:
If the deceased leaves a spouse: The surviving spouse receives all the estate where the deceased has collateral relatives. Where there are parents, half of the estate devolves to the spouse and the other half to the parents.

Under French law, only the deceased’s descendants (children, grandchildren, etc. provided that they qualify by their rank) and spouse are entitled to a reserved portion. Ascendants and collateral relatives do not have rights to reserved portions. 
If you are an expat living in France, have a spouse or a PACS partner, and also have parents who are still living, the will and donation, including the donation au dernier vivant, provide a way for you and your heirs to plan for the day when you die. If your parents are elderly and live in another country, outside France, they might not want to inherit property in France, under any circumstances. It could really complicate their existence — not to mention your spouse's or partner's.

If you have children, whether from your current marriage or an earlier relationship, there's not much you can do about that in France. Your children are entitled to a set portion of your estate by law. In this case, without a will or donation, if:
The deceased leaves a spouse and children: Where there are children of the same parents, the surviving spouse receives, at his/her choice, either the usufruct of the deceased’s assets or the ownership of a quarter of the assets. Where there are children but not of the same parents, the spouse receives the ownership of a quarter of the assets.

20 December 2013

French inheritance taxes overview

Here is some information I've gathered from the French service public web site (this page, and this one) about the taxes incurred by heirs in France.

Several categories of heirs benefit from a tax abatement determined by their kinship line, or lack thereof, to the person leaving the inheritance. For example, since 2007, the suviving spouse or civil union (PACS) partner is exempt from inheritance tax on the entire amount he or she inherits (but the surviving partner does not necessarily inherit 100% of the estate automatically).

Direct descendants (children,  or grand-children representing the deceased's pre-deceased child) and ascendents (parents or grand-parents, for example) are granted an abatement of 100,000 € (euros). In other words, they pay no tax on the first 100,000 € of the value of the inheritance. That's a little less than $140,000 US at today's exchange rates.

The amount of the inheritance above 100,000 € is taxed as shown in this table:

Remember that the French use a period in big numbers where we use a comma, and a comma where we use a period.
In this table, one thousand euros would be written as 1.000 €.

My interpretation of this table — you'd need to consult with a French notaire to be absolutely sure about the tax amounts — is that an inheritance worth, say 200,000 € left to a parent or child would mean that the heir would owe a tax on the order of 18,500 €: No tax on the first 100K €; 5% of the next 8K € (400 €); 10% of the next 4K € (400 €); 15% of the next 4K € (600 €); and finally 20% of the remaining 84K € (nearly 17K €). I hope that's right. Higher amounts are taxed at progressively higher rates.

The important thing is to remember that, unless you have concluded a donation au dernier vivant (AKA donation entre époux) by signing papers in front of a French notaire, and if you don't have children, your surviving parents each receive, automatically, one quarter of whatever you leave behind as an estate. Without the donation, your surviving spouse, assuming their are no children, is entitled to either 50% or 75% of your estate, depending on whether you are survived by one or both of your parents. That could get complicated. If you have children, whether with your current spouse or from a previous lit (bed), as we say in French, it gets even more complicated.

Back to abatements. Brothers and sisters of the deceased qualify for an abatement of only about 16,000 € if they are the heirs. And they pay higher inheritance taxes on anything over that 16K €. If you are not survived by a spouse, PACS partner, a child or children, or a parent or parents, your siblings and other relatives will inherit your estate in the absence of a will. That's my understanding, at least. And the taxes incurred will be:

If my calculations are correct, your sibling would pay approximately 80,000 € on the hypothetical 200,000 € as follows: no tax on the first 16K; 35% of the next 24.4K € (8.5K €), and 45% of the remaining 160K € (72K €). I'm rounding off the numbers.

If nieces and nephews are your heirs, they get an abatement of only 8,000 € and would incur taxes approximately equal to those incurred by siblings, from what I read.

Finally, any other heirs — distant relatives, unrelated persons (including a partner to whom you are not married or PACSed) are taxed on the inheritance according to the following table, with an abatement of only 1,600 €.

In other words, a distant relative, a friend, or a partner to whom you are not married or legally bound to in a civil union (the PACS in France) would incur a tax burden of 55 or 60% of the value of your 200,000 € estate (110K or 120K euros).

I'll repeat my disclaimer: I'm no expert. The only way to be sure is to consult a notaire if you live in France. I know at least one notaire who speaks English (she's in Paris); there must be many others. If you want to protect the inheritance rights of your surviving spouse or partner — and especially if you own a house — it seems to me that you need to get married or PACSed, and then set up that donation au dernier vivant.

Besides my not being an expert, I'm not a great proofreader of my own stuff. I've read and re-read this, making corrections and changes. If you see errors, please leave a comment or send me an e-mail. As Antoinette said in her comment on yesterday's post, the best thing I can do here is to get expats in France, or potential ones, to start thinking about all these issues.

19 December 2013

French inheritance laws

I am not an expert in this area and I am just translating material about French inheritance laws that I've found on French Wikipedia.

Under French law, your surviving spouse and your children, legitimate or illegitimate, from whatever marriage, cannot be disinherited — they have a status called « réservataire » when it comes to your estate. Each child has a right to inherit an equal part of your estate. Your surviving spouse can elect to take either a lifetime right to the whole estate, or to take outright ownership of a one-quarter share.

If you leave behind descendents when you die, those descendents take precedence over any other family members. If are survived by children, they divide up the inheritance in equal shares. However, if the one of your children has died before you die, any children of that child (your grandchildren) will inherit your deceased child's share.

If you have no descendents when you die, the inheritance will go to your other family members including ascendents (parents or grandparents) or collateral relatives (siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins).
If you are survived by your parents and/or siblings but no descendents, your mother and father each inherit one quarter of your estate and the remaining half goes to your siblings, each getting an equal share.If one of your parents is deceased, his or her one-quarter share is given to your siblings. If both your parents are deceased, the entirety of your estate is inherited by your siblings.

If you are not survived by your parents or any siblings, your estate is inherited  by your surviving aunts, uncles, and cousins. One half of the estate goes to surviving relatives representing your maternal line and one half goes to those representing your paternal line. If all the relatives in one line or the other are deceased, the inheritance goes in its entirety to the surviving relatives of the other line.

As for your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, they can all be "disinherited" by drawing up a last will and testament that designates your surviving spouse as your sole heir. This is called a « donation entre époux » and has by law to be set up by a notaire in France.

Starting in August 2015, French inheritance laws will no longer be "unilateral". In other words, the inheritance rules and laws that apply in an individual's case will be those of the country where the death occurred. The law will apply to real property and all other assets.

There is also a provision explaining that your last place is residence is the criterion on which the decision about the laws regarding your estate is based, but that's not at all clear to me. What if my place of legal residence is in Saint-Aignan but I happen to die in an accident while I'm visiting my family in the U.S.? What inheritance laws would apply? Does having dual nationality play any role in all of this?

In France, when you inherit you inherit property and assets you also inherit the deceased's debts. Because of that fact, nobody can be required to accept an inheritance. If your deceased parent's debts amount to more than the value of the estate you would inherit, you can simply refuse the inheritance.

None of this deals with the issue of inheritance taxes, which are higher as your relation to the deceased is more distant. The surviving spouse and children inherit tax-free, I believe, but all other relatives pay significant inheritance taxes — up to 60% or more of the value of the property inherited. I'll have to look more into those issues. (See this post for more information.)

I think that all this is very interesting and that it might be helpful to you who now live in France or are thinking about moving here and buying property.

18 December 2013

La Vie en rose

That is a famous song, of course. Edith Piaf wrote the words and made the song world-famous. She might have been talking about the December sky at dawn in the Loire Valley.

Quand il me prend dans ses bras, et me parle tout bas, je vois la vie en rose...

That's our house in approximately the middle of the photo above. Below is a view farther out in the vineyard looking pretty much northwest.

I'm not trying to imply that la vie en rose — la belle vie — is what we live here, but life here ain't half bad. Even in wintertime there are beautiful moments.

Meanwhile, our long tall laurel hedge has been trimmed one more time. This time we had a professional gardening crew in to do the job, so you won't see progress reports and photos day after day on the blogs. You've seen all those posts in the past if you've been reading my blog and Walt's for a few years.

Yesterday I had a conversation with an American woman who works as a notaire — a French-government-licensed contracts lawyer — about end-of-life issues in France. I wanted to know whether the two spouses in a childless French or foreign marriage, living in and owning property in France at the time of their death, need to have last wills and testaments to define inheritance issues, or whether one spouse automatically inherits their property when the other one dies. French family inheritance laws are very different from our laws in the Anglo-Saxon world.

I already knew that the children of one or both spouses in any marriage have a right to inherit a certain share of the property their parents leave behind. The surviving spouse usually gets a lifetime right to stay in the family home. Children can't be disinherited, and they actually inherit their parents' property and become the owners. What I didn't know was that the parents of two spouses also have a right to a certain portion of the property when their adult child dies. The American notaire said it would be prudent for the two spouses to draw up their wills, with the help and advice of a local notaire, and to be explicit about their final wishes and instructions. I need to do more research on the issue.

17 December 2013

Échappées Belles : la Sologne

About a month ago, I posted a couple of blog topics about the Romorantin grape and the wines made from it in the area called the Sologne, just to the north of Saint-Aignan. I mentioned that at the same time we had, coincidentally, come across an episode of the French television show called Échappées Belles that focused on the same region.

I hadn't recorded the show, and I was sorry about that. But I noticed that a lot of other Échappées Belles [ay-shah-pay-BELL] episodes were available on YouTube.com. I hoped the Sologne show might appear there one day soon. I've been checking every few days, but until now it wasn't there. A couple of blog readers (Judy, Evelyn) expressed an interest in watching the show.

La Sologne is a forested area roughly south of Orléans and Blois, east of Amboise and Montrichard, and north of Saint-Aignan and Vierzon. Paris is just an hour north of Orléans.

A couple of weeks ago Walt noticed that the show was being re-broadcast on French TV, and we hurried to set up the recorder. Then last week I recorded the show from our satellite decoder box PVR onto one of my computers. I set about researching and experimenting with the process of uploading the Échappées Belles : Sologne episode to YouTube myself.

First I had to convert the video files from DVD format (.VOB) to a format that can be run on YouTube — in this case, .MP4. That took forever, and I had to convert the files several times because I wasn't satisfied with the quality. Once I had the quality I wanted, I started experimenting with the upload process. That took forever too.

I would set everything up and it would take as long as two hours to upload a single file. That pretty much disabled our Internet connection for the amount of time the upload was running. And then the first few times, after waiting two hours, twiddling my thumbs, I'd get a error message back from YouTube saying the file was too big to post. I had to break it down into four segments. Then I had to fiddle with the settings again to get the clear video and the 16:9 aspect ratio the show required.

On this satellite view, you can see that La Sologne is a large forested area spanning three French départements: le Loiret (Orléans), le Loir-et-Cher (Blois), and le Cher (Vierzon).

You get the idea. It has been a challenge, but yesterday I finally succeeded. The Échappées Belles : Sologne files are now available. The show is of course in French, with no subtitles. Here are four links to the four segments, which contain reports about, for example, the Château de Cheverny and the Château de Chambord; the Beauval zoo in Saint-Aignan; and the Domaine de Montcy wine property where Romantin white wines of the Cour-Cheverny appellation are produced.

I hope all these links work for you, wherever you live. If you want to see posts that I've done in the past about different villages and areas of the Sologne region, here's a link to a Sologne search page on this blog.

16 December 2013

Bertie and Callie at sunrise

Here are three photos I took yesterday morning at sunrise — that means at between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m. It was a beautiful morning, and I made it back to the house before the hunters showed up in the vineyard.

When Callie the collie and I got back to the house after our walk, I saw Bertie the black cat walking by on the road.

A few minutes earlier, I caught Callie admiring the clouds just before the sun rose.

A portrait of Bertie that I took at the moment when he saw Callie in the yard.
A fence separated the dog and cat, so Bertie wasn't too worried.

It was a beautiful day here in Saint-Aignan. And despite the warnings, there were no tornadoes in my home town in North Carolina. Tout est bien qui finit bien.

15 December 2013

Hamlet in the vineyard

The darkest days are upon us. The good news is that one week from today the hours of sunlight — or at least daylight — will start to lengthen. Our sunrise today will happen at 8:35 a.m., and sunset at 5:05 p.m. It's chilly here, but not quite freezing. And skies are gray.

On the other hand, I just checked the weather for my home town on the Carolina coast, where the temperature is much warmer (17ºC). To my dismay,  I see that the whole area from Savannah, Georgia, north to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina — nearly 1000 km of coastline — is under a tornado watch right now. At least we don't have that threat hanging over our heads in Saint-Aignan.

The bread lady on her morning rounds

The photo above shows what our hamlet in the vineyard looks like on a December morning at sunrise. If you click to image to enlarge it, you'll see a car with its headlights shining just behind our house. That's the bread lady, who delivers baguettes and croissants to us four days a week. In the photo she has come to the end of the paved road and is getting ready to turn around to go back down the hill.

Winter sunrise over the Renaudière vineyard

We buy what we want from the porteuse de pain ("bread-carrying lady"). There's no formal standing order, although we do get a fresh baguette every time she drives up. She knows which bread we prefer. If we are going to be away from home, we leave a plastic bread bag hanging on our front gate, with a euro coin in the bottom. She gets out of her car, takes the coin, and leaves our baguette. She also has cheese, milk, eggs, and other grocery staples for sale from the back of her van.

I don't know if that's smoke or fog over the river between us and the château d'eau on the other side.

Sundays are the hardest days for dog-walking at this time of year. The sun comes up at 8:30 or later in the morning. If the sky is cloudy, it's very dark until about that time. And then the hunters show up at 9:00 a.m. They only hunt on Sundays and holidays out in the vineyard, from nine to noon and from two to about six. But that means we have to squeeze in a morning walk between, say, 8:15 and 9:00, so that we won't be out there when the shooting starts.

Can you tell what's missing from this photo?

Well, it's my morning to go out on the promenade du matin avec Callie. I do have to wait for the day to dawn, but I need to start getting ready. For lunch today, we're going to have baked fish fillets, Brussels sprouts, and home-made "rice-a-roni" — un riz libanais aux vermicelles, or Lebanese-style vermicelli rice. More about all that later. Bon dimanche.