Monthly Archives: June 2009

Frenchitude Lesson #39: Mothers, You Deserve A Medaille

Franck picked the occasion of Clémentine’s arrival into this world to decide that he was going to become a Serious Athlete. In the months after Clem was born I would often find myself being regaled at the breakfast table with his plans to run a marathon one day.

“Haven’t you ever wanted to run a marathon?” he asked one fine morning when Clem was about seven months old.

Still wallowing in a noxious stew of postpartum hormones, I had been slumped over my bowl of requisite caffeine after a refreshing 3-hour night sleep due to a teething baby.

My hair was falling out by the fistful, my shoulders were in a permanent kink from holding Clem all day long, and when Franck asked the question I had been in the midst of contemplating whether my stomach would ever look normal again after my third pregnancy and C-section (a week later my Ob / Gyn answered this question with his trademark honesty – “ah, ma pauvre, certainly not without a lot of plastic surgery”).

“Are you frickinkidding me?” I said to Franck. “In case you haven’t noticed, I am running a marathon – it’s called pregnancy, a C-section, and postpartum.”

Mothers are, in my opinion, the world’s unsung heros. Of course our children are awards in and of themselves and we love them and all that blah, blah, blah.

But on days like yesterday when I had to give Clem the baby Heimlich to dislodge a piece of cookie she was choking on (my heart rate is just about returning to normal now, merci), and spend the entire afternoon in the ER with Charlotte who had split her chin open on one of our metal bistro chairs, I can’t help but think I deserve a medal for this.

In my experience, however, the world at large just gives a big metaphysical shrug at the notion that mothers deserve praise and rewards.

Of course we love our children, but contrary to popular belief this doesn’t make mothering magically easier or less exhausting. It is, though, soooooooo convenient for society to make us believe that it does.

French mothers have solved what I term the “lack-of-mothering-accolades” issue in a characteristically stylish way.

It is traditional for French mothers to wear what it is known as a “gourmette” which is basically a nice bracelet that has a little engraved medaille (that’s right, a shiny MEDAL) for each child, noting their name and their birth date.

If a husband is serious about wanting to minimize the impact of the postpartum period on his love life, it is extremely wise to present an exquisite gourmette and the subsequent medailles to his wife as a gift – preferably before the epidural has worn off.

Nevertheless, for those of us who married men who don’t understand the soothing powers of jewellery (i.e. Franck) I have decreed that it is perfectly acceptable to award ourselves with medals. This is what I did a few weeks ago; as I get older I realize that the best person to rely on for praise and accolades is…myself.

So here is my gourmette with my three medailles. Je l’adore.

Traditionally gourmettes are gold, but since I; a) don’t have a 14 carat budget, b) haven’t worn gold since the 1980s, and c) have never shied away from bucking tradition, I had mine made up in silver.

So next time I am urged by my husband to take part in a marathon or some such competitive Feat of Strength, I will glance down at my wrist, jangle my bracelet, and remember that I have already earned my medailles for this lifetime. If I want to run a marathon I guess I could, but it wouldn’t be because I need recognition for bravery, or tenacity, or endurance.

Along with my fellow mothers, on these counts I have nothing left to prove.

Authentic France Travel Tip#35: French Money Matters – Part 1

I often have my vacation rental guests ask me about the best way to manage their vacation money while they are travelling in France. Over the years I have boiled down my advice to three easy-to-remember points, and I will be explaining one per week over the next three Tuesdays.

Seeing as Clem has already woken up from an insanely short nap (just for the record, arghhhhhh sounds the same in French), here is French Money Matters Point #1 without any further ado:

1. Forget about traveller’s cheques and bring your ATM card instead

Traveller’s cheques are becoming obsolete. Why deal with the hassle when you can simply bring the ATM card you use at home and withdraw money out of your bank account from almost any bank machine here in France?

Keep in mind these guidelines for successfully using your ATM card over here in France:

a) Make sure that you have a 4 digit pin code that consists only of numbers. This is the only type that the French ATM’s accept.

b) Check with your bank to make sure they use a fair exchange rate on foreign withdrawals. I find in general most banks use a very competitive rate.

c) Check with your bank in regards to your daily and weekly withdrawal limits so as not to have any bad surprises. Most of us never bump against these limits (and hence, don’t even realize they exist) except under unusual circumstances, such as International Travel. Find out before you go to avoid nasty ATM surprises.

d) If you are withdrawing money out using a credit card (rather than a debit card) be aware that the credit card companies generally start charging interest on the funds withdrawn from the moment they are withdrawn (and NOT from the moment your bill is due). A solution for this is to top up your credit card account before leaving home.

e) Lastly, French ATM’s, just like French pizzaiolos, are mysterious creatures. Sometimes for no reason whatsoever a machine won’t work, but then you can go down the street and try the next ATM, or try the same machine five minutes later, and it works just fine. With ATMs. just like so many things in France, tenacity is richly rewarded.

Bonne Fête Maman

Today is Mother’s Day over here in France, and this morning I was the lucky recipient of a painted mug from Charlotte and a painted plant pot from Camille, as well as a giant poo from Clem.

So Bonne Fête to all you fabulous fellow Mamans out there. There’s no law that says you can’t celebrate Mother’s Day more than once a year, n’estce pas?

Frenchitude Lesson #38: Put Down Some Wine

It is second nature for most French people, and especially for most Burgundians, to put down and age certain bottles of wine in order to be able to pull them out an enjoy them down the road.

Almost every child born in Burgundy has several bottles of wine bottled in their birth year put down for them, as well as bottles put down to commemorate their christenings, holy communions, passing their Bacs, and all the other myriad of rites of passage in their French lives.

Franck and I put down several bottles that we had received as wedding gifts (one of the advantages of getting married in Burgundy!) and have since enjoyed many of them at our girls’ baptisms.

For me, opening a bottle of symbolic (not to mention sublimely aged, if you’re lucky) wine imparts any rite of passage with extra meaning. In putting the wine down you are betting on a joyous future filled with celebrations and loved ones to share them with. The act of opening a bottle of cellared wine recognizes that this optimistic view of the future has, fortuitously, come true.

Besides, I hate fruitcake.

The day before he left to go back to Canada my Dad transferred most of his wine from our house here at La Maison des Chaumes to his new slot at the Caveau du Relais du Vieux Beaune wine cellar.

Now his wine will be safe from both temperature variations and his thirsty daughter and son-in-law. My Dad has wisely locked the metal gate over his store of wine, and pocketed his key.

However my Dad, who was in a particularly magnanimous mood, marked his wine stash as belonging to “The Bradbury Family”, and declared that the wine is for the whole family to enjoy, whenever they want. He is a very brave man if he isn’t worried that Franck and I might not take him up on this. Just look at all that Grand Cru Chablis…

In any case, it is always meaningful to be pull out a bottle of aged wine for a special occasion; a wedding, a baptism, an engagement, or even just a sublime Sunday meal with friends.

Before you pull out your bottles though, you must cellar the wine in the first place.

It is my belief that while a cellar is ideal, it is by no means necessary. Any cool place with minimal temperature variations and the highest possible level of humidity will do…

Poke around in your own closets and basement and see if you can’t find such a place in your home. If not, survey your relatives and / or friends’ houses – the ones you would trust with your life, thus your wine – to see if they don’t possess such a spot.

The next step is to acquire a few bottles of wine that have every chance of aging well. Although many red and white Bordeaux and Burgundies (and yes, I’m totally biased) come to mind, there are also excellent New World wines that age extremely well.

If in doubt consult one of your oenophile friends, who undoubtedly will have very strong and entertaining opinions on the subject, or the staff at your favorite local wine store.

Make sure you lie your wine bottles on their sides, just like you’re putting them to sleep. Shut off the light and let them snooze away.

And as for choosing the ideal moment to draw out your hidden treasures to share with the world…believe me, just like falling in love, your gut and your Frenchitude will just know it.

In Vino Veritas!

Une Peintre Modeste in the Family

My mother is not only the World’s Best Mother and Grandmother, but she also happens to have many other talents, such as painting.

However, as she is also one of the most modest people in the world, she doesn’t think her paintings are ever good enough to hang on the wall.

This strikes a chord with me, as I always feel as though my writing is never good enough for public consumption (I play a mental game with myself that nobody actually reads my blog except for my family).

Why are we always – especially women – so critical of our own creative output? Why is it so difficult to feel 100% proud of something awesome that we have produced, with the exception of our children?

Have a gander at the painting of the Abbaye de Sénanque that my Mom painted for me, and which we have now hung in the lavender bedroom of Le Relais du Vieux Beaune.

How could she think this isn’t good?

Just for the record, I would give my eyeteeth to be able to paint like my Mom, just like I would give one of my thumbs to be able to sing like my oldest sister or understand complex mathematics like my youngest sister.

Enough of this modesty, Mom. You are an AMAZING painter, and I will be hounding you to paint more from now on.

Authentic France Travel Tip #: Stop and Sentir Les Roses

Back home in Victoria, Canada, growing roses is a very tricky business. There is not only the salt air from the ocean to contend with, but all manner of aphids, mildew, and general anti-rose pestilence. Coaxing a healthy rose from a rose bush in my garden back in Canada takes just about the same amount of dedication and worry as living with a 16 month old toddler (and I just happen to be a specialist at the latter at the moment).

And then there’s Burgundy.

Gorgeous, healthy roses have burst into bloom all around us over the past two weeks. They cling to rock walls and often grow in what looks like nothing more than a few specks of gravel. They seem to be by and large neglected by their owners, yet thrive all the same.

They really want to make me buy a super-dooper camera like A Novel Woman’s. Just have a look – these photos are just a sample of the roses at or around La Maison des Deux Clochers and La Maison de la Vieille Vigne.

So if you are enjoying a trip to France in June, stop and take a sniff. They just so happen to smell vraiment bon too.

***”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for savvy travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.