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.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Off the beaten track, watching autumn fade into winter

Two "animules" who were more than happy to pose 

Since my day off in late October when I decided to drive down a road seldom taken and drag my camera out of my purse, I have made several forays off the beaten track.

Last Sunday morning, a drive to the village recycling bin somehow led me to turn down side roads that I have never even thought of exploring in nearly 20 years of living in Gages.

The exploration was worth it if only for these two young donkeys who were sweet enough to be photogenic for me. 

A peek down a little-used railroad track

A couple times a day, a one-car regional train travels down this track on its way to and from Rodez and Sévérac-le-Château, about a 50-kilometer trip. I have seen the train go by and it is usually empty. There are quite a few buses that cover the same route, so I have often wondered how this particular train has managed to stay running when many other lines have been shut down. I have also often thought it would make a great commuter line.

So near, yet so far from my house

When I told my husband about where I had gone exploring, he said "Là, c'est un autre monde."  Standing alone in front of this vast field, it was hard to believe I was only a few kilometers away from housing-developed Gages-le-Haut, the part of Gages-Montrozier where we live.

A tree-lined trail for future exploration

There are lots of paths in Aveyron where one is not really sure whether they are made for driving or walking. I felt like driving down the rather wide, pebbled "road" on the left, but thought I might get into some sort of car-related trouble. So I refrained.

These photos were taken a week ago, and show some of the last vestiges of autumn color around our parts. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

TJ Tuesday 1: An agricultural tool unknown to me

Photo courtesy of Thierry Jouanneteau

I call this blog "La France Profonde," or, approximately, the heartland of France. 

But  I don't get into the heartland nearly as much as my husband, whose job leads him to visit many of Aveyron's numerous farms. 

He has travelled over backroads that I will likely never cover, and he has taken photos of places and objects that I may never see.

And he knows the name for things  that I will never be able to identify -- like this agricultural implement, for which I can't find a word in French or in English.

"Wordless Wednesdays" are nice from time to time, but I also hope to introduce "TJ Tuesdays" to share some of my husband's photos. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Late Autumn Stroll in Bourran, Rodez, Aveyron, France

Most Ruthénois would not recognize this park in the Bourran business district

We have had a return of warm weather -- to my taste, a bit too warm for November. But it did allow me to get out on a late autumn walk during one of my lunch breaks last week. 

Getting away from it all only a few blocks from my workplace

I work in Bourran, the "new" business district of Rodez. It's actually not that new anymore, as I think construction started there about 20 years ago, right before I first moved to Aveyron. But at that time, it only had a few buildings. Now it is covered with businesses and apartments, and somehow more seem to crop up all the time.

There is a little haven of peace in this area that I only discovered last spring. A bit below the hospital, somebody had the wherewithal to create a nice little park. Most of my colleagues don't even know it exists. I don't know if it has a name or even when it was built, but it is a lovely place for a picnic or just to clear one's mind.

The cathedral appears as a distant detail

This view of Rodez, taken from the park,  will surely never be used on a tourists' brochure!. But it gives an interesting perspective on a city that can't be reduced to its historic sites and the new Soulages museum.

I actually quite enjoy working in Bourran, which has quite a few decent to excellent restaurants, as well as really friendly shopkeepers.

Back to work....

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pieces of Paris 2 -- Galerie du Jeu de Paume

A quick view of the Jeu de Paume Gallery as we were waiting in line, until our daughter bought tickets with her iPhone

Despite a lazy morning and having to leave Paris a bit after 2pm on Sunday, we were able to squeeze in an exhibit at the Galerie du Jeu de Paume. 

Looking up from the entrance hall

I'm a bit ashamed that I hadn't been there since its impressionist museum days, and downright embarrassed to admit I was only very vaguely aware of its tranformation into a contemporary art gallery (in 1991...cringe...)

Sunday gallery visitors heading down to the bookshop 

This place has definitely been done up right. It was a grey day, but the open spaces were still flooded with light. 

I like the idea of inventing the possible, but we didn't have time to go to the video area. I guess we weren't able to invent that possibility.

What we did get to see was this exhibit, now transferred to the Jeu de Paume, of the American photographer Garry Winogrand. 

The Met site for the show explains: "While Winogrand is widely considered one of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century, his overall body of work and influence on the field remain incompletely explored."

It has certainly been completely unexplored by me! I somehow had never heard of this most intriguing American photographer, and frankly didn't recognize any of his photos. But they were fascinating, depicting American life in New York, California and other regions in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Another exhibit, another discovery...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pieces of Paris 1

Paris was looking a bit on the bland side this morning, I'm afraid

One of the reasons I cast this blog aside 4 years back was that I felt my life was increasingly happening elsewhere than in Aveyron.

One of those elsewheres has been Paris.

Exquisite Sunday morning calm today near L'Eglise de la Madeleine

I started to go up, or as they say here in Aveyron, "monter à la capitale," for work in 2008. 

Just 3 or 4 times a year for meetings: sometimes with an overnight stay in a slightly ratty hotel; sometimes doing an exhausting round trip the same day, during which my biggest "Paris experience" was a quick glance of the Arc de Triomphe as I emerged from the RER, in great need of the morning's fourth coffee.  .

La grande roue, looking less than grand under grey skies

Then in autumn 2012, our eldest daughter moved there, giving me more occasions to reconnect with Paris...plus a place to stay, which is not to be spat upon! 

From the start of my expat experience in 1990 and until 2008, I used to sorely regret not getting to Paris that often -- maybe once every two years at best.

Since 2008, it would be safe to say I have gone up at least 25 times.

But they are always short stays, giving me the impression of experiencing Paris in bits and pieces....as I did this weekend, and as I will share with you this week.