St Raphael

When Maurice and I first started talking about building a house in France, we talked about living by the ocean. Maybe it is because I was raised in the Southwest in the dessert amongst the cactus and road runners, but I have always loved visiting the ocean. We looked at one French coast town, le Lavendou, but never found anything there plus it seemed really dead during the winter. We still talk about doing it sometime, selling our house and getting a small place by the ocean. With this in mind, we visited St Raphael, a town west of Nice. We arrived on a beautiful, sunny day and really liked what we saw. It is a lively little city, very clean and it had a really nice abiance. Will we actually ever pack up and move? Who knows–not for several years at least-and then it might be for a place in the States. Who knows what the future holds, but it is fun dreaming about it.

I loved this mermaid on a carousel there.

We stopped at a restaurant for lunch there and, interestingly, the place served tex-mex. I am always a little sceptical about mexican food in France because of this:

Mustard on the table and no salsa, only some hot sauce from Louisiana, but I ordered some enchildadas anyway.

Here is what the plate looked like. Only one enchilada and the rice was yellow but it turned out to be very tasty with a sort of tex-mex chili sauce inside a corn tortilla.

A House in Provence Chapter 13

We are back in Provence for two weeks. Here is the view from the back of our house our first morning with mist floating in the “Valley of Water”.

I think these are persimmons. Don’t they look like jewels against the blue sky?

Chapter 13
Country Living

Living in the country takes a lot of getting used to for someone who has always lived in a city. I guess the small town that I grew up in, in the early years of my life, would be fairly country in feel, a little town called Silver City, New Mexico. I have a few memories of it, the small yard in front of our house, the downtown with a single street and no stop light, and a phone number consisting of three digits. But, being young, it all seemed huge to me and I still remember the surprise of the height of the counter in the principal’s office when I went to see the school again years later.
No, I am used to city living. I love Paris and the ease of getting around by metro or bus, how walkable the whole city is, filled with small local parks or the larger Luxembourg or Tuleries gardens, the walks along the Seine, puttering around the Louvre, all of this is what makes this city great to me. A movie is just a short metro ride away, a book store the same. There are so many restaurants to choose from that we never will get to try them all. Huge department stores are available and tiny boutiques abound, shopping heaven in other words.
With the nearest city 45 minutes away here in Provence things get more difficult for me. Going to a movie is a major production requiring a lot of planning. I save up a list of things to do so we don’t waste the trip. Meticulous grocery shopping lists must be made or you end up cooking something very simple when a necessary ingredient was forgotten on the trip to the grocery store. There are small grocery stores closer to us, but most have just the basics and the fruits and vegetables are not usual at their peak, lettuce being soft and tired, tomatoes dull and bruised looking. There are great and fun local markets just about every day of the week but, again, it requires loading up in the car and arriving before noon or so or everyone is packing up for the day, especially in the summer when temperatures start to climb. None of the better markets are near us but there are a few nearby villages with one man selling cheese, olives and nuts and a lady selling vegetables and fruit. Not of lot of choice, but good for last minute buys. And, of course, nothing is open for two hours at lunch time. They call that quality of life-getting to have lunch with family. I don’t always agree, being an impatient American forced to wait for the two hours to pass before I can buy anything-what about my quality of life? Some shops are the same in Paris, but most of them are starting to stay open, especially the larger stores.
I have never had to worry about garbage where I have lived before. Here we have to haul everything up to a garbage collection center. As the garbage bag in the kitchen gets full, I take it out of the container, tie the bag and put it out in the garage. We are trying to keep cans, bottles and platic containers separate, like good citizens, for recycling. So far we have just been putting them in plastic bags but I am thinking we need to invest in some special containers out in the garage. Sometimes we just carry the garbage up the hill, not too great a distance, to the collection center, but we often have so much we have to use the car. It is quite a chore and I miss the convenience of wheeling out my garbage can to the curb.
For some reason, the electricity goes out quite frequently in this region. Sometimes it is because of violent thunder storms but sometimes it is a bright, blue, sunny day with nothing much going on weather wise and off it goes. We always go to see if our neighbors are without electricity as well and they always are. There is a lot of building going on all over Provence so maybe some line gets cut miles away from us. I’ve never found out.
We are lucky enough to be able to use our computer here in Provence. We had some sort of digitalized connection that speeded up the phone line use in some way but it isn’t that wonderful high speed internet connection. We we first moved here, Maurice called the phone company and found that they didn’t expect for us to have DSL connection until 2007 but when he heard that nearby Grambois had it, he called and tried to get it connected. They told us that they would make the connections, give us a modem but they still didn’t know if we would be able to get the connection. This seems very amateurish to me and makes me realize just how different country living can be although we did have some problems in Paris as well, come to think of it.
One thing we get here that we didn’t in the city is quiet. It is so very quiet and in the morning birds are easily heard. When one of the mistrals blows down the mountain, moving through the trees, it can sound like a pounding wave of the ocean thundering to shore. From the back of our house we can see some low mountains in the distance. At night there is an occasional set of car lights as they come through a little pass. We drove one day to find where this was and it was a drive of about 5 or so miles. A little closer in is the road we take when driving to the house. Occasionally, I will have a window in the house open and off in the distance I can hear the sound of a car or truck motor. A few minutes later I spot the vehicle on a road far below us. Five minutes or so, the car actually passes the road by our house. When waiting for someone at the house, I can usually spot them heading our way by hearing their motor well before they arrive here.
Of course there is the pleasure of seeing the night skies without light polution from cities. Every star stand out brightly and the moon is wonderful to watch as it moves across the sky. Early in the spring, when I lean out our doors to close the shutters, I see Mars and Venus low in the sky, even Saturn and Jupiter for a while, still amazing me that planets in our solar system are visible to me as I go about getting the house ready for the night
As the heat increases in the summer it can be a little hot on our porch where we like to have meals. There is usually enough of a breeze that eating outside is fairly comfortable at lunch time and the porch is in the shade until 3 or 4 PM. If there is a mistral blowing I don’t bother setting up our table outside as napkins get blown away and glasses get blown over. As it gets later, towards dinner time, the sun is at a slant and the light, and heat, pour onto the porch. Around 8 PM as I start getting dinner together I’m thinking we will have to eat our meal indoors but at 8:10 every evening the sun dips behind a nearby hill and the porch is in shade and it’s perfect for eating there. The evenings really cool off in Provence and it is wonderful to sit outside, have a drink and watch the fading light followed by one star and then another.

Favorite French Recipes

I don’t usually like to try new recipes when I am having company but I thought I would have a sort of Autumn dinner and, to me, it just isn’t autumnal unless you have a dessert with apples.It turned out to be a huge hit. I found this recipe in the book called On Rue Tatin by a lady named Susan Loomis who lives in France and gives cooking classes there. All of the recipes look good to me and I plan to work my way through them. Her web site is:
This is a dessert for when you want to blow your diet, raise your cholesterol and add inches to your hips but, my, is it good. It calls for adding sugar to the pan after cooking the apples in butter. My apples, for some reason, gave off a lot of liquid and the sugar never carmelized as it said it would in the recipe. I poured off the sugary liquid before I added the egg mixture and baked it and it tasted great but I’m thinking it would be even better with that carmalized taste and next time I will pour off any liquid before sprinkling on the sugar. I used the real vanilla bean which is so good. I didn’t have Calvados but I bet that would make it even better.

Melting Apple Custard (Fondant aux Pommes Vanillees)

3 lbs tart cooking apples, peeled and cored
7 Tbs unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
6 Tbs Calvados (optional)
1 whole vanilla bean, split down middle
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 1/4 cups double cream

Preheat oven to 425 F, 220 C.
Cut apples in quarters. Heat the butter in a skillet over medium high heat. When butter is hot and foamy add the apples and saute them until they are golden all over, about 10 minutes. (This is where I should have emptied all of the juice out of the pan). Add half the sugar and cook until the sugar has carmelized, shaking the pan so the apples and sugar are moving across it and the sugar doesn’t burn. If using Calvados, pour it into the pan and swirl it around, then flame the alcohol in the pan, shaking until the flames die down.
Transfer the apples to a non-reactive dish.
Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean. Whisk together the eggs and egg yolks in a bowl and then whisk in the vanilla seeds. Whisk the remaining sugar and cream until the mixutre is combined. Pour the mixture over the apples, and bake in the center of the oven until the top is golden and puffed, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it cool for about 20 minutes before serving-if you can wait that long.

Louis Vuitton

The New Store on Champs Elysees

One brand name that is synonimous with luxury is Louis Vuitton. As soon as you see one of their purses on the arm of some lucky women, you recognize it. At the end of the 1800’s, tired of their luggage being copied, they came up with the concept of using the intertwined initials of the founder, L and V. The rest is history, as they say. The original designer, Louis Vuitton, started by making trunks. He hit upon the idea of making trunks that could be stacked, then he came up with locks to keep them safe. After Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, started using them, they became world famous and changed how people traveled. They started those neat trunks that open up and become a closet with a place to hang clothes and drawers in which to fold clothing.
The store on Champs Elysees has been closed a long time undergoing renovation. When I arrived to have a look, there was a long line of people waiting to get in. They only let a certain number in at a time to keep the crowds down. Many in line are either Japanese or Chinese and I understand they are only allowed to buy a limited amount of the bags.
The store itself is breath-taking with one central room upstairs soaring several stories with mirrors reflecting the lighting high above. The wonderful clothing is everywhere and I wished I could afford some of it. The colors of the clothing were wonderful muted autumn tones of browns, eggplant, golds and rusts. The bags, of course, are on display and, had I 1000 Euros to spare, I sure would like to have one. I liked their jewelry as well, especially the watches. There was also a tiny little pendant shaped like a Paris street sign saying “Champs Ellysees” on it with a diamond on each corner. As they say, this was the beginning of luxury that continues today.

This design in metal is all over the store as interior decoration being part of the symbols that now decorate many bags for Louis Vuitton.

Just down the street of George V is the George V Four Seasons Hotel. This luxury hotel is a place I like to enter each time I am in the neighborhood for a look at the flower displays. The florist, an American named Jeff Letham, gets One Million Euros a year just for the flowers used in the hotel. They are always spectacular and it is worth a stop to see them.

Here is a look at some of the flowers in the entry of the hotel.

Beds and Duvets

Don’t you wonder about the story behind this bike with its flat tire? I wonder how long it has been there.

Just about everything, in some way, is different in France. Now, of course, their beds are similar to ours, there are just differences. They don’t have box springs, for instance, but flat, narrow platforms with small wooden slats that are convex and it seems to do the same sort of job to me. There are no wheels underneath, but straight legs. I brought some of my box springs with me to France and they all have wheels. I used to think this was great but here they slip and slide all over the place, moving even when you sit down on them. I had a horrible time finding some sort of flat little rubber containers to go underneath and, in fact, finally had to buy some in the States.
The French aren’t as big on dust ruffles either and I ended up bringing those back from the States as well. I will say that they can be a little difficult when the matress moves around when someone sleeps in the bed and, when the duvet cover is tucked under at the end, everyone but me also tucks in the dust ruffle at the end of the bed-not a pretty site.
I had never used duvets before I came here. They are fluffy bed coverings, very warm in the winter, that are tucked into large envelope type covers, rather like putting a pillow into a pillow case, and that becomes the bedspread. I bought some, in Paris, for our two twin beds and they are too small. There are little drafts of cold air when you are sleeping in either twin bed when you turn over and the narrow duvet doesn’t quite cover your whole body. I should have gotten one size larger so they hang over the edges of the mattress more. They are a pain to get the duvet into its cover-it takes all sorts of pushing and pulling and fluffing.
When I moved here, I put a top sheet underneath as this was the way I was used to doing things-putting sheets under bedspreads. The French don’t do this, but just use the duvet. The problem with this is that the duvet cover has to be washed and then you have to do the wrestling thing again getting it all put together. I do see people, usually on the week-ends, with their duvets laying across the bottom of the open window being aired. I haven’t done this as of yet as my windows are filthy on the outside frames. I do know that it is the habit here, and in other European countries, to pull back the duvet and open the window for a while every morning so everything airs out. Some people even put a mirror on the bed to see if it fogs up, a sign that it hasn’t aired out enough. I must admit, I never thought of this. I just washed the sheets when I thought they needed it. I’ve been trying it, just so everything thing is as dry as possible every morning.
I have returned to putting a top sheet under the duvet on our queen sized bed. I like keeping our duvet cover as clean as possible so I am not always washing it, and when it gets too hot, the sheet is nice when we push the duvet to the bottom of the bed.

le Grand Colbert

Right behind the Palais Royal, is a restaurant that most people are familiar with. It is the Grand Colbert which is the restaurant in the movie, Something’s Gotta Give with Jack Nickelson and Diane Keaton. It is the scene in the last 20 minutes or so of the movie in Paris. Earlier in the movie Diane’s character say’s to Jack’s, “If we still know each other in January, let’s go to Paris and eat at le Grand Colbert. It is this wonderful little bistro and they have the best roast chicken in the universe!” This, of course, has lead to many Americans wanting to go here when they visit Paris.
It is a lovely place in the Belle Epogue style. The staff there will glady talk about the movie and when it was filmed. I was told that they closed the bistro for two weeks to do the filming and that some of the waiters got to be extras in the movie. The booth that the actors sat in in the last one in the back and is often asked for. Many people order the roasted chicken there as well. I’ve had the onion soup there which was very good and the salad is very good. I’ve never had the chicken. When I was there with some people we were asking about the movie and they brought out a scrapebook of the movie being made and some photos. There was an article also about the house used in the movie on the Eastern coast of the States that, to my surprise, wasn’t a real house but a movie set. I loved that house and the decoration. You can also buy an apron there with Grand Colbert on the front. In the window is the newspaper ad for the movie as well as an article about the large amount of chicken now ordered there.
I loved the movie-it’s a chick flick-but really, would you choose Jack over Keanu Reeves? Not me.

Conceptual art at the Palais Royal.