Today is the last day of February already!  Spring is in the air!  Today was warm and very windy with visible clouds of pollen blowing out of the cypress trees and causing a great deal of agony with the allergy sufferers.

Last Sunday I went to Monaco with my Bulgarian friend and walked all over the city of Monte Carlo.  The border of the principality and the city itself are about the same.  Taxes are not collected here and one must be very rich to qualify for residency.  It is a gorgeous city.  The oldest area is perched on a rocky outcropping of land and enclosed in a curving stone wall.  This was a fortified city in its day but has an ancient history, dating back to around 300,000 BC. See this link for the full story

I had a delicious pizza, based on a crust about as thick as a crepe and just as light.  Went to the cathedral where Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier were married and are buried.  Their tombs are inside the building and we saw the covers of them, covered in flowers and candles. 

Gardens are popular in Monaco and we toured the one at the tip of the old city as well as an amazing Japanese garden below the casino.  Huge exotic cacti and succulents do well here.  It’s  amazing to be only about a 1 hour drive away from this rather exotic location.

On other fronts, I have learned a bit about extortion over the past few days from a neighbour woman who saw me as a bit of an opportunity (all’s well that ends well) and I will move into my bare little flat tomorrow.  My yoga mat will be my bed for the time being, (speaking of flat!), along with the quilt I told you about.  Getting furniture into the city will involve typical French bureaucracy.  Applications need to be made to lift the gate to my street because this technically is a traffic-free zone.  (although cars squeeze past the barrier at night regularily)  There is a special department who deals just with this particular event.  I hope it doesn’t take the usual 2-3 weeks of wait time to be approved!  We’ll see.

We are off to Nice tomorrow to get our residency permits- Carte de sejours- another possible red tape nightmare- but that’s why we are going together.  Strength in numbers. 

Life in North America is much more simple, that’s for sure!  Perhaps the culture here is so old it has begun to implode itself through complexity.  Makes for an interesting if not surreal adventure.

ciao 🙂

a chapter on food

So far I have not spoken in detail about my French culinary experiences, so this post in dedicated to food. 

To begin, today I made my deposit for the apartment and placed my online order with Ikea; so it’s official, I am diving into creating my new home.  Negotiating the rental agreement with the estate agency entirely in French just about flattened me energetically.   It is so deeply challenging trying to communicate very important official business without the usual ease of a shared language!  Plus it is slightly unsettling to have to show all ones most personal documentation like bank statements and every possible form of ID to a complete stranger. The woman and I were very patient and apologetic with each other,  however, and we accomplished the task, haltingly,  but successfully.

To celebrate,  I stopped at a little gourmet shop just up the alley from my flat and began to taste bits from the sample plates of cheeses and meats and wander through the shop looking at all the goodies.  I left with a package of finely sliced dried cured sausage called saucisson sec l’ancienne aux noixettes (traditional sausage with nuts -that unsliced smells exactly like a dog’s paw- that dry popcorn smell) and a little puck of what seems like a slightly aged soft cheese called Mistralou which is encrusted in a hard layer of pepper, rosemary and cumin seed. I already had the regulation baguette tucked under my arm (I have embraced eating bread!) and a bottle of good wine (Chateau Musset Chevalier Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2003) at home that I found last week, so all that was left was dessert.  This I decided could be accomplished with some Italian chocolate hazelnut liquer (Gianduia- ciaccolato gianduia e grappa) in the most beautiful bottle that I had noticed quite some time ago at the same little deli.  For the main meal I have fresh pasta and a tomato sauce with green onions and pepper corns and dried olives already made from last night.  So here I am, tucked away up on the top floor, it’s Friday evening after a very challenging week, sipping some lovely rich full red and eating chunks of delicious crusty bread layered with wafers of dried sausage, spicy cheese and slices of Provencal sun-dried tomato cured in olive oil. The pigeons are cooing away on the tiled roof across from my porch/perch, it is raining a bit, the weekly art exhibition is being set up in the square below and all is well in my world.

Ordinarily, my diet consists almost entirely of organic food.  It is so easy to find here, even at the Monoprix mainstream department/grocery store.  I had prepared for the possibility of having to be a bit less picky in the area of food than I am in Canada, but it’s actually much easier here to eat healthy whole food. Most of the food departments have a great selection of Bio food, including meat and dairy.  The only area that isn’t specifically organic is produce.  Judging by the taste however, the veges don’t have nearly the chemical residues of conventionally grown food in  N America.  I spotted another indication the other day when a lemon in the fruit bowl molded- something that only organic citrus will do at home.  Come Summer,  I’m sure there will be lots of locally grown produce that is organic at the local Saturday market. The best thing about the market now is the honey table- delicious fragrant honeys of all kinds.  Provencal honey is dark and lovely.

For lunch, quinoa is my mainstay with chopped raw vegetables, olive oil and sea salt, along with bananas and organic yogurt.  For breakfast I have an omelet or the very French choice- bread and coffee with some fruit.  The other day I experimented and made crepes with fine cornmeal instead of flour. (let the batter sit overnight in the fridge)  This was wonderful for breakfast and maybe a lunch option for next week.  The one decidedly un-French thing I do most mornings is run out the door with my to-go cup of coffee or tea in hand!  When I asked for a cappuccino to go in Paris in my nice stainless steel insulated cup, they would look at me blankly.  I may be the only person in France who has one of these!   Actually the concept of  ’to go’ is not so familiar here in any form.  My first night in Grasse, I took myself out for dinner at a romantic stone cellar of a restaurant and when I was too full of deep-fried chevre on greens and sweet chestnut stuffed tortellini in cream to finish said pasta, and asked for it to go, they cooked me a whole new serving and packed it up.  It may well have been a misunderstanding based on the language barrier, but food or coffee on the run is not common here.

(A quick note about Paris: the pastries!  Light crusty delicate fluffy quiches like no other. Also the most beautiful sweet pastries and little cakes.  Works of art really.  I am inclined to think there is some lard used in the pastry itself.  I could be entirely wrong, but that may be how it is so amazingly golden and wafery and ethereal.  I was very happy to ignore that possibility as I basically lived on these quiches for a few days…. after being smoked out of the restaurants)

My dinner is usually simple as well, with fresh pasta from the little shop around the corner, gorgeous sheep cheese from Spain called Manchego, and a salad or cooked vegetables.  I eat eggs boiled quite often as well, and even had a ‘double-yoker’ the other day.  The pasta from around the corner is like ribbons of silk.  The man who makes it is carrying on the tradition of his father and grandfather in the same little shop.  He jokes about it being the pasta museum, pointing out the old wooden tools used for rolling out huge batches of tortellini and cutting the ribbons of noodles.  This man speaks some English and cheerfully helps me learn some of the basic French required when buying food. 

One thing that is common is pizza delivery.  It took me a little while to realize what the story was with the tiny scooters who zoom around the city, painted in red and orange with a big cargo box attached to the back of the seat.  These are the delivery boys from Mr Pizza.  They seem to be everywhere and I’ve watched them from the phone booth, where I have spent hours in total since being here, that happens to be near the restaurant, zinging by fairly close to being airborn on every bump. One of the girls from school had a Mr Pizza delivered to class at lunchtime recently and I had a piece.  It was very Italian style, unsliced and very thin.  The only way to eat it is to tear off pieces and fold them in half to keep the topping from sliding off. 

There is an Indian restaurant up a narrow little lane nearby and a Vietnamese restaurant beside it.  Neither of which I have tried yet, but I’ve heard that the Indian food is great.  I’m taking my explorations slowly.  I actually prefer to explore the grocery stores of a new country before the restaurants.   Also, a huge reason why I avoid eating out is because of the cigarette smoke; I just can’t tolerate it. Besides, setting up a kitchen and cooking at home is comforting and coming here all on my own has caused me to crave some comfort every day.   Today I bought a few of the basics for my new kitchen including one pot, 2 bowls, two plates, a set of glasses and cutlery. I’m hoping to find a shop with old china so I can have some unique pieces.

I can hear that the party downstairs is picking up, so I think I ‘ll go see who’s showing this week.  I think it is a sculptor, but I’ll let you know.

A bientot….!

the sculptor

I just came back upstairs from this Friday’s Place des Artistes show, and the artist was a wonderful gregarious woman named Ariane Maman who does small paintings, some with collage and some with images bearing a venus of willendorf flavour as well as potent sculptural pieces made of found objects.  I love art that is made this way.  Old pieces of rusty metal, enamel, wire and wood, compiled to create images of sometimes tortured beauty.  I told her how much this appeals to me (she speaks English!) and she explained that to her, found materials are like the pieces of us.  The experiences and people in our lives, sometimes discarded, are the pieces that form who we are.  We are always fitting all these bits together to create ourselves and always moving upward to be better and better. Like totems.  Her pieces really were like this; many almost as tall as me, and like skinny voodoo entities with wild nuts and bolts and rusty springs and rope giving them their personallity.  She gave me her card and said ‘call me! we’ll have dinner or a drink or whatever and visit!’  I absolutely will and look forward to it. 

I am so happy that I am only moving around the corner from here;  the artist’s quarter. This town is full of artists.  Perhaps this is a phenomenon of France, or of this area in particular, je ne sais pas, but I love it and am enjoying its deep inspirational influence on me. A friend said to me once, the greatest gift is the gift of inspiration, and I have to say that the greatest feeling is being inspired. It is a well spring of internal bliss.

my new home

After much deliberation and thinking myself blue, I have finally settled on a new home.  I’ll write all the details this weekend, but suffice to say that I will be moving into a pretty little apartment in the old city centre just a few hundred feet from where I am now.  It is completely unfurnished and here in France that means no fridge or stove.  As a result, (and this seems so strange to be resorting to),  I have just finished navigating, with the help of my French/English dictionary,  the French Ikea site to pick out my basic furniture. (like a bed!)  I learned some new words and determined that I can get the very basics without breaking the bank.   After packing up all my belongings in Canada and being overwhelmed with how much ‘stuff” I have, this year of minimalism will be great.

As for the fridge and stove, I can get a little apartment refrigerator for about $150 and for a stove, I’ll just get a little plug-in hotplate.  No baked squash for awhile I guess….

 Tomorrow is Friday- a day with the naturals.  Yesterday we covered various citrus products, both essential oils and absolutes.  Some I’ve never worked with before like mandarin and lemon petitgrain as well as orange leaf absolute and orange flower water absolute.  These are all beautiful oils and ones that I am excited to use in new perfumes.  Especially the orange leat absolute with its creamy green fruity dryout. 

Three days per week we study the synthetic chemicals and I have to say that I am really enjoying this. Knowing them is very helpful even in the context of aromatherapy.  Knowing what linalyl acetate smells like on its own makes it possible for me to single it out as a note in Lavender, because it is a chemical constituent of that oil.  Same with linalol in Rosewood oil.  Or the deep orange wintergreen fruityness of methyl anthranilate that is present in orange flower absolute.

 The chemistry aspect of the extraction processes is also interesting to understand. For example, partly why neroli oil smells so different from the fresh flower is because during the distillation process, the water breaks down the very delicate ester linalyl acetate into chemicals such as geraniol, linalol and terpenes. Therefore when an absolute is made with a solvent and no water, the finished product is actually closer chemically to the chemistry of the live flower, and as a result it smells very different as well.  

 Must sleep now…..

the Symposium

I was out for a walk this afternoon and just happened to spot in a store window a poster for the most amazing event….the 9th annual International Symposium of Aromatherapy and Medicinal Plants being held from March 16-18th here in Grasse!!!!!  It will be held in the beautiful Palais de Congres.  Suffice to say that I will be in attendance!

Here is the link to the program so you can see some of the facinating subjects that will be covered. 

What can I say?  Life is pretty amazing….