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12 June 2010


Many have asked for another blog entry. As any true writer should, I should have added a conclusion, but figured we were home and who wants to know about the quotidienne life we lead after such a wonderful trip? There are however a few last pictures, details and stories to tell.

The Cathar Perspective

I am backing up just slightly from our last days in France to take you to our visit to Queribus, the first Cathar castle we attempted to visit with the icy piq-niq in the car. It is even more amazing than Peyrepertus. It is largely intact..well, comparatively. It, too, is perched in an impossibly improbable and inaccessible place..on purpose, of course, given their arguments with Rome. We wondered how supplies were brought up, arms, etc. Really, it is a 15% grade hill leading up to the parking lot alone and then there is the steep climb to the castle itself. But the views were magnificent with the Roussillon plain stretching east to the sea and Mont Canigou jutting out to the south and the Tautavel valley to the north. They could see their enemy from afar, very far. The wind, however, is unforgiving and smashes against the castle walls and tears furiously around the turrets and through any small break in the walls. Truly one would be close to the elemental parts of the spirit up there, never for a moment forgetting that the body is a fleeting thing and you'd better make the most of your time here on earth, whatever your beliefs.

We left Prades and environs a day early to get two whole days in our beloved Perigord Noir and the gite, which is like home to us. On the way, we went through Toulouse (and to the Ikea..the meatballs, the meatballs!!). We stopped in the old city, which is so funky and bohemian and really great. We parked and walked and then got totally lost and supremely irritated. Finally, finding our car, we jetted north toward Castelnaud-La-Chapelle and home.


Return to the Gite

There were literally cries of joy when we pulled up to the gite. Bubby repeated again and again,
"I am so happy we are at the gite!" There is just something about being here that lends itself to complete relaxation. We have barely moved today, just going from outside to in and soaking up the sunshine, the cool, stony indoors. The boys are outside doing un-namable things to a snail so I will have to run out there and save it.

The Ceou has flooded out of its banks and now runs into the fields of walnut trees and beyond into the tall grass and flower meadows. It has re-drawn the lines of its former riverbed, wide and arcing toward the cliffs overlooking the valley and that of Cenac on the other side. The boys lay down on their bellies and swim with the new current, swimming down the road we rode with our bikes and took evening walks to play frisbee and pick poppies. Fish swim in a pothole. We are beginning to ache with the missing we know is coming

We will go back to one last market tomorrow..the St. Cyprien one that we had all the pictures from earlier. We've invited Ian and Ien to dinner and I will try to make something I've not yet tried. I am thinking of lapin..yep, bunny. I've always wanted to try it and we've had everything else.

Well, having read about said lapin, apparently it is better to marinate it overnight and we do not have it on the premises yet, so we decided on lamb instead. At the market, I waited in a very long line at the pull-up boucherie. Couples pointed and pointed and the butcher moved very quickly, sawing great marbled slabs off of hunks of beef, lamb, various cured hams and sausages. He was rotund with a sheen of fatted good health, a perfect description of the butcher who stars in Zola's The Underbelly of Paris, about the great markets in Paris after its architectural re-arrangement. He threw knives down and picked up saws, mowing his way through bone and sinew. Twisting his wrist he would saw the opposite direction , throw down the saw for the stilletto knife to trim some, but not all (very important) the fat off the slab. Then the great spoon dives into the vat of foie gras or perhaps the mixture that Ian fed us earlier of nuts, livers, chicken and duck. Finally it is my turn and I ask for lamb pour faire un ragout, nous sommes 5. Well, we are actually 8 but I have a feeling I will be carrying home an entire side of lamb if I'm not careful.

It is difficult not to just keep buying food..cheeses, anchovy stuffed olives and garlic ones too, thick chunks of grained bread, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, fig and walnut appertifs. But we do and we buy more- leeks and onions, greens and tomatoes with red peppers. Looking for color and opulence in this last gastronomic overload.

The lamb gets caramelized with sugar over the heat and then wine, wine, potatoes, carrots and tiny white onions then into the oven for a few hours. A dog mysteriously appears at dinner time and we have a great show watching Ian and then Henry and Moss chasing it away but it only leads them around and around the gite. We posit this might be the (were)wolf of the Perigord, and so warn the children to be good. Henry later hears a lapping sound and the remnants (of which there were quite a bit) are being licked by the dog with his paws on the kitchen counter. Tant pis.

The rest is just packing and wishing we weren't.

The car was accepted back without the presentation of a bill for E26,000- a happy moment for me, although I do wish it was ours.

We boarded our jet in Charles de Gaulle in Paris and ..mon dieu!..where are the computer screens, where are the professional french staff? where is the great food? Oh, we're not on Air France, non, but Delta, the Trailways of the skies...9 hours later, a cockamamie trip through customs, lost artwork and exhausted kids and we arrive home at one am (that's 8 am Gite-time)

But, the sky is big here, and the storms big, too. We were treated to some violent demonstrations as we scrambled to put our garden to rights (my huge thanks to Dustin and Autumn for their unbelievable work). Of course, the chiggers celebrated by biting every part of me they could reach..unfortunately, it was a lot of parts.

Credit goes to Ruby Love

One cannot help but begin scheming anew on how to get back here. I can see coming to the gite in the fall, when the grapes are being picked and the walnuts are falling from the trees. The leaves will turn and be shed by the autumn winds. The sky will deepen its blue under the influence of a late summer and then the bare, quiet cold, perhaps snow. I can see being here to live for a few months, instead of tearing around looking at everything, rather, come with a few empty notebooks, some good paints, graphite pencils and a lot of books. Well, you never know.

10 June 2010

More from Prades and Environs

Same from below

Peyrepeteuse in the fog
La Toilette Medieval
Valley past Queribus
Freezing lunch at Queribus

Din Din
Mossy took this!

Au Marche
Gorge St. George

We had a late morning getting out of the flat, and Prades. Bubby and daddy had to scout out les Moules )(mussels) for later and salami and cheese for les baguettes. We finally set off for the two Cathar castles/strongholds nearest us. They are Queribus and Peyrerpertous. All Cathar castles are perched on impossible tips of rocky mountain ledges, to keep Rome from interfering in their rather austere beliefs (they refused to bow to the cross, for starters). And when caught out by the the Inquisition, they chose to die by fire, to the last, rather than renounce their beliefs. You have to have some admiration for that. Well, anyway, a fog of all fogs poured over the mountains and down through every crevasse, enshrouding Queribus in an impervious blanket of weather. As we lunched in the parking lot, we had visions of small children hurtling to their deaths over the slippery ledges in huuricane force winds..and drove sadly away down the freshly graveled, hairpin'd, one lane, 15 degree inclined road toward Peyrerpertous. in hopes of better luck.

More fog, but let's go. We hiked up and up steep slippery, marble steps and rock with only a ha ha ha rope attached to the cliffside for comfort. We did, howeer, find the mod cons, a toilette or rather a medieval hole by which you may accomplish two things relief and shitting on your enemy..quite convenient (again, sorry to Kathryn Olden for the language). Monsieur le Bubby checked it out for pooping possibilities. Very spectacular in and of itself. No one was getting up there. But the view was completely obscured..the fog however was pretty romantic. These two castles are set in a wonderful valley..similar to the one containing the site of Tautavel (to which Mama made the crew return later in the afternoon). It is as if you landed in some combination of the california desert mixed with a little Santa Fe and then crazy white rock jutting out from the impossibly steep hillsides. I want to live there forever. Steve Dixon you would appreciate. The whole of the valley and steep steep hillsides are covered with vines: Corbieres, Tautalvel, Maury, Peyrerpertous., Cucugnand, Latour de France and on and on.

Back in time for a dinner of Moules and sardines with octopus salad on crusty salt n peppa baguette.

Our New Mascot

Our house here is really the classic french flat. You enter up two stairs directly off the street into a foyer. The stairs take you to the first floor which has the kitchen and living room with stairs leading up to the second floor.. This floor has one twin bedroom, a toilette, a separate room for a shower/bath and then a second bedroom. The another set of stairs lead yet upward toward a third bedroom, a laundry room and the outdoor rooftop patio, where we endeavor to eat dinner whenever we can. Tonite it was a lead in with toasted baguette with olive oil/salt and pepper with a red pepper covered goat cheese. Then calamari and artichokes with lemon butter. Dinner is then two types of fish toppped with shrimpsteamed with red, orange and green peppers, garlic, red onion, Pastis, white wine and butter; oven fries and fresh spinach salad with egg. Oh, baguette and Tautavel wine. My god, we eat so much but we don't care.

There is a little boulangerie/Patisserie to which we send Ruby and Henry every morning to buy pain auy chocolate and pour daily two bagueetes which we slice lengthwise and stuff with salami, butter, camembert and sometimes fig jam, if Mama's making them. The town is so small that the two older ones have a lot of autonomy and we can send them out on errands for heavy crème, toothbrushes, bread and Rubes uses them as fodder for photography, so it works out for everyone.

Modd came back from the market wit some hip dark glasses and Doctor Doolittle with Eddie Murphy (2 E), thankfully, it wont play in les Etats

A Note: apparently we didn't wear out our welcome too badly at the gite for we will be returning there either tomorrow (Friday) or the next day for our last days in France. We missed it too much. So this also means we ll have wifi (those older kids just might live)

08 June 2010

In Prades with internet...

Sorry, this is a backwards blog and ive been in this cafe a really long time. will try for more tomorrow

Walking to Abbey in pyrenees
Prades in rain
Homo erectus outside the museum at Tautavel
Under our beach

Under the sea

Dali museum, Figueras, Spain
berries fresh creme+liqueur de noix
Fresh artichokes
Petit Picasso
Fresh Anchovies
Yay, vide grenier!!!
Strawberry cake
Bday dinner
In Banyuls
M. on his bday


It's so very very hard to describe what it's like to look and look at a place online, research all of its strengths and weaknesses, it's neighboring villages, landscapes and other options altogether and there. We are in an abandoned-as-of-yet compound of tall white villas with red tile roofs that perch on the very tip of cliffs falling down to the sea. The glorious Mediterranean. If only we had five years to circumnavigate its shores, its ancient cities and trade routes, it's modern urban centers and bucolic pastoral settings. It is quite unbelievable to behold. As if we might be in a virtual postcard of some sort where everything is exactly as shown.

We had an uneventful drive from the Perigord..very sorry to leave what we all call “home”. We dove past Cahors, past Toulouse and screeched to a stop at Carcasonne. Its mighty fortified walls and fairytale looks swung us over on a siren's song. And what a song it not go there. Instead, pull of on the Aire Belvedere de Carcasonne, the highway restop that overlooks it and snap your shots from there. It is truly the Disneyland of the south of garbage. There was actually a “native American Souix” wearing a full headress playing the theme song from Last of the Mohicans on a pan flute. Huh???

The first clear view of the Mediterranean shocks you with its trueness. It is a sea..there is something different about it than an ocean. It is a jewel that changes its blue depending on the time of day, the heat, the diffused nature of sunlight. The cliffs here are covered with succuclents, covered in buttery yellow, magenta and red flowers. These are interpersed with giant aloe vera and Spanish Broom and Potentilla, also wearing buttery cups. So. Bambooo greens, limes and sages mix with the blues of the sea and whatever flowers are about and then there is the dome of the sky, which arcs over all and mirrors the sea's color, but allows puffy and alien ship-clouds to pass through, the sun tinging them golden, now pink, now blood red

Today was Mossy's birthday. A roundly wonderful one. We spent the morning at our little beach which is accessed by a long, winding steep set of stairs set along the cliffs edge (no guard rails, no gotta love the French). We gingerly eased ourselves into the ice cold sea..oh the salt was glorious..which grew less cold in conjunction with the arc of the sun. The cliff rocks have a strange resinous look but must be just salt-eaten and sea-beaten, with many crevasses and cracks and crisp holes in them. Henry climbed all over and up them..they hae impeccable grip. The beach lasted for hours until Moss stepped on some spiny creature and had to be carried screaming up the cliff. He took it like a little 5 year old man, though, and was up and running for our trip to the Banyuls aquarium. Short, interesting. Ice cream, playground, hot dragging around. Then to a partisserie, where Mossy picked out his birthday cake (please forgive me out there)...a beautiful strawberry mousse/genoise cake with some sugary thing on top that suspiciously ressembled cornflakes. They also sold the most incredible b-day candle, which amounted to about 10 sparklers jammed into a small tube that lit on fire. Wow!!

We went home for a short breather to determine where to go to dinner. We had not yet attempted this and so expected the worst. We had sun infused, tired kids that may or may not act nicely. We had the best meal of our lives as a family at La Vieille Cave, with their homemade pasta (me, with salmon, Ruby with a cocktail of seafood...mussels, clams,shrimp, squid, jason, anchovies and capers) and gorgeous pizza ('hawaii” jambon, pineapple, fromage-for H. , sausage, fromage, olives for boys). A bottle of Rousillon red and four syrup drinky things, where they bring out a tall glass with a shot of grenadine (or mint) syrup, a stir stick and you pour your water in.