A Carcassonne Christmas

Joyeux fêtes!

Just the other night we were walking home from dinner with friends at a ski resort and realized just how lucky we are. Something about that sentence doesn’t sound right. Walking home, yes. Dinner with friends, certainly. Lucky, definitely. Ski resort, not exactly. As you’ll be able to see in the photos below, Carcassonne is decked out in its finest for the holiday season. There are four major centers of lights and attractions around town plus plenty of side streets and shop windows that echo the excitement. The city has constructed a giant scaffolding structure at Place du Géneral de Gaulle, on top of which is a chalet-style restaurant and stationary ski lift cable cars with dining tables inside that would fit right in on a mountainside in the Alps, hundreds of kilometers from here, but we had a view of the medieval walled Cité with Père Noël pointing the way. The best news for us? Everything starts about a 10-minute walk away from our front door. Continue reading “A Carcassonne Christmas”

Country sounds

Goats do roam in Carcassonne

We recently had to replace our house exhaust fan and I was astonished at the sound level rating for this new device on its normal setting: 15 decibels. For comparison purposes, a pin dropping rates 10 decibels while a whisper is 30; so it’s pretty quiet. A second surprise was that although there’s an exhaust outlet in both bathrooms and in the kitchen, there’s only one motor mounted in the attic and connected to each room by duct work. In every house in the US in which we lived each room had its own independent fan/motor, all of which we replaced anytime that we moved because they were always so loud. By chance, the same morning we were preparing to do the work in our attic, I saw in the newspaper that noise levels were being addressed elsewhere in the country, but with a twist.  Continue reading “Country sounds”

Chocolate Thanksgiving

Bill went to buy a turkey

One of the many advantages of living in a neighborhood with shops is that we can buy almost everything that we need on a daily basis without having far to go and easily on foot. Our fruits and vegetables all come from the Saturday market, 15 minutes away, but in two minutes or less we can be at the fish shop, butcher shop, greengrocer’s, bakery, newsstand, wine store, or a small but well-stocked supermarket. It’s there that we can often find turkey breast or legs year round  but we have to go a bit further, and only at this time of year, to find the entire bird. That was Bill’s mission last week because one of the large supermarket chains, on the edge of town, was featuring fresh turkeys. So, one morning while I was in language class he hopped aboard a 1€ bus, rode for 15 minutes to a shopping complex, and came back with the 9 boxes of chocolates that you see in the photo. Continue reading “Chocolate Thanksgiving”

I don’t understand

It’s all about communicating with your neighbors

Long before we knew that one day we’d be living in France, we were regularly watching films made here. We had a home theater in our house in Atlanta and every week a new DVD would show up in our mailbox that we would save for the weekend. Often these took place in Paris but occasionally we were treated to countryside scenes with fields of sunflowers and lavender, quaint villages with stone houses beside babbling mill streams, or large family gatherings around dining tables piled high with food and drink. No matter the location, these films had something in common, at least in our house: they were all in French of course but we always turned on the subtitles in English. We’re not fans of dubbed films where the words you hear don’t match the lips of the actors who are supposed to be saying them, so subtitles were the only way to comprehend what was going on. So, after living in France for 3 and a half years, that’s all changed—right? Continue reading “I don’t understand”

They had us at “bonjour”

A doorway below the castle

Growing up, I remember the days when there would be a knock on the door at least once a week from someone trying to convince my mother to buy something, be it encyclopedias, cosmetics, household cleaners, burial plots, or brushes of all kinds. When I met Bill he had already purchased from one of these salesmen a powerful vacuum cleaner that a friend said would “suck the drapes right off the windows” if you got too close to the wall, and he was right! But then as we moved around the country the knocking stopped. The houses we lived in were all set well back from the street so it was going to take quite an effort just to get to our front door but not everyone was deterred. We could generally recognize members of religious organizations as they approached but a simple shake of the head through our partially-opened door would always send them away. In France, our street isn’t a lot wider than the cars that pass down it so our front door is easily accessible to everyone with a product to sell, a magazine to subscribe to, or a quick way to heaven. Continue reading “They had us at “bonjour””

When October goes

Colors along the Aude river

American songwriter Johnny Mercer left behind many unfinished compositions when he died in 1976, one of which Barry Manilow turned into a hit 8 years later under the title of today’s blog post. It’s a rather sad tale of a childhood in the distant past and a lost love that’s always brought back to mind when the leaves fall and “the snow begins to fly”. Add in a melancholy melody and you can understand why part of the refrain goes, “I turn my head away to hide the helpless tears….” Luckily in Carcassonne when the calendar changes from Halloween to All Saints’ Day, everything is a bit brighter than in the song. Continue reading “When October goes”

Not today, Satan

A medieval carved head to scare the devil out of you

Comedienne Bianca Del Rio, sometimes known as Roy Haylock, uses the phrase, “Not today, Satan, not today” when things haven’t gone as planned but she’s determined not to let the devil get in her way. We had that kind of day recently. Today’s blog post was supposed to be about a day trip to a hot springs spa town in the Pyrenees with a stopover on the way home in a once fortified Roman town with a 10th century castle still towering over it. We got as far as Toulouse, about an hour into the trip, when we discovered that our connecting train had been cancelled and later departures were likely to suffer the same fate. We then invoked what is second-nature to us and something we discovered that many French people admire about Americans: an inclination to turn a negative situation positive in an effort to make something successful. Even our friends here have confirmed to us this perceived cultural difference we had read about. Continue reading “Not today, Satan”