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From young root clippings in dry, arduous conditions to fruit bursting with the essence of the surrounding countryside, grapes are cultivated over a long period of time to bring you an explosion of sensory impact...Read More

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Archive for Life

Moonlight Beach looking south, Encinitas, CA, January 16, 2011

Moonlight Beach looking south, Encinitas CA Jan 16 2011

An image of peace from a California morning at the beach.

More Fun In and Around Chester, Plumas County, California

Although I was born and raised in San Francisco and it makes me “city-folk”, my parents and siblings have spent our lives seeking out Mother Nature to retreat and rebuild from the The City lifestyle. We leave our cellphones in our trucks when we go hiking and make sure our fancy REI purchased equipment is secure at our camp before venturing out for a day trip around town and beyond. And we were disguises.

This is a picture of city folk disguised as Mountain People.

Flatlanders disguised as Mountain People

From left to right: financial planner, real estate agent and electrician, cancer researcher and computer expert.

Most days, we leave camp and head for Chester. It’s always for coffee and ice, or breakfast, postcards or to see what the general hardware store has to offer the year of our visit.

The town of Chester is a small slice of the greater Northern California Americana Pie which means it has been lived in first by Native American Indians then shaped by the gold rush then by forestry and tourism. Any who has been to a small town around Eureka, Trinity Alps, Mt. Shasta, Mt Lassen, Lake Tahoe or around Lake Almanor knows exactly what I am referring to. Some towns are so small that you dare not blink when driving through it or you might miss it. Located east of Red Bluff and west of Susanville, Chester has roughly eighteen square miles of land at an altitude of about 4,300′ and one thousand families living in it. Of the pioneer families who settled there well over one hundred and twenty years ago there are two that need mention in my story: Johnson and Martin.

Two men, Burwell Johnson who had been born in Chester, Missouri and Oscar Martin who had been born in Chester, Vermont have the  honor of naming the town.  It happened when the post office was established in the mid-1890’s at a stage coach stop and ranch and it officially became the name of the town.

These towns get hit hard in recession years as tourism fluctuates. Coffee shops and restaurants trade hands and we’ve seen places come and go. Gourmet food is not exactly found here, but you can always find an espresso drink in town no matter what. And it must be the wonderful snow melt water that is used for steaming hot cups of coffee up there and good bean roasting tactics that make for delicious hot drinks. I’ve often driven into town twice in one day, the mochas are so good.

For freshly made Kool Aid the local kids can’t be beat.

This photo is of little kids in Chester selling freshly made Kool Aid.

Freshly Made Kool Aid

If you do plan to go camping in the area and don’t want to leave your pet at home, you may want to check out the local Doggie Day Care. They have a fantastic place with great people caring for you dog. It’s owned and run by Avonna. Call 530-258-6355 and tell her Hugh’s sister Annie sent ya!

This is a photo of the facade of the Doggie Day Care center in Chester, CA.

Doggie Day Care - Chester, CA

Up next, a trip to a 10,000 year old artesian well and spring just outside Chester.

Flatlanders -VS- Mountain People at Butt Lake Reservoir, Plumas County, CA

This is a photo of two guys inflating a pool toy to use on the lake.

Hugh and the "Mountain Kid" inflate pool toys for the girls to use on the lake.

We have some friends in Chester and their kids are rather amusing to us City-folk. We’re very amusing to these mountain kids who think we know nothing about living in the country. We said nothing to the contrary. Sometimes the best way that kids learn is by witnessing to a person’s experience. Our friends dropped their kids off at our campsite for a day and a night with their bikes and a friend in tow.

The firs thing these kids did was establish that they were “Mountain People” and we were “Flatlanders”. When they described themselves, they did this little hand routine where they pounded their chest and then punched the air with their fists. We busted up before they were through defining our mutual roles.

Urban Dictionary defines flatlanders for us: the term flatlander isn’t specific to any state. It’s a term that all mountain people use to describe tourist that don’t have the skills/knowledge to recreate in the mountains.

Sweetheart No.1 is about ten years old –we’ll call her Valentina. Spunky, she liked to hang around the action but didn’t want the boys bugging her and her friend. She showed up with a pink girls bike that needed some TLC. These kids use street bikes on country roads and go over pot holes, grassy fields, through creeks and runoff and anything that falls down a mountain. Valentina was telling me about all these cool stunts she can do on a bike and I asked her to show me. She announced that she couldn’t because the seat kept falling off, the handlebars were not staying in place and the front tire was wonky. I asked her why she didn’t ask someone to fix it for her and looked over at the guys. They shrugged with indifference.

Flipping down the backseat of my truck, I pulled out some tools and started tuning her bike. Then she went into action for us.

This is a photo of a girl balancing on her bike seat with one leg while sticking her other leg straight out the back while holding her handlebars.

Bike Stunt by 10 year old girl

Sweetheart No. 2 is a tad older, perhaps eleven –we’ll call her Blondie. She and her brother wouldn’t quit throwing barbs over at each other. It was very friendly fire and we laughed at all of it. She seemed more the intellectual type as she was looking forward to going back to school come September.

This is a photo of two girls on their bikes in Cool Springs Campground at Butt Lake Reservoir, Plumas County, CA.

Girls on Bikes at Cool Springs Campground, Butt Lake Res.

This is a photo of a teenage boy examining a box labeled River Rat Tube.

Bike Boy Examines A River Rat Tube

Blondie’s brother is your normal teenager of about 14 –we’ll call him The Bike Guy. He and his buddy, who we will call Mountain Kid were high on sugar the entire time we were around them. It was Mountain Kid that provided the most entertainment for us as he accused us of doing our hunting at Safeway. And he called us “Flatlanders”.

This is a photo of a young teenage boy in an American Flag t-shirt in a camp chair with a camoflauge baseball hat on.

American Mountain Kid

He wasn’t joking. Since he could carry a rifle, he has been hunting his meals with Dad and his Grandfather. His mom runs a garden in their backyard and they live off the land. He amused us with stories of hunting deer, boars, pheasants, fish, and wild turkey. He talked about his camouflage clothes, why you don’t want to shower with soap or use detergent to wash your clothes before hunting because the animals can smell it.  He talked of guns, bows, knives and traps and we listened like it was the last story hour of our lives. Mountain Kid was Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Tarzan, Daniel Boone and Rambo all rolled into one 15 year old package.

At campfire that night, Bike Boy’s dad placed a whoopie cushion that could be operated by remote control under someone’s camp seat. Without warning, it went off and everyone was laughing out of control and trying to figure out  who was responsible. Blame was being passed from kid to kid and when one of them revealed that it couldn’t have been Mountain Kid because “his smell gamey”. Well, our family went into total and complete hysterics at that one and it was a while before anyone could speak. He became legendary in that moment.

This is a photo of four sweethearts at camp.

Flatlanders and Mountain People

My sister, Frances, had the next best laugh. The girls wanted to get their share of the fun on the rope swing before they had to go home in the morning. It was about 4:30PM and the sun was headed over the hill. Temperatures were dropping. Frances asked the girls if they had a change of clothes with them since they didn’t have swimsuits. No, they didn’t but it was okay. Frances cautioned them that there wasn’t enough sunlight left to dry out and then they would be freezing cold later. They defied her thumping their chests with their fist saying, “We’re mountain people, we’re mountain people!” No, they knew better. Off they went and one of them lost a shoe. And they froze that night.

In the morning, Frances raised an eyebrow, handed them hot mugs of cocoa and said something along the lines of, “Guess we Flatlanders aren’t so stupid after all, huh?”

While I wasn’t there, I did hear reports back about how my brothers impressed the heck out of the boys with their skills, knowledge and abilities in the mountains. The girls had their own fun with us and I’m sure none of them Mountain People remembered us when they wrote their “What I did this summer” essay.

Stay tuned for more fun with youngsters!

Interpreting India’s Caste System

In Egypt, we were constantly approached by beggars asking for “baksheesh”.  The people would create a situation which would enable them to receive a tip.  For example, one removed Steve’s sunglasses from his daypack, dropped them to the ground, and then offered them back to Steve for money.  Men commented, because he was traveling with 2 sisters “You are a rich man, you have two wives!”  Islam demands that riches be given to the poor in some measure, and he was constantly told this.

We didn’t know how Hindus would behave.  In a greatly simplified synopsis given to us by one of our guides, a caste system has grown up over the centuries.  It was originated as a way to direct kids into the proper job category, and it has now ossified.  It used to be that any bright kid would be directed to the priesthood, etc.,   Now there are many sub-castes.  But there are 4 main ones:

1.  Brahmin – originally priests, teachers, intellectuals
2.  Warrior – military, strong physically, leaders
3.  Merchants
4.  Low caste – cremate dead, clean, serve

In America, all the Indians we have ever known have been of the economist/engineer/computer scientist/doctor caste.  We have been impressed with their high intelligence, warmth, integrity and technical competence.  So, we were interested in seeing if the people here (in India) resemble the Indians we know and love.

They do not.  That is because, for the most part, we are colliding against the merchant/lower beggar class.  It seems to us that 80% of India belongs to this caste!  And we’ve taken to calling this army of touts, beggars, snake charmers, tourist guides, bellhops, maids, musicians, vendors, toilet attendants, tuk-tuk drivers, auto rickshaw cyclists, massage therapists, henna artists, elephant drivers, jeep jockeys, game guides….”The Venal Caste”!

Although we have paid (through the nose) for this tour in advance, in this culture, that is not enough.  Each time that anyone does anything for you, they have their hands out.  These activities appear on our itinerary as included.  But that is just the beginning.

We’ve read about corruption in India.  All peoples suffer greed to one extent or the other; it’s human.  But the ways in which it’s expressed to us tourists is unpleasant.  Some are doing a sullen, half-assed job, and still have their hand out.  A majority are just aggressive, loud and obstinate, refusing to take no for an answer, even when stated clearly and many times over.

Our driver’s wheedling and cajoling gave up the secret of what’s behind this.  The day after we arrived, the guide and driver asked what we did on our free day.  When we told them we’d gone for a walk and bought rugs, they exchanged angry glances.  When I confronted them, they said, you were cheated.  You should have let us take you to a reputable place.  But it had more to do with their having lost a commission on what we bought.

Thereafter, we could see our guides and driver deviate from the schedule and take us to company shopping emporiums, while saying “You buy!”  Every historical commentary was somehow commandeered, instead, into a full-fledged sales campaign describing the merits of Indian products.  The driver was also trying to get us to buy things or services we didn’t want “Whisky, rum, you like drink?”  “No, too strong”.  “Not strong, good for health, I bring you”.  “No, thank you”.  “Yes!”  “What part of NO don’t you understand???”

We had the “A-ha!” moment when the driver told us that he had a poor friend in Jaipur that could apply henna designs.  Gail enthusiastically indicated she would like to have her left hand done.

I said, “no thank you”.  He said, “she’s poor, you do both hands.  Both of you”.  I said, “I already told you no”.  He said, “Why you not like henna?”  I said, “My skin is cracked and peeling, allergic”.  The lady didn’t answer her phone ‘til we were near the next city.  The driver proposed she make a 3 hour train ride to do Gail’s hand.  Now the pressure to give to the poor was really on.

In the end, she came to Ranthambore, did a beautiful job on Gail’s hand, and was given a large tip.

What’s behind this is how India functions.  Each individual behaves as if the only reason to have contact with another is if he can get money or favors out of the interaction.  Thus, there is no human interaction that is not tainted with venality.  You can understand and see desperation in the poorest and the beggars.  But we are not free here to shop on our own.  Our day is being carefully controlled so our guides and drivers get a commission on what we buy and we are being pressured to buy.

Which, paradoxically, is making us unwilling to buy!  We see them exchanging glances of disappointment and hovering and commenting.

Then the joy of looking at the skillful work and receiving a beautiful item is gone.  Everyone is out for himself, or out to force the guest into feeling guilty that they haven’t given away everything they have to the poor.  Our driver has been asking whom we are going to give our savings to after we die (implying that we should give it to India’s poor).  He has been telling us about the dhurrie rug merchants who really needs our money.

That’s how India works:  one person uses and exploits the other (while studiously making sure the tourists give to the poor and to them).  In this way, they fulfill the Hindu sense of obligation to the poor, and receive good karma.

While I can fully see what’s going on, I don’t have to like dealing with the Venal Caste.

Claudia and Gail

San Luis Reservoir at Sunrise, December 6, 2010

There was a torrential downpour in the Santa Clara Sunday night, but the next day the Central Valley was sunny and gloriously green and Highway 5 was dry. Can’t ask for more for a California trip south!

Going Home (Where is home?)

in France, Life     

This week, fires have been roaring in our fireplace (and have ravaged San Diego and 6 other California counties at home).  It was zero degrees C (32 F) this morning in the car.   The frost was on the grass, and the mists rose slowly from the ground as it heated up.   In California , it has been hot, windy and dry.  Our thoughts turned to home (as opposed to our home away from home that is Monsalut).  And to our friends, their lives, their houses, and ours.  We asked them what they took with them as they evacuated.  We made our own list.

This week, we have gone through the motions of normal everyday life here, even as we have been seeing San Diego burn on CNN.  Monday:  laundry and picking up Steve’s medications at the pharmacy.  Tuesday Josiane came and administered our flu shots, then we took her and Dominique to Le Pistou for lunch.  Every year, we commemorate her discovering Steve’s pulse was dangerously low in 2003, leading to the pacemaker operation here.

Wednesday, Mrs. Goberville, Maurice and Fred came for aperitifs.  They had found Gail’s wallet and returned it 10 years ago now.  Our political views diverge radically, and we have difficulty admiring Fred, who would rather collect the minimum government payment of 435 euros a month (and do nothing), or Maurice, who is under 50 but “tired”, jaded and whose favorite phrase is “the problem is”,  Only Mrs. Goberville, at 80, floats above all the whining and complaining, to say “Vive l’Amerique”, when Steve tells her “Vive la France,”

Thursday was interesting.  The daughter in law of the mail carrier invited us to lunch an hour and a half drive south in St. Paul les Dax.  The N10 was choked with truck traffic to Spain , with lanes cordoned off for repairs.  The GPS got us to within a few hundred yards of Jennifer and Francois’ apartment.  They are two serious young people beginning their life together.  Her teaching job is now solid, but Francois must wait until January, 2008 to know if his short-term contract will be turned into a life-time offer.  He enthusiastically showed us samples of paneling, flooring, and exterior trim.  He’s put together the website for the wood industry here, as well as booklets and books.  The forest covering 1 million square km is the largest in Europe , and has 3 industries – chemicals, paper and wood planks and products.  They talk about buying a piece of land and building their own house (out of wood, naturally).  We strolled around Dax’s hot springs pampering palaces (3 weeks paid for by the French government on doctors’ prescriptions), the bullfighting arena, and the bridges over the Adour .

Now, it’s the end of our trip, and we thankfully will have a house to come home to.  Yet, if this place weren’t already rented for the Toussaint holiday week, we probably want to stay, to get out of the polluted San Diego air.  San Diego is home, but this is also home.  It’s a comfortable, beautiful place.  We don’t need to own it to enjoy it.

This weekend we’ll be over at Jean-Paul and Rachel’s house, then home late Monday, Oct. 29.

Claudia and Steve
10/29/07

Treasures of Sibiu, and Other Oddities

in Art, Life, Romania, Travel     

Main Orthodox Church in Sibiu

The Holy Trinity Cathedral was completed in 1904 and is across the street from the residence of the Romanian Orthodox Archbishop of Sibiu (in other words, this is his church).  The interior is covered with painting in vibrant colors; the style reminded me of Byzantine icons, so I was very surprised to hear that this church was constructed relatively recently.  As you can see, this is a combination of western and eastern traditions, with some figurative art that is “filled in” with repetitive patterns, more like the eastern religions.  In addition to the usual iconography my daughter noticed symbolic eyes painted on some walls, looking in every direction, and we were told that these were the eyes of God always watching us.  There are churches of many different denominations in Sibiu, but the Romanian Orthodox Church is still dominant. We were told that the church now owns a lot of property in Sibiu, including residential apartments in the town center.

Church InteriorIconSnakes and Reptiles

For a complete change of pace, we took a look at a Museum of Pharmacy, part of the Brukenthal that is in a separate small building off the “Piata Mica,” the smaller square in the center of town.  This was like entering a laboratory right out of Harry Potter, with cabinets that had drawers labeled with Latin names of herbs and potions, and maybe not eyes of newt, but you’ll see the preserved snakes and reptiles in one of the photos.Tools

Near the town center our hosts pointed out a narrow building that was a hostel, and they explained that it was not for regular students, but instead that it had become a modern sort of guild.  When the town of Sibiu began to be renovated recently (in particular for its celebration in 2007 as a European Capital of Culture), volunteers came here from all over Europe to help with the repairs and also to learn the trades involved such as stonework, carpentry, and roofing.  The volunteers wear special black top hats and you can see them around town, for example we saw one of them whizzing by on a bicycle.

In the evening we took a break in an upstairs cafe and had Italian-style gelato.  There seemed to be a mirror in the room but at a second glance it was a full glass window separating the room into two sections, smoking and non.  This being Europe, the nonsmoking section was tiny and narrow, and the smoking section was large and crowded with noisy partiers.  (And we could watch each other through a glass wall!)

An Oahu Review

in Life, Travel, USA      tags: , , ,
Portrait at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Captured or captivated by the natives?

Aloha!

I’ll be sharing some highlights from my recent trip to Oahu in middle October.

I thought I’d never need to return to Oahu so I was very pleasantly surprised at how I found it during my second visit.

Desiring to make a dream come true for my senior mom, I dove in to plan a whirlwind, week-long trip for her first ever visit. How does a young adult plan a trip for a senior citizen? It takes imagination and web skills.

I searched aplenty and did not find many resources for senior travel in Hawaii. I know millions of them visit but was let down to find lists suggesting they hike tough hills, snorkel, surf and do other extremely difficult physical day trips. Now honestly. Wanting some ‘get real’ from the web and not really finding much, I decided to find things that only required minimal walking with lots of air conditioned riding.

Some seniors swim, golf and do other healthy activities, but my charming travel partner did not. What to do?

I found a great site, Go Visit Hawaii and they had a list called “10 Best Free Activities and Sights on Oahu”. Free? Ten best? Now we were talking!

http://www.govisithawaii.com/2007/09/24/10-best-free-activities-and-sites-on-oahu/

I culled from this list and with the help of my kamaina (local) host, we did manage to do a lot with minimal or reasonable effort– and often at no cost. This suited my high blood pressure buddy just fine. Easy. Cheap or totally free. What’s not to like for young adult or senior?

This post is not intended to be solely about senior travel, however, since it figured in so strongly in our experience, and since it is so difficult to find good advice for the wealthiest segment of our society, I share for those who may also wonder what to do with mom and dad. These activities are great for most age groups that visit. Who wouldn’t want to see beautiful vistas and inspiring memorials? Sitting on a beach for seven days is too boring for us. We’re full of get up and go.

Since we arrived on a Friday morning I decided to take full advantage of the FREE FIREWORKS at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Fireworks on Waikiki beach, free?? How magical a first night is that? Good for the flush or the recession-minded.

For info on the fireworks go here: http://www.hiltonhawaiianvillage.com/resort_activities/entertainment_and_events.cfm

And no, this is not a plug for any particular business. I’m including links so you know how to get to these particular places. It makes me happy to think I can share some of the magic that filled our tropical visit.

One can watch the fireworks from many places in Honolulu for free or pay to go to their evening dinner and show that concludes with the pyrotechnic sky displays. My little buddy was too tired from the plane travel and excitement so we watched it from the second story veranda at our lodgings. Perfect. A fireworks show welcoming us with sparkle to Hawaii and no driving involved. Travel buddy was really pleased and went off to bed smiling and quite tickled at not having to “go anywhere”.

Note to self: driving, flying and “getting there” can be hard on those who do not travel well. Good to group things logically by geography and time so things flow efficiently.

It was during the veranda view of my dreamed-of fireworks-on-the-beach that I had to let go of an expectation and either be disappointed or happy. I chose to be happy with how well this worked out. I found satisfaction by accepting the facts in the best light. Drilling down and finding our expectations while travelling is mightily important as it can enlighten us as to why we are annoyed with this change in plan or that delay. Once we know the expectation we held, we can choose to let it go and find the good in the present gift of situation basics. Wanting harmony on our trip, a trip planned with my senior mom’s joy and happiness in mind, not mine, this brief self-inspection right at the outset of the trip was a fantastic gift to the both of us. I wanted this trip to build happy Hawaiian memories for her. Any residuals that overflowed to me, the travel guide, were a bonus and I’d happily take them.

Mindset is so important for travel. One must be aware of it or one can chafe at the slightest things and not really know why. I like to be a happy traveller. I did a lot of adjustments on this trip and it was a huge success. Constantly checking in with oneself and one’s travel partner is a must. Not sermonizing here, just sharing what worked for such a blessed and magical trip. When jetlag and fatigue play in, its best to stay on top of one’s attitude and outlook. Then the beauty of the landscape, seascapes and local color gets in past the filters into the heart of the grateful traveller.

More about the flower-scented trade winds, the five-star food loci and the lush tropics in my next long-winded post.

Thanks for joining me here in my first post. Nice to have you along.

Sibiu, the heart of Transylvania

in Life      tags: , ,


After thirty years we returned to see our extended Romanian family in Sibiu, a city in the foothills of the Carpathians. There were no vampires, but there was lots of sarmale (cabbage stuffed with pork and rice), tuica (plum brandy), tours of the town (we saw the moat used to defend the city from the Tatars), and most of all, stories told while sitting around the dinner table with family late at night. More soon, including photos, recipes, and most of all, stories told.

The Grass in Greener in Bordeaux

We felt the weight of the additional inspections during the trip from San Diego, through Dallas and London Gatwick to Bordeaux.  The airline felt the weight of all the oat bran, psyllium, toilet paper, paper towels, coffee and bicycle helmets we had in our luggage.  By 10:30 a.m. we were in the pub at Gatwick ordering up half-pints of John Smith Yorkshire ale and Directors’ Courage.  The stress disappeared.  Soaring over the French countryside, we saw the offshore islands of Ile de Re and Ile d’Oleron.  It was brilliantly sunny over Aquitaine for miles, and we could see the muddy river Garonne widen to become the Gironde estuary.  Thousands of vineyards and a castle were visible down below.  Then the white limestone buildings of the city of Bordeaux came into view on the river’s west bank. 
 
For the first few days, we rest from jet lag in a hotel before driving a car.  We reserved a one bedroom apartment with kitchen at a new aparthotel, called Appart City, near the Merignac airport.  This cost 50 euros a night plus 10 euros for high speed internet.  We didn’t find out until later that, although messages were coming in, our messages weren’t getting out!  The dim bulb attendant at the desk didn’t tell us we needed to change the outgoing server name to smtp.wanadoo.fr. 
 
Each year we book our car through Renault Eurodrive.  You “buy” a car for $30,000, then sell it back to Renault at a pre-agreed price.  The difference between the buy and sell prices reflects your daily rental.  In this case, we paid about $33/day for a 1.9 liter Renault Megane 4-door diesel 6-speed manual car.  Fuel has really gone up since last year.  Regular gas is 1.29 euros per liter, and diesel is 1.06 euros per liter.  One euro is now worth $1.28.
 
On Friday we picked up the Megane and drove immediately to a gas station (because they only give you 10 liters in the tank).  We were warmly welcomed at the pharmacy in the little town of Cestas Gazinet where we are staying.  We bought a new chip for our GSM cell phone.  It was lunchtime, so we reserved at the Clos Tassigny, where we fortified ourselves with some pate, delicate salmon and beef .  Even if you only “reserve” a half hour in advance, you get the royal treatment when you come back in earnest!
 
Xavier Guibert, the owner of this gite, suggested we check in one day early (usually gite rentals run from Saturday to Saturday).  We have been coming here since 2001.  We like the combination of the spacious, elegant house, and the location.  It’s a long, low “longere”, rectangular 2 story house.  It has 4 bedrooms, and 3 bathrooms.  The living room is wallpapered in turquoise, and chairs in yellow print.  There is a black marble table in the center, and a grey marble fireplace.  The ceilings are 12 feet high.  It is about 190 square meters, or about 2,000 square feet.
 
There was a new oriental rug in the living room, new bedspreads, chair covers and tables.  Most important to us, Xavier hooked us up to his wireless high speed internet connection.
 
The house is located a short walk from the train station (14 minutes north to Bordeaux), bakeries, vegetable market and butcher.  Behind the gite are an immense span of grass and 100 year old trees.  On the white stone terrace are umbrellas, table and a barbecue.  All around is the magnificent oak and pine forest with bicycle and hiking paths.  In the garage are our bicycles, which we bought 4 years ago.  In the attic are 8 boxes of sheets, towels, knives, phone and satellite TV receiver, everything you need to be at home in France.
 
Our neighbors Jean-Paul and Rachel came over bearing the case and a half of wine they had stored in their garage since we left last November.  They invited us on a bike ride in the pine forest this Wednesday.  We spent Saturday setting up the gite.  On Sunday we greeted the vegetable lady and the cheese person at the outdoor market in Cestas Bourg, then returned to the gite to grill duck breasts, in a sauce of fresh peaches, Cointreau, butter and shallots, accompanied by fresh green beans and garlic basil potatoes.
 
We caught up on all the gossip from our friends.  Our friends Carole and Michel just split up (they live near Spain in the Pyrenees Orientales).  The secretary of our former gite owner Evelyne Allien just lost her husband to liver cancer at 51.  Our friend Nicolas just succeeded in getting his teaching credential and will begin as an instructor in LeMans on Monday.  Jennifer and Francois, whom we were tutoring in English last fall, have gotten jobs in teaching and forestry with a long-term contract.  These young people truly deserve it, for they were willing to move to another city and even work for free, just to achieve their dream.
 
Everyone told us how unbelievably hot July was, and how it rained almost every day in August.  How will this affect the famous Bordeaux grapes?  We shall soon find out.  The ferns and corn are green, greener than we have ever seen them at this time of year.  But, one thing in the forest is not right:  the iron-rich spring down by the stream has completely dried up.  We pray it returns.
 
It’s hot this afternoon, so we have closed the tall white shutters to the terrace.  It’s comfortable and cool in the stone house.  Tomorrow we will take the train into Bordeaux.  We will pay the gite rental for October, shop for olive oil and perfume, go to the House of Japan to try to find a Japanese language tutor so I can continue my studies, and have a nice lunch in town.  Friday is the book club meeting. I am reading the books in French as fast as I can.  Saturday we will drive south to the fantastic Bazas market for herbs and sausages and then see our favorite Sauternes winemaker, Evelyne.
 
All these things unfold in the same order, at the same rhythm, as they have every year.  We can’t call this adventure travel.  Rather, we are walking down a path we have followed for many years.  We just enjoy the everyday pleasure of living in France.
 
The grass is greener over here.  But not so green when the chill winds arrive in November.  We’ll be back home by the end of October. 
 
Cheers! 
Claudia and Steve
9/7/06

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