Archive for December 2014

Fifty Steps

December 29, 2014

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There are fifty tile and stone steps in my new abode, and sometimes as I trudge up and down I ask myself what in the world I’m doing here. I’m not the right age to be living alone in a house with fifty steps. I’m not the right age to be living alone. Is there ever a right age?

The year is drawing to a close, the hardest year of my life. I came here for closure, and to be surrounded by the past. And, if truth be told, to see whether that past could be made to spill into my present.

So far it’s an uneasy balance. To accept a dinner invitation means that I have to drive home alone at night, find a place to park as close to my house as possible, walk home alone in the dark. I did that last night, and it was shockingly hard to do. To print a simple page today reminded me that it was always Shel who changed the printer cartridges, who knew what should be plugged in where, what settings to fiddle to make our technology change homes and countries. I managed that too, but I missed him every step of the way.

The temperature, which was about 60° on Christmas Day, now hovers right around freezing, and the mistral is howling around the house. Somewhere a shutter is banging frantically, but I don’t know how to fix it. All I can do is wait for the wind to stop blowing, which can sometimes take days.

This afternoon I had a hard time making a train reservation to leave here in February, not because of the complicated French train website, which I’ve long since mastered, but because some voice kept telling me “just go home sooner, you know you want to, this is just too hard.”

But not long ago this place was all the home I wanted, and I could barely drag myself away. I came back to find out whether that home still exists for me here somewhere, or whether it vanished from my life when Shel did. And so I’ll stick it out, because I must, like making that walk home in the dark alone, because it’s something I have to face, like it or not. It’s medicine. I want to like it, but so far I don’t know how. I want it to heal me, but I feel so shaky.

One step after another, climbing slowly, hoping not to slip and fall. All I want is the one thing I can’t have.

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Noël Encore Une Fois

December 26, 2014

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I was wondering how I’d survive a Christmas without Shel, especially in Uzès, where we spent so many Christmases together. Although, I have to admit, we never had sheep for Christmas. Eric and Jessica came to join me here for the holidays, and a couple of days before Christmas Jess looked out the kitchen window, where we normally see this,

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and saw a procession of animals making their way up the street. After a while we heard singing, and went down to the Place aux Herbes, which is the center of town. I didn’t have the wit to take my camera, but Eric did, and there he captured these images

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of what turned out to be a sort of mini-Pastorale, with scenes all around the Place, and singing in Provençale. The best part, for us, was the way the sheep and goats stood up on two feet to eat absolutely all of the holiday greenery that had been wrapped around the huge plane trees that shade the Place in summer. That, and the camels, because really, you never see camels around here.

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That helped us get in the holiday spirit, and we made a little attempt at decorating the new house, a house Shel never lived in (and a good thing too, because it’s spread over four floors, and the number of stairs is pant-inducing and thigh-numbing). We also wrapped a few presents, because, as Jessica said, “It’s nice looking at presents.”

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Christmas Eve is when the French celebrate Christmas, so we made an effort too, eating oysters like everyone else in France on that night. Alas, our conclusion, since we raise our own, is that our oysters are far better, pulled out of the water and consumed within the hour, than the ones I bought here. Spoiled, we are, and we freely admit it.

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We’re also being spoiled this year by Cannelle, a little  kitten-cat who belongs to our friend Maryse. She’s gone up north to spend the holiday with her parents, and we’re cat-sitting, to our great joy, because we’re all missing our own cats, and a loaner cat is oh so much better than no cat at all.

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And then it was Christmas day, and we set a table for seven, including four old friends with whom we’ve spent many a holiday here. In the rush of things like making a complicated dinner in a totally unfamiliar kitchen I didn’t take any pictures except this one

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of cabbage leaves stuffed with a traditional French farce.  But there was an entrée of foie gras, mini-ballotine de pintade, and mâche, with a very nice Monbazillac, then a plate of coquelet au four froid, whose recipe you can find here, with sides of the little stuffed cabbage leaves, Romanesco broccoli with beure noisette, a purée of celery root, a little écrasée of Jerusalem artichokes lightly spiced with ras el hanout, carrots tossed with marmalade made by Chef Nathalie from the oranges at l’Institut de Français, and a sauté of morels and trompettes de la mort in Monbazillac and butter. Followling a trou Gascon  of Armagnac, we had a beautifully runny Mont d’Or cheese, with a vintage Port, and a Dutch apple pie made by Katherine, without which is just wouldn’t be Christmas in Uzès. I think that’s my record, to put six different vegetable preparations on one plate (see what you missed, Xavier, by not joining us?).

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And now, looking out the office window, I see Uzès returned to its normal post-holiday beauty. Tomorrow Eric and Jessica will leave for ten days, and I’ll begin to learn what my single life in Uzès will be like. Like all the other firsts since Shel died, I both dread it, and look forward to making it through. See you on the other side.

French Eye Candy

December 17, 2014

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This area is renowned for its art and the history of the artists who have lived and worked here. At the lovely Chagall museum in Nice, where you have to pay an extra 5 Euros for the privilege of taking photographs,

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we saw a huge collection of his works, mostly those with a religious theme. Leaving the museum we wandered down into the labyrinthine streets of Le Vieux Nice, the old town.

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The 17th century cathedral in old Nice is pretty splendid too, and the fact that we happened to walk in 15 minutes before a free concert didn’t hurt at all.

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The Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence is home to a phenomenal amount of avant-garde work, like this sculpture and this stained glass window by Joan Miro, whom I hadn’t known except as a painter.

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We saw work by Marco del Re,

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Ladislas Kijno,

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Damien Deroubaix,

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Pablo Picasso,

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Alberto Giacometti,

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and Christian Bonnefoi. For a small museum, that claims not to be a museum at all, they have a really astonishing collection, and I was delighted that the school thought we ought to see it, and took us there.

And now there’s just one more day of class, alas, then final exams, then saying goodbye to some people here who have really come to matter to me, then a train ride to Avignon, where Marie will pick me up and take me to my new/old life in Uzès. Reinvention never ceases.

Lunch In Italy

December 15, 2014

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It’s hard to say just why, but all of a sudden I had a hankering to go to Italy for lunch, just because I could. So on Saturday I set off with Xavier and Semra, heading to Ventimiglia on the train, with no plan except to have lunch, and visit the food market.

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In the event, the food market was more exciting than the actual lunch. The produce was spectacular, and unbelievably cheap in comparison to what we’re seeing in this part of France.

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The whole market was awash in artichokes, and many of them were already stripped down, ready to be made into a fresh salad with Parmesan.

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The salamis and cheeses were gorgeous, so much so that we had to return after lunch to buy some to take home. At lunch I had discovered gorgonzola cremosa, a mild and creamy cheese with the texture of a runny Époisses, and I had to have more. I have to say that it tastes just as good in my little student apartment as it did in Italy, and it’s a crying shame that we don’t see it in the States.

Ventimiglia also boasts a lovely little estuary absolutely filled with ducks, swans, and gulls.

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On the way home to Villefranche we got off the train and wandered through Menton, which was all lit up for the holidays.

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We had hoped to visit the Cocteau Museum, but arrived too late. Even though they were still open they wouldn’t let us in, so we had to content ourselves with glimpses through the windows of the interesting building. Our true reward, however,

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was a store window that presented the most fabulous photo op imaginable for Xavier and Semra.

And now there are only four days remaining in my stay here, although I wish I had another couple of weeks, four weeks not having been enough time to master all the grammar that I’d like to have perfected. Before I leave I’ll show you some art from the museums we were actually able to get into, and then I’ll be off to Uzès, my second home, to see what life holds in store for me there, as the holidays draw near.

Such A Pretty Life

December 11, 2014

IMG_8895 I’ve been neglecting to show you where I am, mostly because most of where I’ve been is in the classroom eight hours a day. And while that’s fascinating to me, I know that it’s bound to be somewhat less so for you. It’s hard to explain why I want to spend all day working on my French grammar, so you’ll have to trust me when I suggest that we all have our quirky desires, and this is one of mine. And then, cracking my brain cells over the proper placement of prepositions in such a beautiful place, well, that’s pretty primo. IMG_8822 When I wake up in the morning and step out on my balcony, it looks like this, when it’s not raining. We’ve actually had more rainy days than I would have imagined possible, but we’re in a sunny spell now, and we all love it. IMG_8730 This is what I come home to, when a glass or two of wine after class goes perfectly with the view. I have to say that it’s great to be back where $8 gets you a really nice bottle of everyday wine. IMG_8893 And in between, I’m here at school. IMG_8898 We take our breaks morning and afternoon in a gorgeous garden, IMG_8902 and this is our dining room, where we’re extremely well-fed by Chef Nathalie, IMG_8903 amidst the cheerful holiday decorations. IMG_8809 We’re just 10 minutes from Nice by bus, but I’ve only been there once so far, because I’m pretty beat by the end of the day, and spent the first of our three weekends here at home in my bathrobe with an unbelievable cold. IMG_8859 Luckily, though, we went on a wonderful school excursion to Saint-Paul de Vence, a town famous for its art and artists. IMG_8861 It’s a lovely little place, touristy, but in a bearable way, IMG_8863 since the shops and galleries have a lot of high quality stuff. IMG_8864 For once I wished I’d had time to shop, even though normally I’m not much of a shopper. We had a wonderful lunch there at Le Caruso, and if you’re ever in the neighborhood, I heartily recommend it. IMG_8885 We also went to Tourettes-sur-Loup, an almost unbearably picturesque, if rather deserted, little town. IMG_8870 IMG_8872 IMG_8874 IMG_8875 IMG_8876 IMG_8879 I’ve also seen some great French art that I want to share with you, but that will have to wait until next time. I’ve got to do my homework and get some sleep before class in the morning. It’s a lot like being a kid again, in the best possible way.