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Entries from August 2017

Peeping Toms, street-side meltdowns, and this new city life in La Ciotat

Beach in la ciotat
So far it's been nine days that we've lived in La Ciotat. The residents of La Ciotat are called les Ciotadins or Ciotadines. Listen to the previous sentence in French via the link below.

Today's Word: LA CIOTAT
 
    : French town located in the Bouches-du-Rhône

from the Occitan "ciutat" -- ciutat is also a variety of grape. It seems Jean-Marc cannot get away from them!

Click here to listen to the following sentence

Voilà neuf jours que nous habitons à La Ciotat. Les habitants de La Ciotat sont appelés les Ciotadins ou Ciotadines.


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

by Kristi Espinasse

With a new life comes new habits.  Instead of typing this post indoors on a desktop computer in a quiet room, I am borrowing Jean-Marc's laptop which I've set up outside on our front terrasse. This change came when my old ordinateur slowed to a turtle's pace last week.  Bear with me as we adapt to more change--and many new surprises!

Collared dove pepper tree faux-poivrier
Friendly collared doves, or tourterelles, strut past Smokey here on the front terrace. More photos here.

Seated outside with an awkward keyboard and our golden retriever, Smokey, something else is smoking: a spiral mosquito disk which I have placed on the ground as a further deterrent (after covering my arms and legs with long sleeves and pants and lots and lots of oily lemon balm). We have been battling mosquitoes since moving in last Monday. We didn't notice the blood-suckers last March, when we signed the promise to buy this bungalow. And though we have no regrets for this property, we do regret our unwanted roommates and are arming ourselves and our home with a barrage of defense: plug-in units of mosquito repellent, essential oil candles, essence of eucalyptus...and we are searching for any sources of standing water (such as the potholders, or saucers, beneath our plants or the puddle that forms beside the garden hose or the leak beneath the kitchen sink. I hadn't thought of Smokey's water bowl. Does that count as a humid, welcoming environment for les moustiques?).

Biting pests are enough to put anybody on edge, so to help us relax and settle in we invited our first guests: our next neighbors to the west and to the north (we live on a corner). Neither of our voisins knew each other, though their families had owned these homes since the 50s. Slathered in lemon oil we toasted, raising our glass, as well, to the previous owner, Deborah, who joined us on that fourth night.

Two days later while sitting on the front porch I noticed a man peering into our front gate. On closer look it was one of our guests from our meet-the-neighbors night. I waved my hands and hurried over and opened the gate. Our neighbor to the west was a little embarrassed, explaining he was just out on his morning walk when he glanced over our gate. Little did he know my thoughts: nosy neighbors are a good thing! Here's to your morning walk and don't hesitate to check on us whenever you are out and about!

But the next day when I noticed an ominous figure staring past our front gate it wasn't our neighbor! As I looked up, the man startled and darted off....

A lot of people walk past our front gate on the way to the beach. And as they walk back to their cars we overhear a lot of meltdowns--young children who are not happy to return home and they are keen to let the world know of the injustice by their high-pitched screams which rattle my bedroom window behind which I am trying to nap. With so many meltdowns each day, during tourist season, we are putting double-vitrage windows high on our list of priorities.

Other than the tantrums, or crises de colère, we hear a lot from our quiet perch on the other side of the leafy fence. Because the tourists can't see us, they freely express themselves, with the help of a lot of cussing, fighting, and otherwise private conversations. My daughter Jackie and I shared notes as well as other observations about the neighborhood: You know that now that we live in the city we could be cambrioler...

Burgled? The thought brings me back to the mystery man at our front gate. Was he casing our property? Or was he peeping? Jean-Marc had another, more reassuring scenario:

He is probably another curious neighbor. In that case, take a good look at us! And if you see somebody else here please call les flics! We'll look out for you, too. In France, that's called Voisins Vigilants! Now if only someone could look out for these blood-suckers, the abominable moustiques!

Kristi porch hammock pepper tree
On the front terrasse, waiting for our guests.

la terrasse = patio, terrace
un ordinateur = computer 
un moustique = mosquito
un voisin = neighbor
double-vitrage = double-paned
la crise de colère = tantrum, angry outburst
les flics = cops
Olive1
My sister-in-law Cécile, welder, woodworker, superhero writes about her latest creation:

Jean Marc avait fait taillé les oliviers du mas des bruns et m´a proposé le bois;
Jean-Marc had the olive trees pruned at Mas des Brun and offered me the wood;

il a séché 2 ans et demi...
it dried for two and a half years...

le hasard a voulu que l´assemblage se fasse maintenant.
as chance would have it the assembly happened now.

un clin d´œil...une douceur , l´olivier a tellement de symboles: paix, réconciliation,victoire, force....
a twinkling...a gentleness, the olive tree has so many symboles: peace, reconciliation, victory, strength
 
Olive2
To inquire about this sentimental piece--contact Cécile via her website:
http://www.courbesetdiagonales.com/contact/

Sardinade
Thank you for the suggestions you have sent in, regarding what to name our home in La Ciotat. So far we have not picked a name. Jean-Marc likes Dolce Vita and, lately, Shalom, which means "peace" and is used as a Jewish greeting and farewell (Merriam-Webster). He picked up the term in this helpful devotional, which we began reading every morning during last year's storm.

BON COURAGE HOUSTON
This brings us to our readers and friends in Houston. Our thoughts are with you. I can't find the hearts on this foreign keyboard, so we are releasing a virtual sky full of coeurs from here in La Ciotat.  Bon courage, Houston.

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my post. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Sent with love and gratitude for all of your wonderful, insightful and creative stories and photographs. My life is enhanced reading your books and blogs beyond measure! May you continue to be blessed doing what you love and feel the gratitude of your devoted readers. Appreciation, hugs and love to you and your beautiful family!"
--Lisa


Bonjour de La Ciotat + La Remoulade

Yellow tile kitchen ingredients for ratatouille
Our bright yellow 1960s kitchen. The counter-top reaches the top of my leg. It will take some getting-used-to, as will this new life in La Ciotat.  So far so good!

la remoulade

    : a kind of sauce

Click here to listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words:
La sauce rémoulade s’accommode avec les crustacés, poissons, œufs mollets et le céleri. - Cuisine à la Française
Remoulade sauce goes well with shellfish, fish, soft-boiled eggs, and celeri.

 


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

"When Smokey Met Lili"

by Kristi Espinasse

We have landed! Jean-Marc drove us, just ahead of the moving truck, to La Ciotat early Monday morning. I had our coffee maker in my lap and Smokey in the back seat, surrounded by other essentials. 

Our new (1960s) home is located on a busy corner, with one-way streets on both sides and parking meters up and down the road. The challenge would be for our moving truck to make the angle into our driveway. Deborah, who formerly lived here, agreed to block at least one of the public parking spaces beside our gate and, as luck would have it, another space opened up the moment we drove up!

I hurried out of the car to greet Deborah with a kiss of both cheeks and ask for her help with an important introduction (dubbed by Jean-Marc "When Smokey Met Lili"). You may recall our new home comes with an old cat.  I attached Smokey to the front porch railing and sat on the steps beside our 8-year-old golden retriever, explaining to him the situation: "On est chez Lili. Elle habite ici..et nous aussi! Elle est gentille." As he sniffed and strained against his least, I repeated,"Doucement, Smokey...." 

Front terrace
  Still no photo of Lili. Here's one of Smokey on our front terrace.

Meanwhile, crouched beside Lili at the front gate, Deborah briefed Lili on the 3 strangers. Next, we traded places. "Bonjour Lili. On est très contente d'être ici, chez toi...." 

Releasing Smokey, we watched as he wandered around what would now be his domain too. Lili kept her distance, retreating to her post at the front gate where, camouflaged by the leafy laurier she watches the world go by. Later that day when my Dad called, I was chatting away when I glanced out the window and saw the two would-be adversaires cautiously approaching one another. Only, when I opened the door for a closer look, they quickly retreated.

By last night, day two, Lili wandered into the house--right past a sleeping Smokey. She was surely looking for her cat food, which was displaced  (to the window sill) after Smokey found it in the kitchen. That's no way to score brownie points with Lili!

After the animals settled so did our boxes and furniture, which fits nicely into this 140-meter-square home sweet home, on this 995 square meter lot. With less land to worry about we began our new life...by heading to the beach.

I leave you with a few highlights from our lunch at Mugel plage where you can swim in your underwear and where we ordered local fish (loup) with a delicious remoulade: a mayonnaise-based sauce with cornichons, capers, parsley, chives, tarragon, anchovy paste and more. The plat du jour also came with this versatile caponata, reminding me of our family reunion, or cousinade, in Sicily.

For dessert, there was a Fiadone - a Corsican lemon cheesecake made of  ewe's or goat's milk (but you can use ricotta or even cottage cheese...). Voilà, new sights and flavors in a new environment. I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming weeks. Thank you very much for reading.

Amicalement,
Kristi

Loup avec remoulade
The restaurant at Mugel beach, and that loup fish from Tamaris (near Toulon) with remoulade sauce. The people at the next table were from Italy. I had such an urge to ask them their thoughts about the caponata.

Jean-marc ordered a bottle of Domaine Pieracci rose

Jean-Marc, ordering a bottle of Domaine Pieracci rosé.

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my post. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Sent with love and gratitude for all of your wonderful, insightful and creative stories and photographs. My life is enhanced reading your books and blogs beyond measure! May you continue to be blessed doing what you love and feel the gratitude of your devoted readers. Appreciation, hugs and love to you and your beautiful family!"
--Lisa


Adieu Mas des Brun: Last dispatch from the vineyard & Ratatouille recipe!

Mas des brun hat cabanon sea view
Goodbye Mas des Brun. Thank you for 5 wonderful years!

FARNIENTE--from the Italian fare (to do) and niente (nothing). Farniente is a new word for me, and an old one when it comes to naming a home (Jean-Marc tells me many French people name their homes farniente). Help us find a name for our new place, submit your suggestion in the comments at the end of this post

SOUNDFILE

Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the following French words
Nous cherchons un nom pour notre future maison...nous pensons à "Farniente."
We are looking for a name for our future house...we're thinking about "Farniente."

Computer

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

Goodbye Mas des Brun

by Kristi Espinasse

I've just cleared off my desk to type this last dispatch from our former home sweet home. It is quiet here now, only a very dusty house and a few towers of boxes after Jean-Marc's family left, last night.

What a help they were! Jean-Marc's brother, Jacques, arrived, along with Mariem, his "coeur" (as he's called her for years) and her 11-year-old son Farès, who is a smiling participant in anything--even moving! My belle-soeur Cécile joined us, too, for phase one of our déménagement.

Forming a human chain, our family transferred the wood pile to the rented camion and emptied the entire contents of Jean-Marc's wine cellar bottle by bottle, case by case! As an array of dusty bouteilles traveled out of the cave
UP the path in front of our porch, our golden retriever was reminded to sors de là--or move it! 

Demenagement moving rental truck
Our former home. Read about that window above Smokey....

If Smokey is a little displaced so is his unbeknownst-to-him adversaire, Lili--the 12-year-old long-haired chat we've inherited along with our new (1960-built) house in La Ciotat. Though Lili has been entrusted to the neighbors, we all hope she'll just stay put. The question is, after 10 moves, will we stay put too?

SUBMIT A NAME FOR OUR NEW HOME
Talk to you again soon--from La Ciotat. Meantime, help me answer Cécile's, question: "What will you name your new house?" Submit a name in the comments box below (link at the end of this post).

FRENCH VOCABULARY
Mon Coeur = sweetheart
la belle-soeur = sister-in-law, step-sister
le déménagement = move, moving
le camion = truck
une bouteille = bottle
la cave = cellar, wine cellar
sors de là! = move out of the way!

Oven-roasted ratatouille
Batch after batch of oven-roasted ratatouille has sustained us during this move! My favorite way to make it is to chop up all the vegetables listed below and toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper (we ran out of herbs de Provence and won't buy more until we move!). Put the coated veggies on a tray or two and into the oven they go (at 180c or 350F, for one hour). Delicious with a roast chicken, all that leftover sanglier, or tossed in pasta, to name a few incarnations of this wonderful dish.

The veggies you'll need. Let me know if I've left something out...
2 eggplants
2 peppers
2 zucchini
lots of cherry tomatoes, whole or halved
2 carrots will add a wonderful roasted sweetness!
1 onion
1 potato
3 or 4 cloves of garlic

Tip: The more colorful the better. When our curb-side veggie stand had yellow tomatoes, I grabbed them. Ditto for the white eggplant and also the bright purple eggplant. Carrots are not part of the traditional ratatouille, but the color and taste sweetens everything! Do yourself a favor and make this easy dish whenever the ingredients are in season. It is so handy to have on hand, just like its Sicilian counterpart.

Previous recipe: the scrumptious La Tarte Tomate

Up the coast in la ciotat
On Monday we will complete phase 2 of our move, just up the coast to La Ciotat. A bientôt!

Santa maria restaurant-beach in la ciotat
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Merci infiniment!

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my post. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Sent with love and gratitude for all of your wonderful, insightful and creative stories and photographs. My life is enhanced reading your books and blogs beyond measure! May you continue to be blessed doing what you love and feel the gratitude of your devoted readers. Appreciation, hugs and love to you and your beautiful family!"
--Lisa


Finally, Some News: We are now squatters...

Farmhouse-in-the-60s
These are now the good old days. Yesterday we drove 2 hours north, to the notary's office, to meet 9 people involved in our complicated, 4-hour transfer of property. Ça y est! We've sold our home and vineyard! We move on August 21st... (Photo by the previous previous owners of this stone mas, the Fraser and Moss family. Thank you, Maggie and Michael, for selling us your home in August of 2012 and for all you did to help us along the way. Thanks especially for your support in turning this page.).

un grigri

    : a signature, a scribbles signature

Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence in French

Click here

Hier, nous sommes allés à Sarrians, pour faire plein de petits grigris chez le Notaire pour signer la vente de notre vignoble.
Yesterday we went to Sarrians, to do a lot of signatures at the notary's to approve the sale of our vineyard.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

"Holy Sow! What Now?"

    by Kristin Espinasse


In two weeks we will wake up in La Ciotat, this whole tender histoire behind us. I won't go into the story of 5 thrilling, beautiful, and difficult years at our made from scratch vineyard, because I have a sanglier in the oven and boxes to pack!

While clearing the cellier, that pig was one of the surprises we encountered (they don't mention wild boars in ANY of those decluttering articles I've been reading). The giant gigot (one of many given to us over the years by a local chasseur) was discovered in the congélateur, followed by a shuddering "Holy Sow! What now?"

My conscience whispered, "To toss it is to let that pig die in vain!"

Common sense barked, "Just cook it!"

Just cook it? For 4 hours--during France's heatwave? Surely that was NOT the voice of reason speaking!

Along with all the other moving-houses chaos in my mind, I've been preoccupied about just how we'll eat that giant hairy cuisse. Until I remembered the new owners of this house are coming by tomorrow night. I guess we won't be offering them a humble slice of We-can't-cook-cuz-we're packing Pizza!

Mon Dieu. The new owners of this house.... That makes us squatters! Nothing but two sweaty squatters cooking a giant pig in somebody else's oven. A further irony is that neither Jean-Marc nor I want to eat that poor beast!

This episode caused us to re-think our need for a 6-drawer freezer and other follies of consumption and accumulation we are currently dealing with. May we learn from our mistakes. Can you, dear reader, relate?


FRENCH VOCABULARY

le grigri = signature  (slang)  
le sanglier = wild boar
le cellier = pantry, larder, storeroom, cellar
le gigot = leg, thigh
le congélateur = freezer
le chasseur = hunter
la cuisse = leg and thigh
Cuisse sanglier wild boar thigh
One great joy of living here at the vineyard has been this kitchen window, where our golden retriever, Smokey, hangs out while I cook. More memories from our vineyard here.

TABLECLOTH, Provence-themed - see a selection.

LAGUIOLE  steak knives are for sale in many of the local French market stands. Order here.

FRENCH KITCHEN TOWELS by Garnier-Thiebaut. Order here.

Espadrilles -  seen them everywhere in the south of France and elsewhere! Click here.

THE PARIS PEACE T-shirt - "so many people have stopped to ask me where I got it" -Betty. Click here


Cookbook-tarte-tomate-cerise

La Tarte Tomate. Here's that Tomato Tart recipe you keep asking for this time of year! Click here

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my post. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Sent with love and gratitude for all of your wonderful, insightful and creative stories and photographs. My life is enhanced reading your books and blogs beyond measure! May you continue to be blessed doing what you love and feel the gratitude of your devoted readers. Appreciation, hugs and love to you and your beautiful family!"
--Lisa


Superhero in French & What SDF stands for

Les dents de la mer jaws spielberg
If there were sharks near our Mediterranean beach, I'd want to swim with my sister-in-law. She's a superhero--Batwoman and Wonder Woman combined! Read on....

SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe)

    : "without permanent home", homeless

Sans Domicile Fixe--Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the following French:


Les personnes sans-abri, sans domicile fixe, sans logis ou itinérants, anciennement qualifiées de clochards ou vagabonds, à ne pas confondre avec les mendiants, sont des personnes qui résident et dorment dans des lieux non prévus pour l'habitation tels que cave, parking, voiture, entrepôt et bâtiment technique, parties communes d’un immeuble d’habitation, chantiers, métro, gare, rue, terrain vague, etc. -Wikipedia

Homeless people, people without permanent homes, people without lodging, or itinerants, formerly referred to as tramps or vagrants, not to be confused with beggars, are people who live and sleep in places not intended for housing such as a cellar, a car park, a car, a warehouse and a technical building, common parts of a residential building, a building site, a metro, a railway station, a street, a vacant lot, etc.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

    by Kristi Espinasse

Last night, after helping my mother-in-law with her paperwork, my frangine came to visit us. At 9:30 pm, the heatwave was only beginning to lift, so Jean-Marc, Cécile, and I headed to the beach for a swim after dark.

We were very lucky to find parking in Les Lecques--a tourist hot-spot in August. Grabbing our towels we crossed over the one-way street that runs through the small town, and joined the throng along the boardwalk. Kids, dogs, lovers, grandmas...we folded into the lively lane of pedestrians and were carried down the beachfront until we reached some steps and exited la foule.

The light along the boardwalk faded out to the beach, where a few other groups of people could barely be seen. We dropped our towels, stepped out of our cutoffs and threw off our T-shirts to reveal a hairy chest (Jean-Marc), pale skin (me) and tattoos from biceps to knees (my sister-in-law, with the spiked, platinum hair).

"Remember Jaws?" I said to my belle-soeur, snickering as we waded out into the sea.

"Les Dents de la Mer..." my frangine remembered the film that scared the wits out of Americans--and Frenchies--alike. Knowing full well the biggest fish in the bay were dolphins (spotted from time to time off the coast of La Ciotat or Cassis or Marseilles) we were free to joke about sharks.

I've never swam in the sea at night and could not see past the water's surface to the fish swimming around my feet (a favorite sight during our morning baignades). So I turned my attention away from the murky depths and looked back to the lighted boardwalk, enjoying the sea's perspective on the lively flow of people, while hearing the boom boom boom of a band "the city probably got for free," according to Jean-Marc. "Eighties tunes," my sister-in-law remarked.

Fully cooled down, we swam back to the beach to dry off before heading for ice cream. I pulled on my shorts over my wet one-piece, while my sister-in-law took off her two-piece and put on dry sous-vêtements. When Cécile stepped into her culottes a metallic glimmer caught my eye and I turned to see her wearing Wonder Woman briefs.

She is the coolest.

On the way to get ice cream Cécile told me about a homeless woman and baby who she often encounters on the way to her workshop. "I sometimes give her money. Lately, especially along the cement sidewalk where she sits, it's been so hot. So I've given her water and fruit."

Cécile continued:

Recently, I asked if she was okay? Did she need social assistance? Where was it she was living? She indicated a nearby squat--a very dirty and horrible place which I have seen. I asked her which bus she took and she said 38. That was my bus! A few days later I saw her on the bus, sitting with her cousin who spoke less French than she (basically no French!). The baby was filthy.


I walked over to talk to her. Did she and her cousin want to come to my apartment to take a shower?

The young women and the baby took showers and when the cousin saw the mother walk out of the shower smelling like roses, she realized there was shampoo and feared she'd missed her chance. I told her to go ahead and take another shower! I don't know how long it had been since they last washed....

Listening to my frangine's story, I wondered if I would have had the reflex to inquire about a street beggar's well-being. It's easy to toss a coin into a cup, but would you go as far as to ask, Are things OK with you? How are you doing, really? Would I have had the courage to encourage two young strangers (three, not forgetting the baby) to come into my home for a shower?

While I do not know the answer, one thing is sure: those who have walked a mile in a squatter's shoes would have had the courage to reach out.

Postnote: I may have gotten the underwear wrong. Not wanting to stare at my sister-in-law, I only got a glimpse of what looked to be Wonder Woman's insignia--but those could have been bat wings. BatWoman or Wonderwoman--either way, my sister-in-law is a superhero.


***
Note: in the story I refer to my sister-in-law as ma frangine. But Cécile is really Jean-Marc's frangine (sister).
More about ma frangine, Cécile, here. And if ever you are in Aix-en-Provence, do stop in to the shop (address below) that has a sample of her handmade works.

FRENCH VOCABULARY
la frangine = sister
la foule = the masses of people
la belle-soeur = sister-in-law
la baignade = swimming
les sous-vêtements = underwear, underclothing
la culotte = panties

Tabouret

Creatures de provence

 

 

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my post. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Sent with love and gratitude for all of your wonderful, insightful and creative stories and photographs. My life is enhanced reading your books and blogs beyond measure! May you continue to be blessed doing what you love and feel the gratitude of your devoted readers. Appreciation, hugs and love to you and your beautiful family!"
--Lisa


New Month, New Life? We're Packing! On Fait des Cartons!

Jules in roussillon
"Let every belonging see the light" -- an epiphany I had while packing up my Mom's paintings. (photo of my Mom taken in Roussillon, around 2010)

"faire des cartons"

     : to pack boxes

Click here for today's soundfile:
On fait des cartons mais, surtout, on se débarrasse de tout ce qui ne sert plus.
We are packing boxes but, especially, we are getting rid of what no longer serves.


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

From here on out whatever we have in our home should be living! It doesn't have to have a heartbeat, but it should not be crammed under a bed, pushed to the back of a closet, or flung into the storage room--that horrible magnet for homeless items (and spiders and mice).

We have begun packing in anticipation for our move to La Ciotat. We've not yet signed the final papers, but we are so close we can taste it. Looking around our jam-packed cellier, I wonder if we can still taste what's in all those jars? Do I take the conserves with us? (Didn't I lug them here from the last move, 5 years ago? I lugged a lot of things here 5 years ago, and they haven't served since!).

Rule No 1, when you become hesitant during a packing session move on to another item. My eyes fix on my Mom's oil paintings. What are they doing in the storage room? OK. This morning you are going to gather all of Mama Jules's paintings and deal with them....


Jules bouqet

Mom's paintings are partout. In the guestroom, in the kitchen, in the entry--but mostly in the dusty storage area besides the pétanque court. I assign Jean-Marc the job of bringing all the toiles up to the house, and brace myself for the job I have been putting off for so long: Choosing which ones to keep.

The works are large and many of them are sticking together from the heat. A first wave of guilt sets in. Rule No 2: don't let emotions slow you down! I begin dusting off Mom's paintings, and soon realize the vacuum (with brush attachment) will work better. When the aspirateur runs out of charge, I remember an astuce from the artist herself....Taking the oil paintings outside, I lean them against a sturdy row of lavender and turn on the garden hose!

Jules still life

It's 32 degrees out (in the 80s) and the water feels good. But will it feel good to Mom's oil paintings? I just have to trust her (as I watch her, in my mind, cleaning all her artwork in her bikini--carefree and just a little bit destructrice. Focusing in on one of Mom's altered paintings, I now see how sabotage has its place in creation).

I leave Mom's oeuvres to dry in the sun, along with the laundry and all my pre-conceived notions. And when it's time to collect Mom's paintings and sort them by size, I have the chance to see her art for the first time in years.

Jules art deco
Washing down those canvases a few droplets of water must have landed in my own eyes, clearing my vision in time to appreciate an artist's travail. I break Rule One and allow myself to linger on something I am supposed to be packing away....

By the way, in my new life I do not want to pack away anything!

"Everything in our next home will be alive!" I say to Jean-Marc, an innocent bystander who happens to be passing through during my epiphany. "Nothing should be stored away--dead in a corner, on a shelf, under the bed!"

"D'accord ma chérie," my husband says, pouring some ice tea before heading back out to pack up his wine cellar.

My eyes and my heart (Rule No. 2, broken!) pour over Mom's work. The dark  jewel tones were never right for our farmhouse with its low ceilings and narrow rooms (preconceived notions!). Suddenly each painting is finding a home in our new place as I begin to picture this one in the kitchen, this one in our bedroom, this one in the entry....

A prolific painter at times, there are oil scenes on the back of boards, cardboard flaps, paper (Mom's even painted over the covers of magazines).... Looking closely I see a story of our vineyard life. From the laundry line to Smokey bounding through the vines, Mom has documented everything!

Jean-Marc is back for more iced tea (it takes gallons of thé glacé to pack boxes during a heatwave!). "Why don't you organize a vernissage? You could sell some of your Mom's paintings.

Sell them? The panic I felt earlier over which ones to keep... took a funny new twist: which ones to part with? As I mull over that question, I will try to stick to a new golden rule when we move in to our new house: No more storage. Let every belonging see the light! 

(And if you don't long for it, don't keep it.)


FRENCH VOCABULARY
faire des cartons = to pack boxes
le cellier = storeroom
partout = everywhere
la toile = painting (also cloth, linen canvas)
déstructrice = destructive
une astuce = handy tip, trick
un oeuvre = works (art)
un travail = work
d'accord, ma chérie = ok, my dear
le thé glace = iced tea 
le vernissage = art exposition

T-Shirt I Don't Need Therapy I Just Need to Go to France

La Roche-Posay sunscreen - rated top by Consumer Reports

French Macaroons dish towels, whimsy for your kitchen

Harney & Sons black tea, Paris - change up your iced tea...

Jules fish unfinished
Some of Mom's painting are unfinished. "Just toss them all together and I will sand them down. It'll be a new canvas to work on!" Mom enthuses. (I'm glad I'm the one dealing with the artwork. Now to hide the sandpaper!)

Tango
Mom used Jean-Marc as her model for her "Tango" painting, below.

Tango-full-size

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