Saturday, December 18, 2010

8 gr8 days

Add to Google Reader or HomepageA (not so) quiet week in Lake Wobegon

On “A Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keiller begins his news stories of Lake Wobegon with: “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon…” Our week was just the opposite – filled with fun, friends and excitement.

We met Bruce and Judy at the TGV station in Avignon last Friday morning and then drove to Uzès, about 30 km west of Avignon. It is a beautiful little village with wonderful medieval alleys and architecture, an imposing cathedral with a fenestrelle tower

and the castle of the first duchy of France. The castle was built on the site of a Roman camp. (The pictures are from the Uzès website: We had lunch, walked around the village admiring the shops (closed during lunch time) and the architecture and then drove back to Vaison la Romaine.

Our neighbor Jane had made a lovely chicken stew so we had a wonderful dinner across the street at her house. Saturday, we went to the truffle market at Richerenches and Judy bought some truffles to take back to their friends in Paris. 

As we did with Margaret and Phil last year, we ate at the town hall. The menu was the same: truffle omelets, salad, cheese, dessert and coffee. There were bottles of local rose and red wine on the tables to go with the meal. The long tables seat 16, so we got to rub elbows and converse with the truffle mavens on either side. We drove back to Vaison and then followed Jane to Mirabelle aux Baronnies to see the house that her friend owns there. It is situated in the center of the village and includes five or six different levels. (I got confused after walking from one area to the next, then through a passage way, an OLD circular staircase…)

We were back in time to make dinner for the four of us plus Terry who had come to claim his sweet dog, Cesar. Cesar had been staying with us for a week while Terry was in the UK. It was Ellen's (and my) opportunity for a dog fix, since our own deerhounds are back home in Lansing with our wonderful dog/house sitters.

The lovely Cesar!
I made lasagna but with a few twists: Greek yogurt instead of ricotta, Scamorza instead of mozzarella, fresh pasta (as in rolled out in front of us), and with each layer of pasta, I added a layer of zucchini slices. Ellen and Judy made salad and Bruce and I had gone to the cheese store to get Roquefort and goat cheese (chevre). Terry brought dessert. (French language error: When the merchant showed me the rolled out pasta, I said it looked like twice as much as I would need. He understood me to say that I wanted twice as much and rolled out another sheet of pasta… I tried using the extra pasta dough as a crust for a pie, but it doesn’t work too well!)

Bruce has become a discriminating connoisseur of “pain au chocolat” for breakfast. He has honed his skills in the bakeries in Paris near where they live. We asked him to continue his research in Vaison la Romaine so that we would know to which bakery we should go whenever we wanted “pain au chocolat.” Between Saturday and Sunday, we stopped at five bakeries and, at each one, asked for one croissant and one “pain au chocolat.” Tastes vary, but there seemed to be general agreement that the “pain au chocolat” from Emile Bec was tops. (The croissant from the bakery on Cours Taulignan got the highest marks.) For lunch, we went to La Lyriste, our favorite restaurant in Vaison and run by our dear friends Ben and Marie Joulain. We had a lovely Sunday lunch with good friends. Later that afternoon, we took Bruce and Judy back to Avignon to catch their evening train to Paris.

Tuesday, Père Noel (Father Christmas) visited the crèche (it was not I this year as the kids know me too well). He talked with the kids and gave out candy. The kids ate way too much candy and as one can guess, they were still on sugar highs three hours later when their parents came to take them home.

On Wednesday, we left early in the morning to drive to Villefranche sur mer to visit the village and the language school where Ellen will spend February as she has enrolled in the “Institut de Français” ( The village is located between Nice and Monaco and is built on the cliffs rising out of the Mediterranean.

When I first looked at the map, I noticed a lot of hairpin turns – they are switch-backs – as one climbs or descends from the main road through town. The hills made us both think of Greensburg, PA – though the PA hills seem almost flat when compared to those in Villefranche sur mer. We are both excited about the school because of reports that we have heard from former students. Ellen will spend a month immersed in French. Once the program begins, the students are allowed to speak only French. The emphasis is on developing oral skills. I plan to visit Ellen on the weekends and of course we will speak only French.

For the last week of our French class before the holidays, we had a combined Thursday/Friday class “apero” that included all of the students of the Vaison French classes. We shared wonderful foods and wine/champagne and good conversation (mostly in French but there were side conversations in Dutch, German, English…)

The holidays are upon us. The towns and villages are all decorated with holiday lights and people are wishing one another happy holidays. There will be parties and “aperos” and more good times with friends and neighbors. The opportunities to over-eat abound… (It’s time to clean some carrots to put in a bag to eat before starting the next food fest.)

May your holidays be filled with good friends, good times, good foods and the joy of sharing them.

Meilleurs vœux et bonne année !

Town square, Villefranche sur mer


  1. But Mark,
    Did you find a nice apartment for our dear Ellen? Wow! Sounds like the holidays and lots of fun have kept you and Ellen out of trouble. But all that food. After much urging I finally got on the scale this week, the first time since returning to Vaison. I hope you are playing lots of tennis to burn off those calories.