Tag Archives: My French Heaven

Dear Tom, New Year’s Wishes…

1. Wish you were here.

2. Wish (and hope and pray) 2016 will be a whole lot better than 2015 has been. Not just for me and for those I love, but for the entire world.

3. Wish I was drinking. (Pity I’m not much of a drinker.)

4. Wish good things for all my family and friends and, yes, even for complete strangers.

5. Wish Vikings, Game of Thrones, and Orphan Black were already here!

And I do have a few writer-ish twitter-ish people to thank– You, Ishbel, your wonderful children and grandchildren (Marie has been a most dependable touchstone!), my doggie muse, Jake, Stephane and My French Heaven, Jaye, Penny, Lawrence, Annie, Stephanie, Anita, Tina, Marylin, Steven, Mat, Sandra, Lex, Greta, Roberta, Alicia, Passive Guy, Ray, Tim, the Iowa Hawkeyes, the San Francisco Giants… plus anyone and everyone I may have forgotten to mention.

To 2016 and new beginnings– Let us see if an even number can trump the odd 2015!

2016

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Dear Tom, I don’t see the point…

2015 has been exhausting, both for me, personally, and for our nation and our world. I’m plumb tuckered out.

I’m tired of blogging – an exercise which I suspect means little these days.

I’m tired of the publishing wars. Legacy publishing versus indie publishing versus far too many authors I know who are now poor as church mice, homeless even- authors who once upon a time, as in three or four years ago, made bundles of money.

Now me, I’ve never made bundles so I’ve never spent bundles. As they say– don’t give up the day job. Oh, a couple years ago, 2010-1013, the world was a much different (and more hopeful) place. I made a bunch. I sold lots of books. The life of writing was good and I felt inspired to write more and more and more.

These days, not so much. In fact, I find myself less and less interested in engaging the market, i.e., readers, and I have little interest in promotion. To be honest, I find it hard to muster the energy. Attempts to engage, attempts to promote, don’t sell books anyway. So engagement, just like blogging, is another exercise in futility.

But what about that pot of gold, you ask? What about that lightening strike? The newly discovered land? Well, I ain’t holding my breath. Never have.

You know, I’ve read those books – the strike it rich quick books – those books that have caught fire, those six-figure signings, and except for the very first book in the Hunger Games series, those six-figure books bored me to tears. Whatever it was about those books that caught fire did not ignite the fires within me. Couldn’t even make it through the first five pages of a couple of them.

BORING…

More and more I find myself buying nonfiction and re-reading my old favorites in the fiction genre.

But do I plan to quit altogether? Quit writing? Huh. Good question. Maybe. I’m working on a short story as we speak. I have a re-release scheduled for February or March. I have a number of books in the queue. Maybe I’ll finish them, maybe I won’t.

Regardless, I am convinced I’ll be appreciated after I’m dead. My stuff is good. Someday someone will realize it.

In the meantime:

I’m busy with family and friends. I’m traveling. I’ve got bushels and bushels of lemons to juice for lemon curd. I have to figure out how to halter break my steer, Hank. All in all, while my appreciation and affection for the beauty in life continues to grow, my attachment to the publishing world diminishes.

And I’m okay with that.

I miss you. 2015 was a sucky year for you and your family. They lost you. I lost you, my dear dear friend.

I look forward to 2016. The number fifteen has always bothered me in any case. I think it’s a bad luck number. 2015 has been proof of that for so many people.

Anyway, I’m tired– was up the entire night with a sick dog. No, not a kid although I did have a couple kids home– a sick dog. When I say the entire night I mean exactly that, the entire night. Oscar slept through the whole thing. But then that’s typical for Oscar. He sleeps the sleep of the dead. I wake if a neighbor three doors down drops a pin. Onto plush carpet.

The best blog around? The one worth reading? Marylin’s – Things I Want to Tell My Mother. Her recent post is frame-worthy: The Gift of Words. Go read it, you’ll love it.

All right, Tom, maybe I’ll re-watch the genius Big Bang episode (The Opening Night Excitation) and go to bed!

I love you, Tom. Here’s to the approaching New Year.

XOXO! Julia

 

 

Dear Tom, about that rock…

La Roque Gageac. The Rock Gageac cuz nobody knows anymore what Gageac means.

The small village of La Roque Gageac from the terrace of our rental house.

The small village of La Roque Gageac from the terrace of our rental house.

We took our leave of Stephane – a sad day yet an exciting day! Stephane at My French Heaven is the most gracious, generous, warm, informative and informed, helpful host we’ve ever met. Which is why we knew we would miss him terribly and we wished we could take him with us to the Dordogne.

Sad. Happy!

My youngest jumped in the BMW with her sister and brother-in-law. Which, of course, left me with Oscar. (Dear God help me!) We did make it, we did. Thank heaven the French drive on the correct side of the road! The drive was beautiful. Would have been a little more beautiful if Oscar hadn’t killed the car in nearly every single roundabout. But I won’t complain. We made it to the market in Perigueux in one piece (barely). We needed to stock up on eggs, butter, veggies, CHEESE, bread, and of course, foie gras and duck and pork rillettes.

We were in the Perigord. The Perigord is known for its walnuts, foie gras, ducks and truffles.

Yes indeed, we made it to the lovely little village of La Roque Gageac although finding the steep, winding drive to the house was a challenge. We passed it four times. But it didn’t matter because the entire area was so beautiful.

Here’s what I like about France. The locals take pride in their country, their cities, their towns. There is no litter. Zero. I live in the Napa Valley. One would think the Napa Valley would be clean, scenic. I’m sorry, but there is garbage EVERYWHERE. Our highways and our waterways are littered with trash. I frakkin’ hate it. For shame fellow citizens. for shame!

We found the house and hauled our luggage up the steep Roman road, seriously a Roman road, found the key, found parking– which was our biggest challenge– and we moved in body and soul. Our home was the last home built into the cliffs. It was old, as in hundreds of years old, but remodeled- three bedrooms, three bathrooms, spotless, fully furnished, including a well-outfitted kitchen, and we were supplied with plenty of linens, owned by David who lived three doors down. We overlooked the Dordogne River and we walked to town every day on the old Roman road. Sometimes many times a day.

The Dordogne River.

The Dordogne River.

Yes. In all seriousness. The old Roman road leading to town. Built along the cliffs.

Yes. In all seriousness. The old Roman road leading to town. Built along the cliffs.

My favorite house in La Roque Gageac!

My favorite house in La Roque Gageac!

Tomorrow – Sarlat, my favorite fountain/Koi pond and we all meet the medieval (sorta) ghost. I’m thinking more 17th Century.

Love you Tom! XOXO! Julia

Dear Tom, it’s better to shop in France…

I’ve never enjoyed shopping. For clothes, that is. My girls love to shop. I don’t know if you have Anthropology stores in England but all my worst shopping experiences involve following my daughters into what I refer to as the black hole of Anthropology.

Once you get sucked in, you never come out… Hell on parents.

But France is different. Here the girls completely immersed themselves in food markets. I was all for that! Markets markets everywhere! We stopped at one supermarche, but only because we needed a few staples. Otherwise we farmer’s market hopped – Libourne (twice), Perigeuex, Domme, Sarlat (twice), La Roque Gageac.

On Sunday my other daughter and her husband joined us at Chateau St. Jacques Calon. (Their rental car was also unavailable but they were upgraded to a BMW – automatic – with a sweet Nav system!) Thanks to Stephane, we were prepared. We’d shopped at the market in Liborne that morning – buying the most delicious breads, cheeses, fresh fruits and pastries we could find. We already had wine, of course!

We served them a wonderful welcome lunch on the terrace.

But I’ve forgotten to mention the breakfasts at Chateau St. Jacques Calon. Every morning Stephane prepared breakfast for us, served us on the terrace alongside the pool. Of course the weather was perfection! Since we’ve returned from France, Oscar has insisted upon coffee, orange juice, fresh bread, croissants, my homemade jam, cheeses and thin sliced meats for breakfast. He loved our French breakfasts! He’s decided this is the way a real person eats breakfast. I could not agree more.

On our last full day at My French Heaven Stephane planned a foodie day with us. This meant a fun second trip with the entire group to the wonderful market in Liborne where we bought everything needed for the most incredible meal.

Here’s a video of the market in Libourne:

I wish I could quit saying heaven but it really was heaven. Stephane welcomed us into his home in Libourne where he served breads and cheeses, nuts, fruits, olives, and treated us to a delicious roast chicken lunch. Wow, just wow. Again I’m an idiot and I have no photos. It was the best day, an amazing day!

We also toured the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey. You’ve already seen one photo of our entire group. Here is one of Stephane- although he warned me not to take photos of him.

Entering the ruins of the abbey.

Entering the ruins of the abbey.

My daughter and son-in-law inspecting the ruins.

My daughter and son-in-law inspecting the ruins.

I’ve tried to reproduce his version of roast chicken. I almost have it. But there was something magical in his, some essence of French Heaven I’m lacking. But Stephane would be proud of me. He explained how to pick out the right chicken at the market– what makes a good chicken. I didn’t think I’d be able to duplicate such a fresh chicken but then I found a local producer here in Napa. Amazing! And her chickens were only a dollar more than the plain old industry chickens. No, I did not have to cut off their heads or pluck them. They were already wrapped up and ready to cook.

Stephane also taught us how to choose vendors, what to look for when buying eggs, fruit, cheeses, breads, foie gras… Where we could find the best pastries. Yum! We kept his advice in mind everywhere we went. We did a lot of cooking. Well, I did a lot of cooking. Everyone else did a lot of shopping and eating.

Boy, did we eat a whole lot of foie gras – something I’ve never ever before been willing to eat. I loved the foie gras. In France foie gras tastes nothing like chopped liver. Here it’s too liver-ish for my taste. Plus, (like Beau Plus Villages), in the Dorgogne region the geese are free range geese- they graze on grass, corn, walnuts and other rich stuff. No force-feeding there!

My favorite foie gras, purchased in the village of Domme.

My favorite foie gras, purchased in the village of Domme.

My other daughter on the walls of Domme, overlooking the Dordogne Valley.

My other daughter on the walls of Domme, overlooking the Dordogne Valley.

Oh! And I fell in love with comte cheese. Can’t find it here. Dang! At least not the real thing!

Dear Tom, Fortunately we were admitted into Heaven!

Ah yes. My French Heaven. Our host, Stephane Gabart, greeted us with hugs, kisses, wine, flowers, chocolates, waters – everything one needs in heaven.

Our suites were gorgeous. The beds huge. The pool to die for!

We were so happy in heaven! I miss it!

He took us to the fantastic market in Liborne. As they say in Hebrew~ Oooh! Waaah! Eyze yofi! Loved the market. The fruits, the flowers, the vegetables, the breads, the cheeses, the fish and seafood, the pastries (stopped at an amazing pastry shop), the meats. It really was our idea of heaven. If I’d had half a brain I’d have taken photos but I was too engrossed, too overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, smells. And in my defense, I was pretty sleep-deprived.

We toured the wine country around St. Emillion. Did some fun tasting. We even explored a limestone cave, once used for excavation and building materials, now used for wine. The caves go on forever, like a maze, and there were bats. Cute French bats, seriously cute and harmless French bats, but I once got a bat caught in my hair so I was a little freaked out when we disturbed them and they fluttered by. Still, the caves were fascinating and the wines good. The area reminded me of a greener Napa Valley. Similar climate. And their harvest was early this year, like ours.

20150906_123652

20150906_123658

Plus the weather was perfect. But of course the weather is perfect in heaven!

Stephane made dinner reservations for us at a nearby restaurant. We walked to the restaurant through the vineyards behind the chateau, down a wooded winding country lane, and up a hill into a medieval village. The food was local, very good, the owner was warm and hospitable (no English but no matter) and the views outstanding. The best part? The hike home in the dark, pitch dark, the Milky Way visible in all its glory. There’s so much ambient light in Northern California we never get to see the Milky Way.

Plain old fashioned low-key fun family time.

Tomorrow – The rest of us get a taste of heaven!

XOXO! Julia

P.S. My French Heaven is so heavenly. I’m missing it terribly!

Dear Tom, about that smacking…

It was more a – I wanna smack him upside the head for being so damn stubborn at the worst moment!

(I miss France so much– just see what I made!)

Rustic French Bread.

Rustic French Bread.

Chocolate Croissants.

Chocolate Croissants.

So we arrived in Bordeaux at 10:10 p.m. We had to retrieve our luggage and get through passport control – ha! – Sorry, the French are super nice about passport control – so efficient you pretty much waltz on through unless you happen to be carrying a truffle. But I’ll save the truffle incident for later. We needed to get to the car rental office before 11 p.m. because the car rental office closed at 11 p.m.

We made it there by 10:30. We were third in line. Unfortunately there was a single harried attendant – very pretty and very competent, but harried because her computer wasn’t working properly. Therefore each interaction took approximately thirty minutes. Thus we waited in line for an hour before we managed to reach the counter. It was sort of a hair-pulling experience.

Of course the rental company did not have the car we’d reserved. In fact, they only had two cars remaining – an Opal SUV (more on that shortly) and a two-seater Maserati sports car. We, obviously, needed the SUV because we would be carrying more than two people plus luggage to My French Heaven. Our daughter planned to take the train from Paris to Bordeaux in the morning. I’d managed to contact her via email, given her the address of our hotel, and instructed her to take a taxi and meet us there. Good thing I did.

Around midnight we headed to the parking lot. Finding our rental car was not easy in the dark, but yes, I did find it. And what a car it was! It was dented and pockmarked, looked like someone had used it for target practice. Oscar ran back into the airport to tell the attendant that the car was damaged. We did not want to be held responsible for said damage. We took a series of photos and she signed a waiver saying we were not financially responsible.

Initially I planned to drive. The car had a six speed manual transmission and I’d learned to drive when I was fourteen on a ’57 Chevy pickup with no first gear. But then men will be men. Oscar wanted to drive. Besides, as it turns out, I was needed as navigator.

Patience, grasshopper. Getting to the head-smacking part.

I’d requested a GPS Nav system, of course. This one didn’t work. Well, it kinda worked, but only in French set at an ear-splitting volume. The manual was also in French. I won’t even try to describe the multiple settings on the Opal’s dashboard. Nothing made sense. I couldn’t even find the defrost button – something which became critical as soon as we drove out of the lot.

But back to the Nav system. Right. We could not get it to speak in English and we needed it to navigate to our hotel. Yes, I had the address, and I was busily downloading my phone’s GPS app while Oscar screamed at the car and pressed every button in sight. Unfortunately this was the one and only time my data plan would not work. Just when all seemed hopeless, a young man appeared. He unlocked the Maserati right next to us. I jumped out of the car and asked him if he spoke English.

He said, “A little.”

“Well, I speak a little French so we should get along fine.”

I wanted to cry – “Ayuda me!” But that’s Spanish. (I’m both terrible and good with languages. I constantly mix Spanish, French and Hebrew. My yard guys look at me like I’m insane.) However, this young man did understand Nav system.

While he couldn’t manage to switch system from French, he did explain that there were two Ibis Hotels near the airport- 1 kilometer away and 1.8 kilometers away. Both were on the same road. We were obviously staying at one of them. He managed to pull up the directions so at least we could look at the map.

So while hubs was working on the map, the young man and I chatted. He’d been living in Hong Kong for two years and now he was headed off to Perigeuex to visit his family. He asked where we were going and he made some terrific suggestions, including the farmer’s market at Perigeuex – I don’t have a photo of the market (which was exceptional) but I do have a photo of my family name. My family name is a street name in Perigeuex.

Rue Taillefer, Perigeuex, France.

Rue Taillefer, Perigeuex, France.

Anyway, we parted with kisses on the cheek, but then we met again! There was no exit from the parking lot. All had been closed for the night. Thus it was up to me to scout for an exit while Oscar and our new friend waited, hope in their hearts. I hopped out of the car and followed the perimeter. The only way out was up over the sidewalk, a quick left, and voila! Onto the exit ramp. With a wave we went our separate ways.

Of course not only was our Navigation system screaming at us in French, as in screaming at the top of its lungs, the car fogged up and we couldn’t find the defrost button so we had to roll down all the windows. There we were, two idiot Americans driving down a quiet street at 1:45 a.m. with a Navigation system blasting.

I apologize to France.

But here’s where the smacking begins. It wasn’t so much the killing of the car at every roundabout. I got it. A six speed with a twitchy first gear. Plus twenty-four hours of travel and it was already approaching 2 a.m. It was what happened next that caused me to become semi-homicidal.

We found the first Ibis. Easy peasy. My husband pulled up in front.

I says, yes, this is what I says, “Wait here, let me check to see if this is our hotel.”

I jumped out of the car and ran into the lobby. I found an elderly man, very sweet, who not only spoke zero English, I don’t think he spoke French. If he spoke French, it was no kinda French I’d ever heard.

In desperation I reach into my bag and pull out our printed reservation. (Thank god I’d thought to bring it!) And here comes Oscar with the bags. All the bags. OMG. (No, not head-smacking yet.)

Here’s what I gleaned via sign language. We did not have a reservation at this Ibis. Possibly we had a reservation at the second Ibis. But when he called to find out, it was obvious the person on the other end of the phone didn’t understand a word he said. So he drew us a map to the next Ibis. All we had to do was drive another 0.8 kilometers and we would be there, and we would beg for a room, if need be.

I thanked him, said goodnight, (don’t think he understood), and we hauled the bags to the car. Oscar had parked behind the locking gate. At that moment it was open, but still I says, yes, I says, “Let’s get going before he closes the gate. The next hotel is just down the road.”

But Oscar says, (and here’s where the head-smacking part comes in), “I want to work on the Nav system.”

Me- “Not now. Let’s get going.”

Oscar- “But I want to fix this now.”

Me- “No. We don’t need it. We have a map. We’re almost there. Let’s go.”

Oscar- “No, I’m fixing this damn thing.”

Me- “Oh for god’s sake, it’s two in the morning. Let’s go. You can fix it later.”

Oscar- “I’m fixing it now.”

Me- “Just shut it off and let’s go.”

Oscar- “No.”

So I fumed and I fumed and after twenty bloody minutes sans (French) results, Oscar finally says, “Okay, let’s go.” And he pulls out of the parking space and voila! (French) The electric gate is closed and locked.

I am now in full-blown homicidal mode. (See what I mean?) And I have a migraine.

I jump from the car and squeeze through the metal slats in the gate. I run into the lobby. It’s empty. There is no one there. There is no one anywhere.

I yell~ “Monsieur!” “Monsieur!” “Monsieur!”

Nobody. I am freaking out. My head is pounding and I do not want to sleep in the car.

I run outside to tell Oscar the man has vanished. Then I run back in~ “Monsieur! Monsieur! La porte! La porte!”

Magically he reappears. I’m not sure he understands la porte but he does realize he’s locked us in. He runs to press a button to open the gate. I hug him and kiss both cheeks and thank him profusely. He is my crazy illiterate savior. I would marry him if I could. He probably wouldn’t be stupid enough to…

Using his map we made it to the next Ibis in no time. I says, yes, I says, “Do not park behind the gate until I have made certain we have a room.”

To his credit Oscar parked on the street.

The door was locked but there was a call button. A young woman let me in. She spoke no English but thank god she did speak French. They’d already canceled our reservation as it was well after midnight, but she did have a room. I checked in. He parked the car. The room was a closet, the bathroom half a closet, but it was clean and quiet, the little mattress on my little twin cot was comfortable. I collapsed onto the bed and slept the sleep of the dead.

Much credit to Ibis Hotels. They are a cheap chain but they offer the best breakfast you can imagine. I was thinking… if this is what I’m served in a cheapie airport hotel, imagine what the rest of France will be like!

A follow up: Oscar did eventually get the Nav system switched to English. We also managed to decrease the volume and figure out the defrost/air conditioning system. And, most important, our daughter emerged from a taxi right on time!

Now, if Oscar could only have stopped killing the car in every roundabout and if he’d actually listened to the Nav system’s directions, all would have been right with our world.

Another follow up: The next day my other daughter and son-in-law arrived in Bordeaux. Their rental car too was unavailable but they were given instead a BMW with an automatic transmission. We rode with them whenever possible.

The best part? We made it to Stephane’s – Chateau St. Jacques Calon. Magnifique!

The entrance to our beautiful room at Chateau St. Jacques Calon.

The entrance to our beautiful room at Chateau St. Jacques Calon.

Tomorrow – Stephane takes us touring!

Dear Tom~ Should I smack Oscar? (Thank God for the nice guy at Heathrow!)

He’s a horrible traveler, Oscar, that is. He hates to travel yet this trip was his idea. Of course in the beginning- which came out of the blue when he was visiting the ranch up in Montana- his notion was that we should all (7 of us) get on a sailboat and sail around the coast of France with him as captain.

Um… Yeah. No.

My daughter and I were flabbergasted, first because the man who hates to travel suggested an overseas trip, but second because there was no way in hell all seven of us were getting on a sailboat. It would be mutiny, mayhem and murder on the high seas, believe me! Oscar may know how to sail, indeed he does, but if you value your life you won’t sail with him. I’ve had too many harrowing experiences, as have the kids, to put my life in his hands. Plus we’d be staring at each other for ten days. If that’s not a recipe for murder, I don’t know what is.

So my daughter J and I took over the planning. I contacted my blogging buddy, Stephane Gabart at My French Heaven – Chateau St. Jacques Calon – and we arranged to spend six amazing foodie days with him. Oh. My. Yes. Seriously. French Heaven.

Salt water pool, Chateau St. Jacques Calon.

Salt water pool, Chateau St. Jacques Calon.

My daughter then arranged for a rental in La Roque Gageac in the Dordogne region. Again- Oh. My. Yes.

The view from our terrace.

The view from our terrace.

the medieval town of La Roque Gageac. Looking from our terrace.

The medieval town of La Roque Gageac. Looking from our terrace.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, smacking. When we arrived at Heathrow and there was no you, we turned left at the exit instead of right and headed to National Express. We had to catch our connecting flight at Gatwick. Now we had two choices, rather, I had two choices because Oscar does not travel well so he sort of stands around looking confused – either I could wait in a long line, or attempt to use a ticket machine that looked like something out of Doctor Who. I chose the annoying line. However a wonderful English gentleman said, “You don’t need to wait in line. Here, let me help you with this machine.” And he proceeded to work magic. Voila! (French!) Tickets! He gave us exact directions to the shuttle stop.

I don’t know what it is with me and English bus drivers but there was a bus to Gatwick waiting. I asked the driver if we could get on and he gave me the nastiest look. He said something… I have no idea what he said. I’ve had this happen before in London- I’m listening to a bus driver and I know he’s speaking English but I feel like I’ve had a stroke. I can’t understand a word. His accent was… what? Gallic? I don’t know. Finally I understood ‘ticket’. I showed him our ticket. He pointed to the next bus just pulling in. So his bus was a third full. The bus we boarded had only two open seats right next to the bathroom. Didn’t matter. I slept all the way to Gatwick.

Gatwick was lovely. We were fast-tracked through security- oh, by the way, the passport control people at Heathrow were great as well. We were fast-tracked there too and they were so nice. The last time I came through the officer treated me like a criminal. Must be my face… So there were many nice people at Heathrow!

I’m getting too wordy. The smacking episode will have to wait until tomorrow. Until tomorrow! Bonjour!

XOXO! Julia