Wednesday, February 24, 2010


She has a striking beauty, a metropolitan flair, an inner warmth and lots of moxie. She is the French city of Montpellier , and she is Caleigh’s friends older sister Sara.
We left Eymet at 9:30 on Monday and drove to Carcassonne, stopped and had a lunch Cindy prepared in the back of the car, then explored La Cite of Carcassonne, which we toured for an hour. Then back onto the road. I must say the girls were exemplary, for being sequestered in the small confines of a Citroen C4. Our stops were few, just Diesel, rest rooms and rations. We played a few games of “ I’m going on a trip, and taking…” (Actually a good memorization exercise) in which a player starts with an item starting with the letter A, and each player thereafter adds an item starting then with B, then C, and so on, until you list all the previous items and add your next item. Caleigh loves the game, then perverts it by playing the bad word version, no idea where she gets that from? We end the days drive by arriving in Montpellier, hoping to find a room at the inn. We first meet up with Caleigh’s friends brother, Neal; what a great guy, handsome, gregarious, witty, and nice is the impression I first get, god was I wrong. After having him call the tourist information bureau, and trying to arrange a room for us, we meet Caleigh’s friends older sister, and her date, She calls, her date Roman calls his friends, then Caleigh’s friend’s brother excuses himself, goes to his apartment and tidies up and changes his sheets and arranges for himself to stay at a friends house so these idiot tourists can stay at his house. Like I said the first impression of him was great guy, handsome, gregarious, witty, and nice, he’s also a saint, we’re unworthy. I honestly am having a hard time listing accolades, Just we are so thankful to him. “I rarely rely on the kindness of strangers” or whatever the quote was from Daisy in Streetcar named Desire. With a borrowed roof over our heads, Caleigh and her friend are dropped off at her sisters incredible apartment to shower. The apartment is located on what we would call the third floor, here it’s the second floor. The building is centrally located in the historic part of Montpellier, you go up three stories on this beautiful open spiral staircase that has these beautiful lionheaded steel railing supports, the curved stone staircase is otherworldly and takes you back to another period. The handlaid plaster crown molding and applied details in her home were just so detailed, you could imagine the amount of time it took the artisans to make. Sara and Roman then gave us a walking tour of Montpellier, this in spite of the fact they had procured tickets to THE wine expo, but nicely said they could go the following day. The city of Montpellier has two operating opera houses and a third theat has been phased out, a center promanade garden, a cinema which reminded me of Cinema Paradisco which is used for indie movies. The architecture was scaled nicely and intimate to the street. There are grand boulevards, modern trams that didn’t insult the historic context, and most importantly the city had a sense of energy. Montpellier doesn’t seem propped up or inflated, there is a pulse to it, young students abound, elder citizens, geeky homeless tourists. We then gathered up the girls and had a wonderfully relaxed dinner of Sushi, paired with a delightful local wine, nicely recommended by both Sara and Roman, both extremely knowledgeable of wine, I am learning to listen and take notes in my old age, even though I always offer my untutored opinion. We then made our way through the warmly lit city, and made our way home…to Neal’s home. Again Neal, Sara, and Roman thank you for a wonderful evening, and the ability to have my family under a roof for the evening.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

And away go troubles, down the drain

With the finality of a flushing toilet our planned trip to Italy, is circling the toilet bowl. We recently got word from home that our petulant septic system is acting up again. This aspect of home ownership in rural areas is the primordial sludge in the overall picture of things.
The history of our septic system is not for the faint of heart, so I will skip it, suffice it to say when ever there has been a problem, we have fixed it with the long term in mind. We have never just stuck a band aid on it, we have spent more than required to solve the issue. I just feel bad for Cindy ,as these kinds of wrenches being thrown into our plans do add a bit of extra needless stress. But on the bright side of it we are in our favorite part of France, so we can just pack lunches and take daytrips.
Two days pass, like a certain wind.
Well thank heavens for this electronic age we live in what with all these tubes and wires thingy, we have found out that there may be a remedy to our septic reality. So the trip is back on for tomorrow morning. I researched online and found two suitable hotels for the main block of time, one in Florence, and one in Venice. We will shoot from the hip for the hotels while driving to and from the two main points. This is our reality while on this trip, the making and breaking of plans, blending of schedules. Finances and weather, trying to keep the blog fed. I will be taking my laptop on the trip so there will be updates on the road with Lewis and Martin, as I am referring to Caleigh and her friend. As a parent it really has worked out so well having Caleigh’s friend join us, the miles will be taxing, the museums tedious, and my humor mind numbing, misery loves company. Actually, I honestly believe this trip for them will be a galvanizing experience, one that will add texture to their fabric later in life. (Sound of flushing toilet in background) Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but you can imagine how in flux we’ve been about this trip, gotta go and speed learn some Italian, Eh, rappatsa , ciao bella, bellissimo mi scusi. “ Parlo buonanotte Gracie”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

halfway around the clubhouse turn

Reflections on the trip at the half point: The preparation for the trip was well thought out and done well, mostly by Cindy. We haven’t really run into any deal breakers, the weather was cooler than expected. When we were planning this trip we had on a few occasions researched weather conditions in this specific areas. Upon arrival in Paris, we experienced colder than normal weather, in the Nice and Antibes area we also got colder than normal weather. And lastly in the Dordogne there was cooler weather than the region historically experienced. We were expecting cold weather, and packed accordingly, but were expecting it to let up on occasion. This would be why there aren’t many tourists at this point of the year. The school experience for Caleigh started out with a bang, she rolled up her sleeves and dug into it, with the invaluable help of a few good souls, did amazingly well. However as of late she is encountering a few bumps in the road. She isn’t giving up, but the language arena does force her on occasion to rely on friends. She will upon our return to the states, be an ambassador to any new students, as she appreciates the invaluable comfort that some of her new friends have given her. She has experienced a bit of vulgar comments directed towards her USA-ness. Typical of what would be expected by 12 year old boys from a rural upbringing, seeing Hollywood on T.V. and not having the worldly view to understand that it’s make believe and not fact that 12 year old girls from L.A. , Ca. aren’t, well lets just say not possessing virtues. And from former world views espoused from our white house, lets just say, we have a little mending to do in the arena of the global community, Yes there is such a thing as a global community, the recession that we’re going through, made its way across the ocean, we are connected for better or worse. It’s just that you can chose to work with it or try and just save your part of the boat from sinking. Cindy has seen the fruits of her labor, bloom in so many ways. She now has her wish of all three of us having dinner together, we talk of the days events. She is reading and writing, not as much as she would like, but she is. She is opening herself to different ingredients for cooking with, ones that might not be so available in the states. She is not commuting on a daily basis, she may miss her little mini s, but she doesn’t have the 45 minute drive to and from work. She doesn’t miss the T.V.. Then for me, I’ve got to admit, I just love it over here, driving around all these stone houses, the food, the wine, and being imprisoned 24 / 7 with Caleigh and Cindy. Whoohoo!!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Our daughter Caleigh, who is in the local French school, will be having a two week holiday coming up in a week. We are thinking at this point of returning to the states in mid April, and because of this want to go for a small trip, maybe to Nice and Florence, with Caleigh while school is on break. To make this trip possible, it will have to be done at a minimum expense, since the car is leased with unlimited mileage, I’m guessing that we’re gonna drive. Plotting the route will give us a way to maximize the places of interest that we can visit, and will be our only chance this trip. Places we would like to see, in no particular order; Carcassonne, Montpellier, Nice again, Cahors, Florence, Venice, Bologna, Rome. In discussing it with Cindy her approach is to do Italy, and then separately see Carcassonne, Montpellier, and Cahors some other time. Carcassonne is a 3 to 4 hour drive, so it’s relatively local, as is Cahors, and to a degree so is Montpellier. So this week we’ll narrow in on Italy, and chart a course for our road trip to Italy. While in Eymet, the small town not far from the rented farmhouse we are staying in, we purchased a map of Italy. This will allow us to plan a trip in some fashion of order, as well as the Google earth application. I think we’ve narrowed it down to leaving Eymet, heading to Italy , possibly overnight in Villfrance Sur Mer, just north of Nice. Waking up and heading towards Venice and possibly overnight along the way, then arriving the next day in Venice, staying for three days, then head to Florence. Well, we’ll have a week to fine tune this plan. Because we all know that the best laid plans of mice and men………My logic behind this whole trip was crystallized earlier today, when I said to Cindy. “You know if you look at these four months in France, its kind of like eight years of two week vacations all rolled into one.” Of course you could divide the long term rentals, leased car, and the fact we only had to fly over here once, what a savings. Boo Radley C.P.A.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Old and Cold

Today our short hour and a quarter road trip took us to St. Emilion, a small ancient wine making mecca. This town is adjacent to wine regions of Pomerol, and Haut Medoc, Graves, Pessac-Leognan, Sauternes, Entre Deux-Mers, You could call these the Bordeaux wines, which they are, however those would be fighting words to the individual areas. So to be faithful to their 150 years of classification, they separate them, and they each make some great wine. The town of St. Emilion itself is divided into three sections, the small stone town which is a collection of the most somber buildings, surrounded to the south by the lower aspect of the town with sectioned off parcels of vines and the northern aspect which is higher in elevation, which is also cordoned off into vine areas. The shops are mostly top shelf, with a couple musee’s and the Office de touriste information, invaluable in any town. We had walked the uneven cobbled streets for a hour, I was losing my euphoric self due to the abject cold, and it was getting close to lunch time, so we went to the highly regarded L’enevers Du Décor. We sat down and admired the small tables which were a mosaic of wooden wine case ends, with all their labeling, Chateau such and such, Gran Cru-la-la, after 20 minutes of navigating the wine epic, we chose a bottle of St. Emilion Gran cru Gueyrosse 2005, as we asked for a compliment to what we were going to order. After discussing our order, the waiter whisked off, and we were proud to have described our wine preferences and analysis of our meal decisions. He then returned with the bottle of wine and a huge decanting glass, and our two wine glasses, after uncorking our wine I sniffed the cork and liked the non-reacted smell, why after that they expect your first taste to mean anything as the first sip is a wasted sip because the tongue hasn’t acclimated to wine yet. The first sip must be if there is a real problem with the wine, in which case you perform a spit take and cloud the side of the waiters shirt. Hey I don’t know exactly, I just liked the wine a lot. Cindy ordered the Foie Gras, and I had a few bites on the warm toasty bread, and noticed that the restaurant was starting to get crowded and busy. I won’t go into trying to get anywhere on time………I was glad we arrived on time because I don’t like standing around waiting for a table with a crowd of other people who either don’t own watches, telephones with clocks on them or the type of people who dilly around trying to make up their mind for twenty minutes on where they want to eat, then decide on the original place in the first place. Then get to watch as other people take two hours to eat a leisurely lunch, while they in turn look at the section of “Don’t let this happen to you, loser party of four.” After thoroughly enjoying the Foie Gras, and not thinking about Gary’s disdain for this delicacy, we enjoyed another glass of the wine. The main meal arrived, Cindy’s monkfish was not only excellent but the accompanying sauce and risotto was incredible. My order of Entrecote was also delicious, and paired with the wine kept a simpletons grin on my face most of the meal. We finished the meal with Chocolatherapie, which was an exotic name for chocolate mousse with frosted crème. Cindy had a nice nap on the drive home, compared to my occasional cat nap while she wasn’t watching.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cutest town in Fance

We had been house bound for a couple days due to rain, so after dropping off the kids at the bus stop in Soumensac for school, I took some photos of a nice dawn and returned to the farmhouse. The weather was working with us, so we decided to drive to our favorite area of France, the Dordogne Valley environs of Sarlat, Domme, and La Roque Gageac. The drive would be about one and a half hours, so into the compact Citroen, and off we go. We head towards Beaumont, then to the Dordogne river to skirt its banks westerly. The drive is painless, it is Monday so most everything is closed, therefore no traffic. We arrived in the beautiful hilltop bastide of Domme, the last time we were there was July 2007, smack in the middle of tourist season. And me with out my tourist hunting license, I would have thrown most of them back anyway. When we finally get close to Domme, I’m reminded why I love this area so, even in February its striking, the drive up to the hilltop is a narrow lane and a half, and serpentine in its nature as it hugs the steep mountainside. We drive through the medieval arch and make the short drive to the center of Domme and park the car. Wonderful, deserted and clear weather, sun is shining and we walk the perimeter of the town, as it is close to lunch time we scout the best option for lunch. There is a basic brasserie, or a auberge that looked nice, we splurged and ate at Auberge De La Rode, real nice place that Cindy and I had to our selves. Cindy ordered the Confit de Canard and I had the Faux Filet avec Sauce de Truffe’. And for being their seventh customer this month they served us a complimentary real nice Salmon pate’, over endive with a hint of sweet balsamic sauce. We had a half carafe of the local-ish Pecharmant deep red wine, wonderful to accompany the meal with. Desert consisted of a platter with five of their offered deserts, but smaller portions. We took an hour and a half lunch break, which I’m really trying to master, working my way up to two hours like everyone else, but it’s hard work.
Walking around the town of Domme, is in my opinion the quintessential French beau ville experience, all the elements are in place. There is the sense of history, the century’s of Architectural influence, the eating experience, the unparalleled views, the walking tours that allow you to lose yourself in a different time. As you make your way to the overlook, that allows you to see for scores of kilometers in most directions, you understand why they chose this place for a towns location. The approach to the town is a steep narrow approach, the town itself is basically level, slight slopes, but walker friendly. There are a few churches, a main square and beautiful residential narrow old world streets. You feel as though at any moment someone on an upper floor is going to empty the contents of a chamber pots above you at any time, adding to that ye olde world feeling. Ah, the romance of it all.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super bowl of soup

It is Sunday, February the seventh, and the Super Bowl will be played in the states in about 15 hours, which means the pregame and pre commercial analysis should be starting at any minute. Yesterday I had the opportunity to watch the pregame and the first half of the Wales vs. England rugby game, if you’ve never seen one, you should catch one. Some observations from an American sports fan. First they had both teams standing in a line for the singing of their respective national anthems. Then a cameraman strolls down the entire line filming, and you see the most surreal examples of the human race, I kid you not, there are normal sized real tough types. Then there are short sparkplug built guys, then there are what I refer to as the Clydesdale guys. Good Christ you see a coach standing there and he looks miniscule, these guys are in peak condition, even their punters could kick a hockey players ass. Then for some reason, I’m not sure why, they get a close up of these players singing their respective anthems. Was it me or did a couple of them just shout vowels, I don’t question their intellect as watching the game it was obvious that this is a game of field position and strategy. Well the game starts and after ten minutes it gives the decided image of World War One trench warfare with out the rifles and bayonets, I think the guys with rifles and bayonets would still have a hard time against these guys. The team from England had all white uniforms on, for the first couple minutes anyway, only these guys could pull off these uni’s. Over their hearts was a single large red rose complete with gold stem and leaf, I mean no one outside of someone skipping a medical dosage would even question these guys walking down the street wearing these shirts. There were no commercial interruptions, maybe at the half, but I missed that and the rest of the game as I was called into duty as “Le Chauffeur pour le petite mademoiselle.” Caleigh had made sleepover plans with a school chum, nice girl, nice family, as a matter of fact when I dropped off Caleigh, her dad was watching the Rugby game. His team England was winning the game handily. Well today Ireland are playing Italy, I believe, in any case if they are it may be a good placebo for Le Boulle de Superb? After watching England, both Ireland and Italy seem to be sporting smaller guys, still rugged, but I can see why England handily beat Wales.
We’re off to dinner at Isabelle and Thierry’s house, our host family. They are the nicest people, he reminds me a great deal of a younger version of my stepfather, same Steve McQueen type looks, and the same dry sense of humor. There will be another family there, always interesting trying to converse in French, but that’s why we’re here. We arrive and meet the other family, they have a vineyard, winery, and pleasant children. We discuss wine in great detail, they bring a half dozen different types of wines and we proceed through the courses. We have a very mild white wine, slightly floral with a dry finish with Soup, butternut squash, great pairing. Then we had another white wine, a 2003 with a delicate punch, that just lingered at the end, It paired with a Pomme de Terre’ that had a melted cheese, man that cheese was virile stuff, strong but cloaking the potato pie nicely. Then, as we relaxed we were poured some of his red wine that was thin, bright, and had hints of red fruit. It paired nicely with a smoked sausage, they worked well together. Then with the cheese platter, we had his bold condensed red, that after breathing slightly opened up so that each sip was different and developing, I’ve never really experienced this obvious a transition. The cheese’s were a pretty serious affair, it must have been the reason for the wines transformation. We each had five different wedges of cheese, not a bad one in the group. Two Comte’, one Roquefort, a Laguiole, and the last one I didn’t catch it’s name, but I liked it. After four hours of speaking my broken disjointed French and having Isabelle translate my puns and jokes, it was time to head out. We were so happy to be again let into the house and confidences of our host family, hopefully they were as well.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quell Frommage

We have found on occasion that the local French people will, to a degree, open to us ever so slightly. I believe primarily because the typical interaction is limited in scope and time, that there is not more of a dialogue. We are like drive by conversationalist’s, were we to get out of the metaphorical car, we could probably have a better chance to indulge in witty banter. As a for instance, if we buy an item at the local market, or ask for an item, the interaction is limited. On the off chance there is any discussion, it may be the polite correction in punctuation, or word usage.
“Je vou drei’s un corbeau.” In my best French Canadian accent.
“ Un corbeau?” asked
“ Oui, un corbeau.” pointing to a long bread roll, reply
“ ooh, un Baguette!” the man replies then adds, “ pffffffttt” like the escaping air from a tire. ( which is the new jersey equivalent of “ Whatta you tawkin bout?”
“Oui, UN, Baguette, that’s what I said”
“non, non, monsieur, you are asking for un corbeau, a priest in his cassock.” he answers passing to me a baguette and quoting me the cost.
The local will initially look at us for clues as to are we local, then after they have decided that we are not, by a block away, they will then listen to our accent, after the first syllable has escaped they will then guess from which solar system we might be from and should we shown to the local Marie (mayor) or sanitarium. After a half a sentence, they realize that although not from around here, we are comically attempting to speak their language. They do give us some of their divided attention and follow us to the best of our abilities. Cindy for some reason concluded that she needed her hair coloring updated, “pfffffttt“, not sure why, looks beautiful to me. So on our morning round of the village baguette hunting we pass by a coiffures shop that has two dandies standing outside of it, Cindy goes inside and that then leaves three dandies standing outside, so I go in as well. She makes a rendezvous for 2:30 the same day, we continue our search for the un-reclusive bread and I pick up a immobilier flyer (real estate pamphlet) and return home. I decide to drive Cindy to her appointment, so I can scout the town for a piece of property that interests me. A beautifully built stone facade building that not only has a new roof, with all utilities, and a rare interior courtyard.
Cindy enters the coiffures and I let her know my intentions and head out to search the small town of Eymet on foot. After 10 minutes I have found the building, it looks better than I thought it would, as a matter of fact I’m sure the price has been misprinted. The facade is gorgeous, and the roof is new slate, with roof windows that belong in a story book. So I return to the coiffure shop and enter. Cindy and Gerard are in conversation, he only speaks French and Cindy is doing well. After forty minutes we are discussing world politics, and French politics, and I am now having my hair cut. When we are through we have learned about his daughter, having been shown a photo of her,, he has played a cd of her singing, and it was beautiful, actually she and her voice are beautiful. He has shown us his medal for running the New York Marathon, a photo of a movie set where he was the film hair stylist, he cut Gerard Depardeaux’s hair. Heavens if you want to know how to brush up on your language skills, have someone cut your hair with a straight razor, and ask you lots of questions. We had a blast, it was work but near the end it was delightful. Or as Cindy commented later that night as we shared a bottle of red, “For someone with such a limited French vocabulary, you had him cracking up, in a language you had no right to be telling jokes in.” French people get me. And I’m sure Cindy thinks they deserve me and should keep me. “

singing in the rain

For every action in nature there is an equal but opposite reaction, this is the balance of energy law. If an object requires 17 pounds of pressure to move it, you must exert 17 pounds of pressure ( give or take, depending how much friction the thing is creating in the moving of it) to move it. The net expenditure is zero, otherwise what quantifiable storage container would you leave the excess or deficit energy in. O.K. Hank, so you basically have misrepresented the laws of Physics, but we grasp the idea. Now to pervert that logic, lets go sideways with an example.
As a for instance, when you gather for Christmas with your family, the feeling of getting together, enjoying food, and company is great. Now to balance that you have the drive there and back, shopping, lines, traffic, stress from listening to my jokes for the umpteenth time, etc. Not scientific, but again hopefully you get what I’m angling at. Lets leave the law of diminishing returns out of the conversation, as marriage really isn’t part of this discussion. You can e-mail Cindy sympathy cards later.
We have been in France for six weeks, Paris was Paris, we toured in the sublevel temperatures, but saw phenomenal sights, We then flew to Provence and spent Christmas and New Years with Andrew and Arlette, in a medieval refrigerator that required us to sleep in four layers of clothing for three nights. We have been in the Lot / Dordogne region in winter weather, but Caleigh has acclimated into the foreign language speaking school. We’ve driven all around the Dordognian country side and gotten to a level of familiarity and comfort that I would never have thought we could. Cindy has crested the perpetual wave of responsibility driven angst, and been able only recently to enjoy and survey her incredible surroundings. I have started writing, an activity that I’ve never had time to pursue, nor was my writing ever developed, but this trip has enabled me to sit down and write, and I see a little improvement on occasion.
And I am so excited, because we are expecting a miracle, there is something so wondrous, we don’t know if we’re going to be at the weekly market and run into Christ, or I’m going to buy this weeks lottery ticket worth 100,000,000 euros and win. Why Hank, whatever could have happened to foretell of such a wondrously deserved gift?
Well, inquire if you must, here goes……where to start? What great expenditure of negative energy occurred to think you deserve to receive this great positive balancer? Our home is located in Topanga Canyon, California, the house like all others is served by a septic system. Septic systems are about as reliable as a politician’s promise, or a weatherman’s prediction. My luck with Septic systems started when I was a newlywed expecting father, we bought our first bungalow styled house, just six weeks prior to Caleigh’s birth. And it wasn’t one of those easy births, I’ll tell that story at another time and place. Well my blushing bride and I are preparing the baby’s room, nesting ( which is so much nicer than ’if this isn’t the cutest f-ing room on the planet before this little bundle of love is delivered, you will have wished you were never delivered”) I think it’s referred to. Well, it seems that the main drain line wasn’t exactly whistle clean, there may have been an impediment en route to the city sewer line. After rotorootering, hydro blowing, dwezzel pumping, and lord knows how many caustic gallons of liquids I poured down the thing, it was obvious that I needed to do something else. To say my blushing bride at that point was blushing would be most likely the equal but opposite to that emotion. So since I have always been “Hank, he can fix anything “ and the fact I’ve never disputed it , it was time to prove it. O.K. Mr. Macho home fixer, dig this. And dig this I did for three days after work I dug a hole into 95 year old rain compacted lawn. Bid deal right, actually it was, after digging down five feet into granite I found the clay drain pipe. It seems 95 years before when they laid the pipe they then covered the pipe with soil and planted a cute little magnolia twig at grade level. How nice, unfortunately 35 years later, the twig was grown, and had sent our water gathering roots in all directions, then 40 years later the grown twig had found purchase in a coupler in that subject drain pipe, then 10 years later that root had grown, and now was the main provider for the Magnolia tree. When we bought the property that root had a vested interest in every fluid ounce that ran down the pipe.
Well I get the pipe exposed and cut into the drain line, and install an inline clean out. I won’t go into details, put it this way, the alternative was in the house waiting to be able to have a little peace and quiet. If she ain’t happy, do you honestly think I would have a chance at happy? So that fixed the magnolia conundrum, and maintenance was never easier. So then seven years later we sell the now perfectly functioning little house and buy a house in Topanga Canyon. But this house has a septic tank system, not one of those city ones.
When we bought the house there were issues, but after a lot of problem solving, a lot of money, and a lot of me doing a lot of septic-ey work the house is now fine. In order to make this trip a reality, I’m tempted to go in to the different types of reality, but that wouldn’t be fair to you reading this would it? That’s one kind of reality. Anyway in order to make this trip a reality, I’m tempted to go into the different types of reality, that’s another type of reality, reoccurring reality, reoccurring reality. Sorry. This trip would have been even more expensive had we not rented our house at a reduced rate, with the proviso that the renter provide care for our animals. Well, they’ve been great, there were concerns that were occasionally e-mailed to us, about the septic system which scared the septic out of me, but proved false alarms. Fine, but when Cindy called the L.A. County Water, and they told her our water unit usage had quadrupled it sent me into full cardiac arrest, I grabbed the phone and asked as calmly as possible what was the last meter reading number.. In my mind I was thinking we just had seven inches of water in the form of torrential rain, our sprinklers had not been turned off as requested, and now there must be a leak. A leak to an already fully saturated hillside, due to seven inches of rain, coupled to sprinklers, sprinklering on top of raging waters, would certainly liquefy a hillside. Liquefy a hillside and your house below turns into Septic on a stick pretty f-ing quick. So our Realtor, bless her, goes over and checks our meter, it had been misread by the L.A. County Water meter reader. If you are ever 6500 miles away from your house, don’t talk to a public utility company. So maybe I won’t see Christ in the market, or win the lotto, because in reality, maybe the fact that there wasn’t a leak was my winning of the lotto. But that’s a different reality.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Top of the world Ma!

Well today we went to Duras, the hilltop town where Caleigh goes to school. It’s a twenty minute drive from our rented farmhouse, there are a few Realtors ( Immobilier in France) there that have rental listings we were interested in. I know that February just started but we’re going to need to get a place lined up for April - June. We arrived at 11:45, which was numb, as France closes from 12:00 to 2:30. We approach the Realtor’s office, it’s open so we enter. “Bon jour, ma sappell e Henri Petterson, Je vous drei un apartment pour louie.” I say to the lady as she approaches, which loosely means “Good day, my name is Henry Petterson , I would like to rent an apartment.” She smiles benignly at me, glances at Cindy, instantly knowing Cindy is the brains of the outfit, and looks back at me and replies. “Yes, of course, I received your e-mail, just this mourning.” with out skipping a beat and indicating the we should please be seated in front of the receiving desk, before I fall down while trying to string together seven or more words in a row, whether in French-ish or English. “Sorry to show up just before your lunch” I add as I navigate sitting down while trying to unzip my jacket and remove the camera from around my neck at the same time. She literally had sat down, adjusted herself as women do and stared at me, while I continue the Houdini straight jacket escape trick, except I looked more like a bronze medal winner in the special Olympics trying to throw a shot put. I have donated time to helping out at a Special Olympics’ event, back in the 80’s, so please excuse the reference, because truth be told, they pulled it off with dignity, and coordination, which today I sorely lacked. When I finally sat down, swear to God, her Daughter (also a realtor) walks in with a British couple. “Hi mom, could we borrow the front room?” Her mother looks at me and says.” No, hun shouldn’t be much of a problem?” So we get up, successfully and move into the back room. I sneezed on the way to the back, and it sounded like “ Aflack” Continuing the conversation, she informs us of all her options, she add’s that there is the possible availability of an apartment above the Realtors Office, sounds sketchy. So we continue discussing the options, but before leaving we take a tour of the three bedroom three bath apartment. We proceed through the back of the realtors backrooms, then we arrive to the rear room that would serve as it’s entry, with it’s own entry from the side of the building into this medieval alleyway, it’s incredible. There’s a garage space, unheard of inside a medieval bastide (walled town). We look around the first (Ground) floor, its nice, really nice. There is a bedroom on the first floor, two on the second floor, with a rear deck overlooking the surrounding country side. The other room overlooks the town square, and has double paned windows. The whole place is light and airy, open and the stairs aren’t the typical medieval widow maker style, that have decreasing step widths the higher you go. The kind you have to carry one glass of wine and a tourniquet. After that Cindy and I drove around the Duras environs. When we return to Duras, the Chateau was open, for a month we’ve been driving by it for one reason or another its been closed. Well, we park the car in the towns square, and make our way to the Duras Chateau, we enter the gift shop ticket place combo. We follow the signage and tour this beautiful Chateau, there’s a lot of photo’s showing the restoration, from the derelict shell it was allowed to get to in the early 1960’s to 1964 when the town of Duras bought it, thank God. In 1974 the restoration started, jeeze these people did it up right, different trades, artisans, and Gov.t’ officials. Walking through a pretty incredible example of what initially must have been an unbelievable build, to a restoration of an almost completely useless hulk of a Chateau. The highpoint was walking up some seriously scary stairs in a narrow stone tower to reach the highest tower. Then you are rewarded with the overlook of the entire country side, Cindy was laughing nonstop from the nervous energy racing around her nervous, nervous system. She had laid down her purse, which she never does, and you can see her visibly crouching down. Because when you’re two hundred feet up on the top of a stone, partially renovated tower, that inch and a half difference in elevation could save you one millisecond of fall. Next to her you can see this narrow chute, which is the stairs, half that an that’s the width of the widow makers. As usual I was really proud of Cindy for completing the tower climb. She and I to reward ourselves, for the Flying Wallenda‘s routine, stopped at the local Duras Wine Makers commune outlet. We took a tour of their history, geology, and terrior displays, and purchased three of their products. Cheers!

Reflections of America, I still see you.

Well today I had a couple hours to fiddle around on the computer, so I installed / downloaded LimeWire and am typing to swing music. Caleigh returns from school and enters the farm house to the sound of Glenn Miller and his orchestra playing “Take the A train”, Her reaction, “You actually took the time to download this stuff.” This generation, wow, but I find the music appropriate to our location.
I imagine a different time, a few score years past, 1944. I think of the men, boys really, from the U.S. on transport ships steaming over. There didn’t seem to be much of a decision, to the point where 4f’s were traumatized not to be able to join in their crusade. On those journeys across the cold Atlantic, below decks for most of the trip, just playing these songs, in the smoky confines of a troop ship. It might have been the last song, a lot of them heard. Landing on foreign beaches, laying down their lives for an ideal. I listen to “Somewhere beyond the sea” with a tear in my eye, imagining some G.I. writing a letter referencing this tune, to a sweetheart and never seeing her again. We are empowered by the honesty of their deaths, our country’s great reputation was greatly added to by the wholesale courage of those men. All I really know of them, aside from what history has recorded, is the movies; before, during, and after their time.
That was my childhood, watching them on the big screen. That’s one of the things I miss the most, my movies. All alone in my home waiting for me to return, Cary (Archibald Leech) Grant, Errol Flynn, Audrey and Katherine Hepburn, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Olivia De Havilland, Humphrey Bogart, Rosaline Russell, Sidney Greenstreet, Gary Cooper (I literally had to think for fifteen minutes for Gary Cooper’s name to come to mind, Come on Hank!… Private York) and a ton of others to numerous to enumerate.
My earliest memories of real film enjoyment was simple, for a kid, Errol Flynn, Basel Rathbone, Alan Hale Sr., Olivia De Havilland. In Robin Hood, maybe in retrospect it’s a bit campy, but in that time period it was as good as any blockbuster today, in my opinion even better. Then as I got older my tastes matured to classics like, It’s a wonderful life, Jimmy Stewart, Barrymore, and Donna Reed. Then onto The Philadelphia Story, with the all star cast, Cary Grant, Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Ruth Hussey. Movies of the Frank Capra, John Ford, George Cukor and David O. Selznick era
Life wasn’t easier or better, memories were, you had the same problems then as you have now, money, communication, and politics. We as a people always cope with problems, pull together to solve them, and move on, so looking back, sure there were problems, but maybe we look back and naturally, objectively remember the solving of the problems, and growing together helping each other clear obstacles. Movies reflect the time period, world war two was tragic, so many good innocent men lost to thwart a madman’s plan of world and genetic domination. Believe me I didn’t share the political ideology of John Wayne, but buddy you touch his men on Iwo Jima and you better pack a lunch because we’ll all get behind him, even though I was sitting at home some 25 years after it happened. Then for me Hitchcock was my next lesson, I think part of the reason I really wanted to stay in France for a while was due to “To catch a thief“, what American male or prince from Monaco couldn’t imagine driving along the upper cornice overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in a convertible being driven by Grace Kelly. Alfred Hitchcock was such a scamp, I love how he makes a cameo appearance in most every movie he ever made. Then growing into the Stanley Kubrick movies with Peter Sellers “ Dr. Strangelove, Lolita. Followed by the great writings of Edward Albee in, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” Reminded me of my family life. What my ramblings are trying to convey is as I look in the direction of home, I see visions of the feeling that I have of the U.S.A. They are best thought of as a vignette of film imagery, kind of like the ending of “Cinema Paradiso “ When the little boy watches all the forbidden parts of the movies, pieced together, the local Priest has deemed unsuitable for his flock to witness. The images of all the embraces, and laughter, kissing and caressing.
But for me the montage of images of my America would be:
The famous Red, white, and blue shot in “North by northwest “ Where Cary Grant is lecturing Leo G. Carroll, the C.I.A. director in front of Mount Rushmore, about the strengths of American, and how our country doesn’t do the bad things, it’s the one that protects the right and chases down the bad.
The airplane diving down at Cary Grant in the amber waves of grain, well corn in the same movie. An innocent man, mistaken for an agent, and being hunted by spies.
John Wayne fighting off waves of Japanese Infantry in Iwo Jima. One of those movies where the decision of who’s right isn’t even up for debate, a war that had to be fought.
Henry Fonda in “Mister Roberts“, as a ships doctor wanting to get off a backwater naval vessel and get into the fight in the Pacific.
Cary Grant as the beleaguered Captain of a submarine in “Operation Petticoat“, Or as “Father Goose“, the do-right kinda, captain of leisure with Leslie Carol as the straight edged school marm .
These movies have polished up the image of us, as a country of interesting individuals, who form a great conscience. We have always stood up for the little guy, fought on the side of the right and just. An image we earned, and recently one we’ve not polished. Don’t for one second take this as me taking a pot shot at America, like the child of my own youth, you bring injustice to our shore and John Wayne and I will be there to ensure that we, together, as a tide will turn evil away from our shore.
I now think of our country as a whole and not parts, It’s time “Mr. Smith goes to Washington“, Wouldn’t it be nice to have life imitate film for once. Fade to see Jimmy Stewart standing in the senate with thousands of letters from kids all across the country, sending in nickels and dimes…..that’s my America.