Monthly Archives: November 2007

Renos at La Maison des Chaumes

Franck and I took our daily trip up to our house in Villers-la-Faye, baptised some time ago as La Maison des Chaumes, which is now getting built up after being largely demolished over the past three weeks.

Do you like our new front door? I love it. It lets in the light and has a nice view out to the lovely old trees across the street.

The tiling guy has taken over this week, and has banished everyone else from the house until he’s finished. I have learned over the course of several reno jobs that laying tile is one of the trickiest trades out there. There is nothing worse than a bad tiling job, but our tiler obviously knows his stuff.

He’s doing a diagonal pattern that was very tricky to adapt to the angles of the house, and he laid the orange stuff to harmonize the floor levels which were all over the place. It has a proper name but I think of it as “that orange stuff on the floor”.

That big tarp covered hole is where our stairs would go if we ever find the money to renovate the upstairs – therefore not anytime soon unless we win the Euromillions lottery. Would help if we actually played.

Here’s the flow of the tile between the kitchen and living room, where we punched a big ‘ole hole in the wall, a supporting wall at that, but (keeping fingers crossed) so far the house hasn’t come tumbling down. Have to reiterate how thrilled I am with the tiling job. We’re using the smaller version of the Portuguese tiles we installed in La Maison de la Vieille Vigne and love.

And, mon dieu, here is that nit-picky seven months pregnant work supervisor, freely dispensing her opinions as usual . Jeesh, not her again…

Garcon our Fille Part III

Re: my mother in law’s insistence that the baby I am carrying IS A BOY because SHE WANTS it to be a boy…

Now that I think of it this isn’t a uniquely French phenomenon. Both my Canadian grandmothers made no bones about preferring their grandsons, and my paternal grandmother cried bitter tears of disappointment every time another one of us Bradbury girls was born (count ’em – three). Must have been lovely for my mother, but I digress…

As for me, I am convinced the glow-worm is a girl.

I come from a family of three girls, Franck and I have made two lovely ones so far…I figure we’re sort of experts at it, so why not capitalize on our expertise? I honestly think I would keel over from shock – well, I’ll most likely already be lying down on the surgical table when I find out, so I guess I will only be able to mentally keel over – if the glow-worm turns out to be a boy.

“So are you finally going to give Franck a son this time?” asked Franck’s good friend Nicolas during our last trip to Paris (yes, french men are known for their well-honed sense of political correctness).

“I don’t think I know how to make boys,” I answered honestly.

Nicolas laughed.

“I’m serious,” I said.

At every ultrasound Franck and I have told the doctor we don’t want to know the gender. My OB is not really the laughing type – he’s more like the silk-foulard wearing aristocrat type – but he does say with his own brand of exasperated amusement, “Do not worry. I am not going to tell you.”

Franck and I are probably so anxious to remind him because when I was pregnant with Camille, my doctor swung into the room after my ultrasound and exclaimed, “Oh! You’re having another little girl! Isn’t that wonderful!? My daughters are so close and it’s so much fun-“

“Actually, we didn’t ask to know the baby’s gender,” I interrupted.

There was a flustered rustling of the files in her arms. “Oh my goodness, I must have gotten you confused with the patient in the next room. Sorry!”

During my seventh month ultrasound two days ago, however, my suave french OB, for all his smug mocking of our frequent reminders that we wanted to maintain the mystery, seemed to experience a memory blip.

While taking his measurements, he positioned the ultrasound wand directly between the glow-worm’s little legs.

“You know what the gender is, n’estce pas?” he asked, clearly assuming we did.

Non!” Franck cried. “Remember? We don’t want to know.”

My OB promptly sent the ultrasound wand flying off away from that part of the baby’s anatomy.

As I had nothing else to do at that moment but lie back and peer at the screen (you remain stark naked during ultrasounds in France, so let me assure you that any distraction is welcomed most heartily) I had a good look during the confusion. Let me just say that I didn’t see anything at all that would counter my hunch that the glow-worm is a girl.

But then again, do take this with a grain of salt; I was sure for both Charlotte and Camille that I had seen something (in retrospect probably their umbilical cords) and was convinced that they were both boys. I guess you could conclude from this that my ultrasound reading technique is not quite 100%.

So the mystery will continue for two more months; I am just fine with that.

Excavation a Success, and no Jail Sentences Yet.

Nameless tradesman with three month suspended prison sentence, his workers, and as of yesterday morning, Franck, have been going at the earthen floor of the cave (cellar) under Le Relais du Vieux Beaune something fierce.

We wanted to dig it out at least 30cm so that we had enough head room under the vaulted ceilings. At first the masons decided only to dig out about 17cm, professing that there was “too much rock” to go any further.

Franck, never one to take “no” for an answer, decided the best way to convince them otherwise was to go down himself armed with his trusty shovel and pick and show them that it was indeed possible.

As the tradesmen’s manly pride could not allow Franck to outwork them, it has been a shoveling, picking, hauling free-for-all ever since. Now we have more than our 30 cm dug out as you can see in the photo above (Franck figures we got about 35 cm). He was quite a sight every time he ventured upstairs to the apartment – hair sticking straight up with sweat, breathing hard, and covered from head to toe in fragrant Burgundy dirt.

Said dirt had to be dragged up the stairs to the daylight via these wooden planks, where it was dumped on the truck they parked across the street. Quite a job apparently, at least it looked that way every time I peeked down and wished the workers a rather feeble “bon courage.

It was a thirsty job too…Franck’s parents looked after the girls this morning and found it hilarious when Franck emerged from his subterranean kingdom to fetch the box of wine glasses and a bottle of Claire’s finest that he keeps handily beside the front door of the apartment. It was only 10:15am but apparently high time for a “petite breuvage“. We learned this essential rule while renovating La Maison de la Vieille Vigne – good wine is the best motivator of all.

And tommorrow more on garcon ou fille. I had my seven month ultrasound yesterday and it was, shall we say, most revealing…

On Policier alert

Tradesman who shall remain nameless but who isn’t fond of law enforcement is working on the cave here in Beaune as I tap away on my computer in Le Relais du Vieux Beaune above him.

Every few minutes I peer out the window to see if I need to warn off any hapless policiers who happen to make the misguided error of wandering down the rue Rousseau Deslandes at the moment.

Nameless tradesman has a sharp pick and a shovel for his work in the cave. Nuff said.

Bad influences…

I just talked to Franck on the phone. He told me that just a few minutes ago, leaving Le Relais du Vieux Beaune after lunch, he got into a bit of a (ahem) “lively discussion” with a local police officer concerning the small matter of “brushing” someone’s bumper when pulling out of his parking spot.

I laughed. “You’ve been spending too much time with _______ (tradesman working at our house in Villers at the moment, who shall remain anonymous for legal reasons). “

“I guess so,” Franck admitted.

“But at least you didn’t punch le policier,” I said.

“Or try to run over him,” Franck noted.

You see, this is what _______, who we’ve known for quite a while and who we also consider a friend, did to a policeman a few weeks ago, earning himself a three month suspended prison sentence.

Herein lies the paradox of tradesmen. I have found, through my many months spent on construction sights over the past three years found that french tradesmen are just about the most gallant guys you will ever come across. See for yourself – go into any of “their” restaurants like Jacky’s or the one I mentioned yesterday in Meuilley, and you will be greeted with a chorus of polite “Bonjour Madame’s.”

On the construction sites, they all stop work to shake my hand, and if their hands are dirty they offer me their wrists instead. The ones I know well give me the bises.

They are all without exception attentive to my opinions, and often surprise me with unexpected acts of thoughtfulness such as the Carpenter at La Vieille Vigne. This huge, rather hairy guy looks like the type you wouldn’t want to meet up with in an alley late at night, but looks can be deceiving.

Not only was he a true artist in his woodwork, but he also worked for free for a day installing our IKEA kitchen and making it look nice. At the end of the job he shyly presented me the beautiful old key that now serves as the key ring for the cottage. Somewhere along the line I had told him I loved old keys, and he remembered.

Our friend __________ with the chip on his shoulder in regards to law enforcement is the same type of guy; hot-blooded in certain situations, but if you are on his good side, a formidable alley.

Once when we were commiserating about the tyranny of the “Architect of French Monuments” in Beaune, _______, who had had a “difference of opinions” with him, growled “I’m just waiting to see him crossing the road one night – I tell you I won’t be hitting the brakes, that’s for sure.”

We all laughed, as this just about sums up the sentiments of anyone who has ever had anything to do with this offensive bureaucrat. If you don’t know what I mean, see this post of mine : http://grapejournal.blogspot.com/2007/06/plannign-permission-and-other-joys.html

Now in retrospect I realize that _______ was probably dead serious.

Maybe this is partly due to the fact that he is typically Burgundian – I read in an magazine article the other day of Burgundians described as “loyal, headstrong, and quick to take their gun down from the wall.”

A bit scary maybe, but just like tradesmen, there’s an upside to that too…

Until Jacky’s is resurrected…

The closure of Jacky’s bistro in the village while awaiting a new owner has left a big hole in our restaurant repertoire.

However, last week when Franck had enough of scraping wallpaper off centimetre by centimetre and I just was plain hungry (hey, I’m pregnant) we decided to give the restaurant in the neighbouring village of Meuilley a try.

I’m sorry but I can’t give you anything more specific than “the restaurant in Meuilley” as I was so blinded by hunger when I arrived and dopey with repleteness when we left that I forgot to look at what street it is on. However, if you go to Meuilley (only about 5 minutes from Villers-la-Faye and MagnylesVillers) and drive around you will surely find it. It is the only restaurant in the village and is beside the only grocery store (epicerie). If memory serves correct it is across from the Mairie, but then again I was more focused on lunch than anything else.

Granted, inside the decor doesn’t have quite the charm of Jacky’s unrepentant ugliness, but the feel of the restaurant is still the same (i.e. to be avoided if you are allergic to cigarette smoke). They serve lunch only, it’s full of tradesmen, you have to arrive between 12:00 and 12:30, and there’s no menu – you get what they’re cooking that day.

But usually what they’re cooking that day is pretty darn good. We had a lovely salad with hard boiled eggs and charcuterie, then the main dish of Osso Bucco with oven roasted potatoes, then we chose fromage blanc for the cheese course which came in a huge bowl with a big dollop of cream. For dessert we could choose from a bowl of fruit (fruit? for dessert??? I’m not that french yet), several flavours of ice cream, or the homemade apple tart.

We both went, bien sur, for the tart which was delicious and washed it down with an espresso. All of this, plus bread and a small-ish pitcher of red wine which I sadly couldn’t indulge in was included in the price per head of 12.00 Euros.

Make sure you drop by or phone and make a reservation first, as the restaurant understandably fills up mighty fast. I will try to find a phone number by the time I post this restaurant review in The Grape News I’m working on.

Garcon ou Fille – Part II

Truth is as much as I wanted a surprise for my first two pregnancies, before the glow-worm came onto the scene I was always convinced that I would absolutely want to find out for my third baby.

To be honest, I thought the sheer pressure to produce a boy after my two lovely girls would be unbearable, and I thought knowing the baby’s gender would help everyone around me process the reality so as not to taint that magical moment of the baby’s arrival.

And in France it is no problem at all finding out the baby’s gender during a pregnancy if you are so inclined. In Canada they have banned the practice on and off over the past few years (and I’m not sure whether it’s on or off at the moment). Besides, if you have an uneventful pregnancy you only get one ultrasound at 18 weeks. If the baby’s not in a good position, you’re out of luck.

Not only do french doctors have no qualms about revealing the baby’s gender, but you also get a whopping 5 ultrasounds throughout even the most routine pregnancy in France, so there is ample opportunity to find out if you want.

Still, when I learned that I was pregnant this time around nobody was more shocked than me to realize that when it came right down to it, I really didn’t want to know.

Franck was of the same opinion. He asked the only question he absolutely needed answered before the doctor had barely brushed my stomach with the ultrasound wand when I was only seven weeks pregnant.

“There only one, right?”

Once he was assured that we weren’t expecting twins or triplets, whether it was a boy or a girl didn’t really matter. He maintains that as a planned C-section tends to take much of the surprise element out of a birth, it’s very nice to keep a bit of mystery in there until the last possible second.

I didn’t think I would agree this time around, but I do. My friend Joelle (she of the fabulous vacation rental in Montparnasse – check it out http://www.latelierdesbeauxarts.com/ ) always says that pregnancy is the only time during your life (unless you’re one of those rare ones who are pregnant with boy / girl twins) when you can entertain the possibility of both a boy and girl child at the same time. When the baby actually arrives, no matter what the gender is, there is a certain sadness that one of these imagined children vanishes.

As the French tend to be much less subtle about things, I encounter many people in a day who insists that I must want a boy, and in the case of my French mother-in-law, that the baby I’m carrying IS a boy and MUST BE a boy, because SHE WANTS it to be a boy. Yet still I don’t feel the urge to find out. I just figure their expectations are their problem, not mine.

Hark! Is that maturity calling?

To be continued…

Our Vente des Vins Sunday

Sunday afternoon despite the cold weather – which was hovering just above zero – we made good on our promise to take the girls to see the Vente des Vins parade and have a jump on the bungee trampolines.

Tragically, the trampolines weren’t here this year. The girls were devastated for a moment, but quickly rallied around when they heard the marching band music coming from not too far off.

Here was the street scene when we got to the corner of the rue des Tonneliers and the rue de Lorraine.

Here was the first musical group we saw who did this neat sort of clog dance that made a very satisfying noise on the cobblestones.

Then here are a few of the other parading groups…

A brotherhood from nearby Chalon.

And some frankly scary looking guys from somewhere up in Northern France. Not sure what that costume is all about, but in my opinion it’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

Then we mosied on over to the bottle opening competition (the women’s finals). The kids loved this.

Then we peered in the market Halles to try and see the auction that was going on but it was pretty crowded. Apparently Burgundy’s reds are up 30% in price this year. However, we did think we saw the scalp of French actor Richard Berry who was the guest of honour this year.

Then there was a ride on the manege – makes me dizzy just looking at the photos.

Last but not least we stopped in for a plate of escargots each, and Camille and Charlotte stuck their toothpicks in the piping hot shells and gobbled them up like good little french children. Even the guy who ran the stand was suitably impressed with their escargot eating enthusiasm and dexterity. We didn’t move to France for naught…

Franck & Martial’s Morning Out

Franck and Martial were off early Saturday morning to the annual winetasting in the caves of the Hospices de Beaune. As usual they were very well equipped with a thermos of piping hot coffee, baguette sandwiches with jambon et fromage, and freshly baked croissants picked up from what we are discovering is a phenomenal little boulangerie / patisserie just steps from Le Relais du Vieux Beaune.

As always there was a big crowd, but Franck and Martial employed the savvy they had acquired over the past two years of doing this and managed to slip in front of everybody else. When the gates were opened they were – quelle satisfaction – first in line.

Watch out monsieur! Two scheming Frenchmen are trying to snag your place.

There was also lots of winetasting, bien sur, straight from the barrel as tradition dictates.

And lo’ and behold – lookey here – ring any bells? So this Rousseau Deslandes person didn’t just do something notable to have a street named after him (the one where Le Relais du Vieux Beaune is located at #19, to be precise). He must have donated some pretty nice vineyards centuries ago to the Hospices as well. Franck said the wine was very good.

Next Franck and Martial were let in via the back door of the Hospices itself by an (ahem) acquaintance who shall be remain nameless as we don’t want them to lose their job. I scrolled through Franck’s photos when I got home and suddenly it dawned on me that Franck and Martial had the Hospices to themselves.

It’s not often you see the famous “Salle des Pauvres” this empty…

Except for Franck taking photos of Martial taking photos, that is…

Martial turned out to be a very good tour guide, and showed Franck all sorts of interesting stuff. For example, you’ll notice the world “Seulle” written everywhere, which is the old french way of writing “seule” (only).

It turns out that the construction of the Hospices in the 1400’s actually stemmed from a phenomenal love story. Nicolas de Rolin, the benefactor, called his wife Guigone de Salins “son seulle etoile” (his only star) to prove how even though she was actually his third wife, she was the only one that counted.

See how above the ancient tiles read “Seulle” and then have a star…and in the middle there are the initials “N” (Nicolas) and “G” (Guigone) interlinked.

And here’s another example on one of the numerous phenomenally preserved tapestries. All in all a very satisfying and cultural morning out.

I must add here that this is one of the reasons I’m very happy to have married a Frenchman. None of the motley guys I went to high school with would ever voluntarily choose to spend a morning with a friend at a museum and be thrilled with it. However, I must admit they would have been all over the winetasting (more like guzzling) part though…

Garcon ou Fille?

Since the girls have gone back to school after the All Saints’ break, people I hardly know are coming up to me an exclaiming how pregnant I look all of a sudden. “C’est spectaculaire!” they exclaim, touching my stomach.

This is how it was during my previous two pregnancies too. Because I am not, even on my best days, a lithe whippet and because I favour roomy linen shirts rather than skin-tight whippet- wear, I just look like I’ve indulged in a few two many eclairs until I’m around five and a half months pregnant.

After this juncture, however, YOWZA!

I’m not that tall (five foot three and crumbs, although I always round it up to 5’4) so once the baby reaches a certain size it has nowhere to go but OUT and UP. I swear, there were times during my pregnancies with Charlotte and Camille that I was certain they were trying to come out my left nostril.

Just as people were surprised before when I announced I was pregnant, now they are shocked when they learn that I am not planning on giving birth in a matter of days. The truth is I’m not even six and a half months along yet, so I theoretically have over two months left.

But after marvelling over the phenomenal growth of my stomach, the next questions people invariably ask is, “So is it going to be a boy or a girl?”

Ah-hah…a very good question indeed.

To be continued…