Sunday, August 19, 2012

Open for Business

As I take a break between guests coming and going - yes, that is plural as in, we're booked solid! Well, solid being relative since we only have two B&B rooms, but still...we have guests in them and have for the past month. And unlike the fears and real nightmare I had of Hank and I behaving more like the American equivalent of the Faulty Towers innkeepers dealing with irritable guests, we found that we were really enjoying ourselves because our guests have been  absolutely amazing. They have entertained us with their life stories as well as brought us gifts (who knew?!) and even invited us out to dinner. On our part, we have offered aperitifs by the pool, last minute barbeque dinners and chatted the evenings away - both in French, English and more typically, Franglish and I fear that the once reluctant innkeepers are going to miss their clients after the season is over.

Ever since July, with the main work on the house finished and guests scheduled to arrive, Hank was forced to relax a bit. Oh, he still had his little green babies to attend - the vines still required spraying, crocheting, trimming, weeding and mowing between rows - but that did not feel like work for him even though it was backbreaking at times. He has also had to master the pool maintenance which is no small task especially when a lot of the local little critters decide to take a dip in the middle of the night. I don't know how many times we have saved a curious toad or lizard and relocated them back to their natural water habitat (vs. a saline pool one). But the pool does require regular cleaning and maintenance, and I must say that the results have been stunning to say the least:

hubba, hubba Hank :)

oh, and here's the pool!

So, we've been enjoying life a bit more this summer. Because we are members of our local tourist organization and participate in promoting our local businesses and activities in the area which are often too numerous to keep up with, we have by necessity become much more active in our community and as a result have befriended many more locals in the process. When I say befriended, I truly think we have turned the corner of not just being invited over as the American curiosity as I often felt we were last year. With Caleigh to guide us with our french language skills (although I have learned that she often corrects me with youthful slang which can be insulting if used with adults you are not familiar with), we have jumped in hook, line and sinker and can actually make it through an entire evening in french and even go beyond the basics of how every one is doing, what they did today and how nice the weather has been.

Most recently, our local boulanger ( invited us to his house for a BBQ where we were reintroduced to a few of our neighbors, including a few local winemakers, and had a wonderful meal under the stars. He grilled the standard french faire served in these parts during the summer - sausage, lamb and chicken - which was all delicious, especially with the wonderful salads he made to accompany the meat dishes. But then Hank opened his big mouth and asked if anyone here every prepared spareribs since we have found them difficult to locate at the market and figured they might be considered just a lowly, non edible cut of beef for humans (sort of like the corn on the cob here that is mainly produced for animal consumption). Both our host and neighbor winemaker piped up that yes, they both prepared the BEST ribs ever..."Oh, do you?" Hank asked and before you knew it, we had committed to compete in a french bbq competition to be held at each of our places over the course of the next month. I say, bring it on!

Making award winning, organic and tasty wines with her husband at the family run Malrome vineyard (, Genievieve had all the confidence to be the first to host the competition and her husband drove over the following week to personally invite us (in order to avoid passing along 'lost in translation' information, all invitations, including changes, are delivered in person to the Americans). I must say, she was good and prepared both a pre-cooked and non on her large, industrial barbeque and the ribs were tender and fell off the bone. She also went over-the-top and prepared fresh, homemade potato chips and a the most beautiful and tasty tomato and cucumber salad with homemade vinegrette. And what I learned over dinner conversation at the table was invaluable about how to shop, pick and purchase tomatoes and cheese. 1) coeur de beouf being the best tomato that fortunately I have an overabundance of at the moment and 2) never buy cheese from one of those noisy cheese vendors...go for the quite guy who will not be as likely to rip you off according to Genevieve's sons. Good to know as Hank and I had stopped buying cheese at the markets because we found paying 30 euros for a few slices a bit excessive.  Hank was also on that night (as any of you who really know him know how that can be!) and he and Karl managed to have the table roaring with laughter over inappropriate jokes in both english and french. We have planned to schedule our next two competitions after everyone is back from vacation in September and Hank and I are busy testing out some of our favorite cooking methods, including Jil and Mark Benson's precooked balsamic marinade and Uncle Steve's dry rub. Please pass along your favorites for us to try out because you know we better kick ass in this competition.

After recovering from what I would consider one of our most stressful and difficult years, these recent rewards of enjoying our new line of work and appreciating our french lifestyle and development of new and hopefully lasting friendships, I feel like we have truly turned the corner in the contentment department. I know that we had never given up hope, but living in the construction zone for the second year in a row, experiencing the winter from hell and continuing to have to deal with less than scrupulous people (see Hank's recent blog: in a language we were still learning, had begun to take its toll. But, now, we were beginning to build our confidence back and maybe even becoming a little 'more french' in the process. For one thing, we have learned the importance of slowing down a bit and to do what the french do best - appreciate good friends, good food, fine wine and to enjoy the fete of life.