Saturday, January 4, 2014

Meow Means Smile

Please sit still...
When was the last time I posted about cats?  According to Auntie's handy 2014 "Page-a-Day" Cat calendar, it's been forever.  This contradicts Uncle Jim who thinks otherwise. "You can't argue with facts," nor Auntie's reliable cat calendar I responded.

According to fellow blogger, photographer and poet extrodinare, Heather of Arles, Auntie has a knack for cat portraiture.  Well, I certainly do enjoy it.

Who can resist a soft, furry, purring animal marching towards you on the street to say hello and sticking around for a scratch?  Not Auntie.  It's just lucky that I always have my camera and my "cat eye" lens with me just in case one of the lovely darlings wanders by for a little bit of "watch the birdie."
Don't be such a sour puss!
Hmm, maybe cat portraiture could be a new career for Auntie? I could use all that extra loot to buy a nice present for Uncle Jim.  Or maybe a kitten...

Let's start our journey with a little vignette.  Please step this way to your front row seat...



Archie, miracle cat

Literary cat

Camouflage cat

Italian village cat

Garden cat

Bubble cat

Nellie the resting cat

Parsnip, the smart cat

Ginger Cat
Wrinkly cat

Shy cat

Princess cat

Egyptian cat

Puff ball cat

Canine cat

Humiliated cat
Chinese leashed cat

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!