29 February 2008

Home-made bagels

Bagel ingredients. Just add water and yeast.

A few days ago I was watching Cuisine TV (like most days) and a French bread-maker and baker showed how to make an Alsace-Lorraine specialty, the bretzel. That's what we'd call a pretzel in America, but it's the big soft pretzel as opposed to the small crispy ones you buy in bags at the grocery store. I think soft pretzels are common street food in New York and Philadelphia.

This is the dough. Nice and soft but not sticky.

Soft pretzels are also common fare in eastern France — the Alsace and the Lorraine provinces — evidently. As the bread-maker, whose name is Gontran Cherrier, showed how he made them, I remarked to Walt that that was how I understood bagels are made too. You make a dough, let it rise, shape it as you want, and then drop the pieces of dough into boiling water for a few minutes for a first cooking. Then you put the pretzel or bagel into the oven to brown for a few minutes.

Cut the dough into fairly thick strips.

This looks like about a "foot" of dough, doesn't it?

Here are the 12 bagels, before they get rolled up.

Thinking about bagels sent me to the Internet to look up recipes. We live in France, but that doesn't mean we don't still crave certain foods we enjoyed in the U.S., among them cornbread, fried chicken, baked beans, thousand island dressing with iceberg lettuce, meatloaf, and of course bagels. We make all those other foods ourselves here in Saint-Aignan, at home, from time to time. So why not bagels?

The bagel maker met la main à la pâte.

The recipe I found was for "Water Bagels" — here is a link to the page it is on. You'll have to find it on the list at the top of the page and click the title to jump down to the recipe itself. Embedded in the text of the recipe is a notice that I'm not allowed to reproduce the text of the recipe on a blog or in any other way.

These raw bagels have risen a little
under a warm towel on the work surface.


The ingredients are pretty simple: flour, water, yeast, salt, and honey or sugar. The process isn't too complicated, but as with all yeast breads you have to give the dough time to rise a couple of times. You also have to simmer the bagels in boiling water and then put them out on a rack to dry before you bake them for a few minutes in the oven to brown them.

These are simmering in a good quantity
of hot water with honey added.


Now I know that the almond croissants I saw and photographed in a bakery window in Montrichard a couple of days ago set your mouth to watering, but a good bagel can do the same thing when you haven't had one in a long time. We can get cream cheese (called fromage à tartiner, or "cheese for spreading") at the supermarket. "If we just had cream cheese, we could have bagels and cream cheese... if we just have bagels." Now we do.

After simmering, the bagels dry for a few minutes on a rack.

But we can also get fresh goat cheese from the farm a couple of miles up in the vineyards, and it is spreadable too. Monsieur and Madame Bouland, who run the ferme-auberge, the farm-inn, called La Lionnière in Mareuil-sur-Cher, make the best goat cheese around. Their goats are free-range animals, which I've read is not often the case with the goats that produce milk for cheese in the Cher River valley. Just ask CHM — the last time he was here we looked far and wide for herds of goats, without much success.

Now they are ready to go into the oven to brown.
Some have sesame seeds sprinkled on, and some poppy seeds.

Be that as it may, a good toasted bagel spread with soft, fresh goat cheese is a real treat. And now we can have one, because we can make our own bagels. The secret is in the boiling, I think. The dough rises slightly but the bagel remains fairly heavy. And tender. And chewy.

Warm, golden sesame-seed and poppy-seed bagels.
Can you believe it?

None of the cooking takes very long. First, you do a seven-minute simmer in water to which you have added a little honey or sugar — that, evidently, is what gives the bagels their nice smooth crust. After 10 minutes or so of drying on a rack, into the oven they go for 10 or 15 minutes to turn golden brown.

It's funny, the first 6 came out more puffed up
than the second 6, but we don't know why.


Of course, a third cooking is usually desirable, and that's a light toasting in a grille-pain or in the oven. Bagels are better if they are at least warmed through before you eat them. Yesterday Walt got some smoked salmon from Intermarché, so we are having our version of lox and bagels for lunch today.

And here they are, ready for the eating.

If you are in America, you of course have no real need to make your own bagels. But if the only bagels you can get are the ones from the supermarket, I'll tell you: these are better. Of course, you might need for Walt to come and make them for you. I'll come along and take pictures and then eat a bagel with you. Do you want me to bring the goat cheese?

28 February 2008

Montrichard in the Loire Valley

Here's a little break from the Provence scenes. Yesterday W. and I needed to go to Montrichard to deposit a check at the bank and talk to our "personal banker" about some things. Montrichard is a town about the same size as Saint-Aignan (pop. 4,000) and about 10 miles west, down the Cher River.

A medieval fortress, mostly in ruins, looms the narrow streets of
Montrichard.
The sun was just breaking through morning clouds.

Why do we have our bank accounts there and not in Saint-Aignan? Because in 2002, when we came here to see about buying a house, the real estate agent who was receptive to our e-mail inquiries had offices in Amboise and in Montrichard. He asked us to come see him at the Montrichard office, and he proceeded to show us several houses in Saint-Aignan, where he said we would get more house for our money.

Almond croissants and other pastries displayed
in a baker's window in Montrichard


And he told us to go open a French bank account at the Crédit Agricole agency just down the street from his Montrichard office, on the town's narrow main street, called Rue Nationale. That's what we did, and we have left it that way, even though there is a perfectly good Crédit Agricole agency in Saint-Aignan, not to mention several other banks.

Montrichard's version of the Petit Casino grocery store.
Now it's going to be open on Sunday afternoons!

Montrichard, by the way, is pronounced with the T in the middle: it's [mon-tree-schar]. If you know French, you know that there are many place names where the final T of Mont- is not pronounced when that prefix is attached to another word. Montréal in Quebec is a good example — it's pronounced [mon-ray-al], with no T sound. « MonTrichard » is the exception.

A charcuterie's sign up above the street. Notice the sausages.

We don't have occasion to go to Montrichard very often (we don't go anywhere very often by car except to the Saint-Aignan and Noyers markets and supermarkets), but it's nice to a different town and look around once in a while. There seem to be two major construction/restoration projects going on over in Montrichard, both on the Rue Nationale. Three old buildings are being renovated.

A charcuterie is a combination pork butcher's shop
and deli. This one in Montrichard sells a full range of
ready-to-reheat dishes for people in a hurry.


Montrichard has more commerce than Saint-Aignan and is more bustling. There are several charcuteries, butcher shops, and bakeries in the center of town, along with florist's shops, real estate offices, banks, clothing shops, cafés, and a very nice produce shop. More than in Saint-Aignan, I think. People tell me that 30 years ago, Saint-Aignan was the livelier of the two towns, but that changed over time, and now Montrichard is more vibrant (if I can use such a grand word). Towns that have existed for more than a thousand years go through cycles, you know.

These two old houses on the Rue Nationale are being refurbished.
The same houses are pictured in the Michelin Green Guide
for the Châteaux de la Loire. I bet the new colors
are stirring controversy in Montrichard.


Montrichard also has outdoor markets twice a week (Monday afternoons and Friday mornings), while Saint-Aignan just has its Saturday morning market.

It wasn't sunny yesterday morning, but it wasn't raining. C'est déjà ça, we said to ourselves — that was better than nothing. We were early for our bank appointment, so we had time to wander the streets and admire the window displays. I personally was more attracted by the bakeries, butcher shops, and charcuteries than by the other store windows.

27 February 2008

Maussane-les-Alpilles in Provence

Yesterday it rained all day in Saint-Aignan. All the weather reports said we would see rain start around noon as a front coming in off the Atlantic passed over us, and that the rain would end by about six o'clock. Ha! It was raining harder than ever at 6:00, and then at 7:00, and even at 10:30 p.m.

This is Maussane-les-Alpilles in September,
not Saint-Aignan in February.


In yesterday evening's rain, the local toads were having the time of their lives — they were all up and down the road that runs by the house, some of them just sitting there enjoying getting wet, and others in couples (if you know what I mean). The little pond out back is full of toads these days. It makes me wonder how these cold-blooded animals can stand to be swimming in such cold water and still have the hots for each other.

The Café du Centre has most of its outdoor seating across
the street, on the square in the shade of big old plane trees.


Meanwhile, in the afternoon I spent some time looking at these pictures I took in September 2001 in the village called Maussane-les-Alpilles in Provence. Maussane isn't in the same valley as Gordes and Roussillon. It's an hour or so southwest of there, just south of Les Baux and not far from the big town of Arles. Les Alpilles are a chain of low but rugged mountains in that area, which is known for its groves of olive trees.

Even the little chain grocery stores look pretty
in the nice Provençal sunlight.


I wanted to go to Maussane because I had heard of an American couple who owned and operated a B&B there. Since then, I've met several people who have actually gone there to spend a few nights in the B&B. The woman who runs it is also known for having started an Internet forum for francophiles back then, and the forum is still in business.

On the fountain in the main square

I can't find anything about Maussane in the Michelin green guide to Provence, but that doesn't mean that the village isn't a pleasant place to spend some time on a warm sunny day. From these pictures, you can see that quite a few people had discovered its pleasures on a mid-September afternoon.

Chez Gabrielle's menu — prices in French Francs

We didn't stay in Maussane for dinner but if we had, Gabrielle's menu would have been tempting. The prices are in francs because in 2001 the euro hadn't yet been adopted as the currency of France and much of Europe.

Swans decorate the fountain in Maussane-les-Alpilles

Here in Saint-Aignan, we have to go out for the morning. The rain has stopped temporarily, but a new front is moving in for the afternoon and it's supposed to rain in Saint-Aignan until at least Saturday. I'll have to make do with virtual sunshine by sitting at the computer and enjoying old photos.

26 February 2008

The most touristy village in Provence

Gordes is one of those places like Rocamadour (here are my photos) and the Mont Saint-Michel (blog topics here and here, and elsewhere on the blog). These places are so touristy that the idea of going or being there in the middle of throngs of people can turn you off.

Gordes, in Provence

But there's a reason why such places get to be so touristy: they are so magnificent. It's a trade-off. You need to go at least once, if you ever have the chance. I've been to all three at least twice, and to the Mont Saint-Michel more times than that. You learn that the time to go is on a weekday in the off-season.

The houses in Gordes climb up a steep cliffside.

When I think back to my first stay in Provence, which was by far my longest, I'm surprised to realize that as students we didn't even go to see the hilltop villages of Provence. At least I didn't, and I don't remember my fellow students taking trips to the Luberon villages and coming back with glowing reports. And they are so close to Aix.

There's a Renaissance-era château
at the top of the village of Gordes.


I guess one reason we didn't to to Bonnieux, Gordes, Ménerbes, and Roussillon was that we didn't have cars. The travel we did was by train, and the train took us to Avignon, Arles, Nîmes, Marseille, and even Cannes and Nice. And Paris, of course. But the train didn't go to Lourmarin or Lauris, as far as I know. I remember taking a bus to Cassis and on to Porquerolles (which required a ferry ride). But I don't remember Apt or even Cavaillon.

Looking down from Gordes over tile-roofed houses

When I was in my early 20s, I realized I loved France but I didn't know much about it. I spent those six months in Aix and I traveled mostly to the Provence towns I just mentioned and not much farther. I had seen Paris when we first arrived in France, spending one night there before flying on down to Marseille for our semester in Aix. The pull of Paris was irresistible to me.

Not all the shutters in Provence are painted in bright colors...

At spring break, a lot of the students took off with their Eurail passes for trips to Switzerland, Spain, Scandinavia, or Greece. For me, having two weeks off from school was a chance to go to Paris. And that's where I went, by myself. Nobody else was interested in such a trip. I stayed for two weeks in a hotel just off the Place Maubert in the Latin Quarter, and I explored the city by metro and on foot.

...but here are some more blue ones (and a blue sky)

The woman who ran the hotel (it was called Le Pierwige and doesn't exist any more — the building now houses a bank at street level with, I assume, apartments upstairs) was called Madame Suzanne. She seemed pretty old to me (I bet she was in her 50s), she had unnaturally blond hair, she lived in the eastern suburbs of Paris, and she loved to talk. She was kind of loud, actually. I have memories of spending rainy mornings or cold afternoons just sitting in the lobby of the hotel talking to her, soaking up her French.

The Cistercian abbey called Sénanque is in a valley just outside
Gordes.
It is surrounded by woods and by fields of lavendar.

I also met other English-speaking students who were staying in the hotel and went with them on trips out into the wilds of the city (remember I came from a small town in North Carolina and was a student at a small college there).

I remember going to Les Halles before the central market there was completely dismantled and moved to the suburbs out at Rungis, near Orly. On a gray, cold, rainy day, the experience was overwhelming. I think I was vaguely afraid and disoriented that day — such were the smells, sounds, and colors of the chaotic scene — and I couldn't wait to get back to the quiet and warmth of the hotel.

Years later, an American woman I knew who was spending a year learning French in Paris described her experience this way: Every time she came up out of the metro in an unfamiliar neighborhood, it was like being reborn. There she was, emerging into the light, with no knowledge of her surroundings, no experiences to rely on, and almost without language skills. That's how I felt in 1970, I realized.

View of the landscape of Provence from Gordes

I remember going to Versailles with a young woman named Denise. It was early March 1970, and she was staying at the Pierwige too. She was from Christchurch, New Zealand. We went to spend the day in the palace and the park at Versailles, and it snowed all day. Big wet flakes stuck to our clothes and faces. It was so cold but it was exciting to be there. It seemed so real. France does to me: it seems so real.

Another picture of those houses at Gordes

And that's how I think of Paris: cold, gray, and raining or snowing lightly. A cocoon of clouds. Wet shoes and a wet head. It's pretty different from Provence. Don't get me wrong — there are plenty of bright sunny days in Paris too. Just not nearly as many. The overall feeling is gray, whether you look up or look down. For color, you go into a café or a museum or a shop.

And another of the Provençal landscape

In 1970, I found a place to eat dinner in Paris. It was called the Restaurant St-Michel, on the Boul'Mich, and a four-course meal with wine cost five French francs, which was a little less than one American dollar back then. A starter course, a main dish, some cheese, and a dessert. It reminded me of a place some friends and I had found in Aix, called Chez Nénette, where we could eat similar food at similar prices. And where we did most nights before trudging back to our rented rooms.

Oops, I was supposed to be writing about Gordes and Provence. I got carried away. It must be the band of rainy weather that's moving over Saint-Aignan right now.

25 February 2008

Another picturesque village: Lauris

Lauris is a village about 30 minutes by car from Roussillon. On the way there, you pass through Bonnieux, and then take a winding road through a gap in the Luberon mountains down to Lourmarin. Lourmarin and Lauris are on the south side of the mountains, on the edge of the Durance river valley.

Blue shutters in Lauris
11 September 2001

The Durance used to be a wild river. And I've already talked about the hard, cold, dry north wind called the Mistral that sweeps across Provence with great violence and frequency. And then there is the capital city of the region, Aix-en-Provence, where the parliament used to meet and where I was a student in 1970. An old saying I've read is: « Mistral, parlement, and Durance, Sont les trois fléaux de Provence. » That means "Mistral, parliament, and Durance, Are the three scourges of Provence."

Don't drink the water! At least not at this fountain.

One theory though, is that the Mistral wind is what gives the area its beautiful deep blue skies. It's hard on the local vegetation, however, because it dries out plants really quickly. I'm not sure if the Durance river has any particular beneficial aspects for Provence. But at least it doesn't really flood anymore, now that dams have been built upriver to control its flow. And as for the parliament, well... it's not only in the U.S. where people complain about their government.

More blue shutters in Lauris, and a blue door
11 September 2001

On the subject of the Mistral, in 1993, Walt and I went and found a winery whose red wines we had been buying and enjoying in California. That's the winery where the people advised us to buy an inexpensive five-liter plastic jug and have it filled from the wine vat rather than buy wine in bottles. It was less expensive, and it was fun, so that's what we did.

Turquoise shutters in Lauris
11 September 2001

That winery (Walt will remember the name) was known for its organic methods of growing grapes and making wine. The people who ran it explained that the Mistral wind blew so hard and so regularly that they didn't need to use fungicides or insecticides on the vines. The dry wind made it impossible for mold or mildew to take hold, and the Mistral blew so hard that it blew all the insects away before they could do any damage! Blew them right off the vines. I think they were kidding.

Anyway, Lauris is an unremarkable village, I think, by Provence standards. In fact, none of the villages in the Luberon and along the Durance valley have any particularly distinguished or historic châteaux or churches in them. (I'll quickly add that the architecturally amazing Cistercian abbeys of Sénanque and Silvacane are located very close to the villages of Gordes and Lauris, respectively, but not in them.)

Green shutters in Lauris
11 September 2001

What there is to do and see in Provence is the villages themselves. The narrow, winding streets paved with cobblestones, the old houses with their brightly painted shutters and windows, and the views from hilltops of fields of lavendar and vineyards and other hilltop villages, with a backdrop of mountains, are the draw. It's a magical atmosphere.

Red shutters in Lauris
11 September 2001

We had been to Lauris in 1993, when we rented a house just up the road in Mérindol, also on the edge of the Durance valley. The village of Puget, which gave its name to one of the major brands of French olive oil (and maybe to the Sound of the same name in the U.S. Pacific Northwest), is nearby. In 1993 in Lauris, W. took pictures — color slides — of red and blue shutters there. In 2001, we went back and took pictures — digital — of the same shutters again.

24 February 2008

Roussillon, village en Provence

What a beautiful morning it is here in Saint-Aignan! The sky is perfectly clear, and a nearly full moon set just a few minutes ago. Now the sun is coming up behind the trees across the road and the horizon is tinged with pink under a blue sky. It's going to be the nicest day of the year so far.

Roussillon in Provence

But I was talking about Provence. One of the most beautiful villages in the Luberon Valley, east of Avignon and north of Aix, has be to Roussillon. It is built at the top of hills that are made up of the substance called ocher — ocre in French — and which has the color of what we would call red clay.

A bell tower in Roussillon
stands out against a royal blue sky

Ocher (also spelled ochre) is a name for naturally occurring mineral oxides that come in colors from yellow to red to purple and can be used to make dyes. The ocher around Roussillon is a mixture of clay and iron oxide. The stucco used on the façades of the buildings in the village is made from it, so most of the buildings have that characteristic color, and so do the surrounding cliffs and crags.

Roussillon's church

That color is the big attraction at Roussillon, along with the warm, dry weather and the deep blue sky. You can see the royal blue of the sky in some of these pictures, and it's authentic. I don't use filters and I haven't retouched these photos to exaggerate the color of the skies.

The colors of Roussillon

When you arrive at Roussillon, you park your car in a big lot just on the edge of the village. There's no need to drive further in. In the parking lot, there is — or used to be — a souvenir shop/art gallery with a big sign that says « Ocrement Dit » — a pun on the French expression « autrement dit », which means "in other words." Ha ha ha. I guess I didn't take a picture of it.

September 11, 2001, in Roussillon

And then there is the very nice Café des Couleurs with table set up in front of an old house that in 2001 seemed to be empty and in need of some TLC. With the bright sun shining down out of a navy blue sky, the façade of the old building projected not only light but heat down onto the café tables below and the people enjoying a drink and some conversation there.

Looking up over the heads of the people seated in the picture above

When I look at these pictures again, I'm really sorry that pollen allergies can keep me from enjoying such a beautiful place as Provence. But it's a fact. I suffered for 10 years in California — the allergies came on suddenly in 1992. An allergist in San Francisco told me he thought the best thing I could do would be to go live elsewhere — but not in California or Arizona or Las Vegas, or even the South of France. Too many cypress and olive trees Go north, he told me. Seattle. Or Paris. Normandy. Why not the Loire Valley?

22 February 2008

A « gîte rural » in Provence

Early in 2001, Walt and I started talking about our travel plans for the year. We were both working, so we had to coordinate some time off. Our first idea was to go to New York City around Labor Day and try to get some tickets to the US Open tennis tournament.

The gîte we ended up renting in Cavaillon —
rustic but big, comfortable, and well located


We went so far as to find an apartment we might rent by searching the Internet. It was in Lower Manhattan, not far from the World Trade Center. But it was really expensive -- something approaching two thousand dollars a week for a small apartment. It looked nice and was a good location, but I started wondering about paying that price.

The "non-public side" of the gîte. Provençal houses often have
no windows or only very small ones on their north side because
the strong, cold Mistral winds blow so often out of the north.


Instead, I started searching the Internet for places we might rent in Provence. I had a couple of weeks of vacation that I needed to take or I would lose it. It had been six years since our last trip to southern France. I was always ready to spend a few days or weeks in France, anyway.

Then we asked our friend Sue if she would like to go with us. She was interested and she had been to France before but never to Provence. I found a gîte -- a house rented out by the week -- in Cavaillon, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms for about 400 dollar a week. Even with plane fare and car rental, it would cost less to go spend two weeks in Provence than to spend two weeks in New York.

Another view of the gîte, which was just about 2 km
from Cavaillon — a 15-minute walk.

I don't know if we would actually have been in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, but we might well have been. Instead, we were in Provence that day. It was a Tuesday, and we drove over to Gordes in the morning and then on through some of the other villages toward Lourmarin. I had a bad sore throat and was definitely coming down with something, but the weather was nice.

The kitchen/dining room was enormous. This give you an
idea how a typical gîte rural might be furnished. This place
was extra big though, compared to others we have rented.


That evening, we got back to the gîte and put something on the table for supper. At about 8:30 we decided to turn on the TV to see the weather report for the following days. When we turned it on, what we saw was the World Trade Center in New York with smoke pouring out of the two towers. It was 2:30 p.m. in New York, so we weren't seeing it live. Walt and I stood and listened in shock, trying to figure out what was going on. Sue doesn't understand French, so she just watched.

The biggest bedroom had these nice twin lits-bateau.
Boat beds? Sleigh beds? What are they called in English?
The French-English dictionary says "cabin beds."

At first, I thought we might be watching a science fiction movie or some kind of documentary about something that in somebody's imagination might happen one day. And then when it became clear the buildings really were the Trade Center in New York I thought it might be some kind of documentary about the earlier terrorist attack on thos buildings. And then they showed footage of the towers collapsing.

Anyway, it gradually became clear what was going on and we explained to Sue as best we could, translating what we were hearing on French TV. We all went to bed that night pretty freaked out, and none of us slept much, I'm sure. It felt strange to be so cut off from big events taking place in the U.S., but that has happened to me many times in my life.

By the next morning, I was exhausted and had a raging fever. Walt and Sue didn't know what to do, but it didn't make sense for them to be stuck at the gîte with me. I certainly couldn't go anywhere — I was too sick and needed to rest. Sue had never seen Provence, so there was a lot of stuff she wanted to do and places we wanted to show her.

She and Walt left for a day trip to Aix-en-Provence. I didn't need to go to Aix again, I thought. I'd get better and then go see some places I hadn't seen before. But I was feeling a little sorry for myself, I'll confess.

A view of Provençal skies from the gîte

So what was there for me to do all day? Take aspirin, drink hot tea, and eat soup. Wrap up in a blanket and watch TV or listen to the radio. I couldn't read because my eyes were stinging, burning, and teary. Besides, I didn't have the mental energy to focus on the written word. And what was on the TV and radio? Nothing but full-time coverage of the situation in New York. It was pretty depressing.

Another view from the gîte. I spent a lot of time
at the house and had time to take a lot of pictures.


I heard on the radio that it was impossible to put a telephone call through to the U.S. All the lines and cables were saturated, over capacity, with calls. And we didn't even have a phone at the gîte, or a cell phone. So all I could do was sit there and try to get over the cold or flu or whatever it was I had. That was Wednesday 9/12.

I stayed in all the next day too. On Thursday night, I actually got in the car and drove into Cavaillon at midnight to try to call my mother from a phone booth and tell her we were fine. I couldn't get through. I made a call to a French friend in Normandy just because I wanted to talk to somebody and not feel like I had wasted my time by going out.

This is Ménerbes, a village we had visited earlier in the day
11 September 2001

By Friday the fever had broken and I was starting to come back to life. The three of us went into Cavaillon to go to a pharmacy. I wanted something stronger for my cold and sore throat, and we needed some kind of sleeping pills because none of us was getting any rest at all. The shock of the New York events on top of jet lag had us all completely discombobulated and worn out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The living room
was also spacious
and simply furnished.
Several evenings,
we had fires in
the fireplace, with
the Mistral blowing
hard outside.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I explained to the woman behind the counter at the pharmacy that we were Americans and we needed something to help us sleep because we were having nightmares and were exhausted, she looked at me and said something like, "Monsieur, I understand. We are all having nightmares right now, you know." She recommended a somnifère that turned out to do the job.

We continued our trip and sightseeing, of course. There were not flights back to the U.S. those first few days, even if we had wanted to fly back home.

That Friday, the woman at the pharmacy also gave me something for my cold symptoms. I told her I had bad pollen allergies in California, and she said with the winds we were having -- the Mistral was blowing -- there was a lot of pollen and dust in the air. Maybe all that was aggravating my condition.

I still think it was just a cold that I caught on the plane on the way from California to France. But a year or two later an allergist in San Francisco told me that I shouldn't even consider living in the South of France because I have severe allergies to the pollen of cypress and olive trees, which abound down there.