Ghost Town

“I’m placing an ad,” I told my daughter. “Wanted: Engaging young adults willing to come to our country home and pretend to be our children.”

“Mom, that’s not funny,” she said.

“Compensation includes accomodation in a house filled with antiques and art, access to  mature perennial gardens with swimming pool, excellent meals featuring local farm produce and unlimited wine, civilized conversation, beautiful surroundings.”

“MOM!”

“You do realize that July has come and gone without a single visit from you and your sisters?”

“We’re busy. Everyone’s getting married and there are showers and rehearsals, and Matt’s birthday party, and guests coming from Paris.”

“Successful applicants must say things like, “I have such great memories of this place,’ and ‘Can I help you in the garden?’ (Don’t worry, we won’t take you up on it”)

The truth is, our country house has felt like a ghost town for a few years now. Out in the garden I hear their voices:

“Mom, can we go to Ben and Jerry’s?”

“Look, we’re building a fort”

“Can we sleep out in the fort?”

“Can we come in? It’s too scary in the fort.”

“Can we swim after dinner?”

“Marco. Polo. Marco. Polo.”

Aside from  ghost voices, things are blessedly quiet out in the garden.  I try to emphasize the secondary gains of the situation: I can weed for as long  as  I want. I don’t have to worry about anyone drowning or breaking a leg. I don’t have to fight with anyone to turn off the computer and come outside.  I can READ!

Change is hard. Especially when you have loved things as they were. I think many residents of our little town of Knowlton feel much this way. Outside our gallery I bump into people I know just vaguely and with very little provocation they begin to rant: “This town is dead. DEAD!!!!” Eyes bulge. Veins pop. I glance around for zombies but there’s no one out on those sidewalks, it’s true.

Many things have happened to create this situation – the grocery and liquor stores moved to the outskirts, the ski hill closed down, the population is aging, there is a Walmart now. Still, other towns in the area seem to be jumping.

“Come on. Would you want to be Sutton?” I counter. ” Is there even one store you would want to shop in there? Aside from the bakery?” I quickly add. “And Bromont. Have you driven through lately? So tacky it’s embarrassing. At least our stores are good stores: Jones, Bromewood, Athletica, Woolrich. There’s the theatre, Shakespeare on the beach. Buzz. Florale. We’re classy. We’re interesting. The new antique stores are good. Looks like fewer storefronts are for rent this summer.”

All this falls on deaf ears.  These folks have converted to a mindset and mere facts cannot dissuade them. And it’s true, there are fewer tourists and the ones who come into our gallery are mostly older couples from small-town Quebec. They like to see the art, which is nice, but it doesn’t pay the rent.

I think it very likely that things will change for the better in Knowlton, because the opposite just doesn’t make sense. Any fool can see how gorgeous our town is, with its hill, its pond, its river, its beautiful buildings. Who wouldn’t want to spend time here? There will be a renewal but who will be a part of it? Perhaps our little gallery, amongst others.  In the meantime, there may be secondary gains we can concentrate on, like the possibility that some of our commercial buildings,  converted homes,  will once again become residential. Would that be so bad? Would we love Knowlton less? I don’t think so.

Oh, and by the way, my kids are all coming down this weekend. Hallelujah.

(I hope this post doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. I try to write in a humourous vein and part of humour is exaggeration. Still, my apologies to anyone who feels offended, especially those unfortunates who live in Sutton or Bromont.)

 

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Mother and Child Reunion

0159d20d7ffadc0bbc42513bbd55b0283de3f8d0d9 I awoke with a sense of unease on Sunday morning. Just out of sorts and cranky without knowing why. What is this vague longing? Is it home sickness? No… I thought, shivering as I considered  once again the polar vortex. No, it’s just that I… miss the children. That’s it. I miss the children and the dog. Terribly.

We hear a lot about declining birth rates in Northern Europe, but this is a lie given the evidence of the Paris neighbourhoods we frequent, which is everywhere central. There are schools partout. At least four in a  two block radius from us. Boisterous crowds of children, just bursting with energy, blast down the streets. Get out of the way! School’s out. In every museum, every age group from toddlers to teens, is being led about, lectured to and shown the finest in art, technology and even instruments of war.

0129b95eb5d39207e371ba584b0ba559bc2bd85d85 A school group in the sculpture court of the Louvre.

The point is that there is no getting away from the large crowds of extremely cute and well-dressed children everywhere we go. On top of school groups there are the crowds of little charmers in the parks on weekends, and the packs of stylish and amusing children’s clothing stores which almost outnumber womens’ boutiques. You can never get away from the longing.

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As I said in my first post, on the last trip to France, when we rented a house and stayed for six months, the children and dogs came too. Since then, one dog has died, another is too old to come and the children have their own commitments to attend to: college, work and graduate school. And I thought it would be 100% great to go away and leave my commitments behind.  It would seem that the ties that bind do not loosen so easily. And life once again, shows us how little we know ourselves. Having spent so many decades loving and caring for people and creatures large and small  it’s just not possible for me to drop that role without a bit of disorientation. Well, what to do?

One possibility is to steal a dog. I have been thinking about this with increasing frequency. Many, even most,  street beggars here have dogs. These dogs are cute. Really cute. Would it be so wrong for me to grab a dog, stuff it in my purse and run like hell? I could surely give it a better life than it has  living on the street.

This one is in Lisbon, but never mind, you get the idea. (photo:lisbonconnection.com)

  This one is in Lisbon, but never mind, you get the idea. (photo:lisbonconnection.com)

I try to put this thought out of my mind, even though dogs like the one above are very adorable and conveniently purse-sized. I’m sure he’s very tired of listening to all that accordian music. Really. Someone needs to save him.

Obviously, a distraction is in order so, again,  what should I do? It’s obvious: the Louvre. It’s the weekend, so no school groups, no beggars with dogs, and once inside I know where to go to escape the crowds.Tip:  If you are overwhelmed by crowds at the Louvre head down. Just keep going down to the lowest levels where there  is really interesting art and very few tourists. Thus Alan and I found ourselves in the International Gothic Sculpture galleries in the basement of the Denon pavillion. I don’t think I’ve been there before. Here is the kind of thing:

Vierge_a_l'Enfant_debout0701vierge389px-Vierge_à_l'Enfant_assise. Right. I was beginning to feel like this:

01e7982ac64dbfe5e63b92d8ee4f52546a239db0d3_00001 So I went to the African, Polynesian and Asian galleries where I saw a number of p[ieces like this:

013425d91ca061bc7ef2b28cd7053304717f755636_00001 Zoom to see what she’s up to. Oh dear. We cannot, dear reader, escape our feelings, can we? Here I am in Paris, missing my children and it cannot be avoided. Lesson learned. I have to go now and see if that accordian doggy is still around. Just looking. Maybe if I adopt the master too, it will all be fine and we can amuse ourseves with accordian music by the hour.

 

 

 

Weird French Food

011cb63d2f72c3e657e15cb449798a31f58e961950Honestly, these fish are so fresh-looking and smiley, how can I cook them? Their little eyes are staring up at me as if to say, “Put us back”! No way. Summoning my courage I proceeded into my less than closet sized kitchen to cook these mackerel WITH THE HEADS ON. Yikes. Thank you,  Jamie Oliver. Browsing through recipes, there had been  one for crispy mackerel. I liked the sound of crispy. Jamie assured me that mackerel are delicious and that I should be eating them because tuna are over-fished. I reminded myself of my vow to cook something new, something French, every week. I steeled myself and put Georges et Ludovic (yes, I had been staring at them so long that by now they had names) into the hot oil, and started to cook. They did not smell bad, as I had been told mackerel does. In fact,they seemed to be looking crispy. I flipped them and went to my go-to additive of white wine. When in France, I add 3 euro/bottle cooking wine to just about everything. That plus creme fraiche does the job and you can’t miss. In went the wine and that’s when it went up. In flames. I have never had the flame effect with white wine, but as the flames rose, I didn’t have time to think about that. “Uhhh, anything I can do?” Alan said, sticking his head in the door. I appreciated his tact. We were both thinking, OMG, we’re going to burn the building down. At least we’ll get to meet the Sapeurs-Pompiers, I mused, and ask them why they have two jobs here instead of just one like firemen everywhere else.  But after a moment of useless blowing, the flames went out and the fish were indeed looking crisp.

01f80e5a07e7c8289973d34592803006f8af9a4f8aFrazzled chef, very crispy mackerel. Dinner very, good. Don’t try this at home.

0198ff44886299c0dbbc9245f491df9923619a273eYou probably recognize  parsnips in the photo (like a fat white carrot) but what the heck is that bunch of black sticks held together with a rubber band? That, friends, is salsify. I’d heard of it, but never cooked it. I had seen it packed in water in small decorative jars on gourmet shop shelves but never bought one. I had to ask the market stall vendor how to prepare them. Apparently, simple as peeling and slicing and roasting. I could do that. What the vendor didn’t explain is that when you peel and slice the salsify it exudes a weird glue-like substance akin to rubber cement. It does not wash off with soap and water. It just sits on your fingers, tacky and black. Finally what worked was Parisian jet pads, not a recommended beauty treatment for my already dry skin. I guess the Parisian home chef must overlook these little contre-temps if she wants to achieve authentic Parisian deliciousness. 01a995de2becebd06ac141959469467f1faada85c8_00001 Here’s how they came out, roasted together with the parsnips. Admit it, delicious, no? I picked one up with my sore finger tips and appreciated the nutty, toasty flavours. Next week in Weird Food Wednesday: Queue de Veau and Osso Bucco de Dinde.

A Disappointment

Today is the first day I have felt cold in Paris on this visit. We are having the warmest winter since 1900, and thankfully we have left behind the felicitously named polar vortex, nonetheless the sun went in, the humidity went up and the 8 degree temperature felt quite chilly in the wind. I needed something. Hmm… flowers. One of my best memories of Paris in 2009 is my weekly visit to a florist at the foot of the market street Mouffetard where you could get 5 bouquets for 10 Euros. Yep, I do not lie. A house really full of flowers all winter long. This is luxury.  Time to cross the Seine.

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Florists abound and I took pictures as I went to give you an idea of how many pretty flower shops line the way to the Quartier Latin.

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But alas, I found Mouffetard quite changed with many food stalls gone in favour of makeup shops and cheap boutiques. Ouch. One of the casualties of these developments was my little florist which had transformed into an empty cafe. Appropriately, it started to drizzle. Not every day can be triumphant, even in Paris. What to do? I set off for home, winding my way past the Curie Institut and other schools of the University of Paris, reminded of how much I like this part of town. Hunching against the wind I thought to stop into St. Etienne des Monts, my favorite church in Paris. Its soothing dim air and shafts of light were just the ticket. I lost myself in a sketch.

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Making art is one of the few times when we want to lose ourselves. We become part of something outside ourselves, something bigger. Inspired by what we have seen, we are not taking, acquiring, planning or fretting. It is a kind of giving back to beauty.

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Refreshed, I headed back home. Oh, and picked up a little something on the way.photo (13)