So what a difference a day makes, eh? And what a difference it makes for Walt today. It's his birthday, and it's a major one. It will be the 28th time that we've celebrated his birthday together, and I hope there will be at least 28 more.
Today is also the shortest day of the year. Ouf ! as they say — Phew! Finally the days will start getting longer again. We've made it most of the way through another season of dark and drear. Now it'll be Christmas, with cheese fondue on the 24th and then roast goose on the 25th, and then New Year's Eve with Champagne and oysters and Jan. 1st with a nice cassoulet — and the bonus of sharing it with friends in the afternoon.
The cabbage patch — collard greens and chard, really — seems
to have survived the snow and ice without much damage.
to have survived the snow and ice without much damage.
Our trip to the market over in Noyers yesterday morning was uneventful but beautiful. I'm sorry I didn't take my camera, but it was snowing too hard and just too windy and cold for me to want to get out of the car to take pictures. We didn't have any trouble driving down the steep hill into the river valley, and the bridges that span the two branches of the Cher River at Saint-Aignan had been salted and sanded, so they weren't too slippery.
The market itself was very small and nearly deserted. We were able to park right next to the three or four stalls that were open for business. Usually I have to park much farther away. Many of the vendors, including the guy who sells a wide variety of very good cheeses from his little market van, hadn't yet showed up when we were there between 9:30 and 10:00. They probably figured it just wasn't worth risking the drive.
The vendors who were present were the ones we wanted to buy from though. The market square was smoothly white with snow, and the poultry merchant and a big produce vendor were set up for business. There was also a vendor selling oysters, and one other vegetable stand was open. Instead of being in tenth or fifteenth place in a long line to buy chicken, I was second, and there were only two people behind me. Walt was over standing in line to buy some lettuce and mushrooms.
One of those behind me in line was a young woman we have met before at parties. Her husband is a gendarme and she works at the SuperU store in Saint-Aignan, so I see her fairly often. Another was a tiny man of about 80 who kept making jokes when he started talking to the woman and me. The main subject of conversation was of course the weather and whether it was going to get better or worse over the course of the afternoon.
« Ce que je peux vous dire, c'est qu'il va sûrement faire beau pour le 14 juillet, » the man told me, with a twinkle in his eye — "All I know is that we will surely have good weather for Bastille Day." He said he picked the 14th of July as the day the weather would be nice because that way he was pretty sure he wouldn't be wrong. (Ça reste à voir, je dirais — we'll see...)
When I ordered some ground poultry and pork to use as part of the stuffing for our Christmas goose, the same man had another joke for me. The ground meat is called « farce », which means "stuffing" in French. A farce in French is also a trick, or a practical joke. « Alors vous achetez ça parce que vous voulez faire une farce au mauvais temps ? » is what the man said — "So you're buying that farce because you want to play a trick on the bad weather?"
I guess he was right in a way, because one of the best ways to trick the bad weather is to eat well. We got the few things we needed for our meals over the next few days, and then we drove back to Saint-Aignan to buy some things in a good butcher shop. The cobblestone streets in the old town were pretty slippery, but not as slippery as the road that leads out of Noyers down by the river. That section of roadway was really iced over. The car was seriously fishtailing and I had to ease off on the accelerator. It was good that there was so little traffic.
And a little later we made it back up the hill to the house sans incident.
When we got home, the phone rang. It was our English friend D., who lives part of the time in Saint-Aignan and part of the time in Paris. He and his French wife C. are in Saint-Aignan for Christmas and they needed firewood. The man they had ordered wood from stood them up, probably because of the bad weather — he didn't show up Saturday to make the delivery as promised. We told them to come on over and we would give them some logs for the afternoon and evening.
They got here at 11:30 and that's apéro time, so we offered them a glass of wine. D. and C. were only recently married — it's a long story — and we've known him for several years but hardly know her at all. In fact, Walt had never met her before yesterday, and I'd only seen her with D. at the market and supermarket in Saint-Aignan a couple of times. In Saint-Aignan, they live in an old house right on the main market square in town, and she also has an apartment near Bastille in Paris.
We had a nice visit/get-acquainted session over glasses of wine, and then C. asked us if we had plans for Christmas Eve. We said no, not really, and she invited us over to their house Thursday evening for a light dinner of smoked salmon and salad. They are to be guests a big Christmas Day dinner chez some Americans who live down near Loches, and we of course are going to be cooking our goose, so a light dinner early Christmas Eve will be perfect.
I'll be especially curious to see their house, which they say is pretty much a construction zone for the time being. They are putting in a new kitchen, and one reason they are spending two weeks in Saint-Aignan right now is to get as much work done on the house as they can before they have to go back to Paris. She'll have to go back to work in January — she's close to retirement but not quite there yet.
C. said the house in Saint-Aignan has a metal staircase in it that was supposedly designed and built by Gustave Eiffel. Of course Eiffel ran a big company that manufactured all kinds of things out of metal back in the late 1800s, from staircases to bridges to the Tower. Still, C. said she was very proud to have such a fine architectural element in her house. Now that she's been here for a few years, however, she has seen similar staircases in several other houses around the area, so she's realized they are not really uncommon. "We all think the one we have in our particular house is the most beautiful one, of course," she said.
I asked C. how she, as a Parisian, came to choose Saint-Aignan when she decided to buy a house for her retirement. She said that when she was growing up she spent a summer or two at a colonie de vacances, a summer camp, here. She said she remembered the island in the river across from the old town, with its playground, swing sets, band shell, and beach. The kids used to swim in the river, with the big old church and château high above them on the opposite bank.
Then a few years ago, purely by coincidence, a colleague and old college friend of hers told C. she had decided to buy a retirement house in a place called Saint-Aignan. Surprised, C. told her friend she had fond childhood memories of the town herself. Then C. decided maybe she would come here to visit her old friend and study the possibilities for her own retirement years. Paris is too expensive, she said, and too "aggressive" — fast-paced, noisy, and exhausting — to be a good retirement choice. C. ended up buying a house in Saint-Aignan in 2006.
She also offered us her apartment in Paris as a place to stay if we ever want to go to the city while she is staying in Saint-Aignan, and she said it would be fine if we took Callie with us. Think of the possibilities...