Monday, March 30, 2015


It wasn’t like it was calling my name. No neon sign was pointing at the neat stack of fruit. There was no hot summer sun to put them in mind. The fact is that a tasty, ripe melon was the furthest thing from my mind as I entered the corner store to pick up lettuce and a few other salad fixings.
Yet as soon as I spied them I really wanted one. 

I had escaped their siren call and was checking out when somehow the owner and I struck up a conversation about how crazy it was that melons were nestled there among the oranges and celery roots at this time of year just barely past winter.
Then he said, “I had one for breakfast and they are dee-li-cious!” 

That was it. I cracked. I scurried back to the melons to sniff. They did indeed have a lovely, just ripe smell. Without even looking at the price I put that little temptress on the counter and paid up.

Back home I placed that jewel on the kitchen counter to keep it in mind for my afternoon snack.

Later in the morning a friend stopped by to chat. She too was attune to the siren call of the melon. But this time there was no lust in spying that taste of summer. My friend looked at me incredulously and asked, “What are you doing with a melon at this time of year? If you are having that treat now what will be your great pleasure in the month of August!?”

This is a quintessential, composed, French response.  One of prudent self denial, versus the impulsive American approach: immediate gratification.

Let me just tell you that, sitting on a garden bench under a timid spring sun,  immediate gratification-- with a dash of salt-- was oh so tasty. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Friday's Petite Aquarelle

Bourdeilles, France, Red Bench
12" x 16" framed size

$120 including shipping 

Any southern friends looking for a little escape without an airplane, check out this find from Lynn at Southern Fried French. The Long Arm of French Cuisine

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Place Name Conflict

From the get go, how to spell the name of a town has been a matter of some conflict.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Place Names

The name of the city I grew up in is Lynchburg, Not the one famous for whiskey, which can be found in a state named for a the Cherokee word used for a river, “tanasi” or, Tennessee.  But the one in Virginia, named for the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth. The other thing about my Lynchburg  is that it was not named so because of a reputation of lynching folks. The city was named for John Lynch who established a ferry service in 1757 on the Fluvanna River (“Annie’s River” in honor of Queen Anne of England) which was later renamed the James River, named for King James the 1st.  Locals always say “The Mighty James”.

Lynchburg, Va and the Mighty James
Flash forward to our small village in France where place names can be traced to the times of the Celtic Gauls 50 BC, then the Gallo Roman Era until somewhere around the 400s (of our era), followed by the “dark ages” of the  Visigoth invasions, on through the Middle Ages and continuing on until modern times. It wasn't until the 15th century that place names began to be deliberately recorded for government purposes. The French government was trying to get a standardized grip on its possessions, but the local people in a back waters like our region resisted standardization and continued to speak their own language until the 1940.  It took a lot of central government muscle to get the schools to force children to learn the King’s French.  (Even though it had been some time since those fun-loving Bourbon despots left the scene.  The last one even being allowed to exit with his head on)

This long train of cultural evolutions left such a variety of place names that even today the locals will disagree with how to pronounce a name - and Parisians blanche at the tongue twisting, vowel laced, foreign names.

I tell you all of this because here place names are either original and mysterious or have changed and changed, remaining mysterious and difficult. 
As an example - The neighboring village is now called Valeuil. Researchers have found that the village name has had 10 known different spellings. The 1st written record of the name was in 1220 and was written Valoil. The roots of this name can be traced back to the Gaulic word -remember 400 AD- for apples, aballo. The current spelling and pronunciation are a clear sign of the telephone game as the ab slurred to V.

Each new group of immigrants brought their language influences. Latin came along and melded with Gaulic names. Visigoths brought germanic words and accents. Accents came and went with the passage of soldiers and journeymen. Rural accents just got thicker and more diverse until government officials came out to record the names of villages. These Parisian French speaking officials just had to take a stab at what the heck was being said - for even the French are stumped by these strange vowel combinations and silent letters.

Here are some other fun names from nearby:

Labrousse  (occitain)  rocky useless land

Ramefort  (pre-Celtic)  ram -rock    (french) fort - strong
Charbonnier (french)   the coal family

Les Baconnets (occitane)  seller of salted pork

Agonac  (Roman) - ac showed that a place belonged to someone - the home of Agon

Puy Fromage  (english and french)  Hill From the Edge (Which is really confusing to all because  fromage is French for cheese.)
Les Chauses  (french) The Things.  The original name of this hamlet was the occitan word for male genitals - people were embarrassed to say the word in polite company so they just said “You’re looking for the Dubois family? They live up at the Things.”
Geuyonie (occitain) Lesbians.  This 3 house hamlet is just down the road from The Things (I am not making this up! Maybe my French friends are making it up to goof on the gullible american, but I swear they tell me this with a blushing, straight face and they really do not seem to have rehearsed the conversation among themselves.)
My neighborhood is called La Croix St Marc. The cross of Saint Mark. The stone mason who was commissioned to build our house was so grateful for the work that he carved this cross as a thanks to God.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Re-hydration Stations

A look at marathon re-hydration stations

Boston, New York, Chicago, Seattle,....even Peoria:
And last Sunday here in Bourdeilles:

Monday, March 9, 2015

Marathon of Forts

 With the warm weather this week my office windows have been flung wide open. Once or twice a day, babbling French voices drift into the open window. The musical voices of neighbors taking their daily constitutional in groups of two and three. Their singsong banter sets the pace of the walk, slowing when discussing a juicy subject and zipping along as they get animated about a hot point.

Just before noon I’ll hear the swish of rubber on the pavement. That’s my neighbor on his 1950s bike going to collect his lunch time baguette. Eight minutes later he’ll pass back by - unless there is a crowd at the bakery or there has been some really juicy village news to catch up on. 

On weekend days a sharp shout of “Right ,right, right” will be accompanied with the fast swoosh of many bike tires. The local bike club has passed by and doesn’t want to miss the right turn onto the bridge that starts the return loop.

Yesterday, the gentle audible rhythm of my days was completely torn asunder. Yesterday the Marathon of Forts passed in front of our home. No sky scrappers of NYC, no encouraging crowds of the streets of Boston. This a marathon that starts in our nearest neighboring village, Brantome, passing under the 13th century abbey, entering a forest that has seen the passage of cave painting humans and Roman invaders, skimming rolling farm fields, and tucking back along the tranquil Dronne River and her 12th century bridge that will funnel the participants through the tiny alleys of Bourdeilles, finishing along her elegant 18th century ramparts.

Imagine this tiny village of 350 inhabitants invaded by 1600 runners, walkers and all terrain bikers - accompanied by their support teams of friends and family. 

Sunday morning the sweet babble of my neighbors was turned into a torrent of shouts and mumblings, swishing wheels and squishy shoes (the forest is muddy), snorts and gasping. Seeing the chateau of Bourdeilles in the distance the participants knew that they were in the home stretch. No one had the energy left to gossip, the end was in sight and there was awaiting a meal of local products and something cold to drink. This stream of humanity was focused.

Here it is Monday, the weather is still glorious, the windows are open, and there is nothing more than a whisper along the street.  Yesterday’s breezes have carried away the crush of noise of just another one of those funny things that pass through our small village in France.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Pierre's First Re-enactment

Pierre goes to his first Renaissance re-enactment event.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Glorious Treasures

Visiting our closest city, Perigueux (“pair e geu”) is a journey back in time. A small city of about 60,000 tucked along a couple of bends in the gentle Lisle River, nestled under the shelter of surrounding hills, this community has been inhabited by humans for a very longtime. It takes a bit of patience but one can trace the flow of history through it’s glorious treasures; artistic and architectural artifacts
Perigueux, Dordogne, France
Through good times and bad Perigueux has evolved. An ancient form of gentrification commenced in the 12th century when the 1st century Roman neighborhoods were taken apart and transformed into a fancy walled city for wealthy nobles. Artisans and worker bees lived, unprotected, across the fields and up the hill. By the 14th and 15th centuries there is relative peace and security in the region. The merchant class is starting to prosper and they are constructing elegant homes on the hill. Men’s need to go to war is fulfilled with Crusades to Italy and the Middle East. Money is being made and money is being spent. Those that are prospering the most want to flaunt their wealth and good taste. At that time good taste meant a flavor of Italy. Architecture incorporated the romantic, and lighter than air designs and construction ideas introduced in the Italian Renaissance.
Perigueux flourished during this time of wealth and continual transformation.  Medieval buildings were given face lifts to give them a lighter, more up to date flair. Wooden structures were torn down and replaced with crisp white buildings of locally quarried stone. Large homes were built for comfort. And, of course, to boast of the affluence of the family living within. 
For the time being there was no need for heavy defensive windows and doors.  Architecture could be art. Although they didn’t quite beat their swords into plowshares, the artisans of weapons could now turn their craft to more gentile pursuits.  All this would change with the horrendous Wars of Religion, with neighbors fighting neighbors throughout France.
Perigueux, Dordogne, France

Wandering through Perigueux one is immersed in her glorious story. Look up as you walk and see the spired rooflines, gargoyles and slate roofs (a sign of wealth normally found only in the Loire Valley). Look between the first and second floors of buildings and see the decorative columns, arched windows, and decorative scroll work under the eaves. At ground level check out the doorways. A family coat of arms above the door, a small cross proving their faith, finely wrought iron work, or symbols showing their fidelity to their favorite king. For Francis the 1st it was a salamander. 
These homes were often also the shop of the merchant. The arched alcoves were the entrance to the shop or work space. Perigueux was known for its linens, bakeries, leather goods and so on. It sounds crazy, but there were meat-pie pastries that were supposedly transported all the way to Paris during this time.
 Perigueux, Rue Limogenes, France
Perigueux is a living city. The modern world has seeped in with each passing century. Pizza is now the most obvious sign of Roman/Italian influence. Sometimes entire blocks have been torn down and recreated. But luckily the beauty of the past has been treasured enough to leave us with narrow streets to wander and a diversity of architecture that leaves us breathless at the artistry of past times.