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Global Village

She was nine years old.  Her teacher was asking the class about their ethnicity and nationality.  She remembers hearing big words like “Caucasian” and wondering if she was one of them.  She grew anxious as the teacher made her way through each student, asking them “What is your Ethnicity?”  This moment in time could have been her earliest memory of feeling confused about her identity and where she belonged.  But instead, the teacher labelled her “the perfect child of the future”.  I wonder if the teacher knew the seed of pride she had planted in a little girl’s heart? This was the story Dewi-Ann told me as she recounted her incredibly international childhood.

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Before I go on, you should know how to pronounce this pretty name properly.  I called her Dew-ee-Ann for a bit, then I moved on to Dev-ee-Ann before she very graciously corrected me in her perfectly posh English accent.  Dave-ee-Ann is her name.  Cute huh?  She’s the first Dave-ee-Ann I’ve ever met, and I think she is rather interesting.  So much so that I wanted to tell you her story.

Born to a Dutch botanist father and a Malaysian mother who were living in Thailand at the time, Dewi-Ann spent the first seven years of her life in Indonesia where she attended an American International school.  Following this, they lived in Holland for two years before moving to Rome.  Dewi-Ann lived in Rome until she was sixteen.  This is where she feels she grew up.  Can you imagine her language repertoire?  She speaks English, Italian, Dutch and French and I wouldn’t mind betting she has a basic knowledge of Malay to add to this impressive selection.

Dewi-Ann and I met mainly because we both speak English!  One of the unexpected bonuses of living in the South of France, has been the expat community we have found ourselves enjoying.  My husband has taken up playing his long-forgotten love of soccer.   The local village team is half English, half French and I am helping him to translate the weekly emails he receives with instructions on where and who they’re playing.  I get a giggle every week when for every email he receives with details about the actual game, there are six more with details on who’s bringing what for the team meal that happens after each game.  The meal starts at about 10.30pm … I still don’t know how these guys get up and go to work each Friday after such a late night!  But I love the community spirit and importance placed on creating a time to eat together … very French indeed.

Together with her husband Will and their three children Amy, 10, Tom, 9 and Mary, 6 (plus her two eldest Dylan and Pia who pop over regularly), Dewi-Ann took the plunge six months ago and moved from England, which had been home for her since 1985.  As an Aussie, I’m jealous of their short trip across the channel to such a land as this!

Now with an upbringing like hers, you’d think this move would have been no big deal for her – in fact I figured she’d been in Will’s ear about it for years.  Not quite.  It was in fact Will who suggested the move at first.  After some changes in his accounting career he suggested that this adventure could be just the thing for their family.  Dewi-Ann was quite happy to start looking at property to buy in France – who wouldn’t be?  They’d holidayed here plenty of times before.  But she admits it took quite a while longer before she had truly internalised the fact that they were moving to France to live.

As I sit under her huge platane tree, so typical of this area in the South of France, I take the time to admire the gardens, trees, vines and ancient looking pots and statues that all have more history than I do.  But what I’m most drawn to are the crisp white shutters and crawling green ivy that accent this 130 year old farmhouse that soars above us.  It was a twenty month process from the time Dewi-Ann first laid eyes on Domaine Codaїgues to when they actually moved in.
front of house shutters pots
garen urn front step urn bathroom window external

Domaine Codaїgues means “le Mas des eaux” … farmhouse of water.  It refers to the abundance of rain water that runs down the hill from their village of Montréal into the surrounding fields.  Although the original farmland surrounding Codaїgues was sold off by previous owners in the late 1970s, the house remains on eight acres of established gardens dotted with century-old farm machinery to decorate the aptly named “park” that is Dewi-Ann’s front yard.  The original concrete slab of the barn declares 1885 as the year it was laid and together with a huge garage, it bookends a building that could comfortably house three families.  Dewi-Ann, Will and their family are living in one end of the farmhouse with five bedrooms in use.  Add to this a workshop, horse stables, two lounge rooms, a sitting room, a kitchen with the original fireplace, three bathrooms and a grand entry foyer complete with a marble and wrought iron staircase and a feature stain-glass window, and you have an impressive home indeed.  I can’t help noticing there is also a hallway closed off with four more rooms that aren’t currently in use and an enormous attic that can be found through a “secret” door … I’m guessing they are on the future “to do” list.

house 4 sign
 barn firewood farm machinery

main foyer internal stairs bathroom window

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IMG_5770 barnstairs  IMG_5769
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It would be easy to get overwhelmed by the task at hand and although Dewi-Ann first thought five years would see their renovation project completed, after six months of slipping into a slow-paced French life at Codaїgues, she feels no sense of urgency, preferring to take the time to respect the history of the place and repair it accordingly.  It’s almost as if Domaine Codaїgues and her new owners need time to get to know and understand one another before they walk together into the future.

Although Will has started renovating the two-storey, four bedroom residence adjacent to their living quarters, they have other projects that will be done in time including the barn, three-bedroom chalet, installing a pool and building a pool house from the existing structure that was once an orangerie.  The original owner, Madame Vidal, had this built to honour her son who died in WW1.  The gardener was charged with growing flowers in the orangerie all year round to ensure his grave was always decorated with fresh flowers.

future gite pool house
There are other stories that Domaine Codaїgues has been witness to.  Monsieur Laquire’s wedding took place in the park in 1971.  He was the son of the owners at the time.  There are remnants of the white foot bridge where he and his bride would have had their photo taken.  The two 60m3 grain stores and idle farm machinery in the barn hints at the productivity that once went on at Domaine Codaїgues.    Despite the charm of rusted machinery and aging stone walls, the new life in the chicken coup and fruit tree orchard brings hope for what Domaine Codaїgues will once again become.

creek bridge IMG_5689
grain store secret door2 IMG_5668

Dewi-Ann admits that during their first, very cold winter where she wore beanies and gloves inside the house, she may have had one or two moments where she questioned her sanity.  But as she sits in the Spring sunshine with her happy, soon-to-be-bilingual kids and the two beloved family dogs squabbling at her feet, she admits she feels it’s a real privilege to be on a journey such as this.

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Apart from having a really cool name – one you could never forget – Dewi-Ann is someone who finds herself “at home” not so much in places and things, but in family, good friends and meeting interesting people along the journey of life.  She’s happier meeting new people and swapping stories in a foreign land than she is in a shopping mall.  She would rather spend a day entertaining under her platane tree overlooking the sprawling eight acre grounds of her new home than racing around the city trying to impress people.  But what I think she doesn’t realise is how this love for the simple things in life, the way she makes people take a big deep breath and just relax around her, is really impressive.  She doesn’t need to try very hard at all.

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I ask her if she thinks she’ll have itchy feet again – or if this is it for her.  As she finishes her cup of tea, she can’t hide her smile and doesn’t hesitate … “of course I’ll get itchy feet again … there’s lots to do in this lifetime.”

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Local Characters

It would be easy for me to commit to writing a series of short posts on the people I have met around here in these last months.  Many characters … many stories.  Maybe I will park the idea until we have left.  For now, I am busy practicing the art of running a B&B, cooking for crowds, planning itineraries around local festivals and trawling brocante shops (think half way between bric-a-brac and antiques).  It’s been fun!

But I can’t resist pausing in and among all this clamor, to tell you about Bruno, whom I met properly this afternoon. I first came across him briefly over the weekend when our party of seven decided to pull over on the way home to have a peek in his brocante store just ten minutes from our villa.  I’ve been meaning to stop there ever since we moved here in January. I wasn’t expecting much – many older people in the area have average bric-a-brac shops to keep them going in retirement.  So you can imagine my elation when I stepped inside Bruno’s artfully renovated house, the ground level of which showcased beautifully his passion for brocante.  My excitement was very short lived, however, as twin #2 decided she desperately needed the toilet … at home.  Don’t you love it when that happens?  My well-trained eye had already spied a cake stand that I could imagine using back home, so I asked Monsieur to put it aside for me, promising to return the next day he was open.

So today’s experience was much calmer.  I went alone and I had no deadline.  Bruno remembered me and in sing-songy French, he fetched the cake stand and matching plates and complimented me on my choice – such a charmer.  The store was empty so I took the opportunity to chat to him.  It turned out his English was very good so the following half hour flowed in polite and animated “Frenglish”.  He bought and renovated his house twenty years ago and he travels quite regularly, visiting the other houses he owns in Toulouse, Nice and Perpignan … as you do.  He has lived in New Caledonia before and therefore worked with Australians.  My curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask him what he thought of “us”.  I think he was pretty accurate.  He used many adjectives – the French always do – but summarized his monologue with “direct, but authentic”.  I think that’s a pretty good wrap, don’t you?

What I hadn’t seen on my previous fleeting visit was his display of floristry and aromatic herbs.  In the middle of all the crockery, glassware, silverware and linen from bygone eras, the freshness and recency of this greenery worked perfectly to create an ambiance I didn’t want to leave.  I’d have been in trouble if I had a house of my own to take the plants back to.  Dommage for Bruno, I ended up with the cake stand, six matching plates (pictured below) and a couple of gorgeous old books.  One is the Michelin Guide from 1951 (the only other one I own is from 2012 – will be fun to compare!) and the other is a recipe book called “La Cuisine Familiale” written by Paul Bouillard in 1932, five years before he died at the age of 63. Included in his 1500+ recipes, I found one for “flour soup”.  The ingredients list is short.  I imagine this kept many families going during WWII and throughout many long, cold winters.

The bonus Bruno gave me was a little tip on posting French books home to Australia.  There is such a law in France that falls under what’s called “Francophonie”.  It effectively means that postage is cheaper when sending French books out of the country because “it is good for France”.  Good for tourism?  Good for national morale?  Who knows.  It will be good for my bank account.  Thankyou Bruno!

I will leave you with the photos he let me take of his quaint little store … it really was a treat to step back in time in Bruno’s well laid-out, clean and thoughtfully categorised store.  I’ll be checking back in before I leave!  Should I take orders?

With grace and gusto,

kpx

sign glassware
bike basil crockery

crockery green cookware books
lillies flowers
art silverware 2 books
cakestand spines


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Life’s a picnic

We must take adventures to know where we truly belong.  I am a bit of a control freak, I admit, so my way around “adventures” with three kids, is to pack a great picnic to take with us … at least lunch will be predictable!  Since moving to France nearly four months ago (eek time flies!), our way around EVERYTHING being closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays is to jump in the car and drive somewhere new.  It’s backfired once or twice, believe me.  In the middle of winter, we once drove forty minutes to greet the pouring rain in a ghost town with nowhere to take cover.  So the picnic happened in the car, right after I lost the coin toss and had to make a (very cold and wet!) dash to the boulangerie at one minute before noon.  The kids thought it was great … hubby was not so impressed and spent the next few days picking breadcrumbs out of the upholstery.

But mostly, we’ve had beautiful picnics – in front of World Heritage Listed chateaux and cités, by gushing rivers and trickling streams in tiny towns that look like they’ve almost been forgotten about, and by shiny lakes with looming mountains in the background and a smattering of nearly naked trees struggling to show off their early-Spring leaves in maroon, burnt orange and bright yellows.  We even picnicked in the courtyard of an old library-turned apartment building in a country village once, which was perfected by the smiling young mademoiselle who swished by offering “Bon appetit!” as she disappeared inside.

I feel like I may have perfected the art of packing a picnic into one bag and being able to walk out the door with three kids and a hubby in fifteen minutes flat.  I’ve learned there are two rules to make it work.  The first rule is to keep it simple. It’s not at all like hosting lunch at home.  The second rule is that people don’t eat as much as they would at the table.  The kids are more interested in the playground or their surroundings, so you can pack far less, and top them up later with an ice cream as a treat or an afternoon tea when you get home.  (As a side issue, the French really don’t do morning tea – just coffee – but they are big on their gôuter – afternoon tea).

The easiest picnic I’ve packed was when I had leftovers from my poached chicken and beetroot salad from the night before.  It filled a large Tupperware container, and it’s an all-in-one meal.  I threw in some plastic bowls and some vintage cutlery I had bought the day before for only five euros (it’s always nice to have real cutlery – real crockery is way too hard) and the bulk was done. I always have baking in the freezer and cheese in the fridge (several in fact) so they get popped in the bag with some mandarins, a baguette bought on the way, and you’re a superstar mum and caterer.  If you want to really create a memory, it’s lovely to include a bottle of bubbles and some plastic flutes.  Discard all the plasticware before you leave and it makes for a quick getaway and a no-mess cleanup.

For colder weather, prepare in advance by having soup already made in the freezer.  Take it out the night before (ha! who am I kidding … a whole day and a night before in the European winter …) and store it hot in a Thermos.  A mug of soup finished with cheese and baguette – and perhaps some olives? – is very satisfying, packs neatly and fills up tummies.

The only other trick I have used is to make up a homemade dip (usually hommus or garlic and herb dip in fromage blanc) and transport it in a jar with a screw top lid.  Cut up a stack of carrots, zucchinis, cucumber, capsicum – whatever you have on hand – into batons and you’ve got a speedy, nutritious snack.  Throw in some cured ham, don’t forget the cheese and baguette and everyone’s happy.

Being away from “home” and living a much slower paced life has allowed me to really fall in love with the simple things you notice when you get good at doing the picnic thing … nature has so much to offer, a foreign culture always has a surprise or two waiting and quality time with your nearest and dearest can turn into amazing memories when you create a reason to huddle around a rug or a weather-beaten picnic table.  Deadlines are non-existent and conversation flows easily.  Picnics are food for your tummy and food for your soul.
vineyards cows
We are always rewarded with beautiful views when we get out into the country …
and we always meet some interesting characters 🙂
puivert lake donkeys chateau maroon leaves puivert playground
On the way to Puivert Lake, we had to stop and photograph this chateau,
home to a herd of donkeys.

picnic2 cutlery vintage
Keep it simple stupid!  But there’s always room for vintage cutlery …
especially when it was only €5!

sam soccer sun
Picnics mean time to hang out with the kids …
and play around with quirky photos!

Bon appetit!

With grace and gusto,

kpx


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French women “get” fat

Kudos to Mireille Giuliano for writing a global best selling book based mainly on her opinion and personal experience. French Women Don’t Get Fat is a clever representation of how a French woman’s philosophy of food and eating keeps her trim.  It amuses me because Giuliano is french opinion personified, but I agree with her that above all, the pleasure of eating and tasting food is the most important thing.

This book and my time in France so far, has convinced me that French women “get” fat.  They understand it.  They get plenty of natural fats in their diet from the likes of duck meat, foie gras, cheese, nuts and fish.  They eat in moderation the bad fats in their glorious pastries.  When I first arrived, I couldn’t understand how they could resist the incredible displays they undoubtedly walk past everyday.  It’s very hard to avoid a peek in the windows in our local town’s four patisseries – let alone the many other boulangeries!  But after three months, I have arrived at a place where “too much ice cream” keeps me from over indulging.  Don’t get me wrong, when we entertain, we make sure we show off our local “specialties of the region” (a favourite marketing term over here) but day to day, feeling strong, healthy and bien dans ma peau (good in my skin) is more important.

I am here to tell you that the myth that “all french women are skinny and gorgeous” is simply not true.  What is true, is that I could count on one hand the number of obese people I have seen in France.  I’ve travelled to many cities in France including Lyon, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Paris, Montpellier, Nice and Narbonne, and I definitely noticed the lack of very overweight people that I had become accustomed to seeing back home in Australia.  Weird huh?

Another truth: you can sit in the main square of any town and several stunning, slim, typically french young things will walk past and you’ll marvel at their perfect red lipstick, the way their scarf matches effortlessly with their tailored look and their shoes and handbag … and their little dog.  Yes it’s mind boggling sometimes, but I simply put that down to sheer population.  France can fit inside Queensland itself and has triple the population of Australia, so of course there will be a concentration of these coquettes, right?

But let’s get back on topic … the point is that overall, French people are healthier than we are and I think Guiliano hints at the main reason why: they have a much healthier relationship with real food.  They avoid fast foods because they have so many other wonderful options.  Their rich history of gastronomie has left them with a plethora of cafes and restaurants in every city (even our local village has over eight places in which to dine, just in the main square) and a bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins are available at local farmers markets every week.  And here’s the thing: it’s all very affordable.  The French social welfare system even provides “lunch cheques” for some low income earners which is literally a voucher they can redeem for a meal at a cafe.

So I shall join Guiliano and the general French population in enjoying my healthy fats in the magret du canard and Roquefort cheese.  But I will keep my head about savouring their fresh fruit and vegetables everyday and occasionally relishing a sweet pastry.
Here’s a few pics of the food and sights we’ve been enjoying lately …
A day out in Carcassonne … markets followed by a picnic with the castle as the backdrop and the river as the view in front of us.
carcassonne markets picnic 3
carcassonne bridge canal du midi
Charcuterie platters in Limoux and Bordeaux … all in the name of research 😉
charcuterie bordeaux charcuterie jambon
Plenty of home cooked goodness at the Villa …
villa home dinner oysters
A recent trip to Bordeaux left us drooling … and not only for their beautiful red wines …
winery raspberry tartsbrunch
Castelnaudry is the best place to enjoy Cassoulet, a specialty dish of the region … duck, pork sausage and beans. Done right, it’s lovely.
cassoulet
A sublime lunch enjoyed at La Domaine Gayda, one of our many local wineries.  Foie gras three ways, snapper cooked to perfection, Apple Profiteroles and coffee with madeleines by the fire …
snapper gayda coffee fire
Bon appetit!
With grace and gusto, kpx