Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Traditions

Standing in Tom’s studio window one Sunday, we were wondering why our neighbors, returning over the bridge after mass,  were carrying some sort of branches. Later that Sunday as we visited with them in their garden we asked what they had been carrying. They were quite taken aback as this was Palm Sunday, and it should be obvious that it was their sprigs from church - their “palms”. But their “palms” were actually sprigs of boxwood. “Don’t you use boxwood sprigs in the states?” Well no we use palms. “But do you have palm trees in Vermont?”  So that was the reason for the boxwood - it grows wild in the Dordogne.  
Now several years later I vaguely remember that there is a significance to these sprigs of boxwood. Something about hanging them over a child's door or bed to insure good health throughout the year. When I asked Anne-Marie, our guide to all things French, she was unsure, but said she would ask her parents. She called the next morning and relayed this story.
Her father had answered the phone. Not being a church goer, he was a bit flustered at first by a question about Easter. “Easter--well, yes, it coming sometime in Spring. You’re wondering about boxwood and Palm Sunday? Hmmm, in Algiers we had olive branches. Olive branches are the real thing. That is what would have been at hand 2000 years ago for that first Palm Sunday. My brothers and I would decorate the branches with chocolates and trinkets before we went to church. Then we would sit in church and eat up the chocolates. Our Sunday clothes would be covered in a chocolate mess. The priest would bless empty branches, our mother would fume at our messy clothes, and we would head for home in an imaginary battle with our boxwood swords.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Easter Traditions

The next Sunday is Easter and we ask if there will be an Easter Egg Hunt?
 What kind of treats does the Easter Bunny bring? 
The Easter Bunny? 
You know, chocolate easter eggs, yellow marshmallow pips, stuffed bunnies? 
In France there is no Easter Bunny.  How could petit Pierre and jolie Julianne eat rabbit stew on Saturday knowing that doing so might ruin any hope of an Easter Sunday with goodies from this furry little hopping chocolate dispenser?
The kids still get chocolate eggs.  But in France, the Easter goodies are brought by the Easter bells.  When he first heard this, an incredulous Tom pointed out to a French friend that this was absurd-- bells can’t lay eggs!  “But, Tom,” replied our friend, “Do you think that bunnies lay eggs?”  No, like all American kids, Tom never stopped to puzzle over this aspect of the bunny myth.
To Americans, rabbits are cute little lawn accessories and stars of animation and children’s books.  To the French, rabbits are food.  Period.  This was horrifyingly illustrated to Tom one day.  He came in from the garden white as creme fraiche. It seems that Madame Our Neighbor and her friend were skinning all the cute bunnies that Tom had gone out to paint.  “There are two neighbors out there violently yanking on opposite ends of a dead rabbit until the skin peels off!”  Yes, it’s not a pretty sight.  Oh, but the wonderful taste of rabbit stew awaits a lucky family.
Bells, Bunnies, all any of us really want is the chocolate.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What a name can do....

We now know what not to name a half french dog.

Yes, we did name our dog Jolie, French for “pretty”. It sounded happy, and well, pretty, when we were in Vermont. Introductions in France were very funny those first few weeks. “Oh, your dog is so pretty,” says the short, elderly French woman.
“Yes she is,” replies Susan.
“What is her name?”
“Yes she is, what is her name?”
“She is Pretty”...
When the French folks finally get the name thing figured out, you can tell they’re thinking, “What idiot names their dog pretty? Don’t these Americans understand even this simple word?”  Jolie in the meantime would just jump and lick and wiggle around. There was never any chance of training her to sit when she met someone. She was encouraged to be her cutest, her prettiest. I suppose worse unconscious things have happened than naming a dog for a trait that makes her endearing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Traveling Dog

Within six weeks of getting our new puppy she was packed into her travel bag and toted across the ocean. Thank goodness she loves to sleep and seemingly never has to go to the bathroom. She tucks herself into her cave and goes into meditation mode. 

The only time she comes out is at airport security. I’ll probably get on some watch list for saying this, but if you ever wanted to sneak something onto a plane take a cute puppy through security. TSA seems to have a weak spot for a living stuffed animal. I can’t tell you how many times they have all left their posts to come over and give her a little pet. Jolie loves the attention as she goes through the metal detector in my arms. She reluctantly says goodbye before going back into her bag. From there on no one knows she is on the plane until we land in Paris. After passing customs and before picking up our bags, we rush her out into the oceans of parking lots. Jolie launches out of her bag, wiggles a big thanks for her freedom, and scurries off to investigate the trails of French dogs. A few sniffs, a long pee and life will be good from here on in. Unlike here in the States, dogs are allowed to enter almost any public space.  (I think that cat hospitals are the only exception.) You should see the treats she gets from the bakery lady. That’s why the Dog-and-bag weight limits are an issue for the flight home. Fortunately they haven’t established similar weight limits for Americans returning after weeks of enjoying French cuisine.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Air France Counter

How much do you say that dog weighs?

Getting a dog across the ocean.
First and foremost the pet and it’s traveling bag must weigh no more than 11 lbs. This would be just fine if we had selected a breed that was truly small. But we had the misfortune to fall in love with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and even though she is the runt she really wants to weigh 11lbs with out that dang bag. Weeks of slight decrease in food and exercise do little to get her weight where it is supposed to be.  Then comes flight day and the terrifying confrontation with Air France. Air France only employs beautiful women.  When it comes to rules, there is a direct relationship between degrees of beauty and the rigidity of rules. So we seek out the least beautiful woman at the long counter. We smile a lot and stand in a conciliatory way while they think about what they want to do. We desperately yearn for a major distraction (something more than a stuck zipper and less than a bomb) to break the spell of rules for the least beautiful woman. So far we have snuck by with a few extra ounces. Tom always says its just fine if we can get her over to France. After all, they can keep us out of France, but they can’t keep us in. I always have a sinking feeling when we get to those scales. Last, but not least in this foolishness is the special ticket counter where we have to pay a small fortune just to have the dog be the smallest carry-on item on the plane.  We need our heads examined. Or maybe we should move to France........

Friday, March 19, 2010

Where would you.....

Early spring days find me dreaming of the courtyard and garden in Bourdeilles and wondering if it will ever look as good as in Tom's watercolors. Now, as the garden catalogues fill the mailbox, I can dare to think of ordering plants for two, three zones hardier than here. Of course this is tempered by the fact that the "garden" is 5 feet wide and 20 feet long.
This garden is just enough for a quiet lunch and an evening cocktail. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Where would you.....

like to be wandering on an early March day?

Maybe walking the early spring streets of Paris? Stopping for a coffee at the Luxembourg. Dreaming of life on a boathouse on the Seine.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Where would you.....

Where would you put yourself on a rainy March day?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Maple Glazed Doughnuts

Tom learned years ago that when the yellow school bus is at the sugar shack there are kindergarten children on a tour. And if there are children, Ginger has made maple cream frosting. That cream is to be spread on special “non-glazed” raised doughnuts.   As soon as that bus leaves Tom ambles (if his attempt at disguising a trot can be called ambling) on over to the sugar shack to sample the left overs. Fresh doughnuts, pure concentrated sugar maple flavor - there are few things better in life.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It’s a special thrill to start off from our house on our afternoon walk during sugar season. We can see the steam rising from the sugar shack across the valley. We know that our friends are hard at work. Stoking the fire with logs the size of a leg, monitoring the pumps and gauges to be sure all systems are flowing, pouring off cupfuls of brew to see if it is at the syrup stage. We get a quick “Hello” -- there is not a moment to be distracted from this demanding choreography of making sugar. One of the beauties of sugaring is that it is truly at the command of Mother Nature. She may give you a week of good temps - she may grace you with 6 weeks. No matter what the sugarer must be ready when the sap starts to flow and have the stamina to keep up with the bounty of the maple trees.
It takes 4 taps on each of 40 trees that are at least 40 years old to produce enough sap to make one gallon of syrup.

Somehow Mike and David and the gang get their work done. There are always visitors to this steamy action packed room. They might be drawn to the shack for a taste of the sap water or maybe the warm syrup straight from the boiler or just simply the pure magic of witnessing something still being maybe by hand, in your own back yard, by people you know and love. We have strayed so far from this kind of connection to our foods. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sugar Season

Winter is loosing it’s grip on Vermont. Our 5th Season is well under way. The sugar shack has steam rising and the smell of sugary sweetness is floating in the air - Maple Sugaring season has begun.
As the days grow longer the warm sun breaks the dormancy of the maple trees. Freezing nights and thawing days make the sap flow.

Sugar makers collect sap, remove the water and concentrate it into syrup. Nothing added, nothing removed except pure water. 
Our neighbor sets 1600 taps in his “sugarbush”. In the olden days his family collected with metal taps, buckets and a tractor drawn sled. Now a days it is all plastic tubing that flows into large collecting tanks. A little less romantic, but still the same timeless taste of maple. All this sap flows down from the sugarbush to the sugarhouse and the wood fired evaporator. Eventually it ends up on our pancakes for a taste of New England.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fool proof ways to learn (immerse yourself in) French.
Number one, meet the neighborhood children. They laugh at you and with you. It’s a lot of fun to learn while playing games, taking long walks and meeting other adults while watching soccer practice.
 Who else will think your dog is smarter than you are and ask about your sanity in front of you? How else would you find children that aren’t related to you to criticize your driving, your clothes, your hair, and your eating habits? For after all, they must know more than we because they speak French like ten year-olds while we speak like three year-olds.
Two, walk your dog or borrow a friend’s. Of course ours is the cutest dog that ever was and all French people seem to agree. We are stopped all along the way to let her lick and jump on them. We know every word for cute, sweet, and stubborn. We know every word for all the tick medications that don’t work. We know that language is not a barrier for a dog’s ability to disobey. And we know how to explain the rules and regulations for traveling with a pet.