Living in Cordes – Saturday market and making new friends

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thread at the Saturday market

One week into our sojourn in southwest France and we are awash in riches: we discovered the Saturday market and began the delightful process of meeting the neighbors.

When you live very close to the street in a small village and it’s warm enough to keep the windows wide open, it’s not unusual to hear a friendly “Allô?” from the front of the house. Friday morning it was our next door neighbor Simone, a charming 80 year old native Cordais, stopping by to introduce herself.

“Voulez-vous les arroser avec de l’essence? (Will you be watering these with gasoline?),” she asked, pointing to the shabby silk and plastic sunflowers I’d put in a blue pot outside the door. We instantly knew we’d love her, and I moved getting a live plant for that pot to the top of my mental shopping list.

That evening Simone came back and Tom invited her in for some chocolate and a glass of Pineau de Charentes, the popular French aperitif that came with our house. We sat at the table sharing and laughing till late.

Between her many funny stories and quips, Simone told us about Jean Jaurès, a socialist and anti-militarist hero born nearby, whose assassination in Paris in 1914 is often called the second assassination to cause the war. My kind of hero.

Jean Jaurès

The following morning, Tom and I took our chariot de courses (wheeled shopping basket) down the hill early to avoid the crowds at the boulangerie. Days of the week not having fallen into place properly yet, we’d both forgotten it was Saturday, so we were surprised and pleased to see the center of the village overflowing with neighbors and goods.

The upper village rising above the market

$3.20 per dozen

Every variety of button

Irresistible cheeses

Baskets in all shapes, sizes, and colors

Dried fruits and vegetables

More of the same

Endless olives

The market offered an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, and dresses, hats, friperie (used goods), pillows and sheets, fabric and notions, even Chinese food, all set to lively Occitan music. It was very hard not to buy more than we needed.

Our friend Rochelle arrived just before lunch. After eating, we went up the hill, meeting my Instagram friend Lauren Clary in person for the first time, and then spending an extraordinary afternoon with the artist Jean-Jacques Enjalbert in his Anandamayi Ma exposition.

Three story obelisk from the base

In the evening, we found Simone and her small dog sitting on the bench in front of our house.

In no time a small crowd of neighbors joined us. I don’t have words for the pleasure I felt at finding such a warm welcome in this little village.

I am deeply grateful.

A real geranium from the Saturday market

Living in Cordes – Tuesday in Albi

Tuesday was our fourth day as French homeowners and the first day all the shops are open after the weekend. It was also the last day we would have a rental car, so Tom and I went to Albi, a picturesque 20 minute drive from Cordes, to change the SIM card in his phone and set up French phone and Internet service. Coming from the US, we had the amusing idea that the task could be completed in one visit.

Turn out that in France, particularly in August, it’s more complicated than that.

For a start, to get a French phone number, you need a French bank account. Like many of the French cities we’ve visited, Albi’s central commercial district is largely closed off to cars and offers everything you could need, so we walked over to the Albi branch of the bank that also has a branch in Cordes.

In France, we discovered, an appointment is necessary to open a bank account. The Albi bank officer could make one for us in Cordes, but the next one available was on Thursday a week.

At the Albi branch, however, an appointment was available the following Tuesday. That seemed worth the bus trip, especially since we’d already found out that we’d have to return to the Apple store for a charger that’d had to be ordered. Tom said we’d take the Albi appointment.

The bank officer wrote down all the documents we’d need: passports, three months of bank statements from our California bank, proof of residency in France (which we already have – though how we got it so soon is another story), and several more documents that she kindly agreed to leave off the list, since we couldn’t possibly have them yet.

She’d also need our phone number, of course. It’s an American number, Tom said. But then the bank cannot call you to confirm! A French number is needed!

Catch 22.

However, having already set a precedent regarding the missing documents, Tom was able to convince the officer to confirm the appointment right then.

Lesson learned: even when the red tape seems endless, a little dialogue goes a long way.

Credit goes to Tom’s excellent French, pleasant personality, and the willingness of the French to keep the conversation going and to negotiate.

It’s true we still have to go back to Albi in a week with the rest of the papers, and that surely won’t be the end of the steps we’ll have to follow – we’re told it takes about three weeks to get local internet and phone service set up – but Albi is such a beautiful place and I’m sure there will be other things we need that aren’t available here in the village, that I won’t mind going back.

Arrived: Cordes-sur-Ciel

Who would have guessed that the line to rent a car at the Bordeaux airport would take 2 1/2 hours? Or that not one of the three agents would adjust their customary style to – at the very least – shorten the conversations they usually enjoy with each customer? Imagine how exciting the story of our journey from California would have been. Arnaud at Avis was particularly skilled at drawing out his clients’ stories, but I kept looking over my shoulder at the dozens of families with small children behind us: a sea of impatient grimaces, hungry whines, and tapping feet. I’m not sure it made any difference.

It took us close to three hours to get onto the road.

Outside, it was 38C, record-breaking heat, but the thoughtful GPS took us along the back roads, so we enjoyed the ride –

– even the muddy track through the cornfields that saved us a good two minutes over the more conventional route.

Eventually we arrived at the office of M. duMartin, the notaire (real estate lawyer), in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, where the couple from whom we bought the house and our real estate agent were waiting.

I will be eternally grateful that Tom is fluent in French! M. duMartin, jowls and chins indistinguishable, thick steel-colored hair brushed back and plastered to his head, melted into his ornate chair behind the expanse of his ancient desk, and read aloud document after document after document. Do we understand that there can be no changes to the outside of the house, not even to the paint on the blue voleurs (shutters)? And here, this is very important, you see where the back of the house goes under the one on the street above? The well is in your house, but a shaft goes up into the house above…

Periodically a young assistant in short shorts, long legs, and assorted tattoos brought more documents, or copies for us all the sign. M. DuMartin’s wife, gray hair in braids circling her head, appeared behind him from time to time, ghostlike.

It was stiflingly hot in the room. I struggled to follow, using all the skills I’ve acquired from years of hearing loss: catching enough words to get the gist, applying what I know from similar situations, and watching everyone else’s responses very carefully. Still. French legalese!

We signed the papers at last and went to the house with the agent and the sellers for a few lessons in house’s quirks.

And now we are here!

We woke to a gentle breeze coming through the wide open window.

Such a view! Come see us!

Farewell Tour – Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York


After lovely lunch in Albany with old friends, Heather and Norm Mendel, we stopped for coffee in Stockbridge, MA. The former Alice’s Restaurant was closed, but we had the best coffee of our trip at Stockbridge Coffee and Tea.

You can get anything you want…

We spent the night at Kathleen Becker’s beautiful studio in Northampton. What a meal we had at Coco in Easthampton!

Dinner and the next night were spent with Tom’s Neuhaus cousins in New Canaan, CT.

After dropping our trusty rental car in Stamford we took the train into New York City, where we stayed three nights with Elise in Park Slope.

On James’s birthday we took the ferry to Rockaway, and then back to the UN where he gave us an after hours tour.

On Wednesday we met Lenya for breakfast and then went out to Queens to see Mary Kuzma and Tomas Tisch at her studio.

And today it’s packing and organizing for our midnight flight to Bordeaux.

We’re off!

Farewell Tour – the Finger Lakes

We moved through the Finger Lakes from north to south, staying with dear friends all along the way. Echoing my own years of living there, we first stayed in Ovid, NY, about a mile from the beautiful Victorian house my first husband and I bought in 1976 for $22,000, and soon filled with our growing family plus a stream of housemates and guests, including Ganesh Baba and his followers: psychedelic seekers, scientists from Cornell, and hoards of hapless hippies -as he called us- from all over the world.

The Women’s Peace Encampment at Seneca Army Depot was born in that house in 1980 when the young neighbor who babysat for us mentioned that her father dismantled outdated nuclear weapons for a living. As proof she brought over the safety manual given to employees at the local army depot. We were already active in the anti-nuke movement so, through connections with the Syracuse Peace Movement, our friend Fred Wilcox brought a reporter from New York Times to see the manual. The cat was out of the bag.

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Our stay in the area this time was less momentous but considerably more heartwarming. From Roxanne Gupta’s beautiful house in Sheldrake, and Durga Bor’s in Trumansburg, and Kip Wilcox’s in Ithaca, it included a week’s worth of wonderful meals with dear old friends, tasting cider at the Finger Lakes Cider House and cheese at the Muranda Cheese Company, a visit to the Ithaca Farmers Market, a picnic on Cayuga Lake, wine on a friend’s dock, and more at a blueberry farm, a morning at PRI’s Museum of the Earth, and lots of glorious rain. It was especially good to spend time with our old friends’ grown children and their children.

Of course, we went to see Taughannock Falls, site of Tom’s and my first date, and many, many hikes over the years, as often as we could fit it in.

It was hard to leave. So many memories, so many good times, so many dear, dear friends.

Thank you.

Farewell Tour – Chicago to the Finger Lakes

Our visit to Chicago was packed with visits with friends, and Tom’s uncle and aunt, who took us to the Holocaust Museum  and the Botanical Garden. It was much too short!qrVM8qK9T9mr81d15NMJ0Q

A day-long drive through Indiana and Ohio followed.

We arrived in Athens just in time to join a not-so-silent vigil, the 54th anniversary of such activities with my middle and high school friend, Wendy McVicker.

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Our three days with Wendy and her husband John were the perfect birthday gift.

Next, we spent the night in Pittsburgh with Tom’s cousin, Barbara, feisty activist lawyer, who took us to the best barbecue place in town for dinner and a classic diner for breakfast.

On our way to the Finger Lakes region we stopped in Cleveland to have lunch with Tom’s marine biology professor at Oberlin.

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Our stay in Trumansburg merits a page of its own, so I’ll send this off into cyberspace before sharing that.

Love to you all!

Farewell Tour – Early Morning Harvest

In the midst of the ongoing barrage of bad news about the way the current American administration is treating the earth and the people who depend on it, some good news:

It began Sunday evening, after a hearty meal with Tom’s cousin Kathy’s whole clan, grown kids and grandchildren crowding the big table, dogs underneath. A scoop of locally-made ice cream (another story) topped the perfect whole wheat crust on Kathy’s mouth-watering strawberry rhubarb pie. The flour in the crust, Kathy told us, was organically grown and milled just down the road at her friends’ place, Early Morning Harvest organic farm and mill.

The next morning, Kathy’s friend, Ronda Hafner, gave us a tour. We saw the mill first. The grain gets separated from the chaff in a big sifter before being milled.

 

 

So many products are milled and packaged there:

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The farm, originally a dairy operation, has been in the family for generations with a notable exception of the period when it was taken over by eminent domain by the DNR (that’s the Department of Natural Resources, not a last wish) so a coal-powered energy plant could be put in there. After a number of years, when the coal plant never materialized, the grandchildren, Jeff and Sharon Hafner, were able to buy back a portion of the property from the government. It’s now farmed by Ronda’s husband Earl and their son Jeff, and provides grain, milled products, a huge array of aqua-ponically grown vegetables and herbs, and some organically raised meat to stores, restaurants, co-ops, and individuals in the Des Moines area and beyond.

The aquaponic operation came before the mill. Now there are big greenhouses with hydroponic beds and even more raised beds outdoors, all irrigated with the water from the tilapia tanks.

This old fish swims over today hello to visitors as they come into the greenhouses. IMG_2917

Hello to you, too!

Farewell Tour – Oregon to South Dakota

On Monday morning July 9. we said goodbye to Keith and Shelley, and drove along the Columbia River to Hood River, where we had breakfast at a delightful Swedish place, Broder Øst.

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Then, there was a long drive across Oregon and half of Idaho.

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After a good night at an Airbnb an Twin Falls, ID, we ate breakfast in a diner by the depot.

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The road the next day was long and filled with trucks, but we reached Boulder in time for dinner and a visit with Catherine and Steve at his elegant and comfortable home.

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I wish we’d planned a longer stay in Boulder.

Morning found us saying goodbye to the Flatirons:

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and spending the first half of the day on the interstate. By then we had our routine for long days on the road down: a simple breakfast followed by a morning ride listening to recorded books (it’s Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth at the moment, because it’s set in the region we’re moving to), lunch in the downtown of some small town, coffee in the middle of the afternoon, and dinner in another small town.

Coffee in North Platte, Nebraska:

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The GPS took us onto the back roads after that, a fine decision. Nebraska is a beautiful, pastoral state. We ate dinner at the Sandstone Grill in Burwell, Nebraska.

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Late last night, car covered in dead insects, we arrived at Tom’s mother’s home in Vermillion, SD.  Breakfast this morning in the family room:

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Tom’s mother, Dorothy, is a force of nature. At 94, she still lives alone at home and runs her own shop, Ot ‘n’ Dots Art, Antiques, and Collectibles.

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Tom and I are so pleased that our son, James, flew out from New York to join us here.

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Why is David clothed in that picture, you might ask? It’s because we’re in South Dakota.

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Farewell Tour – California and Oregon

A week on the road and I thought surely I’d have something profound to share, but this series of pictures and a simple record of the events will have to do.

Above, always stunning, Mount Shasta as we passed it on our way from Berkeley to Ashland.

We spent our first night in Santa Rosa, where we left our sweet Olive with our friends, Monica and Mark. Olive moved right in.

On Sunday we spent a delightful day with Denise, and an equally delightful evening with Linnea, her fiancé Justin, and his family at Justin’s place in Pleasanton.IMG_2733

Monday was a day of rest at Elisa and Martin’s place in Berkeley, including a walk down to Shattuck Ave. for lunch at Saul’s and coffee at the original Peet’s. It’s heartwarming to see so many of our things at the homes of our children.

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On Tuesday we retrieved the things we left in Santa Rosa by mistake. The cat had no need for my laptop or Tom’s shaver though she probably liked the bag of dirty laundry. Certainly we’re carrying too many things with us, but those weren’t the right things to leave behind. We continued on to Sebastopol where Susan and Steve made a beautiful and delicious lunch for us.

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That evening we enjoyed a Chinese meal with Martin’s mother and aunt, and Linnea and Justin. Great conversation and food!

The following day we took to the road, arriving at Steve and Melinda’s in Ashland, Oregon, in time for a light dinner and a relaxing evening in their beautiful home and garden, followed by a day of great conversation and a little travel to a winery in Jacksonville and a walk sadly shortened by the heat of the day.

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By Friday afternoon we were in Portland at Shelley and Keith’s.  The next day we went to the farmers market and appreciated the green of the campus of Lewis and Clark College.

The hardest thing about giving up our home in California is leaving friends and family. The best thing about our farewell tour is seeing friends and family.

Especially in their own settings.