Monthly Archives: June 2009

Authentic France Travel Tip #38: Drink The Water

I have many, many guests ask me if the tap water here in Burgundy is okay to drink.

Rest assured, all tap water in France is very strictly regulated and subject to weekly testing and analysis. As a general rule, it is just as safe to drink as tap water back home.

The taste, however, can be very different from what you are used to, especially where we are around Beaune where the ground is unbelievably rich in limestone.

I know the water here in Villers-la-Faye tastes completely different from that back home in Victoria, which runs through granite before coming out our taps.

One gets used to the taste pretty quickly though. Besides, I go by the rule of thumb that if the limestone is good for Romanée-Conti grape vines, it is good enough for me.

The Healing Powers of Wine

Saturday morning I woke up not only with a very sore throat, but a very full day ahead of me. However, the first thing on my schedule was my annual rendezvous in Volnay with my friend Charlotte and this year with her equally lovely friend Stéphanie for the “Elégance de Volnay” women-only blind winetasting.

Sore throat be damned – I wasn’t going to miss it.

Here is our table. I think we are looking pretty darn elegant for 10:30 in the morning.

Of course, it WAS a lot of hard work. We had to blind taste 8 different bottles of Volnay 2005 vintage (one of the best vintages over the last several years) then discuss the wine, make our own tasting notes, and then mark each wine individually out of 20.

It was exhausting.

And in the course of the two hours I spent tasting some of Burgundy’s best wines, my sore throat completely disappeared (and so have the panic attacks for the time being).

Thank you Bourgogne.

Frenchitude Lesson #41: Accept that On Ne Peut Pas Tout Faire

Some nice calming poppies

The moving chaos had begun in earnest.

The painters have invaded La Maison des Chaumes to finish off the trim and the shutters and get rid of the candy floss pink walls in the girls bedroom.

We have yet to send off our boxes to Canada, I have a gazillion decorative projects I need to get done before the house is rentable for our first clients who arrive July 18th, and we are trying to do all of this with a 17 month old underfoot. Plus almost every night this past week one of the girls says to me around 7:00pm, “oh by the way Maman, I need a cake to bring for school tomorrow.”

I just talked to my Mom on the phone, and told her to get the straight jacket ready for me on my return back to Canada.

The stress has gone over the edge from productive stress to just really wretched-feeling stress which for me means I am plagued with my old companion – the ubiquitous panic attack.

Just for the record, my panic attacks aren’t the kind where you stop and think, “Gee whiz…I feel a little flustered. I wonder if that was a panic attack I just had?”.

No sireeeee Bob.

My panic attacks are gold medal winners if there was such a thing (and maybe there should be) as a Panic Attack Olympics. They are the humdingers of panic attacks, the kind where one feels like they are suffocating, dying of terminal cancer, having a massive coronary, and going crazy all at the same time.

I have enough experience in the anxiety arena to know that they are a clear sign that my stress barometer has gone into the red zone.

Several times over the last week I have been rushing around like a fart in a mitt, trying to do five things at once (often in the midst of a panic attack), when Franck takes me by the shoulders and says, “Laura, on ne peut pas tout faire!

I stare at him in incomprehension. What do you mean I can’t do everything? I should be able to, for God’s Sakes; I know that at least. I mean, I am supposed to be superhuman, aren’t I?

And if I fail to tout faire, then it is essential to feel guilty about it rather than just shrug and put it out of my mind entirely like my husband and many other French people seem to be able to do.

But over the past few days I have begun to wonder…maybe this has something to do with why I am the one having the panic attacks in our house.

On ne peut pas tout faire. On ne peut pas tout faire. Maybe if I chant it enough times I may actually start to believe it.

If not, I can stare at this photo of our future bedroom in the house we will be renting when we arrive in Victoria. Oui, that’s the ocean! I feel a bit calmer already.

Où Sommes-Nous?

Hint : It’s in Burgundy, but not in Beaune.

This is a lucky thing, because I love the name and look of this place so much that if it were I might end up spending more time “Au Tonneau” than at home.

Authentic France Travel Tips: French Money Matters – Part 3

This week ties up my French Money Matters advice, and basically consists of three last miscellaneous points that…er…don’t really fit anywhere else.

I suppose if I was more organised I could figure out a way to MAKE them fit, but with the painters here at La Maison des Chaumes Clem has been averaging about 40 minutes per nap. Gives me a huge chunk of time to get everything done, as I’m sure you can imagine…

Seeing as one of the painters just dropped his ladder and that as a result she will certainly be up again any second, here goes;

1. Leave your $100 dollar US bills at home

The counterfeiters have gone out and spoiled the fun for the rest of us! The $100 US bill is so frequently and convincingly faked that they are all but useless over here in France. Even the banks won’t accept or exchange them. Leave them at home and bring your ATM and Visa or MasterCard instead.

2. Vendors at the Market generally only accept cash

Don’t try paying for that artichoke with your Visa card if you don’t want to become the butt of the jokes constantly being flung around between the market vendors. Bring a fistful of euros instead.

3. Realize that Money is as Close as it Comes to a Taboo Subject in France

I have found that North Americans talk about money much more freely and casually than the French. It is not uncommon to have people spin off the price they paid for a new home, or the price they sold their condominium for within the first few minutes of meeting them.

Keep in mind that the French are generally very closed-mouthed about finances, and consider money matters as first and foremost private matters.

If a French person confides in you the details of their personal finances they are either very atypical, or they trust you very much. In the latter case, you should feel flattered.

Le Caveau in Action

On Saturday night Franck finagled babysitting for the bevy and we went down to Beaune to meet several people for an apéritif at Le Caveau du Relais du Vieux Beaune.

Besides Franck and I, there were the Browns (who had just stayed at La Maison de la Vieille Vigne) and their friends who just so happened to be wine importers to the US, the Stones (who were staying at Le Relais du Vieux Beaune) and our friend Marjorie who runs the fabulous Cook’s Atelier and her lovely friend from Arizona.

Here Franck is explaining something, probably my wife was so gracious about me having to work nights and weekends sandblasting this cellar while she looked after our bevy (Not).

More likely, it was something about our fantastique cooling system which is being installed next week.

We served Claire’s wine (bien sûr) and everyone had a choice between a refined white and an elegant red. Marjorie claimed her spot for her and her daughter Kendall’s wine.

I think our Saint Vincent over at his post on the far wall was very pleased. We even got a photo of Franck and I, a rare occurrence as usually I am always the one behind the camera.

In Vino Veritas!

Frenchitude Lesson #41: Remove The Right and Wrong From Breastfeeding

First of all, I shudder to think of all the weird porn ads I am now going to get on my Google AdSense sidebar because I have written the word “breast”.

Secondly, some men may want to skip this post. If you are neither a New Man nor a French Man, today’s topic may make you a teensy bit squirmy.

My little sister Jayne is due in August and is presently attending a bouquet of pre-natal classes – some definitely more useful than others. Reading her emails about them has given me flashbacks of how it was for me when I had Charlotte, and how different (not to mention a lot less traumatic) that experience probably would have been if she had been born in France instead of Canada.

When I had Charlotte ten years ago, a militant pro-breastfeeding atmosphere reigned on the West Coast of Canada, where she was born. For all I know things may have greatly evolved and improved since then. I dearly hope so.

Just like Jayne is doing now, I attended all the requisite pre-natal classes that drilled home the fact that EVERY woman can breastfeed if they just try hard enough. It was very strongly implied that if you chose not to breastfeed or “could not’ (because clearly you were not invested enough in the whole breastfeeding thing to begin with) you were doing your child an unfathomable disservice. Bottle feeding was depicted as tantamount to child abuse.

I for one was all psyched up to breastfeed. YooHoo! Ready to go!

Admittedly, the unexpected C-section threw me a bit but I was still bound and determined. This was my baby, I loved her, and I was going to do things the RIGHT way.

Small Problem. No matter how hard I tried or how many hours Charlotte spent sucking at my body, I produced no milk. Charlotte cried all the time and began to lose weight. But because breastfeeding was of course the only RIGHT way to feed a baby, the nurses urged me to keep trying, and to keep trying harder.

So I kept trying. Charlotte became skinnier and more sickly with malnutrition-induced jaundice (although I didn’t know it at the time – that’s the problem with the first time – you don’t know anything at the time).

The doctors and nurses sent me home despite the fact that Charlotte, although born extremely healthy, was by now not in good shape, nor heading in the right direction. Don’t give up! the medical staff admonished me as I left the hospital. Breast is best!

Those first few days I spent sitting in my armchair in our apartment in Vancouver with a crying, fretful and STARVING baby gnawing away at my breasts, trying to extract nourishment that just wasn’t there.

I fell apart. I was not only exhausted, but an unfit mother. I must not love my baby enough, because if I was trying hard enough it would work. Charlotte’s weight kept plummeting and she got sicker and sicker. I was watching, horrified, as my baby wasted away before my eyes.

Finally I was sent to a lactation consultant, because if Charlotte lost a few more grams she would have to be hospitalized for “failure to thrive”.

The lactation consultant informed me that the fact that I was “chubby” must be interfering with my milk production. Great. MORE guilt. It WAS my fault.

I was just about ripe to be carried off to a mental institution at this point. However, thanks to what I now believe must be divine intervention, Charlotte’s weight loss and worsening jaundice did spur the lactation-consultant-from-hell to send me to a paediatrician.

The pediatrician took one look at me and one look at Charlotte and said, “Stop This Nonsense!“.

“You have done your best”, he said to me. “But breastfeeding is just not going to work for you. Go and buy your daughter formula and give her as much as she can drink. Repeat as often as you can. And for god’s sake, try to get some sleep.”

He then made a very livid phone call to the maternity ward of the hospital where Charlotte was born, demanding how could they have possibly encouraged me to keep breastfeeding and not supplement with formula when it was abundantly clear that I produced no milk. How could they torture a new mother and let a child slowly starve to death in this way?

So, still weeping at my failure as a mother, I bought the formula and fed it to Charlotte, feeling as guilty as if I was feeding my child crack cocaine.

Charlotte, however, promptly sucked down a bottle and stopped crying for the first time since I had begun to try to breastfeed, then fell into the most contended sleep I had ever witnessed.

The guilt over feeding my child the WRONG way lasted for several months, despite the relief that my formula-fed baby gained weight rapidly, slept well, and was once again the picture of health. Nevertheless, I remember trying to hide her bottle at my first mom / baby group, so deep was my shame.

A year or so later it was discovered that for a myriad of boring medical reasons breastfeeding is a physical impossibility for me. The little switch in my body that signals for milk production to commence is broken, or more accurately probably never functioned to begin with. However, it still galls me that in the minds of some midwives and militant pro-breastfeeders, people like me DO NOT TRULY EXIST.

I did learn from this experience, and had my doctor write on my medical file when I was pregnant with Camille “DO NOT LECTURE MS. BRADBURY ABOUT BREASTFEEDING OR SHE MAY PUNCH YOU!!!” in big red capital letters.

I still feel teary when I think of how hard this right / wrong attitude towards breastfeeding made those first few weeks with Charlotte so riddled with angst and despair. I can’t help but hypothesize how different things would have been had she been born in France.

For one thing, mothers stay a lot longer in the maternity ward here in France: 4-5 days for a regular birth and a strict minimum of a full week post C-section (unlike 3 days in Canada). This gives the nurses and midwives time to observe how things are really going with Mom and baby, and to send them home with many of the initial problems well on the way of being resolved.

In France, mothers are given the facts about breastfeeding, and then are asked, “would you like to try it?”.

If they do want to give it a whirl, they are given the support they need, both at the hospital and at home. If they don’t, this is totally accepted as a legitimate choice.

There is no judgement passed on what is considered to be a personal decision.

Besides, how can a lobby group or anyone else be better equipped than the new mom to make such a decision? Maybe it didn’t go well for a previous baby, or maybe it just doesn’t fit in with a woman’s job and life. Or, maybe as my friend in Paris explained without an iota of guilt, “ça me disait rien.”

The French in general do not see the world in terms of right or wrong, but rather as a series of different, but equally respected, choices. This world-view sure makes life a heck of a lot easier for new Moms.

Also, in France it is deeply felt that the well-being of a baby, a child, and whole families hinges on the well-being of the mother. A mother who is making parenting decisions that are ill-adapted to her life and personality just because they please society at large, will not be “bien dans sa peau” and her children and family will suffer as a result.

It wasn’t until I got here to France that I began to questions the idea that the well-being of a mother must be sacrificed on the alter of the well-being of her children. I began to realize that the French were on to something; once a woman has a baby, her physical and mental well-being is more important than it has ever been before.

In Canada, I was so encouraged to subsume my own needs for those of my child (or rather, what society told me were the needs of my child) that I often felt I had become a non-person the instant that Charlotte was born.

The truth of it is that there are many ways to be a mother; short of abusive or neglectful behaviour (and just for the record, not breastfeeding doesn’t belong in this category), none of them are right and none of them are wrong.

So adopt Frenchitude to breastfeeding and motherhood – the only “right” thing to do is to find the right path for yourself.

Now That’s What We Call "Chantage"

The other day Camille came home from school bursting with news.

“Gaston (name changed to protect the young and naughty) showed his zizi to everyone today at the cantine during the cheese course!!!”

“Did that bother you?” I asked.

Non,” Camile said. “I just told him that I would tell the teacher if he didn’t give me ten of his best Pokemon cards.”


Camile pulled Gaston’s ten best Pokemon cards out of her jacket pocket and flashed them at me with a toothless grin.

“It worked! I hope Gaston shows his zizi tomorrow.”

Authentic France Travel Tip # 36: French Money Matters – Part II

I just want to preface this second part of my French Money Matters with an excellent point made by Dale last week. I am going to put it in bold, because it is THAT IMPORTANT!

Call both your bank and your credit card company to let them know that you will be taking a trip. This will (hopefully) prevent the delightful situation of having your credit or ATM card eaten and / or blocked for security reasons.

Merci Dale!

This week I will be dealing with financial transactions in stores and restaurants (coq au vin! Yum!) while you are in France.

Here are my three tips for this week:

1. Bring your Visa and / or MasterCard, but consider leaving your AMEX and Diner’s Club at home

We have many American guests who come over here equipped almost exclusively with their Amex, only to find out that it is hardly accepted anywhere in France. Same goes for Diner’s Club.

Contrary to North America and even the UK the only widely accepted credit cards here are Visa and MasterCardpretty much equally accepted across the board, by the way.

So unless you need to bring either your AMEX or Diner’s Club to benefit from the built-in traveller’s insurance and other special benefits, consider leaving them at home and bringing just a Visa or MasterCard.

2. In smaller French stores neither credit cards nor debit cards are accepted for transactions under 15 Euros

Here is an excellent reason to always keep a few Euros in your pocket!

The charges for merchants to accept credit card transactions in France is so high that using them for transactions under 15 Euros just doesn’t make sense for many smaller merchants (notably tabacs, librairies, and boulangeries). Rest assured, this rule isn’t just for tourists, it is equally enforced with the locals.

3. Prices in stores / restaurants in France: what you see is what you pay!

Contrary to Canada, where a whack of taxes is added at the cash register every time you make a purchase (you thought that T-Shirt only cost $10.00??? Psyche!), the prices you see on price tags in French stores, as well as at the bottom of a restaurant bill, include all taxes and charges. Voilà, what you see is what you pay.

The service charge is even included on the bill at all restaurants and cafés, making tipping completely optional. Unless, that is, you’re trying to pick up that cute garçon

Un Vol By Any Other Name

I recently picked up this gorgeous pine armoire at one of my secret addresses in Dijon. I think it dates from the early 1900s or so, boasts an amazing honey-toned patina, and fits in perfectly in our entrance at La Maison des Chaumes.

I guess seeing as I am in France I’m going to be French about it and not be so gauche as to say how much I paid. But let me just say – it was a total steal and I can’t help but get a little frisson up my spine every time I look at it. Un vrai coup de foudre

Is it normal to feel this way about furniture?