At LAX they took away my small water bottle but let me carry on my manicure kit with a nail scissor. I knew it would be OK because I checked on the TSA website. In Paris, however, en route to India, they took away the scissors. To my protests the agent replied, “Each country has different requirements.” I recognized the sneaky smile as she admired my fine scissors; I knew it would be in her purse as soon as I turned my back. I thought of speaking to a supervisor but the prospect of messing with French security agents seemed worse than losing my precious scissors. In India I carried on two liters of water & the remainders of my manicure kit, and no one cared.
India is different!
India is Different
Let me save you a lot of time and money. Turn your car motor on, stick something on the horn so it honks very loud, non-stop; wrap your lips around the exhaust pipe, breath in deep, close your eyes—you’re in Delhi.
Like all big Indian cities it’s pure torture. You haven’t seen traffic until you’ve been assaulted by this incessant surge of horn-blowing trucks, buses, motorcycle rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, human rickshaws, motor cycles, bicycles, cows, dogs, runaway goats, pushcarts, wheelbarrows, beggars with every form of infirmity… did I leave anything out? The odor of garbage and excrement; a swarm of humanity.
Next day I took the first plane out to Srinagar in Kashmir, the northernmost part of India, disputed territory between India and Pakistan, 90% Muslim. Kashmir is bordered by India, Tibet, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which probably explains all the soldiers carrying AK-47’s and Kalashnikovs. I was the only non-Indian in the arrival area, and even though it was a domestic flight they required me to fill out forms with all my information. They must know why.
Abdul was waiting for me outside the gate. We drove past heavily guarded, barbed-wired checkpoints to the lakeshore, also heavily guarded, where a shikara, a small wooden gondola, waited to paddle us to the houseboat, “The New Alzira,” a floating mansion on Dal Lake, 2000 meters high in the Himalaya Mountains that will be my home for a week in Kashmir.
Serene beauty; Moghul Emperors called this place Paradise on Earth. Reports of violence keep most foreign tourists away but, “it’s all media hype,” according to Shafi, my travel agent in Delhi**, cousin of Abdul, son of houseboat owner, brother of houseboat manager, who guarantees my safety. Shafi’s family is taking care of me; they don’t let me out of their sight.
Pure clean air, peace, quiet; daytime is warm and sunny; tee-shirt weather, but cold at night. I feel like the Queen of Sheba in my carved wooden filigree, huge four-poster bed with piles of blankets and quilts plus two hot water bottles tucked under the covers, in a stateroom whose walls and vaulted ceilings are hand-carved cedar wood, with crystal chandeliers, stained glass windows covered with embroidery and lace, thick Kashmiri carpets on the floor… plenty of hot water too.
They’ve loaned me a Kashmir wool full-length robe, warm as feathers, which I put on when the sun goes down. Lassa, the houseman, sees to my every need: serves my breakfast on the sunny terrace overlooking the lake and mountains, lunch and dinner in the luxurious dining room, and pots of fragrant green Himalayan tea twice a day.
The water is shallow on the houseboat side of the lake, filled with greenery below the surface, lily pads, lotus flowers, water plants I can’t identify. It’s gorgeous. The lakeside is undeveloped, no tourist hotels or noisy motor boats. Canopied gondolas glide by carrying people from houseboats to the shore, merchants selling flowers, saffron, fruit, anything you want.
Lassa paddles me and Abdul to shore. We visit Moghul Gardens and the crowded bazaar in the old town of Srinagar. Abdul enters the Mosque to pray. I take pictures outside in the garden; nobody minds. Armed soldiers everywhere. Sometimes our car is stopped and searched. Abdul says it’s to keep the soldiers busy who have nothing else to do.
We stop at brother-in-law Gulzar’s shop, Cottage Emporium, to look at carpets and shawls. Since I already announced I have no intention to buy I’ve asked to see their finest examples. Gulzar shows me a small dark blue silk Ardible carpet that shimmers like jewels; it took ten years to weave; the price $30,000. He says the weaver’s family will get all but 10% of the money. Gulzar’s business maintains 250 families that have been weaving carpets generation after generation.
Uninterested in ubiquitous Pashmina, I asked to see the infamous Shotush shawls, made from super-fine chin-hairs of mountain goats that are sacrificed for the purpose. Gulzar spreads a carpet on the floor and opens a small case filled with shawls. “These were made before they were declared illegal,” he explains, displaying them one by one. We both pretend I believe this story as I finger unbelievable softness and admire exquisite embroidery. About $2000 for a shawl—so hard to resist but I manage.
(Hey! The chicken I ate for dinner was killed for my pleasure too.)
They’re celebrating Ramadan now, fasting, praying, going twice daily to the Mosque which emits a broadcast with loudspeakers calling the faithful to prayer, reminding them five times a day that Allah is great. The prayers resound over the lake and echo through the Himalayas. Tomorrow is Eid, marking the end of Ramadan; I’m invited to attend the family feast, which I shall not miss.
What I didn’t mention in my story are my houseboat mates; the most unlikely pair I’d ever expect to meet: two cockney lads from Brighton, twenty-one years old, starting out on a nine month trip around Asia. All day long they smoke this soft black stuff, which they purchase in balls the size of an egg, which they say is cheap & abundant around here. They roll one J after another, or smoke from a hookah… high as kites & happy, or so it seems.
Here’s the WeHoNews story from Kashmir…. in case you’re interested.
Check out the photo of the leather shop sign on the old bazaar street in Delhi.
** I promised Shafi a plug: Invicta Tours & Travels, firstname.lastname@example.org
To my friends all over the world who might sometimes wonder what’s going on in La La land, I am enclosing a copy of an email letter that arrived in my mail box this morning. I’ve changed the names—except my own—to protect the innocent. (Is there a more appropriate word than innocent in this case?)
What follows is a true and exact copy of this email which I am sending with Dominick’s permission. I had to ask Dominick for a signed release because of copyright protection, and I’ve already stared to write a screen play and TV sitcom about this event. Looking for an agent, studio, director, musicians, money… Well that’s another Hollywood story.
Here’s the letter in all its glory.
Clarissa and I are looking forward to seeing all of you on Friday to celebrate the impending nuptials of Minerva and Claudius, and Aloysius‘s birthday. Shall we say 7pm?
Terracina is making a non-dairy (Clarissa’s allergy), non-garlic (Aloysius‘s no-no), non-meat (Cornelius’s thing), and non-wheat (Minerva’s allergy) kamut pasta salad and chocolate covered strawberries.
Clarissa and I are making a vegan ice cream or vegan cupcakes, a roasted chicken, and a yellow cauliflower soup (which does have meat).
Carol, can you make a salad (with no wheat, garlic, dairy or meat)?
Smiths, would you like to bring a vegetable with tofu?
Aloysius, Minerva and Claudius — you are officially absolved from all food bringing duties.
See you soon!!!
Can I make a salad without wheat, garlic, dairy, or meat? How about some salt-free tofurkey with soyanaise and alfalfa sprouts, or just plain nuts anyone???
Please don’t tell my friends but I’m going out for some barbecued spare-ribs with baked beans, sweet potato fries and spicy coleslaw before dinner.
May – July 2009
OFF AGAIN May 26
Once there was a time when going on a journey entailed a visit to my travel agent, who sat behind his computer, gave me the choices, booked the tickets, made any reservations I wanted, handed it all over to me, & I went home to pack my bags.
Now the travel agent has gone out of business, & it’s me at the computer, researching plane tickets, train schedules, car rental companies, playing with mileage bonuses, promotions, discount offers, comparing rates, watching prices fluctuate daily. I feel like a commodities trader, or Madoff’s accountant. The process takes weeks; it leaves me exhausted, and wondering if I couldn’t have done better.
Packing & airports ain’t what they used to be either, but neither am I. My carry-on is filled with pills & potions, there’s a laptop in my back-pack, & my check-in has wheels. But one thing hasn’t changed: the thrill of setting out, the excitement of a new journey, anticipation of adventure, meeting strangers, encountering the unknown. These things always stir my blood & make me feel like a kid again.
This Friday, after a celebratory departure dinner at Mario Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza, I’m flying to Geneva, my old hometown, where I’ll take a nostalgic look at the lake and mountains, then choo-choo over the border to France where I’ll visit friends in Perpignan, & then return to that ancient house in Meynes, in the Provence, amid the sunny vineyards and olive groves, with the wacky next door neighbor who thought I used her computer to look at porn sites, & the tiny, sleepy village where I spent many happy months in years past.
Driving 20 km. to find an internet station in rural France is all part of the fun. I hope to be sending my regular missives, and looking for yours. If for any reason you’d rather not receive them please let me know. I promise I won’t get mad.
OLD & NEW in SWITZERLAND & FRANCE
Friendship, precious & rare, has been the theme of my journey so far, and while I sometimes foolishly yearn for my familiar solitude, I’ve been basking in the warmth of old friendships, renewed, and new ones in the making.
Brigitte, whom I met in Goa, received me in her home in Geneva, wined & dined me, and opened her box of chocolate Mozart balls after each lunch & dinner until there were none. Daniel plied me with kir, ham, cheese & salami in an outdoor café near the Plainpalais, & his girlfriend, Aude, listened with wide eyes while we reminisced about the Woodstock European concert tour we produced in 1979.
Manuel, whom I first met in 1973 when he was a university student, has become the mayor of Geneva. It makes me laugh to think of it but I see he’s a serious politician in the Socialist party and wants to make a better city. There are some who don’t like what he does, but that’s the nature of the game. On one thing everyone agrees, he’s a very handsome man, tall, slender & youthful, with a great smile & twinkling eyes. Alas, I was too excited about seeing him after so many years to remember to snap a picture of us in the chic Chez Roberto’s, where he took me for dinner, and I feasted on a fabulous plate of squash raviolis with butter, sprinkled with ameretto cookie crumbs, and a good grilled fish.
I complained to Manuel about the high fares on Geneva’s buses and trams, especially the fact that seniors don’t get a break in price, as we do in L.A., and he laughed at me.
One sunny afternoon, at a lakeside restaurant, Brigitte & I enjoyed the specialty of the region, filet de perche with crisp pommes frites, and a carafe of good local white wine. The fish was delicious but the serving was small & quite costly, unlike the good old days when we got a huge platter of it, with chips, for ten bucks.
On the train to Lyon I sat next to a charming, silver-haired fellow, André, from Brittany, who carried my heavy bag onto the train, gave me his card & invited me to visit. He teaches computer technology for dictionaries, and talked about poetry & literature while the Savoyard countryside flew by the window.
In Lyon, on a two hour stopover, I enjoyed two scoops of double chocolate ice cream & good strong coffee with Madelaine & Jean Paul Rochas, old home-exchange friends whom I haven’t seen in 16 years. On the train to Perpignan, I met Sylvie, a painter from Nimes, who invited me to the bullfights in that city when I get there next week.
Patricia & Didier picked me up in Perpignan, & drove me to their house in the country where I sit now, watching the rain fall on their perfumed flower garden & enjoying the warm friendship we began a couple of years ago in Coimbatore, India, as in-mates at the Ayurvedic clinic. Didier is watching the French open, Roland Garros, on TV, & Patricia is in the kitchen preparing a recipe from her Jewish-Algerian grandmother, with roasted peppers, tomatoes & garlic, for dinner.
This morning I enjoyed my first heavenly French croissant of the journey & I’m very happy, lucky, feeling good & growing fat!
PALAU del VIDRE – (Translation: Glass Palace. Why? Because they blow glass here. The stuff in the galleries was okay, sort of, nothing I wanted.)
Palau del Vidre is a tiny village of 2,000 in the Catalan part of France. (see Google) Very quiet place but a boom town compared to where I’m going next. The latest thing in the village is that the mayor got his wish to pave the town square with pink marble. Taxes have risen but the mayor is very happy.
Sunday: For lunch today Patricia cooked monkfish & little red fish, rougettes, with steamed potatoes & leeks; we’re drinking local wine: Jonqueres d’Oriola, Chateau de Villeclare. After the meal she brought out a platter of exquisite bite-sized pastries: tiny cream puffs, éclairs, lemon tarts, strawberry tarts, chocolate tarts, mille-feuilles… Rather than have us choose she divided each one into thirds so we could enjoy every one. For tomorrow’s breakfast, as a change from the croissants, we’ll eat the local specialty, La Fougasse Catalan, which is a flat brioche topped with pastry cream sprinkled with coarse sugar.
Were you among the 9 million people around the world who watched the French documentary film, HOME, on TV Saturday night? If not, don’t miss it. Sunday afternoon we watched D-Day ceremonies with Obama & Sarkozi at the cemetery at Caen, near Omaha Beach, & at night the Rugby finals between our home-team, Perpignan, & Clermont-Ferrand. We won! What joy in the village! Car horns blasting, singing, shouting, & flag waving in the streets until all hours.
Obama ate dinner at La Fontaine de Mars in Paris: gigot, and crème caramel for dessert.
We take drives around the beautiful countryside, the snow tipped Pyrenees all around, the sea just a stone’s throw from everywhere. The highlight, the tiny beach resort and port called Sollioure, a Catalan style St. Tropez, sort of, where the specialty is anchovies and ginger flavored sausages, which we’ve been enjoying for lunch, among Patricia’s other culinary delights.
I see that my return flight from Geneva to New York is on an Airbus 330. Sure hope they fix them before July 15th. Packing my heavy bag for another train ride today that will take me along the coast, then up into the heart of Provence.
pics: la fugasse, patricia & Didier & the peppers, sausages
I never tire of Provence: old stones lit up by Van Gogh sunflower light, or starry-night moonlight, crossing the Rhone River just to get from here to there, passing a castle on the way to the market, finding a wheat field next to a vineyard, the wineries, the olive mill in the next hamlet. I can’t wait to revisit Les Baux, Arles, St. Remy en Provence, Nimes, & Avignon, the lush countryside strewn with Roman ruins and tree lined back roads through sleepy villages. This time I hope to see the lavender fields in bloom.
I’m back in the ancient stone and timber house, draped in cobwebs and covered in dust, built into the hillside of the tiny village of Meynes, where I’ll stay for a month. As soon as I stepped through the heavy wooden front door of the house I felt its history, the people who lived here in 1512, keeping cool in summer inside thick stone walls, cooking in the huge fireplace, sleeping in high-ceilinged bedrooms, clogging down the crooked cobblestone streets to the town square, or up to the church.
Today the house has a gas stove, electricity, hot water… Apart from enjoying the food, the clean air and the most delicious tap water I ever tasted, I’m here for the peace & quiet of the country. This house takes the concept far: it has no radio or TV, the CD player is broken, there’s a phone but no internet connection. The only noise comes from birds and church bells. I need a radio for music & news; I miss the news; have they fixed the 330 Airbuses? I could buy a newspaper, I guess; the tobacco shop sells them.
First thing I noticed was a scorpion in the kitchen sink. I trapped it under a bottle of dish washing liquid & ran outside just in time to catch my neighbor stepping out of her house. I said I needed her urgently. She came in and killed the beast, crushed it into pieces and wiped it up with a paper towel. Saved by the madwoman.
She helped me search for electric outlets & extension plugs; I told her I hoped we could be friendly, she apologized (again) for having been so weird (she says she’s unhappy and has gone back into psychoanalysis), and we let the past go. I’m dying to ask her if I can use her computer for my email and to look at porno sites, but I’m afraid she won’t get the joke. And wouldn’t that just ruin everything.
The mistral was blowing this morning when I went for my walk on the back roads behind the village. Apricots are falling off the trees, figs are ripening, wild raspberries are just beginning to form; they’ve planted fields of I-don’t-know-what kind of vegetables; the earth smells warm and fertile. The Hollywood YMCA treadmill is far away. On the way home I stopped by the boulangerie and talked to the baker’s wife. They’ve had a baby since last time. I bought a croissant and a small baguette.
send news of anything.
pics: village gate, front of house, back of house
June 19th. More from Meynes
Everything is hunkey-dory—except for mosquitoes and spiders. I hope it’s not bed bugs that bite me in the night. I’ve bought insecticide sprays & citronella. I think it’s spiders; they cover the territory here; anything that doesn’t move is theirs.
I lasted three days without internet, five without radio. In moments of madness I sang the praises of utter silence, & the hum of my refrigerator, but now that I’ve got a radio I’m in heaven. Gotta face it: media is what I love. Mostly I listen to talk radio: intelligent interviews and discussions with artists, writers, specialists and intellectuals, and great music – rock, jazz, classic—all we listen to, plus French and other European. It’s an education.
I’m thinking now about how life will change when Michel, my host, shows up on July 1st. with his new girlfriend and the musicians with whom he’s performing in the Festival of Avignon.
When I arrived, my next door neighbor warned me—with a twinkle in her eye—about Michel’s gang of rowdy artists who stay up all night drinking, laughing, making music and god knows what else. Michel, who’s known me since the sixties, has assured me I’ll have a good time. How can I doubt it?
It’s a big house; seven huge bedrooms, but only one on the main level adjacent to the salon, kitchen and bathroom— and it’s mine. It’s centrally located, maybe too public, but great if no one’s around. Michel prefers one of the upstairs bedrooms, at the end of the hall, more private, and he’s got a new girlfriend.
Meanwhile, my kitchen’s going strong; cauliflower, radishes, crevettes, goat’s cheese, melons, cherries… On Monday morning I boiled the leftover prawn shells and heads with bay leaves, garlic, fennel tops, & onion, & strained it for a broth to start a vegetable soup.
On Monday, I picked up the boom-box at Nicole & Lucien’s, where I was forced to eat a fried banana split with two flavors of ice cream and hot chocolate sauce. When I came home I found a note on my table from the neighbor: something unforeseen came up and she has helped herself to three beers from my refrigerator, which she will replace. (She has the key because she cleans & looks after the place for Michel. And, they’re Michel’s beers.) This could be a good story.
Life in the French countryside is a soap opera, like ours in the big American city: Stephan, the school-teacher, has taken up acting & on his first appearance on stage tore a leg muscle. He & Marie are growing their own vegetables. Pierre has gotten full custody of his daughter, whose alcoholic mother has moved away. Nicole & Lucien believe their daughter has joined a cult, Michelle’s daughter is leaving her husband, Kim &Marie France have sold their house & moved to Morocco, ane my neighbor has put her house up for sale. The government has ordered each town in the provinces to put on music festivals this summer, and the bull fighting season starts this weekend, with displays & celebrations all over the region. There’s no end of entertainment around here.
please tell me if you’d rather not get these missives. and send me your news.
pics: bread & wine, my domain
June 29 Odds & Ends
The church bell in Meynes chimes at exactly eight minutes before the hour, and again at twenty-two minutes after the hour, every hour, all day long.
We, in the old village, where streets are too narrow to keep bins outside, have to hang our garbage bags on a high place so the dogs & cats can’t get at them before they’re collected. My neighbor and I hang ours from the railing at the bottom of our stairs.
The French government has ordered that every village in France put on a music festival, so it’s party time all over the countryside. Last week, 15 of us showed up to hear the Klezmer band, Nomadeus, which was hired by the mayor for our little festival in Meynes. They were terrific, really fine musicians, and brought tears to my eyes when they sang My Yiddishe Mama. I ran up to the stage to tell them I was the only yiddisher mama in the village, in the region, probably. They told me they’ve been to Hollywood to make a record. Meynes, mein shtetle, Meynes, is getting into the big time.
This week, the festival of the toros begins and will kick off in the tiny square in front of the church behind my house. The poster on the Mayor’s office says, “Food and drink will be offered.” Maybe they’ll fix the chimes for the occasion?
The baker & his wife have sold the bakery. Next Tuesday it’ll change hands; I’m sad & disappointed. Caryne, the baker’s wife assures me I’ll be very happy with the next baker, and will find many delightful surprises, but I’m anxious about this. Not only are Caryne’s husband’s croissants the best in the world but, apart from the usual fine pastries you’d expect to find, he also makes special cakes. If they give me the recipe for one that I loved, called Moelleux Citron, I’ll send it next time.
On the subject of food, many of my friends in the region grow their own vegetables and keep chickens. Stephan gave me a zucchini the size of my thigh (!), and Pierre gave me a basket of eggs that were laid that day. I rushed home to poach them and eat them on top of a fresh croissant. Three stars!
As for wine, the owner of our very own Meynes Château Fornier Clausonne, M. Seydoux, who produces some of the finest reds, whites & rosés of the region, (languedoc rousillon) is also a Hollywood producer, & his company is Gaumont.
Last week I went with Stephan & Marie to the music festival in Avignon, with free music offered all over the old city. Imagine ten thousand of us dancing the cha-cha on the street in front of the Palace of the Popes, swaying to jazz on the steps of the Cloister of the Carmelite Convent, and bopping to hip-hop on the Place des Corps-Saints. We rode the carousel set up in front of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame des Doms, under the watchful eye of the golden Madonna on top of the hill.
The big subject of debate this week is the wearing of the burka in France. Sarkozi doesn’t like it. I haven’t seen any burkas around here but I see many women with headscarves in the villages of Provence. It’s funny to see a young girl wearing a double headscarf, heavy eye makeup, and a sexy mini dress.
Last, but not least, every station on French radio talks about the death of Michael Jackson. It headlines all the newspapers. He was loved by people all over the planet – including me. Adieu Michael. I’ll miss you.
Have I sent too many pics? Sorry. Are you bored with my missives? Please tell me.
And please send your news.
Pics: the baker’s wife, Stephan & marie on carousel in Avignon, palace of the popes & golden Madonna, poached eggs on croissant, moelleux citron, my garbage,
July 6 Art & Politics
Ten of us are living in this house. Eight are part of a theatre troupe from Paris that does things with masks and puppets and stuff like that, and includes Michel’s girlfriend, Melanie, and one is Michel, my host and dear old friend, known professionally as Sarcloret, who composes and performs songs that are loved by many people. They say he’s like Brasance; I hear Dylan.
They sleep & eat here but spend most of the day working in Avignon, where they’re transforming a restaurant into a performance space. They’re busy busy busy moving furniture, building scenery, sewing curtains, pasting posters, organizing promotional material, lights, etc.
Just as I was getting to know & love them they left; moved to Avignon, close to the festival. But I had three days of tiptoeing around messy pots of spaghetti, chicken bones, wine glasses, coffee cups, guitars, amplifiers, spools of wire, boxes of paper…
La Vie Bohème: Artists in France are paid by the government if they can demonstrate that they work at their art, even if they earn nothing. I don’t know how many Euros they collect but they get health care, apartments, have cars, supplies and equipment, and smoke lots of cigarettes.
They cleaned up before leaving, and now it’s just me and Michel & Melanie, who are always at it, (they are,that is) kiss kiss, smooch smooch, and you know what…. but four musicians are arriving on Tuesday & I think they’ll be the rowdy ones. I don’t mind; I’m happily installed in my room, eating & sleeping on my own schedule and enjoying the last days of my stay. Going to celebrate my birthday tomorrow (7/7) at a favorite restaurant in bocaire.
Outside the house, on the village square, the five-day festival of Meynes is going strong. It’s hard to find a parking spot at night. Daytime, they do traditional things with horses and bulls, and at night drink lots of wine & pastis, also traditional, with terrible brass bands in ugly costumes.
I noticed that the celebrants of the festival are strictly white. None of the Muslims, who are 40% of the village, take part. My friends tell me once the pastis drinking starts, the French have been known to become violent.
I found lavender fields, and on the way visited a couple of ancient medieval villages that the original inhabitants have sold to rich Germans, Swedes, Swiss, English, who gutted the ancient buildings and turned them into magnificent vacation homes. There are no shops, and no one lives there in winter. Can we still call them villages? They’re more like luxury holiday camps on Hollywood sets.
Some of my friends here, who claim not to be “racists,” are unhappy that the French government allows polygamy, and men from Africa come with several wives and many children, and are given apartments, paid childcare, healthcare, their kids go to school, and the men don’t work. The more kids they have the more money they get. Everything is taken care of for them, according to my friends, who don’t like it one bit.
The new boulanger’s croissants are not as good as the old one’s; they’re heavier, as is his bread. And the weather is sweating hot. Like New York in summer, but with crickets and flies.
On Friday I return my rental car and take the TGV to Macon, to visit Rosmarie & Hannes in their magnificent castle. From one extreme to another. Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ll find internet in the castle, so this will probably be my last missive from France.
Here’s the best news: I’ve completed a first draft of my new book, temporarily titled, What Susan Did. It’s all down, in my laptop and in cyberspace, from soup to nuts, and I’m so glad about that.
pics: artists in the house, michel 1, fanfare musicians, mayor of Meynes, doyennes of Meynes, sunflowers, gotcha lavender, my chevy,
July 15 Life in the Castle
The Château de Montrevost, in the village of Cuisery, in the Bourgogne region of France, is completely restored. Rosmarie & Hannes didn’t do the major renovations, but bought it twenty years ago from the family of the man who did it, supposedly, for his mistress, and then died when he was nearly done.
The castle has 55 rooms & a dozen bathrooms; there is perfect plumbing, heating, and electricity everywhere you’d want it to be; the windows don’t rattle, the floors are stone tiles and fine wood and the main staircase is dark pink marble, like Cherry Garcia. Some of the stonework dates back to the 13th. Century. They don’t have TV or internet, and I’m glad about that.
The pink stone towers are topped with glistening black tiles. There are about twelve bedrooms on the first floor, another dozen on the second floor, and I don’t know how many in the towers, all done with style and simplicity. Rosemarie detests kitsch; Hannes is an interior designer (who does museums & restaurants, among other things,) so just imagine. The beds in my room, on the second floor, are original Corbusiers.
Rosmarie & Hannes have no servants but take care of the house all by themselves. In summer they work outside, preening and pruning and beautifying the grounds. Rosmarie put in a small wildflower & herb garden this year; Hannes cleared vines off one of the towers & is trimming the hedges. They’re fighting a bee hive that has settled inside the kitchen chimney.
This weekend I’m not the only guest in the castle; Paulette & Yves, Swiss from Neuchatel, are here too. Like Hannes, Yves is a Morgan fanatic; he drove here in his shiny green 1978 model whatever-it’s-called. Hannes owns two Morgans, wins races in them, & has published a book titled mato rosso (crazy red), about the gorgeous handmade English cars he loves so much.
Rosmarie’s a fine cook & turns out the most delicious meals. We sit down to breakfast of fresh crusty baguettes, and a croissant for me, which Hannes picks up in the village bakery each morning on his bicycle. There’s sweet butter, all kinds of cheeses, and Rosmarie’s home made apricot and berry jams, and green tea.
We eat on the terrace overlooking the meadow surrounded by woods. Hannes opens a bottle of white wine before lunch and there’s another one ready. The meal is a combination of dishes Rosmarie thinks up while looking in her larder in the morning. Her planning & organization are impeccable. She claims to have gone shopping for food three times before we arrived. There are vases full of fresh flowers everywhere.
Each evening we meet on the terrace at around 6 for “apero.” It’s been Champagne since I arrived; then, with the meal, a delicious red wine of the Bourgogne region. The first night, Friday, we ate in the dining room: tomatoes, green peppers, and little round green squashes stuffed with finely flavored ground pork & beef, served with mashed new potatoes, then a platter of the finest cheeses, St. Félicien, a Brillat Savarin Delice de Bourgogne, a chevre, and a bleu d’Auvergne, and for dessert an apricot tart to die for. Sorry for the cliché but nothing better comes at this moment.
A lunch on the terrace is melon and parma ham and a tomato quiche, another is tasty meatballs, cucumber salad, tomato onion black olive salad, pâté. And of course cheese. Rosemarie claims her meals are simple, which is true, but they’re as fine as can be.
Rosmarie & Hannes do everything to make us feel at home. Saturday night we guests took our hosts out to eat in one-star restaurant in the village. It was good but not as good as Rosmarie’s cooking.
I’m certain Hannes was a king in a past life, and Rosmarie was a queen. They still are; they love life and are grateful for what they have. I’m lucky to be their friend.
What a way to end my sojourn in France! Tomorrow I’ll take the train to Geneva, and the next day fly back to Los Angeles.
love & kisses,
(written tuesday nite in geneva & mailed on wednesday from los angeles)
pics: chateau, dining room cheese & apricots, entrance hall& pink marble stairs, hannes at breakfast, pink tower & hortensias, rosmarie & tomato tart, rosmarie & stuffed vegetables, kitchen fireplace, cheese cherries & flowers, meadow & walnut tree, morgan & me
LETTERS TO DONNA IN ROME
LETTERS TO DONNA IN ROME
Did you find the butcher shop on the c di fiori? it’s on the right side – the same side as where you enter, going up into the via gubernio – or whatever that street’s called. they’ve got great meats – not that i ever bought any because i didn’t cook. too busy & eager to try the many restaurants. but i did bring fabulous prepared foods home. cooking just for one is a drag.
having said that, because a friend gave me a bunch of lemons from her tree, yesterday i made lemon curd, & froze enough lemon zest for a year. oh my. it’s sooooo good, albeit sooooo laborious.
since my kitchen was going, i also baked a cake that i made up as i went, using stuff i had in the house: eggs, honey, peanut flour, flax seed meal, chopped walnuts, coconut oil, coconut milk, & a bit of baking powder. i just kept adding stuff until it looked like a cake batter & baked. oh la la. so good & healthy too. worked my little tush off with all that kitchen industry, but it’s done, the kitchen is cleaned up, & i’ll bring gifts to friends who’ve invited me for roast chicken dinner on sunday.
i hope bill likes the place too, even though he has to eat off her plates. but don’t you find her kitchen well equipped & big enough? and how’s the bed? isn’t it the quietest bedroom in rome? and what about that pot pourri. do you hate it?
oh go on. i’ll bet you can make great cakes without recipes. it’s technique & you know that with your eyes closed. but you have to not expect something you’ve made before with a recipe. it’s daring, i agree, and full of surprises.
i woke up the other day thinking of steak, which i haven’t eaten for a long time. so i went to the butcher to buy one & while i was there noticed some tuscan lamb saussage that they’d just made & looked so interesting. so i bought a couple & thought about you.
can’t wait to hear more. glad bill is not too unhappy in paola’s kitchen. it’s a cheerful room, the others are different. all i ever cooked there was coffee, in the morning only, & i brought my own melita filter & papers. i boiled water in the electric kettle – and my cooking for the day was done.
this morning i brought a cup of the lemon curd to my acupuncturist who gobbled it up while i was stuck with needles. she said she just wanted to taste but became addicted with the first spoonful & couldn’t stop. she ate a lot of the cake too, but not all. she’s the best acupuncturist in the world.