Friday, August 31, 2012

Le grand départ, deux

I will finish off this week with the last of Sunday's photos before it is too late. I can see Mars waving his flag at me furiously from his perch on the tour de la Marie. "Time is fleeting, Heather!" he shouts with no uncertain wonder. The clock is most definitely ticking as summer swans along winsomely but unwelcome, at least in my household where autumn is honored as the most beautiful season of all. Let the light scribble to me in code, I can read it like a map...and know where we are headed...

Have a wonderful weekend everyone! 
Wishing you at least one giggle fit and and a good surprise, wherever you are...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

France at 14

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with two interesting and quite different French teenagers, both of whom are at the very particular age of 14. I have known Mateo, above, for a few years now as he the son of one of Remi's closest friends. Each time that they come down to Provence for a visit, I see Mat's mind opening with leaps and bounds. He is already a consummate Parisian with impeccable manners, his own "look" and a wide grasp of current culture. He is a willing conversationalist with very specific points of view, including a strong argument that his particular generation is not as deeply impacted by the violence present in video games as we adults might think.

One of the highlights of Mat and his Dad's visit this summer was a picnic held at our secret church. The day was blistering but that didn't prevent us from having a wonderful time. It says a lot about Mat that he is not the kind of ado that will whine about being bored, he takes his time into his own hands. So while we chattered on and on, he asked if he could borrow my camera and went on a photo hunt. Below are two that he took, which I wanted to share as it was lovely to discover where his eye roamed.

Unfortunately, Mat headed back up north the day before Loïc's arrival, so they weren't able to meet.

Also from la région parisienne, Loïc was vacationing en famille with an old friend of ours. He is quiet and discreet, yet I was quickly impressed by his attentiveness towards his younger Sister, Julie as well as his lack of hesitation in asking questions on subjects that were new to him. I also could call him "The Dog Whisperer" for his excellent connection with animals. Ben was certainly completely charmed by him, answered his call and followed him wherever he went. 

Perhaps because Remi and I don't have children ourselves, I find such meetings edifying, a means to touch base with a youth that is quite different from what I experienced. Of course, some aspects are not surprising--Mat and Loïc both have an ease regarding their near constant connection with the virtual world, one which they can take or leave unobtrusively, without any show or pretension. But what marked me the most was how serious they both are about their futures. Yes, at 14. Both admitted that due to the fact that we are in such shaky times financially, they will need to have specific career plans and have already taken solid steps in moving towards their perspective choices. Impressive, isn't it? I sincerely hope that both of them have bright futures ahead.

So, any thoughts from my friends around the world about our youth today?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Le grand départ

Sunday morning. Saying it is like singing or ringing the bells that call the parishioners to Saint-Trophime. I am not one of them but treat that particular moment of the week as sacred. Most especially when, after pulling myself from the crunched linen sheets and shadows of the bedroom, I brace myself for a weighty smack of air only to be kissed by coolness for the first time in...months? Months. 

A shift, a sift. And most certainly a gift. It is the beginning of the end of Summer, le grand départ from the long lazy and towards the bitter beats of la rentrée. Many a car will snake its way back to bigger towns today, its passengers uneasy in the stop and start of traffic jams that stretch to the horizon. Already I can feel their absence as I step out into the sun with my faithful friend Ben, his tail wagging, his gait light and refreshed. 

I take him for a longer loop than we have been able to attempt in weeks, the heat having disappeared with a finger snap. He sniffs at the newness as I get caught up in the act of looking. For it is as if that blinding white also went on its way and 'everything is illuminated'. 

Details, textures, time and tow. It is le grand départ and I let them go. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Update on Peace-Walker Wijnand Boon

The road is long. And Wijnand is still walking.

I would like to extend a heart-felt thank you to everyone that responded to my previous post about Wijnand Boon, who is walking from the Netherlands to Spain to Rome to Jerusalem then on to Egypt, all in the name of peace and to prove the power of connectivity, an issue important to many of us. For those of you that missed the initial post, you can read it here and to those who passed it along via Facebook and Twitter, un grand merci! 

Wijnand recently wrote to touch base. He was upbeat and looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead for him. Can you imagine how happy it made me to know that he had received a lot of response thanks to this blog? Either from readers or friends of readers? Of course, I am not at all surprised but what a wonderful reminder of what can bring us together during a time when so much threatens to pull us apart. 

Remi and I drove to Eyguières not too long ago on the road that Wijnand must have taken after staying with us. I tried to think what his experience must have been like under the stifling heat and with so little space to pass next to the cars roaring by. Yes, the road is long. Wijnand has made it to Nice, where he knew that he had places to stay. Finding hosts along the next stretch on the Côte d'Azur is perhaps a challenging one as it is a region that guards its exclusivity tightly. So again, I will just put it out there, if you know of anyone who might be interested in hosting Wijnand either here or beyond in his travels, his contact info is listed below.

©Wijnand Boon

Wijnand takes a portrait at each home that he stays with and was kind enough to send ours along. Isn't it beautiful? Walk on, Wijnand! I hope to continue these updates from time to time as his journey continues...

I'll leave you with yet another fantastic and appropriate song by the very talented duo of Alice Russell and Quantic.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Wijnand Boon:

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Saving savory

Friends, it is supposed to reach 98° F here today (that is 36.6 for you Celsius folks) and I am just this shy of filling up a sippy cup with rosé, stringing it around my neck and calling it a day. I strolled the aisles of the supermarché this morning for an extra long while just to suck in as much air-conditioning as possible and I could tell that I wasn't exactly the only lolly-gagger either.

So, like many of you, I have been avoiding the oven as if Todd Akin was hiding in it (actually if he were I might be tempted to turn it on--oops, did I write that?). Happily this time of year, the simplest ingredients make for fine meals. This Greek salad's presentation was inspired by the amazing "Jiro Dreams of Sushi". Sigh. I want to be an 85-year-old sushi master, don't you?

But there is nothing innovative in slicing and dicing. I did come up with a new spread as an alternative to hummus however, using some of the same ingredients in a moment of utter desperation as Remi pushed back lunch "for just a bit later" yet again. In to the food processor, or robot as they are called here, went some sun-dried tomatoes in their oil (about five), along with half a container of feta, a handful of sardines and some freshly squeezed lemon juice. I know, it sounds odd but it certainly was interesting, especially if you have a few leaves of peppery black basil to throw in as well as crunchy bread to smooth it on. Non?

But last night, after I had sheepishly suggested "Gazpacho?" for dinner for the fifth time this week and was met with a raised eyebrow, I high tailed it into the hot zone once and for all and did a fishy Asian take on steak frites. I know that quite a few of you like to cook and are no strangers to spice-crusted salmon. My version involved cumin, paprika, curcuma, chipolte and an especially American mix called "smokehouse maple" that was brought back from the States. I baked the filets on low heat and then made a little crumble (it is in fashion to call everything a crumble in France these days) for the top with diced almonds, more chipolte powder and soy sauce that I also drizzled lightly on the salmon. For the "fries", I steamed haricots jaunes then sautéed them in sesame oil and fish sauce along with a shallot and a bit of spring onion with sprinkled flaxseed on the lot. The "ketchup" was a bit of tomato purée with more soy sauce, lime juice and a splash of tabasco. Voila! 

and just because it is so catchy:

So tell me, what do you have cookin'?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sweet Relief

If I have been posting less of late, it is for a very simple reason--it is too hot. My brain is in a state of suspended animation. For those of you from far away, please be patient with your French bloggers who are all in the midst of a canicule or heat-wave, one that has put several regions on high alert. I had already sweated my way through the last in 2003 when an estimated 15,000 people died. We now know to plan, to conserve our energy and to take special care of our furry friend, Ben. But there are still places to go and people to see, visitors to tend to. 

On our way home from a recent outing, we took a small country road that we had never travelled before--as we are wont to do--and came screeching to a halt at the sight of a gift from the heavens. A source or spring burbled in a shallow pool that had been created with old stones and lined with a paved gravel by some kind soul for the benefit of all. The water was icy cold, from deep within the earth.

"Do you think Ben can go in?" I asked. He had rolled in the dirt earlier in a desperate attempt to keep cool. A bath would do him good in more ways than one. "I don't see why not," Remi replied. Ben couldn't seem to believe his good luck. He pranced about, lifting one paw then the next...

...and then sank down with a sigh. His eyes glazed over and he became very still.

I cast off my sneakers and sank in my toes. Remi joined me. 

We sat like that for some minutes, utterly content. The chill slowly worked its way up from our feet all the way to our brains until we felt completely restored.

Isn't it lovely that such a small moment is one of my very favorites from this Summer?

Have a wonderful week everyone...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Terra Magazine

Hello everyone! I wanted to give a little heads up for my friends in Germany. Remi and I have a story in the current issue of Terra Magazine that will be on news stands through September. Covering a gorgeous twelve page spread, it concerns the  phoenix-like renovation former Imperial City of Huê in Vietnam. 

As I mentioned recently, we had a fantastic time covering our voyage up the Mekong River for Grands Reportages Magazine (I believe I need to make a "Past Adventures" post about it!). We stayed in the region after the cruise ended and with our own funds produced the story on Huê, which originally appeared in France for Figaro Magazine. Our time there was precious. For despite having been heavily bombed during the Tet Offensive in 1968, the monuments retained an innate grace even before UNESCO's renovation had returned them to their former state of beauty. It was equally interesting to be in a former Imperial City at a time when the population was beginning to embrace the traditions of the past.

The ambiance was nothing short of magical. Here is the final paragraph of my article:

"A stream of images swirls past us as we zoom through the city’s streets on the back of a motorcycle. An elderly woman addicted to chewing betel nut flashes us a frightening black-toothed grin. A string of shops sell nylon wedding gowns as puffy as wearable marshmallows amidst internet cafés where every seat is fought over at lunchtime. Steam pours out of portable stands selling pho, the frothy noodle soup. A gentleman dressed in pyjamas proudly offers two perfect eggs for sale by candlelight at the night market. And always, there is a sense of time as moving both backwards and forwards with the flow of the traffic as it shifts for position. Perhaps it has taken over 30 years to arrive at this moment. For in Huê, the past is not a 'Lost Time' after all, but part of a present that is still evolving, zooming forward like the students on their bicycles into the future."
©Heather Robinson

To see more of Remi's lovely photographs on Huê:

Monday, August 13, 2012

L'Isle sur la Sorgue and birthday dreams


Expectations. Oh la, that word! It just keeps back and pinching me, hard. I feel like I am on a loop of learning that particular lesson over and over again.

Last year at this time, I wrote about how birthdays have always been a very big occasion in our family, as in blow-up balloon size. But at the time I had the deeply quieting realization that I was exactly where I needed to be and nothing could améliorer such a simply perfect day. And yet, two weeks ago the wheels started turning, "Where should we go? What should we do?" and most importantly "What should we eat?" I plotted and planned and all for naught. For on Saturday, everything went utterly awry and by accident, only when I had let everything go did I see an ad announcing that it was the first day of the Foire Internationale at L'Isle Sur La Sorgue, one of the largest antique fairs in the South of France! Interestingly enough, our last visit there was also a last minute decision, on Christmas Eve.

As Remi often says, "Life is always right." We had an absolutely wonderful time.

Dreaming can be the best gift of all.

And while we were tempted by much, certainly both the starburst mirror and the elegantly drawn sanguine, again the unexpected won the day. We came across a stand run by a charming woman selling vintage sunglasses. A true collectioneuse, she knew the origins of everything that she had, all while taking the steps to replace worn lenses and dig out lots of glasses that had never been worn such as my sparklers below. Remi bought me two pairs, a wonderful gift that will be put to good use in my daily strolls here in sunny Provence. A silly goose I may be from time to time but that doesn't prevent me from being a stylish one...

Thank you again to all of you that left wonderful Birthday wishes and emails! And so I step in to another year with hopes of learning more, appreciating all that I have and loving with an open heart...