Friday, August 31, 2007

Puppy Pic Of The Week

This should actually be called "Puppy Flic of the Week." It's a short movie I took of Ken and Callie one evening. I think Callie did something bad and got yelled at... er, I mean corrected. After that happens she often gets all contrite and lovey-dovey. Enjoy (there's sound).

video

Please let me know if you have any problems viewing or hearing the video.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Expat Blogs

I've been checking out a number of expat blogs over the past few weeks. There are so many ! I think it's cool that so many Americans are around sharing their experiences. They range from people who've been in France for ages talking about their daily lives to people with French spouses working and/or raising children in France to newcomers and students who are discovering everything for the first time.

I don't know what these berries are called, but they've appeared in a tree at the edge of the vineyard.

It's good to know that so many Americans are making their way around, seeing and appreciating France and the French people. It's the side of France, the real France, that most vacationers can never experience.

There's also a dark side. I know it's normal to be frightened, angry, and bitter about finding yourself in another culture where you're not sure you understand what people are saying to you or why, or where you sense that they treat you differently because you're a foreigner. And blogs naturally become an outlet for that. There's comfort in expressing yourself, in getting some feedback and commiseration.

A thistle in flower.

While most of the time I think the negatives are only temporary, they are magnified tenfold by the feeling of being a powerless foreigner. It makes me think of all the immigrants in the US, the people doing the laundry, cutting the grass, serving the pizza, picking the produce. And not just them, but the students, spouses, and others that move to the US with minimal English skills. They must go through a lot of the same stuff every day. I wonder what they write in their blogs ?

Tractor tracks between the vines.

But for every language or cultural setback, there are so many triumphs, and just as magnified. Those triumphs might seem trivial to everyone else, but they count nonetheless. They include things like telling a joke in French and making people laugh at the joke and not at your accent, understanding a political news story, being able to swear with style at a stupid driver, asking for and getting what you want at a market, discussing health issues with your French doctor, getting your French driver's license, and a million other things that French people do every day without thinking.

The various stages of thistledom.

I don't know why I'm writing this. I guess it's because some of the expat blogs I've been reading reminded me of what it was like when I was a student in France for the first time, or when I used to come here regularly on vacation, or when I decided to move here permanently and what my daily life has become compared to what it was like back in San Francisco.

Some if it makes me wonder, some of it pisses me off. But most of it makes me smile.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Word Of The Week

amorti

Since the US Open is going on in New York right now, I thought a little tennis terminology might be appropriate.

I learned today's word, amorti, about four years ago when I moved here. I began watching tennis on French tv and had to learn a lot of the sportscasters' jargon. Most of it was obvious, but some words had me stumped for a bit.

Un amorti, I found out, is the classic drop shot. It comes from the verb amortir, which derives from the popular Latin admortire, itself from mortus and mori, meaning "to die." Which is exactly what the ball does in a well executed drop shot. Now, was that so hard ?

Another common word from the same root is amortisseur, which is French for shock absorber.

Image from : www.usopen.org

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Kitchen Collection [37]

The salt mill is one of those tools that we use intermittently. We use gros sel regularly, but usually just in cooking and it doesn't need to be ground. You just pick up a pinch or two and drop it into whatever you're cooking. But on the table I sometimes want some salt with a little more texture than sel fin but not as big as gros sel. Putting gros sel into the mill and grinding it directly onto my food gives me something in between the two : that perfect croquant quality that I'm looking for.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Needles And Pumpkins

The daily vineyard walks with the dog continue. I've said this before, but we're spending a lot of time at home right now because we can't yet leave Callie alone, and she's still not used to riding in the car. So we take pictures in the vineyards and fields and woods while on our walks.

A close up of some pine needles.

I'm amazed at how many things there are to see when you start looking. I've been looking at this vineyard now for four years, and I still see things that I hadn't noticed before. Or I see them in a different season, or in different light.

A view across the Cher River valley.

Then there's the opportunity to experiment with the camera. I'm still working on the best way to do close-ups. So many failures. A few successes. Part of the fun is in messing with the pictures when I get them onto the computer. I can correct lighting, re-frame, and do other tricks that can make the photos more interesting.

Flowers give way to seeds.

Summer is ending, although you could argue that it never actually began this year. Leaves are starting to turn and plants are setting their seeds. A lot of acorns and chestnuts are making their appearances. The apple trees are heavy with fruit. Our pumpkins are turning orange.

The pumpkins in our garden.

I wonder if the coming winter will be just more of the same blah, mild weather, or if it will be colder than normal. Time will tell.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Market Day

So I had this post all ready to go this morning and I looked at Ken's blog and noticed he published photos pretty similar to the ones I had prepared. I think we're not getting out much and we end up taking pictures of the same stuff. So I've made some changes.

The clouds began to part and clear on Friday.

I did get out yesterday, which is unusual for me. I got all gussied up, well not really. I took a shower but didn't shave, put on a shirt with a collar, and put a belt on with my jeans. Then I started up the old Peugeot and drove into town. About two kilometers from here.

Saturday is, of course, market day in St.-Aignan and I decided that I should get myself out of the house for a change. Ken usually does the shopping while I stay home with Callie. I parked in the little lot alongside the river and climbed a set of stairs up toward the château, then walked down past the church into the town square. On the way I passed two tourists walking their bikes toward the market stalls. They were speaking English, but I couldn't hear well enough to know if they were American or British.

A rose hip.

First stop : the fish folks. Usually the line at the fish stand is at least ten people deep and it takes a while to get waited on, even with four people serving customers. But yesterday I was early and there was only one person in front of me. I bought un litre de moules (mussels) which turns out to be about a kilo, for just over four euros.

Next stop : the mushroom lady. Our neighbor told us that the mushroom lady lives not far from us and grows her mushrooms in the cave on her property. She has beautiful champignons de Paris (button mushrooms) both white and brown and sometimes another variety or two. Her stand is right in the middle of the market square. Five hundred grams (about a pound) of the white ones for 1.70€ and I was on my way.

After that, I headed over to see the gay produce guys. I don't know why we call them the gay produce guys. For one thing, they're mostly women. And the couple of guys that do work there are probably not gay. But they're cute. I digress. I got two heads of lettuce, one feuille de chêne rouge and one batavia. Ninety euro cents each.

The oak trees in the woods around the vineyard are full of acorns now.

Since that's all I came for, I made a loop around the market to head back to the car. On the way I passed Monsieur Bouland, the guy who's goat farm is up the road behind our house, and his stand filled with amazing goat cheeses. He and his wife run the local ferme-auberge, a kind of hotel-and-restaurant-on-the-farm. But goat cheese was not on the menu for the weekend, so I kept going.

Then I passed the charcutière, the one we call Madame Doudouille, and overheard her telling a customer that she will have been working the market for thirty years next month. Wow. She's pretty young looking, but she does have a daughter in college. She can't be more than fifty.

I rounded the corner and saw a stand with beautiful radis roses (red and white radishes), but I kept moving until I saw even more beautiful radis at another produce vendor. There are at least five produce vendors at the market, not including the small one- or two-item stands (like the mushroom lady or the apple guy). I had to stop. I love radishes with salt and buttered bread. There were about five people in line, so I just soaked up the atmosphere while I waited.

Next to the produce stand is a volailler, a poultry vendor, one of two in the weekly market. The man behind the counter was chopping up a rabbit with a cleaver and I watched as each blow neatly cut the rabbit into a serving-size portion, ready for stewing. He asked the lady he was waiting on if she liked the heads, to which she replied a resounding "Oui !" He said, "Well, I just asked because some people don't like them," and he threw two or three heads into the pack with the rabbit pieces. That lady had a big smile on her face.

After she paid he set to loading chickens up on a spit. He sprinkled them with some spice mixture that he took from an old Bonne Maman jelly jar, then put the spit on the roaster with the other chickens, many of them already browning and dripping juices down onto the little peeled potatoes in the tray at the bottom.

The woman behind me in line started coughing and I was doing my best to look away and not breathe in her germs. All of a sudden she proclaimed, to nobody in particular, that she had eaten a madeleine for breakfast and it was too sweet. Ça ne passe pas, she said. The produce vendor then chimed in, "Il vous faut un p'tit coup de rosé," all you need is a little glass of rosé, that'll fix you up. She protested, not at this hour of the day. He smiled back, "I said a little one, that would be ok. A big one would be la gourmandise !" Smiles all around.

The Queen Anne's Lace continues to bloom in the local fields. This bud is just starting to open.

Then I saw our friend Jean-Luc walk by in the distance, but he didn't see me. He and his girlfriend are gutting and renovating an old bake shop on the market square, turning it into an office and an apartment. He was with one of the other guys working on the site and I guessed they were on their way to the nearby café for a break.

I got my radishes, a bunch for one euro twenty, and headed on back to the car. It wasn't even 10:00 am when I got home.

So by now you've noticed that the pictures don't go with the story. I didn't take my camera to the market.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sault

I don't think Sault is officially in Provence. At least it's not in the Provence Michelin Guide I have. It's a small town of 11,000 inhabitants called Saltésiens just east of the Mont Ventoux. However, the town's own website claims that it's in Provence. Marketing ? You decide.

The red field is full of poppies, and to its right is a lavender field just starting to flower.

At any rate, it's an interesting place if for nothing else the views. People have lived in the valley since prehistoric times. Sault is not far from the headwaters of the Nesque River which, just downstream, runs through some fantastic gorges. We didn't go that route on this trip (1993), but we did in 2001 and really enjoyed it.

I call this picture "Chick Peas and Asparagus."

After we descended the eastern flank of the mountain, we found our way to Sault. The town is up on a hill and looks over the neighboring valley which is full of fields of lavender, poppies, and hay. There's a nice café at one of the overlooks for a relaxing stop when the weather is good. And in Provence, the weather is frequently good.

A café and overlook on the edge of Sault.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Puppy Pic Of The Week

Ken posted a few photos of Callie in the vineyard yesterday, so this is a bit redundant. As many of you know, the weather has been crap for most of the summer, and this past week has been soggy and cool. Not good outdoor weather. Not good picture-taking weather.

Callie inspects a stick in the vineyard. She'll pick them up and carry them for a bit before setting them down in another place. She believes that the sticks are not particularly well arranged out there.

Pretty much the only outdoor time we're getting are the daily walks with the dog, often in the misty, murky light of dawn. Who wants to carry a camera in that ?

Still, our hopes are not dashed. The weather gurus are predicting a short run of sunny and warm days starting on Saturday. We'll see if their prediction holds. We could use a few near 80º F days. Fall is just around the corner now.

In other news, Callie is learning to catch. She can catch ropes in the air and is now mastering tennis balls. She has yet to catch a biscuit or other treat in mid-air, preferring to let them fall to the floor before pouncing on them.

Also, all catching is done from a sitting position now (that helps reinforce the sit command). Catching balls on the fly is a talent she'll have to learn later, like when we can actually play outside.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Le Mont Ventoux

Beginning our ascent.

Finally we began our climb of the Mont Ventoux. By climb I mean, of course, on the paved road in our car. The road was curvy and the views were great.

Among the clouds.

We passed cyclists going up. They have got guts. I believe that the Tour de France has climbed the mountain before, so these guys (and they were guys) were most likely following in the pedal-steps of their Tour heros.

You can see a cyclist on the road on the right side of the picture.

At the summit, 1,909 meters high, is an Air Force radar installation and a television transmitter. There is practically no vegetation and the road is lined with markers that supposedly stick up through the snow in winter.

The summit of the Mont Ventoux.

We drove up on the northern flank from west to east, and down the other side.

Above the clouds.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Word Of The Week

bicoque

One day last week we were invited for lunch at our neighbors' house. This is the same neighbors' house where I heard last week's word (gnôle) but it was a different day and a different crowd and a different lunch.

During the course of conversation, one of the guests mentioned that he always had trouble finding our road. He usually turned one road too early and ended up having to turn around. Our hostess said that she always tells people that our road is the one just after the little bicoque. Huh ? I thought.

So I had to ask. C'est quoi, une bicoque ? The description I got told me our hostess was referring to the little bus shelter down on the main road. The dictionary tells me that une bicoque is any little modest house or building that is often not particularly well built or that is poorly maintained.

Coque means "shell," as in the shell of an egg. It comes from the Latin coccum which itself derives from the Greek kokkos, or "seed." Bi- is the prefix meaning two, just like in English. Ken says he understood that une bicoque was a small building or shelter, more like a shack. Just like our local bus shelter, come to think of it.

In sailing, which is a huge sport in France, coque refers to the hull of the boat. Monohull boats are called monocoques. Boats with two hulls (catamarans) are called multicoques, and not bicoques as you might expect. Now I think I know why. Trimarans, another multihull variety, are also called multicoques.

Image from : www.tallstories.org.uk/shows/other/egg.html

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Kitchen Collection [36]

Back when we lived in San Francisco, Ken and I had our kitchen remodeled. It was a big job because we had walls removed, which necessitated adding a beam under the floor for support. We had the original 1960s kitchen stripped to the studs, with new plumbing for water and gas plus all new wiring.

The decor included cherry cabinets, oak hardwood flooring, granite counter tops, and all stainless steel appliances with black accents. Many of our kitchen tools were also black and/or stainless steel, completing the "look."

Which brings us to today's topic : the stainless tea kettle. When I saw this black and stainless model I knew it would be the perfect accent for the stove top. Now, of course, its place is in our French kitchen and it fits right in. I guess that's a plug for the versatility of black and stainless steel - it blends into most any decor.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Geraniums

No big deal today. Just a shot of our kitchen window and the geraniums. We're proud of these because Ken planted them in the window boxes by making cuttings from older plants. They looked pretty lame for a while, then they got stronger and greener, filled out, and put out some flowers.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Le Barroux

Le Château de Barroux.

After lunch we headed for the Mont Ventoux. Along the way we passed by the Dentelles de Montmirail where there are several small towns perched here and there. They're all worth visiting, and I think I've seen most of them over the years. One is called Le Barroux, and on this trip we stopped to have a brief look.

The view from the château's terrace.

We just wandered around a bit and didn't even try to visit the château. But the views of the valley were nice. I really don't remember much else. In fact, if I hadn't happened to snap the sign on the château, I don't think I'd know where I took these pictures.

A cat relaxing in Le Barroux.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

La Fontaine-De-Vaucluse

Provence's northeastern border is approximately where the foothills and plateaus of the Basses Alpes give way to the plains and the valley of the Rhône River. You will forgive my gross geographical generalization.

It is in these foothills that many tributaries of the Rhône find their sources. The river Sorgue emerges from the earth up on the Plateau de Vaucluse. The site of the spring is aptly named Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.

The only photo I have of the green waters of the Sorgue at the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.

Our plans for this day were to make our way up to the peak of the Mont Ventoux, the tallest of the mountains in these foothill chains at 1,909 meters, or just over 6,200 feet. Before the ascent we naturally had to stop for lunch, so we chose the park at the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. The place was practically deserted and we had our choice of picnic tables in the park around the spring.

Our picnic lunch - yum !

Lunch consisted of a tarte provençale that we bought along the way that morning, des olives vertes et noires, une saucisse fumée (smoked sausage), du fromage, du pain, and une bouteille de Baumes de Venise, a local red wine. I'm sure we had a dessert of some sort, but that's not in the photo.

After lunch we were ready to tackle the Mont Ventoux.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Puppy Pic Of The Week

Callie "made a statement" yesterday morning by calmly jumping up on the bed, ripping open a pillow case, chewing a tiny hole in a pillow, pulling most of the stuffing out of the pillow, then retiring to the sofa for a nap.

All because I forgot to close the bedroom door.

If she wasn't so damned cute I'd have to kill her.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Preparing For Winter

L'hiver is on the way. There are lots of things we need to do to winterize the yard this fall, not the least of which are trimming the hedges and tilling up the garden. But most of it can wait for a couple more months.

This is the workspace where I cut and store firewood. The pile on the left is the meter-long wood that needs to be cut into thirds.

Something that can't wait is getting the firewood cut up and stacked for burning in the wood stove. If I wait too long, it will be cold and wet outside and the task will turn into a chore. I decided that this year I would start early and try to get all of the wood cut and re-stacked under the little shelter next to our driveway before we actually need to burn any of it.

These piles were outside of the shelter and covered with plastic. The pile of oak on the right is gone now, cut and stacked. The pile on the left is kindling that I'll wait to cut last.

We got the wood delivered two years ago. Since we only got the stove installed last year, we haven't used much of it at all. The wood comes in meter lengths but our stove will only take a 40 centimeter log. That means I have to cut each of the logs into three pieces to fit the stove.

This is all that remains of the oak to be cut and stacked before fall.

I got started a couple weeks ago but quickly realized that the chain on my saw was seriously dull. I went to the hardware store for a new chain and the guy said ok, but my old chain was still good, it just needed sharpening, which he would gladly do. So I got one new chain and one sharpened chain, all for the sum of six euros. I should be set for the season.

Here's the cut and stacked wood so far. Some of it will have to be split with the ax, but I'll do that as necessary over the course of the winter.

I do a little bit each day, and now I can tell I've made good progress. There's still about half to do, but it's only the middle of summer. It won't be long before the wood is all cut and stacked and we'll be set for cold weather. Like our neighbor Bernard says, petit à petit, l'oiseau fait son nid (little by little, the bird builds its nest).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Word Of The Week

gnôle

We were invited to lunch twice in the last week. The first time, last Friday, we sat outdoors at our neighbors' place across the street for apéros. Our hosts had bought a foccacia made with cheese and lardons (smoked bacon) that they served with sparkling wine from Saumur. They served the wine naturel or with crème de cassis to make a kir.

Then we all moved inside for lunch. We were eight and lunch was a very good set of courses that included fresh tomato salad, fresh melon (cantaloupe), roasted beef, bettes or blettes (beet greens), boiled potatoes, cheese, and plum clafoutis and a big bowl of fresh framboises (raspberries) for dessert.

The wine was a local red gamay. In fact, the grapes were likely grown right outside our back yard. Then, after coffee, our host brought out a big magnum sized bottle of marc, the eau-de-vie that's distilled from the skins of grapes after they've been crushed for wine. The only label on the bottle was a little sticker with the word marc hand-written on it. Obviously not bought in a store. None of the women wanted any, so it was just the guys who partook. I love marc, but then I like most of the French alcools, brandies, that I've tasted in my life.

At one point, one of the women mentioned that us guys were enjoying our little gnôle, a word I had never heard. According the dictionary, it's an old franco-provençal word which means eau-de-vie, alcool, or brandy in English. It's almost a slang or familiar term for brandy, used by local people talking among themselves. It can also be spelled gnaule, gniôle, or even niôle.

I certainly enjoyed my petite gnôle.

**********
This morning while walking Callie I noticed something. Silence. Today's a holiday here in France, but I didn't think anything of it until I was out in the vineyard.

The only sounds I could hear were our footfalls, the wind moving through the trees, birds calling, and the occasional crowing of a rooster in the distance. No faint hum of traffic on the road in the valley below, no train whistles. No tractors in the fields plowing, trimming, or spraying.

It wasn't hard to imagine how it used to be before the invention and widespread use of the internal combustion engine. Quiet.

Marc de Bourgogne image from : www.shopping.orange.fr

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Kitchen Collection [35]

Do the Mashed Potato ! This is one way, a twist (as it were) on the classic hand-held potato masher. This one's all stainless and has an artfully twisted rod to do the work. If I remember correctly, the classic ones are made with a steel sheet that has holes punched in it.

Of course, there are many ways to mash potatoes and other vegetables. We use our food mill sometimes (see Kitchen Collection #12), and a ricer that works pretty well, too.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sunrise Walk

This morning's sunrise.

You know if you've visited this blog before that nearly every morning one of us walks the dog out in the vineyard. It really has to be raining hard for us not to go. I've been doing this for nearly fifteen years (although not always in France), first with Collette and now with Callie.

The storage cabin out in the vineyard reflects the sunrise.

There are several different routes we can take depending on how wet or dry it is, or our mood, or where the dog wants to go. Whichever route we take, there is always something interesting to see, even if we've seen it a hundred times before.

A wide shot of the vineyard looking east, with our house in the background. You can see how the vineyard is at the crest of a hill with woods filling the ravines on either side.

Once in a while I'll think to bring the camera, as I did today. This is some of what I saw.

Steam rises from the cooling towers at the nuclear power generator on the Loire River to our north.

These are sauvignon blanc grapes. I can tell because the other grapes are turning red now, and these are staying white.

The grape vines are still growing and sending out their little tendrils.

There are a couple big woodpiles out in the spaces between the woods and the vines. It's all very neatly stacked. I wish it were mine.

The sun shines through the vines.

I have no idea what these little yellow daisy-like flowers are called. The diameter of its blossoms is about the size of a euro, or a quarter.

There are many blooms on a single plant. This one is still blooming at the top while the older flowers have set seed.

Another flower getting ready to open.

Apples ripening on one of the many apple trees around the edges of the vineyard.

It's still mid-summer, but because of the cool weather it's starting to feel like fall. Some plants are in seed stage, while others are just starting to bloom. It's a weird year.

There are whole fields full of Queen Anne's lace that are just beautiful, but my photos of them never really turn out the way I want them to. I'll have to make it a project to get out there again and try to capture them before they're all gone for another year.