Thursday, February 21, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

Magical Walking Days

Every Saturday I join a small band of hardy walkers and life-long residents of the region for four hours of hiking.  The hikes cover as much history and folk lore as terrain.  Here are some of the stories:

"Once upon a time there was a man that lived in this hole in the rocks. He had a beard down to his feet and he ate snakes."

"See that opening at the bottom of the cliff? If you could peek in you would you see that there is a  shaft of light that reveals an opening at the top of this column of rock. A long long time ago a farmer’s donkey fell down that shaft and ever since it’s been called The Hole of the Donkey."

"Here a wild and carefree young Duke made a bet with his friends. He won the bet that he could ride his horse into the church and have it lap a drink from the holy font, but he lost a piece of his farm - the local Bishop demanded one of the reckless young man’s properties in return for his shenanigans."

"When we turn into the hamlet at the bottom of the field we are going to run into the home of my great great great grandfather. In the early 1700’s he was transporting grains from these fields all the way to Perigueux-- nearly 30 kilometers away. No tractors, no trucks, no pavement."

"In the 1500’s two brothers lived side by side in their elegant country domains. One lived in the chateau up the cliff and one lived here. One was catholic and supportive of the monarchy and the other Protestant and challenging the monarchy.  The struggle for power and control erupted into full fledged battles in the 1580’s. The Protestant brother was killed and his château was pillaged and never lived in again."

These pathways have been traveled by humans since Roman times, a  lot of them since prehistory. There are neat and tidy farm hamlets in the middle of nowhere that have had what it took to survive for the last 600 years. Magical castles appear even further into the woods. Why here? Built by whom? How? Who lives here now?

 Hardly ever is there a clear history of what we are passing. But I stay close to my walking partners to catch a bit of the local lore. A made up story is as good as a true one to add to my fuzzy understanding of the past.

By the way the man with the beard down to his feet, that ate snakes, he lived in the 1950’s. A real character that the local children stayed clear of.  Just imagine the cast of characters that have peopled these amazing pathways.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Five Ducks

Five Ducks
12" x 16"    $120 including shipping

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Retired Pope Goes to a Convenience Store

In Vermont:

Chez Madame MidiPrix in Bourdeilles:
"So, Your Holiness, that comes to three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers. Would you like a bag?"

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

MidiPrix, Bourdeilles France

How wonderful to hear, “We’re out of milk” and know there is no panic.  Wonder,“What’s for dinner?”, and I know there is a recipe suggestion waiting to be shared.  Or Tom suddenly has a craving for perfectly ripe pears with stinky roquefort cheese, and there they will be at the cheese counter just up the street. What a luxury to have all of my shopping needs met without ever having to get in the car. (And with gas being the equivalent of $8 a gallon that’s a big plus.)
All thanks to MidiPrix-- Bourdeilles’ little big store. Let’s say it would be about 1/5th the size of your basic Seven Eleven store, but scanning the shelves one sees there is very little need to ever head off to the big mega stores popping up in the fields way on down the road. Because after years of catering to exacting cooks, these shelves are stocked with an amazing variety of quality, esoteric choices. From canned green beans to jars of steamed chestnuts. From Nuttella to locally produced foie gras.  There is Heinz ketchup for the likes of Tom and Branson’s Picadilly for the local British contingent. There is an excellent range of regional wines and drawers full of Haribo candies. One time I needed vanilla and was offered fresh vanilla beans.

All this and I haven’t even taken you to the meat and cheese counters. Because before this was a two room store there were actually two stores right next to each other. One stocked all the items I have just mentioned and one was a butcher shop. The grocery side was run by the women of the family and the butcher shop was run by the men. When the current owner, Madame Verneuil, inherited both shops she and her husband reorganized and opened up the two spaces. Here the cheese counter is always stocked with a delicious variety of wonderfully aged cheeses. When consulted Madame Verneuil will make recommendations on which cheeses are ripe for today or which ones will last until the weekend. Her knowledge of her stock is essential. Same goes for the vegetable and fruit section. It’s always a great treat to find a seasonal specialty displayed. Summer strawberries picked that morning, oysters for the big holidays, clementines for Christmas stockings. And even though we do not eat much meat it is great to be able to order a special cut or have fresh ground beef as needed.

But, the best thing about MidiPrix is Madame Verneuil. 

She is the 3rd generation to run the shop. It was started by her great grandmother, then run by her grandmother. Then 40 or so years ago the reigns of the shop went into the hands of Madame Verneuil. You can call her Annick if you have proven to be a regular, relaxed enough customer. She tirelessly keeps the shelves stocked, hand cuts fresh meats and cheeses, takes special orders, runs the bar and coffee counter, checks us out on the grocery side, reminds us if we have forgotten items that we frequently buy, and takes time to visit and help with hapless cooks like me. Who needs an expensive French cooking school when Annick  will share the simplest most delicious way to cook endives, leeks or the cut of veal that I am hesitant to experiment with - One time a recipe called for a chicken breast, there was no chicken to be had, and as I stared helplessly at the very french selection of meats I was told I would have to have veal instead (make do with what was available and fresh!, but thankfully I could avoid the blood sausage).... I had to confess to never having cooked veal - To this day I think Annick is a bit taken aback by my lack of understanding of some very basic french products and maybe even more taken aback by the concoctions I describe I am cooking up for dinner.

No cooking school could be as accessible as the open door at MidiPrix. The hours are crazy. 5 days a week the store is open from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm, 50 weeks a year. Closing for two hours at lunch time. The other 2 days a week Madame Verneuil is open in the morning but closes for the afternoon. On one of these afternoons she shops to restock the shelves and the other is Sunday, a time to visit with her family. 

In France one always says “good bye, have a good afternoon”, to the shopkeeper. I say this with great sincerity every time I leave our little MidiPrix. Because in a world where many use their phone to order groceries or look for cooking tips, I am awfully glad to have a short stroll across the bridge to Annick’s. She has what I need or what I didn’t know that I needed.  Some would say that this is where you find the heart of the village.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Rowboats, Bourdeilles, Dordogne Region France

12" x 16"   $120 including shipping

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Saturday, February 2, 2013

OohLaLa the fun.........

It’s time to be thinking about signing up for a fun filed week at Oh So Much Fun OohLaLaFrance. Remember anyone putting together a group of friends will receive a framed and shipped Tom Vieth watercolor-a wonderful souvenir of the memories gathered during your group’s time in the lovely Dordogne region of France. But be forewarned, because once you have been here and fallen in love with this place, choosing the right watercolor is harder than it seems.

This year OohLaLaFrance has availability in June, just in time to relax a little before the crush of summer activities, or in August/September, a time to catch your breath after a busy summer of taking care of others. After all the planning, shopping, entertaining and managing you do on the home front, come here and relax. Leave everything behind except friends, enthusiasm and curiosity. 

I’d like to give you a peek into our beautiful venue, Les Stables. This will be your home for the week.

The chateaux and stables have a uniquely French story. The properties were constructed in the mid 1800’s.  During Napoleonic times the chateau was used as a hospital for recuperating cavalry officers (while their mounts enjoyed some down time in the spacious fields and barns.)  The chateau was also home to a very important and extensive vineyard in Bourdeilles until a deadly disease at the end of the 19th century wiped out the vineyard. Instead of replanting the grape vines the focus was changed to horses. Twice in Les Stables history it has been an important center for training trotting horses. Races were held throughout the region, sometimes at local farms and in the nearby cities - sort of like modern day Le Mans, but for fleet footed horses not tornado-pitched super cars.

In 2002 triathlon trainers Mark and Sybil bought the stables. They have lovingly rehabilitated the immense barns into 4 well-appointed apartments. Today training triathletes use the trotting track during the summer months. OohLaLaFrance has the opportunity to be here while they are off competing in England. The lovely apartments are appointed with French country antiques, fresh country colors and, just in case you want to think about energetic exercise, fun paraphernalia from the Tour de France.  
Your group will be housed in two apartments. Each guest has a private room and shower.  Here is where you unpack for the week, a homey space to return to after the day’s adventures, and a place to linger in one of the comfortable living rooms at the end of the day. Breakfast is at your leisure right across the hall from your apartment or out on the sun filled patio. When we eat at ‘home’ meals will be prepared in the third apartment where I will stay during the week. I’m yours from sunup till........ Your living space is reserved for the carefree side of life. 

Each day we will head out from this Napoleonic time period into the wonders of prehistoric cave art, the ingenuity of medieval times, and the brilliance of the Renaissance. You will quickly notice that you have fallen back to your own “back when” period, time when life was slower, less instantaneously connected, here you are able to focus on your shared experiences and restorative laughter.

So gather up a group of 6 good friends. A group of women, or several couples, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, whatever the mix, there will be a great time had by all. No planning, no daily run to the grocery store, no need to get directions in a foreign language, just action-packed days in farmer’s markets, strolls in renaissance and medieval streets, hikes in the surrounding countryside, meals rich of local products and plenty of time to fall into the wonder of another time and place.  Oh, OohLaLaFrance!

click here to find out all about OohLaLaFrance