Marathon of Forts


 With the warm weather this week my office windows have been flung wide open. Once or twice a day, babbling French voices drift into the open window. The musical voices of neighbors taking their daily constitutional in groups of two and three. Their singsong banter sets the pace of the walk, slowing when discussing a juicy subject and zipping along as they get animated about a hot point.

Just before noon I’ll hear the swish of rubber on the pavement. That’s my neighbor on his 1950s bike going to collect his lunch time baguette. Eight minutes later he’ll pass back by - unless there is a crowd at the bakery or there has been some really juicy village news to catch up on. 

On weekend days a sharp shout of “Right ,right, right” will be accompanied with the fast swoosh of many bike tires. The local bike club has passed by and doesn’t want to miss the right turn onto the bridge that starts the return loop.

Yesterday, the gentle audible rhythm of my days was completely torn asunder. Yesterday the Marathon of Forts passed in front of our home. No sky scrappers of NYC, no encouraging crowds of the streets of Boston. This a marathon that starts in our nearest neighboring village, Brantome, passing under the 13th century abbey, entering a forest that has seen the passage of cave painting humans and Roman invaders, skimming rolling farm fields, and tucking back along the tranquil Dronne River and her 12th century bridge that will funnel the participants through the tiny alleys of Bourdeilles, finishing along her elegant 18th century ramparts.
 


Imagine this tiny village of 350 inhabitants invaded by 1600 runners, walkers and all terrain bikers - accompanied by their support teams of friends and family. 
 


Sunday morning the sweet babble of my neighbors was turned into a torrent of shouts and mumblings, swishing wheels and squishy shoes (the forest is muddy), snorts and gasping. Seeing the chateau of Bourdeilles in the distance the participants knew that they were in the home stretch. No one had the energy left to gossip, the end was in sight and there was awaiting a meal of local products and something cold to drink. This stream of humanity was focused.
 

Here it is Monday, the weather is still glorious, the windows are open, and there is nothing more than a whisper along the street.  Yesterday’s breezes have carried away the crush of noise of just another one of those funny things that pass through our small village in France.

Glorious Treasures

Visiting our closest city, Perigueux (“pair e geu”) is a journey back in time. A small city of about 60,000 tucked along a couple of bends in the gentle Lisle River, nestled under the shelter of surrounding hills, this community has been inhabited by humans for a very longtime. It takes a bit of patience but one can trace the flow of history through it’s glorious treasures; artistic and architectural artifacts
Perigueux, Dordogne, France
Through good times and bad Perigueux has evolved. An ancient form of gentrification commenced in the 12th century when the 1st century Roman neighborhoods were taken apart and transformed into a fancy walled city for wealthy nobles. Artisans and worker bees lived, unprotected, across the fields and up the hill. By the 14th and 15th centuries there is relative peace and security in the region. The merchant class is starting to prosper and they are constructing elegant homes on the hill. Men’s need to go to war is fulfilled with Crusades to Italy and the Middle East. Money is being made and money is being spent. Those that are prospering the most want to flaunt their wealth and good taste. At that time good taste meant a flavor of Italy. Architecture incorporated the romantic, and lighter than air designs and construction ideas introduced in the Italian Renaissance.
Perigueux flourished during this time of wealth and continual transformation.  Medieval buildings were given face lifts to give them a lighter, more up to date flair. Wooden structures were torn down and replaced with crisp white buildings of locally quarried stone. Large homes were built for comfort. And, of course, to boast of the affluence of the family living within. 
 
For the time being there was no need for heavy defensive windows and doors.  Architecture could be art. Although they didn’t quite beat their swords into plowshares, the artisans of weapons could now turn their craft to more gentile pursuits.  All this would change with the horrendous Wars of Religion, with neighbors fighting neighbors throughout France.
Perigueux, Dordogne, France




Wandering through Perigueux one is immersed in her glorious story. Look up as you walk and see the spired rooflines, gargoyles and slate roofs (a sign of wealth normally found only in the Loire Valley). Look between the first and second floors of buildings and see the decorative columns, arched windows, and decorative scroll work under the eaves. At ground level check out the doorways. A family coat of arms above the door, a small cross proving their faith, finely wrought iron work, or symbols showing their fidelity to their favorite king. For Francis the 1st it was a salamander. 
 
These homes were often also the shop of the merchant. The arched alcoves were the entrance to the shop or work space. Perigueux was known for its linens, bakeries, leather goods and so on. It sounds crazy, but there were meat-pie pastries that were supposedly transported all the way to Paris during this time.
 Perigueux, Rue Limogenes, France
Perigueux is a living city. The modern world has seeped in with each passing century. Pizza is now the most obvious sign of Roman/Italian influence. Sometimes entire blocks have been torn down and recreated. But luckily the beauty of the past has been treasured enough to leave us with narrow streets to wander and a diversity of architecture that leaves us breathless at the artistry of past times.
 


This Magic Moment

Back in the old days, music was recorded on vinyl discs. After the first play, the record would never sound the same.

That's because to reap the bounty from this pristine semi-hard plastic disc, one had to violate it with a very sharp needle.


You now understand the cleverness of the record label that called itself Virgin Records.

So, to preserve the experience of that once only first play, the smart music connoisseur would record that virginal experience onto what is called a cassette.

Likewise, the heads-up consumer of fancy French clothes for kids needs this to record the first wear:


Because, as beautifully designed and carefully crafted the clothes might be, ultimately (and universally) this is what you're putting into that preciously cute outfit:







Baby It's Warm Inside

Just when winter seems to be holding on a bit too long I am saved by the window displays in children's clothing stores. No need to go inside, just looking in on these sweet vignettes warms my heart.

I don't know when my fascination started with lingering in front of Jacadi, Petit-Bateau, and the numerous other stores dedicated to children, but I am obsessed with these adorable, clever, elegant, whimsical, and sometimes just plain ole crazy homages to the art of dressing a french child.

One can see how from the get go little ones are instilled with that 'je ne sais quoi' for always being meticulously put together. Shoes are a coordinated part of the look, not just something practical to scuff along in. Scarves are worn by little boys and little girls. Have you ever wondered why the French can just throw on a scarf and it looks perfect? Check out these windows and see where the training began!

















"See, I don't make these things up."

(Susan to her editor.)













Alive and Kicking

Coming "home" from "home" is always a bit discombobulating.

There is the obvious jet lag that keeps one pinned to the sheets until 10 ---11 in the morning.
There is the joy of one's own sheets and dogs and cats on the bed.
There are the fresh croissants fresh from the much missed bakery.


But then there are the things in daily life that are a shock to my system each time I come home from home.

The roads are so narrow.

There are no country music stations.
There are a lot of cooking programs. And hey, they are all speaking French and eating foie gras.

There will be no grocery bags at the store, nor baggers.

I cannot forget to get out of the car with my sacks and a plug for the grocery cart or I have to start all over again.

It will take an extra half hour to get to the grocery store or yoga because I have to speak to everyone as I walk between here and there. 

Or it will take hours because I arrived between 12:00 and 2:00.


What's up with the trees?!

It's grey. It's beautiful.





Merry Christmas!

A quiet winter stroll down the hill and across the bridge. Bourdeilles on the winter solstice.



 Merry Merry Christmas to all! 
Here is to wonderful adventures in 2015!!





Friday's Gift Idea, LilyOs

I promise not to mix business with pleasure very often.

I am encouraging you to think about offering a wearable piece of art during this holiday gift giving season. A LilyO's luxurious silk scarf.

I wear mine just about every day. A t-shirt, jeans, and my work of art, throw on a coat and away I go. Keep it simple.


Yellow Birds

Made in Thailand   100% Thai Silk

35" x 35"  

$120 


Blue Floral Vase

Made in Thailand   100% Thai Silk

35" x 35"  

$120 



La Mer

Made in Thailand   100% Thai Silk

35" x 35"  

$120 



Red Medici Vase

Made in Thailand   100% Thai Silk

35" x 35"  

$120 


Pierre, Jean Pierre, John-Boy Pierre.........

An American sports tradition honors it's heroes by promising that no other player will wear their numbers.

Small town France has a similar respect for those that have gone on to the great cafe in the sky. No one dares to sit in the venerable spot where, for better or worse, Pierre spent most of his life.
But things get problematic when you add in the chairs for the now-deceased Jean Pierre, Pierre Louis, Louis Pierre, Pierre Pierre, Bob Pierre, John-Boy Pierre.........



Bourdeilles - Paris??

Can there be similarities between Bourdeilles and Paris?

Let's start with the grey skies.

Bourdeilles has Left Bank and Right bank neighborhoods with distinct personalities in each.
Left bank neighborhood.

Right Bank neighborhood.

A monument and a church.
Shops along the main street.
Hidden passageways.
Amazing entry ways.


A public garden.
Of course an outdoor cafe. (Yes, all year round, but maybe more so on sunny days...)
And the random art installation.
Why would we ever want to leave home?









Pot Luck in Paris


We are pulling our anchor out of the Dordogne mud and heading up to Paris this week. The big occasion is sharing Thanksgiving with a gang of jet-setting American friends. Thursday’s Thanksgiving dinner is planned for a little fish stew and scallops in a Provencal restaurant.  There will be no turkey on the menu and certainly not any of my favorite holiday treats-- cranberry sauce, Pepperidge Farm stuffing, and sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows. The upside is that the comfort of old friends will bring the spirit of Thanksgiving to our table. 

However, I am more excited about the pot luck meal that we will be having on Friday. First because it will be held in an apartment in the elegant neighborhood Henry IV built--the Place des Voges, the type of apartment that I never thought I’d set foot in. Second because this is a chance to show off some of the wonderful delicacies of “our” far-from-the-maddening crowd region-- the duck and goose capital of the world. A region of long held food traditions. They are mostly peasant traditions.  Which means that one has to expand one’s notion of edibility. 

The first contribution that came to mind was duck confit. There’s a farm over the bridge, up the road, and across the ridge that makes the best. Their confit is served in the best restaurants in the region. No need to pay Parisian shop prices. I’ll have to head up to the farm boutique to place a special order. Nothing like trying to figure out the best way to transport 15 greasy duck legs when traveling by train. 

Next sprang to mind all the really “disgusting” things that we like to eat here. Pate made with pig snouts, blood sausage, and all sorts of flavors of dry sausages.  I decided to leave these delicacies off the list. A little bit too French. Well, then there is the train ride, I am afraid the pungent odors of these wonderful foods might seep out of their packaging and cause a stampede, either to throw me off of the train or to steal my goodies. The same goes for the creamy, just so salty, goat cheese made by Louise. And what about the walnut oil that is being milled and pressed as I write. That’s a bit too heavy. Hmm, maybe I’ll tuck in a little bottle to sprinkle that unforgettable earthy taste onto a salad and steamed vegetables.



 I will go to a different farm to pick up some foie gras. Creamy, rich, foie gras. Not from the confit farm because each farm has it’s particular specialty. The decision to take foie gras leads to thinking if I should take raisin bread from here or try my chances at finding it in Paris. Because nothing is better than a slice of foie gras on a thin slice of toasted raisin bread washed down by a small, golden, glass of sweet Monbazillac wine. 
Our final contribution to this pot luck will be chocolate. Chocolates created by a MOF, Meilleur Ouvrier de France. This designation is given to only the most extraordinary artisans in France. We have the good fortune to have an exquisite chocolate shop down the road in Perigueux. This is another purchase that has to wait until the last minute. The very dainty shop keeper will fill up a box of fresh assorted chocolates, tie the box with a ribbon and I will wait with anticipation to watch the delight in my friend’s eyes as they taste these small gourmet treats. Good things come in small packages!
It will have taken a while to collect my offerings for our communal dinner, but that is half the fun. Spending a moment visiting with these local artisans, watching the flocks of birds run around the free range farms, catching a glimpse into times gone by. These farmers and artisans are a major part of the region's economy, folks keeping family recipes and techniques alive, hard workers that preserve our rural landscape.


Here at home, on many nights most everything on our plates comes from within 15 miles of Bourdeilles. It will be a great pleasure to share these same items a bit further on up the tracks in the City of Lights. Our friends will not be in the heart of our beloved region, but they sure will get a taste of the flavor of our lives. The foods that are the heart of French tradition for all celebrations. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all - especially our families that we are missing. Think of me when you open that can of whole cranberry sauce (And, please, leave the marshmallows off my side of the sweet potatoes!)

links to some of our adventures:
La Bastide d’Opio    
Vins des Pyrenees
Musee Carnavalet
Musee Gustave Moreau
Boulangerie Poilane
Chateau de Monbazillac

A Blanket of Chrysanthemums


November 1st is big holiday in France. It is Toussaint, All Saints Day. Well it’s actually a mixture  of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, but those are details for the church to quibble over. It’s a day when people head to the cemetery.  


There are two common architectural aspects of all French cemeteries:  great grey walls surround a great grey army of tombstones.  Even the smallest cemetery has a formidable presence of stone; even the grandest is a place of earthbound drear. Until Toussaint!  Big and little, threatening or dreary, all the cemeteries of France are gloriously filled with flowers on this day. To honor their ancestors, no one goes to the cemetery empty handed. Some folks will arrive with plastic flowers that will last until next year’s visit, but most will arrive with an overflowing pot of brightly blooming chrysanthemums. The crosses and tombstones of the cemetery will soon glow from the reflected color of this expansive autumnal bouquet.



Chrysanthemums are probably the flower of choice because they are colorful, bloom late, and do not mind a little frost. Because just like Halloween in Vermont, Toussaint is always cold and dreary. The real signal of winter’s approach. There is an expression in French “faire un temps de Toussaint” which refers to cold, damp, dreary days at any time of year. It seems sort of ironic that, with it’s pageant of glowing flowers, the cemetery is the “sunniest” place in the village. 

In France chrysanthemums are rarely used as garden decoration and taking one as a hostess gift is a quick way to loose a friend. That friend will either be upset because you foresee their imminent death or may take it that you are implying that they’re just as good dead as alive. 

During the summer it’s sweet to notice a row of chrysanthemums tucked away in the back corner of a garden. Spring cuttings are tucked in from last year’s plants and tended all summer with the hope of a strong plant with perfect blooms for the 1st week of November. Loved ones are thought of each time the plant is tended, replanted, and finally carried to the cemetery.  A touch of sadness mingled with a simple labor of love.


This past Saturday I tried to discreetly tuck into the cemetery to capture this parade of villagers, but the sense of respectfulness and the intimacy of the families prevented me from being a photographic voyeur. Instead I wandered from grave to grave. I peeked at couples that had arrived after other family members, too late to place their flowers front and center, and working discreetly to rearrange things.  Parents whispering little stories to their children about Meme or TonTon.  A husband filled a watering can to bring to his misty-eyed wife. 



The prescribed days and rituals of Toussaint have changed over the years, but I think if I was a ghostly spirit watching over the French landscape this past week, I would appreciate the gaiety of the chrysanthemums and take this blanket of color and warm sentiments as a good sign that it’s time to tuck my soul into a peaceful rest. 


For insights into french traditions and a great site for learning french I encourage you to check out Laura K. Lawless -http://www.lawlessfrench.com