Monday, June 27, 2016

Early Mornings

I started a new job this month. Seems that my get rich schemes get crazier as I get older. And after swearing that I’d never work any where that made me get out of bed before 7:00 I find myself getting up as early as 5:00 AM to go sell tea towels at quaint French markets.

The latest  scheme is to sell LilyO’s tea towels at 4 different weekly markets. This is actually an idea that has taken a few turns to get back to. The idea for LilyO’s was cooked up when I noticed a lack of representative souvenirs at major tourist sites in our region of France. I was inspired by childhood memories of tea towels brought back from trips to the UK where one finds a pretty towel at every grand house or garden. So with the cart well ahead of the horse I got Tom painting images of local scenes, ordered up 4000 towels and then started to look into the rules for selling things at the local weekly markets. 4000 towels arrived, but the French paper work didn’t -  it was not going to. It has taken 6 years to get that work permit. In the meantime the tea towels sold like hot cakes back in the States and LilyO’s took off. 

Back in France - I now have a work Visa and have navigated all the paperwork (I think,…) for setting up a stand at some local markets.

By the time you normal people arrive at the market everything - all the products and the charm -has been well organized. Those organized rows of stalls wont give a hint of the chaos and jostling that happened within the last hour. There is an orchestrated process to this madness and every performer has their time and place.

The biggest trucks with the best placements take their positions with practiced grace no later than 6:30.  The next layer of stalls waltz in in 5 minute increments. The old and experienced prima donnas know that each dancer has to stay in step because the slightest hesitation in timing can set off a chain reaction of trouble. The other morning a late truck was slithering through stands, brushed a couple of tent tops and knocked an edge of a table filled with produce. Nothing like a fist fight at 7 am.

I’m considered a temporary, i.e. those folks that are only willing to go to market when the tourists are around and the weather is sunny. We haven’t proved our commitment on cold winter mornings or rainy spring days when there isn’t a buyer in sight. We get sprinkled into the market where there is space between the regulars. 

How much or little sleep I get the night before a market is determined by where I want to park. Being new to this and very timid about driving in and out of this chaos in front of the experts. I have chosen for now to park as close as I can to the market and lug my stuff in. Obviously the closer I can get to my placement the better.  But that means getting there in the wee small hours.

Next I have had to find out where the gang hangs out to await The Placer. Each market has a person that is the Placer. This person knows all of the regulars and waits until he sees if they have taken up position or not. This all important person could hold the key to your success in his hands.

A straggly bunch gathers around the Placer and at a certain moment we all take off like ducklings following their mother. At one market we march along and meter lengths are called out, we raise our hands, and the Placer scans us to see who he wants to grace with this spot or that. Location can be ever so important to sales - well at least it is perceived that way by this hungry group.

And after all this I finally get to the set up and go to work. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Getting in the Groove

Oh, the complications of French life…. understanding when to greet someone with a kiss or a handshake, how to drive fast enough on go-cart wide roads, figuring out just what documents you will need to apply for anything. But, returning from an extended stay in the US, the biggest one for me when I am getting back into my French routine is how to organize the grocery shopping.  I’m not saying that life is tough, probably not even really complicated, it’s just that getting into the groove of another way of doing things takes some patience.

When I get back to France it’s usually not the “right” day to get back into the usual routine. It doesn’t help that even if it was the right day I’d have to be up in time to get to the market. The first jet-lagged week home I don’t get up in time for anything. So after being away for practically 4 months the first grocery outing was to Aldi, the german chain of stores popping up all over France. Shame on me for not shopping local, but the Germans stay open at lunch. Tom had managed to budget his coffee, toilet paper and paper towels to the very last second of my absence.  Aldi was my first stop to restock cleaning and paper products and all the junkfood we eat-- cookies, peanuts, chips, etc. It is a shock to my jet-lagged brain that I have to bag my own groceries.  Very quickly! To keep the line moving, Aldi’s counter space after the cash register can be measured in micrometers. Bag it fast or pick it up off the floor!  Oh, those kooky Germans!

The second stop was Carrefour Market, the regular (French) grocery store. As a re-entry shopping experience, Carrefour is uncomplicated. I can go there with a list and be sure that I will find everything I need. Of course my Americanized brain always forgets that I have to weigh my own fruits and vegetables before I get to the checkout, and I will surely underestimate the amount of shopping bags that I have to bring from home. 

As my American fog starts to lift I get back to the daily routine of planning out what I need for the day. When I am better organized I can walk down to the corner grocery. (One of Bourdeilles’ groceries closed while I was away. I am crushed.) Shopping locally means being more creative about what we are going to eat. I can’t just pull out a recipe and know that I will find the ingredients down at the corner store. I can however count on great fruits and vegetables, a chance to catch up with folks in the village, a rose bush for sale, a small rack of affordable clothes, or an off-brand flat screen TV that has been sitting in the window forever. 

All is well in the kitchen when Sunday morning comes back around. My jet lag has cleared and I am ready for my favorite challenge. Hunting and gathering at Bourdeilles’ Sunday market. There are two vegetable vendors, Paola and Vincent, one bread vendor, Marie Anne, one traveling “organic” products van, Cecile, and one cheese vendor, Louise. The cheese stand is easy. I can buy anything there and be happy. What I buy depends on how much of last week’s cheese is still smelling up the fridge. The bread is easy too. It’s always a brioche unless it’s already sold out. Her olive bread will be a nice change of pace from baguettes and croissants during the week. The vegetable stand is where my brain has to kick in. Veggies are the base of our meals. The thing is that there is just no telling what one is going to find. It can be a once-in-the-whole-year appearance or it could be the same selection for weeks on end. Yesterday was a jackpot day. Both vegetable vendors had a nice array of choices. The trick was to stand on the edge of the market and try to scope out what Paola had that Vincent didn’t and vice versa. That way I support both of them, but don't double up on fava beans or more rutabaga than we can eat. Judging how much to buy so that there is no waste can be a bit tricky. There is the chance that later in the week I won’t feel inspired by these fresh, tasty treasures that look so tempting this morning. Thank goodness that often the best thing is to just gently steam the vegetable and have it accompany a small piece of meat or fish. I am the queen of one pot dinners so there is often a very strange mix of veggies with different spices to mix up the flavor sensations. Even though none of it is goulash, that is what we call all of these mystery dishes.

So after a week or two of hovering between two continents I have returned to the rhythm of keeping the cupboards full. The fridge has just the right, slight smell of goats cheese. One can go to the toilet without fear of no paper. Shopping bags are always in the car. Now the biggest complication is adding in the extra time it takes to do the shopping as one stops along the way to visit with the neighbors.

Here is a link to a cooking school not far away in our region:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Back on Track

I know it's been a while...

I was in the States pretty much straight from Mid-February until the end of May. Work, fun with family and friends, and even some vacation events.  Wheeew!

I have to say it's feeling pretty good to be back in this small village in France.

What better way to get back into the swing of things than to venture out into the nearby countryside and check out some special gardens.

These four gardens are a joyful demonstration of the many ways that artist of all kinds express themselves.

Simple, Grand, Elegance
Le parc et les Jardins de Mas Maury
87120 Rempnat

Working Folks with Something to Show
Les jardins d'Ordesa
19230 Beyssac

Footloose and Fancy Free
Le jardin des Vitailles
87500 Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche

Happy and Boistrous
Le jardin du Puy de Lys
19230 Saint-Sornin-Lavolps

Look carefully - these are walnut shells!

Thanks for coming along on this exhausting garden tour. Here's to more adventures from a small village in France.