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Thursday, December 25, 2008

and so this is christmas

Snowstorms are sweeping through Canada coast to coast, canceling flights, busses and closing highways.

I woke up today, miles away from the snow, to a misty, icy day, but no snow.

I woke up to my parents moving around the house, and joined them in opening a few small thoughtful gifts from my brother. We agreed to no gifts this year, but both of my brothers bended the rules with small gifts. Even though I was strong in my stance, these gestures were greatly appreciated.

Around noon, a young boy walked up our stairs and into the kitchen to spend time with me. He is the grandson of some close friends in the village, and the most charming 7-year-old I've ever met. After attempting to play French monopoly I made him pasta "With butter and cheese!" as a requested dish, that he slurped up happily. Afterwards I through on extra layers of clothing and we went to play boules with his family and my dad. We played in a clear spot beyond the mist until our fingers grew numb. A local man, Claude, awaited his usual team of older gentlemen to play, but only one other member showed up due to the cold weather.

It was a sweet day of simple activities, of hot tea and Christmas stollen, wrapped up with a feast at a friend's. We sat at a long table, every chair different from the other, a pot roast ourselves of German, British, Scottish, Canadian and our village's very own American poet. We feasted on roasted leg of lamb, chicken, squash, zucchini, potatoes, brussel sprouts, spiced beans, and even a proper English pudding lit with blue flames. Throughout the dinner, countless games of telephone tag were played around the table, words jumbled through languages and the childrens' interpretations. We drank local wine and finished the evening with a game show and play put on by the young boys.

This village will always feel like home to me, it is a part of my childhood, my adolescence, my adulthood, and the place I hope to grow old and grey. It was a perfect day, and as I said to my parents this morning "There isn't anywhere else in the world I'd rather be right now." I am fortunate to be here, in so many ways, and everything else that I have in my life. I can't ask for anything this year because I have already been given so much. All I have to give is gratitude, and it is too big to fit under the tree.

So thank you, merci, to my parents, my family, my friends, and anyone who has ever loved me. My world is enriched by you. I'm not always good at saying it, so I'll write it, I am fortunate to have everyone I do, and I appreciate every warm word, strong embrace, encouragement, and moment you have given me. Merry Christmas.

cold day

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

joyeux noel

It is a small quiet Christmas this year, and the only thing I could wish for is that my two brothers were here as well.

No gifts this year, but plenty of love, and I am counting my blessings once more.

Merry Christmas, whatever it may mean to you, from the Young family in France.

rob and his loves
charlie brown christmas tree

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

whose woods these are i think i know

She sits beside me and we pass a small glass of Armagnac back and forth.

Glowing under candle light her eyes are watering. She would like to be with her family for Christmas, and she is sad to leave me once more. I tell her that I missed her, painfully, all summer. She takes another sip, tops up our glass, and passes it back to me.

After a final evening together my friend Robyn left this morning. We left her and her boyfriend at the subway stop with giant back packs perched on their bodies. They spent a week with us in our small village, tasting local wines-or was it more than a taste?-and relaxing after months of continuous travel. They have been all around Europe, and now they continue their adventure with a stopover in Paris and London before spending three weeks in India.

I lived with Robyn for two years, until last year she graduated and left the city. Amidst those years I would look at her and say "you know we'll remember these years as some of the best." And they were. There are many more to come, but I'll never forget screaming over dead mice, dancing in her bedroom, our nightly stiff drinks, homemade meals, and conversations that could never be repeated to another soul.

She is someone I always want to have in my life. It was good to see her and her beau, one of the most gentle men I've ever come across, brought closer together by travel. They are an excellent pair who I have shared many romantic meals for three with, and it makes my heart sing to see them as they are. If you can spend every breath of every day with someone for three months while barely showering, doing laundry, and staying in the cheapest hotels you can find, then you've got something worth holding onto. The day his pants were dirty and he wore her yoga pants will endear me to him forever.

They are both people I am happy to share quiet days with. We enjoyed many good meals, shared poetry by candlelight, and when I was too sick to get out of bed Robyn cooked and entertained visitors while I slept.

Their adventure continues and I continue my own in this little village. I am enjoying the slow days, the solitude, the French language on my tongue, and the time to think as I prepare for a new year.

my one true love

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Monday, December 08, 2008

sweet morning light

There is nothing I love more than to rise with the sun.

I like to be awake while everyone around me is asleep. This morning I watched the sun rise, then my mother and I walked to the village square. We passed the garbage man on his tractor, practically toothless but always smiling, and exchanged a "Bonjour".

In the town square we pass a young waiter from the local restaurant and bar. His smile lights up when he sees us, our faces familiar from many summers here, and we both triple over our French to explain we are here for Christmas, or as he says, the festivities.

We step into the small patisserie and the door chimes. The same plastic containers from my childhood, filled with candy, line the shelves by the counter. The familiar desserts sit under a glass: tarte aux pommes, tarte au citron, and a hearty walnut tart I once shared with a friend. We buy two pains au raisins, one of my favourite morning pastries, and head to the bar for coffee and tea.

In the bar, the owner barely lifts his head to say hello, serious as always. He asks us, "les filles", what we would like. I may have caught half a smile when he realized he brought me an empty tea cup and no tea.

I dig into my pain au raisin with appetite, tearing the soft pastry lined with raisins, candied by a sprinkle of sugar. And then we write. We write for twenty minutes straight and empty our minds onto the page. It feels good, we have both had trouble writing but when forced the words pour out like wine.

After our morning writing session I walk my favourite country road. Frost crawls up the grass but the horses are out, and the sun is shining strongly enough to warm my path.

morning walk
town shadows

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

i've been loving you too long

I have spent a lot of my time here curled up in bed. There are few places in the world where I feel restful enough to do this, but this is one of them.

France is the first place I felt truly beautiful during my teenage years, the only place I could really let my hair down and live the way I'd always wanted to. It is the lover you can spend all Sunday in bed with, get recklessly drunk on wine with, indulge all of your senses with and never feel guilty for it.

And so I have been spending more time in bed than usual. I have been enjoying the sights and sounds of markets in towns nearby, the winter sunshine on my face, and the joie de vivre of those around me.

We spent yesterday in Albi, a small city of pink brick houses, a thick brown river that runs heartily under bridges, and a cathedral that stretches into the heavens. We window shopped, ate a slow lunch, and when the waiter asked me what I would like for dessert I responded "Une sieste," and he nodded his head, "Moi aussi." If there's anywhere where food and rest are truly appreciated, it's the South of France.

Today we visited a couple of the Christmas markets in small towns nearby. The first town had mostly pottery stands, and most of the vendors were busy enjoying a feast of meat, rice and wine in the middle of the square. The next town was more festive, with saucisson stands, spice stands, table covers, Christmas decorations and lovely loaves of pain d'epices.

This part of the world is a feast for the senses, and I'm elated to be back. Here in the country side the landscape is sensual, the buildings scream of history, and people's faces speak of lives well lived.

A home away from home, France is a love I have known for many years and will always feel comfortable with.

yvonne in Albi
petit  chat
lisle sur tarn
vendors wine
saucisson paradise

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Friday, December 05, 2008

at a glance

Today was market day in Gaillac.

The rain poured on and off, but we filled up on fruit, vegetables and duck for dinner. The man at the fruit stand shoved us a few extra kiwis since "They are filled with good vitamins, great for your muscles," before making it his duty to find me a husband.

"Tu n'est pas marrier?" With those eyes? Before I knew it he was calling the young cheese man over. "How about him?" The young man grinned and told him not to scare such a beautiful flower.

Only in France am I so aware of being a woman.

After filling up our market bag we made our way to the Cafe des Sports, a casual brasserie for lunch. For such a casual setting, every meal served around us was beautiful. Our lunch specials-white fish with muscles in a cream sauce-and salads went beyond our expectations. As we cleaned our plates we admired the steak frites, creme carmel and poached pear desserts being served around us.

Having regained my appetite after a day of feeling completely off kilter, I later found the energy to enjoy one of my favourite country walks. The cold wind nearly swept me off my feet, but I was invigorated by the winter weather.

I will always miss the warm months of summer, when the countryside is golden under the sun. Around this time of year everyone closes their shutters, the streets are empty and the restaurants bare. The usual festivities are nowhere to be found, but I find new comfort in warm winter meals and walks. There will be less drinking, dancing, and basking in the sun, but this is a good time to rest.

I always find myself in this town right between stages of my life. It is a good place to crawl up, think, enjoy life's pleasures and prepare for life's challenges. I have a lot awaiting me when I return to my own reality, so I will take advantage of these slow days down South.

gaillac market
our street
down by susan's house
the virgin
blue shutters

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

from one home to another

south of france

After several flights, a bus ride, and a long drive through the country, I have arrived at our family home in France. This house, which has transformed through the years I've known it, is more beautiful and comfortable than ever. As my parents are making it their permanent residence, we now have proper heating, showers and baths. Pure bliss.

I am elated to be here. My sleeping is off, but my bed is warm, the bath near my bedroom is luxurious and I look forward to every slow paced day that lies before me.

Most importantly, I am in great company, and happy to be in the company of my parents once more.

Tales from the South of France to come...

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

just as i was getting used to you

Sitting at the long wooden table, he sips his wine from a small jar while we knock back gin cocktails in ours.

"Vancouver is like the pretty girlfriend with no personality," says my friend.

We have just finished six perfectly executed courses in a strangers apartment.

The dining room looks into the kitchen, a red light brightening the room in one corner. The walls around us are covered in art, carefully placed on the walls that lead to the small sitting room and the long hallway that crawls with more photos and paintings.

We are having dinner at 12b, Vancouver's underground restaurant, and I am elated to find someone running the same kind of business I am. I spend half the night hovered over Todd, the owner and chef, picking his brain and admiring his cooking style.

I met him the day before at CKNW radio where I booked us both in for an interview about the underground restaurant scene on a local talk show. From the second we shook hands, it was clear Todd was someone I would get along with. Over dinner it became evident that we share a similar taste in food, an attitude towards life, a skilled insomnia and love for strong coffee.

It's hard to say what I'll remember most about the evening. Maybe it will be the goat cheese and parsnip soup, graced by dots of balsamic reduction, that had most of us sliding our spoons carefully around our bowls to scoop up every last drop. Or maybe it will be the beef tenderloin so tender my best friend closed his eyes and groaned. I know I won't forget the company, the pleasure over the food-some said "This was the best meal I've ever tasted,"-or my nylons ripping and ending up in pieces around the table.

We left late in the night, basked in pleasure. Just the night before I had cooked a four-course meal for my aunt and her friends. I'm worried my taste buds are becoming a little too used to this. They felt the same way the next night over filet mignon with my brother, and last night over slow roasted ribs at my dinner table, so good I could have been in Memphis. I don't remember the last time I was able to enjoy food so much.

My entire stay in Vancouver has been an awakening of the senses. I have re-discovered a passion for life, food, work, conversation and the ability to live in the moment. Suddenly I have time for the things that matter most to me, and I've stopped making excuses so that I can push people and pleasure away.

Vancouver is more like a beautiful girlfriend with an honest personality. She may be a little dull, but she will wrap her arms around you for as long as you need her to and make everything better.

Even when you're hesitant to go and see her, you never want to leave her once you do.

Tonight I will let myself out of Vancouver's embrace and land sometime tomorrow night into the arms of France.

A whole new kind of love affair awaits me.

first course
12b art