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.
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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

 

 

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.

 

 

A French Love Story

P1100246You never know when someone will reveal their heart. Their true feelings.

We were invited to dinner last weekend. All three couples in attendance have known each other for many years now. Yet, stories remain to be told. This one touched me so much, I had to share it.

I don’t have pictures of the dinner, which was delicious. The hosts, great lovers of animals who take in every stray, became vegetarian about a year ago. Yes, there are French vegetarians. It was SO good, from the vast array of appetizers, consumed outside on the gravel courtyard, surrounded by lush vegetation and flowers–like an outdoor room with living floral wallpaper–to the main course of a spicy (!!! unusual for the French!) stew with tofu/soy that mimicked chicken surprisingly well, served with an interesting couscous, followed of course by a large cheese plate, then floating island for dessert.

Instead I offer some shots from a recent walk/run. Just random nature that caught my eye.

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Wild flowers.

Back to the story. How we got into it, I don’t recall. But it led to the tale of how one couple met. I had heard their story over the years, but the abridged version. The full version was better.

A moved to the region from Paris when she was 16. As new arrivals do, her family visited the sights in the region. On one such outing, they passed an old tower in the process of being consumed by an overgrown garden.

“Someday I’d like to live there,” A recalled her teenage self dreaming.

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Rogue wheat that left the field and crossed the road.

Years later, she was separated from her then-husband. Likewise, R had just been divorced and was living in an apartment in town.

A used to stop at a bureau de tabac operated by a friend. Le bureau de tabac is a kind of cigarette shop, but much more. It was an institution, a pillar of daily life where one bought stamps when the post office was (as usual) closed; bus or metro tickets; lottery tickets; vignettes, a kind of stamp proving you’ve paid a tax for various official functions; cards for using pay phones (I had quite a collection of these from around Europe, pre-mobile phone); as well as candy bars, sodas and magazines (all of which reeked of smoke). As you can imagine, le bureau de tabac is disappearing. Fewer French smoke (33%, down from 45% in the 1960s and even higher before that); the post office has automated machines for buying stamps; nobody buys magazines anymore (total paid tirage–press run–has dropped to 6 million last year from the high-water mark of 15 million in 1946, even though the population of France has risen to 67 million from 40 million in the same time). And good luck finding a pay phone.P1100218Anyway, you went to a bureau de tabac of a friend, or where it was convenient and the owner would become your friend by virtue of frequent encounters. Especially a few decades ago, shopping was social; it’s what we lose with convenient clicks.

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Built in the 1700s.

B went prospecting for houses and fell for the crazy little tower with château pretensions.

One day, A was driving in the countryside with her friend from the bureau de tabac.  They passed the tower-house. “I always dreamed of living there,” A confessed. Her friend said, “Oh, I know the guy who bought it!” She wanted to play cupid with A and B, but no effort was needed. P1100236In a small town like Carcassonne, A and B were soon at le bureau de tabac at the same time, and the owner introduced them. They would run into each other there regularly, and conversations would ensue, not only because that’s how life was but also because A and B are fun to chat with. Even now, A looks an awful lot like a younger Catherine Deneuve and has what can only be described as an effervescent personality. We used to take a yoga class together, and even when she would arrive in a foul mood, she would be bubbly, and she never stayed upset long. P1100233B, meanwhile, is quiet, cultured and well-traveled. When he says something, it isn’t some uninformed opinion grabbed out of thin air. He’s eminently calm and reasonable.

In fact, he so impressed A during their impromptu chats that she thought, “That’s the kind of man I’d like in my life.” 

Isn’t that the best?

They did progress from le bureau de tabac to dating and have been married for 30 years. They also turned the tower/ruin into a bijoux of a home.

Happily ever after.P1100213

 

 

Apéro Hour

IMG_5113One of the most sacred moments of the French day comes around 6 p.m. (or 18h, as they say here, because they sensibly use the 24-hour clock). Time for l’apéro, or apéritifs.

It can be simple–a glass of wine and some nuts and olives or a few slices of saucisson (hard sausage), to be nibbled on as one makes dinner. For many people, rushing home from work to throw together dinner for the family, l’apéro is appreciated only on the weekends, an almost sacred rite attached to the evening meal.

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Mini clafoutis with boursin and chorizo.

Drinks are always accompanied by food, very light, not to ruin the meal. I remember learning about l’apéritif in my French class in New York–that it comes from the Latin word aperire, which means “to open,” and what’s getting opened is your stomach.

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The crème de cassis and pêche de vigne get added to white wine or blanquette/champagne. Guignolet is like kirsch.

The drinks started off as alcoholic beverages made with herbs. Medicinal, of course. However, the most popular apéritifs in our region are simply a glass of wine or un jaune–a glass of pastis, the golden anise-flavored spirit that oxidizes when water is added, turning a milky yellow. If you want to sound like a local, ask for “un p’tit jaune” (a small yellow).

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A roll of piecrust, some spaghetti sauce and mozzarella become mini croissants.

Last weekend was the Fête des Voisins (European Neighbors’ Day), and about 15 of us gathered for dinner en terrace, each bringing a dish. Potlucks are unusual in France. They aren’t unheard-of, but if you’re invited to dinner, you are unlikely to be assigned a dish. However, you can bring flowers, a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates or another thoughtful gift for the hosts.

Homemade gifts are OK, too. Like this one:

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An artisinal strawberry liqueur.

Which is not the same as a potluck dish.

But the Fête des Voisins is different. In our neighborhood, it was the Carnivore who took up the mantle of organizing a meal. Tables and chairs were rented (for a ridiculously cheap amount from the village, including delivery and pickup the next day!). Somehow, no matter how hot the preceding days had been, every year as dinnertime approached, clouds would roll in and the temperature would drop.

This is when it’s good to be neighbors with a winery. Several times, the tables were set up amid the huge cuves, or tanks, of wine, with plenty of room, not to mention atmosphere.

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Chorizo-olive “cookies”

This year, the group was smaller, but the intimacy was nice. The weather behaved and we had apéritifs next to the pool before moving to the table. I was assigned to bring appetizers, some of which I wrote about when we hosted a pre-Christmas apéritif dînatoire–basically a cocktail party.

I again made the chorizo cookies and two kinds of croissants (ham and Boursin, and “pizza” with tomato sauce and mozzarella). And I made two new ones that are SO easy: goat cheese mini tarts and savory mini clafoutis.

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Goat cheese mini tarts (packed in a bakery box for easy transport)

For the goat cheese mini tarts you need:

A readymade pie crust (feuillété, or flaky, if you have the choice)

A bûche, or log, of goat cheese

Honey

Fresh rosemary sprigs

Cut rounds out of the pie crust. I used a small glass. You want the rounds to be slightly bigger than the diameter of the goat cheese. Slice the goat cheese and lay the slices on the rounds. Place a tiny dab of honey on the goat cheese (I used a knife and just dipped the tip into the honey). Top with the rosemary. Bake at 360 F (180 C) for about 10 minutes–until the cheese has melted a little and the crust is cooked.

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Olive and boursin clafoutis.

The clafoutis recipe is similar to the recipe I used for rhubarb clafoutis, but without the sugar. You can put anything you want in them. I had Boursin left over from the croissants, and I thought sliced black olives would be pretty. When I used up the olives, I still had batter left, so I sliced up some more chorizo (the Spanish kind, which is a hard sausage). Both were delicious. You could do bacon, diced peppers, diced sun-dried tomatoes, other cheeses….

2 eggs

1  cup milk or cream or a combination

3/4 cup (30 grams) flour

pinch of salt

butter for greasing the muffin pan

Beat the eggs and milk/cream. Mix the flour and salt in a medium bowl that you can pour from. Add the liquid to the flour little by little, so you don’t get lumps. Let it rest for about half an hour. Pour into a greased mini-muffin pan. Drop your add-ins on top. Bake for 20-30 minutes (I had to turn the pan halfway through). IMG_5131À votre santé!

 

Seeing Red

IMG_5082Late May is the ideal time to see red seas of poppies stretching across the French countryside. One of my earliest romanticized notions of France was Claude Monet’s painting, “Poppy Field in Argenteuil,” with a woman, hat on her head and parasol over her shoulder, wading through a poppy field with a child. He painted poppies in other places as well, including Giverny, where he had his lovely house and gardens. P1100166IMG_5078P1100176

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The field just above, viewed from afar.

It’s easy to play Monet around here. In fact, what’s hard is not driving off the road as I spy yet another spectacular red field. On the drive to the sports complex, there’s a big field on a plateau, and another below it are all red. As I continued my errands, I contemplated where I could pull off and how I could clamber over the drainage ditch and up the steep ledge to get to the view–which would have la Cité behind it! I made some stops in town, including for another field of poppies and la Cité, and then came back from a different direction. A hill that’s usually to my back was in front of me, and it was completely red. The flowers flowed down, like a floral Kilauea, across the road to the plateau I’d already seen. Amazing. But a very busy road, and no place to pull over and shoot photos. I certainly dismayed the drivers behind me as I slowed down to stare and gasp. (I will try to find a safe vantage point for shooting it!)

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La Cité from the other side, with other poppies. This field is on the plateau, and the red hill is to the left, but hidden from this vantage point.  I tried to climb around but couldn’t get to it.

P1100172P1100159P1070882A small traveling circus set up next to another poppy field. I’ve written about the circus before, but it was a different one. Shortly after this one arrived, I saw a large man at the top of a very, very high light pole. The poles have plugs for the Christmas decorations. While the municipal workers use a mechanical lift to get up there, circus folks just shimmy up like monkeys. Without a net.P1100168

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Same field as above and below.

no filterDuring the circus’s stay, I marveled at the ability of some people to make noise for no reason. Mid-morning, a trumpet blared, not in the way of somebody practicing, even badly. It was in the manner of a child who comes upon a trumpet and decides to try it out, with the full force of his lungs. For a couple of hours. No discernible tune or rhythm. Even a child would get bored with just making noise, but this trumpeter didn’t. Day after day after day.P1100154P1070880

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The power lines connect to a solar farm….

Along with the trumpet (which didn’t seem to be played during the shows–those had canned music), there was incessant hammering, clanking and banging throughout the day and night–normal when they put up and took down the tent, but the other times? Very mysterious. Also, neighing, braying, barking and whatever noise it is that camels make, because there were lots of them, munching on poppies, their humps slumped to the side, like melting ice cream cones just before they plop to the ground.no filterP1100193From time to time, I heard a lion roar, and I thought, “it isn’t even show time. All the kids are in school (except for the two zillion children of the circus performers, who ran around screaming from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., except for when they were riding scooters. I don’t mind kids screaming, actually. They have a reckless exuberance that I admire, although not so much at 6 a.m. nor at 11 p.m.). Why are they playing that stupid fake lion tape now?” I even heard it during the night. It wasn’t until they were leaving that I realized it wasn’t a tape, but a poor, pathetic lion, probably as bored as the trumpeter.P1100177P1100168The morning the circus packed up to leave, at 6:02 a.m., I heard a guy shouting, “Allez, allez, allez!” (Go, go, go!) Then: “Oh! Tenez! PURÉE!!!” (Oh! Hold on! Mush!) I don’t know what went wrong, but I was impressed by his clearly rigorous inculcation in G-rated language, the circus being for children, after all. Even under under duress, rather than say putain–whore–a common swear word, especially in the south of France, where it is used almost like a comma, this distressed/dismayed guy spat out the polite version, purée. Some others are mince (skinny) or mercredi (Wednesday) instead of merde, and punaise (a thumbtack, which in turn is named after a stinkbug) which also replaces putain. So if somebody says Wednesday or thumbtack to you in a sentence where those words make no sense, now you know: they’re mad, not crazy.

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All the photos are as is, no editing or filters or anything.

I thought about the circus again this morning, when I woke up to the sound of birds singing. SO. MANY. BIRDS. And no trumpets or lions.

French Lunch

cheese strawberriesHigh-quality ingredients elevate the simplest meals to moments of wonder and joy.

We are spoiled for choice here in France, especially on market day, when local growers and artisans bring their goods, all nice and fresh and natural, for sale in the square, as has been done for hundreds and hundreds of years (758, to be precise).lunch 1We are big fans of chevre–goat cheese–in all its forms. And there are many: from soft to hard and everything in between; from small rounds (called crottin–which also is the word for droppings of animals like sheep and goats!) to big rounds to bûches (logs) to squares and rectangles. They can be pure white, yellowish, ashen gray. Pasteurized or not. Something for everybody.

4 goat cheeses
Piment and mustard, semi-fresh, dried cherries, fresh.

I am partial to the semi-soft rounds that are encrusted with all kinds of yummy stuff: peppercorns, dried cranberries, herbs… Our kid likes bûches for their chewy crust, but anything with strong flavor will do.

wrapped cheeses
Each vendor has a unique wrapping technique.

Although I have some favorite vendors at the market, sometimes I can’t pick just one. So it is with cheeses. There are several artisans, with slightly different products, so I buy a couple from each. We know some from having visited their farms during the Ferme en Ferme open houses–the 2018 season opens May 1!lunch 3lunch 5Of course, good bread is easy to find. And strawberries, grown in the cool, wet hills of Ariège. goat cheese closeuplunch 2If you can’t come here, take yourself on vacation with some really good bread, some juicy strawberries and a real goat cheese that isn’t sealed in plastic from some factory. Every bite will be worth it.lunch 6

Overfunctional

1st strawberriesWhat do the French do on a long weekend? They go to the countryside! Easter Monday is a national holiday, because although the Revolution established France as a diligently secular country, folks weren’t so foolish as to relinquish days off.

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Easter bunnies? On sale at the market.
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Not a bad view.

On a back road that rivaled any pot-holed, rutted safari track, cars with not-local plates passed nonstop under a brilliant spring sun. More cars were parked under trees, their passengers scattered in the brush–a taste of wilderness without having to walk too far.

asparagus far
It’s obvious, right?

They were after asparagus, mostly. The thing to eat on Easter Monday is an omelette, preferably with asparagus, preferably wild asparagus. You need better eyesight than mine to spot it–fine green stems against more green. “It’s not the same green!” my friends explain. But I have gone asparagus-ing and even when it was right in front of my face I didn’t see it. However, I got plenty scratched up. Now I get my wild asparagus at the market or from generous friends.

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Look closer! That’s an asparagus plant. No delectables on this one…somebody had already passed.

People of all ages were tramping through the brush–the touffes, or tufts, are called la matte in local Occitan lexicon. Somehow, la matte sums up the state of the inpenetrable tangle. That didn’t stop people from trying. I saw a dad coaching a little girl, who was wiggling like a commando through a little opening to get to asparagus gold.

It takes a long time to get even a handful.

There are other wild things along the way, and I’m not talking about parents. The flowers! Wild orchids:

Wild irises:

A very decorative plant whose name I was told but forgot, and whose fruit grows not off the stem but off the leaf:

red berry
Can you see that the berry is attached to the leaf? The little star-shaped flower on the other leaf will turn into a berry.

This little flower is called un petit souci–a little worry. I wonder whether a bunch of petits soucis becomes a big worry.

People here say all the time, “Petit enfant, petits soucis. Grand enfant, grands soucis”–small children, small worries. Big children, big worries.

Sigh. Happily ours is sans souci at the moment. Knock on wood.

Speaking of big, the pinecone on the left was bigger than my fist. It also was very sticky with sap, so it didn’t come home with me.

While we swoon over the views again, let’s discuss the title of this post. It’s from a podcast by Esther Perel, who is a revelation. Her podcast records her therapy sessions with couples. Wow. Even if you aren’t dealing with the issues discussed, you can’t help but learn. Learn to listen. Learn to get past what people say and understand what they mean.P1090810P1090825In an episode titled “Leaving Shame Behind,” Perel counseled a couple dealing with the aftermath of crises–a brain tumor, a car crash and the husband having a near-fatal heart attack that left him mostly disabled for a long time. The wife had to do everything–what Perel called “overfunctioning.” Isn’t that just the perfect word? Are you overfunctioning?

P1090827P1090829She said many wise things, but one that really hit me was: “Apology is not weak. The one who apologizes first is the stronger one.”

 

Age Is Just a Number

P1080404Trying to explain what is “new” and “old” in France to somebody from the Americas is challenging. In a place where the first buildings still standing went up in 485 CE, something from 1663 is relatively new.P1060555

I never liked history because of having to memorize dates. It’s very strange, because I’m good with numbers and am likelier to remember somebody’s phone number or zip code than their name. I guess we also had to memorize a lot of names. Not enough emphasis on the stories!

I finally have a few key points under my belt, such as July 14, 1789: Bastille Day. These things never happen on a whim. The kindling is laid for years, and then when the fire is sparked, it takes off ferociously.

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The U.S. was one year old.

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The houses above were built in the period when things had been getting better to the extent that people lived longer and populations swelled. France had the biggest population in Europe. For a while it was boom times, then prices for food rose sharply.P1090682

This 1790 house was built in the early days of the revolution, not far from the 1780 house. Had the unrest reached this far into France profonde? To get here, you have to pass the mountainous Massif Central, until the band of plain where these houses lie. Beyond here, you hit mountains, where sheep outnumber people, and then Spain. P1090591

I constantly marvel and am thankful that these houses, with their not-square corners and not-plumb walls and not-level floors, have been inhabited and tended to, rather than torn down for something modern. P1090684

In the little streets, time stands still.P1090588P1090676P1090539

Despite the simple tools of the time, curves (the intentional ones!) grace the architecture.P1090548P1090546P1090544

Concrete and glass can be beautiful, but after a while, so many pure lines feel bland. Give me a nice stone wall that has seen some things.P1090545

Arched door, arched back.

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I mentioned just last week, on the first day of spring, that the trees had a green haze that hinted at leaves, which I predicted would burst out all at once. Well, the switch flipped. The photos below are from almost the same spot. The one on the left was from a couple of weeks ago with the first buds, and the one on the right was taken yesterday.

Spring fever is contagious. My kid occasionally  often forgets to be a sullen teen, for example, yesterday, exclaiming at breakfast that the birds were singing. Indeed, a whole chorus of birds chirped and twittered in the background of a belted-out aria from Merle, our resident blackbird. Un merle is French for blackbird, and I think it’s a good name for such a singer. He often sits on the peak of our house and serenades us as we dine en terrace in the evenings, something we can finally do again.

I hope your spring day is as beautiful as mine.P1090510

Spring’s Eternal

P1090730It seems as if spring has been giving us a slow tease for a month already. Finally, it’s official.

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There’s always a line…until they sell out, which is fast.

To me, it’s officially spring when the asparagus stands appear at the market. That was a few weeks ago. Asparagus trucked in from Spain doesn’t count. I like it picked no longer than the day before. The thing about living in France is that you get full license to be a snob about food. It comes with the carte de séjour.P1090603The wild almond trees are the first to flower. A group of women from the village used to go for walks through the vineyards from early June to mid-July–when the evenings stay light until quite late. They would point out plants on the side of the road, and somebody always had a jam they made from it, or a way to cook it, and inevitably there was a recipe to make an alcoholic beverage, whether sweet, savory, bitter, you name it. Booze was definitely the biggest category. P1090719With my eyes opened to the cornucopia just sitting out there, I picked up some almonds. I got them home, and cracked them open and tasted one. Disgusting. Strongly like marzipan but way more bitter. I went online to read about whether they had to be toasted or treated to improve the taste, and discovered that they are extremely poisonous! They’re full of cyanide! It only takes 10 or so to make you deathly ill. Though I can’t imagine anybody being able to eat 10. Blech. Anyway, it taught me the dangers of wild foraging.P1090596P1090598The buds and burgeons on bare branches start to open into actual foliage, creating a vaguely green scrim around the roadside bushes. One of these days, as if a switch were flipped, everything will be filled out.P1090606The vineyards take longer to reawake. The vignerons are laboring to trim the vines before their sap begins to flow again. Painstaking. Back-breaking. Wish them good health when you sip your next glass.P1090726P1090724The Pyrénées are still covered with snow, and up to 50 cm (20 inches) was forecast for today! Yesterday was T-shirt weather, but by 4 p.m., the storm rolled in and sent the temperatures dropping. Today feels like winter, not spring, though we didn’t get snow. Higher up, though, they did. The ski slopes are only an hour or two away by car/bus, and the local ski club has outings until the end of March.

I never tire of this view.P1070276P1090670Interesting things show up.

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What is this spiky plant with  red flower?
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I didn’t have a heart attack only because I didn’t want to end up lying next to this (une coulevre, I think, but I wasn’t getting close enough to check–I zoomed for the photo).

The flora here includes many plants that never lose their leaves, keeping the countryside surprisingly green even in winter. All these photos were taken in the past two weeks.P1090689P1090594And, of course, the dreamy clouds.P1090728