Archive for June, 2012

June 29, 2012: The Phoenix Connection, Part Two

I hosted an aperitif for some of the Brits today at our place. Much wine was consumed, and as evening came on, everyone disbursed to various village restaurants. Lady Leighton and I had a date with Patrick, a sixty-something oil baron from Texas who’s one of the handful of Americans who lives here, and his wife, Natasha, a South African whom I’d not met before.

We met them at La Taverne, and when I was introduced to Natasha, she said to me, “So, you’re fromPhoenix. Do you know Alan Brunacini?”

“Of course I do,” I said. “His daughter Candace is a friend of mine, and so is his granddaughter, Alana. I’ve been to Alan’s home several times.”

Lady Leighton has had it with the Phoenix thing.

Lady Leighton groaned. “This happens constantly,” she said to Patrick. “He lives in the fifth largest city in theUnited States, and he meets people like your wife, a South African from Oman, and they instantly know the same twelve people in Phoenix. We’re in a peasant village on top of a mountain in France, and somehow everyone is connected to this city in Arizona!”

It’s true. And it’s very, very weird.

 Thing I Hate Today: My French still sucks


June 28, 2012: One Night, in Provence

          I went to a dinner party at Catherine and Barry’s tonight. There were nine other guests, all Bargemonaise, all very gracious and interesting, and all speaking French. For four hours.

       I thought my head was going to explode.

       Still, I had a lovely time. Toward the end of the evening, I found myself in the garden talking to a retired Dutch jet pilot named Klaus. I was explaining to him where in Bargemon Tevye and I live, and at one point I stopped to say, “Je suis desolee, mon Francais est trop terrible” (“I’m sorry my French is so bad”).

        Klaus nodded gravely. “Your French isn’t bad,” he said in perfect English, “But your pronunciation is absolutely dreadful!”

“We live at the end of Rue de la Prison,” I was trying to tell Klaus.

 Thing I Hate Today: Booking airplane seats online

June 27, 2012: The Phoenix Connection

Centre ville in Bargemon. How many of these people are from Phoenix?

          Several summers ago, Tevye called me from Bargemon; I’d stayed behind in Phoenix and was planning to meet him in Bargemon a week or so later. “There’s another American living in the village,” he told me. “Her name is Linda, and I had drinks with her and Alain, her French husband, today.”

          “Well, it was bound to happen,” I replied, “that another American would wind up there.”

          “But she’s been here for 30 years,” Tevye said. “And get this: She’s from Phoenix.”

          “Mon dieu!”

          “There’s more. She and I went to the same high school. And she and Alain have a house in Phoenix. When I described where we live in Phoenix, she said, ‘You mean the grey house with the wraparound porch?’”

          This is only kind of amazing when one considers that there are fewer than a thousand people in Bargemon, and two of the half-dozen or so Americans here are from Phoenix and both graduated from Camelback High.

          Today, I met Linda and Alain for drinks in centre ville. Their daughter, son-in-law (both former Phoenicians), and grandchildren are visiting from San Diego. We got to talking, and it turns out that Linda’s daughter studied gymnastics at the gymnastics school where Tevye taught for more than a decade.

          We were eventually joined by Jill and Ryan, two young Phoenicians who rented our house here a couple of years ago; they’re back, visiting, and had just arrived in Bargemon.

          “Careful,” Linda said to Jill and Ryan after I’d made introductions. “You’re from Phoenix, and so am I. If we talk long enough, we may discover that I’m your half-sister.”

          No one laughed.

 Thing I Hate Today: This trip is coming to a close.

June 26, 2012: This Is My Year for Wainscoting

          In February, I installed and stained wainscoting in the Ohio house; this month, it’s the same job in the salon in Bargemon.

          Long before we lived here, some nice Frenchman, probably in the 1960s, installed knotty pine wainscoting in the alcove and entry hall of our salon here. Knotty pine? I thought, when I saw it. Malheuresment!

Before. Allors!


       About five years ago, Tevye bought me a can of mahogany stain to paint the wainscoting with. Until now, the stain has sat in a cupboard, unopened. But this morning I cracked it open and got busy. I did the entry hall, and then I ran out of stain. Zut.

After. Plus bien.

          I thought about going to the bricolage for more stain, so that I could do the little nook in the salon. But then the plane tree outside the salon window caught my eye, and I thought, Fuck it. It’s two in the afternoon; I’m in the south of France. I’m opening a bottle of rosé and eating some cheese.

Next up: The nook in the salon.

 Thing I Hate Today: Blonde wood

June 25, 2012: “Your Chalet in Paris”

          My French is terrible. Today I was at the boutique in Bargemon, trying to explain to the nice young man who works there that I want to buy some place mats. I don’t know the word for place mats, so I kept calling them “dessous de plats.” But I was clearly mispronouncing “dessous,” which means “underneath.” I was saying “dessoule,” which means “sober.”

          That poor French boy was very patient while I kept telling him, “I want for to make my dishes not be drunk!”

          I try to remember this sort of exchange whenever I notice how Americans often confuse Paris and France. When one says the word “France” to Americans, most of the time we hear the word “Paris.”

          Try it sometime. Tell a neighbor or co-worker, “I’m going next week toFrance,” and they’ll almost certainly respond with, “Oh, I love Paris! How long will you be there?”

          People ask Tevye and me about our “house in Paris” all the time. Sometimes, if we bother to explain that the house is in Provence, people become confused.

          “Provence is an entire region of France,” I’ll occasionally say, hoping to be helpful. “It’s in the south. Paris is a city, way up north.”

          “But you just said you were going to Paris,” is usually the reply.

My cousin Eileen emailed me this morning: “What does the front of your house look like?” It looks like this.

          I’ve actually never been to Paris. Ridiculous, I know. The first few years we were here, Tevye and I used to always plan to jump on the TGV and go to Paris for a weekend, but somehow we never made it. (He’s been. Tevye took his junior year abroad, and traveled all over England and France.) I rarely tell people that we vacation in Provence but I’ve never been to Paris, for fear their head will explode.

          Still, it’s nice of people to ask. Our favorite was the time we were asked, at a funeral, “How is your chalet in Paris?” We love the word “chalet,” even if we’re not entirely sure what it means. But that’s how we refer now to our home in the mountains of Provence. It’s our “chalet in Paris.”

 Thing I Hate Today: Failed pedicures

June 24, 2012: La Fete de la Musique (Oh, What a Night)

          June 21 is a national holiday in France: La Fete de la Musique (The Party of the Music). It’s a celebration of World Music Day, and the general idea is to play loud music all day and night, and—for revelers of a certain age—perhaps to drink a lot while doing so. And so children wander around all day, banging on pots and pans and shaking tambourines, while everyone else turns the speakers of their home stereos toward the windows, cranks up the volume, and uncorks du vin. If the 21st occurs on a weekday, La Fete is typically celebrated on the following Saturday.

          The first summer we were here in Bargemon, we found La Fete charming. We were up till 3 a.m. that year; a French mountaintop village is typically so quiet that any sound travels and lingers, and the cacophony from centre ville sounded as if it were coming from our salon. We live quite close to the mairie, which usually hosts an annual concert for La Fete, and that first year we opened all the windows and sat in our kitchen, eating roti chicken and drinking rosé and listening to a French woman sing Italian arias from Lucia de Lammermoor. Later, she did a Tina Turner medley.

          The French love their American pop music. There are staples in their U.S. golden oldies diet that Tevye and I have come to expect to hear at any event: “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang; “Le Freak” by Chic; “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge. And always, always—for reasons no one has ever been able to explain—“December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by the Four Seasons.

There was no Fete de la Musique to photograph this year, so here is a picture of the table in our kitchen.

          This year, La Fete barely occurred—in the village proper, at least. I don’t know why. But there were pas d’enfants making noise dans la rue; no concert at the mayor’s ce soir. Late in the evening, though, I heard American Top 40 tunes wafting up from the valley below us. I grabbed my book and settled dans la cuisine, waiting to hear it. And I wasn’t disappointed. Sometime around midnight, not long after “The Macarena” and “Y.M.C.A.” and “West End Girls,” there it was, the song Tevye and I refer to as The French National Anthem: “Oh, What a Night.”

          Vive la France.

 Thing I Hate Today: Petulant voisins

June 23, 2012: The Lady

          In Bargemon, one gets one’s drinking water from The Lady.

          All that hoo-ha about mountain spring water being the best is true, and in Bargemon it’s free pour tous les gens. The Lady stands atop a stone structure that dispenses the most delicious l’eau day and night, and the villagers come there to fill jugs and bottles throughout the day. The Lady, who appears to be smirking, holds out an empty half-shell, and I always leave her a centime.

          (Our friends Lilia and Lou honeymooned in Bargemon last year, and Lilia recently blogged about The Lady.)

Gimme gimme de l’eau.

Thing I Hate Today: Hangovers

June 22, 2012: The Longest Night

          Last night was the Longest Night, which is apparently a French equinox of sorts. En Provence, on June 21, the sun comes up at 4 a.m. and goes down after 10 p.m. (In Phoenix, we call that Tuesday.)

          Anyway. I went to dinner with Catherine and Barry, our Bargemon friends, on the Longest Night. Catherine is either a French woman who moved to Englandwhen she was 20 or a Brit who relocated to Provence right after high school; I can never remember which, because she is fluent in both languages but speaks English with a British accent. (More troubling than my inability to recall Catherine’s heritage is the fact that she’s a doppelganger for an especially terrible editor in my early career; I can’t decide whether my charming friend Catherine has softened my nasty memory of that horrible woman, or if it’s gone the other way: Do I resent poor Catherine because a woman who resembles her routinelly demanded 400-word sidebars at the last minute, then cackled like a witch?)

          We sat outside at La Campana, a village favorite right around the corner from our house, and ordered saumon carpaccio and d’agneu and beaucoup du rosétrop beaucoup, as it turned out. I stumbled home at 10:30, and the sun was still up. So I hung out some laundry.

The village, at 10:30 last night.

 Thing I Hate Today: My toenails

June 21, 2012: Spectres

            I met Lady Leighton at Le Cercle for a coffee this morning. Le Cercle is the members-only café in Bargemon, and I’ve never been in 12 years. Tevye and I always sit a few tables down, at Café du Commerce, but Lady Leighton’s had her house here since the Seventies, and so she “belongs” to Le Cercle. The prices are the same as Café du Commerce, and so is the coffee, but you get a little cookie with every cup, and quite a few Frenchmen stop to kiss you on both cheeks. If you’re Lady Leighton, that is.

            “Wasn’t last night unusually still?” Lady L. inquired while we sipped.

            “Not at my place,” I replied. “The shutters and doors were banging all night long.”

            “Darling,” she sniffed. “You live next door to me. If I didn’t have a windstorm, neither did you. That shutter-banging was your ghosts, having a laugh.”

            I don’t believe in ghosts, but because Tevye and I own a 400-year-old home, people are always trying to convince us that we should. A shutter will fly open during a dinner party, and one of our guests will nod knowingly. “Les morts sont tres amusant!” they’ll say. Or a candle will blow out while we’re playing Scrabble with our neighbors, Liz and Josick, and Josick will laugh and start talking to the thin air about how arid it must have been in the 17th century.

            Hey, people. We’re on the top of a mountain in a 9th century village in a building erected in 1630. The windows are all open and it’s gusty out. Cut the crap. It’s not dead people; it’s the fucking wind.

            On the other hand, the eyes of the ancient painting of Monsier Berretti in our salon do seem to follow me around the room…

Stop staring.

Thing I Hate Today: A week has passed in the space of a minute

June 20: Dejeuner du Table

Table Lunch for one. Triste.

           A number of years ago, overwhelmed by the wonderful food one could buy at the daily outdoor markets in Provence, Tevye and I invented the Table Lunch. We’d come home from the outdoor market in, say, Draguignon, with anchoiade, and du buerre avec sal, and une baguette and terrine du foi gras and several fromages. And we’d spread it all out on the long plank table in the living room, open a bottle of wine, and eat ourselves into a stupor.

          I made myself a Table Lunch today. It was nice, with a roti chicken and a jar of anchovies and some of those little butter cookies with a chocolate bar grafted onto them which I only ever see in France shops, never in the U.S. Everything tasted amazing, of course, but somehow not so much because every bite reminded me that Tevye’s not here.

          Tomorrow I think I’ll go out for lunch.

Thing I Hate Today: Doors slamming in the middle of the night