Tag Archives: France

Transhumance (Happy Sheep Heading to the Mountains)


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16 years ago I bought a poster of La Transhumance, but I didn’t really know what it was.  I just knew that I liked sheep.  This past weekend we had the opportunity to accompany our daughter’s scout troop to witness La Transhumance of a herd of sheep leaving Vendres and heading up to the Pyrénées mountains.  As we were all having breakfast together, and before heading out for a long hike to find the sheep, we collectively wondered how to say TRANSHUMANCE in  English.  Duh… it’s the same word.

The day was lovely!  We started out having breakfast as a group, then made our way down toward the path up which the sheep would arrive with their shepherd (that’s this guy’s only job, I love that!).  It took about an hour and a half one-way, but check out the video to see what came next.  It was well worth the time spent walking, and plus we got to check out the ruins of an ancient Roman bath along the way.

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It may be January 2, but the celebrations never end in France (sounds like Louisiana)


La Crèche, La Galette des Rois, Carnaval & Mardi Gras

Tirer des Rois à l’Épiphanie

I began this post to write about what it was like to be invited over by a very French couple today, and to share a glass of champagne and the tradition of the galette des rois.  As I was writing, my thoughts began to morph into a sort of reflection on this time of year and the tradition of the King Cake, both in France and in Louisiana (Home Sweet Home).  Now it is my goal to tell you about my lovely day while musing upon “the reason for the season”…and another excuse to eat cake and drink champagne.

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After a solid month of festivities to celebrate Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s   Eve, New Year’s Day, my son’s and daughter’s birthdays, by this time we’re usually getting ready to wind it down.  But here we are in France, and January 2 means it’s the first day that many pâtisseries begin selling the celebrated “Galette des Rois”, known to Louisiana folks like me as “King Cake”.  If you’re not from an area where Mardi Gras is revered, you may not be familiar with the tradition of the King Cake. Even if you are from an area where Mardi Gras is celebrated, and especially if you aren’t Catholic, you may have never heard about what it truly represents.

The tradition of the King Cake in Louisiana comes directly from the French, and even if our cakes don’t exactly look alike, the brioche-type one from the South of France does resemble it quite a bit, so it seems the American grand-daughter has inherited some of the good genes.   Though the bread part of the two varieties does taste more or less the same, the Louisiana one is typically flavored with cinnamon (like a coffee cake), topped with a sugar glaze and granulated sugar tinted in the official colors of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, which are purple, green, and gold (see the first picture below).   The French brioche omits the sugar glaze and tricolor sugar, replacing it with a variety of candied fruits (second picture). Both versions are shaped in the form of a circle, representing the form of a crown.   The third variety you see in the pictures below, and perhaps the most common in most parts of France, is the Parisian style Galette des Rois.  It’s made of puff pastry and frangipane, and it’s exquisite.  All three cakes are irresistible, and all contain a hidden “fève”, which for us in Louisiana would be a plastic Baby Jesus, but here (at least in my limited experience) they’re mostly ceramic figurines from the nativity scene (la crèche).  The one lucky guest who finds the fève is the king or queen for the day!  Many people in France find it amusing to collect these tiny trinkets from year to year, and I know that it’s something I’ll be doing from now on.

Today we were invited to the home of the owners of our  building (which houses only three apartments).  They live just beneath us, and they’re a lovely, fabulously Bourgeois retired couple.  They had us over to “tirer les rois”, which basically means to share a galette des Rois with them, and to see who finds the fève.  The first thing they did was show us the handmade “crèche” which takes the space of about half a room.  The wife is an artist, and she spent over ten years creating this magnificent work of French & Catholic culture.  The crèche is a French tradition, and it includes hand-crafted, hand-painted figurines from Provence.  These figurines are called santons , which means “little saints”.  Besides Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and all of the stable animals who were there on that Holy Night, characters from “la vie Provençale” are also present, and these are the santons.  They represent 16th century Provençal characters and trades.  These characters are portrayed as bringing offerings to the Christ Child.  .  There are shepherds, fishermen, women with water jars, woodcutters, gardeners, millers, bakers, basket makers, hunters, blacksmiths, blind people, Bohemiens, chimney sweeps, snail sellers, and even village idiots!  The list goes on and on, and if you’re ever trying to think of something very typically French to bring back home after a vacation in France, you’ve found your answer.

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Just as a side note, the santons you see to the left are not the ones we saw today.  I didn’t think about asking to take a picture of her creation, though I should have.  I’m sure she would have been very happy to oblige, and perhaps I’ll go and ask before January 6 if I can get a snapshot.  She’s gone as far as to build a village church complete with a clock and a rooster on top of that, a bakery with bread so fresh you can almost smell it, a wine cellar in which you’d love a dégustation, groups of Provençal men playing boules, plus almost any other kind of shop you could imagine from a sixteenth-century Provençal setting.  She’s an amazing artist, and their apartment is stunning, especially since it is she who created all of the paintings throughout their home.

Our hosts today served us both varieties of the French King Cake, and they served them with champagne and chilled crème anglaise  (that’s how it’s done in France).  A friend from Wales recently told me that this custard should be served warm, but I trust the French to know how to do it better 😉  And by the way, I was the queen of the day, though I tried to pass off the fève unseen to both my son and daughter so that they could enjoy the honor.  However,  they insisted I wear the crown (Oh, joy!).

The King Cake represents the arrival of the Wise Men (the Magi, les Rois mages, The Three Kings) at the birthplace of the Christ Child in Bethlehem on Epiphany, or January 6, and the Eve of Epiphany represents the “Twelfth Night of Christmas”, with the first “Day of Christmas” being on December 25.  If you’ve never thought about what Epiphany or the Twelve Days of Christmas are actually about, you can read more about it here.  Even better, treat yourself to a performance (or at least a DVD performance) of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, you’ll be glad you did, what fun!  My daughter told me today that it’s still Christmas, and that today is only the 9th Day.  Where are the Ladies Dancing?  I’m still waiting for them to show up.  Representing the fruits of the Holy Spirit, I’m sure they’ll be here when least expected.

I hope this little post will serve as a reminder that it’s not over till it’s over.  Here in France, once Epiphany has come and gone the galette des Rois  shall also disappear, but keep in mind that in my hometown in Louisiana, you can eat King Cake all the way up until midnight on Mardi Gras.  Then the 40 days of fasting will bring us all back to some semblance of sobriety until Easter arrives.  Then it all starts up again.  Bonnes fêtes, tout le monde!

It’s Christmas in France!


Have you ever dreamed of what Christmas in France is like? Before moving to France, I always imagined what it would be like to go to a French Christmas market. The Christmas Cracker Fair in Roujan was the first one I’ve ever been to, and what a treat! It’s setting is the lovely 12th century Château de Cassan in the Lanugedoc-Roussillon region of France. Enjoy, and there will be more to come this holiday season as I make my way from market to market… and from mulled wine to mulled wine. I love France.

Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer


Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer

The end of the 2-week Toussaint holidays has finally come, and it’s back to school today. But don’t worry, Charlotte. We live in France now! In just 7 short weeks, there will be another 2-week break!

L’OFII & La Carte de Séjour


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The last time I wrote about the administrative paperwork I’d be needing in order to live in France was back in May when I had to go back and forth from St. Louis to Chicago, dealing with my passport-visa fiasco.  That was quite an adventure, and one I’m very happy to have behind me.  Upon arrival in France, I had to send in a document that the French Consulate had sent to me when they returned my passport containing my long-stay visa.  This document had an official stamp, declared my name, the number of my visa, and the dates of its validity. I didn’t need this document to enter the country, but I couldn’t lose it.  I would need to send it to the OFII (Office Français d’Immigration et d’Intégration), along with a copy of the visa that had been put in my passport.  This document had to be sent in within three months of my arrival in France.  Of course, when I was ready to send it to the local office in Montpellier (two and a half months after arriving in France) , I thought I’d lost it.  Then I realized that I’d asked François to file it with some other important papers.

I’d arrived in France on June 19, and finally got around to sending in the document around September 1.  About a month later, I received a letter in the mail which was a summons to appear at the OFII in Montpellier on October 17 for a medical exam (to prove that I meet the sanitary conditions for remaining on the French territory), a welcome interview (including an evaluation of my level of French and basic knowledge of the “values of the Republic”), and a “collective training session” (this was just a 15 minute video about France that I watched with a group of others).  They said that I should count on spending half a day there, and that would not have been a problem, but in reality it only took one hour.  At the end of this half-day, I would have:

  • signed the CAI (le contrat d’accueil et d’intégration – the welcome and integration contract)
  • scheduled a civic training session which presents the values and principles of the French Republic
  • attended an information session about life in France
  • scheduled an appointment with the unemployment office in my town to address my professional competencies
  • scheduled to begin up to 400 hours of French classes if my level in French were to be found insufficient

The medical exam was a breeze.  They just asked me my height and weight, if I’d had the necessary vaccinations as a child (but didn’t need any proof), and if I was currently taking any medicine.  They did take an X-Ray of my lungs, and evaluated them on the spot.  One little cultural difference was that when I went into the room for the X-Ray, the female technician asked me to remove my shirt and bra, then to walk across the room for the X-Ray.  It’s not a big deal, but very different to the way it would have been done in the US.  There was no changing room, no gown.  It reminded me of when I once tried on a bra in Paris at the Galéries Lafayette.  The sales girl just came right into my dressing room, without knocking, to declare if it was a good fit or not.

The contract that I had to sign was also very simple.  It basically states that by choosing to live in France, I accept to integrate into French society and the fundamental values of the Republic.  I will have to participate in a whole day of civic training, during which I will learn about the fundamental rights and main principles and values of the Republic.  This contract will last one year.

I had a little chat with one of the ladies who works there, in her office.  She quickly assured me that I won’t have to take any French classes, and she asked if I thought I needed any help to understand how the different governmental offices in France function.  These would be things like Social Security, etc.  Since my husband and I have already been round and round with all of the administrative red tape that’s necessary in France, I feel as if I already have a pretty good understanding of how things work.  In exchange, she granted me the two certificates you see in the photos above.  The one for the French language states that I have “satisfait aux épreuves du test de connaissances en langue française”, meaning I passed the French language test (which is really just a conversation).  The one about life in France states that I have “bénéficié d’une information sur la Vie en France”, meaning that I was given information about life in France (I didn’t really, but we decided I didn’t need to).

I have a few appointments coming up, notably the day of “formation civique”, civic training?  It will be on a Saturday in December and it lasts from 9-5.  I have no idea of what we’ll actually be doing, but it may just be a little fun and interesting!

So that’s that, and I now have a “Carte de Séjour” that will last for the duration of my long-stay visa (one year).  That doesn’t mean I’ll have to go through all of this again after one year.  I’ll just have to make sure to apply for a renewal, and pay for another “timbre fiscal”.  How could I have forgotten to tell you about the “timbre fiscal”?  This is a tax that foreigners have to pay to live and work in France.  In my case, this cost me 241€.  Hopefully I won’t have to pay it again, because now that I have my Carte de Séjour, I plan to ask for French nationality.  Since France and the United States both “tolerate” double nationality, and especially since my kids and husband all have both nationalities, I’d like to do the same.

 

Coming home for lunch, and living life in a different way


I’ve been meaning to write more, but we’re still figuring out our new life here in France, and all of this marketing, cooking, and eating takes up a lot of time!  For the last week I have been wanting to write about something that is so foreign to most American families, and something that was unknown to us for the 14 years we lived as a family in St. Louis.  It’s something as simple as getting the family together for a main meal lunch, homemade with love, (almost) every single day of the week (except for the occasional lunch out on weekends, of course!).

As I’ve written before, the kids come home for lunch almost every day.  We pick them up from school at 11:45, and return them there at 1:45. We have started having them stay at school for lunch one day a week so that they can socialize with friends, and we can have one whole day just to do what we want… and most of the time that means working without interruption.  However,  yesterday  the kids stayed at school, and we went out for sushi and to see the new Woody Allen movie (in English!).  They enjoyed eating freshly made paëlla and tomme noire cheese for the first time, and we enjoyed a day together.

It’s lovely to share the midday meal as a family, and to hear about what everyone did during the morning hours, but that’s only one part of the pleasure of spending a few hours at home in the middle of the day.  Very often, when we arrive at home with the kids,  after bringing the freshly purchased baguette to the table, they’ll go and lie down on their beds or on the sofa and read a book while we’re finishing up making lunch.  This down time seems to do wonders for them.  By the time we sit down to have lunch, it’s usually about 12:30, and everyone is all smiles.  We’ve usually finished eating by about 1:15, which still leaves them about twenty minutes to play.  That’s what they do, they play.  We don’t have them work on homework to try and get ahead, or multi-task in any way.  They play, and they’re happy.

Now if I were back in the US reading this, wondering if I’d ever be able to move my family to France and make a drastic life change… I would wonder how it’s possible to find time to shop, cook, pick up the kids, and have a two hour family time every day at noon, while still trying to earn a living.  I would assume that the person who had written this was independently wealthy, and didn’t have to work.  Let me assure you that this is not the case with us, not at all.  We happen to be very fortunate to be able to work from home, but it wasn’t always this way.  Until the end of May 2013, we ran the rat race every single day.

It has taken a lot of planning and hard work to get to where we are, and there’s still a lot of hard work involved on a daily basis and we’re having to really focus on working as a team to make it work, but this is a choice that we consciously have made in order to improve our quality of life.  We are living simply, and finding such liberation in the absence of stress.  Well, not a complete absence of stress… I’ve just noticed the time and realized I have to go and pick up the kids for lunch, and I don’t want to be late!  I welcome your comments, reaction, and comments.  À bientôt!

Feeling right at home in Béziers


Girolles!

What a lovely way to start the day…..

Last Friday, as usual, François and I headed over to the “Marché du Vendredi” after dropping the kids off at school.  It’s a weekly pleasure, going to the market with a list of things we must have to create all of the wonderful little dishes we’ve dreamed up to prepare for our little family, and always coming home with twice as much as we planned.

This time, we came home with more than we expected!  As we stood in line at the butcher, trying to decide on a veal or pork roast, we were greeted in English by a beaming lady from Blog Land!  She asked us if we were American, then introduced herself and her husband.  They’re from New York, and have owned a place here for about ten years.  Just about two years ago, they moved here with their daughter (who happens to be Charlotte’s age!!).  She’s heard about my blog (!) from a friend who also lives here.  Since there’s a big picture of both of us on the main page, she recognized us at the market.  Talk about a small world!

I’m so looking forward to getting together with Ellen and Will for coffee sometime soon, and to meeting more people around and about Béziers. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting together a monthly meeting, at a café or something, for any other anglophones living around here to get to know each other.

Le Marché du Vendredi


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I love, love, love Fridays in Béziers.  Friday is market day!  There are many markets that take place every week, but the one on Friday is the largest, and it’s practically downstairs from where we live.  For the last few weeks, since the kids have been back in school, we have been enjoying going to the market to find something delicious to prepare for our family to eat together at lunch.  Today, we chose “loup de mer”, which is sea bass, or sea perch…I’m not really sure what the difference is!  To go with that, we steamed some little potatoes, then served them with butter and parsley.  We also made a little mixture of seasonal vegetables, eggplant, bell pepper, and zucchini.  Then we ate cheese.  Oui, la vie est belle!

Total Immersion!


Read what fellow blogger, travel journalist, and English teacher living in Barcelona had to say about her recent “Total French Immersion” experience with me in Béziers a few weeks ago. Immersion classes are so much fun, both for students and teacher!

Destino Infinito

So I decided it was time to try and learn French.  Having been presented with a Master’s research trip and project based on alternative tourism in France I knew I would be frustrated if I didn’t understand what was going on, if I wasn’t able to communicate and make myself understood.  I knew I had to try and learn, and quickly.  But as always, learning a language is a daunting process.  We are faced with hours of grammatical study, with the frustration of listening exercises, and with the shyness behind ‘getting it wrong’, ‘making a fool out of ourselves’.

But I knew there must be a more fun way of going about it, that learning French could be different.  I knew there had to be a way to learn a language in a more vibrant, confidence building way.  I just needed someone there to guide me, to help me…

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Our apartment in France, here’s what a typical South of France apartment looks like


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Thanks to one of my French teacher friends back in St. Louis, I’ve finally made a video showing our apartment in Béziers!  She is soon going to be beginning a chapter on different kinds of places to live in France, so she asked me to help out and make her class more interesting.  I decided to share this video on Skype, and also on my blog.

We’ve only been living here for two weeks at this point in time, so everything’s not quite perfect, but we don’t have to be perfect to be happy!!  I hope you enjoy this tour of “chez nous”, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have!  I remember when we were getting ready to move to France, I loved looking at International House Hunters, so here’s my version 😉