Sunday, April 3, 2011

Au Revoir la Belle France

The movers arrive in one week, Gilles is away, and once he returns he still has to make a trip to Geneva to sign his new contract. Nothing like leaving things to the last minute! Meanwhile, Xavier and I have been visiting our old haunts and saying our good byes. We've delivered ice wine or maple syrup to our tailor, traiteur, pizza guy, and wine ladies. In doing so, it's made us realize how much this place has come to feel like home. How much our frequent visits to the marche, pizzeria, wine shop, etc have become just as much of a social visit as a running-of-errands visit.

To make the pending departure even more challenging, Mother Nature has been treating us to an unusually dry and hot Spring. It's as though she is saying "how dare you leave Southern France?! You'll miss this weather in the North!". And the fact that we refer to the Netherlands as 'The North' just shows how accustomed we have become to our current lifestyle. We've already been feasting on local strawberries and asparagus. But does that make up for the fact that we'll miss the melons, courgettes, peaches, etc? Pretty sure we won't be buying our meat from the actual farmer anymore. Or have a boulangerie on every corner. Sigh. Those tulips better be worth it!

It's always hard to say good bye, but we are really excited to start our next adventure in The Hague. In a few years, we may be having an equally hard time saying good bye to our bikes, fresh flowers, and our neighbourhood herring street vendor. And who knows...if we stick with this life long enough, maybe we'll end up back in Pau some day. So maybe we'll not say "au revoir", but "a bientot".

PS. In case you are wondering about the picture, the name of the little town we actually live in is Idron. Pau is the bigger, adjoining city.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Cow Down the Road

A short walk from our home, in the parking lot of the boulangerie and traiteur, is a big green milk machine. It's filled frequently with unpasteurized, untreated cow's milk from a local farm. It's quite an advanced system: the milk is stirred in it's chilled holding container to guarantee even fat distribution. The temperature is digitally displayed on the outside. It sells glass and plastic bottles. You can buy either 500 mls or 1 liter of milk, for 0,50 euro or 1 euro, respectively. When you are ready to fill your bottle, you place it in a drawer with a glass door that locks when in use. The bottle gets filled, the door unlocks, then the drawer is washed down with a javex solution before another bottle can be filled.

The green machine displays pictures of the cows that provide the milk, and descriptions of the novel collection process: the cows themselves decide when they want to be milked. Apparently, when they feel like being relieved of milk, the cow walks over to an automatic milker, stands in the stall while the machine does its thing, then walks away when finished.

We have only recently started buying milk from the machine, usually on weekends when we feel like a treat. It's safe to drink for 24 hours from the time of purchase, or several days if boiled. It's creamy, tasty, and likely filled with lots of good things that are removed by the pasteurization and homogenization processes.

The sale of unpasteurized milk is very illegal in Canada, so it's interesting that we can simply walk down the street and fill our bottles. It seems to be quite popular, as there is usually someone buying milk when we are there. In fact, over the holidays we were denied a bottle of the good stuff as the lady in front of us drained the machine dry with her four bottles.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Another Christmas in Pau

Our fourth Christmas in Pau, and for the fourth time we were lucky to have family join us for the holidays. My parents were with us for almost three weeks, and my sister and her boyfriend came down from England for five days. We had beautiful weather, which allowed for some warm lunches in the backyard, and sunny strolls both downtown and at the beach. The weather wasn't very 'Christmas-y', but it's hard to complain when you're basking in the sun on a warm afternoon!

It was a very fun Christmas with a fourteen month old. Xavier didn't quite understand the opening of gifts part, but sure enjoyed pulling the ornaments off the tree, playing with his new toys, and having many more people to play with and spoil him with attention. I am sure he found it quite boring last Thursday when Gilles returned to work and the last of our guests left.

You're probably wondering what's the deal with the picture of the sandwich. My parents ordered a chicken sandwich from a take-out stand at the beach. They assumed fries came on the side, but to all our amazement, when the sandwich arrived the fries were inside the bread, along with the other ingredients. Funny, eh?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Snowy Paris

We spent the week before Christmas in Paris with my parents. It was our third pre-Christmas trip to the city of lights, but the first time we had considerable snow. It's a wonderful time of year to be in Paris, but the snow made it extra festive. And fortunately, we only experienced minor flight delays, which considering the large number of cancellations during that time made for a real Festivus miracle.

The Christmas window displays at the famous Parisian stores are worth battling the crowds to get a glimpse of them. This year's theme at Galeries Lafayette was famous musicals, and Xavier was enthralled by the lights and moving teddy bears and dolls. This year my favourite window display was at Hermes, featuring our favourite macarons maker, Pierre Hermes' beautiful creations in the form of decorated Christmas trees.

Tuareg Gilles

Before Christmas, Gilles spent a couple of working on a well situated in the Sahara desert in Algeria. He had been in Algeria previously, but spent his time in a village. This time he was transported to seemingly the middle of nowhere. The photos of the drive through the desert to location are quite amazing. It's incredible that the drivers can find their way, with no real roads, and the endless sand making everything look the same. But without navigation aids, they always manage to arrive at their destination.

There were sandstorms his first few days there, so one of the locals provided him with a traditional headscarf to protect his face from the blowing sand. The pictures he took of himself are quite tragic-he looks like a sad hostage. But thankfully there were no such kidnapping incidents, and he returned home safe, with a kilo of dates, and in time for Christmas.