31 October 2020

Le bon vieux temps

Our new lockdown started yesterday. We're confined to quarters except for very specific reasons for which we need to go out in public. We can shop for groceries, go to the pharmacy, or go out for medical appointments. I called my new dentist's office yesterday and after being kept on hold for 15 minutes I talked to somebody and got confirmation that my Monday morning appointment will not be cancelled because of the stay-at-home order. When we go out, we have to download, fill out, print, and sign an affadavit (une attestation) stating the purpose of our trip and the time of our departure from our residence.

We are also allowed to go out once a day to get some exercise and walk our dogs, but only within one kilometer (about half a mile) from home and for one hour or less. We read somewhere that people are not allowed to cross regional borders. That would have ruled out our trip down to the Limoges area, but even without that restriction traveling so far from home for a vacation would not have been allowed. People who traveled before Thursday midnight to spend this big holiday weekend (All Saints Day) in other regions will be allowed to return to their places of residence next week as long as they carry the affadavit described above.

My slideshow for today shows some pictures of people and places in Provence back in the pre-confinement days, when we could enjoy gathering together and socializing. The title of this post, le bon vieux temps, means "the good old days." And they were, weren't they?

Today's lunch will be deep-fried pumpkin fritters — beignets de potiron. I don't think we've ever made those before (though we have made sweet potato fritters in the past). Tomorrow I plan to make a big one-pot boiled dinner with vegetables (turnips, rutabagas, carrots, pumpkin, potatoes, leeks, celery etc.), sausages, and two pieces of pork, one smoke-cured and the other salt-cured. It's called une potée in French, and there are as many varieties of potée as there are regions and cooks.

30 October 2020

Tajine de potiron et de dinde

We've been processing, preserving, cooking, and eating pumpkin every day for at least a week now. Walt grew pumpkins in our 2020 vegetable garden and we harvested a big crop of jumbo specimens — pumpkins are potirons in French. We gave two of them to some American friends who live five miles upriver from us, and another to our part-time neighbors who live in Blois. Just a day or two ago I gave one to some new neighbors who recently came to live in our hamlet.

With the pumpkins we've kept — and there is still one ripening that we haven't even cut into yet — we've made a few pints of pumpkin-tomato enchilada sauce with chili powder, onions, and garlic; a few pints of pumpkin-tomato sauce for pizzas and pasta, with oregano, garlic, and onion; and a savory pumpkin cake with bacon, spices, and cheese. We've also cooked some as one of the vegetables in a couscous, along with turnips, carrots, green beans, bell peppers, and artichoke hearts. Yesterday I decided to make a Moroccan-style tajine with pumpkin, onions, spices, dried apricots and prunes, and chunks of turkey breast meat. Here's a slideshow made up of nine pictures of that process.

Here's how you make it: Put 8 or 10 dried apricots and, optionally, a few prunes in warm water to plump them up. Then cut the turkey breast into cubes and dredge them in 3 or 4 tablespoons of tajine spices (see below). Sauté the turkey cubes in olive oil and then take them out of the pan (a wok is good, or a big skillet) and put them in a warm oven while you slice and cook a couple of onions in the pan that still has a little olive oil and some of the spices in it — add more oil or spices if you want, and add in a couple of tablespoons of honey. (You can make this with chicken too, of course.)

Add the re-hydrated apricots and prunes to the sautéed onions and pour a cup or so of water into the pan. Let all that cook together, covered, for a few minutes and then add the sautéed turkey plus some more water — just enough to barely cover the cubes of turkey meat. Reduce the heat to low and let the turkey, onions, and fruit simmer for 30 or 40 minutes. Toward the end of that cooking time, add a cup or so of cooked (canned) chickpeas.

Meanwhile, peel a big wedge piece of pumpkin (or abutternut or other winter squash) and cut the flesh into cubes. Melt some butter in a non-stick frying pan and sauté the cubes of pumpkin until they start to brown a little. When the turkey and onions are braised and tender, add the pumpkin cubes and let them cook for 15 minutes or until they're completely tender too. Stir everything together gently and serve hot with steamed rice, millet, or couscous "grain" (which is actually a form of pasta).

P.S. In the past I've posted about tajines many times. See those posts by clicking on this link and scrolling down. I also once posted a recipe for making your own tajine blend of powdered spices, known as ras-el-hanout ("the cook's blend"), which I found in the Joy of Cooking. Here it is again:

  • 2 Tbsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. each black pepper, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • ¼ tsp. each cloves and powdered cayenne pepper (or more)

29 October 2020

Provence, de village en village

The photos in the slideshow were taken in several village in the Luberon (Provence) — Gordes, Lacoste, Roussillon, Bonnieux... and maybe others.

France is going back into a lockdown, we learned last night. It is being called a "lockdown light" — un confinement allégé. We'll get the details today after the parliament and the prime minister iron them out. To prepare, I went and got my hair cut yesterday, and Walt will be doing the same this morning. I also went and did a big shopping so that we'll have plenty of groceries on hand for the next few weeks.

One of the great figures in recent French linguistics — he was a lexicographer and lexicologiste, as well as a radio personality and dictionary author — has passed away. Alan Rey was his name. He was 92 years old. An article in yesterday's Le Monde newspaper describes him this way: ...non content d’être un « géologue » du vocabulaire, érudit aux connaissances encyclopédiques, linguiste, historien, amateur d’art et de gastronomie, Alain Rey, qui est mort le 28 octobre, à Paris, à l’âge de 92 ans, était un passionnant conteur. Il savait partager son immense savoir avec gourmandise, éminçant à plaisir l’histoire des mots, pour mieux exhaler parfum et saveurs – comme lorsqu’on prépare la truffe. RIP.

28 October 2020

Provence doors, windows, and shutters... mostly blue

Who doesn't like taking pictures of colorful or weather-beaten shutters and doors in France.
Especially in Provence. These date back to September 2001.

I made about 1.5 liters of pumpking enchilada sauce yesterday. Pumpkin puree, tomato puree, chili powder, cumin, hot smoked paprika, fennel, thyme... We'll be eating a lot of enchiladas over the winter. I'm also thinking that some of the spicy pumpkin sauce would be a good base for chili con carne, with the addition of more tomatoes, some meat, and some beans.

27 October 2020


That's my feeling about many things right now. By photos — I'm trying to decide how to post some more of the photos I took in Provence so many years ago (2001 — I actually took these on Sept. 11). There are just too many of them, and I'm not doing a good job of finding themes to organize them around. I'll just say about these that I took these five in the hilltop village called Ménerbes (pop. 990) in the Luberon valley. Ménerbes is one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France. Maybe you've been there. I'd love to go back one day. Look at those deep blue Provence skies.

We are trying to process and preserve an over-abundance of pumpkins. I have found a lot of interesting pumpkin recipes and we'll just try to make some of them and eat as much pumpkin as possible over the next few weeks. That's a little overwhelming too.

And the pandemic is also. France is not doing well. They are saying that 46 million French people, out of a total population of 68 million, are living in "red zones" where the virus is spreading fast. The number of new cases is going up daily. The nearby cities of Tours and Orléans are in red zones, but we inSaint-Aignan are not, for the time being. Even so, we have to be careful all the time. I'm glad we decided a few weeks ago to cancel our November trip down to the Limoges area. I wanted to go see some big towns down there, among them Périgueux and Angoulême, but it's just too risky.

One more moan: the rain won't go away. We went suddenly from a severe summer drought into an early rainy season. Sigh.

26 October 2020

A French recipe

Would you like to see what a French recipe looks like? Often, the text isn't formatted the way it would be formatted in an American recipe. There are no numbered steps or "bullet lists"; there are often not even any paragraph breaks to make it easy to find the different steps involved in making the dish. You're on your own! Any questions?

ESTOUFFADE Plat préparé à l'étouffée (ou à l'étuvée). Il s'agit de viande de bœuf ou de veau, cuite avec beaucoup de légumes, et parfumée au vin. (Dans plusieurs régions méridionales, on ajoute de la sauce tomate ou de la tomate fraîche.)

estouffade de bœuf Couper en dés 300 g de lard maigre et les blanchir. Les dorer au beurre dans un plat à sauter, puis les égoutter et les réserver. Faire bien rissoler dans le même beurre 1,5 kg de viande de bœuf (prise moitié dans le paleron, moitié dans les côtes couvertes), détaillée en cubes de 100 g. Couper en quartiers 3 oignons moyens, les ajouter au bœuf en les faisant revenir. Poudrer de sel et de poivre ; ajouter 1 gousse d'ail écrasée. Lorsque bœuf et oignons sont bien dorés, les poudrer de 2 cuillerées à soupe de farine. Faire légèrement roussir en remuant. Mouiller de 1 litre de vin rouge et d'autant de bouillon. Mélanger, ajouter 1 bouquet garni, porter à ébullition sur le feu. Couvrir. Cuire de 2 h 30 à 3 h au four préchauffé à 180 °C. Décanter le ragoût. Mettre les morceaux de bœuf et les lardons dans une cocotte, y ajouter 300 g de champignons (de préférence sauvages), escalopés ou coupés en quartiers et sautés au beurre. Dégraisser la sauce, la passer et la faire réduire. La verser dans la cocotte et cuire 25 min à couvert, à petite ébullition. Dresser dans un plat creux.

A hint: This is a recipe for beef stew that I made a couple of weeks ago. You can see that the words "stew" and "estouffade" are related, I think — it's a "smothered" dish. We ate it with potato gnocchi. First I browned the beef and some onion and put it in the slow-cooker overnight with the red wine and an herb bouquet. The next day, I sauteed some sliced mushrooms and some bacon and added them to the stew. Then I cooked some sliced carrots in a small amount of water and added the carrots and the cooking liquid to the stew for flavor. Finally, I cooked the gnocchi in the pan that the bacon and mushrooms cooked in, and then I added a little bit of the stew liquid to them, again for flavor.

25 October 2020

Clafoutis aux épinards, oignons, et pommes de terre

If you don't know what a French clafoutis is, then you are missing out on something that's really good to eat and really easy to make. If the word clafoutis is confusing or mysterious, just think of it as a quiche sans pâte — a crustless quiche. There's no need to make a pie crust. Instead, just some flour to the custard mixture. For examples of crustless quiche recipes, some sweet (for dessert) and some savory (for an appetizer or main course), click this link.

To make this crustless spinach quiche, the first thing you do is cook some spinach. I cook frozen spinach in the microwave, at high or medium high temperature, for 10 or 12 minutes, stirring it a couple of times with a fork during the cooking time, until it is thawed, cooked, and tender. Then drain it well. While the spinach is cooking, peel and chop an onion, peel and finely dice a couple of medium-size potatoes. Sauté the vegetables in butter or oil and add the spinach to the pan. If you want it, sauté some bacon, ham, chicken, or turkey cut into small pieces. Mix the meat and vegetables together in a pie plate. (I'll list the quantities at the end of this post.)

When the cooked meat, spinach, onions, and potatoes, are in the pie plate, arrange some cubes of cheese (your choice — soft goat cheese, mozzarella, ricotta, cheddar, swiss, edam, gouda... I used mild ewe's-milk cheese) over the top. Separately, in a bowl or measuring cup, beat four eggs with a whisk. Then add half a cup of flour and continue whisking until it's all mixed in. Finally, add a cup of milk (or cream, or a mixture like half-and-half) and stir well. This is the custard. Season it with a little bit of salt, some black pepper, and a pinch or grating of nutmeg.

Pour the custard into the pie plate, over the spinach etc., moving everything around gently with a fork to make sure the custard coats everything and gets all the ingredients covered. The flour-egg mixture will form a sort of crust as the clafoutis cooks in the oven. Because you're going to bake it.

Bake the clafoutis in the oven, pre-heated to 180ºC (350ºF), for 30 to 40 minutes. Turn the heat down if the clafoutis starts to brown too much. Keep an eye on it. The custard will puff up and the cheese will melt. The clafoutis will "fall" as it cools, but don't worry about that. Serve and eat wedges of it hot, warm, or cold.

Here are ingredients and quantities:

2 Tbsp. butter or oil (for frying the flavor ingredients)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1½ cups diced potato (two medium potatoes)
10 oz. (300 grams) frozen spinach, cooked and drained of excess liquid
4 eggs, beaten
½ cup (60 grams) flour
1 cup milk and/or cream
salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg to taste
cheese as you please

24 October 2020


Déplacement de meubles, d'objets divers qui crée un état de confusion, de désordre momentané — that's the dictionary definition. Moving furniture. Causing chaos. Out with the old and in with the new. What was it all about? We got a new rug. A rug that goes under the sofa upstairs in the loft, to protect the floor and keep the furniture from sliding around. I just couldn't stand the old rug any more.

We had the loft, the attic, converted into living space 10 years ago. We painted the walls white, and we had a knotty pine floor put down — nearly 650 square feet of it (60 m²) — the loft space about 32 x 20 feet. We left the loft open — no walls except to enclose the half-bathroom we had built out and installed in one corner in 2019. We left the roof trusses exposed. A lot of French houses are done this way nowadays, since nobody stores grain in the hayloft any more.

To get the old rug out and the new one in, we had to take all cushions off the sofa and turn it up on its back to get it out of the way. We had to move other pieces of furniture too — an end table, two footstools, an armchair, and a long bookcase full of (mostly) cookbooks. And then of course it all had to be put back together. This is our bedroom/family room, as well as my main computer workstation.

As I said, this is our family room. Our TV room. It's our private space, as opposed to the "public space" for company downstairs. And it needed a good autumn cleaning. Don't focus on the dust and dog hair... The new rug is made of all natural fibers (jute). It's 3 meters long and two meters wide — about 10 x 6½ feet.

The towel over the middle of the sofa is for Tasha and/or Bertie to sit on while we watch television in the evening. The lighthouse lamp is one that my parents gave me for Christmas when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old — so it is getting close to 65 years old. If you look closely, you can see Bertie the black cat sleeping on the bed in the background. The remue-ménage didn't phase him.

In the afternoon, the work done and the room put back together, I glanced out one of the Velux skylight windows up in the loft and saw the scene above. The vineyard is golden now and steely November clouds are blowing by.

23 October 2020

Quelques maisons à Luçay-le-Mâle

It rained late yesterday afternoon and all through the evening and night. A at times it was really coming down. We collected an inch of rainwater in the pluviomètre. Hard rain wasn't predicted, at least not by the weather forecaster on Télématin. Oh well. We have a lot of yard work to do, but it's not fun to do in the rain. Now the ground is really soaked.

I won't yet go back to posting photos I've taken in Provence. Here instead are some houses I thought were interesting in Luçay-le-Mâle, just 10 or 11 miles south of Saint-Aignan (but it's a 30-minute drive on narrow, curvy roads) I went there to see the dentist day before yesterday.

The photos above and below show an especially grand house that is near the mairie (town hall) and the town's monument to the memory of the French soldiers who fought and died in World War I.

Luçay is in the Berry, which was a province of France before the 1789 revolution. Saint-Aignan was in the Berry too, whereas the village we live in, just NW of Saint-Aignan was historically part of the old Touraine province. Each of these old territories had its own architectural styles. If you want to see more local houses that are on the market, look here.

The little poste des pompiers — fire station — is just across the street from the mairie. The mayor seeme proud to tell me that the name of every firefighter who has ever served the town has his name on a big plaque on the side of the building.

This last house is next door the the firestation and directly across the street from the mairie. It's for sale, and the asking price is 79,000 euros ($93,000 U.S.). If you want to see more photos of it, here's a link. It consists of about 800 sq. ft. of finished living space — kitchen, living/dining room, three bedrooms, and one bathroom). There's a big unfinished attic that could be converted into living space as well. It sits on 18,000 sq. ft. (nearly half an acre) of land. There's a good dentist right across the street, behind the mairie, and there's a small supermarket just a block away. I noticed two bakeries and at least one butcher shop in the town, and there's an outdoor market on Fridays.

22 October 2020


...dentist-day, in other words. I drove down to the little town of Luçay-le-Mâle yesterday for my 7:20 p.m. appointment with a Romanian dentist who set up his practice there two years ago. It was a very positive experience. I arrived early and walked around the center of town taking a few pictures — the weather was warm and clear. The town's medical center is located right behind the mairie (town hall), which occupies a building that was built as a hospital a century ago. Photo below.

How do I come to know that historical detail? Because as I was taking pictures, a man drove up and parked his car in front of the town hall. He got out and came over to talk to me. "I see you're interested in our public buildings," he said. I told him that I'm an American living in France and I do a blog on the internet where I post a lot of photographs. He proceeded to tell me some of the history of the town. I said to him: Vous êtes Monsieur le Maire, peut-être... "Would you happen to be the mayor?" Oui, he answered, with a smile on his face. I thanked him for the information about the mairie and the town.

A few photos later I walked over to the dentist's office. You can see it in the photo above, over and behind my little light blue Peugeot's hood. It's the modern building on the left. There was one other person in the waiting room, and I thought to myself that I might be there for a long time if the dentist had to see another patient before he could get to me. All I could do was wait and hope for the best. When the dentist came out to get me for my appointment, it was only 7:30. Not bad. I was out of there, satisfied with his diagnosis and treatment, by 8:00.

It turns out that Dr. Baescu, who told me he's 40 years old, set up practice in Luçay in 2018 and moved there with his wife, who is also from Romania. As we got acquainted, he asked me if I might be British. No, I said — American. He seemed surprised, but he smiled and asked me if I'd prefer to speak English or French. I told him either was fine with me, and he said he speaks fluent English so I answered him in English. His mother lives in New York, he said, and he's spent a lot of time there. In fact, he wanted to move to the U.S. and practice dentistry there, but the U.S. doesn't recognize his Romanian medical degree. France does. His English and his French seem to me to be equally fluent.

Above is a map of the area where Luçay is located, which is centered on the well-known town of Valençay (a famous château). You can see Saint-Aignan at the top of the map. The 35-minute drive from home to Luçay was very easy, even in the dark. As for the tooth that's been giving me trouble, the dentist said he thinks I won't need a crown, just a new filling. He x-rayed the tooth, put in a temporary filling, and explained in both French and English what his prognosis was. Then he gave me an appointment for 9:00 a.m. on November 2 to complete the treatment. The charge for the consultation was 23 euros, and more than half of that will be reimbursed by the national health service. I am very relieved to have again found somebody who seems to be a very good dentist.

21 October 2020

Gordes and the Luberon valley in Provence

The Luberon valley in Provence is a land of hilltop villages — villages perchés is what they're called in French. One of the most beautiful and most touristy is Gordes, just 20 minutes from Cavaillon (where our gîte was) and less than an hour by car from the city of Avignon.

I didn't take all these photos in Gordes. Some were things I saw and photographed in other villages the last time I was in Provence (September 2001). My first stay in Provence dates back to the winter and spring of 1970, when I was a student in Aix-en-Provence for six months. I wish I could go back in time and see what the Luberon was like back then.

20 October 2020

Sky views in Provence, plus châteaux dans le Berry

These are some views from the gîte in Cavaillon that I've been posting about for a couple of days. Since I had what was probably a bad cold and fever complicated by allergies caused by dust and pollen blowing in the high Mistral winds, I had some days where I just stayed at the gîte while Walt and Sue went touring around.

Tomorrow I'll finally see the dentist, unless he phones today or tomorrow to postpone the appointment again. I've been very lucky not to have much pain from the broken filling at all. When I talked to the dentist in Luçay-le-Mâle (pop. 1,375), he said the initial appointment would be to take some x-rays and put a temporary filling in the tooth. Then he'll formulate a plan for more treatments. My appointment is at 7:20 p.m. and Luçay is a 35-minute drive from here — each way.

By the way, before the French Revolution, the name of the village was Luçay-le-Mal ("the bad" or "the evil"). During the Revolution it was changed to Luçay-le-Mâle ("the male"), which was deemed less offensive. Luçay (Lucius in Latin) was a Roman who settled in the area 2,000 years ago. His meanness is one explanation for the name of the village. Also, the soil was so poor (mostly clay) le mal might have been a reference to that fact.

The church in Luçay dates back to the 12th century, was set afire during the Hundred Years' War, and was rebuilt in the 14th century. There's a 19th century château, called the château de l'Oublaise (photo, and web site in French) in the village. It was built on the foundations of a much older château, which was demolished so that a newer one could be built (it turns out to be a château that CHM and I happened upon and visited years ago). Until the 14th century, Luçay was a possession of Georges de Palluau, who was the "lord" of Montrésor. The better-known town of Valençay is just 10 kilometers (six miles) east of Luçay.

19 October 2020

September 2001 in Provence

After the slideshow featuring pictures of the gîte which we rented for our 2001 trip to Provence,
I'm re-posting an account of our stay in Cavaillon that I wrote a dozen years ago.

Early in 2001, Walt and I started talking about our travel plans for the year. We were both working, so we had to coordinate some time off. Our first idea was to go to New York City around Labor Day and try to get some tickets to the US Open tennis tournament. We went so far as to find an apartment we might rent by searching the Internet. It was in Lower Manhattan, not far from the World Trade Center. But it was really expensive — something approaching two thousand dollars a week for a small apartment. It looked nice and was a good location, but I started wondering about paying that price.

Instead, I started searching the Internet for places we might rent in Provence. I had a couple of weeks of vacation that I needed to take or I would lose it. It had been six years since our last trip to southern France. I was always ready to spend a few days or weeks in France, anyway. Then we asked our friend Sue if she would like to go with us. She was interested and she had been to France before but never to Provence. I found a gîte — a house rented out by the week — in Cavaillon, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms for about $400.00 U.S. a week. Even with plane fare and car rental, it would cost less to go spend two weeks in Provence than to spend two weeks in New York.

I don't know if we would actually have been in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, but we might well have been. Instead, we were in Provence that day. It was a Tuesday, and we drove over to Gordes in the morning and then on through some of the other villages toward Lourmarin. I had a bad sore throat and was definitely coming down with something, but the weather was nice. That evening, we got back to the gîte and put something on the table for supper. At about 8:30 we decided to turn on the TV to see the weather report for the following days. When we turned it on, what we saw was the World Trade Center in New York with smoke pouring out of the two towers. It was 2:30 p.m. in New York, so we weren't seeing it live. Walt and I stood and listened in shock, trying to figure out what was going on. Sue doesn't understand French, so she just watched.

At first, I thought we might be watching a science fiction movie or some kind of documentary about something that in somebody's imagination might happen one day. And then when it became clear the buildings really were the Trade Center in New York I thought it might be some kind of documentary about the earlier terrorist attack on those buildings. And then they showed footage of the towers collapsing. Anyway, it gradually became clear what was going on and we explained to Sue as best we could, translating what we were hearing on French TV. We all went to bed that night pretty freaked out, and none of us slept much, I'm sure. It felt strange to be so cut off from big events taking place in the U.S., but that has happened to me many times in my life.

By the next morning, I was exhausted and had a raging fever. Walt and Sue didn't know what to do, but it didn't make sense for them to be stuck at the gîte with me. I certainly couldn't go anywhere — I was too sick and needed to rest. Sue had never seen Provence, so there was a lot of stuff she wanted to do and places we wanted to show her. She and Walt left for a day trip to Aix-en-Provence. I didn't need to go to Aix again, I thought. I'd get better and then go see some places I hadn't seen before. But I was feeling a little sorry for myself, I'll confess.

So what was there for me to do all day? Take aspirin, drink hot tea, and eat soup. Wrap up in a blanket and watch TV or listen to the radio. I couldn't read because my eyes were stinging, burning, and teary. Besides, I didn't have the mental energy to focus on the written word. And what was on the TV and radio? Nothing but full-time coverage of the situation in New York. It was pretty depressing. I heard on the radio that it was impossible to put a telephone call through to the U.S. All the lines and cables were saturated, over capacity, with calls. And we didn't even have a phone at the gîte, or a cell phone. So all I could do was sit there and try to get over the cold or flu or whatever it was I had. That was Wednesday 9/12.

I stayed in all the next day too. On Thursday night, I actually got in the car and drove into Cavaillon at midnight to try to call my mother from a phone booth and tell her we were fine. I couldn't get through. I made a call to a French friend in Normandy just because I wanted to talk to somebody and not feel like I had wasted my time by going out. By Friday the fever had broken and I was starting to come back to life. The three of us went into Cavaillon to go to a pharmacy. I wanted something stronger for my cold and sore throat, and we needed some kind of sleeping pills because none of us was getting any rest at all. The shock of the New York events on top of jet lag had us all completely discombobulated and worn out.

When I explained to the woman behind the counter at the pharmacy that we were Americans and we needed something to help us sleep because we were having nightmares and were exhausted, she looked at me and said something like, "Monsieur, I understand. We are all having nightmares right now, you know." She recommended a somnifère that turned out to do the job.

We continued our trip and sightseeing, of course. There were no flights back to the U.S. those first few days, even if we had wanted to fly back home. That Friday, the woman at the pharmacy also gave me something for my cold symptoms. I told her I had bad pollen allergies in California, and she said with the winds we were having — the Mistral was blowing — there was a lot of pollen and dust in the air. Maybe all that was aggravating my condition. I still think it was just a cold that I caught on the plane on the way from California to France. But a year or two later an allergist in San Francisco told me that I shouldn't even consider living in the South of France because I have severe allergies to the pollen of cypress and olive trees, which abound down there.

18 October 2020

Cooking and eating at the gîte in Cavaillon

The kitchen in the Cavailon gîte was spacious, that's for sure. And pretty well equipped. We did quite a bit of cooking while we were there. I enjoy having dinner in a gîte at night rather than going out to a restaurant. A restaurant dinner out in the country means driving at night, but to get to the restaurant and to get back "home."

This kitchen was more than adequately equipped. The glassware and dishes were simple but functional. I don't really remember how many bedrooms there were in the house — Walt and I were in one, and Sue was in another. Looking at the kitchen and into this china closet, you can see how 6 people could easily stay here comfortably. And I remember that we paid only about $400 a week in rent.

The first couple of days we were in Cavaillon, we were recovering from jet lag. The flight was long — 11 or 12 hours in all from San Francisco to Paris — and then we had to drive for 6 or 7 hours from CDG airport, north of Paris, all the way down to Provence. Not only did we have a good kitchen, but we also had a great barbecue at our disposal. And we were close enough to town that we could walk in and do some shopping. Exercise and daylight are two cures for jet lag.

Looking at these old photos, I see that we bought sausages and chicken to cook on the grill. And potatoes, served steamed. And there were salads, as well as Dijon mustard and local Puget olive oil as condiments.

Bread and wine too, of course. It's too bad that the Mistral wind starting blowing a couple of days later. That made us wary of trying to cook on the stone barbecue grill. We didn't want sparks flying around the area. We had leftovers for a few more dinners, though. And we had lunches in restaurants on days we spent out in the car, sightseeing.

17 October 2020

Septembre 2001

After going to France three times in the year 2000 — Paris in January for three or four nights; Paris again in July for three or four nights; and then Vouvray, Reims (Champagne), Rouen (Normandy), and Paris for three weeks — we returned in June 2001. We stayed in that same gîte in Vouvray for two weeks that month. We toured around with our old friend Cheryl (Sue's cousin) from California for a week, and then with our friend CHM for the second week. I've already described the gîte in Vouvray, so I'll move on.

We didn't return to France until September 2001. That year, we almost went to spend a week in New York City instead, but after checking prices for NYC vacation rentals we decided to go to Provence instead. Sue again decided to come with us. We rented the gîte in the photos here for a two week stay. It was in the town of Cavaillon, famous for its melons and less than 15 miles SW of Avignon and about 30 miles NE of Aix-en-Provence.

Above is a photo of the back of the gîte —the north side.  For part of the time we were there, the fierce, frigid Mistral wind blew down from the north, buffeting that side of the house. It was so windy that we were afraid to use the big stone barbecue grill, which you can see in the photo below — we thought we might start a fire in the dry grass and brush that surrounded the house.

By the time we arrived in Cavaillon, I had developed a really bad sore throat. I came with a high fever, and I was out of commission for three or four days that first week. This is where we were on September 11, 2001, when the World Trade center in New York was attacked... As you can probably tell, the Cavaillon gîte was a big, spacious house. I spent a lot of time inside there, with my fever and sore throat, watching news from the U.S. on French TV all day, wondering how and when we would ever get back to California. Walt and Sue were able to go out on day trips to see Provence, so their vacation wasn't ruined. Walt and I had spent two weeks in Provence in 1993, so he knew his way around. And I had already spent six months in Provence in 1970, when I was a student.

16 October 2020

Paris, octobre 2000 — suite et fin

Here we go again. Yesterday we felt we had no choice but to cancel our planned November stay in a gîte for a short change of scenery. I wrote the e-mail and explained to our friend, who owns and rents out the gîte we had reserved, near Limoges, and explained why we had to cancel. Things are not going well in France right now. More and more cases of Covid19. A curfew in many cities. Maybe next year...

Meanwhile, here are some more reminiscences about a great vacation we spent in France 20 years ago, back when we still lived in California. Between the year 2000 and the year 2002, it became very clear to me that I needed to leave California and come live in France. Luckily, Walt was in the same frame of mind. We packed up and moved halfway around the world in 2003. Seventeen years later, I know we made the right decision. Oh, the photo above shows the views from the windows of the apartment we rented in the Marais for our October 2000 stay in Paris.

Above are two photos of the courtyard at that address on the rue Vieille-du-Temple — our arrival on the left, and our departure on the right. It was time to pack up and return to California. We were waiting for the taxi that would take us to Charles de Gaulle airport. I always missed Paris when I was in the U.S., starting from the first time I ever spent time there, 50 years ago. I still miss it. Below is a slide show made up of some of the photos I took there in October 2000. In the show you'll see the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, the Pantheon, the Seine, a restaurant specializing in snail dishes, a pretty café, a statue of king Henri IV, and so on.

Oh, among all the photos I took inside that Maris gîte there were also the two below. The apartment not only had a kitchen, a living/dining room, and a bedroom; it also had a bathroom! Two, actually, as is often the case in France. One was the real bathroom, with a sink and a tub with a shower. The other was the W.C., les toilettes, le petit coin — the loo, as our British cousins say.

15 October 2020

A place in the city — Paris

The apartment we rented for our week-long stay in the Marais district (le 4ème arrondissement) in October 2000 wasn't especially big, but it was pretty well equipped. As with most affordable rentals, the furniture was serviceable. I'd say the whole apartment was about 400, maybe 500, square feet. People in Paris live mostly in very small spaces. The important thing for us was not so much size or luxury, but location and price. This apartment was much bigger than most hotel rooms in the same price range ($100 per night), and it had a pretty good kitchen.

When three people with luggage holding three weeks' worth of clothes, plus carry-on bags, and camera bags, there's never enough storage space in these small apartments. You just have to put things where you can. The apartment is a place to sleep, eat breakfast, and maybe eat a light dinner in the evening. The rest of the time you're out on the streets of the city, seeing the sights.

We must have been having warm weather, because I notice that the window in the photos above is wide open.

As I said, the furniture was serviceable and fairly comfortable. The living/dining room had a table for four as well as at least one armchair like the one above and a small sofa as you saw in yesterday's post. There was a TV, which Walt and I enjoy having so that we can see news and weather reports morning and evening. Nowadays, with tablets and smart phones, maybe that's less of a selling point than it was 20 years ago.

The one bedroom, which you can see in one of the photos above, was tiny, in fact. There was just enough room in there for the double bed. The other bed in the apartmen was on a platform that was basically in the living room. It didn't provide much privacy for our friend Sue, but we're old friends and we'd been on many camping trips together in California, so we managed.

I'm not sure why the platform for that bed was built the way it was, but we had a similar built-in platform bed in one of the bedrooms in our San Francisco house. I believe Sue found this one pretty comfortable. There she is sitting on it on the day of our departure — all our bags were packed and ready to go.

P.S. I was supposed to see a dentist about my broken filling yesterday. I had a 7:40 p.m. appointment in a town that's a 35-minute drive from Saint-Aignan. However, at about 3 o'clock the phone rang and the doctor said he needed to cancel my appointment. He gave me a new one for next Wednesday at 7:20 p.m. The dentist said something about President Macron's scheduled appearance on TV at 8 o'clock last night. It wasn't clear to me why my appointment needed to be postponed. Wish me luck. President Macron announced a four-week curfew (from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. has been ordered for the next four weeks, or maybe six. It applies to people in the Paris region and in 8 other cities and large metropolitan areas around the country — about a third of the French population.

14 October 2020

Moving on to Paris

I started this series of posts to show pictures of different places we've rented for vacations in France since the year 2000. Then I got sidetracked by Chenonceau and other Loire Valley castles. I'll try to get back to the gîtes and appartements now. Recapping: in October 2000 we spent a week staying in a gîte (a rented house) in the Loire Valley, a week on the road (Champagne and Normandy for me and Walt; the Pyrennes Mountains and Basque Country for our friend Sue.) During that week, we stayed in hotels. Finally, we spent the last week of our vacation in Paris in a apartment in the Marais district. It was on the rue Vieille-du-Temple (no. 75), near its intersection with the rue des Francs-Bourgeois.

If you look at this Google Maps aerial view of the neighborhood, you can see the cobble-stoned courtyard (photo above) and also the inner courtyard, a green garden, behind it (photo below). By the way, this address is a 15-minute walk from Notre-Dame cathedral and about half an hour's walk from the Pyramide du Louvre or the Jardin du Luxembourg.

The one-bedroom apartment we rented had windows on the street and on the courtyard. And it had what they call poutres apparentes in the living room — exposed beams on the ceiling. I'm pretty sure we didn't pay more than about $100 per night for the three of us. There was a comfortable platform bed in the living room for Sue to sleep on.

Other California friends of ours happened to be spending a week or two in Paris at that time as well. We took advantage of the benefits of staying in an apartment, as you can see. A glass of wine with some cheeses made for a light dinner or a copious apéritif. It was a nice way to visit and share stories and plans before going out for a restaurant dinner or just a walk down by the Seine.

I'll post more photos tomorrow. Staying in a rental apartment in Paris is great too because you don't have to go to restaurants twice a day, and you can have breakfast in the apartment at a leisurely pace. That saves some money, and means you can enjoy shopping for food in little shops, supermarkets, or open-air markets. Maybe one day we'll be able to go back to Paris and again spend some time there — once this crazy coronavirus is under control.