31 May 2015

Sage

That's sauge [sohzh] in French. Ours is very pretty this year. Here's the evidence.


If you are reading this on Sunday, know that I am out driving around in the area called Le Perche, which is sort of extreme southern Normandy, about three hours by car north of Saint-Aignan.


The bigger Perche towns we are seeing are Nogent-le-Rotrou, Bellême, Mortagne-au-Perche, and Alençon. A lot of small villages are along the roads in between. I was last up there in 2011 and wrote these blog posts.

30 May 2015

Weekend off — out driving around

I'm on the road to Paris by the time you are reading this — unless I've already arrived. CHM and I might be having lunch at the Japanese resident just up the street from his apartment. Walt is staying home to take care of the plants, the garden, the dog, and the cat. I'll be back Monday night, with CHM.

Just off the grill

I'm going to drive a slightly different way this time: from Saint-Aignan to Romorantin and then Lamotte-Beuvron (where the tarte tatin was invented more than a century ago), on to Vouzon, Souvigny-en-Sologne, Isdes, and Sully-sur-Loire before crossing the Loire River into "northern France." From there I take a familiar route through Bellegarde, Malesherbes, Milly-la-Forêt, and on to Paris via autoroute to the Porte d'Orléans.

Splayed out and skewered, waiting to be rubbed

To get your weekend appetite going, look at these pictures of a butterflied chicken we cooked day before yesterday.

Spice-rubbed inside...

Walt made up a spice rub (cumin, dried ground ginger, ground cloves, hot red pepper powder, Indian garam masala, smoked paprika etc.) while I cut the backbone out of the chicken and splayed it out. This was a Label Rouge poulet jaune from the supermarket. To prepare the volaille, cut down each side of the backbone, starting at the end that goes over the fence last, using heavy-duty kitchen shears. With the backbone and the wing tips, make make stock for a soup or the freezer.

...and out, ready to grill

I secured the "spatchcock" chicken with a couple of long wooden skewers through the wings and thighs so that it would be easy to turn over on the grill and wouldn't go all floppy (that's what happens when you don't have a backbone). Walt cooked the chicken low and slow on our gas grill. He has leftovers for this weekend.

29 May 2015

Roses


The news about my relative in N.C. is not very good. I'm not ready to write about it until there's some kind of resolution. I hope of course that it turns out to be good news. Sometimes it's hard being so far from home. Tomorrow, I'll be going to Paris, and then I'll be far from both of my homes.

 

Meanwhile, we're having a string of nice days, despite weather reports that it might rain at any minute. It never does. Yesterday I showed some of the fruit on the trees around here, today here are some pictures of the roses in our yard.


We don't take care of the roses as well as we could, but they seem hardy. They were here when we bought the house 12 years ago. On another subject, Callie just came downstairs... limping. Sigh.

28 May 2015

L'époque de la fructification

Fruit is forming all around us. Here are some examples. All these photos are ones I took just a few steps outside our back door.



Little red plums
on the tree I planted
five or six years ago.
Looks like a good
crop this year.


Blackberries on a
thornless plant
that a friend who lives
on the other side
of the village gave us,
also five or six
years ago.


These little green plums
will soon be turning red.
They're on a tree
in the neighbors' yard.
The neighbors are
very generous
about sharing them.
They are very fine
cooked in a tart.


These same
neighbors
have eight or ten
peach trees too.
One year they told us
to go pick as many
as we wanted. We
came away with more
than 20 lbs. of them.
We made many
quarts of confiture.



And, finally,
apples. Looks
like we'll have
a bumper crop.
We have four trees
in our yard and
we are often
overwhelmed.
It all adds up
to a lot of
applesauce
and jelly.

27 May 2015

Une salade plus ou moins « piémontaise »

If you've ever eaten more than a few times in Paris cafés or brasseries, you've probably come across or even ordered what's called a salade piémontaise. It's a standard item, like carottes râpées, salade de betteraves, or céleri rémoulade. You can also buy it ready-made in French supermarkets. I decided to make a salade piémontaise the other day, using ingredients I had in the fridge and pantry.


Salade piémontaise is a potato salad. The piémontaise in its name refers to the northern Italian region of Piemonte, but there is some doubt that the salad actually originated there. France controlled that region for more than 50 years in the 19th century, and somehow this salad got the name. The main ingredients are potatoes, cornichons (pickled gherkins), ham, hard-cooked eggs, and tomatoes. The dressing is a mixture of mayonnaise, mustard, and yogurt (or cream).


I've seen recipes that called for saucisses de strasbourg cut into chunks, or lardons fumés, or even chunks of cooked chicken breast, instead of ham. All that sounds good to me. The things you can't really leave out or substitute for seem be the potatoes, the cornichons, the eggs, and the creamy white dressing. If tomatoes are in season, they're standard too.

Hard boil the eggs by putting them into a pot of cold water, bringing it to the boil, and then turning off the heat and letting the eggs sit in the hot water for about 10 minutes. They won't be overcooked.

Tomatoes aren't in season yet, so I substituted some roasted red bell peppers, cut into largish pieces. And in the refrigerator we had two little Spanish chorizo sausages that we had grilled a couple of days earlier. They replaced the ham.

The dressing was half a cup (120 milliliters) of plain yogurt or liquid cream, the same quantity of mayonnaise (from a jar), a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, a squirt of cider vinegar, and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, with some salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Stir it all together well. Thin it slightly with water to make it pourable.




I remember first discovering salade piémontaise when I was a student in Aix-en-Provence and in Paris way back in the 1970s. I was happy to find a potato salad like this one, because I missed the American potato salads I — we all — had grown up with. And the fact is, French potatoes are so good and creamy, but they don't fall apart in the creamy dressing. Cook them in a steamer for the best result.


American potato salads are usually yellow, because one ingredient of the dressing is bright yellow "ballpark" mustard. Not this one. Try not to overdo the dressing, actually. It's better thinned down enough that you can pour it on and let it just barely coat the salad ingredients. Put the eggs on top and try not to break them up by too much stirring. Avocado on the side or cut up and added to the salad is good too.

26 May 2015

Cherries are ripening

Our weather hasn't been great in May, with just a few warm days. We've had to turn the heat back on some mornings, so chilly it got. I'm almost surprised to see cherries ripening already.



The sky looked threatening all day yesterday but we never had more than a few minutes of light drizzle. You couldn't call it rain. Neither one of us got wet on our walk with Callie.



The weather report I just saw on Télématin said to expect rain today. We'll see. Yesterday we spent some time sitting out on the front terrace with Bertie the cat.


25 May 2015

The funeral on Saturday

At about 9:30 Saturday morning I drove down to the outdoor market on the main square in Saint-Aignan to get some asparagus, strawberries, and mushrooms. One of my purposes was just to drive the Peugeot to see if I could tell any difference in the feel of the braking after the work that was done on the car during the week. I couldn't, but that's fine. I know the maintenance was done and that feels good.

As turned onto our little road to come back up the hill to the house after my shopping, I encountered two cars coming the other way. In one were our neighbors M and B, and in the other was our neighbor the village mayor's husband, J-M. They were headed to the cemetery for neighbor A's burial, I assumed. I came home and dropped off the produce. I went back out immediately and drove down to the cemetery in the village center, hoping that was the right place and wondering if the burial might be taking place in the cemetery in Saint-Aignan.

When I got there, I saw that I was in the right place. M and B's car was parked in the lot across from the cemetery gate, and through the gate I could see them walking around among the graves and tombs. We were all a little early for the ceremony. I went and met them, and then the three of us walked up the steep hill to the newer section of the cemetery. The old cemetery is full.

At the gate up the hill, about 10 people were waiting around, including J-M. The weather was pleasant enough, and we joined them. I looked around and saw Madame la Maire trudging up the hill, wearing her ceremonial bleu-blanc-rouge ribbon and panting a bit because of the steep climb. She immediately greeted each attendee, including us, as the crowd gradually grew to 20 or so.

We must have waited 20 minutes in all. I had wondered how many people A (the deceased) and her husband D really knew in the village or the Saint-Aignan area, since they never really lived here full time. They've never had a lot of visitors other than their daughter and her kids. It seemed to me that 20 was a pretty good turnout. The village grave-digger arrived in his truck, and we all stood aside as he drove the vehicle into the cemetery and parked in the back to wait.


Then the hearse arrived, followed by 15 or 20 cars! That brought the number of attendees to 50 or 60. I asked M if A and D had family in the area, and she said yes, they had relatives who lived around some town or village not too far away, between here and Paris. She couldn't remember where exactly. D was there of course, leaning on his cane, his bushy graying hair slightly disheveled. So were his daughter and granddaughter. The grandson was nowhere to be seen, and M told me the boy, maybe 12 years old, had declined to participate in the funeral and had withdrawn into his own private world. She said she was worried that he was going to have a hard time coming to terms with his grandmother's death.

A and D's daughter came and greeted all of us who were waiting by the cemetery gate, giving us all the customary bises (kisses on the cheeks). She asked a woman standing behind me if she knew her, and the woman said no, I'm here as a friend of this woman that you do know. Okay. Then the daughter looked at me, slightly confused, and started to ask if she knew me. I hadn't really seen her in several years, so I told her I was a neighbor. That jogged her memory. She said oh of course, sorry, I'm not really on top of things today. C'est compréhensible, I told her.

The hearse drove into the cemetery and the funeral director told us all to follow on foot. It was a short walk to the center of the graveyard. As we walked up, four pall-bearers were taking A's coffin out of the hearse and setting it on sawhorses out in the open. They draped a kind of skirt of heavy gray material around the sawhorses and placed 8 or 10 big pots of flowering plants on and around the coffin. The funeral director said a word or two, introducing the village mayor, who was officiating.

Our neighbor the mayor gave a short talk in the name of the village council and in her own name, personally, as A's longtime neighbor. She told us that A was 68 years old and was survived by her husband, her daughter and son-in-law, and her two grandchildren, all of whom live in a town about 10 miles north of Saint-Aignan. A had spent most of her life in the Paris region, and had worked for many years as an administrative secretary in the offices of the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris.

I knew about that, and I had often thought of A maybe working there back in the mid-70s when I lived in the western Paris suburb of Asnières and worked in the Latin Quarter. I would take the train in to the Gare Saint-Lazare, near the big departments stores, every morning, and then back out to the suburbs every evening after work. I would often stop at the big Monoprix supermarket in the Galeries Lafayette building and pick up something for my supper (my apartment back then didn't have a refrigerator, so I had to shop every day.) When I learned of A's employment history a few years ago, and they said that they lived just a few miles further out from Asnières, I wondered if she might have been on those same trains to and from the suburbs with me and the rest of the mass of daily commuters all those years ago. Who knows?

The mayor said A was an avid gardener (that was obvious from the beautiful flower beds in her front yard) and cook (Walt and I had been invited to her house for drinks and food a couple of times). She did embroidery. She loved her family and doted on her grandchildren. I knew that too, because when the grandchildren would come to spend the afternoon A would walk with them up and down the road and out into the vineyard, the kids sometimes walking and sometimes on tricycles and, later, bicycles.

We all stood in a half-circle around the coffin — all except D, with his cane, for whom the funeral director provided a black metal folding chair. A's daughter walked up to the casket and caressed it as she shed some tears and talked to her mother inside. D sat rather stoically and observed. The funeral director asked us to line up and pay our last respects, one at a time, at the foot of the coffin. The pall-bearers went through the assembly with baskets of rose petals, giving each of us a little handful to drop in a basked set on the foot of the coffin as we paid our repects.


Some people crossed themselves, others touched the casket and said a few words to A or to themselves, bidding her farewell. It's interesting to find yourself in a crowd of people like that, not knowing more than 5 or 6 out of the 50 or 60 in attendance, and to look at them sort of from afar. Many of them were dressed in their Sunday best, and others were in what looked like their everyday clothes. These are country people and some of the faces looked distinctly rural or almost medieval. Or 19th-century, anyway — farmers, clerks, tradespeople, I imagined — out of an ancient painting.

Once all the flower petals had been gathered in that single basket, the funeral director said a word or two about the reality of death as the end of all our lives, thanked the mayor, and directed the pall-bearers to carry the casket to a nearby grave that had been dug. They lowered the casket into the ground and people filed by to again pay their last respects. All the rose petals that we had dropped into that basket were sprinkled into the grave. I stood off to one side, not being a really close friend and not a relative. The mayor our neighbor did the same, and after a minute she came over to me and we talked for a minute or two. She said she had been taken by surprise when her voice broke with emotion in the middle of her talk. I told her that she had done a very good job, in my opinion.

Then our other neighbors M (about 80 years old) and B (85) came over and said they were ready to go home. I said I'd walk back down the hill with them — we'd left our cars down there. M said she wondered what would become of D without his wife. She did everything at their house, including the gardening and cooking. He has mobility issues and can't do much gardening any more, but he still drives. She said that D has decided to sell the apartment up in the Paris area and move down here to live full time. His health is not good, overall, so... well, as it is for us all, it's just a matter of time.

24 May 2015

Chicken in a honey and soy sauce with ginger and garlic

I did go to our neighbor's funeral yesterday. It was a simple ceremony and very dignified. I'll try to write about it later, but I'm not ready to do that this morning. Meanwhile, my close relative in North Carolina, after having a heart attack a few days ago, is still not conscious. I think she's in a coma, even though I'm not sure the doctor's are calling it that. All these recent deaths and illnesses among relatives, friends, and neighbors are weighing on me.

Yesterday afternoon's skies over the vineyard

Meanwhile, yesterday for lunch I made a recipe that I saw on David Lebovitz's blog a few days ago. It turned out to be really good — that wasn't a surprise. It's chicken with a soy, ginger, and honey sauce, and you cook it in the oven after marinating it. That's a lot less messy than stir-frying, I think.


David's recipe calls for marinating and cooking chicken thighs in the soy, honey, and ginger sauce, but I had two chicken leg and thigh sections left from last week's market chicken. I had cooked the breast and wings with 20 cloves of garlic. Yesterday I took the legs out of the freezer and cooked them as you see. I can imagine this recipe would be really good with duck legs and thighs. Next time...


I added some hot pepper sauce and red pepper flakes to the marinade/sauce. I also cooked some Italian green beans and some Japanese udon noodles to have with the chicken. They were just cooked plain, and then served with the sauce the chicken marinated and cooked in. You can find David's recipe here.

23 May 2015

Sad Saturday

No, it's not about my relative in North Carolina. It's about one of our neighbors here in Saint-Aignan.


Above is our neighbor B, who is 85, in a photo that I took yesterday afternoon. Every spring and summer for the past 12 years, we've watched him ride around his big yard on his tracteur (riding mower) keeping the grass just right. He's 85 now. Yesterday afternoon his wife M called me on the phone, which is unusual.

She asked me if I had heard that another neighbor, A, had passed away a couple of days ago. I hadn't heard, but I knew that A had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and had been operated on. Evidently, it was too late. I think A was about my age, or no more than a few years older than I am. We know her daughter, who must be about 40 years old and lives nearby with her husband and children. And we had known A and her husband D for more than 10 years too. Poor D.


The funeral is today at the cemetery down in the village. I'll be there. Like us, A and D didn't really have roots here in Saint-Aignan. In the early 1970s, they happened to buy a ruin of a house here, two doors down from the one we live in now. They spent many summers here restoring the place, they told us, showing us before and after pictures, and spent more and more time here after A retired from her job at the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris six or seven years ago. They still spent part of the year in their apartment up there. I am a little surprised that she will be buried here instead of near Paris, but then her daughter and grandchildren are settled here.

This will be just the second funeral I've attended in our village — and actually only the second funeral I've ever attended in France, I think, despite living here off and on for 45 years. In 2009 one of the first friends we made in Saint-Aignan died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 52. I went to his funeral. Over the past 12 years, seven of our neighbors, including A, have died. Four of them were in their 90s. Most of them were not buried around here, but in the towns and cities they had left behind when they moved here. This hamlet is in for some big changes over the next few years, as the older generation passes on.

22 May 2015

Paris car and parking issues

We got the Peugeot back from the mechanic's yesterday. He had his crew purge the brake fluid (le liquide de freins), inspect the front brake disks, and replace the brake pads (les plaquettes). Both Peugeot and Citroën recommend that the brake fluid be changed every two years, no matter how few kilometers you've driven in that time. That seems excessif to me, but what do I know?

The fact is that the brake fluid on the Peugeot had never been changed over the 12 years that I've owned it. So now it's done. Dominique, the mechanic, said he didn't really think the brake pads needed replacing, but he did it anyway. It had been nearly 10 years since they had been replaced, I imagine. We don't really drive the Peugeot hard or for long distances, but it feels good to have this maintenance done. It cost only about 135 euros.

A week from tomorrow, I'll be driving up to Paris to pick up CHM and bring him to Saint-Aignan via Nogent-le-Rotrou, Bellême, Mortagne-au-Perche, and Alençon. That's a big detour, and we'll spend a night in a hotel in Mortagne before driving back down to Saint-Aignan. It's a three-hour drive from Paris to Alençon in lower Normandy, but we'll want to spend some time sight-seeing and we'll make a day of it. Then it's a three-hour drive from Alençon to Saint-Aignan, and again we'll make a day of it and spend some time seeing towns, villages, châteaux, and churches along the way.

This is the Citroën [see-tro-enn], not the Peugeot [peuh-zhoh].

I'll be driving the recently acquired Citroën up to Paris, and I'm a little nervous about driving in the city again. I did it last year, and I've done it many many times in the past, but it just gets harder and harder. My reflexes are not what they used to be. There is more traffic. And this car is wider and longer than the little Peugeot, so I'm still getting used to driving it in tight spaces. All spaces in Paris are tight when it comes to cars.

Last night I started looking at web sites about parking your car in Paris to remind myself of the rules and regulations. In past years, parking in residential areas like the one where CHM has his apartment was always free on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays. Well, I learned that all that has now changed. There is no such thing as free street-parking in Paris on Saturdays since January 1, 2015. Sundays and holidays, yes, but not Saturdays...

Parking (le stationnement) in central Paris costs four euros, or about five dollars, per hour. In the more residential outer districts, it's 2.40€ an hour, from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m., or 26.40€ (nearly $30) for the 11-hour parking day. Make that 44€, nearly $50, in the more congested central districts. Residents who have paid for a sticker to put on their car get a break on those rates. Visitors like me are supposed to be discouraged from driving and parking in the city.

This is Saint-Aignan, not Paris. Park wherever you want.

Okay, so I can pay the 15 or 20 euros it would cost me to park the car for, say, 8 or 9 hours on the Saturday, assuming I arrive in Paris between 11 a.m. and noon. It's a one-time expense, right? The bigger problem is that it is illegal to leave your car in the same curbside parking space for more than two hours. If you don't move it and look for a different parking space every two hours, you can get a parking ticket requiring payment of a hefty fine. So if I park at noon, I'll have to move the car at 2, 4, and 6. That means staying in the neighborhood all day, and crossing your fingers that you will find a new parking space each time without too much trouble.

The other solution is an underground parking garage. I just found one in CHM's neighborhood by searching on the internet. The web page says I can park from 11 a.m. on Saturday until early Sunday morning for 16 euros. So that sounds like a good deal, if it works out. I can reserve a space ahead of time. From 11:30 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. the garage is locked up, so I won't be able to take the car out during those hours, but I wouldn't be doing that anyway. And it might feel good to know that the Citroën is locked up overnight rather than sitting out on the street, where it's vulnerable to vandals and careless drivers.

By the way, the drive to Paris takes four hours if you avoid all toll roads. If you take the toll roads, the trip is three hours, but the toll is 20 euros. And either way, you'll burn between 20 and 30 euros' worth of diesel fuel (in my case) on the way. Gasoline (essence) would be considerably more expensive. It's enough to make you want to take the train. I guess that's the point.

21 May 2015

Poulet à l'ail

I got some bad news from North Carolina yesterday. It has to do with the health of a relative (but not my mother or sister). I won't go into detail. I'm waiting for more news. Nothing has yet arrived by e-mail. For the time being, I'm going to assume that no news is good news. This morning I've just been sitting here for more than an hour looking through all the photos I've taken recently and wondering what I have to write a blog post about. Enough with the flowers. Enough with the vineyard scenes. Enough with the Callie photos.

So here's a food report. Last Saturday morning, Walt went to the outdoor market on the main square in Saint-Aignan to get some local asparagus and strawberries, which are in season right now. I asked him to buy a chicken from our favorite poultry vendor. I had picked up a package of 6 heads of garlic a week earlier, and some of it needed to be used. We also have a lot of sage growing in the garden now. And there was a bag of red potatoes down in the cellar. All that sounded like the makings for a good Sunday dinner.
Before he left to do the shopping, Walt asked me what size chicken he should buy. I said, off the top of my head, oh, not a huge one — maybe a kilo and a half. That's what he asked for chez le volailler. The woman waiting on him laughed and said: « Mais monsieur, ça n'existe pas ! » It seems the minimum weight for one of their birds is two kilos. Walt said he felt like the laughingstock of Saint-Aignan.

Who knew? At the supermarket I often get 1.5 kg chickens. At the market, when you buy a chicken you buy it with the feet and head still on, and the guts giblets still inside. You pay for it, they hand you a ticket, and you either stand and wait or go off and do other shopping. Twenty minutes or more later you go back and claim your purchase, which has been beheaded, befooted (?), and gutted. The heart, liver, and gizzard are stuffed inside the bird, and you can claim the head and the feet if you want them.

 The man who prepares the poultry also singes off any stray feathers using a blowtorch. Having the bird prepared that way is optional, of course. You are welcome to take it home with the feet, head, and guts giblets still attached. Remember the quails that I bought and prepared a few weeks ago? In the case of this chicken, it was so big that I decided we didn't need to cook the whole thing. Instead of cutting it in half, I decided to cut off the legs and thighs and put those in the freezer for later.
I would cook the just breast and wings as a roast, setting it on a bed of sage leaves and surrounded by about 20 unpeeled cloves of garlic. I would drizzle some olive oil over it all, pour in a little bit of rosé wine, and roast some potatoes in the same pan. After cutting off the legs and thighs, I also cut out the chicken's backbone and saved that, the neck, and the giblets for making stock later.

There's a recipe that you can find all over the internet for chicken cooked with forty cloves of garlic. My version was half a chicken cooked with twenty cloves of garlic. We enjoyed it.

By the way, I took these photos with a 10-year-old Panasonic Lumix FZ7 digital camera. We had it in storage and I decided to get it out and see what it was like and how good the photos would be. Judge for yourself.


20 May 2015

We got wood and now it's turned chilly

I probably seem to dwell too much on things like vegetable garden prep and wood-stacking chores, but those are important parts of our life here in the French countryside. Not just ours, but most people's. We could decide not to not have a garden, I guess, but gardening was one of the attractions of the Loire Valley when we decided to move here 12 or 13 years ago. And the wood fire, well... we would miss it in wintertime. A small wood fire might be nice this morning, actually.


What's wrong with the picture above? There are no plants in the ground (except those two stray rhubarb clumps) on May 20! I'm not too worried because I remember other years when we didn't or couldn't set plants out in the garden until June 1, either because it was too chilly or too damp. At this point, we are hoping that the warm weather will come back in June. The temperature this morning is just below 45ºF (7ºC) at our house.


The woodpile in process (above) and finished (below) — two long rows of short logs


What's right with the pictures above? The wood is all stacked. Walt did three-quarters of the work, but I did help. It was windy yesterday and I think the wood had a lot of pollen on it. Moving it stirred the pollen up and my eyes and nose started burning and itching. I had to quit and come inside to make lunch. Kudos to Walt for actually finishing the stacking chore.

Callie poked her head out and watched us working yesterday but she didn't offer to come help move logs.

Today we're taking the Peugeot in for some preventive brake work and maintenance. I also hope the mechanic will also be able to adjust the car's clutch by tightening up the cable that operates it. I told him that the clutch and brakes on the Citroën are a lot tighter than on the old Peugeot, and he said he'd try to make it better. But he wasn't optimistic — different car models are just different, he said. It sure is nice having two cars so that I don't have to wait around for the service on one of them to be done. The garage is about four miles from our house.

19 May 2015

Du bois, en veux-tu ? En voilà !

Today is wood-stacking day — again. And that's a good thing, even if it is hard work.Yesterday I called the local firewood vendor we found out about a few weeks ago while shopping for a new wood-burning stove for our living room. He's located in the town of Vallières-les-Grandes, near Amboise, about 20 miles from Saint-Aignan.

This wood is a mix of chêne (oak) and charme (an excellent firewood sometimes called ironwood in the U.S.).

A woman answered the phone when I called the number at about 10:00 a.m. She was very helpful, taking my order for 3 stères (or cubic meters) of firewood cut into logs 33 centimeters long (that's 13 inches). I asked her if 3 stères was a big enough order for them to be willing to fill. It's not quite a full cord. We needed the wood delivered to the house. She said fine, no problem. My husband is out on a delivery now, and he will call you as soon as he can. I gave her our address and phone number.

Callie had to come outside and sniff the wood to make sure it was okay.

In the past, we've always bought 1-meter-long logs, and Walt has spent many days cutting them into three pieces during August, September, and October so that we'd be ready for the heating season. Last year the man we bought wood from didn't deliver it until October, after promising to have it here in July. One year we got a delivery of 14.5 stères (4 cords), enough for three winters' burning, at a bargain price. Other years, we've ordered between 3.5 and 5 stères each time. Last winter was a mild one so we have some wood left over for next winter to supplement this load as needed.

Campanules (bellflowers) growing by the front door

This time, no cutting will be required. The logs are already the right size to fit into our old wood stove, if we decide to keep it, or into any new one we might have installed this summer. Most people here do heat at least partially with wood, as we do. It's a lot less expensive that heating with gas, fuel oil, or electricity alone, and wood is a sustainable resource in France. The government encourages heating with wood by giving people a 30% tax credit when they buy a new wood-burner.

I was surprised yesterday when the man who sells firewood called us back just before noon. He said one of his customers had canceled a delivery, so he could bring us our wood in the afternoon. Great, I said. We'll be here. Two young men with a truck full of wood arrived mid-afternoon and dumped the logs next to our carport. The cost was about 200 euros, but that's a bargain when you think that last year we paid 150 euros for the same amount of wood, not to mention 75 to 100 euros in chainsaw maintenance and gasoline.

18 May 2015

A dog's life, or une vie de chien ?

If somebody says to you "it's a dog's life", what do you understand? Is the reference to a working dog that has to sleep outside, eat scraps, and work hard to earn its keep? Or is the dog in question a pampered pet who's got it made, living a cushy, carefree existence? Below, Callie is not unconscious, by the way. She's just lazing in the grass on a sunny afternoon (yesterday's).


Apparently, the meaning of the expression "a dog's life" has changed for many speakers of English. To past generations (and maybe to you too) "a dog's life" was not something desirable or pleasant. Other expressions, like "going to the dogs", being "dog tired", or "it's a dog-eat-dog world", point in that direction.


When I hear "it's a dog's life" I think it means a life you yourself would like to lead, easy and comfortable. In French, une vie de chien is a miserable existence. Un temps de chien is really lousy weather. Un mal de chien describes a person's exhausting efforts to solve intractable problems. Callie would probably be surprised to learn all this.