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This is going to be my first attempt at describing some of what goes on when I am here in France. So far there have been no typical days, so this is just what my day was like last Saturday. Just to preface it a bit, I have been house-sitting for my friends who have a B&B here in the Lot while they went to a wedding and took a short vacation in Scotland. Saturday evening was their return date and since my friend David lives not far from Cahors, where they were coming in, I decided to spend the day with him before I went to the train station to pick them up.
Lucky for me, David’s sister Jacqueline was visiting so I got to see her too, as well as David’s partner, Bernard. David lives well out of Cahors high in the area where there is a lot limestone in the soil, hence lots of vineyards and, of course, stone houses. David lives in a collection of stone buildings…the main house, which is smallish, only 2 bedrooms and you walk through one to get to the other, the bathroom is out on the terrasse but is very cool now, but that’s another story…beneath the house is a bread oven. The floor in the room with the oven is cobblestone and the walls and ceiling are all stone. There is a 3 story pigeonniere that is now guest and storage space, a chicken house…which is also stone with cobblestone floors…a huge barn with various smaller rooms off of it, and other stone structures without names. There are low stone walls and smalls orchards and fields with horses and a view of the village, a couple of ponds and, of course, a cave. The drive in is lined with trees and shrubs, and looks very grand. It makes my heart glad every time I see it. Seeing my elf of a friend standing at the door makes it just about the most wonderful place on earth.
So, David and Jacqueline were making lunch when I arrived but Jacqueline stopped so she could show me the improvements around the place since I was last there. David loves to take the old plaster off the walls and expose the stone that the walls are built of. Fortunately he didn’t do all the walls that way. He left plaster on some of the walls and just improved and painted them David has a huge collection of art…of all kinds. The walls are full of paintings, prints and drawing, as well as shelves of porcelain and dolls and small sculptures. He also the largest collection of opera CDs anywhere! David has an odd mix of everything. While being a huge admirer of classical music and opera, he is also a huge fan of horror and action adventure movies. When it comes down to it, he enjoys almost everything out there, and if it’s sweet…so much the better! David has never met a cake or candy that he didn’t like. He also loves animals…all animals. They follow him around like he’s Noah. Always spreading sweetness and light, that’s my David.
The bathroom…when David first started living at that house, the bathroom was dark and ugly with a cracked toilet and 50’s tiles and one of those closet showers. I don’t remember the sink but I’m sure it was boring. David has removed the tiles and the concrete they were attached to, exposed the stone and put up a glass enclosure for the shower, extending the porcelain floor by adding small stones to a raised ledge to give more elbow room. He is in the process of installing a Victorian walnut sink cabinet he’s had for ages that has a marble top with a marble back splash and marble shelves. I still can’t believe he’s doing this…it will probably end up staying with the house that he is only renting. He also put in a new, sleek toilet. There is also an antique sideboard and a washing machine in the room…and it looks great! Of course there is plenty of art on the walls and even a mirror over the sink. So that was what he’d been up to since I’d last been there…along with the improvements to the house itself.
Lunch was next, chicken and veg and bread and wine. Apple cake, chocolate rice krispie treats (introduced by a new American friend), chocolates, and some other nameless cake…and of course coffee, for dessert (which I can’t get right in France, the pronunciation that is). During lunch we talked politics…at least Bernard and Jacqueline and I did, David has no real interest in politics…which is cool. Afterward we should have taken a walk but instead I took a nap. Naps are my thing these days.
I left about 6:30 to go pick up Wm and Rosalie. To get back to Cahors, I drive through vineyards and a village called Cemps that is a collection of very old stone houses and beautiful flowers. Springtime is great here, the wisteria is fabulous, and the peonies, tulips and redbuds, are all flowering now…along with other spring regulars and lots of annuals. My flower education is limited, one of many things I need to improve. I promised myself that next time I went to visit David, I would stop in Cemps and walk around. It’s just too gorgeous to continue to ignore. It’s all country lanes until it comes to the 9ll and it’s still country but the road is wider. The trip to Cahors only took about 20 minutes so I was early, of course the train was late and Wm and Rosalie were the last people off the train and off the last car farthest from the station. It’s France, no reason to hurry. After that it was stories of a fab vacation, food, whiskey, and a lovely wedding. Chinese for dinner before we left Cahors and an uneventful drive back to the Baran.
Easter was next but that was all flowers (big market!), food and tarot.
Hope you all had a lovely Easter weekend as well. Today I go home and hopefully see Nelly and Ives before they leave.
The wind is literally blowing up a storm. This has happened many times this winter and spring. It may be the mistral, lost its way and ended up here. The sad little cherries are blowing off the tree. No idea what is happening with the seeds I threw into the space that I have come to see has my wild flower garden (that’s what it said on the box). There has been so much to do this year, which doesn’t make it any different from any of the last six years I’m come to my little house in my tiny piece of France.
Today I will finish grouting the mosaic on the floor in my bizarre room. It’s not the whole floor, only the first part defined my about an inch drop off before the next section starts. Haven’t been able to figure out what was the original configuration back there. Probably nothing but a step into the garden. Now there is the bizarro room with its glass and metal door (that I don’t have a key for), its foam and brick and concrete walls, and it’s fiberglass and underlayment ceiling/roof. If the fiberglass were clean, it would be really bright in there. It still is, to a point. The back doors are shredding. That’s a problem that I need to solve. Maybe measure and see if I can afford to replace them or if I need to do a band aid fix.
Also need to do a dump run but there is a new rule in effect here before one can use the dechetterie. There is a form to fill out and papers to produce and a badge to get before I can dump anything. The form is filled out but I have a shortage of recent bills to show the dechetterie guy. Everything is online. It’s supposed to make things easier. Josette tried to print my last bill for me but her printer is out of ink. She suggested I take what I have and my laptop with me to prove that I live in this department. Funny. I’ll go soon, probably next week. Hopefully they’ll let me unload the junk I’ll have in the car. Maybe if I take a pastry with me….
The last couple of days I’ve been thinking about the work ethic. My goals are set by me. Sometimes I find them overwhelming. Who’s fault is that? Demanding parents? Societal pressures? Religion? Protestant work ethic we always called it….like the Catholics don’t believe in working hard. They do have a lot of holidays. Bless them. France believes in working when you’re supposed to, but they also have a shorter work week and lots more vacation time as well as a real maternity leave and sick time. There are also fewer cracks for people to fall through here. Civilized. It’s not perfect but workers have found a way to protect themselves here much better than in the States.
I watch Continuum. Always surprised that it’s still on. Corporate congress…it’s supposedly the future but looks a lot like now. It wouldn’t be so frightening if the corporations actually cared about the planet or any of the people on it, but they don’t. Guess this has all been rattling around my head for a while. Fears that are pushed aside so that I can continue to patch my walls and mosaic my floors and create just a little more beauty where I live. How do people live in countries where war is going on? How do they stand it? Are they strong? or do they get broken like so many of our soldiers before they return home? How can a country send its young men into war….that’s nearly enough said…but then if they do make it home, there is no support for them. How can we not care for them? I want there to be enough Bernie Sanders to fill both houses and to be President as well.
OK, escaping thoughts. I feel no catharsis. Writing things down isn’t making me feel any better. Maybe taking a more active part will help.
While I hate that time flies, I love that spring arrives even as I worry about other things. When I got to the house yesterday, the first thing I did was take the plants that I’d bought the day before and set them in the garden. Which allowed me to look around and see what had happened since I was here last week. It had been cooler last week with more rain so the blooms that I had seen coming, hadn’t fully opened. Yeah! I get to watch the wisteria going from bare branches to dropping lilac blooms all over my walls and my neighbors’ walls. More of the irises are blooming and lots more will be before I leave. The plum trees are done flowering but the cherry tree is about to pop. I really want to be here in June when it will be covered in fruit.
There is tons of work to be done on the house and I did start with that, but yesterday the sun was shining and it was warmer outside than in, so I moved from filling holes and skimming walls to planting shrubs and pulling weeds. The weeds have to be pulled to allow space for the shrubs. Also, the brambles….though I delete them every year….are always back when I return. So I started removing them again so the clump of irises in the corner would have a fighting chance. The lilacs….there are tons of lilacs….are about to get started. It looks like a couple of weeks before they will be in full bloom. Luckily for friends who will be arriving soon. Finally gave in last week and bought an electric lawn mower. What a thrill! The massive savannah that was once my garden is now slightly more under control. I’ve already cut it twice but it is time again to do that. The cord is 25 meters long but that isn’t quit long enough to get all the way back to the end wall. I don’t want grass back there anyway. That’s where lots of the shrubs are going, so I am constantly pulling weeds but need to find out what people around here use to stop weeds more efficiently than ground cover material. My little patio area needs whatever it is too.
It’s a quarter to seven and the sky is turning pink. The perfect time to go check things out in the garden.
A bright and shiny day to you all!
Time is escaping into the future and I’m going with it! One of the reasons, I think, that I keep buying so much old stuff is to try to slow things down, turn back time, remember times I never knew. Mix things up.
On Sunday I went with Josette to Cuzorn to take time off, see a little more of the countryside and to spend some money! I love French village yard sales. There is always something of interest and it’s never expensive and it’s always perfect!…to me. Sunday was no exception. I bought another monogrammed sheet (an old one), a Japanese wood block print, an old cotton night-shirt (I’ll look like a pirate!), some beads, fake pearls (for the mosaics), and something else…already forgetting what. Sad. It was great! Josette got some stuff as well. She bought me some antique faience lids but I ended up talking her into keeping them because they will look great on her kitchen wall. Sigh. She bought a couple of monogrammed sheets as well. She’s going to use them as closures for her new closets. I did that here….repeatedly! Doors are so expensive and they take up so much space! And I’d have to find someone to install them. I can’t find anyone to knock a hole in my wall and put in a window, or put a ceiling in my laundry room or a myriad of other things that I would like done. The world needs more handymen.
Cuzorn was cool. The original plan was to take a walk after the vide grenier. But it started out foggy, though it cleared and we ended up having a fabulous afternoon with nothing but clear skies. So I can’t really blame the morning fog. So it’s got to be the moon! That’s thing has kept me from sleeping for several days….rather nights. Today I’m doing it! Sleeping like a baby. Planning on a good eight hours. I’m working on this to keep me up until nine o’clock. It’s not easy. My eyes are already burning but I’ve already brushed my teeth and the rest of the prep for bedtime. All I have to do is turn off lights and climb upstairs. I’m sure this is all endlessly fascinating for all of you who have made it this far. I’m know I’m enthralled. Unfortunately I keep typing the wrong letters so I’m giving up.
Thinking ahead to morning light and coffee!
It’s been a busy three days. Josette’s sister, Maryse, and her son, Timothy, stopped by on the way back from the Pyrenees to Paris. Timothy is a very shy fourteen year old, Maryse is a strong, leader type….plus she’s into homeopathy. I’d been having headaches for a while and had a terrible one the night they were here, so she put some drops of lavender oil on a paper towel for me to put under my pillow and gave me a massage before I went to bed. We liked each other. Not surprising that I would like people related to Josette. Now I have an invitation to stay in Paris. Souhait!
Having guests stop by meant lots of food…too much! Saturday lunch was blanc du carnard confit, with scalloped potatoes fried in duck fat. Along with septs (also fried in duck fat), squash and leek soup and a salad. The salad was a concession to me. I’d made a cobbler the night before to go with dinner and we had what was left of that after lunch. Stuffed! Maryse and Timothy were leaving after lunch, it’s a six-hour drive from here to their place in Paris. After ended up meaning around five. We’d been invited to the neighbors for dinner that night at eight so I felt like it was a bit much but one doesn’t turn down invitations from neighbors especially when you like them.
Arriving at eight meant we sat around with our aperos (drinks before dinner with snacks) for about an hour before we moved to the table and got started on wine (“Red or white?”). Josette had brought a bottle of champagne so that was my poison of choice for before. Because I had overindulged at a fancy dinner at the Haut Baran (http://hautbaran.com/index.asp?page=home) the week before and suffered miserably for the entire next day, Josette leaned forward and looked at me when the wine was offered and said, “No!”. I laughed. All eyes turned to me and Josette explained. So no wine with dinner. Beer was also offered because dinner was various sausages with sauerkraut and potatoes. The French don’t believe in serving yourself, so Titi piled my plate with five kinds of sausage (whole!) and a mound of sauerkraut. That set Josette off again and I just looked at Titi. Didier was sitting across from me and he took the plate. Titi tried again. In the end I ended up leaving about half of what was originally on the plate. I felt bad…in more ways than one…when I did that, but I just couldn’t eat anymore. Titi had made the sauerkraut from scratch so it was doubly bad. After that there was the cheese course, the salad and dessert! Marie had made an apple tart. It was all good and I had to eat some of everything. The good thing about French dinners is that everything moves slowly. No one jumped up once a course was finished. Everyone talked for a while as things settled so it was possible to keep eating even you were bursting. The conversation ranged from stories of politicians and their peccadillos (French and American) to movies and music and art and property lines. Plus, Gerard, the neighbor across the street from Josette, is building a pool so everyone wanted to know about that. And of course Josette has her addition so that had to mentioned. Didier is five years into building his house so that had to be discussed. Titi and Marie had bought their house as a ruin and they have done a lot of the work on it themselves. It’s a lovely place. Titi was telling about the floor before dinner. It seems they found a pile of old brick of different sizes somewhere in Burgundy and hauled them back to the Caze for the floor. Because of the different heights of the bricks, it was a tricky and demanding job getting the floor to be level and look right. He had a couple of extra bricks hanging around and showed us the difference. It was enormous! I’m sure he was glad it was just a memory and a story now. The work must have been back-breaking. They were using their wood stove to heat the place that night so we got to watch the fire as we sat around with our drinks. That was a lovely set up as well. I had wood stove envy. The fireplace was the old style that was big enough to walk into, so they had made a platform for the stove with wood storage on either side. Even the wood was stacked artistically. Marie had flower arrangements and plants scattered around the room and my eyes just kept wandering trying to take it all in.
Anyway, back to dinner. After dessert it was coffee and a locally made alcohol that was something like an eau de vie. French white lightning. Even though I’d passed on the wine, I had to try that. I do make it a point to try new things, especially home-made new things. It was the punch that I noticed more than anything else. I couldn’t tell what it was made from. I’ll have to ask Josette if Titi said. By that time it was midnight and I wasn’t able to pay much attention anymore. I was desperate for a bathroom and for bed! As if reading my mind Josette suggested that it was time we left. Bless her!
Which brings us to yesterday. It started with me putting up the tile edging the floor in the bathroom. That took about an hour and a half. Josette went shopping and made lunch while I worked. While she was shopping Rosalie called and invited me for tarot and dinner that night. Fine with me. I almost won at tarot but William won the last hand and we’d been tied before that so that was it. Dinner was tapas. Nuts and popcorn and olives, date stuffed bacon, pate on toasted date bread with apricot confiture, smoked salmon on the same bread with lemon whipped cream and capers and a huge hunk of carrot cake for dessert. Stuffed again!. William and Rosalie have been on a diet and are positively skinny now but I’m putting on weight. All the people on diets around here can still out eat me without ill effects. I don’t get it.
It’s Monday morning and I can hear Didier snoring. Josette and he both have today off so they won’t be up for a while. Today is grouting and finding a toilet and sink for the bathroom. Not a bad line up. The sky is cloudy but blue. The forecast is rain and wind…lots of wind! But for now, it looks fine out there.
Sitting in my living room with everything closed up again. It’s dark outside but there was sun for a while. I went out this afternoon to grab some more insulation and veg for dinner….only the veg is for dinner…I put the insulation in the attic. :}
Thinking about dinner made me hungry, so now the chicken is in the pan and I’ve cut up the courgett, I should be mincing garlic but I was going to have some wine first. That took a while, opening the bottle was easy but when I headed for the wine glass….I couldn’t remember why I was in that part of the room. As you can imagine, I was flummoxed! I finally got it! So a little break to savor the wine while I get it together to finish dinner.
….and that was two days ago. Now I’m back at Josette’s. Before I left the house I loaded up the car with lots of goodies for her shower. She’s seen lots of examples of how we could do the thing, but I made an executive decision and formed a plan, based on what we have available to use. Lots of plates, and cool ones to boot. Lots of miscellaneous tiles in different colors. Beads and weird stuff and a fish for the floor. He (the fish) was originally created to be a chop stick rest but he will work fine as a fish in the pond…and now the idea is expanding in my brain.
…and now it’s the morning and nearly time to get started. Josette bought a bunch of tile yesterday, and today we will start breaking them and fixing them somewhere, the floor, actually. One always starts with the floor, just like life…. ground up! The floor will be fairly simple, as will most of the rest. We’re making bands of more complicated things. I went online the other day to look for inspiration. There is a website for an organization of mosaic artists and there is always something interesting to be found there. What draws me is someone who does a similar kind of work to mine. Already forgot her name but I have her saved on favorites. She obviously spends more money on her work and it shows! I really like it and so did Josette. So we have a plan. Today I have to show what I’m made of and make it all work. I’m ready to start breaking things but Didier is still snoring and there’s been no sign of Josette so I just have to wait them out.
It’s still raining on a regular basis. At least it isn’t freezing cold.
Sunday morning turned out to be very special…for more than one reason.
Josette had invited me to a small concert to be held at her friend Vits’ house. It sounded like a fine idea, so I agreed to go. I’d only heard about these intimate home concerts recently and hadn’t yet been to one. And this was jazz! In France! So I drove to Josette’s and she drove to her friend’s house, which I would never have found. We weren’t the first to arrive. There were cars parked on the side of the one lane road, in the surrounding fields, and in a space indicated by a PARKING sign. The compound where the performance was to be held was a group of old stone farm buildings that have been transformed into beautiful living spaces.
The old barn, where the concert was held, was obviously a gite or an apartment on days when it wasn’t being used as a concert space. There must have been thirty people there for the event. The group was composed of three young men. One on electric keyboard, one on bass and one on drums. The drummer was obviously the leader of the group…a la Mick Fleetwood. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get the name of the group, or of the individual members. They were excellent! And the acoustics were good….as far as I could tell. Hearing them was certainly no problem, I could even feel the music. It was grand. And the audience was very appreciative. No one talked or moved while the music was being played. After each piece there was applause and the occasional ‘Bravo!’. It was thrilling! I kept thinking of ‘Round Midnight’, smokey bars, and absinth. The French and jazz just go together. Which reminds me….my friend Bernard is collecting old record albums of various types of music. He has 33’s, 78’s and 90’s (which I’d never heard of). He’s found a lot of early classical recording but is having trouble finding much jazz. He is recording the things he finds…for posterity, one imagines. If anyone out there has access to early jazz recordings…please drop me a line. Thanks.
After the performance there was wine and appetizers. Various people kept passing through the crowd with platters of pickles wrapped in meat, stuffed dates, pizza bits, meat wrapped in bread and finally, nut cake and brownies. I ate too much, drank just the right amount and talked to a fellow American. You never know who you’ll meet once you walk out of the house. It was all too wonderful. I rode back with Josette filled with glee…and it wasn’t even Christmas! Such happiness at such a small price! I love France!
By the bye, I’m drinking a glass of red right now. It has a label on it saying it’s won something so I knew it was the one for me. Turns out, it’s not half bad!