08.05.2011 - 20.06.2011 25 °C
Anyone who's read about our life in France so far will agree that Eric and I are both totally, thoroughly, 100% obsessed with food. Food in general, and definitely the food in France. Thanks to the wonders of globalization, you do have to search high and low to sort out the good stuff, including when shopping at the weekly open-air markets.
Sun-dried tomatoes at the local market
The trick is to look for the words Ma Production or Pays or Provence on the market signs. Otherwise, who knows from where this food is coming, usually Spain or even farther away, like Africa, Australia/New Zealand or Chile.
Thanks to my favorite French food blog (ok, my only French food blog), David Lebowitz's excellent adventures living the "Sweet Life in Paris," we recently learned about random supermarket items in French grocery stores.
Perhaps you too are curious about "goofy" French foods; if so, click on the link to his article above to learn more. After I read his post, I thought, well isn't this something I could have written or at least figured out for myself? Then I realized that I never spend much time in those strange parts of the supermarket (think somewhere in the back, low lighting, random plastic packaging in high, disorganized stacks).
I immediately set out to explore. I didn't have an immediate interest in finding all the things on this list, just the roasted chicken and thyme potato chips. Eric thought I was totally crazy for buying them, but they were really good! Particularly for a picnic shared with friends!
Our roasted chicken and thyme potato chips making an appearance at the Boules picnic
I never found the "mystery" chips or dared to try the insta-croissants in a tube, although come to think of it, I did have a very similar experience at my Aunt Diane and Uncle John's house one time. We made crescent rolls, which I guess is the exact same thing in American English terms. Like David, I was absolutely frightened when the tube popped open to reveal a random, doughy mess! But it was quite convenient to have fresh croissants, er, um, crescent rolls, in just 20 minutes.
PICNICKING AND HIKING IN AND AROUND THE "PERCHED VILLAGES"
Speaking of food and picnicking, we have discovered that this is a wonderful place to live because of the local hiking opportunities. There are lots of free hiking guides at the mayor's office for different trails in the area. There are many local hiking groups open to the public, and we often see the local randonnée club passing our house around 2 pm on either a Tuesday or Thursday. This is proof that we are centrally located under the pines of Roquefort-les-Pins.
Les villages perchés, or so-called "perched villages" like nearby Mougins, Gourdon, Saint-Paul de Vence, and Tourettes-sur-Loup, exist in the nearby hilly regions all along the coast. They are too numerous to mention, but one Alpes Maritime web site attempts to give it a try, although for some reason does not include villages with "perched historic centers." (?!) Furthermore, the site explains that "to protect itself against invasions and misdeeds of the bandits of the middle age, the farmers built their houses away from their crops and surrounded them with ramparts." Lucky for us!
Recently, we explored the Caussols Plateau area just north and west of us.
Field on the Caussols Plateau
Stopping at the bakery to buy bread, our near-daily routine
Epi bread is perfect for a picnic because you can tear it rather than cutting it like a traditional baguette
Enjoying a picnic on a chilly spring day
Yummy tomatoes and mozzarella
Time for a nap
Oooh, this way for the magic "poney" rides!
I did another hike close to the Plateau and near the Gourdon castle with my new women's club friends.
At the back of the pack
Gillian and Maley, the Middlemarch Hiking Club's fearless leaders
A popular place for hang gliders, though we kept our feet on the ground that day
Beautiful views everywhere
Gourdon castle and surrounding countryside
SPRING AND SUMMER WILDFLOWERS - AND WILD HONEY!
The local wildflowers are almost as exciting as the food
Beautiful flowers everywhere
The locals collect these flowers to sell them in the market
In Roquefort-les-Pins, they plant flowers to match the color of the local bank
On one of our hikes, we discovered a local honey farmer, and of course we had to buy some honey.
Mmm local honey for sale
Lavender field in bloom
The most beautiful sight is the long sprigs of purple lavender planted everywhere, particularly in the grassy roundabouts you find about every 20 feet on an average French road. Of course, it's a bit difficult to stop in the middle of a roundabout to take a picture.
RANDOM PETS - BLACK AND WHITE NEIGHBOR CAT, MIPSY, AND FANETTE
Minou - here's the neighbor cat, inspecting our new car…
and later, in our window!
He sometimes comes into the house, but never stays for long. Eric has taken to calling him Minou, which means kitty in French, but at first I thought he said Mini-Moo-Moo.
Mipsy is a very entertaining cat with which I have been spending some time this summer. Unfortunately, every Mipsy pose looks exactly the same…
Mipsy by the pool
Mipsy lounging on TOP of the sun awning
Mipsy striking a pose (cover shot of Cat Fancy maybe?)
Mipsy scratching the antique furniture
Awh, shucks, are you taking my picture again?!
Yes, basically Mipsy lounging in different places
Finally! Mipsy in motion!
And for the dog lovers, or "sort of" dog lovers, since she is a very tiny little dog, we cannot forget Fanette. Fanette is not exactly a random pet because she belongs to Claire, but she's not exactly OUR pet. Nevertheless, we have a good time together. One day Fanette came over to our house, and we were dancing together to the Rolling Stones. This is how I figured out that her favorite song is "Dance Little Sister" by the Rolling Stones. Fanette is our little sister, and the true heroine of the story of our life in France.
All that dancing wore her out
Eric and Fanette - time for a snack
Looks like she got him! Ick!
Fanette likes doing yoga and also helping Eric do push-ups
When Fanette goes to town, she likes to be on the move
Fanette and Froggy, her new IKEA toy
Before heading off to the beach, Fanette got what the groomer called "le new look" (spoken with a French accent)
She didn't seem too happy about her new look, as the sun was much brighter to her than before…
but she didn't want to wear a hat
Visitor "season" in the south of France is usually in the summer, but this year, it started for us in the spring. Our friends "Dan and Anne from Andover" were our very first visitors in France! They passed through for about 24 hours, during which time we ate lots of sinful breakfast pastries, drove around in her cousin's car that had a rather luxurious French GPS, and managed to do a little sightseeing in nearby Saint-Paul de Vence.
"Yes, we'll take one of each please!" we said at the boulangerie… this was the day we discovered the amazing power of beignets (French donut holes)
We loved the GPS, especially since the directions on Google Maps France make absolutely no sense to us
Dan demonstrating their walkie talkies, which they used when they got separated
Anne and Eric, and who's that random guy back there taking photos? That's Dan, photographer extraordinaire!
We made a leisurely visit throughout the grounds of the Marguerite and Aimé Maeght Foundation, one of the best museums in the south of France - thanks Dan and Anne!
Eric especially liked the outdoor sculpture gardens, which Miró designed to accommodate the sculptures he created for the space
Dan taking a picture of a Giacometti in the main courtyard of the museum, right before he got busted for not purchasing the photographer's "badge" for 5 Euros (yes the French have lots of rules, most of them involving money and fees!)
Eric with his new "Man Purse," a fabulous gift from Dan
Our friend Jane also passed through Nice for a friend's birthday party a bit farther south of us. Eric was out of town, but I got up at 5:30 am to meet Jane for breakfast in Nice. I didn't take a photo since we were too busy eating and chatting during breakfast (plus it was so early!), but later she sent us a photo of herself enjoying the big fête.
La fête quoi!
Notice how having visitors equates to eating wonderful food and receiving gifts (future visitors, take note!)
OUR LITTLE GARDEN
We love the house, the pool, the big yard, and especially our little garden, which is growing so fast. Eric in particular spends lots of time outdoors, doing yard work and tending to the garden.
Our tomato plants in the beginning when they were small
And soon, our first tomato flower
Pool in the backyard
One day Eric did a little weeding
Time for the first spring lettuce harvest
Lettuce in the sink
Mmm fresh salad
First red tomato!
We are growing lettuce, tomatoes, basil, and zucchini, and finally, the tomatoes are starting to arrive. We are truly Provençal farmers!
Doing the laundry is very interesting in France. On the normal setting on our washing machine, it takes two hours to do one load! You can't really control the washer time, but you can change the force of the spin cycle. During the spin cycle, the washing machine sounds like an airplane taking off! As with many people in the south of France, we have no clothes dryer, so we line-dry our clothes. Thus, we are learning to adjust our laundry days carefully in accordance with the weather report.
"Boy, those French: they have a different word for everything!" - Steve Martin
Learning French is challenging and exciting, and is not always easy. From the moment Eric and I arrived to France, we switched from speaking English to each other to speaking French. "80% of the time" anyway, Eric says. Changing languages is a pain, especially given the fact that Eric is not super-talkative, while I have such a limited vocabulary. Oh well, it's immersion, and we like speaking French. Plus only speaking French forces you to get better at it quickly if you ever want to get your point across.
There are all kinds of sources of news and entertainment around us, but mostly I read the Femina newsmagazine that comes with the Sunday Nice-Matin paper. It takes me weeks to read a single issue, so now I have a big stack of them just waiting for me to get to them. Since moving to France, I also consult a rather random source, Kristin Espinasse's French Word-a-Day blog updates (which actually appear "thrice-weekly"). Kristin reminds us that one can spend an entire life learning another language and still not really get it completely right. Oh well, it's fun to try. Her updates are entertaining, and her photos are beautiful!
Eric writing a letter in French
Thanks to Aunt Thelma, we have a great French-English dictionary that we use regularly. The dictionary comes in handy when we shop for obscure items in the grocery store (corn flour vs. corn starch, for example, or what is that random product I saw the other day, and wrote down to look up, or what is the difference between fromage frais, fromage blanc, yaourt, and le Petit Suisse, and what exactly is cream cheese in French?!). Meanwhile, Eric uses the dictionary to write to his French relatives. They really enjoy his "write it like it sounds" style, and of course his handwriting is just as legible in French as it is in English.
Supposedly, Eric has a slight French Canadian accent (!), while I have a very strong American accent. Do I sound as sexy as the French when they speak English?! Aaahhh-ha-hahhhhh! Oooh-la-la! No matter if one can get one's point across, I guess, which also isn't always easy. It's always a sure sign of defeat when someone asks (in French), "Do you prefer to speak in English?" Mais non! I live in France! Ok, maybe if you want to.
BREAD AND CHEESE
Speaking of France, Eric, like most good Frenchmen could probably live on cheese and bread alone. Never mind the cholesterol factor. Don't the French walk everywhere or ride their bicyclettes around town to keep in shape? Cheese is a rather complex and enormous subject, but Eric's view, he says quite simply, "the smellier, the better." Right. Meanwhile, I am still searching for a simple cheddar to make homestyle mac and cheese, which is almost as difficult in France as finding a cheese that is "smelly" enough for Eric.
As for the bread, well yes there are a million different kinds and styles, but Eric sticks firmly to his daily baguette. Sometimes we will venture to try a banette, or a ficelle, or the epi for picnics, or once in awhile, the slightly larger polka - where do they come up with these names?!
I thought the whole daily bread ritual was a thing of the past, but not so in France. Eric will trek a good 30 minutes round-trip into town and back to fetch his daily baguette, although recently the price at our local boulangerie escaladed sharply from .89 Euro to .90 Euro. As this seemed merely to be an issue of rounding for convenience' sake, he was not easily deterred from buying more bread.
If we can't manage to finish the entire baguette after the lunch and dinner courses, we will freeze the rest in a plastic bag for another day. As you can imagine, our teeny tiny freezer contains exactly two things: ice and several frozen half-baguette loaves. When we run out of room, Eric resigns himself to avoiding the bakery for a few days. But before long, the random half-loaves are gone, and it's back to the bakery he goes. Frozen loaves can be left in the sun to defrost naturally, or better yet, popped into the oven to make them hot and crispy and almost good as new.
Photo Credit: http://www.rivieraradio.mc/images/g-logo.gif
So while Eric likes the bread and cheese, my favorite mood-enhancer is driving around in our little "new" car on the windy, narrow roads of southern France, listening to Riviera Radio!
Yes, we have a new car! It's a 24-year-old, fully manual everything, no power steering, two-door Volkswagen Golf with super-spiffed-up sporty wheels thanks to the previous owner, a British yacht captain who kept this car as a back-up for his Jaguar. But, of course. He also left the radio station dial set to 106.5 Riviera Radio, which we haven't changed since we got the car. When Eric drives, he plugs in the Apple Monster (le monstre in French), a tape deck converter to play music on our iPod, since somewhat fortunately, this is the second car in a row that we own with a tape deck! Yeah, vintage tape deck! Actually, it's the radio itself that is vintage, as it has an antenna that powers up and down when you turn the radio on and off. I love the radio itself almost as much as I love Riviera Radio! And as you might guess, when I set out in the car by myself, I leave le monstre far behind.
Now what could be so special about listening to a very posh-sounding, blatantly English-language radio station in France (technically broadcast from Monaco, technically started by a New Zealander, technically owned by - gasp - an American communications company)?! Well it is difficult to explain, but there is just something really special about a throwback radio station that "plays the songs you love, from the 70s to today."
They have exactly one very posh British male voice and one posh British female voice for recorded slogans like "The sun, the yachts, the cars, and the soundtrack to the good life" and "Our job is local news, the very best music, and fun." Here's another good one: "We hope you're enjoying yourself on the Riviera, one of the best places in the world." And my favorite: "Riviera Radio: the radio station for Very Important People!" When I listen to it, I think c'est moi!!
Did I mention that they play great music?! It's always a party at the station, especially in the morning during the "Full English Breakfast Show," sponsored by Geoffrey's of London, the British supermarket in France. The announcers discuss BBC and local news, weather, traffic, and the wide variety of restaurants, clubs, hotels and yachts found in Monaco, as well as whatever is going on at the moment.
Recently they covered the Monaco Grand Prix and Prince Albert II's and Charlene Wittstock's royal wedding weekend. The couple picked all the songs for two days, and on a third day, we listened to Eagles songs all day long in honor of the free Eagles concert that Prince Albert hosted during his wedding weekend. This prevented the announcers from playing Canadian songs for Canada Day on July 1st, but they treated the Americans to a good dose of Guns 'N Roses and Bruce Springsteen on July 4th. Born in the USA!
Photo Credit: http://images.radcity.net/6883/3851890.jpg
Rob and Pete, the "Full English Breakfast Show" guys, are as cute as they sound on the radio
I envision every DJ in the booth being exactly my age, realizing the powerful impact that a good 80s song can have on the psyche. When was the last time you heard Crystal Gayle's "Don't it Make my Brown Eyes Blue" on the radio? Who doesn't need a little Eurthymics or Wham or New Order or even Prince once in awhile?! Lionel Richie's "Three Times a Lady" always reminds me of buying my first record, and "Another One Bites the Dust" reminds me of roller-skating at the Sunset Skating Rink as a kid. And "Hot Stuff" always reminds me of cheerleading in high school! Get your pom poms out - go Selinsgrove Seals!
They do play some songs over and over, and they do have some dreadfully sappy love songs from The Carpenters or Simply Red or whatever, but mostly it's the catchy pop tunes that make listening and listening while driving particularly fun. The best part is that you, too, can share in the pure joy of Riviera Radio, if not in your car (or on your yacht), on your computer. Listen live now! And enjoy a little bit of Riviera Radio summer sunshine!