Dear Friends and Family,
This is Ron sharing with you what has been another eventful year here at La Boissière. We’re describing, month by month, some of the highlights and moments that were important to us. What’s worse than getting a mass mailed email or blog holiday letter? Not getting one at all? Anyway, no apologies, we just hope some of this pleases and amuses you and brings us closer together.
January – We should have known from the beginning that 2007 would be a bizarre year. We were invited to a New Year's Eve party at which everyone had to cross dress. We decided at least to become "celebrities." So after two months of sewing Darrell transformed us into Cleopatra and Carmen Miranda.
We said you would be amused. Lesson learned. It's damned hard to be a woman, and no, the legs are not enhanced.
Later in the month we had a fine visit with Georges Lifermann and Marilyn Miller from Corvallis. Georges’ music continues to touch our souls, and Marilyn knows more about what is going on politically than any human being west of the Mississippi. If you have a question about it, just ring her up. She is extremely well read and tuned in. We also made several trips to Bordeaux this month for theatre, cinema, and an overnight at the home of friends.
February – Our annual ski trip took us back to Andorra where we shared a large house with our friends Alison and Colin and our cats, Valucci and Valenquie, who stubbornly refused to take ski lessons. In spite of the minimal snow pack we had a splendid time skiing with new boots and new parabolic skis which make anyone look good.
On the 27th of Feb. we celebrated our 35th anniversary. These two pictures were on our invitation. Behold the vicissitudes of age:
Here is a composite of the party:
David Richardson and his sister Beth came from California to help us celebrate his birthday and our anniversary. While here David did some interesting pen and ink drawings which he entered, along with my paintings of transparent cats, into our local annual flora and fauna art show.
I actually sold all three paintings. First sale of my life. Oddly enough I miss them now.
It was wonderful to share that time together eating, drinking, playing games, chatting, and visiting friends. The Richardsons are truly bon vivants in the finest sense of the word.
March– Thanks to Ryan Air’s free flights from Bergerac directly to London we were able to celebrate Al Crespo’s birthday. We were wined and dined like royals the whole time. We split our visit between Al and Paula’s new digs on Wadsworth Common and the Four Seasons Hyde Park courtesy of our friend, the manager, John Stauss. Are we spoiled or what?
We attended a brilliant performance of “Wicked,” the musical based on the Wizard of Oz but told from the point of view of the wicked witch of the west. If you have the chance do not miss this one. We were also lucky enough to land tickets to “The Tempest” featuring Patrick Stewart (Jean Luke Picard, of the Starship Enterprise). He is really, really good. The next day while at the Tate Modern instead of riding the slide down from the third story to the main floor,
we spied two of the actors from the Tempest cast. Naturally I couldn't restrain myself so I brazenly approached them, thanked them for their work, and engaged them in a conversation about the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was a wondrous and varied trip and a reminder that London is still one of the most expensive cities in the world.
April– Melissa Li and Antonio Acosta came from Portland. She’s still a pathologist and he’s becoming certified as a plumber. We had a magical, laugh filled, loving time as we motored down to Barcelona where we stayed, through their great generosity, at Matt and Deb Hockley’s villa.
No, this is not a photo of their villa; it is Gaudi's Sagrada Familia.
The Hockleys are currently living in Barcelona working for HP but had gone to another part of Spain that week. They will be with us here, however, at La Boissière during the last week of December. It was also so fine to welcome back Pamela Miller and Dan Mulholland who came this time with friends of theirs. We all toured some of the Bordeaux wineries as well as our friends’ winery, Château Couronneau.
We did miss our annual visit from Jan and Larry Small, but we hope to see them next summer when they come to France to attend their granddaughter's performance with her choral group in Notre Dame.
The weather was so fair in April that we started swimming at mid-month, and I even planted my tomatoes very early.
May – Darrell’s parents arrived just in time for Darrell’s birthday. This was their first visit since we moved here. It was good to see how excited they were for us, and to share our life here.
We dragged them to all the local tourist sites which they enthusiastically enjoyed. They were always very appreciative of new foods and new experiences. Since they were here for eight weeks we were never pressured to do things quickly, which allowed them to get a clearer glimpse of our life style.
Elmer is very much like us; he can’t sit still and enjoys house projects. If he wasn’t mowing the lawn he was trimming the hedges. Darrell and he worked hard refinishing some of our 60 shutters. Taking advantage of their time in Europe, Darrell took his folks on a tour of London where Johnny Coconut, as he sometimes calls himself, generously arranged a suite for them and another for us at the Four Seasons. After a hair-raising journey I joined them for one night; we all saw “Wicked,” toasted Anne Stauss for her birthday, and I flew back home the next morning to tend the non-skiing cats. On the 16th we celebrated Darrell’s long awaited 55th birthday which made him finally eligible to begin his retirement benefits this September. As a surprise for his birthday Felix and Holly Marti came from Colorado without Darrell knowing it. When he walked into the kitchen and saw them sitting there he was completely speechless. It was a fine moment. We’ll never forget the look on his face. The visit with the Martis was enchanting; they are good sports and indulged our penchant for games. We can’t wait until they return and spend a longer time in France.
June – Jam packed month. Darrell took his parents on a tour of Paris. I joined them on their last day there, and then met a group of Darrell’s cousin’s friends who had hired me to do all the planning, travel arrangements, and lodging for a tour of Paris and Provence. Playing guide and interpreter for nine days we visited old haunts I hadn’t seen for several years, including Gordes, Roussillon, and the Luberon Valley, after which the whole group came to La Boissière for a few days.
I discovered a small road that took us up above Cassis. Not a place to go if you have vertigo.
Later in the month I had a deeply moving, magical interview for my permanent residency card. Midway through the hour and a half, the interviewer closed my dossier and we just chatted about my opinion and observations of France and the French and of the youth of the world. Our discussion was personal enough that he even aired his frustration about the problems he’s having with his son. At the end of the interview his compliments were so great that I got teary eyed and we even gave each other “bisous,” (the kissing of the cheeks usually reserved between friends and family) just as I left his office. Several weeks later my card came with the surprise mention that I also have the right to work at any profession I so desire in France. I only hope that Darrell is interviewed by the same person when he applies for his permanent residency this coming year.
Mr. Sourd, the only previous owner of La Boissière, died this June. During WW2 He had been in the resistance, was caught, spent two and a half years in a concentration camp, and after being liberated by the United States Army, educated himself and ultimately became head of the Atomic Energy Commission for France. He was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award. It moved us deeply every year when he sent us a note to thank us, as United Statesians, for freeing France from the Nazis. When we bought La Boissière we promised him that we would be good stewards of his property. After all is said and done, no one really owns anything, do they? We all just borrow things and places then pass them on to others. Darrell was in Paris at the time so he couldn’t attend so I took roses to the funeral which Mr. Sourd had planted and as we all left the church and walked to the cemetery I offered one of those roses to his daughter whom we had never met. She and I had a very special private teary moment; she recognized the flowers from the garden where she had grown up; it was the only time during the ceremony that she cried. Much like her father, she wrote a thank you letter which we will always cherish.
Every June our friend Christine La Croix hosts a picnic in her expansive park, and Darrell and I are responsible for the entertainment. So far we’ve had a “Name the Statue” contest, another time we all participated in painting a huge tablecloth, and this year we had a hat parade. Participants voted for favorites. It was great fun, and latent talent expressed itself through some outlandish, if not over the top entries.
One of our favorites was the one in the upper left hand corner. "Chat Pot" get it? Talk about a play on words, brilliant, n'est-ce pas?
Mitch and Barbara Burrell and their boys were at their home here in France for a month during which we had marvelous visits, met some of their neighbors, played interesting new games and were served superb and unusually exotic dinners. They are family to us, we love and enjoy them so very much that their visit seemed all too short this year.
July – We were thrilled this month to welcome back Paul and Vreneli Farber from Corvallis and their daughter Channah from D.C. They, too, are family; we’ve known them for at least 35 years. They enjoy games as much as we do, are terrific cooks, and love to laugh. They always bring us such great joy. Doug Skidmore and Heidi, he a former student and both of them Portland architects also returned for their second visit. They had just finished the restructuring of the Seattle Art Museum. Thierry and Natalie Druine came down from Paris where they work in French television, and rented the cottage for a month during which they helped us construct a new gazebo in the back garden just next to the woods.
It has become our primary outdoor dining spot when we have friends. This month was also tomato heaven as we began reaping the bounty from my plants. We celebrated Bastille Day with Red and Jerry Shively in their downtown Bergerac château which Darrell and I had spent six weeks cleaning while they were in New York immediately after their recent renovation of this spectacular home right on the Dordogne.
August – Our guests during August came from Bath, Seattle, Corvallis. We also attended the baptism and subsequent party for Christine La Croix’s grandson. Every Sunday during the summer we invited our house guests to join us and local friends on the promenade at the Soumensac producers’ market for lunch. It is a festive time, delicious home grown food, local wines, convivial conversations, and a terrific view.
After weeks of cool and sometimes rainy weather we finally had some longer stretches of welcome warmth and sun. According to our neighbors who have been making wine for six generations the weather patterns are definitely more erratic and changing faster than anyone can remember.
September – At the very beginning of the month I photographed our neighbors’ son’s wedding.
Later in the month Darrell and I bought, assembled, caulked, and waterproofed a fountain in the courtyard between the two houses.
Valucci and Valenquie have found a new watering hole. This was a huge job which took the better part of two weeks. No more parking because now the terrace is more like a small piazza.
We hosted friends from Dublin, Amsterdam, Glasgow, the Mareks and Hedges from Corvallis, Paul Neal from Seattle, and Byrne and Alain from Hudson N.Y. Byrne is a professor of English Literature at City College in NYC, an author and is best known for his book on the history of homophobia. We also participated in our friends’ annual grape harvest done in the old way; hand picked and processed with philosophical discussions on either side of the vines. It’s a day long adventure punctuated with snacks, a great lunch, and a banquet in the evening. These folks really know how to live.
October – We entertained friends from London and artist Daniella Covarelli from Villefranche sur Mer. We convinced her that she had to put on my Carmen Miranda outfit from last New Year’s Eve.
Our most exciting visit this month was from Meghna Chakrabarti who currently directs her own morning show on NPR out of Boston. She flew to London, surprised her friend Keith Parker by popping up unexpectedly on his doorstep, told him to pack his bag, whisked him to the airport, and flew down to us for his birthday. We were a part of the plan, but he was overwhelmed by such a surprise. Meghna is trying to get an international, unfiltered news program started so that United Statesians might be better informed about what is happening and what people are thinking elsewhere in the world. It is uplifting and hope giving to know that young people are working hard at putting things right in these confused and somewhat negative times.
Then the last week of the month we, along with five other friends, rented a rijad in Marrakech and flew down to Morocco as a kick-off to my November birthday celebration. As his birthday gift to me, Paul Neal paid both my and Darrell’s airfares. We spent one day in Ouarzazate where Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia were made. Our house boy Driss, helped all of us find our way, prepared meals, waited on us, and kept the rijad perfectly clean. He speaks French, English, Arabic, and five Berber languages. He is one of the most angelic persons we've ever met. Naive of us, but we did not know until this trip that the majority of people in the Maghreb are Berbers not Arabs.
It was an enchanting week. We were given the royal treatment and had a very special day of hamam and long massage at an elegant, restful health resort, a generous birthday treat from Paula Levitan who lives in London and whose house here in France we tend.
November – Unquestionably the highlight of this month was my 70th birthday, a number that still seems entirely and completely foreign. Having lost both parents in my early 20s never in my wildest imaginings did I ever think I would last this long. I credit most of it to having been blessed with Darrell as a partner, and anyone who knows him will know exactly what I mean. We had 37 (the year my birth) local friends in for a sit down dinner at home.
They and the Farbers from Corvallis contributed to a collective gift of a sculpting by our friend André who is Darrell’s sculpting instructor. I was completely surprised by this generous gift which I’ve admired for the last six years.
I was equally moved by and profoundly grateful for the showering of so many other beautiful gifts from local friends as well as from friends in the USA. Earlier in the month we were blessed by another visit from Georges and Marilyn; their second this year. They treated us to a superb pre-birthday dinner at our friend’s restaurant in Sainte-Foy-la Grande. We all agree it should have a Michelin star.
And even France has a gift for me; since I am now 70 I will get to ski for free at most of the resorts here in the Pyrenees and in the Alps, in fact we’re headed for Saint-Lary Soulan the last week of January. So it pays to hang in there and not be afraid of getting older. It only means more and more benefits, and what a joy to be alive with such wonderful, loving friends and such rich experiences as we’ve had.
At the end of the month we had our final visitor of the year from Oregon. Holly Garcia came with her friend, Chris. After he left Holly patiently spent hours with us trying to locate and finalize our ski trip plans for the end of January. Six years ago she and her mom, Claire Long, were our very first visitors; they arrived amid all sorts of airport turmoil in Bordeaux on 9/11/2001. None of us knew at the time that they were airborne during the disaster. It was so good to see her once again.
December - At this writing we’re having a somewhat intense round of holiday dinner parties. It has been a very enjoyable year full of fine interaction with local friends, and we continue to be blessed by visits from many friends from the USA. Our hard work in the garden paid off very well this year; we canned many pints of figue-lavendar preserves, tomato sauce, apple sauce, and plum sauce. Our trip to Marrakech inspired a change in the decor of our bedroom.
With a great deal of input and suggestions from Darrell we did a painting on 5 fused canvases which became our headboard.
We also picked up a couple of mirrors and candle holders which have helped transform our bathroom.
Each of these projects took about a week to complete. We both enjoy the gratification that comes with working together on creative projects with the hands as well as the mind.
We’ve finally moved into the modern age; we have higher speed internet service and unlimited worldwide phone service for only 7 Euros per month so friends have stopped complaining that we are always on line.
Our workload is varied and interesting. I currently have only one student of French, and serve as interpreter between a construction crew and the British couple involved in the restoration of their house, and occasionally I earn money as a photographer. My most recent job was to do the brochure cover for Savills, London’s top end estate agent which is selling homes in a nearby gated community.
Some of you will recognize the shot as the view from our terrace.
In our work world, Darrell is still helping people with computer problems, and manages websites for rental properties. He also handles French banking and other financial responsibilities for friends in the USA who have homes here in the Aquitaine. His former banking experience combined with his Swissness makes him the perfect accountant. We both continue to serve as guardians and cleaning staff for three houses belonging to friends who live elsewhere. We no longer rent the cottage except through word of mouth and at our own convenience. We continue to be amazed by the French people and we continue to try to be good ambassadors for our homeland.
We’re concerned, however, about the welfare of the world and especially the United States. International public opinion is even more negative than it was a year ago, the Chinese own our ever increasing debt, as world leaders we are taking a backseat to other countries in attempts at minimizing global warming; Al Gore is being ignored by large corporations. The administration is keeping the dollar weak, the economy is bleak, the administration is bankrupting the country by continually funding our invasion of Iraq, the government continues to play on the fear of the people in order to control the socio-political climate, the USA is trying to force Europe to accept genetically altered food, and worse perhaps than anything else, the polar caps are melting at an alarming rate; the impact is already being felt here in the Camargue where the horses are being evacuated to higher ground, and in Holland where friends have already had to give up their homes because the sea is approaching. All the while the media is carefully filtering much of the truth. Sarkozy is the new president but our personal jury is still way out on judging him. We still have no idea for whom to vote in 2008, but our own coterie of French friends is highly in favor of Hillary Clinton. In spite of all this we are keeping a positive attitude and sharing as much information from this side of the pond with as many people as we can via the internet. We know for sure that the news you are receiving from the major networks and CNN is substantially different from what we are seeing here. It is interesting to witness such different points of view on major world issues. It keeps us guessing as to which reality is real.
Perhaps you will find this last paragraph inappropriate in a holiday message, but we feel that these issues are as much a part of what we've experienced this year as all the dinner parties and travel. We feel also that to continue sending wishes for peace and harmony without knowing some of what we’re all up against is a lesson in futility. We do know that many people are doing their utmost to put things right again and we give them our complete support. If you have a chance take a look at http://www.truthout.com/ for daily reports which usually do not hit the mainstream media.
It is our fervent hope that you are all in good health; nothing is more important than that, for without it no matter how rich our lives, no matter how big our bank account, no matter how many material possessions we need to define ourselves, nothing can be fully appreciated. So our wish for the coming year is that you keep a positive attitude and stay as strong and healthy as you can. Let us all live in the moment, appreciate even the smallest events, savor the affection of our friends no matter the time and distance between us, and continue to perform random and even anonymous acts of kindness; we’ll all be the better for it.
So friends, please keep in mind that since you are a recipient of this message then you must know in your heart that you are loved.
Ron and Darrell