Monthly Archives: October 2007

Poor Old Nicolas or Clever Nicolas?

Turns out Cecilia Sarkozy is not such an “enfant de la patrie” after all…

It’s now officially official. The Elysee announced yesterday that Nicolas and Cecilia were indeed getting a separation, and this was amended to “divorce” later in the day.

The news broke on the Nations’ leading radio station Europe 1, while Franck and I were dashing up to Dijon to price out bathtubs and tiles for our upcoming house renovations which start in three weeks (just a heartfelt aside here – Holy $#@! I do not feel ready).

Even before the announcement, yesterday was shaping up to be a newsworthy day here in France due to a massive transit strike which halted trains, metros, and RER’s across the country. The civil servants were protesting the possibility that they may no longer being able to retire at an earlier age than everyone else.

When the female journalist on Europe 1 interrupted the debate about the transit strike that we were listening to in order to break the news of Nicolas’ divorce, one of the debaters – the one representing the civil servants, natch – threw a hissy fit and blasted her for interrupting their all-important debate with such a trivial piece of information that in his opinion couldn’t legitimately be classified as “news”. He also lambasted Nicolas for purposely timing the announcement to overshadow the strike.

The journalist beat a hasty retreat, and we didn’t hear anything further about the presidential non-couple until Laurent Ruquier’s comedy “drive time” show when we were driving back to Beaune to pick up the girls from school.

One of his female guests applauded the divorce, saying that it not only proves France is now a modern country, but it also confirms her love for Cecilia. In the guest’s words, Cecilia has proved herself to be a woman who is “incapable de faire semblant“, or incapable of pretending that everything is fine when it isn’t. I have to say that with all those bland, cardboard political spouses who abound in most countries, I agree.

Presidential "Scandale"…Not

Scandale! It looks as though Nicolas Sarkozy, otherwise known as Monsieur Le President, and his wife Cecilia are finally making their separation official.

There have been rumblings that this was in the offing for the past several weeks but, this being France, there is nothing about it in either the papers or the TV news. The reason for this is that any reputable French journalist would see it as below them to report on the private lives of politicians. Journalism is one thing, gossip another, and in their opinion the two do not intersect.

France’s journalists prefer to report on important (but much more boring in my opinion – I guess I’m not completely French-ified yet) things such as reforms in the pension system and the Universities. For this reason, I’m pretty certain that people in the US and the UK are better informed about Sarkozy’s marriage then we are here in “l’hexagone“. The little we do hear is brought to us as simple gossip by friends and neighbours. How they are informed has always remained a mystery to me (an out-of-country secret source perhaps?)

Today I heard through Franck, who heard from someone at school, that the courts in Paris passed an official order making the Sarkozy separation official and legal. The consensus seems to be that this is good thing as everyone has noticed Nicolas looking rather strained of late. This has been widely chalked up by the populous to the inherent incompatibility of having to make Cecilia and the French nation happy at the same time.

Cecilia has never been one of those meek “stand-by-your-man” women. You may recall that during the summer before the election she ran off with a New York Sports Journalist for a few months. In my opinion she epitomizes a French woman; private, self-contained, sexually liberated, enigmatic, and utterly unconcerned about public opinion.

There was an item in the news about Cecilia not too long ago during Sarkozy’s first visit to the US. She begged off an official State luncheon with the Bush couple with the excuse that she was ill with strep throat. Journalists then snapped her and a few of her children in a nearby shopping mall, shopping and looking the picture of health while her husband was lunching with Laura and George. This is a woman who does what she wants and nobody, including the President of the United States, will sway her otherwise.

We did hear a tiny bit about this incident over here in France, but only in as far as it was a major setback for diplomatic relations between France and the US; hypothesise in regards to the state of the Sarkozy marriage were not bandied about. To be frank, in the opinion of most French the incident actually elevated Cecilia’s worth in their eyes. Nobody values a shit disturber par excellence like they do, and they also saw Cecilia as a much-needed counterweight to her husband, who most of the French view as being far too much at the beck and call of Bush.

In any case, I’ll be sure to keep you informed of the latest gossip, even though outside of France you will undoubtedly be hearing more than I will here in Burgundy. Maybe you can keep me informed as well!

I’m also adding, thanks to my Aunt Sharon who sent it to me, a link to a hilarious (in my opinion) Utube clip of Bill Maher in excellent auto-rant mode re: the current US administration’s constant belittling of all things French. If the link doesn’t work from my blog, you can always cut and paste it in your Internet browser.

***WARNING***Probably best to abstain if you are either a Republican and / or a Bush supporter.

For the rest of you, enjoy!

2 vs. 3 – Part I

I’ve been thinking a lot about family size these days, and more and more I am convinced that living here in France is partially responsible for my decision (ok, Franck had some say in it too) to have a third child.

Not completely, mind you. I came from a family of three girls and have always been drawn to families with three or more children. There is something asymmetrical and chaotic about them that reflects how I view myself and my life. The traditional nuclear family life has a neatness about it that seems ill-adapted to yours truly. I don’t think there has ever been anything neat about me, and anyone who has ever shared a meal with me and watched me slop half of it down my front can readily attest to this.

I had actually planned on having a third baby quite quickly after Camille, but..well…I’ll get to that in a bit…You see, my firstborn Charlotte was a phenomenally easy baby – she came out all relaxed with her limbs flung out akimbo and just continued on her mellow way. We dragged her on countless ferry rides, along to numerous business meetings, and out to adult restaurants and she just gurgled and smiled at everyone.

Franck and I patted ourselves on the back, of course, and concluded that Charlotte’s zen nature could mainly be chocked up to our superior parenting skills. You get the baby you deserve we figured.

Then came Camille.

To be continued…

Charlotte’s take on "La Fete de la Patate"

I just downloaded the photo card from Charlotte’s camera this morning from our weekend jaunt to La Fete de La Patate. I always love looking through her photos because, not only does she have a very good eye in my (of course) unbiased opinion, but they are also completely different than the photos an adult would take. They are un-posed, a bit fly-by-night, and generally pretty close to the ground.

Here are a few of my faves;

The sign that organizes parking for potato pick-up, a central feature of the event.

One of the many wheelbarrows used for said potato pick-up.

And last but not least Charlotte’s take on the amazing discovery that there is a race of potatoes named after her!

La Fete de la Patate

We were all grumpy on Sunday. It was probably a combination of France’s loss in the World Cup the night before, a huge pile of laundry to do and, as for me, the fact that my stomach has popped out over the last 48 hours, making me go from looking “not-sure-if-she’s-pregnant” to “shouldn’t-she-be-giving-birth-sometime-soon”? I wouldn’t have minded this except for the fact that I could now fit into only one pair of pants, and they were dirty.

Anyway, chez Germain we were all grumbling away in our respective corners when Franck remembered a flyer that he had picked up at the Beaune market on Saturday morning. It had advertised the “Fete de la Patate” (Potato Festival) in a tiny village just outside of BlignysurOuche. The flyer said it went until 7:00pm, but it was already 5:00pm by the time we read it over.

There’ll be nobody there,” I said, not quite ready to be cheered up that easily.

But the girls loved the idea, so they kitted themselves out with their wallets, sunglasses, and backpacks and in five minutes were on the doorstep, ready for adventure.

“It’ll be a nice drive anyway,” Franck said soothingly. “And at least it will get us out of the house.”
It was a golden Fall afternoon and the scenery on the half hour drive through the Vallee de l’Ouche – scarlet and yellow vineyards, green fields dotted with lazing Charolais cattle, and sleepy little stone villages – did cheer me up quite a bit. However, I was still skeptical that there would be a “Fete de la Patate” by the time we got there.

How wrong I was! When we got to the minuscule village of Bessey-la-Cour cars were parked higgledypiggeldy all over the place, and all we had to do was follow the stream of people walking uphill past the church.

As it turned out, La Fete de la Patate was still going strong.

Here was our first glimpse of all the potatoes and people. It soon became clear that there was a lot of potato purchasing going on, and because this is Sunday in France, all in good humour of course.

But that was not all! There was also freshly cut and fried French fries which we all munched on most happily while deciding what we were going to do next. As you can see below although Franck really liked the fries, he doesn’t particularly like having his photo taken.

Apparently we had missed the Puree and Frites eating contests at 4:00pm, where a girl was crowned “Reine de la Puree” because she was the fastest at eating 1 kilo of mashed potatoes without using her hands. The boy who did the same with french fries was crowned the “Roi des Frites“. However, this didn’t mean there wasn’t any fun stuff to do. The girls had scoped a “Peche a la Ligne” game going on, except in this case it was a “Patate a la Ligne” game as you had to catch a potato with your fishing rod.
They caught a lot of potatoes and won lots of prizes and Camille’s favorite was a fluorescent orange flute that she proceeded to play for the rest of the afternoon.
There was also a game where you put on a wonky pair of glasses and then try to throw potatoes in different sized buckets

The girls were also fascinated by the huge piles of potatoes, and Charlotte was amazed to find that there was a potato names after her (and no, I didn’t disillusion her).

Camille was disappointed that there was no potatoes named after her but I said the ones called “Les Cheris” (sweethearts) could be referring to her. Besides, as you can see she was much consoled by her orange flute.

Everyone was warm and friendly, and you didn’t need to know anyone to be welcomed in all the games and activities or to strike up a conversation with the person next to you. To finish off our afternoon we decided to all get a waffle (and trust me, if you’ve never tasted a waffle made at one of these french food events, you’ve never really tasted a proper waffle. They were crunchy on the outside, feather soft and fluffy in the inside, with icing sugar sprinkled on top). The four of us ambled back to our car munching on our waffles (blessedly free of flute music while Camille ate), with the bag of Pompadour potatoes we had bought, very happy with how our Sunday had turned out.

There are these kind of food festivals all over Burgundy and France all year long – some celebrating andouillettes, another blackcurrants, and yet another mushrooms. If you happen to find one never hesitate (like I did) to go. There is always great food, good wine, and friendly people on hand. It was almost seven o’clock when we left, and La Fete de la Patate was still going strong.

Those Damn English

A nation devastated. Sebastien Chabal, the Neanderthal like French player who always looks like he’s stepped straight out of a “Lord of The Rings” movie, had to be helped off the field, weeping, by his fellow players. The Brits won 14-9 thanks in large part to Jonny Wilkinson’s gilded foot, but up until the last few minutes Les Bleus had been in the lead (albeit by one point).

It wasn’t a particularly pretty game; it was a scrabble as is so often the case with the French and their arch-nemesis. And we lost…even though I have a french passport, truth be told it is almost exclusively British and Scottish blood running through my veins. Nevertheless, I think I can honestly say I felt as devastated as the hundreds of thousands (probably millions actually) of my compatriots who also witnessed France’s undoing. It would have been so glorious…eh merde.

As Martial, Franck’s friend and biking buddy lamented when I opened the door to him this morning, “Quelle triste journee.”

More About Wine Cellars

There just so happens to be another wine cellar on rue Rousseau Deslandes that is not only about thirty times the size of our little one, but which has also been renovated to jaw-dropping magnificence. Here is what we would like our wine cellar to look like (more or less) in microcosm when it’s all said and done.

And this…

And this…God, how I would love to have that much good wine in ours…*sigh…daydream*

And this…

I alway find it amazing to reflect on how there is another city of wine cellars beneath the city of Beaune – some stunning like our neighbour’s and some rather grim, like ours at the moment.

Of course we’ve been mulling over ideas of what to do with our cellar when all the work is done. We’ll be storing some of our own wine there, as everything stored in our home cellar has an alarmingly short life expectancy due to Franck’s propensity for living in the moment and both of us for loving wine – though I must say I have been blameless on the consumption front lately.

We’ll also be storing wine for our family: my Dad, my two sisters and my two brother-in-laws.

We could rent some of the space out to a Beaune winemaker as cellar space in downtown Beaune is always at a premium. However, I think what we’re going to try first is renting out rack space to our guests and other interested parties who would like to store their wine in Beaune. We are welcoming more and more repeat guests who fall in love with Burgundy and keep coming back (special people who are on the same wavelength as me, bien sur). Many of them are wine-lovers and of course given the wine-purchasing opportunities around here want to buy more wine than they can take home with them. They are very keen to leave some behind to age for their next visit, or the one after that, or the one after that…Although we haven’t figured out all the nitty-gritty details yet, we already have two groups of guests who have left wine with us and which we are going to ferret down into the cellar as soon as it is completed.

Also, we’d like the cellar to be available to our guests for winetastings and apertifs so that they can quaff the local production in one of the most authentic settings possible in Burgundy. I’m not sure exactly how this is going to work either, but I really like the idea and I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

And Now Let’s Talk About Wine Cellars For a Change…

OK, OK, for all you wine enthusiasts and / or men out there who would really rather read something non-pregnancy-related, I have promised myself to keep up with posts about Other Things such as renovations, wine, restaurants, and other tidbits of life here in Burgundy. You’ll still be reading (or skipping over) frequent posts about being en cloque in France, but I promise to try and see beyond babies and pregnancy at least a couple of times a week. Heck, with MAJOR renos starting at our own house in three weeks and our wine cellar in Beaune even sooner than that, I’ll soon have no choice.

So let’s chat a little about wine cellars, called caves here in France, shall we? This is a very timely topic as work is starting next week on the wine cave we bought underneath our apartment in Beaune at #19 rue Rousseau Deslandes. We had always lusted after our own proper wine cellar somewhere here in Burgundy, but as it turned out we bought ours as a bit of an afterthought.

We got along well with the owner of the building when we were in the throes of price negotiations for Le Relais du Vieux Beaune. At one of our last meetings he said to us, “by the way, I have this cave underneath the building that I don’t know what to do with, would you be interested?”

We definitely were, especially for the ridiculously low price he gave it to us for which more or less amounted to him throwing the wine cellar into the bargain. He took Franck for a look and as it turned out this was a particularly old and interesting cellar which boated vaulted ceilings and a central pillar (a coveted item in Beaune wine cellar circles).

Granted, our cellar was in dire shape when we bought it – as was pretty much every piece of real estate Franck and I have ever purchased. And if you think I’m exaggerating, take a gander of a photo of what it looks like as of today;

Very fetching. That lovely decaying pile of garbage in the corner, left by the tradesmen when they renovated the building two years ago, is a particularly decorative element in my opinion. To sum it up, the cellar at the moment is dirty, dark, grungy, and a very appealing home indeed if you happen to be a spider.

However, it does, as I mentioned, have some very nice features such as the ancient stone steps leading down into the cellar and that central pillar which you can see half of on your right.

And then again here on your left. It also has a very constant temperature – Franck went down twice a day for a two week period to take temperature readings and there is almost no variation which is exactly what one wants for the proper aging of wine. The cellar is also not overly mouldy or smelly, which means it naturally has good air flow. However, to make the most of all these attributes, here’s what still needs to be done;

1. Dig down about 20 cm so that we have more ceiling height

2. Put drainage around edges

3. Put pea gravel on floor (ideal for cellars as assists in air circulation and drainage)

4. scrape off grime and old stucco on ceiling vaults (Franck is going to do this – a big and VERY dirty job)

5. Put railing along stairs so our guests (or us) don’t take a header after a decadent winetasting

6. Put in electricity and install lights that highlight pillar and vaulted ceilings

7. Install wine racks

And what are we doing all this for, you may ask? Well, I’ll go into that in tomorrow’s post, as well as show some pics of what we would like our cellar to look like when all is said and done.

Mahault (with a "l") Buffet

We went and had our first visit with Mahault Buffet, soon-to-be Franck’s god-daughter yesterday afternoon. As you can see, she is tiny and perfect and gorgeous.

As soon as her maman Charlotte fed her I of course wanted a little hold.

The glow-worm kicked the entire time – eager to join its future friend or jealous, I wasn’t quite sure.

And here is Franck with his future god-daughter; nothing like a man tenderly holding a baby…*sigh*

And here she is in her bassinet when we reluctantly relinquished her. Their hospital room has a lovely view out the the vineyards surrounding Beaune – she is a Burgundian baby if there ever was one.

It turns out “Mahault“, a Burgundian name from the Middle Ages that is an older variation of “Mathilde” and pronounced “Ma-O” (long “O”) is spelt with an “l”. Charlotte’s husband Marco just discovered this yesterday morning but now with a lot of scrambling with the Vital Statistics people, they have officially changed the spelling to “Mahault“, as it should be.

Holding her makes me feel very conflicted – the impatient part of me wants my baby right away (although at 5 months gestation, this would not be a good idea) and the anxious part of me wants to keep the glow-worm safe in my stomach forever. Judging from the size of Charlotte and Camille now however, this would not be a particularly good idea either. In any case, it makes me very, very happy to think that if all goes well I will be holding a newborn of my own soon.

The Glow-Worm decides to make his / her presence known

Although I have been feeling baby#3 move for quite some time now, last night was the first time anyone besides me felt the little glow-worm.

I have been calling my babe “the glow-worm” to myself ever since my first ultrasound at around 7 weeks (can’t get over how thorough the pre-natal care has been in France so far – in Canada we only get one measly ultrasound). During my first few weeks of being en cloque as the French call it, I had been reading Martin Gilbert’s superb biography of Winston Churchill and was struck by a phrase of Churchill’s from the evening when he first met his future wife Clementine at a posh dinner party. Mocking his own lack of grace and general social ineptitude he declared cheerfully, “Well, I may be a worm, but I do believe I am a glow-worm!”

There was something so self-deprecating yet gloriously upbeat about Winston’s expression that it wedged itself in my mind for good. So when our little creation showed up only as a minuscule, glowing tadpole on the ultrasound screen, but with a booming heartbeat that seemed to fill up the little room, my first thought was, “Look at our glow-worm!”

I have been feeling the glow-worm kick and punch and somersault for quite some time now. However, being the stubborn little thing he / she is each time I ran over to whoever was in the vicinity and put their hand on where the glow-worm had just given me a mighty kick declaring, “You’re really going to feel the baby this time!” the glow-worm would go on strike effective immediately. Just for the record I’m blaming those uncooperative french genes.

But last night as we were falling asleep Franck slid his hand over my stomach and the glow-worm obliged us with several well-placed kicks just underneath his hand.

Just like Winston, our glow-worm only comes around when he / she’s good and ready.