Thursday, May 24, 2012

Travel Aid

I'm leaving for the United States in three weeks. Three weeks! How did that come up so quickly? The  process of list making has begun; what I need to take, what I MUST bring back.

So far my lists are still short. I have to take back cherry jam for my sister, fabric for Provence Rugs, and Camargue salt for a friend. My list of goodies to bring back to France includes shredded coconut (the carrot cake is nothing without it and I can't find it), my lightweight down blanket and my Huggable hangers (I know, sounds stupid but they rock and save so much space). This list gets smaller and smaller each visit to the states as I become more accustomed to what I used to consider the oddities of life here in France. I mean, no shredded coconut? Really? But on that list I also have many other things that my french friends want me to bring back from the states, either because they are so much cheaper or because they simply can't be found here. So far that list includes camera cases, language translator, jeans and eyelash stimulator. It will get longer before I leave, of that I am sure.

I'm lucky because I have so many visitors who are willing to bring me things I miss, another reason why my list is so small. But this week a few things came across my desk that seem to be ingenious ways to solve the want/need issue.

This site is a very basic site that allows you to ask travelers to bring you something from their country, or you can offer to schlepp something to someone in a country you're traveling to. You can specify what you would like in return, if anything. For instance, some people ask for a ride from the airport, some ask for a city tour and others ask for nothing. The site is very basic and not very easy to navigate but people seem to be using it. There is a guy in Sidney who is offering a tour of the city to anyone willing to bring him Monster Munch chips from England. Another guy in Brazil is offering $200 if you bring him a Macbook air.

A similar site, and the one I prefer, is called They offer the same service but it's much easier to navigate and you are not only allowed to enter where you're going and where you're coming from, but you can filter the announcements by the reward offered and the items wanted. Pretty nifty. I've already replied to a guy in Minneapolis who would like someone to bring him a bottle of Suze and he responded by offering me a couple of drinks in his favorite bar or $20 plus the cost of the Suze. I'll decide when I see what he looks like!  Another guy here in France is offering a tour of his city if you bring him comestible insects. Yeah, I had to look that one up too; he wants to eat them! I'm trying to determine where I can get edible insects in the states, if I can get them across the border and if I REALLY want a city tour given by a man who enjoys eating insects.

There is another, very cool facet to this site that I really love. It's called Angel Mule and this is a section of the site that is specifically for travelers willing to bring needed items to charity and humanitarian organizations around the world. Requests range from pencils and children's toys to clothing and paint for the school. Most of the requests come from countries in South America or Africa but often they proffer accommodations or language lessons in return. This seems to me to be an awesome way to do some interesting travel.

And speaking of interesting ways to travel, how about this site, Miss Travel? The following is an excerpt from their site:

Attractive Traveler: If you are a beautiful person who wants to travel for free, just signup as a "Attractive Traveler". Attractive Travelers are adventurous and open minded people who love to travel, but lacks the budget to do so. As such, you are looking to meet Generous members who are willing to pay for you to travel, or gift you frequent flyer miles which may be redeemed for free flights on all major airlines. Remember, as a Attractive Traveler, you get to use our website 100% Free.

Generous Traveler: If you are a generous sponsor, signup as a "Generous Traveler". Generous Travelers are generous members who are seeking to travel with a beautiful companion, and who are willing to pay for all travel expenses. Generous Travelers can use our website for free. Pay only when you decide to communicate with any Attractive Traveler.
Umm...umm...I guess it could work but can you say 'concubine'? Although I am waiting for someone to dare me to dare this...just to see how it works. On the other hand, I'm old, I have a baby belly and my boobs are very small and entirely natural (meaning they're closer to my belly button than my shoulders. I'm not sure I would qualify to go gallivanting with a old fat rich sugar daddy "Generous Traveler". I think I'll leave that research to somebody else. Any volunteers?


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Blood Red

If you were to visit my apartment at this moment you would most likely recoil in horror, possibly vomit, and then call the police. A massacre has obviously occurred and the victim did not go down without a fight. The evidence is everywhere...blood on the floor, the cupboards, the toaster, the stove, even the ceiling. The perp wore an apron during her bloody deed, the evidence of her crime permanently stained in it's fibers and the towels she used in an attempt to clean up the site still sit in a bloody heap on the floor. Then, obviously pleased (or shaken) by her villainy, this beast helped herself to 2 bottles of vodka, a bottle of brandy, a bottle of eau de vie, and a bottle of a very nice Côtes de Bourg, the empty bottles still sitting on the floor.

There seems to be no victim.
 All that has been left behind is this tableau on the kitchen counter.

Yeah, we've already established that I'm a whirling dervish in the kitchen and nothing comes from my kitchen without the accompanying mayhem that I can't seem to avoid. It really does look as if a crime has been committed in my cuisine. That's because I spent this past rainy weekend trying to eliminate transform my freshly picked 18 1/2 pounds of cherries into....well, into cherry liqueur, alchohalised cherries, cherry preserves and a dismal attempt at clafoutis.

Thursday I was invited to my friend Saro's house to celebrate Claire's (my friend and her daughter)  birthday. The event coincided with cherry picking time and Saro's trees were full.

 I arrived with a giant, empty basket, mostly as a joke. I left with this.

Then began the messy (for me) job of what to do with all this delicious, exquisite fruit. I was suffering from a permanent stomachache from eating so many straight off the tree so I made a list of everything I wanted to make, bought all that was necessary to get the job done...including this fabulous device that pits cherries at the speed of light....and settled in for the weekend.

I started with Cherry Liqueur, recipe courtesy of my friend Marcia. 

1 1/2 lbs red cherries, with pits,no stems

1 1/2-2 cups sugar, sweeten to taste

2 1/2 cups vodka

1 cup brandy

Mix vodka, brandy and sugar in a large glass measure or medium mixing bowl; stir well to dissolve. Cut each washed cherry slightly to open, leave in pits. Place cherries in two sterile, quart wide mouth jars or one larger aging container. Pour liquid mixture over cherries; stir and cap with tight lids. For the first two weeks, shake jars several times. Let age in a cool, dark place for at least 3 months for best flavor. Strain off liqueur through a wire mesh strainer and discard cherries. Re bottle as desired. Liqueur is ready in 3 months

Next, following the theme, which seems to be cherries AND alcohol, I made

 Cerises à l'Eau de Vie

This recipe came from Monica...I adore the videos she makes with her grandson. And her hands.
They remind me of my grandmother's hands.

I can't wait to bite into one of these potent little morsels when they're about 6 months!

Still more cherries so I moved on to Cherry Preserves, thank you David Lebovitz, and since there was a little Brandy left over and since this was theme weekend, I added that to the jam.

I'm not even going to talk about the miserably failed clafoutis. Perhaps I should put in a call to Monica to learn how to REALLY make this traditional french dessert.

And then....and then...the cherries were all gone. How can this be? I still want to make Cherry Compote, Cherry Crumble, Pickled Cherries and more jam. None of which include alcohol, by the way. Luckily Saro called and said we have to come back. They've picked and eaten, picked and frozen, picked and given away, and the trees still have fruit to offer. So as soon as the rain lets up, I'm on my way back with my empty basket. And hopefully I'll get to spend another weekend in the kitchen. I'll try, I'll really try, to do it more neatly this time!


Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Duties

Yesterday was Mother's Day in the U.S.  I almost completely missed it because our Fête des Mères here in France is on May 25. Thus I didn't have the constant Hallmark barrage of reminders. Luckily I spoke with my sister earlier in the week and was set straight.  Too late for a snail mail card but not too late for a video card and a phone call. But I could have missed it!

I told my Mommy that I love her and that I value all the love and support that she's given me throughout my lifetime. I did not tell her, and should have, that I realize what a lucky woman I am to have had such an idyllic childhood, a mother who always believed in my every quality even when it didn't exist, a mother who eventually accepted my weird needs to run off on adventures but whose resistance to those same adventures was only out of her concern for me.  A mother who is still with me even if we are an ocean apart. 

Yesterday was Mother's Day in the U.S.  I, however, did NOT get a message from either of my boys. This is not acceptable; not to a woman who insists on wearing a tiara for every special occasion. This is also not their usual style so I'm not hot angry, just a wee bit surprised. I was thinking I would just let it go and their shame or realization would eventually rise to the surface. Then I decided this is not something one should let go. I'm their mother. It's my job to teach them good manners. To honor their elders, especially their mothers. To remember their responsibilities. So I've chosen to fulfill my motherly responsibilities  it in a classic mother way. 

Public Shame and Guilt. 

So this morning, on each of their Facebook pages, I posted:

Dearest Mother, I just wanted to take the opportunity to tell you what a great mom you are. Happy Mother's Day. Colin/Ryan

(please feel free to copy and paste to your mother's page...since you forgot!)

And now I'm writing this blog post. I'm hoping I've done my job!

Happy Mother's Day (a day late) to all. And if you forgot, your mother still loves you. But call her right away. Public Shame and Guilt is far too easy...and far too much fun!


Friday, May 11, 2012

Home Sweet Home

Yesterday was an at-home day. Except for the 3 hours in the morning that the entire quarter was without electricity. Nobody knows why and nobody was notified in advance but we assume it was because of the work being done down the street.  When I left the dark apartment to go to the market, all the merchants were standing outside their similarly dark stores, smoking cigarettes and shooting the breeze, occasionally glancing up the street for any clues as to the problem, and then shrugging their shoulders while continuing their extended coffee break (without the coffee because nobody could make it). Nobody seemed too worked up about it.

I caught these two next door, outside their dim apartment doing much the same thing.

During those dark hours, I took off for the market to purchase the finishing touches for the summer terrace. It is finished, I am content and apero will be served tonight at 7.

But while working around the apartment today, I had time to notice some odd things in my building. I don't know its age, I just know this building is old. At least old in American terms. I've tried to do research on the street and my building in particular but I can't seem to find much. I have found references to the street, called Rue du Puits Neuf (Street of the New Well) as far back as the 14th century and I've been told that the shutters in my bedroom are at least 400 years old. So at it's youngest, this places my building's birth somewhere before the founding of Jamestown in Virginia.

The apartments in my building are situated around a very tiny court that I pass by to get in and out. I pay little attention to it because it's dark, damp, and sometimes very...stinky.

Once in awhile, Arthur-the-cat likes to escape the apartment, run down the stairs and gallivant around the court as if it's his own personal playpen. Yesterday, he made his move and I found him over in the corner, using some sort of stone basin for a litter box. As I chased him out, I took a closer look at the basin.

I'd never seen it before because it's hidden by the bike that nobody EVER uses. It looked very similar to basins I've seen near ancient, public water sources so I checked out the fenced area behind it. I had always thought it to be some sort of platform or planter. But, in fact, it is a well . Yes, an open well! I don't know about you, but I find this fascinating. I didn't realize that old buildings had their very own wells.  Unless....unless...this is The Puits Neuf of medieval times and the building was actually built around it later.  I'm just making this all up but it IS a possibility and I really must find out. Of course, in the states, a pit of danger like this would have been filled in and covered long ago.

And while we're on the subject of plumbing...sort of....I want you to check out my bathroom. At least the outside of it. This is how it looks across the court from my kitchen window. 

The bathroom is, of course, a tiny bit bigger than that but this little triangle holds the toilet. And yes, with that pipe running out the bottom of it, everyone in the building is aware when I'm using it. Now this could possibly be an addition to the building, because, of course,  there was generally no indoor plumbing at the time it was built. But on closer inspection yesterday, I could see that the beams that support it are original. So perhaps it was some sort of version of the first toilet which actually was invented at that time and used more in France than other countries. Probably not, but this is my story. 

That being said, yesterday as I was staring at the bathroom from my kitchen window I noticed something. Something which is a little worrisome.

Can you see that big crack on the side? The one that seems to have been repaired over and over? Yeah, that one. There's another one on the other side...and another BIG one inside the bathroom. All I can say is, if I eat any more French cheese, there is a strong chance that one day they're going to find me, pants around my ankles, at the bottom of that deep dark well. Tell me, how does one take precautions against this particular disaster?

I just hope it doesn't happen today. Because it's Friday. And that apero on the terrace starts in 2 hours.

Bon week-end à tous,


P.S. I really am interested in finding out more about my neighborhood and my building. It's probably more interesting than making up my own stories. If anybody can point me in the right direction, I'd appreciate it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wisdom of the Ages

Never let a Birthmonth go by without announcing it. That is my motto. My birthday is on the last day of April. Which gives me until the 29th of May to celebrate. I learned this trick from my friend Marcie whose birthday is in mid-October. She begins Birthmonth the first of the month, celebrates until the last day and revels in every moment of it. Sometimes she goes even longer if she feels like it. In fact, she takes a lot of liberties with her Birthday. On her 29th she decided to have an colossal party and sent invitations to everyone she liked or had even liked for a moment. But when I received the invitation I realized it was for a 30th Birthday party.  I called her on it, sure that she was only 6 months older than I, and also quite sure how old I was at the moment. She said that she'd decided to save her 29th birthday until she felt she really needed it.  I always loved the way this woman thinks.

And I love my Birthday (Birthday is capitalized like Labor Day or Christmas) and everyone knows it. It's a celebration of being alive and I just don't understand why that shouldn't be everyone's most important holiday of the year.  If it weren't for my birthday, or yours,  there would be absolutely nothing else to celebrate, right? But there is always a bit of disappointment surrounding it because...nobody has a parade for me. I know. Completely unreasonable and I've never held a parade for anyone else's birthday so what do I really expect? But still. 

Yes, I have to admit that sometimes on my birthday I get a little depressed. I don't think it's age that bothers me. In fact, I don't really know what it is but if I'm not careful, it will creep up on me. So I've learned to try to mindfully anticipate the day. I mean, it's my birthday so it's up to me. This year I bought myself a bouquet of pink peonies the day before and shined up my fuzzy pink tiara. I painted my nails and toes to match both. I accepted an invitation for myself and my friend Tenley to go up to Holly's house in the Luberon Valley. And I went to bed with expectation.

I woke up to pouring, dismal rain and I felt down and tired. Tenley called to cancel because she felt the same way. I too was at the point of erasing the day because as it went on I felt worse.... even ill.  

But suddenly there came a moment when I asked myself, "what would Marcie do?"

Well, she sure as hell wouldn't mope around on her birthday, that's for sure. And I can also hear her say, as I have so many times,  "I don't have time to be sick". She would take matters into her own hands with her usual joy of living.  So I sent Tenley a text and told her that, yes, the day sucked but we might as well all be together while it sucked. She saw the logic in this and agreed to go.  I bought a cake, packed an overnight bag and off we went.
And thanks to the wisdom of my dear friend Marcie, I was treated to a lovely soirée with friends and had the opportunity to see an evening sky like this. (honest, this is not photoshopped)

In the morning it was still beautiful.

I went to a vide grenier (village rummage sale) in the lovely village of Grambois.

I filled my aging belly with a giant American style hamburger and fries while enjoying the French national holiday of May Day (I've always thought it so lovely that there is a national holiday here where all the stores close in my honor. Come to think of it, that's almost like a parade!)
I spent the afternoon with my friend Claire and the evening on my terrace with another whom I hadn't seen in far too long.

 And I still have 26 more days of Birthmonth!

Sometimes I just need to count my blessings and get over myself. Because they are rich and plentiful. And when I'm not in the throes of feeling sorry for myself, I know it. Thank you Marcie for being one of the many important teachers in my increasingly long life. And HAPPY Birthmonth to me.