Archive for the ‘Exotic’ Category



June 6, 2007

Anyone who actually knows me or has been reading for a while knows that I have a lot of respect for fabulous desserts, and a certain admiration even for just good desserts. While we were living in Crete, I was seriously deprived unless I made the dessert myself. I love to bake, especially if sugar is one of the main ingredients. But it was difficult to do in a place that doesn’t even have vanilla. Tools and ingredients, the essentials, were in short supply because Greek desserts are related to European and American desserts in the same way that kangaroos are related to reindeer.

Every Tuesday, I leave the house at 17:15 for a 10 minute car ride to the bakery. Once I’ve parked, I sit watching the clock until it is 17:30. I have to time this perfectly because at 17:30 all the pastries are 50% off!

The silly part is that I don’t want to show my face at the bakery before 17:30 because they might think I’m only there for the discount. (Which is true.) I can’t arrive after 17:30 because someone else might get all the good stuff. I worry that some day I will accidentally get there at 17:29 and either have to pay full price or tell them I’m only there for the discount. This is the same shyness about talking money that caused us to eat a fish dinner in Athens without asking “how much is that?” If we had asked they might have responded, “a trillion gazillion euros/gram.” And we would have decided that we’d prefer something with fewer zeros.

Yesterday I got to the bakery at 17:31 to find 6 people in front of me. I have a mandate to buy opera torte, but after the very first time we were there, they haven’t had any. Maybe it’s a seasonal dessert. Second to opera is the l’imperiale. It’s chocolate with hazelnut praline and wonderful. There were three portions in the window. But there were six people ahead of me!

I don’t really know what happened, but the first guy bought bread, the next guy bought a full sized cake (with candles,) the third lady bought bread. That left me with three people ahead of me. For some reason, they all told me to go next. Maybe the drool or the hyperventilation made them uneasy.

Not L’imperiale

Whatever, I got what I came for.


Tourists in France

June 3, 2007

For the first time our relationship, we did some tourist stuff. I enjoy tourist stuff. I’ve been to Graceland and had my picture taken in front of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the Statue of Liberty. But that was all pre-R. Despite our travels over the years, we’ve never done tourist stuff.

But Friday dawned partly cloudy and we were off to fulfill a decades old desire for R. We toured Chenonceau, a famous and beautiful chateau in the Loire valley.


The ‘partly cloudy’ weather was important, because Geena was going with us. We arrived after a small detour through the adorable and thoroughly re-visitable town of Vouvray, where some homes are built inside the cliffs. This detour also allowed us a brief view of the town and chateau Amboise.


After these detours we arrived mostly without incident at Chenonceaux, the village where the chateau Chenonceau is located. It’s a tiny town and cute as a button. We parked in the shade of the trees and joined the throngs headed toward the big house. Geena was intrigued and relieved to see that there were at least a half dozen other dogs on the grounds.

The rule at Chenonceau is that small dogs, carried in your arms, are allowed inside the chateau. Geena’s definitely lost weight since we left Crete, but she’s still at least 10 kilos (probably more like 10.5). How old is a child that weighs 22 pounds? Do people carry them much? My back was killing me after 10 minutes and we took a break outside.

R took went to look at the gift shop while the dog and I rested outside. Two American women were going through their just-acquired loot and I took the opportunity provided by anonymity to eavesdrop a bit. Here’s what I heard as they looked at the receipts:

“Where does it say how much that is in dollars?”

Which I probably should keep to myself to stop the perpetuation of the rumor that Americans are a bit egocentric.  Aside from more Americans in one place than I’ve seen in the last two years all tolled, there were lots of Asian (perhaps Japanese?) tourists. These women all carried umbrellas which they used them to shade themselves. There were also quite a few French people and the obligatory Brits.

Aside from the very pretty chateau, which R informs me is 596 years old, there were also two decorative gardens and a potager where they’d managed the apple trees to grow as borders, 18 inches high and wide and about 10 feet long. Cool! There were several things (including a maze and the wine cellars) which we saved for next time.

The train goes right to the village which is within a stone’s throw (if you’ve got a good arm) of the chateau. There is camping practically on the grounds. All in all, I think it would be a fabulous place for a weekend break or as a part of a tour of the Loire valley.


The Big Storm

May 27, 2007

We had lived in our house on Crete for 5 months when our dog showed up in our garden on Christmas day, 2005.


Up to that point she wasn’t our dog, she was ‘little barky dog’ and she lived next door. She never left her driveway and spent the majority of her time barking at the road.

We didn’t know then was that she was homeless. We naturally assumed that she belonged to our neighbors, as that was where she lived. The story came about much later: She was originally owned by a German but when she was about three, began to spend increasing time with her second family who eventually took her on full time when the German left the island.

She was with them for about 4 years when they had their first child. At the same time, they moved across the village to a new house they’d built. The combination of having children and a new house proved too much for this 1/4 Greek family and Geena found herself living outdoors (in a very nicely built dog house/garden.) Her previously cushy life of sleeping on the couch and watching TV became a distant tantalizing memory. But the final straw was that the new house was near to a hotel which hosted parties all summer. These parties were loud, with music, fireworks, and gunfire. Geena went home – to her previous address.

Her family came and picked her up, but she repeated the trip over and over until they got the message. A neighbor offered to look out for her, and she was allowed to sleep in ‘her’ garage. At this point she was still spunky and adventurous, though afraid of loud noises. She often took herself 2 kilometers up the hill to participate in the milking of a local farmer’s sheep and enjoy the archaeological site.

This footloose and fancy free existence came to an end in the summer of 2004, when she was attacked and nearly died of her injuries by a crazy neighbor’s crazy dog (nickname: Bad Dog). After recovery, she refused to leave the safety of her driveway – Bad Dog was allowed to roam free despite being a danger because the owner was crazy enough to cause trouble for anyone (and everyone) who would oppose her.

Holidays and celebrations on Crete are loud and usually involve loud music, gunfire, and sometimes fireworks or at least firecrackers. Christmas 2005 was no exception. During a break in the gunfire we stepped onto our patio. There she was, little barky dog who never left her driveway, laying in our garden quivering.

We brought her in the house where she politely curled up on our doormat and shook until the gunfire stopped a few hours later. When she had calmed down, I opened the door and she went home.

The next morning, I was sipping my first morning coffee and surfing the web when I heard a ‘woof’ outside the kitchen door. Not barking, just one single woof. I pulled back the curtain and there was little barky dog, sitting confidently in expectation. I opened the door and she pranced in as though she’d always visited us. After a short visit, I opened the door and she went home.

The next morning was the same. The third day I was going shopping so I went out the door with her. I opened the car door and turned to talk to a neighbor. When I turned back, she was sitting in the passenger seat and wouldn’t budge. From that point forward she’s lived with us. By the next day, the neighborhood was abuzz with the news and my fears of having stolen someone’s pet were assuaged (she was no one’s pet, everyone was glad we’d adopted her.)

The point I’m slowly getting to is that we’ve known since day one about her fear of loud noises, so when she quivered at thunder and lightning, we weren’t surprised. If we had a thunderstorm, I’d build her a cave and we’d sit in there until the storm passed. On Crete, most thunderstorms pass very quickly, in perhaps an hour. One particularly bad one last fall lasted nearly 4 hours and I feared for her life. Sustained terror is difficult, but our girl managed to quiver and pant for the entire storm. I got some doggie Valium after that.

Which brings us to now.

Our landlord stopped by Thursday to pick up a misrouted piece of mail and mentioned that there would be a ‘beaut’ of a thunderstorm on Saturday. I dug out my doggie Valium, but because I don’t like what the pills do to her, I waited to see how bad the storm would be and how she’d react. The storm came Friday night and lasted into Saturday afternoon, and a beaut it was. Thunder & lightning – the works.


And she didn’t raise an eyebrow.

I think France might be good for us.


I’m Easily Impressed

May 24, 2007

Tonight I saw a nutria on the bank of the river while walking the dog. It was cute and let me get pretty close before it shot into the river.


We had nutria in North Carolina, but I never saw them. This rates right up with the hedgehogs in Crete – the first time I’d ever seen one outside a petshop.

Wikipedia says that nutria are South American but were imported to Europe for use in the fur industry; his fur was very nice indeed.


Eurovision Song Contest 2007

May 11, 2007

I’m starting to understand that the Eurovision Song Contest isn’t about entertainment or talent, but is instead about something mystical, something unfathomable – something European.

Two years ago, I watched my first Eurovision Song Contest. We were in Greece, and Elena Paparizou won with “You are the one.” Elena is in fact Greek and competed for Greece, despite the fact that she is also Swedish.


Looking back, my first Eurovision (2005) may have been the best one I’ll ever see. The Greek announcer was so excited I nearly cried. Every time the votes came in she thanked the voting country in their native language and Greek, so excited she completely abandoned the normal presenter’s objectivity.

“You are the one” was subsequently used for every cell phone’s ringtone and on several TV ads. If that wasn’t enough, the Greek news managed to string out Paparizou’s win for three months. Naturally, every time they ‘reported’ on her, they played that song. Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water, Eurovision 2006 came along and the Greeks revived “You are the one.” I did learn from that song, though, what ‘capricious’ means.

Last year, Sakis Rouvas and Maria Menounos (a Greek-American) presented from Athens and the European populace, seemingly sick of Euro-pop, elected Finnish monster heavy metal group Lordi as their European Song Contest winners. Weird.


I’m starting to wonder if Lordi didn’t win last year because they were the worst possible choice. Last night in Helsinki at the qualifying round, several people/groups who could actually sing were passed over for acts which push the definitive boundaries of the term ‘music.’ I actually wondered if some people, in a bid to reduce the competition for the automatically qualified acts, voted for the absolute worst acts of the evening.

Who didn’t get in?

Andorra – a Green Dayesque punk group (called ANONYMOUS) admittedly from a place which is a nation by a hairsbreadth. Andorra obviously doesn’t have the social/political alliances necessary to secure a Eurovision win. They were good – really good for punk. They got sent home. Sad.



Switzerland sent DJ Bobo with a song called “Vampires are alive.” There are several remarkable things about this act. First, they were considered front runners to win Eurovision and didn’t make it past the semis. Second, DJ Bobo can’t sing, not that this seems to have any bearing on winning. Third, this act reminded me a lot of Cats or Phantom. It had a distinctly Andrew Lloyd Weber feel to it and seemed to be yanked from a musical stage show – or I could simply be searching for a context in which this song would make sense. They went home and I’m glad.

The Netherlands sent Edsilia Rombley. She reminded me of Toni Braxton. She could sing, even if the song was boring and unremarkable, she sang it with a voice. Bye-Bye Edsilia.


Iceland, Croatia and Czech Republic all sent what I would call hair bands in a bid to repeat Lordi’s success. Of the three, the Czechs were the best. It was like high school all over again. But it didn’t work, they’re all going home.

Belgium sent The KMG’s with a reincarnation of Kid Creole and the Coconuts called Love Power. It was fun, it was silly, it’s going to stay in Belgium.

Who got in?

A lot of crap acts.

Belarus sent Koldun with an act that, while not close to the worst of the evening, was bad enough that I was laughing audibly by the end. Work Your Magic, indeed.

Incredibly, Bulgaria had a drumming/really bad singing (wailing) act who qualified for the final. This was so bad I am bewildered by their qualification. Their song was an actively unpleasant experience, Water.

Georgia’s Visionary Dream was crap, but I guess having swordfighting backup dancers meant something to enough people. She hurt my ears.

Magdi RÚzsa from Hungary gave us a reincarnation of Crystal Gayle’s Don’t it make my brown eyes blue and did it well. She called it Unsubstantiated Blues. She’s in.

Latvia sent Bonaparti.LV with operaesque Questa Notte, a song which would have been far more effective if they’d left the accompanying music at home. Still, they’re in and they’re okay.

Serbia sent the ambisexual Marija ŠERIFOVIĆ, who performed her act in a mannish suit which obscured her body to the extent that she might have been a badly drawn cartoon. Add to that her backup singers, who looked like Texas beauty queens from the late 80’s and spent most of their time touching her meaningfully rather than, well, singing backup. What you get is a boring but not awful song which somehow beat out other people to make it into the final.


If Eurovision is anything to go by, I’m never going to understand Europeans.


Creature Comparison

May 3, 2007

Back in Greece the sound of the bats echo locating just about drove me, well, batty. I don’t really mind bats as long as they aren’t in my bed (if you understood that reference, I’ve tried to write but I think my email is getting swallowed by your spam filter – give me a phone number!) But the constant sound of them was really invasive.

French bats are completely silent, at least here in the Charente. I’m sure they’re a different species; I found it interesting.

In other creature news, I saw a leech today while walking the dog down by the river. I’ve never seen one before. It wasn’t gross until I let my imagination take a stroll.


The Fruits of Someone Else’s Labor

May 2, 2007



When we arrived here just over a month ago, there were no leaves on the trees but several were covered with blossoms. As the days went by, I spent a lot of time looking at them, trying to decide what they would be. I’m sure there are people who can look at a stump of wood and know what sort of tree it is, but I’m not one of them.


The last tree is dropping the last of its blooms now, and I’m pretty sure finally that it’s an apple tree. We have two cherries which would have produced a much finer crop if I’d realized that they needed water a week ago. Instead, many of the baby cherries have withered and are falling off. What’s left are looking good, and should be ready to pick in a few days.


We also have a plum, which didn’t suffer the same dessicated fate as the cherries and is full of plums. I don’t particularly like plums and it looks like we’re going to have a bunch, naturally. 6 well established grapevines are budding now; I like grapes but what will I do with so many?


In the back we have a very small peach (or perhaps nectarine) which is bringing forth a handful of fruit. There also may be a hazelnut, I’m not sure. I’d like to know why a search for ‘hazelnut tree’ on google doesn’t give any clear picture of what a hazelnut tree looks like without the nuts.


Externally, there are dozens of walnuts in the area and I’ve even seen a fig. Figs were a very common tree in Greece, but I didn’t realize they’d grow in this area of France. Our sometimes neighbors who are here only a few weeks have two pears and what I think is an apple.


One thing is sure, I love that these trees are going to make fruit all on their own. It’s a little magical – and if there’s one thing that’s missing from adulthood (in my opinion) it’s magic. I’ve been told by parents that having children brings magic back, but I think that’s a rather drastic measure to take so I’ll stick to reproduction of the horticultural kind.