Category: Around France

Not Your Holiday? Celebrate Anyway!

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This season I’m learning a lesson from my new friends in France. If it’s not your holiday, celebrate anyway!

Wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place if, instead of fussing about what to call a holiday, we’d just celebrate it together? Spending Thanksgiving in Uzes this year showed me just how that might feel. As we stood around the kitchen in a circle, holding hands — just as my own family has done for years — we all had something in common. We were all thankful. No translations needed.

Prepping for the day

It’s not easy finding the ingredients for an American holiday meal in this part of France. Yes, we did have a turkey. It took a little doing, but we had one. And it was fresh… like in live.

The Turkey – Yep, one evening just before dark Geoffrey called and said “time to get the turkey.”  He picked me up in the blue van (which I’ve named the “Blue Devil”), and we took off down the road to pick out a live turkey.

Uzes

I wasn’t looking forward to the event. You see, Geoffrey told me that when we went to pick out a turkey, he would have to kill the turkey on the spot. It was a French law. The people at the fowl farm would then run the turkey through some kind of machine to take the feathers off. None of that sounded like anything I’d enjoy watching; however, I decided to go for the experience. Besides, Geoffrey says” “if you can’t kill it, you shouldn’t eat it.”

I’m still thinking about that.

When we arrived at the poultry farm, it was much like a warehouse. All types of fowl were running around in very well maintained 2013-11-25 17.35.37cages and they had plenty of space, food and drink. I looked for the turkeys. None were to be seen. There were lots of chickens, geese and rabbits, but no turkeys.

I took a big sigh of relief, thinking we would stop by Carrefour for a nicely packaged chicken.

2013-11-25 17.34.02Just when we were getting ready to get back into the Blue Devil, a man came from behind us with a turkey in his hands. Ugh. He held her up for us to take a look, slammed her down on a scale big enough to weigh trucks, then threw her into a box. Geoffrey went off to “negotiate” the deal, then he put the box with the turkey in the back of the van and told me to “jump in”.

On the way back to Uzes Geoffrey explained to me why things didn’t go as I was told earlier. It seems there’s some “poultry edict” in France now that forbids live fowl from being killed at this type of facility. It has something to do with health requirements, I’m sure. So it was up to Geoffrey to kill the bird and de-feather it himself. I’ll just say, he wasn’t looking forward to it.2013-11-26 20.35.16

The Oysters

Shopping for oysters was left up to me. Or, better, it was left up to me to pick them up exactly where I was told to go — to Nimes and to Geoffrey’s favorite oyster man at the downtown market.

Geoffrey was going to spend the day “preparing” the turkey.

The market in Nimes is a colorful place. It’s on the ground floor of a multi-level shopping mall in a very fashionable part of town. The vendors are at the market until just after noon, six days a week. They sell mostly fresh food items, wine, olive oil and the like. You can buy oysters that are from Sete (the Mediterranean) and some from the Atlantic Ocean. The selection of seafood, meats, cheeses and prepared specialties — like tapenades and pastries — is huge.

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Sally and I started out early for the 40 minute drive. I brought along a little cart with wheels so that I could carry the oysters to the car. There was no time to do any other shopping so Sally and I returned soon to Uzes with two crates of oysters — eight dozen of the most beautiful, fat and juicy oysters you can imagine. And yes, I did sample a few from the nice oyster man.

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Cranberry sauce and pecans

2013-11-28 13.04.44The hardest items to find for the Thanksgiving menu were pecans and cranberry sauce. After searching through Carrefour for longer than you can imagine, I discovered them both. Guess where? You know the aisle in the grocery store where they keep all the “international” food. Should have looked there first, I guess.

Since they were “special” they were pricey. One package of pecans and one small jar of cranberry sauce cost more than US$12! (Perhaps you can tell how small the packages are from the set of keys nearby.)

The celebration

After all the planning, shopping and cooking — done almost completely by Geoffrey — it was time for Thanksgiving. Let me say no more. The pictures and video speak for themselves.

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Jammin’ with Angus

Click here to enjoy the “Thanksgiving in Uzes “sing-a-long”

The party goes on …. stay tuned

Give Thanks for New Friends Who Help Color Your World

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Thanksgiving has new meaning to me this year.  It’s not a holiday in France. Never mind,  I’m making it my personal day to give thanks to all the new people who have come into my world this year.

November road scene, Uzes

November road scene, Uzes

I drove out into the countryside near Uzes yesterday to take pictures of the Autumn views. As spectacular as it is, I couldn’t help comparing the colors and scenery of France with my Carolina home. Rather than getting all mope-y eyed and sad that I won’t be spending the holiday with my family and friends in the US, I thought about my new friends.

How lucky I am to have them in my life!

Pictured in this photo gallery are just a few of the many, many people I have “run into” in 2013. You’ve read about them in the posts of Barefoot Blogger. Some are destined to be lifelong friends. Others will be acquaintances.  Some are “people in the crowd” who allowed me to take their photograph. And others didn’t know they were in the sights of my lens.

Geoffrey is shown more than once. See if you can pick him out. His flamboyant style makes it hard to appreciate only one of his “many faces”. 

Stay tuned … Thanksgiving in France … Live turkey … Tomorrow I will be celebrating an American-style holiday dinner with my new friends in France. It will be a Thanksgiving to remember, for sure. Yet it will bring back memories of all those Thanksgivings in the past.

Uzes in November: A Two-Day Tour

My  first house guest came to visit recently. During her two-day stay, my college-aged friend and I visited some of my favorite spots around Uzes : Pont du Gard, San Quentin La Poterie and Nimes.

When I learned that my friend from North Carolina’s daughter wanted to visit Uzès in November as part of her break from college, I was thrilled. She is a student at Tulane and is studying a semester abroad in Copenhagen.

Imagine: A “20-something” wants to spend time with me!”

Through emails I learned my visitor wanted to plan her time around a market day — either on Wednesday or Saturday. Since she reads my blog and she knows how I rave about “markets” she wanted to see one for herself. Plans worked out that she would arrive in Nimes by train on Tuesday evening and return for the train on Thursday evening.

Perfect. 

The “agenda” we decided upon would give her a chance to go to the Wednesday market in Uzes, and then see Pont du Gard, shop a bit in San Quentin les Poterie and tour around the quaint pottery village. Then on Thursday we would see the sights in Nimes — remains of Roman civilization — before meeting the train in the evening.

Uzès in November: Day One

I was so excited about meeting my visitor at the train that I got to the station in downtown Nimes well ahead of time. The train was delayed but she arrived close to schedule at 7pm. When she stepped off the train to greet me she was more adorable than I remembered. The last time we saw each other was when she was in middle school.

After quick “hellos” and hugs, we took the elevator in the train station to the parking lot below. We hopped in Mustang Sally and took off for Uzes — a 40-minute drive along a very narrow, curvy, downhill road. The same route the Tour de France cyclist often travel.

First impressions of Uzes – When we entered the town of Uzes I deliberately drove slowly down the tree-lined street, around the tall cathedral and along the walled passage. I could tell my young friend was taking it all in. Before we got to the main street, I pulled Sally into the almost-empty underground parking lot. We walked up the steps, through the staircase that leads from the garage, and into the fresh air.

A short walk through a backstreet alley led us to the plaza of the Duche — Place de Duche.

“Oh my,” my friend blurted out as we rounded the corner; I knew the feeling. Seeing the Duche, the towers, and the ancient stone buildings for the first time is pretty amazing.

When we reached the apartment building and entered the massive entrance door, I led her up the fifty-five steps to my place and to her room for the next few days — decorated just in time for her visit. A room with a view.

Uzes in November

Knowing we would be returning to Uzes late, I’d planned a simple dinner, one of my favorite meals in France so far: Mont d’Or over boiled potatoes with a green salad. As hoped, she loved it and claimed Mont d’Or is” the best cheese I’ve ever eaten.”

Rise and shine – Not one to awaken early, I made an exception this day so that we could cram in as much sight-seeing  as possible.

Our first stop: a cafe for “petite dejuener”. After going by three of my favorite places,we learned that cafes around here don’t serve pastries with their coffee. It is, however, perfectly acceptable to bring in a bag with your own. (You can tell that eating out this time of day isn’t part of my routine.) Happily, we went to the boulangerie to choose from a decadent selection of fresh, hot bakery items. Our choice:  croissants — two chocolate, two almond. Then off for coffee and latte at the nearest cafe.

Uzes in November

Uzes in November

Wednesday Market

Market vendors and tourists are dwindling down in numbers with the cooler weather in Uzes.  Anyway, there was enough activity that my guest could picture the Place aux Herbes crowded with people and things to buy.

Shops were open that displayed the season’s new fashions. Wishing she had brought a bigger suitcase, my young friend found a linen, ruffled dress that she could easily stuff into her backpack.

Pont du Gard

The aqueduct built by the Romans to supply water to the early Gaelic city of Nimes was next on the tour.

On the 20-minute drive from Uzes to Pont du Gard, I became concerned about the weather. The sky was cloudy and the wind was ferocious at times. I was a bit concerned about our plan to walk through the expansive, open grounds at Pont du Gard, then across the long, open bridge that is part of the aqueduct.

My mind darted back to last summer when, crossing the Pont du Gard, my hat flew off and it almost went over the side.  It’s a long way down to the river and valley below. I didn’t want to be a “killjoy” but I related the hat story and added that the wind was blowing much harder now. My companion wasn’t worried at all. She had seen worse in Copenhagen. We forged ahead.

There’s a blog about Pont du Gard that I wrote this summer. It goes into detail about my feelings the first time I saw Pont du Gard. I really hoped it would have the same affect on others. I wondered how I would react seeing it again.

Uzes in November

Uzes in November

In the fall, with few visitors in the park, the view of Pont du Gard is still amazing.

San Quentin la Poterie

Right on schedule after a half day at Pont du Gard, there was plenty of time for sightseeing and shopping in the small village on the other side of Uzes known for its artists, pottery and laid-back atmosphere.

Uzes in November

San Quentin la Poterie

Uzes in November

Uzès in November: Day Two

We accomplished a lot in Day One of the two-day tour, including plenty of time to eat lunch at Pont du Gard, to sip lattes in a tiny cafe/reading shop in San Quentin la Poterie, and to enjoy “mashed cod and potato” pizza at “Pizza les Duche” when we returned to Uzes.

The next day was just as busy, filled with visiting more sites of the Roman occupation of Gard. A tour of Nimes.

Nimes

The city of approximately 150,000 citizens, is proudly called the City of Art and History. Its beginning starts over 2000 years ago with many sites dating back as early as 25 BC.

To include Nimes on a visit to Uzes is not only a must-see, it’s convenient. The train station is in the middle of the city — the closest around. Trains connect to Paris and the rest of France where you can get most anywhere in Europe. My house guest’s train to Marseilles, then onto Nice, was scheduled for early that evening, giving us time to leisurely walk around the historic town.

La Maison Carrée – To me this is the practical place to start the tour. The grand, majestic “forum” is in the middle of downtown.

A 20-minute movie plays constantly during the daytime at la Maison Carrée that presents the city and its history in 3-D. It seems a bit “hokey” because the scenes are intended to represent people and events 2000 years ago; however, it’s entertaining. I definitely enjoyed the film more this time than when I saw it last summer. Then there were lots of tourists and I had to sit on the theater steps.

Uzes in November

The Arena – Also known as the Coliseum, is one of the most spectacular places to see in Nimes.

It is one of the few remaining arenas from the Roman days and, reportedly, it is the most well-preserved. We both agree it is a more impressive landmark than the Coliseum in Rome. The park-like historic district where the arena sits in Nimes gives the giant structure the space it deserves. Even though it is in the center of town, there are no tall buildings around that hinder the view.

Ooops!   Ok, there was a slight interference with the view that day — a ferris wheel

Uzes in November

Just a reminder that Nimes is a lively, modern town. Uzes in November

Uzes in November

Our lunch stop in Nimes gave me a chance to introduce a local dish to my guest — moules and frites.

When I see mussels and fries offered on a street menu as the “plat du jour”, I go for it. To pay nine or ten euros, it’s a good value. Plus, it’s really tasty! Especially with an icy, cold glass of beer from the tap.

Uzes in November

Tour Magne – The Great Tower is at the highest spot in the city of Nimes and the only remaining remnant of the ancient wall built by Augustus near 15 BC.

Getting to the Tour Magne is a mission in itself. Standing tall above the beautiful Jarden de la Fontaine, the monument is reached only by climbing the stairways that lead to the top of the terraced garden. The views along the way are magnificent, even in late fall.

Uzes in November

By the time we reached the monument visitor hours had just ended. Just as well for me since I swore the last time I climbed the stairs of the tower would be … well … the last time. My energetic friend could have easily taken it on, but she assured me she wasn’t disappointed. To see Nimes from this height was quite enough.

Uzes in NovemberUzes in November

Missing the climb to the top of the Tower meant we had more time to relax, visit and see other parts of Nimes.

Uzes in November

It also meant we had time to take in one of the most interesting, amusing spots of all — the cafe near the train station. My guest agreed these out-of-the-way places and people you meet make France the place to spend as much time as possible.

          Uzes in November   Uzès in November: Farewell

The non-stop, three day visit to this part of the Gard in southern France was over.

Before leaving on the train, I heard my “20-something” friend proclaim: “I’ll be back … soon!”

For another view of Nimes visit this earlier blog post 

For another view of Pont du Gard visit this earlier post

For another view of San Quentin la Poterie visit this earlier post 

Life in France: More about Sheets

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Perhaps stories about bedding in France is too much about nothing. I wish it could be over and done with myself. It just goes on… and on.

Life in France: More Sheets

Claude the cheeseman

Saturday started out so well. Earlier than usual I was up and out to the weekend market. Claude, the cheese man presented me with a new cheese to sample. By noontime I had made all my purchases, including ruffled tops and loose-fitting linen pants on sale for 15 euros each! “Bo-Bo” style is “in”. (Watch for this in an upcoming BFBlog)

In the afternoon, Geoffrey called for his daily update on my whereabouts. He wanted to lead me, in his borrowed van, to visit his friend who was going to check out Sally’s latest malady — a skipping engine. I had discovered there might be a problem with Sally’s transmission during my ride back from Nimes on Thursday. With a trip planned to the train station this week to pick up my house guest, I didn’t want to take any chances with Sally breaking down.

Geoffrey and I met at his favorite cafe/bar, then took off for a “quick” stop at the nearby Monoprix store for … more sheets. I still needed bottom sheets for the guest room. Finding there was only one choice for bottom sheets for the odd-sized beds — i.e. top sheets to tuck in to fit — I resigned myself to paying 59 euros for the pair (approximately $80). Eyeing the purchase price with total amazement (as only a man can do!), Geoffrey led be back up the main street of town to pick up a gas can at his house.

Why a gas can?

For gas for the borrowed van he was driving, of course. Gas can in hand, we picked up Sally in her underground parking space and drove to the gas station for petrol. Then to the free parking lot behind the high school to find the borrowed van.

You want me to drive this? Really!

Arriving at the high school parking lot, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Among rows of “regular-looking” cars, vans and trucks was this …

Life in France: More Sheets

“You must be kidding! I shouted. “I’m not picking up anyone in this!”

Then I started to backtrack on my story about Sally’s problems.”Maybe the engine wasn’t skipping after all. Perhaps my foot slipped off the pedal.”

Geoffrey wasn’t falling for any of my new claims and insisted we continue with the plan to visit his friend for Sally’s checkup. It wasn’t until he started filling the gas tank that I saw the humor in it all. Did I mention his wardrobe choice for the day? AKA “disguise”?

A photo opportunity.

Promise, I don’t make this stuff up. It just happens. That’s why Geoffrey was put into my life here in France. He’s a book!

Life in France: More Sheets

Life in France: Sheets

Arriving at his friend Paschal’s house, outside Uzes, Geoffrey announced he hadn’t told anyone we were coming to visit. In fact, he said with a sly wink:

They might be in bed.

Without going into too much detail, Geoffrey explained the Saturday ritual for many people living in this part of France. They awaken early to go to the Saturday market, they shop, they drink, they eat a leisurely lunch. Then they go home to bed.

Great. Now I was committed to leaving Sally in the driveway and riding back to Uzes in THAT van. But wait! There’s Paschal heading our way

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Even better, after giving Sally a spin around the neighborhood, Paschal said she was fine… “probably just dirty spark plugs.”

Paschal not only relieved my concern about Sally’s transmission, he fixed the window on the driver’s side of the car. It would go up and down. Or maybe it always worked? Can you believe I never tried to put the window down myself? I took Geoffrey’s word that it was broken. What was I thinking? All those times I wrenched my back opening the car door to pick up a ticket at the car park, I could have opened the window?

Best of all, Geoffrey and I had finished our mission with enough time for him to lead me to the warehouse store we’d visited. For sheets. Surely I could find flat sheets for less than $80! Always happy to oblige me, Geoffrey scooted off in the blue van and I took off in Sally, heading for the discount store. I had totally forgotten how to find it again.

In the sheet section of the store, Geoffrey witnessed for himself my confusion with bedding and sheets. He joined in on my search for top sheets to fit the 80×200 cm beds. The best we came up with was a pair of red sheets, sized 180×290 cm — obviously too big, but the smallest size available. Then we looked for pillowcases to match.

Why do you need pillowcases to match?” Geoffrey queried, proudly handing me packages with grey pillowcases.

Because I do“, I said, taking the red sheets out of his hands. “Now we need to find grey sheets.”

With that, I swear to you, I heard Geoffrey’s heels click as he turned around and headed for the front of the store.

Where are you going?” I asked.:

Geoffrey, in his most polite English, gentlemanly voice replied: “To catch a breath.

This, my friends, is the closest I’ve come to losing my composure in public in France. I continued chuckling all the way to the checkout counter to pay 30 euros ($40) for the pair of grey sheets.

Not a bad day afterall. A savings on sheets and a great story to boot.

Stay tuned: House tour…

The View at the Top

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There are some awesome views in the world that you can wake up to everyday. For me, this one ranks pretty high. Fate took me to the real estate office in Uzes to check out where I might live . With 55 steps to climb to my tower apartment, I’m still thankful and amazed I’m in France.

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Living modern in an ancient tower

Just because the walls are stone and the staircase is spiral and narrow doesn’t mean you have to live like a monk. When I moved into this apartment, I wanted to keep some of the “monastic” elements in tact. Would my love for bright colors — especially red and yellow —  be at odds with the look I was going for?

The building entrance

Apartment entrance at the Place de Duche

Apartment entrance at the Place de Duche

Located directly opposite the Palace of the Duchy of Uzes, the apartment building is only steps away from the village marketplace… and the town’s bell tower which rings every hour and half hour from 7 am until 10 pm. The short tower that appears to be below the bell is at the highest level of my apartment.UzesWalking from the the front of the apartment building down the street to the left leads to small shops and cafes.

UzesUzes


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On Saturdays and Wednesdays people are heading down this street to the open market.

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Taking the road to the right around the Palace leads to the town’s main street.

Uzes

Uzes

Uzes

A glimpse inside

Once you enter the apartment building on the ground floor, there is a handsome foyer that leads to the first floor apartments. (Yes, there are apartments on the ground floor, too.)

20130729-164920.jpgJust up the steps …

Then the fun begins. Take 20 steps on the spiral staircase to my apartment door.

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… through the glass door and “welcome” chain to the entrance to the living room.

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Up more steps ….

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… to the tower.

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Inscribed with the date of the most recent renovation 2004

The guided tour – Part I

The Guest Room

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Original print by my friends and co-workers at Frameworks, London

Original print by my friends and co-workers at Frameworks, London

Pillow and lap blanket from two of my "best"!

Pillow and lap blanket from two of my “best”!

I’m Not Learning French

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Speak frenchLearning to speak French is becoming an issue for me. Try as I may, it is a bit of a pain. Perhaps it’s because my brain is full trying to deal with learning how to deal with everyday life.

I want to learn French. I really do. However, there are challenges everyday that seem to take up my learning time.

Like bedding.

Bedding is something I can’t seem to understand. Before in one of the blogs, I mentioned how confusing it is to choose a bed size. There are more configurations and iterations that you want to know. Just when I think I’ve got it figured out, I mess up.

For example, I’m trying to fix up the second bedroom for my first guest from the US. The daughter of one of my very dear friends is studying in Europe and she’s making a special visit to see me in Uzes! She’ll be here next week.

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New friends from Australia, with Nandine, at the Saturday Market

Yesterday I drove my new friends from Australia to the train station in Nimes. They have a vacation home here and were heading back to Australia by train with an overnight in Paris. The large Carrefour store is in Nimes, plus a few other stores I’ve wanted to check out. So taking my friends to the train station was a perfect excuse for a shopping trip.

Picky-picky

Yes, I know I’m picky. Finding the right sized linen for a bed seems to me to be important. I should have thought about that when I purchased the two 80x200cm beds instead of 90×190. Who knew there are no linens to fit. The guy that sold them to me certainly must not have known I’d have these problems. Or maybe he did. I couldn’t understand everything he was telling me in French.

Fitted sheet: Housse

The Conforama store I shopped in yesterday had a bedding section that seemed to answer my prayers.  Good thing because the Castorama store was a bust. (“Rama” is a popular store name, apparently)

Conforama had fitted sheets for 80x200cm beds! See for yourself. The package says: 2 x 80×200. 2013-11-08 19.19.07There’s even an illustration of two beds.  Voila! I was beginning to figure it out. Since the beds are meant to be pulled together to make a queen-sized bed, they must sell the sheets together.

I could hardly wait to get home to make up the beds.

Not so fast. 

The fitted sheets were sewn together in a section down the middle to fit the queen bed!  Now what to do?

I cut the housse in half! 2013-11-08 12.13.57

So what if there are raw edges. My guest will never know!

Duvet: Couette

Never learned French, never owned a duvet. Two pitfalls for living in France.

Duvets have never been my thing. To me, here’s something untidy about a bed that’s not tightly put together. Therefore, the joy of stuffing a duvet into it’s cover is an art I never mastered. Like learning to speak French.

Here duvets are the norm. Top sheets are not. So to make up a bed properly in France, I had to convert.

Duvet cover: Housse de couette

Like other bed linens, the couette and the housse de couette come in a gazillion sizes and permutations. 2013-11-08 11.43.22Amazingly, I chose the correct size for the two guest room beds.

2013-11-08 11.47.33Slipping the couette into the housse de couette was a breeze. Especially because there’s a tiny slit in the top to the housee de couette. It allows you to stick you hand in to grab the end of the couette. Perhaps the American version of duvets have a similar design. If not, the French have something on us.

Oreiller vs. Traversin

If the elementary French is boring you, I apologize. These simple lessons are for those like me who don’t know French and for those who are easily confused.

2013-11-08 11.59.35OK. Another head-scratcher. An “oreiller” is an ordinary pillow. Easy enough even though they are all shapes and sizes. It’s the an odd-shaped “pillow” named “traversin” that’s a puzzlement. I’ve seen similar in the States, but they’re everywhere here. The most common size is like the big one shown in this picture. The smaller ones I bought from the same man that sold me the beds. Maybe when he told me I wouldn’t find sheets for the 80cm beds he also mentioned the same problem for a small-sized traversin.

The large one you can decorate quite nicely with ribbons and bows on the ends.

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The smaller ones you hide under a stack of pillows so the edges don’t show. Yes, I cut a large traversin cover (taie) in half.

The finished guest room

Stay tuned: Unveiling the guest room and more…


On the Road with Sally: Behind the Scenes

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The first day out on the road with “Sally”  needs a bit more of an explanation than was offered in the previous post.  You see, nothing about my new life in France is as easy as it seems.

photoAs you may remember from this summer’s blogs, my friend Geoffrey kindly loaned “Ales”, the tattered Citroen, to me for road trips out of Uzes. Sadly for him, he mentioned I might get to use his red Mustang with racing stripes when I returned in the Spring.

Arriving back in Uzes, I reminded Geoffrey of his offer. Often. Finally we worked out a “loan” agreement.  Geoffrey had stuff in his house he want to sell and I wanted stuff for my new apartment. I wanted a car, he had more than one.  It seemed to be working out great for both of us.

Sally has an interesting background. Before I go on, let me tell you about Sally’s past. She was given to Geoffrey by a wealthy man who owned her. He also bestowed to my friend another almost identical Mustang. They both are red with racing stripes. One difference between the two cars is the size of the engines. Sally has four cylinders, her twin has six.

The other difference is that the Sally’s twin Mustang is being held hostage. Whereabouts unknown. 

A bargain is a bargain.

Part of my loan agreement for Sally was that I would help find her twin sister. That meant going with Geoffrey to a meeting with the “bailiff” to sort out the issues surrounding the missing Mustang.

On the day of the meeting I walked to the bailiff’s office by myself. It’s in a two-story building that shares a driveway with the second-hand store I’ve shopped in a lot, so I knew where I was going. I had noticed the open-staircase structure the first time I visited the “brocante” store. Its architecture is totally out of character in this French provincial town. It looks like a 1970’s-style motel.

Before I got far down the driveway, Geoffrey called to me from the balcony of the building’s second floor. I walked up the metal steps and into the open door of the office. Strangely, I felt like I was on the film set of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It was all a bit “shady” — the surroundings and the people inside.

Rather than spoil the plot for a great mystery novel, I stop here. Let’s just say we thought the deed was done.

Strings attached, with knots

The visit to the bailiff’s office was three weeks ago. Still no word on the missing car.

So last week, tired of waiting to get on the road, I told Geoffrey I was taking Sally. In fact, “she’s staying with me from now ’til April”, I announced. He agreed and handed me Sally’s keys.

We were off. Stopping at the nearest gas station to fill her up, I pumped petrol into Sally’s empty tank. I just had to pay for the gas and we’d be on our way.

Not so quick.

The lady behind the register at the gas station started ringing up the sale. She looked outside at Sally. She looked at me. Instead of handing me the reader for my credit card, she pulled a slip of paper out of the drawer. An unpaid bill for 95 euros.

I gasped and said, “I don’t know nuthin.”

She politely announced she was calling the police.

Now, picture this. This discussion is going on between me — who speaks no French — and a lady at the counter who speaks no English. Fortunately a couple of men waiting in line were able to help translate our conversation.

Quickly considering my two choices:1) run, or 2) or pay the bill. I handed over my credit card to pay the 95 euros. Starting off my three-year adventure in France with an encounter with the French gendarme isn’t exactly in my game plan.

Later, returning to Geoffrey’s to re-negotiate the terms of the loan of the car, we now have a new agreement. Sally’s mine until June.

Off we go, guardly

Wait … there’s more.

You see, before I adopted Sally, she was in an accident and a burglary. When her radio was “burgled”, the robber came through the driver’s side window. Now the window won’t go up or down. That means every time I come into or out of my gated, underground parking lot, I have to put on the emergency brake; open my door; wrench my body around to swipe the parking pass on the automated “eye”; hope the garage gate will open; close the car door; buckle the seat belt;  release the brake; then take off.

As a result of the accident, Sally is sporting a spare tire. That takes us back to the story about the trip to Saint Jean du Gard.

2013-11-05 09.36.02Sally and I were raring to go. Admittedly, I was a bit concerned about taking a trip — albeit only 45 kilometers away — on a spare tire. Fortunately I ran into my friend Andy on Sunday. He had gone with me a few weeks ago to pick up my shipment of boxes from Marseilles.  He offered to take his van on the site seeing trip, instead of taking a chance with Sally on the road. Stubbornly I stuck with my plan to take her for the drive.

Luckily, there were no car mishaps along the road to Saint Jean du Gard. Andy knew he was indispensable as my road mechanic and he took full charge, giving road tips and warnings to slow down.

Sally handles like a dream. She hugs the narrow, curvy, back roads of France like a born racer.

Just wait ’til we get her “big girl” tire.

Ride Sally, ride.

On the Road with Sally: Saint Jean du Gard

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photoSally’s first road trip was to the Tuesday market in Saint Jean du Gard. The town’s history dates back to the twelfth century when monks from the Abbey of St-Gilles created the settlement on the banks of the Gardon River. With its religious beginnings, Saint Jean du Gard and the surrounding area — the Cévennes — became known as a stronghold for French Protestants (Hugenots).

The citizens, mostly white-shirted Calvinist peasants (Camisards), famously banded together to fight royal control throughout years of religious wars. Many fled to America, England and Switzerland from 1685 into the early 1700’s to avoid ongoing persecution. More recent history of Saint Jean du Gard includes the town’s mention in Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.

San Jean du Gard

Market day in Saint Jean du Gard

Because market days seem to be the focus of my explorations in France, I planned the visit to Saint Jean du Gard on a Tuesday.San Jean du Gard When I arrived in the town, I was happily surprised to see familiar sights. I had been here before on my trip a few years ago — the same visit when I discovered Uzes.

It was a rainy, overcast day but that didn’t stop me from wandering around to some of the same places I remember before and exploring for new photo opportunities. First there was a stop at the “indoor” market area to take note of the products indigenous to the area and those in season

Apples, apples  more apples.

Apples everywhere. All varieties and juices galore.Many types of apples are the same as in the States. Only a few I’ve never seen before. In addition to the raw apples, there are several versions of apple juice. Not being a big fan of fruit juices, I didn’t buy any to bring back with me. Nevertheless, it makes a great photo.

San Jean du GardSan Jean du Gard

 

Also in season are chestnuts. While doing a bit of research on Saint Jean du Gard, I learned that chestnut trees were once an important food crop and brought a degree of wealth to the area because of the popular “marron” nuts. San Jean du GardWhen planting mulberry trees to “nourish” the silk worm industry became more profitable than harvesting chestnuts, mulberry trees took over much of the landscape. Fortunately marrons are abundant enough in the markets today for all to continue to enjoy.

Root vegetables and pumpkins

Pomme de terre (potatoes) are found on French dinner tables probably more than any other side dish. So it is no surprise there are bushels and baskets of white and red-skinned potatoes in every market, regardless of the season. Baking potatoes (russet-type) are harder to find in the markets where I’ve ventured. Certainly I haven’t seen Outback Steakhouse giant-sized spuds anywhere.

2013-11-05 09.47.14Squashes and pumpkins are now on display in time for fall menus, including creamed soups. The usual way I prepare squashes —  like splitting a butternut squash in half and baking it with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon — is unheard of by those I’ve asked. Instead, the squash is peeled and steamed, then mashed. The one I have at my house is going to end up in a creamy, cold soup.

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One vegetable, pictured in the photo on the right, is a giant radish. According to the vendor, it is eaten raw like its tiny kin. Presumably it’s almost as hot as horseradish. The truth I’ll find out about later.

There are not as many varieties of green, leafy vegetables like collards and kale in these markets. But there are many types of veggies like endive, shallots, fennel, and leeks. Eggplant (aubergine) is very popular and prepared in many ways. Mesclun, spinach and other salad greens are in the market throughout the year. Having lived most of my life in the southern states of the US, there are not many vegetables here that I don’t recognize. Some I’m trying for the first time — fennel for example. Yum!

People watching

San Jean du GardSneaking photos of interesting people is another reason I love market days. Saint Jean du Gard has its own special flavor for my spectator sport.

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 Let me share a few shots that were taken on this visit, including one of my friend Andy who came along for the ride.

San Jean du Gard

Village views

Now, for some of the best views along the journey. Perhaps this will give you a feel for the town of Saint Jean du Gard. Even on a less than beautiful day, it’s a special place to see.

San Jean du Gard

San Jean du Gard

San Jean du Gard

San Jean du GardSan Jean du Gard

San Jean du Gard

The Cévennes

Along with the quaint village streets and scenes, tourists head to Saint Jean du Gard for the steam train ride through the mountainous areas of the Cevennes. The 45-minute roundtrip to Anduze is on my to-do list for on a sunnier day.

Hikers and outdoors travelers head for this part of the Cévennes and the Cévennes National Park in the summertime in droves.The beauty of the hills and river, speckled with small farms and villages, also attract photographers and artists.

Did I mention? … there are pottery shops and wine domains all along the way.

Cevennes

Cevennes

For more about Sally, read the earlier post “A nice friendship”

Neighborhood Views in Uzes

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Uzes

Many sights around the neighborhood in Uzes have been building up in my camera. It’s time to share.

As you would imagine, there are many narrow streets with ancient buildings all around Uzes. From my apartment, heading to the main street, here are just some of the alleyways and sights along the way.

Now that there are fewer and fewer tourists in town, some shops are closing, but mostly, people are staying indoors.

Uzes

UzesCafes and bars along the main street are being taken over by the regular crowd again.

Anytime’s a good time to sit and enjoy a glass of wine, beer, pastis… and a smoke.

UzesLots of people in Uzes smoke cigarettes in and out of the bars and restaurants. A popular smoking habit is to roll your own cigarettes from tobacco in cans that is readily available at the neighborhood Tabac stores.

Pastis

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Christophe, the bar owner, is learning to speak a little English and loves to joke with me when I show up in the afternoons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along the main street

A centerpiece in town is the fountain with the magnificent statue of a maiden pouring water from a pottery vessel. This time of year she is adorned with a pink cape to signify the time for residents to donate to local blood banks.

A centerpiece in town is the fountain with a magnificent statue of a maiden. Currently she is adorned in purple robes, a sign that is is time for residents to donate to the blood banks. Uzes

Uzes

Sunday afternoon at Place des Herbes

With the crowds gone now, Uzesthe Place des Herbes is quiet and picturesque in an entirely new way. Even though there are not as many people around, there is almost always live music playing. This last Sunday, a group of musicians joined with friends for lunch and entertained everyone who was within hearing distance.

Uzes

Pictures worth a thousand wordsUzesUzes
Uzes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My view from the tower

Many of you have asked how I’m getting along2013-10-25 09.14.33 living so close to the town’s bell tower. Let’s just say, it’s really close.

The bell rings one strike for every hour. Then it rings again five minutes later. Don’t ask me why! Then it rings one strike at the half hour. This goes on everyday from seven in the morning until ten at night. Actually, it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s a pleasant sound.

These photos show the view from my apartment if you are standing in my rooftop terrace. The Palace of the Duche is straight ahead, the bell tower to the left, and behind and over the roof is the dome to my own little tower!

Uzes

The bell tower

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This is my tower! For real! In my apartment you can walk to what would be the 6th floor and see the inside of the dome.

Uzes

Next time: On the road!

Sally’s ready to ride!

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French foods, fests and customs

Food, Fests and Customs

Halloween is my favorite holiday. It’s a celebration with no expectations. No one expects cards or gifts, except for the kids who come to your door to Trick or Treat.

French Food, Fests and Customs

Halloween In Uzes there’s very little evidence of the tradition. Only plastic scarecrows, owls and pumpkins in a few shop windows.Some younger children go out in costume to trick or treat, but it’s not over-the-top like in the US.

There is one exception — the salon of my new hairdresser.

The owner, Rosie, loves Halloween. She gets a kick out of decorating her salon with the typical Halloween skeletons and witches. Mostly she enjoys sneaking up with a scary mask and waking clients when they’ve dosed off to sleep. Perhaps wrapping the bright red lights around me when coloring my hair last week was really a trick! 

No one in Rosie’s shop speaks English. So imagine the fun it was trying to explain how to color my hair. After the first visit my head looked like I had on a blonde cap with platinum fringe. When I returned during the week to ask for a “re-do”, I simply explained the problem in sign language and one word of French –” chapeau”. Rosie (pictured on the left) and Sophie the colorist (on the right) understood right away that I didn’t want to look like I had a hat on my head with blonde fringes. It may have taken two visits to get it right, but everything turned out OK.. They took notes for next time.

French Food, Fests and Customs

Saints Day

The proliferation of chrysanthemums around the town’s flower shops are a sign of the celebration of All Saints Day — La Toussaint. It is customary to honor the deceased during church services and at gravesites with bouquets of chrysanthemums. The holiday is widely celebrated with banks and businesses closing.

French Food, Fests and Customs

Florist shop on main street in Uzes

A funny thing on the way to a funeral …

While I’m on the subject of cemeteries,  I have to tell you about my first experience attending a funeral in France. Geoffrey called on Monday morning and asked if I’d like to go along with him to a friend’s funeral. It sounds like a strange request to many of you, but Geoffrey knows I’m interested in all aspect of life in France. Although I had an evening planned with my new friend from the furniture store, I stopped by the shop to tell her we’d get together another time. Funerals might not be easy to find.

The funeral was scheduled for five o’clock in Bagnols, a nearby town. Fortunately we left before three o’clock to make the 45-minute drive. Arriving in Bagnols at the only cathedral in town, we walked around the block looking for the funeral crowd.

No crowd. No funeral. Nothing but an empty sanctuary.

Since Geoffrey’s notice of the funeral was only word-of-mouth, he apologized to me for the mistake, then suggested it might be a grave-side funeral. The deceased was from Ireland and very few people were expected to attend his services. Dressed in our “Sunday-finest” black clothes, we were determined to find the funeral. So we set out to find the cemetery. With no instructions, we drove around town and we found a florist shop. Surely they would know where there was a funeral. Bingo. They directed us to the city burial grounds just in time.

Arriving just as the few mourners were gathering to follow the hearst to the graveside, we joined in silently. The hearst pulled alongside the grave and opened the large back door of the car, exposing a simple oak coffin. Now, it might not surprise you to see a wooden coffin, but I don’t believe that, outside of a movie, I’ve ever seen anyone buried in one. The coffins we use in the States are quite elaborate.

A group of pallbearers lifted the coffin from the hearst using corded ropes and gently placed it on the ground. Learning more about the deceased, I understood the simple ceremony. He had left Ireland and was living quite alone in France. A brilliant architect who had fallen into the wrong path through alcohol addiction, he had lost touch with friends and relatives. At the end a poem by Robert Burns — a Scott — was read by a friend of the deceased — also a Scott.

French Food, Fests and Customs

 

A final toast

Saying “au revoir” to the funeral guests, Geoffrey asked if I would go to his friend’s favorite bar for a final farewell. Still looking for adventure, of course, I said “yes”. The bar was almost as empty as the sanctuary. And the bartender was just as lively as a corpse. Nevertheless, Geoffrey and I clinked our glasses in honor of the solitary man who lived hard and died suddenly, quietly, alone.

French Food, Fests and Customs

Geoffrey, the Little Man

 

French Food, Fests and Customs

On a happier note, fabulous food finds

My passion for Miel de Lavende is getting as uncontrollable as my cravings for chocolate. Now there’s the perfect accompaniment — brie cheese. It’s not the ordinary kind of brie you’d find everywhere. This variety tastes like butter. You can see from the photo that the texture of this brie is different. On a piece of crusty French bread …. well …. Heaven! Notice the cheese and bread never made it to a serving plate. Right out of the shiny white wrapping paper presented to me at the cheese merchant. (More later about Claude.)

French Food, Fests and Customs

A proper cheese storage box

While talking about cheese, I’ll admit I had no idea how to store it properly. Fortunately I overheard an English-speaking person at the market talk about a “cheese box” she pulls out of the refrigerator prior to serving cheeses.

“Hmmm…” says me to myself: “I need a cheese box.”

That’s when I remembered the glass Pyrex container with a red plastic cover  I had purchased to use for baking. Seals tight. Fits well into the refrigerator shelf. It’s perfect for storing the wide collection of cheese I buy to sample each week.

French Food, Fests and Customs

Cooking a chicken

Since most of my shopping is done at the Saturday and Wednesday markets, purchasing meat is straight from the butcher, straight from the farm. Having first time experiences is becoming the norm, yet I must say, buying and preparing a whole chicken was a little testy.

When I purchased it from the market, it looked like a regular chicken. It was not until I got her home and unwrapped the wings and legs that I saw her in all her glory. (Hope you don’t mind the graphic display. Now you know how I felt!)

French Food, Fests and Customs

French market chicken

After I got over the initial shock, I put a cloth over her head and chopped off her head. Then off went those extra “thingys” on the end of her legs. What’s that about, anyway? She ended up making a delicious meal by putting her into my new red Pyrex crockery pot with a little water and spices. Next time I’ll surely be a pro. Maybe I’ll do like the French and use the head to prepare something wonderful.

More market food

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Up until the last two days, it’s been very warm here. It’s much like the weather in the Low Country of South Carolina this time of year. So the Saturday market vendors are still out in full force. That means “take out” food that is served up while you wait.

Last Saturday I treated myself to a hearty helping of Paella. I would venture to say it’s prepared much like you find it in Spain, Big unshelled shrimp with mussels and chicken pieces bask in a scrumptious bed of saffron rice and spices. C’est bon!

Next: Views of the neighborhood

Stay tuned

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Dancing Queen

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Moving to France Drama

If “Dancing Queen” from the movie “Mama Mia” came into your mind last Friday, it was me blasting the music from iTunes through my rooftop in France. I was celebrating that my internet connection and phone in the apartment were finally working!

To tell the truth, before then, I was close to a meltdown.

Moving to France dramaMy lack of French language skills was about to get the best of me. Imagine trying to place a service call to the cable or telephone company if you can’t communicate. There’s no way to get through an automated phone answering systems if you can’t speak French!

The drama

Every day I was showing up at my friend Geoffrey’s house with a “Deborah-do” list. He is the only bi-lingual person I know that I’ve felt comfortable asking favors. However, depending on him to deal with all my never-ending household issues was getting to be a bit much. Even for me, the “Queen of do-me-a-favor ple..eee…ase.”

So last Thursday morning I stopped by the town’s tourist office to ask about a newcomers group I heard about last summer. The receptionist gave me verbal directions to the newcomers’ office. Wasting no more time, I set out to find it. After a few wrong turn I came to the athletic field mentioned in the directions.  A sign led me to a tiny building inside the fence at the far end of the playing field. The squat, stone structure looked like a baseball dugout shelter; except it had a door at the end closest to me and barred windows on the sides.

The fence gate was open and just inside the gate a dirt path led to the entrance door. When there I turned the worn knob and pushed my weight against the heavy, wooden door.  Expecting to see a reception desk inside, or at least to hear a “bonjour”, I saw only a hallway of closed doors and heard muffled voices coming from behind one of the doors.

Moving to France dramaWalking towards the voices I reached the room that, I hoped, would be full of English-speaking people. Opening the door and sticking my head inside the tiny, dimly lit room, my eyes met the glares from at least a dozen men and women, all sitting around a table. They were probably conducting a very important meeting of some kind, which I rudely interrupted. But surely they would understand. I was on a mission.

I needed someone, anyone, to come to my rescue… to speak English.

Before I was totally into the room, a kind young woman stood up from behind the table to greet me at the door . But by then, I had blurted out “does anyone speak English?”

No one said a word. They just looked at each other, waiting for someone to speak up.

Silence.

“What??” I said to myself. ” No one speaks English? What kind of a “welcome”  group is this?!”

Fortunately, none of that ‘head-talk’ came out of my mouth. Nevertheless, I’m sure every person in the room, from the look on their faces, got the message and said in their own heads: “Ugly American!”

Meanwhile, the nice lady who was standing with me quickly grabbed my hand, pulled me into the hall, and closed the door behind us. With sign language and a few French words that I could understand, she managed to communicate that I should come back the next week for French lessons.

In total despair, I walked home. Right past Geoffrey’s house.

As fate would have it

Friday morning I was surprised to hear my new cellphone ringing. I’d purchased it for calls in France and I couldn’t imagine who would be calling me. It was Geoffrey. He announced he had found the perfect person to help me with my phone and internet problems. His English friend, Andy, could help me out for a few hours — for a small fee.

Eureka! Within a couple of hours of showing up at my apartment, Andy worked miracles. The internet, the landline, the wifi connections … all were up and running. On top of that, the plumber was on his way to find out why I had no hot water, and to turn on the radiators. I had been taking cold showers for five days and the apartment was cold at night. No wonder I was getting hysterical.

While my new best friend had fulfilled his intended mission, he inadvertently informed me he had a van.

A van! A strong, young man with a van! My prayers were answered. Now my ten boxes that were stuck in a warehouse in Marseilles could be rescued !The boxes filled with clothes and household items were shipped from the States in August and had been “held hostage” since early October. I was having a spat with the handling company and customs agent about taxes. (Another story, another time.)

Quick trip to Marseilles

This tale is best told by pictures.

Driving the two hours to Marseilles was no problem. Finding the warehouse where the boxes were stored was another story. Our GPS map didn’t take into consideration there is massive construction work underway around the port in Marseilles.

Moving to France drama

 

At the warehouse everything looked orderly and well-managed. Then my boxes were trucked on a fork lift to the door.

Please no! These can’t be mine!

Notice there are no pictures of Andy hauling the boxes up the 55 steps to the tower apartment. I didn’t have the nerve!

Moving to France drama

Home at last!

Moving to France Drama: Stress, yes. But fun along the way

When I look back on my first month living in France, I can easily say the “good times” have outnumbered the “bad”.

Hanging out with Geoffrey almost every day has been an adventure in itself –with enough stories to fill a book. It’s given me a great chance to meet some interesting “characters”. These are not the kind of folks you’d meet at fancy social gatherings. They are the people you’d pass on the street. Luckily I’ve had a chance to get to know them and experience their ways and antics. Here are just a few …

Rugby Reggie

Reggie is from the French Basque country. “I’m Basque” he proudly proclaims in his raspy, deep voice to anyone within listening distance. He lives on the same street as Geoffrey and spends a lot of time on his doorstep. When he’s not teaching the young boys in town how to play rugby. Reggie (shown on the right) and his good friend Matthew gave me permission to use their names and pictures in the blog. I told them they could say “Hi” to the many women who like to read about life in France.

 

The day this picture was taken Reggie and Matthew moved a mural and wrought iron patio set  I bought from Geoffrey from his house to my apartment. Little did they know that, aside from carrying the mural and patio set through the streets of Uzes, with no vehicle, they’d also have to climb the 55 steps to my “tower” apartment.

 

The part that no one knew was that the mural was too big to come up the winding tower steps.Did that stop Reggie the Basque? Of course not! With a stroke of shear genius, Reggie figured out how to hoist the mural up the side of the tower wall and maneuver it sideways into the upper window of the apartment. Voila!

 

Michel and Nicholas come for dinner

Perhaps the two most delightful characters I’ve met in Uzès are Michel and Nicholas. Both were invited, along with me and Geoffrey’s girlfriend Nandine, to have dinner with Geoffrey on a Sunday afternoon.

Geoffrey prepared a special French meal for us with the Mont d’ Or cheese I bought at the Saturday market.  “Mont d’ Or” means “mountain of gold” in English. It tastes like honey from heaven.  The cheese comes in a round bamboo container with a paper lid. To prepare Mont d’ Or you remove the box lid and stuff two or three cloves of garlic deep down into the middle of the cheese. Wrap the container in aluminum foil and bake the cheese for approximately 30 minutes, or until it is nicely melted.

Geoffrey served the Mont d’ Or with boiled potatoes, a salad with vinagrette dressing and fresh baguettes. For dessert we had formage blanc with rum raisin sauce, sprinkled with roasted almonds.

It’s hard to decide if the meal that Sunday, or the company, was more entertaining. Geoffrey’s friend Michel is quiet and introspective. Nicholas is rowdy and comical. Most of the conversation around the table was in French. Nevertheless, I could understand a lot that was said from the occasional French words I know and from the animated facial expressions and laughter.

Who wouldn’t have fun with guys like these?

Stay tuned. More friends to meet. 

 

Moving day in France

I’m Living in France!

Having written at least three “catchup” posts which are in various stages of completion, maybe this one will be published before it self-destructs.

Patience.

Remember when I said one of the reasons for moving to another country, out of my comfort zone, was to learn to be patient? Well, my patience is stretched to the limits everyday. Never ask for something unless you really know you want it. Starting with move-in day, photos are far better than words. However, let me set the stage.

The apartment is in a 15th century building almost in the center of the historic district of Uzes. As most residences here, the ground floor doesn’t count so the floors start on two (etage 2). My apartment is on etage 3. All in all, there are 55 steps from the ground floor.

Now imagine “two men and a truck” carrying two 7′ x 5′ armoires; two 4’x3′ Victorian chests (one with a marble top — detachable, thank goodness!); a 36″ round table; and four chairs up the steps and spiral staircase. The good news? The armoires could be disassembled. Nevertheless!

Now imagine another “two men and a truck” crew arriving with a king-size bed mattress.  A feat of imagination, ingenuity, and brawn. One of the men, after the third climb to the top, nicknamed the apartment “the ascension.”

 

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My French Apartment

My French Apartment

It has been only six days since I landed in France, and I’m almost ready to move into my French apartment!

Renting the apartment unfurnished, I knew there would be a lot to do. I thought I’d be doing good if I had a bed and a refrigerator by the first week. That’s before I knew I had engaged the world’s # 1 administrator to help me — Nandine. In less than one week, Nandine has helped find not only a bed, but also furniture for the living room and dining room — along with arranging for telephone and utilities. All that’s left to do is to find furnishings for the guest room, lamps, and accessories.Needless to say, I’m ecstatic! Nandine’s knock on my bedroom door at 8 am, and our everyday trips to either a furniture store, Carrefour, or to Intermarche have gotten the job done in record time.

Check list
Utilities
Appliances
Bed
Furniture
Internet
Cellphone
Landline phone
Basic household items
Wine
Wine
More wine

On Tuesday I will wait at the apartment in Uzes for the delivery of furniture and appliances. It should be an interesting day watching the delivery people maneuver the armoires and bed up the narrow spiral staircase. My bet is that most will all be hauled up through the top floor terrace … by ropes. With camera in hand, you’ll experience the pain and triumph with me.

Time to play
All work and no play is really dull. So I’m visiting nearby La Grande Motte. Just outside Montpelier, the resort town on the Mediterranean seems much like Hilton Head Island resort in South Carolina. Condominiums are stacked many stories high, shaped like pyramids, around the boat docks and along the stretch of nearby beaches.

Built in the late 1960’s, La Grande Motte has golf courses, tennis courts, pools, lakes, and boat access to the Mediterranean. The commercial area at the yacht basin is busy with restaurants, tourists, and children’s amusement areas. The day I visited there was a race of small catamarans starring world-class yachtsmen. It was truly a beautiful sight when each boat, one after the other, unfurled a different colored sail that fluttered in the clear, blue sky.

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Tomorrow… Move in day!
Stay tuned

expat in France

Living the Dream. An Expat in France.

I’m here! In just two months I’ve transitioned from a starry-eyed optimist to a legal expat in France.

I can hardly believe it myself. It took the efforts of my amazing friends and family in the US and in France to make it happen. I will honor your privacy and not call you out by name, however, you know who you are. I am forever grateful for your time, your sweat and muscle, and for your love and encouragement. Truly, I am the luckiest person in the world because of the friends and family that surround me.

The journey

So… the move started immediately after I returned from France in July.

Cleaning out
First was the sorting out of a lifelong collection of “stuff.” Then, an estate sale and a clothing sale which were held over two weekends. (Of course I would choose July to make this move. It’s the second hottest month of the year in the Low Country of South Carolina.)

The Visa
In between, the preparation and paperwork for a long-stay visa and a visit to the French consulate in Atlanta were necessary to keep things rolling along and legal.

Empty house
By mid-August (THE hottest month in the Low Country) my son and friends helped me move everything out of the house in Beaufort. A bit of my most precious belongings went to a small, climate-controlled warehouse space, some to my friends’ homes for safe keeping, some to consignment stores in Beaufort, and lots to my son to sell on eBay.

Whew!

expat in France

By the time I left Beaufort to say my final goodbyes to sons in Alabama and Atlanta, I was down to ONLY a carful of stuff. Oh…I should say a “rental car” full of stuff. Along the way I was in a wreck and my old, faithful Acura was declared a total lost. Actually, it was great luck. I needed to dump it anyway before my departure to France.

Deep cleaning
With the expert help of my daughter-in-law, who actually throws out refrigerator items according to the expiration dates, I condensed a carful of stuff to one large suitcase, one carry-on suitcase, and a backpack. OK, I must confess. My son is shipping two more 18″x18″x16″ boxes to Uzes.

Saying goodbye
After two months of exhausting work, after imposing on almost everyone I know, after eating every Southern fried food item I could stuff into my mouth, and after a memorable farewell party with friends, I was on my way to my new life in France.

expat in France

Fried green tomatoes and fried chicken

Fried green tomatoes and fried chicken
Whistlestop Cafe in Birmingham, Alabama, made famous by Fannie Flag’s book and movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes”

Landing in France
This trip I took the route to France through Atlanta, to Toronto, to Paris, to Marseilles. Originally, I planned to take a train from Paris to Nimes. However, as luck would have it, a train strike on the day I was to land in Paris was announced in time for me to change my plans. Instead of the train, I flew from Paris to Marseilles. I’m not certain I would recommend this route because there is a six hour layover in Toronto. However, it did give me time to take a shuttle to the nearby Sheraton for a manicure, pedicure, and a decent meal before the long flight to Paris.

Almost home

CDG Airport

On Tuesday, September 10, I arrived in Paris, then Marseilles, France. My move-in goal is Tuesday, September 27.

 

My French Home. I’m an expat in France!

moving to France

Moving to France: Please-a-Visa

If my rush moving to France wasn’t self-imposed, I could complain about so much to do. Instead, I just grin and bear it. Then grin some more.

An estate sale and clothing sale over the last two weekends were just the tip of the iceberg. In between there’s been 1) packing the ten 18″x18″x16″ boxes to ship to Marseilles; 2) contracts to negotiate with the rental agency for the apartment, 3) a bank account in France to open and…4) the paperwork for a long- stay visa. There are a few lessons learned from each of the above when moving to France.

moving to FranceMoving to France Step 1

Estate sale
First of all, recruit all the help you can!  My incredible son from Birmingham donated two weeks of his time to help me sort out my treasures to sell ( aka “stuff”, “junk”) while trying to keep up, remotely, with his job. Also, two of the best friends a gal could ever ask for pitched in to organize, price and sell everything before and during the sales.

Second, call your sale an “estate” sale, not a “moving” or “house sale”…and certainly not a “garage sale”. It brings in a totally different type of buyers and allows you to sell items at a slightly higher price point. “Perceived” value.

Advertise! It will cost to place ads, but it’s worth it. Estate sales are hard work. Don’t skimp on letting people know about them. Ads on Craig’s List, estatesales.com, bookoo.com, and your local newspaper(s) are good places to start. Well-placed yard signs are important too.

Clothing sales are more lucrative if you sell jewelry, handbags, scarves and other accessories as well. Buyers will scoff up $1 and $5 costume jewelry and those sales add up!

Provide a separate place for ladies to try on clothing. Have mirrors everywhere. If women are in the “dressing” room with other ladies, they often encourage the others to buy!

If a potential buyer wants an item but, for some reason they can’t carry it with them, offer to ship items to them (for a price.) For example, a couple came to my estate sale who were visiting from out of town. They purchased some large ticket items and also wanted a canister set. They couldn’t carry it back home. I missed the sale because I didn’t think fast enough to ask if I could ship it to them.

Allow buyers to return during off- hours. Some of the biggest sales were made the day after the public sales. I was home packing boxes anyway, so when people came by, I let them see what was left. They always bought something, probably because they appreciated the special attention.

Mark items BOGO (buy one get one free) the last hours of the sale. When traffic slows down, change your outdoor signs to read BOGO. It’ll bring on new customers. After hour sales go back to full price.

Accept credit and debit cards. This is probably the most important lesson learned. A friend loaned me a “square” that allowed customers to use credit to buy the items. There’s a charge to use the service, but it’s worth the almost 50% increase in sales.

Provide shopping bags at the door. Customers will fill them up with items they want to buy. It’s much more convenient and efficient for you and the shopper than carrying stuff around or leaving items at the checkout.

Moving to France Step 2

Shipping items to France
Sending household and personal items in boxes through a shipping company will save you from hauling extra bags on the airplane. The important thing to remember is whether the stuff in the boxes is worth the shipping fees.

When I get to France and unload the boxes, I’ll let you know if I brought the right things with me. Right now I’m prioritizing by replacement cost in France. My cost shipping 10 boxes is estimated at $1000. The contents of each box must save me $100 in replacement cost, or it’s not worth the hassle. Filling a box with personalized stationary, books, and office supplies doesn’t make sense. Packing coats, my favorite outfits, some kitchen utensils and most-used cooking pans is my plan. I’m also throwing in new linens and towels. The quality is better than I found around Uzes and the pieces can be used to pack around breakables instead of using paper or bubble wrap.

When the boxes are full, wrap each with packing tape… 3 rows of tape around each side. Then cover the box with “shrink wrap” plastic. I didn’t know it existed, but you can buy rolls of plastic that is wide enough to cover a box. It comes in a package like Saran Wrap and you can purchase it at Home Depot or Lowes DIY store. The shipping agent says preparing the boxes as described above improves the security of your shipment by up to 80%.

Moving to France Step 3

French bank account
Opening a bank account in France is a requirement for renting an apartment. The agent and apartment owner like to have monthly payments set up through a draw on the account. In order to open the account you must show proof that your IRS taxes are paid in the US. I gave them the cover page from my tax forms. You must also show proof of residence in France. Don’t ask me how crooks get away with foreign bank accounts! Guess they know all the angles.

Moving to France Step 4

Rental contract

Find someone you know who can understand French legal documents. In my case, I lucked out that my son, who was helping with the move, has experience reviewing similar paperwork. He served in the Peace Corps in Cameroon and worked with banks to make loans using some of the same legalize. If that fails, use the Google Translate app. Assuming the French documents you want to translate come to you in a PDF format, you need to install an Adobe application that can convert pdfs to Word (or MAC). Then copy and paste the content into Google Translate which you can access online. The translation may not be the best, but it can help you with the highlights. Then ask your rental agent to go over it with you.

Be especially mindful of the charges from the rental agency. I was surprised with the cost of a “honorarium” that was owed to them by both the owner of the apartment and by me — more than the cost of a month’s rent! When I complained about the cost, the agent stated it is the customary way to work with rental agencies in France. To pacify me, he moved my closing date so that the overall price was reduced.

Moving to France Step 5

moving to France

Atlanta’s French Consulate

Long stay visa To stay in France longer than 90 days at a time, you must have a “long stay” visa. Look on the Internet for the French consulate that serves the area where you live. The southeast consulate in Atlanta serves South Carolina. You must have an appointment at the consulate to apply in person for the visa. Appointments are made through an online tool. When I first checked, there were no appointments available for the next 3 months! So I called the consulate (which they advise NOT to do) and I was lucky enough that someone answered the phone. The lady who answered graciously took my name and promised she would call me when there was a cancellation. I got a call for an appointment on August 8.

There are a number of forms on the French consulate website that must be filled in to accompany your application. They are pretty self-explanatory. The one that stumped me was the proof of medical insurance. I had information on all my coverage but not a statement about services outside the US. I told the interviewer I talked with the insurance company and that my supplemental insurer would become the primary provider outside the US. She wanted to see it in writing from the insurance company. Getting the letter about the insurance meant I had to stay over another day in Atlanta. Lesson learned: don’t be vague about anything. They want proof. That includes a rental agreement, bank account and airline ticket to France.

All of this is behind me now. The next few weeks I’m focusing on getting the house cleaned out and taking stuff that didn’t sell to charity or consignment shops. Hopefully I’ll have a few days to enjoy some Low Country activities and visit with friends. Then I’m heading to Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama to visit family before leaving for Paris on September 9.

Moving to France Step 6

Make lemonade
By the way… just so you don’t think all has been smooth sailing… I was in an auto accident Saturday. A neighbor drove out of her driveway and destroyed the right wheel, fender and bumper of my car. I spent half the day dealing with insurance companies and right now, have no car to use. The car’s probably totaled since its a late model Acura. Never mind, now I don’t have to worry about selling it.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!

moving to France

expat guide book

Moving to France: So much to do, so little time

If you’re looking for an expat guide book, perhaps this will help. Moving to France is like any other move. You have to pack up your stuff to get there.

In my case, that means getting rid of 40 years worth of stuff before I pack. Most things I should have gotten rid of years ago. Instead, I’ve gone from place to place, schlepping all this with me. If it didn’t fit in the new place, it went into storage. Today is a new day. Stuff isn’t as important as it used to be. It’s time to start fresh.

Moving to France looks like this

Since I have to furnish the apartment in Uzes, a few things are going with me that I think will be useful. I’ll buy furniture and other items when I get there, probably second hand, and sell them when I leave. I’ll be done to one storage place. (Down from 4!) Everything else is being sold.

Estate sale. Done!

A new home for Bentley

Sometimes love means saying you’re sorry and moving on, alone. Even though I could take my beloved labradoodle, Bentley, with me to Uzes (France loves dogs), I don’t think he would survive the journey. Bentley weighs 65 pounds so he’d have to ride under the airplane along with the luggage for the long flight. He’s frightened by lightening so noisy airplane sounds would scare him to death. It wouldn’t be fair to put him through the stress. He’s going to live with my son and daughter-in-law who have a goldendoodle, Maddy. He’s been visiting with them since my trip to France and he’s happy as a clam.

Renting an apartment

As you remember, I cut my travel adventures short when I decided to move to France. Instead of exploring Barcelona, I went back to find an apartment in Uzes. As fate would have it, a perfect place in the center of the historic village came available for rent. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! The rental agent from the Fonzia agency spoke good enough English to lead me through the process. First I had to open a bank French bank account. Then I had to sign a 3-year lease, which is customary in France, and an insurance agreement for the apartment. (The lease can be broken at any time for a variety of reasons, including relocation.)

I brought the legal materials home with me so my attorney could check the details. One important fact to know about renting in France, different from in the US, is a “honorarium”. It’s a “finders fee” owed to the agency for handling the rental transaction and it’s shared between the property owner and the renter. It’s quite expensive. In fact, it cost more than a month’s rent for my share.

After the papers are all signed, I’ll inspect the apartment to insure all is in order. Then it’s mine!

Getting a Visa

A long stay visa is required for anyone from the US visiting in France more than 90 days. A US passport allows you to be there only 90 days every six months. With a long stay visa you can stay 12 months. Getting a visa is easier said than done in SC. You have to go in person to the French Consulate in Atlanta to start the application process that can take a minimum of 21 days to complete.

When I first investigated the consulate website, I discovered you can make appointments for visas only through their online tool. The online calendar showed there were no appointments available until October. So I did what the website said not to do. I called the office. After I explained what I wanted to the nice lady who answered the phone at the consulate, and I told her that all I am planning to do is to spend money in her wonderful country, she said she’d call me when there was a cancellation. I have an appointment August 8.

The move

All that’s left is for me to do, after sorting out my stuff, is to get back to Uzes. The timeframe for finishing the visa process is up on the air. But if it goes smoothly, I should be in France by early September. Stay tuned!

 

expat guide book

My apartment building!

For more of this expat guide book, check out these Barefoot Blogger posts:

Expat Tips: Nothing Is Easy About Moving To France

Expat Tips on Moving to France: Visas and More

Place du Duché in Uzes, France

Saving the Best Part for Last

Remember when I started this blog, I said the uncharted part of the adventure may be the best. Well, guess what? It may be no surprise to you. I’m going to live it France!

After leaving Sete, I decided I wanted to return to Uzes instead of completing my journey.  I needed to find out if living in France was a possibility, not just a fantasy.  I would explore the various resources I had for finding apartments, for example. My friends, Geoffrey and Nandine, offered me a place to stay in their home until I could sort out my arrangements.

As fate would have it, everything began to fall into place. The rental agency notified me that an apartment was available they thought would be ideal for me. Ideal? It’s magnificent! It’s right in the center of the historic district in Uzes, Place du Duché.

Place du Duché in Uzes, France

Better yet, the rent is far more affordable than I could imagine. Less than my housing cost in the US!

Now I’m back in South Carolina making plans to move to France! There’s much more I have to write about my six week adventure — like visiting Pezenas, France, more jewelry artists and fascinating people along the way. Then, there’s always charting the progress of a lone female moving from the US to France. Stay tuned!

Christina Rabaste, Artist, Sete, France

Final Days in Sete, France: Parties, Artist Friends and Days at the Beach

Sete is a party city. There’s a celebration of some sort going on all summer. Sometimes two at a time.

Right now there’s a music festival that features famous DJs from around the world. There’s also the festival of St. Peter happening downtown with its parades and fair-like atmosphere. Lucky for me, the Fourth of July is celebrated here by English-speaking expats. Nancy, my Airbnb hostess, invited me to a party to meet some of the members of the expat club who have settled around this area from England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, and the US.

Christina Rabaste, an American who has lived in France most of her adult life, hosted the party at her home in downtown Sete. The interesting, multi-level house is a combination art studio, indoor garden, patio and home. The party was held in the first floor, inside garden of Christina’s home where some of her life size “statues” were standing among the red, white and blue decorations. Her studio was open for guests to visit, and dining tables with chairs were placed around the large room.

When I strolled into the studio, I fell in love with her whimsical paintings and sculptures. Not only was there a collection of her art on canvas, she also had painted her odd characters on pieces of wood and old chairs. Perhaps there’s a Michelangelo hiding deep down inside of me, because I have a great affinity for artists. Maybe it’s because they express themselves so openly. They are fascinating people to know.

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Time out for the beach

When not partying, people in Sete hit the beach in droves. Outside the city, beyond the seawall and rocky shore, a long beach stretches for miles along the Mediterranean. Closest to the city, the beach is mobbed with people who, mostly, are standing waist deep in the water. Farther down the long road that heads out of town, the crowds thin out and beach lovers go to the “mini-resorts” that are spaced every half-mile or so along the shoreline.

The mini-resorts are run by restaurant owners from Sete and from the surrounding areas who lease space on the beach during the summer. Each place has dining service, beach chairs, umbrellas, etc. For a small fee (10 Euros), you can rent an umbrella and chair for the day. Food can be purchased and is prepared fresh in the beach-side kitchens and served at a table or on the beach.

Sete, France: Abbeys and Vineyards

Now that you have a small glimpse of Sete, let me tell you about the places I’ve stayed and new friends along the way.

Ales (borrowed Citroen) and I arrived in Sete Saturday afternoon. (See earlier post.) We rushed to get to the apartment I reserved through Airbnb because my hostess, Nancy, was heading for a wedding in Provence.

Nancy welcomed me to her beautiful home, showed me around, gave brief instructions about feeding the two cats, then she was off. I had the place to myself until late Sunday. After unloading my bags into the bedroom, I walked downstairs, out of the apartment building that faces the Grand Canal, and then into the Petite Carrefour store a few doors down the street. I grabbed a Coke Zero, a bottle of water, wine, beer, and a prepared tuna sandwich. In other words, I bought everything I needed to settle in for awhile. Did I mention the wind was howling all this time, even though it was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon?

Happily, I spent the rest of the day stretched out on the living room sofa, enjoying the apartment and the unforgettable view of the canal through the open French doors.

Sete, France

View from apartment window down the Grand Canal

Sete, France

Early to bed, early to rise, Sunday I put on my comfortable walking shoes and set out to explore the town. I walked from the apartment, up the main canal, to the seawall that was probably a mile away. With the canal on the left, the right side of the street is lined with small shops and cafes. About half way down the street, the one-way roadway divides in two with one side going up a slight incline into the center city.

The left side of the road heads downhill close to the canal, then uphill to join the other street again. The right side of the canal street is lined with one small seafood restaurant after another. In fact there are so many restaurants in a row that you are tempted to believe they must have only one kitchen. The menus are basically the same in each restaurant: Moules (mussels) and fries, oysters, fish soup, Bouillabaisse (a traditional fish stew originating Marseille), tuna, more fish, and a specialty of Sete — tielle, a tart filled with a tomato-y mix of octopus and spices.

I ended up choosing a restaurant near the seawall that was serving a whole grilled fish with tielle as a first course. The family-owned business was tended by the father, wife, son and son’s girlfriend who all spoke English.

St. Clare by the Sea

St. Clare by the Sea, Sete, FranceI knew in advance that I was leaving Nancy’s apartment because it was booked due to a worldwide music festival. Generously, Nancy had arranged with a friend, Genevieve, for me to stay in her guesthouse in St. Clare, overlooking the Mediterranean.

Genevieve drove to Sete to lead me to her home in St. Clare. When we arrived at her hillside home, we sat on the veranda and began chatting like old friends. Her English is perfect since she’s been an English teacher for years. Her son, Alexander, is home for the summer break from University so we enjoyed getting acquainted. He is in his fourth year studying pharmacy.

After visiting for awhile, the neighbor from next door appeared at the garden wall. She invited us to her home for aperitifs at 7pm. (Drinks/cocktails) She and her husband have a home in Paris. They are here at their “beach house” entertaining their grandchildren and guests.

Soon, Nancy arrived to pick me up for our tour of a wine domaine and a twelfth century abbey. Nancy runs a tour company in addition to her Airbnb business. She is entertaining clients from Canada over the weekend and invited me to go with her to preview her tour. She likes to make certain that everything runs like clockwork for her clients. Needless to say, I was delighted to join her.

Abbey de Valmagne

The Abbey de Valmagne is just outside Sete and welcomes nearly 35,000 visitors yearly to admire the cloister, its fountain and gardens, Gothic church, chapter house, and monastic outbuildings.

The illustrious history of the abbey includes the story of an Abbot who, during the Reformation, turned against the church to save his own life. He led an army of Protestants to raid the Abbey and kill his fellow priests and parishioners. For centuries the Abbey has operated a wine domaine which exists today. Huge wine vats are prominent features in the alcoves of the church itself. In addition to the winery, the Abbey is a popular tourist destination for the wine tours and a gourmet restaurant that are on the property.

Domaine Saint Hilaire

Not far from the Abbey is the second stop on Nancy’s tour: the wine Domaine Saint Hilaire and luxurious B&B run by the domaine owners.

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Returning to Genevieve’s just in time for aperitifs with the neighbors, I experienced my first social occasion that was all spoken in French. It’s amazing how well you can get along understanding a few words and body language.

Note: Genevieve’s son, Alexander, has an interesting hobby. He and his friends participate in “re-enactments.” I have some Americans friends who enjoy the Civil War and Revolutionary War faux battles. Alexander is a gladiator! His team has “fought” in the Arena in Nimes.

Sete, France

Next Stop: Sete, France

So much to do. So little time. My adventure is already into week four. If I think about it like the glass of water that is “half full or half empty”, the last half will be the best!

Today I arrived in Sete, France. But before I get to that, we have some catching up to do. The last couple of days I’ve been hanging out with my new friends and not spending as much time being a tourist.

I’m getting to know Nandine, Geoffrey’s girlfriend, now that we’ve visited a few times. She has an interesting background. Born in France, her mother was Italian and her father, Spanish. Her parents met in France after her father, who was from an aristocratic Spanish family, was exiled from Spain during the Franco regime. Nandine and I spent Wednesday driving to Nimes and back. She owns an apartment there with her son and she wanted me to see it. Plus, I wanted to go to Carrefour, the French “Walmart”, to buy a big suitcase. (Do you have to ask why?!)

The interesting thing about the eight hours Nandine and I spent together, riding in the car, shopping, and having lunch together like old friends is that she speaks very little English and I speak… no French. She recognizes English words if you write them down. Between sign language and scribbling words on placemats or scraps of paper, we got along famously, We certainly laughed a lot! When we stopped for lunch at a restaurant Nandeen knows, I was especially glad one of us knew French On the special menu for lunch, which I often order because it’s generally a nice meal at a good price, even Nandine was a bit surprised. Cheval is horse meat! Not for me! All I could think about was my horse-loving buddies! Later I learned it’s not cheval at all, it’s a hamburger with an egg — the egg’s on “horseback.”

The steaming pot of moules (mussels) saved the day.

Moule

Geoffrey had prepared lamb shoulder for dinner, so I followed them home to enjoy Geoffrey’s amazing culinary skills. After a few too many glasses of wine, our inane imaginations got away from us.

Friday came much too soon after a late dinner with Nandine and Geoffrey. Fortunately I’d dedicated the day to washing clothes and preparing for my departure from my three weeks stay at the apartment in Uzes. Unity and Tom had invited me to join them and some close friends for dinner at their home outside Uzes. Amazingly, I found their village and got close to their house all by myself. Tom talked me in the rest of the way over the cellphone. The evening flew by with each of us sharing stories about our lives in Scotland, England and the US.

 

Today I started out to Sete later than I had hoped because I couldn’t find Ales.

When I arrived back in Uzes after dinner with Unity, it was around 11 pm. The parking lot where Ales lives was closed. Fortunately, I remembered another lot nearby, so I left her there. To be honest, I was pleased with myself for finding the parking space because it was close to my apartment. I could easily get my luggage to the car the next day.

I got up early this morning to meet Geoffrey so that we could go to the market together. He wanted to introduce me to his favorite hat man so I could buy a Panama hat like Nandeen’s (the one I wore in the picture above).

Before going to Geoffrey’s house, I thought I should check on Ales and make sure she was ok. I walked the few blocks to the parking lot where I left her the night before. When I got there… no Ales!

Aaccch! I panicked! Was she stolen Hauled away? Where was she? What was I going to tell Geoffrey?

My first instinct was to go to the police station just around the corner, but then I said to myself, “they won’t understand a word I am saying.”

I’d have to go straight to Geoffrey’s and confess Ales was gone.

When I arrived at Geoffrey’s, I knocked on the door and Nandine let me in. “Geoffrey’s upstairs,” she said in French.

I walked up the narrow, winding, stone stairwell feeling like I was going to the French inquisition.

Geoffrey boomed “Ales is gone, isn’t she?”

“What?!” I said, amazed. “How did you know?”

“I told you, I’m psychic,” Geoffrey answered. ” Don’t worry,” he added very calmly. “I have her.”

He then explained, one of his friends called during the night and wanted to borrow Ales. His car had been vandalized in the village where he lives and he needed a car the next morning to get to work. Knowing that I had taken Ales that evening and that I always returned her to the garage, Geoffrey told his friend to meet him at the garage. They searched all three levels of the garage and didn’t find Ales. They searched all over town before they found her.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

That brings us to today.

I’m now spread out on the sofa in the living room of my home for the next two days. It is a beautifully appointed, grand apartment in the center of Sete, facing one of the major canals in the city. Two double French doors are open onto a balcony decorated with ornate iron rails. There’s a lovely cool breeze. One of two Siamese cats is perched on the chair opposite the sofa, staring at me.

It’s been a long day, starting with Ales’ disappearance and eventual discovery. The drive to Sete, while only a couple of hours, was grueling. It was my first venture on a “super highway.” Ales’ speedometer is broken, so I have no idea how fast I was going. Probably not fast enough. Cars were whizzing past. I dared not turn on the air conditioner. Ales was putting out as much effort as she could just trying to keep up with traffic.

Here’s an interesting tidbit about French toll roads — or at least on this particular six-lane highway. Three lanes of southbound traffic enter a toll station with 15 ticket booths. Traffic moves pretty quickly through the booths, right? That’s good. However, know what happens when those cars and trucks in the fifteen booths converge up the road back into three lanes? A massive pileup. Go figure.

Stay tuned. Tomorrow we explore Sete.

Sete, France

 

 

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