6/11/2008

06-11-08 - 1

I've been thinking a lot recently about the French way of living, with a flat in the city and a weekend home in the country. All the middle-upper class in Paris who live in the city will have a nice flat in town where they spend the week, then a country home out an hour or two away in a little village. It seems pretty ideal to me, the best of both worlds. And it's really not that much more expensive than the American way of just having a big home near the city. For example, in SF it would be $1M+ to get a decent home in the city. Instead you could buy a condo for $600k and also get a cabin in the Sierra for $400k. The bigger problem in SF is that to get to country that's both cheap and desirable you have to get really far away from the city, perhaps a bit too far for a weekend. You certainly could have a weekend home in a place like La Honda to the south or Tomales Bay to the north, which are not super far and surprisingly still very rustic, but they are no longer cheap.

The country home should have a vegetable garden, a big herb garden (mainly of perenials like thyme, marjoram, rosemary, tarragon, sage), fruit trees. Lately I've been eyeing the wood burning brick oven that Jamie Oliver's got but I would probably tire of that. I'd like to be able to bike right out of my house onto good country biking roads. It should be isolated or protected with enough shrubbery that I can walk around my yard naked all the time. (don't ever use a weed whacker while naked; also make sure to check for ticks).

One thing I've always wanted is a more social kitchen. I like to hang out in the kitchen, but my girlfriends are usually scared to get in there with me because it's a small space and I'm a bit of a whirling dervish at work. I'd like a big inviting space. Recently I've realized one of the crucial things that would be cool : having two seperate gas ranges so two people can work without being in each other's way at all. They shouldn't be right next to each other either, you could have the rack of pans and tools in between the two ranges so they are convenient to both work stations. The other huge thing that most home kitchens get wrong is insufficient ventilation. You need functioning fume hoods so that you can sear the fuck out of stuff and make a bunch of smoke and have it all sucked away. Part of this is not just the fume hood but the entire air flow design of the space; quite often your only window is adjacent to the stove. That's very bad, because if you turn on the vent fan and open the window, the air is sucked directly above the stove and out the vent. What you want is a window on the opposite side of the room so that air comes in, across the stove and out the vent.

I guess one problem with the two house method is US tax laws give you a break only for primary residence. Another is that condos in the US tend to be shitty, unlike the old flats in European cities.

BTW that reminds me of an interesting thing I heard on NPR the other day. The guy said that our perception that people used to build things better in the past is mainly due to sampling bias. That is, what we see today is not a representative sample of old buildings, since most of them have burned down or simply been torn down for new construction. What we see are the very best examples from each period that were strong enough to endure or were preserved because of their beauty. I think it's certainly an interesting point, and worth considering, and perhaps is true on other topics, but I think he's actually wrong about building. Obviously we have lots of new technology, but even with it the average home of the upper middle class now (such as your typical McMansion) is shit compared to the home of some lower gentry of yore.

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old rants