Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Friday, May 30, 2014

Travel/Expat Books

I love Paul Fussell's books.  Yes, he is an arrogant SOB but he writes well and he is never more entertaining then when he is being condescending and cruel.  If Americans are widely reported to be "nice", Fussell takes great pride in being an exception.

I just finished Abroad:  British Literary Traveling between the Wars which was published back in 1980.  The book is ostensibly about the British Literary Diaspora between the two great wars of the 20th century:  Auden, Graves, Huxley, Russell and so many others who left England for France, Persia, China, Japan, and (lo and behold) the United States.

For at least part of the book he manages to stay on topic and I fed my to-read list with a number of titles I hadn't read.

But smack in the middle of the book is a polemic about people who travel.  There are three kinds, he says:  explorers, the "true" travelers, and the tourists.

"All three make journeys, but the explorer seeks the undiscovered, the traveler that which has been discovered by the mind working in history, the tourist that which has been discovered by entrepreneurship and prepared for him by the arts of mass publicity."

Which one of the three do you think he holds in the most contempt?

Is there really a "right" and a "wrong" way to travel?   Are those who do it "right" superior to those who do it "wrong"?

Ah, those human animals and their webs of significance.  We are such complicated creatures and we do indeed judge according to conventions that are all the more powerful because they are rarely explicit.  Like all such systems  which are man-made and expressed through cultural codes, most of the feedback is negative (we think we know what it isn't) expressed in such phrases as  "typical tourist", "playing tourist", and so on and so forth.  What does positive feedback look like?  Hard to tell.  Perhaps it is that moment when someone says, "You went to X?  How cool is that!" and you realize that you have just had some social capital conferred on you based entirely on a place you visited.

Fussell talks about "tourist-angst".  This is the deep anxiety that one's presence in a foreign place will be interpreted as mere tourism.  Clearly there is no social capital attached to that if you are middle-class.  I could be wrong but I doubt very much that solid upper upper class individuals care about such things. Having a great deal of social and financial capital already, they are more secure and their heading off to Paris for a weekend or on a road trip through the Amazon requires no particular justification.

I suspect that it's only the middle-class that must strenuously assert difference and advance a claim that their travels are broadening, morally uplifting, or even just more interesting then those of the hoi polloi or the global jetsetting class.    The problem is that the categories "traveler" and "tourist" have become so muddled that it really is simply a question of presentation and interpretation. I live just a few short kilometers away from the Versailles castle.  Are the people visiting it intrepid travelers looking for the "mind working in history"?  Or is this just a high-class Disney World?

The books Fussell chooses to reflect upon (and I've seen a few comments about his omissions) are the product of a particular time that are still a joy to read nearly a century later (and I do thank him for a fine bibliography). I'm hard pressed to tell you what I find most interesting in them - is it the well-written descriptions of the exotic locales that demonstrate a solid classical education? Or is it the personalities of the authors?  These were deliberately odd, offbeat people who took a certain pride in being eccentric, witty, and cruel.  When asked at a dinner party why he lived in the country, Evelyn Waugh was reported to have replied, "To get away from people like you."

What I do not find in these British travel/expat books written in the early 20th century is insecurity.  They don't seem to be at all concerned with being taken for tourists though Fussell points out that they had great fun mocking them (especially Americans). They didn't worry about "fitting in".  On the contrary they seem to revel in being outsiders. Or so it seems to me.

Fussell doesn't think much of modern travel tales.  He contends that travel as it existed in the early 20th century is simply impossible now.  He laments the demise of such things as grand passenger ships and the daring exploits of dashing men (women are conspicuously absent from his book).  

I think he's partially right  The problem modern travel/expat authors have is that it is very rare today to find a part of the world that hasn't already been seen, lived and written about by at least one Anglo-Saxon:  Brits in the South of France, Americans in Paris, retirees in hot countries, spiritual seekers in Indian ashram, expat spouses in Asia or South America.  There is already so much material written about these places that  the writer ends up working within existing frameworks and stereotypes about expats and natives and retelling a story that has already been told many times before.  As W.H. Auden said, "It is impossible to take a train or an airplane without having the fantasy of oneself as Quest Hero setting of in search of an enchanted princess or the Waters of Life."

Adam Gopnik's book Paris to the Moon is a great example.  Beautifully written, it still plays into every fantasy about the exotic French and the American expat who learns to live in the quirky, but lovable, Hexagon and then returns triumphantly home. There is a formula there that is every bit as powerful and confining as a Harlequin romance complete with HEA (Happily Every After).

I call them fantasies or fairy tales but Fussell uses the word "romance" and he makes the link between travel/expat books (quest romances) and Joseph Campbell's monomyth:  "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

Nothing wrong with re-telling an old story using a formula that the reader feels comfortable with.  Nothing inherently wrong either with using the social capital an individual acquires living abroad to earn a living or explore one's writing talents.  I think where I am all too often disappointed by modern travel/expat books is that I look in vain for the one element that will always be original and makes or breaks the book for me:  I want to know what's going on inside the author's head - that combination of personality and "a brain worth exploring."   It's not so much intellectual ability as it is awareness of the self and a willingness to expose it even if it forces the author to stray from the Life Abroad formula in ways that might disturb or destabilize the reader.  Art, not reporting.

To write that kind of travel or expat book, an author would have to cast away his or her own insecurities, lose the idea that somehow his journey has to be morally uplifting or have something to teach, and perhaps be financially and socially secure enough to not care whether what he or she has to say sells.

I honestly think that there are darker, richer and more complex tales to be explored that come straight out of the traveler's/tourist's subconscious (perhaps even published if anyone dared do so). I'd like to see some of the uncomfortable tales told, not in order to discourage people from moving abroad (or to find material to denigrate the Other) but as inspiration, a more nuanced view of "the people who move around" and a glimpse of what is going on inside their heads as they experience the incredible dissonance of trying to cope with life on life's terms in another land.

“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.”
-Ray Bradbury

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Overseas Americans Week 2014 - The Video

A few weeks ago I went off to Paris to a cute little bar called Joe Allen's for a public debrief of what happened during Overseas Americans Week in Washington, D.C. a couple months ago.

I was one of the speakers (the first speaker, in fact) and I had a lot of fun (you may have noticed that I like to talk.)  I wasn't alone - each member of the delegation had a chance to say something and it's a pretty good synopsis.  Some darn good questions from the audience, too.

AARO decided to post the video on the public part of their new website so that it could be seen and shared worldwide with members and non-members alike.  It's very well done and that is mostly due to their videographer, Mathieu, who is something of a wizard with flickering images.

So, for your viewing pleasure, here it is:  Overseas Americans Week Recap.

(and it's definitely safe for work - just call it "research" :-)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mock Orange, Raspberries and Roses

Outstanding weather here in Versailles today.  Too pretty to stay inside so I gardened and my spouse painted the front porch.  Here are a few picture of the works in progress.







Have a great weekend, everyone.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Between the Wolf and the Cliff

Every 6 months I find myself a fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi (between the precipice and the wolf).  

Earlier this week I had my checkup at the cancer clinic which means needles and people palpitating my lymph nodes and checking my scars to see if they are sain.  What are they looking for?  Signs that the cancer has returned or (worse) spread to some other part of my body.  It's a necessary exercise but one that is neither physically nor psychologically comfortable.  

The wolf is the trepidation that builds as checkup time comes closer and closer.  At that time I wince when I get my little email reminders and I hesitate to look too closely at my agenda.  Something about having all those normal activities (especially the ones that are future-oriented) surrounding the one that could tank all the others is profoundly disturbing.  The phrase "man plans and God laughs"  comes to mind.  

The cliff, of course, is a recurrence of the cancer and having to go back into active treatment:  surgery, chemo, radiotherapy and drugs that are far worse than the ones I already take.  I've learned a great deal about the practice of serenity from AA and my religion but, hey, I'm human and the idea of doing chemo again sends chills down my spine. 

Not because of the nausea or the hair loss or even the pain which could be controlled by opiates but the helplessness.  Engraved forever in my memory is the day I fell in the kitchen and couldn't get up.   

Which just goes to show you that I am still working on trustful surrender.  I know in my bones that we are all just one small step away from complete dependence on others and losing the illusion that we are in control of our lives and have the last word about our fates. 

A few weeks ago I went into Paris to attend a Death Cafe (it was actually called a Life and Death Cafe and it was sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Paris).  Why would I go to such a thing given its close proximity to my 6 month dance with the wolf?  

The most important reason was to find a place where I had permission (nay, where it was encouraged) to talk about death with other people.  Since I was diagnosed in 2012 this is the one topic nobody wants to talk about with me.  Nobody.  I hear a lot of "It's going to be OK" (you sure about that?  Define "OK" and are we talking about you or me?);  and "You're not going to die" (absurd because we all have an expiration date).  

On the other side is my bank - the one I've been a loyal customer of for many years that the US considers "offshore" - well, they don't seem to agree that everything is OK.  They wouldn't give me a 9 year mortgage (much less mortgage insurance) based on my condition.  It was cash on the nail, my dear Madame.

Talked about mixed messages.

So it was something of a relief to have someone other than the committee in my head to talk to about these things.  The other reason I appreciated the meeting was that I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about death and this was a chance to examine my own emotions around it.  And what became clear to me as I passed from one discussion table to the next is that dying doesn't bother me nearly as much as the idea of suffering and helplessness.  For me the precipice is not death, it's what happens to you on the way.  

It is knowing in my bones that there is a point of helplessness - complete dependence on other people -  where someone has to be there to pick you up off the floor when you fall, or bring you your pain medication because you can't get it for yourself.  As much as we try to control things ahead of time with living wills and so on there comes a time when we are no longer in charge and must rely on the patience, empathy, goodwill, (and dare I say it) love of the people closest to us (and in my case a benevolent universe) to get what we need.    That fact that I am not entirely sure of these things means that I don't entirely trust people or the universe.  There is doubt and because there is doubt, there is fear.  

Ah, now we are getting somewhere.  Is there an antidote?  Is this something that needs to be "fixed"?  I'm not sure.  Pema Chodron said that "Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth."  Alas I no longer remember what she meant by that so I'll be reading her book again. Something about leaning into emotions (even negative ones) and not running from them.

Last word.  At one table someone asked me a very interesting question.  He said that since I had a closer acquaintance with the idea of dying (closer, he said, than anyone else at our table) could I say something about what I've learned so far?    As I recall my answer to that wasn't very coherent so I will try to do better here.  

I don't think I truly understood what it meant to be alive until I had to consider death up close and personal.  My priorities changed overnight and 99% of the things I thought were Very Important before my diagnosis, don't even make the top 5 in my life today.  In fact I look back and can't believe that I cared so much for stuff that seems so petty in retrospect.  And I wonder at the people around me sometimes as they stress over deadlines, getting a raise, the shenanigans of their boss, answering their email in a timely manner lest people think poorly of them and so on.    

Think about that - whatever is going on in your life right now, if you knew you had a good chance of dying in the next few months or years, would any of those things be a priority?  No.  So, why are they a Big Deal now?  What you see clearly after a diagnosis is that you were already living in fear and under the tyranny of expectations (ones that you impose on yourself and that you let others inflict on you).  What I'm saying is that there is a certain freedom that comes with the realization that you and all the people, institutions, countries, cultures and so on around you are mortal and destined for the dustbin.  If I gained a new appreciation for suffering, I also shed a lot of fear and anxiety.  Chodron gently suggests that we all "Lighten up!' and she's right.

That's one gift you get with your diagnosis - the gift of perspective- but there is another.  At least this is what happened to me after I found that lump and got on the cancer train.

When I was very young, I remember moments when I simply marvelled at the fact of being alive. That I was here and could see, breathe and think and play kick the can with my friends.  And somewhere along the line life lost its wonder and days, months, years became something to simply get through (preferably properly anesthetized with large quantities of alcohol).  I had some vague notion  that if I just muscled my way through life that I would arrive at some destination in the oh so distant (but surely much better) future when I would finally.....

Do what?  
 
That was never clear.  I notice that I am not the only one to do this kind of magical thinking.  People laugh sometimes at those who believe in an afterlife (heaven) but they don't see that their own thinking includes a heaven on earth some time that is not now: next month when they can finally go on vacation, next year when they have enough money to quit the job,  a decade or more in the future when they can finally retire or the kids go off to college.  Whatever.  

It's when you finally understand that that day might never come - when you give up living in the wreckage (or paradise) that is the future and can ground yourself in this moment - that something very profound can happen to you.  For me it meant that I got back that wonder I felt as a child at just being alive.  

Yes, there is still fear.  No, I don't particularly want to go through chemo again nor do I want to die.   The result of my tests made me and my oncologist happy -  no recurrence of the cancer and so the wolf/precipice is now a safe six months away when I have my next control.  

Right now as I tickle my keyboard and look out over my garden I am positively overflowing with gratitude for this moment and so very happy just to be sitting at my dining room table, sipping my coffee and writing this.  It really is a miracle.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Capital Matters

Last night I finally picked up Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-first Century.  I'm barely fifty pages into the book now and yet there already  is quite a lot to think about.

The book is something of a phenomenon in the English-speaking world, espcially in the United States.  Why?  I thought that France was that odd country over there with quaint ideas about Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité that have become irrelevant in today's fast moving globalized world. .

What I find fascinating about Americans' view of France (and perhaps of Europe in general) is that it is caught in something of a time warp.  Their views seems to have been formed (and stuck) in the period right after World War II - a vision of a not terribly prosperous but bucolic, rural, traditional, pre-modern society which is either a great virtue or a great vice depending on the political leanings of the individual making the judgement.

Americans should know better to base their views of any country on the last time they had a troop presence or fought a war there.  They should also know better than to flatter themselves by claiming that any changes from that period to the present day are the fault (or the gift) of Americanization. Today France is a modern prosperous country with all sorts of nice (or not so nice) things like universal health care and nuclear submarines.  Explaining how she got here is a task I will leave to historians but as I  travel (as I do quite often) between France and North America, I see  a confirmation of my motto, "The grass is not greener on the other side of the Atlantic."

The sum of American prejudices (positive and negative) about France make the success of Piketty's book in the United States a surprise for me.  What did I miss?  A lot.  Just as it took me a few years to understand a post-911 America, I think it will take just as much time to understand Americans' reaction to the Great Recession.  I wasn't in the United States for either of those events and for all that I can certainly read the headlines on the Internet and read email from family members that isn't enough to understand reactions to them.  It's a bit like listening to a radio broadcast with an awful lot of noise and an intermittent signal that doesn't give enough information to be able to follow the national conversation. I'm listening more attentively these days so allow me to speculate a bit about why Americans are so interested in reading Piketty's book .

The first decade of the twenty-first century was not kind to the United States and the ripples from two national tragedies will be with us for a long time.  From what I can discern Americans came out of 911 feeling less secure and they came out of the Great Recession feeling much poorer.  What people in countries with decent social networks (or those in countries with economies that continued to do well) were able to ride out, lower and middle-class Americans were pretty much left to manage with whatever personal or family resources they had.  To add insult to injury, banks and big companies were deemed worthy of public assistance, but not people.  

The  data on income inequality in the US add another dimension because they seem to suggest that, while the lower and middle-class struggle, there is another class of people in the US who are already ahead in the game and the way that the tax and political systems are structured they are likely to stay there (and their children, too).

Americans are not quite sure what to think about the 1%.  Some say that they need protection and encouragement because they are the "job creators" and if they are treated poorly they will find friendlier places for their precious persons and capital.   Others argue that this class has interests that make the link between their good fortune and the opportunities, decent employment and well-being of their fellow Americans tenuous at best and certainly does not justify their being treated like hothouse flowers.   And if the waters weren't muddy enough, Americans also subscribe to certain myths about their country and themselves - that every American is simply a "temporarily embarassed millionnaire" and "if you just work hard enough, you'll be rich too someday" which implies that the interests of a secretary and her boss Warren Buffett are fundamentally the same in the long run.

Around and around it goes.  From what I can tell (and feel free to disagree with me) there is a real desire on the part of America's Other Classes to understand what the hell happened and what is likely to happen in the future.  Who is right here and should something be done? Or is no action required because things will resolve themselves eventually? (Though I note that no one from the Occupy movement to the Tea Party really has a coherent vision for what kind of resolution is needed or desired.)

Enter Piketty's book.  It is well-written, engaging and, above all, clear.  As one of those he mentions who does not know the first thing about economics, I'm not having any trouble following his arguments.  In fact, it is a rather refreshing read.  Here is an academic who understands one of Rutherford's rules:   "A theory that you can't explain to a bartender is probably no damn good."

Back to the book.  Have a great day, everyone.


Friday, May 9, 2014

About those renunciations...

Congratulations America.  Exports really took off last quarter.

Not only did the U.S. Commerce Department report that sales of American products abroad rose but the U.S. Treasury Department/IRS announced that over 1,000 Americans citizens exported themselves in the first quarter of 2014.

It gets better.  Tina Turner, the internationally known singer and American icon, appears on the list which just goes to show you that Americans do, in fact, know how to export quality (in the form of their own citizens).

Given that only 3,000 US citizens renounced in all of 2013, I think we can safely say that the trend is upward.  So why aren't Americans out there shouting, "We're number one!"

Because citizens are not products, they are people and it hurts to watch good people leave.

The publishing of the names of individuals who renounce US citizenship each quarter started in 1996 and was originally designed to punish - to "name and shame" those who renounced.  It seemed petty and childish even back in the 1990's and it's hard to say if it ever truly served its original purpose.   In 2014 however it is clearly more of an instrument of torture for the homeland then a deterrent to renunciation.  Those who want to renounce could care less - of all the factors going into the decision to lose that pretty blue passport, it hardly even merits consideration.  

No, this list has become something else again:  a national embarassment.  The myth that "no one ever gives up American citizenship" has been thoroughly debunked (by official US government numbers no less) and now every quarter the American and international media rush to check out the latest figures and to spread them far and wide.  As the American homeland peruses the headlines they provoke an orgy of self-flagellation about national decline, righteous anger at those "traitors", diatribes against tax evasion, and the all too predictable:   "There ought to be a law, damn it!"

Never fear folks, the authors of the above-mentioned Name and Shame list, Reed and his pal Schumer, are working on it with the ex-Patriot Act.  If you can't stop them through shame, exit taxes and byzantine bureaucracy, then harsher measures are coming soon to a theatre near you.

Would they work?  Not a chance.  Because something far worse is at work here and it has nothing to do with tax evasion or any of the other reasons the homelanders give for the uptick in outgoing citizens.

Today a U.S. citizen living outside the U.S. has or will experience one or more of the following things for the sole reason that he or she is an American:  limited or no access to basic banking services, limited employment opportunities, the inability to marry (or stay married) to the one you love, the possibility of complete financial ruin and (this is the real kicker) a government (you know, one that ostensibly exists to protect American citizens the world over) that won't lift a finger in your defense.

The people in Washington are well aware of the banking and discrimination problems but won't actually do anything about it.   This is in spite of the fact that the agreements between the US and individuals countries (the FATCA IGAs) have language that forbids those banks from discriminating against US Persons.  Under the agreements the U.S. government could raise a stink about those banks and put pressure on local governments to do something about it.  So, my U.S. friends, where is that much vaunted "protection" that you seem to think Americans abroad should be paying for?
  
Welcome to the American Diaspora Tax War which is now in its third year and so far no one (I repeat no one) is winning.  The American homeland will never see the billions it hopes to gain from this exercise because they don't exist - for every so-called "rich tax evader" at home or abroad there are tens of thousands of teachers, IT workers, retirees, au pairs, translators, stay at home mothers and fathers and the like who already pay taxes to the countries they live in and just don't have the resources to hire expensive tax lawyers to stay compliant, much less pay taxes to the United States on top of what they already pay in their countries of residence.  IRS resources have already been diverted to pay for the implementation of FATCA which means less IRS enforcement at home and fewer resources for US taxpayers in the United States who desperately need help coping with the cumbersome US tax code.  These are some of the casualties we can quantify but the untangible ones may be ever greater.

For years US citizenship had an almost mystical quality.  It was the citizenship that "no one ever gives up."  Americans abroad cared so much about that citizenship that they fought long and hard to be able to pass it along to their children born abroad.  Now it has been right-sized with a vengeance and that devaluation effects ALL Americans wherever they live.

As for Americans abroad we have a fair number of casualties on our side, too.  We are seeing our ranks diminishing as we get a phone call here and an email there saying that so and so has given up and made that trip to the US consulate.  Even our compatriots who said in the past, "I will never EVER give up my US citizenship."  But when you listen to their stories, you reluctantly agree that, yes, they really didn't have much of a choice.  Good people.  Loyal Americans with strong emotional ties to the United States. People who were the best damn unofficial ambassadors the US could ever have abroad.  Folks that Americans the world over were proud of.

I note that right now all we seem to be doing is going around and around with no solutions in sight.  The US government isn't taking the situation seriously and the American public only does so when that horrible list comes out every quarter.  And Americans are still marching down to the consulates and making appointments.

What a godawful mess this is, mes amis.  Is there any hope that we can resolve this?  I really don't know but over the past few years my faith in the basic fairness and justice of the American system, in the will of the US government to protect its citizens abroad and exhibit at least some concern for our well-being,  and in the goodwill of my fellow citizens back in the US has been dangerously eroded.  And, frankly, if those things go, then there really isn't any reason to remain a citizen, is there?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Flophouse Painting Project Phase II

"It begins in the imaginations of the people who built it and is gradually transformed, for better and for worse, by the people who occupy it down through the years, decades, centuries.  To tinker with a house is to commune with the people who have lived in it before and to leave messages for those who will live in it later.  Every house is a living museum of habitation, and a monument to all the lives and aspirations that have flickered within it."

David Owen
The Walls Around Us

Been doing a lot of that "communing" this past week.  Phase II of the Paint the Flophouse Project kicked off a few days ago.  (Phase I was the garden walls so ably and beautifully painted by Mike, our favorite Ikea technician from Dax).

Brick (or stone) houses still have a lot of wood in them:  under the eaves, certainly - under that tile roof are wood supports that hang over the house and protect the sides and hold up the gutters - but also decorative wood around the porches.  At least I assume they are decorative and not holding up anything important. Guess we'll find out, won't we?

 I don't know much about brick but I'm a girl from the Pacific Northwest of the good old US of A and I do know wood.   Go outside the house, stand right next to an exterior wall and look up. You'll see is peeling paint, holes and boards that look loose to me.  Not something to ignore because wood doesn't like to be naked.  It rots when exposed to the elements. Happily, this is something we can fix ourselves.   And that's precisely what we've been doing this past week once we had the obligatory meeting with the city architect and got authorization for the color (RAL 8012).

So far the back porch is done and the eaves on the north side of the house. So far, so good.  No rot and while we were up there we cleaned out the gutters and fixed a huge fissure in the cement. Actually, we didn't do the last - the French navy stopped by (a friend of ours who brought along his son) and lent a hand.  All I can say is that those sailors sure know a thing or two about this kind of work  because everything he did is absolutely perfect.

I am now working on the front porch and here everything David Owen said in the above quotation becomes evident.  There are about 6 layers of paint on that wood in a delicious variety of colors:  off-white, blue, green, red, dark brown, light brown.

As I threw on application after application of that horrible product and scraped,  each color, each layer, became visible and I stopped and tried to imagine what the entire house looked like when it was that blue or that green.  All the way back to a time when the neighborhood looked like this:




Or later.  More specifically in the World War II period.  I have friends here in town who are old enough to vividly remember those days.  One even recalls the house since she passed by it every day when she went to school.  And when I rest and pick up the latest book I'm reading, What Soldiers Do by Mary Louise Roberts, how odd to think that this house and its inhabitants lived through those times - the Occupation and the replacement of German soldiers by American ones (Madame G remembers that all too well).

I feel a bit like an amateur archeologist here and it occured to me that the restoration work I'm doing right now is also an act of destruction.  I am erasing traces of the past. Once I have scraped the last bit of paint from that wood, and people like Madame G pass on, there will be no one to remember the color of the house in the 1940's.  Only me, the latest (and mostly likely not the last) inhabitant of this funny little house.

And that's a tragedy (albeit a very small one that counts for nearly nothing in the larger scheme of things) which leaves me with a strange sense of guilt. Why?  Most likely because I am product of a time that regards preservation/restoration as something of a secular religion (Chris Wilson). Did the previous owners of this house have the same concerns?  I doubt it.

So to salve my conscience and to document (because really what else can we do?) here is what it looks like.


And now, having genuflected in the direction of the altar of "restoration" it's back to the present - my own aspirations and the traces I will leave for future owners to ponder.