“Fractured Fairy Tales” – by Debbie Ambrous

CHATEAU VILLANDRY - Follow the Fractured Fairy Tale and then read the romantic story of the Spaniard and American who restored the magnificent chateau and gardens.

CHATEAU VILLANDRY – Follow the Fractured Fairy Tale and then read the romantic story of the Spaniard and the American, the restorers of the magnificent chateau and gardens.

A beautiful princess and a dashing prince marry with a lavish ceremony followed by a honeymoon in an exotic locale, then return to live happily in the castle of dreams. We are skeptical of this scenario from the first words spoken. Beautiful princess! How much of her beauty came from the cosmetic surgeon’s office? How long will they live happily until the divorce? Yes, we grew up and learned the truth long before reality television reached popularity.

Back in the early seventies when my two older children were little, they watched Fractured Fairy Tales on television. The cartoon show featured the typical fairy tales, such as Cinderella or Pinocchio, told in a totally wacky style with puns that only the parents would understand. The creators evidently knew that mothers were nearby scrubbing toilets, or sorting the weebles from the wobbles in the toy chest of a mother’s life. Why shouldn’t she have some laughs since she had to endure the cartoon re-runs, sort out the squabbles between the children and clean up the cookie crumbs thereafter?

I thought that my life could be cast in a Fractured Fairy Tale much easier than the sumptuous life in Chateau Villandry. Then again, I don’t have to take in paying visitors to tramp around my house and garden to pay the electric bill and taxes. Perhaps I am exaggerating about the Chateau Villandry’s circumstances since I do not know the bottom-line of their finances. However, the owners of many stately castles and manor homes do require this income from visitors and rentals to cover their expenses. Life behind those magnificent doors is often not cracked up to be as imagined by the mere peasants of common life.

It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation that give happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson

Jim and I began our fractured fairy tale of tranquility and occupation in a 528 square ft. (49 sq. meters) new mobile home which we owned and located on a wooded lot in the countryside in Alabama. I planted azaleas, roses, dogwood trees and flowers from Granny Bryan’s flower beds. We had a beautiful rusty-colored Irish setter that roamed through the woods with us behind our new home. Inside, everything was new and cozy with Early American furniture reproductions, white ruffled curtains at the kitchen windows, braided rug on the floor, imitation brick flooring and green appliances. No, I am not referring to eco-green, energy saving appliances. The range, sink, refrigerator, washing machine and the bathtub were green. Do you remember those times? We had art on the wall like any respectable chateau fit for a princess in a fractured fairy tale. A woodsy scene with mountains, waterfalls and streams was laminated to cardboard and stapled into a wood frame. Positioned above the Early American style, over-stuffed sofa the faux painting was inspiration for tranquility, if not splendor.

Joachim Carvallo and his wife, Ann Coleman, were passionate collectors of old paintings.  "I enjoyed the paintings.  The lady on the left could star in a Fractured Fairy Tale with that hairstyle!"

I enjoyed the painting collection. The lady on the left could star in a Fractured Fairy Tale with that hairstyle!”

The ceiling comes from the Maqueda ducal palace, built in the 15th century in Toledo, Spain.  The palace was dismantled in 1905 and Joachim Carvallo brought one of the ceilings back to Villandry.

The ceiling comes from the Maqueda ducal palace, built in the 15th century in Toledo, Spain. The palace was dismantled in 1905 and Joachim Carvallo brought one of the ceilings back to Villandry.

Napoleon's youngest brother was the owner of Villandry for several years during the Empire period.  This room's furniture and design, therefore, is in the Empire style: mahogany furnture and red watered silks.

Napoleon’s youngest brother was the owner of Villandry for several years during the Empire period. This room’s furniture and design, therefore, is in the Empire style: mahogany furniture and red watered silks.

The mobile home would fit in the foyer of the Chateau Villandry with room left to form a small trailer park. My trailer flower garden would be laughable in comparison, but it was my own version of the “Love Garden” found at Villandry. Happiness grew, and I learned how to nurture my plants along with my marriage. From the narrow viewpoint of some people we may have appeared as trailer park trash. I have no problem with poking fun at myself. At the same time, I will hold my head up and say that we were honest, hard-working young people starting a life together modestly. Jim was a part-time college student working an auto parts counter at a GM dealership, and I worked full-time at an insurance agency.

If you own a home with wheels and several cars without, you might be a redneck!” – Jeff Foxworthy

We had great fun with our friends on camping trips and doing simple stuff. Thinking back, some of it was little more than a continuation of some of the same fun from our childhood, such as playing cards and watching the guys play Saturday afternoon football.

The Marquis de Castellance redesigned this room in the 18th-century style: Louis XV paneling replaced the old tapestries, while parquet replaced the marble flooring.  The salmon pink walls and fountain hint at the Provencal origins of the Marquis.  In 1934, this room was listed as a historic monument.

The Marquis de Castellance redesigned this room in the 18th-century style: Louis XV paneling replaced the old tapestries, while parquet replaced the marble flooring. The salmon pink walls and fountain hint at the Provencal origins of the Marquis. In 1934, this room was listed as a historic monument.

Notice the upside-down fork.  By turning the fork in this position the displayed family crest would show the family's social status.

Notice the upside-down fork. By turning the fork in this position the displayed family crest would show the family’s social status.

The rich, sweet smell of the hayricks rose to his chamber window; the hundred perfumes of the little flower-garden beneath scented the air around; the deep-green meadows shone in the morning dew that glistened on every leaf as it trembled in the gentle air: and the birds sang as if every sparkling drop were a fountain of inspiration to them. ~ The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

“The rich, sweet smell of the hayricks rose to his chamber window; the hundred perfumes of the little flower-garden beneath scented the air around; the deep-green meadows shone in the morning dew that glistened on every leaf as it trembled in the gentle air: and the birds sang as if every sparkling drop were a fountain of inspiration to them.” ~ “The Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens

The size of our accommodation didn’t hold us back from entertaining. Don’t envision any Martha Stewart decorations and dining. I’m going to tell on myself and let you know my true colors with redneck running rampant. Jim and I invited our friends over for a pizza party at our mobile home. See, already we were cooking up foreign Italian dishes with no grits or gravy involved. I was the cook with boxes of Chef Boyardee pizza mix in the kitchen and Jim in control of the entertainment. Can you imagine mixing up the ingredients and shoving the pizzas in the oven to feed a crowd? I thought nothing of it, and I declare that Jim must have put a sign outside saying “Ya’ll come on in, FREE food and entertainment here!”, or he was down at the 7-11 inviting all the customers to drive south to the green and white mobile home on the right. The Statler Brothers were singing good old country music while pepperoni-topped pizza was popping out of the oven in shifts. A dozen, or more, people were standing inside talking and laughing when we heard a loud BANG!! at the backside of the trailer. We had clearly exceeded our load limit, and one of the concrete blocks that leveled our mobile home had shattered from the weight of our multiple guests.

If your wife weighs more than your refrigerator, then you might be a redneck.” – Jeff Foxworthy

I probably weighed less than 110 pounds at the time, so it wasn’t me!! Honest. Now, who can say they had a party that brought the house down like this one? I’m sure that Chateau Villandry never threw a shindig like ours. A fractured fairytale, indeed!

Photo displayed in the drawing room.

Photo displayed in the drawing room.

Chateau Villandry’s love tale is a splendid one. A young doctor from Spain, Joachim Carvallo, came to France in 1893. Doctor Carvallo studied with a medical research group in Paris, and there he met the American intern, Ann Coleman. Ms. Coleman was the daughter of a master blacksmith in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. They were married in Paris, and three children were born there. Then, some seven years later they sunk all of their savings to restore their dream home: Chateau Villandry and the gardens. They transformed the romantic park to the stunningly beautiful gardens we see today. Now that is a love story to inspire and endear any romantic soul. Not a fractured story at all!

Fractured Fairy Tales are lived and told in every land and every language. I hope I didn’t ruffle any feathers, or rattle any armor, with my silly story while featuring the beautiful chateau on the page. You will find serious and interesting facts by CLICKING here for the website and CLICK here for the book A French Opportunity which includes more history of the chateau.
Praise for Fractured Fairy Tales (CLICK to check it out) may entice you to read the book.  I should hire them to promote my book!
It’s a great book, no lie. – Pinocchio
I couldn’t lay it down – The Golden Goose
These stories really cook. – Hansel & Gretel
Ribbit! – The Frog Prince

Ya’ll come back for more adventures, out of the ordinary and slightly cracked!  Thank you visiting and sharing the link with friends.

“Almost Paradise” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_2881What inscription would appear on the gold plaque below an oil portrait in an ornate gold frame, displayed at the grand chateau staircase, if the splendid image peering back was my face? Oh, that is an easy one! Let the engraving begin: “Francophile and Passionate Garden Lover – Debbie Ambrous

The Love Garden - Later as the flowers mature, bright colors will burst within the hearts and other shapes.

The Love Garden – Later as the flowers mature, bright colors will burst within the hearts and other shapes.

I couldn’t help it. I grew as the flowers grew in Granny Bryan’s garden, following in her footsteps and snipping begonias to root in clay flower pots. Seed catalogs arrived in the mail, and they were just as much fun to read and feed my imagination as the Sears Roebuck catalog. I was learning to transplant, propagate, mulch, fertilize and prune before I reached my teens. While I’m still not an expert, the language of flowers and plants is deeply instilled.

Terraces provide many viewpoints of the gardens.

Terraces provide many viewpoints of the gardens.

People of the same persuasion are drawn to Chateau Villandry and the immense gardens, and others immediately fall under its spell. This landscape is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Villandry was built in 1536 by Jean Le Breton, Minister of Finance for Francois I. Only the keep remains of a medieval castle that was razed in order to make way for the chateau. In 1754, the Marquis de Castellane, who came from a noble Provencal family, purchased the chateau and had it redesigned to meet 18th-century standards of comfort. In 1906, the chateau was bought by Joachim Carvallo, the great-grandfather of the present owner. He created 16th century-style gardens that were in perfect harmony with the architecture of the chateau. Each room enjoys its own unique view, particularly of the gardens.

Doesn't this scene touch your heart?

Doesn’t this scene touch your heart?

Jim and I arrived mid-day on a sunny day, better than a rainy one, in mid-May. A gray-haired lady was seated on a bench with a gentleman, and his arm rested tenderly on her shoulders – a scene of love for each other and for the gardens. I understood and shared those feelings. My heart beat faster when my eyes were filled with the beauty of the gardens, lakes and the chateau. I needed my own bench to sit and reflect.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. – Luther Burbank

Like-minded tourists were stooping to admire the flowers and their cameras were clicking away. We smiled and talked with a few including two pretty ladies from Thailand. I promised to include their pictures in the blog. I hope they didn’t lose their notes, like I lost mine.

Notice the people on the tower on the background - a soaring view of the gardens.

Lovely young lady who modeled her gardening hat on the shady terrace – Notice the people on the tower on the background – a soaring view of the gardens.

The young women were dressed prettily with sunhats poised as UV protection.
IMG_2975

Children played on the lake banks and skipped along the pathways.

We saw a family playing together at the tennis court and thought it could be family members from the chateau since the grounds were private. A happy dog was petted and pampered in the sunshine. IMG_2862

IMG_2977

Since we didn’t have an invitation to join them, we moved along to drink in the rich beauty of the magnificent garden.

"Honey, will you watch the children while I go to the bathroom?"  Dads are in control.

“Honey, will you watch the children while I go to the bathroom?” Dads are in control!

IMG_2971-3

Swans played daredevil at the edge

Swans played daredevil at the edge

Then it was time for lunch.

We didn’t bring a picnic lunch, so we left to eat at an outdoor café along the Loire River, a short distance away. After a leisurely, peaceful meal in the breeze, imagining how wonderful it would be if I could live there and follow this routine every day, I forced myself to return to the gardens – almost paradise!

IMG_2872IMG_2981IMG_2875I couldn’t possibly include the pictures of the interior of the chateau in this one post. Another time, we can walk inside to see the paintings (no portraits of me inside) and climb the circular staircase in the tower for a birds-eye view of the gardens. Ya’ll come back!
I anticipate a few very busy months, so I will only post every two weeks instead of weekly. I wish I could say that I will be spending all of my time, busily gardening at Chateau Ambrous. I do hope to fit in some of that personal joy.IMG_2978What are your plans for your flower gardens? Do you enjoy the planning and planting almost as much as the flourishing finale? Let’s hope the weather cooperates. Agreed? Don’t forget to leave your comments for others to enjoy and perhaps a few suggestions for me.

The history and commentary for the gardens and chateau were derived from the tourist brochure.  All photos are the personal property of Debbie Ambrous.

“A Bell is Ringing” – by Debbie Ambrous

The village of Villandry beyond the walls is enticing.

The village of Villandry beyond the walls is enticing and beckoning us to come along its narrow winding lanes.

A simple procedure without complications, uneventful, I must admit. Yes, that was the truth of the matter. Telling the story of my minor surgery in comical, whimsical words was as silly as a cat chasing a ball with a bell inside. The soft ball bounces hither and thither, and the bell rings, luring the cat to pounce again. Smile, we must. Simple pleasures often fill our needs as much as the deep and rich.IMG_1995-2

The bell kept ringing. My story was not weighty or serious, but it was an expression of how I felt through a minor ordeal. Sharing the ups and downs with others provided an outlet of relief for me. Yet, when I had scarcely finished the last words, I heard that a dear friend had serious heart surgery and another was due for intensive surgery on her neck. IMG_1996-1The bell sounded louder, no playful jingling. Their stories are more important and must be heard compassionately by those who love them, and possibly by strangers who will benefit from their experiences. In the telling of their stories, there is healing.

Catastrophes, on a global scale and personal, have deep and emotional stories to be told by those who have survived and endured. Sounding sharp and clear as a bell, the hurt is uttered in agonized words, repeated to anyone who will listen. “He just went to the store for bread and eggs. I set the table and started the coffee. I thought he would be back in just a few minutes …” “The roar of the wind was like a freight train. It was so dark and she wasn’t moving…” Painful stories, ones we want to end with happiness, but sadly that is not yet.

Careful!  Hold my hand!

Careful! Hold my hand!

Jim and I saw a documentary about a typhoon in the Pacific. A young Father stood in a structure with little except the frame remaining. He pointed to a corner and said, “We huddled in this corner together, the whole family praying, and the building ripped apart around us.” With a big smile, he said, “We are so thankful that all of us are alive!” I know he and his family will tell that story many times over! The bell will peal out in happiness!

Yes, there is a time for a whimsical story like a silly cat chasing a ball with a dinging bell. With this image in mind, I remembered a cat in Villandry, France, with a “Don’t mess with me!” attitude. He would probably annihilate a toy ball and dare you try that again! I met the cat with the tiger personality on a narrow street leading to the corner gourmand café, and with quick movements I proudly captured his picture. He is a fitting mascot and representative for today’s tale.

What flowers blossom, hidden in the gardens beyond this gate?

What flowers blossom, hidden in the gardens beyond this gate?

Jim and I walked the streets in the village and peeked through a gate to the magnificent Chateau Villandry and Gardens – my most anticipated visit! (If you read a previous story, you already know that Jim’s favorite in all of France is Mont St. Michel.) IMG_1989-1IMG_1999-5IMG_2000-3IMG_1980-1We had arrived in France in mid-April and planned to stay until the first of June. I was biding my time, waiting for the perfect profusion of flowers in the massive gardens.IMG_2004-2

Were the flowers ready for me yet? We waited a little longer, but the time was coming for my sunhat and camera.

I thought of the old Beatles song “Till There Was You” when bells were ringing and flowers were blooming and not even noticed. Not at all, till there was you.

There were bells on a hill
But I never heard them ringing
No, I never heard them at all
Till there was you
There were birds in the sky
But I never saw them winging
No, I never saw them at all
Till there was you
Then there was music and wonderful roses
They tell me in sweet fragrant meadows
Of dawn and dew
– Till There Was You – The Beatles

Ya’ll come back!   Don’t forget to leave a comment.  Tell us about your cats!  What do they chase?  Does your cat have a personality like a lamb, or a tiger?  Are you inspired by survival stories?  I know that I am.   On another day, we will return for a wander in those beautiful gardens and a royal tour of the chateau.  We will notice those flowers and possibly hear bells chiming in the enchanting village of Villandry.

Where do we go next?  These are very old Michelin sign posts.

Where do we go next? This is a very old Michelin sign post.  Lignieres is 9 kilometers that way

 

 

“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?!!

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!