Saturday, September 30, 2006

Hedges, Again

Ok, this is the last of the hedge pictures. Above is the infamous ditch and the two (heavy) shutters I used to bridge it. The ladder goes on top, and I teeter around up there with the trimmer. Below, the completed back hedge. Yippee!

Now all we have to do is rake up the clippings and haul them to the compost pile. By the way, there is still a small section of hedge that isn't done yet. It's in the back to the right of the section shown in the photo above. It's behind the garden shed and there's a bunch of junk along side. I may not do it this year. We shall see.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Un Jour, Une Tour [25]

This is the twenty-fifth and final installment of the Eiffel Tower series! We finish with pretty much the first tower I bought, many, many, many years ago in Paris. It's the classic tourist tower.

Here's the view from under the tower (below). Compare it with this one, second image from the top. I didn't have to fight any tourists to get this shot, either.

I do have some other towers, but they're not 3-dimensional. They're mostly just photos, and I've decided not to photograph them for this series.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Trimming The Hedge

As many of you know, there is a bay laurel hedge around 3 sides of our property. Each fall, the current year's growth needs to be trimmed back to make way for new growth in the spring and to just neaten things up. A trimmed hedge looks very nice.

The hedge is pretty tall, about 2,5 meters (8 ft.) in places, more like 2 meters (7 ft.) in others, and it averages about 1 meter (3 ft.) wide. Some parts are nearly 1,5 meters (5 ft.) wide and I really have to stretch with the trimmer while teetering on the ladder. Ugh!

The first couple of years after we moved here, we hired someone to trim the hedge in the fall. But that got very expensive. So for the cost of one year's hire, we bought our own trimmer and this is the second year that I've done the hedge myself. The trimmer basically paid for itself the first year.

A portion of the hegde along the east side of our property. It's the highest section, about 8 feet tall. It also is about 2 feet from the neighbor's fence; a tight squeeze.

However, whereas the guys we hired did it in one day, it takes me considerably longer. Since I only work when the weather is nice, and then only for a couple hours a day and only when I feel like it, I have to do the hedge in sections. So far this year I've spent 5 days over the course of the last 3 weeks, and there are likely 2, maybe 3 more days' work left. But, when a section gets done, it's very satisfying. Especially when I think of how much money we saved.

A portion of the back hedge, along our road. This is before I started, with all the previous year's growth intact.

Some of the problem parts include a section of the hedge that's against a neighbor's fence. The space is tight and the ladder just barely fits. Another problem section is along the road where there is a ditch about 2 feet deep adjacent to the hedge. I have to bridge the gap with old shutters so I can put up the ladder to trim the top of the hedge.

The same view of the back hedge with the inside half trimmed. Next up: the outside half along the road, where there's a ditch to bridge.

Also, using a ladder to get to the top means moving the ladder every few feet. That means climbing up and down with the trimmer. Ken posted some pictures of me up on the ladder here, if you want to see the scale. It's good exercise, at least, but it takes time. I'll post a photo of the finished hedge once I've got it done. ;)

More progress on the back hedge. It's slow going because of the ditch, which you can't see in this picture.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Word Of The Week


A quick browse through our French tv guide in any given week will point up many films referred to as péplums. These are movies like Gladiator, Ben Hur, Spartacus, King of Kings, or one of the many Cleopatra films. What do they have in common? They are all epic stories set in antiquity, usually Greek or Roman, and often in biblical times.

The word péplum, in fact, originates from the greek peplon and the latin peplum, meaning tunic. It's oldest meaning is for a woman's sleeveless garment, attached at the shoulder. Think "toga."

These days, péplum is the French word for a style of epic movie set in ancient Greek or Roman times. Let the chariot races begin!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Morning Run

Even in Paris people get up in the early morning to jog. Not that there's anything wrong with that... If you're going to run then why not run along the Seine across from the Eiffel Tower like these folks?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Photo Du Jour

Another window display in Paris. I don't even remember what kind of place this was, but the placement of the "zebras" around the sleeping cat caught my eye. Very strange...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

La Tour

And what walk around Paris would be complete without at least a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower? Here's a bit more than a glimpse:

This shot (above) was taken through a rare vacant lot in the 15th arrondissment. Actually, I'm not certain that this is really a vacant lot, since there were goalposts and basketball hoops set up. But there were trash and graffiti as well. A temporary playground in a vacant lot?

My walk took me up to the river and over into the 7th arrondissement, where I am, of course, drawn to the tower. At this hour of the morning, there were only a few people under the tower (there was still an hour before it opened to tourists). I watched a beverage delivery at the foot of the south leg - where the entrance to the Jules Verne restaurant is. And I took this typical shot (above) without being jostled by 27 other people doing the same thing.

Finally, a walk around the south leg, or pilier as it is called, on the way back through the Champ de Mars and on to our friend's apartment. There really is something cool about a city in the early morning before people get moving.

La tour Eiffel a froid aux pieds
L'Arc de Triomphe est ranimé
Et l'Obélisque est bien dressé
Entre la nuit et la journée

Il est cinq heures
Paris s'éveille
Paris s'éveille

-Words by Jacques Dutronc and Anne Ségalen.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Paris Morning Walk, Continued

Again, my morning walk in Paris last month. The café sign is on the corner near our friend's apartment, near the Sèvres-LeCourbe métro stop.

This brasserie (above) is a bit farther away, up the Boulevard Garibaldi. Below, a close up of the lighting outside the café.

And finally, yet another café, this one on the Boulevard de Grenelle. These places are just as inviting whether there are people in them or not, in my humble opinion.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Roasted Peppers And Gratin Dauphinois

Our bell pepper plants have produced an abundance of peppers, as you know if you've read Ken's blog in the last week. He's been roasting and freezing, and there are still more out there to be picked and processed. They are delicious!

Roasted red peppers dressed in olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and a few drops of red wine vinegar.

One day last week, we had a lunch of roasted peppers and a gratin dauphinois, which is what we'd call scalloped potatoes back where I come from. It was excellent.

A close-up of gratin dauphinois.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Last Days Of Summer

While walking in Paris last month, I saw this window display:

It is obvious, at least to me, that this product must have been developed by dirty old men. A bust firming cream "with lifting and firming ingredients."

Yeah, and after they finished inventing this stuff, they used their left-over ingredients to create Viagra. Enough said.

These are the last days of summer here in the northern hemisphere. Fall arrives this weekend. With it will come the chores and foods of fall: raking leaves, cleaning up the yard and garden, cutting logs to burn in the wood stove, getting out the winter clothes and putting away the shorts, and making soups, stews, choucroute garnie, smoked meats, stuffed and roasted chicken, and all the plats mijotés that we love.

For now, though, the weather forecast is for a couple of days of sunshine and warm temperatures. I've gotta get to work on trimming the hedge!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Word Of The Week


Lorant Deutsch, a young French actor known for screwball comedy, is currently starring in a new Paris production of "The Importance of Being Earnest," or, in French, "L'Importance d'être constant."

He has been making the rounds of the television talk shows doing the publicity. During one interview, he said that getting this role (he plays Earnest/Constant) l'a rassasié. Of course, I had to look up rassasier, a new verb for me.

The first meaning is similar to satiate, as it is related to hunger. But the second meaning, and what Lorant meant I think, was that getting this role really satisfied him as an actor. It fulfilled his dreams, passions, and desires. Now, he's still pretty young and has many acting years ahead, but I suppose it's not out of the question that this role was an important milepost for him.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Friends And Fig Tartes

Sunday evening we enjoyed dinner with visitors Gabby and Margaret. Here they are with Ken during the apéro phase (drinks and olives) out on the deck. The sun was out and it was around 70º. This time of year you take advantage of good weather when you get it!

Gabby, Ken, and Margaret enjoying apéritifs on the deck.

Dinner was an appetizer of roasted red peppers (from the garden) served on toasts with goat cheese, and a main course of brasied chicken in a tarragon sauce (the tarragon was also from the garden) with fried polenta triangles. This was followed by a cheese and salad course, then dessert: individual fig tartes.

Tartes aux figues.

We got the wonderfully ripe figs at the market on Saturday morning and I decided to make individual tartes rather than a larger one; that way I wouldn't have to cut it at the table! I spent the day cooking while Ken, Gabby, and Margaret were out touring around.

I made the tartes first thing in the morning, then roasted, peeled and seeded the peppers. After that I cut up the chicken and made broth from the carcass. The broth was for braising the chicken pieces later on. I made a batch of polenta and filled up four individual square tart pans. Once they cooled, I popped out the polenta squares, fried them to give them a little color, then cut them into triangles. The chicken got dredged in flour and browned before it went into the braising liquid, which was flavored with the fresh garden tarragon. While it was braising in the oven, I assembled the appetizers. Somehow salad got washed during all of this.

We washed everything down with a red Touraine from just across the river. Sorry I didn't get photos of the meal, but it was quite tasty. A big hello to Mary in California - wish you were here!

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Can Of Fish

In Dieppe we visited a little boutique that sold nothing but canned fish. Ok, it was mostly canned fish. The colors of the products and the way they were grouped in the window displays and on the shelves made them very attractive, even appetizing. We do eat canned fish products (tuna, mackerel, sardines, etc.) but we get them from the supermarket. These are pricey upscale cans:

Herring with green asparagus and mimolette (cheese) and mackerel with artichoke hearts and andouille sausauge.

Mostly tuna, but also sardines with peppers and langoustines with mushrooms.

Mostly mackerel, plain or flavored with mustard or tomato, and sardines with peppers or with muscadet wine.

This is the last stop in Dieppe! Next up, a few photos from Paris.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Cactus Café

Just before we left Dieppe to head back to Rouen, we stopped in the Cactus Café for a quick drink. The weather was nice, the place was full of customers, and we watched people walk up and down the sidewalk just out front.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


These two photos, while taken in very different places, just seem to go together.

Above, windows in the cathedral in Deippe reminded me of little ghosts flying about in the darkness. Below, the holes in a pier on the English Channel, still in Dieppe, let water move through the base of the structure.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Re-post : One Year Ago Today

It was one year ago today that I flew from New York to San Francisco, on the occasion of my first trip back to the states after having moved to France. I had spent a week in my home town of Albany, NY, and drove to Newark Airport for the flight to San Francisco. I was traveling First Class all the way through using frequent flyer miles. What I learned in Newark was that there are two classes of First Class on Un-tied Airlines (typo intentional): them what pays and them what flies free with miles. On the international legs of my journey there was no distinction. But on the domestic US leg of the trip, I learned all about the American "classless society." I was not in the paying class. I was in a class beneath, and was therefore not allowed to set foot in the First Class Lounge unless I agreed to surrender thousands of additional miles. I did not agree, and spent my waiting time in the main terminal.

In honor of the anniversary, I'm re-posting my description of that day's flight. A true story...

Newark airport was a mob scene. Crowds pushed onto the people mover between terminals and the lines at the ticket counters and the security checkpoints snaked unnaturally through the corridors, making easy movement through the terminal impossible. I thought that this might be normal, until I finally made it into the gate area to find that most flights were delayed due to weather. Including mine. A harried gate staffer announced that our flight was originating in Chicago, and had not left the ground yet. We would be at least 3 hours late leaving Newark making our estimated departure time between 9:30 and 10:00 pm. Passengers were not happy, but they seemed to take the news in stride.

What really got people edgy was the fact that here, beyond security, we were like caged animals with nowhere to go. There was only one eatery, a TGI Friday’s that was not built to handle a terminal full of hungry and thirsty passengers. There was a line at least 20 deep of people (with their bags) waiting for a seat. Anywhere. At the bar. At a table. People sat with strangers just to get a beer or burger or something. The wait staff was overwhelmed. I made several attempts to get in, but each time I ended up leaving the line to walk around the terminal or sit and wait. On my last attempt I was invited to sit at a table with a few other people, so I did.

I’m not the kind of person who’s comfortable with strangers, but I wanted a glass of wine. Each traveler at the table was taking turns telling the others where he was from, where he was going and in many cases, why. I am always amazed at the personal questions people will ask total strangers. Questions about marital status, family situations and employment, your brand of cell phone service, how much your laptop cost you, and more. I am even more amazed at people’s willingness to answer such questions. I’d rather talk about the weather and how the airlines just might improve service.

And the food. Ugh. I didn’t eat, but I watched in amazement as normal looking adults devoured huge plates of mega-burgers, gloppy barbeque sandwiches, greasy fries, and other gastronomical horrors that they would never have had the opportunity to order had they not been delayed in this particular terminal with access to this particular restaurant. It was as if our travel delay was an excuse for these otherwise responsible parents, professionals, and, by their own admission, Martha Stewart devotees, to regress into teenage mall rats.

After my second glass of wine, our flight was announced. Once everyone was aboard the plane, the captain announced that he had good news and bad news. This is never a good way to begin a flight. The good news was that we were going to push back from the gate in about five minutes. The bad news was that ground control had stopped all departures. We were going to park somewhere on the tarmac and wait for something to happen. There’s nothing I hate more than sitting on an airplane that is not moving. Well there is, but not on this particular night. The flight attendants calmed us down a bit by serving wine (yippee!) and other beverages.

During our thirty minute wait, I listened to the ground control tower talking to the flight crews around the airport on United’s nifty “From the Cockpit” audio on Channel 9. Ground control was lining up planes to leave, telling some to start up their engines and others to cool their jets, as it were. You could tell these guys were just a little stressed. Our captain finally got clearance to start the engines and we rolled onto the taxiway. We were number 22 for departure. I could see planes taking off through the window as we inched our way toward the end of the runway. We were now number 17 for departure. Then we were number 12. Number 7. Finally, it was our turn, and four and half hours late, we took off.

The flight was smooth and calm, I ate my airline meal (and I noticed that the people who ate at TGI Friday’s also ate their airline meals), and settled in. (Just a little note here: in Un-tied First, the class that pays gets to choose their meals before the class that is flying on miles. The flight attendants actually skipped us freeloaders as they went about the cabin asking people what they wanted to eat, then came back around after to offer us the leftovers. I can't believe that this airline forces their staff to treat people this way. It is not subtle. I chose the chicken just because I didn't want to hear the flight attendant tell me that she was sorry, there was no more filet mignon.)

We landed in San Francisco a little after 1:00am. Baggage claim took forever as did the airtrain ride to the rental car terminal to rent the car. The rental car terminal at 2:30 in the morning was just a bit eerie, but everything worked out fine. I called my friend Cheryl to let her know I was on my way. I got there around 3:30am. She had left the key under the mat and gone to bed. She had also left a note saying to feel free to log on to her computer to send Ken an e-mail, which I did. She got up briefly and we said hello, then it was back to bed. I crashed in the guest room pretty soon thereafter.

Oh, I almost forgot about Sarah Jessica Parker!

When I checked in for the flight back in Newark, the woman behind the counter said, “Do you know who’s in the first class cabin with you this evening? Sarah Jessica Parker!” I said, “Wow. Does she know I’m in there, too?”

“I’ll be sure to let her know,” she answered. I don’t think she followed through.

I really only know SJP from an early movie (L.A. Story with Steve Martin, in which she played a bouncy character named SanDeE*). I’ve never seen Sex and the City, although I have seen a lot of its advertising. At any rate, there she was one row behind me and across the aisle. Her hair was perfectly straight, no curls, and her tiny body was obviously made for TV. She wore very little or no make-up. She was not glamorous. She looked a little like the French tennis player Mary Pierce. She wore black.

I didn’t chat with her. Although, had I known that our friend from Alabama, Evelyn, knows SJP personally, I certainly would have introduced myself with great Hollywood-esque finesse as a close acquaintance of hers. Then we would of course have had coffee together – half-caf non-fat mocha-ccinos – and explored our common interests. I would likely have been invited to her home back in New York where she and her husband, Matthew Broderick, would regale me with show business tales while we sipped fine champagne. What would I wear? Something black, to be sure. But I digress.

SJP was traveling alone, apparently. I noticed this at baggage claim in San Francisco when she loaded her cart with 3 or 4 large suitcases, not to mention the 3 or 4 very small ones, all by herself. With such a small body, you’d think she could get everything she needed into one carry-on. Go figure. No one had met her at the airport. Our flight was 4 hours late, but still, you’d think a big star like that would have someone to help lift her bags onto the cart. Perhaps doing it herself is what keeps her trim. Oh, the life of a star! I would have given her a hand, but I think you’ll agree that applause was not appropriate at 2 a.m. in baggage claim.

I wondered what her connection to the Bay Area was. I was to find out the following week while having dinner with friends in San José. One member of our dinner party mentioned that SJP was appearing at Macy*s Union Square in San Francisco to promote her new line of clothing or fragrance or beauty products. I’m not good with details, but I did notice how the star that Macy*s uses in place of an apostrophe is just like the star at the end of the character’s name that SJP played in L.A. Story: SanDeE*. Coincidence? I think not. Cue Twilight Zone theme music.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Un Jour, Une Tour [24]

This little tower is a bookmark. The black background opens up and each half has a little magnet inside that you clasp over a page in whichever book you're reading. The tower itself is about the size of a lapel pin.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Word Of The Week


While watching a talk show last week, I saw one of the chroniqueuses doing her segment on new movies coming out. One movie was something called "Little Miss Sunshine." She liked the movie a lot and gave it an enthusiastic review saying that le film va vous déjanter. Hmmmm, sounds like a word of the week to me!

Now I know that a jante is the wheel of a car; not the tire, just the wheel. So, déjanter is the verb for the tire coming off the rim; it's de-wheeled, if you will. But the context of the reviewer's sentence was not about tires flying off of wheels. So, if you can imagine that moment when a tire does fly off a wheel, well, that's got be a little surprising to say the least. It might send the car off course, wildly rocking out of control, whoa!

And this movie, according to our reviewer, will have a similar effect on you. It'll knock you off your rim, but in a good way!

In other news: I had my 3,000th visitor (since I started counting) yesterday. I believe that Numéro trois-mille is located in the Toulouse region. Merci Toulouse !

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Wine Country Living

I think that might be the title of a magazine somewhere. It surely evokes a genteel, tasteful, and monied lifestyle. This magazine, prominently placed on your coffee table, suggests to your equally tasteful friends and family that you are a gracious host, a purveyor of fine food and wine, and have season box seats at the opera. Or would like to.

Sauvignon blanc on the vine in the vineyard behind our house in the Cher Valley.

On the magazine's cover are two 30-something couples dressed in Eddie Bauer and Donna Karan. They are caught in casual poses, smiling, enjoying the warm summer evening and the killer views from the patio of their million-dollar-plus home in the hills above the vineyards. The sun is just going down and the hosts are serving an elegant evening meal of pan-seared mahi-mahi with sautéed baby carrots and freshly shelled peas. A bottle of late-harvest chardonnay (a steal at only $39.50 a bottle!) is on the table which looks like it was set by Martha Stewart herself, and you can't help but notice that the linens and candles match the house's exterior color palate. You imagine their discussions about stock options or the newest in GPS technologies for the Land Rover or how to avoid the worst of the backups on the Golden Gate Bridge. Ah, the good life: wine country living.

A vineyard near St. Aignan, appellation d'origine Touraine controllée.

Now, switch wine countries. Go from the Napa Valley to the Cher Valley. You will notice two 50-ish gay guys dressed in shorts and t-shirts with a hole or two in them. They, too, are caught in casual poses, relaxing after trimming hedges and bringing laundry in from the line. The view of the neighbors' yard from the deck of their much-less-than-a-million-dollar home is nice enough, although they could do without the incessant barking of the neighbors' dog. And from the bathroom you can see the vineyards stretching out behind the house. Our guys are just sitting down to a meal of pasta and sauce (which they made from their own garden tomatoes) and a couple of sausages (that they picked up at the local market on Saturday) served on the same old dishes they've had forever. Don't even discuss color palates - is Martha Stewart out of jail yet? A bottle of the local gamay ($1.50 a liter) is on the table fresh from the barrel; there's no label. You imagine their discussion about stock options (as in why don't they have any?) or rotating the tires on the Peugeot 206 or how to avoid hitting bicyclists on the narrow St. Aignan-Noyers bridge. Ah, the good life: wine country living.

These guys won't be on the cover of any magazine, at least none of the ones on your coffee table.

A wine country road stretching up from the Cher Valley. That tiny point of a pine tree on the right side horizon is in our yard.

It's mid-September and the grape harvest will be starting soon. We're having warm days and cool nights, and not much rain, which I think is a good thing. Too much rain this time of year means that the grapes will contain too much water, not enough sugar, and the resulting wine won't be as good.

Sauvingon blanc in the morning sun.

One day soon we'll hear, through the grapevine as it were, that the harvest will begin. Whatever group controls the appellation sets the earliest date for harvest based on what the growing season was like. Once that date is set, it's up to the individual growers to decide when they will actually pick. Some go right away, others wait a bit. Some pick by hand, some use machines. Again, it all depends on the weather, the type of grape they're working with, and what style of wine they're making.

Gamay grapes in the final ripening stages before the harvest.

And although we're not gracing the covers of any tasteful lifestyle magazines, we are most certainly enjoying our wine country life. We like the tractors, the barking dogs, and the local gossip we hear from the lady who delivers our baguettes in the morning. We love not commuting, we enjoy all four seasons, and we look forward to the smell of chickens roasting on the spit at the Saturday morning market in the town square.

Oh yeah, and we like the wine. A lot.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Photo Du Jour

The passenger ferry from New Haven arrives in Dieppe.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

More From Dieppe

Lunch in Dieppe was delicious. Ken ate oysters to start, while I had amandes farcies. No, not stuffed almonds, but amandes de mer. They're shellfish that resemble scallops but are much smaller. Inside, they're kind of like clams. They were done up with garlic, butter, and parsley much like snails and served on the half shell; yummmm!

Our main course was mussels; Ken had them with cream and I had them marinière style. We both had frites. Marie also had the amandes farcies and I've forgotten what Françis had for his entrée. Both he and Marie had skate wing, aile de raie, for the main course, and it looked superb.

More nautical images from the harbor in Dieppe:

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Shiver Me Timbers !

Dieppe, in Normandy on the English Channel, is a port town. The central harbor, closest to the center of town, is filled mainly with pleasure craft these days. But the port still bustles with commercial traffic both fishing and freight.

In fact, while we were eating lunch in a restaurant that overlooked the port, a huge tanker was escorted into the port. If it were tipped up on end, it would have been as tall as a 15 storey building. It was amazing to watch it glide silently by a few yards from our table. I didn't have the camera with me for that one. What do they say about the big ones always getting away?

The harbor at Dieppe. We ate lunch in a restaurant in one of the buildings on the left.

The Itron-Varia.

The Michele-Geoffrey.

The Bulle 3 is a diving boat that belongs to the club that our friend Françis dives with. He said the color makes it easy to spot when you pop up from the deep. It also makes it hard to miss in port.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Photo Du Jour

The cap from a bottle of Pastis, floating in the harbor at Dieppe, Normandy, France. This one really looks better if you enlarge it (by clicking on it).

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Norman Grafitti

Again, on our walk through central Rouen we saw many things. Among them was some interesting, albeit off-color, grafitti.

I can't tell if this was done by one "artist" or two - did the person with the black paint come by later and "enhance" the job done by the person with the white paint? Or was it the same person?

Simply: "I ♥ your ass." There's no telling why the English "I" is used instead of the French "Je."

This is it from Rouen for now. Next up: Dieppe, on the coast of la Manche, otherwise known as the English Channel.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Word Of The Week


This is an adjective that I've heard a lot lately. I had an idea what it meant and I was on the right track, but was wrong anyway. I thought it had to do with moisture (soggy, wet, drizzly) as in the weather (those words are mou, mouillé, bruineux).

What maussade really means is gloomy. So when the weather is maussade, it is often bruineux, and things get mouillé, and I confused the heck out of that.

The reason that I've heard the word maussade a lot lately is that the month of August was terribly cold and wet all over France. Un temps maussade, they said, was what August was this year. The aoûtiens, who take their vacations in the month of August, were said to be quite jealous of the juillettistes this year. July was sunny and hot.