Saturday, May 28, 2011

How Do We Get There?

When we travel together, Marc and I, we quickly fall into a routine:
how we pack the car is figured out and then done the same each day - him
a snack bag is established - him
who will carry the cork screw and open the wine - me and me
who drives - him
and who navigates - me



It all works really well, with the exception, sometimes, of the navigating...

I am usually working from at least one map, but sometimes two while he likes to drive by the sun.
None of which always work, especially when you throw in French traffic circles.
I can't quite figure out the signage for them either… sometimes it all works lickety-split, map and signs in tandem and we zip along at great speed, chatting and enjoying the countryside.

But every once in awhile it all goes awry…

Today presented a totally new scenario, which we are still puzzling over…

We were making our way to Locoronan in Brittany


a particularly lovely medieval village, preceded by Douarnenez on Highway D7. As we approached Douarnenez, the first circle presented no options that were obvious, and by default we always then choose "Direction Centre Ville", believing the signs will lead us in and then right back out again.
Thanks to a great deal of road work, we were taken off the beaten path and landed in a maze of narrow, cobbled streets, seemingly going nowhere. Out of the corner of my eye I spied the water (it's at the seaside) so I suggested we head in that direction - most cities on water have a lovely road that wends it's way along the water's edge that will usually provide directions at some point.
No go, we landed at the port.

We did eventually find the lovely road but it was one way and not ours.
We turned right and then left, thinking we would work our way in the direction we wanted to go but the road kept getting narrower and narrower. I was no longer watching for signs as we were now driving down a street that had high buildings on each side and barely a foot of clearance on each side of the car, with a brick wall at the end. Nowhere to go but forward and hope for a turn - which thankfully there was - a perfect right angle. A slow careful turn later, and we were about to sigh with relief when we saw a lady seated on a chair, her back to us. As Marc tried to avoid her I saw the steps of a building to the left, "You've got stairs!" I shouted.


 
We managed to avoid both and finally came to an intersection… where all three of the other streets had "Do Not Enter" signs!

We sat there for almost a full minute trying to take in what we were seeing.
We had just run the gauntlet of driving in France and it's all "Do Not Enter"???

We did eventually get out of there, and laughed for quite a time about how three steps in front of a building can become an obstacle.

I'm not feeling so bad about it all though -

I am thinking Douarnenez could even confound GPS!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Time

Time passes, leaving it's patina on all it touches.

I notice that here more than at home, perhaps because at home, we tend to pitch things in the nearest garbage can as soon as they are of a certain age, or if something brighter and shinier comes along. But here, it's a different story...


Peeking through a garden gate, I saw this tableau... the table is beautifully weathered, charming in it's rusticity, contrasting perfectly with the lush greenery


Six centuries worth of time have passed, and this village has seen it all, the stones of the buildings as hard and strong as the day they were fitted together, still sheltering


Time for ivy to grow over anything that will stand still long enough, lending it's softness to buildings and trees alike


Time that turned rocks to sand and weathered green wood to grey/brown

I was born and raised in a place where the oldest buildings are from about 1898 - I grew up with a narrow view of old. And there is very little left in the city I grew up in that dates back beyond 1950; as buildings crumbled they were torn down.

The '60s and 70's were fraught with getting the latest and greatest of every new invention known to man - we wanted to be hip and modern, and K-Tel made it easy. 

There is no doubt you can find lots of great new things here in France, and there are mega stores that would rival Wal-Mart but there is also a history of hanging on to what you have, if for no other reason but that you just do. All of the private hotels we have stayed in so far have been filled with old furniture and it isn't because they are creating a setting, it's because it's been there, likely for as long as the hotel itself. 
Wardrobes, bureaus with marble tops, rustic tables and nightstands, the list goes on and on - adding a character you just can't buy.

So while I very much like chippy, rusty, rickety and raggedy things, I like them best when they got that way over a period of time.

Time, during which the dings and dents and footsteps made by people long ago become a gift to the future.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Somethings Special


Vacations for me have never been of the tick-box variety. You know, the kind where people have an agenda, a list of things to see and when they get home they rattle them off like this, as if they were trophies:

The Louvre - yep saw the Mona Lisa  ✓

The Eiffel Tower - to the top  ✓

Tower Big Ben  ✓

Crown Jewels  ✓

5 countries in 7 days  ✓

and so on…

There's nothing wrong with that, if it's what you want, but it isn't for me. For sure there are some monuments and landmarks that I have seen and been so grateful for the chance.

I think what I look for more are experiences rather than sightings, but don't get me wrong - you'll never catch me bungee jumping into a gorge!
Nope, what I look for in a great vacation is much simpler:

Cafe Grande Creme on shore of the Mediterranean

 

and then walking along the beach with the beautiful clear water play around my feet, coupled with the pure joy of finding a stick of driftwood that is perfect for the arm of an elf



Driving a narrow twisty road as it winds it's way along the river, the stone guardrail covered in moss on one side and the rock wall on the other covered with ivy, while the trees from above and below provide a canopy of green



Opening the windows in and flinging the shutters wide as I look out into a courtyard filled with trees and flowers and stone cherubs



Seeing every colour of rose imaginable climbing the sides of buildings and fences and breathing in their heady scent as I walk by



These are some of my favourites so far!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bonne Anniversaire Ma Petite!

Twenty-six years ago she danced into our lives and changed us forever.

A little baby girl with blue eyes, blonde hair and ideas of her own.


When she was small, her Dad would sometimes bring her a pink rose on her birthday and the other day we saw these growing on a bush and it all came rushing back...


The day she was born, her cheeks were just this pink, as was the little cotton blanket they wrapped her in, with "Princess" written all over it. Pretty and perfect in pink.

"Do not ask that your kids live up to your expectations. Let your kids be who they are, and your expectations will be in breathless pursuit." ~ Robert Brault

This quote says it all Laura - you take our breath away!
Since I first wrote this post last night I read Laura's blog, Never Not Beautiful where she wrote about a race she and her brother ran yesterday. A perfect example of why the quote above is so perfect.

Happy Birthday Laura!



Friday, May 20, 2011

My New Home

It had to happen sooner or later..

I would stumble across a place in France that would have that pull, the one that makes you want to put your everyday life aside and run off to something new.


Lourmarin is just such a place.
We were there three years ago and loved it, and we just had to go back…

And sometimes, you can go back again.
The stars and planets align, and you are as delighted as you once were. Not many changes, at least none for the worse, and you settle yourself and say "Yes, here I am, where I ought to be."

As we wandered the streets of the old town I felt the tug to stay at every corner and as I delighted over each new view, I also imagined what living there would be like.

Did you know that the nervous system can't tell the difference between a real experience and one that is vividly imagined?
If that is indeed true, then I should be happy because I would know that I have lived a lifetime in this small village of charm and grace.

So I would like to show you around, if you have time…

This is my front door, shadowed in the late morning,



The street is very narrow, but it has an amazing sightline,



The garage door is just the right shade of grey.




And here is the patio where we can enjoy a glass of rose.


My favourite cafe makes the best Cafe Grand Creme in France, in my humble opinion, and the Petit Dejeuner is not to be missed…


And when you come to visit, I have the perfect room for you, high up where you can fling the shutters wide.

And we will live la bon vie!



Monday, May 16, 2011

Highs and Lows


The past few days have been full of driving and sightseeing - spectacular roads that have made M. giggle with delight and me reaching for that special bag I swiped from the airplane!
Below is a picture taken from high in the French Alps, early in the morning on a beautiful day. If you click on the picture and look in the center portion you will see some people standing in the lookout, looking over a gorge. (It isn't me - no way!)


The drop off on the other side of this guard rail is immediate and deep (and I am using that term loosely as it's barely 18" high and in my opinion, wouldn't stop a car for nothing! M. says they're just guidelines for drivers!).
Farther along we came upon this tunnel with a hole in the mountain beside it - when I got out to take the picture I suffered a serious case of vertigo and had to hold on to the car for a minute to get my bearings. Again, steep drop off does not even begin to describe it - at least here the guard rails came up waist high but I never got closer than ten feet to it regardless.


The night before we stayed in a hotel high in the alps that had been in business, and in the same family, since 1737. It was a charming place, complete with the requisite blue shutters of Provence and we loved it. 
That night as I leaned out the window, with the shutters banging in the wind (loved that too!) I saw the Abby, high on the hill, all lit up - Beautiful. Magical. Old.


Today we drove up to Vaison La Romaines and spent the day wandering the Roman ruins. 
It was something, to stroll along walkways that were built over 2000 years before, to peer into what was a kitchen, complete with a stone sink, the hole for the pipe to bring hot water clearly visible.
How long would that sink have taken to chip out?

As I walked these ruins, time stood still for me.
A connection to people was what I felt strongest - so much of what we have was developed by the Romans so in a sense, this was a coming home - a time to think about those who really came before, who figured out things we have never had to wonder about except "Why are twelve inches called a foot? And why is it an inch anyway?"
And so on...

And I also thought about the value of taking the time to do something well.

2000 years later, our words, our deeds and our ideas may mean much to someone.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Battle of the Somme

I'm a little out of order here but there it is - I am on vacation after all.

After Vimy Ridge we headed down to Beaumont-Hamel to see the site of the Battle of the Somme.
This was a markedly different battle than Vimy and Passchendaele; the Somme was originally lost, and lost badly.

And call me crazy, but you can feel it there, as palpably as you can feel it and see it too, in the roughness of the grass.


This is a battlefield that draws you in, you can walk through the trenches, and there is a path around the perimeter that takes you in turn, to the Newfoundland Monument,



Here the messengers ran from Officer to men and back again, reporting positions and relaying orders. The trenches zigzag to keep the enemy from determining the actual location and direction and there are trenches themselves  zig-zagged all across the battlefield.

A messenger in WW1 had a life-span of 3-5 days.

It was a volunteer position, but the soldiers were unaware of the of the statistics - they volunteered because Messengers were permitted to sleep in the tunnels, away from the mud and the artillery.
But Messengers had to wear white arm bands so they were easily identified and given right of passage  - but it was those white arm bands that also made them easily identifiable to enemy scouts and they were a primary target.
Knowing the odds, Officers often dispatched four Messengers with the same message, in the hopes that one would get through.
I saw where they slept in the tunnels and believe me it was no place of comfort. All I could think of was if this was better, how bad was worse?


Messenger Trench

 

1st Commonwealth Cemetery

 

Scot's Monument


2nd Commonwealth Cemetery
 
You see all this and more, all the while walking amidst the pockmarked battlefield, scarred by artillery and mortar shells.

Sheep are used to keep the grass short; the undulations of the land remove all possibility of using any kind of lawn mower but it is more important to leave the landscape intact with it's scars than to ease the maintenance of it. The sheep are also used at Vimy; the difference is that there they add a sense of peace of tranquility, but in the Somme it is different. Here they are noisier, head-butting for space, as if they too feel the malaise in the air.

As we walked the trails I couldn't help but also notice the crows. They too were loud and angry, calling fiercely to each other across the tree tops and created the worst din I have ever heard from birds. I raised my head and yelled at them - did they not know where they were? What it meant? 
There was silence but only for a short time and then they started again...

The Somme does not sleep, not yet...

How Low Can You Go?

Blogger's acting up so my original post along this vein has disappeared and I can't remember exactly how it all went, but as it's an idea with merit, here's the repeat...

I love a good challenge and I love a good bottle of wine so here's the thing,


We are on a quest while on our own Tour de France to find the cheapest bottle of good wine.

Yesterday I blogged about one that cost 2.29 E and it was pretty darn good. There was another on the shelf that was only 1.35 E but after closer inspection today I realized it was actually a smaller bottle - hence the price difference... this is an accurate scientific experiment after all... and all protocols must be followed.

Today we found one for 2.01 E and it was great! Why the .01 I have no idea but you can never argue with mark-ups... A little sharp but wonderful with cheese and certainly well worth the price.

So the question is "When traveling in France,  how low will you go?"

We shall see.

This morning there was a Marche in the little parking lot next to our hotel - vegetables, fruit, olives, cheese, charcuterie (preserved meats) and clothes... I so badly wanted to take pictures but it was a small market and we were obviously not local and I didn't want to stand out more than we already did - I'll save the photo op for a larger market when I can be a little bit incognito... like Peter Sellers.

All I can say is, with all this fabulous food, where's a kitchen when you really want one!??!

I am having piles of trouble with Blogger and internet connections, have tried to leave comments and send emails all to no avail - so please be patient with me - as soon as I can get a reliable connection I will catch up with all of you!


Friday, May 13, 2011

Pardon Monsieur!


Every country has it's little quirks…

Well, I guess it's really every country's people have their little quirks…

I have heard about an issue with the men of France - not all the men, but enough that in some areas of discussion, it's enough to have started a stereotype…

I have read over the years that Frenchmen have no issues with unzipping whenever nature calls but never experienced the phenomenon on our last trip - well, gentle reader, I have now!

We were driving down a lovely country road and in the distance I saw a white delivery van pilled off to our side of the road, a man standing off to the side…. he couldn't be I thought, especially as I saw him turn his head to look at our car approaching…

Oh yes, he was! He was most definitely…

Of course I don't know the protocol… do you wave, smile discreetly, raise your eyebrows and say "Oh La La", or look anywhere else as you drive by?

My eyes were squeezed shut - at least as we zipped by!

The next day we stopped for lunch in an amazing hotel in a quaint village; a stunning lunch even by French standards.

Duck thighs in a brown-tarragon sauce, roasted potatoes with tarragon seasoning, a vegetable vaguely resembling baby asparagus, fresh baguette and to finish, a rhubarb-custard tart. Sublime.

As we were getting ready to leave I asked for la toilettes…. and upon passing through the door pointed to by the wait-staff, I was presented with a small room with double sinks set into a lovely marble, with a large mirror above; to the right were two narrow doors, side by side.
Mickey Mouse adorned the front of one, Minnie was on the other….

Hmmm - well, side by side with the boys, sharing a communal washing up space but still with our own WCs….alrighty then - I can do this.
Whilst I was in Minnie's space I heard the door beside me open….

But it didn't close again…what could that mean.. then I heard the evidence...

I came out and what to my wondering eyes did I see?

 NOTHING!

I kept my head down and eyes left, because some man had gone in to the WC, was doing his thing and hadn't bothered to close the door. Knowing a little bit about men, I figured his back would be to me but even so!

When I came out Marc asked me how the washroom was - we always decide how bad our own need is based on the other's opinion of the facilities - and I said,

Well… since you ask….

I was trying to figure out what to use for photos for this post and asked him to step over toward some bushes with his back to me but he's far too cagey for this girl - no way was he going on Blogger TV - he knew what I was up to right away!



I always thought people watching was a fun spectator sport but now I know you have to be very careful where you do it!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

How Low Can You Go?

Europe is full of wonderful things...

Amazing architecture....


 Roof lines that make you want to climb out the nearest window...


and scenery beyond compare...


But one of the things we are having the most fun with is how cheap of a bottle of wine can you find?
I stumbled out of the Marche the other night with a darn fine one for 2.29 Euro and today we discovered  one for 1.35...

We didn't buy it as it wasn't from the Bourgogne and we are trying to buy local after all (the 100 mile diet would be an absolute cinch here!).

But I think tomorrow, just for posterity, I'll slip back to the Marche and buy myself a bottle of the cheap stuff - it's a comforting fact here in France that cheap does not always connote awful, and I'm trying to see just how low a girl can go in this country!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pure Unadulterated Pride

 Two days ago we were driving across the fields of northern France, when there on the right, a ridge rose high above the surrounding plain.
On the edge of the ridge, rising higher still, were two pillars, shining white in the late day sun.
They were visible from many miles away, and shone like a beacon, as if a lighthouse...

...and perhaps in some ways it is...
 

 The Canadian monument on Vimy Ridge is a thing to behold.
Carved from Croatian stone, it is a tribute to the Canadian soldiers of the first Great War, and is a fitting tribute indeed.
 The land is a free gift to the people of Canada from France, for their efforts on Vimy Ridge, and for their sacrifice; war never comes cheaply and many were lost in the taking of the Ridge.


To get a sense of perspective, the dark speck on the bottom left of the photo is a Canadian tour guide; miniscule against the rising stone. 

Vimy Ridge is a place of peace, born of war.

Both are felt in great quantity as you walk the trails and hear the birds; the uneven forest floor tells the story of artillery fire and mortar shells and even though the humps and craters are covered now with green grass, the stories are still there.


We studied the war in high school and heard stories from grandparents that were a medic and a nurse but there is nothing quite like walking there - the sounds of the shells come easier on the winds of Flanders.

And at every corner, around every bend, there is another Commonwealth Cemetery. The numbers are staggering and they look mighty different when represented by white headstones as opposed to numbers in a history book.

And I understand one more thing much better now:

Lest We Forget


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ma Mere

"A Soldier of the Great War"
"Known Only To God"

Mother's day is a day I always think of my Mother and of my children.
A special day filled with blessed memories and hopes for more.

And I am also thinking of mothers for whom this special day is filled with only memories.

The caption at the top is something carved in to far too many grave stones here in Belgium; these soldiers' deaths did not allow for a proper burial.
But of course, there were many more that did.

These men blessed their mothers with their deeds.

Today we visited our first cemetery in Belgium and there will be many more in the days to come.


And today I am thinking of what it means to be a mother. 
We think of our children as our gift to the world, believing in their ability to contribute to it being a better place.
And as a mother's child, I am thinking of how all of us at some time or another have wished to make our mother proud.

There was much sorrow in my heart today as we visited this place, but there was far, far more pride.

And no one has ever been prouder of their children than my Mother...
Happy Mother's Day Mom!




Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Learning and Doing - Art Journey #3


I was doing the monthly tally up of my New Year's Aspirations and wasn't terribly happy with some of the results...
Actually it's the yoga results I wasn't happy with, and was kind of wondering what was going on in my head.
I love doing it, love how it makes me feel during and after, but many days it's a struggle to hit the mat and I couldn't think why.

And then I remembered this...



When I was about 14 my best friend had a piano in her home and I loved it, loved the idea of it.
 Pianos are interesting; they give a home soul.
And I wanted to play.


So I told my friend I wanted to learn and she offered to teach me what she knew and very generously suggested I could practice on theirs.

Practice? You have to practice?
Scales and notes and things? Bleah.

I tried it, for about half an hour, maybe two times in all.
It was interminable.

It was then we realized I didn't want to learn - I simply wanted to play. A song - just one; not a repertoire, not a recital - nothing ambitious, just a song...

And so I learned to play "If", a song sung by Barbra Streisand in A Star Is Born.
I think I actually got pretty good at it too.

You can learn pretty well if all your concentration is on only one thing...

My husband has never found this story amusing. 

He was an accomplished pianist at a very young age and suffered endless lessons and practice at the insistence of his parents. He even played in a recital at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa where he grew up.

So when I told him I too could play, he was most impressed. A girl in the wilds of the Yukon that knew her way around the piano? Then I had to clarify things a wee bit and it was downhill from there. He just didn't like the idea that one could parse out one song from a score of musical works (pun intended) and learn it well, with no knowledge of anything else musical.

And I said why not?

What I learned through this is: there are things you only want to know how to do, and things you want to spend lots of time doing. Things that you like the idea of doing and things you like to roll your sleeves up and actually do.

I have realized that I liked the idea of doing yoga every day far more than actually doing it... I am hoping with time that will change because I feel so unbelievably good after the past four months of Yoga Everyday A Lot.

So here's how April washed out:

Yoga Everyday 23/30
Fabric In 3.40m
Fabric Out 2.70m
1 Letter Written
3 Projects Started
3 New Projects Finished
4 Old Projects Finished

Can't say I'm thrilled with it, but I'm not terribly disappointed either..
But I like the idea of it.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Project Genesis - Our Four Legged Friends

 
Among many other things, I am a quilter and we quilters generate a myriad of scraps; scraps of fabric, scraps of batting, scraps of all sizes, shapes and colours. Here a scrap, there a scrap...

We also generate a great deal of trimmings, bits of fabric and batting that are so small they are defined as useless and pitched into the nearest garbage can.
Yesterday a lady called the quilt shop asking what we did with those trimmings - not the scraps that may have value, but the littlest bits...
"Pitch 'em" I said, "into the garbage".


"Well", she said- "well, that's great news!"
????????
She went on to explain that herself and a group of quilters were looking for just those very things - trimmings that were too small to be of use.
You see, they use them to make dog beds for the local SPCA. 
They take donated pillowcases and stuff them chock-a-block full of these bits of fabrics and batting, so small they need no further chopping up, and thereby aren't at all lumpy.
They make perfect dog beds, and as our SPCA has a policy of no euthanizing, they have a lot of dogs and they live there for a long time. 
And a soft cuddly bed is in great need when you don't have a person to love, who loves you back.

I'm not sure what the shop will do, but I am saving all of my trimmings from now on. And every once in a while I just might sneak in some extra soft wool batting, just to increase the creature comfort factor. I love that the bits we throw away as useless are recycled into something of comfort for an animal in need.
I just might even take some of the scraps and slice and dice into them smaller bits and add them to the pile - goodness knows I have more than I want or need and this project has really pulled at my heart...

Perhaps your local SPCA has a similar Pillow Program.
Or perhaps they need one????

I am linking up to Project Genesis over at Suzan's blog, The Old Grey Mare. Please head over to check out some of the other great ideas for effecting change.
This post is in memory of a darling furry, four-legged friend.
Fezzik.
  A beloved pet of a dear friend who is lost without him.

He was a sweetie!