Monsieur Le Frommagier – and a Cherry Bomb

At Les Halles, the famous in-door market in Toulouse, you can buy some of the best cheese in the world, whole foie gras from both ducks and geese, various fowl with their heads still attached, and stinky fish that I would not touch – but there it is. I am spoiled about the fish. We prefer to buy our flowers from the stall on the corner, and our vegetables from the street market at Blvd. des Arcoles, and of course bread can only come from the baker around the corner from home, but it is all beautiful, and the food tastes better when it is sold in fresh air – but the cheese – the cheese must come from M. le Frommagier.

The first time I came to Les Halles it was in early December 2001, and in that instant I knew I had to find a way to live in Toulouse. So much so that I arrived back to Edmonton with a panier (market basket). The city has been good to us, and one of its delights is the vendors.

The ritual goes something like this. When you are first getting your tongue working, the baker’s assistant just follows your gestures and takes your money in the morning. After several weeks of persisting in saying “Bonjour M’sieur, Bonjour Madame”, a bit of conversation begins and the joyful rituals of daily life are established. Both of the girls had to learn their French with the baker and his assistant – first thing in the morning – at 14. Since the rewards were pastries for breakfast, they persisted bravely through the first weeks – and arrived home flushed with pride and delight when “Le Boulanger m’a PARLE Maman!” (The baker TALKED to me Mom!). This time, I caught Jessica speaking French in her sleep…

We also had a lovely victory with Le Frommagier in les Halles. Since we were living on bread, cheese, vegetables, and cafes, the cheese had to be replenished regularly. On the way to lunch with our friends in Pechabou, I stopped to get cheese and Monsieur refused to let his wife look after me – because selecting a cheese for friends is important business. I told him how lovely the cherry jelly was that he recommended to go with the mixed-sheep-and-goats-cheese (brebis-chevre) from the day before and we discussed the merits of a very runny blue cheese or a fresh chevre. Once he assured me that the blue would survive the bicycle ride (which it did), we completed the business of the day. As I left, he asked hopefully if we would come back before leaving town, and I assured him happily that we certainly would. 🙂 The declaration of a convivial acceptance after only a few days was such a lovely gift.

I contrast this with the woman in the street market who stopped Rebecca on her first day in Toulouse – aggressively certain that she would have her money stolen. Rebecca was jet lagged and confused. She gasped and looked to me for help as if she was 15 again. I looked both girls in the eye and firmly reminded us all that, “There are lots of people in the world pushing fear. We do not buy fear. You are safe here and you always have been. It is a beautiful sunny Saturday and that poor frightened woman cannot see it. Vas doucement avec le sac – mais t’inquiete pas – OK?”…and we all heaved a sigh of relief and came back to ourselves.

We ran into other peoples’ fear two other times on this trip. Airport (in)security confiscated Jessica’s toothpaste in Dublin because her bathroom bag was striped clear plastic (??) – and then threw out the remnants of the lovely cherry jelly in Toulouse this morning. Really? A half-eaten cherry bomb? What are we (collectively) thinking? These just are not good rules.

More and more often, we seem to be afraid of the monsters under the bed – imaginary threats that make us lose our common sense. The fortresses we build might protect us, but they also prevent us from finding lovely moments of friendship – with M. le Frommagier – and with so many other people and adventures and joyful sunny Saturdays in the market!

The greatest treasure of our Touloussain friends remains their ability to “aller doucement” – go softly – to dissolve the fear that keeps people apart, and turn it into friendship. A great gift to all of us.

We are on the flight home now – our last photo is from the pub at the corner – our path from Toulouse to the airport bus and our friends at home!

I think I will be back with more adventures in mid-August…on the way to Brazil this time for an extended working trip…and perhaps a few other moments in between.

See you all soon back in our regular lives…

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Le Canal de Midi

For years, I have come to Toulouse, rented a car, and died of envy as I watched people on bicycles enjoy the canals.

Today, we rented velo’s and rode the 15 km to Pechabou for wonderful Sunday lunch with Joel and Cathy, Martine, Joelle et Herve and Maella and Alessia, Agnes and Christian – all our family friends in Toulouse, minus Louise (in Paris) and Melanie (in Australia)…and a few others…

The Canal de Midi is another UNESCO World Heritage Site – and it is beautiful.

We are tired, but happy…and the canals en bicyclette were everything we dreamed of.

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A Quest for Cafe’s

The weather here has been glorious. Our street is very narrow (tres etroit) and we are on the ground floor, so we wake up in the morning and look straight up – through the impossibly 10 ft tall windows – right at the top – to see the colour of the sky. It is blue and cloudless, and another great day for wandering slowly around the city, chatting with shop clerks, finding cafe’s, buying cheese and bread, and sitting in the sun eating a glace or a crepe, and drinking coffee or iced lemonade. Sometimes, this is the version that comes in a bottle, like Sprite. Sometimes, it is a slice of lemon in tap water. I often choose lemon in eau petillant (sparkling), because it is a sparkling kind of place.

Glace is not the same as ice cream. In principle it is, but it isn’t. A single small scoop is the perfect amount because the flavours are intense and must be savoured. I have decided that I did not get enough glace on previous trips, so this time I am trying one new flavour every day – as long as the sun is shining. Wednesday was salted caramel. Thursday was cassis (black currant) while Jessica had lychee (fruit). Friday was coffee on a chocolate crepe. Today…today might be liquorice, but it might be lemon sorbeto or passion fruit…

I am also having a little game of finding a new sunny square for our cafe every day. Wednesday was Place Wilson, with its beautiful carousel. Thursday (of course) was Place du Capitole. The tragedy of this majestic centre square is that the cafes are all shaded from the afternoon sun, so we ate our cornets (horns, or cones) from the majestic Cafe Florida on the banquettes (benches) opposite. Then we found a second place for beer and lemonade – Place de la Trinite with its fountain, where Joelle and I shared an early spring lunch with Jessica and Maella on an earlier visit. Friday was Place St George, with its beautiful trees, and a tiny playground. Today will be La Dourade, next to the Garonne.

Toulouse is a city to be savoured, a place where it is easy to slow down and enjoy life and the people around you.

We had dinner with friends last night, and realized that Maella, who is now 10, was only 2 the first time we came, and Jessica, who is now 18, was 10. We are all three girls here now (Rebecca arrived at midnight) with no men in the family party. It is our first time together “les trois filles a Toulouse” and we have three beautiful days to enjoy.

Nous Sommes a Toulouse!

…and it is still a beautiful, happy place.

We arrived at the gate in Dublin and suddenly moved back into our habit of only speaking French outside the apartment – to each other and to everyone else. It is SO lovely.

The bags arrived safely – but they have a new control scheme on the belt that only spits out the next bag when there is a gap in the carousel. Perfect French engineering – teaching baggage to behave “doucement” – softly and with good manners. Our taxi driver sped past another driver with 2 cm clearance between the mirrors – and bet us that he knew exactly when we were about to arrive – which in old Toulouse is a feat worth bragging about. And he did. Dropped us direct – and right on the doorstep.

The kind AirBnB host who met us at the door paid us the ultimate kindness, “Alors Elisabeth – elles sont francophones – tu m’as dit qu’elles etait anglophones.” (I write only in English, so he expected the same…and I speak much more relaxed and fluent French here than I do in Canada…because here I am focussed on communicating rather than on speaking – so I speak better and it matters less…) …but he made my week.

The flat is beautiful – at least 200 years old (I think more), with a private sunny courtyard, BOTH a dishwasher AND a seche linge (dryer – unheard of luxuries!), a carriage door access from the street, the baker “juste a cote” and the epicerie (grocer) around the corner. The cordonnier (shoemaker) who fixed my red cowboy boots in 2006 is just around the corner too. Our hosts were pleased that I remembered. I am happy to be home again.

Jessica and I went immediately to Place du Capitole, and found the Wednesday market in time for some shopping. Both of us came home with des jolies robes (dresses) – hers “au style mode” – mine simply “souriante et heureuse” (smiling and happy). Our sizes worried the vendors – we have to explain that we are Canadiennes and understand that we are much larger than the French so they shouldn’t worry about the sizing – but the fit must allow for Canadian winters! …and there are discussions about the thickness and colour of clothing, and des cabanes (tiny collapsible outdoor changing cabins – really!), and directing him to hold the mirror up, and then down, and so on. Markets are my favourite place to practice languages, and the vendors here are so delightful!

Then we went to Heyraud – our favourite expensive shoe store – you can’t believe what they have done – the same beautiful and elegant style of shoe – not just in several colors – but slightly modified in trois tailles de talon (three heights of heel)! Tellement practique! Tellement beau!

We had salads and desserts at the WRONG time of day (5pm) in a very unfashionable resto for tourists (it’s OK sometimes!) and then went out at 9:30 to get the rest of the meal (foie gras – of course).

Jessica has proven herself une bonne dame francaise – she remembered to close the volets (shutters – we have proper blue volets Touloussaine!) before bed. This is always a puzzle of engineering – and well worth figuring out. We will sleep the sleep of the dead tonight in a completely dark and quiet flat.

C’est Super!

Tomorrow I will add a photo of the carousel to the post…it was SO beautiful in the sunshine today…and Rebecca – we didn’t get lost ONCE – or even look at the map!!!

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The Great Blog Experiment

I did say this blog would be an experiment, and the experiment continues. There are some things about blogging that are different from facebook and sending personal emails, notes, and postcards, so this is part one of the results…

1. Blogging is a bit like teaching a large class. The audience is really broad, and while ‘liking’ a post on facebook is low risk, public commenting on a blog is well…public and a bit intimidating. This means I only know a little bit about who is reading…anything! This all feels a bit egocentric. Thankfully, many of you are discovering that responses by private email still work – and several others are not shy !

2. Scanning back over the posts, there is definitely a theme in the photos. Tramping around on cliffs by the sea is not the ONLY thing we have done, but it is the thing I most wanted from this trip. This is good. I think I might take more of the photos and stories and turn them into a book when I get home. This is a satisfying and happy possibility for an exceptional and long awaited adventure. Rolling this up into one comment, the discipline of writing things down every day or so has been fun.

3. When you know you can choose one story and one photo to share on any given day – but only one – it focusses your thinking in a different way than posting photo albums to facebook. Blogging can be a practice in thoughtful framing while fb is a kaleidoscope of images. I love the positive discipline imposed by the blog stories – and also the spontaneous honesty of the fb albums…

4. The blog posts automatically to fb, twitter, and email, so that it reaches out to everyone at once. Blogging is more inclusive, and that has been a satisfying success. We’ll see if it also helps with reconnecting the pieces of my life back together when I get back home.

Anyhow – those who are reading – thanks for reading! Those who are chatting back to me – thanks for that too!

Today was our last full day in Ireland…another sunny one…and a bit of heavy mileage covered so we are tired and ready to give up the car and move to France!

The photo is from Kenmare – they call it Cromwell’s Bridge – but it has no connection whatsoever to Oliver Cromwell. A Folly. …and nearly impossible to walk over, by the way.

Giant’s Causeway

So…when you go to Ireland…make sure you get to the Giant’s Causeway on a sunny day. Words fail me, and one photo doesn’t begin to tell the story.

If you do a google search on Giant’s Causeway (images), you will find lots of iconic images of the natural pavement reaching out to the sea. They seem surreal, but the real thing is just like the photos. We spent hours wandering around, taking it in.

The National Trust Park Ranger said to tell you that the photo is a piece of history. He has never before taken this shot with no people on the hill in the back-ground. 😉

We have a family travel theory that if you are close to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you should just go. It is always good.

Go. It is good.

How did we get to be so lucky?

I remember gazing longingly at perfect pub hotels when travelling at 20 – and very occasionally staying at a cheaper one. We would splurge on afternoon tea at the Great Russell Hotel when we went to London. Coming down the stairs to the lobby as a grown-up guest (at special bargain rates for one night) has always been a source of delight. Today we are staying at the Smugglers Inn – right next to the Giant’s Causeway. It is in one of those places with a view that you can’t make up – and pub food to match. The perfect pub inn in the perfect place on the perfect sunny day.

This afternoon we sat on the deck and drank coffee and tea and watched the water. This is a favourite family pass-time when we go home to the Argyle Shore – and the view here is much the same. The sun was glorious, the laziness luxurious, and the feeling of being born under an incredibly lucky star was beyond imagining.

Eventually, we dragged ourselves away from the view to walk the cliffs before dinner – starting at the remains of a castle first built in 500 BC., and then spotting a bothy (hut) for a paddling route around the cliffs of the north-east of Ireland, hidden in a spectacular cove.

Dinner was steak and Guinness pie with the flakiest puff pastry in the world, topped with crispy fried leeks (you can’t imagine!) perfect mash with cheese and bacon, and a salad. It is a good thing we spent the day outdoors in the sun, because the portions are large and the food too good to waste.

The bath tub is deep enough to drown in…and there is Bushmills Whisky in the pub for a night cap…distilled in the village down the road.