Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Travel Tuesday: The National Gallery, Dublin

Looking up, a splendid sky 

Last July I went to Ireland for the first time. Well, at least I went to Dublin. 

I don't know if the Irish say "Oh, Dublin isn't really Ireland," the way the French say "Oh, Paris isn't really France." 

(Or Americans say "Oh, New York isn't really the USA." I think this list could go on and on.)

The Wintergarden café, conveniently located at the museum entrance

I spent 3 days there with my husband and Paris daughter Charlotte, then one day alone, as they set off to travel around what some people may think is "the real Ireland" -- and I had to get back to work.

Dublin was a fortuitous travel choice for us in July, since the weather was, truly, just so much lovelier than in the South of France at the same time! Sun, temperatures in the low-to-mid-70s, no need for jackets or rain gear...

(All of this is not a joke, as anyone who was in France for the "summer" of 2014 knows.)

A leisurely caffeine session before hitting the galleries

The weather was, in fact, so beautiful that we didn't do much of anything "indoorsy" those first three days. Strolling around Dublin and lounging in its parks took up most of our time.

But once the rest of my family was off driving on the left, I honed in on some of the indoor sites.

I highly recommend The National Gallery, although its Wintergarden Café was so striking that I have to admit I spent about half of my time there.

Well said, George

The National Gallery houses a deliciously compact collection of major European works -- although the museum is under construction and perhaps the total collection is not that compact.

I especially enjoyed discovering the many Irish artists that I had never heard of: 
Mary Swanzy, Paul Henry, and William Leech are just a few that I wrote down for further exploration...one of these days...

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Nature Outing with New York Daughter in Gages, Aveyron

View onto the Aveyron River from Gages

This is the view onto the Aveyron river from a little stone bridge just a few kilometers from our house. If the weather is nice, I stop there occasionally on the way back from the grocery store in Gages-le-Pont. 

With our New York daughter home for the holidays this week, I have enjoyed seeing Aveyron through her city eyes.

We had some splendid weather the days before Christmas, and one of the activities she really wanted to take part in was "getting out into nature" -- this from a young lady who couldn't be convinced to take a 45-minute family walk after the age of 13.  

So on Monday, we got out and about. We didn't undertake a long hike, but several short strolls, stopping at sites not far from our home.

Daphné admitted not really remembering that the above bridge view even existed.

Montrozier and its privately owned castle

Then we moved on to Montrozier, which is part of the Gages-Montrozier community, and historically, its starting point.

To me, Montrozier is a well-kept secret. I'm always surprised that so few tourists drop by  -- perhaps if the castle were public, it would draw some crowds. Then again, a stunning stone village that seems virtually undiscovered by anyone except the locals is a treat to visit too. 

View from Montrozier

Daphné was agog at pristine views such as this one, and I was touched to watch her rediscovering the beauties of her French home.

Gazing at grazing cows was a priority

She was also keen to see some animals. On this outing, we were only able to find cows, but when we got home, a local mare and colt had been left in the pasture next to our house, so she has been able to enjoy watching them all week. 

The church in Gillorgues

At one point, I took a road out of Montrozier that I was not familiar with at all. I had no idea where we were going, but knew we were definitely heading somewhere. We ended up in the little community of Gillorgues, officially part of the town of Bozouls. 

All of this was well and good, but after an afternoon "out in nature," a family Christmas, a day in Toulouse, and a number of outings to Rodez, Daphné knows it is time to head back to her job and 24/7 life in the big city.

Monday, she will be back on the plane.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cows in the Mist

(Photo courtesy of Thierry Jouanneteau)

If you have been reading, you know that my daughters are home for Christmas. 

One lives in Paris, but gets down to see us every month or two. She hasn't forgotten what it is like to see livestock all over the place. 

The one who lives in Manhattan hasn't been home for a year, and one of her first requests was to "see some cows, donkeys, and horses if possible."

We went on a little nature outing yesterday, and were able to see some cows. 

Unfortunately, none of the known local donkeys were out and about, but she had the nice surprise of waking up to a couple of horses in the field next to our house.

In honor of her presence, I'm posting this photo taken by my husband in Saillac, Corrèze .

Cows in the mist...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Curious about crosses in Aveyron

There is one picnic table nearby
(Zénières, Gages-Montrozier, Aveyron)

Since I have been blogging again, I have been opening my eyes more. 

And I have suddenly noticed the incredible number of outdoor crosses and crucifixes one finds every few kilometers here in Aveyron and, probably, all over France.

This is not a revelation, of course. I've seen them around for years. But I have never paid that much attention, or realized how frequently one comes across them. 

Right on a bridge
(Montrozier, Gages-Montrozier, Aveyron)

After taking a good look at some local crosses, I was struck by curiosity that I figured Google could resolve in a few seconds. I thought that with a few cleverly formulated searches, in French and/or in English, I would find the "National Directory of French Crosses," or some such.

So far, no result.

Crucifix near a town center
(Sébazac, Aveyron)

The French Wikipedia offers a short yet mind-boggling entry about "Croix Monumentale," with references going as far as Texas (?). But it is hardly encyclopedic.

Part of this crucifix is credited to someone named Vernhes
(Sébazac, Aveyron -- detail)

If you live in France, what do you know about crosses in your area?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Waiting for those girls, waiting for the light!

Charlotte, 23, lighting up the stage at the Théâtre de la Clarté in Paris

At one point, TJ and I thought we might be spending Christmas alone for the first time. Charlotte had a potential professional involvement in a remote part of France, and Daphné, understandably,  didn't want to spend a precious week of vacation to fly back from New York if she couldn't see her sister.

But everything worked out. The gig for Charlotte didn't materialize, and as I write she is on the road back from Paris to spend 10 days here.

Daphné, 21, lighting up her workplace, Lightbox, during a recent art auction

Consequently, Daphné managed to get a good week off from her job in Manhattan, and as I write she is on the second leg of her flight back, from Paris to Toulouse. 

Having both our daughters here is going to light up the holidays immensely! 

I also have two whole weeks off from work, which isn't always the case for the winter holidays.

I haven't been so excited about Christmas in a long time! Ring those Christmas bells!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Travel Tuesday: Vista House

Vista House -- as fascinating as a rest stop can get

After nearly 25 years of life in France, I still feel right at home in Olympia, where I was born and raised.

But once I leave Washington's fine capital city, even for a day, I feel like a tourist in the USA.

Last summer, my mother and I took an overnight trip to Portland and the Columbia River Gorge. As you can see, we had the grandest weather possible, and I discovered a quirky historic roadside stop: Vista House.

Roll on Columbia, roll on...

As its name implies, Vista House offers a stunning view.. 

Built by Multonomah County as a rest stop in 1917, the octagonal "comfort station" lives on, financed in part by Oregon State and in part by FOVH, or Friends of Vista House.

A long renovation, completed in 2005, restored Vista House to its former glory

I found the building and its viewpoint pretty exciting to visit in 2014. 

I can only imagine what motorists who stopped there for the grand opening in 1918, just 5 years after the completion of the Columbia River Highway, must have felt.

A video illustrates the history of this intriguing site. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dinner Party Day

I learned much from this type of cooking magazine, and hauled this 20-year-old issue out for yesterday's main course, Corsican veal stew with olives 

I had a farm in Africa....

Well, no. But I had a cooking blog. 

It is still floating around, bereft of its custom design and many of its photos. I'm not sure what I'll end up doing with it, but for the moment it is a nagging reminder of a time when cooking was not just something I had to do, but a true hobby.

I think I burned out, or maybe I just started working full-time plus. But cooking hasn't been any more than a duty for a while. Not an unpleasant duty, but a duty nonetheless.

Yesterday, though, I pulled out the stops and did the whole French Saturday night dinner party thing: poring over recipes Friday evening, shopping all morning on Saturday, cooking all afternoon, then sprucing up the house a bit before hosting guests from 8pm to a bit past midnight.

I get by with a little help from my friend Picard

The food and company were great, bien sûr, but I also really enjoyed the whole process. 

One fantastic new element of this whole process is that in my circles, it is now deemed legitimate to have one course of your meal come from Picard , the amazing French frozen food chain that makes so many's lives a bit easier. 

More than one Picard dish would be a bit tacky, but a lot of people turn to ami Picard for before-dinner snacks, a starter, or a dessert.   

My Picard choice was before-dinner snacks

Just put these fancy-dancy little canapés in the fridge to thaw for four hours, and voilà! Who could ask for anything more?

And who could complain about smoked salmon with savory lemon cream on a poppyseed blini?

On the left -- source for my 90s Apple Crisp recipe
On the right -- source for yesterday's Apple Crumble recipe 

When I first moved to France, I liked to surprise guests with making "American food." I must have made Betty Crocker's apple crisp recipe for every other dinner party I gave in the early-to-mid 90s -- provided I could find oatmeal, of course.

Now "crumbles" are so prevalent that I wonder if young people even know they are an Anglo specialty. I made an apple one last night, but glazed it with tangerine marmelade and crushed up Breton butter cookies for the crumbly part. 

That original take on the crumble got oohs and aahs, but (the other) Betty C.'s version would just be a standard here now.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

TJ Tuesday: Private Hunting Ground

One of many ways to show the privacy of a hunting ground
Photo courtesy of Thierry Jouanneteau

Somewhere deep in the woods between the Aveyron and Gard departments, someone has staked out his -- or her -- private hunting ground. 

Hunting is practiced in our area, as it is in much of France. The first autumn that we lived in our new house, we were woken up by resounding gunshots on the morning of the "ouverture de chasse". They sounded like they were practically coming from our back yard, and my husband said anything that loud was certainly illegally close to our property. 

Perhaps we had built our house on someone's unofficial "chasse gardée."

I don't hear nearly as many gunshots anymore. Hunting season here just closed for hare and partridge, and all fall I only heard one or two shots.

I haven't read anything about it, but I imagine that hunting must be dying out here.  Like many activities that take time and patience, I'm not sure it appeals to  younger generations.

As a meat-eater, I don't pass judgment on hunters or hunting. It's not something I'd care to do, but I've had a  few opportunities to chow down on locally hunted meat, and the pleasure has been mine.

Before writing this post, I had just figured "hunting season" in France was set by national dates. Actually, it is much more complex. Hunting is regulated by each département, and the dates differ. For example, in this hunting ground that was nestled between two départements, in the Gard area they would get an extra week to hunt hare and partridge compared to Aveyron.

Dates also vary according to species. Partridge and hare can breathe more easily now in Aveyron, but fox and pheasant are fair game until the end of January.

The Gard hunting rules cite a lot more species: badgers, muskrats, coypu (?), and stone marten (?) are all regulated with specific dates. I don't know if these animals just don't exist in Aveyron, or if they are not frequent hunting prey.

In fact for the latter two, I didn't even know these animals existed at all!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Out and about, and on having free time again

My weekend companions, 2012-2014

For the past three years, most of my free time has gone into completing the Cambridge DELTA course. This advanced qualification in English Language Teaching introduced me to the great thinkers of language teaching theory, enabled me to examine my teaching practices and learn about a slew of new ones, and inspired me greatly.

It also took up a hell of a lot of time. A few carefully scheduled breaks notwithstanding, I worked on the course 10 to 20 hours per week from January 2012 until last month, when I finally finished my research paper, the daunting Module 3. And yes, I was still working full-time.

I could even go to the circus now if I wanted to!

So finally, after what seems like a lifetime of solitary Saturdays and Sundays spent reading, writing, and studying, my weekends include an incredible element again: guilt-free free time.

Now I can once again get out and about to enjoy some of the many activities going on in Aveyron, not to mention the endless possibilities for exploring the backroads.

The Trio Wanderer at the Grange de Floyrac in Onet-le-Château

It always kills me when people say there is nothing to do in or around Rodez. After living in the area for nearly 20 years, I feel like I have only scratched the surface of potential activities.  Concerts, plays, art shows, great restaurants, special exhibits...I'm always seeing publicity for events I would like to go to. 

And the past few weeks, I have been going to them. 

Last weekend, we saw the internationally known Trio Wanderer play a concert of trios by Haydn, Fauré and Brahms. Thanks to the Association du Vieux Palais, a series of top-notch classical music concerts is held in Aveyron every year. We used to go to quite a few, but that went by the wayside during my course.

The Clairvaux church ready for a benefit concert for the Téléthon

This weekend, on Friday I got together with a few expat friends to see a local village choir sing for the Téléthon. A Dutch woman we all know was performing in this festive fundraising event in the lovely Romanesque Church of St. Blaise Clairvaux.

This afternoon, we will be heading to Imaginarium, the first edition of a comics festival organized by the Cubik bookstore in Rodez. 

This new free time is a bit disconcerting and may actually take some getting used to. 

Of course, if I don't know what to do with it, I also have my blog back.   

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Travel Tuesday: New York City and why I now go there

A few blocks up from my daughter's workplace

When I took a break from writing this blog in 2010, our daughters were both still ensconced in Aveyron. The eldest had started university right in Rodez, and the youngest was in the equivalent of her junior year of high school.

Through a breathtaking chain of events, after just one year of college, that youngest daughter has ended up living and working in Manhattan. She is well into her third year there, and there seems to be no turning back.

She's not in Kansas anymore.

Manhattan. Who would've thunk it? I am a Pacific Northwest gal with no New York-ish connections; I had never even set foot in New York City until a year and a half ago, when I first landed at JFK with something other than a layover in mind. 

A starkly impersonal address with a lot of "5s" in it punched into my cell phone. 

A humid yellow taxi with a grimy TV screen running the same commercials over and over. 

A "turnpike," whatever that is -- I still couldn't give you a precise definition.

I realized, arriving in New York City for the first time,  that I was really more of a foreigner there than in Paris.

Yet it so quickly felt like home.