Autour du lac

A month ago this blogger was steaming like a microwave ready meal.

Summer – long awaited, much anticipated and gloriously welcome – came upon us in June with an inferno blast that lasted until mid-July. After that things got spotty weather-wise, with alternating days of clouds and cooler air interspersed with sweltering waves. Now, at last, I sense a change in the air. It’s still summer, but we are over the hump and heading towards those golden late summer days.

Hot weather is all very well if you’re on holiday. After all these years in France, a land where most people distrust air conditioning, I’ve learned to live without A/C for those weeks when the ‘mercure’ rises beyond my comfort zone.

It’s work that’s the problem. My get-up-and-go gets up and evaporates at plus 30 degrees Celsius. So I decided, quite simply, to ease up. My clients cooperated by slowing down the orders. And somehow my blogging break turned from two weeks into five.

It’s been wonderful! I’d been feeling in a bit of a rut for awhile blog-wise, so the break was most welcome. I stepped back, stared at the sky, reorganized my closets, worked on my memoir (more on that later) and set myself a few different goals.

One was to go to the lake more. I realized after a month of summer that I hadn’t once dipped my toes in the lake. We are lucky to have a pool at our house, and to live in an area of mountains and lakes very close to Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). When it’s really hot it’s just too easy to cool off in the pool. But the experience of swimming in the soft water of a lake is completely different, soul soothing, and one of my absolute favourite things.

So I set myself a challenge to go there every day and swim or just savour a moment by the water’s edge. It has pushed me to discover every ‘beach’ in our area (in French, ‘la plage’ is often a grassy stretch of a swimming area by the lake). New to Instagram, I decided to post a picture by the lake every day for a month. If you’re interested, you can follow my doings here.

Another was to try stand-up paddle again. I managed to get up on a board twice on Lake Annecy. Husband even joined me the second time, and for a newbie did rather well (he’s atrociously fit), only falling in twice.

And, just recently, I celebrated a bit of a milestone birthday. Which probably explains why I feel like reconnecting with my inner child. The one who loved nothing more than the barefoot freedom of summers by the lake.

So that’s my summer so far. How’s yours been? I’ve missed you guys!

 

Dans la joie et la bonne humeur

Foie gras - don't tell my daughter!
Foie gras – don’t tell my daughter!

Something strange happened when I hit the supermarché last week. The store was busy with shoppers but they seemed oddly unhurried. By the entrance the homeless fellow selling his ‘Sans Abri’ newspaper seemed rather upbeat. I may have glimpsed smiles on people’s lips as they flitted about the aisles, loading bottles and nibbles into their baskets. Une animatrice talked a joyful patter while selling off seafood at half-price as shoppers milled about. I believe I even heard Bing Crosby crooning out a seasonal melody over the sound system.

Qu’est-ce qui se passe? I wondered, filling up my cart as usual (after all these years I’ve never lost my North American habit of stocking up). Christmas is past and the sales haven’t started so what is everyone so happy about?

Then the cashier wished me a ‘bon réveillon’, leaving me scrambling to reply in kind. That was it! New Year’s Eve, the one day of the year you can be sure the French will be smiling.

As I posted way back when I first started this blog, I’ve never quite understood why the French are quite so enamoured with New Year’s. Beyond the big blowout on the 31st, there is real sentiment in France around the fresh start in January, and a feeling that our good wishes must be shared with all those we love.

Having neither party nor family to attend to that evening, we booked a table at a restaurant in town – our go-to solution for le réveillon. The few restaurants that are open on New Year’s Eve near us all offer un menu spécial – a fixed price, multiple-course affair with a glass of bubbly to start. After all the cooking and fussing over Christmas, I was happy to ring out the old year with someone else doing the service.

Death becomes her
Ghost of New Year’s past
New year's dinner 2016
Who can resist such artful presentation?

Out of respect for our feathered friends, and our daughter, who is studying to become a vet and has become rather militant about cruelty to animals, we had decided to henceforth abstain from eating foie gras. But when the restaurant had already gone to so much trouble to prepare such a lovely plate (shown in feature photo above), graced with truffle and onion compote, it seemed too cruel not to do it justice.

There followed a dish of white fish floating in a lovely sauce, then medallions of beef filet with a few veg for good measure and two desserts. By the time we got to the end I was feeling silly and playing with the table decorations.

Baubles from the table

How’s that for a bit of bling?

It was a fitting conclusion to a month of over-indulgence. The smiles are still on the faces of the people I pass on the street, probably at least until the end of this week. After a few more wishes of good health, and a slice of galette des rois, quite possibly accompanied by a few more glasses of champagne, it will be time enough to get back to normal.

‘Dans la joie et la bonne humeur’ is an expression that means, quite literally, ‘with joy and good humour’. I’ve often heard it used with a degree of sarcasm, however, referring to the need to pick up the plough and carry on with a smile. New year’s oblige.

Bonne année à tous!

Boules de Noël

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It’s almost Christmas and around here that means a bit of sparkle. Here in France, our sapin takes pride of place by the window, hung with lights and garlands and boules de Noël.

One of the mysteries of the French language is why decorations are always called ‘boules’. Christmas balls is a decidedly unfortunate English translation of what we would simply call decorations, rather like the little lamb’s balls from this post of blog years past.

Not having much of a mind for history, I was nonetheless consumed by seasonal curiosity to wonder about the origins of ‘boules de Noël’. Wikipedia reveals that the tradition goes back to the 16th century when the first Christmas trees were decked out in natural bounty like fruit and nuts. One day an inventive glass-blower from Germany had the idea to create balls of glass to hang on the tree. When drought brought a shortage of apples one year, the tradition of ‘les boules’ came to France via the northeast region of Les Vosges.

Our balls are duly (and not dully, as a French colleague of mine used to write), dusted off and hanging in all their shiny splendour from the tree. They are not just pretty but provide a reminder of how fragile are such celebrations. They hang upon a thread of close-knit families, traditions and good health. They depend upon good will towards one’s fellow man and a bit of bounty to share with one another.

I love Christmas but struggle with what we put around it. The gifts, the decorations, the feasting. The squandering of time and money, the stress to get the right things and over-indulge.

And yet there is a core idea of purity around Noël that I cling to from childhood: a fresh field of snow, a star in the sky. A carol sung with joy, familiar faces at the door. A warm fire with a drink waiting inside. A full heart when a fond wish is granted.

I’m off in search of that holiday magic for a couple of weeks. May your days be merry and bright until we meet again next year!

 

Le temps d’une pause

Versailles gardensHere in France our summer siesta has begun.

This year more than ever, we need a break. I’ve written before about the fact that la pause estivale is sacrosanct in this country, about how they roll up the carpets while just about everyone goes on summer vacation.

Between the bracketed holidays of Bastille Day on July 14th and le 15 août – one of many religious holidays inscribed in the French calendar – not much will move around here. Hopefully, not even the crazy people who want to kill us.

For me, too, it’s a good time for a break. Time to step back from the routine of normal life and breathe a little. Stare at the sky, watch the grass grow. Think about some things, stop thinking about others.

For the past few years, I’ve been working on a memoir about life in France. It’s been slow going as it spans almost thirty years and many different places and experiences. Recently I began work on what I thought was the final edit – and realized I am still in need of some major restructuring. So it’s back to the drawing keyboard.

Sometimes it’s good to take a step back – you see things completely differently. If I hadn’t got some space between me and that draft, I might not have seen the cracks and the flaws.

Like this picture of the formal gardens in Versaille. It took me a moment to see the other, surprising image there.

I’m hoping a blogging break will help me gain perspective and see a lot more happy faces, Including all of yours.

Hope you are heading off somewhere nice or otherwise enjoying life this summer. Please tell me all about it!

Bisous et bonnes vacances!