Exploring France

toutes directionsI’m closing an existing blog and, rather than lose the posts have put them on a page – ‘Exploring France’ -which you can find above the header photograph alongside ‘Home’ and ‘About’.

I’ve put two up here on the main blog previously…but I think they best belong in a category of their own, describing as they do some early visits to France…long before I ever came to live there.

It strikes me as being a rather clumsy process….one following on from the other…so if anyone has any idea as to how to better present them I’d be glad to hear!

But, for the monent, there they are…demerdez-vous!

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A Winter’s Tale from Costa Rica

insidecostarica.com
insidecostarica.com
No Florizel or Perdita, no statues coming to life…just a quiet winter’s evening in the country.

It has been raining since mid afternoon….cloudbursts to start with, filling the streams with the roaring dangerous waters…then thunderstorms…and now steady rain which will end sometime after we have gone to bed.

The sheep don’t go out when it rains…..the cattle have come up to the corral to eat the cameroon – fodder grass – that Danilo has put through the cutter…the horses are with them.

In the house all is peaceful after the dramas of the morning when the PC wouldn’t work and we had to contact Hewlett Packard’s helpline in Mexico to go through the troubleshooting process and finally to relaunch the Windows programme.
I was helped by a delightful man who realised very rapidly that he didn’t have to go through the script – and who did the whole thing in English for which I was most grateful as I find computerese bad enough in my own language and impossible in anyone else’s.

Luzmilla has cleaned the house from top to bottom – dogs fleeing to the chicken houses and men making themselves scarce….
Danilo has gone home.

The last batch of the Christmas puddings are steaming…

The straight-from-the-cow milk, full of cream, has been scalded and is cooling before adding the yoghurt starter…

I made a pizza for supper…but the red wine we tried with it was a disaster. Tannic wasn’t the word for it….

We checked the front label. Three years old.
Then we checked the back label…..where the wine’s ‘sweet tannins’ were vaunted…’nuff said!

So tomorrow I’ll be making a stew….a recipe from one of Leo’s aunts.
We haven’t eaten this for a while…but a bottle of sweetly tannic wine makes a good excuse….

Caramelise sliced onions…set aside.
Brown beef. Return onions to the pan with garlic, thyme and bay leaves.
Cover the meat with a half and half mix of wine and beef stock.
Add juniper berries.
Dollop in equal amounts of jam and mustard.
Cook until beef is tender and thicken the sauce with cornflour.

To be served with ‘stumf’…
Onions caramelised, thinly sliced potato laid on the top…water to barely cover and cooked gently until the potatoes are cooked and the water has evaporated.
Mash.

It’s a potato dish Leo loves…you can substitute carrot or cabbage for the onion…and ideal for a rainy night with a hefty stew.

Shortly I must take the dogs out before bed….they would normally take themselves but we have recently been given a new addition – the Pernicious Poodle Puppy – who doesn’t yet know her way around and so needs to be accompanied…and then I’m off to bed myself.

But over a cup of mate tea I have time to realise how tranquil things are…how much I have unwound….and how, if I am ever to write the book about my life and times in France, I will have to gird up the loins and put time aside to do it.

I have had two attempts…one, to use old blog posts and the other to write from scratch.
Now Perpetua has suggested an essay format and that seems a good idea.

So today I looked out my notes…and tried to start up Scrivener. Of that, least said the better. Back to the notes.

But I would be grateful if anyone has any suggestions for a format….something which would confine my soapboxing to reasonable limits but which is not yet another of the ‘how I hung up my high heels and tamed the septic tank’ sagas.

I listened to a last song before venturing out into the rain…and blessed my good fortune that the winter here is mild.
No cold winter howling o’er moorland and mountain as in ‘The Road and the Miles to Dundee’.

La Vendange

photopatrimoine.over-blog.com
photopatrimoine.over-blog.com
After a wet morning of picking coffee in a natty outer garment formed from two black bin bags I came back to the house and caught up on the blogs I follow…then fell on a post from Janice about the vendange in her area of France.
In an instant the red cherries of coffee high on their wands were replaced in my mind for the dusty purple grapes along the low wires in the vineyards I’d known so well.

I picked grapes with friends and neighbours all the years I was in France, with only a couple of gaps due to illness.
I have no experience whatsoever of picking on the industrial scale, so cannot comment, but the small scale job gave me a lot of pleasure.
For one thing, it was usually only one day, or one and a half and then perhaps another couple of days later, so it was hardly demanding in terms of time, the weather was usually good and the company excellent.

Papy’s middle son Jean asked me if I would help the first year….Mamie usually helped, but she was getting past it and needed to rest and another pair of hands would be welcome.

Now, this was the unscientific age of winemaking, wild yeast on the grapes, no idea of temperature control and the desired result a pink wine a bit on the sweet side to keep the family going through the year.
Accordingly, it was not necessary to stumble out in the dark before the dawn to take advantage of the coolest part of the day…we ventured forth in the afternoon, when the housework and the farmwork had been dealt with and the sun was approaching its’ zenith. It promised to be warm work, and it was.

Jean organised us.
Each person had a wide bucket and a pair of secateurs – so small that I found them difficult to handle and in future brought my own big gardening ones which were more suited to my paws.
I was put with Jean’s wife, to see that I knew what to do; we were assigned our rows of vines and off we went.
The object was to pick the triangular bunches of ripe grapes and, at all costs, not to include the round balls of immature ones, the secondary growths that an all too casual pruning had allowed to develop.
If they went in, the wine would be too acidic.

Most people squatted or crouched, but I found my best method was to shuffle along on my knees hoping not to encounter too many thistles or nettles…it must be a height question, or a lack of attendance at yoga classes on my part. Supple I have never been.
The technique was to place the bucket under the bunches you were picking so that they dropped neatly within and the challenge was to miss no bunch, while being aware that another pair of secateurs was at work on the other side of the plant and your fingers were in imminent peril.

We moved along and I was pleased that I could keep up with the others and not miss anything…Papy inspected each row, with crows of triumph if he found a bunch still hanging on the vine.
Conversation was brisk, the gosssip was hair raising and I was quite surprised to find how quickly the buckets were filled and taken to the trailer sitting behind Papy’s tractor at the edge of the field.
The women were grumbling that there should be someone in charge of the buckets to save them from having to get up and down and then stretch up to the trailer, so Papy was given additional duties which put a swift end to his inspection and crowings….he was too busy coming and going, his pickers keeping him busy.

The first third of the vines had been cleared when Jean called a break.
Papy, the man of the moment, was prepared.
He had the mustard glasses ready….the ones that you buy which contain mustard and then can use for drinking ever afterwards…and the bottles were brought from the bucket which had been hanging in the well….that cool, soft pink wine went down very well the first time – and the second!

Papy went off with the tractor and trailor down to the press but for us it was back to work on the rest of the vines and the afternoon began to turn into evening by the time we had taken our second break and were on the last stretch.

Papy had taken another load, and this was the last, so we all trailed after him down to the house to wash our buckets and secateurs under the tap in the yard, stacking them to dry and then washing our sticky and stained hands.

The modern – well, reasonably so – press was full and in action, a long cylinder which acted a bit like a syringe…the plate at the end pushing inexorably forward, but gently enough not to start breaking the pips, which would add a bitterness which was not desired, squeezing the juice out through the pipe at the far end into an underground concrete tank where fermentation would take place.

The last of the harvest had to go in the old press, a round wooden structure with a central screw where the levels were adjusted with wooden blocks, a long metal pole turned the screw and the juice poured between the slats onto the platform of the press, thence to buckets placed underneath.

We were all heading for home when Mamie appeared from the doorway of the house.
‘Don’t forget….we’re all eating down at Jean’s tonight….I always used to do it, but I’m just getting too old.’
It appeared that I was invited to supper, and, checking with Jean’s wife, who seemed remarkably cool for someone about to entertain the multitudes, that was indeed the case.
‘Should I bring anything?’
‘Oh….well, one of your salads would be nice. Jean liked that.’

I hared home, scrubbed my hands with bleach and tried to wash and change while racking my brains to remember what it was I had served when Papy’s family had last come to supper and, worse, wondering if I had the ingredients in the house.
It occurred to me that it would probably have been my standby…..tinned chickpeas, red beans and flageolet beans, combined with diced onion, black olives and parsley with a good slosh of green and tasty olive oil. Store cupboard stuff.
I put it together and included the batch of pork pies I had made the day before for good measure and was ready at the gate when Papy hoooted to take me down to the village in his old Renault van.
He and Mamie sat in the front and the rest of us crouched in the back with our various offerings, swaying in unison on the corners and combining to keep Papy’s dog from pushing his nose into the dishes.

The tables had been set in the courtyard of Jean’s house, lit by those bamboo outside lights that flare and cast shadows at their own sweet will, and the women were already setting out the dishes they had provided.
The whole thing was a glorious buffet, home made pate, rillettes, rillons, ham and charcuterie, salads, bread and cheese and, of course, wine.

We ate, we talked, we drank, and, eventually, we sang.

My best memory of that long day is the quiet courtyard with the tenor voice of Pierre soaring into the shadows and the warm full response of the chorus as we sang

‘A la claire fontaine.’

Becoming an Expat…Costa Rica

BECR eReader coverWe first came to Costa Rica almost by chance…

It was a foul winter in rural France, the cold just seemed to go on and on and we wanted a break. More than a fortnight.
Friends agreed to house sit and we looked for a destination.

In his working life my husband had travelled widely…but apart from a promotional trip to Miami on Concorde had never visited any of the Americas.
So the Americas it was…the warmer bits thereof.

He had also been worrying for some time about climate change as it affected us in France.
When we were first there you could almost always have Christmas Day lunch outside in a sheltered garden…by the time we were looking for a holiday destination you’d have needed six layers of thermals and a death wish to have attempted anything of the sort.
The summers were rainy and dull, too and there were bursts of extreme weather, both hot and cold.
We needed to explore other options.
He had been thinking about it and came up with the idea that the tropics at altitude would see the least change….so that again narrowed the field of destinations.

So not just a holiday….a recce.

This changed the focus…not just a break somewhere warm…but somewhere we might think about living.
On to the internet to check out residence requirements and, most importantly, affordable and adequate health provision.

I fancied Uraguay…not tropical enough.
Ecuador? Costa Rica?

The flights to Costa Rica were decidedly cheaper….so that’s where we went.
We came, we saw and were conquered.
We bought a house in the country to escape the winters in France and, over time, decided to make the permanent move.

We did our research ‘on the hoof’….but the book whose cover features at the top of the page would have saved us a lot of legwork….and here’s my review of it.

Becoming an Expat in Costa Rica by Shannon Enete

I really rate this book for anyone contemplating a move to this country.
It is chiefly aimed at the U.S. would-be expat – you’ll note this in particular in the sections on tax and education – but the major part of the content has value for everyone.

It covers the usual path…residency, rent or buy, description of various areas of the country, but also takes you through the bus or car decision, the health options and how to move without tearing out your hair.
It is detailed…it lays things out for you.

It gives the author’s personal views, interviews with settled expats and well researched background material and for me it rings true to the Costa Rica I know.

Are there things I would suggest?
Yes, one or two….

Not all Ticos are ‘Angels’ – though a lot of them are: there can be Tico and Gringo prices where these are not clearly marked, and, if you’re buying property or doing a deal out in the sticks, there is the international phenomenon whereby a countryman thinks that if you don’t speak his language or patois you are an idiot and can have the wool pulled over your eyes.
Some can be quite annoyed when you can’t…..

A warning about not trusting someone from your own country just because he or she speaks your language might have been apposite too….the unscrupulous and exploitative expat is also an international phenomenon.

I would have liked a section on San Jose itself….but I’m prejudiced – I love the city and it has some wonderful places to live as well as to visit.

Yes, Costa Rica has greedy politicans intent on running the country into the ground…but tell me where hasn’t!
It is still a good place to live, and this book would be a great help in making up your mind whether it would be for you.

The book is available from Shannon’s own website

http://www.becominganexpat.com/%23!costa-rica/cxbx…

She tells me that Amazon have a wait of between 1 to 3 weeks….or by order from Barnes N’Nobles,and is also available in Kindle, Nook and iBook editions.