In Sicily I saw people walking along the rooftop of La Capella Palatina Arabo-Normann, so of course we had to go.
Intricate detailed facade.
But first we walked around Palermo, went to the open market, ate wild strawberries and sfincione, which is a like a pizza (from Palermo) its name comes from the Latin word spongia or the Arabic sfang which means sweet fritter (yesterday's post has a photo of us eating some...) The food is Sicily was everything I could imagine my Uncle Phil making... his olives, his caponata, cannoli... I thought of my Uncle Phil plenty while in Sicily.
The young lady in the church told us that to go to the roof top, "... you have to climb 204 steep step in a spiral stairwell," then without hesitation she added, "I do not think your mother should do it."
Well ha, that was like saying, "You gotta do it!"
So my Belle Mere did.
We all did.
204 steps plus twenty more on the outside.
Alice and me.
Proud-- the two of them.
And we walked around the dome too.
The view from the top was worth it.
In the holy water font, I put both my hands in and let every prayer I was meant to say, and every person I promised to pray for, and everything single thing I am thankful for pour out.
On our journey we went to Greece and Italy, my Belle Mere, Alice, French Husband and I travelled together for two weeks. We had a wonderful time, the weather was oddly flawless. My Belle Mere, her name is Monique, but I have always called her Bonne Maman, like the French confiture; Well actually her grandchildren called her Bonne Maman, so I did too, and so do our children. Anyway Bonne Maman rarely sat, and when she did I took this photo. She never said no to anything, was gamed for everything, no matter how many stairs or how far away. When we returned to the ship, she would go to the jacuzzi, the sauna and then dance until midnight. Some would say they hope to be like that at her age 86, but I say I hope to be like that now.
Alice was twenty thousand steps ahead of us, of course she is young, so it stands to reason. But considering she was hanging out with us three older folk I was impressed she didn't ditch us.
Alice leaves for her homeland in Australia in February we are going to feel the empty nest feeling again.
When we got off the ship in Volos (Greece) we took a taxi to Meteora. Talk about stunning landscape. Photo-opt central! This is the sort of place you want to drive around, pray for fog or clouds to give depth to your photos, and have the different play of light throughout the day.
If only I had my camera... but I gotta say the cell phone did a good job considering.
"The Meteora, literally "middle of the sky", "suspended in the air" or "in the heavens above" is one of the largest and most important complexes of Greek Orthodox monasteries, second only to Mount Athos. The six monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars, in central Greece.
Caves in the vicinity of Meteora were inhabited continuously between 50,000 and 5,000 years ago. The oldest known example of a man-made structure, a stone wall that blocked two-thirds of the entrance to the Theopetra Cave, was constructed 23,000 years ago, probably as a barrier against cold winds.
In the 9th century AD, ascetic group of hermit monks moved up to the ancient pinnacles; they were the first people to inhabit Meteora since the Neolithic Era. They lived in hollows and fissures in the rock towers, some as high as 1800 feet above the plain. This great height, combined with the sheerness of the cliff walls, kept away all but the most determined visitors. The hermits led a life of solitude..." Via Wiki
Nowadays there are stairs going to the monasteries, so you do not need to be roped up as before.
Up we went. Bonne Maman in heels with her clutch, "Are you okay?" I asked knowing the answer, but asked anyway, "Oui, oui, oui, just an everyday promenade." She likes to say things in three: "No no no", "Oui oui oui" and her favorite is a tsk sound, "tsk tsk tsk." I wonder if she wrote a blog what she would say about me. THANK GOD she doesn't.
We visited three of the monasteries.
We were told that in the summer the lines are miles long.
Though in January we walked right in. I do not think I would do it in the summer. Crowds are not my thing, nor the heat.
A few stairs here and there and everywhere.
Rather stairs then being roped up.
"I am the official photographer," I teased, "Strike a poise."
Since French Husband's mom lives on the other side of France we only see here a few times a year. This trip was special for Yann as he was able to be with her, for two weeks without work or daily life activities. I figured the least I can do was let them have their moment, and take photos to show you what a tough little cookie she is.
One of my favorite things to do is tell people my Belle Mere's age... Their expression goes into shock, and then they look her up and down, those perfect legs, her wrinkle free face (not fair!) and then they say, "Incredible." I do not say my age, but I have thought to say I am 95 just to have an incredible reaction too.
This is the loading dock where the monks use to haul up and down monks and supplies.
Stairs have my vote, and your vote too if you saw the drop.
On the left side of the photo you can see the rope bag that the monks still use to bring up supplies.
Monastery on a sandstone pillar.
We walked up there!
She stands tall
Most her age cannot.
Some younger than her cannot either.
And since she stopped dying her hair, nobody thinks we are sisters anymore.
You might have thought I was talking about the stone pillar in Greece...
No, I am talking about my Belle Mere.
When we arrived in Greece we knew we would visit ruins, my Belle Mere had heels. I kid you not. Plus a dress and a dress coat. She looked like she was going to church. Don't get me wrong, my Belle Mere is sportive, she has been her entire life. As she said to me when I asked if she wanted to change shoes, "Why, we are not hiking, just a small visit." You see up to about two years ago she hiked 15 miles a week, went to the gym everyday and swam.
Call her the road runner, I am the slug.
So in Greece we walked around the Messini ruins, I would venture ahead, then would wave to French Husband and Belle Mere, as if to say, "Yes come this way." When I saw the temple in the distance I worried if it might be too far, too many steps...
Nevertheless, I waved to come over, and thought they will decide if it is a go or not.
As they walked towards me I stood in utter awe of my Belle Mere, the temple stood, and my Belle Mere was its match.
Up and down these large steps in the arena she went.
The trooper, and French Husband with my purse that had everything we might need, but didn't.
I do not like carrying a purse.
Walking the long way around, or the sensible way around, slippery slope guided by a strong arm.
Note those tiny strong YOUNG looking legs!
So there I was exploring on my own, when all of a sudden French Husband is alongside of me by himself, I looked at him like I was a school kid on a day trip, "Where's your mom? Why are you not with her?" He grabbed me, saying, "Cannot I come and give you a squeeze?" I giggled, as he was giving me a squeeze I saw my Belle Mere in what I can only describe as, the photo of the trip!
I pushed that loving man away, grabbed my cell phone, wishing I had brought my camera on the trip, and prayed that it would at least capture what my eyes were seeing.
I wanted to yell to my Belle Mere, "Stop!" But I knew that would not help, so in the rain I held my cell phone as steady as I could.
My Belle Mere would later ask if she really is hunched over like that photo shows. I told her she looked lovely.
The seasons unfold each beautiful, each with its own rewards...
I have been surrounded by strong women. Seasoned with grace, courage and such admirable beauty.
My Grandmothers, my Aunts, my cousins, my mother, my Godmother, my Mother's friends, Annie and my Belle Mere.
I should be able to take on the world.
Up, up and up and up she went.
If we asked if she wanted to sit or rest, she would say,
"No no no."
and keep on going.
Sometimes I wanted to sit but heck if I was going to look like the wimp.
Whenever I saw a church I went inside and lite candles for Annie.
This particular church had plenty of beautiful icons.
Annie's light shines.
I wanted to dance in that beam.
We walked up and up and up... certainly to the moon and back.
The journey continues tomorrow.
The French Riviera conjures up images of an enticing blue sea. Where the likes of Coco Chanel and Brigitte Bardot mingled with the cicadas, alongside the parasol pine trees. Where famous towns such as Monte Carlo, St. Tropez, Nice, and Cannes recall a roaring twenties, with fashionable people wearing navy stripped shirts, and full leg white pants. Where sitting at a sidewalk cafe, sipping Pastis became a way of worshiping the sun with a tip one's sunglasses as a hello.
The French Riviera sparkles along a back drop of stark white cliffs. Where once-upon-a-time small fishing communities were common place along the way. Many of these small enchanting fishing villages and ports, are in my opinion, the heart of the south of France. Places such as Cassis, Sanary, Bandol, St Rafael... but more so the tiny inlet communities: Morgiou, Sormiou, Figuier, Port Miou... the list is as long as the twenty mile foot path that leads from Marseille to Cassis.
Cassis twenty minutes from our home, our back door outing, were we go to dinner when we go out.
I might have to buy s stripped tee shirt and white pants, though I would never wear them.
French Husband said I need to find a small folding table at the brocante, so we can have lunch on the port.
That I can do.
In the distance the Eiffel Tower of Cassis.
The Route de Crete.
Far beyond and below.
Pink is not a favorite color of mine, especially for a house by the sea... but in Cassis that is not the case.
When the waiters started to stack the chairs we knew
it was time to go.
Soon we will not have to cast our goodbyes at the end of the day.
A few years back we went to Naples, we had been there twice before, and 'cause it is such a wonderful place to be we went back. Pompeii is in itself reason alone to go to Naples. And then there is the food. And then there is the part of the city that is devoted to selling and creating nativity scenes.
Before we even docked I knew where I was setting my foot sails. Dreaming of place can lead to disappointment, in our mind's eye real life can take on a different shade called rose. Though I knew that would not be true, even though Christmas had passed by a few weeks ago, I was certain it would look as delightful as I remembered it. How could it not?
The street was less full, and most of the large sets had been sold. The artisans that I had seen a few years ago, were obviously enjoy a break after the holiday season. Other than that, it was exactly as I remember it. Small narrow streets, shop after shop of nativity artists, colorful facades, atmosphere so thick you could cut it with an imaginary knife. There was one shop in particular that I had my hopes on, three generations of nativity and santon makers, also the last shop that sells mostly antique pieces. I did not walk straight to it, but close enough, as soon as I entered I thought, why haven't I learned Italian?
Black and white faded photos adorn the walls, photographs of their father/grandfather working and creating nativity santons. In front of the black and whites are Italian antique santons... Some I remember from my last visit they are creations/or collections from the "grandfather" and are not for sale.
My hopes were on one of them.
A well for the nativity stood outside the doorway.
Parts of santons, feets, hands, head, and body ready to assemble, paint and dress.
One of the pieces from the Grandfather's collection. Though I think my name is underneath it somewhere... How I wish I could say that in Italian.
Clay Christ figures are painted the traditional way.
These two well soon be dressed. I bought them for a blog reader/friend who asked me to keep a look out for some.
Most of the pieces I admired were made by the grandfather. The others they had either they created or painted themselves. Their small artist studio is stacked high, we talked with sign language, smiles and the passion of having something in common that can bring understanding to people who do not speak the same words, but have the same "feeling" about things.
Guess which one came home with us?
The photos on the wall tell the story of their journey as artists.
Naples, Italy 2011.
If you had only one day to spend in Naples, Italy around the Christmas holiday what would you do?
That was the question we asked ourselves on our cruise. Since we had been to Naples twice before visiting Pompeii, we decided to explore the city's center.
An Italian artist creating a nativity landscape... I wanted to flirt with his gorgeous-ness. But felt kinda silly considering he was creating a symbolic womb of Christianity, plus I am married, older, and do not speak more than ten words in Italian two of them being, "Bacio Qui... (Kiss here)". But oh, that strong arm of his covered up in his leather jacket. Gosh dang, those Italians have sexy style even when doing something religious!
Naples conjures images of dark handsome men in alleyways, women on balconies hanging out clothes, narrow streets running along colorful walls, church bells ringing next to wafts of garlic perfumed air and pizza dough swirling landing in wood burning ovens, while young and old gather outside hand in hand, arm in arm with full ruby lips that you want to kiss but cannot because they don't stop conversing, kissing, arguing and embracing conversation which seems nothing short of passionate foreplay.
I dream of being Italian: Long dark thick hair, a tiny waist, full bosom, walking with my hips to the beat of la Traviata.... conversing with my hands that say something simple like, "Do you want dinner?" but read life and death all in one twist of the wrist.
And so Chelsea and I set off for a day in Naples with three goals in mind:
1) To walk aimlessly soaking in the atmosphere.
2) I mentioned to Chelsea that I heard that during the Christmas season one should not miss the street where artist show their handmade nativity scenes. Though I had no idea where that stree tmight be. 3) Chelsea shook her head, "That's my mother," laughed and added, "I heard we should eat Pizza."
Without a map, we set out on foot direction, "Pleasure".
Noting a long line of Italians outside a pizzeria we took that as a sign of a good eatery.
While waiting in line I noticed they had a take out service on the side. We ordered a pizza. I asked if I could take photos (by motioning) they agreed, motioning back that I had to take a photo of them with Chelsea.
Between taking our order, calling it out, smiling, kneading the dough, his pinched Chelsea's behind. (Note expression on Chelsea's face above.) He laughed, we saw no harm and laughed too. We were in Naples, the pizza was incredible, life was good, and Chelsea swore there was cheese in the crust. It was tender, light, with the perfect chew factor. Though I knew there wasn't cheese in the crust, instead it was centuries of experienced hands that knew just how to knead and pinch.
Across the street from I Decumani I saw another line of people going in and out of a bakery. Most of them came out carrying Rum Baba. After dining on our pizza from I Decumani on a street bench we headed towards the Rum Baba line. My stomach screamed, "FULL ALREADY!" Though my taste buds hollered louder to my heart, "Only in Naples for one day!" Then even louder, "...Naples is home to Rum Baba!"
''Traditionally, if you went into a cafe, you'd see a bunch of old guys ordering pieces of plain cake and pouring shots of (rum) or limoncello over the top,'' said Arthur Schwartz, the radio show host and author of ''Naples at Table'' (HarperCollins, 1998).
Although most associate babas with France, the dessert is arguably even more popular in southern Italy, where babas probably date back to the 18th century. This is when Marie Antoinette's sister Maria Carolina married King Ferdinand IV of Naples, Mr. Schwartz said, and there was much cultural and culinary exchange between the two sisters in France and Naples." New York Times
To say it was the best Rum Baba I ever ate in my entire life is to say that Chelsea had to knock me out and drag me back to reality because I wanted to have ten more. Chelsea said, "Mother, focus! Seriously you cannot eat another one let alone ten." God, I don't like it when she gets all grown-up on me. I walked away with a trail of drool behind me.
I regret not having ten more, plus another pizza.
Video attached: How to make Baba Rum: Rum soaked cakes from the Neapolitan cookbook -- enjoy these boozy delights from GialloZafferano, Italy's #1 food website.
Naples is a feast not only for taste, but for the entire five senses. A paradise of living history. The architecture, the crowded streets, the people, the sounds dance to an underground beat mashed-up with opera. You never know what to expect, except pleasure without having to dress up.
Via San Gregorio Armeno, the Nativity street, came upon us with instant love and fascination.
The presepe or nativity scenes, or santons/creche in French, are a love of mine. Though the Italians take their presepe to whole new level. Numerous shops, and vendors pack the the street (Via San Gregorio) with creative, nativity figurines in splendor variations. Jesus, Madonna and Joseph are but one of many of the figurines you will find. Perfectly detailed copies of household objects, gastronomic delights, exotic animals, houses, hillsides, plants, plus accessories to create your own presepe. Rolls of cork to create the mountains, ready-to-place houses, wells, waterfalls, fountains, columns, trees, grasslands, bridges, towers.... most items are handmade in Naples. Of course you can buy a completed presepe with or without the nativity pieces.
The presepes on Via San Gregorio, in Naples.
Art, as is. Aren't they amazing?
And as the Holy Night would have it I stumbled across an antique shop selling old nativity scenes. I felt like one of the wise men coming to the stable. Joy! Holy Wonder! Praising the high heavens. Thank you baby Jesus.
As the sun set we hesitantly made our way back to the dock withour taste buds bursting
we were not ready to sail.... though the sea beckoned.
"Having loved enough and lost enough,
I’m no longer searching
no longer trying to make sense of pain
but trying to be a soft and sturdy home
in which real things can land.
These are the irritations
that rub into a pearl.
So we can talk for a while
but then we must listen,
the way rocks listen to the sea.
And we can churn at all that goes wrong
but then we must lay all distractions
down and water every living seed.
And yes, on nights like tonight
I too feel alone. But seldom do I
face it squarely enough
to see that it’s a door
into the endless breath
that has no breather,
into the surf that human
shells call God(dess)"
– Mark NepoI
Photo via Google Images no direct source of the photographer to be found.
The main arcade street in Savona
Arriving in Savona, Italy we walked along the arcade, visited beautiful churches, admired the towers, strolled narrow streets which took us to other little streets, went to my favorite shop, bought French Husband a coat, then stumbled upon Vino e Farinata and with that took Savona to an entire new level: We met Claudio.
The arcade is tiled with a colorful intricate mural.
Narrow streets with everyday banners waving in the sunlight.
Inside one of the many beautiful churches in Savona.
Painted ceiling in one of the churches.
Sculpted gilded and painted wood choir loft.
Savona's colorful facades.
In a bank's window there was the most extraordinary antique pottery. I have never thought to rob a bank, but the pottery in the windows gave me reason to contemplate the thought, especially this piece.
Vino e Farinata caught my eye: The sign, the unusual looking pizza coming out of the wood burning stove, the long line of non tourists, the feeling that this was the place to be for lunch, that Sophie Loren might have made a movie here. The tables were way in the back and the line waiting was daunting
We met Claudio standing in line. He is Italian not tall, nor dark but handsome and someone who could melt the coldest heart.
He told us in Italian, "This is the place to be, I come here a few times a week, I haven't seen you before. How did you find it?"
Claudio soon realised we did not speak Italian, except for food words and "Baci Qui". Which Claudio laughed, "That is good enough."
He spoke French, saving grace.
We were two for lunch, and Claudio was by himself. I invited him to join us and he did not decline. He was in love with Alice, who doesn't speak Italian, nor French... but that did not matter one single little bit. Charmer and Charm they were in their matching outfits.
Claudio had "the usual" he ate very little of it. The waiter took us into the kitchen and by the wood burner stove, told us to pick what we wanted. The best part of travelling is meeting people and sharing a meal, and if I am fortunate enough to be invited into the kitchen, well then bury me, cause life does not get any better than that. This is magnify beyond the limits of truth to illustrate a point of great joy.
The real deal.
Pure delightful beauty: Apron, big stove, full swing of the pasta pots.
A stack of dishes as the prize.
A stack that size can only mean five golden stars.
One of the courses we had was stuffed sardines that were baked in the wood burner stove.
A garlic cod frittata
Our waiter who took us into the kitchen.
Alice's viewpoint, lovely photo.
Alice's photo of the semifreddo we shared.
Claudio's creme caramel and our semifreddo.
Wood delivered to the restaurant, since cars cannot drive down this narrow street, hand cut from the forest.
The wood was stacked against the entrance wall, where the line once stood to have their turn to the feast.
Just too good to be true.
I love this kind of stuff.
Claudio took the placemat, and we wrote our addresses on it, he cracked up: "I won't lose this."
He put it in his pocket.
Forever Italy with love.
I hope our paths with Claudio cross again.
Savona isn't that faraway...
Three hours away... from my home.
" Wine and Porridge "in Savona ; It is partly a farinotto and partly a restaurant , and you will taste the typical Ligurian specialties , and some preparations that you can only find in Savona . It is a simple place, from the family environment, at very reasonable prices, right in the historic center of Savona , and the old management without any concession to modernity.We tell you now of our tasty visits to this place.
The specialty of the restaurant is the porridge, but not limited to the classic that is also prepared to Genoa with chickpea flour , but also thewhite porridge made with wheat flour , delicate flavor and special, they do only in Savona. From Genoa we say that this porridge is a little different from ours, much more thin and crispy, but still very good. The porridge is also sold to take away, for those who want a snack or a fast food genuine and speaking in dialect." via Buttalapasta.
Vino e Farinata
Via Pia, 15r, 17100 Savona SV, Italie
A light in the darkness, a beast in the shadows.
The storm brewed under the sea, white caps waving to the sun with a graceful peak slowly surrendering to the shore.
The clouds simply gave texture to the sky, the blue sky, no threat of rain.
There was a light in the darkness, how it glowed, I did not see the beast lurking, nor did I hear his hiss. Wasn't it a melancholy hymn, repeating grace? How that tenderness in your eye spoke of hope... or was it longing for something yet obtained?
"Doesn't love conquer all?" The beast taunted him.
Then under those gentle waves, under that glistening sea, there with the sunlight piercing through the clouds, a distant siren sang, "Glorious life source! Oh what a triumphant symbol."
How could you hold on when the beast pulled you from underneath?
I have a confession to make, during the last two weeks French Husband, my Belle-Mere (Mother in Law), Alice and I went on a Mediterranean cruise. Which in itself is not a confession, the confession is that I cheated and wrote my blog posts in advance and had them posted automatically. I did not take my laptop, nor my camera, instead I opt-ed for my cell phone to take photos and used it three or four times to post to Facebook. In the last ten years I cannot recall such a break. It was much needed and felt divine to be disconnected. Overall I did not go online more than ten minutes during the last two weeks.
the different countries and places,
Most likely the next few days I will post about our cruise. We started in Marseille, went to Savona Italy where we met by chance an elderly man name Claudio and had lunch together. Then we went to Naples I headed straight to the santon/nativity streets and also had a baba rhum, the next stop was Kalamata where I asked the first Greek person I saw where could I have the best Greek yogurt, disappointment was nowhere to be found. So far it sounds like I followed my tastebuds around Europe... I did. After we sailed to Nafplio, the ship arrived early which meant we had two days to explore, after we went to Volos, grabbed a taxi to see the Meteora monastery... breathtaking. We sailed on to Athens where I tried to meet up with a blog reader Julia, but unfortunately we did not meet. It goes without saying what we saw... We had a few days at sea, the vast Mediterranean gently rolling us along where sea and sky are one, our last stop before home was Sicily.
Saturated color follows me when I close my eyes.
How much weight did I gain?
Go ahead guess.
Feast I did, and now famine will have to be my calling.
French Husband and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary on the cruise. Though the cruise was more about French Husband being with his mom. What a trooper she is! At eighty-six she walked, climbed, and danced alongside of us from morning pass midnight. Unbelievable appetite and she didn't gain a pound. My mother in law's stamina is incredible... many times I said to myself, "If I cannot do more than she can now, I will never be able to do so when I am seventy, let alone eighty-six."
Alice had her doubts about cruising, she felt a tad bit seasick at first and then the cruise life took over... She didn't gain a pound either, nor did French Husband, and they all ate as much or more than me!
Anyway we were a motley crew of happy well being.
Some of the steps my mother in law walked...
We took a tender to shore in Greece from the main ship. When we left the ship the sea was calm, but when we came back, what an adventure! But that story is for another day. My mother in law laughed the entire way as if it was a joy ride.
Orange trees lined the streets, but they were not edible.
A walk along the dock at twilight.
And then far out at sea we had a phone call...
Our friend, Thierry tried to take his life.
The empty shock, the utter feeling of helplessness, sadness.
We saw him today, many prayers are needed. Healing will be long from the monster called Bipolarism that is destroying his life.
Our cruise was one of many waves.
Prayers said at each and every church.
I lite candles for Thierry and Annie, side by side.
Annie was Greek.
My thoughts held her close. I imagined talking to her, asking her about recipes, places, myth and the soil that keeps us grounded to the soul.
I felt her hand as I walked among the ruins, by the icons in the churches, and while I ate desserts that I never heard of.
I could so see her sitting on her chair by the kitchen table, leaning towards me in delight, asking me what I thought about this and that.
I miss her beyond anything I can say.
Light reflecting on the ruins of the Parthenon.
Nothing remains the same and yet...
Have you ever tasted Garlic Bundle appetizers? Have you ever put something in your mouth and knew right then and there that you were going to gain two hundred pounds in the next few seconds? Have you ever refused garlic because you were worried about your breath afterwards? I haven't, though maybe I should. I usually just tell French Husband, "Eat those," as I point to the garlic whatever, "because I did, and two garlic breaths are better than one."
Garlic Bundles with a green salad,
roasted green beans and a bottle of wine.
I called Sacha and French Husband downstairs.
How to make Garlic Bundles
Peel garlic, lick your fingers, imagine your taste buds getting silly.Wash your hands,
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Cut the phyllo dough into three fingers wide strips.
Brush with melted butter, do not be stingy.
Place a chubby clove of garlic at one end.
Sprinkle finely chopped roasted walnuts along length of strip.
Roll up garlic clove and walnuts in strip, tucking in side edges as you roll.
Your fingers will be covered with happiness,
Dare not to lick.
Brush bundle with more generous liquid gold (butter).
Roll the Garlic Bundle in bread crumbs.
Repeat with remaining phyllo strips, one bundle after another.
Place bundles on a flat baking sheet.
Bake 20 minute or until golden.
For added pleasure, chop a few artichokes into the roasted walnuts.
Happy garlic breath to you!
I do not have a photo of the bundles, nor dinner. Taking photos at night does not show my good side.
The image of the outdoor table on a terrace was taken at La Madone.
Repost of a Favorite:
My niece Juliette was fourteen when she shared the French's most treasured secret cake recipe with me. She told me that she was going to teach me a classic French cake recipe. She asked me if I had some yogurt. Looking at her oddly I asked if we were making a French classic cake or had I misunderstood. Misunderstanding for me in those days was as common as breathing.
Most things take a lifetime
which is easily forgotten
with cell phones, wifi, cars-
Life is at our fingertips.
Whatever we want when we want it...click, snap, instant credit.
Such daily life routines, which use to be hours worth of labor, are readily available without much notice...
Time ticks on without us having to wind the clock-
Running water cold, warm or hot?
Need light, turn it on-
Buy bananas, tea, avocados or milk
in a town, let alone a country that doesn't produce such things.
strawberries, tomatoes, pineapples, zucchini
out of season.
A friend use to say before a meal,
"How many hands did it take to bring me this?"
French cafe, morning:
Walk straight to the counter, when the bartender looks at you, nod your head, point your pointer finger up, and at the same time mouth whisper, "Espresso please". Grab a croissant off the platter, pinch off a bit (do not bite into the croissant) and pop it into your mouth, when the espresso comes, down it in two gulps, do not wince if it is hot, glance at the paper, leave the amount on the tag. Say Merci, Ciao, and leave.
Doing the French cafes is not an art, but it looks like it when you see the French doing it.
It is such a part of their culture that they do it as easily as they smoke a cigarette without concern or shame.
Having a dog tag along adds to the look.
Sunglasses a must, the bigger the better.
Never put your hands on your lap.
Doing the French cafes is not just about having a drink, whether you are alone or not, doing the cafes is also about people watching. Anytime of the day. Giving the one over, or being looked at up and down, is not uncommon, the French check out everyone as if they are on a runway.
French cafe, afternoon:
After breakfast and the morning espresso/croissant scene, lunch comes into play. If you walk into a cafe after 11:30am and see some tables set up, and a few others bare, that means they are setting up for lunch. If you want a cafe either go to the counter, or sit at one of the table that is not set up.
12:30 is the beginning of lunch. Lunch is served until 2:30, but usually if you walk in after 2:00 they waiter will tell you they are closed for lunch.
At the French cafes choose a ‘plat du jour’ from the chalk board menu, or at the counter you can order a sandwich, a classic baguette sandwich is sliced down the center with butter, cheese, and ham, or butter and cheese.
Soda is not a common drink amongst adults. Though if you want a drink order an Orangina.
If you want water you will need to ask for it- "Une carafe d'eau, si vous plait."
Paris is changing, lunch is served nearly throughout the afternoon... but Paris is not France. Most of France adheres to tradition, lunch 12:30 to 2:30. How dare those Parisians breaking the rules, especially after I left and move to the south!
French cafe, after two:
French people meet after two for a coffee, if they haven't had one after lunch.
It is not uncommon to meet after two for a coffee, and chat.
Alcoholic drinks do not usually appear until after four, though usually after six.
Around four in the afternoon, a little snack from the pastry shop is acceptable.
Yes, in France there is an hour for every single thing you pop into your mouth.
When at the cafes in France, remember this rule of thumb:
Tips are not expected as they are already added into your bill. Though it is a nice gesture to leave fifty cents or two Euros for a larger meal.
When at a French cafe, after your order has been served, the waiter will not approach you again, unless you make a signal that you want something. When you are ready to leave you must make eye contact with your waiter and raise your pointer finger again. Often tourist think the French waiter is ignoring them, but that is not true. In France when you sit at a cafe or at a restaurant your time is private, and the waiter is trained not to invade your private space, unless you need them.
French cafes, after six:
Bring on the cocktail hour(s)
Known as the "Aperitif".
Drinks before dinner, not at dinner. Wine at dinner. Drinks after dinner. Coffee before four or after dinner, but not during dinner.
You see why cafes are so important? Drinking hours really means drinking hours.
French cafe after hours: Linger.
The most important rule of all if you do not want to look like a tourist... talk softly, not because your voice, accent will give you away, but because most French people do speak softly.
Please do the cafe thing regardless if it is 3:15 and you want a hot chocolate with a splash of cognac and tofu burger with french fries on the side.
An old book with images glued on each page.
A French 1900s Scrapbook.
This postcard says: The Warm Hand.
Out in the garden taking a break...
I assume this was a girl's scrapbook.
Did you notice what is used as a rug?
The harpist and the singer.
In between seasons.
In the book turned into a massive scrapbook (often found at the brocantes) there are well over a hundred pages.
I adore this one.
The bold date,
the book in hand...
or your daily dose,
whoever the scrapper of this book was, one thing is certain...
The last images reads: The Best Remedies, oh name a few of yours!
The scrapper of this book cut pages out of old books, magazines, journals, used postcards... there are no notes, indication, or clues to who, what, where... I will post more but first I am going to look through it...
Do you "scrapbook"?
In a room that use to be Sacha's I have invaded. Bags full of brocante come and go. Sacha's room isn't large, things are stacked. When people come over to shop I have to have a heads up... otherwise there is nowhere to walk. I call it: "The Disaster Zone" because rarely is it orderly. Messy never was a word used to describe me... until I started the online brocante. The Disaster Zone is a new chapter in my otherwise tidy selfhood.
Sacha has lived away from home for nearly five years... though whenever he comes home he reminds me that his room is a mess, he has invaded Chelsea's old room.
Friends come over proclaiming, "You never have to go brocanting again. You have enough for ten years." Yet they do not see it come and go. Sure there are certain things that stick around 'cause I am not ready to let part with them.
Remember the statue I bought that fell over one night and broke. Well there she is with a chipped nose. Everyone wants her, but well how much do they want to pay?
"She is broken."
Funny how that doesn't bother me, she survived a great fall.
Then there is the book I took apart and made wallpaper out of... only to find out it is worth more than the wall.
Not really but kind of true.
First lesson about Brocanting...
When you find something you do not know about, look it up.
Endless fabric covered boxes, that store endless amount of beads, medals, keys, little things...
Jesus is going to America this weekend.
Two brocante buddies.
Baby steps towards not being afraid of dogs.
The other day at the brocante I felt something lick my hand, I froze not because it was freezing cold... but because, you guessed it, a dog was licking my hand.
Stuffed dogs are cute.
Dogs licking my hand, freaky.
Porcelain flowers found in Aubagne
now live in Seattle at Sheree's beautiful home.
Sweetest perfume, forever in bloom.
Over a hundred years strong.
Tattered, hand painted candy box... it said goodbye too.
Silk box with a barely-hanging-on-latch.
Someone had to save them, they still hold things and are far prettier than plastic.
Brocante is recycling. I am green.
Someone's hard work is now art.
Spun wool on a wooden spool board.
"Art Popular", as it is called in France.
Consumed by it.
What is your beautiful mess?
Menus better than cook books.
Putting things online...
I could put a hundred things online, and well... I would buy a hundred more, just to do it again and again.
Messy is a new world of perfection!
And then there are things that never make it to my online shop for one reason or another.
Glasses are not fun to pack.
Paper mache Statues in my friend Francine's shop.
Little horse trotted off to Georgia.
My friend Odile's shop... I am a faithful client, my first purchase in Isle sur la Sorgue was twenty three years ago.
See Girl Run,
Run Girl Run.
This came home with me.
This went with Carmen.
So did these.
Someone got these.
Herbiers in a massive frame.
One would need a massive wall.
I see so many lovely things.
Beautiful towns... for that reason alone I would go to a brocante and make a mess out of my son's room.
a short film about the brothers behind the brand
The day goes by, the fire warms the house, there is a stillness in the air that allows thoughts to rise with the chimney smoke.
The weather is so gentle, it feels like early autumn... though the other day while walking about I saw Irises in bloom, an almond tree bursting pink as if it were mid February, and violets growing around its trunk.
Another thought floats up the chimney: Where will we be in twenty or thirty years?
Where do your thoughts unravel and roam?
A curtain ring, tied with twine around some old music sheets.
A silver ex voto with a ribbon from years gone pass.
My favorite bowl, catching some light, waiting for tea and cream.
A toy compass.
A direction: Play.
Tied up marching band papers.
A girl with her deer.
1880 French postcard.
My Belle Mere is with us... sewing projects are taking shape.
Pillows with old silk altar cloth.
My friend Mo Reves d'Argile created these ceramic feathers...
Aren't they lovely.
What artist touch will you give today?
When I arrived in France I was thirty years old and did not speak more than three words of French. Some of you have asked me what was that like and how long did it take me to learn to speak French.
1) It was hard.
It took me a very
time to learn French. I am still learning. I have a very thick accent that doesn't bother me in the least. Nearly twenty years ago at a dinner party a man asked me if I could read in French. I answered that I could read basic French but not classic novels. I also admitted I could not write in French. In which he replied (in French) "Aren't you ashamed of yourself? After all these years you haven't learned?" I replied, "I am stupid." I thought I might as well tell him what he thought and avoid anymore of his insults.
The conversation about my French language skills ended, though the dinner conversation continued on lighter topics.
Years later when French people asked me how long I had lived in France I know in a small way they are judging my French. If I said, "Ten years," they often replied in one or two ways:
1) You speak well, but you have a very thick accent.
2. You speak like this after twenty years?
After awhile this sort of response started bugging me.
I thought I would change my answer so that we would all feel good. Therefore when a French person asked me how long had I lived in France I would say, "Not too long." They respond by saying;
1) Incredible! Your French is very very good.
They smiled and I smiled everyone was happy.
Yes I was bending the truth. But that was a fault I could live with. Unless God only spoke French in which case I would be busted.
I probably am busted for so many other things it won't matter anyway.
I speak French. I dream in French. I can follow a conversation in French. I started to speak French when I found out that I had cancer (over twenty years ago.) amazing what a little fear can do to one's language skills.
I can buy antiques in French. I can also kiss in French, make crepes, and I feel I have come a long way since the day I couldn't say more than oui and non.
Photos: French vintage pieces found in a scrapbook.
Tomorrow is Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas.
It starts with a baguette and wine,
Followed by one course after another,
With increasing mouthfuls of sweetness. Now we know why my best friend is elastic.
I love how the sugar was stacked at the restaurant.
After dinner: Dessert. For the last several years in France a trend that has gained more and more common ground is to have a Cafe Gourmand:
It is a step further in a general trend, in France, to have lunches in restaurants that are quicker than in the past. Back in the 20th century it was common as a minimum to have a starter, then a main course, then a plate of cheese, then a dessert, then a cup of coffee, and then a digestif. Then the starter ceased to be the accepted norm, and the plate of cheese became scarce, and the digestif disappeared. The "café gourmand" represents a further step, as ordering the dessert and the coffee in one go gains time, avoiding the need to have to call the waiter over to order.
What is your favorite part of the meal?
The table setting?
The wine and bread -
First course -
After dinner drinks?
The one you are with?
Fill your heart
Need not stuff it
it grows steadily,
Remember tenderly the shores
soaked with sorrow
harboring the boat without a sail
caress with grace and courage
and if it looks back... reassurance is needed
lead it with a gold star.
A crown on her head, roses of the softest shade.
Along the streets of France history surrenders itself to anyone who wants to see.
Caressing my path, filling my desire... I sigh.
"You are under my skin."
The petals of her crown land at my feet.
Though it is not all a bed of roses in France, no place every is, it is a matter of choice, it is a matter of how one sees beauty or the beast around them.
The hand of both reaches out asking us silently with determination:
"Which will you hold? The rose or the thorn?"
How many times have I wanted to knock on such a door, and take a peek simply to see what is inside...
"If it looks this good on the outside imagine what it looks like inside!"
Imagination helps weave a path.
So does trust, so does believing, so does holding on to that which is good.
Call me crazy, but I find this beautiful.
Some would say, "Yep, crazy!"
I could walk a thousand streets just to see more.
Have you ever felt something that is hard to explain, that has gotten under your skin, that leads you to yourself and sets you on fire? Like a song that makes you want to dance?
Love. Life. The age worn peeling wonder of it all.
Not shiny, not new, not in style, just standing the test of time, still winning hearts.
No need to change: Shutter, lantern, stone wall, roses climbing... Classic Provence.
"God, is that the gift I see?"
That I can be myself, simply me.
The history before me, the soul of time, I am a part of that, so are you, woven piece by piece.
All is good.
Like a crown above a doorway a few carved words remained: "Au Lait"
"Milk" it said.
"Cream!" I smiled.
Two hundred years old or more, I am so glad it remains.
France how did you become so faithful to old beauty?
A hinge on a shutter, with a curl at the end.
That is what I am talking about.
The moment of surprise, the wondrous little surprises!
The eye opener, that makes you catch your breath, quicken your step and fills your heart with enough "Wow" that smiling stays with you throughout the day.
Art without trying to be.
An artistic way, layer by layer, lives intertwined, with the passage of time.
Seeing beauty when nothing is telling you that it is.
Between two windows an alcove,
a pedestal of sort,
a base and a crown though the statue is missing.
Waiting for us to stand and say,
"Here I am."
An angel overhead,
under a broken window.
A lady walking down the street asked me, "What are you taking a photo of?"
I offered, "The angel above the door, with the broken window above it."
But under my breath I thought, "Capturing what I find beautiful."
Standing at the threshold of a collective moment: The first day of the new year- Welcoming the unknown future.
"Participate in your divine Presence."
How often have I thought of it since I heard it said several years ago? Usually during the first of the year, and also when I am being a grump dog about something that is annoying me which is usually ten times a day. To participate in my divine self... Or at least try. But often even trying doesn't register, and I resort to being plain me and shake my head, "Will I ever learn?" I am about as close to being divine as living on the moon.
"To be present to our divine being, that which is holy, which uniquely connects us to one another. To put our divine presence in front of us, to let it guide us."
And yet I easily walk the other way nine times out of ten. Giving reasons why it is okay to be lead by plain me.
And yet each new year's day for the brief moment that it is I reflect on the abundant love I have been given, of my beautiful family and friends that have come into my life. I would think I would be a more loving person considering, and yet I can say I have not made much progress.
Will this year be any different?
Only if I make a concentrating effort to change my ways.
And that my friend is harder than giving up gluten, meat, dairy, sugar, wine and the brocante.