Thursday, June 21, 2018

Long Days Equal Musique

It's the Summer Solstice and in France that means music.
Every city, and nearly every village, is celebrating with the fête de la musique.

We were in Perpignan yesterday and they handed out a brochure with several bands playing in many different squares.
Here in our village of Quillan, we'll be gathering in the Place de la République (after the France World Cup soccer game) to enjoy some mystery music.
We have no idea what band or even what style of music, but we plan to be there.
According to Le Parisien online newspaper, the music throughout the country. could be a band, a chorus, or even a DJ set.
I think it's delightful that the entire country is filled with music on this the longest day of the year.
I've been working to get papers graded all day so I can enjoy the concert with abandon.
Check later tonight (or maybe tomorrow morning) and I'll finish this post with my thoughts on this longest day of the year.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Old-Fashioned Butchers

Today, we went to the butcher in town and it took me back to my childhood.
I'd tried the door of the butcher before, only to find it closed -- on Thursdays, and until 4 in the afternoon for lunch, but with my husband in tow to push open the big door, we entered.
Chez Richard is the butcher and he's a burly man.
My French friend Maurice asked him last weekend if he played rugby, but he said he wrestled instead. Yes, Maurice went to the butcher when he was here, but I had to hurry home to teach an English class so I didn't meet Richard the butcher.
Today, we stood in line behind a woman who ordered three different things, including a sauccisse, a long sausage that the butcher pinched off halfway, about two feet long. He curled it like a snake and wrapped it in paper for her.
Earl and I were there to buy hamburger. I had collected most of the ingredients for Cincinnati-style chili. If you haven't lived in Ohio, you might not be familiar with it, but it includes cinnamon.
I haven't been cooking very much in France. I mean, why would you cook with all of the fabulous restaurants and bakeries. But there comes a time when you have to stop living like a tourist.
I was prepared, a little prepared, because Maurice had pointed out the machine where the butcher would grind the meat.
I'd thought to order steak haché, but as I perused the board, I saw that biftek haché was the way to go. Biftek means steak.
My next task was to figure out how much. The recipe called for a pound, but France deals in grams. So I decided to go for half a kilogram, or 500 grams. That's cinq cent grams in French, if you ever need to order it, and a little more than a pound.
The butcher smiled and opened a cooler, pulling out a large hunk of dark red meat. With a cleaver, he chopped off  a large hunk then chopped it down to three long strips. The meat went into the machine and came out ground before he wrapped it in white paper.
The whole process reminded me of those long ago days when my mom would drive out to Sherwood's Market, a bit outside of town, but the meat was worth it, she told me. It was a butcher shop with a small grocery that grew up around it.
So I thought of my mom as we gathered the paper wrapped meat and walked home with it.
The Cincinnati-style chili wasn't as good as it might be at home. I had to substitute some spices, like paprika for chili powder.
But Earl and I both ate a bowl and there are leftovers for tomorrow.
Now that I have bravely entered the butcher's shop, I'm sure I'll go back. Maybe for a pre-cooked canard (duck) or a turkey breast. Who knows what I might find in the butcher shop and be reminded of a more old-fashioned way of doing things.
Next on my list of things to make, cinnamon raisin bread. I just have to wait until Saturday when the market comes around again so I can buy the raisins. Our local grocery doesn't have raisins, but the woman with nuts and dried fruits does. And this time, I'm getting 500 grams so I don't run out. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

France Profonde

Yesterday morning, I laced up my hiking boots and hit the trail with my husband and our French friend Maurice. Maurice is the husband of my blogging friend Linda who writes at Frenchless in France. 
We met with them in Paris in January, and luckily, Maurice invited us to accompany them on this hike along the pilgrimage route of  St. Jacques-de-Compostelle. This is a path that runs through France before joining El Camino de Santiago, the famous Spanish route known as "The Way" that leads to the ocean and the place where St. Jacques (James the Apostle) is said to be buried. 
During our travels, I learned that this is considered the third most important pilgrimage to Christians, behind Jerusalem and Rome. 
The hike may still be a pilgrimage to many people, but mostly the route is filled with hikers now who enjoy the rolling hills and cows they pass by before getting to the steeper regions in the Pyrenees. 
The scenery and the villages have been breathtaking. 
Unlike in the U.S., and in my book Trail Mix about hiking the Appalachian Trail, the pilgrims here hike from inn to inn, or gîtes to gîtes as they are called here in France. This is much easier than carrying all your belonging on your back and camping each night, going without a shower for days and digging a hole to use the bathroom. 
Linda had planned to be the driver and I said I might hike some. But the first day as we reached the lovely gîtes in Aumont-Aubrac, rain was forecast. I decided to skip the wet walk and to ride along playing tourist with Linda. 
Most of our hike takes place in Aveyron, France 
and we have traveled from one beautiful village to the next. 

Our first stop was at a gîtes in Aumont-Aubrac where we shared a meal with fellow travelers. The chef/owner of the gîtes showed off the "aligot" which is mashed potatoes mixed with so much cheese, garlic and creme fraiche. Yum.
Mostly, Linda and I have focused on food and churches.

Here's a view of the church from the choir loft in Nasbinals
We find churches built anywhere from the 11th to the 18th century and we explore. She lights a candle for a Euro or so.
Sunrise on Day 2 of not hiking
The second day, I decided not to go hiking because the path would be muddy from so much rain. Instead, I went for a six-mile run and saw some beautiful scenery as the sun rose. I also saw a lot of cows and they stared at me like I was crazy.
The countryside reminds me of a Jane Austen novel.
The countryside if full of huge boulders -- maybe they were pushed there by a glacier like in Ohio.

The third day rain was predicted again so I skipped the hike to explore Espalion, a beautiful city wher unfortunately so ancient buildings were torn down as recently as 1968.

The chateau and vieux pont in Espalion
Finally, as the fourth day dawned, I had no excuse not to walk in the beautiful sunshine.
The church steeple in in a spiral and is called flamboyant gothic style. 
This church in St. Chely d'Aubrac had glorious reflections of stained glass windows.
This reflection on the floor.
I'd love to share more, but we must check out of the hotel and I'll be without WiFi again. I've written two other posts that have disappeared because of my insufficient WiFi. Just know that I'm taking photos and planning to take you all along on another hike soon.
The city of Estaing. Another chateau, another old bridge. 
What history, what beauty. Wish you were all along on the journey.

Monday, June 04, 2018

My Nose is a Magnet

There's no other explanation than the fact that my nose is a magnet.
It attracts things like frisbees, roads, toddlers' knees and toy cabinet lids.
This morning, I opened the lid of a wooden chest filled with games. I was looking for a die, you know, one of a pair of dice. I needed it for a lesson I am teaching this afternoon.
I could have held the lid up with one hand and pulled games out with the other, but the thing on top was a heavy wooden box with a checkerboard on top. I knew the wooden box would hold chess and checkers pieces, but I couldn't lift it up with one hand.
I tested the lid of the chest. It seemed like it would stay open, like those chests with the safety latches.
So I let go of the lid and grabbed the chess box with both hands.
You can guess what happened.
But instead of hitting me on the head, for some reason (my nose is a magnet) it hit a glancing blow to my nose, leaving a cut that oozed blood and the beginning of a bump.
I went for the freezer immediately to ice the bump.
Thirty years ago or so, I had a bump on my nose. It was a family thing, the Kincer bump.
But that first incident with the Frisbee and two nose surgeries later removed the Kincer bump.

Since then, I've had an aquiline nose, in spite of a knee to the nose by Tucker when he was a toddler. My fault for blowing a raspberry on his belly.
In spite of a fall while running, where my nose met the asphalt. Stitches to my knee and another surgery to straighten out my nose.
The doctor carefully reconnected the bones and no harm done. I was still wearing the bandage when the first copies of my book arrived.
Just a month ago I taught my first VIPkid class and I got a bloody nose throughout.
Perhaps my nose is in mutiny, planning to take over or make a break from my body. Perhaps it has had enough.
I don't think it's broken this time. Hopefully, just a bump that will heal and disappear, but, as the doctors have pointed out, only time will tell.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Finally, Friends

After a fairly isolating five months, meeting the occasional British couple or reuniting with friends from the past, this week has been a bonanza for Earl and me.
We’re coming up on our second week in Quillan and when we arrive at the cafe along the river, I stick my head in the door and Monsieur says, “Deux café crème?” and I nod yes. 
We aren’t in a place where everybody knows our name, à la Cheers, but the waiter does know our order. 
We sit in the sunshine listening to the rush of the river, admiring the wildflowers that spring from the stones of the old bridge and sipping our coffee with steamed milk. Earl never drank coffee before, being a tea man, but the taste and the tradition has grown on him.
The cafe by the river

The flowers curve upward, sending their roots into the old stone bridge
Excitingly, for the first time this week, we ran into new friends at the market and exchanged cheek kisses. It’s a French tradition that we’ve only shared with old French friends, but we met people Tuesday night, and the next morning when we encountered each other, we exchanged the traditional greeting. 
Beautiful flowers adorn the market
(As I write this, we’re sitting on a public bus, and high school boys are climbing on, sharing cheek kisses to greet each other. I find it delightful.)
If you know the French, you may have guessed these newfound friends who shared the traditional bisous with us, were not French friends. 
We went to a quiz night at a local bar and met a handful of British, Australians and Americans. This American couple has been in Quillan since February. 
The quiz night required a bit of chutzpah. We had seen the signs so brazenly walked in. We stopped to ask a crowd of people drinking outside if this was the place. 
Walking through the bar to a back room, we saw tables of teams all chatting to each other. That could have been the moment we chickened our, but surveilling the scene, I seized my courage and interrupted two women to ask if this was the place. They eagerly explained the quiz and invited us to join their team, knowing we would be no help. 
You see, it was a British quiz night. One of the categories was Sit Coms and the term Friends did not come up. The emcee read a list of characters and the Brits apparently recognized the shows. We'd ;never heard of any of them.
There were a couple of American questions— how many colonies declared independence in 1776? Earl thought it might be a trick question but I stuck to 13 and was right. What Caribbean island did the US invade in 1983? Grenada, obviously. 
But we didn’t stand a chance with questions about which British cities had greyhound racing. 
Our team consisted of Julie, an American from Michigan, and Lou, a Brit who runs an Airbnb. We drank red wine or gin and tonics and ended up in 9th place out of 10. 
The team we beat was Julie’s husband Jack, a retired college basketball coach, and a couple from Wisconsin. See, we Americans were definitely at a disadvantage. 
But we shared some jocularity and can now recognize much of the English speaking community in Quillan. 
Two nights later, we had our first dinner guests at our new home. Again we exchanged cheek kisses as they arrived with their little dog Scooter. Our guests were Jenny and Dennis, Australians who run the bed and breakfast where we first stayed in Quillan. 
We bought way too much cheese, but managed aperitifs, a starter of melon, followed by penne rosa, a cheese plate and homemade brownies, my first attempt at baking in France in a convectione oven. Then we drank more wine on the terrace, admiring the mountains as we laughed. 
So for the moment we’re feeling satiated with new acquaintances. 
Before I moved here, I had criticized the Americans and Brits who befriend each other rather than the French, but the French don’t jump into friendships the way we do. I can continue to say Bonjour to each French person I meet on my walks and runs; I can compliment beautiful gardens and stop to pet cute dogs, slowly building an acquaintance with the cautious French people around me until one day, maybe the woman who weighs my vegetables in the market might step around and exchange bisous with me. Just this week, when she rang up my fruits and vegetables to 10.93 Euros, I handed her a 10 and a 5. She handed me the 5 back waving off the extra 93 cents. 
Market produce temptations.
Can cheek kisses really be far behind. 
For now, we’ll happily engage with our new English-speaking friends. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Path Not Taken

Life can be hard to figure out.
From the time I was little, I loved adventure. I wanted to read about them, to suck them up. 
Exploring the big woods and prairie as settlers. A magical garden. A swing that, if you soared high enough,  transported kids to a new world. A subway ride that melded into 1600s Dutch-settled New York.
Then reading wasn’t enough. I needed to experience life myself. It started with small forays a few blocks away, wandering afar in the early light before many people were awake but when the sun had already whispered good morning, sparkling on the dew drops in the grass. 
Like any good adventurer, I knew to pack supplies, one half peanut butter sandwich folded over for that tender curve of bread rather than the hard edges of sliced bread. I’d drop the sandwich into a brown paper bag and pick a wire-ringed notebook and pencil to take along.
After searching the neighborhood for adventure, I’d end up under the maple tree in our front yard, my back pressing against the smooth trunk as I wrote about things I’d never seen but could only imagine. Mysteries and covered wagons and dusty attics. 
Perhaps it’s no surprise that I felt no compunction choosing a college and then a grad school far from my home in Ohio and then settled into a job in Florida. I don’t remember being sad when my parents sold my childhood home and moved to Kentucky. I rarely venture back to my hometown although my brother lives only half an hour from where we grew up. 
The year Grace was born,
 we moved 4 times - from Sebring, Florida to Tampa, Florida to an apartment in Michigan to a house in Michigan.
Back in the old days when you couldn't tilt the crooked picture
We had two more kids and moved four hours away to Columbus, Ohio. 
The back porch of the house we sold in December
Sometimes when we stayed in one place too long I’d get itchy. I saw moving, leaving friends behind, as a new chapter adding to the book of my life. I have friends and beautiful memories from every page.
And all this wandering, this search for adventure has led me to this moment— lying in bed in a house in Quillan, France. 

The birds outside raise a cacophony of sound to welcome the morning as the blue light of night fades to yellow and I miss my home.
Even as my eyes feast on the craggy rocks of the mountains that surround this town, my heart is in the quiet tree-lined streets of Grandview where I walk with Sheila and we know each other and each other’s kids so well we can talk in a friend shorthand. 
I get and send messages to my kids everyday and I try to read the meaning from a terse response versus a loquacious one. 
Should I just go home and surround myself with my family and friends? Gathering at the coffee shop for book group filled with laughter. Meeting Najah, Noreen and Pam for a slow run around the lake, our breath labored from sharing stories of our lives and our mouths tipped in smiles so that our cheeks ache. Long phone calls with my friend Ruth where we solve the problems of the world. 

Did I dismiss the daily pearls of life while I went searching for adventure? 
And so I think what would my life look like if I returned? My parents still live in Florida far away. Tucker is considering a move to Detroit plus Grace and Jack have a three-year plan that springs them out of Columbus and into the world. 
I could return, but life moves on. Noreen may move to North Carolina and Sheila pines for the countryside with a barn for a workshop. 
If I punched my timecard, trading it for my old life, my previous existence might have moved on. 
Sometimes I wonder if I’m not destined to always long for the other life, the path not taken. 
For now though, I’ll put on my hiking boots and grab an apple and a water bottle and walk into the mountains while they’re outside my window, imagining a day in the future when I’ll look back wistfully and wish I was here again.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

French Priorities

I'm learning to adjust to the differences in French and American culture, but it does still surprise me every time I run into it. And, it's always a  necessary part of a memoire written about people who move to France. They find it so hard to believe that life is very different.

This morning, I had a list of errands to accomplish. Earl and I had planned to walk to the nearby village together to accomplish them, but he received an email from UPS that our credit cards, the ones that were stolen and cancelled a month ago, would be delivered sometime today before the end of the day, whenever that is. Perhaps we could have safely assumed it wouldn't be from 12-2, the French lunch time, and gone on our errands then, but instead, he decided to stay at the house and wait for the UPS delivery person.
View walking toward town
I headed downtown repeating my list:
Change of address at the post office
Prescription Filled
Find a French doctor who speaks English
Buy some putty
Get keys made
The English library
The bakery

My first stop was the post office. I wanted to give them our names and let them know we would be at this address through December. Since this place serves as a rental, like an AirBnB most of the time, I needed to let them know we'd be receiving mail here.
The metal door was down over the  post office door and two different signs informed visitors that the post office was closed today, except for those who had appointments for Madame xxx. And the other sign said that the post office wouldn't be open until 2:45 on Wednesday.
Now, the regular hours of the post office were on a sign nearby. It's supposed to be open from 9-12 and 1:30-4:30, but it wasn't.
As I was deciphering the sign, the metal door rolled up and an older woman with a cane began to exit. I reached in to help her with the door and the woman behind the counter, Madame xxx rushed over to make sure I understood they were closed. I  nodded and pointed at the sign. I'd be back the next day after 2:45.
As I walked away and the door rolled back down, a Frenchman walked in the direction of the post office, a driving cap on his head and his gray beard trimmed to a point.
"C'est fermer?" he asked, it's closed.
"Yes," I told him in French, "today and tomorrow until 2:45." He made a French raspberry sound with a shrug of his shoulders.
That's how I felt. "What can you do?" I'd be back the next day, I laughed to myself.
I had much more luck at the pharmacy filling my prescription and asking about a doctor so Earl can get his prescription refilled.
Then I went to the nearby papeterie or stationary store, where I could get the latest newspapers and magazines if I wanted, but also some office supplies. I needed putty to put up pictures and props on the wall to entertain the children in my English classes. Luckily, she had some.
I took a shot and asked her about where to have a key made.
Mr. Bricolage, she informed me, which is equivalent to a Home Depot and found in many French towns, technically, outside French towns, nearly two miles away, which is a challenge since we don't have a car any more, but we'd figure it out.
The English library was also closed. I didn't even walk up to the door to see when it would be open, but the bakery was open, so score there. I walked home with a raspberry turnover and a cafe eclair.

Since I got back to quickly, Earl figured he'd ride his bike to the hardware store for the keys. I looked up the directions and saw the warning that the store was preparing to close. Yep, it closes for a two-hour lunch.
Can you imagine Home Depot closing for a two-hour lunch? But that's one of the differences we love about France, they have different priorities. It's one of the things we love, and one of the things that frustrates us.
It just takes some getting used to.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Travel Tips for French Holidays

Sometimes, I feel like I could give Rick Steves some tips about traveling in France that he might not have run into yet since he hasn't lived here for nearly five months like I have.
Today, we had some challenges that we've learned to deal with over the months, before I tell the story, I'll give you the tips straight up, just in case you aren't interested in the unfolding drama.

1. If you rent a car, check to see you aren't returning it on a Sunday, a holiday, or any other day that the car rental office might be closed. We've done this a few times and there seems to be a hefty fee related to it. Travelocity has not alerted us when we reserve a car that the office will be closed when we return it.
2. American credit cards often don't work in the gas station machines, so fill up on a day when there's an actual person present -- not a Sunday or a holiday -- so you can give them cash or they can run  your credit card.
3. There's a 150 Euro hold on a credit card when you fill up at a gas station, so think before you use your debit card. It will be a couple of days before the actual price of the gas replaced the 150 Euro hold.
4. Check the bus and train schedule on holidays and Sundays.

So, we rented a car more than two weeks ago when we dropped our sons at the airport in Paris. We had an 11-day housesit in the Poitou-Charente (near Cognac, France) and then we drove to our rental house in Quillan, France on Saturday.
I carefully chose Monday as the day to return the rental car, knowing to avoid Sunday.
What I didn't realize was that Monday (today) is a holiday in France. What holiday is it, you might wonder? Pentecost Monday or Whit Monday as it is known in some places.
"That is quite a big bank holiday," our British hosts warned us.
I tried calling the Hertz desk where we were returning the car in Carcassonne. We could not change the date to Tuesday since we had rented through Travelocity. Travelocity offers some help via Twitter, but not very much. They weren't able to  help at all when I had difficulties returning a car to La Rochelle a few months ago, which ended up in an extra $200 fee.
Hertz at Caracassonne airport did assure me that they would be open on the holiday, so that was one difficulty tackled. But I had to figure out how to get from the Carcassonne airport back to our home in Quillan, about an hour away.
There is a 1 Euro bus that runs between Carcassonne and Quillan -- perfect!
But, it's a holiday, so will the bus be running?
We walked to the tourism office in Quillan and the man circled the bus scheduled. Because of the holiday, the bus would run on a limited basis. We could catch the bus at 9:43 a.m. or at 1:37 p.m. It's about an hour and a half trip with stops along the way
We'd just get up early, return the car to Hertz, catch a taxi to the train station in Carcassonne and pay 1 Euro to ride back to Quillan. Simple!
I had a class scheduled to teach at 2 p.m., so we couldn't miss the early bus, or we'd have to find another way to get to Quillan, but how much could a taxi cost? 50 Euros? That's how much we paid in Paris when going from the airport to a hotel during rush hour, a trip that often took an hour.
Well, the Hertz office didn't open until 9, which made the schedule a bit tighter.
We left at a few minutes after 8 for the 53-minute drive, but the GPS seemed to send us to smaller and smaller roads. We also stopped at three different gas stations to try to fill up the car. Not a person was to be seen in any of the gas stations (it's a holiday after all) and both our debit cards and our American Express cards were rejected by the card readers. (No, we still do not have our Visa credit cards from Chase after they were stolen more than a month ago - that's another story).
Luckily, we had paid for the car to be filled up, but the man at the counter said it would be cheaper to fill it up ourselves unless the car was down to a quarter tank. We had more than half a tank but were grateful we'd prepaid so we wouldn't get a penalty on top of having to pay for gas.
We followed some convoluted signs to park in front of the airport then wandered into the terminals. The woman at the information counter said we could leave the car there but needed to go to the building across the road to turn in our key and paperwork.
It was a busy road as we wandered in that direction, but before we crossed, seeing a guardrail across the way, I noticed an underground staircase that went under the road. By the time we returned the car, my watch said 9:25. The train station was 11 minutes away by taxi. The helpful woman at the Hertz counter called a taxi. It wouldn't arrive for 10 minutes. There was  no way we'd make the 9:43 bus to Quillan.
"How much to travel by taxi to Quillan?" I asked.
"140 Euros," she said. Gulp.
What choice did we have? We ordered a taxi to Quillan.
This Monday class was one of the first scheduled classes I had for VIPkids, teaching English to Chinese students. I hadn't wanted to cancel my first class. By the end of the weekend, I had 20 classes scheduled, so cancelling one class ahead of time wouldn't have been a big deal, but I couldn't have known that. We had to get home before 2 p.m. so I could teach.
Earl and I paced outside of the rental car office waiting for the taxi and lamenting the waste of money.
My mind raced through possibilities. We could rent a car for a week for 140 Euros and return on another day when it wasn't a holiday.
Finally, I pulled out the bus schedule. We couldn't reach the train station in Carcassonne in time to catch the bus, but we might meet it somewhere along its route.
The biggest city between Caracassonne and Quillan is Limoux. The bus was scheduled to be there at 10:21. We could beat it.
The taxi driver pulled up and I asked him how much it would be to drive to Limoux. He estimated somewhere between 60 and 70 Euros. Half price the drive to Quillan. We took it!
After a 20 minute drive, for 67 Euros, he dropped us at Limoux train station before 10 a.m. The place was deserted.
As people began to show up, we became less nervous.
See the building in the background, there's a urinal there on the right side, no door. 
It's kind of disconcerting to be standing in a lonely train station hoping that a bus will arrive. We went to the ticket machine and paid 1 Euro each for a ticket (we could have bought the tickets on the bus). Having a ticket in hand made us feel more certain that the bus would arrive.
Then a man, woman and child arrived and the man asked whether the bus was coming.
"J'espere," I said, I hope, and we both consulted the bus schedule -- the 10:21 -- he agreed that was the bus he was waiting for. 
A family, a backpacker, a wide mix of people waiting for the bus. 
Other people arrived. A man with what looked like fishing gear. A young couple with the guy on crutches, a man with a hand cart for moving heavy things. When the bus showed up with Drake playing in the background, we all climbed on board and arrived back in Quillan at 11 a.m.
The hip bus driver with his popped collar and Drake playing on the radio
So we saved 70 Euros, or you could consider we wasted 60 Euros, because if we'd gotten to the train station in Carcassone, probably for the cost of 10 Euros, we would have saved what we paid the taxi driver.
After our harrowing morning of transportation issues, we wandered to a cafe along the river and drank a coffee in the sunshine. 
Looking relaxed after our hectic morning
Then we paused at a bakery for a loaf of bread and chausson pommes (apple fritters) covered in powdered sugar (which is unusual).
I was home in plenty of time to prepare for my class. And, at 5 minutes after 2, I received a message that the student wouldn't make it for the class.
Ah, well. At least I was ready, and everyone knows the importance of not traveling on holidays in France.

Friday, May 18, 2018

So We Always Remember

Anyone who knows me realizes that I avoid cruelty. I can't stand to watch it or read it. I just don't watch television shows or movies or even read books where people are cruel for no reason.
But that doesn't mean that I stick my head in the sand to avoid the world at large. Yes, I would rather only focus on the positive in the world, but I have to be aware of the news and things that go on to help avoid those same events from happening again.
That's why I agreed to visit Oradour-sur-Glane in the Limousin region of France.
Earl has written a blog post in more depth about the history and I'll direct you there for that, but I wanted to share with you some of my experience.
Our friends Norman and Caroline shared with us a booklet about the town so we could be prepared.
During World War II, on June 10, 1944, German SS soldiers appeared one day out of the blue and killed every person they could find. They shot the men before setting on fire the buildings where they'd shot them. And they locked all of the women and children into the church before setting off an explosion and then burning it.
642 people massacred. Only one woman escaped the church alive by jumping from a 9-foot window. The Germans shot her as she made a break for it, but she lived, hidden among the rows of peas growing in the garden.
It is too horrible to imagine.
And the people of the village, those who somehow lived, or those who were gone to work that day, never rebuilt the village. They built another village nearby so the burnt out village where so many died stands today as a testament to the atrocity of the Nazis.
As we drove toward the village, about an hour and a half from our housesit in Chateaneuf-sur-Charente, I noticed that I was yawning, big yawns. I'd slept okay the night before, so felt like my body was just reacting to the scene I would soon face.
Parking is free and we entered the memorial building, which is underground. It crosses below a road and then visitor climb up to see the destroyed village. Anyone entering or exiting must go through the memorial.
View as we walked toward the memorial

This placard reminds us to "Remember" what happened here. 

The Nazis burnt the whole town in hopes of hiding their atrocity.
No one knows for sure why killed everyone in the village. Some say there was another village called Oradour where some resistance fighters were working. Apparently, this occupied village had never had trouble with the Nazis there. They all appeared when they were called to the square, except one eight-year-old boy who had lived in Lorraine, France and knew what the Germans were capable of, so he ran and hid in the garden of the school rather than walking to the village square. He survived. The only child in the village left alive at the end of the massacre.

The flames in the church were so hot that they melted the bell which crashed to the floor below. 
The church, where the women and children died, was of course a central point for visitors. Even though the roof is gone and it stands open to the air, the charred smell remains. A memorial to World War I soldiers is built into one wall, the residents never imagining that their village would sacrifice even more in the second World War than they did in the first, right there beneath the plaque.
Earl pointed out the number of sewing machines in the burnt-out houses. What a normal household
 item to see in so many French homes from that time, never to be used again. 

The men were taken to different buildings and shot. Each building where men were shot had a placard.
This one also has a notice that six men escaped. 
Apparently, the men who escaped, fell to the ground feigning that they had been shot and did not move as the Germans continued to shoot anyone who moved or moaned. Then when the place was set fire, they hid and about a dozen or more men managed to survive the massacre.
Like visiting a concentration camp, it takes your breath away to see the signs of such hideous cruelty.
We must be aware of it so we can say never again.
Wildflowers grow here, in the midst of the destruction.
And it doesn't have to be big cruelty, it can start with something as simple as pulling a toddler out of his mother's arms when they arrive at our borders. Separating them as a warning to people not to seek help from the United States, a country that was built on immigrants.
"Immigrants, we get the job done!" from Hamilton  in a line by Alexander Hamilton (an immigrant) and Marquis de Lafayette (also an immigrant at the time).
We can't allow even these easily overlooked cruelties to snowball to the point where it is not a big deal to lock the doors of a church and set it on fire, shooting machine guns at anyone who tries to escape as women and children burn to death.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

No Place Like A Home

Sometimes, I think Earl and I may have made it harder on ourselves than we needed to with this move to France.
We wanted to explore different communities, so we set up housesits. We've been moving from place to place for four and a half months now.
Near Poitiers where we had the filthy housesit with very nice donkeys

The beautiful lockkeeper's house where we housesat both in February
 and again the past few weeks in Poitou-Charentes France near Cognac.

In Reigate with the beautiful house and lovely British people

In Aix en Provence -- getting tired of traveling, but oh the places we went! 
 We've never been totally unpacked. We've stored bags at our friend Delana's house and now that we've picked them up, we look like hoarders with the back of our car loaded and two bicycles hanging from the carrier.
When we talk about the things we miss (besides our family) I think most of it might have been solved if we had simply rented a house in one place.
We haven't been able to make friends near by. Although, we have made some marvelous friendships with British people who we housesat for. Caroline and Norman, where we're housesitting now, have invited us to Norman's 70th birthday party in the fall and have promised to come visit us in Quillan. We also struck up a friendship with Jane and Andy who live in the U.K. and hope to see them again. Our French friends Michel and Danuta are busy with their lives, and they will be hours away from our new location, but they did introduce us to some new French friends, Hugues and Marie-Claire, who we perhaps will see again. We do have plans with my American friend Linda and her French husband Maurice, who will visit us in Quillan before we go hiking for a week along El Camino Santiago, but the French part. So we can't say our lives are devoid of friendships. But if I wake up in the morning and want to go for a walk with Sheila, or a run with Najah, Noreen or Pam, I'm out of luck. I have no sounding board to discuss problems with the kids, spats with my husband, work frustrations.
Still, our friendship pool might have grown if we had stayed in one place and started integrating into a community.
Earl misses volunteering with the children at Childhood League in Columbus, but could he volunteer in France? Maybe he can teach English classes, or maybe simply play with disabled children on the playground. That might be a way to improve his French as well.
We both hope to take French classes, but haven't been in one place long enough to do that.
And we'd love to find a place to go dancing again, even take dance lessons since I just saw a study that people who take dance lessons actually expand their brains!
It's hard not to have a place to call home, and since we sold our house in Ohio, we literally have no home, although not quite homeless.
Two more days until we settle into our French rental and I'm looking forward to it with relief.
But a couple more adventures first, and hopefully I'll make time to blog about today's trip to Oradour-sur-Glane, a French village that was demolished by the Germans during World War II and left to stand as a reminder of the horror of war.
And then onto a beloved Medieval village, Mirepoix.

But we're close, very close, to settling down into a long-time home.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Just a few days after I posted about trying to make French friends and realizing they were prejudiced, which you can read about here, a blogging friend, Jacqueline, came to the rescue. She invited us to visit her small village, Loubillé for the celebration of VE Day (Victory in Europe), known as Victoire à  la France here.
Perhaps there was a bigger celebration nearby where we are housesitting, where farm fields served as the landing spot for RAF pilots and a monument stands for Claude Bonnier, a resistance fighter who died at the end of the war,
The flowers at the foot of the monument speak to the ceremony that probably took place here. 
But visiting Jacqui and seeing the close friendships she has developed with the people of her village, both British and French alike, was just what I needed.
Me and Earl with Jacqui in her jaunty hat.
If you don't write a blog and read blogs, you might not understand how bloggers can be friends without ever meeting in person, but it happens. Every blogger that I have followed and later met in person, I have enjoyed. It's as if we are old friends, because we know about each other's lives and we care about each other. I asked Jacqui's son Ed, who I had read about since he was young, if it was weird. He agreed that it was, but Jacqui also had no problem asking me about Grace and what was going on in her life. I'd recently shared information about the boys' trip so she was up to date on them. So the minute we met, we fell into companionable conversation.
So why was this small celebration in Jacqui's village so special?
After our failed attempt to make French friends, I was buoyed by the way that Jacqui is an integral part of her French village. She's even on the town council. And the people in her village embraced me as an American friend of Jacqui's.
I exchanged more cheek kisses with people in Jacqui's village than I have in a month of tourist-y travel throughout France.
It started when we met at the bar for coffee before the celebration. The female owner of the bar extended her hand when we were introduced, but the male owner explained that we exchange kisses in France as he moved toward both cheeks. But, he drew the line and shook hands with Earl.
Each person we met took the time to introduce themselves, and the French moved forward for cheek kisses.
Jacqui's son Ed was recruited to hold the flag as the mayor spoke.
The ceremony was brief with the Mayor reading the story of three young French resistance fighters who were killed by the Germans in this little copse of trees outside of town, where a young man of the village later found them, but everyone bowed their heads to think of the sacrifices. Ed at 17 was nearly the same age as those who gave their lives.
Then we walked the few kilometers back to the village where pitchers of Kir waited, along with pices of pizza and quiche-like pastry. We chatted with Jacqui mostly, occasionally engaging with the others from the village.
Sometimes, travelling, just the two of us, gets lonely. I miss spending time with friends, discussing everything and nothing. Talking about things in a language that I know, inside and out
But even if I had stood on the sideline to watch how Jacqui interacted with her village friends, I would have seen that life in France is possible even for those who didn't grow up speaking French.
So thank you, Jaqui, at French Village Diaries, for supporting me when a new book comes out, but more importantly, for showing me what is possible after 14 years of living in a French village.
If you're interested in finding some English language books set in France or just want a peek at life in France for a U.K ex-pat, French Village Diaries is the place to go. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Teaching Online Catastrophe

Since we moved to France, we've been living on my salary. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten as many classes as I had hoped.
I needed to earn more money, so I applied to a company called VIPkids. This company teaches English to Chinese children as young as 4 years old. It's a one-on-one lesson for half an hour and they have a lesson the teacher goes over with great animation and props, like hand puppets or magnetic letters.

I've done all the training and preparation and have been waiting to be booked for a class. Today, around noon, I got a message saying a last-minute class had been scheduled with a student named Ci Jei.
I practiced the class. I carefully placed the props around my desk and I tested my headphones and the internet link.
I've been sick since last week with a sinus infection, so I placed a glass of water nearby when I saw that I needed to sing a hello song, the alphabet song and a goodbye song, but I knew my singing voice wasn't the important thing. I needed to be energetic and animated.
I signed onto the class promptly at 2:30. Before me was a mother holding her young son (Ci Jei, I'm assuming) and an older son.
Ci Jei wanted nothing to do with this. He started crying almost immediately, so I picked up my fake microphone and started singing the hello song. He ran out the door and slammed it behind him.
I knew I needed to persevere, so the older brother hopped in to take over. As I was introducing the alphabet, I felt my nose start to run. I reached over and grabbed my tissue that I left nearby to wipe off a white board.
Oh, no. It wasn't a runny nose, it was a bloody nose. A red stream trickled down my upper lip and I
No, this isn't me but gettyimages photo of a woman with a
bloody nose. 
kept swiping at it with the now very bloody tissue. I kept saying sorry, so much so, that later when I was teaching the parts of the face, I pointed to my nose and the boy said, "Sorry."
No, it's a nose, not a sorry.
The nose bleed must have continued for 15 minutes. I finally excused myself, tore the head phones off and ran into the nearby bathroom for a roll of toilet paper. Then I returned and continued to teach the class to the big brother.
The way to get more classes is to earn stars from the families that I teach. I'm pretty certain that this mother with her crying son was traumatized by the copious amounts of blood flowing from my nose.
At least if I start with such a dire beginning, it has to get better, right?

Sunday, May 06, 2018

An Attempt at French Friends

Yesterday, after saying goodbye to our sons at the airport, Earl and I drove to the Charente for another housesit.

 It is the lock keeper's house where we housesat during the floods. But now the weather is gorgeous and French people pull up in their cars and park along the lock to enjoy the sun reflecting off the water.
Some actual lily pads
 This morning, we took the dogs for a walk

and then returned to see boats making their way through the locks. Although this was once the lock keeper's house, people are on their own for operating the locks now. Earl cannot resist helping them, though. Whether they want help or not, he's out there turning the wheel to open one side before turning the wheel to close them in. Then he goes to the opposite side and turns the wheel to let the water out and the boat slowly lowers to be even with the water on the other side. It's good that he's keeping busy.

The boat enters the lock where the water is higher and must lower the water to move to the next part of the river. 
We were talking to some Americans from South Carolina who rented a boat when a yellow van pulled down beside the lock and stopped by the garden of the house where we're sitting." The garden has a sign, "Jardin privé" which means private garden, meant to keep people from wandering around the yard. I imagine they'll eventually have to put up a fence. 
When I was inside the house, the woman who drove the yellow van came to the door and asked if the owners were home. I said no they had gone on vacation. The woman said they had met the homeowners and tried to call them but she thought she had the wrong number.
I gave her the correct phone number and the woman continued to chat. She said her husband would be very excited to meet us because he loves America. And a few minutes later, he showed up at the door and began to speak about Chicago and the Indianapolis 500, along with their yearly Christmas trips to "Vegas."
They seemed nice and they said that the homeowners had previously allowed them to picnic under the weeping willow at the end of the garden. We shrugged and said that was fine. And could they also use the boules court in the yard?
I told them Earl had always wanted to learn to play boules and they said they would love to include him. Then they invited us for an aperitif before their picnic.
When we wandered down for an aperitif, Beatrice and Pierre had several friends and grown children with them, probably 15-20 people gathered beside the river with a table, an umbrella, lounge chairs and folding chairs. We were quickly given a glass of rosé, technically "gris" Pierre explained since only a certain type of grape grown near Avignon count as real rosé grapes. The rules about French wine are baffling to me so I nodded my head.
We talked about Mustangs and movies and music and all seemed to be going well, until Pierre mentioned that France has too many Muslims. "I don't like zee muslims," he said.
That was a conversation stopper for us. I tried to point out that the U.S. has many Muslims, too, and he loves the U.S.
Pierre moved on to a different topic, hopefully realizing that we were not a receptive audience for Muslim bashing. I sat a few more minutes then moved to talk to a young couple in the group before saying we should go back to the house to let them have their picnic.
We walked up the drive past the sparkling canal hand in hand.
"And things were going so well," I said.
"Yeah," Earl agreed.
We'd said we would return to play boules, but the thrill had faded.
Our first attempt at new French friends was not a success, but we know not all French are prejudiced against Muslims, just as not all Americans are prejudiced about certain races or religions.
We won't give up.

Long Days Equal Musique

It's the Summer Solstice and in France that means music. Every city, and nearly every village, is celebrating with the fête de la musiq...