Noirmoutier in October

As I write this first of hopefully many entries, I am in Noirmoutier. I absolutely love Noirmoutier, and let me tell you why.

It's a tiny island just off the western coast of France, so small you've most likely never heard of it, but very special to me and a growing number of tourists, I might add.

To give you an idea of where it is, think of France and its hexagonal shape.

The northern point reaches up into Belgium, the eastern point into Germany, the south-eastern point into Italy, then comes the flat bit that's the Mediterranean Sea, the south-western part that adjoins Spain, then the western coastline that goes from the Bay of Biscay all the way up to the point of Brittany, reaching out towards Jersey and Guernsey, the channel Islands, then back up through Normandy towards Belgium once again. All of this with Paris more or less smack dab in the middle.

Got an image? Now, go back down the western Atlantic coast about halfway and there you'll find me, sitting outside under my gazebo, laptop on the teakwood patio table, typing away.

It's well into October and the days are shorter. But in the middle of the afternoon, the sun is shining full force lighting a pristine blue sky and it's warm enough to be out here with a long sleeved t-shirt and jeans. A long sleeved University of Michigan t-shirt, might I add. For all my love of France, Home is still that. Home.

Michigan is where my mother, brothers and sister live as well as their assorted spouses, offspring and our extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., etc. We're lucky enough to pretty much like each other, so family gatherings are noisy affairs.

I'm the only family member to have packed up and moved over here. The others still can't really believe it and it's been 26 years now. That's the part I can't believe. Time, as it's reputed to do, has flown.

As for the reason for my move over here, let's say that Cupid makes one do some really insane things when one is 20, some of them more regrettable than others....

Which has absolutely nothing to do with Noirmoutier.

I'm here, and I love it.

Think good climate, beaches, excellent oysters, good wine, bike paths everywhere and friendly locals.

Every month here has its charms, but I do prefer the fall simply because it's quieter. You can hear the local business owners heave a collective sigh of relief and satisfaction as soon as school starts back up.

The high season is over, the weather is still dry and sunny, but cooler. For example today got up to 70°F and it's October 19th. Pleasant, but being outdoors doesn't kill you. It will get down into the low 40's tonight though, so early morning will be quite chilly. So, I sleep in. It's a vacation habit.

The businesses are happy to have finished up the crazy busy summer season, and are winding down to plan their own vacations. Well deserved I have to say. It's tough to put in long hours when it's hot and sunny and you'd rather be at the beach like everybody else. But the seasonal revenue, which the tourists bring to the island, is necessary to the local economy. So the islanders work hard when the rest of us are playing hard. They even manage to be pleasant about it, which is even more admirable.

So, how do I occupy myself on this small island?

Wake up whenever, hop on a bicycle and pedal the half mile into the town center to pick up some fresh croissants, pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins, or brioche, whichever strikes my fancy.

Leisurely breakfast, more coffee, chit-chat and planning the day, mostly revolving around food.

This is France after all, and food is very important. Everything about it is important - deciding what to eat, choosing it at the various shops that provide a great selection of local produce, meat, fish, poultry seafood, you name it, they've got some.

Most of the shopping is done on a daily basis, via bicycle. It's more fun, and the shop owners take a moment to chat about the weather, and it'll start all over again at the butchers, or the bakery, or the greengrocers.

Stop for a cup of coffee in a small café, chat with locals some more, and pedal back.

Then the preparation - never thrown together stuff out of cans, just real ingredients, chopped, sliced, simmered, baked and seasoned to perfection.

Oftentimes, my traveling companions crave some oysters on the half shell. We'll ride an extra half mile over to my friend Nadège's shop and pick up a couple dozen, which are dissected with a small yet very dangerous knife specially designed for this purpose, when we get back to the house. I'm afraid to try it, certain that the small knife would become planted into the palm of my hand and a gush of saltwater would send me into hysterics in the kitchen. No sense wasting the oysters by bleeding into them.

Thus, oysters and salade composée for lunch. The salade composée is my domain. And I do put together a mean salad.

After lunch, I usually go for a bike ride, or long walk towards the beach, or into the salt marshes to feed the donkeys.

A little shopping, some errand running, gardening and for me, lap-top time.

The days spin by pleasantly infused with fresh salt air and good food until it's 8pm and time for the news on TV accompanied by the all important “aperitif”, or before dinner drink, with lots of interesting munchables. This tradition is the mandatory prelude to yet another meal.

By the way, it's almost 7:30! Time to go prepare the aperitif and get dinner going.

Will write more soon!


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