Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: Explore

In December for the past 3 or 4 years, I've searched for a word to define my upcoming new year. During 2012 that word was Explore. In looking back at the past twelve months, I'm convinced that I did that word proud! I explored a lot of the French countryside, as well as French food and culture. If you're interested in any of those adventures, just click on Explore in the blog cloud and blog posts will appear like magic to whisk you back in time to places like Najac, Conques, the Pyrenees, and Basque country. It's been a fun year!

As 2013 approaches, I've been searching for the new word of the year. While I'll certainly continue to explore, what other word will inform and mold my experiences? I'll post it tomorrow along with an explanation of how it came to find me. For now, the poppies above might just give you a clue!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Poets I Have Known

I'm a 'closet' poet. There...now the world knows! I write mediocre poetry that is often inspired by the Divine. Perhaps because I'm so bad at it, I really appreciate others who write the good stuff. Early in December at an Anglican worship meeting, I became intrigued by sonnets we read based on the "O" antiphons of Advent. Through some sleuthing on the Internet (one of my favorite pastimes), I discovered the sonnets were written by Malcolm Guite. And when I visited his website, I was delighted to find that Malcolm Guite is actually Revd. Malcolm Guite, Anglican priest, chaplain and teacher at the University of Cambridge. He is also a poet, musician and singer-songwriter whose wild hair and beard make me think he's channeling his inner John the Baptizer! Add to that...he is a member of an R&B band that plays gigs in the Cambridge area. My kind of guy! I ordered his book that you see here. It's full of his sonnets that give deeper meaning to the seasons of the church year.

The best part about finding Revd. Guite's website, though, is his blog and audio page. For me, poetry is best appreciated when it's heard. Read aloud, it takes on meaning and nuances that go missing when you just read it to yourself. Not all poets read their poetry to my liking, however. Have you ever heard any old tapes of Robert Frost or Carl Sandburg reading? Their voices are so heavy and lugubrious; I like poetry read with some zip, some feeling. Hearing Revd. Guite read his sonnets  is a soothing, meditative experience. If you're more into serious theology, he also has audio of lessons he's taught and sermons delivered with many links to other theological and spiritual sources. I highly recommend that you give him a try.

PS...Guite rhymes with 'quite.'

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Day After Christmas

Abbaye de Senanque April 2012
Living as I do in a predominately Catholic country surrounded by thousands of beautiful old churches, I run into Mary, Mother of Jesus, a lot. For a Protestant girl, I've become quite attached to her. So it's inevitable that she's on my thoughts this day after Christmas...the day of the big let-down. You know the feeling...all the excitement is over and now reality hits with masses of trash to throw out, too much left-over food to fit in the fridge and the expectation of credit card bills to come.

Think of Mary this day.  The miraculous birth has occurred, the shepherds have come and gone, and no one even knows that the Wise Men bearing precious gifts are on their way. They won't arrive for 12 days. Mary rests in the cold, dank stable, exhausted, her body stretched and sore, her hormones shifting and her emotions roller-coastering between great joy and utter despair. The 'yes' she said to Gabriel nine months ago seems very far away. It was an easier 'yes' than the one she must convince herself to say today. That 'yes' was pledged in the splendid presence of God's angel and wrapped in God's mystery. It was a 'yes' of dreams and hopes; the 'yes' of a young girl full of glorious faith and steeped in the romance of being betrothed. Today the reality is a squalling hungry baby. A baby who must be kept clean and dry and warm. A baby who won't let her rest. Joseph is gone...perhaps banging on the door of the inn trying to buy food for his family. Surely, he had to stand in line most of the day waiting to register his family for the mandatory census which was why they are even in Bethlehem in the first place. So, Mary waits alone, fearful, and uncomfortable. Can she say 'yes' to this even harder question? Can she, a young girl, alone except for Joseph, find the strength and the wisdom to care for and raise this very special child? We know the answer, of course. She fiercely said 'yes' once again. I think she did a pretty good job of being the Mother of Jesus. She deserves every statue erected in her honor!

Monday, December 24, 2012

I Can't Help Myself!

This is what happens when you stop by the boulangerie/patisserie for a loaf of bread...
which is not called a baguette here, but rather a flute.
I can't help myself! The almond croissant will be for Christmas breakfast. And the piece of chocolate buche noel? It's for blog research...another new taste of France for me to share with you. Oh, I see now...it's your fault.

Friday, December 21, 2012

From the Archives: Paris 2006

Paris rooftops taken Feb. 2006
One of my favorite views in the whole world...the rooftops of Paris!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Another Pretty Window

Another pretty window all decked out for Christmas on rue Faubourg in Cajarc.
This one is actually an art gallery that's open during the summer months.
If I had the money to spend, this is the piece I would buy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Drum Roll, Please!

Drum roll, please! We have a winner! As promised, I've selected a comment from last week's blog hop to receive a gift packet of notecards from Melanged Magic. Using random.org, comment #14 was the winner: Francine from Callaloo Soup. I'll be putting the cards in the mail as soon as I receive a mailing address from her. Thank you to everyone who commented. The blog hop was a lot of fun. I read some amazing blogs and 'met' some fun and interesting bloggers from all over the world. Definitely something I'd participate in again.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Little of Paris Right Here in Cajarc!

One of my favorite blogs, I Prefer Paris, always does a series of posts this time of year that I especially look forward to. Richard dutifully visits all the big department stores in Paris and posts photographs of their gorgeous Christmas windows. I can never decide which one is my favorite...Printemps, Hermes, Galeries Lafayette, BHV. I usually find something to love in each of them. A comment from one of my readers, however, alerted me to a Christmas window in Cajarc that rivals the big boys of Paris. True, it's not quite as massive, but it's just as pretty. Camera in hand, I wandered down rue Faubourg towards the river after the Saturday market and found the window that Caroline was talking about. I love the combination of sparkle and glitter with the hand-knit mouse people...very clever.


I saw some other pretty windows on my stroll. Those are for another time, though.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rest in Loving Arms

Melanged Magic sends sympathy and loving thoughts to those affected by yesterday's tragedy in Connecticut. I will spend this weekend in deep contemplation of not only the 'why' of this evil, but also on ways that I personally might be able to make this world a safer place in which to live and raise our children.  In a pastoral letter this morning, the Right Revd Alan Scarfe, Episcopal bishop of the Iowa diocese, suggested reading Parker Palmer's book, The Company of Strangers as a starting place for dialogue on society's ever-increasing isolation. There is probably no one answer to solving the problems that plague us, but  whatever the solutions are, they begin with individual effort. I invite you to join me in seeking ways that you might help

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lessons and Carols

lf you are anywhere near the Tarn-et-Garonne this Sunday, you must attend the choral concert at the church in Parisot. This group of 50 voices accompanied by an instrumental ensemble entertained us in Cajarc this past Sunday, and they were magnificent! With audience participation, they sang many traditional carols in English, French and Dutch. Lessons were read in those languages as well. Interspersed between lessons and carols were some fabulous pieces of classical sacred music. As a former church choir member, I can attest to the fact that this music is not simple and takes hours of practice to get it right. The chorale group is made up strictly of folks who love to sing and volunteer their time to put together these concerts. Under the direction of a professional musician and conductor, Peter Nowfel, the choir did not disappoint, and we all left the church feeling warmed by their voices and imbued with the Christmas spirit.

What: Lessons and Carols
When: Sunday, December 16th at 5pm followed by refreshments
Where: St. Andreol Church, Parisot, Tarn-et-Garonne

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Where's Rudolph?

Living in France this past year has taught me many, many new ways of doing things. I've learned how to live the good life, French style. I shop more French, stopping at the bakery for my bread, going to the Saturday market for my vegetables, fruit and eggs, and visiting the grocery store every other day or so instead of doing a big weekly shop. My coiffeuse, Sandrine, comes to my house to cut my hair. I eat my meals in courses, drink aperos instead of cocktails, and wait until the village shutters begin to open before walking my dog on Sunday mornings. Being an ex-pat is a constant learning experience!

I'vealso  enjoyed learning how Christmas is celebrated in my part of France. Most of it I like a lot. Christmas is very low-key. No excessive pressure to decorate, give gifts, or throw the biggest party of the year. Christmas is much more about family here. However, there's one part of Christmas in France that bothers me. It's these dang dangling Santas! They're everywhere...hanging from walls, roofs and windows. My neighbor has one sitting on a swing on his porch. Santa does not arrive on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer. Somehow he simply appears with his climbing gear, rappelling ropes and backpack of goodies and sneaks his way into the house. Haven't these people ever read "The Night Before Christmas?" Actually I'm sure all this climbing makes more sense than some big ol' fat guy arriving from the North Pole in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, and then sliding down the chimney, but hey! I miss the sleigh. And I ask you...where the heck is Rudolph??
I'm participating in the blog hop today. Please take a moment to leave a comment on this post. On Dec.18th  I will select one name at random to win a packet of note cards with Melanged Magic photos on them. If you're a winner, I will post your name on Dec. 18th and either contact you via email or you can email me your mailing information.

And please visit these other blogs as well. They're all new to me, and I intend to spend most of my free time this week reading each and every one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Heads Up

Just a quick heads up that I will be participating in a blog hop tomorrow. This is my first attempt at this, and I'm not sure exactly how it works except that I have a little give-away for some lucky person who reads my post tomorrow and comments on it. I'll put all the 'commenter' names in a hat and draw one. The prize is a small collection of note cards with Melanged Magic photos on them. So heed the cry of Louis XIV as he announces from Place des Vosges: read Melanged Magic tomorrow, Dec. 12th, leave a comment and you could be the lucky winner!

And you know what happens to those who don't heed the call, don't you? They end up like Louis poor grandson, Louis XVI who with his lovely wife, Marie Antoinette, ended up guests of the guillotine!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Horsemeat Update

As promised, here's my update on horsemeat. I fixed it for my main meal yesterday. The meat is deep red, fine-grained and dense. It is very lean. The two pieces in my package were cut much like a thin flank steak. I usually like my meat saignant or rare, but for my first try with this meat, I decided to cook it a point (medium)...'just because'.I salted the meat and added a sprinkling of generic meat seasoning.Following the directions on the package, I sauteed each side in olive oil for 1 minute on high heat, then lowered the heat and cooked it another minute on each side. I have to say....I liked it a lot. It was a bit chewy, but I think that was the problem of cooking it medium. Like other very lean meats, over-cooking toughens it. It tasted much like good beef. If I ate it thinking it was beef, I would never doubt that it was just that. A baked potato, salad, bread and cheese accompanied by the nice Cahors wine I won at the Telethon rounded out my Sunday dinner. I give horsemeat a thumbs up. I will definitely eat it again!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I Won!

Everyone was a winner this weekend as France collected money for neuromuscular disease treatment and research. The first weekend in December is Telethon weekend here. (Think Labor Day and Jerry Lewis in the States). This year over 81 million euros were pledged for this worthy cause. My village sells pastis, an authentic artisanal pastry, and wood-oven baked bread along with some other items. There is also a raffle drawing or tombola as it's called here. I invested 4 euros in 2 tickets. And guess what? I won!!. I have to tell you that I NEVER win anything. I think the last time was in 1973 when my ex and I won a bicycle in a raffle. That's a long dry spell in the winning department for me. But one of my numbers was drawn last evening, and this was my prize..





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The sturdy burlap carrying bag came filled with wine. A riesling, a viognier, and two bottles of a 2008 Cahors from Chateau Nozieres. Here's the plan: first we drink the wine.Then we take the cute carrier, go wine-tasting, and fill it up again! Want to join me??

Friday, December 7, 2012

Clos Siguier

Through the magic of Facebook, I've been messaging my niece, Elaine who lives in the Sonoma Valley of northern California. I said she should come visit me; she replied she would if she could go wine tasting in the whole country. I quipped back that we could wine taste all day, every day. And I wasn't kidding. France is full of tiny wineries whose wines never make it to the big markets here, much less to the States! So I dedicate this post to Elaine. This is wine tasting in my neck of the woods.

Clos Siguier is located literally at the end of a one-lane road. The address is Montcuq, but believe me, we were deep, deep in the country when we found the small cluster of buildings of the winery. Monsieur the Elder was resting in the house; Monsieur the Younger was at a wine fair in Paris. But Madame the Elder was happy to pull on her sweater, brave the cold, drizzly rain, and open the cave for us. No fancy gardens, no art work on the walls. This is not your elegant Mondavi winery of the Napa Valley nor any of those tourist destination tasting rooms of the Sonoma. This is French rural wine tasting at its best. The cave was so dark that even with the lights on, I had to use my flash and doctor up the shots of the wine barrels in Picasa so you could even see them. Prices were written on the small board. I chose a 2007 AOC Cahors that was listed at 5,50 euros a bottle but which Madame sold me for an even 5 euros. My friend, Maggie bought half a case of her favorite. They even sell vrac here. I read up on the wine and the vigneron; both are well-respected in the world of Cahors wine. Not one of the very famous producers, but a quality Cahors at a good price. I was not disappointed in my choice. And BTW, this wine from this tiny winery actually is exported to the States!


So, Elaine....ready to come to France for some wine tasting adventures in the countryside? This is only one of thousands of little wineries we can visit. I'm game if you are!
1779...carved in the stone lintel above the cave door.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

From the Archives: Provence

My very first trip abroad...September 2005. It's a wonder I ever traveled again after that adventure. Marie and I planned to meet at JFK. She was the keeper of all the details of our trip...train reservations, hotels, rental car. All I knew was we were on the same flight from NY to Paris. As I waited to board, it suddenly dawned on me that we had no Plan B...no cell phones, no alternate meeting place. What if her flight from Los Angeles was late, cancelled? I looked and looked; I never saw her until I was in line to board. There she was two people in front of me...whew! Lesson learned: always have a Plan B! Next snag...we sat for 6 hours!! on the plane at the gate. You don't even want to know the story behind that! Luckily, Marie had upgraded my ticket with her miles to business class, so we had all the wine we wanted to drink while we waited. Of course, with a 6 hour delay, we missed our TGV to Avignon and had to re-book our first class tickets. It was pitch dark and pouring rain when we finally picked up our rental car at the train station in Avignon. I was driving, a complete novice to French roads, signage, and this funny car that was both a manual and an automatic. Marie kept saying  'I think we're on the right road.' You think..OMG...I want to know I'm going the right direction. It wasn't long, however, before we saw the sign for Goult and knew we had made it. We arrived at Patrick's restaurant after 10 pm. exhausted, wet and starving. While there were still people eating, he had stopped cooking, but he put together a simple dinner of soup, salad, bread and most importantly, wine. It was the perfect weary traveler's meal. Revived, I walked down to my chambre d'hotes where I fell into bed and slept like a dead person. All the worry, frustration and fatigue evaporated the next morning, though, when I threw open my shutters and looked out over the Provencal countryside. Ah, Provence...it captured my heart in an instant!
Patrick has since closed his restaurant and moved his cooking school to Cavaillon. If you've ever wanted to take a fun French cooking class, click here to read about Patrick's school, Famous Provence.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Adventures in Eating

Yesterday afternoon in English class, Greg asked me to share with the group about my trip to the donkey farm. Which inevitably led to a discussion about eating horsemeat. Everyone there had tried it and said it was good. Christiane said she'd even had horsemeat tartare...not sure I'd be up for raw horsemeat, but hey, I've eaten steak tartare, so what's the difference, really? I asked if there was a place to buy horsemeat locally and was surprised when they said it was for sale in our Intermarche in Cajarc!

So today when I went grocery shopping, I looked closely and sure enough, I found this. Actually it was the last package in its section. I wonder if that's a testament to how popular it is? I'm not fixing it today, though. Today's cooking agenda is butternut squash soup and Vanessa's faux cassoulet. But I'll be cooking these horsemeat steaks soon. I'll get back to you with my thoughts.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

My Favorite Window

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in my favorite Cajarc window!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

From the Archives

When I was in Iowa this past September packing up my household goods, I grabbed my photo CDs from all my previous trips to France. I thought it might be fun to do an occasional look back into the archives. So here's one of my first photos ever of Notre Dame. I love this view from the back where you can really see the flying buttresses. Amazing feat of architecture! I thought it might also be fun to link you back to a blog post from my previous blog, Musings from Red Bell Farm since many of my posts about Paris and Provence started there.

Funny...when I pulled up my old blog to find a link, I noticed that the banner photo is the one I took of wisteria on my very first time in Goult. The banner photo on this current blog is of that same house, draped with a gorgeous wisteria vine!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I Wasn't Kidding

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that horsemeat and donkey meat are food products in France. I wasn't kidding. We stopped at the small Sunday morning market in Castelnau Montratier before going to our lunch with the donkeys.. There in the sausage vendor's display was donkey ('ane') sausage. I have no objection to eating either horse or donkey meat; I might even be persuaded to try it myself sometime. It was just a bit unsettling, though, to see it right before we had a date to dine with donkeys who had only just narrowly escaped this fate!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Save the Donkeys!

I dined with donkeys yesterday! Sort of. I actually had lunch at a small farm deep in the Tarn-et-Garonne. The mission of this farm and its owner, Jan, is to rescue donkeys. The donkeys come from  situations of abuse and neglect. from owners who, for whatever reason,  are unable to care for them anymore, and from butchers. As you may know, horsemeat (and apparently donkey meat as well) are consumed as human food products in France. If a donkey comes in for slaughter and has any kind of infection, it is unsuitable, and Jan receives a phone call to come and take it. Yesterday there were 23 donkeys under her care; she had just re-homed 4 others. Regular lunches are a way of fundraising. Although Jan receives some help from the the Brigitte Bardot Foundation to help defray costs, caring for these sick, neglected and abused animals is very expensive.  Before lunch, she introduced to each of her charges. They are sweet and friendly. It is beyond my comprehension how anyone could abuse them.

Sixteen of us gathered in Jan's warm and rustic kitchen/dining room. A fire blazed in the woodstove...a welcome warmth on the cold, drizzly day. France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, Canada, America and Holland were represented 'round the tables. Conversation was lively, the company was convivial, and the food was fabulous! For 10 euros we feasted on sweet butternut squash soup, bread, paella, chicken, salad, a wonderful cheese platter, two different kinds of pie for dessert plus all the wine, water or juice we wanted. No one left the table hungry!

Hats off to the cooks!
Meet the donkeys!

If you're interested in more information about Jan's efforts to rescue and rehabilitate donkeys, please click on Liberte des Anes.

Friday, November 23, 2012

To Make Bread....

Weathervane, Promilhanes November 2012
Yesterday afternoon in French class (yes, while you were eating your turkey dinner, I was embarrassing myself with poorly-chosen  prepositions!) Eddy talked about the bread-making preparations for the upcoming Telethon. The men in charge will gather at Suzanne Dupont's next Friday to fire up the huge outdoor bread oven. By Saturday morning, it will be the right temperature to bake 140 boules of bread. It takes a truckload of wood, many hours and a lot of standing around gossiping to complete the bread which will be sold next Saturday night as part of the fundraising event. I'm thinking I might crash the party and take a few photos of this time-honored tradition of men baking bread.

PS....I wonder if there will be a cat keeping warm under the oven??

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Universal Children's Day

Thanks to Google.fr, I know that today is Universal Children's Day. In 1954 the United Nations General Assembly asked the nations of the world to observe their Declarations of the Rights of the ChildMillennium Development Goals for all humankind set in 2000 by the world's leaders address children's rights in the areas of poverty, education and prevention of HIV/AIDS. Not all the world's children are as lucky as my beautiful grandchildren who live comfortably, in safety, with parents who adore them (grandparents, too!). They have enough to eat, they're warm and protected, and they can aspire to do or be anything they want. Every child in the world should have these basic needs met as well as be allowed these same opportunities!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Le Moulin: An Unexpected Pleasure

Seeing a windmill on our walk around Promilhanes Wednesday afternoon was not a surprise. It's on the map and there are several signs directing you to it. The unexpected pleasure was how truly beautiful it is. It's been cared for and restored. On special occasions, its graceful arms still turn. And I loved the graphic quality of its construction and its shadows.
I was pretty excited to meet its gatekeeper as well!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Secret Garden

Maggie timed inviting her friend, Sue, and me for a walk around the Promilhanes area just right. Yesterday afternoon's clear skies and warm temperatures made our almost 6 km stroll through the countryside absolutely delightful. We walked on little-used roads, chatting and enjoying the beautiful weather and each other's company. Maggie promised us a surprise, and as we turned off the paved road onto a gravel lane through the trees, I never imagined this is what we'd find....a sculpture garden tucked into a cleared area in the forest! There a fenced 'garden' containing several metal sculptures carefully mounted and displayed. Each had a title.

There were no houses anywhere near the garden, but Maggie is pretty sure she knows who the sculptor is and where he lives. Completely fenced with a locked gate, the garden is also surrounded by numerous signs warning 'propriete privee' (private property) and 'entree interdite' (entry forbidden). Like good law-abiding citizens, we stayed on our side of the fence and took photos as best we couldd. It was so tempting, though, to try and sneak in! Maybe someday Maggie will muster the courage to knock on the artist's door and ask if we could have a private tour.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Bonus Post: Rodin

Good ole Google.fr! I love that it reminds me of important events...like Auguste Rodin's birthday. Born on this date in 1840, Rodin is considered the father of modern sculpture. I dug through my photo archives and found this one of 'The Thinker' that I took on my very first trip to Paris in 2005. Rodin and his mistress, Camille Claudel, are two of my friend, Marie's favorites so a visit to the Musee Rodin was at the top of our 'to do' list. As we strolled through this lovely house showcasing Rodin's creations, we played our game of 'if you had all the money in the world, which piece of art would you buy?'  There were a few of Camille's pieces on display (the rest were 'traveling' and on display in another country) While Rodin's works were beautiful, my favorites were actually Camille's. I would buy one of hers, I think. They seemed more organic and real to me, dare I say....more tortured?? Much like she was at the end of her life.


Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos of the few pieces of Camille's work on display. I was more intrigued then by Rodin's work. I'd never been a big fan of sculpture until that first trip to Paris. I'm convinced that sculpture is something best appreciated in person. Photos do not do it justice.

If you're interested in more about Camille, try this 1988 film about her life starring Isabelle Adjani and Gerard Depardieu

Fall Color

Taken 10 November along the D24 between Limogne and Vidaillac
The fall colors were stunning Saturday morning when I drove to Parisot. The trees on the causse are at their peak although all the red vines were stripped of their leaves by last month's strong winds. I feel very lucky this year; I've had three months of fall color....September and October in Iowa and Nevada and now November here. You can't get too much fall in my opinion!