Monday, July 25, 2011

Le Spectacle!

Oh, les fetes of summer in this southwestern region of France. They seem to pop up in just about every village, celebrating, I'm not exactly sure what, other than: while the weather is good, enjoy life! Brightly colored tissue flowers are strung high above rows and rows of seating areas which are surrounded by food and drink booths serving anything from moules frites and confit de canard to fresh chevre salad or fois gras.  Everything is reasonably priced under 5 euros for food, 3 euros for a great bottle of wine so it's a wonderful cheap date. There are often carnival rides and the treats that typically accompany them like cotton candy (barbe à papa - or "dad's beard") although fresh crepes covered with lemon and sugar or nutella seem to replace the fried twinkies or oreos you can find at home.

Because of our schedule and ultimate fatigue at the end of the day, we had not made a huge effort at attending one of these yet although I knew we should - not only for ourselves - but  also to research one of the many activities in the area for our future guests. Thankfully, our neighbors and fast-becoming, dear friends, Dominique and Patricia, invited us to join them at the fete in Signoules. They are the couple we attended the wonderful 14 Juliet (Bastille Day) luncheon at the Coutancie winery just a few weeks earlier and this was the third time that they had included us in their plans and introduced us to their friends and patiently spent an entire evening trying to decipher what the hell we were trying to say in French (I've told them that it must feel "comme parler à un bébé," or like talking to a baby) when we're over.

This time we were re-introduced to M. et Mme. Rambo who were the same farmers we bought our chickens from. Very nice couple although I could tell it took a little bit longer for the missus to warm up to us, but Hank had her almost in tears after performing a charade about having a colonoscopy. You can just imagine.

At the fete in Signoules last night, we each grabbed something to eat and drink and sat down just in time for "le Spectacle" to begin on the stage. "What is 'le spectacle?" I kept trying to find out until I could finally see for myself just what is was when about 8 singers in brightly colored sequined short shorts and wigs, fish-net stockings and high heels (some of which I'm sure were men in drag) began a karaoke show covering french classics on the stage. It sort of reminded me of a large Abba ensemble and at first, I wasn't really sure if I liked it or not (other than admiring the whole kitschy surrealism of the performances). That was,  until I looked around me - and at Patricia and Marie-Christine right next to me - and saw how much fun people were having. Young and old were singing along to "Aux Champs d'Elysées," with their arms over their heads clapping or just swaying to the music. Everyone, with the exception of myself, Hank and the British contingency there, knew the words of every Dalida song and many would just stand up and begin dancing in the rain (literally, as it started raining about half way through the show). After a while, I couldn't stand it and tried joining in and ended up having the time of my life.

After Le Spectacle, we had ice creams and walked back to our cars about 11:30pm thinking "boy, that was fun. Can't wait to get home in my jammies and dream about what a great experience that was." Dominique had driven with us so we dropped him off and were preparing to say our goodbyes to everyone when he tells Hank, "No, you're coming in. Turn off the motor." Hank and I look at each other like, "What should we do?" since I knew he was exhausted, but everyone was talking excitedly and making their way into the house and I just shrugged and said, "I guess we're staying for a bit," thinking that maybe it was just for a little night cap.

In the kitchen, Patricia and Marie-Christine begin making "Le Tourain" a local garlic soup and Dominique tries to explain a local Sud Quest campagne custom that they have here about making food late at night after a wedding for the newlyweds, supposedly to give them the energy for later on... nudge, nudge, wink, wink. I'm really not sure how that applied to all of us last night, so I'm certain I missed something in the translation, but in any case, we were staying and were going to eat because that's what the french do best according to Dominique. Anyway, in the matter of a half hour, we're having soup and having a glass of wine. Now it's after 1am and after the bowls are cleared, again, Patricia and Marie-Christine begin preparing something else. It's then that I jokingly ask Dominique, "a quel heure nous arretons manger?" (what time do we stop eating?) He tells us on Lundi, which is actually now the case since it's after midnight. Before we knew it, they brought l'omellete d'sucre (a large scrambled egg-like loaf and covered with sugar cubes and then doused in "l'eau de vie," or 40 % local homemade moonshine. Uh oh. Luckily, they light the whole thing and Marie-Christine works her magic continuing to spoon the liquid over the cubes as the blue flame engulfs the loaf and hopefully cooks off some of the alcohol. So, then we are served this incredible flambe dessert with a glass of a sweeter wine, Monbazillac, when Hank does his hysterical impression, cracking up our new friends. Filled with this delicious feast and a nip of l'eau de vie, rather than the supposed renewed energy, we were more likely to call it a night and bid everyone a bonne nuit at 2am ;)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Petit Clos Grande Opening (pas)

The trouble with committing to such a large undertaking like moving to a new country, renovating a 100-year-old farmhouse and turning 250-year-old barns into gites, managing a 50-acre farm, and trying to start both a chambres d'hotes and gift business at the same time,  is that it's really difficult to stay focused and what you had hoped would have been achieved by a certain date does not happen as scheduled. But, I guess that's life for all of us. Take, for instance, our planned "grand opening"of the chambre d'hotes on July 1. As we speak, Hank is on day five of digging a 100 meter trench so we can hook up to city water now that our well has completely dried up. He's gone through 2 mini pelles in the process as the first one we rented was just too small and he hardly made a dent after four days. Now he's upgraded and will hopefully be finished in 2-3 days digging 10-12 hours straight per day.

The good thing to come out of this unexpected diversion was that I learned how to tile a bathroom and I must say, did a pretty damn good job, if you don't count the fact that I had to do an entire section of wall over again because I didn't realize you had to match those suckers up at the corners. I was so tempted to say, "Ah, it's not that bad, is it?" But it was. See for yourself:

So, begrudgingly, I chipped the entire wall off, tortured my hands further mixing another batch of mortar and retiled. Voila!

Now we just have to hook up the plumbing for the clawfoot tub (ooh, i cannot wait!!!! - my first bath in over 6 months...well I mean, first bath in a tub other the thing we currently use and call the dog bath). That is, until I have to relinquish it to our first guest.

Back to staying focused or rather, not staying focused as I'm sure is becoming quite evident now, we really felt the need to do a project that gave us an actual visual reward (unless you can call repairing the stinky septic tank, pulling new electrical conduits or installing yet more drywall attractive). So a few weeks ago, Hank and Caleigh's petit ami, Theo, tore down the cinder block garage that used to block our beautiful view of the prairie from our front entrance (and cute little window from our kitchen). This job took another few days of Hank's valuable renovation time, but it was so worth it.

Unfortunately, our neighbors down the road rarely park in their own driveway since they have enjoyed using ours as a parking lot and turnabout for all the years our house stood vacant and no sooner had Hank opened up our beautiful view, were we "viewing" their and their friend's not-so-beautiful cars. Luckily, there is a solution for this and will just require putting up a nice wood fence up our driveway once the trench is covered and installing an gate (#12 on "to do" list) and thus, keeping the peace with our neighbors.

Another thing that came out of the garage demo was the discovery of some large concrete slabs, perfect for the base of a patio. One recent morning Hank used the tractor to move them to the front of our house and in doing so, he had to pull the wire fence aside and realized that there were some great old stones under the ground. So, he yanked them out and put together a semi-finished patio which just awaits for pebbles or gravel that we'll have delivered once we're ready to do the driveway.

Which brings me to the garden. I have really, really tried to keep it alive, but with the water issues and nonstop heat (it got to 110 degrees a week ago), it has really been a challenge. It doesn't help when Patrick stops by and reminds me that the plants need l'eau. "Je comprend, je sais vraiment," but there was a month or two when I was actually hand watering (i.e. lugging a 45-lb bucket that I had filled from a cistern) and that's not easy. Somehow I did manage to keep it alive and we've had nonstop lettuce, zucchini, basil, and just recently green beans and soon shallots and tomatoes. A little something I learned about the green beans though. I guess you don't let them grow until you can actually see the seeds popping through and they only have a short, 2-week harvest. "Shit, I mean, dang, why don't I know these things?" And what added insult to injury was at first I was so proud of my beans and took a bag over to Colette only for her to let me know that I'd left them on the vine too long. After lugging all that water for months, I was crushed, but according to Colette, I could still use them for some sort of mushy, soupy dish, or probably feed them to the animals, but I think I'll pass and pay more attention next year.

So, we're a bit delayed with our opening, but our upstairs rooms are ready to let out once the second bathroom is finished. Our dear friend and creative guru, Megan - (hey, techie wizard that I am,  learned how to include links recently and why not plug a friend to my 15 followers I say) was out last month and has designed what I think is an incredible logo for Petit Clos. She also designed our brochure which I love, except for the fact that I'd like to swap out better pictures as more work is done. let me know what you think:

I'm still playing with our website and the same restrictions apply (waiting for a finished product and subsequent photos) as well as not really knowing what the hell I'm doing, but feel free to check out: (why not plug myself?). It is not finished so keep any expectations low and feel free to offer any suggestions.

Well, I'm heading off to a sewing machine repair shop with Colette to hopefully fix some problems with my Elna so I can continue sewing and participating at vide greniers and markets because at the rate we're currently going, we won't be open for business until August and there still is that nagging little issue about making a living. Hey, I've got an idea, how about taking a little visit to France soon my friends?