Category — Village Life
This was our final week in Provence. It has been a week of lasts:
- The last trip to the market to buy olives, pasta, and cheese and practice my bad French with the very patient people who sell their goods there
- One last picture of the Grignan castle sitting at the top of the incredibly picturesque medieval village where the girls go to school
- The last Wednesday pizza from Ivan des Pizzas – a Hawaiian, the American kind with ham and pineapple, not the French version with chicken, green pepper and onion (pineapple optional!)
- One last pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) from the best bakery of the many, many, many we’ve tried during the year.
- A last trip to the clothesline… one last walk to the garbage and recycling station… one last mad dash to catch the school bus…
- And many, many, many last bisous (kisses) with the wonderful people we’ve met during the year
This year has been intense. It’s been incredibly good in so many ways, but it has also been difficult. Everything was strange which meant it was also hard – like the time it took four hours to buy lightbulbs!
I fully expected that right now I’d be feeling glad we came, but ready to get back to “normal” life in California. I didn’t expect that leaving would make me sad.
It was hard to say good-bye to so many people. Claudine, Jacqueline, Augustin, Alain and the other wonderful Chansojeux leaders who immediately embraced our children as part of the village; Emma, Christine, Vanessa, Genevieve and the lovely English-speaking people who let me have a real conversation; Caroline and the other parents who let me practice my French while we waited for the school bus; Genevieve and Jean who introduced us to raclette; Vanessa and Jerome who taught us the traditions of the galette des rois; Julien who gave us homemade pate from his own pig; JP and and his amazing food (takeout fois gras – yum); Gilbert who gave JM tips about growing crops in Provence; the staff at the village cafe who kept us supplied with coffee, bread, pastis, and great conversation; the wonderful teachers at the Grignan school …and…and…and…
We hate to leave. As the girls say, we’d like to stay in California AND stay in Chantemerle.
Our very warmest and most sincere au revoir and merci to the incredible people who have touched our lives this past year! Vous allez nous manquer!
July 3, 2011 11 Comments
I was somewhat familiar with the French custom of greeting with bisous (cheek-kisses) even before this trip. Most French-Canadians greet each other that way, including JM’s family. When JM and I first met, he had been in a predominantly English environment for a long time so he didn’t do any cheek kissing with me. It ended up that both his brother AND his ex-girlfriend kissed me long before he ever did!
But I was not prepared for all the kissing here in Provence. There is a LOT of kissing going on. And they kiss three times – not just two. (I’m told in some places in France it’s actually four!)
I am still not an expert at the bisous but I have picked up a few things:
- Don’t actually kiss - the lips should not actually contact anything during the bisous. Simply touch checks lightly while making kissing noises. Ideally the corner of each mouth just barely avoids making contact with the other person’s cheek.
- Don’t kiss the same person twice in one day - it can take a lot of time to get through all the kissing, especially in a small village where you know most people. The trick to dealing with that is to only kiss each person one time every day. I ran into the cafe owner at the bank one day. I had to almost chase him around the bank to kiss him – but I was determined to adopt French customs. I discovered afterward that was a mistake since I had already done the bisous with him that day during my morning bread purchase.
- Let the French person take the lead – the only mishap I’ve ever seen during the bisous happened between two English ladies. No one was quite sure of how it happened, but the two sets of lips made distinct contact. It was embarrassing and/or humorous for all involved.
- Beware of glasses and hats – it took me a while to learn this one, because French men are quite smooth about removing their glasses as they go in for the bisous. The combination of two pairs of glasses bumping into each other is not pleasant, so caution must be used. Hats with wide brims are also dangerous and should be removed before the bisous no matter how bad the hat hair.
- Some men kiss, some don’t – I can’t figure out any pattern in this at all, but certain men here kiss almost all the other men, some men don’t kiss any other men, and some go both ways. Since I’m not a man it doesn’t impact me at all, but sometimes JM gets some unexpected kissing action.
- Kiss the village barkeeper, but not the teacher – actually who gets the bisous is consistent, once you figure out the customs. If JM sees someone he knows and gets the bisous, then I get the bisous also since I am his wife. But parents of your kids’ friends are not automatically bisous-ready. When I go pick up the bread or have a coffee, there are bisous for the person behind the counter – man or woman – unless it’s the new lady whose name I don’ t know. But don’t kiss your kids’ teachers even if you see them every day.
If I can just convince my kids to stop tell people they like “French kissing” I’ll be set.
May 27, 2011 7 Comments
After our truffle hunting adventure, we decided that we had to enjoy the fruits of our labor and so bought a (very small) truffle. The fact that we had no clue what to do with it didn’t stop us.
Fortunately, the truffle farmer’s wife had many suggestions and tips:
- Truffles are about smell, and not so much taste. So when preparing dishes, the objective is to get the dish to absorb their smell.
- The smell disappears within about a week (or less), if stored in a fridge. Use a sealed container. (I actually forgot and the milk tasted like truffles the next day!)
- Don’t overcook truffles – you lose all the flavor! Now I prefer not to cook them at all.
So what dishes are good with truffles? A famous Provençal dish is the truffled omelet. One way to prepare it is to put the mushroom with the eggs in a sealed container for a few days, so the eggs absorb the smell (eggs in the shell, or without – both approaches work!)
Other folks make mashed potatoes with truffles (I tried, but we didn’t get much of a truffle taste, perhaps because we overcooked them).
But our favorite by a long shot, is truffled Brie cheese. It’s easy to do, and very addictive because it’s so good. Here’s how to prepare it:
- Slice a wedge of Brie along its length (cross-section).
A sign of quality for black truffles is the number of nervures (white veins) the mushroom has. The more the merrier (and tastier).
- Shave thin slices of truffles on the inside of the brie. The thinner the slices, the better. The idea is to maximize the mushroom surface area exposure to the cheese so as to transfer the mushroom smell to the cheese.
- Finally, wrap the cheese in a plastic wrap (saran wrap or equivalent) to seal it. Store in the fridge for at least 24 hours – two to three days is even better. This gives it time to impregnate the truffle smell properly.
Now you can proceed to a legendary dégustation with a glass of Côte du Rhône for proper pairing. Mmmm. C’est délicieux!
March 20, 2011 6 Comments
I went to pick up the bread order at the cafe. They had changed some things this week and didn’t know the new price of the “marquise”-style baguette. They told me to just take the bread. I could come back the next day to pay for it.
JM went back the next day and mentioned that we still needed to pay for that bread. This time the proprietor was there but didn’t know about the previous day’s lack of payment. Pas problem. He just asked how many loaves, and made up a price. Transaction settled.
I absolutely LOVE this part of village life!
January 26, 2011 1 Comment
Not every day is perfect in Provence, but yesterday morning came pretty close. The weather has been just lovely, and as I left the house the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the smell was clean.
My first errand was to take the garbage out. There is a garbage and recycling station a couple of hundred meters down the road, a slight downhill walk with a lovely view.
Next stop – pick up the bread order at the village cafe. As I walked the valley stretched out on my left with a clear view of the neighbouring village.
Our village is quite lovely – a collection of rock houses built into a rocky face halfway up the hill. There are just two roads in the village, so today I took one to go to the cafe and one to come home.
The village has evolved over time, so none of the buildings are the same, and you can’t tell from the outside how things are connected on the other side of the walls. It makes for some very dramatic roof lines and lovely little nooks between the houses.
I stopped to check out how the construction was going at the Mairie (town hall). They are building a new salle des fetes (community hall) at a site on the outskirts of the village, but for some reason tore down the old salle des fetes before even breaking ground on the new one. Ping pong classes have been canceled for the rest of the year since there is no longer any place to set up the ping pong table. L is deeply disappointed.
From the Mairie to the cafe is a short but steep uphill walk.
At the top of the hill there is a different view of the valley.
After buying the bread I headed back home, carrying the unwrapped baguette in my bare hand (of course!). There are four fountains on this walk, adding the calming sound of running water to the ambiance.
I took the second road on the way back. This is the main road through the village – the one I don’t like to drive on because it is so narrow. But walking is quite lovely, especially in the middle of the day when there is little traffic. The only person I saw yesterday morning was this cyclist.
I got back to the house and the total trip has taken about half an hour. The end of this perfect morning was a piece of fresh baguette.
I hope I continue to see the incredible beauty that surrounds every aspect of our lives here.
January 20, 2011 2 Comments
We’re living in an area surrounded by villages that date back to antiquity or medieval times. We frequently experience interesting and fun traditions just by walking around.
Earlier in December, we visited Taulignan for its annual Christmas market. Taulignan is a fortified medieval village that prides itself on beautiful walls with a dozen defensive towers, generally all intact and quite spectacular.
Many people take this event quite seriously, dressing up as knights, princesses, bards, medieval soldiers, priests, medieval farmers and so on. Some folks even explore the market by riding a horse, just like the good’ol days.
[Editor's side note: Watch where you walk!]
But the highlight of our visit was the show of people who dance with fire and then spit it from from their mouths. It’s really quite impressive. To this day, I still wonder what they drink to make such a spectacular flame. Perhaps this is a secret best unknown…
January 2, 2011 1 Comment
Today when I went to the village cafe to pick up the bread, the whole town seemed to be buzzing with the news. Four different people told me about it. Clearly it was a big day for our small village.
There is a nouveau panneau (new sign) in the square by the Mairie (town hall).
December 17, 2010 5 Comments
I turned 40 this week.
Before coming to France, I researched French culture. I talked to people who had spent time in France and read as many books as I could including Polly Platt’s seminal book on life in France, French or Foe. One thing was consistent – don’t expect to have a social life. Not that anyone said the French are unfriendly, just that it took them time to warm up and one year simply would not be enough.
Polly Platt obviously NEVER visited our village. The people here couldn’t be more lovely, warm, and welcoming. And to the whole family – not just to JM whose “cute French-Canadian accent” seems to charm the ladies (who knew?).
(Side comment: Despite what Polly Platt says, it is OK to use the restroom when you visit a French person’s house!!!)
Even though we’ve only been here for a few months, we knew enough people to have a party to celebrate my 40th birthday. Naturally we have mostly met people who have kids the same age as ours and who speak at least some English – it turns out there are three English teachers in our village and they were all here.
After the charcuterie (pate-style meat) but before the fromage (cheese), the kids summoned the adults to see the Spectacle (show) they had just made up. They had taken our “reuse toy box” and made a family of very clever puppets: a king, a queen, a princess, a policeman, and a pig. They even had a program listing the puppeteers and their roles, with a special English edition just for me. All the parents had been assigned seats on a specific color of yoga mat. I was completely charmed.
We’re really enjoying our village and the people. I especially love the kids, who simply do not get that I don’t understand French. So they just talk normally, and I tell them “lentement” (slowly) and “répéter” (repeat) and use charades until we figure it out. The same exchange can be very awkward with an adult, but the kids don’t care and it’s great practice for me.
Not to paint everything in the village as idyllic. As we get to know people better we are seeing more of the disagreements, politics, and personalities. Apparently they’ve been trying to name the streets in our village for two years now but can’t agree on the names even though there are only two streets! And that charming puppet show the kids put together – we never actually saw the final performance because the kids started to bicker.
The one benefit of not speaking French is that I’m completely oblivious to any issues!!!
November 22, 2010 7 Comments
I call it “the village cafe“, but it’s actually a multi-commerce (general store). You can buy bread, stamps, and laundry detergent, refill your cell phone, and have a coffee or aperitif. It’s also a full-service restaurant. But this is not the “video rental and fresh bait” kind of general store you find in small towns in North America, this restaurant has a real chef and food that is absolutely exquisite.
One of my favorite things about France is that our cafe does plat à emporter (take out) including a really lovely chilled foie gras. You read that right, TAKE OUT FOIE GRAS. Seriously!!! How awesome is that? Today JM and I had lunch there and my canard (duck) was superb with a really incredible morel mushroom sauce. Last Friday the pork with chestnut sauce was absolute poetry.
But aside from the amazing food, the cafe is also a great place to experience the village:
- Today there was a notice in the window announcing the birth of a new baby complete with picture and a general invitation to the baby shower – which would be held at the cafe, of course.
- While were were eating, a local farmer showed up at the restaurant carrying a HUGE butternut squash under his arm, vanished into the kitchen, and came out with an enormous pail of food garbage.
- Monsieur le Cowboy, a local character, came in for a drink and stopped by our table to flirt a bit, taking my hand and putting it to his lips, but then kissing his own hand instead at the last minute.
- As we were leaving, the chef came out so of course JM chatted him up. He gave us a taste of his salt-cured duck, which sounded kind of scary to this simple prairie girl, but was excellent.
A totally charming lunch in our wonderful Provencal village cafe.
November 9, 2010 6 Comments
Since Z commented the other day that I had a “gros bedon” (fat belly), I decided that I couldn’t spend all my days drinking wine, eating cheese and sampling the saucissons secs (the excellent dry pork sausages – much better than it sounds). So today, I went out for a 5km run, despite a strong wind and the clouds promising rain.
The always reliable Murphy’s Law chose this opportunity to enact itself. When I was furthest away from home the rain started raining. I didn’t really care because I was running and a little water wouldn’t hurt.
However, on my way back, and as the rain had effectively stopped, a car drove by and stopped besides me. The lady in the car rolled down her window and said “Voulez-vous que je vous reconduisent à votre maison?” (Would you like a ride back to your home?).
Perhaps this is part South-of-France culture, or perhaps this is part small-town culture, but I was frankly not expecting that a lady driving her car offers a ride home to a dirty looking and wet stranger running on the road…
October 11, 2010 4 Comments