Diane Sawyer Newsletter/Blog #14 January 2014

Diane Sawyer Portrait

Hello to all my loyal newsletter readers and thank you for your kind comments. Greetings and welcome to new readers. Happy January, 2014, to one and all. Here’s to a new year of health, happiness, and fun!

Fondly,

Diane Sawyer

 

Writing News

Enjoy the hardcover, paperback and e-book editions, available on Amazon and other on-line sites. Happy Reading!

I will be trying something new during my trip to Guatemala, February 9-19. Traveling with pen and notebook while sightseeing with a tour group of 16, I hope to be inspired by something exciting—a mistaken identity, an unusual treasure, an unexpected turn of events, an intriguing festival, a secret tucked into an old book—something that would set in motion my next mystery. The fictional heroine, Rosie, is well-formed in my mind. She’s fun, inquisitive, and intuitive. She doesn’t go looking for trouble but it often finds her. We’ll see how things go for Rosie on this trip. I hope to have something to report in my February newsletter.

 

This and That

 Some interesting things about the month of January.

  • President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
  • The Anglo-Saxons called the first month “Wolfmonth” because wolves came into the villages in winter in search of food. Legend says that Charlemagne called it “Wintarmanuth.”
  • The Czechs call January “leden,” meaning ice month.
  • The official flower for January is the snowdrop, but the carnation is also mentioned.
  • In America, January is “National Soup Month.”
  • In America, January 4 is designated National Short People Day and also National Spaghetti Day.

 

Travel

Many of you wrote to tell me that you enjoyed the mother-daughter trip to France taken from my journal, “Travel Tales,” subtitled “The Adventures of Barrie and Mom in France,” written in 1995. That adventure took place in Paris and was entitled “Evening Descends on Ile de la Cité.” I decided to include another “adventure,” this time from the Old City of St. Malo, located on the English Channel in northwestern France. This excerpt is called “A Day Among the Malouins.”

My daughter, Barrie, and I had read about the Mardi-Gras atmosphere “within the walls” of the Old City of St. Malo, the crowds pouring from cafés to fill the cobblestone streets and ramparts, and the hearty souls who challenged the swift-rising tides along the walkway to Grand Bré Island.

None of this activity was evident as we hurried from the St. Malo train station on the northern coast of France through the deserted early-morning streets “outside the walls” searching for our budget guidebook’s recommendation: Hôtel le Neptune. After a few wrong turns and some local assistance—one shopkeeper thumbed through a directory of street names, another called his aunt for directions—we arrived at Neptune’s doorstep.

The lone customer, a dapper gentleman sipping coffee at the bar, looked up from his newspaper. “Visitors,” he called out, and Madame, the proprietress, bustled from the back room.

“I’m booked solid for the week,” she said in French.

Disappointment flickered across Barrie’s face.

“Could you recommend a hotel?” I asked in French. “Something similar to your establishment: clean, charming, and suitable for our limited budget?”

“I’ll make a few calls,” Madame said and disappeared into the back room. Her cheery voice rippled through greetings, inquiries, and ended with three magic words: “Bon…Bon…Bon.” She poked her head into the doorway, scanning us from head to toe, and said into the receiver, “Two pleasant Americans dressed in sneakers, jeans, and sweatshirts.”

Madame returned. “You have your choice of two rooms at the Hôtel de l’Artimon.” She spread out a street map, and traced our route with her fingertip. She nodded toward the gentleman at the bar. “Monsieur Gérard is a native, a Malouin. He’ll step outside and point you in the right direction.” Monsieur Gérard smiled, pleased to be of service. “This way, my dear ladies in distress,” he said. He ushered us to the street, unlocked the doors to a car, and said gallantly, “Allow me to escort you.”

Monsieur Gérard, who enjoyed honking the horn and rounding corners on two wheels, recounted St. Malo’s distinguished history as a ship-building center. “Hôtel de l’Artimon, straight ahead,” he said and explained that “artimon” meant a ship’s mizzenmast.” He pointed toward the Artimon, nestled among a row of narrow, four-story hotels, only blocks away from their taller beach-front neighbors.

Barrie and I entered the lobby/restaurant/bar, and the young proprietor greeted us in French. “Ah, the American ladies. I’ve been expecting you.” He checked his watch. “You rise before the sun. My guests in all 16 rooms are still sleeping.”

Reading our consternation as we juggled our luggage, he said, “No problem. Take the room, sight unseen. Surprises are fun.” He smiled. “I’ll keep my eye on your bags, and have them moved to your room later.” Such kindness triggered my New-York-honed suspicious mind.

We chose the less expensive room and decided to splurge the difference on lunch. The proprietor offered “the use of the facilities” at the rear of the lobby. The hallway was shadowy; the facilities, tiny. Our elbows and knees banged into the walls as we maneuvered our bags and changed into lighter clothing. Lurid tales of abduction and white slavery careened through my mind.

Nibbling fresh-baked bread, Barrie and I walked along the sidewalk that bordered the miles of brown-sand beach. Cool sea breezes wafted across the granite peninsula on which St. Malo’s Old City had been built. To our left rose a string of hotels and the casino where gamblers played a game, something like roulette, called “broule.” Somewhere ahead, the Old City lay hidden, its walls shrouded in mist.

Barrie laughed. “Mom, do you realize you’re breaking all your rules?” She rattled off: “Never accept rides from strangers. Don’t pay for a room until you’ve seen it. Lock your luggage in your room. Avoid poorly lit restrooms.”

“Very funny,” I replied scooting after her into the pea-soup-thick fog.

“Look!” Barrie shouted pointing toward the water’s edge. Magically, two chestnut horses broke through the fog. Manes flying, they raced into the wind, pulling a buggy and its two passengers. As suddenly as they had emerged, they disappeared into the mists, only to reappear seconds later. Barrie grabbed her zoom camera and shot two pictures. “Did we imagine that?” she asked, incredulous.

Before I could answer, the chiseled granite walls of the Old City materialized. Above us, partially concealed in the swirling mists, towered miles of ramparts dating from the Middle Ages.

We entered the Old City beneath the archway of Porte St-Vincent. The cobblestone street led us to Chateaubriand Square named after the Malouin writer who fostered Romanticism. Sleepy-eyes people enjoyed their morning coffee beneath colorful awnings and umbrellas. Artists, jewelry makers, woodcarvers, and other craftspeople set out their wares. Shopkeepers opened their doors. Hotel guests appeared at their balcony windows. Bit by bit, St. Malo stirred in the fresh morning air.

We sat on a stone bench in front of Café de la Licorne (Unicorn) and listened to three musicians warming up their instruments: a harp, a dulcimer, and a piccolo. Beautiful, lilting Celtic melodies floated on the breeze. I closed my eyes. Memories surfaced: nostalgic tunes my Irish relatives sang, mysterious-sounding Gaelic words, my mother’s stories of keening winds when sailors were lost at sea.

The fog began to lift and crowds streamed through Porte St-Vincent. Skipping the tourist attractions, Barrie and I climbed the stone stairs to the serpentine path along the ramparts. Masons had continually restored them, enabling walkers to circle the entire city and descend at various intervals. On one side, below us, several children built sand castles or swam while others jumped on a trampoline. Braving the waves, teenagers raced toward the diving platform. Sunbathing adults snoozed.

“They’ll wake up soon,” Barrie commented. “The water’s rising very fast.”

A Malouin woman tugged Barrie’s elbow and nodded toward the incoming tide. “Soon the hungry sea will swallow the beach.”

I asked, “Is there time for us to walk to Grand Bré Island?”

The woman shrugged. “Try your luck. But we Malouins, we do not tempt the ravenous waves. We tell them: Bon appétit! And we hurry toward high ground.”

On the other side, from our vantage point, we saw symmetrical stone apartment buildings sharing the streets with quaint shops and tiny restaurants. Besides the usual boulangeries (bakeries) and patisseries (pasty shops) there were creperies, serving crepes; mouleries, offering mussels; and couscousseries, preparing the Moroccan pasta, couscous. Looking at the architectural details of the buildings—many dated from the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries—we found it hard to believe that eighty per cent of the city had been destroyed by bombing raids during World War II. This seamless blend of original, restored, and new was a tribute to Malouin determination.

(At this point, for brevity’s sake, I’m going to skip through the next several pages where we watched the street performers and enjoyed the specialties—large, thin, buckwheat crepes called galettes, and mussels served with French fries—the dish was called moules frites. I will continue the story where we headed back to our hotel, passing by rows of bikes and motorcycles.)

Waves nibbled the shoreline. Whitecaps flashed in the moonlight. Peace and quiet reigned beyond the walls.

“Good evening, American ladies,” the bartender at our hotel greeted us. He handed us the key to our room and another to the bathroom. “Everything is ready and waiting for you.”

Barrie and I climbed the steep, winding stairway. The lights, on a timer, relegated each floor to darkness as our feet touched the next landing. Barrie whispered over her shoulder, “I feel sorry for whoever carried our bags up these stairs.”

I replied, “Tomorrow, let’s tie the sheets together and lower our bags from the window.”

“What sheets?” Barrie asked.

“What window?” I ventured, and we both laughed.

Huffing and puffing, we arrived at our doorway. Barrie whispered, “How did they ever get the furniture up here?” Our eyes locked. Were two sleeping bags and a bare light bulb waiting for us? With trepidation, Barrie turned the key in the lock and fumbled for the light switch.

“Wow! This is small,” Barrie said. “But cute.”

Tucked under the deeply slanted eaves, were two beds, a sink, a chair, an armoire, and our bags.

Barrie hopped gingerly onto a bed and pushed open the gable widow.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. I climbed up. Side by side, we gazed at the starry sky. The moonlight glinted off the black water. Foghorns groaned in the distance.

We reminisced about the wonderful day. We recalled the chestnut horses that had magically appeared in the mists.

Barrie turned toward the sea. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see silver unicorns prancing in the surf,” she murmured.

“Or mermaids riding the waves,” I added.

Later as we drifted into sleep, I knew we would dream about adventurous Malouins and their Celtic ancestors.

 

Cooking Delights

Pasta Grandisosa

This is not your typical Italian pasta dish. Two ingredients set it apart from the usual combination of ingredients. Don’t say “Oh no,” when I tell you the two ingredients are orange juice and chicken broth. Mama mia! It’s true. It’s blasphemy, but try it! You’ll like it! Maybe even love it! So will your guests. This is a big meal, serving 8-10. Leftovers, if there are any, can be frozen.

Ingredients:

1 package, 16 oz penne pasta

1 small onion, chopped

2 Tbsp olive oil

48 oz marinara sauce (from jars—classico style if possible)

28 oz fresh mild Italian sausage links, sliced in rounds (like pennies); small meatballs can be substituted

1 cup fresh orange juice

3/4 cup chicken broth

1-2 medium red peppers chopped

salt, pepper, garlic salt to taste

1 cup fresh torn basil leaves

8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced or coarsely grated

 

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, and set aside. In Dutch oven, sauté sausage rounds 10 minutes in hot olive oil, stirring often.(If substituting meatballs, cook them thoroughly.) Add onion and red pepper(s)to hot oil and sauté 5 minutes more. Add pasta sauce, orange juice, chicken broth, and more salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Turn up heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in pasta and basil.

CAREFULLY transfer all of that to a lightly greased 13×9 inch baking dish. Place dish, uncovered on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet (to catch any spills). Top with cheese, covering with cheese slices or sprinkling with grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Serve with salad, crusty bread, and if you really want to go all out, serve with fresh spinach, steamed and drained. Wine would be nice!

Bon appétit!

Fondly,

Diane

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