RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LANGUEDOC RESTAURANTS IN FRANCE BLOG

I don't believe that there's a country in the world, perhaps in the universe, that takes food as seriously as they do in France. I suppose that the Italians and the Spanish and the Greeks might disagree, and to be sure the cuisines of those countries, among others, deserve thorough investigation. But the French are just so gosh darn serious about it. From the epic and definitive (in its day) Larousse Gastronomique to iconic Julia Child and her revival through the efforts of that annoying Julie person, the French and those who treasure the French style have set the standard. It's idiomatic: If you haven't studied in France, if you haven't apprenticed in France, if you haven't cooked in France, you haven't made The Big Show.

For the less sports minded among you, The Big Show – or just The Show – is how minor leaguers refer to Major League Baseball.

I don't mean to imply that there's no such thing as fast food in France. The French can be in a hurry and are not above eating on the run. But we're not talking about tuna fish stuffed between two slices of white bread. And, although McDonald's and KFC and others have made inroads physically if not culturally, French fast food isn't about drive-thrus. Thank God they haven't penetrated into the Languedoc to my knowledge.

So what exactly is French fast food? One of those great baguettes, cut in half, sliced lengthwise, and containing fresh lettuce, a slice of cheese, and a taste of meat, just enough to flavor the loaf but not overwhelm it.

But this post is about restaurants. French restaurants. Not the 5-Star variety, but the restaurants that you find in the small villages with menus driven by a chef with enough skill and enough capital to cook what they want to cook when they want to cook it. This can be a good thing or this can go wrong.

We're foodies, so we're living in just the right place. From the most humble eatery to the finest restaurant, in the supermarkets and the markets in village squares, folks know and demand the good stuff. HERE are a few restaurants that are up to that demand.

QUARANTE VILLAGE PARK WITH PICS IN FRANCE BLOG

There's a Quarante village park hidden behind a housing development that got me thinking about smart growth. Or maybe you'd just like to see the pretty pictures HERE.


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QUARANTE CEMETERY WITH PICS IN FRANCE BLOG

As is the case with many small French towns, the cemetery is fascinating. Read more and see the pics HERE.




QUARANTE ABBEY IN FRANCE BLOG

While walking through the square by the Abbaye de Quarante just a few steps from our house, we heard the sound of voices. The voices seemed to be coming from the Abbaye. Read about our discovery HERE.


BUYING OUR CAR IN FRANCE - MAY, 2014

I call her Xandy. Ain't she cute?
I've bought a Citroen.

That sentence feels funny in my mouth, sounds strange in my ears.

I've bought a Citroen.

I never thought that I'd say those exact words.

Shortly after arriving in France in April of this year, I began looking for a car. We'd rented a Renault Picasso at the airport in Marseilles - a vehicle properly sized to handle four loaded suitcases, two loaded carry on bags, two loaded cat carriers, and two exhausted humans who wished that they were loaded. The object of the exercise was to dump the Picasso as soon as possible to prevent the rental fees from piling up.

To begin with, it's important to understand my philosophy when it comes to buying cars. I view cars as disposable drive trains encased in metal. When the body of a car is rusted out, you're cooked. But drive trains are replaceable. So while the average Joe wants to hear a prospective purchase's motor running right away, revving it up to feel the power, I begin with a careful inspection of the body work - what's showing and what's underneath. The slightest hint of rust is carefully investigated. Scrapes and scratches are OK but dents that might hasten corrosion - or effect alignment - are deal breakers.

Once I'm satisfied that the body of a vehicle will outlast the life of a pair of cheap shoes, I go on to the mechanicals. I start the vehicle up, pop the hood, listen and look. If everything seems in order, I drive. Hard. I brake. Hard. I corner. Hard. I run over a rough patch of road if I can find one. And if all of those tests are passed, I leave the car running for a while, a good long while, parked over a clean piece of tarmac to look for any leaks.

A car that makes the cut is worth haggling over.

Did I mention price? I'm a bottom fisher. I've never paid more than $3,000 for a car. I was determined not to pay more than that in France - about 2,100 euros.

My main source of research was leboncoin.fr. It's the equivalent of craigslist in France. In fact, there is a craigslist in France, but leboncoin is the more popular. You can plug in your geographical region down to your zip code or town name, maximum mileage, range of model years, gas or diesel fuel, manual or automatic transmission, and of course price range. I opted for diesel (cheaper than gas over here), manual transmission (I love 5-speeds), a maximum of 200,000 kilometers on the odometer (125,000 miles, but we're talking diesels), kept it local, and let her rip.

Yuck. Nothing worth looking at. Busted up. Needing work. Well, my Brit friends had warned me. The French think like I do. They run their cars into the ground. Used cars, therefore, are either relatively new and expensive - starting at the equivalent of about $7,000 - or are used up beaters not worth considering.

I persisted. I expanded my geographic area. I bumped the price to 3,000 euros. And I began getting results.

I found a couple of Renault Meganes, kind of like station wagons, about 10 years old and looking good. I contacted one private owner. Already sold. Miles and I then went to a used car lot. (You remember Miles - FrangloFixit.com) Their Megane had just been sold as well - we could see it being washed up - but we found a little Renault sedan that looked and ran well. Gas instead of diesel, though. Well, we'll see.

Later that same day we cruised a series of used car lots on what locals call the South Road, leading out of Beziers towards the airport. The first stop showed great promise. Several cars seemed to fit the bill. And that's where we found the Citroen - a 1999 Xantia 2.0 L HDi turbo diesel 5-door sedan with 138,000 kilometers on the clock (86,000 miles) priced at 2,500 euros. She (All of my cars are female. I can't explain it.) was hiding behind a coating of mud along the rocker panels but her body was in fine shape, a dimple here, a bit of a scrape on the rubber of a bumper there, but nothing to be concerned about. First tests passed.

I learned that Miles had a soft spot in his heart for Xantias. Back in the days when he was on the road in sales, his employer-supplied Xantias were workhorses. To paraphrase John Cameron Swayze, they took a licking and kept on ticking. (If you don't know who Swayze is, check out this Timex commercial on YouTube.) Since Miles had driven tens of thousands of kilometers a year for several years in Xantias, I let him take the first spin. He was impressed. I took the wheel. I was impressed.

The European turbo-diesel is peppy and this Xantia, although 15 years old, was no exception. The gear box was no looser than it was entitled to be given its age. The interior would clean up nicely. All seemed in order. Sold.

The lot owner was an interesting fellow, puffed out chest, rough complexion and rough features, with his wavy, greased up, jet black hair in an oddly sculpted do. He spoke no English and seemed unfazed by the tandem that Miles and I presented. Miles told him that we would buy the Xantia. He asked how much were willing to put down. Miles suggested 5 euros. He laughed. Just to show him that I was at least partially aware of the contents of the conversation, I offered 10. We settled on 500. We'd be back in a couple of days.

In France, the car is insured, not the driver, meaning that whoever drives the car is covered. But it's the owner who buys the insurance. And the rate is based on the owner's history. I had no history in France. The first rate quote I received, from the folks who insured our house, was excessive - over 600 euros for the absolute minimum coverage. My bank wouldn't even consider covering the car. At 2.0 liters, the motor was "too powerful" for someone with no history. So I've been driving for nigh onto 50 years and a standard sedan is too powerful for me? France and bureaucracy. What to do?

I admit to a mistake. I simply accepted the high rate. I only discovered later that it's common for Americans in Europe to get a Letter of Experience from their American insurance company that most French insurers will accept. With that Letter, I might have received a 'bonus' of up to 50% off. I now have the Letter and am negotiating with my French insurance company. Even with the Letter stating that in the past 10 years I have not filed a single claim, the French broker wants more - essentially the title information on my last insured vehicle. I've asked Travelers if they can find a copy of my insurance card with the VIN and other info on it. We'll see.

I picked up the car about a week after putting down the deposit. It took a few extra days to get through the CVT (the equivalent of a state inspection) because the dealer had decided to change the serpentine belt - appreciated since a worn belt is often the cause of breakdowns - and it took some time for the belt kit to arrive. In the interim, they polished and cleaned and made her look pretty.

I've been driving the Xantia for over 300 kilometers now (just under 200 miles) and it's a joy to drive. It doesn't have all of the bells and whistles of a brand new, computer-controlled piece of machinery. But all that's needed to head down the highway is available and in working order. Xandy (pronounced zan-dee) is not too big, not too small, runs through the gears nicely, has a kick when you want to pass, and looks to be frugal on fuel.

I only wish that Xandy's French owners hadn't cut out the English section of the user manual for the CD player. I understand their reasoning, but I can't seem to find one in English on line. Well, if that's my biggest concern a month from now, I'll be fine with it.

I've stopped at the mairie (city hall) and our local gendarme has taken the info necessary to have the car registered in my name - and taken 138.50 Euros as well. I brought along a copy of my passport identity page, a copy of our electric bill showing our residence address, the old registration (called the certificat d'immatriculation or carte-gris for short), and our insurance documentation. Once the new carte-gris arrives, I take it to the local brico (hardware store) where they have a machine that turns out license plates. Yep, after all that, you get your plate at the hardware store. France, ya gotta love it.

EDIT: After filling Xandy's tank immediately after purchase, I just filled it again - three weeks and 500 miles later. 42.2 MPG! Happy camper. And AXA, the company that provides the insurance on our house, accepted my Letter of Experience and I'm paying 300 Euros annually for insurance.

THE TRUTH ABOUT BENGHAZI - IF YOU CAN HANDLE IT

I am sick to the death of the calls for the Truth About Benghazi. Here is the Truth About Benghazi - if you can handle it.

Beginning in 1955, American political elites and the military-industrial complex put bulls eyes on the backs of American sons and daughters in service and sent them to southeast Asia. It was a place that they didn't belong, a place where no European has ever belonged. 20 years later, 60,000 Americans were dead.

In 1983, American political elites and the military-industrial complex put bulls eyes on the backs of American Marines and Navy personnel and sent them to Lebanon. It was a place that they didn't belong, a place where no European has ever belonged. 250 Marines and sailors died.

In 2001, American political elites and the military-industrial complex put bulls eyes on the backs of American sons and daughters in service and sent them to Afghanistan. It was a place that they didn't belong, a place where no European has ever belonged. 10 years later, 2,300 Americans were dead.

In 2003, American political elites and the military-industrial complex put bulls eyes on the backs of American sons and daughters in service and sent them to Iraq. It was a place that they didn't belong, a place where no European has ever belonged. 10 years later, 4,500 Americans were dead.

In 2012, American political elites and the military-industrial complex put bulls eyes on the backs of American sons and daughters in service and sent them to Libya. It was a place that they didn't belong, a place where no European has ever belonged. 4 Americans died.

And since 1955, American political elites and the military-industrial complex have participated in the deaths of millions - that's MILLIONS - of civilians in southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.

The Truth About Benghazi? The Truth About Benghazi is that it was the least egregious blunder in a history of American blunders that goes back 50 years and continues today. The Truth About Benghazi is that OUR American political elites and OUR military-industrial complex are at fault. And, having been warned by Eisenhower before these events unfolded of the dangers inherent in the military-industrial complex, and having participated in the American political process to one degree or another over the interim, WE are at fault.

Can you handle that Truth?

TRAVELING WITH OUR CATS TO FRANCE - DONE!

Veterinary examinations done. Paperwork done. Reservations made. All that's left is to make the trek.

Cathey and I had decided, both for our own sanity and that of the cats, to spend only one night in a hotel prior to boarding our flight for Europe. One night was the minimum given that we had to completely clean out the house before we left, mattresses and all. We'd given some thought to spending as much as a week in a hotel but decided that would be both excessively costly and excessively stressful both for us and for the cats. Camping out in a familiar place, even in a severely stripped down condition, made more sense.

The cats were a bit spooked by this time. In fact, the past few months had been quite stressful for them. They knew that something was up but they didn't know exactly what. Strange people marched in and out of the house. Furniture and furnishings disappeared at an alarming rate. And there were those frequent visits to the vet to consider. But to their credit, and perhaps to ours, our Siamese sisters didn't completely freak out. Instead of running and hiding, they clung closer and closer to us. They spent more time on my lap in those last couple of weeks than in the past couple of years.

So, on the day before our flight we watched as Dr. Clutter cleaned us out. Everything went - mattresses, box springs, sprung sofas and arm chairs, unwanted and unsaleable furniture, everything. We put the cats in their carriers, turned the key on our home of 30 years, and didn't look back. We picked up our renter - a minivan that was required due to our four full-sized suitcases, two carry on bags, and two carriers. We dropped off our cars (sold for just about their scrap value) and checked into the local Best Western, chosen because it was both close to our house and is one of the few in the Lehigh Valley that accepts pets.
On their new bed in their new
home, safe and sound

The cats checked out the room thoroughly, announced their relative displeasure, and slept tight up against us.

Our flight time was 12:50 PM, so given three hours to get to JFK (two on average but we figured a cushion) and given three hours to check in (two required but again, a cushion), we left the hotel - after a decent free breakfast - at 7:00 AM. Traffic was light so we made good time and the cats were no more upset than during the much shorter rides to the vet. We discovered, however, that if the two zipper pulls on Chloe's carrier were in just the right position, she could arch her back and pop the zipper open. No problem. Just set the zippers at the halfway point instead of all the way to one end or the other.

By the way, these are the carriers that we used. They worked well enough. Yes, we had the zipper problem. And yes, a determined cat could probably scratch through the mesh if left unattended. But all in all, we were satisfied..

At JFK, I paid a red cap way too much money to watch out for Cathey and the cats in the terminal while I returned the renter and took the tram back. After the usual long wait in line to get to the ticket counter, we discovered that the Turkish Air agent had been trained to check in cabin-riding pets but had never actually done so. She excused herself to go talk to her supervisor and, about a half-hour later, returned to tell us that we had too much luggage. Neither the website nor the reservation agents over the phone had been clear. I'd thought that we could bring both the pet carriers and our carry on bags into the cabin. Nope. We'd have to pay for the carry ons or put the pets in the hold. Pets in the hold was not an option. $320 later, we were set to go.

We made a mistake during the boarding of our flight to Istanbul. When we got to our seats, all the way in the back of the plane, window and aisle together, a mother and child were sitting in them. We showed them our tickets and they realized that they belonged in the center section. So they moved. As it turned out, one of the three seats in their section was empty. So they were able to stretch out and be comfy. We shoulda kept our mouths shut. But it worked out OK. The stewardesses and most of the passengers loved our cats. (One passenger was a grouch. "Are they good travelers," she asked dourly. "I don't know," I replied. "They never traveled before." Eyes rolled.) And the guy and his young daughter in the seats ahead of us probably made more noise than the cats. The cats themselves never got over-excited. All in all, a fairly normal overseas flight.

We deplaned last, found our way to a quiet corner of the international terminal, put on the girls' halters and leashes, and let them out under close supervision. They stuck together like glue after a quick leg stretch, had no interest in the bits of food and water that we offered, and settled down using Cathey's coat for a pillow. After a five hour wait, our flight from Istanbul to Marseilles was called. Unfortunately, no jet way. We had to take a bus and climb stairs into the cabin. Not fun with both the cats and our carry ons, but we managed.

At this point, Chloe had enough. She began rolling on her back and kicking at the carrier. Not yowling, mind you. But showing signs of panic. Shortly after takeoff we understood why. Her bladder just could not hold out any longer. So she peed...while Cathey was holding the carrier on her lap. Ugh. Not terrible UGH! But ugh just the same.

It's a short flight from Istanbul to Marseilles. We were again the last ones out. A jet way instead of a bus, thankfully. Another long line, this time at passport control. And all the while, we could smell Chloe's pee. Not UGH enough for anyone else to notice, but we could. Finally, we reached the guy in the passport control booth.

Our instructions when applying for our long-stay visa had been specific. Your passport must have two blank pages facing each other, one for the long-stay visa and one for your entry stamp. So we opened our passports to the visa page when we handed them over. The guy looked our passports over, flipped through pages, and stamped them somewhere in the back. Maybe it won't matter. (It didn't. More about the immigration form in a later post.)

We picked up a cart for our luggage, loaded up with the cats' carriers on the top, and headed for customs. Nothing to declare. Except cats. I had their paperwork out. You remember, the paperwork that cost us hundreds of dollars, a trip to Harrisburg, and several dozen gray hairs to obtain? The customs agents on duty just waved us through. I pointed to the cats. They smiled and waved us through. The folks who told us that they never had to show the paperwork were right. Would I fly without the proper paperwork? Never. But it is galling.

The ride to our house in Quarante was uneventful. The cats were more than pleased to be released from bondage when we arrived. And they spent the next few weeks taking over their new home.

For now, that's the story of their journey. Perhaps we'll talk about the acclimatizing process in future.


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...