Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Leisurely Christmas

Last year, Tricia and I found ourselves abandoned by friends and family, so we joined forces and had our own quiet Christmas here with champagne, ceviche, calamari, salmon, and cheese. I don't even recall whether we had dessert or not, but we agreed it was a fun day.

What a difference a year makes.  We moved to Tricia's spacious and comfortable barn for extra space..

 to accommodate our ranks that had grown to 10 party goers.

Tricia outdid herself with a succession of delicious courses that threatened to overwhelm us if we had not paced ourselves...
smoked salmon and shrimp

caviar and blini

 foie gras



And yes, Santa was there to handout gifts...

and even partake in Christmas waltz.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Modern Thanksgiving

For Americans, Thanksgiving is perhaps our most traditional and beloved holidays.  Families make a special effort to come together for a meal featuring turkey and dressing, various side dishes, and of course pumpkin pie.  While I worked for the State department, most of my Thanksgivings were spent overseas, but since my retirement I have been making the effort to go to the US to celebrate the holiday with my parents and sister.  And this year was particularly special since my brother Jeff flew in from New Zealand to join us.

Elements of the celebration were traditional, such as my Mom's tuekey plate sand Christmas decorations...

However, instead of slaving away in the kitchen all morning to prepare the meal, we decided to order the entire meal from a local restaurant (aka "turkey takeout").  All we had to do was carve the turkey..

pour the wines...

and get ourselves to the table to enjoy our meal.

Bon appetit.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Victorian Birthday

Last year I was treated to a surprise birthday party at Clare and Michael's home.  What I thought was a simple dinner invitation became a memorable birthday with friends, food, and of course presents.  So when this year's birthday came around again and I was invited to Ros and Kiff's for dinner, I was convinced that they wouldn't surprise me again.

Well, I was surprised....again.  I arrived to find a roomful of people I barely recognized hiding behind Victorian masks.  It was disorienting at first, but then hilarious as I began to recognize who was who behind those surprisingly transformative masks.

Even I got into the spirit, putting on my own mask...

Thanks everyone for surprising me again....I'll be on my guard next year!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Wine tasting in Montauban

I have to admit that I have never really warmed up to Montauban, the capital of our department. Yes. it has a nice bridge, main square, good restaurants and a great museum but I basically only go there if I have some business at the prefecture.  Cahors is my town of choice for tourism, shopping, and overall ambience.  So I was curious to join several members of the wine club at a tasting one evening at a small wine shop/bar , Les Bouchon Picrates in the center of Montauban.

We arrived to find a table set for 10 with finger food and several glasses anticipating our wine tasting.

The genial host led us through a blind tasting of wines based on a grape we all knew ("syrah") but whose taste was transformed by geography, terroir, and blend with other grapes.  It was an enlightening evening because of the new wines we tasted but also because it showed to me that Montauban nightlife is indeed worthy of consideration. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Driving Ambition

 It was a day that I knew would come eventually.  For some odd reason only a dozen U.S. states such as Florida and Virginia have drivers license reciprocity with France. While I have a valid California drivers license, it can not be exchanged here for a French one. I decided to try my luck and drive nevertheless with that one and an international drivers license.  It worked for 6 years until I was stopped for a routine document check.  The policeman noticed I had a carte de sejour and said it was time to get a French drivers license.  He thought I could just trade it in for a French one but when I went to the prefecture, they said it was not possible.  So I enrolled in a driving school in Lauzerte.

The school approaches the license in two phases.  The first phase is to learn The Code de la Route. They give you a book with all the rules and 3 times a week they have a "class" when you sit for two practice tests, one thematic and the other general.  The multiple-choice practice tests, consisting of panels depicting various driving scenarios that you have to analyze, help you understand how much you know and how to think like a French driver.

You can pay 10 euros a class or 200 euros for unlimited classes.  I took 10 classes and after starting off rather badly (only getting half the answers right), I gradually improved as my knowledge and familiarity with the test format increased.  The teacher thought I was finally ready for the real test at the DMV in Castelsarrasin.  It's a 40 question test  and you can only have 5 errors.  The room was filled with teenagers and there was a big screen for the test. I thought the test was fairly easy and was pleased to know I had passed.

Then came La Conduite, the practical application of the Code. Once again I had about 10 driving lessons to correct some of my bad habits (riding the clutch), to learn to recognize "priority a droit", and to practice MSM... Mirror, signal, maneuver.  The 30 minute test took place on the streets of Moissac and I passed with a total score of 30 out of 30.    I now have a provisional license and will get the permanent one in a couple of weeks.

All in all, it was a very positive experience, as I am now a more knowledgable, confident, and legal driver.