a marked absence of squirrels, open hunting season in town, a new feline friend, and Thanksgiving with the "Crazy Americans"
22.10.2011 - 26.11.2011 10 °C
Autumn is upon us here in Roquefort-les-Pins. After a six-week "sabbatical" in the states, not to mention a few months' break from writing random stories for this blog (Hello Readers, I'm back!), I came back to France to discover that things had turned, well, cold, and rather dreary. Summer was suddenly over, or at least it seemed to me.
Eric kept busy while I was away, mostly by gardening and making various home improvements to our tiny abode.
I returned to a fully stocked bar!
Our fabulous summer tomato garden was still there, although the tomatoes no longer turned red. We solved that problem eventually by making green tomato relish.
A true testament to Eric's superb gardening skills, one of our tomato plants grew to be about 10 feet tall!
Also while I was gone, a new feline friend started coming around. We had seen her around the neighborhood before, but recently her family moved away. They took her with them, of course, but she seemed to prefer the original neighborhood and kept coming back. After we met the family, we tried to help them by taking the cat back too. Each time, about two days later, she would reappear at our doorstep. It was probably Eric's fabulous cooking that drew her in initially, or perhaps it was Fanette's leftover croquettes.
Eventually the owners suggested that we keep her, so it seems that she's here to stay. We call her Kitty for lack of a better name. Fanette seems to like our new arrival, although she likes to chase Kitty around the yard sometimes. Kitty seems much quicker to detect Fanette's presence than the other way around, so that helps her stay out of danger. There is nothing worse than having to cross enemy territory just to get home.
Kitty and Eric working hard
Kitty catches a mouse
Eric and Kitty study up on how to become French
I discovered some very interesting things about fall in southern France. First of all, there are acorns everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE.
And what's up with the lack of squirrels?! Our friend Jan who lives across town, i.e. other side of the main road, commented one day, "Oooh, I saw a squirrel the other day, a red one." Hmmm, again, what's up with the lack of squirrels? And in such acorn heaven, too. It seems such a pity for all the acorns to go to waste. So of course, I did some research.
It turns out that grey squirrels are actually American grey squirrels (as a biology major, maybe I should have known this already), and it is the red squirrels that are native to Europe. According to the European Squirrel Initiative, American grey squirrels were first introduced in Great Britain in the late 1800s, and more recently in northern Italy in the 1940s. Larger and more aggressive than their European counterparts, grey squirrels encroach on native red squirrel habitat and also reduce the available food supply for the red squirrels.
In northern Italy, grey squirrels are expected to increase in population and eventually expand their territory into Switzerland and France. However, according to the European Squirrel Initiative's grey squirrel expansion modeling, we don't expect them to cross the Alps and reach southern France for about 100 years. So I guess I won't be seeing any grey squirrels here during my lifetime. Which is ok, because the red squirrels are pretty cute. Although I have yet to see one.
European red squirrel
Photo Credit: http://www.francethisway.com/wildlife/redsquirrel.php
For a delightful video about red and grey squirrels, including such memorable phrases like "And the way they nibble their nuts…," check out Bill Oddie's Top 10 video.
Another thing that I found startling when I returned to France was the presence of French hunters in the woods - that is, in town, right down the street! One day someone had posted a tir en cours sign. I racked my brain for the English equivalent of tir en cours - bike race, paintball match, tree-cutting, road repair? In any case, I could tell that there was "something" going on down the street. And sure enough, there was a hunter along the road in full camouflage, just standing there with a gun.
Apparently, despite a long hunting season (roughly September to February), French hunting laws are very strict regarding which species can be hunted and when. And as with anything else in France, the paperwork for obtaining a gun license in France is ridiculously daunting, including a theoretical and practical exam, fees and insurance requirements, so I will not be joining my fellow neighbors in their tir en cours anytime soon. I will, however, stay out of the woods!
How would you like to run into these guys in the woods?
Photo Credit: http://www.gourmetfly.com/Vicenzo.htm
For a short history of wild boar-hunting in Germany, France and Spain, check out Gourmet Fly's link to Hunting in France.
Fanette got into the swing of the fall season by sporting her new all-weather gear
Another thing I learned about autumn in France is that it can be very rainy. In early November, it rained for about eight days in a row. This might not be a problem if we weren't totally dependent on the sun to dry our laundry. After seemingly endless days of rain, a total absence of sun, a very leaky car, a few leaks in the ceiling, and toward the end, a random, festering mold on the kitchen walls, the sun finally came out again. Hooray! We were so happy to see the sun, but to get to it, one practically had to stand in the middle of the road. Sadly, there are too many tall, shady pine trees in Roquefort-les-Pins.
So nice to see the sun again!
Eric and Fanette enjoying some sunshine
Ivan, Helene, and Alain get into the act as well
Eric cleaned and painted the moldy kitchen wall and made it good as new!
Also in early November, Barack Obama came to town for the G20 Summit! Well, he passed through Nice on the way to Cannes, which was sort of like having him in our backyard at the White House when we lived in Washington DC. My buddies at Riviera Radio had a great time trying to guess what Obama and Sarkozy might have eaten when they met for breakfast: croissants or pain au chocolate perhaps?
Apparently, the French media had a field day with a comment that Obama made to Sarkozy when congratulating him on the birth of his daughter Giulia. Supposedly Obama told Sarkozy that he hoped that Giulia had inherited her mother's looks. Of course, this piece of gossip was not widely reported in the American media, but it was reported in the UK's Daily Mail article.
Looks like Sarkozy was not amused
Photo Credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2057037/G20-summit-2011-Obama-pokes-fun-Nicolas-Sarkozy-Cannes.html
Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! "The new Beaujolais has arrived!"
November in France is Beaujolais Nouveau season, and the release of a reported 65 million bottles occurs on precisely the third Thursday of November. If it is in France, it will be carefully regulated. What to do but join in on the fun?! Georges Duboeuf's Beaujolais Nouveau is the best-marketed and therefore most well known Beaujolais Nouveau, but there are many others. We are currently working our way through trying them all, which we'll hopefully complete by the end of the year. For a brief history of Beaujolais Nouveau, visit Into Wine's article.
Late November had us preoccupied with what to do for Thanksgiving, the big American holiday that we assumed we would miss this year by being in France. We toyed with the idea of trying to host a Thanksgiving dinner for our French friends and relatives, but we figured it might not go over well. Turkey dinner a month before Christmas, and on a Thursday? Wouldn't people be working or doing other things that day? And how would we get a turkey, which the French normally consume at Christmastime?
I asked my women's club friends where I could find a turkey. Apparently, the British food stores Brittains and Geoffrey's of London carry frozen turkeys, which are imported from the United Kingdom. Even if you find a turkey, there's the dilemma of finding one that will fit in your small French refrigerator, followed by your small French oven. To solve the "space" issue, you can ask Brittains to order you a crown turkey, which will be without the legs and may possibly still need to be deboned before fitting properly in the oven. Who wants to cook and serve a turkey that doesn't have legs?!
In the end, we received an invitation to attend Thanksgiving dinner elsewhere with some self-proclaimed "Crazy Americans" in town. Whew, problem solved, and the potential disaster of a missed Thanksgiving narrowly averted. An American friend of a friend invited us to join their annual Thanksgiving potluck dinner, despite the fact that we had never actually met any of them in person. We were so excited about this sudden and unexpected plan for Thanksgiving! The invitation alone seemed incredibly bright and inviting, as it was written in "loud" all-capital letters in bright yellow and orange font. For once, Thanksgiving logistics were entertaining. It was thrilling to read several emails going back and forth with the growing list of contributions including all kinds of traditional Thanksgiving side dishes.
Oh what to bring, what to bring to the party? Our mutual friend suggested that we bring crudités, which was a dilemma in itself. Should we make the more traditional American version, i.e. carrot and celery sticks with ranch dressing, or the more French version, i.e. endive, radishes and fennel with aioli dressing? In the end, we decided on a mixture of both, with a homemade Roquefort blue cheese dip. Everybody loves a good dip, right?
Our crudités platters awaiting the blue cheese dip
Our Thanksgiving dinner turned out to be a lot of fun. Our host had decorated the dinner tables with signs of "Americana" including small cans of Coca-Cola and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and later offered door prizes of boxes of Oreos and Special K granola bars. Our crudités platters were a big hit, mostly because we were invited to arrive at 7pm but did not eat until 9pm. The oysters and champagne served by the host were also a big hit, perhaps because they were served outdoors on the balcony with a view of a small town square overlooking the rooftops just beside the sea.
View from the balcony
Our host's beautiful artwork
Potluck contributions fill the kitchen
The dining room complete with a roaring fireplace
The dinner was fabulous, with a turkey prepared by a former chef and lots of yummy side dishes like corn soufflé, stuffing, garlic-mashed potatoes, and the classically American green bean casserole. A bedroom full of desserts followed, including pumpkin pie, cheesecake, carrot cake, and French tart specialties.
Seats were by the luck of the draw, and Eric found himself at the "rowdy" table
Thanksgiving dinner in full swing
Time for the door prizes
Eric declares Thanksgiving dinner a raging success
Happy Thanksgiving everybody!