Hi, friends,

Since no one wrote to actively unsubscribe from my efforts in foreign correspondentry, I'll risk another stab at communication from our little eyrie in Marseillan, France---or as they are thinking of renaming it--Obamaland. So strange to be congratulated on being American here. (Maybe they are just relieved that we are not Brits coming to buy up the neighborhood and rent it out to immigrant workers and American dentists by the month?) In any case, after lunch yesterday a woman, who was shepherding her ancient mother out the door just behind our exit, mistook Fran for the patronne of the restaurant, and started to inquire whether her mother could sit in a patio chair, while she fetched the car. Hilarity ensued, and in the course of things we both got complimented on being American. Obama!! This was followed by our mutual laments regarding the world financial meltdown. Her advice, while patting my tummy, was that we must eat well, profit while we can, and make the most of the time that is given to us. Wise woman, says the guy who just came to France for 5 weeks, missing one family income, and during a scary patch of financial auguries....(We were in France during the initial attacks in Iraq so many years ago, and did NOT get congratulated on that trip for our nationality!)

I have set up a BBQ on our patio and filled it with charbon de bois, and will put a match to it soon to grill our tiny collection of lamb chops for dinner. The fact that that sounds good makes me believe that I am getting over my digestive issues from yesterday, even as I type. Well, there's also the fact that my glass of Picpoul de Pinet (a very local, very good wine) tastes wonderful, which never happens if I am truly ill. Hope.

At the moment Fran is reclining on our totally private patio/deck, reading Balzac's "Père Goriot". The momentum of the plot may delay our dinner, but if I go start the charcoal fire, I'm sure it will remind her of the time and circumstances, and I have little doubt that salad and vegetables will follow as hoped. In fact, she just came back into the kitchen and is studying her recipe collection, so I think we'll have dinner as usual. She spent the afternoon wandering around the village on her own, while I napped and watched a bit of a French TV show that turned on revealing who it was who was loved by the current participant, without her knowing, and everybody's chiming in with comments and advice to the possible candidates of said love. Etc. So not everything in France is culturally more admirable than in America. And I won't even bring up their game shows!

We had a very nice little revisit to Sètes a couple days ago---a town on this coast that we've stayed in twice before, and the place where a hotel (L'Orque Bleue) in the old fishing port provided several of Fran's exhibited pictures in the past---specifically a bright orange stairwell, and a strange picture of an abandoned chair in front of a weird tropical wallpaper mural of a beach with palm tree scene. We walked back into the hotel, and found that the orange is gone. Did not have the nerve to go check whether the mural was also sacrificed to touristic progress. The NEWS of the day, though was our discovery of the village of Mèzes on the north shore of the etang, and halfway to Sètes: it is larger than Marseillan, more upscale, but has the same lovely feeling that our little town has, and we immediately decided that it is a contender for any future choice of residence in France. Hundreds of sailboats in the harbor, lovely restaurants in the port, well-kept condos facing the sea, and an endless beach stretching back towards our Marseillan---a waterfront that includes the miles and miles of oyster cultivation frames and facilities, out a mile into the Étang---for the famous Huitres de Bouzigues, which are cultivated in millions for all of France, and which we can buy 80 yards from our door at the Cocquillages store just behind us for 6 euros per DOZEN.

<Now it is already the next day: I was much too lazy after our dinner to continue this note--so maybe later today (Tuesday) I can resume. The good news of the morning is that I feel perfectly fine now, so my problems were of the 24-hour variety. We're trying to plan our day, but so far no major inspirations. Maybe a little jaunt to Mèze for lunch in the port? Tomorrow is the big outdoor market in Sètes, and we may try to stir ourselves early enough to get over there for a visit. Back later!>

Hello, again!

We did go to Mèze for lunch: we both chose salade chèvre chaud to begin; Fran had "stuffed mussels" for her main dish, and I chose the grilled lamb chop (since I liked last night's so much). Turns out the ones we made were better, but lunch was good, and finished off by "floating island" and crème caramel for our desserts. The town was much less impressive in the gray drizzle today, but still seems charming and a comfortable size.

We'll be meeting Manuela, our greeter here (and property manager for the owners) for a drink at 6:00, then, tonight is the night for roast chicken, and listening to the rain on the skylights.

However many times we come to France I am rarely really comfortable here. Biggest factor of course is the language, since, though I can make myself understood about most things, and understand most things, it is all with a level of intensity and concentration that makes adrenaline a standard mode. All of this pretty much precludes joking around, and making offhand comments, and that is not comfortable for me. Then there are the hundreds of cultural differences that punctuate all actions and interactions: driving in streets barely wider than the rear-view mirrors of one's car, understanding the traffic and parking symbols, learning what time things are closed and open, and figuring out the maddeningly arcane symbols on the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, electrical panel, and so on. (Yeah, that last one refers to the fact that we blew the electrical system the other day, and had to call Manuela to see why even after all the circuit breakers had been properly flipped there was still no power. Se told us about another Master Switch elsewhere in the house that did the trick. Urgh) We also had to learn again how the diesel pumps work in the gas stations. Etc.

A few days ago we discovered a new walking/running option along a couple miles of the coast a few blocks from our house. So we both go for 2 miles or so of walking (me) running (Fran) every day, just a few feet from the water, with sailboats gliding by midway to the horizon. Fran's loving it all, including the slugs-in-shells (aka escargot) that populated the sidewalks on one of our night-walks recently. She has been taken by the array of seafood in the Champion supermarket here: almond clams, razor clams, sea urchins, etc. She's still looking forward to grilling sardines, and so much more in the weeks we have remaining. We also want to try the one little Chinese restaurant in town soon, though we've discovered on other trips that there seems to be a single menu for ALL Chinese restaurants here--one that leaves off some things I love, and includes things I don't. There is a big difference in quality of the dishes in spite of that, and we are hoping that "our" Chinese place is one of the good ones. Fran continues to shoot her still lifes here, but now using local French "ingredients", and has added of course, some tourism pictures, using her new Lumix LX3 camera which we recommend to anyone thinking of a small, portable, very capable camera for travel photography. Excellent lens and marvelous capabilities.

Spring is exploding here---the vines are pushing out lime-green leaves at the top, the plane trees are producing enough yellowish buds to fill in the archway over the country roads, and the grassy fields are so bright green, even in rain, that neon comes to mind. Flowers bloom in all the public squares. Lilacs abounds in bloom. Unfortunately, suddenly so do biting flies in certain areas of our walking path, where there are dense evergreens and fresh-water creeks draining to the sea, so I got my first three insect bites of the 2009 summer a couple days ago.

OK, enough yammering from me: Fran is slaving over a marvelous smelling skillet making the evening's chicken dish, and I am about ready for my first glass of wonderful white wine. (My table wine here is a French chardonnay of excellent character that goes for 9.90 euros for five liters!!) We also stock the vaunted Picpoul de Pinet, a good local rosé (Faugères [Ed. note: on our return we discovered that the Faugères wine we had been drinking at $3.00 per bottle is $23.00 per bottle at our discount wine store!]), and a "black" pinot noir grown just outside the town (Henri de Richemer). If I wanted to take the trouble I could still go to the nearby caveau carrying plastic one-liter water bottles, and fill with wine almost as good and for about $1.20 per liter!

Here's to y'all: salud, bonne santé, have a good week, and write if the mood strikes!

Darrell (& Francoise)

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