Finally, a pool Ellie can’t fall into

Relaxing today between outings. If you’re interested in the Bordeaux market, see my other blog frenchmarketguide.wordpress.com

The pool here is above ground so Ellie is safe. But it’s quite large and perfect for swimming laps. Ellie also has free run since the property is completely enclosed. She is going to hate the Medoc tomorrow where I will be leaving her in the hotel room while I go to a concert at Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

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Lost in Bordeaux

Ellie and I had a very long day. She is passed out on the bed in my hotel room in Bordeaux and as soon as I finish my wine I will join her.

We left Soustons this morning and drove to our next home, a very lovely place on the Arcachon basin. I will talk more about it in coming days. Anyway, we did no more than drop off the car and then took a train into Bordeaux, about 45 minutes. Bordeaux is celebrating la fete des vins, which is basically a huge, mobile tasting along the banks of the Garonne river. You buy a book of tickets, good for tastings at various pavilions.

So from the hotel, it was 2 km walk to the Garonne. But we couldn’t find the ticket booth, so walked an extra km. Once armed with our book of tickets and tasting glass, it was a 2 km hike along the quais, stopping along the way for a nice cremant (fizzy white), an excellent wine I never heard of, called chateau Donjon de Bruignac, which is sold (the owner told me) at a wine store on Hubert Street downtown (no idea). Had a few others, which are now completely mixed up in my head, but could not find the Medoc pavilion. No worries. I am going to the Medoc on Tuesday.

So now, somewhat the worse for the wine, I tried to find my way back to the hotel. The old city of Bordeaux is exquisitely beautiful, full of 17th century architecture. Along with blind alleys and dead ends. I did have some serendipitous discoveries. A lovely turquoise sweater for 50 €. Then, a bar a vins where Ellie and I shared a whole Spanish sausage (very good) and I had a glass of something called Les Puits de la Cassagne. Yes, it does mean The Pits and it was so good, I bought a bottle (9€) which I’m drinking now.

Of course, as usual, no one had ever heard of the street where the hotel is located, even though it is in the center of everything, near the Musee des Beaux Arts, the Hotel de Ville and Bordeaux cathedral. So we walked way out of our way, probably adding another 2 km to get back. Anyway, we certainly covered a lot of Bordeaux, but will be coming back often during our stays nearby over the next 7 weeks.

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World Cup

Cathy suggested I check out the Us-Germany match at a local sports bar to soak up some local flavor. Unfortunately, what I soaked up was internationalism. The US game was not the one televised here in France. Instead they were showing Portugal against someone. But when I checked this afternoon, the lady in the bar assured me they got satellite coverage and I could watch the game. So when I arrived, I announced I was American and hoped to watch the US game. The other 4 people in the bar were–Portuguese! Guess who won that competition. I didn’t really care as I have no idea how soccer is even played. So I had a beer and the worst hot dog ever (it was bright red) and pretended to be interested. Ellie enjoyed the hot dog. And, oh yes, the bartender was Irish! It figures.

PS for those who don’t read the comments and/or speak French. The dinner last night was fun. My Basque friends loved the cocktail sauce for the shrimp so much they ate it on bread, with the meat, and were looking for other excuses. The corn–not so much.

Got another comment from susan via email that I thought worth reposting:
Here is the crowd for the game you missed USA/Germany at peters new lab space in Cambridge. Soccer has clicked here this year.

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I think I’m more likely to get the local color if I go to a game featuring France.

Shopping for groceries

This may strike some of you as a dull post, but those who cook will understand. I’m having some neighbors over for dinner tomorrow and I promised them a typically American meal. Knowing the limitations of French ingredients, I decided on a simple menu:
Shrimp cocktail
Grilled pork
Succotash

Now I know fresh corn doesn’t exist but I figured I could get frozen. No. Had to settle for canned and who knows how it will taste. White beans for limas I can live with.

Shrimp, no problem although I suppose to be authentic I’ll have to cut off the heads. Ketchup, no problem. Horseradish? Even knowing what it’s called (rai fort) I couldn’t find it in any of the places I thought to look until I stumbled across it in the Chinese section!

The pork filet was no problem but for the marinade I need sherry, mustard and rosemary. No fresh rosemary, only dried. But it is the sherry that has me stymied. Remember this is a huge supermarket. They sell washing machines. They had 30 varieties of port. But no sherry. I even asked at the info desk. She had heard of it but they don’t carry it. Well, I have some leftover vermouth. I will have to improvise.

On the other hand the butcher had some lovely chicken cordon bleu for 2 €. Along with salad, that was my lunch. So there are compensations.

Dax

Dax is an ancient Roman town of which only 1 wall remains. The main draw was–and remains–the thermal waters. Hence, d’acqua or Dax.

Ellie and I spent the morning at the very interesting Saturday market, featuring regional specialties, especially foie gras. If you’re interested, you can read more on my other blog, frenchmarketguide.wordpress.com

We saw pretty much the whole town while driving around, looking for parking, including a new spa building designed by Jean Nouvel. (Photo)

Never finding legal parking (though I did manage to avoid a ticket even tho I parked in a spot reserved for market vendors). Ellie and I returned to Soustons. Where I discovered the pool is open at last! After a glorious swim, I took Ellie to the nearby bar/restaurant/mini-golf spot, a 5 minute walk away. Pretty good lunch, not expensive and lovely view. I am definitely finding Soustons more and more to my taste.

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Glass museum

So you never know what interesting sites may turn up. I read in this morning’s local paper about a glass museum in Magescq, about 9 km away. This morning, I went to the beach alone. Yesterday, I brought Ellie and the sand was so deep she sank into it and I had to carry her. Anyway, after lunch I went to check out the glass museum. It is in the middle of nowhere–surrounded by fields. It has just opened–the guy who organized it is a glass artist and wanted to showcase all French glass artists. It was surprisingly impressive. A gallery, a glass blowing atelier (see photo of Evelyn blowing a piece) and the museum, which has been furnished with donations from active French artists. It’s like wandering into a Soho gallery somewhere in Nebraska.

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Burnt out light bulb*

I thought some of my friends would be interested in the details of daily life outside the normal familiarities of home. So today’s meditation is on replacing a burnt out out light bulb.

First, you have to figure out how to remove the lampshade (the light is a sconce on the wall). Totally flummoxed. Fortunately my French guests yesterday figured it out (2 clips, but you have to pull really hard). Today I was going to the hyper marchė Leclerc anyway, so I took the burnt out light bulb along. Then finding the light bulb section in a market bigger than those in the Midwest. And things are laid out in a French logic that is not self-evident–I.e., the toilet paper is arranged near the toilet seats.

So I find the light bulb section and am now confronted by dozens of choices, all of which look the same. I ask a man nearby who is trying to figure out the batteries for help. He has no idea. Two teenage boys come along and they consult with the man, and after considerable discussion, they find me the right bulb.

Not a big deal but certainly more trouble than it would be at home. This is what keeps my brain active despite indulging in copious quantities of wine.

* I just realized this is a joke: how many Frenchmen does it take to help evelyn change a light bulb? Four.

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Country life

It’s amazing how quickly one adjusts to one’s environment. The quiet here has become quite pleasant and I’m sleeping better than I ever do at home. This morning was typical for my new life: Ellie barked at a fisherman (photo) , we drove into town for some bread, stopped for a cafe, and read the local paper. (Great idea. Every cafe gets one copy and anyone who wants can read it. Sometimes you have to wait for someone else to finish it, but it doesn’t take long. There’s not much news out here. )

The rest of the day was far more stimulating. My hosts in Arcachon drove down for lunch, bringing white wine and a home made rhubarb tart. I served an excellent local melon with Bayonne ham, and made a veal dish that had gone over well with French friends last summer. It worked again and we polished off a nice Pomerol. Went for a walk, then they left and Ellie and I took a late afternoon snooze.

Because we were invited to dinner! Ellie introduced me to the neighbors last night–she is a great social director. She barks at them, I go to apologize, and we start talking. In this case, a charming Spanish couple who own a small firm that makes chorizo. Anyway, dinner was at 9 so refreshed, I started again. A beautiful composed salad (photo with Maria Jose) with duck ham and duck gizzards. I felt a little guilty as Lucio and Ellie fed the local ducks, who will no doubt end up on someone else’s plate. (Photo). Then quail with vegetables. All with a lovely local white wine. For dessert, a tarte I bought this morning of apples and Armagnac. And as we were enjoying ourselves, Lucio insisted we have a gin and tonic. Actually having the cocktail after dinner makes sense. It was refreshing and made a nice digestif.

So not a quiet day but a very pleasant one. If I don’t post for a while it will be because I am enjoying myself by doing nothing.

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The beaches

Ellie and I are taking advantage of the sunny weather by visiting the local beaches. Yesterday, we drove to Soustons-Plage, about 8 km (5 miles). The beach is wide and was nearly empty, and dogs are permitted. However, parking is a good half mile climb from the dunes. Ellie managed but not happily. The neighboring beach of Vieux-Boucau was much easier (one short hill from parking to beach) but unfortunately no dogs. We did stop for a glass of wine at a lovely restaurant overlooking the beach.

Today we drove about 20 km to Capbreton, a seaside resort with a bustling marina. Our hosts told us to especially look for the Port de Peche, where the fishermen sell their catch right off the boat. (Photo). The beach was very nice with a promenade and restaurants. We had lunch (grilled shrimp, moules frites–neither local) and enjoyed the view.

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