Sunday, November 28, 2010

French for Dummies: Part 2

Part 2 of French for Dummies brings me here...the first house on the left as you go up the hill from the Chatette...across the way from the Chateau. In fact, this house used to be part of the Chateau. Christiane and Jean-Paul live here now in what formerly was the house of the 'keeper of the animals' for the Chateau. The other part of what is now a duplex was where the animals lived. Christiane has taken me under her wing and is helping me with my abysmal French. If there is such a thing as remedial French for Dummies, this is it! Last week we spent an hour going over masculine and feminine nouns, pronouns and articles. When's the last time you thought about articles, for heavens' sake! But in French, articles like 'the' and 'a,' and prepositions like 'to' and 'for' have to agree with the gender of the noun. I get 'le' and 'la' nouns, but I didn't know other words in the sentence had to agree in gender with them. Woe is me! Before we even got to the grammar, tho, I asked Christiane to say the letters of  the French alphabet. I can hear you groaning? Yes, I'm singing the ABC song in French like a pre-schooler. In language class, they frequently spell French words for me. I know my eyes glaze over; I can't even understand the letters! But really...if someone spelled a word for you with 'dooble-vay' and 'e-grek' would you even have a clue what they were saying. I don't!

So, Christiane is my rescuer and my taskmaster. My homework this week is to conjugate the verbs 'to sing' and 'to drink' in the present, imparfait, passe compose and futur tenses. And then to do the same thing with 'to have' and 'to be.' Guess I better get to it!

Dooble-vay= W
E-grek= Y

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Il Va Neiger!

I ran into Jean-Paul yesterday afternoon as I was walking home from checking on Friedman's cat, Puss. As we stood in the sun, we 'chatted.' Well, as much as I can chat in French! Jean-Paul announced, "il va neiger ce soir!' I looked up at the brilliant blue sky dotted with a few white, fluffy clouds and shook my head, "Non!" After all, I'm from Iowa; I know what the sky looks like when it's going to snow. "Oui, oui," he insisted, "Cinq centimeters...ce soir." I gave it my best imitation of the Gallic shrug and said, "peut-etre." You never know if you're getting the straight scoop from Jean-Paul; he'd already asked me if  'the Americans eat the Indians with ketchup, eh, eh eh!' He frequently makes jokes that only he seems to get! As I walked the dogs down to the grass for one last pit stop about 9pm last night, I looked up at the cold black sky twinkling with stars. 'No way is it going to snow tonight,' I said to myself. Imagine my surprise when I awoke to this.....
When it stopped around mid-morning, there was about 2 inches of the wet, heavy stuff. I want to know who Jean-Paul's weatherman is....he was right on!
I wonder if Laury has a snow shovel??

Il va will snow
ce soir...tonight
cinq centimeters.....5 centimeters/1.96 inches

Friday, November 26, 2010

French for Dummies: Part 1

On Monday afternoons, you will find me walking up the hill to this building, the Mairie. It's the town hall and in the back is the village library. That's where le professor, Greg, holds language class. Greg is a retired British physician who is quite French-fluent. He's volunteered to help anyone in the village who is interested learn and improve their English. The regular attendees are: Christiane, Patricia, Jean-Pierre, and Evelyne. I've been invited to come and hopefully improve my French. Class begins with each person reading a story they've written in English using 10 vocabulary words from the previous week's lesson. With words like beets, grumble and scatter you can imagine how funny some of the stories are! I read my story first in English...s-l-o-w-l-y, so they get to hear English spoken, then I read what I've written in my pitiful French. We usually do a grammar exercise, something fun like 'name the body parts' which they do in English and I attempt in French. Greg asks someone to speak about their English, and we close with a vocabulary test. From those words, we pick 10 to use in our homework story. We spend an hour and a half to two hours; it is tres difficile pour moi! If you've followed my blog in the past, you know that I am totally self taught...I've learned my French from language CD's that focus almost exclusively on spoken French with very little grammar and virtually no reading or writing. Language class is definitely a challenge for me. I can tell by the puzzled and very concentrated looks on everyone's faces that even my spoken French fails miserably a lot of the time. I've been rescued, tho. Part 2 of French for Dummies will tell you the rest of the story!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from France!

Gershwin is playing Gershwin on the CD. Seems just the right music for thinking about home and all that I'm thankful for this day. Of course, Travis, Becky, Chase, Parker, and Marley top my list! But I'm thankful for all my family, who even if they think I'm totally out of my mind for closing down Red Bell Farm in order to experience this winter in France, are gracious and loving enough to keep it to themselves! They've all been so very supportive of my adventure; I love them all. A special thanks to mon frere, Jim who is receiving and sending my mail to me.

I'm thankful for Laury's offer that gave me this opportunity to make a dream come true...
I'm thankful for this group of super nice people who have made me feel so welcome here in Cadrieu....
I'm thankful for warm friends and warm fires, windfall walnuts, goat cheese, good health, Cahors wine and Cantal cheese, croissants, my faith community and St. Timothy's, Lucie, Dali, and Sam...

Gershwin is playing "An American in Paris." This American far from Paris and deep in la France profounde says "Thank you, God" for all the many blessings in my life.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Trip to Figeac

I made my first solo bus trip to Figeac yesterday and lived to tell the story! And what is so spectacular about that, I hear you saying to yourself. Let me ask you this question: when is the last time you made a trip to buy groceries by bus? Unless you live in France, my guess is never! We don't do the bus in the States. Getting back to my trip was a non-adventure. Which is good; that means I read the bus schedule correctly, had my ticket ready, got off at the right place, found almost everything at the Carrefour that I had on my list (no sweet the French not eat them?), bought just the right amount of stuff that fit in my backpack and my nifty French basket, made it back to the bus stop to catch my return ride, and arrived safely at home...all without having to open the umbrella I took, just in case! I didn't have time to take photos, tho, so you'll have to be content with these that I took last September. Isn't that a cool gate? And the garden behind it was just as intriguing.

I love the narrow winding ruelles of the old part of town.

You never know who will have their laundry hanging out to dry...or in this case, drapes?

French shops have such clever advertising!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Unexpected Pleasures--The Neville Brothers

I've blogged previously that one of the unexpected pleasures about staying here at the Chatette is enjoying some of  Laury's great CD's. She's a huge Neville Brothers fan, and while I've heard some of their music, I can't say that I've been a fan. All that changed after I listened to their 'Gold' CD. Here's one of my favorite songs from it. Aaron Neville covers the Bob Dylan song, "With God on Our Side." Enjoy!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Front Door

Ah, the door! The dreaded front door. Can you spy its secret?
Does this help? Yes, it unlocks with the big brass key from the inside!
Who'd have thunk?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sapeurs & Pompiers***

I breathlessly tried to explain that the door wouldn't open. "La porte ne pas ouvert!" They shrugged their shoulders, tres French, and showed me the purpose of their visit....the 2011 Sapeurs & Pompiers calendar. I can almost hear what you're thinking...'Aw, isn't that nice?They hand-deliver calendars to their customers.' What you probably don't know (and I do only from reading about it somewhere)  is that this is actually the fire department's annual fund-raising event. They expect a donation for their efforts! I tried various ways to ask how much was expected, but to no avail. They didn't understand a word...or at least they didn't let on that they did. "Attendez a moment!" (wait a minute!) I told them. And I ran back in the house and upstairs to find some money. It was either a 20-euro bill or a 5-euro one. Being cheap I opted for the 5. For that I received the calendar. Lots of merci's and handshakes later, and they were off to their next stop. And I'm sure my antics gave them lots to laugh about on the way!
As you can see, the calendar part isn't particularly useful. It's all really more about photos of my local sapeurs et pompiers in action with lots of advertising.

Jerome and Alexandra were my uniformed visitors. I certainly hope 5 euros was enough for them to answer promptly any emergency calls from the Chatette!
*** sapeurs et pompiers are firefighters.

Oh...and the door? If you come back tomorrow, I'll share its secret with you!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Knock, Knock....Who's There?

Laury had only been gone a few hours last Sunday when I heard a car stop in the front of the house followed by pounding on the front door. Let me first explain that the Chatette sits right on the road; there is no place for a car to pull off out of traffic, so anyone stopping must park and put on their flashers since their vehicle totally blocks the lane. So, most visitors pull into the drive at the end of the property and park in the yard. Secondly, I must admit that the few times someone has come to the front door, I'd never actually seen how Laury opened it. Dogs barking madly, I rushed to the door. I could hear voices on the other side; the knocking continued. I stood there in the hell do I open this door!? I tugged, I pulled, I jiggled handles and slides....nothing. Someone tugged and pulled and jiggled from the other side. The dogs were going wild and I was going crazy. "This is stupid," I said out loud. "There's got to be a way to open this damn door." I pushed again; the visitor pulled. Nothing. "Come around to the back," I yelled in English only to realize that whoever was out there probably had no clue what I was saying. More jiggling, more barking, more swearing under my breath until I yelled "Wait!" I dashed through the house, out the back door, down the terrace steps and ran around to the front of the house to see two people in uniform standing on the steps, their official vehicle with flashers flashing totally blocking southbound traffic!

Come back tomorrow to find out just who these uniformed people were and what they wanted.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


While the Chatette has a central heating system, Laury heats with wood. It's a long story, better told by her than by me. Today, firewood was delivered, but only after a phone call last evening that must have sounded like something out of a Marx Brothers movie. Between my poor French, the wood man's no English, and his poor wife's slow, patient explanation in French dotted with couple of English words, we finally got it all sorted out. I went to bed shaking my head and muttering 'That was painful!" How many times did I apologize for not speaking enough French to understand what was being said! We got it right, though. The man delivered it and I had the correct amount of euros ready to pay for it. Everybody's happy. Wood in France is sold by the stere. A stere is 1 meter x 1 meter x 1 meter or about 1/3 of a cord (which is how it is normally sold in the States). At 55 euros a stere, it's not inexpensive, but this wood is a hardwood that has a long burning time which is good for a sustained fire. So, here is the winter's wood ready to go from here.....
to here......
and finally to here!

It will take me several days to get it all stacked. In the meantime, it will warm me twice as they say...once has I carry it up the stairs and onto the terrace and then again when I sit around the cozy fire.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

View From My Window

Remember I told you in a previous post that I would occasionally share an opinion about this fabulous adventure in France? Here is opinion #2...a view of France from my window on the Lot.....

I can't tell you how many people over the past few years have stated as a fact that French people are rude and unfriendly. "Why do you want to go to France?" they'd ask. "The people there are just awful...rude, unfriendly and they don't like Americans." Well, I'm not sure where they got their information, but my view is....they are dead wrong! I've have never been treated less than cordially in all my trips to France, and I can tell you that since coming here to my little village of Cadrieu, I've been welcomed by my new French friends with grace, good cheer, and an openness that Americans could do well to imitate. I've been invited into homes, introduced to family, and asked to join in village projects. People have listened to my awful French and have tried very hard to understand me. They've chuckled over my inability to twist my mouth into the shapes required to pronounce such words as "chevreuil," "feuilles" and "ecureuil" while good-naturedly repeating them over and over while I struggle to imitate the wonderful sounds that come from their mouths. I've gone to parties where I've gotten totally lost in the flow of fast French conversation when someone will stop and ask...'do you understand what we're saying?' and when I say 'only a little'  that person will give me a quick synopsis. Cashiers at a French market are no more impatient than the ones at Wal-Mart who heave a big sigh and roll their eyes while you hold up their line fumbling for your credit card. French teens are giggly, loud, and a little rowdy on the bus, but then so are American teens. I could get very used to being greeted politely with a "Bonjour, Madame" when I enter a shop in the States or get on the bus. Plus, I'm always left with an "a bientot, bon journee!" ( see you soon, have a good day!) when I leave. Is your grocery clerk at Safeway this polite??

The View From My Window tells me that French folks are as open, friendly, and polite as anyone else in the world! translation the words are 'deer,' leaves,' and 'squirrel.'

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Lavoir

The village lavoir sits practically in Laury's backyard. I walk past it and on up the hill every day when I take Dali and Lucie for their morning walk. As you can see from this photo, it sits in the shadow of the Chateau and is well outside its protective walls. Lavoirs are a product of the emerging interest people began to take in their health during the 17th century. Urban, even village, watersheds were becoming more and more polluted. The plagues that swept through Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries were thought to be caused by warm water opening the pores for disease to enter. Clothing, however, was thought to absorb all the body's impurities, so paradoxically while people shunned bathing, they felt that having clean clothes was a mark of status and health. Whiter whites were especially valued...sounds like a commercial for laundry detergent, doesn't it? Because of these concerns, villages across France began to build lavoirs, places that caught fresh water run-off and provided shelter for women to launder their clothing in relatively clean water. In this photo you can see rushing water from underground run-off on the left. Some of this water is channeled into the lavoir, while the rest runs into a stone-lined trough that eventually travels under the road and out into the river. Overflow from the filled lavoir flows out its front and into this canal as well. Lavoirs could be built outside of the protection of the village chateau since this was a century of relative peace throughout France. More prosperous towns and villages boasted very fancy and architecturally diverse lavoirs; Cadrieu's lavoir is very simple and plain. Culturally the village lavoir became the place where women exchanged news and gossip. Originally only servants of the wealthy could use the facility Eventually, though, it opened to all the village women. In some villages, however, women who frequented the lavoir were thought to be of low reputation. With the advent of more modern laundry technology and better water systems, the lavoirs fell into disuse. Now they are just a quaint reminder that life before our modern conveniences was much, much harder.

The information for this post came from a lovely book called "Lavoirs: Washhouses of Rural France" by Mireille Roddier. It's full of black and white photographs of some incredibly beautiful lavoirs across France.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Daura House

Touring Daura House was a special treat. While there is a public gallery on the ground floor, we were taken through the private parts of the house where the artists-in-residence live and work. We entered the 13th century house via this side door and found ourselves in a small anteroom anchored by a huge fireplace on one side and a medieval sink on the other. Hard to say what the function of this room was originally...perhaps simply a living area? We followed Mike into a small, but very modern kitchen that opened onto the space. It, too, had an old stone sink and a fireplace. Mike shared a book about Pierre Daura, the artist who bought the house in  the 1930's. Village gossip has it that Spanish Civil War radicals hid out in this house after Daura joined the Spanish Republican Army in 1939. After coffee and conversation, we had a peek at the rest of the house.
The entry room...

We saw a large reception room with huge fireplaces on either end that was set up as a rehearsal area for the Parisian dancer and her musician husband who are in residence. From this window we could see the home of Andre Breton, a French writer and poet who is considered the founder of Surrealism.

We wandered through painter's studios, computer rooms, a small library, Mike's living space as well as his music studio. Each level of the house was connected by spiraling stone staircases and dimly-lit hallways painted with ancient frescoes and medieval designs.

After wishing Mike bonne chance with his upcoming concert, we climbed back up to the church to light a candle to the Merci Lady, St. Therese. We left the village by the chemin in front of the cemetery which is still decorated for La Toussaint. St. Cirq is very quiet these days; the tourist season is over, but creativity still flourishes at Daura House!
Laury at Porte Rocamadour

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Composer

We rendezvous'd with Mike on the steps of the St. Cirq Lapopie church and followed him down the hill to his home for 3 months, Daura House. Mike, it turns out, is an internationally known composer of very cutting edge, experimental music. He is intrigued with the science of sound and composes music that runs the gamut of sound that instruments can make. His instrument of choice is the voice, but he composes music for various instruments including the guitar and the keyboard. Along with being a composer, Mike is also a singer, a baritone that previously sang opera. He is currently doing an invitational artist-in-residence program at Daura House which is part of the Maison des Arts Georges Pompidou in Cajarc. The concert he told us about that will occur on Nov. 25th is his final project, a culmination of 3 months' work with local musicians and singers and the performance of his very original music. Over coffee and a pastry, we talked about his theories of music as well as American politics. Then Mike toured us through the 13th century house and his studio.
Mike at his keyboard.
I'm fascinated by the visual patterns created by the composer...

Who wouldn't be inspired by the view from the composer's window?
More about  Daura House tomorrow!

Here are a couple of sites to check if you're interested in hearing Mike's music:

Friday, November 12, 2010

En anglais

If you've ever spent any time in another country surrounded by people chattering away in a language you don't understand, you'll recognize this phenomena. Suddenly out of the crowd you hear a word or two of English, and your attention is immediately re-directed to its source. And if it's American dog! That means someone from home. This happened to us last week as we were shopping for a few groceries at the Ecomarche in Cajarc. An exchage of comments en anglais led to a brief conversation in the bread aisle with a man named Mike. Mike from Wisconsin. Oh, the joy of being able to tell someone I'm from Iowa without having to explain just where Iowa is! As we chatted, Mike shared that he was a musician and giving a concert at the church in Cajarc on November 25th. We gave him our email addresses so he could provide us with more information. In a flurry of email exchanges, Laury invited him for coffee only to find out he is as car-less as we are. A quick modification of plans brought us by bus St. Cirq Lapopie on a misty morning yesterday. More about our adventures at St. Cirq tomorrow....come back!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Not French, but Wonderful!

I know this blog is supposed to be about my adventures in France, but really, I'm a grandma! I just had to share the latest grandkids' pictures that Becky posted on Shutterfly. Parker and Marley are truly the most precious part of my life.
I'll be back to France soon....I promise!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Daily Walk

Walking the dogs through the village every day is a moving visual feast. Let me share some of it with you.....
My favorite deux chevaux
The Chateau


The church

More berries...and yes, they are hot pink.

The Chatette, the Lot, and beyond....

The cemetery