Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Walk-By Wreathing in Monaco-Ville

There was a big holiday surprise for Auntie when she opened her front door on Tuesday morning.  

It was not dog poo on the side walk in front of the house.  No, that was Thursday's little surprise - today it was a pretty Christmas wreath hanging from our front door!  

I called Uncle Jim downstairs so he could have a look and together we stood around and scratched our heads wondering who'd put it there.  We found one big clue.  Nestled in amongst the little pine cones, ribbons and nuts was a card with a cheery, "Bone Feste" which is Monegasque for Happy Holidays.  Hmm.. This narrowed down the list of "wreathers" somewhat.

Prime suspects on our mystery wreathers list were Celine, who is always doing nice things for us, and our Monegasque neighbours across the street. But following some intense questioning and verifying their whereabouts on Monday night, a big light bulb went on above Uncle Jim's head.  Or maybe it was some Christmas lights. Uncle Jim remembered reading about the Christmas wreaths in our Neighbourhood Association's newsletter.  Gosh, I really should start reading those! 

As it turns out, the holiday wreath hangers were volunteers from our Neighbourhood Association or l'Association du Quartier le Rocher. Those in the know call it A.Q.L.R. for short. 

You may think that everyone living in Monaco is riding around in a fancy sports car, walking coiffed poodles with their hands and necks laden with expensive baubles, but up here on Le Rocher or "The Rock" as Monaco-Ville is known to the locals, we lead a surprisingly modest lifestyle compared to those in other parts of the Principality.  You may have noticed, dear readers, that Auntie is no glamour-puss so Monaco-Ville suits me just fine!

Everyone on Avenue Emile de Loth got one

Allow me to share a few excepts from our A.Q.L.R. newsletter and you'll see what I mean:

The Archbishop got one
"Xavier & Jacky (from the Post Office) ask that whomever sent a package to Mr. & Mrs Faustini would kindly present themselves at the post office as the sender's name is not specified and the package has been returned as undeliverable."  Dear me!

And a regular feature on page 2... "The chronicles of the 'Quat’ pattes du Rocher,'  or Four Paws on the Rock."  Here is the little dog Jade (photo of little Jade smiling) who says, "I adore my life with the Pestoni family."  Hmm.  This makes Auntie wonder if it was Jade who left the little poo present near her front door on Thursday.

There are also recipes submitted by readers, photos of bags of trash mysteriously abandoned here and there, and scooters breaking the rules by parking where they shouldn't.  Just the very sort of down to earth activities playing out in neighbourhoods all over the world.  But I digress.  Back to our wreaths... 

The next day, Auntie took an early morning walk around the neighbourhood and sure enough, wreaths were hung everywhere.  

According to the newsletter, volunteers created 230 wreaths and they found many of the components in Monaco-Ville. The gardeners who tend the lovely Jardin Saint-Martin gathered the pine cones and the acorns were collected from the main road leading up to the Rock.  After the wreaths were assembled, Father DiLeo blessed them all before they were hung.  Now that's a community effort! 

The volunteers who hung them must have had a tall ladder or a co-operative monkey helping them.  Some were up really high.
No wreath for the Palace
The Palace workroom got one
After roaming around the side streets, curiosity struck and I wondered if they had hung a wreath on the Palace door.  After all, the Prince and Princess live in the neighbourhood too.

Auntie smiled at all the guards and walked confidently up to big front doors of the Palace, camera in hand, looking like a tourist.  I got as close as I could without arousing suspicion and then...  Oh no!  There was no wreath!

Maybe the Prince forgot to pay his annual Community Association dues.


Everyone on rue Basse got one

The Canadian Consulate got one
Even the nuns got one

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Border Marked by Song

Meet Carlo
Did you know that the border between North and South Korea is the most heavily guarded border in the world?  Instead of a smiling faces, sniffer dogs and polite guards asking to see your passport, you're more likely to be shot at by a soldier, blown up by a landmine, or cut to shreds by miles and miles of coiled razor wire.  I imagine there's no souvenir shop either.

Well, here in the sunny south of France, it's not like that at all, thank goodness!  Thousands of people pass back and forth from France into Monaco everyday, to and fro, tra-la-la, completely unfettered, sometimes with no better reason than to get a better deal on a bag of oranges.

There are no big flashing signs, no guards, no checkpoints, nor any of the obvious things that would tell you that you were crossing from one country to another.  But guess what? Auntie is in the know and she will reveal to you the secrets behind the Monaco-France border.  So grab your camera, strap on your fanny pack and let's go!

Carlo's handwritten sheet music

Here's your first clue:  listen for the music...
Carlo's pretty accordion

The sweet sound of Carlo playing his accordion is the first thing you'll notice when you near the border.  Carlo is a bit of a fixture there these days and this morning he was squeezing out a new song, "Mickey's Warning" that he'd painstakingly copied by hand from a friend's songbook.  Funny that it was in English...

Carlo explained the facts of life for a border musician to Auntie while I tossed centimes into his open accordion case in time to his music.

"The most important thing," Carlo explained, "is to set up my stool and music stand on this side of the street."  As he said this he stopped playing and swept his arm out in front of him and pointed left and right.  "The other side of the street is in Monaco and it's strictement interdite to play music over there and the police would chase me away."

Such a pity!  We could use a little cheery music over here in Monaco.

Over here is Monaco, over there is France
Carlo sets up his one man band on the French side of the little street that divides the Principality of Monaco to the south and Beausoleil in France to the north. Strangely, each side of the street has a different name!  The Monaco side is called Boulevard de France and the French side in Beausoleil is called Boulevard du Général Leclerc.  I imagine it's a bit confusing for tourists and the UPS guy.
The magazine shop on the Monaco side has a much better selection of post cards
Both the French and Monaco sides of the street are dotted with shoe shops, a butcher, magazine shops, and a pharmacy.  Personally, Auntie prefers the magazine shop on the Monaco side because they always have cat scratch lottery tickets and a much better selection of postcards.

Not only does each side of the street have a different name, if you look down at your feet,  you'd notice that the sidewalks are different too.
Smiling faces to walk on in France
The French side is paved with smiling sunny faces and the Monaco side is paved with red brick.  From what Auntie has seen over the years, dogs favour the French side of the street when it comes to leaving poo behind.  Maybe they're inspired by the smiling faces.
Boring but clean red bricks on the Monaco side
The last thing you should know about is the secret smudge.

It's difficult to see because the street is always so full of cars but down the middle of the street is the secret border smudge. This smudge is the definitive dividing line between Monaco and France.  
"Smudge" marks the spot

Well, there you have it.  Now you know all the secret ways to tell if you are in Monaco or France.

Of course if you become lost, you can always call Auntie or listen for Carlo.

Remember to look both ways and bon voyage!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Quack 'n Cluck! Fresh Eggs from the Petting Zoo

Well, you never know what you'll find driving around the countryside if you just slow down long enough to read the road signs.

When Auntie's BFF Sean and I zip from one flea market to another on summer Sundays, we have an unspoken agreement that when either of us spots a road sign for something we deem "detour worthy," of course we must stop. 

It could be anything that strikes our fancy - from "Garage Sale" to "Chip Wagon" to the rare and completely exhilarating, "Free Kittens" sign. So when Auntie spotted a sign for "Fresh Eggs and Strawberries," it seemed too good to be true.  Auntie slammed on the brakes.

Personally speaking, I'm always on the lookout for detours of the culinary kind especially ones that may result in a billowy dessert soufflé for dinner. 

A few metres after the sign, we veered to the right onto a gravel patch where there stood a lady at a little wooden farm stand packed with fresh strawberries, raspberries and vegetables at good prices too.

After buying some strawberries and eating a bunch (natch!), we stretched our legs a bit and then it was time to find those eggs!  

The lady at the farm stand pointed us in the direction of a narrow grassy pathway.   Sean and I walked along the path and not far from the farm stand, we arrived at a little fenced-in meadow and a small, immaculate barn.  
Cloud and roof
Around the back of the barn we saw some llamas, noisy geese and some waddling ducks.  As it turned out, all of the birds were the "feather department" of what was a little family petting zoo.
No way!  Pony rides!

In the barn there were about a dozen hens walking about and pecking at the ground while a rooster strutted back and forth managing the situation.  They all seemed very happy and healthy.  While we were admiring the birds and soaking in the scene, a nice woman wearing galoshes and a big smile came up to us.  "Would you like to go inside?" she asked.  Auntie is definitely a city slicker so the prospect of going into a real hen house in a pretty barn seemed like a lot of fun. 

The floor of the barn was coated with fresh wood chips that made it smell nice, and here and there were milk crates filled with straw.  These were the nests where the hens laid their eggs.  In one of the crates, Auntie spotted two big eggs.

Auntie really wanted to take those eggs but the nice woman said that she'd already collected the eggs for the day and had some waiting outside for us.  My, those were very big eggs to have come from such small hens!

After I took some photos, we left the barn and went back outside towards another little stand to get our eggs.  They cost $5 a dozen.  A real deal considering how big and fresh they were and we were now personally acquainted with the hens who'd laid them.

The nice woman asked if we'd ever cooked with duck eggs and then she gave us one of those too.  It was a lot bigger than the hen's egg and it was white instead of brown.
Sean and the duck egg
Big eggs from happy hens
He rules the roost, just like Uncle Jim!

Well, it was definitely worth the detour and next time Sean and I drive down that road we'll stop in for more eggs. We'll have to take one of those pony rides too!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Something's Been Bugging Me

Don't you know it's rude to stare?

It's no secret that Auntie takes a lot of photos.  Maybe too many.

This escaped Uncle Jim's notice for the longest time until one day when Auntie ran out of storage space on her computer.  This was followed by strange screeching noises coming from my hard-drive, a funny smell, and a dreaded "blue screen."

This forced Uncle Jim to pay closer attention to what Auntie was up to with her camera.

Uncle Jim keeping his eye on Auntie
While he was keeping a closer eye on Auntie, Uncle Jim noticed that Auntie didn't have a lens for taking close ups.  So Uncle Jim kindly bought Auntie a macro lens.

Ever since then, Auntie's been on her knees and belly, taking a closer look at things, especially in the garden where very strange things seem to be everywhere.

A dried up bat, a spider eating a fly, loud buzzing insects and ants on the march.  Auntie has seen some strange goings on.

And you thought Halloween was scary!

A dried up bat I found
Ouch! Tthat's got to hurt

What IS that thing?

I've fallen over and I can't get up!

Seems that all the pictures I've taken with my new macro lens have filled up my hard-drive again.  It's back to the drawing board for poor Uncle Jim!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Dial "C" for Carrots

The sun was shining, a light breeze was blowing from the east, and it was a balmy 15 degrees according to Auntie's lucky deer thermometer that was hanging from a post in the back yard. I'd won it in playing bingo a few years ago so it's always had a place of honour in the yard. 

So as you can see, the day was as perfect as it could be for baking carrot cakes, four of them in total, all destined for my fund raising bake table at the annual Great Glebe Garage Sale.

Auntie's heart was singing and preparations were progressing nicely but when it came time to grate the carrots it all came to a screeching halt.  Imagine Auntie's dismay when I noticed that one of the three bags of carrots I'd bought from my local supermarket the day before seemed a lot lighter than the others.

This wasn't good.  Auntie needed every gram of those carrots to make four carrot cakes.

Just to make sure I wasn't imagining things, which Auntie sometimes does, I pulled out my scale and weighed that bag of carrots.  Sure enough, something was wrong.  It should have weighed almost a kilo but it didn't.  As you know, Auntie takes baking very seriously so too few carrots in her carrot cakes would never do.

I threw on my coat and hat, ready to head out the door to buy more carrots when I noticed a phone number on one of the bags.   Hmm, I thought.  Maybe if I explain the situation someone can send me some emergency carrots!

Auntie is a bit cynical these days when it comes to customer service.  Sadly, it's a lost art but with a jolt of optimism, no doubt fuelled by the cheery prospect of baking all day, I thought what the heck.  It was a free phone call and maybe the Green Giant himself would answer. Wouldn't that have made Auntie's day?
Safe from squirrels and little fingers
Auntie has always had a place in her heart for the Green Giant.  When Auntie was a little girl she sent away for a 5-foot tall stuffed Jolly Green Giant and it was her very favourite thing for a long time.  Auntie's fondness for vegetables and big green men in leafy togas goes way back.

There go to two lucky ladies with the last pieces of carrot cake
While I dialled the number on the bag, I was expecting to hear a recorded message like "press one for peas, two for corn, three for carrots" but instead, a very nice lady named Julie answered.

I told Julie the sad tale of the light bag of carrots and instead of laughing, she was very sympathetic and apologised.

After I hung up the phone with Julie, Auntie discovered a few loose carrots in the vegetable crisper so off came my hat and coat and out came the grater again. When I finished grating and weighing the carrots, I had just enough to make all four carrot cakes.  Phew.

A few days later on a sunny Saturday morning during the Great Glebe Garage Sale, Auntie sold all four carrot cakes, one slice at a time, each topped with a hand-made carrot made of white chocolate.  For a few hours, I made many people very happy while raising lots of loot for Auntie and Uncle Jim's favourite charity.

One pound of carrots = one carrot cake = 16 happy customers

One morning, a few days after the sale, Auntie heard a clacking at the mailbox and guess what?  Julie sent me a coupon for more carrots!

Isn't that nice?  I think Uncle Jim may be getting a nice carrot cake soon.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Maya Visits Paris

Vingt dieux, la belle église!  When was the last time you received a thank you note from a visiting 12 year old niece?  Seems that her Finishing School tuition wasn't wasted.

Maya's thank you note is also today's guest post entitled, The Sacre Coeur Economy. It's an enlightened perspective of her first trip to Paris where she and her Mom zipped to by high speed train after visiting Uncle Jim and I in the south of France. 

Thank you sweetheart.  You can guest post for Auntie any time.

The Sacre Coeur Economy

Dear Auntie:
     I thank you enormously for your invitation to guest post, although I had some trouble deciding what to write about, I have come to a conclusion of writing about the Sacre Coeur, an enormous church and the area surrounding, because you were not there for it, and because it was my favourite place to drink cappuccinos at cafés and laugh at other stupid tourists. 

     Anyway, the Sacre Coeur was about ten blocks away from our hotel, and the area surrounding it is like what silly tourists get into their silly heads about Paris.  In truth, Paris is just like New York, only much better architecture, and everyone speaks French. 
The hotel was unusually coloured

So, on day two, we walk up the tiny, twisting pathways filled to the brim with busy, bustling people, and then suddenly half of the population spoke English.  We had reached what I like to call the Sacre Coeur Economy. 

     The streets were packed with mildly crazy tourists, and we found ourselves amidst a crowd, being helplessly shoved up the hill.  We pass two mimes and a lady with a cart covered from top to bottom in flowers, playing an accordion.

     Then, my Mom shouts, and I follow her finger to one of the most magnificent towers ever.  At this point, we were only a block away and were already gaping with mouths as wide as fishes.
The view of –and from- the magnificent Sacre Coeur

     So of course Mom wanted to go to the top.  Three hundred spiralling steps up, and three hundred spiralling steps down.   The view was stunning, and even through the pollution and clouds, I could make out the faint outline of the Eiffel Tower.

Another amazing thing about the Sacre Coeur Economy:  the shops

     I would also like to thank you for not only allowing me to write this, but for giving me no other option but to have a marvellous time – Uncle Jim, you too.
     I look forward to next time,

Love and hugs,