We returned from Europe a few days ago, hoping to find the beginnings of Spring. But we found the remnants of a late winter snowstorm: Spring comes to Maine — slowly. The snow is melting fast, however, and we have high hopes that we’ll soon see the first stirrings of the season to come. In the meantime, we’re making plans for the summer season; Carolyn is testing new recipes; and we’re looking forward to our 16th year as innkeepers.
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After spending two months, over two years, working on our French in classes near Nice, we wanted to put it to use and see how we could do in the real world. So we signed up to be “Woofers,” [World-side Opportunities in Organic Farming] on a farm in Provence. We lived for 4 days with a family whose son, Mario, was intent on becoming a self-sustaining organic farmer. We traded our work for a place to stay, all our meals, and a chance to get to know the family, their way of life, and to practice our French (no one in the family spoke English). We emailed back a forth a bit before we left for France, but really had little idea what we were getting into. It turned out to be a truly wonderful experience.
In addition to farming, Mario and his family ran a bed & breakfast (a “chambre d’hote” in France) so we thought we’d fit right in — help cook breakfast, clean rooms, work in the garden a bit. Except that he had no guests in March, and a great need for help in his fields. So we spent four amazing days working as farm hands, living with his family, and speaking French. The only bad part was that we arrived at the same time as a major windstorm — a Mistral. This legendary wind blows straight from the Artic; it is fierce and very cold. For the first three days, the wind blew constantly at 40 – 50 miles per hour, with gusts well over 60! And the temperature was in the 30’s and low 40’s. The only saving grace was the brilliant sunshine.
You might think that with these climactic conditions, no one would work outside. Not so! We spent 3 1/2 frigid days pulling out grape vines, planting some of the vines in another vineyard, weeding a newly planted vegetable garden, pruning back a sizable vineyard that had gone without care or pruning for several years, and trying to stay warm. Fortunately, the wind stopped for our last day of work so we got a sense of what the Provencal weather is usually like this time of year. But the four days we spent “:woofing” were unforgettable — we laughed a lot, drank a lot of wine, ate very well, took a lot of Motrin, found out that we could understand and make ourselves understood pretty well in French, and got acquainted with a truly delightful family which we will probably visit again. Here are some pictures of our adventure. They include trying to light a fire to make coffee in 60 mph winds, the load of vines we removed, Tom weeding, Carolyn trying to stay warm, a work break from pruning during our one warmish day, the vineyard we pruned (note its size, and the difference between the pruned and unpruned rows), the B&B, and Carolyn with Mario’s wonderful family.
After our four-week French course in Villefranche-Sur-Mer was over, we spent four days in Rome, visiting old friends who were in Rome for the month of March. On the first day they booked a fabulous Rome food tour with Elizabeth Minchilli, an acclaimed cookbook writer and blogger. She is an American who has lived in Rome for many years. Her blog, Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome, is one of our two most favorite food blogs (the other is David Libovitz’ “Living the Sweet Life in Paris.”)
We spent an hour or so in the Campo de’ Fiore, one of Rome’s best known vegetable markets. Artichoke season had just begun and the bounty of artichokes was amazing. To say nothing of the other vegetables, the flowers, spices, etc. And then we visited food shops in the neighborhood. A feast for the senses! If you are in Rome, we highly recommend Elizabeth’s food tour, which includes visits to pastry, cheese, wine, bread, and sausage shops — with tasting — and a lovely lunch at a traditional Roman restaurant. Some pictures of the bounty:
We’re in southern France, on the Cote d’Azur, working hard on our French at an intensive language school, L’Institut de Francais, near Nice. A long way from Coveside and the Maine coast in February! We had a day off today and took the train to Menton, a lovely resort town on the Italian border, to check out the annual Lemon Festival. They create a park full of huge displays made entirely of oranges, lemons, and flowers (as well as parades with floats made of fruit, night-time displays, and other events). The theme this year was Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days and the amazing citrus displays depicted various places in the world visited by Phileas Fogg on his voyage. The fruit are attached to the huge display frames with elastic bands. This year the displays consumed 120 tons (!) of citrus and a million elastic bands. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images. Only in France!
Our blog entries may slow down a bit until mid-March. We’re spending almost 7 weeks in the South of France, attending a French language school in Villefranche-sur-Mer (a beautiful village next to Nice on the Mediterranean). And then we’re doing a bit of traveling. We’re even spending five days working on an organic farm and B&B in Provence, practicing our French (our hosts speak no English), working in the fields, and helping with the housework. We’ll let you know how this works out! Here’s the view from our school — L’Institute de Francais. You can see why we like it here!
If you’d like to follow our adventures, our travel blog is Covesiders.blogspot.com.
Our first website, a classy, state-of-the-art website in 1998, was designed by our good friend, Chap Bowie (now retired from the website business). It served us extremely well during the years of dial-up internet service and beyond. But its narrow format and compressed photographs were no longer suited to the broadband era. We were lucky to obtain the services of Whitestone Marketing – the national leader in websites for inns and bed & breakfasts – to design a new website for us. And we employed Lynn Karlin – a preeminent Maine professional photographer – to do a 2 1/2 day photo shoot here at the inn last summer. The result, we think, is stunning. Thanks to Whitestone and to Lynn for a superb job!
The winter weather has been spectacular. After a substantial post-Christmas snowstorm, the temperatures have remained cold and the skies sunny — perfect for outdoor pursuits. Carolyn and I snowshoed from Route 127 to Robinhood Cove, through the Schoener Preserve, one of the many largely undiscovered preserves open to the public in Georgetown, to the western shore of the cove.
For years we had a photo album showing the changes we made at Coveside from 1998, when we bought the property, to the present. The pictures were always falling out, fading, etc. So we had the photos scanned and put together a bound photo book that gives a nice summary of before and after. It will be available to peruse when you are here; but you can see it on your computer immediately if you click on this link. The book was made on Snapfish, HP’s photo site. If you don’t already have a Snapfish account, you’ll be asked to provide an email address and password to create one (a bother, but it is a great site for sharing photos, making books, cards, etc.) The book takes a while to load.
The Portland Museum of Art has been working several years on restoring Winslow Homer’s studio on Prout’s Neck, south of Portland. The work concluded early this autumn, and visitor’s can now tour the house and grounds through a escorted minibus tour that leaves several times a day in Spring and Fall from the museum. The museum is celebrating the opening of the studio with Weatherbeaten, a major exhibition of Homer’s works that we discussed in a previous blog post. The location of the studio is spectacular.
We survived Hurricane Sandy without even so much as a power outage. Lots of wind and rain, but more like a moderate Nor’easter than the punishing storm that hit further south. Sandy did make for some spectacular surf at Reid State Park, however. Here are some shots Tom took this afternoon.