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Monday, May 17, 2010

Meriting a Peugeot

When I left the USA in October 2006, despite the (then) certainty of returning in a year--or maybe because of it--I got rid of a boatload of beloved items, particularly kitchen equipment and gadgets. Friends here are no doubt short of patience when I embark on one of my almost daily reminiscences--oh, man, I can't BELIEVE I got rid of ___! (a myriad number of items can fill the blanks; feel free to suggest as you see fit). I've moaned about citrus pressers, cake pans, baking sheets and cooling racks, gadgets and knives, strainers, silicone liners, dishes, glasses, cake decorating equipment, crystal, even my pepper grinder. (Well, at least I know where that ended up--I gave that to my mother and I'm delighted she's using it.)

My friend Innis is often gifting me things, no doubt because she, too, is fed up with listening to me reminisce (all right, moan) and cry impoverished author--all right, ALL RIGHT! WOULD-be author. She's given me a fabulous cheese grater--that she still lusts after--and a great ceramic tart pan that I've made numerous quiches in, and most recently she surprised me with a pepper grinder. She admitted she was tempted by a cheaper version but ended up splurging on the upscale option...no doubt because she eats here fairly often and figured she'd benefit from it, too.

I opened this, my birthday gift, to reveal a really lovely Lucite pepper grinder just hungering to be filled with the peppercorns which I, ever an optimist, had bought without any way of grinding.

"Wow, a Peugeot! I had no idea they even made pepper grinders!" She admitted she almost hadn't bought it for me.

"Gosh, this is, like...a better make than my car!" She gave me a sidelong glance.

"I've seen your car. Please tell me you'll take better care of this."

"Hey, this is France," I retorted. "And my car is secondhand from Paris. A car isn't a car unless it looks like a post-adolescent acne sufferer in desperate need of dermabrasion." (Okay, admittedly, post-adolescent acne sufferers don't sport scrapes the length of their faces, just dimples. My car has both.)

Having weathered a long winter followed by a spring toting gardening and seedling purchases for me as well as other folks, my car's in desperate need of rehab. It's my goal to get it washed, waxed, buffed and gleaming, right down to the dimples, before the end of May because that's when Innis and I leave, our sibling dogs in tow, for a month, stopping on Lake Annecy in the French Alps, then Cessole in Northern Italy, and finally Provence before returning home at the end of June.

If my friend climbs into my car to drive to Annecy in the state it's in now, she might think twice before buying me another Peugeot anything.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Village Life in France

After more than two weeks of cold and damp (neither of which I particularly enjoy), the sun has come out and temps quickly rose from 45F to 60 by late morning. To celebrate, I headed into my village with Tilly to walk the two or three kilometers to my doctor's office. (We live in a small hamlet about one kilometer outside the centre ville, or village center.) The office was closed but the doctor had assured me I could drop by and walk into his unlocked and unattended waiting room where I'd find a small box hanging from the wall. I did.

Tucked into this box were prescriptions for various patients waiting to be picked up and filled. Yet another reminder of how living in rural France is often like living in a time gone by. Sure enough, there were my two slips, one for my medication and one to present to the village nurse for the followup blood test I'll need in two months. I can't help but be charmed by the ever-present level of trust that's extended between people here.

En route back home, Tilly and I encountered a woman who lives in the village that I'd met at a village soirée some months back. She remembered me and even more amazingly, remembered my name. We chatted, she speaking very slowly, exceedingly patient with my stumbling French, and we talked about the weather, our gardens and the typical small talk one engages in with acquaintances. It's encounters like this that boost my confidence that some day I really will be able to hold my own in a conversation in French, and affirms again that my moving here was a good decision for me. She told me of various clubs in the village for all sorts of activities and suggested perhaps sometime we could arrange for some English-speaking residents to exchange conversation, we to practice our French and the French villagers to practice or learn English. I told her that's what my French class had been doing recently but that my classes were ending in June and may not continue in September as originally thought, so I'd be delighted to participate in such an exercise.

As Tilly and I continued on home, we passed the bar--filled mostly with men as is typical--and stopped to enjoy a café au lait at an outdoor table. As always, Tilly's a great icebreaker and conversation starter, and everyone who passed on their way in and out of the bar paused to greet her and receive a timid lick in return. It was probably a good thing that the adjacent boulangerie was out of my favorite pain au chocolat. They make the best that I've had up until this point. (Aren't I lucky?)

We made our way home, Tilly off the leash once we left the centre ville and she is now fast asleep in the sun, lying on my favorite lounge chair. Excusez-moi--HER lounge chair now, apparently. Meanwhile, I'm off to pot up some more haricots vert and squash as the cold snap seems to have arrested the first batch I planted outside two or three weeks ago. Bon journée!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sipping the Delights of France in Springtime

Recently I went to the village of Panzoult, about 90 minutes northwest of where I live in Martizay, to sample some of the local wines at the annual Chinon wine festival. They hold it in a deep troglodyte cave that has been beautifully restored and decorated with carvings in the limestone walls.
Upon entering, we paid two euros each to purchase an etched wine glass commemorating the tasting, and began making our way from niche to niche to visit the various winemakers and sample their offerings. No actual purchasing is done; you simply taste the various wines and note what you like for a future trip to the winery itself. As the driver, I had to exhibit some discretion so I limited myself to one or two sips of just those wines that my friends enthused about and skipped the majority, focusing more on reds versus whites or rosés. I jotted down the wines and vintages that I might buy should the opportunity ever arise. The final glass was a Vouvray petillant, or sparkling Vouvray, which we jokingly said was our pre-lunch aperitif.

From there we headed to a restaurant in Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine, La Ciboulette ('ciboulette' is French for chives), which promised to be a bit more upscale than our norm. However, while sipping our aperitifs, and after perusing the extensive menu and anticipating our selections, the server proceeded to tell us that virtually none of what we wanted was available, that the menu had been changed in honor of May Day, as it was the 1st of May. We wondered, somewhat irritably, why we hadn't been furnished the appropriate menu. It did feel like a bit of a bait and switch.

Here in France, it's traditional to gift ladies with a sprig of lily of the valley to mark May Day or springtime, yet another neopagan celebration later appropriated by Christianity. This particular tradition originated here with King Charles IX in 1561 giving the ladies of his court this flower as a gesture of appreciation. The restaurant followed suit by handing us each sprigs. We would have preferred it if they'd just given us the food selections we'd wanted. (Actually, all parts of the lily of the valley plant are highly poisonous, although that seems to have been conveniently ignored.)

After that initial hurdle—which admittedly did threaten to color the entire lunch—we settled down to a nice meal, accompanied by, naturally, more wine. By the meal's end, this is what we were reduced to.
Before you accuse us of being naught but a bunch of lushes, let me explain. There was a huge party nearby of war veterans who'd all fought in the same local regiment (May 8 marks VE Day--Victory in Europe, or when WWII ended here, for those of you who have forgotten your history.) They were together celebrating, and partaking in various forms of charming silliness. They raffled off various prizes including free electricity for one year (a box of candles), a free service contract with Orange, France Telecom's mobile phone service (a bag with a piece of fruit in it), and an Italian dinner for two (a package of dry spaghetti). They opened the spaghetti and began passing around strands, cautioning everyone to take one and ensure they did not break or eat it. To our delight, they included the six of us, the only other remaining table by this time. Then they began passing this tiny plastic top hat from one strand of spaghetti to another, using only their mouths. Naturally we had to participate! It did create an atmosphere of conviviality which was appreciated when the bill was presented. Or maybe it was just all that wine...hic