Monthly Archives: November 2007

La Vente des Vins (or the weekend of the epic winetasting and giant bungee trampolines)

After a nutty week replete with fun things like strep throats, sinus infections, and stripping wallpaper that has apparently been affixed with the the strongest glue ever known to man, the girls, Franck, and I are really looking forward to this weekend. As in every November here in Beaune, the third weekend is known as “Les Trois Glorieuses” and the town parties for three days to celebrate the world-famous wine auction that takes place in the covered market hall on Saturday.

The information on the web is, as is the case for many of these french festivities, woefully sparse, but if you want to go to the most “official” page I could find, click here;—a-la-une/1047000362-1-1-0-1-book-online-your–wine-auction–weekend.htm

However, I wrote a series of three posts detailing our “Vente des Vins” weekend last year that is, in my humble opinion, far more telling (maybe a bit too telling, but that always seems to be the way with me).

If you’re feeling indulgent, just click here to start;




This year it is going to be fabulous to be able to walk out the door of Le Relais du Vieux Beaune and be immediately immersed in the party. I am opting out of the Hospices winetasting as I don’t think tasting near 100 wines in the space of a couple of hours will do much for the glow-worm’s IQ, however I am very much looking forward to a dinner of this piping hot escargots from the stand on Place Carnot. For the girls, of course, it is all about the giant bungee trampolines…

Our House the Tabac

We found this sign for a tobacco store under our back porch. Turns out our house used to be the village tabac in the 1980’s, which means Franck (who started smoking at age 13 and quit at age 30) and many of his buddies have fond memories of traipsing up our driveway to buy a fresh packet of Drum tobacco.

The things you learn when you poke through piles of stuff headed for the dump…

I Warned Him about the Steak Tartare

“It’s cooked enough.”

“No it’s not!”

Franck pokes at my piece of beef with a spatula. “I can’t stand seeing you do this to a perfectly good piece of beef”

I take a poke at it with a fork – there are still some reddish juices flowing. “Do you want me to show you my monthly lab results?” I demand.

Non. It just takes common sense to know that when they say cook your meat well they do not mean turn it into a piece of charcoal.”

I go find my “Pregnancy” folder anyway and dig out my latest lab results. I return to the kitchen and read out triumphantly. “Patient non-immunized against toxoplasmosis. Avoid all contact with cats. Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Cook all meat well, especially lamb, pork, and beef.

Hah. So there.

Franck shakes his head in disgust. “You’re taking it too far. Tu n’es pas raisonnable.

Of course he doesn’t think I’m being reasonable. I’m married to a man who prefers his beef still chewing its cud. Over the past few months he has discovered that one of our favorite restaurants, La Ruelle in Dijon, serves up the most delectable steak tartare (raw beef, mixed with a raw egg and herbs) he has ever tasted. That’s all he orders there now.

But just as North Americans have a thing about taking Folic Acid during pregnancy (which like a good Canadian lass I did on my own accord until last month, at which time my bemused Obstetrician informed me there was absolutely no benefit in taking it after the first trimester) the french are all about monitoring for toxoplasmosis while pregnant.

Because I’ve never had it – probably because I have never been able to warm up to the idea of either a cat or steak tartares – I have to be tested for it every month during the glow-worm’s gestation.

I’m not entirely sure what happens if I was to get infected, but I get the general gist it is Not Good, which is why I insist on burnt steaks.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I receive a sheepish call from the doctor’s office yesterday morning.

“Laura, it’s Franck.”

“Where are you?”

Chez le medecin. Remember those blood tests I had because of that gland that wouldn’t go down on my neck?”


“Well…turns out I have toxoplasmosis.”


Franck senses I’m not happy, and there is a rustle of movement over the phone line. “Here, I’m going to pass you to Docteur D.”

Docteur D. comes on the line to confirm that my husband has been infected with toxoplasmosis, and tells me what I already know – while harmless for a healthy adult, this is not something I want to catch during my pregnancy.

“Do you have any contact with cats?” he asks.


“Have you been eating much undercooked meat lately?”

Hah! “I haven’t, but Franck’s found a new resturant in Dijon and has been on a bit of a steak tartare kick lately.”

Docteur D., an overweight, chain smoking country doctor with an innate sense of human faiblesse laughs in understanding. “Ah well, they are good…that’s probably it, but to be on the safe side I’d like you to go and get a blood test right away.”

“Like this morning?”

“Like this morning. I’m sending a prescription along with your husband, who says he will bring it to you right away.”

Franck arrives shortly after, and on the way to the lab I force him to admit that the toxoplasmosis / undercooked meat link perhaps isn’t just a figment of my overactive imagination, as he has argued during many meat-cooking episodes in the past.

Turns out I haven’t, thank goodness, been infected, probably because I had the good sense to avoid the tartares and the moo-ing steaks.

“So are you going to cut out the raw meat now?” I ask Franck, after being drained of several vials of blood.

He looks shocked. “Of course not! Docteur. D. says that now I’ve been infected I’ll develop an immunity and can’t catch it again, so to go ahead and enjoy.”

Of course he did. This is France, after all.

So, So Glad

Went to visit the house yesterday and answer earth-shattering questions re: placement of electrical outlets.

This is our landscaping decor that greets visitors at the moment. Note our ugly kitchen sinks that are – hooray! – at long last going to the dump in Chaux.

My first and prevailing thought was I’m so glad I’m not living here at the moment.

So, so glad…

So, so, so glad….

Slice of Humble Pie

Remember back to my TSD (“Truly Shitty Days” happen in France too) posts, when I lambasted Franck for changing his mind at the last minute about our kitchen design?

If not, go to September and scroll down: (I still haven’t figured out how to isolate the links to individual posts – if any one can enlighten me on this I’d be much obliged)

Anyway, turns out I was wrong and he was right about the kitchen. Dammit.

Not only were we able to include a kitchen table and chairs in his new layout, but it also cut the price of the kitchen virtually in half. Following his insistence on going back to the drawing board we now have a kitchen plan that I am very happy with and that we can (more or less) afford – un miracle.

So while Franck is busy in Villers chipping off the tile of our old kitchen here I sit in Beaune, feasting on a large slice of humble pie.

Here is our old kitchen – scene of many cake baking / decorating experiments and lots of edifying “spectacles” – now demolished. R.I.P.

Crazy Pregnancy Dream

Wouldn’t Sigmund have loved to get me on his couch!

Apparently luxurious beds do not eliminate weird dreams; last night I had a truly crazy pregnancy dream.

For some reason it was decided that I needed to have my Cesarean at my parents’ house in Canada rather than here in France. My taciturn, aristocratic OB /GYN here in Beaune was flown in to do the surgery, but couldn’t communicate with my family as he didn’t speak English. This made for some truly bizarre moments in my parents’ living room.

The surgery was conducted in my little sister’s bedroom – no doubt selected because sky blue plush carpeting provides a perfect sterile environment.

My baby was born (a girl) but I was unconscious (but aware that I was unconscious -weird) for two days. When I came to in the pool area I frantically asked about her, but everyone shook their heads vaguely and told me they weren’t quite sure where she was. I ran upstairs to find her in a bassinet looking very weak. I galloped back downstairs to demand if anyone had fed her, and everyone shook their heads no, they assumed I would take care of that.

This resulted in a demented dash to Safeway to buy Formula to save my baby only to find when I got back home that the cashier had made a mistake and put someone else’s bags of rice in my shopping bag instead.

I drove to Safeway again, tears streaming down my face, but managed to buy the formula this time, get back to my parents’ house, and prepare a bottle. Then I lifted my baby up and noticed something strange – she had a third arm growing out of the middle of her back.

At this point I mercifully woke up; sometimes reality can be such a deliverance. In any case, it’s a shame he’s dead because I do believe Freud would have had a field day.

Ahhhhh…What a Bed!

Here she is, my new best friend

After a day packing up, moving to the apartment in Beaune, then unpacking, I was ready for bed at 9:30 last night. Franck had gone back up to Villers after dinner because the other Franck, our friend / drywaller / electrician / saviour was meeting him over there at 7:30am this morning to help demolish the kitchen.

So not only did I have the whole bed to myself (well, besides the glow-worm, but after all my running around yesterday I think he/she was tired too) but it was soooooooooo comfortable that I could hardly bear to get out of it when my alarm beeped at 7:30am this morning.

***self-congratulation alert***

I just have to take a self-indulgent moment to pat myself on the back here. Not only is the apartment very comfortable and functional (not to mention so much cleaner than my own house – and no, Ghandi is still at our house in Villers in case you’re wondering – if you don’t know what I’m talking about just click here: and scroll down to “Les Scenes de Menage, Ghandi, et Moi”), but the bed is TO DIE FOR.

This is no fluke. One of my top priorities when equipping our gites is to find the absolutely most comfortable bed out there. So many times I have visited nice B&B’s or vacation rentals here in France that sport little, uncomfortable beds. I just don’t get this. When you are travelling, good sleep is often the difference between being zen about situations like not being able to find a functioning public toilet, or going ballistic and having a major spaz (usually blaming your spouse).

Why do gite owners here put in double beds when there is room for a queen sized one? I always opt for the biggest possible bed in any given bedroom, and much to the amusement of Franck and bed salesmen throughout Burgundy, I insist on trying out at least a hundred mattresses before deciding on the most comfortable one.

Shortly after we moved to France in 2004 we rented a huge bourgeois house in SavignylesBeaune for three months while we were looking for one to buy. The house was filled to the brim with antique armoires, buffets, and marble-topped bedside tables that had been passed through the generations.

However, when Franck and I lay down to sleep that first night in the refined master bedroom we noticed that not only was our “double” bed actually two very small twin beds pushed together, but it was as hard as concrete. Fifteen minutes later we were both seized with massive allergy attacks – unstoppable sneezing, pouring nose, and for me some attractive wheezing.

If it had been just me, Ms. Allergies, that would be one thing, but Franck was also hit. Franck is someone who, besides the Savigny incident, has never met a fluff of pollen or dust mite that he doesn’t like, and who is convinced that everything that falls under the category of allergies and asthma is “just in people’s heads”.

We stripped back the covers (horrible scratchy things) to discover a stained, grey-brown mattress that Franck dated back to the Second World War. He bravely poked his finger in a hole and pulled out a few mangy strings of – I kid you not – horsehair.

At first I believed this bed was a one-off, but since then I have come across many more of these “antique” horsehair mattresses masquerading as “beds” in gites and B&B’s throughout France.

Pourquoi? Why would you spend months lovingly filling in the joints between the rocks in an ancient rock wall, and then stick in a mattress that was handed down from that Resistance fighter in the 1940’s and has been in the attic for the past several decades? Of all the places to save a few euros…

Anyway, the girls slept on their 130cm beds (just shy of a double, which was the biggest I could fit in without overwhelming the room) which are identical mattresses to the queen-sized one, and when I went to wake them up this morning for school they moaned, “I don’t want to get out, it’s sooooooo comfortable.” Let’s hope they are singing the same tune this weekend when we can all sleep in!

The girls’ bedroom at Le Relais du Vieux Beaune

Les Beaunois

Mad day today packing suitcases and boxes full of stuff to drag over to Le Relais du Vieux Beaune. We’re about to become temporary Beaunois for the next month to six weeks while our house here in Villers-la-Faye is partially demolished and then (praying) rebuilt.

Aside the horrendous packing I’m excited as I’ll be able to walk the girls to school, not to mention the merry-go-round on the Place Carnot, and I’ll actually get to spend a night in the Relais for the first time. Can you believe that up until now neither Franck nor I has had a “sleepover” in Le Relais du Vieux Beaune or La Maison de la Vieille Vigne?

I hear the girls stirring in their bedroom next door to my office, so I better get a-packing! If I survive my next post will be from my new perch in Beaune.

Wasn’t Kidding

Here’s a photo of Mahault’s baptism yesterday. We had a wonderful day and so did the girls as there were 14 children there between 5 sets of parents.

This is about half of the under 12 contingent (there’s no way I could fit them all into one photo without a very wide-angle lens). I wasn’t kidding about the French and their generous attitude towards procreation.

2 vs 3 Part V

I truly believe that there is no such thing as an ideal family size – every person needs to listen to their instincts and decide what is “right” for them. I have many friends who have stopped at one or two, and they feel strongly that the family they have is the perfect family for them. However, I’m not sure for me instinct would have won over logic if I hadn’t been living in France.

For one thing, “smaller” families of one or two children are actually a rarity here. At the girls’ school in Beaune three children certainly seems to be the most popular choice, but families of four (like my friend Charlotte since Mahault’s birth three weeks ago), five, and even six are not uncommon. Granted, their school is a private Catholic school and I have noticed that the biggest families also tend to be the more Church-going ones (and last I heard the Vatican still hadn’t revised it’s no-birth-control stance). Nevertheless, having lots of children is considered a perfectly normal life choice in France, Catholic or not.

Another thing that struck me early on is the fact that most of these families of three or more are not rolling in piles of euros or squads of hired nannies. Like Franck and I, they are a far cry from poverty, but let’s just say they don’t have all their ducks lined up in a row – the perfect house, the steady job, the sanity – before they decide to add to their brood.

Children are widely considered as the most precious thing a person can have here in France, much more so than a high-flying job, or money, or the talent and drive to be a champion marathon runner… It is a very different concept of “wealth” and as such no material reason (such as the fact that our glow-worm might have to spend his / her first year sleeping in an open drawer in our bedroom) is viewed as a good reason to put off having a much-desired child.

Maybe it comes from the utter disdain the french have for being logical. They simply don’t see waiting until a more “reasonable” time to have a child as being more important than their emotional need to have one.

And unlike the US which is always banging on about its “family values” but last I heard only gives a measly six weeks maternity leave, the French state puts its money where its mouth is. Although most of the financial benefits of having three or more children apply more to salaried employees rather than entrepreneurial types like myself, they are substantial.

Women who stop work entirely to bring up their third child are entitled to 6 months paid maternity leave, and then three years of roughly 750 Euros a month from the government as pay (non-taxable too) for bringing up their children. These policies create an atmosphere where having and bringing up children is something that is concretely valued by society and remunerated as such.

So when I realized several months ago that I was still wanting a third child and that my broodiness wasn’t going away any time soon, I was surrounded in essence by people and a culture that said, “Bien sur – go for it!”

So I did. And from the moment I found out I was pregnant it was like a missing piece of my life had finally fallen into place. Vive la France.