Friday, December 25, 2015

Les Treize Desserts de Noel

Photo by Mary M Payne

It's a crispy day and I have been out at 6am to have an energetic walk and a thrilling look at a low full moon.    It's Christmas Day.   Monsieur and I did our exercise and then returned to bed until 9am and awakened with most everyone else.  

Not surprising there were only four people out on the Promenade des Anglais this morning.   Two of those were last night's revelers, one singing loudly in Italian, his Santa hat drooped over one eye.  The other two were walking giant dogs.

The reason why our Prom was so empty this morning was that the big feast for Christmas took place last night.  It is called Le Reveillon and folks are probably still sleeping it off.  

There are many French religious traditions left over even in today's somewhat lapsed Catholic population.  The most popular of these is the tradition of 13 desserts.  The number 13 represents Jesus and his twelve disciples.  Everyone at table is expected to taste each of these desserts to insure a good year ahead.  They will stay on the table for three days to make sure one gets a good start. 

If you have wandered around through the various neighborhood street fairs during this festive season you have seen a dried fruit and nut seller in each one.   That is because the first four desserts are different types of fruits and nuts which represent the monastic communities of the Catholic Church.  The dried figs represent the Franciscans.  Almonds stand for the Carmelites.  The dish of raisins are from the Dominicans and the hazelnuts or walnuts stand for the Augustinians.  

In addition there will be a plate of white nougat and one of black nougat which stand for good and evil.  A bowl of dates will represent the Holy Land.   A loaf of olive bread (which must be torn not severed with a knife) will protect your wealth for the coming year. 

The last five desserts may be freely chosen and will probably be candied or fresh fruits.  The fresh fruit platter... most likely composed of grapes, mandarins, and apples.  

Then comes the Buche de Noel (  it may be included as number 13).   This is a cake shaped like a yule log. It can be made with a center of ice cream, cream filling or be a traditional iced cake decorated like a log with little almond paste mushrooms etc. 

 The tradition comes from the older one of choosing a real log from a fruit or olive tree ...a giant log that was meant to burn until January 1.    It would be anointed by the oldest family member with wishes for a happy and flourishing year to come.  I'm afraid log burning fireplaces are mostly forbidden in central Nice now but can be found in mountain villages.   So this cake has replace the old ways. 

 The Yule log dessert follows a lavish meal that judging from the stacks of boxes at the market probably starts with Oysters.   The main dish may be a turkey or Chapon, ( a castrated rooster) fattened to huge proportions or a big white (commercially raised) duck. 

Monsieur and I will have a Pintade ( guinea hen) for lunch today served with roasted onions and sweet potatoes and chard, a modest lunch by French standards. 

photo by Mary M Payne

  Right now I am sipping my first glass of Champagne and like it or not I will indulge in "fois gras" today and a delicious, runny chèvre (goat cheese).   The French for the most part enjoy their culinary traditions that date back centuries and come from an agricultural society, one that enjoys the hunt ( duck ( col verte), venison, wild pig, pheasants, partridges.)   The day of killing off every songbird is for the most part, a thing of the past but the season of hunting continues. 

I admit I have not been as faithful to my blog this year.  I got a case of pericarditis (probably from a wandering virus) that has taken me 4 months to shake off and that is to blame for some of my idleness.    I am grateful now for my returned good health, my returned good humor and for the outstanding French health system.  

 I want to give thanks also that I continue to have faithful readers to this blog.   To you and your loved ones, Monsieur and I wish you as much gladness and celebration as you can stand and the best of health for 2016.   

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The day we arrived in Nice

It's Armistice Day today or Veterans' Day in the States,  the day set aside to celebrate the end of the First Great War.

It commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies and Germany at Compiegne, France.  The signing took effect at eleven o'clock in the morning... "The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918. 

 It was on this day more than 20 years ago that Monsieur engaged a truck and a driver, left at 4 am, and travelled down with him to Nice with our parrot,  Digby Willoughby, in a cage beneath his feet.    I took the train down rather than be packed in with boxes and a parrot. 

We were amazed upon arriving that we were able to unload the truck without a soul trying to get past it.  Our street was barely able to accommodate the truck.  Later we realized that it was because of the "jour ferie" which is celebrated in France but not in Italy where Armistice day is commemorated on November 4.   

La Galleria, Milano    (photo unrestricted stock)
The week before we left Milan an incident occurred that was sadly not so unusual.    Monsieur saw two young boys about 7-8 years old on the six story high roof across from us, trying to pry open a dormer window. 

 He shouted at the boys and they "flipped him the bird" and continued their mischief.  But "Seniore" continued shouting until they finally slunk away. 
 We knew that the parents of these young thieves used their children to do "break-ins" as the children would not be prosecuted.  Mostly when caught, the kids played dumb about who their parents were and so the problem perpetuated. 

 In August, when the traditional summer holiday came and apartments were empty of residents, there was a major theft of Milan residences each year.   I wonder if that situation has changed since we left as it is still a way of life for the nomadic families that come (mostly from Middle Europe) and make thieving and begging their life's work. 

 In Nice there have been several visible solutions taken to contain this problem.  Theft and begging by Romani was much more of an issue when we first arrived.  The best avenue seems to prevent the godfather of the clan from sending the families down in the first place.   My sympathy is always with the kids and young mothers who are raised in this system. 

Anyway, Monsieur decided that the situation of the kids on the roof should be reported to the concierge (called a portinaio in Italy) of the apartments being raided and went over to have a word.

 The concierge in Italy is a very important person who is paid very little.  He is usually an uneducated man who raises his family in the small quarters afforded him on the first floor of a big apartment building.  The Portinaio who managed our building on Via San Marco was called Ezio and his wife was Pina.  Ezio had many stories,  among which was that as a small boy he was present at the Piazzale Lorreto when they hung up Il Duce in the square after the war.    see the story:

 The day before we were to leave Italy,  Ezio called to tell us we had a visitor.   The man we encountered was the gentleman whose apartment was behind the dormer window. 

 He told us that all of his work on a three year architectural project was on his computer and it had not been backed up.  He realized what the theft would have meant to him and had come to thank us for preventing it. 

 But then he asked an unusual question: Why did you do it?  

We were puzzled but then he said " of course, you are foreigners"("stranieri") answering his own question.   No one in Italy would get involved, he explained.  

 This, I believe, is one of those cultural differences that has developed from one's country being occupied or besieged during war. 

 In America we are blessed not to have these same kinds of fears left over from war.  We have our own tragedies and fears, of course,  but superstition of one's neighbors is not one of them. 

This man wanted to invite us to dinner the next day but alas, after finally meeting one of our neighbors, we were off to our adventures in France. 

PS.  I have no control over the size of the  font.  It seems, today to have a life of its own. 


Monday, November 9, 2015

The first time I saw Paris

 I am often asked why Monsieur and I ended up living in France and I by now I have fashioned an answer. 

 This answer includes the fact that Monsieur's father was saved by a Frenchman during WWII and spoke highly of France and its people to Monsieur, then" le petit garçon".  

 It also includes our appreciation of the more relaxed lifestyle and the fact that having been in the wine trade,  we received several invitations to visit some of the famous Chateaux.   We saw then what a beautiful country France is.   

And I think, that Paris is on the radar of every American young person,  from her ideas from films and stories that she has heard from childhood.   Most everyone in America dreams of going to Paris. 

Paris outside the Louvre photo by Mary M Payne

My first trip to Paris occurred when I was 20 years old spending my third university year in Denmark on a scholarship program similar to a "foreign exchange".  

That school term in Copenhagen was formative.  I delighted in the discovery that not everyone on earth thought alike,  lived alike or created alike even if we were descendent Europeans.    

 I stayed with a young couple (in their late 30's) in a beautiful suburb called Birkerold just outside of Copenhagen: Aksel and Hanne.  My Danish "parents" were  curious, well-educated and refined and I got  my own lovely room in their house while attending classes in Opera, Architecture, and Danish language and culture in Copenhagen.

Me , Aksel and Hanne in Copenhagen circa 1967.   Photo courtesy of Mary M Payne

Aksel was the head of a successful rainwear company.  He eventually left that position in his fifties to become a high school teacher which was his real calling.  Hanne ran the whole international student (ISC) program for the University of Whittier.  They each spoke at least four languages and wanted to practice their English (so my Danish did not progress very well).  

    I remember the cold winter ; the walks in the rain (covered in slickers, hats and boots from Aksel's company),  talks together of a late afternoon with tea and cookies after a walk;  an extensive collection of ancient books of engravings which Aksel and I perused while lying on the floor knees bent, feet in the air ;  learning to knit and make Danish "smorrebrod" with Hanne. 

  We visited their two summer houses in Malmo, Sweden and one on a Danish Island (I forget which one of the many) and went on many excursions together.    It was an episode in my life that I treasure. 

 Near the end of the school term in Amsterdam all of our group was  invited on a trip to visit other cities of Europe including Amsterdam, Paris, Rome and Florence. 

 My 50 year old memories of Paris include the grandeur of the boulevards,  the view from "Le Tour d'Eiffel",  the majesty of Notre Dame Cathedral,  the magnificent museums and parks and French bakeries (Patisseries).  Paris soon met my expectation of what a great city should be.  

The memory that stands out on this trip, however, was the announcement that we would not be going to Florence.   That was the year ,1966, when the Arno River overflowed its banks ( Nov. 4, 1966),  flooding the city and destroying over 1500 rare manuscripts and paintings. 

 When we were told the news we plunked down on the nearby steps and sobbed.  It seemed grossly unjust that we had waited 20 years to see Florence and its treasures and now they were presumably lost to us and the world.  

As you now know , a host of restoration angels descended on Florence and much of the damage was reversed in years to come, but that first alarming announcement still is recorded in my brain's rolodex.  

 But thinking back on that first trip to Paris,  I was quickly captivated by the beauty, strangeness and harmony of the place and the people... who yes, were brusque, distant... and so distinctly "other".    This combination, the lilt of the language, the pouty chic of the women... was alluring and repellent at once.  That made it seductive to me.   

 I am less fond of big cities now and am glad to be near the warmth of the South,  but I can always get excited about a trip to Paris and have an appreciation for the French and their way of life. 

 And I can still be tempted by an excellent "tarte de citron", enclosed in its little box,  wrapped in traditional parchment paper and tied with ribbon as a little gift to oneself.  So French... so wonderful.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Where Pigeons go to Die

Lately I have been noticing the serendipity in my life....that is the  connections between thoughts and events that happen by chance and usually illicit a " deja vu" moment.   

Today I found a dead bird up on the top of garden wall.  Oh, no.  I wondered if the mature and magnificent Mozzi had been honing his feline skills.  

 On inspection it turned out not to be one of our two resident collared doves but a pigeon.  I say resident doves, because ever since we have been in this house there has been a pair of doves that sleep in the bay tree and are fed wild bird seed on the balustrade by Monsieur.  

Monsieur started this practice years back when the neighbors were putting out rat poison and the male dove of the couple died from ingesting it.  We somehow took it upon ourselves to put seeds for the lone female.  She thought it was a dandy deal and the couple-dom has been kept intact ever since.... either by aggression or by passing it to the next generation, we can't be sure. 

  I tolerate this practice out of habit now.  Monsieur does not seem to mind the fighting that goes on in the garden.   It turns out that doves are "not the brightest bulbs on the block" and that they are territorial and waste most of the seeds fighting over their patch from dove intruders.  

But even before the doves arrived,  there have been at least four pigeons who have come here in distress.  Two of them survived as Monsieur was able to help them.   The other two we found already dead. 

 The first survivor's foot was tangled with fishing line and he asked Monsieur to see what he could do.... hopping up to him without fear.  Monsieur, the animal whisperer,  was able to untangle the mess with cuticle scissors but the damaged leg dropped off anyway.  

This pigeon he named " Mutor" (as I suppose he looked liked some kind of mutant) and he visited us with his stumpy leg for about 4 years.  He came for seeds, of course.  The other injured or sick pigeon stayed over night inside in a basket, then asked to be let out and stayed one more night between the pillars on the terrace (risking the cats) before he flew away, seemingly healthy.   

This morning seeing another pigeon dead I remembered that when I lived in Carmel, Ca. there was a writer who could regularly be found having his coffee break in the Carmel Cafe.  His name was Robert Wright Campbell and at the time he was working on a book called: Where Pigeons Go to Die.   
 I see from Wiki that he was born in 1927 and died in 2007 in Monterey.  He did publish the book and it was made into a movie directed by Michael Landon.  The connection there is not only that I knew Robert Campbell and that he was writing this book but that I knew Michael Landon as an acquaintance from the Buckley School.    I was a teacher and his children were students there.

  The serendipity for me is that Campbell's provacative title has turned out to be a kind of truth for us.  Pigeons do seem to come here to die....(or be treated).  And the amazing thing is that even though we are close to a city full of pigeons, very few of them ever find their way up our street despite the seeds available.   That is a little miracle in itself, non?

Another episode of what I call serendipity happened on the train from Eugene to Seattle this August.  A woman said to me while I was sitting in the viewing car:  "I would have thought that was my bag if you had been coming from the other direction."  It transpired that we both had a very unusual German tote bag.  Mine had been bought in Nice.  Hers was a gift from a friend who visited London. She had not been to Europe for years and neither one of us has ever seen another bag like it. 

Elizabeth and I with our polka dotted tote bags on Amtrak

It turned out that we chose to sit together the rest of the way and  chatted on our many common interests.  She was on the way from L.A. to Seattle for a workshop called "dreamgates" by Robert Moss.   I had recently taken a workshop with Charley Morley called  "Lucid Dreaming".  I would say these are obscure interests.  So yes, I added this encounter to my "serendip" list of happenings   

By the way, the origin of the word Serendipity is from a fairy tale written in 1754 by Horace Walpole.  It was called The Three Princes of "Serendip". The heroes of this saga were always making discoveries "by accidents or sagacity, of things they were not in quest of".  I like this definition better than any other and I do look for these little connections in life.   Its my kind of optimism, I think. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Smoked Chicken with Wild Rice Salad

Smoked Coquette with Wild Rice Salad photo by Mary M Payne

Just because it's hot doesn't mean I have given up on my pleasure for good food.  In fact, I am a great concoctor of salads and put this skill to use  when the weather is blazing.

  I have Monsieur bring home basic ingredients and then I improvise with what he finds. 

I got the idea for this preparation from an old favorite book called Christopher Idone's Salad Days published by Random House in 1989.  

 I didn't really know if I could find a smoked chicken but in fact we did find a fat little "coquelet" (young male chicken) instead.  It made enough for three large servings. 

The principal ingredients for this salad are:

a smoked chicken, 
a cup of wild rice cooked in chicken broth
one bunch of scallions ( often confused in French: onions vertes ou scallion being the most common terminology)
walnut pieces, toasted in butter
dried cranberries. 

sherry vinegar
juice of ½ orange
vegetable oil ( I used sesame oil and olive oil)
"Espelette" red pepper fine flakes

The original recipe called for kumquats, fresh cranberries , oriental sesame oil, hot pepper oil, grainy mustard and a garlic clove.  

I always hate to shop for just one recipe so sorry.... no kumquats or fresh cranberries ( they aren't even cultivated in France) were in the house. 

 I left out the garlic on purpose because I find raw garlic can easily become over-powering and the mustard was unhappily encased in ice in the back of the "frigo" ( but that's another story).

    I put hot pepper from Espelette on the table and Monsieur went for that.  He always likes his dishes hotter than I can stand.  Jack Sprat. 

Wild rice is not really a rice but a grass and I like the way it adds a chewy element to salad.   I also had a bunch of young green beans lying around so I steamed some of those and added them.   And I just happened to stock dried cranberries which added a nice sweet touch ( they always add sugar to them in France).

The trick with the scallions is to slice them and cut them into long strips and then put them in ice water to crisp them up.   And of course, the salad is better if the beans and rice are refrigerated a bit before serving. 

Wild rice and smoked coquelet can be found in Nice at Galeries Lafayette at Cap 3000 and maybe other stores. 

 We found this meal delicious with a cold glass of rose.  Bon Appetite. 

Hottest July ever on the Cote d'azur

It is now 34 degrees ( 93F) and there is a hot wind blowing outside. 
 Luckily the humidity is down today to only 34 percent.  Even at 5h30 in the morning , when Monsieur and I get up to take our exercise, the stickiness is already in the air. 

The local"rag" , The Nice Matin, has reported that the average temperatures for this July on the Cote d'azur is the hottest on record. This has to do somewhat with the fact that the night time temperatures are also high.   The place is not cooling down!

The French are not fond of Air Conditioning in the home ( its expensive, not necessary and can even make you sick) ...but now I think the stores are selling more units than ever.  I know some Americans who are buying them. 

 However, Monsieur and I have stayed French in this matter and have only 3 small fans in our house.  We sit in front of one each and there is one for the bedroom. 

Mostly the locals will say that if you go in the sea in the morning, the cool of the water will stay with you all day.  I think this is true.  However, a few days ago,  in St. Jean Cap Ferrat,  the water was too warm to be refreshing at 2pm ( It did cool off a bit later).

Along with vacation come glitches in the various systems while workers are away and things break down.  My internet has been working only sporadically for the last few days and the water bill hasn't come through even though we paid it weeks ago.  

But hey, its holiday.  Things will work themselves out eventually. 

 And now, I am starting to sound French.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


A glimpse over the garden walls.  Dulwich, photo by Mary M Payne

Although I lived in the London for some months years back,   it was a surprise to me to find an enchanting, leafy enclave only 17 minutes from London Bridge where I was to stay for a visit.   It is called Dulwich village and has both East and West Dulwich included in the area which falls mostly in the borough of Southwark( with parts in Lambeth borough as well).      

 This area to the south of London, has mansion houses,  at least 8 excellent schools ( plenty of kids everywhere in various uniforms) and transport links into both the "City" and central London,  but surprisingly, Dulwich is not just the home of the very wealthy. 

   I learned that the Dulwich Estate, a charity that historically managed the area, (and still owns and controls local development) maintains and owns smaller flats as well as large family homes offered at various price levels.    It was in one of the flats that I enjoyed several London days as guests of my English friends.  

  • 1.  Dulwich Village was first recorded in AD 967 as Dilwihs, meaningdill meadow’.
  • 2. London’s last remaining tollgate is located on College Road. Constructed in 1789, today the standard toll for non pass holders is £1 per single journey. ( is anything one pound anymore?)
  • 3. In the Second World War, Dulwich was hit by many V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets.....a possible explanation being that the British military when announcing V-1 and V-2 explosions deliberately gave incorrect map co-ordinates in an attempt to protect densely populated central London and let the drops fall on the open spaces in the suburbs instead. 
  • 3. Despite its close historical links with Camberwell, to the north-​​west, Dulwich has remained distinct and has long been more exclusive. This is almost entirely due to the role of Dulwich College, founded in 1619 by the actor Edward Alleyn as the College of God’s Gift, which consisted of almshouses and a school for under­-priv­ileged boys
  • 6.  Dulwich Picture Gallery is the world’s first purpose-built public art gallery: it was founded in 1811 when Sir Francis Bourgeois RA bequeathed his collection of old masters “for the inspection of the public”.
  • Rembrandt’s portrait of Jacob De Gheyn III has been stolen from the Dulwich Picture Gallery four times since 1966. It was found every time, once in a taxi, once in a train station, once underneath a bench and last on the back of a bicycle.   

Here is a peek inside and out.    I trust that my friends won't mind if I play "nosey parker" with a few pics.  

Row of houses where I stayed.   Dulwich,  photo by Mary M Payne  

My room was very welcoming....and doubled as a sitting room.  Photo by Mary m Payne

Levitation of favorite reads.  Photo by Mary M Payne

Window tableau with my blue striped reflection by Mary M Payne

Pattern upon pattern handwork: by Mary M Payne

Close up of the beautifully woven traditional Welsh by Mary M Payne

The house with lots of art and the flower and vegetable garden were a treat,  as was the  neighborhood... filled with varied sizes of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian houses and resplendent with mature trees ( Elms?) 

 Near our house,  I found this reminder of the days when the "stocks" made physical punishment and public humiliation a hoped for deterrent to petty crimes.   That would be 1760. 

Former location of Village Stocks,  " It is a sport to a fool to do mischief to thine own...Wickedness shall correct thee." photo by Mary M Payne
 The short walk to the renown Dulwich Picture Gallery was lush with playing fields, old cemeteries, Alleyn's Almshouses, ( still in use for the elderly) and Dulwich Park.     A few decorous shops and eateries make a comfortable little village. 
Can't stop looking at British pastries....Mary M Payne
 The only thing I could find for the residents to complain about in Dulwich were the annoying nightly visits of foxes tipping the garbage bins.  

So if you ever want to escape the hub of London, head into this part of London, go to the Dulwich Picture Gallery and have lunch there.  Its well worth a visit and you can see a bit of "the green of England" while still in the city.  

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wordsworth House

Wordsworth House, Cockermouth,  photo by Mary M Payne

When I was a kid I got a break from domestic work each summer .  We children could memorize a poem or we could choose from a list of chores to do that day.   So it is no surprise that I know at least two poems of William Wordsworth  by heart,  "Daffodils" and "Written in March". 

  "I wandered lonely as a cloud" has gotten me through some difficult moments not least of which are are the easing of boring I was happy to find that William Wordsworth's childhood home is in Cockermouth, Cumbria. 

The outside of the house is much more impressive than Bill's father would have been able to afford as agent to a powerful landowner.   But he was given the house to live in as one of the "perks" of working for a wealthy man, Sir James Lowther, or "wicked Jimmy". 

I will try to be brief and not go through the house for you room by room..nothing could be more boring than having it all second-hand. 

  But I will give you a few interesting points.  First of all William was just eight years old when his mother died and only 13 when his father died.  He and his favorite sister, Dorothy were split up and sent to relatives (as were the three youngest boys.)  Later he and his sister wrote fondly of their years in Cockermouth. 

Unlike other children of his time William was allowed to explore freely in the surrounding meadows and rivers.   One can see that the Lake District had a strong influence on some of his greatest work.    Whether he was allowed to do this because his family was more enlightened than families of the 1770's ( or today) or because his mother was just overwhelmed with responsibilities of a house and 5 young children is not known for certain. 

 Other Stuff I learned: 

1. The front rooms of the 12 room house were for  important guests and adults and the five children were not welcome.  They had their own room and parlors to use and the garden. 

2.  The chamber pot was just a few feet away(in a sideboard) from the formal dining table in the dining room ( not shown) so that male guests never need leave their port wine and rum at the end of a meal when the ladies had removed to another room. 

3.  Hens at the time were not selected for egg size and some of these early breeds are being kept on the premises now.   I have a photo of their offerings.  You will note the varied sizes of looks as small as a quail's egg.

4.  The "maid of all work" did the cleaning for the entire house, the fires, shopping and food preparation.  She was the first to rise in the morning and the last to retire.   She was paid the least of three servants having many more duties than the two men servants.

5. It was a habit of the time for the parents to each have his own bedroom. 

6.  The "privy" garden has been designed with the help of archaeologist and researchers to recreate as close as possible the one in which Dorothy and William loved to play. 

7.  There was a clark's room as well. William Arnott was clerk for at least ten years and was paid 20BPS a year.  

8.  Writing was kept as small as possible ( with a quill) on all documents or letters as paper was expensive. Sometimes the paper was used both horizontally and vertically for the same document.

9. When the flood of 2009 came to Cockermouth  the water reached the Georgian cellars of the house ( larder, wine etc.) and the furniture  (some of it antique and authentic) was quickly moved to the top floors.  The garden was completely destroyed but none of the other floors were breached before the flood subsided. 

Drawing Room for guests only, a beautiful recently made harpsichord at the other end.  The carpet has been recreated to match the one that Sir James owned. 

Mrs Wordsworth"s common parlor where she would have done accounts, writing menus, spinning, sewing etc. and feeding the children. 

Food that would have been served to guests.  Wordsworth House, photo by Mary M Payne

A "modern" kitchen with a smoke jack for spit roasting, charcoal burners for sauces, copper to heat water and even an oven.    Wordsworth House, Photo by Mary M Payne

An "exciting" dish of flowers in batter.  Wordsworth House,  photo by Mary M Payne

Mint leaves in Sugar, Wordsworth House,  photo by Mary M Payne

Eggs laid on the premises by an ancient breed of chickens.  Note the tiny one.  Wordsworth House, Cockermouth, photo by Mary M Payne

The children's bedroom,  It is believed that they all shared this room.  A chamber pot chair was disguised as a night stand.    Wordsworth House, Mary my Payne

Wordsworth House, photo by Mary M Payne

The garden re-planted after the flood of 2009..... Used mostly as a kitchen garden. The far terrace looks over River Derwent. 

Wordsworth House Garden,  photo by Mary M Payne

Looking at Wordsworth House from back Garden.  photo by Mary M Payne

Wordsworth House, Photo by Mary M Payne

Near the chicken yard. Wordsworth House, Cockermouth  photo by Mary M Payne

Wordsworth House Garden,  photo by Mary M Payne

10.  The National Trust does a lovely job with this property. Great care has been taken for authenticity.   We see and hear actors renditions of Wordsworth's poems and Dorothy's letters.  Several rooms have interactive elements for visitors to try.   For example, in the clark's room, I found out it's damned hard to write a small script with a quill pen.  Below is one of my "task saver" poems by Wordsworth.

Written in March

The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing,
The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter
The green field sleeps in the sun;
The oldest and youngest
Are at work with the strongest;
The cattle are grazing,
Their heads never raising;
There are forty feeding like one!

Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On the top of the bare hill;
The plowboy is whooping- anon-anon:
There's joy in the mountains;
There's life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!

Find more pics and information of Wordsworth House at :

Saturday, July 4, 2015


Hamlet of Cockermouth, Cumbria  photo by Mary M Payne

To get to Cumbria to the Wool Fest we chose the newly privatized British rail system owned by Virgin group of Richard Branson. 

 The trains were comfortable but crowded and we had to juggle seats since we hadn't purchased a reservation in advance ... and the ticket wasn't cheap.  (the price for the return trip was about a100 pounds for 2nd class...pricey as compared to French subsidized train fares).    

But the voyage was ideal for getting a look at the stunning natural beauty of the Lake District....fields of sheep; ancient stone walls; skies of soft cerulean lashed with whipped clouds, (not a pale or periwinkle blue sky as we see in Nice). 

From Penrith we called for a taxi and so arrived at the ancient town of Cockermouth. 

Cockermouth, originally a market town retains a medieval layout   enlarged in the 18th and 19th century and largely restored after 2009 to the  modern hamlet of today.  It is a beautiful village-like town of  around 9000 souls.  

One of the first things one notices is that the sky is never quite dark at night.  We are so far North that there often is the effect of the Northern Lights.  I awakened in the night to see the sky lighter than when I had retired.   It was a bit of a thrill for this southern "girl". 

Peering in at the Castle owned by Lady Egremont until her death in 2013.

Neat, small terraced houses in Cockermouth, photo by Mary M Payne

Crown Street of Cockermouth, photo Mary M Payne

A "Georgian gem" town,  Cockermouth, Cumbria    Photo by Mary M Payne

Christ Church, 1865,  Cockermouth photo by Mary M Payne

The suggestive sexy moniker of Cockermouth derives from the name of the River Cocker as it flows into the River Derwent. 

 We walked along the banks of these gentle seeming rivers one day to see the mouth where they actually converge.  That day yielded up a Constable sky and a path festooned with wild daisies and well kept gardens.  Note the height of the walls.  
Convergence of the two rivers: Cocker and Derwent.  Photo by Mary M Payne

Stone bench along the Rivers in Cockermouth, Cumbria  photo by Mary M Payne

The meeting of the mighty....?  Cockermouth  photo by Mary M Payne

Daisy like flowers grow wild everywhere in Cumbria,  Photo by Mary M Payne

 I mention the walls because the biggest fear for the residents seems to be the tendency of the Rivers Cocker and Derwent to overflow their banks.  
 The last big flood took place on 19 November 2009 and murals and wall markings in shops serve as reminders of the devastation and the actual height the water had attained.   The photos of merchandise and debris floating down the main streets tells the real story of the cost of damage to the town.  Since that time, more barriers have been erected in an effort to thwart Mother Nature.

River Cocker flowing through Cockermouth,  the restaurant on the left is called The Honest Lawyer,  photo by Mary M Payne

This is the charming facade of my friend's home never touched by the flood. 

This beckoning "porte de jaune" is the country home of my friends. There I passed an exceptional three days .    The house is called Tardis after a reference to the popular British TV series, Dr Who.   

The wall on the left is deceiving . When you get inside the house there is more space than you expected. ..... just as the interior of the Tardis Spacecraft is much bigger than one expected.  

Dr Who reference for the Cockermouth house. 

The house is charming inside with lots of personal touches and a well conceived garden....... but I will try not to pry.   I must say though that it boasts a third floor den with three walls of book shelves.  I know a lot of folks that would love to move right in,  Monsieur included. 

 English kitchen in Cockermouth... photo by Mary M Payne

Garden Visitor

My shadow on a corner of the garden behind the house with the yellow door,  

Gigantic red poppies are a favorite in by Mary M Payne
Night sky...only the clouds are dark.  Cockermouth, England  photo by Mary M Payne

Maybe tomorrow I will wax poetic about the Wordsworth House or the Quince and Medlar Restaurant, not to be missed in Cockermouth.