Christmas Possum Update

Merry Boxing Day to all!

We had a lovely Christmas Eve celebration withMom and friends David and Jane, who arrived at the Gare de Carcassonne last Friday night. Somehow, they managed to bring several beautiful, sunny days with them in their luggage.

Because they don’t like to have boring holidays, David slipped on their cellar steps on Tuesday as he was taking a bottle of gas downstairs. We happened to stop in about 30 minutes later, to find him sitting huddled in the corner next to the radiator, a blanket clutched around himself and looking decidedly green from shock.

Of course, because he and Jane don’t want to bother anyone, he was prepared to just tough it out! However, JM and I insisted that a trip to les Urgences at the Solano clinic was really necessary and not the least bit of bother. At that point it wasn’t clear if he had broken his ankle or if it was a sprain, but obviously an x-ray and a doctor were called for.

It did turn out to be a sprain, but sometimes I think that is worse. Your mind hears, “It’s only a sprain,” and translates that into, “It’s no big deal,” so you just carry on doing what you normally do. Unfortunately, that is not actually the best way to deal with a sprain, even if you have it properly wrapped. The only thing that really heals it is time and rest.

David’s idea of “rest” is cycling 20 K instead of 40! After a few days of overexerting himself, he’s now realizing the error of his ways and I think is now prepared to rest a bit.

Injury aside, we had a lovely Christmas meal: Salmon and paté for starters, followed by Black turkey (delicious!), carrot and sweet potatoes roasted with marmalade, wild rice and cepe casserole, spinach with cream and gruyere, and potatoes roasted in goose fat. To finish we had a superb bûche de Noël and a mixed berry tart, both created by our extraordinary baker, Philippe Corlet. And, we toasted it all with some delicious Blanquette Ancestrale.

Christmas day was quiet, as it usually is around here. However, this morning we woke up to a white post-Christmas! We’re actually under an orange alert, which is a severe weather warning, as we are expecting very heavy snow and icy conditions through tomorrow. This is the first time that has happened since we first moved here 4 years ago.

It has been snowing for about 4 hours now, and it’s really starting to stick to the road. It looks quite astonishing outside and I will take my little camera around later to get some pictures.

Clearly, our plans for a trip to Limoux have been put on hold, and Beanie will be spending the day under her blanket of snow and not attempting to drive anywhere. I will be curious to see Shmoo’s reaction to this much of the white stuff when we go out for our afternoon walk; I just hope he isn’t so excited that he pulls me over and I wind up in les Urgences!

Ciao for now and Merry Christmas to all!

Randy

White Almost Christmas!

We woke up this morning to more sleety rain. I don’t want to be reading ANY talk about a draught this year, with the amount we’ve been having. My feet are starting to mildew because my shoes never dry out.

We had decided to head into Limoux for a few errands, since we try to group things together and not have to drive over there too frequently. Our thought was to get an early start and be back home for lunch. When we looked out the window at 9 am, the sleet had turned to snow and there was a fair amount of it.

“Are we mice or men?” asked JM, and we decided to be manly and go, however, we had barely gotten out of the village when we saw that the snow was already sticking to the road, and the Col between here and Limoux is MUCH higher and gets way more snow. I told JM that I guess the mouse was winning and turned the car around to head back home.

When we pulled into our spot, I saw Didier and Mireille from across the street, and Didier said that last night he had run into very slippery conditions on the Col and he’s used to this, so despite JM making squeaking noises at me, I felt like I’d made the right decision.

After lunch, though, things seemed to have improved somewhat, so we decided to try again. I must say that it felt like driving through a winter postcard scene! The trees were blanketed in snow and there was a good covering everywhere on the ground. The road was not great at certain places on the Col, but several hours of more traffic going over it had improved things to the point where prudent driving got me safely through it all.

Once in Limoux, everyone we met was very impressed that we had dared to make the trek from Chalabre! We told them that as long as we were able to outrun the Polar Bears and Snow Leopards that we felt safe.

Except for the first year we were here, where there were a couple of good snow storms in February, we haven’t seen anything like this at our level. We had one barely there snow flurry last year, and nothing at all the year before, as far as I can remember. So, JM and I are kind of enjoying it. It feels A LOT like a White Christmas this year!

Ciao for now

Randy

Why the hatred?

I have been struck lately by several blogs I’ve read by other Americans living in France who seem to be having an entirely DIFFERENT experience than the one I have had. I don’t think I’m overly “Pollyanna-ish;” I think I’m honest in my assessment of my neighbors and friends, etc. But all of these blogs seem so negative about the French. I truly don’t get it.

For example, a friend sent me a link to this blog,which is written by an American living in a small village, just as I do. I was truly surprised by the attitude she describes.

I’ve been coming to France for 30 years and have known many, many different French people in that time from all walks of life and from all corners of the country. I have NEVER felt “dissed” because of being American; I have NEVER been treated as if my ideas didn’t count; I have ALWAYS been welcomed and listened to.

And, it’s not only blogs like this one that have surprised me; there was a really nasty article in The Daily Beast the other day that irritated me a lot. I was going to leave a comment, but didn’t feel like registering on the site so I could do it. I put the writer’s experience down to it being Paris, but I wonder if it’s not just that she has really snotty friends…

When I lived in L.A., I tried to make French people that I knew understand that America was NOT New York or Los Angeles, and that there were as many cultural differences across the country as there were between France and America. I try to help American friends understand that Paris is NOT France and that waiters in cafés are as likely to be performing their “shtick” as anything else, and behave the same way to French patrons as American ones.  But I fear it is a lost cause.

I am really trying to understand the experiences of both of these writers, but I must admit that I find that difficult. Could it be a question of personalities? That is, do I blind myself to slights because that is just the way I am? I really don’t know, and I do hope that my overall positive experience isn’t setting some other person up for failure if they don’t find the same attitudes on their visits to France.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Happy Anniversary to Us

We just got back from celebrating the 4th anniversary of our first visit to the Possum Kingdom!  We went to lunch at Le Commerce in Mirepoix and are feeling contentedly stuffed.

We found our house on a Tuesday, then went back on Wednesday evening to meet a builder to discuss approximately how much it would cost to get the place into shape. On our way back to Pamiers in the cold, winter rain, we stopped in Mirepoix, hoping to find someplace to have dinner. We had been staying with friends and didn’t want to make them wait for us to eat, and also didn’t want them to feel obligated to provide us with a hot meal, which I know they would have insisted on doing.  Le Commerce looked cozy and welcoming so we stopped in; I think we were the only customers that night.  It has since become our favorite comfort food restaurant.

Our waitress that night was Sylvie, who used to run the Cafe de la Paix in our village with her then companion. She is a warm, wonderful person and we have delighted in knowing her these 4 years. Unfortunately, she’s had some health issues over the last 2 years, but they are apparently at last getting under control, and we are happy to know she is feeling so much better.

Le Commerce has a daily special for 12.50€. Today it was assorted crudités and charcuterie (at dinner there is a wonderful vegetable potage instead), Poached eggs on spinach with bechamel sauce, Roast chicken and sauteed potatoes and mushrooms, choice of cheese, fruit or dessert. We had the Strawberry Bavaroise.  Worth every penny and more!

We always walk out of Le Commerce happy; the food is good value for money. The ingredients are fresh and simply prepared. The wait staff is warm and welcoming. The dining room is wonderfully cozy on a cold winter’s day and you feel as if you have just had a meal in a place where you are appreciated.

Today was a particularly perfect day for a meal like this, as the temperature has not really risen above freezing and we’ve been having snow flurries on and off all day. Besides being the anniversary of our introduction to our new home, it is also the SECOND anniversary of our adopting Shmoo! (Well, approximately at any rate).  Strangely, as we were driving between Camon and Sonnac we had a huge shock; there on the road in front of us was a dog who could have been Shmoo’s brother! My first thought was, “Oh my God! Did I forget to lock the front door????” As I slowed the car, the Doppleganger made a quck turn into a corn field and was lost from sight. I knew it wan’t Shmoo, but it reall was a shock.

But, a few minutes later we opened the front door to our cozy abode and there was our Shmoo Alexander, warm and safe and happy to see us.

Life is good.

Ciao for now,

Randy

I Am Furious, Blanquette!

JM and I were very excited when we discovered a wonderful local wine producer at the Espezel fair. He and his wife have a lovely vineyard in Castelrang, where amongst other things, they produce — by themselves — the best Blanquette Methode Ancestrale that I have tasted.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about our drive over there, when we purchased a couple of cases of the Blanquette as well as their heavenly grape juice. 6 bottles of the Blanquette were scheduled to go to some business contacts in the States.

The French post office has a line of specialty packaging for a variety of things, and, this being France, that includes special wine bottle boxes. They are ingenious (if not perfect) and you can pack a bottle knowing that there is a 99% certainty that it will arrive at its destination unbroken. The boxes are postage paid, and they are NOT inexpensive. But Christmas comes just once a year, and we wanted to do something special for these particular people.

Last week, I assembled the boxes, printed out personalized Christmas cards and schlepped 6 VERY heavy boxes to the post office with JM. Both of us were excited and couldn’t wait to hear what our friends thought of the Blanquette.

This morning, as I was walking out the door on a little errand, one of our local mail carriers stopped me. In her van were THREE of the wine boxes! They had all been REJECTED by U.S. Customs!!

I have to admit I was, and still am a bit, in shock. We had looked at customs regulations online, and it seems to be perfectly legal to bring wine into the U.S.,; so why has this happened? On the advice of our mail carrier, we called the post office in Limoux and the nice woman who answered the phone said that she vaguely remembers now that it is illegal to send alcohol to the U.S.!  Excuse me?

I would be annoyed at the post office, except that they can’t really be expected to remember what is legal or illegal for every country in the world. Although, given that this is a specific, international product, it would be nice if they had a list of countries where the KNOW you can’t ship. But, frankly I’m really angry at the United States. For heaven’s sake! How paranoid have they become?

Last week, I heard from another friend who had shipped some cheese to a third friend in the States. That was also returned as refused by customs. I suppose I can understand that a little more, as it was an artisinal cheese and not wrapped in plastic. But, still, we’re slowly losing our ability to send ANY presents to friends in America.

Now we have to write to the friends who are not getting their Christmas presents. We have to wait to hear back from the Post Master to find out if we can be reimubursed for the costs of the boxes. We have to wait to see if any of the other 3 boxes, which we assume are okay, still come back to us in the next couple of days. And, we have to figure out what the hell we can buy as presents that will be permitted entry onto sacred American soil. That seems like it will be the hardest part of all.

Bah humbug.

Randy

The Lights of Christmas

They are up and lit about 10 days earlier than last year. I just love when they put up the Christmas decorations in the village; they’re not super gaudy, but look elegant and beautiful.

Those, together with the cold weather we’ve had for almost the last month, are really making things feel like Christmas already. Of course, the bad economy is probably not going to make it a “spendy” year for most people, but at least it looks great.

This week is the Telethon, which is a national charity event to raise money for things like muscular dystrophy, etc. Just about every village has some kind of money raising event and ours is no exception. Two of the things that sound the most fun are a village dinner at the local theater on Saturday night and a Christmas market on Sunday.

We usually go to at least a couple of Christmas markets every year and it will be nice to have one right outside our own back door this year. Of course, they are an evil temptation because one sees tons of things they don’t need but just HAVE to buy. And, as usual in France, the caloric temptations can be quite dire. Luckily Christmas is just once a year so we can work on getting those extra pounds off for the next 11 months.

Our friends Bernie, Fiona, John and baby Aoibhe are arriving for the weekend, so that will make it even more festive. I can hardly wait!

Ciao for now.

Randy