“Our Street” – by Debbie Ambrous

October, 2016Our street is an atmospheric lane assigned a road number with no acknowledgement that I have any attachment, much less any claim to mention that it is our street – mine and Jim’s.  I do not need legal papers prepared in triplicate, signed and witnessed to mark this street as mine to share with you and especially, my partner in life, Jim.  The community of homes, people and surrounding vista of fields and mountains still remains as a memory, a road that Jim and I can travel anytime when we say, “Do you remember the ancient wooden wagon by the barn on our street?”  Maybe the street will change in coming years, but I hope not too much. Before I take too many right and left turns, or stops at junctions on our street I will explain the location for you.  If you have read earlier blog stories, you will know about the stunning and comfortable barn remodel called La Ruche in Samoëns, France, where Jim and I spent an idyllic autumn.  We explored the area each day, seeing Mont Blanc, waterfalls and lakes.  No matter how exquisite the scenery on our daily jaunts, we felt happy to return to our street for a walk after dinner, or perhaps we started our day with a meander to see what was happening.  What would we see that we missed on our last walk?  The weather cast a different light on the barns, fields and mountains with misty haze on some mornings and then golden rays in the late afternoon.  Each day had its own special magic.Diamond-shaped pieces of wood framed windows and the balcony of one house.  My daddy, who owned a cabinet business in Alabama, would have appreciated the simplicity of the decoration. He built cornices with scallops and curves for windows when they were popular.  I still have a faded green cornice with a unique design cut into the wooden edges at the window with lace curtains from France in my laundry room.  Styles come and go so fast, but the wooden houses on the street we claimed as ours are standing firm in tradition with watering troughs in the front yard embellished with dates from the 1800’s.  Now, that isn’t something you can pick up at Ikea. A rusty, crumpled sign advertised Formica.  Do you remember when colorful kitchen counter tops everywhere had Formica?  Another style gone away in favor of granite and other new products, but the sign reminds me of my childhood when Daddy had sheets of the material in his shop and samples on chains for ladies to select.  Would they go wild with orange, or classy with fake marble?  I built a Roman amphitheater, using fake marble Formica samples for an eighth-grade class assignment.  Now, after you stop laughing at my grandiose creation, try to imagine it assembled on a piece of plywood, built in tiers with an open field for the gladiators.  You must admit that a small town girl who can build a classic Roman structure from Formica is likely to succeed and go places!  Jim wasn’t in my school class and he didn’t know anything about my contribution to the fall of Rome when he married me, but he says it sure explains a lot about me now.When we walked along our street from La Ruche we kept seeing new places for firewood storage under the long, sloping eaves and other ingenious storage solutions.  We were looking high under the eaves one day and saw an old motorcycle stored with the firewood. 

Benches were near the front door at almost every house, built sturdy to last a long time in the weather.  They looked heavy, probably weighing much more than I do.  No smart comments out there!  I didn’t see a one that I disliked, and I kept wishing with each artisan’s bench that I could take hand-crafted woodwork home with me.

Gardens with the autumn crop of vegetables growing in dark, loamy soil attracted me as much as a candy store. Onions, garlic and zucchini fresh from the garden would be packed with nutrition and delicious.  I wanted to get my hands in the soil to dig and plant.  The flowers trailing from window boxes and arranged along stairways reminded me of my window boxes and flower pots on my Alabama steps, so many that my guests can hardly find a place to climb to my doorway. Hearts were everywhere: cutouts of hearts in the timber framing of houses, hearts carved in barn doors, woven straw hearts, hearts on window curtains and painted red hearts on watering cans. 

How could this not bring a smile to the face of even the toughest character?  Red apples bobbing on trees and the trickle of fountains along the street added to the peacefulness.  We saw more tractors parked near the front door than BMW’s.  Bicycles zipped along the lane with families riding along together.  A gray-headed lady whizzed past and I felt like shouting an encouraging: “Go Granny, Go!” 

 

Roosters, hens, sheep and cows warily kept an eye on us when we said our greetings in English.  Jim had some advice for the cows when he spread a tasty picnic lunch in the sunshine on a lovely day at La Ruche.  The aroma of our delicious food was quickly overtaken by the odor of cow patties drifting our way from the fields.  We stayed at the table as long as we could and hoped the wine would overpower our senses and drown the disgusting odor, but nothing could conquer the stench of the cow’s revenge for my daily photography.  When we stacked our picnic goodies and went through the sliding glass door, Jim had a final word for the cattle: “I’m buying a Sam’s Club-sized package of Imodium for you cows, and then we can have our picnic!

Another couple down the street from us had a lovely picnic spread at their front door when we passed along on our walk.  On the return, I noticed that she was napping on a lounge chair.  Another peaceful memory that I claim for our street

I hope you enjoyed the short stroll with us.  You can visit and claim the peaceful lane for your street.  Just CLICK to Alps Accommodations where they are ever so helpful!!

I have another truly delicious recommendation for you.  We were recently in Columbus, Georgia and found a French bakery that is to die for!!

You will think you went through the front door of a Georgia brick business building and landed in France.  Just below the Eiffel Tower you will find wonderful, flaky croissants and other scrumptious pastries, fresh and perfect.  Did I mention the coffee?  Oh, just get in your car and get on over to My Boulánge, 111 12th Street, Suite 101, Columbus, GA 31901 !!  Special thanks to the owner, Bruno Rizzo, for a beautiful beginning for our morning with pastries and coffee that I wish I could taste every day!

You can read more about travel in France in the book “A French Opportunity”  (Kindle or paper back) during your warm summer days.  Perhaps you would like to CLICK over to check it out.  Thank you for taking the time to come around to visit us.  I love to see your comments!

All recommendations are unsolicited with no payment received for my glowing reports.  All photos are the property of Debbie Ambrous.

“Europe in Florida” – by Debbie Ambrous

May, 2017All things French usually appears on this blog page with only an occasional foray into various themes and subjects.  I believe you will agree that Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is an enchanting, extravagant estate which could grace the shores of the Mediterranean and easily seem part of all things French.  Let’s take a peek inside and outside, but first, allow me to share a little background.

A few weeks ago husband Jim and I took the long way around Florida starting on the east coast and traveling down to Coconut Grove, Florida, our old neighborhood where we enjoyed living for fourteen years among the tropical foliage with peacocks squawking in the trees and strutting down the streets like they owned the neighborhood.   The architecture of the homes varied from small cottages to jaw-dropping gorgeous mansions, with styles ranging from Tudor to Mediterranean.  I loved the walks, bike rides and my personal nest in a wicker chair on the balcony surrounded by brilliant orchids and shaded by a massive flamboyant tree.  I miss my tree house perch and all that flowed around it, the sweet friends that we met and the Cuban food we learned to enjoy with them.  But that was far from the only cuisine we enjoyed since every type food imaginable is there to sample, including a favorite French restaurant, Le Bouchon, which has been described as “Paris in the Palms.”

We drove the streets of our old neighborhood and we found the beautiful homes and the lush gardens remained much the same, but to our disappointment we saw one of the most beautiful, a historic home had been razed to the ground, scraping the beautiful flowers that I admired so many times into a dead, brown heap.  We learned later that a multiplex will be built there, likely modern cube-like construction like several other homes that we saw, painted stark white.  I don’t disapprove of modern construction, but it would be a shame for this unique neighborhood to lose its ambiance.  I knew in advance that where we had lived was being remodeled; I hope for betterment and not any further spoiling of this special place.

Now, I will hush with my complaints and go on with my Europe in Florida theme to share the palatial home and gardens that was only a bike ride from my tree house perch in Coconut Grove.  We escorted friends and family as their personal tour guides many times.  Thanks to our lovely friends Alan and Cathi, we attended a special, lavish gala in the evening, with Vizcaya glittering at its best.  I don’t remember the circumstances but our attendance was a last-minute affair.  I was still working on my makeup and adjusting my long, flouncy organza skirt and silky top, both in midnight black, as Jim drove there and parked.  Nonetheless, I felt like a princess for the evening in the moonlight, strolling where real movie stars, billionaires, the Pope and Presidents stepped with their expensive, designer shoes.

Our visit was in the heat this time in mid-May, wearing cotton casual and in my case a sunhat for an exploration of the dream home and gardens brought to life by the industrialist, James Deering.  Deering enlisted 1,000 workers in 1914 to create this 70-plus room mansion and gardens.  Deering along with his design partner Paul Chalfin scoured Europe for furnishings, antiques and paintings. Gilded panels, carved mantels and fresco ceilings from Tuscany and France appear in the rooms, amazing visitors at every turn.

The Tea Room has sleek marble floors, reflecting a rainbow of light, beaming through stained glass doors, but on the day I visited a group of school students sat on the floor listening to the teacher.  So, I didn’t see the rainbow of color on the marble floors, but I hoped the students absorbed appreciation of what they were privileged to tour and would develop an outlook for conserving beauty like this in the Grove.

I loved all of it from the Breakfast Room with Chinese ceramics and Neapolitan seascapes on the walls to the kitchen with brilliant copper pans.  If you visit, be sure to see the small room with glass cabinets filled with French china.  I have a few pieces, but nothing like this stunning collection.

I must agree with other writers about the mansion and gardens who have said that any trip to Vizcaya would be incomplete without a tour of its Edenic grounds.  Since we visited in the mid-day heat, we searched for shady areas in the gardens.  The Formal Gardens are not unlike Versailles with the mesmerizing, geometric patterns, lush mazes and classical statues, but the unique features of Vizcaya shine through with tropical surroundings of palms, rare orchids and Cuban limestone.

There is a hint of the Miami skyline from the water’s edge and at the highest elevation of the garden.  You will not forget that you are in Florida! 

We found another reminder of Florida in the creeping, crawling, big, ugly kind.  A large iguana was sunning at water’s edge, marking its territory as tourists clicked their cameras at the celebrity of the hour.

My favorite section in the garden is The David A. Klein Orchidarium where rows of vibrant Vandas and rare Cymbidiums dangle overhead.  Wind whipped the blooms when we were there, so it was difficult to get my photography accomplished without blurry images.  I saw people reaching and holding the blooms.  I am proud to say that I did not touch the orchids anymore than I touched the iguana!!We had lunch in the café on the grounds in a cozy setting.  We had Mahi-mahi with fries, and I couldn’t resist a Cuban coconut pastry.  Just for old times’ sake!  Such wonderful memories!

James Deering officially took residence in 1916 with an elaborate ceremony complete with gondolas, cannons and Deering’s friends dressed in Italian peasant costumes.  It is easy to envision this scene at the waterfront, minus the iguana, with gondolas bobbing in the bay and laughing guests celebrating in a grand style.  Deering lived there during the winter months until his death in 1925.  His stay and visit at Vizcaya was too short.  What a remarkable legacy he left behind!I hope you enjoyed our visit to Europe in Florida.  As you can imagine, there is a wealth of history to delve into if you so desire to search further on your own.  I have only tip-toed over the high spots.

Thank you for coming along with us.  Next time I should return to all things French, like usual, unless something special happens!  Take care and I do hope you are enjoying your summer.  I love hearing from you.  Just jot a line below to leave a comment on this story and share your thoughts along with other readers.

You can read more about Coconut Grove and France in the book “A French Opportunity” during your warm summer days maybe in a personal nest like the retreat I had in Florida.

 

Perhaps you would like to CLICK over to check out the book partially composed on this very balcony!