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my new french teacher is a bitch


Professor Iota

Up until now, the only person I felt comfortable conversing entirely in French with was my cat.

I babble away endlessly and she never corrects me, never judges, always understands.   However, like me, her primary language is English, so it’s really not much of a challenge and I’m probably not learning much.


Romain, Iota, Vlad

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely, young French whippet.   Her name is Iota (pronounced e-yoh-ta, almost like “Yoda” with a “t” instead of “d”). She’s the daughter of my friends Romain and Vlad who are Belgian and French.   French is Iota’s mother tongue, so to speak, but being only seven months old, she’s still learning.

She impressed me immediately with her intelligence.   When Romain told her to assis, she sat.   And when he told her to debout, she stood up (and I learned a new word!).

Turns out, our French skills are very similar (okay, she’s a little better than I am).   We both know some words, but neither of us can conjugate or string together a sentence to save our lives.

While I’m still not good enough to confidently conduct an intelligent conversation in French with French humans, I think I’m ready to graduate from English speaking cat to French speaking dog.  The beauty of dogs is they totally live in the present, so I won’t have to deal with that pesky conjugation problem.

Today is our first session.  I’m taking her for a walk.

iota bisousI release her from her bedroom and she bursts out, happy to see me.   After the obligatory bisous are exchanged, I nervously speak.

“Bonjour Iota, Ca va?   Oui, tres bien!   Tres, tres bien!   Tres, tres, TRES bien!   Ou’est la…. Hmmm, quel est le mot pour “leash” en Francais?”

She’s too excited to answer, but she doesn’t roll her eyes or snigger at my accent. I consider that a minor victory.   I find her leash, attach it to her collar and she pulls me out the door.   This is going to be a piece of cake.

When we get to the sidewalk, I start to worry. Do I address Iota in the formal or familiar.? Do I tell her to viens, or venez? I don’t want to offend her right off the bat.   She’s pedigreed, so perhaps she demands formality.

As a rule, I always assume a certain level of familiarity with anyone who has already licked my face, so I opt for viens.  She seems okay with it.   On the other hand, she doesn’t viens, either. In fact, she kind of ignores me in favor of the much more interesting cigarette butt she finds on the grass. I chalk her reaction up to being French.

I speak to her sternly.


She looks at me and puts down the cigarette.   Ahhhhh, communication!

I pet her lavishly and shower her with compliments.

“C’est bien.   C’est tres, tres, tres bien.   Tu est une tres, tres bonne chien!”

She’s proud and very excited to be acknowledged.  I’m thrilled at the effortless exchange and meeting of the minds.

We walk along the beach, Iota occasionally pulling me towards bushes, picnics, cigarette butts and where ever the possibility of treasure lies.   When she does, I’m no longer afraid to speak my mind.

“Pas tirer!”

She slows down and walks with me.   Success!   I’m starting to feel like the dog whisperer…The FRENCH dog whisperer!

I’m not saying there isn’t the occasional language barrier. At one point, no amount of “NONs” and “pas tirers” can stop her from dragging me off towards a family picnic, forcing me to converse with actual French humans. But even this turns out to be a positive–it gives me the opportunity to try out a whole new French phrase: “Monsieur, je suis tres desole que ma chien a mange votre repas.”

After we say our au revoirs, I walk home alone along the ramparts. I’m feeling pretty good about my afternoon with Iota.   It was a lovely walk and I think it was tres beneficial.  Unlike my last French teacher, she doesn’t make me feel stupid.  I’m not living in dread of the next time I see her.   I’m looking forward to it.

I light a cigarette and look out over the bay at Nice and Cap Ferrat.   A child shrieks and shouts “NON” in the distance.   I reflexively drop my cigarette.

See?   I already learned something!

my triumphant return to new york

IMG_6684I haven’t been to New York in over six years.   Going there in the dead of winter with a broken foot probably wasn’t my wisest decision.  Doing it during record cold and snowstorms, well, what can I say?   I’m an idiot.


Rex Bennett

When I get to my friend and host, Debbie’s apartment she’s on the phone with her 18 year old son,Rex, who is away at college.   She tells him she’s giving Dante (their dog) an M&M (she isn’t).   Rex’s response comes booming from the little iphone:   “DON’T give the dog chocolate, it will kill him!!!!!”

Apparently, now that Rex is a college man they practice this ritual in many of their phone calls,.   It’s called long distance button pushing.  I’m familiar with the practice.   I do it to my mother all the time, except in our case, I’m the tormenter.  Just replace “I’m feeding the dog an M&M” to “Hold on a sec, I’m lighting the bong” or “I’m putting a glass of water on the coffee table without a coaster.”

Debbie has been my partner in crime ever since we met at Scali, McCabe Sloves, an ad agency where we were copywriters 20 years ago (or so…I don’t have the heart to do the actual math).   We first met while waiting for our shared art director in her (the Art Director’s) office.   We chatted as I watched Debbie open the drawer, take out a tampax, open the tampax, free the tampon from its cardboard applicator and color the cotton with a red magic marker.   When we gave up and left the office, Debbie casually tossed the now red tampon on the Art Director’s chair.   At that moment, I knew we’d be friends for life.   We’ve been saying, doing and laughing at inappropriate things together ever since.   We’ve been ROFL before it became an acronym.

So here I am in NYC, at Debbie’s with a broken foot, snow all over the ground and frightening ice patches everywhere.   I had originally planned to see friends, wander around Manhattan and revive my materialistic longings with window shopping in Soho.  Not gonna happen.  The sidewalks terrify me.   We decide to stay in, order Chinese and watch the Olympic opening ceremonies.

After dinner, right around the time the teams enter to wave their country’s flags, we break into the Lindt Chocolate bars she had purchased for my arrival.

Naturally, Dante comes over to investigate what we’re eating.

I don’t know exactly whose idea it was, or how it happened, but the following series of text messages transpires.   Whether it’s inappropriate or not, you’ll have to decide.  So far, the comments have ranged from blank looks, to hysterical laughter to wondering how much therapy Rex will need.

8:17PM (to Rex) IMG_1272

8:20PM (to Rex)


8: 23PM Rex:  stop, you monster

8:24PM   Deb:   what?   do you think the hot pepper flavor is too spicy for him?

8:27PM (to Rex)IMG_1290Deb:   not to worry, I’m giving him the heimlich.

8:30PM  Rex:   You are sooooooooo LAME

8:35PM (to Rex)IMG_1294Debbie:   I’m giving him mouth to mouth.   tastes like chocolate.

8:40PM (to Rex)

IMG_1298Deb:   Oops.   You were right.

In the end, I didn’t accomplish a lot in NYC.   Nonetheless, t can leave knowing that I got everything I possibly could out of the once in a six-year visit.   My work here is done.

No animals were harmed in the making of this post. Rex is another story.

the village where donkeys fly

After spending a day in Cannes, it only seems appropriate that I visit a place known as “the village where donkeys fly”.

The name of the village is Gonfaron.  It’s a stop on the local TER rail line.    I’ve seen it on the train ride between Vidauban and Toulon — a pile of houses piled atop a hill with a small pink chapel at the top and a sprawling church on the bottom.  It’s two train stops from Vidauban (15 minutes).   The village spreads out from the hill, fanning out a around the church at the bottom of the hill, melting into vineyards, hills and green, green countryside.

After countless times passing the village and wondering about it, I finally Googled it.   The population of Gonfaron is around 4,000.  It’s been a village for at least, 1100 years.    It’s nestled at the foot of the Maures mountain range (you know, the mountain range where Johnny Depp lives).   Its main “industry” is cork (probably not a great business now with wine in boxes and screw tops and technology replacing bulletin boards).    It has the world’s only reserve for the endangered Herman Tortoise but also houses other tortoises as well.    Its patron saint is St. Quinis, who as far as I can tell didn’t do anything amazing, except he was a really nice guy and took a special interest in children (which these days sounds like grounds for imprisonment rather than Sainthood, but maybe that’s just me.)   The pink Chapel at the top of the hill is named after him.     But what really makes me want to finally get off the train in Gonfaron and pay the village a visit is the town legend.As lore has it, back in 1645 the community was instructed to clean up their yards for the annual Gonfaron festival to honor St. Quinis, .   One lazy, ill-tempered Gonfaronnois refused.   Years later, St. Quinis exacted his revenge.   The Gonfaronnois of “mauvais caractiere” was out riding his donkey and the donkey (l’ane) stumbled.   The donkey “glissant” (slid) down the hill with the errant Gonfaronois tumbling after.   That’s it.   It seems pretty vague.   Did they survive?   That’s a pretty long tumble.

It might be my translation, but it sounds like the donkey didn’t fly as much as it fell.   And you can read the legend several different ways.   Maybe the flying/falling donkey (ass) they’re referring to is  the Gonfaronnois who didn’t clean his yard for the festival?   Maybe the legend is really “the village where asses fall”?   Of course there are two interpretations for that too.  It could mean where human asses (I’m thinking Donald Trump here, but chose your own ass) inevitably plunge to a humiliating and painful destruction. Or maybe it’s more literal…it’s a village where my ass will actually fall…sag, drop, whatever (good, now I can blame it on the village).   Whatever, I like the flying donkey version, because it’s magical and gives me the feeling that anything is possible.

I get off at the train station and the first thing I see is a cave cooperative — a big old shed where they they sell local wines, preserves, products.    I decide not to go in because I’m saving myself for the little shops that will surely be in the village.   I walk through the “suburbs” of Gonfaron, towards the village (a two minute walk).

Downtown Gonfaron consists of an astonishingly beautiful square.   It’s huge for such a little town, with the Church at one end.    The trees make a perfect ceiling over the entire square.   It’s blistering hot today, which makes the leafy canopy that much more appealing (and the square that much more difficult to photograph).

There are really no shops to speak of…a bakery that’s closed.   A butcher that’s closed.   There’s a tiny grocery store that’s closed.   A tiny real estate office that’s closed.   Sure, there are three cafes, but woman doesn’t live on food alone.     I check the train schedule for the next train back to Vidauban.   Three and a half hours.   How on earth will I pass the time?    Dear Lord, I’m trapped in a village with no shops!   Maybe if I climb to the top to the hill and bray like a donkey, I can fly home?

I tour the village, which is lovely.   I climb to St. Quinis to admire the view, which is also really lovely.  Which leaves me another 3 hours and 27 minutes to kill.   I’ll definitely have lunch in the square, but that’s good for 2 hours tops, and only if I drink waaaaay too much coffee.

I decide to visit the tortoises and follow the signs that lead me out of the village and into the aforementioned vineyards and green rolling hills.   Have I mentioned it’s hot?   Or that I don’t have a hat?   J’ai besoin de chapeau.   Without one, I’ll dehydrate and die.   And get a headache!   In order to preserve my health, I turn back to the village, wishing desperately a little shop will have opened in the village where I can buy a hat.   And some macarons.   And maybe a nice pair of shoes.No such luck.   But I do manage to kill a half hour trying to decide between the three cafes.   One looks a little sandwichy.   One has a curry special, which doesn’t seem very french or cafe-like.   So I pick the other one and spend another half hour anguishing over what to order.   I decide on the grilled entrecote (pas trop rouge s’il vous plait) fries and a salad.   It’s pretty damn good.

I linger over a cafe creme and watch the people having lunch here.   I’m the only English speaking person here, so I make up what they’re saying and little stories about their relationships.   A very young French couple have brought their dog, who is clearly a substitute for the baby they’re unable to conceive.  He eats a bowl of kibble by their table while they dine.   She practically burps him when he’s finished (the dog, not her significant other).   A German family is trying to reconnect, but the teenaged daughter is having none of it.    A pack of bike riders all decked out in spandex and helmets, thankfully decide to lunch elsewhere.   I spend a good 15 minutes hating them from across the square.

As I’m paying the bill and noting I have another hour until the train arrives, I hear the clattering of steel shutter doors..   It’s the tiny grocery store opening!!!!   I practically skip across the square.   I spend the next 45 minutes really studying the different kind of cookies that are available in France.  Even in a tiny grocery store like this, you get a good representative sample.    I’ll save my conclusions for another blog.

All in all, I’ve had a lovely afternoon even without the benefit of one shop (tiny grocery stores don’t count and I didn’t even buy the Bon Maman Citron Tartes I wanted).   There were no miraculous donkey flights, nothing amazing happened.

When I get to the train station at the correct time and the little monitor tells me “train retarde 20 minutes” I don’t even get mad.   Not even when it’s retarde another 15 minutes after that.  While you may not consider that a miracle on the order of a donkey taking flight, I’d say it’s pretty darn close.

the “oh my god” moment

When I moved to NYC from the west coast at age 19 without a job, money or clue, I had my first omg moment walking down Park Avenue towards the Pan Am building (which became the Met Life building and is now probably the Bank of China building).  It’s the moment you realize “oh my god, I’m here, now what am I gonna do?” and you get this crazy burst of adrenaline and your pulse starts pounding in your ears.

site of my first omg moment

site of my most recent omg moment

I’m walking down the street in Vidauban  and that same feeling hits me.  Back when I was 19, it felt empowering and exciting.   Now I feel like I have to go home and lie down.   I stagger up the hill.

When I get back to the apartment and collapse on the couch, I think:   “oh my god, what the hell am I doing here?   How will I survive?   What the hell was I thinking?   I’m too old for this shit.”

And then another revelation hits me upside the head, “oh my god, I’m old.”

My heart starts pounding, I sweat and suddenly my stomach doesn’t feel so good.   And I’m woozy.   I believe these are the symptoms for a heart attack that my mom sent me just the other day.

Oh my god, I’m having a heart attack.   Alone.   In France.   Where’s my cellphone?   Who do I call?  I don’t want to bother anyone.   Wouldn’t it just be easier to die quietly on the couch?

Ahhh, the irony.   I finally get back to France and promptly die because I didn’t know who to call when having a heart attack.  (note to self:  if not dead by tomorrow, remember to compile a list of emergency phone numbers.)

As I try to drape myself into an attractive death pose, I look out at the sun setting over Vidauban and the Provencal countryside (how symbolic).   My cat purrs on my stomach (or is that my stomach growling…or worse, the throws of death?).   I’m pretty sure my vision is blurred.   Am I fading like that willful but heroic Bette Davis character in Dark Victory, who goes blind right before she dies?   Is darkness setting in?    This is so tragic.   On the bright side, at least I died in Provence.

After about a half hour, it occurs to me that maybe it’s not a heart attack.   Maybe it’s some hideous “dove” related disease I picked up yesterday from venturing too close to the flock’s home.   But I kind of feel better.

Maybe it’s a faux heart attack like the one my dad had on his first trip to France, which turned out to some digestive problem from eating too much fois gras.   I have been eating a lot of cheese.

Or a stroke.   I feel my face and try to move it.    I’m a little disappointed to find iit’s still active (I was hoping for paralysis of the forehead and crows feet area around the eyes).

Maybe it’s just your run of the mill anxiety attack.

I test my theory by slowly sitting up (at least I think I’m sitting up, I could be imagining it in my delirium.)

Everything seems fine.   All body parts work.   My glasses are filthy, which could explain  the blurry vision.

It appears I’m not dying.  Oh my god, what am I going to do now?

the flock next door

I’ve mentioned the birds that swoop and circle the sky around here in some sort of formation, like the Blue Angels only not as loud or fossil fuel-consuming.

When they fly overhead, the sound is a soft fluttery, almost purring sound that practically engulfs you — you can feel it.   It’s soothing.   So soothing, I even forget to worry that they might poop on me.   These birds have  fascinated and frustrated me for weeks now (have you ever tried to get a flock of birds to pose for the camera?).

So, I’m waiting for them to perform their daily show and mention them to Gilli (my landlord) who is gardening nearby.

Turns out they’re some sort of wood doves who belong to a neighbor with a “dove court.”   Every day these doves go out and fly around the neighborhood, catching flies in the air (to me, that doesn’t sound like an optimum fly catching plan, but who am I to argue with a wood dove?).   When it starts to get dark, they all fly back to this house across the ravine that’s about 100 meters away from my terrace (as the dove flies). I don’t know why, but this is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.

Gilli directs me to the dove’s house and I’m off with my video camera to investigate.

I climb the hill and inspect a few houses that seem dove-free.   But then I hear a low humming sound which I realize is a bunch of birds cooing.   I follow the sound.   Please join me…

Very cool.   Now the only problem is convincing myself that “dove” isn’t just a glorified name for “pigeon”.

san francisco – nice

I have a very complex system for long haul travel.   It involves carefully modulated Xanax dosing which has saved many lives.

When the kitties or I start yowling on the way to the airport, I take my first chip of Xanax.    We check in without a hitch.

Unlike last time, when we traveled to Auvers via Air France, Luftansa actually checks the cats’ paper work that cost me hundreds of dollars and countless hours to get.   I guess that’s the difference between a French and German airline.   Either that, or since my last trip, the kitty terrorist threat has been raised.

I take an unscheduled chip of Xanax when they tell me my extra baggage fees plus the kitties cost $650.

After the kitties and luggage are safely in the airline’s hands, I wait in the three mile security line that’s coiled up like an intestine..  After an hour of waiting in line, I take my next chip of Xanax.    By the time I get to the x-ray machine, I don’t even care that airport security probably knows more about my body than my doctor.  I’m mildly concerned that nobody saw fit to grope me.

I think I bought something at the duty free store and I’m sure I’ll figure out what it is later when I see the bill or the actual item.

Once I’ve finished boarding and loathing all the people clogging the aisles trying to fit a 48 x 30″ bag in the 36″ x 18″ overhead bin, I take my final chip of Xanax and settle in for take off.

SF pretty…from a distance.

Man next to me takes up too much space.   What’s really annoying is he’s not fat, he just likes to spread out.   His arms are hanging in my chair space and his legs are definitely taking up MY legroom.   Just my luck to get an uncute, unfat space hog.   Or is that airspace hog.   Or unhot hog.   Whatevs, he sickens me more than … mushy mushy mushy.

I wake up, look out the window and pray what I’m looking at isn’t the Rockies.

After asking the stewardess a few key questions I’m able to determine it’s the Alps,  which melt into the Cote d’azur and Mediterranean in a few moments.   Jeez, this doesn’t really give me much time to worry about every horrible eventuality that could possibly happen upon landing.

Villefranche sur la Mare, Cap Ferrat, Monaco, Monte Carlo from the air

Cote d'Azur from Menton (bottom) to Nice (top)

Damn, it’s pretty down there.   I mean here.

A bit of Nice

Nice Airport is very manageable.   I get through customs and got to baggage claim within 10 minutes of landing.   That time is well-spent making deals with whatever higher power may be listening that I’ll trade the safe transport of of my bag with the Dolce and Gabbana jacket (vintage 1999) for that of my kitties.

The luggage and cats emerge unscathed although I do have one brief horrible moment where I have to poke Denzel in his carrier to make sure he’s alive (he is).

My landlords are waiting for me outside the baggage claim with a sign that reads “Lesley Stern and Kitties”.

The 50 minute drive to Vidauban is smooth (as opposed to full of potholes, like our disintegrating roads in California which cause me to refer to any car as an orgasma-tron).   It’s also very beautiful with mountains, the Mediterranean,  hilltop villages and vineyards.

Unfortunately, my memory is a little foggy, my camera battery died at the airport, and I just dozed off in front of the computer, so the tour of Vidauban and my new home for the next three months will have to wait until later.   But it’s all good.

Good night or good morning or whatever it is.


a short respite from tyranny

by Claude Monet


Today is Bastille day. But if you call it Bastille day (or jour de bastille) in France, they’ll blink at you blankly for a few moments until a flash of recognition comes over their faces and they say “ahhhhhh, La Fete Nationale! Or “ahhh, Juillet 14th!

The French do that a lot…blink blankly when you attempt to speak to them in their native tongue. Personally, I think it’s is a passive aggressive thing (come on, Frenchy, you couldn’t make the mental leap from Bastille day to Fete Nationale? Donnez moi un break. –Or is that une break?) but I’ll let that slide for the moment.

La Fete Nationale commemorates the anniversary of the French taking a stand against the monarchy (Louis, Louis and Louis) and storming the Bastille to free the political prisoners put there by the King. There were only seven prisoners in the Bastille when they stormed it (sounds more like a drizzle than a storm). But I guess it’s the thought that counts.

Afterwards, some guy named Bernard Raspail (I believe he was named after a good shopping street on the Rive Gauche) got together with some other guys, Thomas Jefferson among them, and wrote a lovely document about the rights of man which is very similar to our Declaration of Independence. This lead to the French revolution. Which lead to Napoleon who was worse than what they revolted against. Now that I think about it, what the hell are they celebrating?

Like our Fourth of July, Juillet 14 has parades, fireworks (feu d’artifice), flag waving and general nationalist fervor…everything I hate.

My deep and abiding terror of fireworks (with the possible exception of sparklers is the result of reading a book about a kid who went blind from a firecracker when I was five. I think it was supposed to be some uplifting tale about rising above difficulties, but all I got out of it was a 40 year plus fear of fireworks. I usually need to be sedated on firework related holidays. Especially after 9/11.

But even if I LIKED fireworks, it seems a little excessive for freeing seven prisoners.  I kind of get the fireworks for our Independence day– we had a war and there really were the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air.

Wouldn’t a more appropriate celebration be locking some people in a closet or small room and then freeing them? Maybe followed by a drunken fistfight? Think of the money they’d save on fireworks.

I’m hoping here in Auvers, at least the festivities will be on a smaller scale than what I’m used to in New York. I’m also hoping that every time I hear a firecracker pop I won’t react the same way I did in New York, which was to shield my eyes, cower in a corner and contemplate how best to flee the city.

by Eduoard Manet

Here, the fireworks actually begin on the 13th. I discover this on the 13th, when at twilight a series of explosions rouse me from my pot au creme induced stupor. I rouse myself long enough to figure out the sounds are Fete Nationale related and return to my stupor.

Then I smell smoke. Once I’ve determined I haven’t set the house on fire I figure that someone is burning leaves again. Until the sirens sound. Yes, the first sirens I’ve heard in Auvers in almost three months.

I take it as a sign of emotional health that the thought of terrorism doesn’t cross my mind. The possibility that the sirens are a dragnet is coming to take me back and try me for crimes I’ve forgotten or for saying something bad about the US government flickers, but doesn’t take hold. Nor does the “Diary of Anne Frank” movie flashback that makes me want to hide in the attic at the sound of European sirens.

Nonetheless, I rush to the window to see what’s going on. To my relief, firetrucks race past Rue du Pois and line up in front of the empty building used for the Thursday/Sunday market. The roof is burning. And I just know it’s some stray spark from one of those nationalist firecrackers that has caused the damage. When will these people learn?

A fire I can deal with. And looking out the window, it seems the people of Auvers take it as opportunity to socialize. I go outside and join the crowd watching the fire as if it were on wide screen tv. It’s almost as though the fire is part of the festivities. I look for a keg. I check out the firemem (Like every woman in the world, I have fireman fantasies). Maybe I should find myself a nice French Fireman. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate? I guess this probably isn’t a good time to flirt with them, though. But they are doing a mighty fine job. The fire is almost out. And that guy on the ladder sure seems to know what to do with his hose.

My neighbors Jerome and Carole interrupt my reveries. They introduce me to some other neighbors. We chat. Well, they chat and I pick out words I understand and nod accordingly.

I also make my first French joke: le jour independence en France est meilleux que notre le jour independence en par ce que Les Francais a les feu d’artifice ET les feu vraiment. It’s not very funny in English and only mildly funny in French, but they seem to appreciate the effort.

Now that it’s dark enough, The fireworks by the river start to go off, and I nervously look back towards the house. I notice the front window is open. Good lord, is history repeating itself? Has the prison been breached?  Have my kitties escaped?

When I get to the house, my worst fears are confirmed: Desdemona is in the center of the lawn chewing some grass. God knows where Denzel is. I pick up Desdemona and carry her back to the house. She serenades me with some of the most horrifying sounds I’ve ever heard from a cute little cat. They could definitely use her for Exorcist 4 (or whatever number they’re on).

Denzel is the real problem. If he’s out there, he might as well be invisible because it’s dark and he’s black. My only hope of finding him is the bell on his collar.

I search the house and he’s nowhere to be found. I go outside and I start to call him frantically. Silence.

I could sure use some of those wartime night vision goggles right now. The light from the fireworks (which I’m sure are lovely) aren’t quite enough to light the yard. I finally hear the tinkle of his bell and see him sitting calmly among the bushes. But as I walk towards him, he dashes off in the other direction. He stops when he gets a good distance and rolls on the grass as the rockets red glare and bombs burst in air overhead. But as soon as I get close, he takes off in another direction and once again, when he gets a good distance, he rolls luxuriantly, taunting me. Dogdamnsonofabitch!

This goes on for a half hour, me chasing him from the bushes, to the lawn to the bushes to the lawn to the bushes… until a neighbor kid yells something to his mom, which freaks Denzel out and he runs to the front door and paws desperately at it until I let him back in the house. I’m sure there are some who would say that his hasty retreat only proves that Denzel has some French in his blood.

The fireworks have stopped now. Denzel and Desdemona are locked safely in their room (being punished) and now I feel ready to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday. I crack open another pot au crème. The cats scratch at the door and make complaining noises. Denzel occasionally yowls in dissent.

Poor kitties, I think to myself as I savor the rich creamy dessert. Let them eat cake.

fete de la cocagne — the mystery continues

Today is the first day of the Auvers”Fete de la Cocagne,” a two day event full of something in recognition of something.

I ask Carole et Jerome what this whole cocagnes thing is all about.   They bicker good-naturedly in French for a moment before admitting they’re not sure..   It’s just  a big nuisance as far as they’re concerned.   Kind of like a parade to a New Yorker, I guess.

According to my good friend, Google, Cocagne either has something to do with an ideal life of indulgence  or being cockney.     A commenter on my previous post (thanks, Sirius),  did some research and found that it has something to do with a life of pleasure.    Or climbing  a greased pole.  I’m going to go with ideal life of indulgent pleasure.

The festivities start with some sort of presentation on the stage in front of the Hotel de Ville.      Women with parasols, long dresses and Miss America type sashes that read “Cocagne”. The men on stage are wearing bow ties and hats, I assume from the same time period. They seem to be giving each other awards.  Perhaps for winning the greased pole climbing contest?

A series of rock bands perform–really bad ones that are only slightly better than Courtney Love.    Sausages, pommes frites and beer are sold in the parking lot and the construction site has become a lovely street bistro serving grilled meat, veggies, beer wine and ice cream. The carousel is moving and the children on it screech with excitement.

Knowing that the real fete doesn’t start until tomorrow, I go inside. But soon, I’m drawn back out by a band that’s actually quite good for a French band (no offense to the French, but they suck at Rock and Roll, and Jerome will back me up on this).  Oncle Oedipe, is the name, and I can only assume the reason I’ve never heard of them before is either because they’re French or because none of the members are particularly “hot” looking.

Young girls are dancing and screaming like groupies with clothes on,    I’m mesmerized by a little blond boy about four or five who is totally rocking out as his mother feeds him cotton candy like a Roman slave feeding a fidgety Roman Emperor grapes.    Seriously, this kid has moves.   Even the way he grabs at the cotton candy as his mother lowers it towards his mouth is completely in time with the music done done with a rhythmic flourish.   No doubt about it, the kid is  a rock star.

After Oncle Oedipe finishes their set, I take a stroll and discover that Van Gogh Park has been transformed into a petting zoo with rabbits, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, donkeys and two huge unpenned bulls standing by the far wall. Children make animal sounds (I assume they’re animal sounds, they bear no resemblance to the sound American livestock makes), trying to draw the smaller creatures out from their tiny pens.

The goats are petrified, the donkey is accommodating and the pig obliviously snuffles in the dirt for imaginary truffles.   The bulls recline like Odalisque in a shady corner.

Judging by the pamphlets, fliers and posters, the real action doesn’t start until tomorrow. Perhaps then I’ll figure out what this cocagnes thing is all about. I fall asleep with visions of glaces et boissons dancing in my head.


there must be a prince here somewhere

chantilly another angle

It’s time for a day trip. Preferably somewhere that my future husband owns real estate. I’ve heard Chantilly is nice and not too far.   Technically, it’s in Picardie, a region slightly North of the Val d’Oise, which makes the train situation a little more complicated.

It’s been raining like crazy, so I have to be spontaneous and take the first spot of sunshine at a moment’s notice. At 9:50, I’m on the train to Creil, where I’ve never been, but seems to be a train station hub. From there I hop a train to Paris and get off at the first stop—Chantilly/Gouvrieux.

I’ve learned from experience that studying the maps buys me nothing except less beauty sleep and god knows I can’t afford to lose any of that. so I get off at the station and wing it. Well, actually, I follow the Japanese girls, who are equipped with maps, cameras, compasses, guidebooks, water, umbrellas and probably mini generators in case of emergency.

The mandatory thing to do in Chantilly is to visit the castle, and I know that’s where my Japanese companions and I are going. We enter a ½ mile tunnel of trees that ends at the hippodrome…the race track and lawns. This is horse country. At the other end of the lawns are the famed lavish stables built in 1719 by Louis-Henri de Bourbon, the 7th Prince de Conde who planned to be reincarnated as a horse and wanted a nice place to live. Shoot, if I can get my hands on some prime real estate like this, I’ll marry a horse. My mother always wanted me to marry royalty.


The Japanese girls fall behind me as they stop and take pictures of everything. Japanese girl in front of sign on tree. Japanese girls reading sign on tree. Japanese girls looking at tree. Japanese girl taking picture of Japanese girls standing by sign on tree. And so on.

It’s not like I can take a wrong turn in this tree tunnel, so I bravely venture on ahead. I feel like Dorothy in the wizard of oz, walking down this arcade of trees. So, when faced with an approaching man, I wonder whether I should consider him a potential friend like scarecrow, or a threat like a flying monkey.

As he gets closer he says something that sounds like: “blah de jens de la blah de les charmant”

Being an urban girl, I’m totally at a disadvantage being surrounded by all this natural greenery and beauty. This is no place to take chances with strange men. I smile stupidly and say “je ne comprends pas and walk faster.

Unfortunately, like in the US, being stupid only encourages them.

I’m not looking back at him, but I know he’s stopped and is considering following me. Must not look back. Must not make eye contact. He is probably a murderer and they’ll find my body amongst these scary trees.

He asks if I speak English.

I shout over my shoulder “No” and up my pace to a nonchalant run.

stables distance

I emerge from the tunnel of trees exhausted, but relieved. Now all I have to do is cross an open field, where nobody would dare assault me so I can get to the stables and the castle.

I consider my encounter in the wilds back there. There wasn’t really anything all that ominous about that man. I hope I didn’t hurt his feelings. I wonder if he was my husband? But no time to dwell on the past. It’s time to go to the musee cheval vivant. A living horse museum where if all went according to plan, Prince Louis-Henri now lives with 30 other breeds.

One problem; Ferme.

When I first moved to New York from California a million years ago, I was surprised by the number of Jewish Holidays. Here, I’m surprised by the number of Christian ones. Today is a holiday having something to do with the Virgin Mary. The horses have the day off. I wonder if the Arabian horses are angry that they don’t get Ramadan off.

This means my only husband options in Chantilly are human. Disappointed, I head towards the castle.

grand entrance chantilly

Eight Euros later, I’m on the 115 hectare castle grounds (a hectare is 10,000 square meters…you do the math, because I can’t). It’s a musee, castle, park. It’s very uncrowded. I guess everyone goes to Versailles. There are all kinds of mini parks within it, like the park with wallabies for the petit Princes, the L’ile d’amour for princes closer to Princes William’s and Harry’s age. And little “cottages dotting the grounds. I wonder if anyone would mind if I set up housekeeping in one of the gazebos?

I’ve been in castles before and I’ve always found the décor to be impressively lavish, but uncomfortable to live in. There’s never one room where the family can sit around and watch “Survivor” on TV with a bowl of microwaved popcorn together. The same is true here at Chantilly. I guess they were too busy plotting each others murder to waste time watching reality TV.

Come to think of it, these people would have made a fabulous reality show. The drama, the conflict. The celebrities. All kinds of fancy royal guests visited here. The chef Vatel, threw himself on a sword (and died) when the fish course arrived late for a dinner he was preparing for Louis XIV. Top THAT Janice Dickenson!

Legend has it, it was for that dinner that he also invented Crème Chantilly and put the dessert on the map.

I scour the grounds. Very lovely, but no Princes here today.

I head back to the centre ville and check the situation on the streets. Because it’s a holiday, combined with August, a lot of the little shops are closed. Which is a shame and a blessing (thank you Holy Virgin), since some of them look fabulous. As I’m crossing over to check the menu at the little tabac/café on the corner, It seems someone is addressing me. I look back to see who it is.

It’s a handsome guy, probably in his 30’s and his friend getting out of a car. I think he’s inviting me for a drink. Either that or he’s telling me I look like I need one. I’m unsure how to respond, except to say je ne comprends pas, which is always a sure fire hit. He says “une boisson, une café une verre du champagne…?” I’m tempted, but feeling my little goatish. This guy is too young and good looking to be interested in me. Especially since I’m standing here with my mouth agape like an idiot. Maybe he wants to rob me. Hah, then I’d sure get the last laugh since I don’t have anything worth robbing. He’s probably just recommending the restaurant. What does he want from me? God I miss the good old days when I KNEW it was sex.

I thank him and wish him a bon journee and keep going…but after 10 paces, I look back and see he’s looking at me, smiling. This man is up to no good. I break into a loping trot and don’t look back. Halfway to the train station it occurs to me that I may be running from my last chance at happiness. Not the mention the solution to all my problems.

It’s never been clearer to me that I’m a coward, an emotional cripple who fears intimacy and human contact (and tall dark attractive strangers). I’m going have to get over that. But now that I’m aware of it, I know what I need to work on.

Obviously I’ll have to come back to Chantilly when I’m prepared to take advantage of the opportunities here. Who knows, maybe this is the place I’ll find my prince. But next time, I’ll plan ahead I’ll make sure the horse museum is open before I come.

more pix and info

Chantilly tourism website

Musee Vivant du Cheval (and possibly the home of my future husband)
Grandes Ecuries du Prince de Conde, Chantilly 60500
a chance to view some of Chantilly’s thoroughbred horses
| Admission charge | Opening Times: Wed-Mons | Tel: +33 (0)3 44 57 40 40

stalking monsieur right

It’s a lovely day, I’m walking back from Shopi (the Auvers grocery store), taking what I call the ugly route (not because the route is ugly, but because I usually take it when I’m feeling ugly and don’t want anyone to see me).

Ahead is a man, somewhere in his 40’s strolling with a boy, around 10, who is walking his bike. I don’t pay attention until I get closer and notice the guy is looking at me and smiling, More importantly, he looks like Mel Gibson only better because he’s not Mel Gibson.

I love wearing sunglasses because you can stare without being obvious. (and they hide a multitude of sins which is particularly important, being on the ugly route and all). Fortunately, these are prescription sunglasses so I can actually see him while staring at him. The closer I get the better he looks. Especially when I see he isn’t wearing a wedding ring (yeah, I know that means nothing, but don’t burst my bubble).

They obviously live around here. The boy has his bike. People passing through don’t bring their bikes, unless they’re wearing spandex. Fortunately (and unfortunately), they’re not. Also, visitors and tourists take the main drag, not the ugly route which is better for a kid to ride a bike on. They seem to take this route often.

This is all the information I need to construct his entire background and fall in madly love with him. And I’m sure I can do it in the amount of time it will take for our paths to actually intersect. I’d say 30 seconds.

He’s smart, down to earth, funny, sweet but not a pushover and successful and talented at his chosen profession. His wife died tragically about five years ago. After she died, they moved to Paris for a year or so but moved here because it’s a better place for the boy to grow up and my husband likes living out here but having the city so close.

He’s been so busy raising my stepson and doing his lucrative yet creative job that he doesn’t have the time or inclination to bother with the dating scene. He figures if it happens, it happens. He’s well off but not wealthy and owns a really nice old stone house with blue shutters and a nice yard up the hill a little bit. There’s a perfect empty spot in his house for my armoire. He’s really good in bed.  And he loves cats.   It’s amazing how much you can learn about a person in such a short amount of time when you don’t actually speak to them.

We smile and say bonjour to each other and both continue on our ways. Oh yeah baby. I love him. But even in the throws of passion (which is a cross of a my little goat moment with the endorphin rush of a chocolate macaron), I have the presence of mind to notice that they’re turning into an apartment building nearby.

Hmmmm. I would have preferred my husband own a house, or at least a maison de ville, but I’m willing to overlook that (did I mention he looks like Mel Gibson?). But it does change the scenario a bit.

Unfortunately, his wife isn’t dead. It was a messy divorce (her fault, of course) and she got the house. He lives in an apartment building and gets his son for a month in the summer during his vacation. Okay, I can work with that.

It would also appear that he’s not as rich as I’d like. If he were, he’d have his own house, even if he did sink a lot of money into the one his wife got. It’s possible he’s not working in the highly lucrative creative field I’d like. Realistically he could be a carpenter or plumber. Well…that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, I suppose. The kitchen sink is a little clogged. Yeah, maybe that’s what I need, a man who can fix things. Forget this creative, lucrative stuff. He’s French, he doesn’t need it. Anyways, he’s a really talented plumber. And he’s still really good in bed. And smart and funny and all that other crap.

And based on the way he said “bonjour”, I know he loves me too.

Needless to say, I’m on cloud neuf. I can’t belief I found him. I’m already making plans. Tomorrow, instead of going to Chantilly and Senlis, I’m going to hang out in the parking lot near the ugly route. I have to move quickly if I expect our relationship to be advanced enough so when I have to return to the US we’ll have one of those dramatic teary scenes at the airport where he’ll beg me not to go and to stay here with him and his son, Jean Luc.


Okay, It’s been three days and now I’m getting a little pissed. He must have some sort of intimacy issues, because I have not seen him once since that first magical moment on the ugly route. Doesn’t he know I’ve got a schedule?

I’ve never taken so many walks. Or made so many separate trips to the grocery store/boucherie/boulangerie. I may be eating more because of him, but I’m definitely walking it off. I’ve even resorted to walking to the train station to stare at the schedules. I’ll probably be arrested for loitering.  I’m starting to think my fiancé is taking me for granted. I was hoping that wouldn’t happen until after the wedding. Or at least until after he knew me.

It breaks my heart, but I’m thinking about ending it with him. I don’t really need a good looking guy. I can just take off my glasses and won’t know the difference. And given my needs, perhaps I’m better off finding a really, really old man with some property in Auvers.

I’m still hopeful that we can work things out. I know he’s a little gun shy after the divorce and what his wench ex-wife put him through, but it’s been five years for godsakes. He’s got to move on. If not, I’ll just have to assume he’s an emotional cripple incapable of commitment. And that’ll just make me love him more.

I’m trying to decide how to act next time I see him. Shall I act angry? Indifferent?   Maybe I’ll just act like nothing happened.


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