Category Archives: France

Grilled Eels — Oui !

Yeah, the bottom one. YOU try pronouncing it!

Another questionable adventure was to join Pascale, Jacky, and friends for a grilled-eel BBQ out in a field east of La Rochelle. Pascale said she was hesitant to ask me, since it was a bit la France profonde, which basically means in the middle of the countryside where tourists rarely venture, with regular, village people who might have an accent or way of speaking that I would have trouble understanding. I was undaunted. Well, maybe a bit daunted about the eels. I didn’t take photos, since that felt like it would have been rude and intrusive during their annual multi-village gathering, but I had a great time. The hardest part was pronouncing the name of the village!

Most of Pascale and Jacky’s regular crew of friends were there–one couple, Jean-Marie and Jocelyne, had grown up in neighboring villages that were participating in the BBQ, which is how we were invited in the first place. It was row after row of picnic tables under a big tent. Benches were planks on iron supports, not always ideally positioned. At one point a man got up from one end of his bench, which threatened to unseat the elderly woman just behind me. Fortunately I was able to grab the bench before she toppled. It was all over in less than a minute, but Pascale and friends teased me that I’d be the next headline of the local newpaper, “Une Américaine a sauvé Madame”  (roughly, American Woman Saves Madame).

Of course it was a huge, traditional French multi-course meal. First the guys disappeared over to the bar tent for pastis or some other scary-strong apéro. Then as they drifted back the actual apéritif  course was served (little crunchy nibbles with champagne, I think — it all blends together a bit). Then halves of the small round melons like cantaloupe, filled with Pineau des Charentes as a first course (a revelation–WHY do we not eat it this way in the states?). Then the grilled eels, which are scarier to look at than to eat. They just taste like fish, since that’s basically what they are. More wine. And bread, of course. Then cheese,  more bread, salad. Then dessert and a bit more wine! (By the way, penalties in France for drunk driving are VERY severe. There is always someone who drastically limits their wine or does not drink at all.)

We capped the day with a detour to play a bit of pétanque.

We had three couples, plus me, obviously extraneous, but they insisted I play anyway. I redeemed myself with my last throw, a completely random lucky shot that hit the little cochonnet and launched it away from the boules the men had so skillfully thrown and over among the boules the women had thrown, resulting in a win for the women. “Jamais encore !” Antoine vowed. (“Never again!”)

So plenty of smiles and laughter, the best kind of day.

Sunny and Beckett

I’ll save my other reluctant  (but excellent) adventure in France for another post.  Even writing about these happy memories has cheered me up, and of course snuggles with baby Beckett, time with friends, and making plans for future events help too.

I guess I’d better just keep saying, “Oui !”

Just say, “Oui!” — Part One

I’m having a hard time lately–really sad and missing David like crazy–but I did promise more about France, so maybe this will redirect my thoughts for a while. It’s all day-to-day and learn-as-you-go, this grief thing. The 29th of August was the three-year anniversary of the day we learned David’s diagnosis was terminal. Certainly all the anniversaries have their own sting, but that’s one of the worst.  And unfortunately, you can’t count on the sorrow  magically shutting off when the calendar changes to the next day.

So . . . (deep breath) . . . in an effort to focus on the positive, I’ll tell you about a couple of adventures in France I was not at first sure I would enjoy.

I shouldn’t have doubted. Pascale ALWAYS plans excellent adventures, but when she suggested driving down to Royan to see a 1950’s concrete cathedral, I was skeptical. Fortunately I know better than to turn down anything proposed by Pascale and Jacky, so the morning of June 9th, we were on the road again.

Eglise Notre-Dame de Royan

The church is an impressive feat of engineering, so huge I never really got a decent photo, but here’s the best I’ve got.  It’s a moving story of building something great after senseless tragedy. On January 5th, 1945, Allied forces launched a heavy bombardment, believing it was a final stronghold of the Germans. Sources differ on the exact numbers, but all agree the bombing raids killed many more civilians than German soldiers and 95% of the town was destroyed, basically for nothing.

But Royan rose again. It’s very different from La Rochelle and most of the other French cities I’ve seen, so well worth the trip. I loved the wide flat beaches that made me think of long walks with David on Folly Beach . . .

Royan, France

. . . and these carrelets . . .

Carrelets, Royan, France

 . . . that reminded me of Jacky’s 70th birthday “cake.”

Talmont-sur-Gironde

Then we headed down the road to charming little Talmont-sur-Gironde, one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, where there are beautiful little details like this . . . .

Their church is pretty much the opposite of 1950’s concrete, ancient and barely hanging on to the edge of the cliff. The access to take the cool scary photo from below is now so dangerous we weren’t allowed down there.

Eglise Sainte-Radegonde, Talmont-sur-Gironde, France

Definitely a lovely, interesting day, but the best part was simply spending time with my friends, who with unflagging generosity, share the beauty of la belle France every time I see them.

So glad I said, “Oui, merci !” Even writing about it is making me smile.  Thanks again, Pascale and Jacky!

Next up: Grilled eels — Stay tuned!

Île de Ré Blues

Only a few more days here, and I’m not even close to caught up, so you’ll probably be hearing about France for a while yet. Hope you don’t mind! This mini-adventure actually happened on June 6th.

I’ve always loved blues, the color in all its various hues and shades, and the music, whether haunting or funky. Not so much the emotion, but I suppose even that can have a certain tender poignancy sometimes.

Jacky, Pascale and I headed back to Île de Ré a few days after I  moved into Le Patio. Fortunately, this year was mostly about the color.

Shimmering, shifting blues and greens so stunning I could barely catch my breath. I had to remind myself to put down my camera occasionally and just soak it in.

We started with lunch in Saint-Martin-de-Ré in Le Belem, the same restaurant  where we lunched with David in 2017. Then on out to the western end of the island. where I took the picture that you sometimes see at the top of these posts (and most of those above). A lot more cairns now.

Ile de Ré Photo Redux — Low tide, so not quite the same view, but still stunning.

Pascale and I climbed the lighthouse this year, something we had not done on past visits.

Looking up — Le phare des baleines

Gorgeous views in every direction. . .

Above the birds!

The island that day was an absolute celebration of color. And not just blues and greens.  The coquelicots were carpeting the fields in bright orange-red.

Photo by Pascale

Then just as we were leaving, we caught a glimpse of the famous donkeys of Île de Ré that wear pants and give rides to children. Jacky obligingly stopped to let us jump out AGAIN for photos. None of them were wearing culottes, since they were off-duty, but this one was posing like a model. I couldn’t resist. The more traditional shaggy ones were all dozing in the sun, facing away from us. Not the ideal photo angle.

This post, with the uncooperative photo subjects and the blues and reds, is starting to remind me of an old post from our adventures in Key West 2015. Another memory that makes me smile.

There was certainly a moment the emotional kind of blues threatened, when we came upon the tree where David and Jacky sat for this photo in 2017. . .

Jacky and David, May 2017

I even took a photo of the empty branch with the beautiful sea behind it, but it’s too sad. I had to remind myself to be grateful we were even able to get back to this place he loved. I am.

It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy. David Steindl-Rast

Wishing you both gratitude and happiness!

Bonjour La Genette !

After our tour of Bretagne, it was time to give Pascale and Jacky  back their own space. We returned to La Rochelle on Sunday the 26th of May. I was moving into Le Patio on Tuesday, so Monday we had a chance for a long walk around Les Minimes, the  larger beach and port of La Rochelle.

It was blustery but sunny and we walked all the way out to the end overlooking the new port and the channel into the vieux port.

Looking across to La Genette where you see the trees on the other shore.

A channel is absolutely necessary, because here when the tide goes out, it goes OUT.

Low tide from my side

So I’m now on the other side of the port. It used to be about 10 minutes by car, but now much of the central part of town is restricted to buses, bikes and pedestrians, and it’s a LONG way round by car. I  can walk to Pascale and Jacky’s in about 40 minutes, with lots of people watching on the way. They pick me up for adventures involving luggage or events happening on my side and beyond, like our day on Île de Ré (next post).

This, by the way, is NOT where I’m staying, as you know if you read the first Bretagne post. But this gorgeous place IS in my neighborhood, only about a block away, so I walk by it all the time. Most houses come right up to the narrow sidewalk, but a few have a bit of garden in front. It’s more common to save the garden for the private space in back. Still there are lots of tall roses trémières (hollyhocks) growing up from the tiniest cracks where the pavement meets the walls. Excellent reminder to never give up.

David and I used to love the huge marché in the center of town. We rented an apartment about three doors down from it the last time we were here in May of 2017. This year I walk around the corner and inland a few blocks to the cutest little grocery, about the size of my kitchen at home and not much larger than my kitchen here, actually. But it has everything I need, including all the fancy French cheeses, a surprisingly sizable wine selection, produce so amazing I’m always tempted to buy more than I need, and dozens of fascinating little jars of soups and sauces and who knows what.

Marché du Mail — Straight up this street a block and a half, then left to “my” house

I treat the place like a museum. I spend so much time perusing, eventually someones asks me if I need help. I don’t. I’m just enjoying myself too much to leave.

Roses climbing up from the patio 

So like the roses trémières and these roses from the patio, I’m trying to bloom where I’m planted, no matter how temporary. Wishing you the same!

Au revoir Bretagne !

Château de Suscinio

Here it is mid-June and I’m still writing about May, but there you go. Sunday, the 26 of May, we were headed home to La Rochelle in the afternoon, but in the morning we had a chance to tour a bit of the southern edge of the Golfe du Morbihan, including the Château de Suscinio, which was so enormous I couldn’t manage to fit it into one photo. Plus, the sky was rather dreary and it was breezy and cool, so I didn’t spend a lot of time trying.  I promise you can find photos if you Google it.

The back section you see in the photo below houses an elaborate and creative exhibit devoted to the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Château de Suscinio, walking from the front section to the other building
Part of the King Arthur exhibit at Château de Suscinio

Turns out Bretagne has as much claim to the legends as Grand Bretagne has. This was news to me, probably because my main exposure to the legends was T. H. White’s The Once and Future King (which I loved) and Hollywood, including Disney.

Châtelain Jacky and Châtelaine Pascale

Château de Suscinio was built to house various dukes of Brittany, and even housed Henry Tudor,  later King Henry VII of England, for a while, but I found these two characters in one of the rooms claiming to be the châtelain and châtelaine!  Although I’m not sure why they were not wearing  these fab red shoes.

La Mode at Château du Suscinio
Château du Suscinio

Another story of ruin and restoration, this château at one point had been completely abandoned and was in the process of being dismantled, serving simply as a source of stone. It is still a work in progress, but what has been done is very impressive, with various interactive exhibits (obviously–see Pascale and Jacky above).  Well worth the price of admission.  Bonus: No creepy, crumbling, dark staircases.

 

Kuinn Aman

Pascale made sure to buy a final Kouign Amann to have at home. And of course she had the ice cream, the whipped cream and the caramel sauce to go with it. No tiny Breton flag though. Somehow, we managed to eat it anyway!

Our four-day adventure in Bretagne was an amazing whirlwind of beauty and history, although I have to admit that my ability to accurately take in thousands of years of history and legend, all in French, remains moderate, at best. Still. I loved every minute of it. Many thanks to Pascale for all the careful planning, and to Jacky for all the nerve-wracking driving around a bazillion roundabouts, while the GPS only sometimes helped.  But what’s an adventure without a bit of losing your way?  It was fabulous and I’ll never forget it.

Au revoir, Bretagne !

 

Ruin and Restoration

So sorry! I’m really far behind on these posts. I’ve been crazy busy. Lots of French lessons with Natacha . . .

Natacha, Stéphane and their son, Solal

. . . who FINALLY let me take her picture, although she kept trying to hide behind Solal!

Also, I’ve been doing as much homework as I can get her to give me and creating my own when I don’t have enough from her. (Yes, I’m THAT kind of student.) I am here partly to improve my French after all.

Plus, there have been lunches, apéros, dinners, concerts, day-trips, and I just got back from an overnight with Pascale and Jacky down to Cap Ferret, Arcachon and environs. But I don’t want to miss sharing a few more photos of beautiful Bretagne (where Stéphane is from, by the way, though further north than where we were). So without further ado, here is Bretagne, Part 4.

Rochefort-en-Terre

Saturday, the 25th of May, we went inland. One of my favorite spots was the beautiful little village of Rochefort-en-Terre, where first we toured the grounds of the Château de Rochefort-en-Terre. Below is a shot looking down on the town from the grounds of the château.

Rochefort-en-Terre — Love these old rooftops and the sun-kissed hillside in the distance.

It made me think about how wonderfully photogenic these old buildings are and what a responsibility it is to maintain them. But look how beautiful the main square is . . . .

Place du Puits, Rochefort-en-Terre, Bretagne

Later in the afternoon we stopped here . . .

Forteresse de Largoët

The 14th century octagonal keep you see on the left was the only building open, so Pascale and I climbed up the tiniest, creepiest, dim staircase–my fault, the beginning of the larger baron’s staircase looked darker at the beginning. But never mind, we made it up VERY high until I started noticing random wooden supports for ENORMOUS stones and sections of wall that would otherwise tumble down. The floors were already long gone, burned, I think, or rotted away or both. I decided this ruin had not  yet been restored quite enough to make me comfortable four of five stories above ground with tons of stone precariously perched around me. Pascale was unfazed, but I decided to climb back down tout de suite (NOW).

I’ll leave you with another gem, the Château de  Trédion . . .

Château de Trédion

. . . that we were not able to see up close, because a wedding had taken over the place. Not a bad setting for a fairy-tale wedding!

It takes years and years and LOTS of funding, as I’m sure you can imagine, to restore and maintain these treasures. Of course, all good things, if they are to remain good things, require care and attention. I am so grateful for those willing and able to do what it takes.

Wishing you beautiful things–and more importantly, relationships–worth caring for and the motivation and resources to do so!

Old Menhir and the Sea

Near the Site des mégalithes de Locmariaquer

Bretagne-Part 3: Since I love to be in France in May, I have managed to celebrate several birthdays here, this year included. Friday, the 24th, our goal was to tour the northern coast of the Golfe du Morbihan, where we saw things WAY older than I am, including the megaliths of Locmariaquer and the alignments of Carnac, Ménec and Kermario, with hundreds and hundreds of stones standing upright and, well, aligned. Not a simple task for prehistoric people, so very mysterious, both the how and the why. You can see them yourself on Google Earth, like these menhirs:

Alignements de Kermario – Be sure to notice the sheep and bird for scale. These are huge.

Funny aside: In trying to confirm various details, I Googled “menir” (accidentally misspelling “menhir”), which led me to an article I could sort of translate, because it was some variation of French or ??? If you know, please tell me in the comments! I put it into Google Translate hoping to identify the language, but no luck. Google “detected” French.

Here’s an example: On menir . . . , c’ est ene grosse pire dressêye pås Omes. . . . 

Here’s how I would translate this, first to standard French: Un menhir . . . , c’est une grosse pierre dressée [pås Omes???]

Now English: A menhir . . . is a large, standing stone [no idea on the “pås Omes” part, but I kept it in to show you the cool accent and for Google Translate’s hilarious version]. . . .

Now Google Translate: It is worse . . . , it is a lot worse dressed up in Omes. . . .

I’m still laughing.

Then on to the sea!

Quiberon, Bretagne, France
Quiberon, Bretagne, France (photo by Pascale)

This was one of my 17,000 step days, and it was worth every one of them. We returned to Auray via le Côte Sauvage (the wild coast)– gorgeous.

Le Côte Sauvage, Quiberon, Bretagne, France
Le Côte Sauvage, Quiberon, Bretagne, France — Love the light!

Back at the hotel, Pascale asked the advice of the hotel receptionist for somewhere fun for my birthday dinner, and we ended up here . . .

Crêperie 1900 – Pascale and I kept jumping up to take more photos
Crêperie 1900
Crêperie 1900 (photo by Pascale, obviously)

. . . the quirkiest, kitschiest crêperie you can possibly imagine, but the proprietress / server / chef was friendly and the food was delicious. Super fun day and evening. So another year with my dear ones celebrated and even a bit of wisdom gained. 😉

Note to self: No matter how old you are, do NOT dress up in Omes! Thank you, Google Translate, for this fashion tip.*

And of course, many thanks again and again to Pascale and Jacky!

*If you have a favorite Google Translate fail, please share it in the comments!