Thursday, July 19, 2018

Coffee and Markets and Les Bleus

On many mornings, my husband walks the half mile to town and meets with a friend for coffee.
It's a nice, retired guy activity. And I am thrilled that Earl has made friends he can hang out with when I'm working or lounging on the beach with my own friends. And being isolated with only our own company in the early months of our France life put stress on our relationship.
So it's a sigh of relief to find that we both can pursue friendships and hobbies on our own.
Wednesday morning as I was getting dressed, I heard my husband texting with his friend Jack. Earl often speaks messages rather than typing them.
"I'm wearing a light blue t shirt and khaki shorts," he texted.
And I laughed to myself, remembering my own middle school and high school days when I would coordinate outfits with my friends.
Earl and Jack aren't trying to dress alike though, they're trying to make sure they aren't dressed identically, like they were on Sunday morning when we went to a market in Esperaza.
They're in the shade, but you can see that they're definitely coordinated. 
We planted ourselves near a busy street so we could listen to the musicians and enjoy a cup of coffee.
Truthfully, Jules and I weren't dressed that differently either, even though she cut herself out of the pic. 

Esperaza is a bohemian town with many hand-made articles in the market. Nearly everything was brightly colored.

Some purses and jewelry
Table cloths packed neatly under an umbrella to guard from the ferocious sun.

More purses and hanging decorations

People were crowded around this "tattoo" shop, but I wanted a picture of the stamps.
After resting Sunday afternoon, we went to one of the squares in the village to watch the World Cup final, France versus Croatia.
When we lived at home, we always watched the World Cup, even before one of our sons became a soccer fanatic. So it was thrilling to be part of the crowd as France vied for the title!
Songs and horns and men in Speedos celebrating.
Exuberant and a little drunk
Pretty much everyone in the square was drinking heavily as they watched the game. And the one guy at the back who would yell, "Allez les Croats!" would unleash a wave of "Allez les bleus!" from the crowd. He probably was drunker than anyone, especially by the end of the game, which France won 4-2.
The bartender worked like a mad man trying to keep up with the drink requests, and toward the end of the game, he walked outside, sweat still flowing down his face, and the crowd cheered for him too.

This girl dressed for the game in her blue, white and red onesie with a rooster on her head. The rooster is the national symbol of France.

She looked happy, although had to be sweltering in the 90+ degree heat. 
Nearly every trip to town now is filled with cheek kisses and greetings, sometimes so much that we don't accomplish what we set out to do, but we'd much rather have the friends and the camaraderie than the limes, or whatever we went in search of.
So making friends in France, even if they're American or British, Australian or Irish, is priceless. We're still working on that next step of French friends, but I'm sure it will come.
If you love posts about France or French books, movies or life, visit Paris in July.

Friday, July 13, 2018

An Avalanche of Socializing

My author friend Suzie Tullett recently shared a meme on Facebook:
And I commented that I had felt the same when I lived in the States, but since arriving in Quillan, my social life has exploded. We were out until 3:30 a.m. at a friend's going away party, and a few other nights found ourselves wandering home after midnight, spending our evenings dancing or listening to music.
Dancing the night away at Delana's Bon Voyage party.
What has happened to us?
At home, we would crawl under the covers around 10 and I'd be up at 5:30 to go for a run before getting ready for work.
So, work is one of those things that has changed. Earl has retired. I'm working online, so our hours are more ours. We were more tired when we had to be at work for a certain number of hours per day and our friends were the same. Who had the energy to go out to listen to music or dance?
With Jack and Jules at one of the local celebrations
Friends are another issue. We luckily met friends here in France who enjoy our company and we get together frequently, playing cards, going to markets, exploring new cities.
During our early months in France, as we wandered from housesit to housesit, we didn't go out frequently, huddled in the cold dark evenings watching flood waters rise or fending off the cold. Now, here in Southwestern France, our evenings burst with activity.
This week we had three possibilities to choose from on Tuesday -- a night market, the France World Cup semifinal at the local bar, or an English quiz night (also at the local bar). We went to the market night and enjoyed duck sandwiches followed by a dessert waffle with chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
Wednesday night was the England semifinal World Cup game, and we joined some Brits at the local bar. As the second half continued with no one scoring, I decided to walk home rather than watching the rest of the game (England eventually lost to Croatia).
Thursday, we had no plans, but we ended up grabbing a pizza and a salad and joining our friends Jack and Jules at their house along the river, playing cards until 10 when the light began to fade and we wandered home.
Tonight is a party for Bastille Day, known to the French as Fête National. The city will shoot off fireworks over the "chateau" that sits on the hill overlooking downtown the night before (Friday). But first, I might bike out to the lake with Jules where we'll bask on the stone chairs or drift on the float she brings along in her car.
We lounge on stone-carved seats with the lake and the mountains as our view. 
If we want to watch TV, we head to the local bar.
We've been catching part of the Tour de France
 at the bar where the bartender knows our name

Saturday there's a market then music in the square. Sunday there's a morning market in another town, along with the World Cup finals on a big screen downtown.

Were there this many things to do at home in Ohio and I just didn't pay attention? Probably.
But, we have strategically placed ourselves here so that we can walk to many events, and that makes a difference. If we were isolated, we would hesitate to drive to events. Plus, one of us would have to be the designated driver. Now we both walk, we drink some wine, we dance, we sing, we enjoy the camaraderie of our new English-speaking friends (still working on the French friends).
Another huge difference is that we have no television at our house in France. Television numbs you. You sit and watch without the willpower to turn it off. It sucks away time and makes you tired. Did anyone ever get to the end of their life and say, "I watched a lot of great TV"?
And some people may say they don't have a television, but they're watching shows on their computer instead. Same thing, different technology.
Earl and I were watching more programs on the computer before we moved here and got sucked into the socializing vortex.

So, if I had to sum up the reasons we are so much more social, I'd say it has to do with:
Location (being able to walk places)
Job-free schedules (we aren't as tired as when we worked full-time schedules)
No TV (which sucked up more time than we were aware of)
New friends
And I can recommend it. Being out with people, experiencing new things, making new friends, it feels good. I hope you'll try it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Faux Pas a Day

My latest French faux pas was at the local grocery. Our town has a small store, called Spar, that is right down town. That's where Earl and I go for our groceries when we can't find them at the twice weekly market.
Our market
One afternoon, I decided to use the leftover chicken from our rotisserie chicken to make a chicken salad. I love a nice chicken salad with mayonnaise, apple pieces and grape pieces on a croissant. So I headed down to the spar. I picked a couple of firm apples and looked in vane through the rest of the fruits and vegetables for grapes.
Finally, I went to the register to pay for my other purchases. I told the woman behind the register that I had looked for grapes (the French call them raisins) and couldn't find any.
"Raisins frais?" she asked. Fresh grapes.
Try again in September, she told me. Of course, the French wouldn't carry out of season fruits. The grapes will be harvested in September and that's when I can buy them in the grocery store.
I hurriedly explained that as an American, I'm used to being able to find any type of produce at any time of year. She smiled and clucked slightly.
I went home and used some golden raisins in place of the out-of-season grapes. 
The finished product
Eating is different here, but we're learning.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Wine Flows Like a River

While living in the U.S., Earl and I were occasional drinkers. We'd open a bottle of wine and have a glass or two a few times a week. If we went out to dinner or if we had friends over, we'd definitely drink -- wine, beer, cocktails. One of the things we loved to do in summer was walk to Third and Hollywood for gin and tonics.
But we were never big drinkers.
All of that has changed since moving to France. Wine is definitely less expensive here, but it's also part of the culture. If we're out for lunch, we often drink an aperitif and then wine with our meal.
A glass of white wine in a beautiful glass. 
Dinner is the same.
Now that we've landed in a village and met friends, we frequently gather for drinks before moving on to meals. Festivals, celebrations, games of cards... they all require glasses of wine.
Pre-dinner drinks in this area often consist of blanquette de Limoux, a sparkling wine.
Since I became a mother, I could count on one hand the number of times I became tipsy. Now, I would probably fill up those fingers in one week.
Just this week, we celebrated Fourth of July with a party at some British friends. Wine, beer, spiked punch and watermelon jello shots 
For July 4th, my friend Jules created Jello shots shaped like watermelons. 

It was my first time doing a jello shot. 
were among our drink choices on that incredibly hot day. We had to keep drinking to stay hydrated!
The next day we went on a hike that ended in lunch at a local restaurant. A friend and I shared a 50 cl of wine. I took an afternoon nap and vowed not to drink that night because I felt a bit weak in the evening, but when we played cards with some friends, the wine came out again and somehow we left two empty bottles.
Then came Friday, the Bal des Pompiers.
The workers wore t shirts that proclaimed Bal des Pompiers

 It's a firefighter's ball that is held in most every French town. It starts with drinks and music, then moves to dinner with wine before more music and dancing.

The two of us staking out our places after friends saved tables for us. 

Here's the pork grilling on spits. Plenty for 350 people. 
Again, drinking followed by drinking and dancing, which is fun. But a niggling doubt starts to bother me.
Some pre-dinner beer and mussels (moules)
I did learn the importance of saying no within a week or so of settling here. We went to a new friend's house and every time I set my glass down, someone filled it up. Then I guiltily felt like I needed to drink it.
That ended up with me puking in the bathroom about 11 that night. (It was an afternoon party.) So I determined then and there that I would announce my intention not to drink more and if someone filled up my glass, then they would understand that I wouldn't drink it.
I haven't gotten drunk since then, but tipsy, yeah, tipsy still happens.
Truthfully, a lot of these functions are more fun with a nice tingle from the wine. Things are funnier, my French is better, my dance moves are more enthusiastic. We walk to these events so driving after drinking isn't an issue.
We have another set of American friends who have been living in France for a few years. They admit that when they go home, they aren't drinking very much at all. But when they return to France the wine flows again.
Maybe it's okay to drink freely here, understanding that it isn't an alcohol problem. It's a culture of enjoying food and drink.
So tchin tchin! (That's a toast here, like cheers!)

It's time for the Paris in July meme, so I'm linking to the blog Thyme for Tea that shows a list of all the Francophiles participating.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

The Sky Isn’t Always Blue

One of my friends recently posted on Facebook that we could look a little more miserable in the photos we post from France.
In the lavender fields of Provence
I told her we never think to take pictures when we are miserable.
But remember, a photo is just a snapshot, just a millisecond of a person's life.
I'm not saying we are unhappy, but moving to France is not a balm for all wounds.
If you had worries where you were living before, those worries will come along to the new life, too. And maybe they will even be enhanced.

Here we were in Perpignan at the canal before we made our way down the street stopping at bars and restaurants
When we lived in the U.S., Earl and I both worked five days a week. We spent evenings and weekends together and couldn't wait for a free schedule to spend even more time together. But, we should all be careful what we wish for.
Spending every free minute together is an adjustment, no matter where you live.
I would not have wanted to attempt this new life without my partner, but if I get frustrated with something, you can guess where my barbed words land.
We argue about the same things here that we argued about in Ohio. After a fight the other day, I so longed for a friend, a long-time friend who knew us both, who knew the history of our marriage, who had listened to other arguments and seen the reconciliation afterward, to lend an ear. But the time zones and the lack of a phone, except when I'm on data, prevented me from reaching out to my U.S. friends.
Luckily, I've made friends here and could turn to someone, but the backstory was way too involved.
One of the great friends I've made in France. 
Moving to France comes with its own set of worries too.
Buying a house, buying a car, setting up a bank account, getting a visa --  all in a different language ratchets up the tension. One friend in the same boat wakes up with hives every morning. Another has nightmares that cause him to dive out of bed, taking down the men in his dreams who try to attack him. We laugh the next morning when we see new bandaids on his knee or his shin, but his nightmares are a symptom of the stress he's wrestling with. You wouldn't imagine that from the pictures posted on social media. Everyone is smiling, sipping wine, toasting.
We try to allay the added stress by enjoying the other moments of our lives.
Canoeing on the Charente
Visiting new places offers a world of opportunities. But we don't leave behind our worries and our arguments. We're still working on that.
Posing in front of the bridge in Cognac

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Village Celebrations

On Saturday, we took part in a village night hike. It began at 7 and ended with a dinner and surprise (to us) dancing.
We signed up because we liked to hike but also because we want to be part of the village community. To our surprise, the majority of the hikers were English-speaking, but we still managed to rub elbows with some French villagers too.
We had to RSVP and pay 15 Euros each. The money was for the meal, and apparently, for insurance on the hike too.
We hiked for two hours, from 7-9, and the sun was still high in the sky when we returned to the village. 
Some of the path was narrow and lined by weeds, other times we walked up roads or wide gravel paths. 
Earl and our friend Jules have long legs and wanted to stay in the front of the pack. I had to scurry with my short legs, but only felt out of breath during the initial ascent up a fairly steep path. The group stopped to let everyone catch up, and one Frenchman was in charge of counting people to make sure no one got lost.
Earl and I were joined by our American friend Jules. Her husband met us at the dinner afterwards. 
My view throughout most of the hike as I tried to keep pace with Earl and Jules.
Earl's back

The hike resulted in some pretty views
I was getting pretty hungry by the time we returned to town.
We ended in a community room set up with U shaped tables. Plates of peanuts, potato chips and other munchies were set up on a serving table. Another table held sodas, juices, pastis and one box of white wine.
In a panic, Jules had us take turns carrying two plastic cups to the table to fill them with wine for our group.
As we were waiting for the dinner to begin, we noticed they had set up speakers for music and some rotating light. We complained that we would have preferred they spend more on wine.
No worries though, they soon served pitchers of wine with dinner.
Our starter included shredded carrots in vinaigrette, a type of coleslaw, and paté.
Then the main course was cassoulet with confit de canard. 

A plate of cassoulet, the specialty of the region. I don't think I ate it all, but by then the wine was flowing freely.
 We talked to the other English speakers nearby, then Jules pointed out that a French woman had no one to talk to and she urged me to speak French to her. The more wine I drink, the better I understand French, so I jumped right in to conversation.
The woman used to run a shoe store so we shared stories about shoes and feet. She'd been in Quillan for 32 years, and Jules blurted out, "Welcome!"
I pointed out the irony since we Americans have been here only a few months.
Earl was invited to a hiking club that meets on Mondays. We felt the conviviality of the whole community.
As we finished eating, the music began to pick up.

Me and Earl, in our hiking clothes eating dinner. 
The beat got our feet to tapping, and it wasn't long before I pulled Earl's hand and he accompanied to the area in front of the tables. We started dancing and soon the dance floor filled with others dancing too.
It has been so long since we danced! Before Earl's knee surgery last September. We danced swing and salsa and then just some rock and roll dancing to mostly American songs, but some Latin songs thrown in too.
We danced Brits, French and Americans all together, throwing our hands in the air like we didn't care.
As the clock ticked past midnight, and my Fitibit reminded me I had over 26,000 steps for the day, we decided to escape outside to the cool air and head home. But first, the French women we'd been dancing with shared cheek kisses.
An Irish woman stopped me and suggested we come to salsa dance class with them, and a warmth started in my belly, reminding me that new experiences and friends are always just around the corner.
Life isn't perfect in this corner of France. I'm not writing about the struggles we have when we miss our family or how hard it is sometimes to know that one of our kids needs help and we aren't there. I'm not even journaling the difficulties of figuring out simple things like bus schedules because we speak a different language.
But, I want you to see that there are ways for us to weave our lives into the French community, whether we speak the language well or not.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Everyday Life in France

In the mornings, as light filters into the bedroom from the shutters that are tented open, I can feel the cool air. But I don't open the shutters, letting them continue to block the sun that beats against the window on the east side of the house.
Instead, I get dressed, usually in my running clothes, and walk out the front door, sometimes paying attention to my phone, starting my app and my music. I might or might not notice the other homes around with me with their shutters and their terraces.
Usually, it is not until I round the corner that I am struck dumb by the beauty of this place. The mountains covered by greenery, until they get near the top where golden rocks jut jaggedly toward the piercing blue of the sky. I stop often and remind myself that I live in this place.

This photo was taken on a recent drive toward Perpignan, France, closer to those golden craggly rocks

I took this photo while on a run. The horse came to pose for his closeup. 

Tuesday night, we returned to Quiz Night -- it's a British quiz night, but the site where we made our first Quillan friends a month ago. We paired up with those same friends we had met, knowing that our odds of winning were nil since we were all Americans and the questions were often geared toward Brits. We were proud to finish 3rd from the bottom, number 6 out of 9, due to the category "France," which gave us a fighting chance.
The bar that hosts the Quiz Night is also the place we have been going to watch soccer games in the World Cup. We don't have a television here, so we wander down to Le Terminus to watch England or France play their games.
Watching France play in the World Cup -- the bar included two men with mullets and three dogs. 

One of the well-behaved dogs watching soccer
This banner hangs above the bar -- tournament of goals (buts) but we don't hear the announcer yelling: "Buuuuuuuuuuts" like we would "goooooooooooal"

The first time we arrived to watch soccer, they handed out free packs of fries (I suppose they would call them "chips" since it was a British game). The second time we arrived, to watch a soccer game, the bartender reached across the bar and shook hands with both Earl and me. Now we felt like we were part of the community.
In France, people don't tip bartenders and waiters. They make a living wage, unlike in the States where their hourly rates are reduced and they make up the pay by receiving tips.
As I was waiting at the bar to order a drink, I saw a British man order a giant beer and then add, "And one for you, Cedric."
"Un panaché," Cedric, the bartender said, acknowledging what drink the man would pay for. So the British man paid for his drink and for the bartender's drink.
Cedric shrugged apologetically at me as he poured his drink before asking my order. "He bought it for me," he said as he mixed the beer and limonade drink.
So, now that I'm on a handshaking level with the bartender, I must remember to occasionally buy him a drink.
Truthfully, I was at the bar to get a drink for the Quiz host. We're hoping to convince him to ask more neutral questions so us Americans might stand a chance at winning someday.
Little by little, we're learning more about life in a foreign country, but trying to remember to enjoy the strange and wonderful aspects of everything we see.

Coffee and Markets and Les Bleus

On many mornings, my husband walks the half mile to town and meets with a friend for coffee. It's a nice, retired guy activity. And I a...