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an american near paris

Living and Cooking in France and Ohio

Poignant Memories of US Soldiers Lost in WWI

I recently visited the Oise-Aisne American Cemetary, the final resting place 6,012 men and women with an additional 241 missing in action memorialized there. Like all American cemetaries abroad, it is meticulously maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. I have visited many American cemetaries abroad. All are somber but beautiful places, but I have never visited one as beautiful as this. Set in the gently rolling farmland and woodlots of the Aisne, it is a place of peace and quietly stunning beauty. With WWI 100 years in the past, very few individuals remain who even knew someone who personally was acquainted with someone interred here. As individuals, in that sense, those here are now forgotten. Somehow, this fact enhances the peace of this place, overlooked as it is by a graceful monument at the top of a gentle rise.It’s as if in resting half a world away and no longer being known, they are finally free of the horrors of WWI. Unlike today, the grave markers  give not just name and rank but also specifics as to what sort of division the individual served in and the work they did. This provides poignant insight into who the person was. We can easily picture them going about their duties.Many WWI dead could not be identified. There were no dog tags, and the absolute horror of trench warfare meant there were often no identifiable remains. This soldier must have had something in his possession to indicate his Jewish faith.

The majority here died in the Second Battle of the Marne, especially in the Second Offensive, July 17 – August 18, 1918. Here are just a few of the markers I read and just a fraction of those interred at this cemetary. We can wonder who they were, who they loved and who grieved for them, but we can never know them. They are beyond anyone’s reach now. LaFayette, they came. 

Shopping at a French Vide Grenier

This morning, I engaged in one of my favorite activities in France…shopping at a village flea market dans la compagne. The French as a rule love flea markets and love a good find. There are several different types of markets. Yesterday, I visited Le-Ferté-sous-Jouarre and shopped  Vide Greniér.The word Greniér means an attic or small storage space where one puts things they don’t use, etc. There’s a bit of everything for sale, but you can find treasures if you look. I noticed a few suspected pickers. Buyers from the Paris flea markets often come to country markets looking for items to resell. To compete with them, you’ve got to get there when the market opens, usually 7-8 am. I was NOT competitive on this day!A Vide Grenier is often sponsored by a local organization as a fundraiser. Sometimes it’s sponsored by the village or town. There’s usually amusement for the children. Of course, there’s food! Rosé and frites with mayo works for me!Although this Vide Greniér was small, I still found a few treasures! An early 20th century chauferette (portable bed warmer for travel). A fitted stone was heated in the fire and then placed in the mesh cylinder. It’s about half the size of a lunch box. I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I love its Art Deco design. Very Metropolis  Prints by Steinlein and Cheret (not original more’s the pity!) which I will reframe. Both are prints one doesn’t see as often. I own a signed Cheret lithograph in a carnival theme. Come EatWith me and you can see it! A Quimper 12×6″ platter in perfect condition. Beautiful colors and glaze. And my favorite find! A heavy brass plaque 14×3″ which I think must’ve been affixed to a large piece of machinery. I’m guessing it’s early 20th century. It will look great on a wall! I’m surprised a picker hadn’t already snatched it up. The grand total for all my purchases? $44! And you have to factor in the fun I had hunting.  I could sell these items (especially the sign) for a nice profit back in the States, but I want them all for myself. The next time you are in France, visit brocabrac to see if there’s a sale near you. You can search by city/village or region. Then go! 

Bonne shopping!

Catalan Pride and Street Art in Barcelona

Visiting French and Spanish Catalonia last summer, Catalan pride was visible everywhere on both sides of the border. The same pride was evident in Barcelona when I was there last month. If you would like to learn more about the Catalonian independence movement, click hereIt was my first visit to Barcelona in eight years, and I was absolutely blown away the explosion in street art that has taken place since then. Catalonian culture is experiencing a true rebirth in art and cuisine and taking off in new directions. 

I’m truly looking forward to exploring and sharing more of my favorite part of the world with you. Stay tuned!

Twenty Hours in Barcelona

Just Another Trip to the Grocery Store. In France. 

I am often asked why I love France so much that I have a home here (and am looking for another). I give you a trip to the grocery store and lunch in the grocery store restaurant (because it has one, of course). Keep in mind that these are pictures of just some of it (left out the boucherie, patisserie etc etc etc so as not to overwhelm my readers). Enjoy!

Shopping

And dejuener (lunch). Salade Robochon. Salad, Tomatoes, Small Roasted Potatoes, Melted Reblochon Cheese, Dried Ham dressed with a mustard vinegarette. All accompanied by local Rosé, sparkling water and, of course, bread (Reblochon is a traditional fondu cheese which is not available in the US).  Bear in mind that lunch is commonly the biggest meal of the day in France and usually takes two hours, but they also work later than in the US. 

This ENTIRE meal (which was FABULOUS!) cost 18€ or $20. I love France!

Bon appétit!

Traditional Water Jousting in the South of France

Yes, water jousting! I learned of it when I first visited Sete  in 1999. Of course, I was captivated! Sete is an important fishing port on the Etang du Thau (Thau Lagoon) in the Hereault region of the Langue D’Oc. During  July and August, Sete is packed with cruise ship passengers and French citizens on summer holiday. Come September, it returns to being just a fishing town, but a lovely one. On September 1, I easily found parking and a seat at a canal-side cafe. Both would’ve been nearly impossible a week ago 

Sete has its own very strong cultural identity, cuisine and dialect. Sete is also known as the Venice of the Langue D’Oc due to its many canals, and none is more lovely than the Canal Royal. It is here that Water Jousting takes place


Water Jousting  was probably introduced by the Romans but it is impossible to know for certain. Sete is the capital of the sport. The competitions are hotly contested amongst several jousting clubs throughout the Langue D’Oc, and the participants are true athletes. Most come from generations of jousters. Jousting is celebrated throughout the region. Check out this video of these guys in action!


The earliest written reference to  jousting in Sete dates to the beginning of the 17th century. Jousting boats resemble a cross between a gondolas and a rowboat. 


They are propelled by 10 oarsmen, all experienced fishermen, with a captain at the helm. Jousters, four on each team, mount the tintaine (boat platform) single file with the jousters first in line doing battle with iron tipped wooden spears and protecting themselves with shields.


 The aim is to knock your opponent into the water. If a jouster falls, the next one of the four moves up to take his place. I am fairly certain I couldn’t even stand on that platform for more than two seconds let alone joust! All this is accompanied by a play-by-play announcer and LOTS of crowd participation. Traditional tunes of the Langue D’Oc are played between passes.


Whatever it’s origins, it’s an fantastic spectacle and a cultural treasure of which the citizens of Sete are rightly proud. I hope you get a chance to see it some day!

Bon appétit!

Lunch with Friends in the Langue D’Oc

I was invited to lunch by a lovely French couple who have a beautiful home in Agde (lucky them!). So fabulous was this lunch that I had to share it with you.  Agde, one of the oldest towns in France, was founded by Pheonicians from Massilia (Marsailles) in the 5th century BC. Prior to that, it was a Gallic village. The Statue of the Republic in Agde is particularly lovely.  

Looking out over tiled rooftops to the blue Etang-du-Thau (Thau lagoon) in the distance, my hosts treated me to a leasurly, delicious lunch. 

We began with red, yellow and green tomatoes from their garden, lightly dressed with vinegar and oil and a pinch of salt and pepper and accompanied by a fresh, sharp pistou (pesto), pain de compagne (whole grain bread) and a crisp, cold Rosé de Bessan from the Langue D’Oc. 

I eagerly anticipated the main course being prepared by my host, Brochettes de Canard (grilled skewers of duck). The aroma made my mouth water!  

I was not disappointed when main course was placed before me. The brochette was accompanied by seared foie gras de canard (duck liver pâté) on toast and apples sautéed in butter. A Pinot Noir was poured. I was in heaven. 

Next, la fromage (the cheese)! My hosts continued to impress by presenting fresh cheese fait au maison (home made) flavored with garlic, scallions, parsley and a few generous grinds of pepper. This is a true Mediterranean dish, and the cool, creamy cheese was the perfect contrast on a summer’s day. 

Finally, the dessert…tiny, to-die-for sweet strawberries, lightly sugared. Every aspect of the menu was outstanding with the courses perfectly balanced, the wine paired so very well and the table beautifully set. I will never forget this dejuener (lunch) with the most lovely of hosts. Merci beaucoup un million de fois Bernard et Marit!

Feasting on Huîtres in the Langue D’Oc 

When people think of the Langue D’Oc, they often think of wine (for me, that’s a crisp dry Rosé on a hot summer’s day). They usually don’t think of oysters (huîtres en Francáis), but Langue D’Ocians have been harvesting and eating oysters since at least 600 BC , and ostréiculture (oyster farming) has long been both a tradition and an important part of the economy. Indeed, many villages and towns have annual oyster festivals, the best known being the annual Fete in Langue D’Oc’s oyster capital, Bouzigues. Don’t worry if you miss the Fete, fantastic shellfish is always to be found in Bouzigues! 

Me, I look forward all year to feasting on des huitres on the beaches of the Hereault, one of my favorite regions of the Langue D’Oc.  The oysters are farmed in l’Ètang du Thau, a large of a string of estuaries that run from the estuary of the Rhône River to the Spanish border.  

The French at oysters year round, and they are particularly popular at Christmas. Mediterranean oysters are considered to be at their peak from September-May because the warmer waters of the summer months are said to produce a brinier taste. I have eaten and loved them at all times of the year. My palette must not be as refined!

I love Langue D’Oc oysters paired paired with a crisp, cold Rosé.  The French eat oysters with butter, red wine vinegar, lemon and bread (just like The Walrus and the Carpenter), and that’s how I eat them when I’m here. No hot sauce!

On my way back from la plage (the beach), I often stop at my favorite magasine des huiîtres (oyster shop) for a dozen meaty, slightly briny Mediterranean oysters.

Oysters are usually eaten raw, but there are other preparations. Pictured above are Oysters aux Bechemal. The oysters are first steamed,then topped with Bechemal sauce and a sprinkling of bread crumbs and finally lightly broiled. I lack a superlative to describe how delicious these are!

Mark Twain said “twas a brave man who first ate an oyster.” Whoever that man was, he has my gratitude!

Sexy Date History!!!


It’s not quite what you think! I was in Palm Springs, California last week (it was 115 out) and visited Shields Date Farm where dates were being harvested. I ate some incredible dates, and Dan had a date shake which defies description beyond REALLY REALLY GOOD. A program called “The Sex Life of the Date” has been there popular since 1923 (imagine how daring it must’ve been to say SEX in 1923!). Before MiMo, there was a Arabian architecture in the Coachella valley, and you can still see it and towns with names like Mecca and Desert Hot Springs. Bank tellers dressed as harem maidens, people rode camels and your coffee House waitress might’ve been dressed as a Genie. Really!

Listen to this outstanding story from a few years ago on NPR’s “The Salt” (love The Salt), and make sure and look at the crazy pictures from long ago Coachella!

Bon appétit!

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