23 December 2012

Apéros with neighbors

We had neighbors over for pre-dinner drinks and finger-foods last night. The French tradition of apéritifs (also called apéros in informal language) makes for a nice way to have people in without a lot of fuss and bother. D. and A. live two houses down the road from us in an old farmhouse that they have spent the last 33 years fixing up. They're both 66 years old.

They'd never been inside our house before — not even before we came to live here. We've been to their place only once. In other words, we've lived close to each other for 10 years now but we've never socialized. D. and A. don't live here full-time. They come from the Paris region, where they have an apartment about 15 miles northwest of the city.

Walt made a batch of corn muffins for us to have with our glass of wine.
The muffins have grated ewe's milk cheese (fromage de brebis) in the batter.

D. worked most of his life as a boulanger in a wholesale bread bakery in the town where they have their apartment. A. worked for more than 20 years, she told me, in the offices of the Galeries Lafayette, the big department store in Paris. I asked them how they ended up in Saint-Aignan, and they said one of D.'s co-workers (who was a pâtissier or pastry cook) told them about the house, which was owned by an aunt of his who had just died. They bought it. They no other connections to the Saint-Aignan area back then.

They said that when they first saw their house back in the late 1970s, there were nine people living in it — in a single room. The floor was terre battue (that's packed-down dirt). In the country in Touraine, the people and whatever farm animals they kept often lived together in a single building — the cows or goats on one end, and the people on the other, in a single room with a big fireplace that provided heat and served as the kitchen.

Touraine in winter (in a photo taken seven years ago on this date)

D. and A. said they have never flown on an airplane. Well, he said he was on a plane once, many years ago, when he was doing his military service.  They spend most of the year down here now, since she retired from her job, but they keep their apartment in the Paris region and spend part of the winter there. They said if we ever want to go spend a weekend up there when they are down here, they'd be happy to give us the keys. And there's a garage for the car. They said they'd be glad to keep Callie for us.


  1. How nice for you all that you are now friends, not just acquaintances. Good on you for taking that extra step and inviting them to apéro.

  2. Just like Susan, I'm glad you have good neighbors. Apéritif is much less formal than a diner.

    I recognize Collette on the photo.

  3. Yes, CHM, that is Collette, the dearly departed dog. It was her last Christmas.

    By the way, I'm getting your comments in duplicate. Are you sending twice or is the software doing it? I've deleted the duplicates now.

  4. How nice to get to know them a bit better. Our neighbors arrive from Paris today and like you we have a standing invite to use their apartment if we want while they're here.
    We will be looking after their cat, Lillith for a few days ay New Year. Shadow and Katinka will not be too pleased!

  5. What could be better than having nice neighbors--who offer you a place to stay in Paris?

    Are you sure Walt made enough corn muffins for four people?

  6. hi Antoinette, I doubt that we will ever take our neighbors up on their offer, but it was really nice of them.

    And hi Carolyn, oui. even though they were mini muffins, they were more than enough for the crowd. We will enjoy them over the holidays.

    Merry Christmas to all.

  7. keys to a paris apt...how wonderful!!!! did the boulanger have any comments about the corn muffins?? my daughter & newborn grandson can go home tomorrow so I can at least video skype even tho I cant kiss his fat cheeks...have a cheery xmas!

  8. melinda, curiously, the boulanger announced that he would not eat any of the corn muffins, and didn't.

  9. Are corn muffins an oddity in France? Had they had them before? How nice that you have gotten to know them better :) Since we moved into our house last year, we've made a concerted effort to meet the neighbors--just one little get together makes all the difference! Yet, we still have neighbors close by whom we don't know at all and haven't ever even said hello to.

  10. Love seeing the photo of Collette- her fur looks like it is an echo of the red foliage of the trees.

    Glad you have gotten to know these neighbors better. Wonder why the baker didn't want a taste of the corn muffins?

  11. It is very nice that you have invited your neighbors over, and that they made such a generous offer, whether you ever take them up on it or not. But it seems very strange to me that the baker did not taste the corn muffins!

  12. I've met a few Europeans who still consider corn to be a grain fed only to livestock. Since your neighbor worked for years in a wheat-based French bakery, you may have gotten him to at least try the corn muffins had you told him that they were made of an exotique grain known as "blé d'Inde"...juste un pieux mensonge entre voisins.

  13. Ditto on all the other comments!

    My question is about A.'s work in Galleries Lafeyette (ou Printemps?)
    I'm wondering if over the years if she had a chance to meet any VIPS or celebrities and what stories she may have shared. Perhaps you wouldn't feel right repeating them. I am wondering what departments she worked in (I worked for Bullocks in Los Angeles and had a few interactions!!!)

    That corn issue happened to me similarly when I lived in Germany.
    The family I rented the basement apartment from could not and would not sample the corn on the cob that I offered them once!

    Merry Christmas Ken!

  14. Because of the big deal about GMOs in California, I stopped eating corn and particularly soy beans (even though all the fruit and vegetables I buy are organic). Polenta is popular in France so I don't buy the idea that it is because corn is only meant for cattle. I am really puzzled!

  15. Hi !

    I had never tasted corn bread before going to Georgia and Alabama... I love it but can understand it may sound strange to my fellow citizens, yet I find it rude not to have tasted one of these...

    Anyway, nice to see you have "sympathisé" with these neighbours ;-)



  16. Ken,

    I don't know why I "appeared" to be my... son, lol, when I wanted to post my message... Etrange !!!

  17. The trees in the seven-year-old photo are gorgeous!!!

  18. Citing the trade group Maiz'Europ (www.agpm.com), consumption of sweet corn in France is evolving, but very slowly. Although only 9% of French youth 15-24 years old won't eat corn, 31% of French over the age of 65 won't touch the stuff.
    (I believe you mentioned that your neighbors are both 66 years old.)

  19. I don't know why the man didn't want to even try the cornmeal muffins, but I think it's because he spent his whole life working in a bread bakery. I've heard it said that he had respiratory problems because of breathing flour dust for so many years. It could be that he doesn't eat bread at all.

    I had an uncle in N.C. who wouldn't eat seafood because he said that's all his family had to eat during the Depression and the Second War. He got sick of it. A lot of people in France used to say they wouldn't eat rutabagas, and our other neighbors won't eat pumpkin or winter squash, all because they said that's all they had to eat during the 1930s and 1940s — those foods have bad times associated with them.

    Most French people will eat corn kernels in salad — it's called salade mexicaine. When I've made cornbread for other people here, they've always liked it. D's wife ate more than a few of the corn muffins.

    Thanks for all the comments.


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