I gladly accepted but confess that last night I almost begged off. I've been working hard every day and yesterday was no exception. Not to mention the snowy cold, standing 4 hours in my boutique with nary a visitor ... and a stone cold house (save my bedroom and bath). I was cranky and tired and anticipating a difficult time keeping up with the conversation. But I had already purchased my contribution and at about a quarter to eight, roused myself to begin changing clothes. no sooner had I done so then there was a rat-a-tat-tat at my door and there was Nicole. I 'desolée'd' all over myself as I struggled with my boots. I had about 4 layers on (knitted leggings over jeans and wool socks over cotton socks)... I couldn't get the damn things zipped up. I decided to forego the wool socks and achieved success. I had zero maquillage and a sour disposition to boot. I told Nicole I had a somewhat 'mauvaise humeur' today and she tut-tutted and told me a glass of wine could but help.
I threw on any old thing and let down my rat's nest (otherwise known as unwashed for over week hair that had been sand-dusted daily during my furniture project). I definitely have been looking my age this week, what with the fire starting, furniture sanding, and general harumphyness.
But I was excited to see this new friend's living quarters. As I stroll Brantôme regularly, I wonder what lurks behind those old sooty stone walls and often closed shutters. Isabelle lives just above my favorite butcher in town ... on the 3rd American floor, 2nd french. as we approach via the very old, very narrow side alley, Nicole points out the terrasse. I've eyed this flat with curiousity during my walks. I think to myself it looks as if she might not be there, the house looks dark as coal. We buzz and then Nicole steps back into the middle of the street. After a few minutes, the shutters and window opens and a smiling Isabelle leans out with a small box. She calls down key instructions and drops the box 3 floors down for us to catch. We let ourselves in to the lobby. It is clean and well-lit and could be any small Parisian entry...the staircase awaits and we ascend. Her apartment occupies the entire 3rd level, so the doorway is flush with the stair landing. It opens into a small entry way and then on into a hall.
Isabelle is a schoolteacher with 2 children (I believe!) and is divorced (also believe, some things I just try and go with the flow and await to be revealed as opposed to my natural American curiousity which would have me posing a thousand questions).
the apartment has been 'modernized'. I would guess this might have happened in the 70s. Everything is in good shape, the walls are papered with some sort of textured material with a fleck of blue and the trim is the same blue. lovely wood floors. 4 doors ( I later learn there are 3 bedrooms! 2 large and 1 smaller plus the w.c. and a bath. We follow the hall to another door and step down into a very large great room (living, dining, kitchen combo). There are vaulted ceilings (the REAL thing with huge original beams) one wall of stone where you can make out the outline of the original fireplace. the floors are tiled in red terra cotta affixed between broad wooden floor beams. She has a big leather couch and matching chairs (I exclaim about the difficulties there must have been in getting it in the apt), a huge armoire on one wall, a dining room table with seating for 6. the modern and well-equipped kitchen is open to the room ... kind of 'u' shaped but with a half wall and counter so the hostess can see her guests. The room is big and airy and lightly furnished ... some plants in a corner. She has cleverly used the old drawers from inside her armoire to create a coffee table ... there are 4 big drawers turned upside down to create a square. These drawers were made of solid wood and form a sturdy table. cool idea. noted!
The apartment was, on a whole, warm and cozy and inviting. The bedroom I saw was suprisingly huge! This flat is smack in the center of the village and I was told it was quite reasonable (by Nicole who is very frugal). The only drawback I could see was no garden or garage. But she has a huge wooden balcony with french doors leading out...I imagine in spring it is lovely to sit out there and look at the ancient roofline. It housed a table for four, various chairs, bikes etc and still roomy.
The table already has some apero items laid out ... little squares of caviar toast! nuts! etc. Nicole and I unload our sacks of goodies ... I've brought wine, paté de campagne, a little bag of goat cheese crisps, some olives & pickled goodies. Oh and some sliced chorizo (the meats are from said butcher above). Nicole has a huge green salad, some liver paté (she calls it mousse) and a bottle of Monbazillac. Isabelle has a large tart in process (tuna and tomato) and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.
Our 4th arrives just as we are (finally) uncorking the wine. Its Nathalie (the fast talking Belgian escargot lover that I had trouble keeping up with beore). She carries a dessert tart.
we all settle down around the table and begin nibbling! and drinking! I notice a bit guiltily that I've made it through my 1st glass rather quickly but accept a refill...I seemed to keep a slurp or 2 ahead of everyone for the evening.
Maybe because there were fewer people, maybe because my French is slowly progressing, maybe it was the wine ... but I had an easier time keeping up this time. Let's see ... here's a smattering of topics discussed by 4 women in France on a Friday night ...
~~the weather and a funny story about a truck who lost its load of pigs today
~~car problems of Isabelle and Nicole and resulting frustrations given cost and immobility
~~the weather's effect on health and well being...including our collective dry and brittle skin! lol, this year I'm on a second round of dryness and cracking on my fingers. I had chalked it up to my wimpiness. who knew everyone had these 'crevasses' and it also has to do with lack of humidity and dry air and freezing cold, etc.
~~on this note Isabelle retrieve a book she had on ancient remedies (a gift from Nicole) and funny anecdotes were exchanged about family cures and traditions. For example, Nicole swears by her grandmother's hemorrhoid treatment (lol, imagine me trying to verify I had understood the ailment) ... but anyway the treatment (I SWEAR!) was to put a 'pomme de terre à ton poche', that's right - a potato in your pocket will do it. There was much chuckling at my eyerolling, but Nicole insists! Then other homeopathic and preventive measures in light of the flu season were examined thoroughly.
~~various diet and eating practices were chatted about.
~~we ventured into a discussion about skiing and a few funny experiences with giving it a go.
~~a few recipes
~~quite a bit of discussion about being unemployed in France and the various bureaucracies encountered in dealing with it, looking for work, receiving compensation, etc.
well there was more but that's a good part of it. did you all notice that there was no mention of men? no discussing the fellows, relationships, the good bad or indifferent. JY laughingly once called a group of Perigourdines a pit of vipers (gossip and plotting and such....)... so there, take it back, mon monsieur! :P
Throughout the evening, someone would stop and inquire if I had understood, if I were tracking along with the conversation. I was happy to be able to confirm and repeat back a summary to demonstrate I was indeed following along. A few times I contributed a bit. It probably feels a little strange to them, as it does me, to have this person sitting there and saying very little. But I do feel I'll be able to engage more as time goes on, assuming I continue to mind my Ps&Qs so I can be invited again!
Around midnight, we gathered ourselves together and bid our adieus. Nathalie was kind enough to offer us a ride back. I quickly changed and crawled under the covers.