Monday, February 28, 2011

You Know You've Left the USA

I stayed in bed a bit longer than I should have, but I had promised a friend that I would walk her daughter to the school bus. Running late, I got myself dressed, re-tucked Jolie into the still-warm bed, and made a cup of coffee to go.

As I entered my friend’s home instead of the usual greeting of kisses and bonjour I got, “What’s that? You say that’s your coffee? Must be American coffee. Oh it’s still warm! Well, I would have made you a coffee if you wanted.”

My little friend and I got to the bus stop and as soon as we sat down she said I should drink my coffee.  And, well, could she have a sip? She didn’t like the taste, but was mesmerized that it was still warm and that the lid had a hole that could be openned and closed. She even tipped it to see if the liquid really would stay in this strange contraption.

As other parents came along there were lots of questions to be answered. “Was that coffee? Was it still hot?” So I had to explain to everyone what travel mugs were.  And how they allow you to drink the coffee in a car. “A car, but it would spill everywhere!” Well, no, cars in the States have cup holders. “Cup holders?”  They are exactly the size of drinks that contain sugar and/or caffeine.  Cars have lots of cup holders, actually one for every seat. Because yes, even children drink in the car-- not hot things, but always something. I could just see them picturing roly-poly little American children with travel mugs full of soda pop and goodness knows what else.
A little plug for a station that I miss a lot!

I’ve told you this before, but I bet you didn’t really believe me. One does not eat or drink on the streets unless seated at a café.  I have to confess that after the first few stares I became quite self-conscious of that mug in my hand. I didn’t finish my coffee until I got back home and could sit down at the breakfast table with a warm croissant I picked up on the way. I even felt a little guilty that the coffee was still somewhat warm.

When in Rome do as the Romans do.

You know you have left the U S of A when a travel mug is the center of attention.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Les Petites Aquarelles

Riverside Cafe

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Kisses Kisses Kisses

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hello Goodbye Cha Cha Cha

Our biggest daily problem in France is kisses. Not back seat of the car kisses, not Mom and Pop kissing in the kitchen kisses, but kisses that are as complex as international treaties and as elegant as ballet. 
As soon as you see someone coming towards you the music starts, that’s your cue, you’re on.  
You check to see if this is someone that you know. If you don’t know them, great. You can glide by with a quick “Bonjour Monsieur, Madame.” If you do know them, but just from passing in the village, you can say bonjour with a quick handshake. So far all of our moves have just been a nod towards civility, a dance as simple as a two-step.
But now you see an acquaintance approaching. You'll just have a few moments to collect yourself. Still steps away, both parties show a flash of graceful sweeps of the arm-- nose wiped, no crumbs on the cheek, glasses off. (Maybe I should have compared this to a sword fight!)
Now you have to drop into the rhythm of the music. Follow the lead of your partner. Watch for the tilt of the head that lets you know wether you are to begin your kiss on the left cheek or the right cheek. It is never the same cheek! We have asked, and there are no rules for this. Misjudge left or right and you will be kissing hair, or ear, or MON DIEU!--lips! We have found that some people move to the music of Mozart-- calm, sophisticated and efficient. Some people have more of a latin sound, kisses smacked right on each cheek with plenty of smacky noise to emphasize their enthusiasm.  What’s remarkable is how carefully limited the contact is. A good dancer never lets you know their body is near yours. 
Now take these moves and multiply them if you enter into a group. It is a great affront to not greet everyone. Make the rounds and kiss everyone-- even strangers-- or you’ll break the rhythm. The music pace quickens, you are now in the full swing of a Virginia Reel. Just be sure to remember whom you started with so you don’t twirl the day or night away. 
Oh, and don’t forget you’ll have to start all over again with the good-bye kisses.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Les Petites Aquarelles

Resting Sailboats

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Have Soil

Monday, February 14, 2011


One afternoon I arrived at the new house to see how progress was coming on the demolition of the bathroom and the re-plastering of all the other rooms. I couldn’t find Tom at work in any of the rooms. I didn’t see any changes in the state of the house since the last time I popped in. Work seemed to have come to a halt. But wait, what was that rumbling sound I could hear coming from the back yard? Sure enough there was Tom perched on top of his tractor shoving around piles of dirt. Piles and piles and piles of dirt. Now what?!
Spying me watching him from one of our many terraces, he turned off the tractor and started shouting, “Can you see? Can you see?”  What I saw was a somewhat rolly-polly field that had been scraped clean to a depth of about two feet.  The shock of this only temporarily blinded me to the strange sight of lots of big holes randomly dug all around the property.
“Look!  It’s perfect. It’s’ amazing. It’s stupendous!”
I had not realized how concerned Tom had been about the quality of the soil at our new home. Although I should have had an inkling when he had three wagons of manure dumped at our friends’ barn before we even owned a garden.
As far as he knew there were two possibilities for soil type in our village. Sticky, gooey, impossible clay or boney, inpenetrable bedrock. The house rests directly on bedrock so it stood to reason that the gardens would as well. These prospects had his gardening dreams in a turmoil.
But here after a few hours of testing and moving around dirt he had found gold. Black gold. The perfect, most amazing soil. There couldn’t be the likes for hundreds of miles and here he had the dumb luck to be blessed with acres and acres of it.
For generations this house has been home to gardeners. French gardeners that love and rely on their vegetable gardens. French gardeners that understand that soil is everything.
So hang the electrical work, who cares if the plumbing is precarious, the paint colors will get selected on a rainy day. As long as we continue to have sunny 60 degree days in February we know where we can find Tom.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday's Petite Aquarelle

Red Awning Market, Dronne River, Brantome

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Level Floor

Monday, February 7, 2011


Take down the wallpaper. This was something that I knew I could do for the ‘new’ house project. Not physically challenging and very mindless. Little did I know how wrong I was.

The first day was lots of fun. With the excitement of a new project,  a gang of friends fell to dampening walls and scraping off the paper. The room quickly roiled with steam from the handy dandy steamer. So much moisture that the ceiling paper, yes ceiling paper, just about peeled off on its own. In no time the tiny pink flowers were off the walls of what is to become our dining room.

Early the next morning, still on a high from the previous days rambunctious affair, I headed over to the house. There was some chance that friends would join me or maybe not. I like to get things done early; yesterday’s group likes to do things late. And so I found myself all by myself hour upon hour, with the steamer in one hand, a scraper in the other and lots of time to think. And the only thing I could think about was this: how could I be insensitive to taking this wallpaper down? What about all the time, effort and great joy that had gone into selecting and putting it up.  It felt very sad to be taking down what had been a part of a family’s life for so many years. They had created a warm and elegant ambiance.

The problem was that tastes have changed, Some small rip and tears were here and there, the fireplace had left a bit of smoke smudges, and the dampness had seeped into some corners. All of this was way too much to have swirling in my head all alone. Which naturally led me to think of how this was an analogy for life: a little tattered, a few stains, and some formerly firm surfaces that were now a little soft.  Does it sound like I’ve passed 50?

In the past I have found that when I need to let go of something that has had some importance for me in my life, I pretend to kiss it and say goodbye and let it go. Sending whatever on with best wishes and a positive heart. I tell you those bags and bags of wallpaper had a lot of kisses blown over them. I hope some of those kisses reach the cheeks of the creative family that has passed this precious place into our loving hands.

I have stripped all the rooms. I love the glow of the walls, white with fresh plaster. I know that everyone understands that one has to surround oneself with your own presence. Someday some young whipper-snappers will move in here and say, “Wonder what the old bat was thinking having such bright rooms. Let’s cozy things up and put up some intimate warm wallpaper.”

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday's Petite Aquarelle

View to a Hamlet

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lunch Time in Bourdeilles