31 October 2009

Living the life...

This blog obviously needs a new theme. For a week, now... well, you know. "Living with death in Saint-Aignan" might have been a more apt title.

We are out of luck, however. Guess what today is. Hallowe'en. And you know what the theme for that American holiday is. It's not celebrated in France. Or hardly. There was a little flurry of activity around Hallowe'en here a few years ago, but it doesn't seem to have caught on. I don't expect any trick-or-treaters tonight.

Spider webs on the fence around the pond
on a foggy October 30 morning.

Click the pictures to see them at full size.

And then tomorrow is All Saints' Day — La Toussaint. It is significantfor three reasons. It's the first holiday of the fall season, with school vacations starting last week and lasting 10 days. It's also the day when the weather changes, and the rains start. It happens that way in most years.

And finally, La Toussaint is the day when people make an effort to go to the cemeteries to set out flowers on the graves of their departed loved ones, and to do a little fall cleaning around the graves. The flowers they bring are almost always chrysanthemums.

Callie and I tramped through abundant
autumn leaves yesterday morning.

La Toussaint falls on November 1 and is a Catholic holiday to commemorate the church's many saints — so many of whom died as martyrs. The next day, November 2, is called La Fête des Morts — the Day of the Dead, or All Souls' Day. In France November 2 is not an official holiday, but
November 1 is. That's why people now go to the cemeteries a day early with their pots of flowers.

The newscaster on TéléMatin just pointed out that La Toussaint is one of the deadliest periods of the year on the highways in France. Drive carefully.

Remember the old joke they told us kids a couple of generations ago? "I went to the cemetery, knocked on a gravestone, and I said: 'What are you doing down there?'", our parents or grandparents would tell us. "You know what the dead person said? 'Nothing.' He said nothing."

Autumn skies over the Touraine vineyards

We kids would ask, fascinated and horrified, "Are you kidding?" Our eyes got wide and chills ran up and down our spine. We all had to go try it. And when we knocked on a tombstone, asked the question, and the person in the grave said nothing, we were disappointed. It dawned on us that we had been tricked. We felt silly, but we still hoped one day to hear a whispery voice say: "Nothing."

Now guess what the weather forecast for tomorrow is. Je vous le donne Emile, as Coluche said: Rain! It should start tonight, and they say it's going to last all week. Temperatures are falling too.

It is the end of the line for the profusion of petunias
under our kitchen window. Au revoir, les fleurs.

I think I'll put the car in the garage and just hunker down. I bought myself a big head of escarole yesterday, so I can make salads with duck gizzards or toasted croutons and garden tomatoes, which are ripening in boxes in the pantry. I also bought some beef chuck, so if it turns cold I can make a pot of Bœuf Bourguignon.

I'm set for a few days. Better do some garden work today though.


  1. Hi Ken, Sounds to me like you need a bit of cheering up. It's true; it has been a tough week for you with loosing your friend J.L., attending his funeral and Walt being in the US. I suggest you have a little glass of elexir d'Anvers (if there is any left) and that you curl up in front of the fire with a good book full of ... winter recipes. That should lift your spirits! Martine

  2. What a difficult week you've had! I am really sorry about the loss of your friend.
    It must be a tough time to be alone. Make sure that Callie gives you lots of love and attention. :)

  3. I think Ladybird is right on the money. Just think of all that comforting cold-weather food and drink: cassoulet, hearty stews, Guinness, chowdahs, curries, hot spiced wine, cocoa, oatmeal with heavy cream and brown sugar, etc.

    One of my favorites is vegetable soup based on an old ham bone. Get one with quite a bit of meat still on it and boil it in unsalted chicken stock until you can separate the meat from the bone. Let that cool, pick off the meat, and de-grease the stock. Now throw the meat back in and add a variety of veggies (chunks of tomato for sure), black pepper and other spices and cook until done. Hope for a light snowfall while eating it.

  4. PS One of the benefits of all this Winter food is that by Spring you will have accumulated plenty of extra stored-energy cells (mostly around your midsection) which you will need for Spring work in the garden. :-)

  5. Hi Bill, The 'Guiness' makes me think that you are of Irish origin. Am I right? Martine

  6. Ladybird, sorry no, I'm German/French, but I also like Peking Duck, Veal Piccata, Beef & Kidney Pie, Shrimp on the barbie, Gouda cheese, Enchiladas, anything Tempura, Pickled Herring,Beef Stroganoff, Curry, and Canadian bacon. :-)

  7. Ladybird, sorry, I forgot Paling in't Groen.

  8. As we enjoy spring in OZ, autumn has its special pleasures as well Ken.
    I remember running thru the streets of Paris autumn 2006 and kicking the leaves as I ran. A special memory that your photo rekindled.
    Sue and I pass on our thoughts on the loss of your friend.

  9. Lovely photos, Ken.

    I agree with Martine and Bill. A good log fire, a hearty meal and a hearty wine to go with it is definitely called for.

    Cooking is good for the soul when we're down in the dumps.

  10. Bill's soup sounds heavenly. There's nothing like a good, flavorful, hot soup on a cold day.

    I just did my big presentation on the Mexican celebrations around Día de los Muertos -- and I've got my ofrenda shrine display up. Great stuff! It's all much more colorful and interesting than the rather somber concept I have in my head of the way the French and Americans think of All Saints & Souls Days.

    I bet you and Callie are glad to have each other when #3 in the house is away!


  11. While you're cooking, play some loud music. That always makes me happy, and I hope it works for you.

  12. I'm fine, everybody, and I'm taking all your advice to heart. I'm sorry that Jean-Luc is no longer around, and I'm feeling for S. and all the decisions she has to make. But life goes on. Cooking goes on. Eating goes on. I just picked up a ton of leaves and spread them on the tilled-up garden plots. They will keep the weeds down and turn into good mulch for next spring. There's a lot more to do, after the rain ends sometime towards the end of the coming week.

  13. I didn't know your "residence" is called "les bouleaux". French food is always best in winter. Nothing like a good choucroute, french macaroni and cheese... I think the reason why La Toussaint is always so depressing is because of the gray weather, generally cold and rainy. Happy Halloween anyway!

  14. Lewis is working on leaves here also, Ken. It's that time of year, but our leaves are just beginning to fall- we'll be dealing with them all the way up to Christmas. So it goes.

    Nadege, tell us how to make French macaroni and cheese- I don't think I've ever had any before.

  15. Did you ever notice when you remove a spider web, it's back within hours?

  16. Ken, I'm wondering if the importance of Halloween in the U.S. is because there were so many Scots-Irish immigrants, who would have brought the Samhain celebrations with them.

    I've been reading your posts about Jean-Luc and the funeral; thank you for such a sensitive look into village life. What you've written has commemorated him well, and it's certainly enriched my knowledge of France.

  17. I didn't know that Toussaint was usually the first real rainy day of the season and so when I woke this morning to find it was rather sad and gray I still hoped it would lift. No such luck, it's been pouring off and on all day. I guess we'll have to get used to it.

    Enjoy your holing up days; that soup of Bill's sounds great.



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