29 through 31 May – Not doing much

29 May

I decide to run up to the bakery early this morning. As I walk up the alleyway to the square I hear all sorts of shouting and it doesn’t sound good. When I arrive at the square there are maybe 15 young men squaring off against each other. The villagers are on the periphery mostly looking interested in the ultimate result. I skirt around the crowd and into the bakery. I ask Madame what the problem is. She says it’s the usual: Gypsies and Arabs fighting. Those two ethnic groups are the current objects of many French-persons’ ire. The ethnic problems are a big reason not to move here!

30 May

Gosh, we are lazy AGAIN! We make home-made chicken jerky for the dogs. Boy, are they grateful. We have omelets with leftover scallops for dinner. Yum!

31 May

Need I say that we are being lazy? We cleaned the house a little. I stand in line at the post office and send a few cards in the mail. Howard makes sardines with pasta.

 

28 May – Dog Groomer and Canal Locks

Today the dogs visit a real French poodle groomer. I hope I have prepped them properly and that the groomer won’t look down on me with a French snear.

Marie comes to our place to help find the groomer and help explain what we want. While the dogs are being tortured, I mean, groomed, the three of us will go sight-seeing in Bezier. The GPS lady finds the way to the groomers but parking on the really busy street is another challenge. I find a small space across the street from the groomers in between a real parking space in front of me and the corner behind me to at least rest while we decide what to do. Marie says “Good enough!” and tells us all to get out. She ushers us across the street, stopping traffic as she goes. The couple who are at the groomers are very nice. Marie tries to convince us to have Lucien cut with “bracelets” around his legs. You know what that looks like! He would be like a silly poodle show dog. We say “No” and the lady shows us a picture of the perfect poodle cut and we say “Oui!”

We have about 3 1/2 hours to “kill” and Marie takes us to the Midi Canal locks. The canal system reaches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

Sign along the Canal du Midi
Sign along the Canal du Midi

The canal is mainly used for recreation–there are boat and barge rentals where you can sail your own boat; very expensive and, I’m sure, luxurious barge holidays in which you have a crew catering to your every need; and tourist day cruises. Much of the canal is shaded by beautiful plane trees which unfortunately are succumbing to a fungus and eventually will die out. There is hope that they have found a resistant variety of plane trees that will be planted in my places where the old trees have been removed.

To move all these boats and barges from the east coast to the west coast there is a country-wide lock system whereby the boats can gain or lose elevation as they make their way across France. Beziers has 9 locks and it is incredible to watch the boats travel through the locks. In Bezier the canal goes over the river and that is an amazing sight. Imagine a canal on a bridge over a river. It is a sight to see.

Christine and Marie on Canal "Bridge"
Christine and Marie on Canal “Bridge”

The canals are bordered by a path or sometimes a small road so it is a lovely promenade for anyone who would like to walk it or a bike path for passengers on the boats as the boat goes on while the biking passengers follow.

Howard is enjoying photographing the locks and the activity. There is a Frenchman taking pictures also and he shows Howard that he is using the next generation of Howard’s camera.

We spend a lot of time enjoying the activity at the locks and taking a nice walk along the canal. We decide to go to Marie’s home and have a sip of wine while we wait for the doggies to be done. Now all the driving directions are in French–Marie’s French. That takes a lot of concentration! I must be vigilant watching the other cars on the road AND translate directions in French in my head as I drive. She is a wonderful hostess at her lovely apartment. She and her mom rented the place together a year ago. Now that her mom is gone the rent is difficult for her to swing as a single person.

Marie serves us a lovely rose wine in beautiful wine glasses. I break my glass! I cannot believe it! Marie says I am channeling her mom because she’s the only other person who has broken a glass. I am incredibly apologetic and want to buy a replacement. Marie shows me she has 10 more glasses in the cupboard (in fact that woman has more glasses of every shape and size than anyone I know!). She says she will never have 10 people at her house at one time so stop fretting!

We find a parking space right in front of the poodle parlor. The dogs are BEAUTIFUL!! We drive back home together and invite Marie to stay for a scallop lunch. Getting everyone, including the dog, especially the dogs, out of the car is crazy.

Our lunch conversation is frequently punctuated with me saying “What?” “What did you say?” But I think we did pretty well. I am amazed to say that my brain did not burst during our afternoon together as it so often has threatened to do after having to speak French for a prolonged period of time. Maybe there’s hope for me and my French!

We schedule Marie twice a week for the next 3 weeks. That will guarantee that we get out of the house and do things. We also schedule a good-bye lunch for June 19th. Our idea is to have a quintessential American lunch–whatever that is!

About 7 pm we hear someone coming up our front steps and then knocking on our front window. Our nice neighbor tells us that the car door is open. (The car is parked on the street a little ways up the road from our house.) At once I remember I left it open when I quickly tried to help Marie with the dogs! Boy do I feel stupid! I thank our neighbor profusely and make sure the car is secure for the night.

26 through 27 May – Lazy days

26 May

Now that we’re all by ourselves we will start to be lazy and feel guilty about doing nothing here at home. We sleep in! We have nothing to do until Wednesday when the dogs are scheduled to go to the groomers.

I have decided that the China-produced chicken jerky treats I bought for the dogs are too much of a risk and I throw them out. At the grocery I buy Purina dog biscuits. No one will eat them!!! I need to think of another option…

It rains today; I do a little laundry. The big project is to brush out the dogs so that they are in good shape for the groomer. If the dogs’ hair is matted, the groomer may well just shave them to their skin. I really don’t want that. They need to match the photos on their travel crates in case they get lost (heaven forbid!). So in the process of brushing them I get snarled at; whined at; screamed at (when the hair mat is particularly bad); and threatened with bites. (Teeth hit my hand but there is no open skin!)

We have delicious turkey tenderloins with tomato sauce and pasta. We sit upstairs for the evening. I find a lamp that stretches to the sofa so that we can read. Later I plug in a Dr. Who DVD but for some reason I can only look at one episode. Bummer! I love Dr. Who!

27 May

We continue to be “paresseuxs”–lazy people. Marie giggles when we call ourselves that. I think she’s amazed that we know the word.

I continue the dog torture and they try to torture me.

Howard fixes DELICIOUS scallops. I cannot believe how wonderful the frozen scallops are! He can fix that for me every single day.

 

25 May — Montpellier

Today the Kohlmanns leave–BooHoo!! They will spend a few days in Barcelona before heading home.

Since they will be leaving from the Montpellier train station, we are sight-seeing there for the day. It’s a bit gloomy but thankfully it’s not raining. I’ve searched on TripAdvisor for recommended restaurants so we go off in search of a great place to eat. A very nice lady finds us pondering over the map and asks if she can help us find our way. She knows exactly where the restaurant is that we’re looking for! When we arrive she is really out of breath and I realize that she helped us even though she is not well.

But unfortunately that restaurant is closed. Just at the corner is a lovely square with tables under the massive plane tree. It’s a good sign that there are lots of people already at the tables so we say “why not?” Our server is a cute, young man who tells us that we are in luck because he speaks English. We ask how he became so proficient in English. He tells us he was born in France but lived in New York for a while.

We start with Sangria. Gene, Howard and I have the “plat du jour”: A fantastic sautéed mélange of salmon, shrimp, Provençal vegetables and olives. Sheri has a delicious ham pizza which she nicely shares with us after we’ve gobbled every bit of our dishes.

We take a very leisurely stroll around the town visiting the Arc de Triumph square. There is a wonderful view of the city from there and you can see the ancient aqueduct that brought water to medieval Montpellier. There is also an antique market in the square and we enjoy looking at all the old French items.

We head to the train station to make sure the Kohlmanns are ready for their train and get them settled. We look for the homeless man to thank him for finding Toby’s collar and give him a little money but he’s not to be found.

At home that night we lament that the house is awfully quiet.

 

24 May – St. Guillem le Desert

It’s Mother’s Day and Marie gives me a rose! She is the greatest!

Marie is VERY upset that the groomer we booked has called and cancelled. I cannot understand everything that she says but I think she told him her “client” was counting on this appointment but then I guess he says “tant pis” which means “too bad.” She’s pretty mad but I say “Pas grave”–it’s not important. We look at listing in the phone book and Marie finds a place and books an appointment in her town, about 20 minutes away.

We take Sheri and Gene to St. Guillem le Desert, one of the certified most beautiful villages of France. And it is! We have been here more than once before but today the weather is gorgeous and the village seems more beautiful than we’ve ever seen it.

The Sheri, Gene and Christine in St. Guillem le Desert
The Sheri, Gene and Christine in St. Guillem le Desert

The drive up the mountain is challenging and stressful. The roads are incredibly narrow with lots of switchbacks and the French drivers are not prone to caution. But I make the journey without marring the car’s finish–I am amazed it is so!

We find a parking space–what luck! We arrive in the village at the square next to the abbey. A huge, ancient plane tree anchors the square. There are several restaurants with outdoor seating circling that massive and incredible tree.

We decide to have lunch right away; I’m concerned that the restaurants will fill up quickly. The place we choose has cassoulet (which Howard had been looking for) and savory crepes (which Sheri has been looking for). The guys have the cassoulet and the gals have crepes. Dessert for Howard is a colonel; a sugar and lemon crepe for me; and the Kohlmanns share a caramel gelato sunday. Wow! It is a great meal in a beautiful place surrounded by perfect weather.

We take a long leisurely walk through the alleyways

St. Guillem le Desert Alley
St. Guillem le Desert Alley

of the village and are amazed at every turn how lovely this is. There is a photo opportunity at every corner.

 

On the way back down the mountain, I want to show Gene and Sheri the amazing gorge that has been cut by the Herault River. It is not easy to find a place to park so that the Kohlmanns can walk across the bridge over the river. I nearly get myself locked into a driveway to a small parking lot but I quickly back up and out before anyone hems me in. Gene and Sheri say they are satisfied as I very slowly drive across the bridge.

 

22 through 23 May – Minerve and Collioure

22 May

We take Sheri and Gene to the picturesque village of Minerve.

Memorial to Cathars Burned at the Stake
Memorial to Cathars Burned at the Stake

They think the little town is as neat as we do. We hike around a bit and then decide it’s time for lunch. We look at a few places and, as we wander the little alleyways, we are surprised to be greeted by a lady with samples from her chocolate shop. How can we resist? She also has nougat–I LOVE nougat! So I buy nougat and Sheri buys dark chocolate. The lady is a bit pushy. Sheri says she would like about a third of a very large piece of chocolate as indicated with her hand. The lady is sure that Sheri wants the larger 2/3 of the piece. Nice try…

We look at a few restaurants’ menus but we eventually settle on our “usual” place, Les Troubadours, for lunch. This is our third time here–the lunch is so good it’s hard to resist. We, as usual, have the luscious duck confit. The server is the same young lady that annoyed me so much the last time we were here BUT she is as sweet as can be this time. The last time she insisted that she did not speak a word of English but today she gives us a little help as we order. Our side dishes to the duck confit are delicious: eggplant, turnips, cannoli beans, baked cherry tomatoes on stem. It was a great day!

Tonight I hear an incredible wind when I go to bed. I hope tomorrow is nice.

23 May

Today we show Sheri and Gene Collioure! Marie arrives at 9 so we can be on the road early. It is a beautiful day. Of course we give them the usual tour.

Boats in Collioure Harbor
Boats in Collioure Harbor

We sit at the harbor-side cafe and enjoy Sangria. It’s so lovely and comfortable we have lunch there. Sheri has goat cheese and smoked duck breast salad; Gene has steak and frites; and Howard and I have squid with frites. We wander the alleyways and peek in the shops. Howard eventually finds himself at the knife shop; for him it is addictive and I feed his addiction since I love the knives too. Howard buys a beautiful, hand-made kitchen knife by the shop’s owner: Gilles Treillaud. His wife runs the shop and she has been very helpful and gracious every time we’ve been there; this is our third time. If we are here on another trip we need to visit his shop in the nearby mountains: Atelier 20 rte St Barbe 66320 Rodes, France (gtreillaud@wnanadoo.fr).

It rains a bit on the way home.

 

18 through 21 May – Good lunches

18 May

The Kohlmanns arrive tomorrow! I spend today shopping and getting the house ready. On my shopping excursion I see a dog in a car with all the windows rolled up and it is hot. The poor thing is stuck in the very back of the vehicle because it’s behind a barrier. The sun is shining right on the back window. I check all the doors and they are locked. The store closes in about 10 minutes so I decide to wait. The couple who own the car finally arrive and in my very best French I tell them that the dog is very hot in the car. The man says “Non!” and I emphatically say “Oui!” His wife says thank you and I walk off.

19 May

It is raining! The Kohlmanns are to arrive about 12:30 at the Montpellier train station. We had planned to have lunch and tour the city before going home. We decide to put off the Montpellier excursion until the day they leave; we’ll have plenty of time that day.

So we head back home and stop at the grocery store to pick up something to cook for lunch. Howard fixes delicious sautéed chicken. We are able to get Gene and Sheri settled in and I think the day turned out for the best.

 20 May

We are off to a slow start this morning so I call Marie and ask her to come at 11. Then we head off to nearby Pézanas.

We easily find a parking space and are our way into the historic old cité. It’s always fun and interesting to stroll through the ancient alleyways. We stop at the shop that has handmade cards–even the paper is handmade! I buy a card that says something like “A postcard is much better than an email” to send to Patty. They also have a small poster that has a dead blue bird with an arrow through it that says “Twitter sucks.” Very clever stuff.

We have lunch at Les Palmiers, the place we ate at May 1 with the Baileys and the Franks. The same great lady was there to serve us. Bart said that if we ever came back we needed to have the pork…so we did! It was incredible. Sheri, Gene and Howard had Steak Tartar for a 1st course;

Steak Tartar at Les Palmiers
Steak Tartar at Les Palmiers

I had a delicious layered eggplant and goat cheese dish. Sheri and Gene shared their first course. Our server placed an empty plate in front of Gene before she brought our first courses and said “Bon appetit!” We all had a good laugh.

21 May

We had planned to go to a great street market in Clermont L’Herault, purchase something for lunch and then go home and enjoy a home-cooked meal. Unfortunately it was raining “chats et chiens” (cats and dogs)–and I mean REALLY raining. It actually wasn’t raining when we hit town so we thought we’d have time for coffee and croissant. But as soon as we left the cafe it was a downpour.

With umbrellas in hand, we began our shopping excursion. We bought a couple of “bouquets” of baby artichoke, nice tomatoes for baking and a couple of rabbits. By that time we were drenched so we headed home. Howard fixed his wonderful garlic rabbit and we had sautéed artichokes and baked tomatoes.

17 May — Garden Festival

Today we are spending the afternoon with Catherine and Stephen. There is a local attraction, the St. Adrien Gardens, that is supposed to be spectacular and there is going to be a Venetian festival today. I have arranged for Marie to come at 11:30 but the Harleys are going to be here about noon. I call Marie and leave a message to come at “douze heure”–12 o’clock. Now this may not be entirely clear for non-French speakers but, trust me, “deux heure” (2 o’clock) when a nonnative person says it, sounds pretty close to douze heure. So Marie thinks I want her to come at 2pm instead of noon. She calls Catherine because she wants to settle on a date for lunch at her place and casually says she’ll see her at 2 o’clock. Catherine says “Quoi!” (What?) and calls us. So I have been informed that I should NEVER say “douze heure” but instead say “midi” (noon). So thankfully that’s settled and Marie arrives not much later than “midi.”

Another “bad French” story starts with me teasing Marie that we will find her an American fiancé. We joke that he will be rich and handsome. Then I try to tell her that he should be young. The French word for young is close to the word for yellow. When I hear her say something about “Chinese” I realize my mistake.

Before the garden festival we are off for lunch at L’esparagus. It is not far from home and the Harleys highly recommend it. For the first course everyone but me has the skate terrine. I have a farm (like pate) terrine. I have stuffed quail and it is fabulous. Everyone else has pork and they enjoy their lunch too. We have chocolate mouse and chestnut ice cream, and poached pear and pear sorbet for dessert.

The St. Adrien garden is spectacular!

Jardin de St. Adrien
Jardin de St. Adrien

In 1988 the current owners bought the property, an abandoned quarry. They have succeeded in transforming it with huge ponds, waterfalls, incredible plants and an amphitheater for concerts and plays. About 50 men and women were in elaborate Venetian masquerade costumes. It was a pretty amazing sight.

Venetian Costume at Jardin de St, Adrien
Venetian Costume at Jardin de St, Adrien

16 May – Lunch at Hartley’s

We are getting our hair cut today! The end result is that my VERY short ‘do makes me look like a chic, French woman. Howard looks equally nice but not very different from the usual. We went to the shop Catherine goes to. Everyone was very nice. There are two English speaking clients that offer to help with translations. On the whole I think my hairdresser and I did pretty well. Her co-workers expressed surprise when she was able to come up with some English phrases. We were looking pretty shabby but now we are lookin’ not too bad.

Then off to Catherine and Steven’s for lunch. It is a beautiful day with not too much wind although we eventually needed to move from one terrace to another when the umbrella started to fly away. The Hartley’s say this spring has been unusually windy. I truly couldn’t live here if it were this windy all the time.

We enjoyed our lunch wind-free on the front terrace. Catherine prepared an incredible chicken curry meal. It was served with rice and a wonderful eggplant side-dish. We ate every bit and sucked the bones dry. The clafoutis, a traditional French dessert, was made from the cherries that are just now showing up in the markets. Yum! The four of us talked about our recent adventures. Howard and I talked about our great visits with our friends and our sight-seeing trips. The Hartley’s told us about their trip to England and a recent overnight camping trip in their restored vintage VW camper.

15 May – Lezignan-Corbieres

Marie is here today and we are off to the small, nearby town of Lezignan-Corbieres. That is Marie’s suggestion for a day out. The route takes us through Capestang, the town with all the road work, only this time it’s 100x worse. We are at a full stop for at least 15 minutes to let TWO “convoi exceptional” (trucks with wide loads) go by. I swear we had to suck in our breath to make the road wide enough for those trucks to go through.

We stroll through the town. The church looks interesting but we can’t go in. I’ve never seen so many real estate offices and hairdressers. (Catherine later says that many/most French women go to the hairdressers once a week so the services are much in demand.) We look high and low for an interesting restaurant. We finally go back to a cafe we saw when we first started our promenade. The chalkboard said “Croque Monsieur,” essentially a cheese sandwich with béchamel sauce on it. It is a fabulous French specialty. We sit down and order a beer, a welcome refreshment after a pretty long walk. But the barman says they are not serving lunch! So now what?? I remind Howard that we passed a small pizza place before we got to the main street. We go back and are amazed that what looks like a little pizza place has a huge and beautiful garden. We have our lunch al fresco and we are hardly bothered by the wind. The place is called La Fumée. We both have nice salads. I order a pizza with olives, bacon (nicely smoked) and crème. Howard orders a pizza with chorizo and merguez sausages. We had a very nice lunch in a completely surprising environment.

When we get home I find that we have received an email from a lady in Lucca who is interested in dog sitting while we are there at the end of the month. She is a Great Britain-trained vet who is now a certified tour guide for Lucca. She also has a room for rent on Airbnb.com. We look at her Airbnb profile; I search on the Internet for any bad postings for her. She appears to be just as she says she is and we make a deal. Hurray! She is going to help us set up a tour plan in and around Lucca. Her dog-sitting services are way underpriced; she says she is new to dog-sitting. I tell her what we are paying Marie and that we would agree to pay her the same. She is delighted.