an american near paris

Living and Cooking in France and Ohio

Laguna de Bacalar…Yucatecan Paradise

Just 3 1/2 hours from Cancun lies one of the most extraordinary, ecologically unique and beautiful places in the world , Laguna de Bacalar (Bacalar Lagoon), yet very, very few tourists ever see it. 

Since I first learned of Laguna de Bacalar a few years ago, I’ve wanted to see it. In January 2016, I got my wish. The intense blue color of the clear, clear water in  gemlike variations is truly a wonder and is why the lagoon is known as the Lake of Seven ColorsThis extraordinary natural phenomenon is caused by the presence of saltwater and of underwater cenotes (deep, sinkholes in the porous limestone bedrock) fed by fresh water springs. It is entirely unique in the world. Bounded by pristine, white sand beaches and 60 km long, Laguna de Bacalar is truly a paradise. Laguna de Bacalar is easy to reach by bus or by car via the Carretara Reforma, a new and very safe highway, yet it is a world removed from the fun, sun and nightclubs of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. As you leave sleepy Tulum and its impressive Mayan fortress behind, you are truly in the real Yucatán. Stop along the way as I did to buy fresh pineapples (the sweetest I’ve ever tasted), three pineapples for the equivalent of $1. The village of Bacalar (the name is of Mayan derivation) was a Mayan city in precolumbian times. The Spanish conquered the city in 1543, the first Spanish colony in the region. In 1739, they erected the fortress San Felipe Bacalar which now lies at the center of the sleepy village. Climbing it, one can enjoy spectacular views of the lagoon. 

If you are looking for fast nightlife and beach clubs with DJs, you won’t find them here. Nor will you find hordes of tourists. What you will find is a quiet, friendly, safe village with  a lovely central plaza, a few restaurants, taco stands, bars and shops and a few small hotels and guest houses. We had a great stay at this guest house which I found on AirBnB. The views from the private terrace were gorgeous. The cover photo is of the Hotel Akalki Bacalar, another lovely property. As if saving the best for last, Laguna de Bacalar ends the day with unparalleled sunsets. If you are planning a trip to Cancun, have fun! It’s a great place, and I love it. But do yourself a favor and set aside a few days for Laguna deBacalar. Cancun is fun; Laguna de Bacalar is truly extraordinary. 

Bon voyage!

Ancient and Fascinating Animal Totems of the Langue D’Oc

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

A September Day in the Minervois

The Minervois, a region of the Haute Langue D’Oc famous for its wine, is so rich in beauty, history, wine and gastronomy that it is impossible to cover it one short, sweet post (or 100 posts). Instead, I will share one dazzling day I spent there last month.  The day began with a one hour drive, gradually climbing from seaside Agde to the lively market village of Olonzac with its particularly poignant WWI era war memorial.This was one of the most beautiful French drives I’ve ever taken, and I’ve taken many beautiful drives throughout France.  It stunned me, truly. With the  vendage (the annual grape harvest) underway, I often found myself behind harvest machinery and trucks laden with just-picked grapes. Given the incredible scenery all around me, I didn’t mind the delays. I stopped to admire vines set in a landscape of  gently rolling vineyards interspersed with warm brown villages and church steeples for as far as one can see. At the time of vendage, the vines are so heavily laden with grapes that seem ready to burst!Lunch was in Olenzac, a salad of fresh anchovies and tapenade accompanied by a chilled rosé. The vendage machinery rumbled through the town and the smell of the harvest filled the air. The vendage is the most important time of year, and you can feel the excitement. After lunch, I drove upward to the ancient Cathar village of Minerve,  in 1207 the site of one of the last Cathar sieges and massacres. Cathars were a threat to the power of the one Church and thus were pronounced heretics. Set high on a natural rock outcropping amongst sheer, deep ravines in a gorge carved by the river Cesse, one can easily see its fortress attributes. The drive to Minerve and the walk across the stone bridge spanning a deep ravine to the village (no cars allowed) is dramatic and beautiful. Leaving Minerve, I climbed higher, entering the Park Natural du Haute Languedoc. The landscape becomes more austere. Here and there lie the ruins of communal farms abandoned long, long ago. Fencing and the occasional sight of horses or cows shows that this land is still being utilized. 

The Parc has many well-marked trails, and I spotted a few hikers . As I drove back down to the sea, I passed many lovely and graceful châteaux. Most were built in the 18th century by vintners who grew rich on the wines of the Minervois. The downhill perspective of my return was equally enchanting. This is one drive I could never tire of! 

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!


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!

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