RESTAURANTS IN FRANCE: COST OF LIVING - PART 3

One of the great joys of living in France is the simple fact that the French take their food so seriously. I'm not talking only about the highbrow, structured craziness of the Michelin Guide and its star system. There's no doubt that folks looking for a Michelin star or two are serious about food. I'm talking about the local pub that serves lunch to workmen on a weekday as well, the neighborhood restaurant that families visit for a dinner out on a Saturday night. The one thing that they have in common is that, if they don't serve quality ingredients, well-prepared and well-presented, they simply won't last. I don't know if the statistics on the survival of new restaurants are as dire as they are in the USofA. But the restaurants that I enjoy and have enjoyed during my ten-year residence in the region have exhibited remarkable staying power. And those that have left me meh, haven't.

Let's start at the bottom and work our way up.

FAST FOOD

In less than a half hour, I can have me a Big Mac or a Whopper right here in France. Seriously. They look like and they taste like they do in the States. They might actually cost a bit less given the current strength of the dollar against the euro. Not that I'm a regular visitor. We stop at BK maybe once a year if we're out shopping and hungry. I can't abide Mickey D's except for the fries. I've had maybe two batches in ten years. There’s a KFC not far away, too. But I have to say that, having tried a bucket once, I’m not going back. I’m particular about my fried chicken, I can abide KFC in the States, but the French version just didn’t cut it.

Of course the French have their own version of fast food. There's a thing that the French call a taco. It's never seen a tortilla, though. A panini, really. Bread with stuffing. But they call it a taco. I may try one out of desperation if the opportunity presents, but I won't go out of my way. And there are cafeterias and buffets and burger joints in shopping centers and malls and on the highways and they are what they are. 

I've actually visited a couple of burger joints that are worth a second shot. A good burger is, after all, a good burger. Count yourself lucky if you've fond one. The problem is usually the bun. The French don't generally do soft, squishy, white bread buns. Most often, you get a sort of brioche bun that falls apart as soon as you put pressure on it.

Lots of pizza places, mostly inedible. The thin, crispy crusts amount to what I call crackers with toppings. On the other hand, Pizze di Rosa on St. Chinian serves pizza with interesting toppings, with Italian beer, and with a chewy crust to die for. We visit every month or so.

BAR FOOD

Most villages that are more than hamlets support some sort of watering hole, a place to go to at the very least enjoy a pastis after work...or first thing in the morning. It's 5pm somewhere. The best of them serve food, and we are fortunate to have two pretty good exemplars close by, one right in town.

Our Bar 40 serves lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Friday and Saturday night. The lunch menu changes every day and features a starter, a main dish and dessert. Add a glass of wine and pay a total of 20USD more or less. Starters are usually a salad that's a plateful and interestingly constructed or a charcuterie plate. Recent mains have included stir-fried duck, slow cooked lamb, beef stew, chicken stew, and beef tartare. Seafood every Friday. Ice cream or a cheese plate or a dessert of the day to finish. The wine comes from just down the road. What's not to like? 

Dinner on Friday and Saturday nights can be ordered from a menu that includes specialty burgers,  steaks, grilled and fried bits and bobs, and a special or two. Those sorts of menus in that sort of place can run from 18USD to 25USD per person for lunch and 20 to 30USD for dinner including a bottle of local wine. The quality and variety does vary from shockingly good to just average. Never inedible. Well, almost never. Once or twice in ten years.

HIGHWAY/NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANTS

Highway rest stops aside, there's a class of French restaurant called a relais. Recently, it seems to have become chic to name an upscale restaurant a relais, but that's not the original meaning. They were and are truck stops on back roads, roads that used to be main roads before the expressway. Mostly in smaller roadside villages, they are known for serving simple, inexpensive meals. Le Relais Bleu in Capestang, the next village over, is a bar/hotel/restaurant on the main road that runs through the south side of town. The website features two-course specials as low as 15USD. And for some reason, the sign out front makes certain that you know when couscous is on the menu.

At the same time, within several blocks of that main road back into town, you can find a dozen restaurants in Capestang, some new, some around when we arrived ten years ago. A restaurant featuring, but not limited to, wood-fire pizza. A restaurant advertising home cooking that folks say really isn't. Seafood and grilled meat and a place for dinner that you really should dress up for. All with distinct personalities and peculiarities.

In other words, in a small village of 3,500 souls, you can find a restaurant serving pretty much whatever you are in the mood to be eating. Keep in mind though, Capestang is on the Canal du Midi and is a popular vacation-home spot and tourist destination for boaters. That creates a little extra choice...and a little extra price. Still, an enjoyable, multi-course lunch generally comes in under 30 - 35USD per person with a glass of wine. Dinner, including a bottle, more like 40 - 50USD and up.

A STEP UP

We always have a restaurant or two that we save for special occasions, not necessarily a favorite or the most creative, but the one that can guarantee a satisfactory, relatively upscale dining experience at a reasonable price. In our neck of the woods, that could mean Auberge de la Croisade. With views over the Canal du Midi and an outdoor terrace, a glass-enclosed sun porch, and a well-appointed interior dining room, many friends celebrate birthdays and anniversaries there. Quality slipped a while back, but a new chef redeemed the restaurant's reputation. A three-course dinner menu starts at about 40USD per person plus drinks. More extensive tasting formulas and choosing from the menu is also possible.

Another favorite, Le Chat Qui Peche features a dinner menu composed mostly of hefty tapas, plates that feature interesting tastes meant to be combined to form a meal or shared around the table. With drinks, it's easy to spend 50USD per person. Always satisfactory mouth-tingling tidbits.

EXPERIENCES

And then there are the special places, not meant for everyone, even some of your friends. Our special place is the Auberge de Madale, about an hour's drive north up in the hills. Chef/Owner Stefan puts out a fixed price, fixed menu, five course lunch and dinner with wine included for about 50USD per person. Worth twice as much and indeed, you will pay twice that much for a similar meal in many places. Reservations only. The menu changes every two weeks and is posted on the internet. We're headed there next week. All of the below and more during three amazing hours of culinary delight:

Pork consomme with fresh herbs and asparagus tempura,
Pea and shallot tart with wild garlic sorbet,
Trout cannelloni,
Roasted duck breast,
Black Forest chocolate with cherries and kirsch,
Coffee and a homemade marshmallow,
 
Not everyone finds a medley like that attractive. Too fussy, one table mate said.  We don't find it so. Tasting menus are just that, diverse tastes and textures presented together, sometimes on the same plate. And did you notice? Wild garlic sorbet? You find it hard to believe that would work? Let me tell you. I thought the same about cauliflower sorbet. It worked.

THE REST

Asian Indian restaurants and Thai food trucks and and a place where servers wearing Levis and lumberjack flannels weave around statues of cowboys and Indians. Crepes can be filled with whatever you can imagine - savory and sweet. Chinese buffet? Check. Kebab joints? Check. Farms that raise the chickens that they roast on a spit in the fireplace, ten at a time? Check.

Mediterranean seafood deserves its own page if that's your sweet spot. Oysters and shrimp and mussels and clams and all sorts of little shelled creatures unfortunate enough to taste good to those willing to dig them out. Not my thing, though. My thing is grilled meat, Spain is just down the road, and the lamb chops are perfection, time after time..  

IN SUM

If eating is your thing, France is your place.



LONGYOU CAVES, WASHINGTON AND CHERRIES, CATALINA ISLAND AND MORE: #21

LONGYOU CAVES

Amazing recent archeological find in China. Follow the link above to a Wiki that's startling in its brevity given the scope of the mystery. Check out the YouTube videos. It's as if the pyramids were built underground, the Egyptians left no record of their having been built, and there was no above ground evidence of their very existence. Huge amounts of stone had to have been excavated to create underground spaces covering over 300,000 sq ft, but there's no evidence of where the debris went. None of the local structures utilize matching stone. And, at only 2,000 years old (if current dating is correct), the idea that the meticulous Chinese bureaucracy failed to mention their construction truly boggles the mind.

WASHINGTON AND THE EVIDENCE

An archeologist poking around in the dirt basement of Mount Vernon found a couple of bottles of cherries. Still moisture inside. Smelled like cherry blossoms. Experts confirm that the bottles are probably 250 years old. The folks that run the museum that is George Washington's home on the Potomac will tell you that the story of a young George chopping down a cherry tree is pure myth. They lie. I think that the two bottles buried in the basement tell us that George's father was preserving the evidence should George ever change his story. It's the sort of thing that my dad would have done.

CATALINA ISLAND 

A century ago, 18 mule deer were imported to Catalina Island off the SoCal coast. They began doing what deer do. They mated and they grazed. Now there are a couple of thousand mule deer on the island. And now, plant and flower species unique to Catalina Island, found nowhere else in the world, are threatened with extinction by this non-native, invasive species of deer with no natural predators.

The folks responsible for managing Channel Islands National Park want to remove the deer from the environment that they are devastating. After study, they have decided to shoot the deer from helicopters. It may not the way that I would do it. I would favor a controlled hunt. But it has to be done and the Park Service made a choice. I can't wait to hear what the local community of environmentalists has to say. In a somewhat similar case in my home state of New Jersey, it was so hard to convince folks that thinning a herd in a state park was necessary that deer died of starvation before hunters were allowed to come in and thin the herd. Compassion can have unintended consequences.

SPEAKING OF COMPASSION

A doe-eyed child stares into the camera. The caption solicits money for food for starving Gaza children. By itself, this meme proves two things. Charities have learned to use research to maximize donations. And compassion is driven by the popularity of the cause. 

Studies show that when you put forward a picture of one child in distress and ask people how much they would donate, they come up with a number based on their own resources and the depth of their empathy. Add a second child, and the number diminishes. Show a camp full of children and the empathic impulse can be overwhelmed, leading to a feeling of helplessness. So to maximize donations, one good picture of one hungry child. 

80,000 children have died of starvation during the Syrian civil war in the last decade. 80,000. Children. Have. Starved. To. Death. Thousands more have succumbed to diseases like diphtheria. Thousands more from violence. Who marches for them, for the 600,000 dead Syrians in total, for the 4,000,000 Syrian refugees? Who marches for the 300,000 civilian dead in the Yemeni civil war? I am not pretending that the plight of civilians in Gaza is not dire. But I have to wonder why, over the past decade, Arab on Arab violence towards children is given a pass while the effects of the October 7 declaration of war by Hamas has caused international condemnation of Israel's response.

I suppose that the answer, if it's not outright antisemitism, is that Israel is viewed as a European construct, so the violence is white-on-color violence. But 60% of Israelis trace their heritage not to Europe but to Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. And the non-Jewish Arab population since 1948, when 150,000 Arabs remained in Israel, has grown to over 2,000,000 Arabs who live, work, and vote there today. Hardly apartheid.

In my opinion, the reason for the misguided demonstrations is the rise of solipsistic thinking, the belief that truth is personal rather than revealed through discourse. The demonstrators do not want to hear that, while Israelis build shelters to protect civilians from rockets and mortars, Hamas builds tunnels under civilian homes, hospitals and schools to protect themselves with human shields. Evil.

We can only hope that we are witnessing the death throes of Iran as its internal and external critics take action against its barbarity and the barbarity of those groups that Iran sponsors - Hamas and Hezbollah and ISIS and Al Qaeda and the Houthis. Just imagine living with those folks as your neighbors. Imagine the constant shellings and the suicide bombers. Now imagine what the real justice would be in holding the real evil accountable while Israel struggles alone against a Caliphate that will, if it manages erase Israel, come swords bared for Europe and the Americas next.

COST OF LIVING IN FRANCE: PART 2 - GROCERIES

 

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD

It's France that we are talking about, after all. That I put HOUSING and TRANSPORTATION ahead of FOOD may seem evidence of mistaken priorities, but I assure you that I have a full appreciation of the various forms and flavors of cuisine that I have enjoyed here. Cathey is a talented multi-cultural cook with a well-stocked pantry. Even with the sacrifice of piles of cookbooks and magazines left behind during our move across the Pond, her bookcase today in the pantry behind the kitchen grows and overflows, And we dine at the houses of friends who are equally talented in the kitchen. Everyone has access to fresh ingredients, mostly sourced locally. When we dine out, we have been here long enough to know where to find good bar food, comfortable mid-range restaurants, fine dining, and unique experiences. Let's see if I can make it all sound as good as it really is.

I don't mean to come across as starry eyed, though. Life ain't all strawberries and champagne. (I knew that was bad wording as soon as I typed it. It's strawberry season, for one. French strawberries are as sweet as candy and available at peak for a very short time. Like right now. And the wine...) Anyway, below you will find aspects of grocery shopping in France that are less than ideal. We'll start with that and move on from there.

GROCERY SHOPPING

Shopping for groceries in France is the same as in the States, except when it's different. No fresh corn tortillas. Nearly every supermarket carries that El Paso brand stuff and people have said that they have dined in authentic Tex-Mex restaurants in the region. Maybe so, but they don't buy their corn tortillas at the super. Karo Syrup requires a substitute unless your sister brings a jug in her suitcase...like she brings the tortillas. Every supermarket has a bakery, but none of them bake bagels. There are shops that say that they bake bagels but they don't even make an approximation of a bagel. Just toroidal-shaped brioche.

The point is that there are specific food items that are just not available, or are only available in certain places under certain circumstances. That having been said, there are no really vital dietary components missing from the shelves and for those that are hard to find, there are workarounds.

Meanwhile, your grocery shopping choices here in the south of France are practically limitless given that our village is within 25 minutes from the urban center of one city of about 50,000 and a second of 75,000. You'll find hypermarkets, supermarkets, specialty markets, village shops, butcher shops, bakeries, ethnic grocers, farmers markets, roadside stands and more. Take your pick. Get panko at the Asia Market, pita in the Arab quarter (if you don't make it at home), and fresh spring rolls from the food truck in the Sunday market.

And remember, the French demand information. Is the product organic? What's the country of origin? What's the price per kilo? Stuff that you'd like to know but that's not readily available in the USofA.

During COVID, there were folks who never left our little village. We have a bakery, two butcher shops, a convenience-sized store that's affiliated with one of the supers, and a tabac that sells fruits and veggies, milk and other essentials. (Tabacs are stores licensed to sell tobacco and cigarettes. They usually sell newspapers and magazines., postcards, and sundry other stuff at the whim of the owners.) So we are fairly well self sufficient. But let's get down to prices.

It's hard for me, ten years out from our move, to have a true understanding of the difference in the cost of groceries between the USofA and France. Cathey's sister Connie lives in Houston and provides commentary, though. There's a chain here called Grand Frais that specializes in fresh fruits and veggies, high-end meats and cheeses and seafood, as well as imported specialty items. Connie says that a bag of veggies that might cost the equivalent of 30 or 40USD in Grand Frais would come to well over 100USD in Houston.

The baguette at the bakery 100 yards away, fresh baked and warm, costs a few pennies over 1.00USD. Leaf lettuce, dense and full, might be 1.25USD a head, less in season. And here might be a good time to talk about seasonal eating. The Mediterranean climate allows for a long growing season. We are in easy reach of the gardens of Spain and Italy and Greece. And North Africa is a quick ferry ride away. So while we are particularly fond of those items that are in season outside our back door, most fruits and veggies are in season somewhere close by, not a continent away, and grown for their taste and not their ability to survive shipping. 

From the weekly circulars of a couple of our favorite supers:

Tomatoes - 1.50USD/pound
Yellow Onions - .35USD/pound 
Cucumbers - .50USD/pound
Shallots - 1.00USD/pound
Boneless Pork Loin - 3.00USD/pound
Chicken Thighs - 1.75USD/pound

We're not impressed with French beef, grass fed and almost game meat. Not marbled at all. I just purchased a pound of ground beef from the local butcher, put in the hopper in front of me, and had to request that fat be added. The best beef is imported from the UK or Ireland, readily available and not terribly expensive in comparison to the USofA. On the other hand, lamb and pork are to die for and cheap as chips in comparison.

Other stuff that you buy at a supermarket might be a tad more expensive, but not always comparable in quality, although strides are being made. We no longer require travelers to bring us zip-lock bags. The plastic wrap has improved considerably. But aluminum foil still needs work.

Of course, the grocery stores sell beer and wine, but we usually buy our wine direct from the producers. We seldom pay more than 8.00USD for a bottle of fine sipping rosé, 10.00USD for fine whites, 15.00USD for a serious red. Beer is beer from 3.00USD for local commercial brew to 8.00USD for a good craft beer. I generally don't drink alcohol during the day, depending on 2 liter bottles of low-glucide fruit drink at 1.00USD a bottle.

Enough. You get the picture. Yes, there are street markets that generally have fresher, more locally produced fare - meats, cheeses, fruits and veggies, baked goods and the like. Not always cheaper, though. All in all, I stand by my earlier statement: A couple can retire comfortably in France on two average Social Security Retirement checks.

Next in the series: RESTAURANTS AND CULTURE

SPRING IN FRANCE, STEVE MARTIN, DICKEY BETTS AND MORE - #20

SPRING

It's spring in France and the sky is that special shade of blue. Close your eyes. Say that quietly to yourself. It's spring in France...in the southwest of France...not far from the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees and Spain. The color of the sky? Special. Indescribable. Cobalt doesn’t quite catch it. And with the way that sunlight pops off the landscape directly to your soul, it's no wonder that the Impressionists painted here.

Where else would I rather be? To use a phrase that makes my brain itch every time I hear people use it, I'm in my happy place. And because folks are traveling again now, I get to share that place. We've got a house with three spare bedrooms and it won't be enough. Three generations of family are preparing to bounce in and out. A dear old friend in the mix as well.

Have I told you the story of our first visit to the neighborhood? Recon expedition. Stayed in a traveler's hotel in a small town close by our eventual landing pad, the village of Quarante. We sat next to a pair of European couples in the breakfast room and talked about our decision to look for a little two-bedroom place somewhere in the region. We'd use the second bedroom as my office most of the time. No, they insisted, wagging their fingers. No. That won't do. Once your friends and family know that you are set and settled in the south of France, They will visit. They will all visit. Two spare bedrooms is the very minimum. You'll see.

It was good advice.

COST OF LIVING - PART 2 coming next week.

ANOTHER CONCERT STORY

Imagine that it's the early 1970s. You are attending a concert in the Great Southeast Music Emporium. (See #19) Given that the headliner is The Incredible String Band, your attitude has been thoroughly and completely chemically altered. But before that quirky, spacey folk band takes that stage, out trots the guy pictured above and yes, complete with arrow through his head. What do you think happened?

It wasn't Steve's fault that he got booed off the stage. He was just starting out. His shtick was not widely known - not really known at all. Years later, after the Smothers Brothers and SNL and the rest, he might have been welcomed with open arms. But not in Atlanta that night as an unknown. Way too unexpected for a crowd waiting to hear The Incredible String Band's The First Girl I Loved. (I just streamed the remastered version. The very essence of psychedelic folk. Take a listen.) Martin's humor was just jarring in that setting.

Oddly, I don’t remember The Incredible String Band's performance at all, but I certainly do remember Steve Martin’s disastrous few minutes. Funny that.
 
ASPARAGUS
 
It's asparagus season in the south of France. Since we enjoy eating seasonally, only those veggies and fruits that are in season in our corner of the Mediterranean make it to our table most nights. So we've been eating a lot of those tasty green spears lately. There's a farm just down the road that we visit. You can buy them by the kilo as they sort the fresh-picked ones by size. If you can't make it to the farm, the local super handles it after they've been sorted. 3 or 4USD a pound at the farm, a bit more in the stores.
 
After a year off the menu, the smell is always a surprise the first time that I pee after eating asparagus. It's the sort of thing that I notice with delight, much to Cathey's chagrin. Well, as they say, women marry men thinking that they can change them. They can't. Of course, the inverse is true as well. Men marry women thinking that they will stay the same. They don't.
 
 BIEWER TERRIER
 

Cute little thing, isn't it? New breed. Stands a few inches tall and weighs only a kilo or two. Affectionate. Loyal. And very importantly, not a yappie little thing. Lots of energy, but not a lot of yapping. New pet brought over from the Colonies by our good friends down the way. They named her Valentina. (I don't know the name of the dog in the picture, but could be Valentina's brother.) I'm a cat person, but these are dogs that I can like.

DICKEY BETTS

After meeting Cathey and spending time in the South, I learned to get into what some call Southern Rhythm and Rock. Blues-based, jazz-infused, and nothing like the Philly street-corner doo wop that I grew up with, I dove into the genre head first. One of the great regrets of my life is that, when I had the opportunity, I failed to see either Little Feat or the Allman Brothers Band live. I feel particularly stupid when, after leaving an all-night Grateful Dead concert at the Fillmore East in 1970, I looked up at the marquee, saw that the Allman Brothers were due in town and, not knowing any better, decided that I didn't need to see that Southern ricky-ticky band. I was that stupid. If it had been the booking in which they had recorded At the Fillmore, I just might have shot myself. But that night came a year later. Probably the best live recording ever produced. Even though Tom Dowd monkeyed with the solos on In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, taking Duane's from one night and Dickey's from another, it's 13 minutes of music that I listen to again and again and played more often than I should have in my radio days. 

Legend has it that, in setting the lineup for the Fillmore's final, invitation-only concert, Brian Wilson told Bill Graham that the Beach Boys wouldn't play if they didn't close the show. Graham had scheduled the Allman Brothers to close. "It's too bad that you won't be playing," Graham is purported to have said. The Beach Boys did play, but the Allmans closed.

R.I.P. Dickey.

10 YEARS OF EXPAT LIFE: COST OF LIVING PART 1

 I retired on April 1, 2014. Cathey and I boarded a plane at JFK on April 15th with four suitcases and two cats, determined to become lifetime residents of France. In the intervening 10 years, we have been back to the Colonies a total of five times - twice for me, three times for Cathey. Only for REALLY important stuff. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm American and I say so with relative ease and pride. But we've chosen to live in France. Chosen. Macron is my President.

SPOILER: Not a single regret. Not. One.

COST OF LIVING

From buying groceries to eating out, from going to concerts to partying with friends, what does it cost to live a satisfying retirement life in a small village in the rural southwest of France? You may be surprised to learn that an income equivalent to two average Social Security Retirement checks monthly is sufficient. (The average SSR check, which can be direct deposited to your French bank account, is currently just over $1,900 per person monthly.) 

Remember that legal residents in France get 70% of most of their healthcare costs either provided freely or reimbursed. (The French consider healthcare a human right. What a concept.) There might be what are called social charges to pay, a percentage of income to pay for the healthcare and other socialized services. But those charges at their very most would be a small percentage of your taxable income above a generous floor, can be offset by US taxes (which are credited against any French charges), and your Social Security Retirement income is not considered taxable income in France. 

The point of all of this is that, assuming you have a home and a car free and clear or loans that consume only a small percentage of your monthlies, and assuming the two SSR incomes, retirement life here can be rewarding. More income is better. Of course. Less is possible, but not an easy road.

Your experience may differ. Different folks live different lives.

HOUSING 

If you take the cost of healthcare off the table and if the tax burden is minimal, what's left is housing, transportation, food and entertainment. 

First, there's the problem of a bank account. There are people that I know who work entirely through their plastic from Wise (formerly TransferWise). But a bank account makes things so much easier. It's France, though. You can't get a bank account without a house and you can't get a house without a bank account. As digital as France has become (I have fiber and 5G.), it's still France. Patience and, depending on your circumstances, professional help may be required to establish a working relationship with French bureaucratic culture. But what can be done will get done eventually given unfailingly polite but insistent determination. 

If you are reading this, you have some personal interest in moving to France. My suggestion is to carefully research the region of France that most seems to suit your requirements. Must you be near snow skiing or ocean sailing? Can you stand Mediterranean summer heat in order to be free of winter frost? France spans from the Med to the Atlantic, from the Pyrenees to the Alps. It's northern tip lines up with Brussels. So finding the France that's right for you demands serious investigation. 

What to do if you are certain that you've found just the right place? A number of the websites/blogs will tell you to rent first, for some months at least, and that's not a bad idea. You may have picked a region that really doesn't suit you after all. You may have pegged region correctly but picked the wrong town. At the very least, you'll have a base from which to broaden the scope of your search.

You might also consider a foothold, a relatively inexpensive village house with just enough space to cram your stuff into until you get set and settled, looking for a more suitable landing pad. All of this assumes that you have sold your house in the States that is going to be your nut. Or that you have been prudent in the markets and come to France with a bit of cash in hand. Either way, a foothold gives you more than a base. In some small hamlets, you may be welcomed almost as a celebrity. Or shunned. In some tourist towns, you may become part of a thriving expat community. Or become part of what your neighbors see as a growing problem. Either way, home ownership, particularly in a small village, makes you a part of a community in a way that being a renter does not.

A small foothold with 100 square meters of living space or more that doesn't require extensive remodeling, with a reasonably-sized terrace or courtyard, and with two or three bedrooms and functionally modern plumbing and electrics can cost you 125,000USD, less in the deep sticks far from shopping and services. Count on 175,000USD more or less in our neck of the semi-rural woods when all of the fees are paid and if you want a garage and serious outdoor space. In the most popular places like Aix-en-Provence or Paris, mortgage your firstborn child. (Actually, compared to similarly popular American locations, even Aix is relatively inexpensive. But if you look at what's available within a couple of hour's drive, it's off the charts.) If you choose to jump directly into the fire, a larger house that has a mature garden, a good-sized garage/workshop, a small pool, and is otherwise good to go will sell for 300,000USD if you are lucky and go up quickly from there. In our neck of the woods. At least. Today.

The seller pays the real estate agent, the buyer pays the notaire - the French equivalent in France of a property lawyer and notary. Add anywhere from 5% to 10% depending.

We were fortunate in our house hunting. We found a house that was a bit more than a foothold that met all of our requirements except one that we didn't anticipate - the ravages of old age. Well, maybe that's a bit harsh. The house served us very well for eight years. But the stairways were narrow, steep and winding. Very common in a small, village house in France. What had been a snap for us when we moved in became a burden on our older, less well-lubricated knees later on.

Because we had eight years in the village and had made a surprising number of close, endearing friends, it took a while to find the right place to buy in our small, rural village of under 2,000 souls that would be in our price range and had the proper interior and exterior spaces. Oddly enough, we found just such a house 75 yards from our old place, downhill to make wheelbarrow moving possible...with professional muscle moving the really heavy stuff for us at the end. 

You never know what's beyond the facade of a village house. Often courtyards and terraces are not visible from the street and can be extensive. Look for a side gate wide enough to accommodate a tractor and there's no telling the size of the yard and outbuildings that might be behind that gate.

I have left out our trials finding a bridge loan/mortgage/home loan. Story for another day. Banking is another post entirely.

Your experience may differ. Different folks live different lives.

TRANSPORTATION

France mimics the rest of Europe in that public transportation at almost all levels is safe, reliable and affordable. Ride sharing is popular even over long distances. Check out BlaBla Car. Ride sharing on steroids. Busses and trains go pretty much everywhere and, within about an hour of our house, there are four stations that connect to about all of the country's routes. Short-hop airlines compete with the trains in pricing and time. Yes, you can buy cheap train tickets, There are sales and promotions. But if you are not flexible and need to go from here to there on a schedule, train tickets can be surprisingly expensive. Small airports like the one closest to us are under siege with the government subsidy running to 1,500USD per passenger. But two internationally connected airports are about an hour away and major international hubs are within about three hours.

And yes, the French hitchhike.

But mostly, when we go anywhere, we go by car. And that is getting interesting. More and more cities are banning smelly old diesels. I drive a smelly old diesel. Yes, Ginger is reliable and economical. (I name my cars. Ginger is a bright red station wagon.) But yes, Ginger is old and Ginger is smelly. The way that things are going, in a few years we will have to go gas, hybrid  or electric. Today, 5,000USD to start for a decent older used car. 10,000USD for something newer and more reliable. Some folks lease. New car prices are new car prices. Whatever, you have to factor that cost into your budget. 


I love my old diesel. Ginger is comfortable, reliable, and gets the equivalent of 42 MPG. Given the price of fuel in France, diesel costing the equivalent of 5.67USD or so, you need that level of fuel efficiency.

Your experience may differ. Different folks live different lives.


FOOD, BANKING AND MORE

That's PART 2. Internet. Grocery stores. Restaurants. Concerts. Wine! Lots to talk about.



GRAZIE TRATTORIA - MEZE RESTAURANT REVIEW


We're not water people, not swimmers in pools or in the Mediterranean. But some of our favorite restaurants are near the Med or on the Canal du Midi. Particularly when spring comes, before July and August when the French decamp to the shore en masse, we like to head for the coast for lunch on a sunny day, stop for a sip and a nibble, and watch the world pass by. On a recent Saturday, breezy but with clouds making way for a bright sun, we stopped at Grazie in Meze for lunch.

Grazie is a smallish space with a glassed-in verandah and a few tables inside across from the bar. Calls itself a trattoria. Due to the cool, breezy weather, the outside tables and chairs that could be set up across the pedestrian walkway next to the boats moored in the marina were stacked and unused.

The veranda filled quickly, about ten tables of from two to six diners including a couple of noisy children. No, I'm not a grumpy old man who can't stand children in a restaurant. But combined with a packed, happily gabbing crowd in a relatively small space, it became difficult to converse with my soft-spoken table mates. 

The servers were pleasant and attentive without being intrusive, explaining both a printed off-menu special and a chalkboard special. The main menu was a bit thin. Limited choices. Cathey chose the poulpe, Eveline the fish special - mullet, and I had a pizza. All arrived in reasonable time taking into account that it's France and we're retired so don't check our watches. And every dish was well presented, well portioned, and properly prepared. Cathey worked her way through more food than she usually does, a definite indication of a quality meal. Likewise, Eveline finished her plate. My anchovy pizza had a decent crust, not the typical French toppings-on-a-cracker, and was covered with caper berries.

The desserts mirrored the quality of the mains. Tiramisu for Eveline (Grandma's recipe, so the menu said.) and a medley of citrus tastes including limoncello for me, both fine finishes. 

With a bottle of wine, no coffees, about 35€ apiece. 

I have clearly picked a nit or two. I did enjoy the meal. But I'm compelled to say that Grazie probably won't join our regular rotation. Not enough choices. Not enough elbow room. But give it a try. You might very well feel differently.








JOE WALSH, RONSTADT, MEEZERS AND MORE - #19

MEMORABLE CONCERTS - PART 1

I first saw Linda Ronstadt in concert in about 1973 in a little venue in Atlanta called the Great Southeast Music Emporium. I have since seen on various websites that the capacity of the venue was about 540 people. It seemed smaller, a converted shopping center movie house that sold beer by the bucket. Literally. Little metal buckets. Search the name and read about the place. By the time that Cathey and I went to concerts there, some of the acts that they were booking went on to the big time. One such was Linda Ronstadt.

Imagine seeing Linda up close and personal in such a small venue, blue jeans and bare feet and with a band that would become the Eagles backing her. Imagine that it's the early show and she's just hit town and she's kinda tired so it's mostly ballads. That voice just a few feet away. Singing love and loss right at you. And imagine, when the show is over, that management comes out and says that, since the second show wasn't sold out, you could stay if you wanted. Yes, there was a time that Linda couldn't sell 1,000 tickets over two shows. And we were there.

I'll talk about other shows at that venue in subsequent posts. But right now I want to talk about pre-Eagles Joe Walsh and another venue worth mentioning.

St. John Terrell's Lambertville Music Circus was a one-off when it opened, a bowl in the Greek style serving up theater-in-the-round under a circus tent. Novel idea. Fifteen minutes from my house. The history of the Music Circus is littered with famous names of the 50s and 60s. The list of jazz artists who performed there reads like a Hall of Fame lineup - Basie and Brubeck, Ellington and Fountain. I saw Rita Moreno in West Side Story there. And I saw my first true guitar hero there - Joe Walsh.

It's difficult to describe a concert like the one that I attended at the Music Circus 60 years ago. Saying that the  James Gang was a power trio doesn't do the term justice. Maybe the James Gang actually defines the term. (Picture of Power Trio in the OED = The James Gang) Joe started the show alone, offstage, making sounds that I had never heard come from a guitar live before. The show hit me right between the eyes. It became my music then. It's my music now. I just can't help it.



MEEZERS

There's something about Siamese cats. I can't explain it. If you're not a cat person, you won't get it. Even if you are a cat person, the allure of Meezers may not get to you in the same way that it gets to those of us who have been captivated by the breed. Siamese...Meezers...are talkative to a fault. They are bossy and demanding. They are too curious for their own good, smart enough to open any cupboard door and find the tasty treat or chicken bone hidden therein. But at the same time, Meezers are beautiful to look at, regal in bearing, and loyal to their chosen human. One of the great mysteries of life...

MACRON IS MY PRESIDENT

We moved to France permanently in 2014. We have returned to the USofA on the average of once every five years. Our rural, quiet French village of Quarante sits in the middle of a relatively active tourist region but is not significantly picturesque or sufficiently close to a popular tourist destination to be on anyone's radar. The road to Quarante leads to Quarante and nowhere else.

It's true that Quarante is on one of the routes of the Santiago de Compostelle, the long road purportedly followed by Saint John as he brought Christianity to Iberia from Rome. And occasionally, pilgrims carrying a heavy backpack with an identifying seashell attached to the back will find their way to our village bar for a rest and a drink of water or something more bracing as they follow that ancient route. But they are few and far between. No, this is France Profund, Deep France as Cathey likes to say, a generation behind the rest of the country, the rest of the world.

And so we watch the goings on in the USofA with a certain amount of detachment. We are concerned for the future as it might affect family and friends, as it might affect the rest of the world. But deep down inside, if we are being honest, we've left the USofA behind. Thoughts and prayers...

Macron is my President.



RESTAURANTS IN FRANCE: COST OF LIVING - PART 3

One of the great joys of living in France is the simple fact that the French take their food so seriously. I'm not talking only about th...