A Blanket of Chrysanthemums

November 1st is big holiday in France. It is Toussaint, All Saints Day. Well it’s actually a mixture  of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, but those are details for the church to quibble over. It’s a day when people head to the cemetery.  

There are two common architectural aspects of all French cemeteries:  great grey walls surround a great grey army of tombstones.  Even the smallest cemetery has a formidable presence of stone; even the grandest is a place of earthbound drear. Until Toussaint!  Big and little, threatening or dreary, all the cemeteries of France are gloriously filled with flowers on this day. To honor their ancestors, no one goes to the cemetery empty handed. Some folks will arrive with plastic flowers that will last until next year’s visit, but most will arrive with an overflowing pot of brightly blooming chrysanthemums. The crosses and tombstones of the cemetery will soon glow from the reflected color of this expansive autumnal bouquet.

Chrysanthemums are probably the flower of choice because they are colorful, bloom late, and do not mind a little frost. Because just like Halloween in Vermont, Toussaint is always cold and dreary. The real signal of winter’s approach. There is an expression in French “faire un temps de Toussaint” which refers to cold, damp, dreary days at any time of year. It seems sort of ironic that, with it’s pageant of glowing flowers, the cemetery is the “sunniest” place in the village. 

In France chrysanthemums are rarely used as garden decoration and taking one as a hostess gift is a quick way to loose a friend. That friend will either be upset because you foresee their imminent death or may take it that you are implying that they’re just as good dead as alive. 

During the summer it’s sweet to notice a row of chrysanthemums tucked away in the back corner of a garden. Spring cuttings are tucked in from last year’s plants and tended all summer with the hope of a strong plant with perfect blooms for the 1st week of November. Loved ones are thought of each time the plant is tended, replanted, and finally carried to the cemetery.  A touch of sadness mingled with a simple labor of love.

This past Saturday I tried to discreetly tuck into the cemetery to capture this parade of villagers, but the sense of respectfulness and the intimacy of the families prevented me from being a photographic voyeur. Instead I wandered from grave to grave. I peeked at couples that had arrived after other family members, too late to place their flowers front and center, and working discreetly to rearrange things.  Parents whispering little stories to their children about Meme or TonTon.  A husband filled a watering can to bring to his misty-eyed wife. 

The prescribed days and rituals of Toussaint have changed over the years, but I think if I was a ghostly spirit watching over the French landscape this past week, I would appreciate the gaiety of the chrysanthemums and take this blanket of color and warm sentiments as a good sign that it’s time to tuck my soul into a peaceful rest. 

For insights into french traditions and a great site for learning french I encourage you to check out Laura K. Lawless -http://www.lawlessfrench.com

Sandbox Village

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We all thought we lived in a small village in France.

It turns out that that is not how Tom sees his world. 

Bourdeilles is just one big sandbox for him.

He might not be able to move the castle around, but that doesn't keep him from placing his toys just where he wants them. 

The setting contains all the elements that bring his art to life.

Hours were spent constructing and painting model sailboats.

A lot of thought went into how the sails should be attached for maximum flutter.

Each precious silk sail was placed with care.

And then they were off on their imaginary adventure through the ages.

Perfect timing for crisp fall days.

Perfect timing for fabulous holiday gift.

Perfect timing for always!

Order your own limited edition LilyO's silk scarf and sail away in a sandbox dream.

Friday's Petite Aquarelle

Before you get to the beautiful part of today's post I have a technical update. You might remember that a month or so ago I asked if you were having trouble receiving A Small Village in France posts. It turns out that some of your were. It also turns out that this a common occurrence with bloggers that have used something called FeedBurner to connect with you, our audience.

The short version of this story is that I am afraid you are going to be getting my post twice now. Once from FeedBurner and once from FeedBlitz.  FeedBlitz is where you want to be. 

I apologize if you find me arriving in your mailbox twice. You can unsubscribe from FeedBurner or just take the flash of a second to delete one of the two post.

Whew -I sure hope this sets things right for awhile. Keeping up with these technologies is just not my thing.

Thank you for getting helping get through this nitty gritty!
and here's the fun part of today.......

Farm Field 

12" x 16" framed size

$120 including shipping 
Window Over the Ocean

12" x 16" framed size

$120 including shipping 

Check out these wonderful, intelligent Bloggers that helped me get through this scary transition in the world of blogging:
Southern Fried French
French Word-A-Day
Tongue in Cheek

The Solution - maybe....

If I were behind the wheel of a ten-ton, fifty-foot long, monster 18-wheeler, I would try to avoid village roads that were designed for 12th century ox cart traffic.  Like the quaint roads of Bourdeilles. I certainly wouldn’t dare these roads for the measly 4 to 5 minutes that this route saves me as I traverse the region. But then I am not an independent gravel hauler or log hauler looking to save every minute so that I might squeeze in an additional run. So many trips in fact that in a day our little village is rumbled, bumbled, thudded through by at least 300 trucks-- close to 500 on busy days.

Yet as bad as the noise, the vibrations, the traffic jams and the pedestrian dangers are, the villagers’ opinions are divided on how the truck problem should be resolved.

The mayor has been pushing an idea that has been pushed around for nearly fifty years-- build a ring road. 
Some villagers simply don't want change. They don't want to spend the money that the village will have to contribute to the project. NIMBYs don’t want the traffic noise to be relocated to their currently bucolic backyards. Shopkeepers, restaurateurs, and hoteliers don't want the tourist circumnavigating around the village, unaware of the various ways they can spend their euro dollars. (We all know how small cities in the US look like ghost towns after the interstates went through.) Frustrated folks living on the main street have just about come to the point of throwing themselves in front of the trucks if that is what it takes to have some peace and quiet in their homes. (even I’ve thought of jumping out at the blind curve when I hear them approaching way too fast - just to give them a scare - unfortunately I’m pretty sure who would win that game of chicken…..)

As far as I can tell there have been three proposals put forth. Only one can be implemented. Not one of them is going to please every one. The solution that is selected will be perceived as political and fuel the fire for new grumpiness among the locals.

One proposal is that the trucks should simply be prohibited from going through the village. Think posted roads or weight limits in the States. This solution seems simple and obvious enough but it is a state road and the limit cannot be changed unless the village takes ownership-- and the cost of maintenance-- of the road.. Too bad because we know that this would work and that at least 80% of the trucks could use alternative routes because the main street was closed for an entire winter and trucks were forced to use the somewhat longer larger routes. That was a quiet winter in Bourdeilles.

A second proposal was a longer bypass. The new road would take off from a small hamlet outside of the village and would cross the ridge that passes along the farm fields above Bourdeilles. (obliterating our beloved ridge walk - needless to say, it was hard for us to get behind that idea.) For better or for worse, this alternative was deemed way too expensive to construct and has been thrown out. (at least for now - nothing is for sure until we see the construction start.)

The third option put forth seems to be the one that we will soon see put into action - official and unofficial word on the street is that ground breaking for this route will start in December. This route will tuck into a small valley just as you enter the village, wind its way through the yards of homes now surrounded by sunflower fields, cut farmers fields in two, and come rumbling out just below the village cemetery. All this and still the trucks will have to get through a underpass that is only a car and a half wide. This is a  less than perfect resolution to the problem but it seems to be the one that we are going to have to accept.

I’ll close with reflections on the term NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). There is no easy word for “yard” in French.  “Jardin” is one option.  So we get the irate villager saying, “A new road? Not in my garden!” (That sounds a little too bourgeois.) “Arriere court” (back courtyard) is another.  As in, “A new road? Good luck getting through the three-foot thick old fortress walls of my back courtyard!” 

The Rumble - The Problem

Bourdeilles is old. It’s castle is old. The buildings nestled under the castle are old. The passageways weaving through the village homes are old.
These passageways were sized for humans and an occasional goat, horse or oxen cart.  Sometime between the two World Wars these paths were widened right up against the village homes to make room for the few cars going through town. For years there were only one or two cars in Bourdeilles and all the old timers can still tell you who bought the first, second, third........... 

Bourdeilles has always had two roads. The one with restaurants, hotels and shops goes up through the center of the village.  The other hugs the opposite river bank, snaking through neighborhoods on its way to countryside.

Even after they had pushed the roads right up against the homes along these routes they are still only wide enough for one and a half cars at a time. They made the roads as wide as they could. They even cut off one corner of a house. The width seemed quite reasonable with so little traffic, and so few half cars. But nowadays, god forbid you step out of the house without listening and looking.

The car traffic is bad. The trucks are worse. Enormous trucks laden with rocks from the local quarries. Fuel trucks. Logging trucks that seem to carry an entire forest. You get the picture. There are enormous, heavy, scary trucks rumbling, jangling, thumping through town from 5 in the morning to 7 or 8 at night. Woe be to any  innocent pedestrian as these monsters just about scrape your ears if you happen to be trying to walk along the tight-wire sidewalk through town. 

Wine glasses dance on the cafe tables as great hulking shadows pass by at disrespectful speeds. It’s become a village sport to watch how two behemoths will decide who has the right of way. The loser has to back down the sliver of road and Hail Mary through a blind curve while trying to avoid the tiny grandmothers running errands. Cheers go up from the watching crowd as two great diesel beasts inch past each other and avoid the village dogs and randomly parked cars.

The village has struggled with this problem for years. Depending on whom you speak to there has been talk of constructing a by-pass of the village for 40 years, 20 years. Lately it seems as if a final decision is really about to be made and construction started.

But wait, the village is not all in agreement about this..........

------more to come------

Fall Weekends

Weekends are a great time to recuperate and take time to share experiences with family and friends.
Way back when, in Virginia, fall weekends were for football games and a day out with Granddad and the great uncles.

Then in Vermont fall weekends were all about leaf peeping - driving around searching for the brightest, reddest, yellowest, orangest  leaves, stopping at ones favorite apple stand and gobbling up maple doughnuts.

Here in Bourdeilles we have to find other ways to celebrate fall days. There are no sports events  for miles and miles. The foliage colors will soon be golden and mahogany, but not worth driving around for - especially as there will be no apple stands along the country lanes where one can gobble up maple cream doughnuts - no scarlet robed maple trees for that matter.  Instead we join other couples and families at local plant sales. As you may recall this is a frenetic activity for us in the rush of spring days. Now in the fall we are less voracious about scooping up plants, we take time to visit with the vendors, we reflect long and hard about where any new plant will be placed in our developing gardens.
If it is a lovely sunny day Tom will do a quick shopping tour of the plants and then unpack his painting gear to capture the scene in a watercolor or two. 
I wander the plant stalls with a friend catching up on old news and oohing over new plants. There is time to observe fall  plants that would have been overlooked in the pastels colors of spring.
Fall in Bourdeilles does not have the crowded excitement of a big sports event, or the exhilaration of searching for mountainsides on fire with fall colors, but one still feels the glory of the season as we slow down and saunter through the colors of a fall garden.

What Shoes Say

The other day I was playing tour guide in the amazing city of Sarlat. Every time I am in this living Renaissance city I see and feel new things, but for the life of me I could not go into the best museum in the city one more time. I had already been in once or twice this year and enough is enough. 

I plopped myself down on an elevated threshold and prepared to have some serious reflections on what I am doing with my tea towel business, LilyO's, and possibly take a nap. It was quite relaxing sitting there and I found myself drifting into a comfortable fog when I saw them. Black patent leather shoes with 3 inch stiletto heels. What the heck?! How could anyone negotiate these cobble stone streets in those shoes? But, there they were striding away from me before I could get my camera out to snap a photo of this death defying feat. Suddenly I was obsessed with checking out the passing waves of shoes. And here is what I saw:

a pair that spoke spanish
the glee of a family
teenagers getting to express their pink side
mom has her style and little Pierre another
a classic look
and a free spirit
one friend is contemporary, the other into men's wear
there was love on the street
and one poor soul that had to work
these are work shoes too
shoes trying to decide which way to go
shoes that had settled in
shoes of a trooper of a tourist
and no shoes needed

Off to the Races

Because Labor Day in France was way back in May we have had to find another way to mark the "end" of summer. If the weather is good we head off to the races as our last hurrah of summer fun. And this year's weather was good, actually gorgeous. So a gaggle of folks headed down the road to the world's most charming race track in the tiny village of Pompadour. Yes, as in Madame Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV. This chateau and race track were one of the 16 chateaux she was given for her amusement by the king. 

We don't have a BBQ, but a picnic is just the thing. The local car buffs brought out their gorgeous cars to get our juices ready for the four legged beauties that would soon be the center of attention.
After lunch there is a lull in the conversations as each person checks out the day's racing form. This is a serious and private moment!

I have a different approach to picking my horses. For each race I choose a different way to select the winning horse. For the first race of the day I stood and watched the horses as they paraded in the paddock. As soon as I saw #2 I knew this was the horse for me. She had a look of passionate reserve, she was calm with her handler, and even though she was the slightest horse out there she seemed built for speed. 

When her jockey came on board I could see a twinkle in their eyes that said, "look out everyone here we come."

And they were off! #2 lead the entire course and seemed so happy at it!!
For the second race I consulted with my helper. We went by the jockey's colors this time. We went for the blue on blue silks and by chance once again the #2 horse.

Once again a good pick as Sky Run came in by a good length or so. Too bad I don't ever put a real bet on my choices.
When there is a grey horse in the running I have no choice but to choose them as the winner. My luck continued for yet a third race....maybe I really should have bet - ha!

It was a very quiet crowd spread out along the course under the terraces of the grand chateau.

The gentle fields below the chateau have been carved out for a beautiful course. There are flat races as well as steeple chases. I hold my breath each and every time they jump those seemingly enormous hedges.

Tom spent his time at a bend in the course making sketches. 
He got a bit distracted today and made this his pick for the winners circle.

There are Other Small Villages in France

What is the chance that someone living in Vermont would meet someone from Connecticut in a class in New Hampshire who lived just a couple of hours away in France?! 
I don't know the odds, but I did meet my dear friend Joan this way and have loved visiting her in her small village in France ever since.
Her village of Turenne sure looks bigger than my small village and yet there is only a 200 person difference in population. The setting and preservation of Turenne is just breath taking and has earned it the classification of one of the Most Beautiful Village of France. My love of Bourdeilles and it's beauty could get me a bit envious, but as you will see there are indeed valid reasons for this prestigious label to be applied to Turenne. I'll let the images take you on a tour of the grand, the intimate and the delicious parts of the village.



Thank you Joan for a lovely visit into your small village in France. We sure have learned a lot since those days in New Hampshire!

Maybe you would like to buy your own small village in France? Visit this lovely blog by Lynn McBride.  www.southernfriedfrench.com


It is always the same and always different. It is our evening walk along the long ridge above Bourdeilles. It is our way to wind down the day. We call this walk the ridge walk.  The walk takes about an hour. I have no idea how many miles it is because as soon as we start to walk all sense of time or distance evaporates into the great wide sky. This a time to visit with each other, a time to move out the legs and stop the brain, a time to observe life from on high.
Today we stopped our workday a bit early. The clouds that we could see from our edge of the river valley promised to be quite spectacular up on the ridge. Perhaps the ridge isn’t as high as we perceive it, but it climbs just high enough for us to sweep the bottom of the sky with our finger tips. As you emerge from the village into the farm fields that unroll themselves up and over the ridge, your heart opens. I can’t exactly explain what I mean by open, but I do know that I feel open all over, happy, peaceful, and always in awe of what is happening below me in the fields and above me in the sky. 
 Today’s sky was about as dramatic as they come. Drifting from horizon to horizon were continents, all the world’s ocean liners, incongruous snowdrifts, oyster shells and pearls. We hoped to grab a handful of one of these monsters. We wanted to stand under one and feel the enormity of such a colossus. We wanted to feel the state of water that created these shape-shifting masses of cloud.

And feel it we almost did. To our north, south, and east the encircling horizon offered bright clouds and blue skies. But turning west to head home the sky was full of battle ships - angry, forceful grey, fast-moving clouds. The sharp line between beautiful sunshine and driving rain announced an impending doom. This walk was going to end in our being drenched to the bone, but the show was too magnificent to make us care.

Luckily the storm edge of the clouds passed along the far side of the river valley. Not a drop on the ridge side. There would be puddles at home when we returned. 
For us this is what the ridge is all about. It’s about being in the middle of something that, in intimate ways or in earth-rattling ways, changes everyday. It is experiencing the progress of the growth of the wheat, the wind rustling through crops, the days we have black berries and the days we have black clouds. Or sometimes it is just an hour with nothing but the feel of the big, wide, calm, sky surrounding us.

Thank goodness the dramas of these walks are also such an inspiration for Tom's works.

Snails to Escargot

Dear Friends,
It has come to my attention that some of you are not receiving A Small Village in France. There has been a problem with the “publishing” system and many of you were dropped from the mailing list. If you would like to rejoin you will need to go back to www.asmallvillageinfrance.blogspot.com and sign up in the “enter your address here” box. I apologize for this, but do so hope you will come back to the world of Bourdeilles, France. You can ignore this request if you are continuing to receive the blog. Thank you! Happy trails! All my best, Susan V
I had no idea when I woke up on Sunday morning that it was going to be Snail Day.

There are always snails everywhere in our yard. Big ancient looking things. I have gotten used to them, but they used to seem so curious and exotic, yucky and ancient. Now they are just sort of a random nuisance. 

This past Sunday morning the sun had not even risen when I was forced to think about snails. I was walking the puppy in the dark of the morning and underfoot was a familiar, occassional, and gruesome crack and squish-- snail massacre!  This mini-horror show comes with a very unpleasant sound, a disgusting feel underfoot, and a pang of guilt for taking the life of these seemingly pathetic creatures. (Most people think that snails keep changing their shells, but recently we learned that the shell grows with them for an average of 5 years and once the shell is broken the creature will die.) (And, believe it or not, people eat these slimy things! --Editor’s notes are in italics)

Then, as I was hanging my pajamas up for the day, I found a teeny tiny snail that had managed to slink its way down the back hallway and halfway up the bedroom door. It’s one thing to squish a snail outside, but what if I had stomped on it on the oriental!
Silvery slime trails.
The day was moving on and we were sitting around the lunch time table and snails came up again. The first story was about the “old days” that were spent with an ancient uncle who would gather up 4 or 5 snails, give them a cursory rinse, sprinkle some salt on them and eat them washed down with his homemade wine. Even for a Frenchman this way of eating a snail was a bit too raw. The next memory was about a grandfather that would take the grandchildren on snail hunts, each youngster carried  a basket that they were expected to fill up before returning home. The container in which they collected the snails had to have tiny holes or the snails would drown in their own drool and one had to be vigilant that they did not escape over the sides. (Who would think to eat something that is capable of drowning in it’s own drool?) Once back home all of the snails were tightly enclosed in a cheesecloth pouch and hung from a hook over a bucket. The next morning the bucket would have several cups worth of snail drool (The mini-horror show tsunami! ). Now for the best part - the grandchildren had to drink that drool to keep away coughs. (Finally, a reason to appreciate cod liver oil!)

After a enjoyable evening out we were returning home after dark and were startled to see three people on the edge of the road with a flashlight. It popped into my head that they were out searching for snails. Sure enough a mom and dad and their son were out gathering a delicious delicacy for two or three weeks from now. That’s how long it takes to get snails to be escargot! Their flashlights scanned the moist roadside ditches and into rocky crevasses. I invited them up to our terrace to gather their prey from our snail hatchery. The hatchery was inadvertently created when a tile that Tom made was placed in the garden. The snails love the cool, moist, clay, backing close by to all the things they love, dirt, rocks and my hostas!!

I was glad someone was going to appreciate those big slimy snails as I can assure you Tom and I are never going to eat them. No amount of garlic or delicious bread crumbs are going to get us to be that French!

Here’s an idea of the work that goes into preparing this delicacy:

Preparation And De-sliming
Three days before feast day, withhold food but not water (or wine) to let the snails finish digesting their last meal. At the end of this fasting period, rinse snails thoroughly in cool water and discard any that don't peek out of their shells. To deslime: Cover the snails with water combined with two tablespoons of salt and one tablespoon of vinegar per dozen snails. Soak the snails until they release all their slime, which takes about four hours. To speed things up, change the solution several times. Rinse the snails well, cover them with water (some cooks add a splash of lemon juice here), bring the water to a boil, and simmer 10 minutes. Cool the snails and remove the meat from the shells.
Garden snails often have thin shells that shatter easily, making it difficult to follow the traditional practice of returning them to their own shells for baking. You can strengthen the shells during the 10-day feeding period by supplying a calcium supplement, such as crushed oyster shell of the sort fed to laying hens for the same reason. Alternatively, discard the shells in favor of reusable gros blanc shells, sold by import shops as coquilles. Because coquilles are often larger than the shells your snails came in, stuff each one with two snails. (To save the coquilles for reuse, wash them in soapy water. Cover them with fresh water to which a pinch of baking soda has been added, bring the water to a boil, rinse the shells, and drain them dry before storing.)
To remove fragile shells from your garden snails, crush the shells between your fingers and peel away the shards. (Oh, the horror of it all! --Ed.) Extract the contents of sturdier shells with a nut pick or seafood fork. As you remove each snail from its shell, peel the skin from the meat and cut away the black portion at the end of the tail. (If you have plenty of extras, freeze them for later use, although they'll suffer a slight loss in texture.)
When you're ready for final preparation, cover the meat with water flavored with your favorite bouquet garnis, or add a bay leaf and a little parsley, thyme, onion, garlic, and a few peppercorns. Slosh in some cognac or substitute white wine for half of the water. Bring the water just to a boil and simmer the snails for three to four hours, depending on their size. While the meat cools in the broth, prepare herb butter. Allow one cube of butter (no margarine here, please) for each two dozen snails. With each cube, cream two tablespoons chopped parsley, one table spoon chopped chives, two crushed cloves of garlic, one-quarter teaspoon salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste.

From: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/escargot-

*all the other recipes in english used canned snails - imagine!!


Where oh where has summer gone!?

The 4th of July at Charles de Gaul airport.

Bastille Day driving between Atlanta and Louisville.

A week of pouting about jet lag.

Enough - it's time to jump into the neighborhood summer fun.

The week of fun for the Tour de France started with an evening walking tour of Perigueux and the connections it has to The Tour. To be honest the connections are slim, but a private tour of the gorgeous Michelin estate hidden here in the middle of town was worth the price of admission. Not to mention the inside scoop that we had about the chauffeur, the parties, the art work, the 10 Bugatties that  raced from Paris to Dakar in the 20's and 30's ... 
Then there was The Tour itself. A fun morning of gathering up swag tossed from goofy looking trucks, honestly, there was even one shaped like a baguette and another one like an order of french fries. We had a wonderful lunch after all that inspiration, but somehow the biking didn't have the same influence.....
Bourdeilles' summer festival was much quieter than usual, but still just as charming as ever.
There is still the marketing to be done.
And just in case there isn't enough to do in summer we have added a puppy to the mix. Happy summer days little Daisy! 
and to all of you my dear friends too!!