Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Poetry with Sherri

During the time I was able to spend with Sherri while she was in hospice care, there were many, many bright and memorable moments. She told me about her dreams, about how much she loved ice cream with M&Ms, about how much she was looking forward to seeing our Grandma Norma. She was madly in love with Mama's pizza, Schlotzsky's sandwiches, and McDonald's breakfast. She could eat with abandon. She even had a little beer and, her favorite, chilled Merlot. She loved kisses on the cheeks, and holding hands. Everything was so simple and pure.

About 36 hours before she passed, I had some time alone with her. She was so, so weak, and barely able to speak, but still lucid when awake. In my attempt to think of something to do or say, I asked if she'd like for me to read her a poem from the New Yorker. "Yeah," she said. "with Merlot." Then she said "Ooh la la!"

So I gave her a sip of Merlot, opened the first New Yorker I could find to the first poem I saw, and started reading.

by Virginia Konchan

My body has never been my body.
It has been a bucket of asphalt
upside down in the puerile wind.
My horse faltered at the finish line.
I whipped it and it plunged forth,
like froth on the crest of a wave.
My horse is my body: my body,
my horse. Slick flank, waxen
hair - do not bother to do
the math. My mouth is full
of epithet; my horse is fat
and tame. Touch me.
Announce yourself.
Now is the heroic age.

With the first words I almost regretted reading it, as that first line is so raw considering the condition she was in. But I read it to the end, and we both kind of laughed at how funny it was the we were reading poetry together for the first time. As with any poem I don't know if I'm infusing it with my own meaning, or if there really is some sort of intended death-related message, but it will always be very special for me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Out and about in Pau

Exploring Pau has been delightful, although it was challenging in two ways - the weather (unusually cold, rainy and windy), and our own little Hurricane Chloe. She was so terrific getting here and for the first few days, but she has grown progressively grumpy at the prospect of going to yet more new places, only to find that her friends aren't there. If Lola and Vienna were at every destination, it would be no problem to get her out, but alas they are not. Some days she just doesn't want to leave the Villa at all.

So we've fallen into a bit of a rhythm: we spend the morning together, perhaps go to town for lunch and playground, then one of us takes her home for nap while the other explores the town. So, individually Eric and I have covered all corners of the city (when the weather allows!).

I have also spent some mornings with David, either tinkering in the kitchen or exploring some of the local markets.

This is the farmers part of the major local market. Doesn't do it justice of course - the entire market is about the size of a football field. It's about to be torn down to be built anew! They will somehow relocate the vendors to a nearby parking lot - for a year and a half! The market is, of course, fantastic - a foodie's delight. Local produce, fish, meat, chicken, lamb, cow's tongue, honey, baked goods, chocolates, wine...it's all there. Today I bought two tiny bouquets of Lily of the Valley from a very tiny, very elderly lady. I wish I'd taken her picture. Actually I wish I'd snatched her up and put her in my pocket, because she was the cutest thing I've ever seen.

This morning we bought some beautiful seafood from this vendor - skate and mussels for tonight's bouillabaisse.
 This is the corner market near the Villa - I went there probably ten times in our two weeks here. They have all the standards (except peanut butter, which is surprisingly hard to find!).

One day we stumbled on this carousel from, I think, 1902. We thought it was closed for renovation, but then it suddenly opened! Chloe took two turns on it, then had a major meltdown when she coudn't have a third. Oy vey.

Another petite carousel in another park. This one never did open, so Chloe melted down about never being able to ride it. We've left a few parks in toddler tears a-flowing!

Just some cool old steps.
Last week, when Chloe was still more amendable to exploring, we went to his cafe called Le Hamac (The Hammock) almost every day for lunch. It was near the playground, had a great lunch deal, and were very sweet. They had a terrific salmon quiche.
One night David and Fernand took us to this great Basque restaurant. I had (vegetarians look away) duck confit, and it was out of this world! And only about $10.
Another random outing. Although Chloe has been a little overwhelmed, of course she is still a total champ. 

The family birthday shot from my 42nd. So thankful to spend it in this town with such great company!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

David's gardens

The villa's gardens are clearly David's pride and joy, something that he has spent years creating and which will probably be a work in progress for years to come! The gardens are a wonderful combination of thoughtfully planned beds and areas of wildflowers making surprising appearances. Chloe LOVES to play in the garden, especially playing hide-n-seek. There are so, so many places to hide. Since Chloe really does not feel like going places all that often (she appears to be in a major homebody mode), we're so thankful for the vast gardens to explore. It has rained a LOT, so everything is incredibly green and verdant.

The other day, David took Chloe on a tour of the garden. She is in a constant state of wanting to pick flowers, so to her delight, David offered her some select flowers for the taking. She requested pink ones.

 Thanks to the azaleas, dogwood, and a bevy of other pink plant, the pink request was easy. 
They just happened to match her dress.

Thank you for the glorious flowers, David!

He even helped Chloe make her first flower arrangement, using a lovely little crystal frog-vase. 
She said the purple one is for momma. Thanks Chloe!

Of particular pride is this wee pyreneean orchid, which apparently is quite rare. This one manages to come back every year. Smart orchid, what a lovely home!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cooking with David

Since I'm working on a foodie travel piece about our trip for Edible Austin (and since I'm fairly hopeless in the kitchen), I've spent some time with David in his wonderful kitchen, learning to do some chef-y things. There's no one more ardently devoted to locavore-ism that David, and his savvy canning abilities means he can have fresh tomato sauce year-round.

 Love the shirt!

Yes, that's me, making paella. Check out David's gorgeous paella pan, straight from Spain.

Needless to say, David deserves 99.9999% of the credit...I just really stirred the stuff around.
Chicken, chorizo, mussels, prawns, lobsters, clams...they're all there, all from the local market. I must say, it was super delicious (even though the lobster was a bit overcooked).  

And since the recipe was apparently created to feed a small army, we had enough for seconds, and left-overs the next day. Chloe loved it! She was fascinated by the "sea shells." Thanks for the fun paella lesson David! I can't imagine making it without you.

The Villa

The villa is Villa Hutton, David and Fernand's home. It is almost 200 years old, and they have been lovingly restoring it for years now. It is 8,000 square feet on a one acre lot, covered with David's impressive  gardens. Those are our bay windows up at the top. As I type, I'm sitting in that rounded window at the top right (pinching myself). The villa is such an incredible, beautiful and unique place, and has changed dramatically since our visit here in 2005. David and Fernand live on the second floor (which has that great patio), and use the first floor for entertaining. The whole house was once broken up into separate apartments, but they've made it whole again. You can read more about the villa's history at villahutton.com

Here we are with David and Fernand in one of the ground floor sitting rooms. Looks like a Balzac scene, doesn't it? I can just kick myself for not having blogged about our first trip here in 2005, because I have loads of photos of what this room looked like at the time, which is bare, torn apart, like a construction site. Incredible! Here, Chloe is drinking "fairy wine" (ie: mineral water), and she devoured almost the whole plate of fresh anchovies. Our hosts were impressed!
One of our wonderful meals with our hosts. They couldn't possibly be more generous.
Another scene from another splendid sitting room. More fairy wine, more hors d'oeuvres.
A little outdoor happy hour in the gardens.

Our apartment

Now that we're down to our final three days in Pau, I suppose I should give a glimpse as to what our life is like! We are staying in a three bedroom/one bath apartment on the third floor of the villa, and it's pretty much as charming and delightful as you imagine. It has an amazing view of the Pyrenees, and of the villa's garden below. Aside from the wind blowing the trees, and some very active pigeons living beneath the roof line, the apartment is quiet as a mouse. Many lucky students studying French have stayed here over the years, but now we are some of the lucky friends for whom David and Fernand reserve the apartment.

Eric in the living area, with one of the bay windows in the background.

That bay window has become "where Maisy's house is," as we brought the Maisy Mouse house set along, which has provided hours of entertainment. Thank you Granny Sylvia!
The kitchen is wee, and if you move around too quickly you might get a concussion, but we love and I made what I think is my best quiche yet in there!
 Chloe sleeps on a couch, pushed up next to our bed (and clearly, she sleeps very well there, buried beneath her heart comforter!).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A trip - and a life - interrupted

When we began to plan this trip to France last fall, my sister Sherri was in remission from the brain cancer that she had been fighting with impressive courage for several months. It was a giddy time for her - she could drive again, she was back at work, she was feeling good, looking good, seemingly back from the brink.

While we all knew that this cancer was about as serious as it gets - and would be the thing to eventually take her life - we all hoped, believed, prayed, wished, begged that she would be feeling good for at least a couple of more years.

So we all went on about our lives - mom going back to work, Jordan graduating from college, Chris trying to focus on his new job, and Eric and I planning a month-long trip to France with Chloe - something we'd talked about ever since we decided to try to have a baby together. We had enough miles to get all three of us here, we have an amazingly generous friend offering a free place to stay....allons y!

But then in December, Sherri's brain tumor made a reappearance. Since then, she has steadily grown weaker from the increased chemo, but was still working, still feeling pretty good. Well, she felt bad enough that Eric and I repeatedly questioned the timing of our trip, but good enough that we decided better now than later this year. Yet now, long story short, the cancer has suddenly gotten very, very aggressive. Last Thursday, the day we arrived in France, she had two grand maul seizures and is now in hospice care.

Her dramatically fast decline is almost impossible for me to accept, as I sit here with a view of the Pyrenees, wanting so badly to feel like everything is okay and that I'm on the dream trip of a lifetime. But I ache to be with her, to help support my mom, Jordan and Chris. We've shortened our trip by two weeks, taking the earliest possible flight that we can with our restricted tickets using miles. We'll fly directly to Dallas to spend some time with her, hopefully bring some Chloe-infused smiles to her face.

So now, I'm trying to enjoy the random sweet moments here - Chloe playing with a little French girl at the playground, the charming century-old carousel, David and Fernand's overwhelming generosity - but in my head I'm really several thousand miles away, at Sherri's bedside, trying to make her laugh, telling her how much I love her.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Month in Pau: ALLONS-Y!

What better excuse to fire up this old blog than the amazing opportunity we have - a month in Pau, France?! Thanks to the generosity of our hosts, David and Fernand of Villa Hutton, and the bevy of miles we had with American Airlines, we arrived yesterday for a month in the foothills of the Pyrenees!

I won't go into the history of Pau, since it is quite extensive and there are plenty of sites that do the job much better than I would (click here), but I'll give my two bits. Surprisingly, it has a lot in common with Portland, Oregon. Both cities are close to mountains, are at about the same latitude, are about the same distance from the coast, have very similar weather (I think Portland actually has more annual days of sun), and are both lush, green and moist. And they both have really great coffee and beer (dark beer drinkers, do your best to track down Pelfort Brune).

Wine is cheap, gas is expensive. A gallon of gas costs $9 - as much as two bottles of good Bordeaux wine. There are no Starbucks, Targets, Wal-Marts or any other big box stores. The cars are tiny. The flowers are huge. People are very nice, and a little intrigued with my American-ness and horrible French. Spain is a stone's throw away (almost literally).

In our first 24 hours, I've been to a drug store and two markets, both to stock up on provisions and to get some emergency diapers and allergy pills, since our luggage decided to spend a night in Paris. But even our luggage realized that Pau is really the place to be, and joined us here this morning, so we're all ready to hunker down for a month near the snow-capped mountains.

Chloe was an amazing champ on the 17 hour journey here, sleeping a lot, crying very little, and generally amazingly very amenable. If American Airlines had behaved half as well as Chloe, our travels would have been much less stressful, but that's behind us now. Today Chloe has not felt like venturing out - perhaps absorbing her new surroundings before venturing further - but that is fine. We'll just hang out at our little pad, listening to French jazz on the radio, the grown ups drinking Pelforth, and Chloe reading fairy books while we watch the clouds roll over the mountains. Life is good, and we're so thankful. Salut!