Friday, June 22, 2007

Oh la la language…

Here we are in France, where it is the custom to greet everyone you see. Passing someone on the street means that you look at them, acknowledge them and speak to them. It is the norm to “dit bonjour,” however this can be somewhat awkward as in this town you are more likely to be speaking French to someone who doesn't. As you may be able to see in the photo, there are boats from everywhere here – New Zealand, Australia, England, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Germany, the USA, etc., etc.

Just the other evening we were having a glass of wine with a couple and he was telling a story about how he was washing his boat and the water sprayed into a hatch and hit his computer. His computer screen went blank and he was certain he had destroyed the computer so, he said, he took a "torch to the monitor."

Well, I know computers can be frustrating but that did seem a tad extreme to me. A few minutes further into the conversation I realized that, to an Australian, a torch is a flashlight. Thank goodness the computer was saved and the monitor just had to be read by flashlight.

Last evening, someone who lives on a boat further down the canal, swam over to our boat – I guess it was the only way he thought he could get an invitation aboard – up and over the stern. His girlfriend was in pursuit by land, found him and joined him in a glass of wine with us. He refers to them as a “Mank and a Yank” – I’ll let you figure that one out on your own as I’m still trying to make sense of it; sounds like exotic cat breeds to me.

The language thing does get a bit tricky and some days are easier than others. This hit me full force the day after I arrived in Paris this time and Dave and I were at the train station on our way to Dijon. Dave had gone to get our tickets and I was guarding the luggage when a man come up to me with his hand out and asked (in French of course) for money. There are about a zillion of these folks in and around the train stations and this one was relatively well dressed and was wearing a decent watch so I wasn’t of a mind to give him any money. I simply said to him that I didn’t speak French. He gave me a curious look and continued his plea, so I said, again, that I didn’t speak French and added that I didn’t understand him, just for good measure. About two minutes after he walked away I burst out laughing because I realized that I had been speaking to him in French!

It is very easy when you are in a foreign country, and equally rude, to say “I don’t speak the language.” The French do not look favorably upon this attitude. They would prefer that you give it a try. They may not understand you. They may pretend to not understand you and they may speak perfectly good English but wouldn’t give you the slightest hint that they could converse easily with you. They think if you are in their country you should speak to them in their language. If this were true in the US we would be able to navigate the Miami, FL airport as English speaking Americans – we wouldn’t have to have a course in Spanish simply to get from one terminal to another but that is another matter.

Attitude is what the French have in abundance, and it is a strange and wonderful phenomena. We asked Jean-Luc the other evening why the church bells ring at 7:05 in the evening rather than at 7:00; his reply was that it is too busy at 7:00.

Need I say more? Well of course – but on another day.

A beintot!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Grey Poupon, of Course!

I was walking around the basin the other day, surveying my domain, and stopped at the lock (ecluse) where barges enter the Canal du Bourgogne from the Saone River.

A large commercial peniche was entering the lock and two more were waiting to get through and head north on the canal. As there is rarely any commercial traffic through here, I asked what was the occasion. The lock keeper (eclusier - see how easy this French is) said the barges were heading for Dijon carrying mustard seed from Canada.

I guess there is nothing sacred in this world anymore. France importing mustard seed to produce the famous Dijon mustards while the seeds are Canadian grown seems a bit, shall we say, hypocritical. French grape vines imported from America, french fries that aren't even French, and now mustard made in France but with foreign seed. What is a person to believe? The Canadians now have a feather to add to their bonnet besides the RIM BlackBerry.

It seems that the reason Dijon mustard became so famous was not because of the mustard seed grown locally (although the local soil did produce good mustard seed), but the availability of grape juice from the vineyards of Burgundy. Dijon mustard gets its smooth taste because the ground seeds are mixed with grape juice, wine and wine vinegar! Mr. Grey, of the Poupon Grey's, invented a way to process the seeds and was instrumental in putting Dijon on the mustard map of the world. But, Dijon-style mustard can be made anywhere, by anyone, with a handful of mustard seed and some grape squeezings.

So, the next time you are tooling down the freeway and a Rolls Royce pulls up next to you with a guy offering you a jar of Grey Poupon, smile knowingly and pull out your jar of French's mustard, because it's made in -- you guessed it -- Rochester, NY by a British owned company!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Come Shopping With Us

Perhaps I should have entitled this "This little piggy went to market" - that is just how I feel when I go to the markets in France - I want to buy everything - well - ok, not the dried fish, or the dead bunnies, or the funky shoes; but all the breads, a thousand or so cheeses would fit nicely into my shopping suitcase along with the hand-milled soaps, etc. While I am back in the States struggling to lose ten pounds before I get back to France, I am dreaming of the markets there. Breads, cheeses, dried fruits that taste like candy, exotic mushrooms, meat from animals that I would never consider eating, chickens – dead with heads on, and alive with exotic feathers. There is clothing – all sorts of clothing from the sublime to the ridiculous, shoes, suits, blankets, cloth, curtains, and always the unusual find – bathroom cups made out of animal horn from Africa, handmade quilts, art, and occasionally antiques. There are specific markets – the chicken market in Louhans, the cattle market near Chablis; the Captain won’t take me to the cattle market because he realized the very real danger that I would try to sneak a baby cow back to the boat. But perhaps the most fun at the market is the people watching – vendors and shoppers alike.

Of these photos, one of my favorites is the two ladies, all dressed up at the market in Chalon-sur-Saone, who look like they are enjoying a bit of gossip or perhaps a recipe. Don't be confused by the man and the boar as to which is which; the flowers in the photo are all fake; and at every market there should be a happy ending!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Back in the USA, artfully

While Captain Dave is painting the decks and handrails on the Shenandoah, with, I am quite sure, great artistic flair; I enjoyed a different artistic experience in South Carolina. While his now includes his new fascination with the pirate world, and approbation by the Bourgogne Yacht and Grumpy Old Mens' Club members, mine is of the girlfriend get-together over coffee and muffins variety.

My friends, Susan on the left, and Diane on the right are both wonderful artists.

Susan Molada Madison is both an artist and author of a collection of essays and poems entitled “if i can’t sing the blues”. I love her visual art which is a combination of painting with fiber; her stories about hair, menopause, funerals, her family, and her friends; make me laugh, make me cry, and give me insight into the vision of an incredibly talented woman.

Diane Britton Dunham designed the cover of Susan’s book. I met Diane when I purchased one of her paintings – actually the one you will see first when you go to her website: It is Beach Blues and if you go into her gallery you will see that you can only buy the reproduction because I have the original!!

The image of the girl with red hair is a “painting in progress” by Benton Lutz. You can see his art at: Go to “work in progress” on the site and see the evolution of this yet to be completed painting.

I met Benton at a gallery opening of his artwork and the painting I loved most – was already sold. So I commissioned him to do this and two others for me. Communicating with him about this art is a joyful and lighthearted experience – he conveys such fun and humor.

Wherever we go, there is always art in our heart!