Thursday, July 20, 2017

All the things, none of the things

OMGYOUGUYS. So much to blog and far too little wifi in the middle of nowhere, which is where I have found a hot second of 3G in which to mobile-post this. When I am back properly, I have got the following:

* The marche gourmand from last night, which was far more than we expected, on a variety of levels

* A morning spent on a truffle farm, learning how to spot truffles in the wild (hint: grab a dog), and how to spot imposters on a menu (hint: learn Latin)

* A beautiful meal at our favourite restaurant in the region, a Michelin-starred, garden-dining delight, from which I currently post:

Them's the tables under the trees ^ 

After this we are on our way to a village that Alan read is ‘one of the most scenic villages in France’ (I must confess I am skeptical, who even MAKES these lists) and a twilight visit to a formal garden that candlelights their paths on Thursday evenings while live music jazzes from various terraces. I am pretty sure it's gonna be Too Much.

Until tomorrow,

Big hugs,

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How I Met the Mayor, and a fling through Bergerac

YOUGUYS we did so much today.

1. We met the mayor. This is one of those social obligations that we were told we should do when we moved here: go the Mairie, introduce ourselves, and make friends. So of course we waited a polite three years to do so - our lack of French made the prospect intimidating, and we wanted to make a good first impression since this is the person who can make or break any planning applications we ever want to submit. We knocked politely with a handwritten card of introduction and a gift he immediately rejected. (A+ for not accepting bribes, Mayor!) I cannot say he was overly thrilled by the interaction - he had to be extracted with effort from his office by the charming receptionist - and hemmed and hawed as awkwardly as a classic introvert would when confronted with a social situation involving no shared language. We eventually got a pained smile out of him, though, so are considering the whole meeting a success. The women in the office were a different matter entirely: the receptionist was warm and welcoming, and her colleague - previously hidden behind a partition - suddenly found urgent filing to do that involved checking us out and making notes to share with her neighbours. I beamed at her and received a beam in return, so I like to think we'll all be invited round for a dinner party soon.

The Mairie is literally right across the street from us. So we can only hope to awkwardly run into them as often as possible. 


1a: Another fun thing about having a house on the town square: THE TERRIFYING TABLEAUS they set up outside our front window.

Is this our punishment for taking so long to visit?

Want to see how creepy it looks from the inside? 

2. We also went to the Bergerac market!

They have it right outside the church, a traditional location for buying and selling.

It's a lovely one, full of local delights - duck ten ways, foie gras, truffles, walnuts, prunes. This is your region for a well-balanced meal!

Also there is a bakery selling willy-wonka-crazy eclairs. We didn't get any - on the premise that icing shouldn't shimmer like a pre-teen's nail polish - but I'll admit curiousity. I mean, COTTON CANDY FLAVOUR?

Tonight we're off to a local marche gourmand. We have no idea what this is, but there's only one way to find out.

Big hugs and lots of love,

p.s. In hindsight it looks like we only did two things today, but we ALSO went to the garden shop AND the supermarket for some exciting cleaning supplies and household items, so it has been a minute-by-minute thriller every step of the way. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I'll never look at bacon the same way again

OMGYOUGUYS. You know what our plans are today? ABSOLUTELY FRIGGIN' NOTHING. We're going to read! We're going to splash in our lil pool! We're going to lie around gaining weight! Which brings me to breakfast: today's trigger warning is brought to you by the letter pork.

When we were at the market on Sunday, we were looking for bacon at one of the butcher's stalls and saw the above. It *looked* like bacon, and the guy said it was pig when we asked (if there's one French word we know, it's porc), so we decided to give it a go.

Then we get it home, and I go to peel a slice off to cook it. Except THERE IS NO SLICE. THERE IS SLAB. Three slabs, specifically, this thick:

I'll give you a moment.

We googled the name written on the package - ventreche - and it turns out we have bought a cut of meat that's a cross between SMOKED PORK BELLY and PANCETTA. 

I'll give you another moment.

I've got another slab waiting for breakfast and I am going to do all sorts of filthy things to it.*

See you tomorrow! On the agenda is a trip to the garden shop (to find weapons that will help me in my ongoing battle out back) and the Bergerac market. 

Big hugs,

*Namely, stuff it into a croissant with eggs

Monday, July 17, 2017

Nothing but flower talk here; come on in!

You know what this? A photo of some random, unknown flowers growing in our back garden so that the thumbnail photo for this post is not a septic tank. YOU'RE WELCOME, YOUGUYS.

Now let's look at a septic tank!

I know we're paying to you to open that, but now I would like to pay you NOT to open that.

Uh. That can't be right. 


The drive was soaking wet by the time he finished. I prefer not to think about how or why, especially not when I have better things to do, like pour bleach all over my shoes and set them on fire.

The best part was when he backed this massive truck down the lane and one of the little old man neighbours came out to watch. This is exciting stuff around here.

I have to say, the whole experience wasn't nearly as traumatising as I expected. It helped that the whole thing was brilliantly organised by My Super Fluent Friend Claire, whose grasp of French poop words is really unsurpassable. She now knows more about our septic system than we do, which is why we're going to have to will her our house. Apparently that's some French law? Claire knows everything.

It all happened surprisingly fast: the scheduled tech showed up in the morning, right on time, pried off the concrete manhole - for lack of a better word - cover from the tank, stuck that huge hose in, and half an hour later, was handing us an invoice to sign. He indicated we'd need to put more concrete back on top around the edge to seal it, otherwise it will - he eloquently communicated - * hold nose, fan air * So stay tuned for another episode of Country Life Adventures, when Al attempts his first concrete job! 

Because we were so on fire today, I built the paddling pool! (This was meant to be done yesterday but the yard work took us longer than expected. I never appreciate our London astroturf more than when I'm weed-whacking nettles up to my waist and sawing down shrubs that are constantly threatening a violent and hostile take-over. Why does anyone have a garden?! Nature wants to KILL you!) 

I digress. Pool building! I did it all myself because Alan was busy inside on a 'call' or something, one that lasted suspiciously as long as it took me to put this together: 

When I first saw how many poles there were, my thought was to discard the idea entirely and play croquet with the mallets they provided. What even IS this??

It turns out putting up a pool is JUST LIKE putting up a tent, another task I don't enjoy. But once I figured it out, WHOOOOP, it came up as easily as a tank full of human feces. 

Isn't it sweet? We only filled it knee-high because we just want enough water to sit in and read. We got it up in the nick of time, too - it got to 95 today and we were as hot as a pair of rotisserie chickens (there's a theme to this holiday). You just know that now we've got it up it's going to rain tomorrow.

I hope you've had nice days, and see you tomorrow!

Big hugs,

Sunday, July 16, 2017

We went mental

HAPPY MARKET DAY! Sundays are the BEST, because that's when the Issigeac market is on. The entire village - every square, every lane - is taken over by stall after stall of everything you could possibly want. Goat cheese? Handwoven baskets? Heirloom tomatoes, baguettes, leather belts? Check, check, CHECK. You won't even have to go to a supermarket to supplement your shopping. We got there around 9:30, which apparently is their crack of dawn because some vendors were still setting up and it was quiet enough we could pick out what we wanted without crowded madness. We finally did it right - previous to this we've often gone around 11 and couldn't move for the people, let alone conduct an actual transaction.

Seen here: not crowded.

Seen here: also not crowded. Also, TOMATOES WITH FLAVOUR. Probably got them from Spain.

Alan, exchanging goods for money, a classic barter. 

NOW LET'S TALK ABOUT THE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN: this reminded me so much of the rotisserie at the San Francisco Ferry Building market that I had to join the line. (Yes, there was a line, even in this quiet hour. THAT'S HOW GOOD THIS WAS.) The smell: heaven. The fat dripped down the rotating birds from the top to the bottom, and the anticipation was obscene.


The lowest rail - the one with all the fat dripping - was removed when done and each chicken was slid off, like so much chicken butter about to be smeared on a fresh sourdough loaf*. We requested the smallest one - the coquelet - and the gentleman gestured a question in French, to which we responded - without knowing exactly what he asked: OUI. OBVIOUSLY oui. He nodded, turned, and then DIPPED A LADLE INTO THE FAT DRIPPINGS AND POURED IT INTO THE CHICKEN BAG. 

I'll give you a moment.

For an idea of what this created, check out the chicken bag below:

It's the transparent white bag to the right of the basil. THAT BAG WAS NOT ORIGINALLY TRANSPARENT. What you're seeing there is a window into heart disease, a window we are about to climb through, with some delight. Speaking of delicious fat, see the brown paper bag at the front left, also with grease marks? BUTTER CROISSANTS. The french are FIENDS, I tell you. FIENDS. The white parcels are cheese and the sausage is boudin noir (blood sausage, like black pudding, also our favourite). The rest of the stuff is fruit and vegetables because I guess healthy? 

[Real convo about the croissants:
Me: How many should we get? Two?
Alan: Eight.]

Then we drove back, through DISGUSTING SUNFLOWER FIELDS. We also passed them on the way down, but we were so intent on the Croissant Horizon we only gave them a vague wave and a promise to return. Which we did, because Good Friends Keep Promises. 

Me: Frolick in them! Alan: is this frolicking? Tall Sunflower: I'm frolicking.

Us: is this selfie?
Unanticipated side effect of taking a photo with sunflowers: if they're facing the sun, so are you.

When we got home, we realised the peaches and plums had been sitting under the strawberry punnet and the eggs and because they were so ripe, they had split and gushed everywhere. Result: emergency fruit bowl with basil and fromage frais. The plus side was it helped us hold off on shoving an entire chicken in our mouths for another couple hours. TAKE THAT, FIVE-A-DAY.

Tomorrow is shaping up to be equally romantic: we're getting our septic system cleaned! Stay tuned, because sh*t's about to get REAL**.

Big hugs and lots of love,

*Our actual lunch.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

France, the Road Trip

We’re in the home stretch! Less than three hours until we get to French Home. The weather has been scorching in our absence, so we hope it’s hot and stuffy when we arrive, as we fling open the windows to let the mosquitos in. I feel sticky enough from the eight hours I’ve spent in the car so far; a cold shower is on the evening’s agenda.

After we unpack the car, that is. This is only the second time we’ve driven down since getting this place (the first was with a moving van, a very different drama) and we’ve filled our car with overflow from London – charity shop books, a spare bin, a mop bucket, an art print we want to swap out, etc. – and we hope to get a case or two of barrel juice to bring back.

Without further ado: random pics from the road.

Our road trip snacks, or 'Human Dreamies,' as I like to call them

Spot the Tour de Eiffel! 

The drive gets good when the hills show up.

And the hay bales

Obligatory Random Church

You can tell the Tour de France just went through the Dordogne because the closest town to us has been recently bedazzled. I hope EVERY village on the route has dressed like a fancy escort because then we have got a treat ahead. 

We finally made it home - hence being able to post this - and just as we were wrapping up the unpacking, the prettiest kitty came by to say hi. Just LOOK at it: 
There is definitely room for her in our car. 

We had a brief wifi scare when we first got in: as in, it wasn't working. You can imagine my consternation at the thought I may have to read my BOOK this entire holiday, or use the record player to listen to MUSIC. We don't have mobile signal in the house, either, so there was a brief moment when I saw myself climbing a nearby hill every day to blog post using my phone. And not being able to speak French means we can't call the service provider to fix it. In desperation, I ended up hacking through three feet of cobwebs to get to the power source (this house turns into Sleeping Beauty's castle when we're away, except cobwebs instead of thorns - all initial entry is advised wielding a machete) - and after unplugging everything, got it back on. SO WE'RE GONNA BE OKAY. 

Time for that shower and an early bed - we have a full day ahead! Sunday is market day and we need to load up for the week. We also have to assemble a - *hangs head in embarrassment* - paddling pool. Because we classy. (The mayor is going to hate us.)

Big hugs, and I hope you're having a great weekend!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Barnard Castle, the Bowes Museum, and a justification for shopping

On the train again! En route from Darlington to Kings Cross, and from there back home, where yet more laundry awaits, along with cleaning and prepping the house for a visitor, running errands across town (key cutting, photo-taking, samples-leaving), and ending the night packing the car for our road trip to France tomorrow. 

But first things first: French-inspired architecture in the heart of Barnard Castle, at the Bowes Museum. 
Can you believe this place? It's like Chatsworth's flashy little cousin. 

The Bowes Museum was the creation of Josephine Bowes, a real sass-pot, who did many exciting things in her short life, up to and including having a rich boyfriend (*scandalous gasp*), actressing, obsessing over fashion (we saw clothes!), painting, and supporting the arts. She worked* hard to build the collection for this museum.

My favourite part was the love story with her patron (for lack of a better word), who eventually became her husband. Here is an excerpt from one of her letters to him:

Moving, isn't it? Turns the stomach right over. I'm going to use ALL this in my next card to Alan. 

Barnard Castle itself was as precious a town as expected:

We don't know what this is, but it was in the middle of the only intersection so it must be important.

Ye olde towney town

Castle by morning

Castle by afternoon. We had a lot to do, obviously.

Other than the Bowes Museum, and looking at the old rock wall labelled Castle, it's a pretty quiet town, just made for relaxation.

As modelled by Katie, ruler of all she surveys

We also went antiquing, living our best old lady lives. We got lost in so many antique emporiums (theme of the holiday: EVERYTHING IS A MAZE) in Sheffield and Barnard Castle it started to create a growing paranoia: 'Have we passed this sideboard before?' 'Not sure, but OMG that stuffed fox again. Which means right around the corner - ACK! CLOWN HEAD!' We both found success - I like to think in a way that would make Josephine proud - myself in the bounty of two tiny tasselled lampshades for a set of wall sconces, and Katie with a delicate, hand-beaded bustier. (Would that I had a photo of THAT for the blog.) 

Landing soon, gonna start my train picnic (fancy sandwich from Le Tesco), ignoring a bag of apple slices that I bought out of guilt and will lose in the bottom of my bag until they liquify and I discover them when digging for a tissue. See you tomorrow from the road!

Big hugs,

*Shopped a lot. The girl shopped a lot. One term we saw described her purchasing habits as 'sustained collecting', which is a term I'm going to try on Alan next time he questions a purchase. I'm COLLECTING. SUSTAINABLY. FOR MY MUSEUM.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

On Chatsworth House, and a lively little inn

The last day of our Tour de Norte has taken us to Barnard Castle, an old market town in County Durham, where the best accommodation we could find was a room above a pub. I've always wanted to stay in a room above a pub. You only have to read a few fantasy novels to know this is where the action happens - where mysterious travellers abide quietly in shadowy corners, a barman pulls beer with a towel over his shoulder, and the door crashes when a cloaked stranger enters, rain and wind with him, the room growing silent. 

This pub - in which I currently write - has paisley carpet, a giant tv showing Today's Sport, four old men on stools, and Carling on draft. I'm sat in the smoker's courtyard - the only place I won't get chatted up, by nature of its emptiness - which, in addition to the lone, sticky table holding a full ashtray, leads to the toilets. I sit here, understandably alone, swatting flies as I type. I'm sure a swordfight will kick off soon; it's all exactly as I pictured it.

Speaking of the flies - we went to a place for lunch that had an outside terrace, and we asked to sit there since the weather is nice. We're told it's temporarily closed because 'the flies have arrived.' Say what? 'Last Thursday they came.' Katie and I are convinced an ancient plague has befallen the town. Someone has sinned.

BUT NOT US. Yesterday was the most magical of days: we went to Chatsworth House, outside of Sheffield, and played HERE:

And that's just the stables.
I think. I accidentally picked up the children's tour guide and it's all cartoons.

The gates to the grounds we aren't allowed to enter. 

This is the Actual House, holding an absolutely magnificent display of fashion history, and the purpose of our visit:

The interior was stunning - apparently one of the Dukes did it up Big Style hoping a monarch would visit. Which it seems they never did. But hey! We liked it, Dukey!

LOOK AT THIS CEILING. Don't need to go to the Vatican now.

They also appeared to have a dark streak:

Just skinning himself, like a boss. (How sinister is the shadow of the scissors he's holding??)

This display was labelled 'Gothick Fashions' but I'm pretty sure it's just a simulation of a night out with my girlfriends.

We also got to see THE WORLD'S SCARIEST STROLLER. There was no placard explaining this, so we have no idea what its intent was, though it was clearly good:
Look at the snakes between the front wheels. And across the top and sides. IT'S PERFECT I WON'T SETTLE FOR ANYTHING LESS.

And it matches the nursery art!

I just went back into the pub's main room to get a glass of red, and the crowd of men has grown from four to twelve. All sitting - somehow, impossibly - separately - though there can't be more than six small tables - watching Venus Williams steal the tennis.

While we're on the topic of Fierce: THIS DRESS. It was worn at a fancy dress party (a costume party, mis americanos) a zillion centuries ago, where the theme appears to have been Dresses Made for Killing.

And below is another dress worn at the same party. (They did not do things by halves.)

 It's obvious that Sharp White is not pleased - just look at her - and Peacock will not be surviving the night. 
Once again, many similarities to a night with me and my girlfriends. 

THERE'S ALWAYS ONE OF THOSE. Gawd, Susan. Simmer down.

In addition to The Fashions of the Wild Ones, the museum had paintings and period rooms, reproduced parties populated by holograms and mannequins, and a complete history of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire, notably a Mitford, and a lot of Stella Tennant.

My favourite part - other than swanning about in the party rooms, pretending to shake the well-dressed hands of Feather-Headed Mannequins (if that isn't a metaphor for a dinner party, I don't know what is) - was the JOURNALS.


Then we entered the gardens. We knew our admission included access to them, but we were so single-minded in our focus on the House Itself that we didn't even consider what this might entail. 

Turns out it was dozens upon dozens of statues in the throes of naked self-admiration. Naturally.

 Just everywhere. 

Also a dining place for Fae.

The best part, though - other than the many, many marbled men and women having a frolicking good time in stages of undress - was the maze. We happened to enter it, very casually, in the middle of a conversation, and not paying much attention. We left it, an appalling length of time later, laughing with a tinge of hysteria and fear. 

As we finally approached the exit, we overheard an older woman saying to her companion, 'Oh, these things are easy, just keep going right,' which made us both nearly wet ourselves, as we had been going right for the approximate gestation period of a sheep and were nowhere close to getting out. Katie later voiced a universal truth: 'NOBODY LIKES A MAZE EXPERT.' 

Katie, in the center of the maze, doing a horrible job of figuring out which way we should go.

A smoker has found me in the courtyard. He's called Brian, has the ruddy features of a 60-something CAMRA man, and is keen to hear what brings me to this side of the pond.

We ended our day yesterday with some sushi (Yama Sushi, specifically, I write here so I don't forget) playing Cards Against Humanity with a new set of bffs. 

Sheffield, you are an excellent time. 

Headed back to London tomorrow! Stay tuned for our adventures today in Barnard Castle: there will be another museum, a Castle, and no doubt more Brian. 

Big hugs and lots of love,