Monday, June 29, 2009
One of the major reasons I was drawn to make France my home, at least part time, is the antiques, brocante, bibelots and bric-a-brac. Not to mention the vide greniers. Let me explain....I think everyone knows what an antique is, but brocante translates to "used household goods", bibelot is a trinket or curio, bric-a-brac is, well bric-a-brac, bits and pieces. Vide grenier is the French equivalent of a garage sale, literally, "empty the attic". I shop all of these venues, and occasionally the vente aux encheres, or auctions. Where is the best place to shop? That depends on your stamina, and time.
France has magizines that can be purchased at any "presse" that will list all of the sales taking place over the next 30 days. They also list those sales that occur every week, and monthly. Is it necessary to get to the show at the crack of dawn? My husband thinks so, and we have arrived BEFORE the vendors on many occasions. My advice, if you go when it is still dark, bring a flashlight. Bring a bag, wear comfortable shoes, a hat (for rain or sun) hand wipes, measuring tape. If your French isn't good, a pencil and paper is helpful for writing prices when you are bargining. Don't insult vendors. Admire a piece, but you can say "tres cher pour moi", if it's too expensive. Or offer what you think it is worth. I have found, when I ask for their best price, they often come up with a price below what I was willing to pay.
Other, obvious pieces of advice. Save the nice clothes and jewlry for the Ritz. Try a little French, people always appreciate the effort, and you might make a new friend. Over the years we have developed some nice friendships with brocanters. They love "client habitul" just like I do, here at home.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
One question people always ask me when I have been in France for five or six weeks is, "what do you do all day?" We don't have a TV, and the radio can be a challenge for anything but music. In the Spring, the days are long, with the sun not setting till 10:30pm.
Many days are spent deciding where to go to lunch, then lounging in the garden with a book. There is usually a market to visit (so you can shop for things for dinner). Many evenings I have people over for aperitifs or dinner, or someone invites me. Often, the conversation turns to the garden. What are you growing? What is ripe? What isn't working and what is? Cherries turn ripe in late May and early June and all of Southwest France seems to be awash in red cherry stains. Cherry jam, chutney, ice cream, cherries in eau d'vie, and cherry clafloutis. Clafloutis is a simple desert that can be made with a variety of fruit. Cherry is the classic. A recipe follows at the end of this post.
I helped Gill harvest her cherrys, with a little help from the dog. When Sally (the dog) first started eating the cherrys, they went down whole. By the end of the week, she was spitting out the pits. Beware the pits!!!! In France, a clafloutis, or an olive pizza for that matter probably has unpitted fruit/olives.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 pound cherries, rinsed and dried. Pitting is optional
1 1/2 tablesponns butter
Preheat the oven to 450F (or 230C) Butter a 9 1/2 -inch round tart or cake pan without a removable bottom.
Mix the flour and salt into a large bowl. Whisk in 1 cup of the milk until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, whisking. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla, then the remaining milk.
Place the cherries in the pan. Pour the batter over them, and dot the batter with the butter. Bake until puffed and golden (about 25 minutes) Serve lukewarm.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
I think the French have a very subtle sense of humor. I have often been on the receiving end of a good natured joke. Along with a sense of humor, the French love signs. Mostly to be ignored, but posted, nonetheless. When the love of signs and humor come together, well, it's a priceless moment. A local restaurant that we've always enjoyed in a nearby village had new proprietors. When we had occasion to try lunch there last week, I was amused by the sign over the sink in the WC. For those of you who can't get the visual, or don't want to, it translates to: Please do not vomit in the sink. Thanks for your understanding. I am not sure I understand, but I thought it was pretty funny.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
So how's your French? That's a phrase I hear a lot between visitors and the ex-pat community. Replies will vary from "awful", "coming along", or "not bad". This later is the group that needs watching. Take one neighbor who has lived here about six years and feels her French is very good, doesn't need any help with anything. The visit to the plastic surgeon for a few adjustments would be a simple matter.
When she visited the doctor, she was missing a tooth, that would be replaced soon, but she didn't understand when he was asking her about that. Her lip on that side was filled in to accommodate a "dent perdu". Good thing it was only a bit too much collagen.
Help translating tax and financial issues is another area where I would also bring along someone who can really speak the language. I love le avocat, but not so crazy about les avocats. The first I make guacamole with, the second might accompany one into court.
So, how is my French? After taking up the language well into middle age, it is difficult at best. In a resturant, a shop or the antique market I can be understood, and generally understand what is being said. Last week I spent three delightful hours at the dinner table with elderly neighbors, who only speak French. There were few lapses in conversation, and they were very helpful and ready with a dictiornary. Marc spent two years as a prisoner of war for crossing the Line of Demarcation during WWII. Listening to Marc and Lousie recount how they met after the war was priceless. That is the kind of evening that makes my struggle with French worthwhile. My photo is Marc and Lousies' garden. They are both 87, and are out there every day.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Hard to know just what to show someone on their first trip to France. Doubly hard when it's your only child, and you want her to love it, and afraid that she won't....
Food is so different is the Southwest. Not the sushi, pizza, and things she is used to from California, or Kentucky where she lives now. I am proud to report that she enthusiastically tried everything, even finishing the tartare du bouef in Bordeaux. The comment she made upon returning to Lexington was "how am I supposed to eat the food here after France?"
We also spent time in Brantome, St Emilion, Pre-historic caves, Chateau Hautefort, and the Lot. My daughter loves to knit, and my knitting group over here had a "knitting sleepover", hosted by Debbie. She and her husband have built a new home, high above one of my favorite villages, with a stunning view over-looking the Lot River. Her home has several "bories" on the property. Indeed, they seem to dot the hill her home is built on. I couldn't remember what these sort of stone igloos were called, so I googled it, and up came a photo of a borie that was restored.
The photo on the left is Hautefort, and you can look closely and see Mary entering, the photo on the right is one of the bories at Debbie's.
Monday, June 15, 2009
By request, a few more photos of the knitting group in Montpezat, and the ancient windmill we sat under.
Shopping is a part of everyone's life, like it or not. I like it. In France, shopping takes on challenges that we don't seem to have in the United States. First there are the hours shops keep. Forget Mondays (unless you are really lucky), forget Sundays, and Saturdays after 6pm. Then, there is lunch time. In larger cities, some shops maybe open during lunch, maybe not. In the countryside, it's best to do as the French do at lunch, eat.
The French have really taken a shine to the "loyalty" cards. Supermarkets, hardware stores, all kinds of shops are asking if you want to sign up for one. But please bring your own bag to the super market, and a one euro coin if you want a shopping cart. (you get it back when you return the cart)
The super markets can be a treasure trove of new and unusual things; along with all things French, I have found wasabi, nori, and salsas making their way into the local market. Even though the produce area is huge, it will generally be filled only with what is seasonally fresh and by in large "local". You may get tomatoes from Spain (only two hour drive from here), but you won't get loads of imported, exotic items.
Many villages and towns have "plein aire marches". This would be a farmers market, but also hardware, clothing, shoes, etc maybe sold. Many market towns have had markets on the same day for hundereds of years. My village has a market every Tuesday. Some markets are prettier, some more functional, all are a social get together. The French Government rates the prettiest markets. I think towns and villages are more interesting on market days, and it's worthwhile to visit on those days.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
It's almost time to start packing and I am just able to post. The story is a long one, and after talking to friends here, not an uncommon one. Let me just say that some people in France will put out an exceptional effort to service customers, and some will not.
It has been a wonderful adventure, and as I post over the next few weeks, I will share remineces, if not daily adventures. The photo is Sally, enjoying a stroll around Pujols, a little gem of a village deep in the Lot. Rowena took me here when I came down to her home so that I could join her village knitting group for Worldwide Knit in Public Day. I think in France it is called Journee du Mondiale Tricoter. What an experience to sit in the shade of an ancient windmill with a group of French knitters. I could feel the hands across centuries of women, who for generations have gotten together to practice needle arts. I must give a hand to Ravelry.com, the network for knitters. Without Ravelry, I wouldn't have met Karen, Debbie (who also hosted a knitting sleepover), Rowena, Allison, and the women knitters of Montpezat.
But, it wasn't all about knitting, either.
This trip started in a special way, as my daughter Mary made her first visit to France. I was afraid she wouldn't like the food, and the comment I got was; "How am I ever going to eat the food in Kentucky after France?" I am proud to say she tried everything from the jambon to the foie gras. When Mary arrived with me in mid-May, we contemplated a fire a couple of nights. I am pleased to report that the weather has warmed, vines are growing, and receiving plenty of water. Most of the cherry crop is in, and if most are like my neighbor Gill, the confitures, chutneys, and fruits in eau d'vie are already well underway. The wonder of France in the Spring, is the chance to be so close to the "terrior" that you can appreciate every perfectly ripe cherry. On to the apricots!