Our dinners at home

We are just in the beginnings of finding new rhythms and ingredients for meals. As much as we’d like to eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the budget won’t support that. And I think the waistlines would complain as well. But this is hardly a hardship. Between the fresh produce, cheese, olives and bread from the town-square weekly market, and the rest of the French supermarket food, we are already noticing the freshness and local flavors.

The other night, Mike heated up pre-cooked duck-confit legs from the supermarket, and prepared some fresh leeks from the market (with white wine, and locally mixed sea salt / dry mushroom spice). I know that whatever he prepares will be good, but we both raised our eyebrows at how fresh the leeks tasted, how the salt flavor highlighted the wine and leeks, and how crisp and delicious the duck legs were. We had assembled a few cheeses for a taste after the main course, followed by a piece each of napoleon dessert. All with a bottle of local red wine (which, truth to be told, isn’t always that great, but it only cost EUR4 or about $4.50!). We all know that the hype about French food celebrates freshness and local ingredients. It turns out to be true. As you all know, this was one of the main reasons for our wanting to move here. Much relief that daily living and eating here can meet our expectations.

Our house

The house we are renting was built in the 1930s. It is the only colorful house in the neighborhood, matching our colorful characters? The main living spaces are on the upper floor, with the bedrooms on the ground floor. There is a small pool in the back, on the south side (not that we were aiming to have a pool!). The kitchen and main living room face south through tall windows. So, even though it is cold outside, when the sun comes out, it is delightful in these rooms.

So far, the temperature has ranged from about freezing to 50 deg F, but a cold snap is predicted starting today (Tuesday), so it will likely hover just below and above freezing for a few days. The house has a fantastic electric radiator system, with controls in each room. We have been very comfortable day and night. The house is a bit too large for us, so we have left a few rooms closed off and set to cooler temperatures. The bedroom is nice a cool at night — the comforter feels wonderful — and the bathroom is always nice and warm.

The French approach to toilets is to put them in their own little rooms — for obvious reasons! But the toilet rooms in this house don’t have their own radiators. So, if we forget to open the door before going to bed, the morning presents a chilly experience!

The owners provided some chairs and sofas, two beds, a kitchen table with chairs, and a dining table with chairs, as well as a few miscellaneous tables and lamps. All a bit on the worn side. Beware when sitting on the main sofa; you’ll get swallowed up! But all this is OK. It allows us to move in and start living, without pressure to furnish an entire house all at once. We do intend, however, to buy a good large bed as soon as we can.

Our landlords

The owners, Georges and Michèle, are about our ages, recently retired themselves, and they raised their family here. They have just finished a new construction adjacent to an older house that one of their sons had recently bought, not far from here. So, they are still in Carcassonne, near their kids and grandkids.

They are wonderfully warm and friendly. Since this was their lifetime house, it is obvious that it is a little strange for them to be renting it out to strangers, Americans at that! We have already agreed with them that we are Hawaiians, rather than Americans — in general, and especially in the light of the next president.

Upon our arrival, they toured us around the house in detail, explaining the heating system, the appliances, the propane tanks, etc. Obviously, they have cared deeply for the house.

Georges insisted kindly that the next morning, we go over to their current house so that he could help us establish our account with the electric and water companies, as well as the internet / TV / telephone company. I sat with him and Michèle while he made the calls, waited on musical hold, and then explained the situation: his house, new renters, etc. On the first call, he explained that his renters are American. On the next two callers, we are Hawaiian.

There is quite a bit of chicken and egg here regarding setting up service accounts and setting up a bank account. The internet / TV account requires that we have a local bank account and a specific number (RIB). So we couldn’t get internet going right away; we have a phone appointment later this week with the internet service, by which time we need to have our bank account. Georges was patient through all this, offering to keep helping. Without his help, I’m sure we wouldn’t have all these services before April!

(A couple days later, we went to a local bank with our British+French consultant, Rachel, to start the account set up. As anticipated, the bank wants lots of documention — passports, US IRS forms, past tax returns, past US utility bills, current French utility bills (which we don’t have yet), copy of our lease, and a formal attestation by our landlords that we exist and aren’t nefarious. Rachel and the bank person noted that in the US and UK, banks want customers and their money; in France, not so much. Basically, to get a bank account, we need to have lots of evidence that we really live here, but in order to get that evidence, we need to have a bank account. Catch 22 (mostly; Rachel and Georges are helping us through the French bureaucracy).)

All the conversations with Georges and Michèle are in French. Fortunately they are patient with my French; they make it easy to talk about the house, where to shop for different things, as well as their own history. Nice people: so far a great balance of helpful without intrusiveness.

Bits of France

On the drive from the Toulous airport to Carcassonne, we stopped in a rest area to get a snack. So France: a complete French hot deli, and a wall of local specialties opposite the chips and cookies. So, if you are on the road in France, and suddenly crave some foie gras or confit de canard, just pull into the next rest area, and you will be fine.

There is a large Carrefour store on the outskirts of Carcassonne: Combination Target and immense Safeway. Shopping at Carrefour is the other part of the real France, along with the traditional town-square weekly market. On our first evening, we needed to get some supplies. And on the second day, some more. The food part of the store is amazing: huge arrays of produce, cheese, charcuterie, nuts and more. Probably 8 times the size and selection as our old Kaneohe Safeway. The bounty means every choice is a (good) challenge: which of the 30 mustards? Which of the 100 cheeses? Which of the 40 butters? Which of the 4 euro wines from the region (it was hard to find anything more than 12 euros)?
But fortunately, as well, there is the weekly Saturday market in the main square. Even in the 40-degree morning, the market stalls were many as were the customers. Seasonal, of course, meaning endive, root vegetables, lots of greens, cabbage, artichokes… Warmer weather choices from Spain and Morocco as well. And really affordable: we spend only about 15 euros for about 4 days worth of produce, some cheese and bread. Great fun! Fulfilling one of the images of our French life!

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B4v4jYfgBYPfM0lveW5fU1BOS28

On a winter’s day, Carcassonne is a little gray town. But during market day, lots of people are out at the market and the shooing streets, so the gray comes alive with activity. The main square, at dusk, started to light up: the combination of the warm lights, the dim sky, the leafless trees, and some good old French architecture revealed the charm of the place. That said, there are plenty of drab streets, and not a small number of empty store fronts. I remind myself that, on the surface, Kaimuki, Moilili and the rest aren’t exactly gorgeous either!

Carcassonne: First days

We don’t have internet at the house yet so we go from café to café to get their wifi! It is Saturday morning here, that day of the weekly big market. We have walked to the town square (about 10 minutes, and it is about 35 degrees! But we have lots of layers, hats and gloves, and it is a sunny day).

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After our pain au chocolat and coffee, we’ll do our shopping for local produce.

We’ve had two nights in the house so far. The cats are very happy not to be traveling any more. They follow us around like puppies. I keep needing to remind myself that this isn’t just a week-long vacation rental – this is where we live now! It is going to take a little while to sink in, even after all this anticipation.

We have spent two long shopping sessions at the town’s Carrefour – big box store, a mixture of Target and the largest grocery store you have ever seen. The range of choices is mind boggling. There are just a lot of little things you need and use around the house and take for granted, like towels, toothbrush holders, laundry detergent… So we are little by little filling these in.

Our landlords are a couple, Georges and Michelle, also recently retired, who have lived a very long time in this house, raising their family. They just finished building a new house for themselves a little ways away, close to their son and his family. They have turned out to be very nice, immediately helpful. George insisted that I go over to their house yesterday so he could call the water and power companies and the internet / TV / telephone company to get our accounts set up. Water and power are set up, but it will take a couple weeks for internet (hopefully by the time Paula and Jerry get here) – so emails will depend on which café we find!

So all is going well. We have certainly gotten what we asked for, and that is pretty fantastic. And still, takes some time to adjust and learn a new rhythm of life!

The voyage

As you know, the biggest concern about our getting from Hawaii to Carcassonne was making it the least traumatic as possible for the cats. We had prepared with the vet’s help, with the most appropriate sedatives (turns out Valium does the trick – mostly). In our test runs in Hawaii, driving the cats around, Pelegrina calmed down as expected, but Badoit reacted to the Valium opposite: agitated and talkative. But this was the best that the vet could propose.

We divided the trip into two legs: from Honolulu to LA, with a night in a hotel there. And then LA to Amsterdam, changing planes, and on to Toulouse, with a 45 minute drive from Toulouse airport to our new house in Carcassonne. During the relatively short flight to LA, both cats were anxious and agitated the entire flight. No sleep for any of us. And we were anticipating the 10-hour flight to Amsterdam with trepidation.

In the hotel room in LA, both cats zoomed around the room, checking everything out, obviously overwhelmed with the new scents, sounds and sights. Badoit was endlessly, if frantically curious. Pelegrina found the only inaccessible spot to hide, behind the headboard. But as time went by, they calmed a little bit, even finally sleeping on the bed with us. (We did have to block the space behind the bed with furniture, towels and pillows!).

Next day, new doses of Valium (for them, not us), and off to the airport. Curiously, when they are in the backpacks on our backs and we are walking through the airport, they are calm and quiet. Even, in the waiting area, no problem.

The KLM flight to Amsterdam was on a 747, and fortunately our seats were adjacent to a lateral galley wall, with about 18 inches between the side of the seat and the wall: a great place to put the carrying cases. Perhaps the flight was smoother, the vibrations of this plane less, or they were getting a little used to this crazy travel thing, but they were quiet for almost all the flight. We were able to sleep a little.

In Amsterdam, when we went through immigration, we let the officials know what we had two cats and all their paperwork. They shrugged, saying it was a matter for customs. On the other side of the immigration booth, there is a customs area, but no customs officials. So, perhaps once we get to toulouse?

We had a long layover in the airport, in case there were difficulties with the cats’ documentation. No difficulties, so about 5 hours to wait. About an hour in, one of our travel apps sent a notice that our flight had been cancelled. Sure enough, on the big board, there was the cancellation notice. Without the app, we probably should not have known until we went to the gate. With some research, we found the Transfer Desk that would handle the situation. A line to get to a person, about 15 minutes; then a numbered ticket, and an hour’s wait in front of customer service agents. It seems that there were very high winds at the time, limiting the available runways. We overheard that about 70 flights had to be cancelled. Once our number was finally called, we learned that we had been booked on a flight the next morning, and that they were putting us up in a simple airport hotel for the night. For the cats, this was probably the best situation: another calm night in a hotel room, then a short flight and drive in the morning. The hotel, Ibis, was basic, but clean and comfortable.

The next morning, the flight to Toulouse left on schedule, on a chilly but sunny morning. As we were in our final approach into Toulouse, through the clouds, the plane emerged from under the clouds and seconds later pulled back up again: fog over the airport. Now we’re thinking: how long will this day be with the cats — who this time were a little more agitated again; although they were doted on by the flight attendants. After some circling, and a gentle descent again, we were able to land.

There was another passport check before baggage. The immigration official wasn’t interested in the cats, and there were no customs people to be found. We are certainly very happy that we completed all the correct preparations for this importation, but were surprised that no one cared on this end. So, perhaps we are living with two illegal aliens now?

About an hour and a half later, we arrived at the house, putting the cats in a single room so that they could start their adjustment. Later, when they were given run of most of the house, they scurried around for a few hours, testing everything. But they wanted to sleep with us, Pelegrina diving under the covers (not her usual Hawaii behavior), and Badoit finding a spot on top of the blankets between Mike’s legs — for the entire night.

As the days have gone by, they seem to be settling in. They want to be close to us more than back in Hawaii, but even that is starting to lessen a little. Pelegrina was a bit more the “alpha cat” in Hawaii, but now Badoit is. No issues with appetite, which is a good sign.

So: Mission accomplished. But we don’t want — nor we suspect do they want — to do this voyage with them again!