Thursday, December 31, 2015

Quelque chose cette semaine (Something this week) part 4

In which I share a short snippet each week throughout 2015

WEEK #52 (24-30 dec)

There are a dozen definitions of the word grace in The Free Dictionary by Farlex. For this final post of the 2015 edition of "Quelque chose cette semaine — something this week," I choose this meaning: 

A disposition to be generous or helpful; goodwill. 

The past year has included some alarming events. For me, the deterioration of the political discourse in the United States may be the most discouraging trend of all. There seems to be nothing but hate spewing from the mouths of those on the right. There is no hope, compassion or peace in what they say. No goodwill. No grace.

I am not pessimistic enough to think that they will win the presidency, but the majority the Republicans hold in congress and in many states, is terrifying. (I am not scared of Isis or immigrants, Mr. Trump, Mr. Cruz, Mr. Rubio, et al. I am scared of racism, sexism, religious fervor, climate change, ignorance, hypocracy ...).

I resolve to show a little more grace this year. And lose 10 pounds. Bonne année et bonne santé à tous!

We find a little grace on a Christmas Day hike in Monbahus.

WEEK #51 (17-23 dec)

It's been surprisingly busy for this time of year. We took our friends to the airport in Limoges and hosted two dinner parties. The days have been unseasonably warm and we try to walk or ride bikes (well, I ride) each day. The fields are plowed and ready for spring planting providing a different kind of landscape. On this day, the field provides a canvas for a shadow selfie.

Un baiser à la campagne

WEEK #50 (10-16 dec)

Well, we're good for another year in France. After picking up our visas in Agen, we head south and visit four villages in three departments in five hours. The village of Auvillar in the Tarn-et-Garonne dept. is described as "small but perfectly formed/" A haven for the arts in the summertime, it is nearly deserted on this late autumn afternoon. 

Christmas decorations and this little sentinel on a brick building in Auvillar

WEEK #49 (3-9 dec)

First week back in France and I have a new friend: a fellow writer, cyclist and North American who is house-sitting for les canadiens. We took at late-afternoon ride to Serignac-Peboudou and were greeted by a brand-new colorful mural. One of the villagers stopped and explained the significance of each panel. 

Une vache
Récolte des prunes

Un résident de notable

WEEK #48 (26 nov - 2 dec)

Our last week in the U.S. and we celebrate my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, with the family in Windsor, Calif. I have taught myself to knit this past year so I am delighted to give scarves to each of mes six belles-soeurs.

I'm grateful for my sisters-in-law Janet, Mary, Karen, (me) and
Lesia. (Janine and Chaaibia weren't there but received a
une écharpe anyway.) 

WEEK #47 (19-25 nov)

There could be nothing I want more than to spend my birthday with my most favorite three men. The youngest accompanies me on a walk through the Wilbur D. May Aboretum at Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno, Nev.

WEEK #46 (12-18 nov)

Ken and I visit the place where it all began ... for him and for us. He grew up in Sausalito, perhaps one of the most beautiful towns in the U.S. I lived there and met him in the 1980s. 

The Sausalito seal, with San Francisco in the background.
The next day, we hike out to Tennessee Valley where Ken's grandparents used to live, and beyond to the Pacific Ocean. Our guides are Ken's sister Karen and her husband Jack.

Ken, Jack and Karen, "the Mod Squad."

WEEK #45 (5-11 nov)

We've left France for a month long visit to the U.S. This is the view from just up the street where our sons live in Sparks, Nevada:

And this is the amazing macaroni-and-cheese (made with Irish cheddar, truffle oil and apple-smoked bacon, which our dear friend Chef made for us:

WEEK #44 (29 oct - 4 nov)

Bonbons et carrottes for these trick-or-treaters.

WEEK #43 (22-28 oct)

It's citrouille season. On Sunday we checked out the market in Issigeac. Lots of people, lots of pumpkins. Wonder if we have enough Halloween candy on hand; last year we nearly ran out. Costumed kids who knock on our door here tend to say "des bonbons, s'il vous plaît" and are confused/amused when we say "trick-or-treat."

Une personne fait des citrouilles et des courges at market in Issigeac

WEEK #42 (15-21 oct)

Two highlights of this week: We renewed our visas in Agen — an annual event. On Saturday we went to Toulouse for a short visit with a couple of Ken's old Sausalito friends.

Ken enjoyed spending time with some old and new friends from California
in Toulouse.
J'adore this sign outside an Agen disco.

WEEK #41 (8-14 oct)

Feeling fallish.

Autumn colors in Castelmoron-sur-Lot

WEEK #40 (1-7 oct)

Maybe it's my ankle that's making me "crane-key," or maybe it's this huge monstrosity that has been parked in the middle of downtown Lauzun for nearly a year. Quel dommage!

There's no good excuse for our beautiful little village's
rue principale to look like this.

I've been publishing quelque chose chaque semaine (something each week). See Part 3 here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Tennessee Valley Hike

One more post about our recent trip to the United States, then I'll be back to Europe.

On this day, we are hiking through Tennessee Valley, a national park area located between Sausalito and Mill Valley, Calif., with Ken's sister Karen and her husband Jack.

Approaching the Pacific Ocean at the edge of Tennessee Valley

Tennessee Valley isn't just a beautiful place to visit, it also holds special memories for the Knudsens. Ken's maternal grandparents, Bud and Geraldine Bettencourt, once lived here. During Ken's teenage years, he and his family lived here too, finding rural living more economical for a large family during the drought years of the 1970s. 

My brother-in-law Jack

Detail of the old barn in Tennessee Valley

Tennessee Valley's original residents were, of course, Native Americans. For thousands of years, the area was occupied by the Coast Miwoks. Eventually, the land was annexed as part of what would become Sausalito. In the mid-1800s, the land was sold to Samuel Throckmorton who would, in turn, lease much of it to Portuguese dairy farmers. (Grandpa Bud himself was a dairy farmer of Portuguese descent.)

As the 20th century ended, the land became part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Tennessee Valley grasses include native purple needlegrass,
California oatgrass and red fescue.

We stop and examine the land where the family homested once stood. Ken and his sister talk about what life in Tennessee Valley was like when they lived there. Even the commute between the valley and the kids' social activities and school was adventurous.

Karen and Ken pose on the land where their grandparents lived.

The 1.7-mile path leads to the Pacific Ocean. It's an easy walk, although there are more challenging hiking trails along the ridges. This is a wetlands sanctuary and we obey the signs asking us to stay on the path. 

Crossing a bridge in Tennessee Valley

The ocean is spectacular today. It's been too many years since I've dipped my toe in the Pacific. 

A black sandy beach at the west end of the Tennessee Valley trail

It's quiet here. The sound of the sea is a peaceful soundtrack to Ken's and Karen's childhood memories. 

Mod Squad-ish, right?

If you're interested in hiking at Tennessee Valley, check out this link on the Golden Gate National Recreational Area site.

Ken and I at the midway point of our Tennessee Valley hike

Monday, December 21, 2015

Delighted by Belvès

The medieval village of Belvès contains some lovely surprises. Underneath this hilltop town in the Périgord Noir region, visitors can tour ancient troglodyte dwellings. The caves are only open in the summer, so our recent autumn visit is limited to above-ground sites. Even so, we are delighted by Belvès.

We park at the mairie (although there’s more plentiful parking on the north side of town). Originally, this town hall was the Couvent des Freres Prêchures. Built in the 14th century, all that remains of the monastery is a striking octagonal tower. 

The tower of the Couvent des Frères Prêcheurs is attached to
Belvès’ town hall.

We decide to head toward the church before exploring the rest of the village. Église de Montauc is built on the site of a Benedictine monastery, which dates back to 830. The church was built in the 15th century. A recent restoration uncovered amazing frescos from the 16th through 18th centuries. 

Église de Montcuq in Belvès is built on the site of a 9th-century
Benedictine monastery.

The colorful altar at Église de Montcuq in Belvès

A renovation of Église de Montcuq in Belvès uncovered
wall paintings from the 16th through 18th centuries.

Nearby the church are a small park, Chevaux Parc, and a firefighters’ memorial, which we check out before heading to centre-ville. On the way, we rest for a bit in another green spot, Parc de Cedres, which contains an unusual sculpture by artist Francis Ringenbach, art and reproduction director for the Lascaux caves. 

Parc Chevaux in Belvès

A memorial to Belvès’s pompiers

A sculpture by Francis Ringenbach in Parc des Cedres in Belvès

Standing in the market square of Belvès, we can see part of the original fortifications, Tour des Fillols, Tour de l’Archevêque and the archway above the entrance to the Castrum, the original part of town. We also spot a display case mounted on the covered market containing a ring once used for the cruel practice of chaining criminals and subjecting them to public humiliation for up to three days at a time.

A covered market sits in the center of the square in Belvès.

The iron ring, located in the market square in Belvès, was a
cruel “instrument of feudal justice.”

Tour de Fillols in Belvès

A narrow rue in Belvès

A rendering of 11th-century Belvès

It’s a beautiful day and our stomachs are growling, so we buy some sandwiches and find a bench along esplanade de la Brèche on which to have lunch. 

Our lunchtime view from the Esplande de la Brèche in Belvès

Fortified for the next part of our visit, we head past the hospital to Tour de l’Auditeur. Unchanged since the 11th century, the tower originally was the fortress’s keep. The tower’s entrance was located three meters above ground and required a ladder to access. The esplanade de l’Auditeur is located on the highest part of the ramparts and offers a great view of the Nauze river valley.

Tour de l’Auditeur was the original keep in medieval Belvès.

View of the Nauze valley from the esplanade de l’Auditeur in Belvès

Hôtel Bôntemps was a noble’s house from the 12th century
with a 16th-century Renaissance façade.

Castrum is the generic name for a fortified village, and this area of Belvès is particularly well preserved. After passing under the archway, we come upon a gothic-style house built in 1882 in homage to the temporary Lord of Belvès who became Pope Clement V in 1305. 

Entrance to the Castrum, the original part of Belvès

Architectural detail of the maison de style Gothique in Belvès

I have to admit, Belves was an afterthought and not our main destination on this day. But I am so glad we decided to stop. The village holds enough delights to easily fill a half-day. And there are still those habitations troglodyiques we haven’t seen, so we’ll certainly be back.

Belvès, one of France’s Plus Beaux Villages, is located 85 km north of Agen, 50 km east of Bergerac and 35 km southwest of Sarlat in the Dordogne department. For more information on Belvès, visit

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Going home again: Novato, Calif.

Novato's City Hall. The town was named for a Miwok leader. 

In 1988, we counted our pennies and plunged into the real estate market, buying our first home in northern Marin County. The story is kind of funny: We knew what we could afford, but not exactly what we wanted. However, one pass through the pretty yellow house with the swimming pool was all it took.

"Let's live here," I said to Ken.

And so we did.

Mulberry trees hide the view of our little yellow house in Novato.

Novato, Calif., was where we raised our children, where I became an energetic school volunteer, where we immersed our sons (and us) into the world of Boy Scouts.

Our son Jake poses in front of Olive School, in my opinion, the best school
in Novato at the time he and his brother went there, thanks to
legendary principal Mr. Melendy and his amazing successor Ms. Ericson.

My sister-in-law Karen lived nearby and together we learned to be mommies taking frequent field trips to playgrounds, movies, the library and amusement parks.

"Aunt" Karen feeds her horse on our recent trip to Novato. She and I tried to
keep each other sane while raising our kids here in the 1990s.

Our years in Novato were a happy baker's dozen.

The hills behind our house were a favorite hiking spot when
grandpa Beck visited.

On our recent trip to the states, Ken and I spent the day in Novato, taking pictures as we remembered those blurry years of raising young children. A few weeks later, our older son and his girlfriend also visited the old neighborhood.

Something catches Jake's eye as he shows his girlfriend his old
stomping ground in Novato.

As we enjoy lunch at an outdoor table along Grant Ave., Ken and I both remark how healthy downtown seems to be: a nice mix of venerable old businesses and new shops and restaurants.

We would see $2 movies at the Novato movie theater when we first moved
to town ... about all our budget could afford. It seems the building has
been under renovation for decades.

Dr. Insomniac's coffee house in downtown Novato

I bet Buck's Saw Service has been here for a hundred years.

Watt's Music is another iconic Grant Ave. store.

Hmmm ... This is new! A modern sculpture/bench in downtown Novato

My next blog post will take one more walk down memory lane in California. Then it's back to France.