Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Bientot American Friends

   Our dear American friends who came to spend a couple of weeks with us to help soften the blow of what we are actually doing, have left. As they drove away, tears welled up in our eyes, realizing that we are now on our own in this foreign land. I am ready, not sure my oldest daughter is feeling the same way, though.
   For their last day, our friends wanted to return to the beach for a last hurray in the Mediterranean. We found our way to another beach that "American Friend" found through Google Earth- she is so resourceful. This beach was not an unknown. We thought we were getting there in a timely manner. It was what you think of when spring break in Florida is mentioned, or maybe even the French Riviera. There were multitudes of bronzed bodies, as well as rented umbrellas, snorkeling gear, paddle tennis and even rolling kiosks selling Beignets and popsicles.
   The water was spectacular- crystal clear blue with sand, shallow for about 300 feet. I did not see many fish, but had there been more sea life, it would have been a feast for the eyes, as you could clearly see the bottom as far out as I went.
   We took a walk along the bluff to a point which gave us an awesome view of the sea. Straight ahead was the Ile de Porquerolles and a little further along the coast was a small island with a grand chateau offering a retreat for French presidents for the past 50 years. I am sure it is quite amazing by the beach and coastline we enjoyed.
   One might think that our Provence visit has been little but finding water to cool off in, but every village we pass through is full of history. It is a magical land through its stories, slow paced lifestyle and  natural beauty.
   We still want to go back to the beach again soon, though....

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Euro for your Cart

   There are a few things that seem a bit behind the times here in the south of France. It is part of the appeal to western Europe: part of why we came here. Yet, some ideas are so clever I can only hope other modern countries adopt these ways. For instance-there are no plastic bags offered at the grocery store. You either bring your own, or you buy new ones. No freebies all.
   And, grocery carts are contained in those corrals, like in the States, but in order to use one, you have to insert a Euro to release a leash that keeps the carts together. It is a brilliant idea that eliminates the need for employees gathering carts from all ends of a parking lot, cleaning up after lazy shoppers who are incapable of returning carts to a specific place that may be more than 10 feet from their car door. Once you return the cart and plug the chain back in, you get your Euro back. I love it. For now, my kids find this to be a fascinating chore, and love to retrieve a cart for me when we go to the store. Returning the cart is even better as they think they get to keep the coin. With the exchange rate as it is, this is a no go. I need every penny I can get.
   Life in the south of France is extremely expensive. the only thing that is not excruciatingly expensive is bread....and wine. If we had our own garden, we would be alot better of, but as it is almost August, my time with the growing season is getting quite limited. I did scatter a pack of lettuce seeds and a few other things, so perhaps my fall grocery bills will lighten with the luck of my not-so-green thumb. My fingers are crossed.

Friday, July 26, 2013


   There are several houses on the property where we are renting. Two others are short term rentals and another one was built by Trevor. He and his wife, Zetta, have lived there for three years. Trevor is ninety one. His house was a storage shed. He transformed it into a charming cottage that feels like a boat inside as there is alot of custom wood carpentry. It is probably about 300 square feet, has a deck where they eat al fresco throughout the year thanks to its orientation, an outdoor shower and pictures of boats he has sailed over the years.
   Trevor is wonderfully sweet. When I mentioned I wanted to go back to the coast to cool off as it has been nearly 100 degrees here, he offered to escort us to a "local's beach" as  anywhere on the French Riviera would be utter chaos this time of year. So, off we went-Trevor taking over Sidney(remember my GPS?) as navigator along with another friend and 4 kids. An hour and half of white knuckle driving over narrow, very windy roads, we saw the sea. I have never seen so many yachts in my life. We were in St. Tropez bay. This part of the Mediterranean is a cove surrounded by mountains, rocks and parasol pine trees. It is gorgeous and easy to see why the world's elite want to live there. Trevor lived on a schooner for many years in St. Tropez. His old boat was moored off of the beach we were visiting!  He showed us shipyards where he worked, pointed out his old houses and even that of Brigit Bardow who was a neighbor of his, way back then.
   We staked claim to a nice spot on the beach and dove into the crystal clear water. Trevor sat on the beach and watched boats, clearly reminiscing about the years past. There was a pontoon dock anchored about 500 feet off shore so we swam to it and enjoyed looking at all the multi-million dollar boats in St. Tropez. Helicopters buzzed around constantly. It was all so entertaining.
   After a while, Trevor went into the water for a dip. I caught a glimpse of him as I was not confident of his physical stamina- he is 91, after all- and he was hugging and kissing a man in the sea. It was a good, old friend of Trevor's from his St. Tropez days. What a wonderful sight it was! They were so excited to see each other. Yves was his name and he invited us up to his house for an aperitif which we could not make, but I was quick to offer to bring Trevor back down soon for a visit and a sail on Yves boat! That will be a memorable day- jut as memorable as Trevor helped make this one for the rest of us.
   Did I mention that my kids took a few handful of sticks over to his house and Trevor transformed them into 2 stick horses for them?

Water makes us all very happy

Yves(left), Trevor(center) and Trevor's old schooner(back right sailboat)

Trevor's hand built stick horses- Woody and Mustang

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pardon, where is the Verdon?

   The Lac de St. Croix is a dammed lake build in the mid 1970's about an hour north of Cotignac.  It is a renowned rock climbing area- something that struck a chord with several friends in Durango before I left- of course they knew where I was going- it is near the Verdon canyon.
The canyon channels the turquoise water that fills the lake, with high, dramatic limestone walls perfect for climbing, para sailing from the tops and...more our speed...peddle boating!
We had a blast. I took the advice of a new friend who recommended getting there early. We did, rented a couple of boats loaded with picnic goods and joined the thousands of others doing the same thing. It was just like Disneyland-boats were a few feet apart for the entire 1 1/2 hour paddle upstream. Everyone was as nice as could be- there were no beer cans flying or other bad behavior, just ALOT of people. Honestly, I never knew France was all that touristy- what rock have I been living under????
    People were cliff diving from the side walls which my kids were thrilled to partake in. I was so proud of their landlocked backgrounds for scaling up and leaping into the big blue 20 feet below. Sadly, I don't have the photos to prove it, but they will come.
None the less, the Verdon canyon is spectacular and we will surely return before our year is up. Maybe we will wait until September - can I really complain about ALL the tourists??? I love being one of them and hope I can do it for many years to come.
Are these not the quintessential French boys????

Awe inspiring scenery

Friends and Emma starting the upstream peddle


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Braving the roads to Aix and Arles

   We returned unscathed from our first out of town voyage. It was no problem finding Aix-En-Provence which is only an hour away. After all, we have trusty Sidney, our GPS that came with the car.
   The kids named the devise after my prolific praising of said machine. Months ago, when I was reserving my rental car, the agent was really encouraging me to get the GPS. I was saying, "Baa- who needs a GPS, I have a great sense of direction.  Amateurs...". Upon arriving, I quickly referred to Sidney as my new best friend as I relied on her to get us the 6 km. from our house to town. I could not remember for the life of me, which way to go out our driveway. What has happened to my acute sense of finding my way?
    After Aix, which we got to in an easy hour, we headed to Arles to see 2,000 year old, Roman ruins. It should have been an easy, straight shot. I ended up a few miles from Marseille-completely the wrong direction. Sidney-what happened? She betrayed me. I lost all trust in her. We went a good hour out of way, then sat in the most horrific traffic that I am sure continued all the way to Spain. I took my first opportunity to escape that highway and Alas, we arrived in Arles. No matter that it was nearly 6:00 p.m., the crowds had thinned and we even found parking without an issue.
   Aix-en Provence is a lovely university town with plenty of culture, history and beautiful sites. Our agenda was to go to a museum featuring the Impressionist painters, then to the main drag called Cours Mirabeau. A quick lunch(by French standards), then on to the next town. There are beautiful fountains every few blocks. Most still offer potable water to quench a thirst, cool one's face or wash off hands.
The artwork in the museum was an honor to see and the kids showed an appreciation for the Impressionist masters that they have heard about like Cezanne, Renoire, Matisse, Picasso and Salvador Dali(Clay's favorite).
   The ruins in Arles were dramatic. We walked through the inner hallway around the whole coliseum where Gladiators used to fight. There was very dark, large rooms to the inside which were closed off with large, heavy iron gates. We imagined lions readying to devour some poor Christian citizen, iron clad fighters and ornate carriages careening through the coliseum.
   It was a quick visit, then we were off to the next town to find our hotel, which also had us driving in a few circles. but, we made it and the adventure continues in the next blog entry.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Around Town

We spent the morning walking through some of the streets of Cotignac. This ancient town that I am living in dates back to the 12th century. The streets are narrow and lined with 3 and 4 story residences with wooden shudders, as you would expect. Many are decorated with colorful window boxes and painted doors. Some even have the ubiquitous cat sitting on a window ledge. Of course, our outings often revolve around food, so on our return to the car, we stopped for lunch on the cours which, as usual, includes a half carafe of rose.
Not to a human residence, I don't think...
Great looking shop with a variety of house decor
Cotignac Kitty

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Off to Market We Go

Tuesday is market day in Cotignac. It is quite popular and there are alot of us tourists, which it seems the vendors can spot from 100 feet away. Most of them are accommodating, encouraging and most polite. There are gorgeous veggies, cheeses, sausages, olives, tapenades, oils, cheeses, then clothes, baskets, trinkets, plants. Oh yes- and truffles. Real ones. They cost a mint, but I have only seen truffles a couple of times in my life, so it is rather exciting. It is hard to decide what to buy, but we ended up dining on haricot vert, roasted new potatoes and some delicious biscuits(cookies) bought at the market. Of course, we have baguettes, cheese, olives, and nuts for appetizers with a bottle of rose- every night....
Bon Appetit!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fete, Fete, un autre Fete!

Our first Fete- oh my, what fun!!! True, we went to Entrecasteaux on Saturday night for a street party and fireworks, but Sunday followed with close to 400 people for dinner on the cours (heart-meaning the center of town). There was a foot race that was finishing as we arrived, so we joined in the hooting and hollering for those running in the heat that the south of France offers. The large majority of participants were drenched with sweat all over-heads, shirts, shorts, legs- these people are tough.
Hats off to them. moments after crossing the finishing line, I saw the same people walking away with their bottle of wine ( must have been the prize), looking more than content to head home and share the evening, and wine, with their families.
Our party was to benefit the Cotignac schools. It must be a lively crew as every seat was filled with happy party goers and kids practiced their moves on the dance floor-first to Zumba, then after dinner the disco fired up. I love disco...
After my first week of adjusting to life style, language, sleep issues and more, I was more than happy to casually sit around sipping rose, people-watching and eating(of course) among many English speaking folks. Yes, Cotignac does in fact have many English speakers, whether that is good or bad for me, I do not know, but I do know that after my first week, it was very relaxing and, well, EASY!!
Molly and her Tarte aux Pomme- Yum

Later in the evening with disco lights in the background

Sunday, July 14, 2013

La FĂȘte Nationale

Or Bastille Day to us non- French folks. This evening we went into the small village of Entrecasteaux on a new friend's suggestion. We parked on the outskirts of town and walked in as the streets are so narrow, I would have knocked one of my side mirrors off had I tried to fit between the stream of viewers and the residence's front stoops. The crowd was thick, but very well behaved. Some lucky people had tables at a cafe in the center of town where waitresses were serving them dinner and drinks. They must have been there for hours to get those seats.
 There is a large 17th century chateau in the center of town. The fireworks display was set up in the gardens in front of the chateau. I have NEVER been that close to fireworks before in my life. You could feel the wind as the canisters went shooting into the air to explode, then trickle down above our heads. It was a fantastic display for such a tiny town.
Every few blocks there are fountains and they all have spouts that you can drink from. Needless to say, the kids find this most enticing and have never been so well hydrated.
Today marks the end of our first week in France and so far, our adventure has started out with a bang. Vive la France!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Early Anxiety Relief = Beach

Wow, this is scary. I am trying to settle into a new home and town(for a year), help my children meet some peers and try to be a law-abiding citizen in a red tape loving country where I do not speak the language. Gotta love my mid-life crisis.
Thankfully, my mother is here with us for a couple of weeks which keeps us busy touring and adventuring around- in other words, avoiding the responsibilities at hand. Yesterday, we took a jaunt to the coast because the kids wanted to see the sea. We ended up in Cassis, an ancient fishing village east of Marseille. There are still plenty of working vessels, but the harbor now has many luxury yachts and tourist boats which take visitors out of the port to see the gorgeous, limestone cliffs that drop into the water. Very cool. I had a big pot of steamed mussels for lunch along with a glass guessed it- local rose. 
Today, we searched high and low for a grill as my kitchen is a bit stark on working appliances. There ain't no Home Depot in these parts. The hunt continue tomorrow as we head to a larger town in search of said cooking devise. There have been moments of panic in the past week, and I thoroughly expect them to continue for the next several months, but all in all, the adventure is starting off in the right direction.
Waiting for our tour boat in the harbor of Cassis
Calanque cliffs all around Cassis port
        Big Kid admiring one of the baby mussels in the bottom of my lunch

Monday, July 8, 2013

The arsenal

Did I ever tell you my inspiration for taking this great adventure? My bestest friend in the world grew up in France; the same, small town where I am writing from this fine morning. Practically from the same stool that I am perched upon. Needless to say, this makes things alot easier to have contacts and associations so when locals meet this crazy American with 3 kids in tow( c'est moi),   I can pull out Bestest Friend's name, and it will all be okay. Everyone knows her, everyone loves her-especially me! She is a delight to be with: funny, kind, nurturing, adventuresome, beautiful on the inside and out. As a young person, I found her rather exotic and just different from everyone else. We had an instant connection- I am not sure why she liked me so much, but that is another story.
She was always interested in food. So was I. But she taught me a more discriminating palate as a teen. She taught me that old things were often better than new. I learned to appreciate people, things and places for their character and found quirkiness an attribute.
This is her kitchen on any given day, an arsenal of old knives and tools at the ready for whatever a child may bring in or idea for cooking enters Bestest Friend's mind. Gotta love it and it never gets dull, no matter how old it is....

We have landed

We made it! After a long day of travel which first involved driving to JFK airport from Maryland...on the Sunday after 4th of July (obviously, WE were not thinking when we made these reservations), then an even longer wait at the airport where only 1 runway was fully functioning (what were THEY thinking on this holiday weekend...) we lifted off and 8 hours later were gazing down at the French Riviera. Molly and Clay slept the entire way- literally- I had to wake them up before landing. There was nothing to see most of the way as it was whatever time it was in the night, then just the great blue below us the entire way.
Oooh la la, I can see way the rich and famous come here to tour in their yachts and  stroll on the beach. The topography is spectacular. The sea butts up to these rugged, rocky hills. Palm trees abound and the air is filled with tranquility. is.
My French was challenged immediately after deplaning as our driver spoke only a handful of English words. I did okay, I think. Finding our house was also not easy, but alas, we made it. The kids made a friend instantly with my landlady's daughter. They ran around like mad for hours while I made a quick trip to town for the bare essentials- bread, cheese, olives, salami and wine. Luckily Annette, my landlady, escorted me which was extremely helpful as I may have ended up in Spain, had I been left to my own devices.
Fun Fact 1: It is true that French people drive very fast on these very little roads
Fun Fact 2: I learned that since it was Monday, there is no fresh milk. They sell milk in plastic bottles that do not need to be refrigerated...I will let you know what that is, after I have my coffee tomorrow.
I am absolutely giddy about starting this adventure in my life. After much planning, it is finally here and I plan on soaking up every moment.
People watching at JFK- way more variety than smalltown Colorado.

Settling into the largest plane they have ever seen
The sophisticated part of our team

Clay in his bedroom window of our 400 year old stone house

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A skunky Goodbye to the USA

Wouldn't you know, four days prior to our departure to France, we rescue nine baby skunks from sure demise. They were with their dead mother in a four foot deep well(dry). The kids got down into the pit and brought the babies up. We put them into a large dog crate and tried to get them to eat and hydrate. I can't imagine they are more than two weeks old, and I have to admit- they are adorable. They do not spray stink yet. Well, we did a little CPR on one that seemed to be choking. With the stomach compressions came a little cloud of musk, but that was forced out.
My mother, who was not terribly enthusiastic about this find at first, quickly turned on the maternal instincts and came up with a feeding plan, researched on the web, and found someone to rehabilitate these little critters so Clay would not have to smuggle them onto the Air France plane.
My kids will have to say goodbye to their skunk friends, that have been named, mind you. They assure me they can tell the difference between each and every one.
My sister's reaction to baby skunks

Molly and Clay tried to get baby skunks to eat

Emma doing skunk CPR

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Singing in the Rain

2 inches of rain in less than an hour. From what I hear, this has been typical in Maryland for the past few months. I wish I could send it back home to Colorado to quench the parched land that is quite literally, burning up.
I am told our future home away from home in the South of France is quite like the terrain in Southern Colorado. Dry, rocky with twiggy trees and wildfires. We will feel right at home.