Monday, February 24, 2014

ttfn


Bonjour mes amies! Only five days left in Le Petit Village, can you believe it? Life has been bustling... my mother flew in late last week, Mrs. London came up for my going away dinner, and tomorrow my brother's Aix bound train arrives. Before I know it, Friday will whip around and I'll be locking my front door for the last time.

I had every intention of blogging up to the very end, but I've realized that's it's simply not possible, so I'm signing off. The next time I'm typing here I'll be 'Sara Not In Le Petit Village'... hard to believe (that's not my new blog name by the way).

In the meantime, I'll be documenting my last days in The LPV on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook if you'd like to follow along as I attempt to cram as much of this Le Petit life in as I can. In the wise words of one Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."


Bisous!

Friday, February 21, 2014

non, je ne regrette rien


It's a funny thing, regret. Personally I try to live my life without it. Not that I don't have any, of course I do (Boy could I tell you some stories!), but I try to live my life without dwelling on them. I don't see the point. We live, we learn, we move on.

That said, I do have a few regrets about my time in France; some big (like having a gaping four year gap in my career... this is what keeps me awake at night) and lots little. The little stuff is basically made up of things that I wish I had gone out and done and seen, but I always thought I had more time. That's the thing about being my type of expat (as in an expat married to a local, type), I was here, like here-here. I wasn't on a work assignment or a visa for a definite window of time, I lived here, indefinitely, and for all I knew I could have been here for the rest of my life, so there was always 'later' or 'the next long weekend'.

For instance, I haven't been to Versailles. Ver-freaking-sailles! Four years in France and I haven't seen the Hall of Mirrors or those legendary whirly, twirly gardens. That's definitely on the list for a future visit. I've never been to Bordeaux or Champagne either. Me never being to those two places is like a nun having never been to church.

I've always wanted to see ASM Clermont play a match at home. I've seen them play against Toulon in Marseille before but I'm sure that's nothing compared to watching them run out onto the pitch at Stade Marcel-Michelin, cheered on by the massive Yellow Army. I'm sad I've missed out on that.

I've never been to Barcelona. I'm sure a bunch of you are thinking, "wrong country", but Barcelona is only a five hour drive from The LPV... it's closer than going to French Maman's house. And Geneva, Switzerland is only four hours away, Pisa, Italy only six... AARRGGHH! I should really stop doing this to myself; squirting lemon juice in a paper cut would be less painful.

So sure, I missed out on loads, but what I didn't miss out on was life. I've lived everyday life in Le Petit Village... I've made friends with my postman, boulanger and boucher. The barman always greets me with a kiss (of course he does) and the lady in the épicerie can finally understand my accent. Maybe I can't cross off cities on my bucketlist, but I can cross off 'being a French girl in a French village' and that's pretty darn special.



Bisous!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

nine days to go

// That jeep was sitting across the street from the restaurant where I had my birthday lunch. I was this close to hopping in it and driving straight to The LPV (when I say, 'this close', you have to picture me holding my thumb and forefinger barely a centimeter apart with my eyes all squinty... but of course that's all a total lie... I'm way to much of a goody two shoes to ever do anything that naughty). Whenever I see something like this jeep I like to look at Gregory and say, "you're welcome". He doesn't find it funny, me, I think it's hysterical.

// Last week we went to Honey Jr's for dinner, Honey's Honey was making cheeseburgers. It was probably the last time the four of us will hang out like that for a long, long time. I'm going to miss those two, but, they have promised that their big vacation next year will be to visit us. I'm sure Fifty will be over the moon ecstatic when Honey Jr walks through his American front door... can you imagine?! The tail wagging will be glorious!

// I'm trying to enjoy every last drop of delicious, inexpensive, French wine that I can before I get to the States and the prices send me into psychogenic shock. Plus, I have no idea what I'm going to do about all of those cutesy wine labels... how in the H-E-double hockey sticks am I supposed to know what a wine tastes like when it's called things like, Fat Bastard and Arrogant Frog?! Please send help.

// Gregory and I went out for lunch on Valentine's Day. It was low key and nice... a few plates of Sushi, a couple of Asahi beers and we were as happy as could be. I think that was our last date for quite awhile. My mother arrives tomorrow, The Londons are coming up this weekend, and then my brother is here next Tuesday... yep, that was our last date until like, April (Gregory doesn't arrive in The US until the end of March, and even then it isn't permanent because the whole Green Card process is still going on). I kind of wish I had realized that when we were there. Bummer.

 // All of the boxes are packed. That's it, ten boxes. Of course there are quite a few suitcases going (my mother isn't coming over here for nothing you know), but that's it. We've managed to sell all of our furniture and lots of bits and pieces and we've given away loads... LOADS. Child Bride has a whole new wardrobe and my friend, Martine, has been given enough DVDs and books to open a shop. It's amazing how much stuff you realize that you have when you start sorting through things, and it's amazing how much stuff you realize you simply don't need. That's my deep thought for the day.

// As much as moving is a pain in the petunia, sometimes something wonderful happens, like you unearth long forgotten treasures... in this case a very old photo of me and my oldest and dearest friend, Jessie. This photo was taken a long, long, time ago in a galaxy far, far away. (Not really, just Poughkeepsie in the early 90s, but that's certainly a long way away from present day Le Petit Village.)

// Fifty has had surgery and he's pretty much the most miserable puppy at the moment. I am counting down the seconds until he's all healed up and the stitches can be removed, because no amount of treats and cuddles can make the itching stop. Also, Gregory is beside himself and I really can't take it anymore. (Fifty had his boy bits removed and by the way Gregory is going on and on and all of the dramatic hysteria, you would think that it had been him under the knife.)

// When we were at the Vet's office, I saw this poster for a missing dog. She looks awfully familiar to me... those eyes, those ears, that smile... I think she might be Fifty's mother. What do you think? Her name is Doxie, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that she finds her way back home.

So what have you guys been up to? 


Bisous!

Monday, February 17, 2014

the birthday lunch

I like food. I like eating it, I like cooking it, I like reading about it, I just like, it. So it's not surprising that I like restaurants too. I love trying out new ones and revisiting old favorites. Researching new ones for special occasions fills my heart with a special kind of joy, I can spend hours scouring the Michelin Guide, La Fourchette and Tripadvisor, pen and paper at my side scrawling lists before whittling it down to 'the place'.

I've been like this for as long as I can remember, carefully choosing the restaurants to celebrate my passing birthdays; my 15th at Tavern on the Green, my 17th at a tiny place called Cafe Tabac because I had read that Madonna and all of the supermodels hung out there so I just HAD to go (we're talking Campbell, Evangelista, and Turlington so now you know that I'm incredibly old), and then back to NYC for my 30th at The Monkey Bar... if it was good enough for Carrie and Big, then it was good enough for me.

This year was no different, Gregory and I would be going out to celebrate my birthday with The Londons and I excitedly put my restaurant research hat on. But for some reason I wasn't having any luck finding any restaurants in the Toulon area that were doing it for me (Mr. London had to work that weekend so they couldn't come to us). They all looked OK but none were shouting at me (actually two were shouting at me but their prices were downright screaming so they were a no). 

I called Mrs. London to tell her that I wasn't having any luck and she said not to worry, Mr. London had taken care of it and booked a place already. Normally that would make the little controlling gremlin that lives inside me toss and turn and shake with nerves, but whether it's because I'm a bit on the busy side at the moment, or finally mellowing in my advancing age, I breathed a sigh of relief (people who know me are probably reaching for the smelling salts right about now).

Twenty minutes north-east of Toulon sits a small village called Solliès-Ville. It is now my Disney Land, my Mecca, my Shangri-La because it is the home of Le Tournebride, my all new favorite place on Earth. Gold Star for Mr. London.

It was like walking into some one's cozy living room complete with a toasty fire, except the fire was where all of the cooking would take place. The menu was simple; you could choose between lamb, beef, or pork and after l'apéro of Ricard for the boys, Kir Royals for Mrs. London and I, and homemade black olive tapenade, we chose what we would like and sat back while plates and plates of food were put in front of us; Corsican sausage, Figatelli, on toast, followed by fois gras topped eggs and polenta, and finally a plate of what I can only describe as slices of pork pie.

We ordered a bottle of red wine. Even though there was no actual wine list, and they just bring you a bottle of what they've got, I wasn't disappointed in the least. Actually I would have licked the inside of my glass when the bottle was finished if I had any less willpower.

By the time the main courses were pulled from the fire and placed in front of us, we were almost full, but still managed to eat every bit. The London's had chosen the beef and Gregory and I, the pork. Oh me oh my! There are no words to describe the pork, all I can say is that if I had to only eat one thing for the rest of my life, it might very well be that pork. Oink.

After our plates were taken away a whole round of Camembert was placed in front of us. It too had been in the fire, it was perfectly gooey on the inside. It was served with a simple green salad in the most amazing and light vinaigrette I've ever tasted. I'm kicking myself for not asking for the recipe.



And because Mr. London is a sweetheart whose heart is almost is big as he is, I was surprised by a special dessert; a Baked Alaska, filled with homemade ice cream and complete with sparklers. I don't know how we managed to eat it all, but we did. It was without a doubt one of the best birthday meals I've ever had, so good in fact that I think I might let Mr. London pick all of my birthday restaurants from now on.

Bisous!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

mon anniveraire: un reportage photo

Disclosure: Since I like to stretch out my birthday celebrations for as long as possible, this is actually a photo essay of my birthweek. I've tried stretching it out to my birthmonth but 1. Gregory put the kibosh on that and 2. I don't have that kind of time at the moment... drats. 

 // My birthday dinner; a bottle of Champagne and a kebab and fries from the kebab van. It was exactly what I wanted and scrumptiously delicious.
// All of my birthday cards glowing in candlelight. Few things in life make me happier than receiving things in the post (not bills or anything equally sucky obviously, just fun, frilly things). I'm a huge fan of snail mail.
// Fifty and I took a birthday selfie. This was like take 372 due to his desire to lick my face instead of posing calmly. I think he finally tuckered himself out and that's why he was sitting still in this one.
// I didn't have a birthday cake this year, but rather eight small cakes each loving picked out by Gregory. This one was my favorite; a perfectly sized square of Tiramisu.

// We celebrated my birthday and the opening ceremony of the Olympics at The Croupier's house with pizza and baby cuddles. Actually, most of the baby cuddles were hogged by Gregory. That's OK though, my hands were left free for more pizza.
// The drive south to Toulon to carry on my birthday celebrations with The Londons.
// Another day of celebrating, another bottle of Champagne #treatyoself
// I'm really getting the hand of this selfie thing (duckface not included). This one is of Mrs. London and me. She's much more cooperative than Fifty.

// What's better than wine? Free wine of course. This is at the reception after the Toulon vs. Biarritz match. FYI... I can now carry five full glasses in my dainty hands.
// Here's Gregory and Mr. London plotting something or another. I thought it was best to catch them red handed. I'm not yet sure what they've gotten up to, or will get up to, but with this photo I have proof that something was/ is afoot, and that's all I need.
// The best Sushi in Toulon. I'm not very adventurous when it comes to Sushi, I simply like what I like, in this case, salmon and avocado California rolls and shrimp maki... yum yum dim sum.
// And starring as The Candy Man... Mr. London.


Bisous!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Behind the Photos XIII

Like my last edition of Behind the Photos, this one features family, which I think in is a nice and feel good tribute to my last sixteen days in The LPV (eeeeek!) and my last nineteen days of life in Europe as an expat (double eeeeek!).

In August 2010, my Aunt, Uncle and mother popped over from Dublin for a visit. I was excited, I had been living in France for almost a year and I had yet to really get out and explore. Their visit was my chance to check out the marvels of Provence.
Since they were flying into Marseille, we thought a day in the old port city was in order. We hiked up to the top of the Basilica, Notre-Dame de la Garde, and its beauty blew me away; Byzantine style and grandeur topped with a gold statue of Mary looming large over the city. It's breathtaking.

Not only is the Basilica itself stunning, but the views from the top are the best in the city. Look out on one side and you see building upon building of the rustle and bustle, and out the other is the calming serene of the Mediterranean.

Do you see that small island there? That's Château d'If; the ancient fortress turned prison made famous by Alexander Dumas', The Count of Monte Crisco. We would have taken the little boat over for the tour except we didn't have enough time, and also, I'm a little too chicken to tour ancient fortresses turned prisons. That place must be swarming with bad juju. No thank you. 

While we were up there, I learned a bit more about the role of Provence in World War II history. Sometimes I think we forget that it wasn't just Paris and Normandy that was involved, but the rest of France as well. These bullet holes serve as a tragic reminder. Well, not really, since they helped free the city. German soldiers were blockaded inside and the Allies bombarded them from below. Four days later Marseille was liberated.  Well done Allies, well done. 

And of course we went to Avignon. Even though I had already been to Avignon a handful of times, I hadn't been there, been there. Normally it was a stop at Baby Cousin's shop and maybe lunch but that was it. This time I got to see the famous Medieval bridge, Pont d'Avignon. I didn't sing the song or anything, and I didn't walk across it because the wait time was immense, but I was more than happy to just see it. (I've also only realized that this photo needs to be in frame... note to self: print photo before printer is sold.)

My mother and I got to do one of our bucketlist places... Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Since my Aunt and Uncle had zero interest in visiting the village of wine, we dropped them off at the Avignon tourist train and had Gregory drive like the wind twenty minutes north to heaven. 

Being August, the village was jam packed and we felt quite overwhelmed by it all, kind of like a couple of five year olds at Disneyland. So we found a spot for lunch, and after only made it to a couple of tasting rooms before we left. But Châteauneuf-du-Pape left a huge impression on me, and I vowed that I would be back (which I was). 

We got to see Arles as well, which was another place that exceeded my expectations (seriously, there is A LOT to see and do in the South of France). We walked about the Roman Amphithéâtre d'Arles, followed in Van Gogh's footsteps (half of his footsteps anyway, it was very hot that day), and discovered more tributes to World War II heros.

But my favorite part of the trip was hanging out in The LPV watching my Irish family collide with my Le Petit Village family. Somehow despite either of them speaking the other's language, my uncle and Mr. Honey became best buddies. To this day, whenever I see one, he asks about the other. 

And even though this photo is a big ol' blurry mess, it's one of my favorites... Brother-in-Law, my Auntie, The Honeys, Gregory, Child Bride, my Uncle, Honey Jr and a bit of my mom's leg there (sorry Eilo), all hanging out in my back garden together. It's a moment in time that will probably never happen again, so I'll treasure the memory and this blurry photo forever. 

Bisous!

Friday, February 7, 2014

the why


Ever since Gregory and I started to tell people about our move, the number one question we've been asked is, "why?"

"Why are you leaving France?"

"Why Massachusetts?"

"Why not go back to Dublin?"

"Why aren't you staying in Texas?"

And I get it, people are curious. Heaven knows if one of my friends dropped a bombshell like that on me I'd be all up in their kool-aid, questions coming out of me a mile a minute. So I thought I'd do my best to answer right here (this way the next time somebody asks me I can direct them to w w w dot Sara in Le Petit Village dot com). 

Warning: Things are about to get real. 

From the time I first moved to France, Gregory and I haven't felt settled. It's not that we don't love living in Provence, trust me, we do, it's just that we haven't felt like it's where we were meant to be. That's one of the reasons we left the original Le Petit Village, we were trying to burrow down and find a comfy spot, but alas, the new Le Petit Village wasn't it (sooooo not it).  We wanted to blossom and grow and with everyday that passed, we knew more and more that in order for us to do that, we had to move, like really move. 

We toyed with the idea of moving to Paris or to London. We even thought about moving back to Dublin. (Remember my 'surprise birthday trip' to Dublin last year? That was actually a 'surprise, you have a job interview in two days trip'... it ended up being between me and one other guy for the position and as much as I would have loved that job because it was perfect for me, I was kind of relieved I didn't get it, I wasn't really 'feeling' a move back to Dublin). But when it came down to it, Paris, London and Dublin didn't feel right. 

Talk of a move to the U.S. was floating about but I never let it be more than a poof of an idea. Truth be told, I wasn't ready. Gregory was, but I wasn't. After living in Europe for such a long time, I didn't think I was ready to 'go home'. Partly because I knew what a daunting task an overseas move was. The last time I did it it was stressful enough and that was without a houseful of stuff, a husband and a dog. Plus, if I moved back, what would be the chance I'd move back out again? Slim to none I'd say. And besides all that, where in the U.S. would we go? I couldn't see me back in Poughkeepsie, and Texas didn't seem to fit either... maybe Austin but still, Texas didn't seem like the best fit for Gregory. 

But then last summer something happened... I was chatting with my sister (as we do on Skype every Wednesday), and I was kind of using her as a sounding board; venting out frustrations and confusions and general cluelessness when suddenly it became clear... we should move to the Berkshires. And that's when a plan quickly began to materialize and fall into place (as one generally does when you're on the right path). 

The Berkshires were the answer. It's a good fit for us; it's only an hour from where I grew up in New York and where loads of my friends still are, two hours from Boston (the city of Gregory's and my mini-moon), less than two and a half hours from NYC (the city of my birth) and sort of halfway in the middle between Ireland/ France and Texas. Plus it's beautiful and kind of quirky which should help us settle right in since Le Petit Village is also beautiful and quirky. We'll feel right at home. 

It's also a place that tugs at my heartstrings and wraps me up in warm, fuzzy memories. It's where we got married (in the very same church my great-grandparents were married in), where many wonderful childhood memories spending time with my Nana and Pop-Pop were made, and it's where my grandmother's family have lived for generations and since she was Native American, I'm talking GENERATIONS GENERATIONS. So in a sense, going back to the Berkshires is really going home for me. And after ten years in Europe, I'm finally ready.
(That doesn't mean I'm not still freaking out because trust me, I'm freaking out.)

Bisous!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

and then that happened


// Today, as in the 5th of February, is always my least favorite day of the year (except expat Thanksgiving of course, but I don't have to worry about that one anymore). It's the day after my birthday and I'm invariably feeling deflated like one of those sad looking helium balloons the day after a party. All of the excitement and joy of yesterday, the tons of emails and Facebook messages, gone. Meh. (Yes I'd like a little cheese with my whine thank you for very much.)

// Lately I've been obsessed with the 80s. My full on nostalgia is being fueled by The Carrie Diaries and The Goldbergs. I cannot get enough of those shows, they make me long for my childhood. Man, I want to go back to 1985! It really was a simpler time (and poofier with lots more neon).

// I'm finally reading Gone With the Wind. I'm about halfway through, it's fantastic, I truly cannot believe that I've made it this far into my life without reading it. One of the best things about it is Scarlett's use of the phrase, "oh fiddle-dee-dee" which I'm guessing she says instead of, "oh f**k". It reminds me of my Nana who would say, "oh fiddlesticks" or sometimes "oh fiddle-faddle" when she was feeling extra fancy. I need to try and say that instead of the F word. I'm not sure if it's because of the stress of the move or what, but I'm saying, F U you know what, way too often lately. It's not dignified.

// Fifty's crate for his flight to America arrived. He was very skeptical at first but only one day after it arrived, he was in it (Confession: A few slices of ham may have helped). I've since put his bed inside of it and now he hangs out in there whenever he goes for a lie down. I'm so relieved.

// The night before my birthday, I got an early present; Bradley Cooper speaking French on the news again. Enjoy.


// Remember how I got Gregory hooked on the Real Housewives? Well now it's The Bachelor. Watching it each episode with him is one of my top moments of the week thanks to his colorful commentary: "Look at her walk away, it's painful.""Why is she dressed like a prostitute?" "She looks a travesty." Then he turned to Fifty, "You're a travesty." Clearly 'travesty' was the word for the day. And speaking of travesties...

// Justin Beiber. Ugh. Discuss.


Bisous!

Monday, February 3, 2014

the unexpected


We've been gradually selling off items in the house, mostly furniture and big things; the couch, the dining table and chairs, Gregory's weight bench and boxing bag, things like that. Then there's those little things; small lamps, decorative storage boxes, canvas prints, things that I figured we'd end up giving away, I mean without a yard sale, nobody is going to buy it... or so I thought.

On Saturday morning, Gregory and I returned home from a café and croissant date to find our neighbor waiting for us, her head out the window. She told us that a friend of hers wanted to come and see what we were getting rid of. We said that there wasn't much left that wasn't already promised to someone but if she really wanted to, sure.

That afternoon the two of them arrived and whirled about the house like dervishes. They pointed to everything, "Is that for sale? Is that?" But you know, in French, "C'est à vendre? C'est?"

We ended up selling things that we hadn't even considered selling, things that I figured would be passed on to Brother-in-Law when we left; a set of faux leather boxes, a pair of banged up metal chairs, the coffee machine, and a large print hanging in my kitchen. My neighbor's friend even said she'd be back to take the floating shelves off the wall. When they left I sat there stunned, clutching the €50 and counting my blessings. I hoped that somehow my good fortune could be transferred to the French rugby team.

If you follow European rugby you know that France had a disaster of a season last year, A DISASTER.  A lot was hanging on Saturday's opening Six Nations match against England, it would set the tone for the tournament. Normally we like to watch big matches in a bar with other fans but for an England and France match, I can't. I get far too emotional (and by too emotional I mean, shouting, and pacing, and jumping up and down, oh and did I mention shouting). England and France are age old rivals in everything and winning the match is très importante. And being that Ireland is the other team I support when I'm not supporting France, winning against England is always a big deal to me... you know, payback for the 800 years of oppression.

The match was a nail biter... thirty-two seconds in and France scored a try. We freaked the eff out. At only twenty-two minutes in, the score was 16-3 for France and I was badly in need of oxygen and a Xanax. But then in the second half, England looked like they had shotgunned a case of Red Bull in the locker room because they were back! Nervously I paced about the living room watching one French fumble after another, and then with only four minutes left in the match and England ahead 24-19, I began to feel the sadness and disappointment wash over me, it wasn't a nice feeling. But then if by swirly, sparkly, magic, a very unexpected thing happened... France found their je ne sais quoi again. A shiny, new nineteen year old, straight off the bench scored a try, and that was that. France won 26-24 and my house shook with happiness.

And then in a most unlike him, most unexpected way, Gregory declared that we should go out to celebrate the wonderful, unexpected day that was. So we went out and hit the town! (Not exactly, The LPV doesn't really have a 'town' to hit, we hit the restaurant down the road, but in my old age, that's all the 'town hitting' I can handle).


Bisous!
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P.S. After hitting publish on this post and reading a couple of the comments, I feel that there is something I need to address so my paragraph about the rugby match is not misunderstood... I do not hate the English. A good chunk of my family is English (HELLO, Mrs. London!) and it is a country that is very dear to my heart. However, when it comes to sports, mainly rugby as it's my favorite, they are the biggest rival for the teams that I support; the same way the Red Sox always want to beat the Yankees and West Ham wants to beat Millwall. That's all, plain and simple. Now if you excuse me, I have Friday's Eastenders to catch up on. 
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