“Get Low” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_5134-1Promises of travel appear on these pages with France as the prime destination. Variety is the spice of life, so other journeys with their high and low points are presented for your enjoyment, or occasionally sympathy for me. Visits to dermatologists, gynecologists, ophthalmologists and even a colonoscopy specialist were voyages beyond the ordinary. Puzzling over a title for a doctor, I asked: “Jim, what is the name for a doctor who performs a colonoscopy?” Quick on the spot, Jim answered: “Glad to be of help. He’s an anal-ologist!” On that note, Jim backed the Jeep from the driveway and asked me to look at the walkway to view some droppings of manure pellets, scattered here and there. He said, “I think some type of wildlife was here during the night.” Seeing only a few black dots of stuff on our cracked concrete, I told him: “Probably possum poop. My coffee wasn’t strong enough for this type of conversation early in the morning.”

We continued on the road to Dothan, Alabama for my final appointment with the doctor after the surgery on my eyelids. I can see much better and friends tell me that I look prettier. Aren’t friends the best of all? With that checkup behind me, we had a nice lunch and headed back home. My camera was on the backseat, ready for any good shots for the blog and especially for the Google Photo Challenge that I mentioned earlier. The subject for the week is: “Get Low”. Now, I don’t know if I need to get low in position to take the photo, or if the subject of the photo should be low. I had a couple of ideas. I thought it would be cool to catch a photo of cows from a lower perspective of the legs with the udders in good focus.  We passed fields with cows far away in the distance.

Come back.  Don't run away!  I want to make you FAMOUS!

Come back. Don’t run away! I want to make you FAMOUS!

How do you call a cow? None of the brown-eyed, black and white bovines posed for an udderly-fastastic photo. Didn’t they know their beauty could appear around the world on I-pads and smart phones, possibly singing: “Selena Gomez, will you go to the prom with me?

Around the half-way mark on our drive home is the community of Level Plains, Alabama. A produce stand with big banners advertised boiled peanuts, fresh strawberries, turnips and collard greens. Cattycorner to the veggies and fruit is a junkyard crammed full of old Volkswagens. I’ve noticed the old rusting cars and wanted to snap away with my camera, but the yard was always closed when we passed. Somehow, there’s something lacking in the beauty of the picture when a chain-link fence topped by razor wire is front and center. Jim replied to my suggestion of a quick right-hand turn: “Now let me try to understand this. You’re all dressed up pretty and the fine doctor said your surgery is perfectly good, so you want to celebrate by going to a junkyard!!IMG_5146-1Outside the yard an old tractor and a bright red antique car was parked. I was absorbed in focusing on the old tractor with my camera when a big dog raced through the entry, scaring me out of my wits. I froze while Jim did his friendly, dog-decoy act. As it turned out, we had no worries since the only danger we faced was being licked to death. However, around midnight when the gate is closed, any foolish person expecting a friendly greeting would be sadly disappointed!

I sneaked this photo when he wasn't looking so he wouldn't pin me to the ground and wash my face with his tongue.

I sneaked this photo when he wasn’t looking so he wouldn’t pin me to the ground and wash my face with his tongue.

I hoped to find a good camera angle at a low level of the old Volkswagens, but they were packed tightly together like rusted toys. I wedged my way between the metal bodies of the vehicles, hoping my bright coral, long skirt wouldn’t catch and rip apart. The cars were parked on rusted sheets of metal roofing. I worried that rattlesnakes could be under the cars, or in the driver’s seat waiting to strike faster than greased lightning! A psychedelic snake could have claimed a VW for its winter home instead of a hole in the Alabama clay soil. I squatted on the ground to center my camera in front of a Karmann Ghia VW and heard Jim shout: “Watch out!” Suddenly, the rusty red muscular dog hit me full-force when I was kneeling on the ground. I was already spooked by the snakes, but I didn’t have much time to gear up my fright level since he quickly sent me sprawling on the hot tin roofing. The rusty red dog thought I wanted to play! I laid down some rules, “Listen dog, you don’t show appreciation by licking the photographer and slobbering on her camera lens!” I dusted and buffed the old cars with my swirling skirt and bumbled around on the tin sheets underfoot. We never spoke to the manager since he was busy talking with others in the far corner of the yard. I could imagine the junkyard owner telling his customer, “Oh, I get folks like that around here all the time. Did you see that woman with the swirly, ruffled orange skirt and the glittery purple shirt? She’s a flower child if I’ve ever seen one! She and her honey were probably reminiscing about the The Love Bug, and all of the times they spent at the drive-in theater. “IMG_5140IMG_5145

"The Hood & The Doors" -  sounds like a name for a musical group.

“The Hood & The Doors” – sounds like a name for a musical group.

I told Jim that I still wasn’t sure that I had any photos suitable for my Google venture. With no cows flashing their udders for me, I hesitantly mentioned another idea. “Now, don’t think I’m crazy. I was thinking about taking a picture of an old grave site with a rusted iron fence and a tall green cedar as a background. The name on the tombstone would be hidden, and I could shoot the picture late in the afternoon shadows. What do you think? You have to admit, that’s as close to low as you can go!” Jim looked at me like I had lost my marbles.

Somewhere inside a big plastic storage container bought at the Bed Bath and Beyond store, photos of old Bermuda graveyards, are hidden away. Why did I take those pictures? I saw the juxtaposition of the present with a remembrance of the past through my camera. Did the men buried there build the pastel pink, blue and yellow cottages surrounded by red hibiscus? Did the young children build sandcastles in the pink sand by the crystal clear waters? The picture was intended to capture the moment and honor the people who came before and left their mark. Facing the facts, I asked myself, “Would I want a picture of a graveyard on my wall or a sunny yellow cottage a few steps from a pink sand beach?

We got home before dark and Jim was studying the poop droppings on the sidewalk like Indiana Jones on an Egyptian exploration amid the pyramids. I unloaded my camera bag from the car and he called out, “I really think these are deer pellets. Can’t believe they came as far as the front yard! Bring your camera over here and you can Get Low” for Google.

I had to beg, plead and cajole these few pictures to download into my story.  I will be calling for support next week and following the same routine.  I apologize for fewer pictures than usual.  Do you have an old Volkswagen beetle in your past, or do you drive one presently? I would love to hear about it. Thank you for your comments.

If you would like to see France instead of Alabama jaunts, just CLICK to France-Storytelling and Pictures page.

“Choo-Choo” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_4858Prominent among the important gems of instruction to Jim, with a bullet-point alongside, was this statement: “If ever I’m lingering at death’s door and you want me to live a little longer, put a camera in my hands. That will jolt me to life better than any heart defibrillator.” I came to this conclusion when I regained my energy with camera in hand after a dermatology surgery (removal of pre-cancer cells) on my shoulder in Birmingham, Alabama. Shortly after the procedure, I ate cheese crackers chased by grape juice, not the grown-up drink of fermented grape juice. For the long drive home, sleep in the front passenger side of the Jeep was a good possibility.IMG_4846-1But somewhere near the thirty- mile mark, I saw a sign for the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum and asked Jim to take the exit so we could see the old railroad cars.IMG_4852 Surprised at the surge of stamina, I was excited to see the beautiful faded colors of the old engines, cabooses and passenger cars. IMG_4864-1The museum was closed when we were there, and the rides on the trains are not scheduled until warmer weather. I have an appointment again in Birmingham in April, so that should be a winner combination to ride the rail and see the white dogwood flowers and fresh green leaves. IMG_4877IMG_4894Yes, that camera nourished my body and brought me back to life with plans for the future and bright colors to fill my dreams as I slept for the remainder of the journey home.

Our little town of Opp, Alabama has an interesting history based on the railroads. The following is an excerpt from the town’s website:

The City of Opp is named after Henry Opp, a lawyer of German descent who worked for the L & N Railroad. Opp lived and practiced law in Andalusia, Alabama in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and also served as Mayor of Andalusia from 1899 to 1906. In 1901, the Central of Georgia Railroad tried to prevent the L & N Railroad from surveying a right-of-way into Covington County; however, Mr. Opp successfully defended the L & N’s case in court, thereby enabling the railroad to complete the survey and ultimately establish the railroad line which now passes through the City of Opp.

The railroad forked, with one arm traveling south and the other continuing east. Because this provided a good “turning around” place for trains, and because it was already inhabited to a small degree, a little town was laid out on the site with the encouragement of the railroad. In appreciation to Mr. Henry Opp for being directly responsible for the railroad’s existence through the area, the L & N encouraged the people to name the town after Mr. Opp.”

Continuing with the railroad theme, Jim and I watched a Masterpiece Classic movie titled “The Railroad Children” from Netflix on Friday night. IMG_4860-1The children’s father was accused and jailed although he was innocent of the crime. A railroad tycoon came to his rescue and he was released. The moderator stated after the film that the railroad barons were often ruthless and used exploitative practices to accumulate their wealth. He said the film was more fantasy than reality. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the story and wish there were more people as kind-hearted as the rich gentleman who helped the sweet children have their daddy returned to them.

I hope you enjoy the photos of the trains and have your own imagination and energy fueled for a future visit or further exploration of the history of trains. IMG_4891We have traveled on trains in France, Japan, Majorca, England and Canada. I hope there are more rail adventures in the future, especially if they could include our grandson Daniel who loves trains! I almost forgot to mention our train rides at Disney. Daniel’s train adventures began at Disneyland. Who knows where he will ride on the rails in the future? I would enjoy hearing about your train rides, or any history of the railroads that you could contribute. Comments from readers add to the story and join us together as a community. Thank you for adding your comments!

Since I have not shared much of France for you in this story, I have added more pictures of France on the (CLICK) France Pictures and Storytelling page. I hope you enjoy the France page.

Ya’ll come back for more adventures whether they are on a train, or just walking in the backyard! Take care, you are tremendously special people! Thank you.

“Surprise Parade” – by Debbie Ambrous

French horn in a French parade - Chinon, France

French horn in a French parade – Chinon, France

Coffee, croissants and a crunchy baguette with butter are only a memory of beautiful France now that we are settled into our Alabama routine.

Jim entered the room that I claim as my office this afternoon to tell me: “I’m going over to help Jeremy (his buddy) with a project he’s working on. Aha! I see that you have written some words on the blank page. Now, all you have to do is finish it.” Easy for him to say! I had stared out the window, walked to another window to watch the birds and still no words except the first sentence above were on the blank page. Thoughts were fluttering like the bluebirds at my fountain and drifting like the brown, dried leaves on the lawn with no order, or inspiration. The buttery croissants and hot coffee would be warmth for the soul and my cold fingers, but they are not on my desk on this cold day with sunshine licking the chocolate-brown bark on the tall trunks of the pine trees.

Jim is out of the house now. “Come on fingers, do your thing.” It is time to touch the keys quickly now that I have a purpose and a story to tell about beautiful Chinon, France on the Vienne River with its historic buildings and the Chateau Chinon crowning the city, high above the action of a bustling market.IMG_3123May 7, 2014: We had our fill of coffee and croissants and left our cozy rental house on a beautiful day in May to shop at the open-air market. Sweet strawberries, crunchy carrots, bright red tomatoes and a few potatoes went into our shopping bag. Our needs were purchased and the list was checked, but that did not stop us from sniffing the spices and scented soaps, or looking at all of the other vegetables and live poultry. IMG_2360Market day had attracted a large crowd on this sunny day in Chinon. IMG_2367I noticed people were gathering along the street and policemen were directing traffic away from the main thoroughfare. What was happening? We looked for a place to stand for a better view. A group of Red Cross (Croix-Rouge) members in their bright orange uniforms were waiting under the tall sycamore trees, laughing and talking. One young man in the crowd caught my eye immediately. He was very cute with dark hair and brown eyes, easily young enough to be my grandson; but as they say, he was easy on the eyes. (It is easier to write this since Jim is out of the house and won’t make any silly jokes about me eyeing the sexy-looking, young Frenchman.) I aimed my camera to capture a picture of him for the young ladies in my reading audience, looking after their interest, nothing personal you know. I wished they would assemble in a straight line for a photo, but that didn’t happen. We realized a parade was forming since the band members were gathering.

What a nice surprise! I check the tourism offices and on-line for fairs, concerts and other special events when we travel. Some of the smallest villages have unusual fairs that are such great fun. People-watching alone is worth the trip. We were once driving to another village and suddenly the road was blocked with carnival rides for children with no way around to continue our journey. We parked, enjoyed the laughter of the children and had to turn around to drive several miles out of the way to get to our destination. Can you imagine blocking the main road into town for a carnival in your hometown?

We walked further into town past the boulangeries and a lovely square filled with flowers for sale. I bought a colorful pot of flowers as a gift for the hostess of a luncheon marked on our calendar for the following week. (CLICK to read “Rabbit Stew” if you missed it.) IMG_3350After window shopping our way to the main square, we saw the parade coming around the corner for the grand finale with trumpets blaring. When the Red Cross members wound their way along the line into position in front of me, I noticed the cute young man was grinning and the lady beside him was laughing at their inside joke. I could imagine the conversation between them as she told him: “Look, that old lady with the camera has a thing for you! She fancies your cute form for sure.

Focus is on another handsome Frenchman.  Undoubtedly, the lady and young man following are enjoying a joke on me.

Focus is on another handsome Frenchman. Undoubtedly, the lady and young man following are enjoying a joke on me.

I would have approached the group earlier except the assembled crowd along the street was rather quiet, and there wasn’t enough time for communication. I need to carry some business cards printed in French as an introduction. Next time…

Family members who seemed to span four generations marched past as honored members of the parade. IMG_2377-1 Important functions may occur in the center of the city, but notice that text messages must be checked. Life is the same everywhere now with our social media. I selected the photo of the ensemble for the topic of “Street Photography” in a photography challenge. (CLICK here if you are interested in joining the challenge, look under the “About” tab for the details. I know that many in the reading audience are excellent photographers, so you may enjoy joining the group.) I had a difficult time deciding which photo to submit. I asked for Jim’s opinion and we decided on the family in the parade. The pride of the young daughter and the humor of the gentleman checking his text messages caught our attention. We may have erred in our judgment and selected the photo based on our emotions from the happy experience in France. (I used an older photo since I was still recovering from eye surgery. I will submit new photos for future submissions according to the guidelines.)

We had a fun day in Chinon with the bonus parade, a shopping bag filled with goodies and a camera loaded with memories. The parade was over.

I closed out my computer. Jim opened the kitchen door and called out, “Honey, I’m home! How’s the story coming? Do you have another sentence on the page?” I deflated his funny jab: “With you out of my hair, I finished the story in no time flat. In fact, I wrote a draft of a first chapter for a romance novel.” He didn’t believe me, but I continued: “Yep, the story begins with a beautiful woman on a travel photography assignment in France who falls in love with a rich, handsome Croix-Rouge humanitarian.” Jim’s jaw dropped for a minute, but he recovered and said: “I already know the second chapter storyline. Aged wannabe photographer slips and falls in horse manure. Poor, but intelligent, Alabama redneck rescues mature maiden in the muck.”

You see what I have to put up with?!! I have found my share of young men, appearing unexpectedly, during our rambles in France. If you are new to this blog, perhaps you would enjoy CLICKING over to see the young motorcyclists in Belves, France.

Ya’ll come back! Thank you for visiting and a special thank you to those who wrote such kind comments on last week’s blog about my surgery. I received phone calls, cards, e-mails and Facebook entries of encouragement. I was touched by your generous compassion! I’m much, much better!

Shown below are some of the photos that I considered for the Photo Challenge. Which one do you prefer?

I always enjoy seeing your comments!

 

 

 

CLICK the photo for a larger image:

“Debbie’s Malady” – by Debbie Ambrous

Soft focus photos of France are shown to represent my predicament of hazy eyesight.  I hope you enjoy and understand.

Soft focus photos of France are shown to represent my predicament of hazy eyesight. I hope you enjoy and understand.

Bertha’s rheumatism is acting up again. Mae’s very pitiful with her painful pleurisy. Clarence has lumbago and can’t hoe the garden today.” Mama’s elderly friends and relatives sat around with Granny to talk ailments and remedies while I listened in the corner in total boredom. I had no idea what lumbago, pleurisy and rheumatism were, but I thought the ladies had odd bulges and bumps under their pastel lace-trimmed blouses as evidence of strange ailments. Why couldn’t they talk with me about the cute boy at school who smiled at me, or my new flowery flock with the tiny bows at the neckline? A juicy bit of gossip to whisper to my friends would have been greater fun than creepy illnesses.IMG_2379It’s my turn now to talk the details of my malady similar to the old ladies in my past, except I’ve widened the circle to include the world of the web. Why spill your woes to a handful of people when you can complain to a larger audience? Webster defines malady as a disease, disorder or sickness. Malady is misused and slightly abused in my story since I’m leading you off to an operating room for a spot of surgery and recovery. I simply liked the sound of malady in comparison to surgery, not as brutal or blunt, slightly more lady-like.IMG_2518Very early in the morning of December 19th, Jim drove the red Jeep to the eye surgery center in Dothan, Alabama, where I voluntarily admitted myself for surgery on my eyelids. Now, I know you’re thinking that I’m going all Kardashian here, but wipe that expensive and frivolous notion away with an airbrush. I declined the Cosmetic Surgery Menu and settled on the insurance-paid procedure, hoping to rid myself of feeling like a groundhog seeing its shadow. With all of this settled, Jim and I approached the modern brick building with a mansard roof-line reminiscent of Paris. Inside, the beautiful, rather luxurious lounge had high ceilings, and the rooms were filled with antique-reproduction furniture and paintings. A polite, attractive lady greeted us and gave Jim a pager to alert us when they were ready to take me away. Jim accidentally kept the pager. Hint: You might be a redneck if you think you can page the doctor from home!IMG_2390Soon enough, I was nervously walking down the corridor in the spa-like atmosphere, but no Jacuzzi, manicure or massage waited for me. Pretty young nurses in brightly colored pants and shirts rushed around in their neon-hued Sketchers with long hair tucked into blue bonnets. Long gone are the crisply starched, white uniforms and caps from my mother-in-law’s hospital days. Next on the agenda, I found myself reclining on the table in the operating theater with constant reminders to keep my eyes closed. The nurses took my hearing aids away, and with this disadvantage I repeated what I thought I had heard: “Did you say raise my hand?” A quick reply came: “No, raise your chin!” I thought the man’s voice sounded like Jeff Foxworthy, but I kept this opinion to myself, thinking this wasn’t the time to say my good doctor sounded like a fella who fell off a turnip truck. Nope, I didn’t want to wake up looking like I had been beaten with the ugly stick. Hold that thought!IMG_4008Sitting on the edge of the bed in recovery with Jim at my side, the nurse was explaining post-op procedures and saying I would have the white circles around my eyes for several days. A couple of days along, the skin on my face felt like it had been worked over with a belt sander, or a sandblaster. Before the procedure, when the doctor offered to answer any questions, I foolishly only asked when I could go back to work. I didn’t know to ask about the raccoon eyes with big white circles, or the reptile-like shedding of skin from my face. I believe they read my thoughts on the operating table, or I talked in my sleep, because I got a whopper of a dose of the ugly stick!

I slumped down in the front seat of the Jeep with my sunglasses holding cold patches in place on my eyes on the return from the eye center. With only one stop at Krispy Kreme as a reward for my good behavior, Jim drove for an hour to our home and refuge. Then the saga of the malady ensued! I eased myself on to the sofa with my head propped up with pillows and asked Jim to bring a package of frozen peas for my eyes since that was suggested in the post-op info.

Jim told me: “I think you should lie flat and get rid of those pillows.” I didn’t like his idea, but by now I had heard enough orders that I just numbly did what he said. I heard a rustle of paper, and then footsteps rapidly pounded the floor, followed by Jim’s voice saying: “Never mind! The instructions say to keep your head elevated even when you sleep. And, I got the frozen peas for your eyes.” Through the narrow slits of my eyes, I saw a quart-size frozen block of peas coming toward my face.

I gathered strength hidden away and powered by Krispy Kreme to explain in clear terms: “The chunk of frozen peas, big as a brick, won’t work! What do you expect me to do, balance it on my nose like a trained seal? And, these are good peas! We can’t waste our good peas.
Good peas?! What are you talking about?
Good garden-grown peas to eat with warm cornbread and fresh tomatoes! Bring a small package of plain store-bought peas.

After the third try, I was settled into a pattern. Tiny, commercially-grown, frozen peas settled into place on my pitiful eyes, like saucepans with a gauze-lining so they wouldn’t stick while defrosting and simmering. Overheating with a hot flash I had re-fried beans!IMG_2588Sticky business was on the after-surgery orders. Jim applied stuff to my eyelids about three times daily. The ointment dribbled into my eyes, inhibiting my vision. Everything was blurry, like living in a Monet world. But as a word of warning, if you follow in my footsteps, don’t look into a magnifying mirror like I did accidentally the day after surgery! A shocking Picasso image appeared in the mirror! Yes, the ugly stick did a walloping on me. I overheard Jim on the phone saying that I looked like Exhibit A for an assault and battery case. It wasn’t bad enough to convert to a frozen pea-lovin’ vegetarian, I had to endure threats of my Picasso bluish-purple image being posted on Facebook by my ever-lovin’ husband.

View from my Alabama Recovery Bedroom

View from my Alabama Recovery Bedroom

Within a few hours of our arrival home I had a call from a different doctor, the dermatologist I had visited a week earlier. I included a reminder about skin cancer in my last blog before I started the saga of the current malady. She had good news and bad. The good news was the two biopsies she performed were benign. However, I must return for a bit more surgery on the shoulder area, the bad news. Not fun, but when it is done, I’m all clear. Concentrate on shopping in Birmingham instead of the ordeal. Back to the frozen peas and attentive Jim, he truly should have followed his mother into the medical field. I’m so squeamish, but nothing seems to bother him. Jim’s mother was known for her very authoritative manner in the hospital, and everywhere else for that matter. On the other hand, she was a very compassionate, caring nurse, fulfilling the highest standards. I won’t draw any unfavorable comparisons to Jim since I still need nursing duties now and the future from him.

Nurse Jim took care of the skin areas, frozen eye duty and application of ointment. I would call him Dr. Jim, but it’s more fun to jerk his chain a little with the description of nurse. One afternoon he brought more band-aids than what was needed for the daily change on the biopsies. I spouted a question, “Why do you have the extra band-aid?” Quickly, before he replied and beat me to it, I said, “For my mouth?” I tried to tell him that I could at least take care of my knee if not the back side of my shoulder. His smarty words were, “Yeah, with your eyesight you might get the Preparation H instead of the Bacitracin.”

We muddled through it all just fine, in fairly good humor. There was one day when we had a completely strange conversation with Jim talking about the eye pad which I confused with I-pad; apparently my brain was in a fuzzy Monet world with my hazy vision.
If you have endured this far into my poor-pitiful-me-wallow-fest, I do thank you for your kindness. Presently, I am seeing better, and surely I will survive for another day, and another malady.

I would like to extend a special thank you to the caring, compassionate staff at Eye Center South, Dothan, Alabama. Thanks to Dr. Richard Bryant, Dr. Urisona, Kenya, Kayla, Brooke, Belinda, Patrick, Tara, Cindy, Anne and Lauren for your expertise and kindness!
The professional staff did a wonderful job, but I reserve the best commendation for Nurse Jim!IMG_1228

I apologize for not replying to some of your nice comments last week, but I’m sure you know why I couldn’t now. Have you experienced this procedure? Or, did you play the role of caring for the wounded like Nurse Jim? I would truly enjoy seeing your comments below.
Thank you! Ya’ll come back now! Could you recommend the website on Facebook or to a friend or relative who may enjoy this Southern lady’s take on France mixed with Alabama? More travel next time instead of misery around the house.

 

“100,000 Flowers” – by Debbie Ambrous

Powerful pink peony bush is like 100,000 flowers in its glorious impact.

Powerful pink peony bush is like 100,000 flowers in its glorious impact.

SAINT-FRAIMBAULT, FRANCE –
“Saint-Fraimbault is a true village fleurie. Each Spring, 100,000 flowers swamp the village in color as villagers try to outdo each other’s displays.” I read these words from my travel guidebook when Jim and I were hurrying along the road in the rain in the Lower Normandy region of France in April of this year. Pointing to the suggestions in the book, I told Jim, “This lovely village with four stars for its flowers is just a short distance off the main road. Could we turn off and see the flowers?IMG_1525With 100,000 flowers dancing in my head, like a Disney production of fleuries on parade, we drove into the small town. Workers were digging into the soil and planting the flower beds at the entry, surely a direction sign for beauty in the village. Up the hill in the center of town was a rather average place with a church, a few businesses and houses. We parked and searched for the 100,000 flowers. Wisteria vines of old growth clung to ancient stone walls with purple clusters perfuming the air and enticing bumblebees. Beautiful, yes, but this was not the ecstasy of flowers that lured me from the main highway.IMG_1534We searched the streets and found humble flower gardens, all beautiful in their own simple manner, but not the 4-star-extravaganza I envisioned.IMG_1537-1 Gradually, we were won over by the village and the smiling ladies who spoke to us when we snapped our cameras at their flower gardens.

I read a sentence about the grand flower show that I had overlooked in the guidebook later when I was seated in the car: “It all culminates in a mid-August festival.” Ah, we were too early! The blooms were still sleeping and waiting for the big days in the summer. Perhaps some of the simple buildings were hiding away the full production like Disney has the parade floats under cover until it is show time. In the summer sun the bands will play, the children will laugh and old ladies will be happy with the production in the lovely village in France. I was happy with the giant, pink peonies and the promise of more to come.

Saint Céneri le Gérei, France
“The ravishing village has a memorable setting. Crowned by a fine Romanesque church, its stone houses overlook the gentle River Sarthe as it flows around a rocky promontory on the edge of the Alpes Mancelles.” IMG_1929These words in my Eyewitness Travel guidebook lit passion in my Francophile heart for yet another idyllic beauty to store in my camera with the other 2000 photos. I was not disappointed. With this short description, I will leave the pictures to speak their words.IMG_1944IMG_1937IMG_1910IMG_1920As for my current plans, I will be taking advantage of this warmer weather while today is gorgeous and hoping I will have a modest fleurie garden this coming spring.IMG_1916

 

 

 

I hope you enjoyed the short visit to the villages. I thought I would be quiet about the reason for my brevity for the blog, but I will own up to the truth. As I sit here today, I have a shoulder and a knee with bandages from skin biopsies after my dermatology appointment. This isn’t the best company for writing!

It does provide the perfect time to give a reminder to protect your skin from the sun and see a dermatologist regularly. I’ve had a number of skin cancers removed including two that were close to the danger zone. I am very careful and I appreciate the excellent Dr. Boni Elewkski’s (University Medical Center – Birmingham, AL) thorough exams.

Yes, that’s Jim between the two lovely ladies on the left – proving his unbelievable chick magnetism  again!

I will be away from my keyboard most of the coming days with no blog entries until 2015.

See you next year! Be safe, happy, healthy and please come to visit again!

 

Thank you for all of your generous kindness during this year! Ya’ll are the best of the best!!

“Wednesday or Tuesday Night” – by Debbie Ambrous

The well-trained dog waited patiently for his croissant. Now, this is the real France!

The well-trained dog waited patiently for his croissant. Now, this is the real France!

Tell them about the morning when we had breakfast with the dog.” That was Jim’s suggestion when I was pondering my next story for the blog. He thought it was great fun to drink his coffee and share his croissants with the friendly black dog in France while local people gathered at the counter for their morning choice of drinks. No fancy restaurant, or touristy place, to start our day. We were there for the French breakfast of champions. I agreed with Jim saying, “That’s a good idea. I should have written it several days ago instead of playing around and lazing around here. Why don’t I have it ready ahead of time instead of waiting until the last minute?

Painted sign on the pavement a few yards from our morning coffee & croissants

Painted sign on the pavement a few yards from our morning coffee & croissants

Neighborhood house a few doors away

Neighborhood house a few doors away from early morning coffee

Colorful houses lining the next street below

Colorful houses lining the next street down below

With those energetic, ambitious words floating around in the air, I settled into my soft, down-filled cushions on the sofa to continue reading “A House Somewhere”, a Lonely Planet compilation of tales of life abroad. The stories of Paris and Provence were finished quickly, and I was concentrating on the piece titled “Digging Mr. Benny’s Dead Uncle” by Rolf Potts. The plot was rolling out with Mr. Benny, Potts’ barber, who had dug up the grave site of his uncle in the darkness of night in Burma in 1993. Mr. Benny smuggled the bones across the border to Thailand in a sack, bribing the border police with whiskey. Deep into the story, I was anxious to see what happened next but annoyed at a continuous noise sounding like a motor outside. It was Wednesday night of this week, or maybe it was Tuesday – one of those lazy days.
In annoyance, I asked Jim, “What on earth is going on outside?
It’s an airplane.”
An airplane!? No way! I’ve heard the noise for 30 minutes, or more. Our neighborhood isn’t exactly JFK runway!

Leaving Mr. Benny’s dead uncle’s bones, I joined Jim on our tiny porch to look up into the sky for an airplane. Sure enough, a small airplane, not a helicopter, was flying back and forth overhead under the bright moon, circled in a wide halo.
Grinning at me, like the silly person he is, Jim said, “I think we’re under attack.”
Right! This is Opp! Remember? Aliens in an UFO would be more likely!

What did we do? Call the Opp Police Department, or Homeland Security? No, we waved to the Alien UFO so they could get a good shot of me in my cuddly, pink pj’s and Jim in his Auburn sweatshirt (like it did the football team any good). Jim’s departing words were, “If they’re looking for intelligent life in our house, they won’t find any!” Speak for yourself, Jim!

I rejoined my tale of the grave robbery just at the time when Mr. Benny grew worried about dogs attacking him for the bones. In fear, he threw them into the sea and got pig bones from a butcher to send to the cousin. The cousin was very angry and accused him of tricking her for money. Mr. Benny said a scientist reported that her grandfather was a pig. Mr. Benny said he didn’t know anything about NDA testing. The man listening to the barber’s story replied, “Oh, right. DNA testing.”

Interrupting my thoughts about the amusing, old man in faraway Thailand, while the background drone of the airplane continued in the night air, Jim said,
What about those giant, pink flowers in the old lady’s yard that you liked so much?
Holding my place in the book, I turned and asked, “What?! What are you talking about?
You asked me what to write about. Ex-cuuse me. Forget I ever said anything! I just thought you could write about those pretty flowers you liked by the road.”
Oh, o.k. Sorry. Thanks for the idea.”

The sweet lady in Normandy reminded me of my Granny Bryan and her beautiful flower garden.

The sweet lady in Normandy reminded me of my Granny Bryan and her beautiful flower garden.

The smiling, gray-haired lady cultivated some of the most beautiful rhododendrons I’ve ever seen. Her house was beside a highway with busy traffic. The mature tree-sized bushes lined both sides of the road with a fantasy world of large, pink flowers.IMG_1846 IMG_1833I planned to snap a few photos from the road and move along, but I was stopped in my tracks by the sweet lady’s insistence that I come into her flower garden.IMG_1817 Azaleas in many colors and other dazzling flowers grew in the well-tended garden. The French lady didn’t know what Jim was saying, but she thought he was hilarious. I knew she was intelligent when I first laid eyes on her. She pegged Jim right away.

Returning to Wednesday, or maybe it was Tuesday night, the noise of the plane had drifted away. I had enjoyed the unbelievable tale of the barber in Thailand. However, barbers in Thailand don’t have a monopoly on tales that will curl your hair. Alabama barbers and beauticians have their own yarns to tell. A suggestion from Jim in the easy chair reached my ears, “What about a science fiction story about the UFO over Opp, Alabama?
I rolled over and flipped my page to a new chapter and knew in my heart that I would have strange dreams on that Wednesday, or Tuesday night.

IMG_467711:30 PM (Wed. or Tues. night) Fluffy, pink Easy Spirit slippers padded to the king-size sleigh bed, moving like an older Pink Panther to a saucer of warm milk. Pink Panther stopped near the soft mattress and said:
“Jim, I still don’t have a title for the story. How does “Evening in Opp” hinting at “Evening in Paris” sound? Or, I could headline it with “The Dog Who Came for Breakfast”. Husband Jim sleepily said, “No, Honey, come on to bed. Sleep on it. You’ll come up with something, but don’t tell your readers about the bones buried under our house!

Could you leave a note in the comments box and tell me if you like Jim’s story suggestions? Naturally, he suggests “A French Opportunity” for everyone including UFO Aliens in Alabama airspace and beyond. Jim tried his hand at science fiction writing in a previous story. If you didn’t see it when it was posted earlier, you must click below and take a look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or, you might like the Alabama beauty shop tale “Off the Top” if you haven’t read it – no pig bones involved!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Anniversary to our friends, John and Mary Moyer! Their love story is one of the sweetest.  Read about what follows their wedding in a story from last year if you missed it.

Thank ya’ll for joining us. Come see us again!

“My Gifts from Brittany” – by Debbie Ambrous

Do you still have a youthful curiosity for exploration?

Do you still have a youthful curiosity for exploration?

I’m thankful for a teaspoonful of Brittany: a small taste of sea, sand, sailboats, fortified castles, stone-built ramparts and a plate of delicious mussels served with a view of a pink cloud hovering above the bay’s rippling tidal water.

Imagine a young woman, an artist, in her twenties from Chicago moving to France back in the 60’s. She fell in love with a young, volatile painter and bought a run-down Breton farmhouse with outbuildings, all needing complete renovation with no floors, plumbing or electricity. The villagers’ lives had changed very little since the Middle Ages. The young couple separated, and the young lady was left behind in the hamlet with their child. Mom and daughter formed a friendship with a peasant woman despite generations of age difference, and no similarities of culture, or language. Marjorie Price lived these experiences and wrote her memoir in the book “A Gift from Brittany” which undoubtedly influenced my opinion of the region since I enjoyed reading the beautifully written story. I hoped that some of this era was still evident in Brittany except with modern sanitary facilities.

Another young one with curiosity with strong hands guiding her way ...

A young one with curiosity and strong hands guiding her way …

Another influence that affected my view of the region happened in the 80’s. I had the gift of a daughter – named Brittany. Britney Spears had no influence on the name since she entered the scene later. My inspiration came from a travel magazine with picturesque scenes of the French villages of Brittany and the colorful costumes with embroidery and lace used for festivals. I thought the name was beautiful, and I considered using Dinan, the featured town in the magazine, as my daughter’s middle name. But I rejected the name in favor of Elizabeth, her great-grandmother’s name, since I thought a spelling confusion with the name Diane could cause problems in the future.

My Brittany wore the typical baby bonnets with lace, ruffles and embroidery, but nothing to compare to the lacy creations by the Bretons in France!

In a display case at Chateau Villandry - Loire Valley (not Brittany)

In a display case at Chateau Villandry – Loire Valley (not Brittany)

In years past newborn Breton children customarily dressed in a bonnet, gown and apron. They continued dressing in this pattern until they were five or six years old. Breton clothing differed from one area to the next, and it was possible to tell the exact geographical origin of a person by their dress. In one area young women wore a small, flowery shawl; married women wore a shawl with squares; widows wore a white shawl, and when a close relative died, a winged headdress was worn. Unmarried men wore green coats, and married men wore blue jackets. The most impressive lacework headdress is worn by the Bigouden, which are nearly thirteen inches high! They are shown proudly on the heads of the older women on Sundays.

At the last of April of this year, Jim and I closed the doors of our rental car which was parked a short distance from the main entrance – Porte St. Vincent – a gateway in the walls which are twenty-three feet thick! A stairway leads up to the rampart walls, but we had coffee and croissants on our minds, not a long walk. That could wait until later. We had arrived early, snagging the close parking space by the quiet marina with its watery parking spaces for ships, yachts and fishing boats, colorfully welcoming us to St. Malo’s walled city.IMG_1569 Inside the walls, the city was awakening with metal, protective doors sliding up and opening to glass shop display windows and awnings cranked in place. People rushed to work, and children wearing backpacks trudged to school. A modern boulangerie with lime-green chairs wrapped around a side-street; there we savored our wonderful coffee and flaky, buttery croissants. Then, we could face the many steps of walking along the narrow streets, through the square with the children’s play equipment, up the stairs, down the stairs, along the sand, on the massive rocks, up the stairs again, along the ramparts, down the stairs again, along the street by the many restaurants and to the parking lot. Back in the car we rushed away to Mont St. Michel – Jim’s favorite destination which I hope you saw last week. My turn for show-and-tell is this week. IMG_1698IMG_1623IMG_1635

A walk along the rampart walls ...

A walk along the rampart walls …

Since I took you dizzily along the fast track of all of our steps, I will return to the walled city of St. Malo and drop a name you may remember if you were paying attention in history class. Do you remember the name you missed on the exam about the explorer who sailed from his native St. Malo in 1534 for Newfoundland? Here is a hint: he discovered the estuary of the St. Lawrence River and following the river upstream, he discovered Canada! The territory was named New France.

Jacques Cartier

Jacques Cartier

Yes, his name was Jacques Cartier. A statue is erected in his honor on the ramparts and his tomb is in the north chapel of the Cathedral St. Vincent, the one with all of the grimacing gargoyles. You say your history teacher resembled one of the gargoyles?

The history of St. Malo tells a story of fiercely independent people who accumulated great fortune. Privateers and ship owners became rich here, building grand private residences, and these homes can be seen today as proof. Almost eighty percent of the city was destroyed in 1944, but it was rebuilt in the same manner using much of the same building materials. There are many museums, historic monuments, sculptures, artwork and many discoveries waiting to be seen in and around this city, a place that is lively with interesting people, tasty food, incredible history and beautiful scenes in every direction. See it for yourself, if possible, or enjoy a travel magazine like I did when I named my last child Brittany.

Have you named a child, dog, cat or parakeet for a beloved location? What did you think of St. Malo? Do you like this location better than Mont St. Michel? Or, do you side with Jim? Careful with your answer!

Thank you for coming along with us? Jim and I always enjoy seeing your comments. They are truly the reward at the end of the story.

Next week will possibly be a vacation week for me with no post on the website. Stay safe, healthy and warm.  Reach for A French Opportunity” for your fireside reading during the winter!

“Jim’s Favorite – Mont St. Michel” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_1710-1Sound the trumpets, clash the cymbals and beat the kettle drums! And, run to tell Jim that I’m finally sharing Mont St. Michel, his favorite! Sorry, it’s too late for the newsflash. I caught a glimpse of him at the doorway when he sneaked a peek at the photos on my laptop. I heard his giggle.

My photography of France and other locations from our travels is framed and scattered around the house among the photos of friends and family. Jim has only one picture from his camera on the wall. Well, actually, he claims another one that I contend is mine – all mine! He should know that I took the picture of the Sleeping Beauty Castle that hangs just inside our front door, but he disagrees quite erroneously. At least we agree that he struck the image of Mont St. Michel, his single entry of majesty above his well-worn comfy chair with the cushion proclaiming: “It’s Good to be the King!IMG_1710I am not totally smitten with the “Wonder of the Western World” sited on the western coast in a bay with the highest tides in France. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, built and consecrated a small church on the 16th October 709. In 966 a community of Benedictines settled on the rock at the request of the Duke of Normandy, and the pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand. (CLICK here for more history.) UNESCO classed Mont Saint-Michel as a world heritage site in 1979. Tourists swarm here each year, mounting to a total of more than three million visitors!IMG_1733

The crowds of tourists and the long line of shops displaying junky souvenirs spoiled the first impression for me. Disney theme park on a jam-packed day of screaming, shoving, loud tourists came to mind instead of a French monument. The history in the ancient stones didn’t speak to me; there was no life within the walls. Mont St. Michel claims only 44 citizens living therein, probably hiding away from the people arriving by the busloads. When Jim and I first visited several years ago, we parked at the front door after driving on the causeway. Now, the parking is some distance away with trams regularly taking tourists back and forth. Construction is underway with conservation and protection of the UNESCO site as the primary objective.

Mont St. Michel was our focus, especially for Jim. However, I hoped to see more of Brittany and Normandy during our short time away from our rental house in the Loire valley. Our first night was in an inexpensive, rather plain hotel a short distance from Jim’s heartthrob. He slipped out of bed very early while I was still sleeping and left a note so I would know about his rendezvous. Like an excited little boy, he returned grinning to tell me: “I found a place you can take pictures of a huge flock of sheep in front of Mont St. Michel! Get your camera and let’s go!” Not even dressed fully and without the benefit of a hairbrush yet, I said, “Not before coffee!IMG_1720In the early morning, we went the short distance to the Kodak-sheep-Michel-spot and found it wasn’t a secret location. A busload of Japanese visitors snapped selfies with the sheep, and we smiled at their delight.

Cows graze here, also.  Ahh! Butter!!

Cows graze here, also. Ahh! Butter!!

We left them posing for Facebook photos and we drove on to Saint Malo, a place on the coast that we had not seen previously. In many ways, I preferred it over Mont St. Michel, but that was not Jim’s travel advisory. We knew we had to hit the road from there by noon since I wanted Jim to fully enjoy his visit to the place that ranks a place on the wall by his easy chair. We found a great photography location, out of the way with only a couple of cars parked under the trees. After carefully locking the car doors, we walked on a polder, or dike wall, for a distant view of the towering beauty in the bay. I wished that I had taken my tripod for a less shaky image, especially for the night photography. I will try to stop complaining since I made the sacrifice for luggage space. We were a little worried about safety in this out-of-the way spot, so we returned to our car quickly after we got our photos and drove to the huge parking lot. Trams moved around quickly, but the walk from the parking lot can be quite some distance depending upon the parking spot.

Once we were moving along, I noticed an older couple seated near us. The sweet, gray-haired lady wore simple clothing, not stylish, reminding me of my mother who continued to wear blouses with ruffles and lace that she had sewn back in the sixties. I mentally put myself with Jim in the older couple’s place. Would we return for a nostalgic view of Jim’s much-loved place in France in years to come? When the tram stopped, we stood aside honoring the elderly couple and allowing them to move down for the long walk to the entry. Low and behold, they took off like the hare while we were slow as the turtle. My knee was complaining from all of the walking at St. Malo, not to mention the rambling around for photos on the dike. The old couple way ahead of us seemed fit for a marathon. We followed in their dust to our check-in at Les Terrasses Poulard. I had watched for several days until I saw a good rate on AARP for the hotel, and it was worth the price to be on the island when the majority of the tourists went away.IMG_1774IMG_1783We walked the ramparts with views of the bay all around and then selected a restaurant in the Hotel la Croix Blanche. Massive windows provided a panoramic scene of the sunset and protected us from the cold winds. During warmer weather, there are tables on the outside terrace. In the corner of the restaurant, a long table was surrounded by a lively group. The elderly marathon runners presided over the group. I couldn’t believe the transition when I saw the lady speaking with such authority and energy. Maybe it was the wine. Pour a glass for me.IMG_1745

Claudio and Jennifer - friendly and helpful service

Claudio and Jennifer – friendly and helpful service Hotel la Croix Blanche Restaurant

We knew before we entered the restaurant that we wanted mussels, a rare treat for us. We first enjoyed mussels in Sintra, Portugal, and I’m sure we will never find the exact taste again, but on Mont Saint Michel we had our mussels and frites and tried to keep up with the aged folks at the corner table.

After dessert, we walked in the rosy glow of the setting sun to the entry to see the waters rising. Some unfortunate soul had parked in the wrong place and had to call a tow truck to take away the car after the water climbed above the doors. I hope his insurance didn’t exclude Mont St. Michel. IMG_1797IMG_1798Now, this is the essence of Jim’s love for the island. I don’t mean the car in the water, although if he had an old jalopy he would probably sacrifice it to be overwhelmed by the tides. Actually, his 1999 Acura would qualify as a jalopy; at least it’s safe in Alabama. The tide’s powerful and rapid forces totally fascinate Jim. He stayed on the island with his sister Virginia and took photos of the tide’s progression in an almost time-lapse fashion. Virginia has more patience than I’ve ever given her credit for!

Just get Jim going, and he will tell you all about the tides saying how dangerous it is to be caught on the sands close to the incoming tides since you cannot outrun them. When he finishes rising and falling with the tides, he may tell you about the time he and Virginia stayed out so late that the hotel’s front desk was closed with their key inside. No worries, they went to a bar next door and found help so they could snooze on the island while the waters were rising.

The tides can vary greatly, at roughly 14 meters (46 ft.) between high and low water marks. Popularly nicknamed “St. Michael in peril of the sea” by medieval pilgrims making their way across the flats, the mount can still pose dangers for visitors who avoid the causeway and attempt the hazardous walk across the sands from the neighboring coast.
Occasional flooding has created salt marsh meadows that were found to be ideally suited to grazing sheep. The well-flavored meat that results from the diet of the sheep in the pré salé (salt meadow) makes agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow lamb) a local specialty that may be found on the menus of restaurants…

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After sleeping soundly, we were up and going early in the morning. The fog swept through the narrow lane creating a dream sequence in the clouds. Our luggage clattered on the stones, shattering the silence and opening the way for the next sightseers with their hopes and dreams of the “Wonder of the Western World.” I turned to have one last look and saw the hazy fog had folded the scene from view.


 

“Watcher of the Tides”
Oh, Watcher of the Tides, do you see?
“I love you” is etched on every grain of sand.
Oh, Watcher of the Tides, do you know?
An everlasting love – until the tides are no more.
Debbie Ambrous

Don’t forget to leave comments for Jim! He will want to hear what you think about his dear old Mont St. Michel. I wouldn’t be surprised if he caused the story to go viral! Look for the book “A French Opportunity” at  Amazon, available in paperback and on Kindle.

Perhaps you would enjoy these stories if you didn’t previously see them.  Just CLICK below:

“Free Stuff” – by Debbie Ambrous

Chateau Carrouges - 16th Century Gatehouse

Chateau Carrouges – 16th Century Gatehouse

Send your order in the next ten minutes and receive a FREE set of stainless steel cookware!” Have you ever been tempted into these promotions of FREE stuff that isn’t free in the least?

Valuable Free Stuff
Some free stuff is valuable, however. A red rose bush by my front door is welcoming visitors with sweet fragrance and dainty blossoms that bring a smile to my face. No credit cards or cash purchased the rose with branches woven into the stair railing and wrapped around my heart.mamarose My frail mama in her eighties, wearing a big straw sunhat, dug her trowel into the rich, black soil near the front window of her house – the window she looked through to watch the birds and her portion of the world pass by each day. A small stem with a delicate root system emerged, and with a big smile Mama presented it to me as a FREE gift. She isn’t there to look through the big window to see the blue birds and the brightly colored butterflies dart among her flowers anymore. Now, I gaze through my glass door to the flourishing rose bush and remember. Ah, yes, this is one of the valuable free gifts, worth more than the expensive ones that fade, rust, go out of style or tossed into the garbage.

What are your FREE gifts, worth more than money can buy?

A Bouquet, a Drawing and a Big Kiss
France heaped some of the free gifts into our arms without the necessary euros or credit cards in Jim’s wallet. We met new friends who lavished us with friendliness and kindness that we will treasure.IMG_0950 A lush bouquet of lilacs and roses was presented to me by a group of sweet children. One of the children, a little boy who is all-boy, rarely quiet and bursting with energy, drew a picture for me with a note in French. Translated from French the note said: “Hello, I hope you like the drawing. Love and a big kiss, Ilann.”

 

IMG_4644Thank you, Ilann! I love your picture of a French house with a giant tree, birds, a cat, the forest and a castle at the end of the road. You have a vivid imagination! Your artwork is safely kept in Alabama. I hope to see you again.

FREE CHATEAU TOUR
Occasionally, Jim’s wallet stayed in his pocket when we enjoyed a chateau visit. These rare, FREE CHATEAU tours were very welcome to lighten the cost of our trip. I am not complaining that the fee is too expensive at the castles and other monuments. I totally support the contributions for the upkeep as very worthwhile. IMG_1874Chateau Carrouges was a wonderful surprise and a free treat for Jim and me. We didn’t have any pictures to lure us to the site, so we were startled in a very good way when we crested the hill and looked down below to the pepper-pot towers and an orchard of flowering apple trees.IMG_1900 Yellow wildflowers and bluebells freshly decorated the grounds with their cry of spring and beyond the chateau, misty green hills beckoned in the distance. Chateau Carrouges, founded in the fourteenth century by Jean de Carrouges, has all of the attributes of a grand chateau with moats, terraces and a grand gatehouse. The chateau was in the Le Veneur de Tillieres family for almost 500 years before it was bought by the state. We found the gates open and no one to pay our admission fee for the entrance. The state lost on this one. We couldn’t enter the chateau, but the grounds were open for us to walk and enjoy. The chateau is constructed of brick, very unusual for the area and beautiful.IMG_1883IMG_1894 I fully enjoyed walking under the apple trees, heavy with pink blossoms, a delight for me to photograph and simply admire in the sunshine since we do not have apple orchards like these in the southern climate of Alabama. I had spotted a few apple orchards when Jim was driving, but none of them were convenient for a stop. I was pleased to have a whole orchard to myself. A few other tourists came and wandered around also, but we had it to ourselves most of the time. Such a wonderful FREE CHATEAU!

Could it be Onslow?
We had left our rental house in the Loire valley at Brehemont with St. Mont Michel as our main destination, but we hoped to see more of Normandy on our short two-day jaunt. On the return we squeezed in the chateau and a short tour of Bagnoles-de-l’Orne, a spa town which attracts thousands of arthritis sufferers to the thermal waters. Legend says that Hugues de Tesse left his horse Rapide to die quietly of old age in the forest, only for the animal to trot home in good health! Old Hugues found that a spring was the cause; he took a dip in the horse-curing waters and was rejuvenated. Unfortunately, the thermal rejuvenation is not a free gift. We absorbed only the atmosphere of gracious houses built for the wealthy and merchants’ window displays of expensive goods for the rich shoppers.

Bagnoles

Bagnoles-de-l’Orne , France

Bagnoles

Bagnoles-de-l’Orne, France

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We believe we spotted Onslow, one of the stars of “Keeping Up Appearances” a funny Brit-Com that we like to watch. He seemed out of place toting a shopping bag with pink handles and wearing only an undershirt in this rich town, but Onslow always dresses like this with a laid-back and no-care attitude.

In the comedy show, Onslow’s character is the lovable slob watching the telly whose ambition is to remain bone idle according to his wife Daisy.IMG_1853 Daisy reads romance novels, imagining a handsome man who gets her motor running. Hyacinth Bucket is the social-climbing sister with the primary aim of impressing people, especially the upper class of society. Hyacinth tries to avoid her poorer relatives, but rushes to their aid with love when she is needed. Richard is her long-suffering husband. Have you seen this series of comedy shows? Can you see Hyacinth wearing one of the hats in the photos and hoping she is mistaken for royalty?

Keeping Up Appearances: A Job for Richard” (1993)
Onslow: I’ll say this much for your Hyacinth, she leaves a lot of happiness behind her. It’s such a relief when she’s gone.
Onslow: Listen, Daisy. When I promised to love, honour and obey, I didn’t necessarily mean “every” Tuesday.
Hyacinth: Today could be the day I’m mistaken for somebody important.

Geoffrey Hughes – (February 2, 1944 – July 27, 2012) Mr. Hughes was an English stage, television and film star with many credits to his name, but we especially remember and thank him for the comedy of his performance as Onslow. I would like to think that he would have enjoyed “Free Stuff.”

So, there you have it: a free chateau, an opportunity to cure what ails you and Onslow with attitude. I would say that it was an all-around good day in France!  Thank ya’ll and come again!  Write a note below “free” without the first-class mail that Hyacinth demands!

 

“Opp Fest – 2014″ – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_4584Antique cars were gleaming in the sunshine, polished by their prideful owners for Opp Fest, and attracting young and old admirers. I found my best vantage point up a flight of stairs in front of the municipal building. I focused my camera for a photo of the line-up of colorful people and cars. Down below, I saw Jim shaking hands with a handsome fellow and hugging a nice-looking lady. Could that be Elaine, our old high-school teacher? Nah!! If so, she has hardly aged at all! Now, I know you are thinking anyone who taught us would be old, decrepit or lying under a tombstone. You are dead wrong! Elaine is still looking very attractive, and even more, she had a handsome guy on her arm; that lady is cougar material for sure! Whatever her secret is, it’s working!

Have you driven a car like this?

Have you driven a car like this?

This beauty was before my time, more in my parent's day instead.

This beauty was before my time, more in my parent’s day instead.

We parted company and continued our nosing around the antique autos. Back in the day, we remembered the cars on display, some just like the ones our parents or friends had owned. I stopped by a few of the models that I recognized from my youth, lost in reminiscence, thinking of the lovely people who drove cars just like these on the streets of Opp. I remembered: Mrs. Sasser had a Buick like this; Mr. Jackson drove a Ford exactly like the black one; Daddy owned a Studebaker similar to this one and Jim’s mother gave us a 1956 Chevy just one year older than the showy model on display. I parked Daddy’s turquoise Chevy with the high fins and shiny chrome to take my driver’s license test – in the very spot where the old cars were displayed. Somehow, I passed the test –even the parallel parking – the part of the test I dreaded most. Years have passed since then with many hours clocked under the steering wheel. That young teenager who was terrified of the officer who sat in the front seat for the test has different worries now. That scene seems only like a dream. Hard to believe that it happened in the same spot that I was standing. Hmm.. I better move on and catch up with the cougar.

I asked Jim, “What’s with keeping the car hoods open? I can’t get good photographs with the ugly engine out in the open.” Jim set me straight saying, “Why, that’s the key portion to display! Hours and hours have been spent refurbishing those engines, and in case you don’t realize it, that’s the most important part of the car!IMG_4582 Still not impressed with his answer, I said, “I still don’t get it. They should keep the hood down and just show the pretty outside appearance, like a lady who wants to impress someone, she …” Laughing at me, Jim said, “Yeah, you don’t know where you’re going with that line, do you?” He was right. It has been a long time. In fact, it was back to the time of these old cars when ladies dressed with the “hood down” so to speak. I must admit that women here in our community don’t dress like Kardashian as much as the Miami crowd where one could easily blush on a daily basis at the plunging necklines and short skirts only an inch or so from the crotch line.

We moved on to the art display and enjoyed the children’s art work first. Notice Charlize Mae Qualls won first prize with her creative entry.IMG_4592 Many families with cute children in tow were having a great day at Opp Fest. I saw one adorable little girl with a big bow in her curly blonde hair running around enthusiastically. I love capturing pictures of children, and I manage to snap great photos of young ones very often. IMG_4598But sometimes after I ask permission from the parents, the children go berserk, hiding under tables, running in sheer fright, crying and screaming. No coaxing or bribing will work. The cute little blonde finally warmed up to me a little bit, showing her pretty face and a timid smile. Thank you!

The art display next door at the Opp Cultural Arts Center was very impressive and included an entry by Toby Hollinghead.

Painting by: TOBY HOLLINGHEAD

Painting by: TOBY HOLLINGHEAD

You may remember an earlier post about the talented Ms. Hollinghead that also led to my interview of Doug Gitter with Gitter Gallery. Don’t miss these stories, if you did not see them earlier. CLICK here for Toby Hollinghead and CLICK here for Doug Gitter. I enjoyed meeting these interesting and talented people, and I’m very thankful that I had the privilege of sharing their stories here on A French Opportunity. The website for the Opp Cultural Arts Center has a great quote: “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up.Pablo Piccaso

He smiled for me like the next Brad Pitt!

He smiled for me like the next Brad Pitt!

 

 

If you missed our Opp Fest visit in 2012, CLICK to enjoy more pictures.

We enjoyed seeing the crafts on display such as Debra Coon’s booth. I searched for something cute to buy for grandson Daniel, but didn’t find his size. She has great items at very reasonable prices.IMG_4612

Drifting toward the bandstand to hear the music, people were gathered in a semi-circle, seated in the sunshine. I moved in close to the cute lead singer – Ethan King – while he sang with his heart in every word. IMG_4610His arms were deeply tanned and muscled like he worked hard for a living. He leaned toward me and I captured his ruggedly handsome features with my camera. Jim doesn’t worry about any romantic entanglement when I move upstage in these situations. No. He worried that I would be entangled in the sound system with its huge speakers and that my big feet would kick out the sound, or knock out the entire City of Opp’s electricity! I’m moving with more finesse than that, almost like a cougar!

After enjoying my photo session with the singer, I was wondering why no one was applauding after each song. The cute and talented performer was pouring his heart out, and the band was working up a sweat in the heat, yet no one clapped! I turned and asked a few folks near me about the applause in a low voice. Either they didn’t hear me, or thought I should mind my own business, because no one replied. Jim put his arm around me and shoved me on down the street. He offered this advice, “Do you remember in the movie ‘Marie Antoinette’ when she was at the opera and no one clapped? She was top of the heap then so everybody clapped along with her when she asked them to join her. But then later on when folks thought she was lower than scum and she clapped at the opera, they sat and stared at her like she was a low-down skunk. I think we should mosey over here to the pork skin and boiled peanuts stand since I’m not King Louis XVI! No clapping, ya’ hear?IMG_4618We didn’t cover all of the exhibits and didn’t go to the carnival to see the amusement rides. I don’t have as many photos as I would have liked since my knee was hurting. A few days before Opp Fest, I fell at the end of our driveway and smashed my knee which still looked like a cross between a watermelon and a purple cabbage. You didn’t know, did you? I thought there was some reason you didn’t send flowers and chocolates.

We met up with some of Jim’s kinfolks as we were leaving. As you can see, he was happy to get reacquainted. Ya’ll come back now!  We had great fun at Opp Fest!  Hope to see you there next year!

Jim and his kinfolk - Thanks for being such a good sport, Jim!!!

Jim and his kinfolk – Thanks for being such a good sport, Jim!!!  Did you win a prize for ME?

We hope to show off grandson Daniel at Opp Fest one day!

We hope to show off grandson Daniel at Opp Fest one day!

 

 

 

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Since I don’t have anything much for the French theme on this page, I have added photos on the (CLICK) France – Storytelling and Pictures page. I created the page when I started the blog with this type of situation in mind. Enjoy!

The hot pink bag lady hopes you click on the book below to ORDER YOUR COPY.

The hot pink bag lady hopes you click on the book to ORDER YOUR COPY of  A French Opportunity.