Jeff Ackerman: From Grass Valley to the heart of Paris
Matt and Donna Weaver sound like they’ve shaken off most of the culture shock. It’s been more than five months since they packed their bags, grabbed the two kids, left behind most of their possessions, and moved from Grass Valley to the center of Paris.
Except perhaps a juicy apple or two, it’s safe to say that Paris and Grass Valley haven’t much in common. “We felt like the Beverly Hillbillies when we first got here,” Matt told me by telephone from Paris on Sunday. “We filled two rolling carts at the airport with bags and two baby seats stacked higher than me. The cab driver took one look and decided we needed a van.”
After operating a couple of high-profile businesses here – Matt and his brother Tom first opened Weaver Auto and Truck Center in 1994 and Matt and his wife Donna would later own and operate the Holbrooke Hotel from 2002 to 2005 – Matt took a job as chief operating officer on a $10 billion project funded by King Abdul Aziz.
“We are building a science and technology university in Thuwal, a little fishing village on the Red Sea, around 60 miles north of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second largest city. We have 14,000 laborers working on the project, which includes around 5 million square feet of buildings.”
Interestingly, the Saudi Binladen Group is also involved in the project, illustrating the notion that every family has a black sheep or two. Some are just worse than others.
Matt’s office is just outside Paris. “The project is engineered and designed in America and the engineering comes to us, where we finish it off and monetize it. The furniture costs alone for the project will be around $400 million, which gives you an idea of the size.”
Ironically, the former car dealer doesn’t own a car in Paris. He doesn’t need one, which is a good thing, since gasoline is around $10 per gallon. “I commute to work on the Metro,” he said. “It’s a great system. No matter where you are in Paris, the Metro is less than a mile away.”
And as in most cities, walking isn’t just a recreational exercise in Paris. Matt said he walks more than two miles each day to and from the various Metro stations. Most of us “country folk” only walk to and from our cars, which might help explain America’s obesity.
The Weavers – with their two children, 3-year-old daughter Teagan and soon-to-be-5 Saxon – live in the heart of old Paris, renting a 1,100-square-foot apartment for an astounding $4,500 per month.
“We live in what’s called the Le Marais District, which essentially means reclaimed swamp land,” he said. “It’s just north of the Seine river.”
It’s not the first time abroad for the Weavers. Donna, who is British and is fluent in French, worked all over the world in hotel management, while Matt worked in Saudi Arabia from 1991 to 1994. Their children are on a French fast-track, attending a bilingual school that emphasizes English in the morning and French in the afternoon.
“The school day is long, from 8:30 to 4:30,” said Matt. “Teagan cried the first week or so, but is settled in now. She understands French (that’s what Donna speaks when scolding her), but Saxon would prefer we scold him in English.”
Saxon’s best school mate is Adam Pearlman, whose father Daniel was a Wall Street Journal reporter executed by al Qaeda in early 2002.
The cost of living is high ($9 to launder a shirt), but the Weavers eat in whenever possible and a good bottle of wine (French, of course) is only $4. “We don’t really have supermarkets,” said Matt. “We go to the butcher for our meat and the bakery for our bread. We also go to the street markets for our fresh fruit and veggies.”
“The French have figured out that it’s not a good idea to export all your best stuff,” said Donna. “The apples here are to die for.”
Matt is not a fan of France’s socialized health care system. “A French secretary where I work asked why we pay to go see a doctor. She said she can get in to see a doctor for free in two or six months, if they determine she needs one. I told her I can see a doctor the next day if I pay.”
Matt’s contract runs through the end of the year and his options are pretty open at this point. He said there’s a good chance he’ll land a similar post and hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Dubai.
But he and Donna made a lot of friends when they were here and they’d like to stay in touch. If you’d like to know how to do that, just give me a call.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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