Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Let's Begin Again

Copyright © 2009 Cindy Wilkinson McMullen. The content on this blog is the sole property of the author. If you intend to use any text or images, please obtain permission in writing from the author and link back to my site.

I started this blog yet again last spring ( I had previously begun to write in Scotland in 2002) with the idea of exploring and maybe even explaining a little about how we are living and why, and sharing some of our experiences, whether wonderful, magical, terrifying or mind-boggling. We are often asked what motivated us to pare down, pack up and move out, so I began writing this time from the perceived beginning, 2004, our annus horribilis. But, in fact, it was a series of decisions driven by many experiences over our entire lives that led us to this point and particularly the 28 years we have spent living together, loving and learning. Perhaps that is why I have had so much difficulty with getting on with it; Why my writing had floundered and been inconsistent both in style and substance. There is just too damn much to say, or explain.

So I have decided to begin again today, December 1. I like this date much better than a New Year. Writing today in both retrospect and anticipation seems appropriate. We are preparing to close a short French chapter and launch into a more lengthy British one. I will probably jump back frequently to post thoughts and experiences from Mexico or Florida, or even Chicago, North Carolina or earlier times in Scotland. I neither expect nor will I try to create any sort of time continuum other than that which influences my thoughts. It will be necessary for me to journey backwards from time to time in order to make my own sense of things but it is too painful and much too long a process to delay recounting current experiences for the sake of emotions and explanation.

So, off I go again with hopes for continuing on a more regular basis.

Today I wrote a long e-letter to my mother to sort of update what is going on and where we are headed. Sadly, she will not understand or remember a lot of what I wrote. Below is the letter, with some edits for clarity.
Dear Mom,

The sun is shining and it is 45 degrees F here in west central France. I’ve never gotten the hang of C and fortunately Google will tell me the temperature in F.

I was taking a long warm soak in the tub this morning when right in the middle of it the power went out. That meant, no lights, no warm towel but mostly NO HEAT!! So there I was contemplating stepping naked, wet and dripping out onto the tile floor in the bathroom of a 500 year-old-house with no heat. Fortunately the water was still warm so, after yelling for David to check what had happened, I was able to stay cocooned in the tub until the lights came back on and the electric heater on the wall had enough time to warm things up beyond shivering temperature. No icicles formed on my nose as a result of the experience, although my feet have remained cold all day.

The huge original fireplace in the main room is great for keeping the downstairs toasty but does nothing for the upstairs. Lately there has been so much rain that the small bit of wood we have left is wet. Lisa (who with her partner my Mark visited over Thanksgiving) tried all sorts of ancient rituals in an attempt to start a fire on their last night here but I think we were only able to keep it going by adding lots of paper. The wood delivery guy operates on Mexican time because he was supposed to be here three weeks ago.

We had a great visit with Mark and Lisa. We toured through local villages, cooked lots of French food , ate good French bread and cheese and drank good French wine. They even ventured out on their own one day so Mark should have some good stories about driving on the narrow country French roads. It’s called a “big road” here if it has a dotted white line down the middle. There are no shoulders on any of the roads, big or otherwise. It can be a little disconcerting when you are driving along and the speed limit sign says 70 on a road barely wide enough for one car, until it dawns on you that it is in kilometers. The distances on road signs can be a little off-putting at times for the same reason.

Last night Toby told me there were three things he wanted to do in France - visit a winery, play in Paris and travel to other countries. I guess France is just a jumping off point for the other countries and we’ll be traveling to the UK soon so I hope that counts. In terms of wineries, we are looking at whether to go north to a Loire winery and maybe a chateaux or two or south to Cognac. I don’t think Toby particularly planned to “play in Paris” with his parents (ooh, good alliteration) and his Mexican friends (whom he met in NYC) who were in Paris last week are now on their way to Barcelona so he may have to visit Paris from some other jumping off point. Tavish hated Paris so perhaps Toby’s lack of initiative in getting there has been fueled a bit by his brother’s opinion.

David and I decided that although it has been years since either of us has been to the “city of lights“, that most of the old stuff we liked is still there and unchanged and will remain so, we are unlikely to spend the fortune it would cost to go to any of the trendy restaurants and the bistros and brasseries here in the countryside are just as good a those in the city -so we’re gonna pass this time. Actually, given the cost we’re also happy that Toby has passed it up just now as well.

There is a large and very eclectic library in our house. David is on volume 2 of Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples so every night there are usually some interesting tidbits to share. I think he is up to the reign of Good Queen Bess. There will be a problem soon however as only volumes 1, 2, & 4 are here. He may have to take a break and read 3 &4 after we get to Britain. He is writing daily on a new book and expecting the galleys for Strike just after the holidays. He’s taking daily walks when it is not too wet and has posted some of his photos on Facebook. He has also started a blog, Rambling Historian. httpp://rambling historian.blogspot.com

I have also been reading a lot - The Titanic Conspiracy :Cover-ups and Mysteries of the World’s Most Famous Sea Disaster by Robin Gardner and Dan Van Der Vat which was interesting after just making the crossing on the Queen Mary 2. On the QM2 they actually announced when we were near the Titanic! Spooky.

The other things I have been reading are a good indication of just how eclectic the collection here is - J. Edgar Hoover: the Man and the Secrets by Curt Gentry (long but very intriguing - pun intended); Over My Head by Claudia L. Osborne (recommended for anyone dealing with the loss of personal mental capacity or that of a loved one); Fatal Voyage by Kathy Reichs; A Tenured Professor (a novel) by John Kenneth Galbraith ( very good - especially in today’s financial situation); Far Appalachia by Noah Adams (wonderful!); Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver (recommended for all my Mexico friends or anyone interested in Native American things); Pope Joan by Donna Cross; An Englishman in Paris by Michael Sadler (funny) and Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson.

I tried to read The Mists of Avalon but just couldn’t get into it. Still on my list are Isabella Allende’s The House of Spirits which I never got to while in Mexico and Folk Myths of the Old Testament by Sir James Georg Frazer which I will read while thinking of Dr. Millicent Honeycutt my English professor at Pfeiffer College.

Right now we are listening to a great podcast of Celtic music. I guess David is already moving on from France even though we still have 23 days to parle Francais. I’ve actually surprised myself at how much French I remember and how much I have been able to pick up in such a short time. There is still no way I can carry on a conversation but we have managed to do our shopping without incident and I can order in a restaurant and generally get what I expect - well, except for Halloween Soup.

Last Saturday we were in a small restaurant in Chauvigny for lunch and I was explaining the menu items to everyone else at the table. It was raining and I was in the mood for soup and the one thing I could not translate was the soup du jour-Potage du Potiron aux Jambon. I knew it had ham in it but the fact the I didn’t know what else was in it may explain why we didn’t have pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I asked our server, a 50-something woman, and she tried to explain and realized she didn’t know the word in English. Suddenly her eyes lit up, she made a motion like something round with her hands and said “Halloween.” The pumpkin soup with ham was delicious.

I’ve been cooking much more than we have been eating out, primarily because it is difficult for a vegetarian to eat in restaurants here( i.e. Toby - and Mark and Lisa while they were here). The cheese is amazing - over 300 kinds - and we live in the center of goat cheese land. I had no idea there were so many different kinds . I have yet to meet a cheese I didn’t like. And the pastries, of course, are marvelous.

Today, someone came and installed an official marker just outside our door. It shows the church, the mill and our house as the three oldest and historic sites here. Cool!

There is a wonderful swing by the river where David sits to read and ponder almost daily. I join him when it is warm enough and one afternoon while Mark and Lisa were here Toby brought some extra chairs down and all 5 of us sat there drinking wine and watching the river. It was lovely. There are several groups of ducks that swim regularly just out in front of the house and a lone crane who fishes in the river daily.

For the past two nights the moon has been so bright that it was almost like daylight. At about 2 AM on both nights it has passed just at the level of our bedroom window and shown in so brightly that it looked like a spotlight was shining on the bed. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Toby said he got up and went outside to see if there was something like car lights or a spotlight.

I spent most of yesterday afternoon researching things to do in London while we are there at Christmas. We arrive in the early evening on Dec 23 so we will probably find a local pub for a late supper, The Perseverance or The Duke, perhaps. We’re staying at the Crescent Hotel in Bloomsbury near the British Museum. There is a full English breakfast every morning so we will likely put some snacks in our room and then have only one meal out each day. After porridge, fruit, eggs, bangers, bacon, beans, black pudding, tomatoes and toast there really isn’t a need to eat too much more for awhile.

Our biggest challenge while in London will be transportation. The tube and buses stop running in late afternoon on Christmas Eve and don’t run at all on Christmas Day. I’m not sure about Boxing Day but they will be on holiday schedule for sure on Sunday and Monday. With Christmas and Boxing Day falling on a weekend with a Bank Holiday as well, taxis will also be sparse or ridiculously expensive (can you spell gouging?) I think we will be doing a lot of walking.

On Christmas Eve we hope to attend Lessons and Carols at Westminster Abbey and then have dinner at 108 Marylebone Restaurant, a new place with traditional British food. On Christmas Day we will take the Charles Dickens walking tour and then have Christmas Tea in the Palm Court at the Langham Hotel. I hope to get tickets to a show for Boxing Day (Dec 26) and then have dinner at one our favorite restaurants, Sofra, a Middle Eastern place that we have been to many times. We don’t have any fixed plans yet for Sunday but there will probably be Indian or Chinese food involved. On Monday which is a British Bank Holiday, we will go to a piano concert at St Martins in the Field at Trafalgar Sq and have lunch in the Café in the Crypt there. Tuesday is Toby’s birthday and we have reservations for a late lunch at Rules, the oldest restaurant in London. Sometime during the week I want to go to the V&A and the Tate Modern which may be a challenge with holiday schedules.

David had suggested we see a show at the Globe Theatre but when I looked into it, we learned the performances are outdoors even in Dec. The website says the Christmas season production is presented in two short 30 minute segments with plenty of time for mulled wine and warm food at intermission. I think we’ll pass that up. Wednesday the 30th is a travel day to Edinburgh where we will move into the flat we have taken until June 15.

Gotta get back to taking in as much French culture as possible in the three weeks that are left.

We love you and miss you.

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