Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A Castle on Every Mountain

 Yesterday evening, I was texting with our son Spencer. He was getting a tire fixed on his day off. He asked how my day was. 

I hiked with some friends, I told him and sent a picture. 

The view from atop Rennes le Chateau

"Is there a castle on top of every hill there?" he asked. 

Well, yes, practically. Or parts of old castles.

Monday was a scorcher here in the south of France, but we had planned a hike from Couiza to Rennes le Chateau. In addition to the hike, we had a mission from Grace, who is using Rennes le Chateau as a case study for her masters thesis. And we had invited our husbands and a few other friends to join us for lunch at the top as well.

We started off about 9:30 in the morning. We thought the hike would take two hours but we had reached Rennes le Chateau by about 10:45. We were sweaty, but the views were worth it. 

Melissa, Sue and I started from Sue's house in Couiza
The flowers were in bloom and the rolling hills and far off mountains looked great from up high.
Walking up to the chateau gave us a new vantage point. 
Some stone stairs at the end

Grace had asked us to search for pentagrams in Rennes le Chateau as part of her masters thesis. She's researching how some tourist places use the occult to draw in visitors. We treated it like a treasure hunt, searching the old buildings, examining the church.

We took a break to have a drink in one of the nearby cafes, sitting under the shade of the trees. I ordered a menthe a l'eau, water with mint syrup added to it. Cool and refreshing. My British friends ordered hot mint tea. I don't get it. My face was still dripping with sweat and I couldn't picture drinking hot tea, but apparently the Brits do. They were delighted with their mint tea. 

Grace texted that her professor suggested we look at the church pews for pentagrams, so we returned to the church. And inside, we found our friends Theresa and Jim who were meeting us for lunch, and Theresa was joining in on the pentagram search. The pews were obviously fairly new and plain wood. No signs of pentagrams.

Melissa had noticed a "storage shed" earlier that had some pews in it so she and Sue went to search there. 

The church is beautiful and quirky. 

No pentagrams, but lots of stars above the altar
This is a picture of the devil holding up the holy water. It's behind glass now because someone destroyed it a few years ago. So I've included an old picture so you can see what it looks like. 
The view all around Rennes le Chateau is beautiful
View again. 

Of course, there's more to Rennes le Chateau than the view. There's a mystery that draws visitors and researchers like Grace. Here's a link to a previous post I wrote about Rennes le Chateau in 2017 on our first visit there. 

After searching the church, the gardens, the tower and the surrounding village for pentagrams without success, we walked to the restaurant where we were meeting the rest of our group. France still has a limit on six people dining together, even outside, so our group of 10 was broken into two tables. We sat men at one table, women at the other, but someday we'll all be able to sit together again. 

The food was good, view beautiful, company outstanding and even the accompanying dogs were well behaved. 

Sunday, June 06, 2021

A Market Bike Ride

 Summer is finally arriving in the south of France, with a gorgeous day today. The sky was so blue; the white clouds, fluffy. So Earl and I rode our bikes to the Esperaza market. It's about 10 kilometers (6 miles) each way. Usually, we saunter around the market, admiring the rotisserie chickens as they drop fat onto the potatoes below, the handmade instruments we're always tempted to buy for the nieces and nephews, or the clumps of rose-colored garlic. 

Today, we simply parked our bikes and parked ourselves at a café, our usual café. The one where the waitress recognizes us and we can chat about whether she accepted a contract for the summer and what other restaurant she might be working in. "It's a young woman's game," she says, but in French, and that's my interpretation of it. 

While Earl ordered coffee, I waited in the ever-growing line at the bakery. I only go to that bakery on Sundays, but they have the best pain au raisin in the area. When I stepped inside, I saw one pain au raisin remaining. Not to worry, Earl prefers a palmier, so if no one took the pain au raisin, I was golden. The man behind me, his red hair knotted into frizzy dreadlocks that reached his elbows, shook the coins in his hand. I felt sure that he was ogling that pain au raisin when he stepped up to the vienoisserie case. When the woman in front of me asked for bread, I felt relief. I hurried to order the pain au raisin and palmier before anyone else could snag them. 

Then back to the café where Earl waited with our coffee. I even made a joke in French to my friend Claudine. She texted me a picture of a croissant and coffee and said the emoji for a pain au raisin doesn't exist. I told her pain au raisins don't exist any more in Esperaza, cause I just ate the last one. I was pretty proud of that, although she is probably too polite to tell me if I said it correctly in French. 

"We need tomatoes," I pointed out as we continued to occupy our table after the pastries were long finished. "We could find someplace to lock up the bikes or you could sit here with the bikes and I'll go get the tomatoes." He agreed to the second option and I walked past the cheese and wine carts, ignoring the scent of the olives black and green from another cart, and I didn't look twice at the jewelry stalls. Straight to the fruits and vegetables where I chose tomatoes that look dark greenish red. 

We rode home as the morning waned and felt slightly proud of adding exercise to our morning market routine. 

On Saturday, we enjoyed dinner at Sue and Steve's in Couiza and it included a walk for Sue and me, plus Elwing, their dog. As we climbed up the road past Montazel, the vista opened up. Sue pointed out Rennes le Chateau across the way, and the craggly top of Bugarach beyond it. I sent a picture to Grace since her master's thesis is focusing on Rennes le Chateau. 

We even came across a scarecrow of sorts that had been erected with the two sights beyond it. Apparently, they both have mysterious followers. 

The week has been busy and filled with the joy of friends, along with the satisfaction of beautiful morning runs. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Isolation and Socialization

We’re not very good at isolation. 
We had every intent to isolate 10 days. Then a friend said the rules say 7 days, but they’re a suggestion. 
We let our friends know we’d be happy to see them in the garden if they felt safe. 
But the weather was rainy and chilly that first day so Lou and Steve brought us dinner, and Derrick and Kris joined us, all of them with their dogs, so 4 dogs and our surly cat roaming around. We ate and played board games until 9 pm when I put away the wine and kicked everyone out. I figured I’d done well to stay awake that long. 
Quillan is preparing for the Tour de France to visit.
On Monday, our friends Sue and Steve came for drinks. Drinks turned into dinner before they raced home to beat the 9 p.m. curfew. 
I suggested that Jo might want to drop by for a glass of blanquette on Tuesday after I finished teaching, and then invited her husband Matthew to join us for dinner as well, so they both arrived and we grilled chicken on the grill and talked late into the evening, including a bit of poetry recitation (thank you, Matthew.)
On Wednesday, the bars and restaurants opened outside in France for the first time since October. Did I have a choice but to meet Derrick early at a café where we had a café crème on the terrace overlooking the river Aude. 
The flowers grow out from the bridge each spring. 
I'd already asked the belly dancing group, which meets outside on the tennis courts, if they would feel safe having me there since we dance outside. Everyone was fine with it. Meanwhile, the husbands of the belly dancers were gathering for a drink at an outdoor bar and asked Earl to come along. 
When we finished learning some Bollywood moves, my friends urged me to join the husbands for a drink too. So, I did, drinking a monaco, beer, lemonade and grenadine, glowing a beautiful red. 
I returned home to work on taxes where my frustration grew, as you can see from my previous post. 
On Thursday, I met Derrick for a coffee again and then a drink later that day, all outside. We talked about dinner, and agree to combine our meals -- I had pork in the crock pot and he made potato salad. We made an attempt at playing Password, but my brain apparently is not over jet lag. Earl and Kris did quite well, so maybe it isn't jet lag. 
After I finished teaching on Friday, we hosted my friend Linda from Frenchless in France and a friend. It's always fun to catch up with friends from far away. 
Friday was fish and chips night. The van parks in Quillan near a local bar, the PMU. The PMU provides the drinks while the van doles out fish and chips which we must order ahead of time. We hadn't seen our American friends Jim and Theresa yet, so were happy to meet with them and walk over to fish and chips. Some red wine, some greasy chips and breaded fish. Earl and I share one order and that is plenty.  
Saturday, technically seven days after we arrived, is another market day, that meant more coffee alongside the river, plus coffee from the van that kept us in take away coffee throughout the lockdown since last October. And finally, our first real meal out in France since October 30th. We returned to Les Platanes, the restaurant we last ate at. 
The nine of us sat at two tables, a limit of six adults is in place even for outdoor tables. I ordered duck and fries, something I haven't eaten since October. We were all so happy to be out for the evening, although we remained aware of the 9 p.m. curfew. The duck was a bit overdone, but the wine flowed and I enjoyed ordering a café gourmande, a mix of desserts and tiny cup of espresso. 
Earl finished his dessert and looked my way. I loaded up the remaining cake, ice cream and chantilly (whipped cream) and sent it his way. 
It was in the midst of this week that Earl began asking when we would have a day off - and day without anything scheduled. Like a race horse in mid-stride, it took me a minute to remember that maybe he didn't feel the urge to catch up with everyone like I did. 
But we'd already committed to an afternoon at Sue and Steve's on Sunday, an afternoon that ended shortly before curfew with way too much cheese and nibbles. 
And on Monday, we planned an outing. We ended up going to the sea in the morning since the weather forecast warned of higher winds in the afternoon. The water was cold, so I satisfied my sea urge by walking in the sand. Earl and Kris went in and they report the water was breathtaking, not in a good way. 
The sparkly sea. 
After being told all the restaurants along the beach were full, it was a bank holiday, which meant no one was at work and many people were at the beach, we drove into Beziers. We'd enjoyed a stop in Bezier four years earlier when searching for a place to live. 
We found a restaurant with outdoor seating. I tried duck again and was much more pleased by the thick magret de canard cooked rare and juicy. I shared only a bit with Derrick and with his dogs, eating the whole thing. 
Yum. Hand cut fries, duck and salad. 
We finished the meal and went walking along the park that stretches through the center of the city, Plateau des poètes. A lovely walk in the sun admiring all the poets who were born in the area. The fountains are impressive. 
A moody sky over the fountain
And finally, today, Earl got his wish. A day without dinner plans. I met my friend Isa for coffee in the square this morning.
Cappuccino with chantilly

 And I might have gone to meet some other friends for a drink after they signed papers on a new house. But other than that, an evening for two stretches in front of us. 
As my British friends might say, We're rubbish at isolating. Luckily, we were vaccinated and tested so felt safe that we weren't spreading Covid. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

The End of My Rope

 This is the closest I've come to throwing in the towel and leaving France behind. 

Everyone is healthy. No crises. It's my own personal Achilles heel that drives me to the edge, tempting me to put it all behind me and return to the States. 

Taxes. French taxes are  currently the bane of my existence, but only for about 12 more hours because they are due today. 

These horses aren't bothered by taxes. 

I realize I'm being unreasonable. I put off doing US taxes, but I got them done while we were visiting friends and family during our five week trip. And on Monday, May 17, the official tax day in the U.S. this year because of COVID, the government promptly removed the $5,400 we still owed in taxes. 

I didn't worry about French taxes, which I thought were due in June. Then I saw that they are actually due on May 26th. I'd better get moving. But since we don't have a tax number, we have to file a paper copy. The paper copy is due on May 20th. That's today!

I joined a Facebook group that helps English speakers figure out taxes, but truthfully, they could be speaking French or Bulgarian. The helpful files are called things like F2041E or IMPOTS deduction for pensions alimentaires. 

Earl and I jumped in our car and went to the tax office half an hour away. We were outside a few minutes later slightly stunned. The man was the most helpful federal worker I've ever run into in France or the US. He gave me two forms and a phone appointment, saying his colleague will call me Thursday at 3:30. 

My hopeful feelings died bit by bit as I struggled to understand where to put the numbers in the two forms I'm working on. I just get so agitated, either because it's about taxes, or money or budgeting, or my own inadequacies. Whatever it is -- I hate it. 

I went for a run this morning, hoping I'll be able to calm the beast within. Derrick is coming over to look at it with me, but really just to offer moral support. 

Whatever happens, I'll have a chance to ask a few questions this afternoon when the tax worker calls -- preparing for a telephone conversation in French, another stressor. 

I'll turn it in and see what the French government thinks. Then I'll start preparing for next year. Maybe we'll pay someone to do our taxes in France. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Novels Set in France

 Since many of you read my blog to keep up-to-date on my novels or my travels in France, I wanted to let you know about a new Facebook group that might interest you.

I have spent time writing and looking out this window in Aix en Provence

The group is called Novels Set in France and it highlights books that -- you guessed it -- take place in France. You might find some new favorite books there.

I have no doubt that you'll be able to add some interesting ideas and discussions to the group. 

Let me know if some of your favorite books haven't been included yet.

And, just in case you've fallen behind on reading my novels, here are some pictures and links: 

The Summer of France: When Fia Jennings loses her job at the local newspaper, she thinks she'll have the chance to bond with her teenage twins. As she realizes she may be too late to create the perfect family, she's saved by a phone call from her great Uncle Martin who runs a bed and breakfast in Provence. Uncle Martin wants Fia to venture to France to run the B&B so he and his wife Lucie can travel. He doesn't tell Fia about the secret he hid in the house when he married Lucie after fighting in World War Ii, and he doesn't mention the people who are tapping his phone and following him, hoping to find the secret.

Falling for Provence: Running a French B&B isn’t all wine and smelly cheese, Fia Jennings discovers as she tries to create a new life for herself and a smooth path for her teenage twins, while not—absolutely not – falling into a new romance. But she didn’t anticipate a handsome stranger showing up on her doorstep and sucking her into an art caper with dangerous overtones. Can she make a new life in France or will she retreat to the States and her broken marriage?

Paris Runaway: When divorced mom Sadie Ford realizes her 17-year-old daughter Scarlett has run away to Paris all she can imagine are terrorist bombings and sex slaves. After learning her daughter chased a French exchange student home, Sadie hops on the next plane in pursuit. She joins forces with the boy’s father, Auguste, and the two attempt to find the missing teens. The chase takes Sadie and Auguste to the seedier side of Marseille, where their own connection is ignited. Since the divorce, Sadie has devoted herself to raising kids and putting her dreams on hold, but when her daughter needs her most, Sadie finds that concrete barrier to life beginning to crack. In her journey, she learns the difference between watching the hours pass and living.

I See London I See France: When her husband of a dozen years walks out in a huff, Caroline Sommers walks out too - to Europe, with her kids after impulsively selling her minivan for travel money. Tired of being the perfect wife, she escapes to rediscover herself, and possibly rekindle the unrequited love of a Frenchman from her college days. While shepherding her kids from London to Scotland then Paris to Provence, she finds herself at a crossroads. Does she choose love, or lust, in the arms of a European man, or should she try again with the father of her children and the man she truly loved, once?

Trail Mix: In the tradition of Wild by Cheryl Strayed, comes a novel of two suburban women who decide to hike the Appalachian Trail, escaping their lives as moms and wives in search of nature, adventure, and the ultimate diet plan.
How does a woman know what she wants after spending 20 years thinking about her husband and children? Sometimes it takes a distraction from everyday life, time to examine the forest before the trees become clear. With no previous camping experience, Andi and Jess begin the 2100-mile odyssey from Georgia to Maine. The friends figure life on the trail can't possibly be worse than dealing with disgruntled husbands, sullen teens home from college, and a general malaise that has crept up in their daily lives. At the very least, the women are bound to return home thin.

French Masquerade: A short story: As Joanna’s only son graduates and her marriage stumbles to an unexpected close, an old friend drags her to Paris to drown her sorrows in wine, museums and men with accents. Can the City of Light ignite a spark in Joanna or only torch songs from her younger days?

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Homeward Bound

Five weeks slides past in the blink of an eye. 
We go from a longed-for stay with those we love in the States, to the comfort of a familiar bed and a bright kitchen, along with the sharp claws of one méchant cat. 
When we decided to live in France, we always promised ourselves we could return to the States if anyone needed us, but we hadn’t anticipated a worldwide pandemic. 
So 14 months after our last visit, we could return to this crew 
Mother's Day brunch
Tucker, Kaitlin and Spencer celebrating Mother’s Day with me at an outdoor brunch. 
We started in Florida, isolating for a few weeks to make sure we didn’t catch COVID from any of the 20 people on our flight across the Atlantic. We loved having time to hang out with Mom and Dad, plus frolic in the pool. 
I got to see so many people I love, including both my brothers.
Me and Craig

Craig traveled from Texas to visit Mom for Mother’s Day and we arrived that evening in time to share some memories. 

Kevin's birthday

My younger brother Kevin celebrated a birthday and I got to join him. 
We stayed with our friends Deb and Greg and, of course, got to attend a Blue Jackets hockey game. We had a suite to watch the game so were separate from other fan, but it seemed so close to normal. 
Blue Jackets game

A separate suite
Gathering with their family and Dave’s (our dentist and friend) family too. 
Open restaurants

We ate outdoors at restaurants from the very first night in Ohio, as the boys reminded us to eat pizza with our hands rather than with a knife and fork. We got to stay at Spence and Kaitlin’s apartment; everyone is so grown up. 
Fat Cat
Their cat Mrs Potts never took to us. 

Lovely evenings with friends around a fire, sharing stories. 
Fireside stories

Impressive creations
That is some studio, Sheila. Amazing stained glass creations are sure to come. And the beans and rice you served were delish. 
Friends and friends
Met my running friends for coffee where we talked about running and also gathered outdoors with my writing friends! I'm sensing a theme. No writing or running was accomplished during these gatherings. 

We visited with beautiful babies like Henry 
All smiles

And Elizabeth

That is one of the things we really miss in France, getting to visit with little ones. There's a café owner in Quillan with a little girl, maybe six, who will occasionally join us for a card game, but it's harder to make connections with kids than it is with French adults. 

A dental implant curtailed my activities at the end of our time in Ohio, but I healed enough to eat some home cooked meals with Mom and Dad - a Kentucky-style big breakfast. 

Who tires of Mom's homecooking? No one

Blue skies
We did a bit of work around Mom and Dad’s, but mostly we were pampered, feeling the love of a long-awaited visit. 
On Saturday night, we caught a flight in Miami and flew to Barcelona. It wasn't without its challenges. We stood in line at American Airlines for two hours before a hassled worker led us by the hand through security to catch our plane on time. 
The airport was mayhem, but the flight was over an hour early. 
Our friend Derrick came to fetch us in Barcelona. Luckily, he couldn't sleep so drove to Barcelona early.
We stopped in the Spanish town of Roses along the Mediterranean for the sea breeze and a nice lunch. 

Derrick had to get a covid test to come pick us up, so we rewarded him with a restaurant lunch. 

Restaurants in France are still closed through Wednesday. 
So nice to be home again after five weeks of shared experiences with our family and friends. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A Little Different

 In the grocery store, a man stocking avocados sneezed. "Bless you," I said without thinking.

"Thank you," he replied. It was nothing to him, but I suddenly realized that was something I would never have done in France. First of all, the words are hard to say "à tes souhaits" (“to your wishes”) and they sound to me like "a tissue," which maybe is appropriate. Second, I've never heard a French person say that to anyone in public. 

I suddenly realized, I wasn't in France any longer. 

A sunrise across the golf course as I walked out of Mom and Dad's house in Florida

The morning after we arrived, I walked out the door to go for a run and the man in charge of the roofing project at my parents' house was standing in the yard. "Bonjour," I began to say, then bit back the words. "Morning," I substituted

One night, we cleaned up after dinner and Mom started the dishwasher. I checked my watch. It wasn't 9 p.m. yet, the time we usually start the dishwasher in France because the electricity gets cheaper. I sat in the office for a bit preparing for my classes the next day. Then I heard Mom in the kitchen again. 

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Unloading the dishwasher," she said. It hadn't been three hours, the time it takes our dishwasher in France to run. 

"Why does it take so long over there?" she asked when I explained the situation. I wasn't sure. Maybe because the dishwasher heats the water. I've just gotten used to it.

The same with the washing machine. The shortest cycle in France is an hour. Here, the cycle finished in 27 minutes, the dryer goes about 25 minutes and the laundry is finished. And we don't have to wait until night time to start it! It's amazing.

A couple of times, I have caught myself using the word toilet. Of course, that is a word in English, but it's not something we would say when excusing ourselves. "Excuse me, I need to find a toilet," would probably indicate I'm about to get sick rather than that I need to use the bathroom. Bathroom, restroom, I remind myself, but "toilette" is what sticks. 

Me and Earl with Tampa  Bay behind us

Here in the States, stores are open on Sundays and there is traffic, traffic, traffic everywhere. The town where my parents live has a population of about 10,000 people. It leads to another town with 10,000 people, and a six-lane, sometimes going down to 4-lane, road goes from one to the other. It is always busy. As I watch the road, I wonder how we go from Quillan to Carcassonne on a two-lane road, sometimes interspersed with four lanes. The traffic on this six-lane road is fast and aggressive. 

The only thing real about Covid here, other than the more than half a million deaths, is the people wearing masks. Otherwise, everything is open, business as usual. Except for Starbucks, which is only open at the drive through, and Trader Joe's which counts the number of people going in to limit customers in the store. We're in Florida now. Soon we'll be driving north toward Ohio. I don't anticipate things will be very different, except maybe no outdoor dining because of the cold.

It's a real jolt to see life going on as normal in the States after France has been in lockdown or in curfew with restaurants closed since October. I understand now why the virus has continued to spread. 

A Castle on Every Mountain

 Yesterday evening, I was texting with our son Spencer. He was getting a tire fixed on his day off. He asked how my day was.  I hiked with s...