A Moment to Play


For two days the local farmers take a busman's holiday and show their stuff at the Creyssac village fair.
The first day there is a cattle sale. Followed by lunch, followed by checking out old tractors, followed by time at the bar, followed by dinner, dancing and fireworks.


The second day is started off with the farmers getting their most trusted tractor placed for the "big event". Then a breakfast of sausage baguette, black coffee or maybe a beer. There are shouts of hello and strong handshakes shared among men that do not see each other from one planting season to the next.


The "big event" is set up into several categories. Horses, small tractors and big tractors. The aim is to plow the straightest, just deep enough, but not too deep furrow with just the right amount of mounding to each side of the pass. The gun goes off and the various engines plow down the field. That's it. 




 
It will be several hours before the judges can score each furrow. There will be a few personal judgements made before the official ones.

Everyone will be off to the bar and then lunch while the judges plow through their work. Awards will be presented this evening after the parade of floats and dinner. 

When you only have two days to rest you gotta make hay!












Bourdeilles Petanque Tournament


It was an unlikely situation. Tom had decided that he was going to participate in the annual Bourdeilles Petanque Tournament. His first choice for partner was on vacation, his second choice had to work. The next thing I knew he was saying “I know exactly who should be my partner - you.” A million excuses passed through my mind, but because love has it’s sway I found my mouth saying “sure, why not”.  Even though the “why” would be that I am not competitive, have no athletic talents and play petanque once or twice a summer, when the only thing keeping me balanced with a heavy petanque ball in one hand is the beer in the other.


So it was with a twisted feeling in my stomach and the flush of shame already on my cheeks that we walked over to the village petanque courts, the graveled area under the canopy of the  mulberry trees trimmed expressly to give maximum shade for this one day of the year.
The poster had said that the tournament started at 2:00, but on our prompt arrival (lingering Americanism) there was only one woman sitting at a table with a very large chart in front of her. She happily signed us in and placed us as #1 on the chart. #1 stickers went on our chest. Either a good sign or just a sign that the Greenhorns had arrived.
We warmed up a little, we sat around a lot, we watched some really good players warm up, I got more and more embarrassed and we weren’t even in the thick of it yet.
Finally, at 3:30 it was time to play. Team #1 was to play team #38, veterans who knew not to arrive on time and languish in the heat of the afternoon sun.

We found an uncrowded area in the large, sunny parking lot and got right to it. Let the rumpus begin. And suddenly we had the first point, then 5 points and within 10 minutes we had won the match 13 to 6. What the heck!! There were worse players than me - or was this just beginners luck?


Turns out we had to play at least three matches to legitimaize any possible (probable?) elimination. But flush from an outstanding win I started to feel a little bit of competitive adrenaline. Plus, even in defeat, those #38-ers had been so nice. They had been humble and easy to chat with. We found out later they just happen to be in Bourdeilles on vacation from Belgium. They ended up staying in the tournament for at least 5 more rounds.

The second match was against a couple from Bourdeilles, folks that live just up the road but we had not met before. They handily beat us in about the same 10 minutes that we had won in earlier. The beginners luck was rubbing off. Tom stopped trying to remember the words for the Star Spangled Banner in his anticipation of the medal ceremony. With plenty of time before the next match we took a break to find out more about our newly met neighbors. My twisted stomach was forgotten. This was actually turning out to be fun. People were chatting and laughing, swearing and even already drinking a beer or two.

Looking around at all the animated people I knew what this was all about. The point for most of us at this tournament was a fun afternoon with friends and neighbors. A way to spend a summer afternoon with folks you might not see normally. Not the cut throat silent competition of deadly careening solid steel projectiles that I had envisioned.

Our third match was played against two charming young men and a baby. Yep, dad had to mind the child if he was going to be gone all afternoon. His friend was easy going with the child as well and I was completely distracted by this beautiful baby girl. The match was longer than 10 minutes, but not by much. Tom and I held our own for a while, but three games was going to be enough and why take the chance of encountering any of the serious teams that were beginning to emerge around us.
 

We gathered at the bar to grab a beer and watched the real players have at it. Increasingly the sounds of friendly conversation were replaced by just the roll and clack of the petanque balls. Tape measures flashed in the late afternoon sun.  There was no chance two men and a baby were out there under the mulberry trees. 


We’d long since headed off to the village potluck dinner with our newly met neighbors when teams #45 - #60 finished their ultra competitive, silent (but for some swearing) matches.

Check out what these blog friends are up to in their communities:



Cheeky Sunflowers


There is nothing timid about the sunflower. Anything that can shine sunshine back up to the sun has to be bold, brash and maybe even a bit cheeky. Those strong stalks carrying the flowers ever closer to the sky and those golden manes slowly unfurling, evoke confidence and stamina.

Surrounding our small village there is row after row after row of sunflowers making it seem as if the countryside has been flooded by yellow. Fields and hillsides turn into the waves and troughs of a yellow ocean.

It takes hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of sunflowers to make up this mighty inland sea. The ocean of yellow is beautiful, but it is also fun to take in the expressive faces of individual sunflowers. Although they all resemble clowns on stilts, there are lots of different personalities out there, somber, sweet, grouchy, but mostly “hey look at me” happy.


As strong as the sunflower is it has it’s Achilles’ heel - it can only out play the sun for so long before it starts to feel the heat and gasp for water. With this summer’s gorgeous sunny days and not a drop of rain for the months of June or July the waves and waves of golden sunflower petals pretty much shriveled up over night. One day bright and brash, the next crumpled and humbled. For though the sunflower plant is as strong as Zeus, it’s petals are mere mortals to the broiling sun when there is no rain to quench their parched thirsty fibers.
 Now their heads droop and their faces blacken with the ripening seeds. As brief as they were flamboyant and beautiful the yellow petals did their work of attracting pollinators and now the seeds are maturing for the fall harvest. The sunflower is a hard worker and the loss of her beauty does not deter her from the demands of her work.


Each year we wait with anticipation for these friendly, happy signs of summer in all it’s glory. For even though the sunflower is the loud, unsophisticated, hardworking, country cousin to the elegant rose and the sensual peony, her rugged personality is a part of the culture and landscape that makes this such a stunning place to live.



Under the Little Big Top



Tonight all our eyes were sparking with anticipation. Our faces shine as if magic dust had been sprinkled on us as we entered into this scene. For indeed happiness abounds. We all here under a canopy of stars, under the Big Top, and under the spell of the pixie dust of a circus.

This is no ordinary circus, in fact this isn’t a circus at all, it is L’Aurora Equestrian Spectacle.

I need to back up a little……

Three years ago Tom did an unusual thing, he went out for an evening on his own. He took himself to the little circus set up down the street, drawn there by the colorful posters that had gone up a few days before. The colorful posters were followed by the appearance of brightly colored circus wagons, then a striped “big” top tent. There were ponies, geese, a llama and a goat nibbling the sweet grass and wandering freely on the village fields. 






I don’t know where I was, but by the time I returned home there were little watercolor sketches of the show all over the studio and stories spilling forth. Tom had attached himself to the little circus for the entire weekend and heard the family’s stories and entertained the children with his charming paintings and funny accent. Because the L’Aurora Equestrian Spectacle is truly a family affair.



Here is what he learned or “The Inside Scoop of the Magical L’Aurora Equestrian Spectacle”.

Once upon a time there was a dashing young man who grew up in the circus. And of course there was a beautiful young woman that ran off to join the circus. The young woman wanted to ride horses like a wild thing and where else but the circus to do just that. The young man and the young woman worked in the Magic Kingdom of Disney near the sparkling bright lights of Paris. They fell in love and made their plans to escape the Magic Kingdom for a life of daring on the road. Little by little they saved up their monies and bought classic, old fashioned circus equipment. First a charming little sleeping carriage, next a strong truck, then a trailer for animals and of course the big red and yellow striped Big Top tent. It took awhile to find just that right one that was easy for two people to put up and take down. Then just as the 4th little circus baby was born they decided it was time to head off into the big world without the safety net of the Magical Kingdom. They snuggled into cots and beds in the little sleeping carriage. So there would be harmony in the animal trailer, they taught the geese to get along with the horse, and the horse to get along with the goat, and all of them to just ignore the llama. Mom and Dad each became experts at how to navigate the narrow roads between the small villages of France.




That first night Tom was taken by the sheer joy and innocence of the little working family. Dad played the Ring Master, cracking a whip without ever touching anyone or anything, riding as fast as the Paint horse could go in the tiny show ring, Mom rode the Paint in a wild bareback exhibition, and the children were miniature clowns that walked tightropes on the ground, juggled  (mostly dropped) several apples and guided the geese in an adorable sliding board routine. That year the geese were bigger than the children and the miniature pony could seat three of the youngsters and still think that maybe there was just one wiggly flea on it’s back. The littlest Aurora appeared on the scene in her mother’s arms.


Three years have gone by and the Equestrian Show is in town again. Our excitement started on Monday when we saw the brightly colored posters on every corner of the village. Finally I was going to see The Show and meet the little family. 

As soon as we arrived at the Big Top it was clear that this was going to be a very sweet evening. Familiar faces were there with their children or with friends that were acting like children. We hopped from one foot to the other with anticipation to get our tickets, there was a line for popcorn and lemonade, and children were taking turns being led around by the littlest Aurora on her miniature pony. Her faced beamed with pride at her lovely pony and her role of Mistress of the Pony. Pint-sized clowns were wandering around miming hellos and welcomes. As soon as we got to the ticket window Tom’s presence was acknowledged. “Tom. You are here! So glad to see you! We think of you all the time. Allegra, come see, this is the painter whose painting is over our bed.” Suddenly we were surrounded by the pip squeek clowns. The pony and her Mistress were pretty much standing on my toes. The faces of two handsome teenagers and two gangly youngsters beamed to see the painter that they vaguely remembered from years ago.. Dad was called over and he gave Tom a big hug and introduced us to each child. It was clear that he was immensely proud of each and every one and that they were confident and excited to be there. But wait, we haven’t even seen them in the ring!



The performance was just as Tom had described it. It was as if each family member stepped out of Tom’s sketches. The geese tumbling down the sliding board, Mom riding horses like a wild thing, a mountain climbing goat, that also rode the horse like it was a wild thing, a magic act where Mom went into the box with holes and poles pierced everywhere and then Mom and two of the daughters came out of that box- oh my!! Such magic and dazzlement. But truth be told the best part of the performances was when something just wasn’t going quite right. The juggler just couldn’t get the rhythm for adding the 4th loop, but pick them up and try, try again he did. The hoola-hoop princess couldn’t kick that hoop up off the ground and get it rotating for love or money, but again try, try again and smile while your doing it. The audience went wild at the end of each performance. How easy it is to applaud someone that has given it their all and kept us on the edge of our seats rooting for their success. Who cared about a dropped hoop or loop? We were in awe of what they were determined to do.











The show was over and the audience lingered to pet the animals and talk to the performers. With great admiration, we spoke to the youngsters with a new appreciation of their talents. Their pride in the performance that they had just presented to us was clear in their bright eyes and confident postures. 




Two days later I am still running into children in the village that get wide eyed as they describe how they loved the wild Paint horses with the beautiful acrobatic rider and the pony ride they had taken with the Mistress of the Ponies. Every one of us has dreams of running away with the circus and to be a member of that tight knit, hard working, magical family Aurora--to be in the spot light under the Big Top and share the pixie dust.


Western Light


 Hello from our evening walk.
 It's 8:30 and the sun is still glorious. Hard to believe that in order to beat the sunset we take this same walk at 4:30 in the winter.



 Like these sunflowers we face east for the beginning of our walk.
As we return the sunflowers add even more warmth to the western light as we finish up around 9 p.m.!






A Gardener's Dream

Here is another side to the three beautiful gardens that we visited last week. There seems to be a common dream of every gardener......
Yep, all these resting spots in just three gardens!




 


















Add caption


A Sprinkle of Gardens in the Midi-Pyrenees, France


This past weekend was the 13th year for Open Garden day in France.  rendez-vous aux jardins.fr.
Yes, the entire country participates on the same weekend. Planning an outing is made easy with booklets and a beautiful web-site for each of the regions. Add in a little patience as the gardens often seem to be in the middle of nowhere, but what a way to pass through new countryside. Every stop will prove to be worth the adventure for one reason or another.

This year Tom and I headed south to the Midi-Pyrenees region. Our goal was 4 gardens Saturday and 3 on the return Sunday. We ended up making 3 and 3 as each garden was so spectacular in it's own individual way and time just ran out.

I apologize that these photos do not give justice to any of the gardens. There was no way to capture the spirits of the gardens with my little instant camera and the glaring mid-day sun didn't do anything to help.

My suggestion would be to check out all that was offered this year and put the weekend on your calendar for next year. Most of the gardens are ones that are normally open to the public, but by finding your way to one or two private gardens this will turn into a magical experience not to be missed by avid gardener's- well anyone that loves a good ramble.
rendez-vous aux jardins.fr.


La Romieu     www.jardinsdecoursiana.com



 







Roques     Jardin de Nancy







Lasseube-Propre     Le Jardin d'Enteoulet     www.lejardindenteoulet.kazeo.com









 






 


 
Flowers for another purpose......

Other ways to travel around and spend money......

Homps     Jardin de Jeanne



 















Homework

Were you one of those kids that just loved to do their homework? Did your children come home from school and ask if they could get rigth to their homework ? No prompting. No whining. Funny, the thoughts that are going through your mind right now are the same as those of studetns and parents all over France. Homework is a pain.


Families in France have the same homework dilemas as their counterparts in the States. No need to tell you, you know all of the issues and buttons.

Twice a week our little village offers an after school homework club. Students come directly from school to the community hall for an hour and a half to work with a group of volunteers. The hope is to take a little pressure off this exercise for at least these two days and to establish a rhythm to the work time; snack, homework, play.

Snack will be two long baguettes slathered with butter, accompanied by blocks of chocolate or jam. Yes, a buttered slice of bread with chocolate. In winter the kids are good about eating an amazing amount of clementines. At this time of year they settle for applesauce.


After snack it's time to get down to business.  Procrastination suddenly sets in. It takes a good five miutes to get out the homework notebooks. Then they have to find something to write with and of course getting their bottoms into a chair is pert near impossible.




Even without the distractions of home it can take a moment to buckle down to conjuations, multiplication tables, poetry memorization, and spelling list. A five minute exercise can take a good 15 to 25 minutes, longer, depending on the obstinancy of the child.




Ah, but once it is done it's play time. Dodge ball, tag, paper airplane competitions, games as universal as the afterschool homework.


I know you can picture the emotions of homework, but  I wonder if you can picture yourself giving a child bread and butter  with a slab of chocolate to get them going. It just wouldnt do if there wasnt at least one big difference between here and there. 

Try the bread, butter, chocolate - you'll thank me!

Gourmet Wisteria??



Wisteria Dessert Treat

According to the local newspaper "it is the moment to regale your senses in observing, in smelling and yes...even in eating the flowers of wisteria that are bursting in the gardens. Originally from Asia, the wisteria produces flowers with an unequal odor. But watch out, if the flowers are edible, the leaves and twigs on the other hand are toxic".

The second part of the "it is the moment to..." is this recipe -

Wisteria Souffle´
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. 
Mix 75 g of flour
4 soup spoons of sugar
1 egg
10 cl of milk
then blend in 4 egg whites whipped into snow whites
Add 100 g of wisteria flowers equeutees - "to remove the stalks from". Often my recipe includes a French English dictionary.

Cook in ramekins for 15 minutes - be sure not to open the oven during this time









I was pleasantly surprised by how lovely the soufflé´looked. But, Tom and I both agreed that there was really not much flavor. For some reason we thought of the story of The Emperor's New Clothes. The notion of wisteria flavor being so exotic it seems it would be easy to persuade you to test your culinary sensitivity to this amazingly sublime taste - but, is there really any taste....?



Awareness

"Chef Pierre, le fils*, believes that what is lost in elegance is gained in a greater awareness of where our food comes from."

*Son of Chef Pierre, the elder.


Cheese Louise


goats cheese, Dordogne, France
On Sunday mornings at the market I always buy a small, simple, white, hockey puck looking thing. Watching Louise carefully wrap this small treasure into a piece of paper there is no hint of the hard work and long hours that she has poured into her precious shapes. Louise sells goat’s cheese. Goat’s cheeses that she has produced.
Louise Dunne, goats cheese, Cercle, France
Cheese, simple and complicated at the same time. From one source, the goat, one can create a variety of products. Soft cheese, hard cheese, feta, ricotta, tome, fromage blanc, caprice de diable, and milk. The recipes do not vary much. The differences are controlled by time, temperature, the method selected to strain the curds and whey, and even the mood of the goats and the maker. These variations have a dramatic effect on the texture and taste of the straight from the goat warm, opalescent liquid milk. And after many years of enjoying Louise’s cheeses, I can say that her mood is of a sunny disposition. 

For one week I followed most of the daily routine of Louise, affectionately called Cheese Louise. Louise is the shepherdess of a herd of 50 or so goats. The number of goats in the herd, like everything else in this process, fluctuates with the seasons and the whims of nature. During this one week I learned that the outward appearance of a shepherdess is calm and collected, but within that composure there is a doctor’s evaluating eye, a chemist’s calculating mind, an artist’s unthinking hand, and a juggler of so many plates that one gasps each time a new one is tossed up and added to the swirling calamity. 

Feeding the goats, milking the goats, getting the goats in and out of pasture, cleaning the barn, lambing in the spring time, carefully shepherding the quality and health of the herd, these are the day in, day out basics of goats cheese. Because without the goats--no cheese; with the goats-- a lot of work.


My days started in the washroom where strict hygiene is the rule.  Shoes off, no jewelry, don a white jacket and a hair net. Once in the cheese room Louise is transformed from rugged farm hand to cheese maker supreme. A magician that waves her wand over a jug of raw milk and creates the taste of earth.

By the time I arrive for the work day the goats have already been milked. Two milk jugs sit at the door stoop, waiting for cheese alchemy. Nothing goes into the cheese room without being sterilized, so we have to wipe down these heavy jugs before we lug them into the very white, constantly 21 degree Celsius room. After watching her demonstrate I,too, am able to heft the jug and gently pour the fresh milk into a large basin. Louise does this in one fluid motion. The milk is mesmerizing as it ribbons into the basin. My first attempt is a pathetic humph and I just about drop the jug back onto the floor, but I have also been instructed to be as gentle as possible while handling the milk. I place the jug back down and have to reevaluate the strength needed and the motions to follow. Like any artist she has made her work look easy. This will be a week of joy and awe as I learn just a little of the magic of cheese production. Mastery will not be achieved in a week. Actually this week will make the magic even more magical to me.

Here are some photos of my week. These inadequate images give you some small view into the magical processes I experienced in the cheese room. 












Nothing I say will replace the true experience. Here is a link to Louise’s website - https://www.vidados.com/cheese-making-holiday/6273/location Come on over and spend a week with her. I promise it is not all work and there is lots of play.

What fun to have you work with her for a few days and visit with us at the same time!

If you are not up to a visit to France I recommend seeing if there is a local farmer that will allow you to work with them for a bit of time. Once you have participated in the “creation” of something that you will be putting on your plates you will forever view the source and effort that goes into our foods in a different way. 


There’s no need to preach, but come visit us, bite into these delicious, simple circles that Louise and her goats have created and know what real food is. Thank goodness for the small farmers everywhere that are willing to work so hard.
Thank you Cheese Louise! An experience that changed my perspective on a lot of things!!

There and Here

When we say that we live in southwestern France some of you think here-
The land of Van Gogh,

crisp bright sunshine,
olive oil and lavender,

la torrida,
endless elegant dinner parties,
and rooftops perched to resist the mistral.
That is there. We are here.





Styles

It wasn’t like it was calling my name. No neon sign was pointing at the neat stack of fruit. There was no hot summer sun to put them in mind. The fact is that a tasty, ripe melon was the furthest thing from my mind as I entered the corner store to pick up lettuce and a few other salad fixings.
Yet as soon as I spied them I really wanted one. 

I had escaped their siren call and was checking out when somehow the owner and I struck up a conversation about how crazy it was that melons were nestled there among the oranges and celery roots at this time of year just barely past winter.
Then he said, “I had one for breakfast and they are dee-li-cious!” 

That was it. I cracked. I scurried back to the melons to sniff. They did indeed have a lovely, just ripe smell. Without even looking at the price I put that little temptress on the counter and paid up.

Back home I placed that jewel on the kitchen counter to keep it in mind for my afternoon snack.

Later in the morning a friend stopped by to chat. She too was attune to the siren call of the melon. But this time there was no lust in spying that taste of summer. My friend looked at me incredulously and asked, “What are you doing with a melon at this time of year? If you are having that treat now what will be your great pleasure in the month of August!?”

This is a quintessential, composed, French response.  One of prudent self denial, versus the impulsive American approach: immediate gratification.


Let me just tell you that, sitting on a garden bench under a timid spring sun,  immediate gratification-- with a dash of salt-- was oh so tasty. 

Place Names

The name of the city I grew up in is Lynchburg, Not the one famous for whiskey, which can be found in a state named for a the Cherokee word used for a river, “tanasi” or, Tennessee.  But the one in Virginia, named for the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth. The other thing about my Lynchburg  is that it was not named so because of a reputation of lynching folks. The city was named for John Lynch who established a ferry service in 1757 on the Fluvanna River (“Annie’s River” in honor of Queen Anne of England) which was later renamed the James River, named for King James the 1st.  Locals always say “The Mighty James”.

Lynchburg, Va and the Mighty James
Flash forward to our small village in France where place names can be traced to the times of the Celtic Gauls 50 BC, then the Gallo Roman Era until somewhere around the 400s (of our era), followed by the “dark ages” of the  Visigoth invasions, on through the Middle Ages and continuing on until modern times. It wasn't until the 15th century that place names began to be deliberately recorded for government purposes. The French government was trying to get a standardized grip on its possessions, but the local people in a back waters like our region resisted standardization and continued to speak their own language until the 1940.  It took a lot of central government muscle to get the schools to force children to learn the King’s French.  (Even though it had been some time since those fun-loving Bourbon despots left the scene.  The last one even being allowed to exit with his head on)

This long train of cultural evolutions left such a variety of place names that even today the locals will disagree with how to pronounce a name - and Parisians blanche at the tongue twisting, vowel laced, foreign names.

I tell you all of this because here place names are either original and mysterious or have changed and changed, remaining mysterious and difficult. 
As an example - The neighboring village is now called Valeuil. Researchers have found that the village name has had 10 known different spellings. The 1st written record of the name was in 1220 and was written Valoil. The roots of this name can be traced back to the Gaulic word -remember 400 AD- for apples, aballo. The current spelling and pronunciation are a clear sign of the telephone game as the ab slurred to V.

Each new group of immigrants brought their language influences. Latin came along and melded with Gaulic names. Visigoths brought germanic words and accents. Accents came and went with the passage of soldiers and journeymen. Rural accents just got thicker and more diverse until government officials came out to record the names of villages. These Parisian French speaking officials just had to take a stab at what the heck was being said - for even the French are stumped by these strange vowel combinations and silent letters.

Here are some other fun names from nearby:

Labrousse  (occitain)  rocky useless land

Ramefort  (pre-Celtic)  ram -rock    (french) fort - strong
Charbonnier (french)   the coal family

Les Baconnets (occitane)  seller of salted pork

Agonac  (Roman) - ac showed that a place belonged to someone - the home of Agon

Puy Fromage  (english and french)  Hill From the Edge (Which is really confusing to all because  fromage is French for cheese.)
Les Chauses  (french) The Things.  The original name of this hamlet was the occitan word for male genitals - people were embarrassed to say the word in polite company so they just said “You’re looking for the Dubois family? They live up at the Things.”
Geuyonie (occitain) Lesbians.  This 3 house hamlet is just down the road from The Things (I am not making this up! Maybe my French friends are making it up to goof on the gullible american, but I swear they tell me this with a blushing, straight face and they really do not seem to have rehearsed the conversation among themselves.)
My neighborhood is called La Croix St Marc. The cross of Saint Mark. The stone mason who was commissioned to build our house was so grateful for the work that he carved this cross as a thanks to God.