As I embark upon property management and care, vacation rentals of homes of French friends and the like, I realize like a slap in the face I have to iron the sheets.
I have poo-poo’d all my friends who spend HOURS standing up ironing, saying to them rather fliply, I’m a Californian. I don’t iron.
Beyond that, in our own home, I have ONLY flannel sheets — and one can get well away without an iron on them.
Well, that is no more possible. Guests want sheets that squeak.
The GOOD NEWS is, our dearheart French neighbors told us about a brocante not far from here that we really HAD to check out.
There are plenty of brocantes — most of them either overpriced or full of junk. They assured us it was worth going to.
Liam and I went about a month ago and indeed — it was FULL of treasures. Once every two or three weeks, whatever the going price is gets knocked down incrementally if it hasn’t sold.
What a great way to do business.
In that visit, I stumbled upon an industrial strength made-for-the-home German mangle iron!
I LOVE mangle irons — childhood memories took me back to hours — weeks — months — years of sitting in front of a large and very hot mangle iron set up in the open garage of my parents’ motel in Santa Cruz, California…
I did all the sheets!
But buying one now? For old time’s sake? I don’t think so…
Today, reality bit.
I have 3 sets of sheets here sitting on the couch, per bed.
That’s four beds, so 12 sets of sheets. Wrinkled.
Today, I thought if that iron is still there — I’d better grab it.
THE BETTER NEWS IS, I tore myself out of the house on this rainy Normandy day, drove just a little north-west of Avranches through a small village called Sartilly — and voila!
Guess what was standing right in front of me?
Yep. Saved just for me, I’m sure.
I plugged it in; it worked.
THIRTY EIGHT EUROS.
I threw it in the back of the car and came home chuffed.
A good day in paradise.
I do understand it is now October and I am just getting around to the summer camping blog.
So it is. May it urge you to come to France — and camp!
It’s an odd thing when you look back in time…there are things that stand out as golden. There are others that disappear, like pain does when it’s gone:)
Camping stands out. What’s golden, is what you discover while there:)
I have to say that I did not EVER think I’d be camping in France.
Did not EVER consider the possibility until one day it arose because — well because we wanted to explore more of France in a *real* way, close to the earth, driving around exploring without all the hype of tourism, going where we wanted when we wanted, and eating food we could buy fresh at the markets any given day.
I had NO IDEA this was a common *sport* in France. But I found out quickly.
It is a blast.
We went to what is the main sports chain store in France, Decathlon, and got outfitted for camping…a pop up *Quechua* tent, an inflatable airbed (we ARE in our 50s now), a lantern, table and 2 camp chairs, a very cool little stove to heat water — you know — the usual stuff — but high tech.
The tent was a riot. I graduated from age 17-57 in about 30 seconds. I remember the days of heavy canvas, wet tents — hauling everything heavy — which is why I forgot about it all.
(Brief diversion: Having three children with those memories? Didn’t EVEN want to go there. In fact, I never did. I refused to take them camping. Can you believe it? Lucky for them, their dad stepped in annually:)
Back to it.
Liam pulled the tent out of the back of our little Fiat, pulled the belt off it, literally threw it up in the air, and voila. It opened and dropped ready to fill.
Jumping into camping is was what clued me into that this is what the French do all summer long. First of all, the French love to travel:) And France is so big and diverse, they travel a LOT in their own country; all over it.
They are set up. Geared up. Equipped. They shop at Decathalon and except for the camper vans, we all seemed to have about the same equipment!
(I quietly compared as I cooked…)
The first campground experience was a large, flat and grassy place…hot showers, hot water for dishes, laundry facilities — full of French, German, English, Dutch, and a few Spanish license plates too, all visiting our neck of the woods. There were dozens and dozens of campsites. This was SMACK in the middle of Pont en Bessin, SMACK in the middle of where the Normandy Invasion occurred.
There were a few things that struck me; one was the agreement field of the campground. Everyone was respectful, tidy, unto themselves, and quiet. Quiet in a campground? Everyone slept well. There were many tents — this was not an RV campground though there were mini camper vans about — the whole world was there for the same reason; to be outside, sit in the sun, relax, read, visit the area, cook something on the BBQ or visit a local restaurant — it was simple pleasure.
The other one was that we were sitting in the middle of French soil where such history had recently occurred. Just sitting there. In the middle of it:)
We took two camping trips this last summer. The first one here mentioned, the Normandy Beaches, also included Bayeux and Coutances.
The slideshow here is a mix of the Beaches, and Leonardo.
You’ll know the difference (:
Verville sur Mer, Pont du Hoc — sobering. Necessary.
Necessary for our children and theirs to experience.
The second camping experience was in the Loir et Cher.
The camping was the same — easy, quiet, wonderful — and beautiful. The mist would rise out of the earth at sunset with *the light of France*, a living tapestry of a potential Monet…with all of us camped at the west end of the campground paying homage to the setting sun in silence.
Beyond that? Was where we went. We visited Amboise, an absolutely charm-filled town, home to King François I, dear friend of Leonardo da Vinci.
He invited Leonardo to come to Amboise in the last years of Leonardo’s life (he died there). The King gave him his ‘smaller chateau’ right down the road.
It is called Château du Clos-Lucé. Stand at the window of Leonardo’s bedroom, regard the grander chateau of the king — and know if your friend has gone to bed…that was my experience…mimicking his, I imagined…
It is an intimate, full of golden light space. The renovation is exquisite and gives you an experience of splendor.
What I keep remembering in that splendor of Leonardo’s home is that his last three to four years of life on earth — were right there. The same handrail. the same banister. The same rooms with the views.
I’ve not been to Italy yet but the culture seeped through in the color and design.
I stand at home here in France in the kitchen, and think I must have gone to Italy! But wait! No! I haven’t! The experience at Château du Clos-Lucé is so fully representative of who Leonardo was. And I received that by hitting the road, camping nearby, and including it as one of the important places we wanted to visit.
The neighbors are getting serious about taking in the rest of the corn while the last of the warm, dry weather lasts.
They’re working 18-hour days with combines and huge trailers to chop down, grind up and haul off the corn that’s been surrounding us since late spring. It gets fermented and turned into silage (a French work, actually. Can you say, “See-lahzh?”).
Sure makes the place look different …
Driving in France, I religiously stick to the posted speed limit. This is largely because speeding fines suck. Also – as a foreigner – I prefer to avoid contact with French law enforcement as much as possible. Life is just simpler that way …
Of course, this often makes me the slowest thing on the road, and French drivers let me know this by climbing up my tailpipe until I pull over and let them speed on by. Still, it’s better than having to explain myself in bad French to a gendarme along some rural roadside.
So it was quite the surprise when, out of the blue, I recently got a speeding ticket, without ever even seeing a gendarme. It went like this …
Ani and I get a phone call from Sylvan. He’s a nice young guy who works at the supermarket where we lease our car (yes, in France you can lease a car from the supermarket; and at very attractive rates, too …).
Sylvan regrets to inform us that his office – as the registered owner of our Fiat Panda – has gotten an avis de contravention; basically, a notice that our/their car was recorded exceeding the speed limit. Notice I didn’t say the “posted” speed limit. That’s because – as I now know – the speed limit within any town or village is 50 kilometers per hour (about 31 mph), whether it’s posted or not (it’s usually not).
Now, French people, who learned to drive in France at French driving schools, all know this. Americans, by and large, do not; at least not until they get clobbered with a 90 euro ($120) fine. It seems that on our way back from our camping trip in August we were clocked by an automatic camera as we entered some little village at 64 kph (40 mph). Our plate was duly photographed, and the avis duly sent to Sylvan’s office.
It didn’t really seem fair that – after months of getting persistently tailgated by every driver between Strasbourg and Brest, I’m the one who gets nailed for going too fast.
After that, I got paranoid about my speed, especially in little villages, which I suspect make a fair amount of money during tourist season in the speed trap business. I drove with one eye always on the speedometer.
So imagine my dismay when – a couple of weeks ago – after returning from another camping trip – we get another friendly call from Sylvan.
“Monsieur Moriarty? Vouz avez un autre contravention …”
“Non!” I shout in disbelief. “Ce n’est pas possible!”
“Ah, oui, c’est vrai …”
It seems that in some other flyspeck of a village – this time in the popular chateau country of the Loire — we were clocked doing 54 kilometers per hour in a 50 zone. That’s 33 and a half miles per hour in a 30 zone. I’m quite the speed demon, non? Nonetheless, 45 euros, down la toilette…
It could have been worse, I suppose. Friends tell me that if you’re clocked by an actual live gendarme, they want you to pay the fine – in cash – on the spot. No cash? No problem. They’ll accompany you to an ATM and watch as you pull the money from the wall.
So, now I’m really spooked. I start to sweat as soon as I get behind the wheel. I find myself looking for excuses to not go out on the roads.
I wonder if they can clock me on my bike …
Liam here … I wanted to share a little Normandy moment …
Yesterday morning, I’m having breakfast at our kitchen table (fresh whole grain bread delivered from the boulangerie in the next village, local honey, yogurt – BTW, did you know Dannon is a French company? I didn’t …).
Anyway, I’m looking out the window that overlooks the narrow street between our front door and the stone wall of the village church yard. Loud machine noises, coming from both up and down the street. We don’t get a whole lot of traffic on Rue du Gaudry, so I look out to see what’s up …
Coming down the street is a big John Deere farm tractor pulling a huge trailer. Coming up the street is a big Massey-Ferguson farm tractor pulling another huge trailer (yes, French agriculture is to a large degree powered by equipment made in North America). They meet in front of our house. The street isn’t wide enough for both to pass.
These guys know each other, of course, so they start to jockey their beasts around to make room. But what struck me was their respective loads.
The green John Deere is hauling a trailer filled to overflowing with tons of steaming cow manure. The red Massey-Ferguson carries a massive tank with two folding arms equipped with a slew of hoses and nozzles. Around here, that means “pig slurry,” which is pretty much what it sounds like: liquified pig waste.
Cowshit vs. pigshit …
By this time of year, the wheat and canola has been harvested, as has been much of the corn. So my neighbors are fertilizing their newly-finished fields and either planting winter cover crops or leaving them fallow till spring. And in a region where cows and pigs are the big item – even most of the grain grown here will be fed to livestock – fertilizer means manure.
So, in September, godamighty, we’ve got manure. The loads of cow poop and the tankers of pig slurry are unloaded on the fields, returning their nutrients to the soil, continuing the Grand Circle of Life. It’s all very organic and all.
But it does make autumn around here a bit more fragrant than other seasons …
Maybe we should start with ‘the before picture’. It doesn’t do last year’s winter fires justice — because they are all gone — except in our hearts:) But this is last week, stripping it out.
Liam’s hammering away in the living room. Vacationing neighbors across the lane just came by to lend a hand and heave-ho the massive oak beam we have oiled and sanded, which now becomes the mantle of our new hearth. It is perfect.
T-pipe secured, cap in place…check.
Mortar jimmied betwixt and between…check.
We’ve reconfigured the how-to for laying and leveling cement block on the floor — the new hearth. We’re re-thinking and thinking again. Googling also:)
We’re nearly there…two days ago we measured and cut stone by stone, the underfloor for the hearth. Yesterday we took the puzzle apart, poured mortar, made a roadmap, and put it all back together again. Today, we tile.
So there’s tile and grout to do, the stove to pop into place, all before Thursday morning when we sail to Ireland…Liam will be on Irish soil with his father for the first time:)
Next post will surely be the finished hearth!
We felt the first crisp air of autumn last week when we got out of bed and opened the scullery door — after a very warm, sunny evening on the terrace the night before. It was fair warning. Liam jumped on his bike and cycled, and I began pulling out what was done in the garden. Still holding off on the basil just a little longer — we ended up having a great crop thanks to our friends in Seattle who were here tending for a week, pinching away…thank you Hennesseys All!
Today it’s the hearth. We’ve stripped out everything around the fireplace, I’ve painted the brick and south wall a soft butter creme, and the new Aarrow Ecoburn 11 woodstove arrives from the UK off a boat to Caen, this very afternoon.
In the meantime, we’ll heave the huge oak lintel we’ve oiled into position over the mantle, and finish laying the underpinnings for the terracotta carrelage we’ve got stacked here to lay out — probably tomorrow.
The only missing piece is a sheet of copper. It’s a little tricky to find but I am optimistic:) That will be the reflective wall behind the stove, sealing off the dark hole of what was, and filling the room with the warmth and glow of what is.
All being well, we’ll light our first fire (we don’t need one yet but ceremony matters) on Sunday.
We’ll keep you posted, and you can join us in our first roast!
Does anyone remember Thanksgiving dinner in the 50s and 60s in America — we always had a green bean casserole. And a Jello salad with pineapple and cottage cheese:)
In our house, it was Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, a can of green beans, and a can of French Fried Onion rings sprinkled on top — which were primarily deep fried, preserved onion rings held together by grease and breadcrumbs…I think you can still purchase these at Safeway, actually — B&O French Fried Onion Rings in a cardboard tall skinny container, foil-lined — I do believe Pringles uses something similar…she’d throw it all together and we would devour it.
Given all the haricots verts we’ve got pouring out of the bed in the garden, and a need to eat them, I thought of my mother:)
We went to Fougeres today, to the market for our produce before other errands, and I picked up FRESH parmesan from the fromagerie, FRESH beautiful mushrooms from the vendor, so that upon return, I could set to work.
I VERY lightly steamed a kilo of fresh washed and cut in half green beans, and set them aside. Then I sauteed in fresh butter, one dozen beautiful fresh Parisian white mushrooms, sliced. Set them aside. Then, I made a simple white sauce with butter, flour and whole milk, that came to about 2 cups of itself, and tossed it into my Le Creuset saucepan with the mushrooms, letting it all blend together on very low heat for about ten minutes.
Right before pouring the mushroom creme sauce over the green beans, I added a quarter cup of fresh grated parmesan – and tossed a sprinkling of said same on top before it was foiled for baking.
And that was my big mistake:)
Anyone who cooks already knows what happened…
It was already *done* before I baked it…so fair warning. Make the smooth, velvety bechamel avec champignons and simply pour over the just steamed haricots with the sprinkle of parmesan.
I’m living ~ and learning.
It used to be a mud-floored, galvanized corrogated roof with a dark, dropped wood plank ceiling ‘garage’ to the right of the house…
I could show you a picture of that but imagine your worst case scenario.
We threw everything in there, including the 2CV in the winter but it finally came time to upgrade the space, as it was a hugely utilitarian place where if we got it together, we could use it as our workshop for all projects henceforth.
So we got it together.
Two weeks, actually, of backbreaking work. Liam dug out the floor, ax picked out the rocks from it, leveled and laid concrete. He did the bulk of it while I washed his dirties and kept him fed… save one day with dearheart friend Ronnie came over to do the actual pour. That took a day and then some.
It’s done! Well, except for the windows..
He’s out there tinkering on his bikes, getting things in order. Light is pouring through the translucent rooftop… the door opens into the garden and the setting sun — and it’s a better world.
A man needs his space:)