Sunday, October 31, 2010

Traveling....French Style

After aperos last evening at Pauline's with her sister, Rose Ann, and Jean, Laury and I decided to walk the dogs down to the bus stop this morning and wish the two of them 'a bientot' as they began their journey back to England. We stood along the road at the intersection of the highway and the road into Cadrieu and visited until the 9:12am bus appeared to whisk them off to Cahors. During our few minutes by the road, we waved to a friend walking his dog along the river, greeted another woman that Laury knows as she began her bicycle ride into Cajarc to pick up her morning crossaints, and nodded to several other drivers from the village. The dogs waited...Lucie, not so patiently...for the rest of their walk. Soon the big green bus appeared and with kisses and hugs all around, the women set off. A bus ride into Cahors, then the train to Paris, then the Eurostar which will take them through the Chunnel to London. By 10pm tonight they will have arrived at St. Pancras. Rose Ann will have another hour by train to Cambridge. A long journey, but one without the stress of driving, without worrying about car break downs, traffic, finding gas, or getting lost!

Oops.....don't forget the bag, Pauline! See you soon!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Aperos

I've never been much of a hostess. I've entertained occasionally...people for dinner or a cook-out, maybe a potluck now and again, but I wouldn't call myself the Martha Stewart of my neighborhood. Maybe it's because I've lived in fairly isolated places that were hard for people to actually come to for a party.. When we lived in the Yellowstone backcountry, folks might ride over for dinner and end up staying the night because who wants to ride horses home in the dark at midnight? Since I've been here in Cadrieu, tho, I've discovered a whole new way to entertain....aperitif parties or 'aperos' as they're called locally. "Come for aperos" is an invitation to come for a glass or two of wine or perhaps a kir and a bit of a nibble. Not dinner, just a nibble of something. This is the spread that Laury put together last evening. Deviled eggs, artichoke dip, a platter of bite-size Laughing Cow cheeses, Averyron sausage, nuts and olives and for those with a sweet tooth, a plate of cream cheese drizzled with plum/pastis sauce to smear on crackers. The wine choices were on the bar...white, red, and rose. The nice things about aperos are that they are easy to do and if you plan the nibbles right, you fill up and don't have to cook later! I think I could be an apero hostess.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Walnuts by the Fire

The nights have been cold, so we've begun making a fire in the mornings to take the chill off the house. Then after the sun goes down, we build another one to warm the evening hours. I've never built a fire on an open hearth like this one, so I've been an eager student as Laury shows me the ropes. This morning seemed like a good time to sit by the hearth and crack walnuts. My mission was to make an apple-walnut coffee cake. Before I even began the walnut cracking, I searched the internet for a recipe that called for ingredients we actually had on hand. That accomplished, the walnut cracking/picking began. It was so pleasant sitting in the warm glow of the fire watching my pile of nut meats grow and sipping a cup of coffee. It didn't take long before I had enough. I got the apples peeled and diced, the ingredients mixed and the pan filled. Laury laughed at me with my little netbook computer propped up on the counter like a cookbook, but hey....it works! Soon the house was filled with a lovely nutty, cinnamon aroma. Can you guess what we had for 'dessert' after lunch?
This is how Lucie 'helps' me when I cook!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

River Red

I thought you might like to see the red that pulled us to the river last weekend. While the trees are just beginning to turn color, these vines are brilliant right now....and they are everywhere!




See what I mean about everywhere?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

River 'Impressions'

We took the dogs for a long walk along the river last weekend. The weather was glorious and the turning leaves and red vines were calling. While I took lots of photos of all the red, the ones that really spoke to me when I looked them over at home were these of the reflected trees and shades of green. They remind me a lot of Impressionist paintings with the light playing with the colors and smearing the reflected images onto the smooth surface of the river.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gates of St. Cirq-Lapopie

It's a cold rainy day here in the Lot, so I've combed thru the archives searching for images of drier times. I came up with these photos of gates from my visit last September to St. Cirq- Lapopie. St. Cirq is just up the road about 11 kms from Cadrieu. I visited there twice last year, once with Laury and once on my own,. It's a lovely medieval perched village complete with a ruined castle at the top, a pretty church and lots of interesting houses and shops. And....lots of intriguing gates! Hopefully, I'll get back there sometime this winter for another peek and more gate photos.
This one is my favorite...do you think spiders live here?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Unexpected Pleasures


One of the unexpected pleasures of living in Laury's house is discovering those things she knows that I don't. Music, for example. Her classical music CD's include composers I recognize, of course, like Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff. But it also includes a composer whose name isn't common household knowledge...at least not to me. Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was a French composer popular in the mid-1700's. His Baroque pieces usually featured the flute and the recorder as he composed simple pieces that could be easily learned by amateur musicians. Boismortier was unusual in that he did not have a patron and made his fortune purely by composing music and selling it. It's interesting that someone so successful has slipped into obscurity. I chose this YouTube video to share because it features the viola de gamba, one of my favorite instruments. If you search YouTube, you can certainly find other examples of his work.

The first time I listened to Laury's Boismortier CD I felt this centuries-old house speak to me as the music caressed its ancient stones and beams. It was as if the Baroque music reminded it of its glory days...those years in the 16th,17th and 18th centuries when this house and this village were in their prime, bustling with activity, trade, and travelers; those centuries between the Hundred Years' War and the Revolution that would sweep France in the late 1780's when peace provided a vibrant economy and the Chateau provided opportunity for trade rather than conflict. Oh, if these walls could speak!

'Unexpected Pleasures' will be an occasional blog topic here. Look for future posts on music, books, the arts, and culture.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Not So Friendly Gates of Cadrieu





There are definitely some gates that are less than friendly in Cadrieu. These big gates to the 11th century Chateau were meant to keep unwanted people out...like the peasants and swarms of invaders. Without scaling one of the stone walls, it's impossible to get even a peek at the courtyard inside.

This is the top of another solid gate up the road from the Chateau. The little bell hangs on the wall next to it. Do you really think if you ring it that they will let you in? My guess is they'll just laugh  like the scary mask hanging underneath those quite   unfriendly spikes!

These seems like the most inhospitable gate of all. It's the gate to the village cemetery and it just screams "STOP" to me. I'm not sure why it has to be so forbidding. No one really wants to go inside and those residents who are already inside are certainly not coming out, with or without a gate!


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blaze of Glory





Summer is over. It seems that autumn is determined to send it out in a blaze of glorious color. Leaves are beginning to turn, dry, and  drop. But before they are completely gone and winter grips this land of river and stoney causse, Mother Nature leaves us with one last blast of color.

The last vestiges of the summer rose...lush hips to feed the winter birds.

Tendrils of red....

Red 'hearts' on an ancient stone wall....
The last wilting geranium...
A rose bud that won't open...
The barn fete is over...it's left to the angels now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gates of Cadrieu

I'm intrigued by gates. Depending on my mood...or the mood of the gate...I see them as welcoming portals to adventure, brooding reminders to stay out, or barricades that keep secrets inside. To me gates are more of a tease than doors. Gates often give you a glimpse of what they are protecting or welcoming you to enjoy; doors block both your view and your imagination. I'll be sharing gates from the Lot with you this winter. This first gate is my favorite one in Cadrieu. It belongs to Madame Wells' house, and the dogs and I pass it every morning on our walk. Last September when the vines were all green, there was a big pot of red geraniums on the steps inside. Now the color is all in the vines. While the gate itself is rather plain, its archway makes me think of Alice walking thru the Looking Glass into Wonderland. What adventures might await on the other side? Here are some other views of the house. Laury tells me that the tiny shuttered window is in Madame Wells' tiny loo.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lardons and Other Lovely Things

I don't want to leave you with the impression that I don't like grocery shopping in France. Au contraire! I see it as an adventure, and I'm intrigued by the wonderful things I can buy here. The produce is lovely and very reasonably priced...once I do the metric conversion of the price per kilo. Let's see there are 2.2 lbs per kilo, so if 2 kgs cost 2 euros... yes, it's cheap! The cheese selection is vast even in a small grocery store; it's like you're in a specialty cheese shop at home. Milk comes in packets of 6 bottles off the shelf. You can keep them on the shelf until you open one; then that one has to go in the fridge. Very handy. And lardons! Lardons are my favorite. They are little bits of pork like already cut up bacon. You know those recipes that call for diced bacon? or crumbled cooked bacon? No problem...just throw a few lardons in the pan and saute or sprinkle a few on top of a meatloaf before you put it in the over and voila...bacon without the mess and fuss. I've never seen them in the States. If you have, let me know. I'll shop at your store! The loveliest thing about shopping in my local grocery store, tho, is running into a new French friend. Right there in the canned goods aisle, it's 'bonjour!, bonjour!, ca va?, bien, ca va? kiss, kiss, kiss' I feel like I belong!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Grocery Run

Jean rang this morning to ask if I wanted to ride into the Ecomarche in Cajarc with her. Very timely as I was already planning a bus trip to do a grocery run. Much easier to do it with Jean! The Ecomarche is a real French adventure. First, there's the grocery cart or trolley as Jean calls it. You either have to insert a euro coin or a token to release one from the cart queue. You get your euro/token back when you return it. Some grocery stores require that you weigh your own produce; the Ecomarche does not which makes me happy. I'll never forget the withering look I received from the cashier at the Bon Marche in Paris the time I forgot to do my own weighing! I had a long list of items to buy. Most I could puzzle out, but there were a couple of items that Jean had to help me with...like baking powder, baking soda, and yeast. What we decided on is 'levure chimique' for baking powder and 'levure de boulangerie' for yeast. I never found anything resembling baking soda! Checking out is a bit nerve-wracking. There are no bags; you bring your own. You bag your own purchases as well. Then comes my least favorite part...paying! I have a really hard time understanding numbers when they're said, so I always have to see the total amount before I know what I owe. Oh yes, and don't forget...the French really appreciate it when you give them the correct change (or as close as you can come). It's not okay to pay for a 42,41euro purchase with three 20 euro notes or even two 20 euros and a 10 euro note. Often the cashier will ask if you have closer to the correct amount. So, there I am at the check out...obviously an American who doesn't understand French, frantically trying to sack my groceries, figure out what I owe, fumbling for the right notes and correct change, and all the while holding up the line behind me!

The canned tomatoes and some of that lovely Savoy cabbage are currently simmering away on the stove with other soup ingredients. It will be soup, bread, and wine for supper tonight. Remind me to tell you about 'lardons' next time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Causse

My village, Cadrieu, sits along the Lot River. Laury's house is actually the closest to the river of the village houses; the rest of the village marches uphill from here. The range in village elevation is 460 to 1293 feet. It's definitely a place of up and down. Over the millenia, the Lot has carved out this deep valley leaving narrow flat places below that are now farmed, while steep sides lead to the causse above. Defined as a limestone plateau, the causse is also called 'the upland.' As you go even further uphill from the village, the causse is an area of rocky, hard soil more suitable for livestock than agriculture. The sides of the valley are alternately sheer limestone cliffs with more gently sloping tree covered areas in between. Even the more gentle inclines are difficult to traverse as they are a tangle of trees and thick underbrush. Life is hard up on the causse. It's more arid, the soil is poor and full of rocks, and it can be extremely hot in the summer. The first of the two photos shows the steep cliffs of the causse that rise up beyond the neighboring village of Montbrun. The second shows the more gentle slope of the causse behind our village church.  The American poet, W.S. Merwin who once owned a home in southwest France captures the timelessness and the characters of the causse in his 1992 book "The Lost Upland: Stories of Southwest France."  In this book Merwin, our newest United States Poet Laureate, has written three novellas that read as evocatively as his poetry and reveal the hard life on these uplands with respect, dignity and great attention to the details of daily life. While France is a land of glittering cities, gourmet food and great beauty, it also a land defined by rivers, valleys, mountains and the causse.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

View From My Window...bonus post

I've sat at every chair around the dining room table trying to decide which place I like best when journaling and using my netbook. Laury sits with her back to this window facing the door to the terrace. I tried sitting that way and at the other places at the table. While the light at this position isn't perfect, I like this seat best. I love looking at the tops of the trees that line the riverbank below. I love seeing the sky with all its changing moods. When the trees finally lose their leaves, I'll be able to see the causse beyond the opposite side of the river and maybe even see a car or two on the road to Saujac. I've decided that this 'View From My Window' will be my view on the world from France. I've added this as a category for my posts. When you see it and this photo, you'll know that I'm about to express an opinion about France and/or the world in general. You've been forewarned!

View From My Window

As I sit here this morning at the dining room table, I'm suddenly struck by how quiet it is. A handful of cars have passed on the road below, but I've heard no buses or trucks, no tractors. Then I remember: France is on strike today! According to the BBC news, some unions began their part of the 24 hour rolling strikes yesterday morning; more will follow their lead today. I don't claim to understand all the ramifications of this protest by French workers, but I do know it pertains to governmental reforms on retirement. This is the third time in a month that workers have gone on stirke. All the bus, train, metro unions are involved. Striking in sympathy...postal workers, teachers, truck drivers, and this time, air traffic controllers. Most of what goes on in France will slow or come to a stop today. An occasional bus, metro and train will run, but service will be sporadic. What's different about today's shutdown, however, is that it is open-ended which means workers will vote on a daily basis whether or not to continue striking. It could be a long month! This strike is certainly inconvenient for the French people and tourists alike, but I have to admire their attitude that the people have a right to be heard. The French are not afraid to express their feelings inspite of the inconvenience and disruption of daily life. A giant protest march is set for this Saturday, October 16th in Paris. Voices will be heard!

Monday, October 11, 2010

On My Own

I've been on my own at the Chatette since last Thursday morning when Laury left on her trip to the States. I've been blessed with a couple of glorious days when I mowed the grass and finished trimming the budlea. The past two days have been rainy and cool...perfect for staying in and reading, cooking, and listening to Laury's collection of classical music CDs. Lucie, Dali, Sam and I have settled into a nice routine. We're up around 6am; we eat. I check email while the animals catch an after-breakfast nap. I try to walk the dogs between 8-9am or in between showers. Sam has relaxed more and more into having a strange dog in the house. The fact that although Lucie is curious,she's not a cat-chaser has helped. Sam even sat on my lap for a bit while I read on Saturday. Last evening, though, she finally came to terms with my little black dog. She snuggled up on the arm of the couch behind my head while I read with Lucie snoozing at my feet, perfectly content to be that close as long as she could keep a watchful eye on the sleeping canine. At one point, Lucie opened one eye, looked at Sam there behind me, sighed and rolled over back into dreamland. Obviously, Sam was not nearly as interesting as the imaginary rabbits she chased in her sleep!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Voices Across the River

 I took the dogs down to the river for their morning walk today. The sun hadn't quite cleared the top of the causse when I heard church bells from the direction of Saujac faintly chime 9 o'clock. From directly across the river, I could hear quite clearly voices and encouraging shouts. A man and a child alternately calling accompanied by the soft clanking of a small bell. While I could never quite see what was going on thru the thick trees, in my imagination I picture the farmer and his son moving a herd of goats from one pasture to another. I'm amazed at how clearly sounds carry across the river. I've heard boats passing, the conversations of fishermen from the opposite bank, shots from hunter's guns, motocycles on the road, baying hounds, barking dogs, and the chug-chug-chug of farm machinery...all as clear as if they are right in front of my window. I hope I'm right about the goat herd; that may mean fresh goat cheese in my future!





I listened to another farmer last week as he put up these big bales of hay. Here they are all wrapped, stacked and ready for winter.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thank You

I've tried to keep my expectations for this lovely French adventure to a minimum; I want to be open to any and all adventures. But I can tell you that I never expected to have the opportunity to use my nursing skills here. Here's what happened: Laury's friend, Jean was expecting visitors from the U.K. She asked Laury if I would mind helping her friend,David. It seems he had a surgical procedure to remove a growth behind his ear two weeks prior to his planned holiday at Jean's. Because the area wasn't healing as it should, David's physician told him the only way he could go on holiday was if he could find either a doctor or a nurse to change his dressing every other day and keep an eye on the surgical site. Would I be willing to do that?? Of course! I was more than happy to help. I even earned British praise for applying a dressing that actually stayed in place, something their local nurse wasn't able to do. And it was delightful listening to David tell stories with his very British accent while I did the dressing change. This pretty miniature rose bush was my 'thanks' for helping. Certainly not necessary, but very appreciated. I've been sitting it out on the living room window sill these warm days when I can have the windows open. It's happy basking in the sun. I'm happy basking in its beauty.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Ant and the Grasshopper

It began with picking up walnuts and filling our pockets each time we walked along the railroad tracks behind the Chatette. Pretty soon Laury and I were gathering and preparing for winter in earnest. I laughed and told her 'This reminds me of the old Aesop's fable of the ant and the grasshopper, only we're both ants!' As Laury mowed the lawn (maybe for the last time?), I trimmed all the dead budlea flowers. We both have been gathering walnuts to dry for winter use. And we're gradually getting the winter's firewood moved up onto the terrace. Laury's friend called and offered up apples from her tree. So, off Laury went with Dali to bring home windfall apples. The sun may be out, but we know winter's on the way. These 'ants' are going to be prepared. Now all we need is a cute French 'grasshopper' to fiddle while we work!