Monday, June 27, 2016

Simple Pleasures

Very old olive trees in St-Remy

Okay, I'm going to make a list of things I totally respond to and, no, it's not a long list.
  • A picnic of fresh bread, cheeses, and wine laid out in some herbaceous countryside where one can sit in the sun, listen to the cicadas, and take in the warmth and fresh air.
  • Olives, of course.  Lots of olives.
  • Sunshine and blue skies.
  • The scent of lavender.
  • Outdoor markets with more fresh bread, more fresh cheeses, and bins of more olives all set out by people who love their work and wouldn't want to be doing anything else.
  • The feeling that life is good, as a result of the above.
Such simple pleasures, yet it seems as if there's only one place that takes them to heart and knows how to do them to perfection.  And that is France.  At any rate, I find myself picking up book after book about France--its style, its wonders, its peculiarities.  I do love it there.  I tried spending some winter weeks there nearly ten years ago hoping to come away able to speak the language after taking daily classes.  But my brain became saturated very quickly and by the time I got home again, I put away all thoughts of speaking French.  (Should have learned it before I was eleven, I told myself, not at sixty-something.)


At any rate, I find myself favoring books about France.  Right now, as it happens, I'm in the process of reading two.  One is Pardon My French, How a Grumpy American Fell in Love with France, by Allen Johnson.  The other is The Only Street in Paris, Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino.

Looking through my bookshelf, I find several I can recommend:

Polly Platt, French or Foe, Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living, and Working in France.  (Lots of good practical info.  For instance, it's important to understand that the French rank both wit and liberty HIGH on their lists.)

The English actress, Carol Drinkwater who's lived in Provence for years, has written several including, 1) The Olive Farm, A Memoir of Life, Love, and Olive Oil in the South of France, and 2) The Olive Season, Amour, A New Life, and Olives, Too ...!

Of course, there's Peter Mayle, the Englishman, with his now-classic, A Year in Provence, plus Toujours Provence.  I think I've also read all of his fiction set in France--all light, fun reading.


Then there's:

Sarah Turnbull, Almost French, Love and a New Life in Paris (about what makes the French tick).

Ellie Nielsen, Buying a Piece of Paris, A Memoir.  (An Australian family buy an apartment.)

And food books:

Luke Barr, Provence, 1970, M.F.K.Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste. 

David Lebovitz, The Sweet Life in Paris, Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious--and Perplexing--City.  (With recipes.)

Karen Le Billon, French Kids Eat Everything, How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters.  (Should be required reading.)

Of a different nature, there's A Life of Her Own, the Transformation of a Countrywoman in Twentieth-Century France, by Emilie Carles (1900-1979) who was born into a peasant community in the high Alps and tells about, as the jacket says, "a world that has largely disappeared ... and the one that has emerged to take its place."  For me, a keeper.

As is Simone de Beauvoir's (1908-1986) four-volume autobiography:  1) Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 2) The Prime of Life, 3) Force of Circumstance, and 4) All Said and Done.  (Note:  sometimes the third volume is divided into two separate books: 1) After the War and 2) Hard Times.)

Then, another American author, the wife of a Frenchman and mother of two children who tease her about her accent, has a book about French words, Words in a French Life, Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France, by Kristin Espinasse.

Near the square in the city of Nice.  Check out that blue sky!

While we're sticking with non-fiction books, I'm going to add Marcel Pagnol's reminiscences about his childhood in Marseilles and the Proven├žal countryside--My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle.  (Both books are published in one volume unless you're buying French editions.)  (You may remember the exquisite movies by the same name.)  So I've just gone down to my bookstore and ordered a copy.

(Though it's a work of fiction and these others aren't, one current book I do not recommend is The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George which has a good premise--prescribing books for people's ailments--but is predictable and cliched.)

So, with July coming up, I'm devoting this posting to France.  There is, of course, July 14th, Bastille Day.  But I also want to mention July 1st, the hundredth birthday of one of my favorite actresses:  Olivia de Havilland who has lived in Paris more than half her life. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Gallery of Photos: A Little Farther Afield This Time

When an old friend visited recently from another part of the country, not having been in New England for many years, we took a couple of excursions to reacquaint her with this part of Vermont.  Remember:  Vermont's claim to charm is all about its success in offering its own particular anachronistic look and feel.  Down-home stuff.  1940's.  There are no bill boards along the highways. There are plenty of dirt roads to say nothing of winding two-lane by-ways over hill and dale.  It's the sort of place where you drive by white steepled churches, country general stores, cows, plus a good number of brooks which earn the adjective, "babbling."  Of course, it was those very babblers that overflowed during Hurricane Irene a few years back, bringing on disastrous flooding.  Otherwise, yes, they're delightful.

1.  Bennington.  The Old First Church and Robert Frost's Grave

The Old First Church

The Frost Family Gravestone.  (You can see the pennies people have put there.)

His name is at the top, along with "I had a lover's quarrel with the world."

2.  Manchester.  The Equinox Inn.  Or I guess it's now called "The Equinox, a Luxury Collection Golf Resort and Spa."

Established in 1853, the Equinox Inn is next to the Old Marsh Tavern (1763).  We stopped here mid-day for a glass of white wine before carrying on.

3.  Weston (population 566).  The Vermont Country Store, the Weston Village Store, and the Craft Building

The Vermont Country Store calls itself the "Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-to-Find."

The old wood stove is still cranked up on winter days.  (If something works, don't haul in one of those modern gadgets!)

Dating from 1946, the store prides itself on its old-time merchandise.

The Weston Village Store (across the street) and its whirligigs.

This gorgeous building with its artistic shingle-work has been a firehouse, a machine shop, a studio for craftspeople, and now houses the red Concord coach used as a bandwagon by the Weston Cornet Band from 1880-1930, one of only two in existence.

4.  The village of Grafton with its Grafton Inn and old White Church

The Grafton Inn (rockers and all), once called the Old Tavern at Grafton. 

Life in a Vermont village.
The quintessential New England church--this, Grafton's "White Church."