Thursday, January 17, 2019

Reunited in September and Exploring Spain --2018

In August, Earl flew back to the States to help the kids cut through some red tape. He was returning through Paris, and our friends had agreed to lend us their car for the fall months.  There was a gap of just a few hours between their departure and his arrival, so I went to meet him to bridge the gap.
I had a day to spend in Paris while I waited for Earl to arrive. Not since my days as an au pair (22) had I spent a day alone roaming through the City of Lights. What a luxury!
Luckily, I learned that an art exhibit, similar to the one I loved in Provence, was taking place not too far from where I was staying, so I went.
The exhibit, Les Ateliers des Lumieres in the 11th arrondisement at 38 rue Saint Maur 75 011 Paris,
had gotten a lot of publicity and I'd heard the lines were long, but my timing was superb so I waltzed right in. You can read my post and see more pictures here. It was amazing.
Although Earl could have easily made his way from the airport, I met him there. It was the longest we have ever been apart in our 28 years of marriage.
The next morning, before we drove back to Quillan, we explored the famous cemetery, Cimetière du Père Lachaise. We had a map with famous gravesites and tried to visit many of them.
In all our visits to Paris, we had never been.
The grave of Colette who wrote Gigi. We watched the movie Colette starring Keira Knightley. Colette was something. 

It was a good September morning to wander around the cemetery visiting the graves of Marcel Marceau, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. 
So now we had a car in Quillan after our drive back from Paris. We would no longer be reliant on friends and public transportation.
But my most common form of transportation was still running. I loved this picture of the clouds hanging low over Quillan during a sunrise.

We had a progressive dinner one night, us four American couples in Quillan. Jules (whose idea is was) got sick and couldn't participate. We missed her wit. 
We all put on Rod's hats while we were at his house. Becky is missing from the picture. 
On another day, our British friend Lou convinced Jules and me to go to a silver clay class. 
Yes, Lou is the kind of person who is always fun

Silver clay becomes silver once it is fired, with the clay burning off. I'm not very crafty, but I enjoyed making a little bauble and then giving it to Grace for Christmas. 

The rest of September was full of more runs with sunrises, explosions of colors for sunsets, and dinners with friends. 
Sunrise, I think, over the river Aude

A burst of colors in the sunset

Following Jules and Jack back to their place for some wine and cards. 
In late September, Earl and I made our first foray into Spain. We headed to Sax to housesit for a very independent cat. 
The house and the cat were great. The saltwater pool was even better. I was a bit freaked out by the barbed wire around the top of the fence, but the view was terrific. 
And we also loved the beach on the Mediterranean at Alicante. 

Much of what we saw in Spain was lovely, but I didn't second guess my decision to move to France. For one thing, I had a hard time waiting for dinner at 10. 
But the coffee was delicious, and I loved that cafes served food even when we only ordered a drink. 

The markets were just as charming as in France, but I didn't know the language. 
We returned home from Spain, comfortable switching back to French. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Festivals and Dog Days in August 2018

August in the South of France! It's got to be tourist time, which was fine. Our cafe was more crowded and the lines sometimes stretched out the door at the bakery, but the market was in full swing and the town felt vibrant
I had lots of good runs --early before the heat got too intense.
I love seeing the clouds over the mountains. 

This street redefines the term alley cat. 
 I loved being out on the streets early, seeing the markets set up or people preparing for work. Often I run along the river because it's one of the flattest roads in the village. And sometimes I could persuade my friend Jules to come along.
Do you see the fisherman standing in the river?
 Even though we live in a small village, the bakery is phenomenal. I visit nearly every day.
In addition to pastries and desserts, the bakery sells sandwiches and quiches. 
 But the pace wasn't all lazy days. Mid-August found us in the midst of the village festival. One of the first events was the mayor handing out kerchiefs with the name of our village on them.

You can see that a lot of people crowded into the street in front of the mayor's office waiting for the red kerchiefs. A British friend had his nieces and nephews along and one boy wanted out of the crowd so Earl put him on his shoulders and he snapped this picture for me. 

Here we are with our city scarves with Jules and Jack. 

Here's the town crest on the scarves with the year 2018, as modeled by Earl and me. 
But that was only the beginning of the village festival. One day there was a bike race -- a Criterium that included professional bikers. 

Jack, Earl and I perched on the corner to watch the bike race
 The village was quite packed near the announcer, but the crowds didn't stretch down to this corner by the blue bridge.
Here come the riders

Here's the blue bridge with the riders streaming across. 
 We didn't stay for the entire race since the riders were making a circuit and we weren't invested in the winner. I think we returned to Jack and Jules house for cake and more wine.
Every night of the festival, the village had music. Sometimes a band would play early in the evening, but the real music began at 10 -- after dinner -- and lasted until 2. We ventured down to the square for music a couple of days, but we didn't realize how amazing it was until the final night. Next year, we'll be there dancing each of the five nights of music.
The band the final evening. There were lights and costume changes. 
 And the band took a break for fireworks. We stood in front of the stage, dancing and singing along til well after midnight. We didn't make it til midnight, but next year!
Later in August was another community dinner. We gathered under a tent with friends for aperitifs before we were served moules (mussels) as an entree. The main course was pork jowls, so not my favorite meal, but when the music started, all was forgotten.

Each person received a big bowl of mussels
 When we weren't in the middle of festivals, we often took bike rides, like the one to the festival in Esperaza. That village is famous for its quirky arts and exotic items.
Some dream catchers and carvings

Musicians often play around the festival. These musicians stationed themselves near our regular cafe. 
 Toward the end of the month, Spencer had a car accident, so Earl flew back to the States to help take care of all the paperwork and details that can get tricky to handle when you're a young 20-something.
Here he is with all three of the kids enjoying a meal on a patio.

It was strange to be in France without him. I worked hard at teaching and spent time with friends. 
Often I'd go to the bakery in the morning and buy a pastry for breakfast along with a baguette sandwich that I would cut in half for lunch and dinner. The bakery served all my needs. 
And that is how August ended, with me alone in France. Earl did all the things he had missed in the States, like hug the kids, and I was jealous. 
But I was in France, so everyone else was jealous.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Summer Deep in the South of France - July 2018

As July dawned we wove our way from Aix en Provence to find fields of lavender. 

The fields were gorgeous and smelled heavenly, but mostly what I remember about this drive was that Earl and I had a huge fight. Yes, I don't want anyone to think everything is sunshine and roses during this first year abroad. It's an adjustment, spending every minute of life together. I imagine it would be an adjustment whether we were in the States or in France. 
The fight eventually faded and life returned to normal, whatever normal is for people without a home.  Will I always remember our fight when I smell lavender? I hope not. 
We returned to Quillan in time for an English-hosted 4th of July party. 
I have nothing red, white and blue to wear for the 4th! So I'm in white eating a jello shot -- very American
In honor of the French national holiday, which we call Bastille Day and they call la  Fête National (14th of July). Each town has its own Bal de Pompiers, or firemen's ball to celebrate la  Fête National. 
There's nothing equal to these village-wide celebrations that I have experienced in the States. So many people, young and old, come together. Everyone must bring their own place settings. There are drinks to begin, followed by entrees, a main course, cheese, dessert, and the wine flows. All of this before the dancing begins. 
The pork roasting over a fire for the dinner. 

The local band plays at every event. They're terrific
Later in July, the culmination of the World Cup saw France playing Croatia, so we gathered in the square to watch an outdoor television. Getting drinks was a bit difficult, but everyone managed to get more than enough. 
And France won! We loved the euphoria of being in a local crowd when France won. 
Earl and I kept our clothes on. 
But the amazing experiences weren't over. We planned a trip to Carcassonne to watch the Tour de France whizz through. But we had bad luck with our AirBnB, so after a sleepless night in a place with bedbugs, we returned to Quillan without having seen the Tour de France. 
All the store windows were decorated for the Tour
Our friends Steve and Lou revived our dream though but suggesting we follow them to a spot where we could watch the Tour. 
What a great time. Some people who are a bit jaded scoffed at the idea of parking, walking among the crowds and finding a place to watch the tour zip past in just a few seconds, but I loved it all. 
Waiting in the shade of the trees for the Tour

A giant chicken travels up the hill -- a parade with advertisers precedes the riders. 

And finally, the lead riders sped past. I screamed along with the rest of the crowd. 
For years I have watched the Tour de France on TV and this year, I got to see it in person. I spotted the leader in the yellow jersey and the mountain leader in his spotted jersey.  Guess what, I plan to go back in 2019. 
In between big events, I had some scenic runs, and we shared some delicious meals with our new friends.

A sunrise over the mountains during a morning run

A meal with Jack and Jules, this one during a night market in Esparaza

 Earl and I were car-less during all of this time, relying on our friends and public transportation for where we wanted to go. One day some friends invited us to explore a nearby Cathar castle ruins.
The countryside is dotted with them, and our friends Jim and Teresa were visiting all of them.
On the drive to the castle, we passed a field of sunflowers and stopped for pictures.

Chateau de Peyrepertuse
The hike up to the castle was a bit challenging but well worth it once we reached the top. Our friends who had explored the other castles said this Chateau de Peyrepertuse was the best of the lot.
A view from the higher section of the castle. 
The architecture was amazing, too.
Love these nooks

Such an imposing structure. 

So our France-centric month closed with celebrations of Bastille Day, the French soccer team winning the World Cup, a glimpse of the Tour de France, and a visit to a castle. 
Another dream-come-true month. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Settling in to France -- June 2018

June was the first month we had a home, and we began to make connections with the fabulous people who live in our village.
We met some Americans at the local quiz night. Lucky for us we sat down with Jules and Lou. Jules is American, Lou is British and they were two of the liveliest people in the bar. We didn't win, but when we ran into Jules and her husband Jack at the market that weekend, they invited us to join them and others at The Palace, which is a cafe along the river, for coffee. And so began our friendships with the Brits and Americans in the village.
A music festival in the village square

We were invited to a British couple's home for drinks in the middle of a Sunday afternoon and I learned a valuable lesson about not drinking too much. I was drinking red wine. When I put my glass down, I indicated to Steve, the host and bartender, that I was finished drinking, but he would refill it and I felt guilty not to pick it up again. When we wandered home a few hours later, I was not tipsy; I was drunk. I fell into bed and woke up sometime in the night to throw up. I had learned that I needed to be responsible for what I drank and how much. And I also figured out why my new friend Jules took snacks with her wherever she went -- to soak up the alcohol.
We shared dinners with our new friends and our Australian friends who had hosted us at their B&B.
In June, for the first time, we tried blanquette, a local sparkling wine and a mainstay during so many aperitifs for lunch and dinner.

Linda (my blogging friend at Frenchless in France) and her husband Maurice arrived to stay for a few nights before we set off for a week-long hike along a section of the Camino de Santiago in France, part of the better known hike that ends in Santiago, Spain and is known as The Way. This section was called Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle, and we began it in Aubrac-Aumont, France.

This was quite different from a hike along the Appalachian Trail (which you can read about in my novel Trail Mix)
We hiked during the day and stayed in quaint inns each night with meals that were traditionally French and so delicious. The first night set the bar with "aligot" which is mashed potatoes mixed with so much cheese, garlic and creme fraiche. A lot of the inns served beef as well because it was cow country. I only walked the trail a couple of days,

 mostly riding along with Linda to explore churches and historical sites in the area.

A lovely old village Espalion
This was a week of living in France profonde, and we met amazing people throughout. We were so fortunate that Maurice and Linda included us on the hike, so a big "Merci!" to them.
When we returned to Quillan, we started going to a local bar to watch soccer games as the World Cup began and we ended up making friends with the bartender who speaks excellent English. He and his wife are now (in 2019) our first new French friends, so going to a bar to watch soccer was time well spent.
On the Summer Solstice, the village filled with music. We snagged a table and joined together with friends to drink and listen and even dance a bit. We laughed about the English language songs, but mostly we just enjoyed the camaraderie of the village.

We started trying to make inroads into the French community by joining an evening hike. The hike lasted a few hours then ended with a communal dinner. The hike and the meal were so great, that I didn't anticipate how much fun the dancing afterward would be. Oh, how I had missed dancing. We drank a lot and danced even more, stumbling out well after midnight to argue about which way was the walk home.

On the night hike, they stopped and counted people several times. 

A view during the hike. 
We explored the area around us, visiting Perpignan. We took the dollar bus as it cut through the mountains, narrowly missing sidewipes of rocky cliffs and cars going the other way. Then we relaxed in Perpignan, doing a bit of shopping and sightseeing while the men moved from bar to restaurant to bar before we caught the bus back. 
A canal runs through Perpignan. 
I loved this statue
Perpignan is definitely a place I would love to explore more. 
I could say that we didn't leave France during June, but I ventured into Spain with a few friends who like to go shopping across the border. It's a couple of hours to the shopping center in Spain, and we had a delicious lunch. 

At the end of the month, we rented a car and drove to Aix en Provence to celebrate with our friend Delana the new life she was going to. What a bittersweet moment as Delana, a friend who had inspired me and enabled me by allowing us to use her address, would no longer be in France. 

But you can't begrudge a friend the happiness that she is rushing toward. 
Bon voyage, Delana. Thanks for helping me get the nerve to come to France. 
June was filled with friends and travel. I pinched myself. Could this be real?

Reunited in September and Exploring Spain --2018

In August, Earl flew back to the States to help the kids cut through some red tape. He was returning through Paris, and our friends had agre...