Wednesday, June 29, 2011

There's a Reason Why She's a Bestie

Where, oh where, to begin? My Bestie is back home in Texas, I have recovered from too much rosé on the terrace and we're all getting back in the 'France on our own' groove.

I don't want to be sappy or sound like an ingrate but it can happen that when you live far from home and then a burst of home sparkles through your 'away life', you feel weird. More than kinda sad. And unsettled. I've been trying to reconcile these feelings for the past couple of days.

When someone from home sees you in your life abroad it shines a bright light on it for you. It makes you see things through their eyes and take stock of what the differences are in a way you've not thought about. Maybe because you don't have the time, opportunity or headspace to do so. It also gives you a peek through the window of what you've been missing. I've missed English. I've missed laughing so hard I pee a little bit. And I've missed the ease and comfort of being with someone I've know for nearly 20 years. I have all that with Mon Mari but we probably take each other for granted because we're here together all the time and that's what people do.

What did the visit show me?

1) I live far away.
2) Things just keep moving on.
3) My kids don't know what American Girl dolls are.
4) I've gotten a bit French stylee laissez-faire with how I look at life.
5) It's nice to speak English to express myself.
6) I like to eat lunch at mid-day and if I don't I feel grouchy.
7) Directions are not our strong suit and GPS cannot be trusted.
8) I can drink from a wine glass with my toes.
9) I prefer window fresh air to blasting air-conditioned air in the car.
10) I know how to ask for just about anything in French--especially, 'Is there a public toilet in the village?'

No matter how far away she is I will always have my Texas Bestie. She traveled 17+ hours twice in less than a week just to see me. To drive all over Provence with me. To sit on the terrace and laugh. There is no one like her and I am so thankful to have her friendship. Near or far.

Now I've gotten that off my chest. Prepare for a more detailed account of the 'Provence Old Stuff Death March' tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Bestie is Coming, My Bestie is Coming!

I am beyond excited, have been chasing my tail getting ready, planning and preparing for a visit from one of the Texas besties. You remember them from Paris, right? Well, this time it's only one and we're going for a sun-dappled, lavender scented road trip through Provence--Texas style.

here we are in Paris, she's on the left
She's never been to the South of France so I am thrilled to show her the beauty of the place we call home. One of the requests she had was that our hotel have air-conditioning (she's a Texan remember). When I told her that my house doesn't even have a/c her quick and funny reply was, 'well, you have six weeks.'

She's great about coming to visit me in Europe and I can't tell you  how much it means to me that she  makes two flight connections, spends the airline miles and arranges her husband, friends, parents and sisters to take care of her two children in order for us to spend this time together.

This isn't our first European road trip by the way. The last one was across Ireland. In February. Imagine. My beloved car, Great White, huffed and puffed her way across from Dublin to Cos. Clare and Galway and we had the best time ever, not even listening to the radio not only because GW doesn't have one that picks up European signals (Japanese) but because we couldn't stop talking and laughing, catching up with each other and just being together. A little old Irish man hit on her at a Spar in Galway telling her he liked her sweater in a drunken Irish accent and then inviting her to breakfast....we all know what that means. He was 70 if he was a day.
here she is chasing Irish sheep

I wonder if the septagenarian French men will find her as irresistibly appealing. I'll let you know.

We're all about checking out the 'old stuff' so Provence should keep us plenty busy. I'll take some photos of her in the lavender, she'll take photos of me in a hilltop village. It will be great. And I'll tell you all about when I get back next week. Until then, hug your bestie, make her laugh, and have some fun.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Big Spectacle

I can't believe I've let a week go by without telling you anything. I really don't know how it happened. I guess with Mon Mari gone for work and the kids' big school fête and spectacle plus sunny, swimming pool days I've let time get away from me.

My big kids' school puts on an incredible party and show at the end of each school year.You may remember how I nearly made the Middlest miss it last year because of my constant misunderstanding of French. This year was better and I even pitched in, baking a peach cake and slicing up boxes of baguettes for French stylee hot dogs. Of course they put their sausages in baguettes--are you surprised?

How it works is this: the parents and teachers all pitch in, setting up the school grounds with a big barbecue pit, drinks stand, tables and chairs for dining and a huge spread of homemade salads, quiche and cakes. Everything costs either 50c or 1 euro and all proceeds go to the school. It is a great time for the community, everyone laughing and talking, eating together with bottles of cold rosé; even the mayor with his big moustache was there.

After the dinner, it's time for the show. Our school is known for its show and Friday's production was the 37th--nearly as old as me as my lovely children pointed out.
the pyramid
 The theme was Egypt and the kids have been learning about the history of Egypt all semester in addition to practicing for the show. There are spotlights, makeup, music and big booming speakers with a voice track in case anyone forgets their lines. Ma Fille's class built the pyramid with foam blocks and triangles to James Brown's 'I Feel Good'. And the Middlest was a mummy who threw down some sweet break dance moves as well as his signature robot. (the mummies had white gauze wrapped around their heads and looked hilariously like a stage full of brain surgery patients)

Middlest center stage
It lasted until nearly midnight, sending Mon Mari and the Baby home before the finale. On the way home the big kids fought against sleep, excited as they were from the post-show buzz.

It's nice to be part of something. We are not just the Americans at school anymore, not as much of a novelty. The kids speak French and I actually understood most of the show. A lot has happened in a year. Maybe next year I'll be able to work at the salad stand....maybe.

Oh, and the Middlest lost his front tooth and looks like a hillbilly.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Seasonal Sunday--Market Salads

{serious market shoppers}
Today's post is a look at my local Sunday market. It's right nearby and on the way to the boulangerie so most Sundays find us walking over there for some olives, delicious tomato dip and whatever fruit or vegetable is in season. Today I bought a melon, a paper bag full of green beans and some plump, oval tomatoes. All from less than 15 km away.

Nothing says summer in France to me like the melons--coral, fleshy and fragrant; cantaloupes to you and me. I've looked forward to their appearance at the market stalls since March, just waiting. There's nothing like their sweet juiciness, seeds scooped out to form our favorite treat, a 'melon bowl'. I love to eat them just this way, digging up juicy bites with a spoon, dribbles trailing down my chin.

You will usually find these served as a starter with salty cured ham, thinly sliced and wrapped around coral wedges. Perfection.
{Ma Fille said not to look like a tourist; photos suffered}

I didn't have any ham today so decided to cut my melon up in rough chunks and sprinkle it with fresh mint leaves.

We also had a salad made with the tomatoes, the green parts of a spring onion and a healthy slick of olive oil. Potato salad with market black olives, capers and a blend of creme fraiche and mayonaisse (I'm still a Texan, ya'll) were the sides to our grilled sausages.

Summer in France; fresh from the market, right out on our terrace.

Melon with Fresh Mint

1 fresh, juicy cantaloupe, halved, peeled & seeded and cut into rough chunks
3-5 fresh mint leaves, sliced thinly

Prepare your melon and simply sprinkle over the mint. Divine. Leave it in chunks so it's a bit of a juicy mess when you devour it.

{The Baby with our loot}
Tomato & Scallion Salad

8-10 ripe, oval tomatoes; quartered
1 large scallion, green parts cut into slim loops and a couple thin slivers of white

olive oil
salt & pepper

{refrigerated cheese truck}
Potato Salad

salad potatoes, peeled and boiled--figure 3 for each person eating the salad
1 teaspoon or so drained capers*
black olives, pitted
big handful chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1/4 c mayonaisse
1/4-1/2 c creme fraiche (i use low-fat because of the mayo)
freshly ground pepper

*I'd love to add a couple of anchovies here too but I'm the only one who likes them (try it though and see if anyone notices)

Peel and boil the potatoes. Rinse and leave to cool.
Pit the olives and add to the cooled potatoes. Drain and add in the capers. And a smushed up anchovy if you're going for it. Chop the parsley roughly and add in. Mix together.
Then, add the mayo and creme fraiche and mix again. Adjust the amounts to your liking and the amount of potatoes you're using. You don't want it to be a big, gloopy mess so use your judgment.
Chill until ready to serve.
Black pepper ground on before serving can never go wrong.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Medieval Festival in Photos + Some Words

{ancient stone walls}

It seems like ages ago that I promised to tell you about our village's Medieval Festival. So much happened in between that and now. A trip to Le Petit Village, a long weekend, rain and more rain, and fresh cherries begging to be used up.

I'm making good on that promise today.
{ancient knight by day, wine farmer by night}

The kids and I walked up to centre ville where the mairie, church and ancient stone buildings all are. I love this part of our suburban town because despite all the new houses, big grocery stores and newer parts of town, it retains the feeling of a small French village, what it was like before being simply an adjunct to Montpellier. I love to jog through these quiet streets early in the morning, taking in the Frenchness of it all in peace.

{dancing ladies, not afraid of witches}
The day of the festival this quiet old quarter was buzzing with people dressed in Medieval clothing, booths selling ale and wine and cheese. I couldn't stop thinking of Samantha, cast to medieval times by a goofed up spell, frantically searching for Darren in the crowds. I love how she always had on that little heart necklace no matter where she was.
There's a small mas that makes wine, snugly tucked in one of the old stone enclaves and they were there displaying bottles of pink that you can buy at the super huge grocery store any day of the week.
{skinny juggler}
 There was a children's section with medieval games of mental acuity; cousins of chess. We meandered, bought cotton candy (how medieval) and smelled homemade soaps. We watched as the 'animal man' showed us his bear, wolf and falcon. The crowd of on-lookers, little kids on shoulders, all hushed when he told us to be still and quiet when the bear came out. Nathalie, the bear. She gave him tickly bear kisses on his neck as we all looked on in silence.

{medieval mind games are cool}
Then there was the battle. Mild-mannered French men turned wicked medieval knights.
The Middlest loved it. He pushed himself right up against the metal barriers and watched in awe.
The battle began with a woman being pulled and dragged out into the middle of the arena, accused of being a witch. All of this I got. Then the iron clad pharmacists and retired computer salesmen fought over her fate.
{what did you have for lunch?}
Later the Middlest told me that one of the men said he would take her home and 'make sexy with her'. This was my son's translation. Not interested in being a medieval woman, I can tell you. Moving on...this is not a politically charged post DSK. But I am a bit curious as to how my 7 year-old knows 'make sexy' in French.

The two factions battled it out, swords drawn, dramatic falling, long, slow deaths, cheering from the frenzied mob.

We walked home happy, full of stories to tell Mon Mari who couldn't be bothered to go to the festival and stayed home watching some contemporary form of jousting--rugby. In my opinion, he's afraid of medieval after knowing an interesting couple who loved the Renaissance festival a little too much.

The next day at the grocery store an elderly French man started chatting to the Baby and me. He asked if we'd been to the festival and proudly pointed out his costumed photo on the advertising placard that still stood in the store entrance, 'That's me there...from last year. Maybe you saw me yesterday?' Yes, sir maybe I did.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hidden In Paris--A Novel

I have to share my excitement with you. I won a copy of a novel about Paris and it was delivered to my door today from way over in Los Angeles. It's especially great to get a real live book in the mail when I'm so used to having them wirelessly delivered to my Kindle. Yeah, it's the best way to feed my reading addiction since I can't just pop out to the bookstore and buy English language books here in France, but there's nothing like the weight of pages and the fresh ink smell of a book.

The book is Hidden In Paris by Corine Gantz; a French woman who has done the opposite of some of us and is living the 'expat' life in the US.
Her popular blog, Hidden In France, came before this, her first self-published novel. And so I'm happy to help spread the word and to tell you how cool it is to have won a freshly printed and signed copy all my own. I'm already sold on the dedication.

I will start reading it soon and give you my review. (I'm too hooked on Russian Winter at the moment to put it down.)

What I love about blogging the most is finding and enjoying a network of like-minded women who support, encourage and inspire me. My list of these women grows longer and longer. It's wonderful how we humans can't keep from connecting and sharing.
Thanks Jennifer at ChezLouLou for holding the contest and Corine for the chance to read the book. A real book with proper paper pages.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Montpellier--After a Hard Night

My favorite Australians, Kirsty from You Had Me at Bonjour and her family came to our neck of the woods this past long weekend. We decided to meet them in Montpellier for lunch; a time to see the city and have some fun.

Unfortunately, Montpellier didn't put on her pretty dress for them.

In fact, she looked kinda scary, like she'd pulled an all-nighter and hadn't yet recovered, mascara smudged, stockings torn. And I hate that because usually it's a lovely city with clean pedestrian areas, the big fun playground, great light for photographs and happy people-watching on the Place de la Comédie.

{Place de la Comédie}
The wacky Dr Seuss park had broken rosé bottles under the slides (rosé is what the French 'gangs' drink I guess) and there was a contingent of camping dread-locked hippies with two dogs a piece on the stage along the Esplanade. Whiffy!

We decided to have an early lunch of crépes on the Place de la Comédie and got a big, long table for all ten of us. We ate our crépes of all varieties--sucre, fromage, créme de marrons--and enjoyed a moment of chatting and laughter causing an orchestra of Australian and American accents with some French thrown in.

The kids were delighted to be together and when they'd finished their crépes we let the big kids go out into the plaza and have a run around. And that's when one of the kids got knocked down by a scooter illegally zipping through. You should know straight away that it was all okay in the end and he wasn't badly hurt (amazing). But it was terrifying; causing us all to tremble and feel more than a bit sick to our stomachs.
Another blow for Ms Montpellier. Her dress was torn and she stumbled as she did the walk of shame.

After the Baddie with no scooter license was sent away with his 'borrowed' scooter on a police escorted tow truck, we tried to collect ourselves and get on with the afternoon.

We walked across the pedestrian part of town, through the shopping center and into Antigone with the fabulous fountain towards the river Lez. There was an extreme sports rally on and we thought the boys would like to see guys on wakeboards jumping and doing tricks on the river. It was okay but even the boys thought it was kinda lame. Boring, to be exact. So we headed back toward the fountain.

{Fabulous Fountain}
I swear, that fountain is the best thing that's ever happened to my kids and apparently the Aussie kids too. It is pretty cool--with its sequence of sprays ranging from full on water-to-the-sky-blast to cheeky, arched dolphin sprays.
And no child can resist tempting it, running through, standing a bit too near, jumping on the tiny bursts before they turn into a geyser. All six of them got gradually more soaked until their clothes were wringing wet and their giggles and shouts enticed others to join in.

That fountain was one of the first things we loved about Montpellier when we came for a visit and now that we live here it continues to deliver. Not like how sometimes when you vacation somewhere and think it's the best thing ever and then you come back time and again and it loses its luster. Not this fountain, it still sparkles.
{big kids at the fountain that first time}

And it saved the day for me. And for the kids too. And I hope for Kirsty and her Mister.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

How to Make a Bridge--French Stylee

faire le pont--making the bridge or if you like fairing le bridge
You know how when the 4th of July falls on a Wednesday or Thursday we all go back to work after?

Well, that doesn't happen here in France. This past Thursday was a national holiday to celebrate Ascension; when Jesus went back up to heaven after being resurrected on Easter Sunday. He hung around down here for 40 days before going back up to walk the golden streets of heaven. I think he stayed to celebrate Mother's Day with Mary. He is the best Son ever.

{Pont Romain, Sommieres & River Vidourle}
Nonetheless, Ascension is a public French holiday and it fell on Thursday this year. And this is where I get to my point of how the French make a bridge.
{Pont du Gard, Nimes}
The bridge in question makes a long holiday over the Friday and carries you right through the other side to Sunday. Et voila!; a four day break. We're enjoying it very much Chez Nous but it would be a bit better if the days weren't stormy and rainy and our bridge was over sun drenched beach and poolside days.
{Pont du Diable, St Guilhem le Desert}
We've gone to the Aquarium and the Olympic swimming pool and we've been having family Wii tournaments. Now we all have tennis elbow.

{Pont Romain, Sommieres}

 Happy bridge making to you wherever you are, whatever the weather.