Karen and Tom’s Excellent Adventure
Lafayette, we are here
We almost didn’t make it. Two and a half years earlier, when we were only ten days away from our scheduled visa interview at the French Consulate, we discovered Karen’s illness. Everything stopped. Karen began a series of two surgeries and recoveries, three months of chemo, and recovery, and another surgery. Now, finally, she is given the “All Clear” from all of her doctors, and they all told her, “Go to France”. And given the all clear, we picked up where we left off, applied for the Long Stay Visa, and one day shy of Karen’s birthday, arrived in France with permission to stay.
It is all so improbable. For most first-time visitors, Paris is so exciting and romantic and enthralling that most everyone thinks at least for a moment, “Wow, I could LIVE here. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in Paris?” That’s the fantasy, of course. But the reality is that Paris isn’t France, any more than Manhattan is the U.S. And you don’t really experience France until you get out of Paris. And well, that’s what we did, from our very first visit. And along the way both Karen and I entertained fantasies of living in France for longer and longer periods of time. Karen always wanted to have her own kitchen, to go to market, to shop, and to cook in France. Both of us fell in love with the country, and both of us came to understand that we are simply happier here in France.
It has been a long and unique journey from the first tentative and exciting visit to Paris and the Normandy coast in 1998, to life in an apartment in a tiny village in the Sarthe twenty years later. Neither of us could have imagined the series of circumstances that led to this moment, and the more we reflect on it, the more both of us can only shake our heads in amazement and admit that we have been incredibly blessed.
Today we are living in a very small, very French apartment in a tiny, rural village with an ancient church on the minuscule town square, built atop a roman era temple. Or so they say.
Located in the Sarthe, the village of Luche-Pringe sits on the banks of the Loir river about 8 kilometers from the large town of La Fleche, from which the French departed on their journey that led to the founding of Montreal, Canada. In many ways it is a picture postcard village, almost a caricature of The French Village; There are two small bakeries…boulangeries...side by side on the town square. Two small corner-groceries…epiceries; one café, and one small restaurant that doesn’t appear to be open with any regularity. There are two butchers, one located next door to us, where Manu and his wife give us big smiling waves whenever we walk by.
There are times when I feel like I’m living in a movie.
“Lafayette, We Are Here” was a greeting called out by an American general when US troops arrived in France in 1917, upon the American entry into WWI. The implication is one of “returning the favor” for French assistance in the American Revolution.
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Being Italian and originally from New Jersey I am well familiar with the game of bocce, in which a target ball is rolled, then opposing teams try to roll their balls closest to the target. As played amongst our family the game consisted of much yelling, waving of arms, arguing, brazen attempts at cheating, and … Continue reading The little piggy. And The Bear.
Many years ago on our first trip to France, as we passed through that first tiny, ancient village, and for more than a decade thereafter as we passed through hundreds and perhaps thousands of other ancient, tiny villages, I asked aloud, but to myself, “what is it like to live in such a place ?” And … Continue reading Through The Glass
“You should go to Mac D’Nalds, said Anthony. “No way in hell,” said I, although in truth, McDonalds…or, as the French say, Mac D’Nalds is just about the only place to solve the problem. The problem is that I am in frite deficit. Frites, dammit. French Fries! Since the accursed covid lockdown of every restaurant … Continue reading Frites!
Our anniversary is approaching, and Beloved Wife was scouring the Internet, as she often does, to see what the “Traditional Anniversary Gift” might be for this particular year. Ahhh, but what number year is this? For many years we cited the day that we met, that very first moment, as our “anniversary date”, 31 years … Continue reading Uh, Anniversary?
Tradition is enormously important in France, and nowhere is tradition more maintained than in the French military, with roots going back hundreds of years. Historically there is a French Army unit called the Spahi, which, like the Zouaves, was originally comprised of troops from colonial areas in North Africa. The Spahis were light cavalry troops … Continue reading Teach Your Children
I suppose we should have realized we were dealing with a more sinister intelligence early on when he made off with that haunch of beef we had targeted for dinner that first week after his arrival, like the Bumpus Hounds for which he was thus named. Alas, we wrote it off as an aberration, an … Continue reading Diabolique
I like asparagus. So does Karen. It’s without a doubt our favorite vegetable. Back in the US where it is available pretty much year-round, we eat it year round, perhaps a couple of times a week. We were understandably excited several years ago when we first arrived here, looking forward to local asparagus, and probably … Continue reading Green Gold
The French love road signs. Not advertising road signs, not “Eat at Jacques”; the kind that give you directions for driving. There are so many that I recently came across and bought an entire book of French road signs and their meanings. As purchase decisions go it probably came 20 years later than it should … Continue reading Signs
We live in a second floor apartment. Initially we avoided the first floor space, but that didn’t last very long. Accessible from the shared entryway at the bottom of the stairs to our apartment, it seemed to be used by our erstwhile landlord Alain as his private domain where he stored things and occasionally turned … Continue reading Barbecue. And Pizza.
Back in the early 1960’s, when I was too young to buy beer in New Jersey, but not on Staten Island in New York, I first tasted and fell in love with Ballantine Ale. On the green and gold label it said, “India Pale Ale”and it was, at the time, a true outlier among beers. … Continue reading Lagunitas, s’il vous plaît
Each October the Tour de France announces the planned route for next year’s race. Every several years that announcement generates particularly intense excitement among fans, and some dread among riders, when it is revealed the race will include an assault on le Mont Ventoux. Called The Giant of Province, Mont Ventoux is one of the … Continue reading Resistance
In the time since Beloved Wife and I have been an item she has been owned by six cats; each with his or her distinct personalities and quirks although, being cats, there have been more similarities among them than differences. Six cats. Thirty years. A pretty good sample size, you betcha, to get a handle … Continue reading Cat Toys
I have been to the doctor on several occasions while living here, but so far none has yet said, “Alor, Monsieur Cheche, are you aware you have a dent in your forehead?” But I’m sure it is coming, and when it does my response will be, “Of course! Its from smacking myself and saying, I … Continue reading Assimilation
Back in the previous millennium we would keep a list of things our friends in France would ask us to bring back with us from the US, like peanut butter. That’s off the list now, as peanut butter is readily available these days. Our American friends, likewise, would ask us to bring home Nutella, but … Continue reading The List
You don’t see a lot of pickup trucks in France. No Ford F-150’s, no big honking Dodge Rams, no Silverados. What you see is little white vans. They’re everywhere, the French equivalent of the American Pick-Up. Unmarked, families use them. Adorned with signage, businesses use them. And hunters use them; little white vans. During hunting … Continue reading Those Little White Vans
I have fallen deeply in love with this village, Luche-Pringe; with the village, with the life we have here. There is the village–streets that radiate the feel of history, that fall into silence at night as lights go out and the village is wrapped in darkness and silence of near total sensory deprivation but for … Continue reading La Joie de Vivre
The heart of the downtown business district of Luche-Pringe, in the shadow of an ancient church dating back to the time when Romans ruled here, consists of two boulangeries lying side by side, one tiny epicerie, a pharmacie, an ATM, and, inconguously, a small photography studio, l’Autour de l’Image. Like almost everything else here, it … Continue reading Sharing a Vision
We had to. We’ve been here for nearly a year, catless, and Beloved Wife is in serious cat deprivation mode. I wake in the middle of the night, as men my age often do, to find her looking at cat videos on her tablet. We’re talking a need for an intervention here; she recently discovered … Continue reading We Got A Cat
Americans have a cultural memory of a time in the 19th and early 20th century when The Circus Comes to Town. One night the caravan shows up on the outskirts of town and people wake the next morning to the magical site of a gaudy, colorfully painted tent–the Big Top. Animal wagons are clustered together, … Continue reading Circus! Circus!
A British friend of ours, a very funny guy named Ronnie, who lives in the north of England, tells a very funny and self-deprecating story about his one and only trip to the US. He had nursed a desire to visit the United States for years, and with much excitement, managed to convince a buddy … Continue reading Central Casting
France, we have come to understand, is a country fraught with contradictions. Nothing epitomizes that more than French television. Curling up in front of the TV for an evening’s entertainment can be both informative about French culture, and utterly baffling. It is, in the end, quintessentially French. Sometimes, (quite often, actually) we get the feeling … Continue reading And Now For Your Viewing Pleasure…
From our first arrival in the village acquaintances and friendships seemed to be extended almost effortlessly, some almost spontaneously. In moments of reflection we admit that, unbelievable as it sounds, we have acquired an ever-growing circle of friends, a circle larger and a social life infinitely more active than anything we had back in the … Continue reading Evolutions
The French will tell you they don’t have flies and they don’t have mosquitoes (under duress they might admit to mosquitoes, but never on the second floor). They’ll tell you this with a straight face and absolute conviction even as they swat one away; even as stores sell fly swatters, fly paper strips, and those … Continue reading INCOMING!
Say “karting” to most people in the US and they’ll think, “Oh, go-karts. How cute.” Karting—the racing of “go-karts” is something less than a niche sport in the US; more a cult activity. Serious racers own their own machines, wrench them themselves, and participate in a very insular world of races in a scattering of … Continue reading Brake When Necessary
It’s out there, lurking, silently waiting for the opportunity to strike. A silent killer. We made contact on our very first visit to Paris, but everything was new and different, and we didn’t notice. When we launched into the countryside on rambling road trips all over France we came to grasp its omnipresence and threat. … Continue reading Stairway to Heaven
The French make a strange sound when conversing that sounds for all the world like someone imitating a fart. They purse their lips and push air through to make a sound like, “brrrrrp.” It’s a sound that carries meaning like a word, and is part of the vocabulary. It can mean pretty much anything, but … Continue reading The French Sound. Potato Salad. And oh yes, Explosives.
Beloved Wife is not a sports fan. Actually, she detests almost all sports, especially team sports. She loathes football, finds baseball inexplicably boring, basketball does not exist in her lexicon, and she claims in public to hate hockey too, but after more than two decades of living with me she has become a closet, if … Continue reading Balls
For our first road trip since quarantine restrictions began lifting here, we took a brief trip to the coast and had one of the most unique culinary experiences of our lives. We visited the just-offshore island of Noirmoutier, home of the world’s rarest, most unusual and expensive potato, the legendary Pommes de Mer. Unique in … Continue reading Quaint Traditions of France
Things have taken a dark and ominous turn here, and there is a palpable chill in the air. We feared this day would come, despite our best efforts. Accommodations for weight and space were made and the math was impeccable. We planned to return to the US in four months, in April, and allocations were … Continue reading CRISIS
We were staying in the village of Belveze du Razes in the Aude. Mike The Brit and his wife lived in Cailhau, the next village over, where he had his home custom built from the ground up. This, I knew, was no mean feat because he had to deal with a host of contractors, which … Continue reading Language Mastery
A neighbor down the road in the next village over, when we spent time at the cottage in the Aude, was a British expat named Mike. Once, when the subject turned to wine and he heard what we were routinely paying in the US, I thought he needed oxygen. I allowed as how we figured … Continue reading And Give My Love To Rosé
My wife is a Chef. Oh, she will demur and say something like, “I’m not a chef. I’m a good household cook,” which is like Mario Andretti saying, “Ah, I just like to drive fast.” The lady can cook. She thinks about food, reads about food, and routinely turns out restaurant quality meals here at … Continue reading The Joy of Cooking
In a few days people in Britain, America, and France, especially those in Normandy, will observe the 76th anniversary of D-Day, June 6th 1944, the Normandy Invasion. Four days later, on the 10th of June, a far more grim 76th anniversary will go unnoticed in Britain and America. In France, there will be remembrances but … Continue reading The Town of Martyrs
It is astonishing to realize that France is only about 80 percent the size of Texas, but within that relatively small piece of real estate exist a variety of landscapes, vistas, forests and plains, towering mountains, and raging rivers to rival the United States. Then there are the historic sites that go back as far … Continue reading The Bridge Above The Clouds
The French really love their burgers, maybe as much as they love steak frites. Even McDonald’s is viewed as sort of exotic or at least a little exciting, rather than the last resort we think of. French burgers tend to be big, juicy things, served in bars and brassseries, as well as in white tablecloth … Continue reading Burgers and Fries
We have a nice working relationship whenever we’re driving around France. Or indeed, anywhere. Karen looks out the windows and yells for me to stop, and asks why I didn’t see “that,” whatever that may have been. I respond by telling her I was busy keeping us from being killed by oncoming traffic. And so … Continue reading The Village Has a Sign. And a Rock.
Legal Disclosure: What follows is a complete fiction. Not one word of it is true. Nope. Not one word. It’s no secret that I like calvados, it having been well documented in a previous post. Distilled from blends of apples, it is a powerful, potent, and vaporous ode to la pomme. Over the years one … Continue reading Papi’s Hidden Treasure
Whenever some perceived contretemps, genuine or not, arises between the Unites States and France, count on a percentage of my fellow Americans emerging from the woodwork to post worn-out disparagement of the French military in WWII. Such posts only illuminate their staggering ignorance, and of course their arrogance. For the disinclined, no reason to trouble … Continue reading A View From Across The Pond
If there is a line between “news” and “gossip” in the village it is a fine line indeed, and mostly it’s just considered knowing what’s going on. Karen sometimes refers to it as “jungle drums.” We got our first hint of it with the “Butter Shirt Incident.” Then, around Christmas, we left Manu and his … Continue reading Maurizio and The News
Life in the village appears to be going on as normal. The bakeries, epiceries, the butcher all are open, and people come and go throughout the day. After that first day following the announcement of impending quarantine when there was something of a rush to the stores, things have now settled back to a normal … Continue reading In Praise of the Comma
The idea of talking about “My Quarantine” seems to me a lot like old people sitting around talking about their symptoms. Nobody is interested, and everybody has their own. So, here we sit in our apartment, in a kind of house arrest, locked downed by order of the French government. As 70-plus-year-olds we’re theoretically not … Continue reading What Did You Do In The Quarantine, Daddy?
In my fantasy of living in France I have images, tableaux, and little mental GIF files running in my head. In one, it is morning. I throw on a sweater and scarf, step out into the street of a small village and walk a few steps to the local bakery, the boulangerie, exchanging bonjours with … Continue reading Oh, The Pain! The Pain!
In retrospect it probably was an act of lunacy. After only seven days in Paris and a two-day train excursion to Normandy, I bravely proclaimed, “Hey, next time let’s rent a car and drive around Normandy!” I knew intuitively that if I ever had to drive on the left, as in Britain, I would be … Continue reading Ignorance is Bliss
It passed almost unnoticed this week, but 104 years ago began what was arguably the most terrible battle in the history of warfare, the battle of Verdun. The echoes of that conflagration continue to this day in France. A century on, the sheer horror of the tragedy is felt among families decimated and about villages … Continue reading Verdun
Deciding to live long-term in France was easy; making it happen was one of the most complicated exercises either one of us has ever gone through. It became clear, almost immediately, that this was not something we could do on our own, and we set out to find some help. That came in the form … Continue reading The Bank Job
Three hours after the previous post, in which I laid out our case that the French not only do not hate Americans, but in fact like them, I sit here writing an addendum. Shortly after posting today, Karen and I found our way to our favorite brasserie in La Fleche, the large town about 9 … Continue reading Addendum
We have all heard it a thousand times: The French are rude. The French hate Americans. As for the rude thing, I’m guessing anyone who ever said that never got out of Paris if they ever visited France at all. Most of the French don’t think all that much of Paris or Parisians. And I’d … Continue reading Goose Town
Midnight in Luche Pringe is extraordinarily silent. Tuesday night at midnight Karen was asleep, and I had just slipped quietly into bed. A violent explosion shook the house and a brilliant orange flash filled the room. I bolted to the front window, opened it to look out, and there was a second boom. Outside in … Continue reading A Small Tragedy in a Tiny Village
History and travel books often make reference to European market towns. As far back as the period we call the Dark Ages and beyond, even to the time of the Romans, certain towns hosted weekly or daily markets. The arrival of farmers, artisans, and merchants of all kinds descending on these towns with their goods … Continue reading Market Day!
Walk into a café or restaurant and order a beverage…a coke or an iced tea…yeah, that’s a good one…order an iced tea. Garcon will give you a suspicious look and, sensing you are American, will ask you if you want ice with that. “Why, hell no, I don’t want ice in that,” you think. “I’d … Continue reading Ice Cubes and Trash Bags
If you’re driving around France it won’t be long before you start to see faded paintings on the walls of buildings, advertising Suze, kind of like those painted barns in the US promoting Mail Pouch Tobacco. Suze is an aperitif, sort of sweet, sort of bitter. It has been around for a long time, since … Continue reading The Drink That Nobody Drinks
Sometime around 50 BC Julius Caesar and a few thousand soldiers marched into Gaul, present-day France, and took over. The Romans stayed here for more than four centuries. They built towns and cities, arenas, temples, and plantations. Then, around 450 AD they up and left for Rome again. They packed up and left behind empty … Continue reading That Ain’t Pizza
“It’s so quiet,” we whisper to each other; whispered countless times over the years, in hundreds of towns, tiny villages and hamlets we have visited in our travels. It is nighttime in France. The French are frugal, a cultural norm, and in the evening, after business is done, stores and businesses extinguish the lights. To … Continue reading A Beautiful Silence
In the years before the miracle of the GPS, navigation on our trips to France was assigned to Karen. At first glance, that would be…well, at second and third glance too, that would appear to be as sensible as asking Superman to deliver this here package of kryptonite. Geography, you see, is not a strength; … Continue reading Travels With Karen
Shade kept us from seeing the sign. The narrow country lane, devoid of traffic, meandered through farmland of the Cotinten bathed in glorious autumn sun, highlighting roadside fields of squat, manicured apple trees but intensifying darkness in the occasional stretch through a palisade of looming shade trees. It was a rough board nailed to a … Continue reading A Bottle of Calvados
You’re tooling down the road and notice that quite often you pass parking areas, some merely roadside pull-offs, others small picnic areas complete with tables and trash receptacles. Then you begin to notice something else. Every day, around 11:30 to 11:45, cars and trucks begin to pull off in a dash to snag a space … Continue reading You can’t be hungry. Its not the right time.
Once we had our Long Stay Visas, the first item on the to-do list? Buy a car, which shouldn’t be a very big deal. We had an adequate budget and our parameters were minimal: something used but reliable; a hatchback to make it easier for shopping and hauling things around; reasonably comfortable for road trips; … Continue reading Let’s Buy a Car!
Family, for the French, is an enormously important word. It is almost sacred. There are tightly drawn lines of demarcation; one is family, or one is not, and entry into the circle of family is not casually given. Family events are wordlessly restricted to Family, and it is thus, understood by all. To be included … Continue reading Reveillon and Bad Santa
Anyone who has ever been to Paris remembers that very first day, the first moments when you realize you are indeed in Paris. In France! I know I do. We had just checked in to a hotel in the Marais, stepped in to the bathroom, and while Karen danced with delight, Happy Joy, Happy Joy, … Continue reading Cultural Stubbornness
At exactly the stroke of midnight, on the morning of December 1st, Christmas Season officially arrives in France. In every city and town, in every village and hamlet, as with one single switch, all of the Christmas lights come on. Oh, in the cities there are some of those commercial outliers who, like their counterparts … Continue reading Heaux, Heaux, Heaux!
It’s a revelation that cuts through all of the anxiety and stress of becoming settled in a different culture. And one day, like the proverbial light bulb going on overhead, you say it out loud and you realize that it’s true. It happened almost simultaneously for Karen and me. People in France are just nicer. … Continue reading Granted, I may be an unabashed romantic, but there is no denying it….
Michel is a meat guy. A retired charcutier and avid hunter, he routinely heads off into the woods packing heat and hunting wild boar….sanglier, from which he turns out amazing pates, roasts and sausages. One time I showed up for a family gathering with a big honking prime rib, a cote de boeuf, and he … Continue reading The Butter Shirt
“Oh, good! We’ve never had an American Thanksgiving, so you do Thanksgiving, and we’ll do Christmas!” That was Joelle’s idea, Anthony’s mom. It was the deal we made as we left for the States, planning to return the following November. While there we stocked up on some necessaries for a Thanksgiving dinner, including a can … Continue reading Talking Turkey
And it probably should be addressed before we get too far along: How the heck did this happen? How did it come to this? The answer has convinced me that you simply cannot foresee what even the most insignificant occurrences can have on your life. And I’m not talking about pieces of falling space junk; … Continue reading It’s a fair question…