Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nearly the end of June...

I'm having an extraordinarily hard time being creative while frantically and non-stoppingly cleaning my house, pool, garden, etc., Somehow creative writing, the flow of ideas, and yes, the time necessary to upload photos, and do said writing, just seem out of my grasp these days.

I'm sifting through toys: my house (renters can play with), my house (under the stairwell), Erick's house, and trash. I'm dusting shelf after shelf after shelf. I'm taking note that I need more wine glasses (where did they all go???); that the neighbor's septic system is not functioning well (not this again?); that the other neighbor's well pump must have a broken air balloon (water balloon?... whatever); that my office and papers haven't been put in order in a long while, and must be before I depart here on Saturday. Will they fit under the stairwell too?

So much is already done, but so much is yet to be done. Those last minute details always take vastly more time that you can imagine. How thoroughly will I do the oven this year? Will I try to unscrew the back wall screws and clean the fan??? Am I up for that? My new bathroom sink is in place (yippee!! photos will come soon), but there's just a wee thing yet to fix... Goodness I'm lucky to have a dear friend who's a plumber!

The boys and all of us are exhausted. My young Gaetan is taking naps upon returning to the house (my 8th grader, son of goat cheese makers); Jonas collapsed in a nap in the gym while Leo and his friends were yelling and running and sending balls kareening over our heads. Leo fell asleep before dinner the other day, and Lucille basically comes home and goes right to bed, emerging in time for dinner.

Yes, it is the end of the year. The sun goes down just before 10. The sky is light and the world is alive. The wind is non-stop, stimulating and enervating in the worst sense.

Still to be done -- getting the green garbage to the dump; everyone's sheets on Friday afternoon; vacuuming the pool (and figuring out how said vacuum works...); more vacuuming and mopping of the whole house (saturday morning). another scrub of the shower and tub; packing of last suit cases, removal of last clothes... almost there... another mow of the lawn (and I'll need to water it too! the wind is wreaking havoc on my lovely green carpet!).

I'll get there, but yes, creativity is taking a dive. Hopefully, next week, once this is all handled, I'll be able to let loose the creative juices. And then, where shall I let them take me?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Friends to count on at a time of (minor) worry

I just had a post 40, immune system isn't so strong anymore, stress-provoked (likely) female incident. Abnormal cells on the pap smear, a bioscopy and a subsequent surgical intervention. From start to finish, it was all a bit of a whirlwind. Even the intervention itself was no more than 30 minutes -- during which I was under general anaesthesia. I have a distant memory of seeing the clock in the "bloc" or operating room say 3:30 (even half blind, I can read a large round clock from across the room), and when I awoke rather suddenly, a tube down my throat, it was just 4pm. All rather surreal.

Over the past month I went from fear and surprise: me? sick? but I've the health of an ox?! To, alright, let's do what's necessary. To, ouch, snipping bits of my uterine skin is rather unpleasant, and super weird to see them floating in a test tube to be sent off to the lab. I felt pretty down and out of it after that bit of snipping... oh it would have been nice to have someone at home to take me in his arms. Ah well. After a few days my normal up-beat personality kicked back in and I felt relief that I've such a dynamic and friendly gynecologist. And after this week, I thank French socialized medicine. As long as you've all the right papers, it just flows like water. I'm now out of the clinic, quickly recovering, awaiting results, and no poorer for it.

In fact, I feel richer in many ways. Friends are there. And they are pretty wonderful. Friends on the phone, friends on email, friends on instant messages, friends there to paint the floor the morning before the intervention (ok, I'm a bit obsessive about all I need to do from now to the end of next week), friends to bring me to the clinic, and to pick me up, a friends who offered and took my boys. Even a friend who's a nurse at the clinic, there to send me into the operating room and at my side when I awoke. And there's even another (Scottish) who's offered to come over Monday with her cleaning lady to help me prep for the rental! (Oh, how I wished that a French friend would have offered a bit of house-keeping after the births of my boys, but even with some super un-subtle hints, it was not to be... thank goodness for practical Anglo-saxons!).

As we say, they just came pouring out of the woodwork. So much love, help, concern, assistance, moral boosting and physical presence. Simply kissing cheeks didn't feel like enough, my arms just have to reach out and hug them tightly to me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Exploring the Flora in the Cévennes

the orange is called bacon and eggs by the British

une campanule

This past weekend I was whisked away by bus to a women's retreat high up in the Cévennes hills. The retreat was hosted and organized by the Nîmes CIBC (Centre Inter-Institutionnel des Bilan des Compétences) and its PAC (special women's programs) team. When the he Nîmois and Montpellierains want to get away from the city air, they head to the Cévennes. In my past incarnation as an Arlesienne we used to get away to the Alpilles hills to the east, or to the Mediterranean coast by Cassis. My neighbors in the Vaucluse, and around the city of Avignon go up to the plateaux surrounding the Mont Ventoux. To each his little corner of paradise. Since dating a vintner in the Gard (Vauvert is just 20 minutes south of Nîmes) this world of hills and hamlets to the west has been opened up to me.

la scabieuse et la silène enflée

The weekend dangled me in many worlds: from a workshop in vowels and breathing, to a short half-hour of laying on of hands, to a session consecrated to visualizing myself as a child, where I see myself today, how others see me and where I'd like to be tomorrow. It was a time to breath, to share experiences with other women, to wonder at where I've come from, and where I'd like to go (at least in the next year or so, I'm not looking too far ahead at this point). It was also a time to compare notes, to offer advice and assistance amongst ourselves, and perhaps, to plan projects many of us can participate in. Having all received the counseling sessions, workshops and excursions free due to very generous local government and private assistance, what can we give back? How can we combine our many forces and create -- while also coping individually on our often complicated or rather 'complex' lives?

A last excursion before Sunday lunch and our departure took me away from the center (and out of my head) into the fields and woods with a naturalist/hiking guide. I brought my camera along -- it rarely leaves my side now, which is rather marvelous as once, in a past life, I was a photographer. I photographed people far more than natural surroundings... but, simply aiming the small silver object at the world helps me to see it more clearly, and capture a tiny detail to bring home.

The guide was a man who's lived in the Cévenne hills for nearly thirty years. He told of as well of the years he lived in Northern Africa, and his general biography as a man passionate for the outdoors, and perhaps a simpler way of living on this earth. As we did a tour of the center, and then walked gently down the winding road leading away from it, he told us about the vegetal history of these hills. He pointed out and emphasized the many ways it has been altered by man. There are no virgin forests, and what is there by a very large majority, was replanted after 1850. Between 1750 and 1850, the region was far more populated than it is now. The industries of silk and silkworm raising, coal mining, and glass blowing brought wealth to the region, but also presented a need for heat. The cheapest and most available source was to be found in the surrounding woods. A concurrent rise of sheep herding and animal husbandry, helped along by fierce winds and frequent rain storms helped keep the hills bare of trees, brought erosion and indirectly caused devastating mudslides and floods in the cities of the valleys below.

the vaulted stone arch from a former sheep house, or bergerie

The tree planting programs favored quick growing trees, and did not necessarily involve careful attention to local varieties. Thus, there is now a wide range of pines that are not indigenous to the region. However, these are interspersed with a variety of acacia called the Robinier (wonderful for the bees as it has early flowering blossoms), chestnut (appreciated both for its fruit and for the beauty of the wood in furniture making), elm (regularly used for re-foresting, its bark has anti-fever qualities), weeping willow (in humid land, its bark is the source for aspirin, and its berries and leaves can be simmered to make a sedative), hickory (amongst the preferred woods for burning) green oak (a Mediterranean variety), and a tree I hadn't known before, the frêne or European Ash. This latter was as still is very useful to the sheep herders and dairy farmers as its branches and leaves can be fed to the animals -- a useful stop-gap when the supply of hay ran low. It is currently still used for pharmaceutical purposes, the leaves having anti-rheumatism, diuretic and laxative qualities, the bark is a tonic and anti-fever, the berries are eaten by many a bird in winter.

At our altitude (under 1000 meters) we were in a zone on the cusp -- trees which range from 500-1000 meters in altitude were alongside those that grow in 900-1500 meters altitude. There is a point as well, when the tree line stops and the open hill tops are barren, with just the small shale covered paths along the crests (the French love using the word "crêtes" to describe the hill top paths that take you along the tops, giving you options to descend, but continuing on the heights).

le myosotis (blue) et les carrotes sauvages

While my guide discussed trees, bugs, schist and granite stones (thus the ease of making schist slate roofs, flat rock stacked walls, and heavy granite lintels above doorways), the return of otters and wolves to the area, and more, I focused my camera on the local flora. I was very interested in the discussion, and tried to follow it, but was often distracted by what I saw at my feet. However, I do remember that he stressed that the Cévennes actually encourage and seek to maintain a certain number of sheep and goat herds in the area as pasteurage, i.e. open fields with a multitude of species, are slowly disappearing as the once small forests are expanding daily into the open land. With the growth of the trees, the undergrowth dies away, and a completely different eco-system is put in place.

Where possible, I'll name the flowers below... but the tour focused on trees and animals, far more than on the lovely and colorful gifts at my feet.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why don't the French go pippi as often as we do?

OK, this is yet again a rather odd subject. But one of the more remarkable chapters of Polly Platt's book, French or Foe, which has become a reference for Anglo-saxons visiting and working in France, covers toilet usage in a French house. She puts forth that it is considered rude to need to use a bathroom when you visit your French hosts. And that, in many cases, this is the last room of the house to be cleaned (I've found this true in but one instance, and my poor friend was overwhelmed with two small children and all that entails). In general, the French do not use the toilet when visiting. Hmmm.

More than one American friend has informally tested this hypothesis. Truly, if you invite French friends to a meal, will they use or not the house toilet? In most cases (particularly a first visit), no. They can come at noon, eat, drink and converse till 5 in the afternoon and go home without ever needing to climb the stairs or search out that tiny room in the back. How do they do it?

As the wife of a Frenchman for over ten years, I did notice that Erick had a tendency to stop by the side of the road, commune with a tree, and then get back into the car, oftentimes just ten minutes before we arrived at our destination. So, he seemed to take care of his bodily needs elsewhere than at the host's home. Aha..

Certainly, one of the points Polly Platt wanted to make is that it is considered rude to walk into your host's home and ask immediately for the washing up room. T'is true, this is just not done -- or at the very least you excuse yourself as you request directions to this most private of rooms.

In my years of touring mostly Americans (with a sprinkle of many other cultures mixed in), I did have to scout out wc possibilities at each and every destination. In the early years, before we really had our act together, we made the mistake of stopping at a village bar (yikes! it's a hole in the floor!!). Or, God forbid, we even offered toilet paper and motioned to a tree... (this latter I must stress was only during hikes).

There is a basic physiological fact that if you consume three to four large cups of coffee, a glass of orange juice, and a copious breakfast, you will need to evacuate some of that an hour or so later. The French (and Italians) drink one small cup of espresso, no more. They do not touch milk (considered a poison when mixed with coffee), and only occasionally fruit juice at breakfast. And, they're generally content with a small piece of bread and jam.

Hence, clear and obvious reasons for my needing to have a toilet at the ready when my group arrived at its destination. And yes, this did startle my French partners. Before we could start wine-tasting, or looking at pottery, or hiking, half the group disappeared. Once, when setting out for our sea-side hike, the restaurant we patronize had yet to open, and I was driven to seek out a local fisherman who then asked his mother-in-law if she would open her house to us. Five persons then trooped one by one through her bathroom. It was a most interesting meeting of cultures...

Is there a moral to this story? Not particularly. Now that I live here and the majority of my friends are French, I don't notice things one way or another, and certainly we all have our days when the digestive system is a bit awry. However, I would say, when you're first invited to a Frenchman's house, for a party, tea, dinner, coffee, what-have-you, if you can manage to not need the facilities during your visit, or at the very least not till the end of your visit, you're better off. You can always see it as a slight skip in the act of being received. The host has been waiting for you, you arrive, and she/he is ready to take charge and entertain, but then you disappear into the wc. What is the host to do but wait? It is a rather awkward moment. You're there, but you're not...

Scatological References

OK, this is a weird subject, but it's come up numerous times since I started living in France. I didn't notice it at first. After all, Americans say Shit with remarkable ease. But, do we decline it?

It took my Italian girlfriend to point out the French obsession with (pardon my French) la merde, i.e. shit. So, enjoying a drink at a café not far from school we started making a list.

This weekend while I was enjoying a lunch of outdoor grilled sausages, lamb, salads and melon, I shared these observations with my French women friends. They laughed and suggested I write about it. So, with their approval, I hereby begin a list of scatological French comments. Note, all that I'm putting here heavily pepper common everyday conversation. Yes, there are those who are a bit more careful and who do not curse or use vulgar references, but ohhhh the vast majority do seem to, particularly in Parisian offices...

This is not an exhaustive list, and all contributions are most welcome!

Merde (simple, used extensively, with historical resonance) - Shit
ça m'emmerde - That shits upon me
quel tas de merde! - what a pile of shit
ça me fait chier - That makes me shit
c'est chiant - it's shitty
c'est à chier - it's not worth shit
la chiotte - a vulgar reference to the wc
peter les plombs -- fart lead -- meaning to lose your temper and have a hissy fit
je me suis fait enculer - I just got fucked over (but in this case, I'm afraid it went up the butt)
trou de cul - ass hole; but also a dingy, out-of-the-way, pathetic destination.
une fessée - a spanking
le tire-fesses -- the butt pull or, rather, the ski lift
où je pose mes fesses? - where should I put my butt? i.e. where should I sit?
j'ai quelqu'un sur mes fesses (or, sur mon cul)-- I've someone on my ass, i.e. someone is tailgating me
serre tes fesses! -tighten your butt cheeks, or hold on, this could get scary.

Then, there's a reference to value and expense:

ça coûte la peau des fesses d'un bébé - it is as expensive as the flesh of a baby's butt.

In general, you'll find the most variety and creativity when the French are indulging in the art of complaining -- Something that they truly excel in as a people. In fact, if you don't complain, many will worry that something is quite wrong with you. Perhaps you even have a "favouille qui mange ton jugement." -- (is a crab eating your brain?)

Francesca assures me that the Italians just don't include such a plethora of vulgar variations. I wonder why?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Readying the House for the Summer Rentals

I've a lovely house in Avignon. Truly, as I sought a new home in the region, and gaped and gawked at the possibilities (and/or lack thereof) this house answered my prayers. Just the right size for the boys and me, plus a room or two to rent or to transform one day into an office. There's the garden out back where I could put a small pool, a first effort at a vegetable garden, my roses, and more. And we're surrounded by small country roads, fields filled with wheat, or this year sunflowers, and orchards of apples, pears and peaches. Each evening that I can eat my dinner with the children on the terrace I thank my lucky stars. I find it incredible that for twelve of my years in Provence I lived in a town house in town, with no terrace, no balcony, no courtyard, no garden. All meals were eaten inside the darkness of the house, and rarely did I see the clear or cloudy skies, nor the night stars. I feel blessed.

However, this house came at a price -- and one which I continue to pay in the form of a rather steep mortgage (let's say that if I got a normal job tomorrow in France, I wouldn't be able to cover the mortgage with ease). But, I chose the house with the idea of a summer rental (or two or three) in mind. My parents rented our house in New York most summers -- it is by Long Island Sound and a private sandy beach. They also rented our summer house for the weeks we weren't there, and a small apartment in the basement of the NY house. I think it was my father who was so smart about money and expenses. He immediately saw the virtues in renting our homes, and thus put into motion years of intense late spring cleanings to ready for said renters.

Hence I've followed in the tradition. Knowing that I like to spend the summer -- at least a portion of it -- with my family in Michigan, and that I've friends who might house me should I need such here in Provence, I rent my Avignon house for as much of this period as possible. My boys are either with my family in the States or with their father from the last day of school till the week before school starts. Thus another potential problem handled.

But, this remunerative act does not come without a hell of a lot of work. I begin the first day of June, and I'll be cleaning and organizing through to the afternoon arrival of my first renters on the 27th. I've removed all winter and cold weather clothes of the boys and myself, and gone through all of these, putting whatever is too small, etc., into a Red Cross bag. I've already sent most of these suitcases and cases to JP's very large garage. I'm fixing whatever needs fixing -- this year it is the kitchen and bathroom sinks and counters. They were really not in good shape, wobbling faucets, etc., So, I've bitten the bullet and put the changes into motion. The kitchen is nearly done, but now the bathroom is awaiting our attention. I've purchased an art deco hutch/buffet that I'll put a wide rectangular sink into (IKEA) with the plan that we keep the marble top of the hutch (sawing it in half/removing the middle). As the hutch is a bit tall, we'll saw off the feet... this is the plan in any case. My plumber is a bit wary, but I'm, as they say, rather determined?

Once these jobs are done, the house is pretty much in good shape -- though my roof still leaks when there are fierce rain storms, but that will need to wait till I've serious money, i.e. after the sale of the b&b in Arles. Ah yes, I need to tighten the legs of the barbecue as well.

I'll remove everything fragile or of sentimental value throughout the house -- dishes, cups, glasses, bowls, pictures of the boys, artwork, etc., I leave a stash of toys for the renters (should they have kids) and the children's books, my library, a collection of cds and the stereo, ditto my culinary library (though the majority be in English...), kitchen supplies, tools, equipment, spices, etc., And for each family of renters, I try to provide a welcome basket with some pasta, wine, olive oil, crackers, coffee, milk etc., for their first dinner and breakfast in the house.

I will repaint my kitchen floor -- something I now do yearly as the traffic that runs through the ground floor is pretty amazing: me, the 5 kids, Filou and his friend Saline, whatever friends come by, etc.,

Then, I'll attack all the machines -- scrubbing, disinfecting, etc., and I'll take out the vacuum, duster/wet clothes and sponges to clean behind and under the beds and shelves, atop every piece of furniture in those hard to reach places. I should really wear a dust mask for all this as I'll be sneezing and wheezing away.

I'll go through the sheets to be sure only the ones without holes are in the cupboard, organize them to be sure that singles/fitted/queen etc., are carefully divided up, label, and fold them to perfection.

My house has neither a garage nor an attic, nor a spare room that I close off. So, I try to get our things as compact as possible, and transfer them either to JP's or to Erick's house in Arles for the summer. I've a small space under the stairwell, and it will be full, that's certain. If I'm able, I'll hang an opaque curtain there this summer to prevent the otherwise decided eyesore.

Then, the garden -- to be freshly mown, the pool pristine, the directions on how to use said mower, maintain the pool etc., well typed out. And, if I'm all set, flowers on the table for their arrival.

It's a doozy of a job. Other years I had Hayley or Virginia (the au pair in 2007) to help out. But this year, I'm on my own. So, day by day, job by job, I'll work my way through it all.

The virtues of this act are many -- my house will be thoroughly feng shuied, cleaned, dust and cob web free, barren of personal effects. I will have had a chance to go through everything I own, clean out, remove, discard, give away. And next fall, when we move back in, I can contemplate different arrangements, or put everything back as it was, but cleaner, fresher.

But I can say now, on the 28th, I'll be a royal mess. Just let me sleep. ok?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Busy Potter

One of the mainstays of my years of artisan visits is the potter of Le Cailar, Véronique Ricard, a potter of exquisite yet practical pottery. She makes cups, plates, bowls, salad bowls, platters, hot plates, tians (for baking casseroles), silverware holders, kitchen tool holders, vases... all the things we like to live with.

Véronique is the daughter of Geneviève, the original potter of little village Le Cailar. In this tiny community just west of Vauvert, on the road to Aigues Mortes (or more simply Montpellier), Geneviève settled with her husband and children. With her years of fine arts studies behind her, she chose to devote her talents to pottery and soon became one of the pioneers of the diverse and active pottery movement in Southern France.

The technique she prefers and taught to her daughter is called "terre vernisée" or glazed clay. It is traditional to the region and involves a careful sequence of applying design elements on a raw piece with colored clay slips. When the piece is fully decorated and dry, it is fired once to harden it, and a second time with a clear glaze. This is different from the faïence to the east at Moustiers Ste. Marie for example, which is fired first, then painted, and then glazed.

soup (or hot chocolate) bowls freshly dipped in a white clay slip in preparation for being decorated.

Decorated and drying, these cups will be fired twice, once to harden, then with a glaze which will change their colors: red will become yellow, gray will become blue or green, etc.,

The designs of Geneviève are whimsical and often tell stories. She made pieces with couples on bicycles, men on horses, birds, ducks, wolves in lamb bonnets and more. Originally from Alsace, she brought with her the influences of Northern and Eastern Europe. However, the colors that she adopted soon after setting up shop, and that her daughter continues to work with, are those of the South: yellow, green, blue, a light pink, white, brown.

I first met Véronique and her husband Jean Claude at the pottery market in Arles, which took place every May while I lived in Arles (now I believe it is every other year). I immediately fell in love with their work, and happily noticed that they weren't far away. This was long ago now, perhaps when Leo was two? so going on ten years. I soon went to visit and just as quickly asked if I might be able to bring my guests and clients, and just maybe see a small demonstration of how they work?

My requests were granted with smiles and pleasure, and from that point, many an hour have we spent in that little shop, the tiny studio beyond, the courtyard garden, and amidst the fired pieces back by the two kilns.

Since my first visit to the shop, when Geneviève was at the wheel and Véronique was bed-ridden with her pregnancy (the fruit of which is a delightful young boy named Simon who loves to play with my two), we've grown together in our respective activities. Véronique has now completely taken over the shop from her mother who is retired but still quite present in her home behind the shop. Simon is busy with friends in the courtyard, or off playing tennis while his parents seem to work non-stop. But, I correct myself. Though Véronique and Jean Claude do work lots and lots, they adjust their hours to be free when Simon is there, and to permit slowing down mid-afternoon to share tea and cookies with passing friends.

They love what they do. They do it superbly well, and have a faithful clientele. But they also find the time and flexibility to attend to aging parents, a rambunctious little boy, and the various visits of distant relatives, and friendly Americans.

The decoration of the pieces is laborious and time-consuming, but, this is where Véronique shines. It is her favorite part of the process. Watching her you understand "flow." She bends over her piece, her little rubber projectile pears in her hands, surrounded by the colored clay slips, and inspired by the moment, she crafts her floral motifs. She has kept notes in her journal of all the designs she's done over the years. Though it is rare that she repeats herself, there are certain elements she might work into her designs again and again. Upon request she will do a series of a single design, or a theme and variations. Personally, I've always been a fan of the similar but different designs. And, it has been fun watching guests share and compare their plates during the cooking class feasts.

This is truly a matriarchy -- a rarity in the South. Véronique learned all her technique at her mother's knee. As a child, she and her siblings would have their daily chores to do, and often that included throwing pots or helping out in the studio as well as setting the table, sweeping, dishes, etc., When she met Jean Claude, he was a shoe-maker. He made the transfer from shoe-making to potting with ease, being gifted with his hands. Together now, they continue the tradition of Le Cailar... and perhaps someday so shall Simon?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Hat Lady

In a small town to the South called Vauvert, situated on the National between St. Gilles and Aigues Mortes, lives a lady who makes the most glorious hats. She simply has a gift. Married at barely twenty to a vintner, mother of three energetic boys, she somehow found time for her art. In the beginning she painted on canvas. She later painted on materials of all sorts, made fantastical dresses (which she modeled with aplomb with her fabulous figure), and set out to discover other possibilities. After all, how do you set yourself apart as a woman with something of her own to offer the world when you live in a small town, you were raised knowing the hardships of the war, and you spend a good part of your time nourishing four males?

Hats. She started making hats. And they came. Her hats have been worn to the horse races in England, to the fashion shows in Paris, and to more weddings than I could begin to list. She has worked her way through agricultural materials -- what you might use to ward off the rabbits from a young sapling, or mosquito netting, or twine--; to vegetal materials, dried leaves and papers, feathers and flowers; and of course all those classic and less so materials such as silk, linen, wool, fleece, straw and string.

She's in books, she's done Paris, she's collaborated with colleagues to design store windows. She's a wonder, and a creative genius, and amazingly generous to boot.

Pinch yourself, you're not in the cave of Ali Baba, but the den of Yvonne Cabanis, a treasure trove of textures and possibilities. She's a local legend in her own time!.

Upon two ancient wooden head forms, creations are made. She sits there, almost daily, letting her imagination run wild. Boxes surround her of her creations, and of possible future bits and pieces. Many young women, their friends and their mothers, come to try on all that is possible, and perhaps have a personally designed hat made to wear with that once in a lifetime dress.

Yvonne particularly enjoys getting to know the person who will wear the hat, and designing especially for her and her outfit. Hours of chatting and mini-psychology sessions pass as the women share tidbits and sentiments, and Yvonne tweaks this, and irons that, and sews or pins this.. and voila, yet another chef d'oeuvre is produced in this seemingly chaotic, but ever so rich space behind the glass windows, just a hop away from her son's wine cellar.

Who would think such diverse activities could co-exist in this small town courtyard?