31 July 2007

Unlimited calling

Last week I was nosing around on the France Telecom web site and I came across a new (I think) calling plan that looked like it would fit our telephone habits exactly. The plan is called Optimale Plus and it gives you unlimited calling to landlines in France and the rest of Western Europe, and unlimited calling to both landlines and cell phones in North America. Hawaii and Alaska are excluded.

The Saint-Aignan sky, 30 July 2007

Unlimited calling to U.S. numbers! Sounds like it would be expensive, doesn't it? Well it's not. It costs €23.00 per month, which even at today's terrible exchange rates isn't much — about $30.00 U.S. This is what is called a forfait in French — a flat rate.

Until last week, we had a calling plan that gave us four hours of calls per month to the same geographical areas, and that cost €17.00. So for six euros extra, no limits. The problem with the four-hour plan was that if you used up your hours calling within France, you never got your money's worth out of it. The only way to get any benefit was to call the U.S. or Canada a lot.

I love looking at my phone usage on the France Telecom
web site and seeing all those 0.00s in the last column.
€ TTC means toutes taxes comprises — taxes included.

Of course, I do call the U.S. a lot, and now I'll be able to call any more without watching the meter tick up. And I can make phone calls in France without thinking about how I am using up minutes that I might want to use calling the U.S. The numbers I can call under the new plan include U.S. toll-free numbers, which are not toll-free if you call them from France. They are covered, however, under my flat rate.

On top of the €23.00 rate, we pay €16.00 a month to France Telecom for our line. That's the standard fee and you pay that whether or not you have any calling plan. And of course we pay France Telecom €25.00 a month for our DSL line. All in all, it's not bad.

30 July 2007

Michel Serrault, 1928-2007

Serrault in La Cage aux Folles

The prodigious French comedian and stage and film actor Michel Serrault passed away during the night in Honfleur at the age of 79. Over the course of his career, he appeared in some 135 movies. The role most Americans are likely to know him for was that of Albin Mougeotte, alias the hysterical « Zaza Napoli », in La Cage aux Folles (a 1978 film). Serrault had previously played the role on stage in Paris for several years and a total of some 900 performances.

Serrault began his career in Paris cabarets in the 1950s. He quickly moved into film roles — his first part was in the thriller Les Diaboliques (1954) with Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, and (!) Johnny Halliday. In 1971, he played one of his classic comedy roles in a film called Le Viager, which tells the story of a man who sells his house and property to a very greedy, mercenary family but keeps a lifetime right to live there and then outlives everybody else.

I remember Serrault from numerous TV appearances in the 1970s, when I lived in Paris. He always had everybody, from show hosts to other guests and the audience, in stitches.

Michel Serrault and Emmanuelle Béart

In 1995, Serrault and Emmanuelle Béart played the title roles in Claude Sautet's Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud. The film is a captivating and unexpected love story involving individuals from different generations. It's a movie I can watch over and over again without getting tired of the dialog and photography.

I think I enjoyed him in that role more than in any other I've seen him play. Also in the movie are Michael Lonsdale and Jean-Hugues Anglade. Computers play a major role too, as do Paris scenery and the French language. Sautet, who died in 2000, was one of the most talented French movie directors.

Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud at work

It saddens me to see the great French actors of the past 40 years passing away now. Part of France dies with them. Jean Yanne, Jean-Claude Brialy, Philippe Noiret, Jacques Villeret... A country really is both a place and a time.

29 July 2007

Sweet talk

You just know a blogger has nothing to blog about when he or she starts posting pictures that have been enhanced and modified in Photoshop. That's me today.

Geranium flower

Guess what! It's raining. Well, misting, really. It's just damp and windy enough that you don't want to go outside. I walked Callie this morning, before the mist started blowing down out of the clouds. Walt is cooking a coq au vin — actually, it's a poulet cuit au vin rouge, since he's using a chicken, not a rooster. That's wintertime food, but it seems appropriate on a gray, windy, misty day.

Geraniums in a window box

I'm now patiently waiting to get my new camera. Some of the comments on my topic a couple of days ago pointed out that there is a lot of fraud committed by people placing orders internationally. Somebody said you wouldn't want to accept payment by credit cards issued by banks in certain countries. Fair enough, I guess.

Dahlias by the garden shed

I think certain Internet vendors should make an effort to refine their policies regarding credit card payments, and educate their sales and customer service agents. They ought to recognize when a card is issued by and U.S. bank, at least. Don't they want to sell the merchandise they advertise? I know, I'm just ranting.

Blackberries by the pond, not yet ripe

Somebody else said all this a good argument for maintaining a billing address in the U.S., but I'm not sure whether that's kosher. My primary address is in France. I guess I should just buy things in France, and I do buy most things in France. My new computer speaks French. You probably can't tell, because the computer doesn't talk to you. To me, it says things like Réorganiser les icône par... and Vérouiller les éléments sur le bureau.

The gravel road through the vineyard

My computer sweet-talks me in French. C'est fantastique. I also have a camera that speaks and, I assume, sees the world, in French. I used it to take some of these pictures. Can you tell?

28 July 2007

Afraid of her... er... my shadow

A few mornings ago on our walk, Callie and I enjoyed bright sunshine coming from a big sun that was very low in the sky. You know what that means: long shadows.

We weren't far from the house when I realized that Callie was acting kind of strange. She was obviously nervous about something but I couldn't see anything that might scare her. Then I realized she was spooked by my long, tall shadow.

Callie transfixed by my long tall shadow

To see if that was really what was going on, I stopped and started to rock my head from side to side to make the shadow move a little bit. Callie went wild barking at my — the shadow's — rocking head. Ouah, ouah, ouah, ouah ! she barked. (She barks with a distinct French accent.)

Callie barking at the rocking head

By the time we got a few hundred yards farther out in the vines, I think the silly dog had figured out what was going on. She had been avoiding my shadow and kept glancing at it nervously. I stopped again and started rocking my head from side to side. Instead of looking at the shadow head, she looked back at me to say "Oh, stop being foolish. Not that old trick again!"

Okay, I've got it now. You're just playing games with me.

We had a nice walk that morning. We cut across the vineyard, down a row of vines hanging heavy with grapes, and ended up on the paved road on the other side. We walked up the paved road to where it meets up with the gravel tractor path that leads back to the house. Callie turned toward home and looked back over her shoulder at me. « Allons-y. Rentrons à la maison. J'ai faim, » she seemed to be saying.

Let's go home!

Later in the day, Walt mowed part of the back yard. Callie used to be afraid of the lawnmower and would go inside when he started it up. She didn't like the noise.

Barking at the lawnmower

Now that's changed. Instead of running away from the mower, she runs after it, barking all the way. She also like to chase the wheelbarrow when we roll it across the yard. She is developing good barking skills.

27 July 2007

Making it difficult

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that I'm trying to buy a new digital camera. That probably seems like excess to some, since I have three digital cameras already. The problem is that two of the old ones are very old — I acquired them in 2001. They are veritable antiques by digital standards. And they are both getting kind of creaky and crotchety, even though they still take good pictures when all goes well.

Don't even ask about the third camera. I haven't had it very long, and buying it turned out to be a mistake. It doesn't have a long zoom (just 3.5x) and it doesn't have one feature I have come to appreciate greatly, which is image stabilization. I wish I had never bought this third camera, even though it does take very nice macro shots in bright daylight (flowers, grapes, and so forth).

The new camera I'm getting has three good things going for it: it has a long zoom (10x), it has IS (that's image stabilization), and it is lightweight. My old Canon camera that has a 10x zoom weighs in at 25 oz. (700 g). The new one, a Panasonic, weighs just 7 oz. (200 g), one-third as much. That's a pound less to lug around.

The Panasonic Lumix TZ3 camera has a 10x optical zoom,
image stabilization, and a Leica lens, all for just $300 U.S.

With the low dollar these days, it is much to my advantage to buy this camera in the U.S. rather than in France. Searching price comparison web sites like Kelkoo.fr, the lowest price I find for the TZ3 camera in France is about 380.00€. At current exchange rates, that's $525.00 U.S.

In the U.S., however, I've found a vendor, Buy.com, that lists the same camera at $298.99, and with free shipping and no sales tax if I have it shipped to an address in North Carolina. I tried to place an order on the Buy.com site.

I ran into a problem before I could complete the check-out process. On the page where you enter your credit card information, the site requires you to fill out a form showing the billing address for the card you are using. One of the required fields on the form is State. There's no provision for specifying an address outside the United States of America.

Well, I no longer have an address in the United States of America. My permanent and principal and unique address is in France. I'm out of luck. This has happened to me on many U.S. web sites over the past few years. These companies don't want my money. I'm not asking them to ship products overseas, but just to let me pay.

This time, however, I noticed an option on the site that would let me pay for the purchase using a new service called Google Check-Out. I clicked on that. Google welcomed me to this new service and cordially displayed a form where I could enter my payment, i.e. credit card, information. The first field on the form was labeled Country and the field was "populated," as they say, with the word France. Cool!

Saint-Aignan sunrise, 27 July 2007

I entered the number of one of my credit cards, including the three-digit security code on the back. I entered my billing address, which is my street address in France. I entered my mother's address in North Carolina as the shipping destination. I was good to go.

A few days later I found out, by nosing around on Google's site and the Buy.com site, that my order had been canceled. At first I thought my credit card issuer, a credit union in Washington DC, had refused the transaction. They sometimes do that, for "security" reasons. That turned out not to be the case, however. Buy.com had rejected my order because my billing address was not in the U.S.

I called the Buy.com 800 number in the States (which is not a free call when you live in France). The woman who answered the phone asked me for all the same information I had put on the Google Check-Out web site, including my billing address. It all matched, she said. The problem was that Buy.com won't accept payment by credit card unless the card has a U.S. billing address, even though Google Check-Out leads you to believe that they will.

I thought it ought to be enough that the billing address listed by the bank matched the one I specified on their web site. "Don't you have an address in the U.S.?" the woman asked. No, I don't. And even if I did, my U.S. credit and debit cards are all billed to my French address.

"We don't accept international credit cards," the Buy.com agent said. "But they aren't 'international' cards," I huffed, "whatever that means. I have a card issued by Wells Fargo in California, one issued by Bank of America in North Carolina, and one issued by my credit union in Washington DC."

The woman switched me over to somebody in the Buy.com sales organization, who told me exactly the same thing. Well, not exactly: she said they had noticed that my "IP address" was not a U.S. address. At first I was confused, because IP to me means Internet Protocol and an IP Address comes in the form xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx — four groups of digits. How could you know whether a string of numbers was U.S. or French? Then I realized that at Buy.com, "IP" means Internet Provider. Because my e-mail address is @wanadoo.fr, I'm not allowed to place an order.

That's what an e-mail I got later said: "We regret having to cancel your order due to international IP, and we look forward to future business with you." I was a faithful Buy.com customer when I lived in California, but that company is deluding itself if it thinks I will give them any future business. Actually, I tried opening a new Buy.com account using my @gmail.com address and my Bank of America debit card to place the order, but that order was canceled too. Same problem: unacceptable address on the bank account.

I have to take back what I said earlier about the poor state
of the grapes this summer. These look pretty good.

The other sentence in the e-mail from Buy.com that raises my hackles is this one: "We regret to inform you that your order has been cancelled for your protection." Ha! Laissez-moi rire ! How hypocritical can you get? It's not for my protection, it's for theirs, and they ought to say that. If I am actually me — that is, if I'm using my own card rather than committing fraud by trying to use somebody else's — how in the world are they protecting me? They should say they are trying to protect themselves and the cardholder, who is not necessarily the person placing the order.

I don't understand why having a billing address in France should matter, as long as the address given by the purchaser matches the address that is on file at the bank. But then there are a lot of things I don't understand. The company can wait until the credit-card issuer has paid up before they ship the product out, can't they? How can they lose?

My American friends who have a house near Saint-Aignan had a similar problem when they wanted to order a refrigerator on the Darty.fr web site. There was no provision on the Darty site for using a bank card that did not have a billing address in France. They still live in California and get their statements there. I finally had to buy the fridge for them, and they reimbursed me.

After my Buy.com experience, I did some more Internet research and found the Panasonic TZ3 camera at Amazon.com for exactly the same price that Buy.com was charging. The only difference is that I have to pay a $9.00 shipping charge. I ordered it. Amazon had no problem with my so-called "international" credit card. I didn't think they would, because I've ordered books from them recently, for shipping to U.S. addresses.

The camera is supposed to be shipped today.

26 July 2007

Can't live without it...

Blogger was very flaky early this morning, and then our power was cut at 8:00 a.m. I wasn't able to post anything, even though I got up early to try. Walt did manage to post a topic, but he said it took many tries and a lot of time.

Sunrise in the yard, 25 July 2007

Our electricity was off from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. We had planned a cold lunch — shrimps and salads — so we didn't have to go hungry. It was quite good, actually, and we sat out on the terrace to enjoy the sunlight and warm weather. It felt like an end-of-September day — warm, dry, and breezy.

The gravel road ends where the trees form an archway.

When the power came back on this afternoon, our DSL modem worked for just three or four minutes and then quit. I was afraid it might have been zapped by some kind of power surge. We were already feeling acute Internet withdrawal, and we started getting snappy with each other when we thought we might have a big problem.

I unplugged the modem from the phone line and the power so it could rest for a few minutes. Then I hooked it back up and turned it back on, and — miracle of miracles — everything started working again. Then we were all sweetness and light.

Looking back toward our house from out in the vineyard at sunrise

I don't think we could live without the Internet. Or without the DSL connection. Sometimes we talk about selling this house and moving even farther out into the French countryside. Two things make me doubt that will ever happen: we wouldn't want to live in an area that doesn't produce wine (and there are plenty of areas in France that don't) and we wouldn't be able to live in an area where DSL was not available.

I guess we'll stay put for a while.

25 July 2007

Power cuts

We got a letter last week from EDF (Electricité de France) informing us that the power lines in our village are being upgraded this summer and that our neighborhood or hameau could expect power outages today between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. Those are my prime blogging hours — especially today, since I took Callie out for a walk in the vineyard early this morning. It's almost 8:00 now.

Sunrise over La Renaudière, 25 July 2007

I have two blog topics milling around in my head: the walk with Callie and how she is afraid of shadows, and my experience as an expatriate trying to purchase a new digital camera from an American Internet vendor. Maybe I'll get one of them done later today.

We have an artichoke! Two of them, actually.
The other three plants are good-for-nothings.

Tomorrow we are liable to have power outages any time between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., according to the EDF letter. I'm sure they will have the power turned on around noon so that we can all cook lunch — that's sacred. Otherwise, I guess I'll have to leave my computer turned off all during the day to avoid crashes.

24 July 2007

Un temps exécrable

Exécrable. That's a nice word, isn't it? Well, "nice" might be a strange way to describe a word that is synonymous with mauvais, dégoûtant, and déplorable. That's the modern sense in French, according to the authoritative French dictionary, Le Grand Robert.

An older, now-literary meaning of exécrable brings up these synonyms in Le Grand Robert: abominable, détestable, horrible, maudit, odieux, repoussant, and répugnant. I'm not very literary, but I'm sure I could find ways to apply all these terms to the weather we've been having since early May.

Notice the chaise longue beckoning. I guess we need to
buy a tent to put over it, since it rains every day now.

Will we always remember this summer as the one with the weather that Callie brought us? This was the summer we were going to spend on our new chaises longues out in the garden, where Callie could do less mischief than in the house. Ha! We bought those chaises in April, the last month when our weather was decent. Good purchase, eh?

At least we're not in western England, where towns including Tewkesbury and Gloucester are experiencing the worst flooding anybody there can remember. Our friend Janet's daughter and son-in-law live in Tewkesbury. Actually, the daughter, Corinne, is here in Saint-Aignan right now. The other day she said her house is on high ground and not in much danger of flooding. I'll have to call her today to see if she was right. Her husband is back there; I imagine him piling sandbags up around their residence.

Yesterday about 6:00 p.m., looking west over our garden.
Corinne from Tewkesbury doesn't have to feel like she missing out
on rainy weather back in England while she's here in Saint-Aignan.

We've now had 51 mm, just about 2 inches, of rain in July. That's more than we had in December, or January, or February, or April, or May. But it's less than half of what we had in June. So we're doing pretty well. Summer is bound to start any day now.

We had hard downpours all day yesterday, and collected 15 fresh millimeters of water, over half an inch, in the rain gauge.


On a more positive note, Sunday afternoon was beautiful. About 7:30 p.m., a hot-air balloon floated right over our house. In past summers, we had balloon sightings several times a week. This year, the weather has not permitted...

Notice the French tricolor flag hanging off
the left side of the montgolfière.
22 July 2007


Saturday morning I was able to go to the outdoor market in Saint-Aignan, dodging raindrops as I moved from one stand to the next. I didn't need much. Walt was making pizzas for lunch, so I went to see the mushroom lady and got a pound of nice brown champignons. I looked at some produce stands, inspecting the melons and haricots verts and just shopping. Nothing really appealed.

Suddenly, I noticed that there was only one person — one! — in line at the cheese stand. I couldn't believe it. Normally, the line stretches around the block (American image) and the wait is long.

The cheese stand's wrapping paper. Chabris is about
15 miles east of Saint-Aignan on the banks of the Cher.

I ran over and bought some cheese. One thing we can get from the Saturday morning cheese vendor is parmeggiano — the supermarkets here don't carry it except in its grated form in little plastic bags. I also snagged a demi-sec goat cheese (known locally as un bleu) and a heart-shaped Neufchâtel, a salty cow's-milk cheese from northern Normandy.

The little poem at the bottom of the fromagerie wrapping paper says:

"For the joy of your palate, not to mention your guests',
The counsel of the cheese specialist is surely not to be disdained."

23 July 2007

Notre couscous au Vent de Sable

Last Monday, a week ago already, I was in Paris at CHM's. When I woke up it was pouring rain. We decided to stay in and work some more on CHM's DSL connection and wireless network. By about 10:30, we finally got it up and running.

Le Vent de Sable couscous restaurant at 31, rue
Mademoiselle in the 15th arrondissement, Paris.

After a quick errand — a trip by car over to the Old England store on the Avenue des Capucines, near Opéra — to buy some Fortnum and Mason tea that CHM can't find elsewhere in Paris — we headed for a lunch of couscous at the Vent de Sable restaurant on the rue Mademoiselle in the 15th arrondissement.

Walt and I had eaten couscous with CHM at the Vent de Sable last summer, and I posted about it here, with complete contact information for the restaurant. W. and I also had dinner there with our California friends Chris and Tony in April. So this was our third visit. (Do I sound like Michael Bauer?).

On the first and second visits I had the couscous méchoui, which is couscous; vegetables in broth with hot sauce, raisins, and chickpeas; and a big piece of spit-roasted lamb. It was very good.

This time I decided to have couscous with kebabs of lamb and beef. That came with a merguez sausage. The lamb and beef were fairly rare or medium rare and the combination with the couscous, broth, vegetables, and harissa hot sauce was good.

CHM decided to have chicken with his couscous and he said it wasn't as good as he had hoped it would be. The chicken was a little dry. It was a breast section that had been cooked separately from the broth and vegetables.

The pictures I took of the food at the Vent de Sable didn't come out, but I'm including some shots of the restaurant's décor, which is fairly elaborate.

Here's the recipe I usually use when I make couscous at home. It's from Monique Maine's book called Cuisine pour Toute l'Année. As usual, click on the image to see an enlargement.

Here's my translation of the recipe. You'll notice that it is not very logically organized, so you have to study it carefully before you begin. By the way, you can use chickpeas out of a can and they will be perfectly good.


For 6 to 8 people:
2¼ lbs. couscous
1 chicken
2 onions
1 celery stalk
2 fresh tomatoes
1 carrot
3 zucchinis
1 turnip
5 small artichokes
1 green bell pepper
10 oz. chickpeas
6 slices of lamb from the leg
1 herb bouquet
12 merguez sausages
1 can of harissa hot sauce
3 oz. butter
oil, salt, & pepper

Work the couscous with your fingertips as you gradually humidify it with one cup of water. When the couscous grains start to separate, pour the couscous into the top of a couscoussier and steam it for 30 minutes uncovered. Pour the couscous into a big bowl and add a cup of oil and a cup of salted water. Work it again with your fingers. Put it back in the steamer and cook it for another 45 minutes while adding 3 oz. of butter cut into small cubes. Mix well. Cook a chicken in bouillon with all the vegetables (except the artichokes and chickpeas), the herb bouquet, salt, and pepper, for 50 to 60 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, add the artichokes, cut in half and choke removed. Soak the chickpeas for 12 hours, and then cook them for 3 hours in salted water. Cut the lamb slices into cubes and put them on skewers; salt, pepper, and oil them; grill them quickly. Cook the merguez sausages on high heat in a pan without adding any oil or fat. As they cook, spoon off the fat they release. They should be golden brown. Warm up the harissa pepper paste and add to it a tablespoon of olive oil. Serve the bouillon and vegetables in a tureen, the cut-up chicken, the kebabs and the merguez sausages on the same plate. The couscous in a bowl, the chickpeas in another, and the harissa separately.

Couscous is eaten in shallow soup bowls, each diner takes a little of everything, spoons on some bouillon and carefully adds just a little hot sauce.

22 July 2007

A year for fruit

The weather was cool and rainy all through May and June, and even into July. We still haven't had a stretch of really warm weather. The vegetable garden is a disaster zone, though it is just starting to look a little better now, since we've had a few sunny days.

There are big yellow flowers on the zucchini and summer squash plants (courgettes vertes et jaunes). There are some small green tomatoes now, and some green bell peppers too. The eggplants and green beans have blossoms — Walt actually picked a few haricots verts yesterday.

It's a great year for mirabelle plums in the Cher Valley.

While it's not a great year for the jardin potager, it looks like we are having a fantastic year for fruit. I blogged in June about the local cherries, with many pictures of the ones we picked on our property and on untended land nearby. We enjoyed cherry clafoutis and duck with cherry sauce, and I made several jars of confiture de cerises.

A few weeks ago, I picked a big batch of little red plums over in my neighbors' yard. They didn't mind, especially since 95% of the plums I gathered were ones I picked up off the ground. I hardly touched the tree. A couple of weeks later, my neighbors' brother-in-law came over from Noyers-sur-Cher, across the river where he lives, and picked a lot more plums. I saw him that day. And then the neighbors told us he made 15 jars of preserves with the plums he picked.

I can't tell if these are exactly the same variety as
the mirabelles pictured above, but they are good.

Now the little rosy-tinged yellow plums called mirabelles are ripening. For the first time since we came here — this is our fifth summer already — the plum trees out in our back yard are covered in fruit. This is also the first year we've had enough plump cherries from our own cherry tree to be able to do anything with them.

I don't know whether to attribute the sudden increase in the productivity of our fruit trees to the mild winter we had or to the great amount of rain that has fallen since May 1. Maybe it was just too dry for the trees to set fruit in 2003-06. Or for the fruit to plump up.

There is obviously a balance in nature. For three years, we had a sumptuous harvest of vegetables from the garden. This year, the garden is producing less, but the fruit harvest is exceptionally nice.

It looks like it's going to be a good year for blackberries too.

Whatever the cause, we picked and picked up about 2.5 kg (6 lbs.) of plums earlier this week in our own yard, and there are two trees on the untended land next to ours that are heavy with little yellow plums. I just went out and tasted a couple — they seem to be a slightly different variety from the mirabelles we have (they are rounder and yellower) and they aren't quite ripe yet. They're sweet enough to eat, but they will be better by mid-week.

I can wait, since I just picked another kilo or so off our own trees and the ground under them.

Pommes rouges...

The other fruits we are going to have this year, in abundance, are apples and blackberries. This is an "on" year for our biggest green apple tree, so there are literally thousands of apples on it. We will have to discard most of them because we just can't use them all. Another of our apple trees is covered in bright red apples, and we will try to use as many of those as possible.

...et beaucoup de pommes vertes

Out in the vineyard and along both the gravel and paved roads out back, there are numerous blackberry brambles. One summer, a few years a go, I picked some blackberries and we made a pie. This year, from the looks of things, there will be many more blackberries than ever before (since 2003, anyway). I foresee blackberry pies and blackberry jelly in August.

21 July 2007

Looking for a puppy?

I know two puppies that are looking for a home. No, not Callie — she's settled in here and we're keeping her.

Long-legged Callie on 19 July 2007 at La Renaudière

One of the pups is one of Callie's litter mates. He's a little male who will be five months old tomorrow (as will Callie), having been born on Feburary 22 at the Elevage du Berger de la Vallée des Géants in the hamlet called Ventuile near the village of Blomard and the town of Montmarault in the Allier department in central France. His father is Vince du Vent des Moissons and his mother is Ruby du Berger etc. And his name is Cody.

Bonjour. Je m'appelle Cody et je suis le frère de Callie.

If you want Cody, check the kennel's web site and contact the owner, Annick Vincent. Her e-mail address is on the site. I don't know what the purchase price is, but I'm sure Cody has had all his shots and medical checkups, and he is registered with the French kennel club as a pure-bred red Border Collie. Red and tan and white, I guess I should say.

Seeing Cody on Annick Vincent's web site made me want, briefly, to see about bringing him here to live with Callie. But then somebody (was it you, Tom?) said it's not a good idea to keep two pups from the same litter together. Why is that? Do they get too attached to each other? We plan to have Callie spayed in about a month's time, so there would be no danger of them having puppies.

And then having a second dog is not something we had ever really considered. It might be biting off more than we can chew. (Why does the chewing metaphor spring immediately to mind?)

Yesterday we learned that a friend of ours is looking for a new home for her puppy, a year-old shih-tzu & terrier cross who very much resembles the shih-tzu side of his family. Bentley is his name, and he is Callie's best dog friend. He's energetic and affectionate.

Bentley with Walt back in April

Our friend's personal and professional circumstances have changed radically since she adopted Bentley last year, and she now realizes she can't give him the attention he needs. If you or anybody you know would like to adopt Bentley, let me know and I'll put you in contact with our friend.

20 July 2007

What else I did in Paris

After my lunch in Argenteuil with old friends last Sunday, I drove into Paris to spend the evening, night, and part of the next day with another long-time friend CHM. He is a Parisian who lives most of the time in the U.S. but still has his apartment in Paris, where he often spends the summer. He and I worked together in Washington DC from 1983 to 1986.

When I got to CHM's place at 7:00 p.m., he had a light dinner ready. To start, we each ate half of a nice sweet melon, which is similar to a cantaloupe. I haven't had an American cantaloupe in so long that I couldn't begin to tell you what the differences are.

Melons are in season in France in June and July, and they come mostly from Provence (melons de Cavaillon, Cavaillon being a town in Provence) or from the French southwest (melons charentais, Charente being the name of an old French province). Charentais is evidently the name of the variety, because CHM said the melon charentais we were eating was actually grown in Spain.

In France they tell you, in the supermarkets and the outdoor markets, where the produce you are buying was grown. In other words, there's an indication of geographical origin on the signs in the supermarket produce section or on the vendor's stand at the market. It's considered important to know that the melon charentais you're thinking about buying was not actually grown in the Charente, or that the strawberries you are about to buy were grown in Spain (they are beautiful and are probably tasteless!).

OK, now I've turned this topic into one big digression!

After the melon, we had a thin slice of cured pork roast and some cornichons, or pickled gherkins. Then we had some cheese (Morbier from the Alps and Bleu d'Auvergne from the center part of France), as well as some goat cheese that I brought from Saint-Aignan, with bread of course. Then a banana, very ripe and good, and after that some black-currant sorbet. Doesn't that all sound good?

To those of you who say you read my blog early in the morning and start the day hungry, be consoled by the fact that I write my blog entries early in the morning and start my day hungry too. Is it time for lunch yet?

After the evening collation, CHM and I decided to work on his Internet connection. It was about 9:00 p.m. He had opened a new account with France Telecom to have DSL (called ADSL in French) activated on his phone line. He had rented a combination modem-router from France Telecom, as most people do here (three euros a month). The modem-router is called a livebox (English names are very much in vogue) and also gives you the option of unlimited phone calling over an ADSL connection.

We weren't even sure that the DSL signal was actually active on CHM's phone line. CHM had read the livebox documentation and understood the basic installation process. I sat down and skimmed through it while he got his computer up and running. We installed DSL filters on the phone jacks and plugged the livebox moden-router into the electrical and phone outlets.

To get connected, the first thing to do was enter into the computer's network configuration utility was a password that seemed to be hard-coded in the livebox wireless router and that was about 30 characters long. The long and the short of it is that we must have entered and verifited that password at least 25 times over the course of the next three hours, with no success. CHM's Mac wouldn't let him copy and paste the interminable password into the password field on the configuration screen, so he had to type it each time and then read it back to me to make sure he hadn't made a typing mistake while entering it.

The password as printed on the livebox packaging and the livebox itself was in the format XXX XXX XXX etc., with spaces separating each group of four characters. Did we need to enter the password with or without the spaces? Who knew? At the end of the password ("wireless security key" was the official term) there were two characters just hanging there, CD. Were they part of the the key or not? Who knew? Nothing worked.

We needed to get the wireless network up and running so that we could "get into" the router and configure it by entering other passwords and user names that would allow CHM to be connected to the Internet through the modem.

At midnight, we gave up. I told CHM that his livebox was D.O.A. He started calling it his boîte morte.

I went to bed pondering the problem we were having. CHM's apartment is on a courtyard on the back of a building that faces a big schoolyard planted with tall trees. The view from his windows makes you think you are in the country, when in fact you are right in the middle of Paris. It's an amazing place. As the weather was was hot and muggy, the big French window next to my bed was wide open, and there was a mosquito buzzing in my ear off and on.

Sometime during the night, as I dozed and tossed and turned, intermittently slapping at that damned mosquito and wondering whether I was better off completely under the covers, which was too hot, or uncovered and therefore vulnerable to insect bites, it dawned on me that we might be able to hook up the livebox to CHM's computer, temporarily, using a wired ethernet connection. The wireless connection requires a security password (to prevent neighbors from glomming on to your network) but the wired connection does not.

When I woke up at 7:00 a.m. it was pouring rain. There was lightning and thunder. CHM was already up, so I made some noise to let him know I was too. We had tea and bread for breakfast. I told him I had a plan for getting the router configured.

We decided to spend the morning, if necessary, working on the livebox. And my idea worked. We got into the router over the wired ethernet connection. First there was a screen asking for an Internet connection password, which France Telecom had provided. Zap! We had Internet.

Then there was a screen where we were instructed to enter the 30-character wireless network security key again. Not again! Yes, again. I figured we'd be there all morning, entering it again and again, with and without spaces, with and without those last two characters. We pretty much knew it by heart now.

Surprise, surprise! The first time we entered it, it worked. Instead of an error message, we got an OK confirmation. We unplugged the ethernet cable, but we still didn't have a connection to the wireless network. Without that, we were hosed. Then I remembered that we had to press a button on the bottom of the livebox to put the wireless router into something called Association Mode. In that mode, it would recognize any computer that was trying to connect to it — as long as the computer "knew" the 30-character password.

And that worked. So more than 12 hours after we had started — but with a sleep break — we were up and running.

Don't you wish you could spend some time in Paris having as much fun as all that? Actually, we joked and laughed all through the process. It was frustrating, but as we say: Tout est bien qui finit bien.

19 July 2007

Buying and bottling wine

We buy wine in bulk here in the Loire Valley. One of the local winemakers — producteurs in French — told us where to go to buy a few 10-liter plastic jugs. A 10-liter jug holds just over 13 bottles of wine.

Bottling up some red Gamay wine from Saint-Aignan's vineyards

Wine is part of the local diet, and Walt and I do the best we can to fit in with the local population. We've adapted nicely, thank you very much.

When we first arrived, we bought wine in bottles the way we were used to buying it in the U.S., in the supermarket or in a winery. We knew some of the local wineries sold it in bulk, but we weren't sure how complicated the bottling process might be and what kind of equipment we would need.

We had bought bulk wine in Provence once, when we were on vacation. That time we didn't put it in bottles; we just drank it up pretty fast. We figured that even is some of it spoiled, it was a lot cheaper than buying bottles. And more fun.

The first year or so we were here, we saved a lot of wine bottles, assuming we would need them one day. That has worked out very well. We've never had to buy any bottles.

The corking device gets a workout.

When we went to the wine supply store recommended to us, we asked about corks and a corking apparatus. We were very competently counseled and ended up with a corker that works really well. It's a floor-standing model, and it cost only 25.00€. The plastic jugs were about 4.00€ apiece. We figured we would amortize those costs in short order, given the low prices charged locally for wines in bulk (en vrac) compared to wine in the bottle.

Bottling 10 liters of rosé, which I bought for 8.90€ at a winery
in Seigy, a village just east of Saint-Aignan. Yes, that was less than
10.00€ for 10 liters. Dry rosé is a good summertime wine.

Wine goes for anywhere from 1.00€ to 3.00€ per liter when you buy it in bulk. The people at the coops and wineries pump it into your containers out of big stainless-steel tanks, using what looks like a gas pump. At 2.00€ a liter, you are paying 20.00€ (about $27.00 U.S. currently) for 13 bottles of wine, or just over $2.00 a bottle.

Rosé in the bottles, waiting to be corked

The coop up in the wine village called Saint-Romain-sur-Cher, about 5 miles north of Saint-Aignan, sells AOC Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc wines in bulk for between 1.75 € and 2.25€ a liter. They also sell non-AOC Chardonnay and a non-AOC red blend (called vins de pays, local wines) for about 1.20€. These are light, fruity, drinkable wines that are called vins de soif — wines that quench your thirst.

The wine-and-bottle rack in our pantry

The wines you buy in bulk need to be bottled unless you can drink the whole 10-liter jug in about 48 hours' time. Otherwise, the wine oxidizes and turns into vinegar. A cork adds about 0.05€ to the price of each bottle.

Just by accident, I have found a winery that will sell me wine tax-free, which I'm sure is not exactly legal. I don't ask any questions. That reduces the price by at least 20%. I just have to be careful not to get stopped by the gendarmes or the douaniers (customs agents) on the drive back home from the producteur's place. Please don't tell anybody.

18 July 2007

Small harvest, smaller surplus

Today I'm posting some pictures of my walk with Callie in the vineyard late yesterday afternoon. As you can see, the weather is good. It's not too hot, but the sun is nice.

Callie at the edge of some nicely groomed vines,
with the woodpile in background

There's a huge pile of stacked wood out in the vineyards. I'm not sure who it belongs to.

The woodpile out in the vineyard

Maybe the owners heat their house exclusively with wood. A lot of people here do. In our case, we have an oil-fired boiler and steam radiators throughout the house, but we depend more and more on the wood-burning stove we had installed over a year ago. It's a lot more economical, given the price of oil and the expensive euro these days.

The grapes are not looking so good this season.

The constant rain combined with fairly warm temperatures in June has been disastrous for grape-growers this year, especially down in Bordeaux. They say the harvest may be small. That in itself is not a bad thing, especially if the rest of the season is warm and sunny, because a small amount of good wine is better than a large amount of mediocre wine.

Warm, humid conditions encourage the growth of mold and mildew on the leaves and the grapes in the vineyards. Those are the weather conditions we've had, and it has been worse south of us, apparently. There are reports of some growers just giving up on the 2007 crop.

Callie standing among some vines that haven't been so well tended

Bruno has been spraying his vines out back almost daily for weeks now. I assume he's spraying what is called the Bordeaux Mixture, a solution containing copper that is a fungicide. But I haven't talked to him about it. He's been too busy.

Mademoiselle Callie resting after her romp in the vines yesterday

Just to remind you that wine here is not a luxury item but a staple of the diet and the local economy, yesterday I bought 30 liters of wine — 10 liters each of Gamay, Rosé, and Sauvignon Blanc — for 29.80 euros. Ten liters is 13 bottles. So that's about a dollar a bottle. And these are good, drinkable wines.

There is a wine surplus in France, but a small 2007 grape harvest may mean that the surplus will decline significantly.