Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Non Buyers Remorse

I work very hard at not collecting things. I just can't forget how much agony and time it took to rid myself of all my possesions and collections the first two times. I do not want to do it again nor do I want to leave this horrendous chore to my boys. That being said,  I do LOVE a good vide grenier (village thrift sale) or brocante (thrift sale for older stuff). And if I do buy something, it's got to be something that I simply could not find in the United States or something I really, truly need. Like a drill. Or a vintage wool cape. Or a set of beautiful carved stone buttons. Or…okay, see the problem here?  There are numerous other criteria including how willing I am to throw something away in order to make room for the new treasure or if I'm prepared to give it away as a gift.

During this last few months of visitors, my friends and I went to a rockin' vide grenier in the nearby village of Ventabren (I love this village mostly because the mayor is running the town from prison). I stood firm against the glassware, I turned away from the tools, I shied from that big, comfy chair that wouldn't have gone up my stairs anyway. And I continued to resist. Until I could no longer.

I love the old linens here in France. In days gone by, the trousseau of a newly married, young woman included numbers of linen or matise (linen and cotton) sheets, hand monogrammed with her new intitials and embellished with cutwork, embroidery and sometimes even lace. Some are very simple with very little sense of design or skill but most are a work of art. And there really is truly nothing more lovely than sleeping under a well washed, white linen sheet. Especially if it's beautiful and makes you feel like a princess.

As I passed table after table with an increasingly confident air of self discipline, I was stopped short by a sheet sitting on the top of a pile of linens. A sheet that not only was obviously 100% linen and had a great big monogram with flourishes, but it was edged across the top AND down the sides with a scalloped, handmade lace. Ooh la! I came to a screeching halt. I had to at least touch and admire, didn't I? And I got a story as well, which is my favorite part about buying these old things. Apparently this sheet was made for receiving visitors after a young woman has a child. It's made extra wide so it covers the bed all the way to the floor and and extra long so this beauty can be turned way back to perfectly frame the mother and child (perhaps French babies did not spit up). Anyway, I listened, oohed and ahhed, talked down the price, oohed and ahhed some more,  and then did what I was getting so good at. Resisting. Yep, I walked away.

But later, I rejoined my friends and with a big, terminal case of non-buyers regret and I asked my friend Marcia to go back to that table and look at the sheet. Of course, I wanted her to ooh and ahh as well and assure me that I simply couldn't leave without it. We found the table again and I nearly jumped up and down when I saw it was still there. This would be mine. This would. Marcia's second opinion will give me no choice!

Marcia looked at it,  reexamined it, and finally declared, "It says No."


"The monogram spells No."

I looked at it again and sure enough she was right. 

With my brow furrowed in thought, I touched the sheet again, ran the lace between my fingers, stepped back, re-approached and finally, regretfully turned to the vendor who was waiting for his sure-fire sale.

"I am so sorry sir, but these initials spell the word No, which is the same as Non in French. I am a single woman. I simply cannot, as a single woman, risk having a sheet on my bed that says No. I think it would be bad luck or bad karma and I need all the luck I can get in that particular arena."

The gentleman burst out laughing and said "That's too bad."  I'm not sure what he thought was too bad; that he lost a sale, or that I openly admitted that my love life is so obviously pathetic that I'm resorting to  some sort of magic in the hope that things will pick up.

Later, I showed the photo of the sheet to my friend Paulette. She said it looks like Ho. I don't think I'm really going for that either. However, the more I thought about it, I realized that if you're looking at the sheet while actually in the bed, viewing the monogram upside down, it says On.

Now I'm thinking I should have bought it.


PS. Regretfully, Provence Rugs is closing its virtual doors on December 20. Happily that means a 50% off savings for you! Check out the link on the side of my blog page. Think Christmas.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Ritual Rentrée Review

Why is it that in spite of not having to run my life according to a school calendar for many years, there is still something about the first of September that changes life's rhythm? It's a bit like New Year's Day but more pronounced in so many ways. When September 1st arrives, all the things I've put off for the summer are all set before me in a row. It's time to get to get those tedious work projects done, get back to the gym, eat better and avoid all that Rosé!  I want to do some sewing and make a new handbag.  I've got to make some plum jam and must get the lavender hung in bags so it doesn't harvest itself all over the kitchen floor. I've got to get my two guest blogs written and geez, I have to write my own!

Yes the Rentrée, as it's called in France, has arrived. I've explained the rentrée before here, so I won't do it again. And here in the south of France it's a most exquisite time. It is true that the fingers of autumn are gently tugging on the dangling toes of summer but our days are still deliciously warm and our nights have cooled off so that sleeping is a dream. Unless you're under constant attack by killer bats which is, again, the case chez moi. But I'm not going to let this particular recurring nightmare interrupt my reverie. The temperature of the Mediterranean is perfect and the sea is clear and blue. The grapes are fat and purple and the afternoon light has taken on an intensity that is breathtaking. I am not exaggerating when I say that I sometimes have had to just stop my car while driving to admire the way the light enhances all the colors around me.

This year I was able to spend the entire summer in Provence.  Some say the summer is too hot here in the south but I say, "Bring on the heat!" It allows us a certain a slowness of movement; an intentional laziness if you will, that is so delicious. It brings the fruits of summer to us like I've tasted nowhere else. My visitors are always remarking about the taste of the vegetables here, the sweetness of the fruit, the smell of the rosemary or lavender, which is released by the constant heat of the sun. Believe me, even my little sister, who detests melon, would be eating one Cavaillon melon each day if she knew what a REAL melon tastes like!

Between visitors and with visitors, I tried to take in all that I could, in spite of all that laziness. I've explored beautiful villages and contemplated expansive vistas...

I swam in Calanques and snorkeled with an Octopus at my favorite beach
(sorry, no photo of the octopus but man, was that cool!)

I've been to a country music fest and a Calisson festival

And the Transhumance.

At said country music festival I got this priceless shot while perusing the motorcycle line-up. ONLY in France!

Home shows

and light shows…

The Opera and a musical review on Cours Mirabeau…

The Tour de France and its subsequent, mind-boggling festival...

See that mobile in the background? That is, in fact, and orchestra of real people!

I ate like a queen. 

Drank like a king. 

The vines of Chateauneuf du Papes. 
Yes, they grow in a "soil" of stones, which is what makes the wine so tongue tingling.

And tasted the most orgasmic mint ice cream in St. Remy. Seriously. I'm satiated! Who needs men with ice cream like that?

Brocantes and braderies…

And the daily life that is mine here in my hood…

the tango dancers who are, each Sunday night, at the Place Richelm

My terrace during the blue moon

the flower market down the street in a lavender explosion!

Yeah I know…my life is good, ya dah, ya dah, ya dah!  But in whatever life, wherever it is, a little gratitude goes a long way toward making the next day even better.  I'll be happy to do a little complaining as well, which I've done ad nauseum. But today, I'm still basking in the glow of a wonderful summer. As I prepare to get down to business! 

Bonne Rentrée à tous,


Friday, July 26, 2013

Life is a Beach

I'm resting myself today after two days in a row at the beach. Yes, I know, EVERYONE is at the beach at this time of year in the south of France. But I've got a perfect spot that takes only a slight effort to reach but once there makes the effort so worthwhile. Though not perfectly private and not sandy, there are fewer people and the snorkling is great. Okay, it's not the Seychelles but relatively speaking, it's not bad. And there is just something so restorative about the sea. All it takes is a whif of salt water and I feel better.

To get to my favorite place (notice I'm not telling you where), I have to pass by the throng of plebeians on the regular beach (the poor sardines) and I can't help but make comparisons to beaches in the United States.

What you do see here is the usual stuff;  families, singles, couples, lounging and swimming, enjoying their moments of sand, sea and sun.  Of course, one of the differences is the preponderance of topless women and speedo clad men, but I've already talked about that here, and it's really just a given.  But also what I note is that most women, no matter what their size, shape, or age, are wearing bikinis. I remember my first trip to the beach here in France. I was thinking I was all that because I was actually wearing a two piece. The bottoms were a little skirt and the top also had a skirt that covered up my stomach. Of course, I did not buy this little number in France. In fact, I've never seen one like it here. But my back was exposed and I really thought I was something. Within minutes after settling myself in I realized I looked more burka-clad than bikini-clad and some changes were in order. But where I come from, if you're not close to perfection, as in young, thin and no stretch marks, you wear a one piece. It's just expected. Here, after I got my game on and trepidatiously bought my first bikini in 30 years, I realized if they don't care, I certainly don't and it allows me to feel far less self-concious about my body. This is a very good thing. It's also far easier to go topless! I do notice however, that when I don said bikini while in the states, I revert back to shame. Very sad.

What you don't see are blankets laden with giant coolers containing a 24 pack of beer or bags of chips strewn around the claimed space. What? The beach with no beer…no salty snacks? Is this possible? Of course, people eat at the beach. They extract their sandwich, fruit or salad out of their tiny cooler at the appointed meal time, nibble away, and put everything back again after meal time. The french are sticklers for appointed meal times and they don't really snack, even at the beach. They may drink a beer or a glass of wine but I don't see it often. It's all so very civilized! And it might explain why there are more bikinis but that's another article.

I've staked my claim at my spot on mystery beach and my girls and I have vowed that we must go at least once a week until the season is thoroughly finished. In our bikinis and without the Doritos, damn it! It really doesn't get any better than this. We're lucky to live here and we know it.

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Eau de Vie

Last week I harvested my first cherry tomato of the season. And a gigantic, mini tomato it was! It took all of 15 seconds before this still warm beauty was sliding down my throat; a bit of its wayward juice dripping down my chin. It was really not the first. I’ve had others that had already ripened but they were rendered inedible because of some sort of blight which I’ve since discovered is due to lack of full and regular watering. Geez, water! Why didn’t I think of that?

Well, I have actually. You see my terrace is on the second floor of my apartment and it doesn’t have a water source. It does have a faucet and it would follow that there would be water in that faucet. Mais non! Apparently someone cut off the feed pipe during some work on the building a few years back. Brilliant.  Thus, I’ve had to haul my water up these stairs at least 8 times a day. Double that if it's really hot and, well, I just get lazy. 

I don’t mind going up and down..at least the first four times.  It’s just that these stairs are slippery, the steps pitch slightly forward, and there is no railing. So it’s a question of odds, really.  And I do not have one of those buttons to wear around my neck with which I can call someone nearby and feebly whisper “help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up! ” Remember this?

So the project a couple of weeks ago, after realizing that it was not only me in danger, but my precious tomatoes as well, was to figure out how to solve this problem. There is a tiny sink in my upstairs bathroom that could work as a water source  but I really don’t want a hose running through my bedroom. With my clumsiness, that’s another game of odds! But there is water in my kitchen. Aha!  And the kitchen window is the story below the terrace. AHA!

I bought a length of hose, cute, curly, blue hose, and with the help of a friend, threw one end over the terrace wall as she caught the other end and pulled it in the window. And it was as I feared, they wouldn't connect.

Okay, off to the hardware store. I have no idea how to ask for an adapter that connects an outdoor hose to an indoor faucet, so I unscrewed the faucet and took it with me. Let there be no doubt. 

With my faucet in hand and the word for adapter in my head...imagine this...it’s adapteur, (one of those great words that’s the same in english if you just add a little french accent to it),  I found directions to the correct aisle. Where I found 21 different adapters that all looked exactly the same to me. An older couple was standing before them, trying to make their own selection, and I asked the gentleman what I should buy. He kindly began to help me as his wife disappeared and I had my hands full of little packages when she arrived back with a store clerk in tow. She whispered to me, "my husband thinks he knows what he's doing but he rarely does. I thought you'd be better off with an expert", and we shared a girl giggle. She knew her husband well because he did have it all wrong and in the end I walked out armed with my one little package.

So the hose is now hooked up. Okay, it's not so pretty on the outside but I don't have to look at it! And I consider it a lifeline, as in I have less chance of losing my life in a stairway accident now that I have it.

And the garden is looking lovely. Watered.  Some things are just so simple in a roundabout sort of way! No more bottom rotten tomatoes and the rose bush, well, it should come back. The morning glories I planted a few weeks ago from seeds given to me from a parting friend,  though not flowering yet, are threatening to cover the entire wall and I now have the opportunity to hose myself down when it just gets too hot. We are all happy and we are all still alive and flourishing. 

And now that I have water, I think the next purchase will be a little, inflatable swimming pool. Pool party anyone?


Thursday, July 4, 2013

July 4th Revisited

I wrote this article on the 4th of July, 2009 during what was to be my first and last year in France and decided it was a good day to reprint it.  It's amazing to me that this is my 5th Independence Day as a resident of France. Apparently the coffee klatch is not over! Today, we watched the 6th leg of the Tour de France depart from Aix en Provence and it's an exciting day. I thanked all the French people around me for organizing such a fun party just for us Americans. And tonight I'm making burgers on the grill for a few of us expats, who, though we've chosen to leave our country for various reasons,  still consider her number one in our hearts. Happy Independence Day Americans. And as my cousin Joe reminded me, the French were instrumental in our victory so long ago. So it's my turn to say, thank you France.

I have spent many important days away from my home base. I have missed family birthdays, I have been absent for the birth of friends’ babies, and the funerals of loved ones. I have spent Christmas in the Caribbean, Easter in England, and Thanksgiving in Canada.  Being away at such times is never easy.

But as I was contemplating what to do on Saturday, I realized that I have never in my entire life spent the 4th of July outside of my own country. And when you’re not in the U.S. on this particular day, you really celebrate alone.

Generally on the 4th of July, I spend the weekend with family at my mother’s cabin in Northern Wisconsin, or I spend it camping with close friends. Either way, it involves food, beverage, chatter, camaraderie, fireworks and a day off work.  Not always however, has it involved much reflection. I mean, let’s face it. We all sometimes tend to take for granted what we have and how we came to get it.

So on this day, as I made an arrangement of white flowers in a blue Provencal pitcher and stuck my tiny American flag in it, I thought about my country, which I have chosen to leave for awhile, and what I love about it and what others love (or don’t love) about it.

The French love to TALK about everything and everywhere you go you hear them discussing politics, religion, art, music and philosophy. This is one of the things I find charming about them and also something I find very frustrating at times. However, the subject of my country has come up often and I am always curious to hear their thoughts even if I don’t agree with everything that is said. There is always value in discourse, isn’t there?

Of course there are criticisms of the U.S., some valid and some more a result of the caricature of the United States built on the back of American films, television and media coverage.

The general criticism of my country is its arrogance. The way America and Americans often seem to think that no matter where we are in the world, it belongs to us.

We are sometimes referred to (not kindly) as “les gendarmes du la monde” or policemen of the world.

They think we are a consuming monster much of the time (And we are. I am continually amazed by the way people here manage with tiny cars, smaller homes, less land, fewer belongings and clothes and how they have succeeded in incorporating so many energy saving tricks in their daily lives).

Some think we’re bossy, egotistical, warmongering and secluded and uninformed about the rest of the world.

All of these criticisms hold some grain of truth…some more than others (as do our criticisms of the French) but that’s not what I want to write about. That's another article. Today I want to think about what is loved about where I come from.

So what do they love about us? In fact, they love a lot of things, even if they don’t always admit it (a French friend of mine says they’re just jealous). They love our spirit and our exuberance and attitude that all things are possible. They are thankful for our strength (on D-Day a French friend called me just to say thank you) and they love our inventiveness and our entrepreneurship.

Another French friend of mine likened his country and the rest of Europe to “an elderly person”. I, in turn, compared my country to a teenager. Those of you who have had teenagers (at least teenage boys, which are my only experience) know of what I speak. They eat all the time, they take long, water and heat consuming showers, they sleep too long, stay up too late, they bounce off the walls and trip over their own feet. They are egocentric and not always very cognizant of how their actions affect others and what kind of havoc they can cause in their wake.  They are always right. They have a short history and though on the verge of adulthood, they don’t always have the wisdom of years. 

On the other hand, they are excited about something all the time, they are full of ideas and hope, they are sure they can accomplish all of their grandiose ideas, no matter how off the wall they might seem. No is not a word they seem to understand nor is “you can’t do that” or ” that’s not possible”. They are physically strong and are still not really sure of the best way to use that power. But they have faith that their future is promising and bright. They are both charming and hateful but completely lovable.

I have come from a country that is still experiencing its teens. With all the charms and foibles that accompany those burgeoning years. And right now I’m visiting an elderly neighbor. You know the one…. you love to visit her home and share coffee and a pastry. You chat and listen to the stories of days gone by and look at her collections of old, beautiful things. You love to hear about what she’s learned through the years and you hope to gain wisdom from her mistakes and her triumphs. You listen patiently (but you’re slightly annoyed) as she explains how things used to be and how uncultured today’s generation is. You agree in many ways but you also know that today’s generation has it’s own wonderful and unique qualities that you wouldn’t trade for anything. You nod your head and smile because she is delightful and wise in many ways, in spite of  some of her exasperating opinions.

But sometimes, she just spends a lot of time complaining about almost everything, seems a little resigned to the way things have turned out and she talks a lot but doesn’t seem to get much done.

So I’m still having coffee at the neighbor’s. I’m having a lovely time and enjoying every minute of it and our conversation is not over yet. But the life that I know, back in the good, old US of A, is still the one I will return to…after the coffee klatch is over. And when that time comes, it will be good to be home.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013


The visitor season has begun. And though it's not a long one this year, my visitors are arriving back to back. So in the few hours in between, I'm washing sheets, toilets and my hair (yes, in that order) and trying to put some order back into the refrigerator.

Last week, I picked up my friend Judy from the Marseille airport. I haven't been to Terminal One since last fall and this time I was greeted by a nasty surprise. Gone is the little coffee bistro where you could get yourself a tiny cup of coffee and perhaps a pastry. I don't even think they had sandwiches. Nonetheless, it was a typical cafe and well within the ambiance that should greet visitors as they arrive in France.

However, all that has changed. The bistro is gone and in its place they've built this.

And if you want a cup of coffee, you've now got this.

Both are a bad idea in my opinion and it never ceases to amaze me why nobody asks ME before they embark on projects such as this. This is like the 'malling of America' only worse.  C'est tellement dommage. It's really too bad.

My friend and business partner, Libby, is on the train from Paris as I write this and I'll be picking her up at the TGV station in a few hours. I know they've been doing some work on the interior. I hope I'm not going to be greeted with any more horrible surprises.

Have a great week,


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Close Just Ain't Good Enough

"Oh my god, I think I called the mayor at prostitute this morning!"

These were the first words out of my friend Tenley's mouth when she came to visit the other day. Tenley used to be my neighbor here in Aix but last fall she moved up to a tiny village in the Luberon. And I'm not kidding when I say tiny. Four hundred people and not even a bakery. How does one live without a bakery, I ask?

Sorry, I digress. And in the first paragraph, no less. It's just that I get so upset about that bakery business!

Anyway, as she drove down here to Aix, she was ruminating over the conversation she'd had with Madame mayor that morning and it dawned on her what she may have said. But she isn't sure. And neither am I.

I'm just NEVER sure. I'm not afraid to talk and not afraid to try.  Generally. But language screw-ups are part of daily life when you aren't a native speaker and are often just too funny. Certainly there are those times when you get the word completely wrong but usually it's words that are just...so...close.  Like the time I was on a date and the monsieur pointed out to me, kindly I thought, that there was a little fleck of something just under my nose. I had a little scab there and I said brightly, "Oh don't worrry, it's just a booger". I used the word crotte (crotte de nez is a booger; crotte de chien is dog poop) instead of croute (scab). I didn't realized my mistake until I saw the look on his face which was something between dismay and disgust. Crotte….croute…close, but not close enough.

This past weekend, a team of masseuses and I volunteered our services at a charity regatta in Marseille. Beforehand, I was trying to describe our project to a friend. I explained that we would be massaging teams of…well, this is where it got tricky because I wanted to say 'teams of sailors' and the word for sail is voile. Instead, I said  'teams of voleurs'. WRONG! We were not going to massage teams of thieves. I corrected myself and said "teams of violeurs". WRONG again! Nor did we have any plans to massage teams of rapists. I never did arrive at the word I needed because it apparently doesn't exist. The word sailor does not even have the word "sail" in it! We eventually got to the point but not without a lot of both confusion and hilarity. Close but no cigar.

My friend Doreen and I were laughing about this story and she recounted her latest horror. She is German and is but is also considered fluent in both French and English.  But fluency doesn't make her immune to these faux pas. She works for a distributor of grains, seeds and other health-foody sorts of things. She was speaking to a customer last week to tell him that his shipment would be late because they didn't have enough of the algae he needed in order to fill his order. She kindly assured him that it would only be a few days before the manufacturer could produce his full half-ton of fetuses and she would send them to him directly.  Fucus...fetus....I mean they're almost the same, aren't they?

But often, it's not a question of getting the words wrong, it's simply a question of pronunciation. There are some words that sound so similar that I can't hear the difference much less pronounce it. Like the words dessous (underneath) and dessus (on top of). Opposite meanings but they sound exactly the same to me. It has something to do with the horrible "u" sound that we don't have in English. I've been tutored on this. I'm supposed to make the long e sound at the same time I'm forming my mouth into a tight "o" while sticking out my lips. Hey, you try that! Then pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time.

Last year after going to see a movie, I announced to my friend that I had spent a half-an-hour in line just to get in. He looked at me with astonishment and asked me to repeat what I'd said. I said it again with authority. And then he began to laugh…and laugh….and I knew I'd done it again, whatever it was this time. My sentence was "j'ai passé un demi heure dans une queue". It seems to me this sentence is correct.  But apparently what I really said was the word cul, which in common language means ass, and not the donkey kind. Yes, I know, they look completely different when written but they sound exactly the same to me.  The second, however, involves the aforementioned convoluted mouth/lip formation. Which I obviously haven't yet mastered. This explains why the 3 elderly ladies at the end of the line that day did not respond well when I asked if they were the end of the ass.

The word queue can also mean tail, or dick. Cul can also mean porn or screwing, among other things. Both words, with all their meanings, are truly useful in conversation. But not in MY conversation. You will never, ever hear me mention my cat's tail and I now wait in a file d'attente.

We still don't know what Tenley actually said to the mayor but they're still talking so apparently either there was no insult, or people in her village are still talking to her just to see what she'll say next. My bets are on the latter.


P.S. I want to take this opportunity to wish my beautiful mother a very Happy Birthday. Je t'aime Maman. xo