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.

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...