Sales Season in France

IMG_5755The French soldes or sales come twice a year–in July and January. They’re the moment when retailers mark down old inventory to move it and make way for the nouvelles collections. Store-wide sales aren’t allowed outside the designated periods, though retailers can offer promos or promotions at will on a few items, kind of like loss leaders. P1100471This summer’s soldes started June 27–it’s always on a Wednesday, probably linked to the fact that school is in session only half the day on Wednesdays (and classes continue until the early days of July, so yes, it matters). They will be over August 7. For some reason, two departments (Alpes-Maritimes and Pyrénées-Orientales)  have soldes from July 4 to August 14.

Usually the soldes run for six weeks, but the government wants to shorten it to four, starting with the next winter soldes. (The winter soldes start the second Wednesday of January, unless that would be after Jan. 12, in which case they start on the first Wednesday.) IMG_5756The idea is that retailers get tired of having soldes for so long and that merchandise gets picked over quickly, leaving the dregs to lie about for too long. Shorter soldes would create more urgency.

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Third markdown…

Each week of the soldes, retailers cut prices further. They start off with a tease, with most stuff marked to 20% or 30% off, then up to 40% or 50%, and finally toward 70% and more.

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Fourth markdown.

I operate on the coup de coeur strategy for the soldes. If you really like something, it’s dangerous to wait for it to be marked down–your size or favorite color might be gone. If you have broad parameters, like “jeans,” or “shoes” then you might find something that tickles your fancy and doesn’t pinch your pocketbook. Some of the best deals are in small boutiques, which want to clear the racks for new items and which might not have a good system to get rid of remainders. The soldes also apply to other retailers, like electronics or appliances.

I did the soldes in Toulouse recently. Even though we brought water bottles, I started to feel overheated after a few hours of beating the pavement. We had waited out the first couple of weeks, not so much out of strategy than out of scheduling, but it was just as well, because by afternoon there were long lines for changing rooms.

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The main shopping drag in Carcassonne with its pretty parasols that cast such lovely, soft shade.

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The parasols of Carcassonne…the opposite of the Parapluies (umbrellas) of Cherbourg (culture tip: that’s the name of the 1964 movie that was Catherine Deneuve’s first big role).

I do have two coping strategies: Go early, as soon as the doors open. This applies to museums and other tourist sights, as well. Everybody says they’re going to get an early start, then they roll out the door around 10 or 11 and it’s almost lunch and so why not just wait until after eating. In fact, lunch time is the other strategy–it’s sacred in France, so if you go against the flow (when you want to get something done, otherwise, by all means, adopt the leisurely lunch!) you can avoid the crowds. P1100470Wishing you short lines and beaucoup de bonnes affaires!

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Joie

P1080296What a weekend! Three days of happy events. July 13, a night of communal dinners and local fireworks–the villages know they can’t compete with the giant Bastille Day display above the Carcassonne citadel. Then July 14, the big deal. Plus it was a Saturday. The produce market unrecognizable–more tourists than tomatoes. Every café terrace packed. The party starts early and goes late.

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La Cité…it’s impressive any time but at night you can really imagine the 1200s.

P1080299Leaving the market, I was relieved to find my car still in its quasi-legal parking spot (much of the regular parking had been declared off-limits in preparation for the fireworks crowds that would start showing up). An older woman in a cheerful red dress with white polka dots approached, lugging a clearly heavy tote bag. “Is Avenue Antoine Marty far?” she asked. I pointed to it, a couple of blocks away. She peered into the distance.

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The lights in the foreground are people’s phones.

I told her to hop in, I would take her. She was thrilled. It quickly became evident that she knew very well where Avenue Antoine Marty was; the question seemed to be to determine whether I was fit to ask for a ride. I was glad to have passed the test. The municipal electric minibus that usually took her close to her home wasn’t running because the centre ville streets had been closed to traffic in view of the influx of visitors for the day’s events. I suspect she was trudging home, saw me, a not-young woman pulling a shopping caddy, getting into a car with local 11 license plates and she decided to take a chance. By 11 a.m. it already was hot and she didn’t exactly live nearby.

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Do you see la Cité glowing?

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Then engulfed in smoke.

She informed me she was 90. She was in fine form!! She had hefted her bag into the car before I had a chance to get out and do it. She wore a string of pearls and earrings and, I noticed, her sandals exposed her toes, twisted and deformed and undoubtedly very painful for walking long distances.IMG_5334She said 90 was no fun. She was born in Carcassonne and had lived there her whole life and always had lots of friends. But now, they were dying off, her coffee posse dwindling from 15-strong to five. “What are they thinking, dying like that?” she demanded, not rhetorically but in a clearly irritated way, like “why did you leave the lights on?”IMG_5476As she gave me directions, she told me about her life. Her daughter died of cancer a few years ago. “I died, too,” she said. “I am still here, but I stopped living when I lost her. It is not right to lose a child. What was she thinking, dying like that?”

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The “embrasement” or burning of la Cité. It never happened in real life, at least not here, but you can imagine the horror back in the day when fortified cities came under attack.

P1080302I dropped her off in front of her house and told her we had to have coffee the next time we crossed paths at the market. I don’t doubt I’ll see her again. I thought of something I’d recently read by the poet Donald Hall, who recently died at age 89: “However alert we are, however much we think we know what will happen, antiquity remains an unknown, unanticipated galaxy. It is alien, and old people are a separate form of life. They have green skin, with two heads that sprout antennae. They can be pleasant, they can be annoying — in the supermarket, these old ladies won’t get out of my way — but most important they are permanently other. When we turn eighty, we understand that we are extraterrestrial. If we forget for a moment that we are old, we are reminded when we try to stand up, or when we encounter someone young, who appears to observe green skin, extra heads, and protuberances.” I certainly hope my new friend in the red dress felt like the self who still lives inside.

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An ancien combattant let me photograph his medals. The horrors he must have witnessed to have so many. 

Later, our family joined the celebratory throngs in town, having dinner en terrasse at the central square (classic steak tartare, Thai steak tartare and a salade César at l’Artichaut). In the afternoon, a very good singer was belting out Aretha Franklin covers; at dinner time it was traditional bal musette, with people dancing around the fountain of Neptune as others ate at the many cafés.

As the sun set, we headed toward the river to watch the fireworks. I am constantly amazed by how polite the crowds are here. Even when the fireworks started, people stayed seated. No litter. Just laid-back, enjoying the moment.

 

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Some folks came early, with chairs, tables and food. And wine, Duh. This is a civilized crowd!
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Look at the masses on the bridge. That is too much crowd for me.
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Walking back to the Bastide, good moods all around.

And then, on Sunday, les Bleus delivered another World Cup championship. While my husband and kid watched (at home–no distractions), I puttered around the garden and listened, in stereo, to the collective cries of the villagers on the emotional rollercoaster–with air conditioning unheard-of here, everybody’s windows were open. Mostly cheers, but there were a couple of loud groans. Later, young people gathered on the main road to cheer at passing cars, but there was little traffic. The few cars that came by at least participated with plenty of honking.

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Smileys.

Next up: the Tour de France has an arrival, a rest day and a departure from Carcassonne next weekend.

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All photos (except the blurry ones, which are my fault) by our kid.

Le Jazz et le Java

IMG_3518Coffee: I don’t know about you, but when I was in high school French class, I learned that there was un express and there was un café au lait. However, things are much murkier.

Un express is an espresso, also known as a café court or a short coffee. This is in contrast to un café allongé, or an elongated coffee, which is stretched out with water and which also goes by the name café américain. It’s more like the filtered coffee you might make with a drip coffee maker, although in a café they don’t have drip machines and just add hot water to the espresso.

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Un café. With a sugar and a little piece of chocolate (that was hoovered up before I got a photo).

But you can also order “un espresso.” Or “un café,” because the default setting for coffee is espresso–small, strong, with a frothy foam, and a sugar or two on the side. It is considered correct to drink any time of the day, and at the end of meals, after dessert.

Coffee with milk is a different beast. For one thing, it’s breakfast. You will get a raised eyebrow but no objection if you order a milky coffee after a meal. Probably because it’s often a big bowl of frothy milk, with an espresso dropped in–it’s filling. And if you say, “un café au lait, s’il vous plaît,” they will nod and repeat, “un café crème,” or just “un crème.” (This is a little like how, around here, if you ask for un pain au chocolate they will nod and repeat, “une chocolatine” or “une choco,” which is the regionally preferred term, kind of like the pop/soda split in the U.S., but more heated because it’s about food and it’s in France. The debate even went to Parliament, and you can vote here.) Now, if you paid attention in high school French class, you know that crème is feminine–think la crème de la crème. But, I guess, since in this case it’s short for café, which is masculine, it gets to be masculine.

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Un crème.

I caught onto the café crème instead of café au lait thing quickly, but it took me a while to figure out the masculine/feminine part. This will make my husband laugh because I am terrible with genders in French, managing to get them wrong more than half the time, he says, noting that a random guess would come out right 50% of the time.

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Un café noisette. Much smaller than un crème.

Another term for confusion: un noisette (that masculine/feminine thing again!) is an espresso with a hazelnut-size dollop of milk. I have seen flavored coffees in some cities, but they are not common.

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A cappuccino. You have been warned.

Also, beware that if you order a cappuccino, you will not get a coffee with frothy milk but a coffee with whipped cream–practically dessert.

Speaking of which, un café gourmand is a coffee served with an assortment of mini pastries or desserts.

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A French press, bien sûr. I love it for cold-brewing iced coffee.

The title of this post is an hommage to the song, Le Jazz et le Java, by Claude Nougaro. Check it out here. A classic!

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Happy Bastille Day! Rooting for les Bleus in the World Cup final on Sunday. 

Cool, Composed and So French

P1080727It’s hot. The glare of the sunshine, the sharp shadows, the heat mirages wavering up from the asphalt. I don’t mind, because it’s summer, and summer is always too short. What I do mind is cooking when it’s hot.

Our kid had a friend over for a few days and I made a Moroccan chicken pastilla (yes, I’m on a Moroccan kick after all that yummy food in Casablanca), and the next day we made pizzas. Both pastilla and pizzas are cooked in the oven. And the day before, I had made a cake because a bunch of friends were coming for coffee. Too much oven!

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Pasta salad is not unknown. Nor potato salad.

We are back to regular summer programming. That means salad for dinner. When I ask French friends what they do for dinner, they say “soup” in winter and “salad” in summer.   While I have seen some French salads that involve cold pasta tossed with raw (or canned) vegetables, more often it’s a salade composée–a composed salad, in which the ingredients sit nicely next to each other, like neighbors, respecting each other’s personal space.

BTW, the word for lettuce is salade, but a salad doesn’t always have salade in it. And there are many kinds of lettuce–laitue, chêne, romaine, batavia, scarole, mâche, cresson, mesclun….IMG_3843There are the famous French composed salads. Salade niçoise, named after the city of Nice, has tuna, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, anchovies and olives, often served on a bed of lettuce.

Another is salade lyonnaise, named after Lyon, with bitter greens like frisée (frizzy!), lardons (bacon chunks), and a poached egg.

And a salad that doesn’t have a special name but is a classic found in many traditional restaurants features cold, cooked green beans, cold boiled potatoes, and either tuna or lardons.

All these would be served with a homemade vinaigrette. Homemade is SO quick and easy, and without all the nasty chemicals. One part vinegar to three parts olive oil, a finely chopped shallot or clove of garlic, a little salt and pepper, and maybe a little Dijon mustard. Put it in a jar with a tight cover and shake. Voilà. Change the kind of vinegar (balsamic instead of red wine, for example) and it’s very different. Sometimes I make it with rice wine vinegar and a mix of sesame and peanut oils. IMG_4069Here’s what we do: clean out the fridge. Anything goes. Fruit, vegetables, cheese, ham or other charcuterie, leftover steak sliced thin. We’ll call it the Salade Composée du Carnivore, because he is the specialist, arranging everything artfully. Either drizzled with vinaigrette or just splashed with olive oil and vinegar.couscous salad closeupEvery few days, I make a big bowl of chopped salad, involving whatever vegetables are in season, plus some kind of vegetarian protein–beans and corn, beans and rice, quinoa, lentils, etc. It is good, but not as pretty as the French variety. cabbage and carrot salad closeup

Casablanca Cuisine

IMG_4649Last time, I showed one of the restaurants we visited in Casablanca, La Sqala. We never had a bad meal in Casablanca, even when it was take-out sandwiches from a tiny shop–there are many of these, sometimes two or three in a row. They have a couple of tables inside, a glass-front counter on the street displaying gorgeous kebabs and sausages, and an open kitchen just behind. Like a tiny diner, Casablanca-style.

The day Morocco played in the World Cup, some friends advised us to take it easy at our AirBnB by the end of the match, because a win would have crazy celebrations in the street, best appreciated from five floors above rather than in the midst of. Although I have to say, at least in Morocco you don’t have to deal with belligerent drunks.

We wanted to explore the Gauthier quarter, which was a bit more chic and modern than Derb Omar, where we were staying. And my kid and I both had found good comments about the Mood Café, so off we went.

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l’Etoile Centrale

Uncharacteristically, we didn’t take photos. It was international modern, the kind of place that could be in Paris or New York or Sydney. The food was excellent but also international modern. The Carnivore had a steak (a steak is a steak is a steak) and the kid and I had tartines, one with salmon the other with chicken. Very nice, with fresh ingredients, but what you would find at a good upscale café anywhere.

On the one hand, I think it’s great that people have choices for eating, and that they aren’t stuck with the same local specialties everywhere they look. Our friends informed us that Casablanca residents don’t eat Moroccan food when they go out–they eat that at home, and they have very high standards. So when they go out, they want something different–Chinese, Lebanese, French, Italian, international modern healthy.

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A Spanish restaurant, if you couldn’t guess.

P1100411In fact, the most sublime meal we had was at our friends’ home. OMG. We didn’t take photos of that either. Briouats, a big meze of cooked but not hot vegetable dishes, then a tajine that made me want to cry tears of joy.

Back to the Mood Café. It was nearly empty when we arrived. We ordered and watched it fill and fill and fill. Somehow I managed to sit on a banquette right under a big screen TV showing the match against Portugal. That meant EVERYBODY was facing me but, happily paying not one iota of attention because they were all riveted to the screen above my head. And I had the best deal–I got to watch the spectators.

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Chicken pastilla at l’Etoile Centrale. I am going to make this!

A table just behind the Carnivore added more and more people. A mixed crowd in almost every way–they were all Moroccans but split about 50-50 men and women; the ages seemed to range from early 20s to late 40s; some of the women–the older ones–wore Western clothes and had their hair loose, while some others–including the youngest in the group–covered their hair. The youngest woman wore a tightly pinned headscarf in maroon polyester that matched her loose pants; she had a loose white tunic with that and Converse All Stars. Her face was as round as her oversized, gold rimmed glasses, and, unlike the other women, she didn’t have a speck of makeup. She was the most enthusiastic of the group. She drew her legs up, sitting Indian-style on the chair, sometimes hugging her knees as she stared at the TV, looking as if she was going to burst into tears (Morocco didn’t play well).

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Vegetable tajine
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Mechoui lamb

We watched everybody react as one, heaving with excitement, jumping up, grabbing each other’s arms so tightly their fingers turned white, their hopeful faces so bright they could compete with the sun, and then…the disappointment as the goal wasn’t scored. Their faces fell. Several men held their heads in their hands.

As it turned out, Morocco lost and there were no celebrations at all.

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Live music at Zayna.

We also ate at a good restaurant in the Habbous neighborhood. Habbous is a new medina, built in the 1920s, much calmer than the old medina. We were approached by an old woman who was recruiting people for the Zayna restaurant, which happened to be the one we wanted. Delicious food! No website….

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Chicken tajine. It was very sweet. I love sweet with savory.
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Mixed grill chez Zayna.

Then we went around the corner to Bennis Habous, a bakery, where you buy goodies by weight. Just point, and they’ll put them into a box for you to take away.IMG_466155.Pâtisserie BennisAnother restaurant was l’Etoile Centrale, directly across from the Central Market. Very pretty inside, but no match for Zayna or home cooking.P110040761.Resto 2

The New York Times had an article last week about Rick’s Café in Casablanca.

So much food. So little time.

 

South of France Summer

9:30 a.m. (9h30 as the French would write it), and the cigales already are singing. After a brief rush of cars between 8:30 and 9, only a tractor rumbles through the village. Even the birds, who had been very vocal at 5 a.m., have quieted down, taking shelter in the shade. The only sound is the thrumming of the cigales, like a heartbeat.P1100260There’s a special kind of quiet that descends on villages in the south of France as the temperatures rise. It isn’t all that hot–low 30s Celsius, which is the upper 80s, flirting with 90. It’s summer hot, but not disagreeable. No humidity. Day after day of cerulean skies have dried the ground hard, the grass has gone dormant brown, the hydrangeas (hortensias in French) are wilting. The lavender, however, is happy, exploding like fireworks. Its enormous clouds of flowers are home to some irridescent beetles and many bees. Lavender honey is prized. However numerous, the bees are no match for the racket raised by the cicadas.

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I failed to get a good shot of the bees–they moved faster than I could focus–but I did get a beetle.

P1040826I run around the village before it gets hot, darting from shade to shade, feeling the coolness coming off the stone walls, feeling the heat, like a blanket dropped on me, when I step into the sun. Not a breath of wind. From afar, I spy a mother returning to her car, having deposited her child at the before-school daycare. The school year doesn’t end until Friday. There is no air conditioning in classrooms. Or anywhere. You get used to the heat better that way. The kids undoubtedly will be taken to the now-trickle of a stream to occupy the afternoon. Sometimes the wind carries their munchkin voices all the way to my house. They give their vocal cords a good workout. When our kid was little, I would accompany the class on these outings. Although I love children and spent only a couple of hours at a time with the class, I would need to rest afterward and would always be reminded that elementary teachers are not paid nearly enough for the work they do.

P1100253A dip in the water does a person good, especially after dinner, to cool down before going to bed. In the evenings, the birds come out again. We have a blackbird, whom I call Merle (merle is French for blackbird), who trills away, either in the tree above the table where we dine al fresco or from the peak of the roof, his beak pointed to the sky. He is an accomplished singer and I enjoy his concerts immensely, even at the crack of dawn. I have illusions/delusions about making friends with him, coaxing him closer. He seems unafraid and lets us get to within about a meter before he flies off. He has been a resident for a couple of years; at least I think it’s him. He hops along under the laurel bushes by the clothesline, making a racket on the dry leaves, but seeming to think I don’t notice. It reminds me of when our kid was little and would open the corner cupboards in the kitchen and hide behind them, feathery toddler hair sticking out above. If you can’t see me, I can’t see you, right?P1100252We’ve been promised thunderstorms this afternoon, but the sky is cloudless. Promises of rain at this time of year are rarely kept. A few days ago, the sky darkened in the distance and we heard thunder rumble, and we took in cushions and such just in case. Not a drop fell. It’s the season of kleig-light sunshine, so raw it looks artificial. With it comes sharply cut shadows that are like a world apart, so dark after your pupils have squeezed to pinpricks from the overdose of sunshine that you suddenly are blinded by the comparative blackness. No nuance, especially in the hard-scaped heart of the village, where the streets are too narrow for cars. The ancient houses’ thick stone walls and closed shutters create cool caves of comfort, perfect for la sieste after lunch. Back in the day, winegrowers built refuges, called capitelles, out of stacks of stones. They still dot the vineyards, though I hesitate to enter, because spiders and snakes.IMG_6171IMG_6176Our summer diet of tomatoes has begun, with real, French-grown variétés anciennes finally appearing at the market. Tonight, pasta à la caprese (with mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil, maybe a little green onion, slathered with olive oil, served tepid). The stove and oven are on vacation. And you?121.Fruits market

 

 

Casablanca

IMG_4442We recently spent a few days in Casablanca. I had visited Morocco several times, but never Casablanca. I have to tell you, it doesn’t deserve its reputation as ugly, or not having anything to do. It admittedly isn’t touristy–it’s Morocco’s biggest city, with 3.5 million residents, and its economic engine, accounting for half the country’s gross domestic product. In such a bustling place, you get to see real life, instead of a sanitized tourist version.

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There ARE touristy things, like the huge beach, the Corniche.
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And Rick’s Café…no, we didn’t go there.

I have way too many photos for one post, so you’ll get more about Casablanca in the future. All these were taken by our kid, whose eye for detail I admire.

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Crossing the Pyrénées from France to Spain.
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Over Spain…already a change.
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Over Morocco…more change.
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Casablanca

I was very thankful our kid saw Casablanca. It was an eye-opener. The poverty was a shocker–and Morocco isn’t even that poor; it’s considered a lower middle income economy. Poverty dropped to under 5% in 2014 from more than 15% in 2001. That is a huge achievement. (If you are a regular reader, you know this is not the blog for “10 Most Luxurious Spas in Morocco” or “Five Most Instagrammable Spots in Casablanca.”)IMG_4440At the same time, our kid succinctly expressed what I couldn’t help thinking: “They really need a day where everybody goes out and cleans the place up.” Not just litter, but sidewalks that are broken in inexplicable places and gorgeous Art Deco and colonial buildings that are abandoned but that seem to have so much potential.

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The view from our AirBnB. Lots of white buildings, as the name would imply.

Speaking of crumbling Art Deco, we stayed in an AirBnB between the train station and the central market. It was a convenient location, but it turned out to be the red light district, though we never saw any evidence of that. I regret not taking my second choice, which I too late learned was owned by a friend of the person we had traveled to Casablanca to see. Here it is–the good one.  And once I figured out the lay of the city, I realized the other apartment was equally convenient but in a much nicer neighborhood.

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A mosque in the old medina.
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A white house (casa blanca!!!) in the old medina.

The old medina was simultaneously laid back and frenetic. Of course, we were wooed by shopkeepers, but they weren’t insistent. Of course, a couple of guys offered to be our guide, but we generally navigated by joining the dense flow of humanity coursing through the narrow alleyways. A few times when we got off track, we were directed by kind bystanders–kids playing soccer in a quiet corner who stopped their game to call to us when we headed the wrong way; a chic young woman on her way home who took the time to lead us through the maze and who was a delight to talk to en route. Nobody who helped us asked for money. Random people would strike up conversations with us–a fellow shopper who waxed on about the wonders of argan oil, for example. It was genuine friendliness, not tourist-friendliness. I liked it.IMG_4444The insane traffic also had a surprising lack of aggression. On the one hand, everybody started honking as soon as the cross-traffic’s light turned yellow–about two seconds before they actually got a green light. Plenty of cars would slide through the light change, triggering more honking. Nobody stayed in a lane. This made crossing the very wide boulevards a dance with death–except that cars swerved or stopped for pedestrians, who seemed as unperturbed as bullfighters in the face of a charging bull, deftly dodging danger. To cross streets, we adopted a strategy of sticking with locals, and the more the better, figuring we had safety in numbers and they knew when to stop or go.IMG_4430The times we took taxis it was impossible to figure out whether the rule was priority on the right, as in France (in principle, yes, but practice is another thing), yet the rides weren’t scary–the starts and stops were gentle, like a dance rather than a battle. It was chaotic, but a shrug-your-shoulders, what-can-you-do chaos, not a my-way-or-the-highway mean chaos.

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Can you see the crescent moon? This fortress turned out to be a restaurant, La Sqala.

We ate at La Sqala, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a little oasis on the edge of the old medina, next to the waterfront.IMG_4466IMG_4457

It was very good and a nice experience. The Carnivore had a hunk of meat (lamb), our kid had salmon, I had a vegetable tajine.

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The white stuff is cauliflower purée (it was a hit).
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Sublimely seasoned vegetable tajine.
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A row of tajine dishes.

More to come on Casablanca, as time goes by….

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Go Jump in a Lake

IMG_4406Summer is here. It seemed like it arrived a long time ago, but it’s clear that was just late spring–warm sunny days alternated with rain showers and everything was emerald. Now we have day after day of cloudless azure skies. The cigales sang for the first time yesterday. The lawn is starting to go dormant and turn brown. My summer habits have started–closing the east shutters before bed, opening all the windows early in the morning to let in the cool air, then closing them all around 10, when temperatures start to rise. Opening the east shutters and closing the west ones in the afternoon….I like that it’s manual. It makes a rhythm for the day. It’s ancient, effective technology that relies only on my own energy.

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Beware of fire.

In summer, we often find ourselves at a little lake on the edge of Carcassonne, Lac de la Cavayère. It’s a manmade lake, created after a huge forest fire in 1985 ripped through the pine forests that cover the rugged hills. Today, you would never know–the trees are big, and create a cool, sweet-smelling oasis. And, of course, there’s a castle in the distance. Because France.IMG_4389IMG_4407IMG_4417We used to go to the lake’s beach when our kid was little. There is nothing as amusing as sand and water for a toddler, plus it’s minutes away. Eventually the draw became “accrobranche,” which is a portmanteau of accrocher–to hold on– and branche–branch. I don’t think there’s a direct translation to English. You climb up in the trees, which are connected by ropes and various obstacles, and you navigate the course. You can’t fall because you wear a harness that’s attached to a safety rope. There even are zip lines, like Dora the Explorer (Dora, l’exploratrice)IMG_4557IMG_4554

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Even over the water.

There are different courses for different ages/heights, mostly based on how high you have to reach to clip on your safety rope. IMG_4558Now that my kid is a teen and I serve only as chauffeur, I no longer have to wait amid the whistling pines (and provide moral support) but can go for a walk or run around the lake. It’s lovely.

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Army training…it’s true some of the hills are steep.

The lake has added more beaches, so they aren’t too crowded. And there are more water activities, like a slide and a bunch of floating islands that are designed for losing balance and pushing each other into the water. A couple of friends come late on moonlit nights to swim the length of the lake.

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Climbing stuff and falling in water. What could be more fun?

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Teleski…you’re pulled by a rope. No motorized things (boats, jetskis) are allowed on the lake.

IMG_4413There’s a sports center that local schools use. My kid’s class did cross-country running and kayaking at the lake this year. I am astounded. We did not have kayaking when I was in school. Plus, they did it in winter!

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Plus paddle boards and paddle boats.

It’s not too late. In July and August, the city sponsors free courses in kayaking, as well as other sports like beach soccer, nordic hiking, mountain biking and Krav-Maga. Under threat of a phone ban, my kid reluctantly agreed to “do something,” and tried archery….and loved it. Went back every day. They supply everything. It’s free. Open to all ages. IMG_4388Even though it’s close to town–there’s city bus service–it feels like the middle of wilderness. The beaches are beaches, with lots of people shouting and laughing and splashing, but as you walk the lake’s perimeter, you pass through a fragrant forest and hear only the songs of birds. It’s quite a different definition of summer in the city.

 

How to Avoid AirBnB Scofflaws

79.Cité le soir2I love AirBnB–we’ve used it on trips, and it’s great when you want a kitchen or more than one bedroom, things that are rare in hotels. Especially on longer trips, eating out three meals a day is just too much.

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La Suite Barbès

We searched for just the right property for more than a year. When we started looking, there were about 100 AirBnB listings around Carcassonne. Once we found the most beautiful apartments in Carcassonne–decorative moldings as elaborate as ours are very rare, as are ceilings that soar as high–we completely renovated them, with new wiring and plumbing, and restored the original tomette floors. We furnished the apartments with locally sourced antiques. The renovation took another year.

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You don’t find lutes above just any fireplace.

By the time we listed our apartments, there were more than 300 listings. Unfortunately, when we went to pay our taxes (there are two–the taxe de séjour–a hotel tax–and income tax), the folks working in the tax department expressed surprise when we mentioned how the number of listings had exploded in such a short time. They had under 100 listings. The others were renting illegally. “The law of the jungle,” a minister called it.

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l’Ancienne Tannerie

This hurts the city by depriving it of revenue and it hurts the AirBnB hosts who do play by the rules (and hotels, which are important employers and taxpayers). As of July. 1, AirBnB will collect the taxe de séjour (but not the income tax) on rentals and pay it Jan. 1 directly to municipalities in France. The move may cause the number of illegal listings to drop, though I imagine some will continue, betting that it might take a long time before anybody gets around to auditing them.Logo 4 étoiles 2017How can you tell whether a listing is legal? Look for the stars–not the AirBnB stars given by guests, but the official stars. The government gives a tax break to property owners that get classified by stars (if you don’t pay any taxes, you don’t care about a tax break, eh). To get it, the rental property must be inspected–which is an important guarantee to you as a renter. The inspection is not just for amenities and taste but also for safety.  It’s probably the clearest way to see that a rental is legal. Of course, if a property gets a bad rating, they might not want to show how many stars they have (or don’t have). Both our apartments have four stars, which is as high as we can get without having a pool or elevator–neither possible in a 17th century building in the center of the part of town that dates to 1260.

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The huge country kitchen in l’Ancienne Tannerie.

Here’s more from when we received our official stars: for la Suite Barbès and for l’Ancienne Tannerie.

We’d love to welcome you in Carcassonne, but if you don’t stay with us, please, at least choose another host who pays their taxes!IMG_2342

What’s at the Market

P1100337Of all the things I love about living in France, buying groceries at the outdoor market is the one that feels most French. I’ve written about it many times, but again on Saturday I was struck by just how gorgeous it all is. The colors, the smells, the artful arrangements that create still lifes wherever you look.

Even better, because they’re edible!P1100340

Flat peaches have arrived, and asparagus is hanging on. The weather has been record-setting wet, which has helped them.P1100333

A mountain of cherries. I thought the flags were a nice touch. And other cherries below–“pigeon heart” and Napoleon, I think.P1100338

Green beans grown locally…they have three kinds: green, “butter” and cocos, which are a kind of flat bean.P1100324

It’s all so pretty…P1100325P1100339P1100328P1100330

There are even zucchini with their flowers.P1100331

The roasted chicken vendor draws a long line.P1100335

The sausage seller promised one kind was “spicy, spicy, no fat, diet!” In English, even!P1100326

Sheep’s cheese from the mountains…P1100327

Everybody was in such a good mood. The World Cup has started, which invigorates the football fans, the weather is gorgeous at last, and summer is here.