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A French Provencal Noel Celebration – Gemenos – Provence – France

It’s 5:25PM in the afternoon and already it’s very dark.  Closing in on the shortest day of the year, here in December, here in Marseille.   The wet cold streets covered in solid glistening leaves have been replaced by still wet streets,” sans” leaves.  They are all gone now. It’s winter in Marseille.

Candles light the inside of a neighboring Boulangerie  and we’re peering inside like what is this? Is this a Hanukkah celebration?  Is this an early NOEL celebration?  It’s so pretty inside.   Turns out that the electricity went out, and the front door was open for any and all patrons who needed to come by for their daily bread.  Such a beautiful sight. – it was as though we were standing in the 17th century, and freshly made bread was pouring out its scent into the busy and crowded street next to The Grand Beauveau Hotel.

“Une  Russe Blanc,  Sil vous plait”, my friend says to the bartender…….well, actually SHE didn’t say, I told her HOW to say it, but she insists on using ENGLISH and I INSIST that she speak French, even though she says that she does not know how to do this.  (she does.)

She tries  really hard to speak FRENCH and – guess what – the French PEOPLE do appreciate it.

What a day of mind bending, and walking, and more eating and more expresso’s

(express, actually is what they are called and what you need to say when ordering “Un Express, sil vous plait” – or Express, avec creme) and philosophizing and smoking and more talking even with strangers – who are invited over to our table, because they “just looked so nice.”  It turns out – that the FRENCH, though maybe “tourists’” themselves –  if you have them over to your table – have a lot to say, in their very broken English, but, which is better than yours. This particular day, we met Francoise who is related to non other than George Sand. Ooooh la la.   She is writing her history, which is detailed and complicated and controversial, in that all of her ancestors where killed during THE Revolution.   Yes. “The one”.  1789.  Hmmmm.

Tonight was a different kind of fun, in that we drove our little car 10 miles away to the town of GEMINOS and had a real PROVENCAL NOEL CELEBRATION, complete with Santa Claus, a team of 18th century costumed villagers who sang, and danced.  So enjoyable milling with the locals and watching their performance with the free mulled hot wine and the MARRONS (Chestnuts).  Such  a lovely, warm, & wonderful time!!!!   IMG_2494 IMG_7794 IMG_7795 IMG_7796 IMG_7799 IMG_7808

Here are a few photos from this night.

PLUS – here are some marvelous links to French handicrafts that were absolutely to die for cottage home crafts.

You will LOVE (all those that admire this type of art)

(are just a couple) – there were SO many last night.  I have to go back ce soir to get more business cards!!  🙂

IMG_7784 2 IMG_7785 2 IMG_7787 IMG_7784 IMG_7788

and one more that is SENSATIONAL!!!

“Altered Books!”  Lovely!!

40 THINGS – A Day in the Life of a Marseilles (person, aka – Student, Grand Mere

40 THINGS – A Day in the Life of a Marseilles (person, aka – Student, Grand Mere.

40 THINGS – A Day in the Life of a Marseilles (person, aka – Student, Grand Mere

40 Things – – – – – – – A DAY IN THE LIFE…….in MARSEILLE……………….


  1. RUSH to get out the little apartment door to the car towards La Gineste down the mountain into Marseille
  2. hop out of le voiture, kiss hubby, cross at Rue Paradis (across from favorite Pharmacy)
  3. get into class 3 minutes late
  4. speak French for 2 hours
  5. Take a break at PAUL,  eat sandwich David made for me (& the girls say, ‘OH HOW SWEET is YOUR husband!!!!”     🙂
  6. Back to class – speak French another 2 hours
  7. Class is over!!!
  8. Forget our Expresso, as Paul’s tables are inside – the vent is too much  –  go to Perrier to the metro – walking with teacher – say goodbye to her, she goes one way we go another
  9. Say to my friends, “That was the HARDEST class EVER!!!
  10.   look across the tracks and see my teacher standing there, hearing every word.
  11.   Take metro to Vieux Port
  12.   Find an optometrist for Teresa ‘s reading glasses
  13.   She finds them.   They are only 95 euros
  14.   sigh
  15.   find a place to eat
  16. We “settle in”, coats off, bags thrown over extra chair and then told it’s “drinks only” – have to go across the plaza for “mange” .  We do, but not before looking for my L’Artisan Parfumeur next to L’Opera
  17. in the meantime find my favorite La Droguerie (knitting shop from Paris) and think I’ve died and gone to heaven.  Ah….but do I still know how to KNIT!?!?!
  18. Found the place to eat a ( very pas cher )  pizza……and tested the waiter on “tres difficille cocktail” and lo and behold……….he actually did a fantastic job.  It went like this:
  19. “I would like vodka, with 3 green olives, un peu vin blanc, (because they don’t have American VERMOUTH) and un petit glace (a little ice)
  20. Ahhhh, he says, “An American Martini?”  Yes, we can do, with vermouth.  I said “Not your vermouth.  You don’t have vermouth.  You only have ‘Martini and Rossi” (stuff) – and that is not acceptable. “   No problem he says.  I can do it.    Then he says, ‘Ah, but we only have noir olives (black) and I say, “Black is fine.”
  21. 5 seconds later he comes from the “CAVE” with a bucket full of GREEN olives – and says, “I have green olives for you!!”
  22. God, I really love the French
  23.   He serves me my first “American Martini”  (in 14 months)- – absolutely perfect to the core – and I tell him – that it is just that – and that I will come back to his establishment to try this again.  It was indeed – a PERFECT American Martini……..(shaken, not stirred!! ) ha ha ha
  24. Pay for a lovely very inexpensive meal, and martini and head for BUS 41S
  25. It’s gone.    Actually, it’s “fini” for the evening.  I’m not going anywhere.  (this woman told me it was “done” – “fini”)
  26. Thank her and go to VIEUX PORT METRO after kissing Teresa goodbye 3 times on the cheek.  (It’s THREE times in the South of France!)
  27. get the Castelane stop
  28. Get off at Castelane and change for Pont du Prado
  29. Miss  the Pont du Prado metro by 2 seconds.  Next one  ?  —-   11 minutes
  30. ooy vey!   Call Esti and talk, and that takes a lovely 10 minutes
  31. get on next metro
  32. get off metro at ROND PONT du PRADO
  33. walk towards exit.  Drunk man by exit yelling  AAAARRRRRGGGGGGG
  34. 2 young men with pick ax in their hand yelling back at him AAAARRRGGGGG
  35. This does not intimidate me, and I just about hit them with my backpack and say “STOP IT” – LEAVE THE MAN ALONE” – when I decide to not do that
  36. As I swish past them and glance behind to see if the “pick axe “ is going anywhere I see that it is a harassing concert only – and that these boys have nothing better to do on a Monday late evening.
  37. Get to Rond Point Prado and pass the “Sandwich truck”.  The lone sandwich clerk greets me with a huge smile and says “ C’est froit c’est soir – vous marche tres vite”      – then I say, ““Oui, tres vite,  bien sur!!”   And  I just smile so big as I past because this is just the nicest thing – to be greeted by this hard working sandwich maker in a truck -late at night –  and I say “THANK YOU GOD for people like this”    You know, he did not have to say a THING when I past by………..and it was just so refreshing to see his smile and to hear his happy words…………
  38. Go to bus stop for 19 to David’s ecole – “British Council”
  39. Bus stop 19 has “fini’ for c’est soir – finished for the evening
  40. I walk the long walk along PRADO to the British Council in the freezing cold and wind and find my way- no problem, thank God for “les toilettes” inside, and my husband on the other side…..finished teaching!

Santons and their History

IMG_7395 IMG_7391 IMG_7390 IMG_7397 IMG_7396 IMG_7296 IMG_7392 SantonsThis is the season for Santons!!!   They are EVERYWHERE in the the Marseille region and also in Aubagne, where we often take a drive.  The way in which they are displayed is an art work all on its own, showing complete villages from the 17th century  with families, friends, bakers, farmers, blacksmiths, and the lighting adds to this ambience.  

One of the highlights for me in all of the Santon displays were the special ones created without any forms, or molds  and were crafted by hand.   They were shown in the Provencial museum Chateau- Gombert in the 13th Arrondisement of Marseille.  Here is an excerpt of the trade that you will enjoy.   IMG_7634

Santons are clay figurines that depict the colorful people, traditional trades, activities and costumes of Provence. Santons derived from the idea of the Provencal inhabitants on their way to the Nativity with their humble, local offerings.

Santon comes from the Provençal “santoùon”, or little saints. Another, probably parallel, derivation is from the Italan “santoni”, a shortened version of “Santi Belli“, for beautiful saints. Santons have come to typify the people of Provence, their work and their trades, and they are generally depicted in 19th-century dress.


The original Crèches in Provence date back to the 17th century, when the few bas-reliefs evolved into carved wooden figures and eventually included marionnettes, clockwork characters and even costumed children in living crèches.

In 1789 the churches were closed, depriving the population of crèches to observe and depriving crèche makers of their market. Jean-Louis Lagnel (1764-1822) of Marseilles, who made molded figurines for the church crèches, decided to make the santons for the general population, at a price they could afford.


Santons for the public became an instant success, and an industry (and tradition) was born. A santon fair was started in Marseille, and then another at Aubagne (10 km to the east), and before long there were santon fairs at villages throughout Provence. Today santon fairs and exhibitions are a common regional event during November and December. The original Marseille santon fair is still in existance, from the end of November to Twelfth Night (Epiphany).

Santons made for the Nativity scenes (crèches) include the three wise kings who join the shepherds to visit Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. In addition to the Christmas scene, crèches often depict typical Provencal villages. The largest crèche in the world (an official Guiness record) is an 1136 square-meter miniature of a Provencal village, located in the town of Grignan in the Drôme, 10 km west of Valréas.

Santon Making

Provencal santons are made from the fine clay (argile) found in the region of Marseilles and Aubagne. Two-piece plaster molds made from original carvings are filled with the clay for molding. The piece is removed from the mold for painting before beind dried and baked. The hand painting is done with great care, using bright colors and with encredible care for detail.

Santon making is today one of the cottage industry trades practiced by artisans in some of the smaller villages in the Beyond region. You can find santons in village shops and ateliers, and often in the markets.

Annual Crèches

Every winter in Provence several towns and villages present elaborate crèches or santons festivals.

The Bouches-de-Rhône, with its history of the Marys (see Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer), has a rich source of santon festivals every winter. Arles has its well-known Salon International des Santonniers. Fontvieille had been hosting a Foire aux Santons for over 20 years. Tarascon (north of Arles  and Gardanne (south of Aix both have a santons weekend at the end of November. The town of Aubagne, just east of Marseille  has a biannual santon festival on even-numbered years ( 2008, 2010, 2012 …)



LES CAMIONS!!! SPACE!!! It’s a PREMIUM!!! DO not EVER forget it! Make use of the time you have!!!

Right now in Paris there is a HUGE CF.   Do you know what that is?  NO??  Well ask someone.  It’s SNOWING in PARIS – Bigtime – right at this moment and 50, 000 CAMIONS are STUCK, I mean Really really STUCK doing absolutely nothing in a very small space, hoping that eventually, they can get “through” because  – right now, they are not going A N Y W H E R E.


Now, that being said.  I’m going to talk about S P A C E as it relates to non- camion drivers –

FRIDAY – today – Not so good day – but should have been despite the RAIN, the CLOUDS,

the FREEZING COLD.  Is this PARIS?!?!?!

I know

I know

I know

“How can you can complain – when you’re in FRANCE??!???!?!?!  Are you NUTS!??!?”  people are saying……..


I am nuts

I am NUTS for moving here.

Nuts for thinking this was for us……….

Nuts for trying to make it work in a 33 SQ METER APARTMENT>

That being said –

It is – actually – STILL – working -but it has it’s moments.

For example:  Today – we didn’t have a very good plan.  Except for cleaning the apartment  –  there was NOT a “plan”.  You know that when you are living in one of the most desirable places in the world you should make yourselves enjoy everything in it’s entirety – all of the things that meet and greet you each day.  And all those “things”  that are not welcome?  –  That  are very much  at your doorstep ???  Well!!!  Just sweep under the carpet the things that do not go as well as you would like.  (This is true, whether you live in Creve Coeur Missouri, Elizabeth City, NC, or N. Augusta South Carolina, Grand Prairie TX,  Darien Connecticut )  Read this and weep!!!!  SO!!!  What are those things?   Let me count the ways………

But before I do , I’ll just reiterate what went wrong today because if I don’t I ‘ll forget it and I don’t ever ever want to forget this – because there is a lesson here – – — – – – – somewhere…….

When you think that you cannot stand the 33 square meters of living space one minute longer – even though you are in THE most BEAUTIFUL place in the WORLD, go out and try and find something else.

Because when you do, you will see what you can really obtain  out there –  for not much more living space than you already have… negligible …

SQUARE FOOTAGE!! That is the name of the game –  – 

We had 65 square meters in Paris – (outside) – in Montmorency and we have

in CASSIS – in the beautiful port town along the Mediterranean  – 33 SQ METERS –

This, my friends, coming from Missouri, coming from ANYWHERE in the BIG ETATS UNIS, is a little intimidating………..

no matter how much beauty, culture, ambience, yada yada that there is…………..

sometimes – oh my friends, ……..oh my friends…………….yes! You can STILL do this on a limited income!!!!!!!! We are testimony to that fact!!!!!   and YES!  It is STILL S T I L L worth it – big time.

I came home a little depressed today.   The 56 Chemin de ……..  …….  was south of Aubagne

and  – uh……well,…………okay………..nice drive to this way out place in the 11th arrondissement of Marseille …….then the roads got tiny-er and tiny- er and then, uh, well, you had to move way way over to the far right CLIFF in order to let passing traffic come in – but this is where 56 Chemin — was……and OMG!! it looked like the propreiter really had a lovely home if one could possibly stretch their neck like a goose that far up to see it without getting a nose bleed, but we couldn’t so we just took it for granted that it was indeed beautiful from HER standpoint, (not ours) and then remembered what the “Immobilier photos” of the place looked like and they were, uh………okay………..the fact that only 7 square meters of additional living space from what we already  have was the “deal” –  Ummmmm……I don’t think this is going to work.

I’m beyond words at this point.

I pray a  lot…..

I know that what I have is SO BEAUTIFUL – but sometimes does not work, because, alas, I am a COOKER, I am into my kitchen cuisine, I love AMBIENCE, I love SPACE, I love MOVABILITY………that sometimes, the living conditions SO cramp my style frankly, and as embarrassed as I am to say this – It is a true statement.  I love SPACE.

When you are in FRANCE, A  N  Y  W  H  E  R  E  in France- living space is NOT an option.  It comes with a HUGE – H  U   G   E    price.  And the “Space” is even more a premium if you need it “avec meuble” – (with FURNITURE )-   Let that be a lesson to all you space hogs out there in TEXAS or in ANYwhere Etats Unis……you have NO idea how much SPACE is a P R E M I U M – where you are – right now – at this moment…….do not EVER EVER  take it for granted.  Okay??? Cause I’m serious.  If you know what it’s like to live somewhere else in another part of (any) part of the world – S P A C E  is a premium that some have come to know as matter of fact.  It is NOT, I repeat NOT, a matter of fact.  It is not an inborn right.   Get that in your head right now.  

Okay.  I’ve done my deep breathing, my exercises, my – actually – no – I didn’t smoke this time – and am coming to terms with all of the above.  One thing be true:   We are GRATEFUL beyond grateful that we are HERE.   We know that things are not always as they seem.  We know that the little  inconveniences of life do not always pertain to us, but when they do – we can be okay, despite.  This is where we are now…………and where we hope to be in over a year from now.

I’m glad I was able to share it with you………..Remember what you have.  Right now.  Right at this MOMENT.  Even the SIMPLEST of things that you don’t even think about.   TREASURE it.   LOVE it.  Thank GOD for it.

I hope the CAMION drivers have 1) some good sleeping pills 2) good music on their iTunes to lull them to sleep 3) hope for the next day – to get MOVING – despite the odds………..

So, you wanna Buy a Piece of Property in France??? Well, you better write a book!!

The Village of my Dreams, the Idea of my Dreams. Oh dear!  I need to sell a book!!!

Okay, this is the deal.  We traveled again this weekend  to another village.   But this one hit me like a brick hits a wall, only it was  my  head, and my heart at the same time that were “struck”.   It’s VENTEBREN.  An odd name, I know,  But Vent in French means WIND and I am sure that this place, once the MISTRAL comes through is just darn windy beyond belief.

That didn’t deter me one bit.

It was love at first sight.

My husband and I have been in France now for 1 year and 2 months.  We have lived in Paris and now we are outside of Marseille.  We thank God everyday that we are here and that we have jobs, so that we can stay here for time being and that someone wants to rent our home back in Saint Louis.  It’s all a huge huge huge blessing. (Did I say HUGE?)

But, something’s been eating at me and I didn’t know what.  The What turned out that when our “stint” is over and we’re just NOT sure when that is, we might have to go home.  I love home. I love Saint Louis and ESPECIALLY my children and my (mes les enfants) – grands –  my KIDS – – – but I don’t want to really ever leave France.  We love it here.  Like I said, we don’t know when it’s OVER  because my husband has been given a “CDI status” and for those that don’t know what the heck that is, – this is a very exclusive “Permenent Working Status” in France.  This means, you ‘d just about have to KILL someone in order to be fired.  This is good, because my husband David is past retirement age……well , we both are, but we don’t intend to retire, because we like to work. In AMERICA, where we have both been made “redundant” this is not so nice.   So, like I said, we like to work.  I know.  Go figure.   Suppose we won the lottery – would we still WANT to WORK?   Well, probably, but more volunteer, I would think.  You know, Help the world out – in any way you can.

Okay, so , this village comes into sight today and it’s beautiful.  It’s old.  The first houses here were from 920-940 AD.   But , get this, from my research, I found  (actually DAVID found) out that the first recorded human habitation in this village of VENTEBREN, was from 8000 BC!!!!!!   Can you just fathom that?

Oh whew, it is very hard for me to as this is way way way before the Egyptians.

Well, it’s a dream.  But I do have one thing going for me.  Even though I have no large (or small)  inheritance ever coming to me;  my chances of winning the lottery are slim to none and my financial portfolio is deeply depressing…….I do have some 79,151 words that I have written on my blog since I started this dream of living in France.   I do have some followers and that is mind blowing……..but I do love to write about just about everything and anything and that is what it is because “a hodge podge”  comes to mind – basically.  I see people doing funny things – and I write about it.  I  discover the most magnifcent red leather boots in the Marais around Christmastime – and I write about that!  (Thank you hubby!!!)  – “The Top 10 Things I’ve learned while living in France” – not from me, but my special friend and ULTIMATE BLOGGER of an AMERICAN in PARIS, Michael Bell – I add his stuff…….. You need to read him!!!  (  You won’t be sorry!!!  He’s so awesome.        I write about The French Bureaucracy because they ADORE paperwork.  I kid you not.   The “Ironing Board Size Kitchen” of mine, okay, okay, a European size ironing board, still the same, it IS  S M A L L !!!!!!!   Walking along St Germaine one day I see a mouse in a restaurant and I film it and write about it;   I go visit some obscure village and do research until I’m sick because it’s so incredibly interesting.  I see SHOES on the METRO in Paris, taking pictures very unobtrusively   and write about that and add the (unobtrusive photos)  I write about Mary Magdalene, because I visit where her HEAD is buried, as she LIVED not far from us here in South of France  – and Okay, that’s not published yet, but it’s in the works……..  ………I write about everything.

If I could somehow, someway get this published into a book, and people would buy this book, WE might have a chance to buy a home in this little village of VENTEBREN, north east of Marseille and just west of Aix in Provence, high up in the hills (les collines)  –  one of the most loveliest places in the south of France.

That is my story today.  And I’m stickin’ to it.

I say to myself……….Bon Courage!!!!!!  Cause I’m really gonna need it.

Now, to think of a title………………………………………

je parle américain

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