Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nice day two;
We woke up later than usual, and I went out baguette hunting, in the off season-winter there aren’t many Boulangeries’s open. When we were here last year in July you couldn’t swing a beret without hitting a boulangerie sign, now all the bakers are……..I have no idea what a baker does off season, maybe a time share in Orlando, “ze kids are loving the Epcot center so“. I really got to know the outer fringes of old Antibes today. I discovered an area of town that’s probably not even recorded in the city survey. A place where old people walked into and drank from a fountain and returned to their family as teenagers, or where bakers had their own little Shangri-La, so I circumvented my way back to the house and found a baguettes-r-us shop a block and a half from our little maison. An hour after leaving I return with the elusive loaf of bread. Don’t get me wrong French baguettes could be currency, they are that good. I probably would have joined Burt Reynolds, and Ned Beatty in Deliverance if there were a boulangerie at the end of the canoe trip.
The plans are made with Andrew and Arlette that we will go with them to Nice, and they will go see her mother who is not doing well, our hearts are breaking for Arlette, she is such a good soul, seeing her mother in the most strained of circumstances. So we drive up the coast road, and into Nice where Andrew competes in his Lemans “for the parking space” Race . He has become a surgeon with his car able to squeeze through traffic with precision, and as passengers we feel completely at ease, as he navigates with such competence. Were I driving I would be enjoying it completely, but my passengers would be administering last rights to each other.
We park the car in the only available space in Nice, after a long search, Arlette knew it was there all along, Andrew is so fortunate. We depart the below grade parking structure and exit into Nice. We are right at the weekly flea market, it has everything from antique oil paintings, furniture, bric-a-brac, you get the idea. We peruse the market and wind our way to the steep stairway that scales the side of the mountain and ends on top with a water feature. After an hour of climbing and stopping and enjoying the view we arrive at the top.
The view is spectacular, one sees the old part of Nice and the more modern suburbs, the Alps seem closer, and the Med shows off its winter colors. The weather is agreeable for this time of the year, a little cool, breezy, and a hint of rain is always present, but so what, its France. We walk around the twenty plus foot high water feature, it must have been spectacular after its unveiling, all the period wear, old world charm. It’s a kind of grotto waterfall, pond, archeological feature type affair, with a wind blown mist at the bottom that cools or freezes the pedestrians walking its base. We actually suck it up and walk around the back side of the park, real good decision, and we are treated to the backside of Nice. Below is the larger harbor, battlements, and small part of the town that looks as though it serves the marine industry. There is also a spot that you walk out on and there is a 200 plus foot drop, quite inspiring, or perspiring as the case may be. The walk down the stairs is as rewarding going down as it is going up, you see the same vistas but with a grander sense of perspective. Everything about Nice fits into place when viewed from a great elevation. When the bottom is reached you feel a little tinge of accomplishment, and look forward to exploring more of this old place.
When we were staying in Antibes last year we would occasionally take a train ride for a day to Villfrance sur Mer or Eze, for hikes or beach days, and on the train ride we would go through or pass Nice, and I gotta tell you not so alluring. I didn’t have that much of a desire to stay any longer than to change trains, well man am I converted. There is a special magic to this place, some places have it or don’t, this one took a little prying but once in you’ll never want to leave.

A day in Nice, France

Nice is better than nice;

As we have five days left in the Antibes area, we decide to visit the old part of Nice. When we were here last, there was a little discomfort voiced from she who must be obeyed, over the lack of seeing Nice. Well we just got back and it was wonderful.
We drove from Antibes up the ocean road, to Nice, drove a little further as the Old part of Nice is just Northeast of the center of Nice. We drive into a parking structure below grade and disembark from the Citroen. We note on the way to the stairs that the caisse machine is near the door to the stairs / elevator. The caisse machine is where you insert your parking ticket, when you are about to leave, and the readout displays the amount owed to the proprietors. You insert the correct amount of coins, or bill closest to the amount and the ticket is validated. I’ve not had any problems with any of their anti-vending machines, there are two or three at each parking structure / lot. I don’t think the French would put up with faulty parking machines to where they couldn’t get their cars out of a parking lot, we’ve already seen how they reacted to food shortages, the parking commissioner being paraded around the local town enroute to the hastily built guillotine, ( which you know would work) is probably enough motivation to keep those caisse machines in top working order, at least two out of three. As we exit the building we look out over a beautiful park, replete with the WW1 and 2 combo monument, a carousel, Ferris wheel, and an assortment of other children’s rides. To the left is the Mediterranean on the other side of the boardwalk and the Promenade de Angliase. So we venture over to the Ferris wheel and Caleigh and I buy tickets. I discovered a few years ago that I was afraid of serious heights, not basic three or four story walking around on beams fraid-o-heights, but 100 feet or more on amusement park scrappily built fraid-o-heights. I will recount at some later point, the workings of my mind while ascending the temporarily constructed erector set that was built only to last a year, and was built a hundred or so years ago…Eiffel tower. Built out of …I kid you not…wrought iron. It was a $@#&%* lawn ornament that some %$^##@ metal worker….I mean wrought iron worker decided to put stairs on. But luckily every ten years or so they slap another coat of fix-o-paint / miracle glue on the thing. Sorry, so Caleigh and I are in line and Cindy cozies up to us. You think I’m afraid of heights, well Cindy is even more so, the difference between our phobias is like a mountain to a mole hill. Literally.
So our turn comes and we get into our little canopied rust bucket, and imploring tell Caleigh, “ don’t rock this ………just don’t.” Caleigh is very thoughtful and respectful of Cindy’s plight, but the amount of payback she owes me, well that’s a couple volumes of ledgers. Had Cindy not joined us it would have been within Caleigh’s right to start unscrewing nuts and bolts during our ride. Caleigh is Part Audrey Hepburn, part lemur, part cat, and all any future young man is going to be able to handle as a full time job. May god have mercy on his soul.
With Cindy on board we ascend the spiral of some insurance adjustors nightmare. The city is spectacular, off to the north we see the alps, in front of that just within the city’s boundaries is a park, with a walkway up to a viewing area that has waterfalls below it. As we continue to look around Nice we see the Med., the newer part of the city, penthouses with orchards on their deck’s. It really was special, not windy at all, clear day, rather warm. After we get off the Ferris wheel the half lemur jaunts over to the trapeze set up thingy, with six stations for kids to belt into, once secured the operator winches the kids to a height that allows for safe monkeyshines. Well Caleigh is in heaven and does assorted flips, bounds, and other gastronomic challenging feats for five convulsing minutes, and is then lowered once again to our level.
So now its time to explore Nice, the old part of town, we head down alleys that are beautiful building fronts, facing each other. Every street you go down leads to more beautiful building fronts, shops on the ground floor, selling some pretty cool stuff, and at every price point. There are bistros, cafes, and restaurants and the smell is wonderful. Turning a corner we are met by an open square with the local ancient courthouse checking us out. A beautiful square that just oozes ages of history, on two sides there are places to eat, so we pick the center outside dining area. A nice waitress asks if we are here to eat, and we reply correctly in our french, so she gives us three menus, and we further give her the impression that we know what we’re doing by requesting in our best Pepe Laphew accent that we would like a demi caraf of the local “payee rouge vin” with an unclean bottle of tap water for the peasant girl accompanying us. Ah this is just going altogether too well. Well lets look at the menu, hmm the pizzas look like a safe choice, I know I’ll order the “Royal” it has ham, cheese, a little garlic, tomato. Can’t screw that up can you, wait, for a euro more you can get an egg on the pizza. Hell why not, it could actually be a favorite for years to come. Cindy had the salad du chevre, salad with goat cheese, and the half lemur had pasta with red sauce. The wine was pleasant, and we really enjoyed people watching for 20 minutes as the chef was performing his magic. The meals arrived and were steaming hot, delicious. Caleigh won this round of food ordering, her pasta was great, Cindy came in a close second her only comment was questioning why the melted goat cheese was on what appeared to be wonder bread. My order lost today, don’t get me wrong hard to complain about hot delicious pizza, I just had to eat around the centerpiece, that being the raw egg looking like Berlin surrounded by Germany, just kinda laying there congealing, Cindy actually taunted me between suppressed howls,“ come on rocky, don’t forget the raw egg.” We ate and paid up and will always remember Nice, somewhere in the background you can hear an old phonograph scratching out, Eye of the Tiger.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Self-defense, your Honor.

Or traveling tips for the visually impaired, or “My doesn’t your hair look shiny”.
Ah; France, the getaway for young lovers in the spring, well we’re not young and it’s not spring. But you can look your best and that’s a start, or is it? To look your best; start with a shower and then wash and condition your hair, eh…viola! Ze man around town is ready to go around ze town ,nes pah? Just put on the muffler (scarf) and take the ladies hand and away you go.
“My your hair looks shiny,” she says adoringly.
“Why thank you it’s the conditioner” I am replying.
“What conditioner is that ?, we don’t have any.” she queries.
“ Why the conditioner next to the shampoo, in the shower room. (which also shares space with the toilet and sink.)
“You are meaning the body wash and moisturizer?, mon cheri”
At this point I look off to where a camera should have been filming this deadpan expression, or the famous look after the roadrunner has yet again outsmarted the coyote and before gravity has taken its effect and I plummet 200 feet down towards the craggy cliff bottom.
Pause for effect………………..
“Why would someone ( I did not include the “in their right fucking mind”) leave moisturizer on the shower shelf, in the shower room?”
“You thought it was conditioner?
“Lets see, blind as a blind bat with out my conditioner/moisturizer label reading glasses on, shampoo and conditioner look the same as body wash and moisturizing lotion, and thirdly shampoo and conditioner usually reside next to each other in the shower shelf in a shower”. I’m feeling like Clinton not knowing the definition for “ is or was“, but for shower and lotion shelf.
Join us next week intrepid listeners, when the question is,
“Is it my imagination or does that toothpaste taste funny?”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

We were invited to have Christmas supper with our dear friends, Andrew and Arlette, we were to bring Foi gras, Bouches, and Wine. Busche is the traditional Provencal Christmas dessert log, made with a chocolate mousse type interior and a hard chocolate shell decorated either to look like a tree log, or a modern interpretation with different chocolate symbols. Arlette’s son Nicola would also be there.
We arrived and their place looked incredible, their alabaster light in the corner table set the light tone, around the room they had placed candle votives. Their tree was set up in another corner, very sheik. The table was set, and tied the room together. We sat around and visited, with no sense of being on a set timetable. Young Caleigh was allowed to open one of her gifts earlier, a pair of shoes with a modest heel, tres sheik for a newly turned thirteen year old. But she wore them well, and it gave her cohort Arlette a chance to compare and discuss at length the different design concepts and fashions of the day. Arlette has the same shoe size as Caleigh and the same love of anything shoe related, they are quite the mini Imelda Marcos wannabes. It would take a novel to describe Arlette, the most incredible woman Cindy or I have ever met. She is the most giving, smart, beautiful, hysterical, individual you could ever meet, a real spark plug. She could turn a morgue in Madagascar into studio 54. Andrew and Nick were talking about Nicola’s growing up in the states, and Antibes, as Cindy and I relaxed and took it all in and relaxed. I opened up the Rothchilds-Lafite and poured a glass to all, except Caleigh. Enjoyed it thoroughly,
Next we sat down at the table and started what was to be three hours of casually eating a course slowly, and enjoying all the different people, followed by another course and talking to another person casually and really enjoying the tastes. I think we started with Canard Fois-gras, with fig jam, and baguette, then Pate’ rilette de la Mans, then the most delicate thinly sliced Jambon, (ham). Next there was a tray of salmon with lemon and a cream cheese like spread, with homemade mayonnaise. Then after a bit Scallops that were slightly caramelized, with butter, Italian parsley, a little garlic and a touch of honey, they were the most tender scallops and tasted to die for, and were served with sautéed mushrooms with butter, olive oil, garlic, and parsley with a little crème fraiche. At some point in there I opened the Saint Emilion, very good company to the Lafite. I was so conscious of what an incredible evening this was turning out to be that after the canard Fois gras, as I was putting down my wine glass with some Lafite in it, I accidentally spilled some of it onto Arlette’s plate beside me. Luckily it stayed on her empty plate and didn’t land on her beautiful table cloth, and had a good laugh as of all people I don’t have a record of being clumsy, but I’m always telling Caleigh to watch what she’s doing, Nice.
After the right amount of time Andrew and Arlette brought out the traditional thirteen desserts, we sat there with our mouths open for about five minutes and tried to imagine how to fit it all in, heavens. There were small delicate chocolates from the local famous cholocatier, Nuts of almost every kind, Tiny delicious Tangerines from the Isle of Corsica, of course the Bouches, ( chocolate log ), Figs, dates stuffed with marsapan, I can’t even do justice to these evil little pieces of heaven. After the holiday feast we rolled over to their living room and passed out………….some gifts. I was delighted to receive from Andrew and Arlette a very nice very warm scarf, noir, my favorite shade. Little Caleigh got a couple Frence versions of Tiger beat, a sheik cosmetic case complete with French womens war paint, a scarf and hat combo. Cindy received a very nice custom picked basket by Arlette and Andrew of all the best local delicacies, Chevaliers D‘argouges Chocolates Assortiments, Maille Au Cassis de Dijon ( spicy mustard) LeSavoureux Thon a L’Huile D”Olive ( The best Tuna), a package of four goat cheeses, C’evennes d’Ardeche ( dried pork sausage, A must have) and Vergers des Alpilles Figue rouge ( red fig preserve, can’t even describe the taste….mnn) , and a bottle of Ste. Emiliom wine that we had on our picinic at Gourdons ( a hilltop medieval Village high above Provence overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with Andrew and Arlette, the next day.) Arlette got from Cindy a pair of Vintage Red leather Gloves from a shop in Antibes, Andrew received a custom blend of fine coffee from us, and a very nice hat from Arlette. Nicola was given a very smart coat from Arlette, always the eye for nice fashion.
It was a Christmas Eve that happened a day ago, but in my mind will last a lifetime.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

When in Rome .....outdrink em"

I just was converted to mega storehood-ism. While getting staples... well not staples for a stapler, but stuff for our new house rental, food stuffs. Carrefort is the stores name, huge megastore, from Motoscooters to Fine Grand Cru's to Canadian Lobsters, viola.
See the photo above, this is of a Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 7 euros 90. it was an incredi-red. I actually drove back the 12 miles the next day and bought another 2 of them. All this research is gonna kill me, hopefully. Happy Holidays to everyone. We will be in contact with family and friends after the new year as we have to use a cybercafe to stay in touch. HoHoHo, and stuff
cheers Hank

Friday, December 18, 2009

She was an average looking woman I thought, as she strutted around the restaurant, with no real beauty. How rare, she seemed all trussed up like a chicken ready for the rotisserie. , I don’t recall ever seeing someone lacking a spark of beauty from within. She settled into the back booth and started shucking a half dozen oysters. I remember earlier observing this guy arrive carrying a wrapped up odd looking white strung up box, set it down on the rear counter, got poured a glass of white wine, then receive a payment for what later turned out to be the oysters. He was an odd looking duck with a black sweater that had a pattern of white dots on it that looked like twenty eyes searching. He didn’t stay long, just left his package and quickly emptied his glass and then left.
Before that a striking lady had entered he restaurant and sat in that same rear booth and chatted up the guy that seemed to be running the place. I thought she had an exotic look about her, maybe it was the city. She carried herself with a lightness, maybe a little too aware, but for her it worked. I had written a couple of sentences in the back of my daughters journal, and shared with my wife something to the effect,,: “Paris seems to give it‘s women an inner spark, they seem more aware of whatever it is that takes so much longer for other women to get.” This attractive lady who I thought in different circumstances might not be so striking, seemed comfortable in herself, which surely in itself is an attractive quality. She met another young lady there and after a short while left, she hadn’t ordered anything, but sat around with her friend and chatted up that guy I thought ran the place.
It wasn’t until later, after I left, that I realized that the young unattractive lady possessed a strange trait. I was watching her shuck oysters and she would occasionally suck a stray piece out of the unused shell, and thought. “Wow, that’s kind of vulgar, whoever ordered this wouldn’t want to see the preparation.” After she shucked an oyster she dutifully laid it down next to the previous victim in it’s open casket. After she has a half dozen completed, she cleans up the area, and applies lemon juice over the oysters, and pours herself a drink of the earlier mans white wine that has been chilling in an ice bag. As she takes her first sip of the sacramental wine, the guy I thought was running the place perches on the chair beside her and pours himself a small amount of the same white wine and puts two plates out.
She served herself an oyster, added a little more lemon juice, and not even caring to offer the man one, just sucked down the oyster. When she sucked down the oyster, she had her free hand under it, should any of the withering life escape. It was a show, I wasn’t staring, not that she would have noticed, she was so enraptured by this oyster, she then had another. Was I imagining this, then she offered the man one, he didn’t empty it with any sense of urgency, seemed as though he enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the last line on the table. The woman however didn’t waste any time as she relished the next oyster, again with her free hand under it. It was surreal, the man may have had another, but the ritual continued for the woman, each oyster was eagerly consumed, and there was no veil of polish, just a base desire. I don’t know, maybe I just don’t get oysters.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Flight and arrival

Departure day:
Up at 6:30 am and start finishing touches packing, arranging house for the house sitter / dog cat watcher. Fariba has volunteered to drive us to the airport. She is awarded sainthood, we take the big chevy truck, load it with all 6 pieces of checked luggage, about 45 lbs. average each. Then load Cindy, Caleigh, Fariba and myself with assorted cabin bags and proceed to the airport. We get there with tons of time to spare. Have a margarita and a hot sandwich and relax. Flight takes off on time and Cindy orders a glass of champagne and I get a mini bottle of La Vieille Ferme, a fun little red wine in a plastic bottle. The flight is just long and cramped, but otherwise seamless. We arrive CDG-Paris then taxi on the runway for fifteen minutes, breeze through customs and wait at the luggage conveyor belt, gather our 6 bags, wheel them outside to a waiting taxi. 45 minutes later we’re arriving at Hotel Jeanne d-arc. It’s December 16th and cold, as expected. But it is Paris, with Provence a couple days away. This chapter in our lives hasn’t sunk in yet, jet lag, uncertainty, anticipation. It’s all there stirring around inside of us. So we check into out hotel at 2:00 in the afternoon, and I get an immediate catnap, Cindy and Caleigh go out for a stroll, and buy the French basics, bread, wine cheese, fruit and return. As we start to nibble there is a knock on the door so Cindy hides all out food and a man starts repairing our T.V. for an hour, surreal after Cindy got over the shock of almost getting busted for food in our room. Not fixed we get a few different men walking in, I remain laying in bed typing this. Caleigh is in the other room probably feigning sleep. Cindy is reading a brochure for the seventh time and we think they have it sorted. The channel we’re watching is the French version of Friends, merde don’t we come across as highbrows? Who is caring, is all I’m saying.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Round and round the mulberry bush

Six days to departure:
O.K. so today we loaded up 3 very large pieces of luggage. Bag A is for the first three days in Paris, and the two weeks for our stay at "La Cagnotte", a 19th century stone house in the medieval village of Haut de Cagnes. (Google it, its pretty cool) It's to the Northwest of Nice. Then the other two large pieces of luggage will serve as regular clothing for Eymet, where we will be for five months. We're going to be staying at " Lauzanac" to the northwest of Eymet, in the Dordogne region of France. Along with the three big berthas we'll have three carry-ons. Instead of shipping two medium sized boxes we'll just pack them into the carry-ons. With the two hundred dollars we'll save I'm taking Cindy and Caleigh out for dinner at "La Tupina" ( you got to google it,,,just a little bit)in Bordeaux. I better enjoy that meal as i've just committed ourselves to being seen as Gypsies en transit to the hotel from the airport,then from the hotel to the airport,in Paris, then in Nice. ( sung to the tune of...Oh my darling,,with the words.." I'm a moron, I'm a moron.) The good news is that Caleigh my daughter is really capable and will be of invaluable help....or else.
My inital thoughts were "just get ready and go, get there and enjoy, it will all work out". I can see explaining that chain of logic to a divorce attorney. (sung to the tune of, well you get it.)
Well smarter advice would be fore warned is fore armed, all this organizing will pay off. It's been humbling to see the amount of work Cindy has put into this, yes as much as i joke I've also put in lots of hours sleeping, i mean lots of hours helping.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A week away.....so not ready!

Dropped by the job site, old job site I should say. Checked in with Alec, the Project Manager, work is proceeding with out me. Hopefully there will only be a couple months required for them to finish the interior. Seems as though it was only 3years ago when i broke ground on the project. Lets see 127 piles(3 foot diameter ,60 feet deep), 12 retaining walls, a footprint of 4000 square feet laced with grade beams, excavating a hillside and then re compacting it to 95% compaction,20 first floor walls, 2nd floor concrete deck, 20 second floor walls, concrete roof deck, concrete pool and spa, site features, driveway, house mechanicals, steel studs, drywall,etc. Sorry about that, it was slightly cathartic, just thinking what i might have left out.
Last Friday was my last day at work, today is Wednesday, I'm now doing my share of preparation for the trip. Cindy has organized the lioness's share ( yup, every time you watch "History Channel" the lion is lying around with a boo radley glazed over stare while momma is out bustin a cap in some wildebeest or Thompson's gazelle, dragging it back a quarter of a mile for shiftless ole dad to gnaw on till he passes out from the exhaustion of chewing gazelle butt) So i went out to Costco to hunt down some Cat and dog food for our pets while gone. There was a nice reversal there me hunting,,,,the lion and stuff...forget it.
Cindy labored on Extended visa's, rental places in the Dordogne,rented our house while we're gone..best thing ever, the financial burden that it lessens is incredible. Just packing for the trip is like solving a rubics cube blindfolded. At one point we were so proud of our selves, we'll take this many bags and ship the rest. Well we packed our luggage and boxed up things we would need. As the postmaster is weighing the two boxes of stuff, we're mentally adding the combined value of both boxes. Well when the amount it would cost is said, we're both retrieving the boxes saying we'll think about it. Plan B, buy another piece of luggage and pack that, not so good, we're going to land at Charles de Gaulle, Paris then tote around three and half bags each. The reality would have been my looking like a sherpa carrying 6 bags while Cindy and Caleigh struggle each with one. Don't get me wrong Cindy and Caleigh are both quite capable, me however not so much, if I see even one of them struggle with the bag for a second, i lose patience and want to do it myself. I just can't bear the thought of missing a shuttle because the girls didn't cross traffic because they wanted to wait for a walk sign. Yep I'm kinda a prick to travel with, it's my viking roots. "For cryin out loud guys can't you rape and pillage any faster we're gonna miss the tide and not get to loot Styrkssltownforyyd." Geesh.........So we're going to end up using one piece of large luggage for two days in paris, and two weeks in Provence, then use the other two large pieces for vacuum storaged warm clothing winter wear for the dordogne. Hope we can use a vacuum when we leave, or we're gonna look like the kids in "Christmas Story" when the mother layers on the clothing.
We had to totally organize the garage. I would have said re-organize, but that would loosely imply it once being organized, we even bought it un-organized, seriously. I think i took four pick-up loads to the dumpster, not a small pick-up either, that allowed us to look at a realistic view of the stuff not even visible at the start of the organizing. We took down alot of personal items a couple really valuable antiques and stored them, to make the house safe for some other family to live in.
Our Realtor did an incredible job finding a nice family to be in our place, even take care of our animals. The two dogs, when they were young, were abandoned, separately, such horrible people, i mean for leaving innocent pets alone somewhere. I can completely understand them leaving my wife's dog, I've even thought about it once,......once a day. Holly is a mix, half Pembroke Corgi, a quarter chihuahua and 1 eighth anteater, and the last eighth is missing. Skye is my daughters dog, i would say that i would miss him the most, but that would imply i would miss Holly. Skye is an Australian blue Shepard, beautiful dog, constantly alert but i don't think he knows why he's constantly alert. Then we have our two cats, Ziggy a calico tiger who thinks hes a dog. And Nipper an older grey tabby, I'm not saying he's old, but when he pees, dust comes out. (Sounds like an old Henny Youngman routine.)

Wow we're going to France in a week.