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  • Shameless marketing

    I've published a short story as an ebook on and I would really appreciate it if any of you could take the time to read it and then go here and write a review (it's not written under my real name because I am afraid of the neighbors).

    Here it is...

    How to Kill a Guineahen
    When I first came to France, I came under the impression that everyone here would be an excellent cook and that I'd learn no end of things about cooking, especially cooking from scratch. I imagined that the French only ever bought their foodstuffs from the open-air farmers markets that were held once a week in small towns, and every day in the bigger cities.

    This is and isn't exactly how it is. Most people can critique food, and most people can make an excellent vinaigrette or roast a chcken deliciously, or make up a nourishing and beautifully presented meal with simple ingredients...but many, especially the younger 'townie' ones, have never made pastry, cassoulet, or even a good sauce, from things found in their kitchen cupboards, but prefer, instead, to buy these things chilled or frozen at the nearest supermarket or delicatessen.

    At first, I was disappointed, to say the least. I'd had visions of learning to make tiny appetizers, sumptious gateaux, and sauce by the panful...but no. Aperetifs that are served with before dinner drinks are usually run-of-the-mill peanuts, pretzels, olives, and imitation cheetos. Gateaux are bought in individual miniature form or by the slice or whole at the nearest patisserie, expensive but delicious. And, as far as I can tell, cassoulet is only available in cans or sometimes in the more fancy glass jars.

    I couldn't understand what or why or how, in a country that did not have the aisles and aisles of convinience foods that I'd been used to in America, people purchased the things they did to eat, much less how they sought to prepare and serve what they bought. It took me ages to learn that the simplicity of a meal prepared with a few good ingredients, where each course had its own presentation, generally served on its own, individual, plate, was a world away from the patchwork platefuls of muliti-flavoured, heaped high, brimming abundance that I had been used to. Sometimes, less can be more.

    Not that I have fogotten completely the ways in which I was brought up. For me, that's the beauty of it. I take what I know and present it in the French manner, and then find the appreciation in a dish. I adjust or 'tweak' a French recipe to perhaps take on a few of the tastes of where I've been before, and surprise myself. I'm forever going into the kitchens of the people I visit and lifting pot lids for a peek or tasting what's inside the casserole dishes, and I don't hesitate to ask for the recipes or find out the procedures for duplicating what I've found in a roasting pan on top of what is often a woodburning stove in an old farmhouse.

    French women are generous with their cookery skills, and will almost always give me the recipes for what I'm after, or explain to me how to get there. I'll rummage in my backpack for a scrap of paper, and they'll go into the hall or over to the top of the chimney in order to find a pen with which to write it down. I used to reciprocate, and offer ideas on how we might alter or change or serve the dish in my own country...but they never want to know, and are laughingly scornful, or at best, politely dismissive.

    Lunch is the big meal of the day in France, a time where everything stops for two hours or so, and workers go to restaurants and families get together for what is most often a meal that begins with a soup or an entree of vegetable salads and cold meats and sausages, continues with a morsel of meat or fish and something starchy or a vegetable dish (not usually both), a cheese presentation, sometimes served with a green salad tossed in homemade vinaigrette, and then a gateaux, yoghurt or a piece of fruit to finish. Coffee, served black and very strong in tiny cups, is never served until the table has been cleared, and the crumbs of the ever-present baguette have been swept off, and usually is joined at the table by the metal box that's perfectly shaped to fit the cardboard supermarket package of sugarcubes inside it.

    It's a funny thing about those supermarket packages of sugarcubes. The pink and white boxes of the 'SugarDaddy' brand (I love this play on words), that can be found in every French supermarket, are all exactly the same fit-in-the-decorated-metal-box size, but the sugarcubes in them are not always the same size. When buying a box of sugarcubes, one has to be careful to get the size and shape of the cubes right, as they come in a range of assorted little blocks, from small squares to medium rectangles to very long rectangles. The trick is to note the printed code at the side of each box, which is the clue to the size of the sugarlumps within.

    In France, there's never any question of 'one lump, or two?', when you happen to be lingering over a cup of coffee after a delicious lunch at a friends house, instead, you must look, first, into the metal box and then determine the sugarlump size and then plan accordingly...sometimes having no choice but to have oversweetened coffee, or unsweetened coffee, rather than impolitely breaking a too-big lump into two and leaving an uneven morsel lying haphazardly, like a wounded and mutilated battlefield victim, with the remaining lumps lined up in formation like good soldiers.

    Of course, there are ways around this situation. For instance, it's perfectly acceptable, should you wish for sweetened coffee, but find the lump too large, to simply just not stir the coffee very much, so that a sugarsludge is left at the bottom of the cup. This is a common occurence, and the hostess knows that any hardened sugar dregs will have to be soaked in the sink before washing the cup properly, and accepts the situation as her lot in life.

    Another solution is to drink the coffee down without sugar. While French coffee is rather strong, there is not a lot of it, as the small cups aren't able to hold more than a few delicate sips or a gulp or two, at the most. And there is no need to fear that you will be offered a second cup, as most hostesses will ask which of their guests want coffee before making it, and then measuring out exactly as much ground coffee into the filter, and exactly as much water, as required for one dainty cup for each guest, no more, no less.

    It is considered impolite to stop and visit friends at lunchtime, although it's quite acceptable, and expected, to be asked to join the family for coffee after the meal. If you should happen to drop in during the repas, you will not be invited in, but asked to return later for coffee...or if very fortunate, for dessert, and then coffee. Suffice to say; come after lunch or better yet, call and arrange a time to present yourself.

    All the same, I generally do not call ahead, mostly because if I should stop by, it's only because the kids and I have been out in the countryside, seeing the sights or running an errand, and find ourselves close to the house of one friend or another, and decide to pop in for a visit. I know better than to show up hungry for lunch, however, and prefer to drop in for the coffee part of the, if it's just after lunchtime, whatever there was on the table or in the stove is still available for me to stick a spoon into, taste, poke with my finger, or lick and then get the recipe for, as I say my hellos and catch up on the lastest, while the coffee is being readied.

    This is how I came to be at Amandine's farmhouse. Amandine and her family run the farm where I get the hay for my animals, and I had gone to pick up thirty-odd bales of hay. Usually it's Maurice, Amandine's husband, who delivers the hay for me, but, on that particular day, he and his sons were to take delivery of thirty new Blonde d'Aquitaine beef cattle, and had to be at home to do the last minute preparations while waiting for their new livestock to arrive. So I had called ahead and was, as I expected to be, asked to come after the noonday meal.....

  • #2
    Re: Shameless marketing

    A business transaction on a French family farm is never simply an exchange of money and goods. There are rituals to uphold, both before and after the trading of the day. First of all, the buyer and the entire family of the seller goes into the house for a coffee or a digestive, which is usually a Ricard, the ever-present anise flavoured alcohol served with a glass of cold water with which to mix it in. If that's not to your taste, there's often a whiskey or a glass of Porto or fortified sherry. The children are offered a sweet syrup and water based drink, usually in mint or grenadine, bright green or red.

    The conversation around the table begins with news of the town you've come from, and news of anyone in the town, should you be from not too far away, who is known or related to the seller. The talk goes from there to local and national politics, and then on to farm news, beginning with the farmers you are visiting and going on to local farming news, and then to regional or French-wide farm practices. European news about farming is studiously avoided. French farmers, from what I have seen, care not a hoot for what the European Commission has done for and to their livelihood, and certainl do not want to discuss, or even to think, about what those beurauocrats up in Brussels have done to forever ruin the French countryside and the French farming industry.

    After a time, the business at hand is concluded with the exchange of monies and, if wished, a hand written bill of sale. The economy being what it is, not many participants in the deal want a documented bill of sale, most people around the table, both buyer and seller, prefer that the deal is not spoken of outside the room, and will sometimes make a veiled reference to this, should it not be already perfectly clear and understood. In France, this is called 'en noire', which translates to 'in black'. 'Under the table' being an English name for this type of transaction.

    After the deal has been concluded, and things are visibly more relaxed, the actual taking delivery of the product happens. In my case, Maurice and his sons went over to the barn and began to load the haybales into the truck that I had come with, while I took a tour of Amandine's vegetable garden and cherry trees, and she and I, with he kids helping us, picked a big bowl of ripe, red cherries. Well, Amandine and I filled the bowl with the ones that we picked, and the kids filled their mouths with the ones that they did. Then it was back to the kitchen in order to write down a recipe or two for cherry clafoutis and cherries in eau de vie.

    I, of course, went straight over to the woodstove to see what had been for lunch, and picked the meat off of the carcass of a roasted bird and popped it into my mouth for a taste. It was delicious, but with a very strange, almost exotic taste. Amandine was watching me from the sink, where she was rinsing the cherries, before packing them into a container for me to take home with me. She knew I was wondering just what it was that was in my mouth, but waited until I had swallowed and asked her to tell me.

    It turns out that they'd had pintade, or guineafowl, for lunch. I'd eaten pintade before...usually at Christmas Eve dinner, where it is as popular as turkey or ham might be, back in America...but I'd never tasted anything like the meat from the carcass on top of the stove. The meat from the bird that had been served for lunch had an almost fruity taste, and left an interesting aftertaste in the mouth. I must have had a funny look on my, for Amandine was laughing as she told me her secret.

    The secret to the delicious roasted pintade was in the way that the bird was slaughtered. It had to be slaughtered by being drowned in a glass of armagnac. Amandine said that if there was no armagnac available, then cognac would do, or, at a pinch, whiskey. I'll admit to being somewhat shocked. I had heard of this way of slaughter, but had always imagined it to be an old way of doing things, and no longer in practice. In spite of myself, I asked her to describe how it was done.

    And so, I'll repeat it here, for those who might be curious enough to want to know how it was done, as I was. As morbid as it might seem. Please understand, even though I may not condone or understand or even imagine to try some of the things that I have seen done in various French culinary, gastronomic, and animal husbandry practices, they do exist. Right or wrong, ethical or unethical, some of the things that I've seen done or described have been in pracice for centuries, like it or agree with it or support it, or not.

    To recreate the recipe, you'll need one live guineahen, preferably farm raised, one cage, a big glass of armagnac in a somewhat wide glass, such as a whiskey tumbler, a length of strong string, a sharp knife, one roasting pan, a bit of olive oil, three or four slices of streaky bacon, a peeled clove of garlic, and some salt and pepper.

    The procedure begins two days before the fowl is wanted for the table. Put the guineahen into the cage, without food or water, and leave her for twenty four hours. This will work to clease the intestinal tract and make the job of gutting the bird easier. leave the bird in a quiet place, so as not to alarm or stress it any more than needed.

    The next day, fill the tumbler with armagnac and stick the bird's head into it. Be sure that you have got a good grip on the animal and on the glass, or you will merely have wasted good drink and have a very angry bird on your hands. If done in the correct manner, the bird will have breathed in most of the alcohol in the glass, and have drowned itself. Amandine didn't say what happens if the bird is not dead and the armagnac is used up, but I suppose you could have another go, so keep the unopened bottle handy nearby. Or wring the half-drowned bird's neck as a last resort. Then tie the feet of the bird with the string and hang it up to age in a cool, dimly-lit place, far from flies.

    There may even be some alcohol left in the glass after the evil deed is done. If it were me, I'd drink any left-over armagnac myself, both from what's in the glass after the bird was finished with it, and from the bottle, in order to calm any loose nerves. 'Waste not, want not', as I've always said. I never asked Amandine what she did about that part of the recipe.

    On the morning of the eating, pluck and draw the guineahen, saving the heart and the gizzard, and place it in the roasting pan breast side up, having first rubbed the bird all over with salt and pepper, and stuck the peeled but still whole garlic cloves into the body cavity. Open and wash out whatever might still be stuck in the gizzard, and then put it in with the heart into the roasting pan. Drizzle olive oil over the fowl, and lay the bacon slices on the breast of the bird.

    Put the pan, with the prepared bird in it, into a cold oven, and then turn the oven on to 200°c (400°f). After about 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 190°c (375°f), and roast until done, which will be about an hour and a quarter or an hour an a half, depending on the size of the guineahen. During the roasting, be sure to baste the guineahen often with the cooking juices in the pan. If you want an extra-crispy skin to enjoy, then add a bit of salted water to the basting juices, some ten minutes before the roasted bird is done, and baste once or twice more.

    When the bird is done, turn off the oven and let the bird sit for about five or ten minutes, in the oven with the oven door slighty ajar, before presenting it at the table. You might want to remove the bird from the roasting pan and put it onto the serving platter while it sits in the oven, and then you can spend a few moments making the delicious sauce to serve with the meal, as follows..

    Place the roasting pan onto a burner on the top of the stove, turned to medium high. Tip the pan slightly and spoon out most, but not all, of the top layer of oil and fat that's floating on the basting liquid. Cook the remaining jus, adding a bit of water if needed, and scraping up any burnt bits from the bottom of the pan. Perhaps a splash of armagnac, added at this point, would be an affront to the bird?...use your own judgement. Serve this simple sauce with the pintade, au jus.

    Mahalo, Merci, and Thanks.


    • #3
      Re: Shameless marketing

      I don't actually have a Kindle, or any other kind of ereader. But I've discovered that you can download a free Kindle app and have it on your PC or phone, etc..

      What'll they think of next?!


      • #4
        Re: Shameless marketing

        You have definitely piqued my curiosity, SusieMisajon! I only wish I had a Kindle so I could download it. Thanks for posting an excerpt. I really like your writing style. It's rather soothing to read at the end of a stressful day and carried me away for a bit while I read it. Am intrigued and want to read more! Just gotta get a Kindle first!

        ETA: Wait, if I'm understanding correctly, I don't have to have a Kindle? I can just download an app and read it on my computer? Gonna go check that out now! Thanks.
        Peace, Love, and BBQ!


        • #5
          Re: Shameless marketing

          Originally posted by KeleiGrrrl View Post
          You have definitely piqued my curiosity, SusieMisajon! I only wish I had a Kindle so I could download it. Thanks for posting an excerpt. I really like your writing style. It's rather soothing to read at the end of a stressful day and carried me away for a bit while I read it. Am intrigued and want to read more! Just gotta get a Kindle first!

          ETA: Wait, if I'm understanding correctly, I don't have to have a Kindle? I can just download an app and read it on my computer? Gonna go check that out now! Thanks.
          Yep. I've learned that you can download the app on a PC or a phone and Voila!

          PS if you click on my link below, you can read lotsa yhose stories for free. The one on Kindle ebooks is only one short story.


          • #6
            Re: Shameless marketing

            Susie, I have read your stories before. I have always enjoyed them. I must say though, I came away with a lesson learned on this one - that meat of any kind should come as god intended - in cellophane wrappers .


            • #7
              Re: Shameless marketing

              I've always loved your stories, Susie! Please post more on your blogs!!!
              What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. – Christopher Hitchens


              • #8
                Re: Shameless marketing

                PS if you click on my link below, you can read lotsa yhose stories for free. The one on Kindle ebooks is only one short story.
                Thanks, I'll click on the link! I need a little story time before bed.
                Peace, Love, and BBQ!


                • #9
                  Re: Shameless marketing

                  I now have three up and running on Amazon!

                  Wanna read one? If you like this, please go over to Amazon and leave a review.

                  Some farmers love their animals.

                  Some farmers love their animals. Some farmers love their animals more than others. Some farmers REALLY love their animals. This is a story about the love that dare not bleat, baa, woof, whinny, or otherwise speak its' name. I really don't have a clue how prevalent this practice is, here in the isolated rural depths of deepest France, but jokes and anecdotes about the practice abound, and there doesn't seem to be too much sniggering, shock, or disgust in the telling.

                  Of course, perhaps this is because the French tend to not treat their animals as household members or pets. This is true for both the non agricultural French person, who is perfectly capable of leaving their pet and their granny abandoned during the summer holidays, and of the farmer who counts on his animals as the means to his income. Animals are generally thought of as objects that one uses to decorate, please the children, or kill to eat or sell.

                  In recent years, however, this has slowly begun to change. Small animal 'pet' vets are just now beginning to realize that there may be money to be made in pets by convincing people to treat them as family members and be willing to pay for more than merely their simple food and basic care. Even in our own local veterinary clinic, the difference between today and just a few years ago is a sight to behold. Our local vet has a newly-added and really quite flashy corner of the waiting room where dietetic pet foods and fancy accessories are on display. If an animal comes in healthy and hearty and only has an appointment for a vaccination or two, five times out of ten their owner ends up walking out of the clinic with one or more of the 'added on sales' items from the display showcase. Plus, it's pretty much a given that the animal will live a healthier, happier and longer life. So this is good news.

                  A few years ago, you'd bring in a sick dog and the vet would say to take him home and let him die quietly, in comfort, next to the warmth of the open chimney fire...and then you'd see the smelly old mutt banished to an old rag on the floor of the barn or in the garage, halfway in a coma until the end of it's life, after which it would be sometimes buried in the garden but usually thrown into the river or stuffed into a feedbag and dumped during the night into the big trash container by the end of the road. Paying real money to put an old animal down was almost unheard of, and done only for those animals that were in agony or whose owners didn't have a gun or a stick or a big rock to do it themselves, had they even thought to do so.

                  Go into that same veterinary clinic today with a sick dog, and you may not get out for under several hundred Euros, and if the dog should die in spite of it all, the vet will ask you if you don't want a doggy funeral or cremation. Or the dog might end up in the big freezer at the back of the clinic waiting for the rendering plant truck...for a price, of course. I'm not certain that nowadays, you would be even allowed to leave the clinic with the body, to be disposed of at your leisure in the privacy of your own garden or chosen favourite spot.

                  Of course, that's for the small animal pets, as the farm animals still get treated as much as they have been for the past centuries or maybe even since as long ago as before the dawn of time. Conceived, born, raised and produced in small cages or in the dark windowless corners of damp and drafty barns. Overcrowded in dirty pens and taken for long, stressful rides in open trailers to other countries to be slaughtered and eaten. Kept from their mothers and fed unnatural diets in order to grow more quickly to market weight. Tied up on short chains and packed like sardines in a tin next to others for months during the winter, with hardly any room to lie down or with mucky bedding full of thorns. Slaughtered without benefit of stunning, then left to bleed even without the prayers for the soul that the scorned Muslim Halal meat merits. The list goes on and on, and this is only the small family farmer; Heaven help the animals that are mass produced on the big industrial factory farms.

                  This kind of animal husbandry is one of the main reasons that we raised our own creatures for food back when we lived in a little house on a big parcel of land just outside of town. By then, after years in France, I had learned enough about how to raise animals and kill them to feel confident enough about doing it for myself. I was determined to do it in a better and more humane fashion than that of some of people around here. And for the most part, I succeeded.

                  We were carnivores then, and we are still carnivores now,and although I really do prefer my meat to arrive in the headless, hideless,anonymous plastic-wrapped supermarket packaged version that in no way resembles the animal that it used to be, I want to know how the meat that I am eating has been raised and fed and cared for and killed and prepared. So I set out to learn, and found myself a few French farmer friends to teach me the basics.

                  Once adept (depending on who you ask, for my farmer friends still now laugh at my efforts), I set up shop, filling the place with livestock of any and all varieties. Chickens, guineafowl, ducks and geese wandered freely around, the roosters irritating me when they took to crowing from the top of the plane trees right in front of the house just as the baby, who was taking a nap in the playpen that had been nailed to the table underneath, was sound asleep and I could get a break and have a quiet cup of tea and a cookie to myself. Rabbits and guineapigs were housed under the shade of the old apple trees, in hutches made of recuperated wooden shipping palletts and chickenwire. The dog kept company with several cats. There was a pig that was named Denise, after my ex Mother-in-Law, slowly fattening himself on table scraps and spoiled unsold fruit and vegetables gleaned from the weekly open market in town. The goats and I held a running battle to see who would be the first to harvest anything from the vegetable garden. A couple of ponies and Bunny, the donkey, grazed in the field and sometimes escaped through the forest to visit the neighbors. It was a wonderful place to be, a wonderful place for kids to grow up......


                  • #10
                    Re: Shameless marketing

                    ......Nearby was an old folks' home, and sometimes the residents would come by with old bread and scraps for the animals, as well as candy and sweeties for the kids. There were always loads of kids...I had four of my own and the place was a perfect haven for all of their friends to come and play. Mothers would drop off their children and sometimes not come back for a week or ten days or even a month, during the holidays, knowing perfectly well that their kids would eat, sleep, and play all the whole day long, and be put to bed with bedtime stories and singalongs in English, and might come back home with a few bilingual phrases to get them thinking about English as a second language. One mom said to me, 'I know they'll have to be steam- cleaned and sterilized, once they get back home, but they are so happy to have been here'. Gee, thanks, lady.

                    One particular old man came more often than most of the visitors from the retirement home. I didn't mind, because he usually never really bothered with the kids, preferring to stop and visit the animals, instead. I figured that he was shy. He'd generally be there when we got back from an outing and leave soon afterwards, reinforcing the shy idea. One of the other residents from the home told me that he'd been a farmer before retiring, so I figured that he simply missed his old ways and came by for a souvenier of his younger days. Little did I know what it was that he was missing.

                    So one day, we drove up to find this old man seemingly urinating out in the open field, as he pulled up his zipper as we were driving in through the gate. I never had a second thought about it, because after all, French men will pee anywhere, and not always against a wall with their backs turned towards you for politeness, either. I did think it rather strange that he was peeing so close to where the pony was, and it almost seemed as if the pony was curiously reaching out with his nose to sniff...but I waved away any 'peculiar' thoughts that might have flitted through my mind on the matter. The strange thing was, was that when I stopped the car, he hurriedly began to shuffle away. And when I put out my hand, in order to politely shake his, he looked almost surprised at my gesture and very nearly didn't return the handshake as he was in that much of a hurry to get away. Once again, I thought he was just a shy person.

                    A few days later I was having a coffee with a friend at the table outside under the plane trees...the table was long enough to have a place to sit, AND to leave the nailed- on baby playpen in place. The baby loved being in that playpen on the table, because he could pull himself up and watch, all day, as the tractors and trucks that belonged to the the Town Hall came and went, dumping their loads of dead leaves, rocks, wood, and various building materials onto the property right in front of us, which was the local depot for the town. It might not have been the prettiest place to live, but it certainly was the most fun place to live for the kids, with that big, ever-changing, adventure playground right there, seemingly made just for them. To this very day, that nailed-to-the-table-in-his-playpen baby wants to grow up and become a tractor driver.

                    The woman who was visiting almost spilled her coffee, as she jerked upright and said, "What the hell is he doing?!". So I looked, and there was the old man, sitting on a cement block, apparently offering his penis to the dog. The dog didn't seem to mind, and was sniffing away at it...or at least, that's what it looked like from the distance we were sitting, and I found myself feverently hoping that sniffing was all that the dog was doing. I had to hope it wasn't what I thought, as a half dozen small kids were playing in the gravel, not yards from the scene. I stood there gaping and shocked for a moment, as flashbacks of the scene with the sniffing pony came back into my head.

                    The old man must've noticed us watching him, or heard us yelling, for he stood, pulled his trousers up, and went over to a tree by the stream, where he 'finished his business' without the benefit of the dog or any other animal partner and walked back out of the gate and back to the old folks' home. At that point I knew that something had to be done, and went over to see the person in charge of the home the next morning. I wasn't exactly sure about how to present myself, or even if I'd be believed, or understood, as at that time my knowledge of the French language...especially those particular terms of the language...wasn't too strong.

                    I was invited into the office, where Madame la Directrice (the Manager) listened attentively to my story and then asked me to come out into the corridor and take a peek at the clients in the sitting room. She pointed out the old man and asked me if it wasn't him that seemed to be having these 'problems'. It was him, all right, and I confirmed it. She told me that this had come as no surprise to her, and that the office had already had a complaint or two about the old man and another resident's dog, then mading the comment, "Wasn't it sweet to know that the urge is still there, at that advanced age?".

                    She went on to say that it turns out that the old guy really WAS a retired farmer, and, after seeing his sexual proclivities in action, we had to try and understand that, as he'd never been married, this is what he was used to for sexual relief. And not to worry, as the doctor would be called in and the old farmer would be given regular doses of bromide which would nicely take care of things. I asked if it wouldn't be kinder to buy the poor sod a stuffed animal. I mean, what was I supposed to say?


                    • #11
                      Re: Shameless marketing


                      Ready for another story?


                      • #12
                        Re: Shameless marketing

                        The Fishmonger

                        The fishmonger’s wife had died, and he was looking glum. He could be found walking into town or at the local betting shop with his face looking drawn out and sad. He'd lost weight and looked pale and almost ill, compared to the jovial and almost flirty man that made it a pleasure to do business with, and who would throw in a free lemon with a wink and a smile on the days that fish was on the menu and you stopped by the shop to choose a fresh fish of one sort or another for dinner.

                        With the wife’s death, the fish shop had closed for business and was up for sale. Because, as sometimes happens in family businesses where members of the extended family help out with the day to day running of the business, if people working don’t get along then the business doesn’t work. It seemed that the wife's aunt and uncle, who did much of the work in the shop, didn't get on so well with the fishmonger and there was nobody else available to help run the fish shop. Once the wife died, the older couple were disinclined to come in to work.

                        It was really the wife and her old aunt that had done most of the real heavy-duty work in the shop. They were the ones who prepared the cooked platters and take-out meals, and most likely also the ones to do the cleanup afterwards, too. French women are generally the ones in charge of cleaning and things such as childcare, shopping, and the likes, and it didn't seem as if it were any different in this family. In fact, it seemed to be even more the case, as I never saw the fishmonger do anything but wield his big fishknife and raise his eyebrows at the women clientele. The cash register was manned by the aunt's husband, and his sole job was to ask the fishmonger the price of the sale and then collect the money from the customer and hand over the fish.

                        The family were 'Pieds Noires', decendants of French Colonnial immigrants who had gone to Algeria, only to have left in a hurry after the war and come back to the motherland to finish out their lives in reasonable, non-sectarian calm. It does seem, however, that many of these returnees had come back with attitudes towards women that must've been adopted from their previous hosts, along with the pride that is often par for the course for any member of a ruling elite, which is what they had been in their adopted country before the troubles and subsequent war.

                        The fishmonger, who was called Jean Bernard, worked among the open ice and fish filled display tables in the shop, smiling and talking to anyone who came in to buy fresh fish. He’d scale the fish and clean out the innards for those buyers who showed the slightest signs of being squeemish, slice and fillet, then weigh and bag the prepared choices. He would double bag so that the smell of the fish wouldn't get transferred to anything else that you might have picked up at the marketplace that day. He was a talkative and friendly sort of person, always ready with a recipe for the whole turbot you were considering buying, or suggest a helpful 'astuce' with preparations for your dinner.

                        It seemed such a shame and so sad to find him a completely different person after his wife died of an aneurism in her early fifties. Moping around town with a drawn face and a sad expression, seemingly preoccupied with whatever it was inside of himself that made him so sad and lonely looking. He’d always been kind to me when I had gone into the fish shop and I found myself feeling very sorry for the shell of a man he seemed to have become.

                        There were children, but they had grown and flown the coop. One had gone to London, where it seemed she was gone to stay for good, only returning once or twice a year with her English boyfriend and sometimes with his family; the all-but-the-details in-laws. Jean Bernard was very proud of his daughter, but it must've been hard for him to know that she'd gone away so far and wouldn't ever be back to stay, especially after his wife died, when he seemed to be so isolated and lonely.

                        The son was a gendarme in Paris. 'Gendarmes' translates to 'armed men', and are military police, used also as the local police in the small towns of France. I imagine that this system of military police serves a useful purpose in being able to better control the populance, with a national pool of officers rather than familiar locals, who may or may not be easier to bribe and corrupt. I never met Jean Bernard's son, but heard about how he'd sent his father a gendarme keychain to use for the keys of the car, and how it had saved his father on numerous occasions from being given any sort of traffic violation ticket, as simply dangling it up in sight when stopped by an officer is enough to get free and waved on your merry way.

                        It's habitual to say 'Bonjour' to people that you pass in the street in villages and the small towns of France. Then to stop and shake the hands of people you know somewhat or to do the double-kiss-on-the cheeks thing with more familiar people or with women. Down here in the SW of France, it's customary to do a double kiss...go further north and you get three kisses, even further and four kisses, one cheek at a time; back and forth and back and forth. My thinking is that you'd need more kisses the further north you go and the colder it gets. In the bigger towns and in the cities, there are no Bonjour for anyone you don't know, although you will get one from a shopkeeper, as well as an ‘Au Revoir', when you leave. Of course, you are expected to also say the ‘Hello’, ‘Please’, ‘Thank You’, and ‘Goodbye’.

                        Jean Bernard and I had gone from the handshake to the double kiss as the days and weeks after his wife's death went by and we happened passed each other in town. We'd stop and chat, and he'd ask me how the garden and the kids were and I'd ask him how he was and what he was doing to keep himself busy and not brood too much. I suggested to him that he ought to plant a garden, the trials of doing so were always outweighed by the good results, plus cut flowers and salads and vegetables were useful things to have around, especially as he was single and perhaps not always inclined to shop or to cook well for just himself. He told me that he'd think about it. He said the same thing, every time I saw him. But so did I, and as he wasn't looking any more happy, I kept saying it. He said that he didn't want to bother digging and weeding and watering......


                        • #13
                          Re: Shameless marketing

                          .....Time passed and the winter came, with its grey and its cold, its damp and its miserable. I passed Jean Bernard on the street and suggested waiting for spring for his garden, and said that if he was stuck, I'd come and help him out with ideas, I’d come the end of the worst of the cold, when I could begin to show him how to prepare the soil without too much work on his part. I am a fan of the little-known-in-France method of 'gardening by mulch' that had been pioneered by Ruth Stout back in the seventies. French people often find this method to be strange, and tell me that the French want to see the dirt (and the weeds) between their plants. They also often say that Americans have too many ideas in their heads, which may or may not be true, depending on how you look at it, but the gardening method is one that works, and one I was sure would work for a depressed Jean Bernard.

                          As for what the French think of my various methods…I am sure, had I lived here a few hundred years ago I would've been burned at the stake as a witch or tossed into the river at Sauveterre as used to be done with suspect witches, and then said a belated 'sorry' to when I drowned and proved my innocence. Or fished out and burned at the stake if I was lucky enough to float and live. There are negatives and positives to both old and new ideas, although for the most part, the isolated country people of deep France don't much like the newer ideas, especially when suggested to them by a foreigner.

                          Spring was just around the corner when I again ran into Jean Bernard in town, and we decided that I was to come over and visit his garden, finally. He gave me directions on how to get to the house and on the day prescribed, I went over armed with my Ruth Stout Handbook, a garden catalogue, a mesh bag of seed potatoes, and a few packets of seeds. I was feeling fine, for although I no longer had a garden, being as we had had to move back into the center of town, I was able to help someone else have one, as well as be a part of their getting back into the swing of things with their life. I felt that I was doing my little bit for another human being and the community and the society of the town, as I hummed a cheery little tune to myself on what looked like a fine end-of-winter day with bright, warm sunshine and the beginnings of buds on trees.

                          I arrived, was invited in, and offered a cup of coffee. We chatted as we drank the coffee, and Jean Bernard told me about how his life was as a young man in Algeria, and how difficult it was for him to have had to come back after the war to France, where his parents had been born but he had never visited. He spoke of the difficulty of being on anti-depressants and the long days and even longer nights since his wife had died. I got the impression of a man that had no idea of how to cook or clean or keep house for himself, and also of one that had never had the time to make good friends and now was suffering from the lack of them.

                          The fish shop had been closed because he wouldn't have been able to run it without the help of his wife and her family, and he didn't want to have all the social charges and fees that went with the hire of outside help, as well as the fact that training outside help was not something he was prepared to be doing at his age and with his temperment. Jean Bernard wasn't yet at retirement age, and all the money that might have been available to live on had been put into the shop, which was for sale but hadn't had a nibble from a buyer as yet.

                          Adding to this, mostly because of his old Colonnial style of pride, Jean Bernard did not want to go and find another job, which at his age might've meant one of working in the nearby pig slaughterhouse or picking kiwis or working with the almost unemployable men for the Town Hall jobs of road clearing and tree trimming. So he spent most of his days at home watching the television in his pyjamas, or, when he did venture out, walking down to the local betting shop bar and joining in on the wagers of the horseracing in the hopes of not only company to talk to but perhaps a small win to cover the cost of the coffee or the beer consumed there. There was a car available to him in his garage, but I suspect that the gas and the insurance were difficult to find the money to pay for, so he walked and it was probably better for him to get out and get some excercise and clear the cobwebs from the brain, anyway......


                          • #14
                            Re: Shameless marketing

                            .....After the coffee I got a tour of the house, which, for the French, is highly unusual. It's perfectly possible to have long term friends in France and have never been invited for a tour of the house, even if you are and have been a regular visitor for years. You might know where the toilet was located, or the kitchen or the dining room, but never have visited the more private rooms in the house. This is such a difference to life in the US, where first time visitors are not only invited but expected to take a look through all the rooms and closets and insides of cupboards, as well as being told the price or the value of both the house and the furnishings within.

                            Jean Bernard showed me his bedroom, and then he showed me his wife's bedroom. I remarked how sad but poignant it was that he felt he could no longer sleep in the bedroom that he had shared for so many years with his wife, now that she had died. He didn't say anything. The entire tour felt rather unusual, and I wasn't sure of what role I was supposed to be playing but shrugged the feeling off, thinking it to be only the results of Jean Bernard's mourning and depression.

                            We went back into the kitchen, me jabbering on about Ruth Stout while I picked up the coffee cups from the table in preparation for bringing out seed packages and explaining all about how a garden could be easy, simple, and enjoyable. I’d put the cups and saucers into the sink with the dishes that were already piled up there and suddenly found myself grabbed and turned around, pressed against the sink, and given a deep, very nice, very sensual kiss and then felt one of Jean Bernard's arms around me holding me extremely close with his hand caressing my hair, while his other hand busied itself between my legs.

                            Well! I must admit that the first thought in my head was that this man probably knew perfectly well how to do the thing that he seemed intent on doing, and that he probably knew very well how to do it perfectly. This could certainly end up being easy, simple, and enjoyable; possibly even more so than gardening. I caught myself just as I felt my body responding to him, and neatly slid out of his grip and managed to sit us both down with the big oaken kitchen table between us. Besides the obvious, I had to know just what was going on.

                            Whew! With what I'm sure was a flushed face and the rest of the flushed me being thankfully hidden beneath winter sweaters, I asked him what he was playing at, since I thought that I had come to cheer up someone with a spot of gardening, and that I had not come to plant his carrot and that the sowing of his personal seed was not the deal. I used exactly that language, as corny as it sounds, in order to create some kind of break in the atmosphere and try to laugh off the incident. Boy, sometimes I am SO naïve and dumb.

                            It turns out that gardening was the furthest thing from Jean Bernard's mind. In fact, he had never thought that gardening had ever really crossed my mind, either. It turns out that the man had spent the past twenty years seducing every woman that crossed his path, and thought that I was simply going to be another one to add to his conquests. He had the good graces to look slightly sheepish, when I convinced him that I was there because I felt sorry for a sad old man who had lost his wife and looked so glum, and had thought to kindly help him feel better, although not quite in the way he'd had in mind.

                            This time it was me that served us each a cup of coffee, and we spent the next hour or so talking about his life and the fact that he'd been almost on the point of a divorce right before his wife had died. And that it had all been his fault, as she had been fed up with the endless parade of recently-seduced women coming into the fish shop in order to make another rendevous for more of the same from her husband. He did say that each time after an indiscretion, he'd felt remorse and regret within twenty minutes or so but could simply not stop his urges to continue, especially as his wife had never been the same after the children had been born, when it seemed that she wasn't as available sexually as she had been before and when lovemaking on the floor in front of the chimney had been the norm rather than the exception.

                            It wasn't that he was sad to have lost his wife, although her dying so young was a shame, it was that he was sad to have lost his business and his name in the community as a shop owner along with the opportunity to meet, flirt with, and seduce the female clientele. He missed his wife and was depressed because of the loss of status and income, as the plans for the divorce had been to keep working together at the fish shop but live their separate lives in private. Now he was well and truly stuck, as the house where he had been living during his entire twenty years in France, the house that the divorcing couple planned to stay and both live in, albeit separately, was not his but belonged in name to the old aunt and uncle of his wife that refused to come and work for him in the fish shop after the death of their niece, his wife.

                            If it hadn't have been so sad, it might have been funny. I could see the poetic justice in Jean Bernard's predicament, but I could also see that he really did have absolutely no clue as to which direction to head in. And to top it off, he had chosen some very strong medication as a form of anti-depressants. So I again suggested gardening, which provoked a rueful laugh. But I meant it, and meant well, and so Jean Bernard took it in the spirit in which it was offered, and we came to the conclusion, as I prepared to go home, that he would consider thinking about gardening and I would think of him as a friend. We solemnly shook hands and I collected my seeds, potatoes, my Ruth Stout book, and wished him well on the road to happier times.

                            As I stood up to take my leave I once again felt myself being taken into his arms, with the offer still standing of something more than gardening. More than likely it was, I recall thinking at the time, an offer having something to do with the floor in front of the fireplace. I have to be honest and say that I seriously considered taking Jean Bernard up on what I was sure would have been an excellent offer as he had a way with the style and mode of caress that held such delicious promise... To this day I think that, should I ever be really and truly in need...

                            I still run into Jean Bernard in town, every now and then. He seems happier, his face isn't the drawn and sad one of years ago. I sometimes pass him by the betting shop, where he's often laughing and talking animatedly with his friends. He looks as if he's doing okay, now. We stop and do the double-kiss thing, and now there's slightly more to it and his hand will linger on my shoulder or on my hips, and then...his eyes are the key, they look for response, they follow me. What can I say? It's nice to be a woman and to feel alive.


                            • #15
                              Re: Shameless marketing

                              Ready for another one? This one will be up on Amazon in just a few days...

                              The Green Chair

                              There is going to come a day when I stop and ask them to move that chair. Every single time I drive up that hill and see that green chair just sitting there in the garden, I tell myself that very thing. If the kids happen to be with me in the car, I say it out loud. The kids have gotten so that they look for the chair and will to be the first to call it out, "One of these days...".

                              I won't be asking them to move it very faraway. I just want it moved so that it's scooted far enough to make sure that I can't see the damn thing as I drive past. I simply don't want to see that intricate, wrought-iron, grass-green spray painted garden chair there in all of it’s glory.

                              One of the local gypsy families lives in the house where the chair is sitting outside at the back in their garden. They used to live in town, parents and 13 kids crammed into a tiny stone house along the narrow cobbled lanes in the center of the village. A teensy tiny little house with just enough room for a scullery, a fireplace, a toilet and a narrow winding staircase on the ground floor going up to one room above that, and with an attic room that had somehow taken over the next-door neighbors’ attic space as well.

                              Actually, I'm not sure that there even was a toilet, as I'd often see the various household members going over the small bridge that crosses the stream, and into the public toilet that sits outside the betting shop café. Surely there was not a bath or a shower, as such things weren't standard accessories until only a very few years ago. Even my own house, which is not so far from the one belonging to the Gypsy family, had no bathing area when I bought it, and the toilet that was in place must've been one of the first of its' kind, according to the plumber that put in a new one when I had the house modernized.

                              By the time I moved into the town, most of the Gypsy kids living in that house had grown up and gone off to marry their cousins and breed their own batches of petty thieves, child whores, and village fete rumble-mongers. The old man that was the father of the brood was put out each sunny day, to sit hunched over and drooling, on a hard wooden kitchen chair just outside the door by the single small window that served as illumination for the house. He'd sit there motionless for the better part of the day, never moving. As the sun moved across the sky, he’d be sitting in direct sunshine for a few hours each afternoon, never seemingly bothered by the uncomfortable heat of it. Maybe he couldn’t move, although sometimes he'd mutter, so I knew that he wasn't dead. The house had a never-ending stream of visitors...grown children (none of the kids ever moved further than five kilometers away), grandchildren, cousins, extended family members...but it didn't seem to me that anybody ever bothered to talk to the old man. Maybe because he wasn’t able to talk back to them, I don't know.

                              The old woman of the house was still going strong back then, yelling at the grandkids, stirring pots at the old woodstove in the corner, leaving saucers of catfood under the old man's chair for the ragged-looking tomcat that hung around the place. I'd often catch a glimpse of her sitting at the small table inside over a coffee with one or another of her daughters. Sometimes I'd see her shuffling off with her wicker basket over her arm on market day, dressed with her flowery full apron housedress over her everyday clothes, walking around and visiting the stalls to find the best bargains on the vegetables and bits of meats for sale so she could bring them back and make the soup that goes with almost every meal in most French households.

                              She always nodded a polite 'hello' to me as I passed. Most people generally say ‘Bonjour', but with her it was simply a nod. I used to think this was because the Gypsies thought themselves inferior to the other people living in town, but I later came to realize that it was for quite the opposite reason and I should feel honoured by the salutation. These were town Gypsies, not to be confused with the sort that travel in fancy trailers and were to be found running the rides and cotton candy sales at every carnival and fair or village fete during the summer.

                              It wasn't as if they kept apart from each other, these two tribes. They sometimes intermarried and they always stuck up for each other in the bloody fights and feuds that often had their climaxes during the village fetes and carnivals, leaving the streets red-splattered with blood and the locals outraged that such a thing could happen in their village and at their harvest celebrations. Generally, it was with the rugbymen that the real big fights ensued, as the smaller spats were almost always because of the women and only involved the men after numerous incidences of catfights and hair-pulling had not solved the problem of who was sleeping with whom, or even who was flirting with whom.

                              The town Gypsies have been living in real houses for generations. But everyone knows that they are Gypsies. They seem to be able to do whatever it is they want, and the residents of the Town Hall seem to be powerless to arrange things otherwise. The local politicians are very wary of these Gypsy families, if not downright respectful. The Gypsies have strong family ties and seem almost to be like bees in a hive...when their queen decides something, it's a done deal, and woe be it to anyone to mess with the collective hive once it's mind is made up.

                              I'm a stranger here in this town, as well as being foreign and not French-born, so I have to feel glad that they live and let live when it come to me. Some of them can be quite likeable in small doses as long as I remember my place. When they happen to come and knock on the door to ask a service the first thing to remember is to keep my wits about me. So when the old lady from the Gypsy house knocked and asked if she could have the chair that I'd just recently finished painting and putting out by my multicoloured flowerpots and planters in front of the house, I had to think fast. I liked that chair and I didn’t want to give it up. I told her that, yes, I was willing to give it to her but asked her if she didn't mind waiting for a time, as I'd just recently spent some 50 francs on the can of spray paint for it and would like to be able to enjoy it for a while first, and that I’d let her know when she could come and pick it up.

                              She gave me about a week. The chair was gone when I woke one morning during the annual week-long salt festival that the town celebrates each September. Perhaps I should've been more clear and explained to her that I meant she could have it after the summer had passed and only when winter and the bringing indoors of pots and plants had come. I never saw the chair for years after that, and always wondered just where she'd put it in that tiny house of hers.

                              Eventually, one of the daughters of this family bought a house out on the main road that goes to the next town over. The parents were getting on by then, and the old dad was actually being carried out in his chair into the sunshine, rather than being led out and sat down in it. I found myself wondering if he didn't sleep in that chair as well. Soon after the purchase, the family decided to move the elderly parents in with them into their new house. I knew this because I’d see the old man sitting slumped over in his same wooden chair out in the bright sunshine by the side of the new house, with the cars and trucks passing by so close on the big main road that it was a wonder he didn't get run over.

                              One day, coming back from a day out visiting a nearby lake with the kids, what did I see but my green chair sitting right out in the back garden of the Gypsy’s new house. Their house is at the bottom of a small hilly plot on a twisty road, so I only got a quick glimpse of the chair. But I knew right away that it was my other chair in France could be so ornate and so green. No other chair in France would be in the garden of the very same thieving Gypsy family that had been after that particular chair, either. It was a frustrating moment and I knew there'd be more frustrating moments in the future, as that road and the view of that chair were on a road that I often had to use to get to the places where I was going .

                              I came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was to laugh about it. Not that this was an easy thing to learn to do. And so this is how I began to tell myself that one day I'd stop en route and ask them to kindly move that chair. To just give it a little scoot, enough for it to be out of my line of vision when I drive up that winding hill. I haven't done it, yet. Not that I'm hesitant to do so, mind simply because I'm not sure if they'll be able to understand the irony of it all.