Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dear France, (Sunday 10.20.2013)

Dear France,

Thank you.

Thank you for being beautiful, frustrating, fattening, exasperating, charming and captivating.

Thank you for putting up with my goofball family and friends with such good cheer and welcoming arms.

Thank you for putting up with my wife and I's near constant stalking.(Yes, I look at pictures of you on the internets every day, but not in a creepy way.)

Thank you for another fantastic stay with you, we cannot wait to be back as soon as possible, please keep a bed ready for us.

We love you very much,

Mark and Nita

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Last of the Guests (Friday 10.11.2013)

Well, Niters and I are all alone in the house after 5 weeks of friends and fun.  Kelly and Mirinda got to the airport on time this morning in the rain and I got a text from him late in the night they made it to Detroit ok.  Whether they survive 4 hours in Detroit is another story...

We have little planned for the upcoming days till we leave, so I probably wont post much more until we are home.

It had been an adventure, we cannot wait to do it again.

Colmar France, March/April 2015 peoples!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Last Market Day (Thursday 10.10.2013)

This morning is the last of our markets days in Dinan.  We are incredibly spoiled to have access to such a great weekly market.  Don't get me wrong, we have some fun farmers markets in KC, just not quite the riot of world class ingredients at nearly free prices.

Over the weeks we have been here I have averaged cheese purchases of around $35 each trip to the Thursday market.  The same cheeses, purchased at Better Cheddar in KC would have run between $150 and $200 per trip.  The wine and cidre are the same.  Pennies on the dollar from what we pay in the US.

We will miss it greatly.

Kelly and I grabbed the last of our knives from the "knife guy" and munched Indian Roti sammiches while the girls picked up salad makings, strawberries, fromage blanc(a light liquid cheese, something like yoghurt) and a metric tonne of cidre.

We all wandered about town for a bit with out prizes, allowing Kelly the chance to buy a carry on bag and more trinkets before we went down to the house.

Prepping for dinner, we burned up the last of a disturbingly large amount of food from the fridge to make a quiche.  Somehow we managed to to "Americanize" even a simple quiche, adding somewhere in the neighborhood of 27lbs of various cheeses and 284lbs of bacon and ham.  My measurements may be a tad off, but not by much.

Kelly and Mirinda spent the rest of the evening sorting and packing for their early flight from Rennes.  The plan at the moment is to get up early enough to allow them plenty of time at the airport.  We are expecting heavy rain in the morning, hopefully traffic and road conditions will be ok.

It has been a treat spending time with Kelly and Mirinda and we wish they could stay longer(at least Mirinda)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dinan Day (Wednesday 10.9.2013)

Pretty much we did nothing today.  Lots of reading, goofing off online and generally recovering from 2 days out and about.

For dinner we went back to our favorite little Italian place a few steps down the road from our front door.  Another superb meal.

Tomorrow is our last market day in Dinan.  We have a few things to pick up before we go and it will be sad to be in that glorious mess one last time.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Band of Brothers (Tuesday 10.8.2013)

Our second Overlord tour began with an early morning of me burning the crap out of my paws making coffee in the room with our little kettle.  Damn thing had a broken lid and I dumped most of the boiling water on my paws and feets.

No matter, we checked out of the maximum security hotel and walked down to meet the Overlord tour folks.

This tour was much more personal.  We had only 8 people (some very kind folks form D.C.) in the tour and a new driver/guide.  Dominique was incredibly knowledgeable and the smaller van allowed a great chance to chat with her and ask all our questions.

We started with the naval gun batteries again, and then on to Omaha Beach.  Parking closer to the museum, we had a chance to walk down the sand to the "Spaulding Cut" that allowed him to make one of the first successful pushes into the German backfield and helped break the lines for the rest of the US forces.  This also happens to be the direct terraced and stair laid path up the hill to the American Cemetery.

 Unfortunately it was closed, so our guide gave us strict orders not to cross the rather low wall, and to certainly not be back to the tour van for at least a half hour so she could do paperwork.

The Spirit of American Youth

With deepest respect for the wishes of our govt, we did not hop the wall and have an amazingly private 45 mins walking about the totally silent monument.  Nor did a friendly groundskeeper step from a hedge and give me a wave and a smile.  Nope, never happened.  Any accusations of us crossing the wall against all instructions/signs are vile accuracies and I won't dignify them with further discussions.

Nice to know the French Resistance is still working behind the lines to help Americans fulfill our missions...

A fast trip to Pointe-du-Hoc for pictures and a lecture on high explosives, and off we went to Sainte-Mere-Eglise for a break.

After the lunch break we toured the Band of Brothers sites.  After a detailed lecture of the paratroop landings and associated chaos, saw the spot where Dick Winters landed in Sainte-Mere-Eglise and gathered up more troops.

A mock-up of John Steele who landed on the steeple in SME.  He hung there for over 2 hours till someone noticed he was still alive.  Captured by the Germans, he escaped 3 days later and survived the rest of the war.

Driving the roads they walked, we had the chance to visit a few private farms, including a stop at Brecourt Manor to see the actual place that the iconic raid on the 105mm guns firing on Utah Beach took place.  If you have seen the HBO series, you know what that reference is.  It was chilling to see how small the actual fighting area was and how close to the American command post the guns were located.  Perhaps 1000 yards?  The series seems to show it miles away, but in reality it was a 10 minute walk at best.

The monument for Easy Company at Brecourt.  The guns taken by Winter and "E" were located just at the trees in the background.  The American command post is perhaps 300 yards to the right.

We visited the small church at Angoville-au-Plain again, to see where 2 American medics, Ken Moore and Robert Wright,  treated over 80 US and German(and 1 French teenager) casualties over the course of 3 days.  The church changed hands multiple times over the 3 days, and both sides sent out parties to search for the red parachute marked medical supply crates to give to the US medics.

The story was never really known till Robert Wright came through town on a tour and spotted the church.  He told the story and it grabbed the hearts of the locals. Many years later, Robert and Ken made the trip back to the small church for a reunion.  The mayor of the town had a monument to their bravery erected and new stain glass was installed in the church.

It was at that time that Robert Wright gave a picture of himself and his bride post war, in a wedding dress that was made from the reserve parachute that Robert never lost or used during the war.  The picture hangs near the altar along with a newspaper story showing he and Kenneth with the French teen they saved all those years ago.

I guess I should mention that the church was dedicated to Saints Damien and Cosmas, twin brothers who are the patron saints of Doctors and Pharmacists.  Cool, huh?

Last stop of the day was a quick tour of Carentan, much featured in Band of Brothers.  Now a hugely expanded modern city, we at least got to visit the small downtown area seen in hundreds of period photos from the way.  I believe Dick Winters got shot in the foot near where we stood.

Back to Bayeux to grab the car, we took one last side trip for souvenirs.  Niters drove us home in no time at all and a hearty dinner of slow braised beef, peppers and onions that Mirinda made Sunday evening made a satisfying end to a long couple of days.

I'd really glad we opted for the Overlord tours.  It is hard for me to drive and sight see at the same time, so having a dedicated driver and guide was a perfect balance.

Wednesday is a recuperation day, don't expect much from me after.

Mont-Saint-Michel and Bayeaux, again. (Monday 10.7.2013)

Monday morning we loaded up the valiant Peugeot and headed for MSM once again.  Gotta say, it was a lot better the second time around.

We hopped on the bus with 15,928 school kids, a far cry better than the load of old age pensioners from last time.  Once we got up on the island, we finally found the much talked about and hidden "right turn" passage up to the abbey.  Losing the crowds, we had a rather calm and sedate trip up.  No crappy tourist shops, just gardens and terraces overlooking the bay.

Kelly and Mirinda opted to take the Abbey tour while Niters and I went for a glass of wine in a decent little terrace bar overlooking the sea.  We have had better lunches, but not much better views for a lunch.

Quick bus ride back to the parking lot and off we went for our overnight in Bayeux. My clever plan to top off the gas tank was foiled by the gas attendants lunch hour, so we walked the quiet streets of Pontorson.  Italian food(go figgure) was about all that was offered in the mid afternoon so we sat down to eat a quick bite before we fueled up the car and got on the highway.

The drive to Bayeux was uneventful as ever and we had just enough time to raid the Tapestry Museum and the Cathedral(asked to leave both places as it was closing time)

Again, the hotel was clean and efficient, something I shall strive for in the future.

Early morning Tuesday, its another Overlord tour of the D-Day sites, including Band of Brothers locations.

BTW, Kelly stole my camera and took all these pics.  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Where Is My Cow? (Saturday 10.5.2013)

So where is the food?  Obviously we are not starving to death, but where is all of the food?  The open air markets and food faires are freaking amazing, but I am missing something somewhere...

Yesterday we lazed about the house until the urge to stock up for the weekend at the grocery store drove us from the place.  Shopping at the major grocery stores in France is an occasionally fascinating venture.  Most of the large stores are much like a Walmart or Target in the U.S.  Pretty much you can equip an entire house from just one store, soup to nuts.

The odd thing is, there isn't a lot of different food, unless you want cookies or wine.

Lemme 'splain.

When we think of French food, images of complex, layered, intricate constructions come to mind.  Exotic spices, ingredients, and wines all working together to make magic on the plate.  Strangely, that's not the case.  Markets here have lots of amazing product, but not a lot of selection.  6 basic cuts of beef, 10 basic cuts of pork, whole chickens, whole fish and a narrow but impressively fresh array of veggies.  Combine that with a grudging 10 or so spices and herbs in fresh or dried form, there is a very limited palate to work from.  But, there are all world class, even in the local grocery store.

I guess this trip has drastically changed the way I view my cooking.  Does a great artist need 500 colours to paint with, or just 20 and the ability to combine them to his exact needs?  Does a great writer need 234 characters in a book to make a masterpiece of literature, or just 2?(Im talking to you Dante, read Old Man and the Sea if they have it in the library in whatever circle of Hell you are in.)

My gnostic revelation is simple.  That's it.  Simple.  Few ingredients, the best there are, combined with respect for what they represent can end in a glorious plate of food.  I don't need 20 cuts of beef, 30 cuts of pork, 200 herbs and spices and 100 veggies to choose from at the Price Chopper. My food is getting lost in the noise.  I need to settle back and listen to the ingredients I choose and stop trying to hide in the concert crowd.

French cooking is a skilled chamber group, my cooking has been a high school marching band playing, "Louie, Louie".  

It's just that simple.