Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Spirit of Friendship at Christmas

I'm expecting some boxes to be delivered this week--prezzies for the house--a rug for my home office and some drapery panels for the kitchen. I returned home from errands and saw a box up on the porch, but it was too small for the stuff I've ordered.

It was from Stuttgart, Germany. I was surprised--it was very unexpected. The envelope said, "Open presents first." Presents, plural--wow!!

Here's the backstory. The two cooking classes that I've taken in Italy and France could not be described as "just a class." The chef, Faye Hess http://www.fayefood.com/ is a friend and former neighbor from New York, and she is unconventional and very laid back. Her classes fill quickly, by word of mouth. No brochures, no marketing. The accomodations are off the beaten path, unique and are the 'real deal.'

Chateau des Sablons: Bourgueil, Loire Valley. Nice digs!

I've travelled to both classes as a single, and have been warmly welcomed. Most of the students are groups of friends, some parents and adult 'children' and some couples. I've come away from both classes with new friendships that will last. Ya just know when they will.

In France, there were 12 of us, and I palled around all week with Katherine and Veronika, wives of U.S. military guys who retired in their mid-40's and who are working civilian jobs, stationed in Stuttgart. Katherine is a French teacher (bonus points!), and Veronika volunteers for various groups on base. They have daughters in high school and college, and drove 8 hours south for a girl's week.

Veronika and Katherine

The three of us were very like- minded, and we hung out in their suite and in mine--sharing magazines, wine, yummies from the charcuterie, boulangerie and patisserie, and great conversation. We buzzed around in Katherine's red Mini Cooper---shopping, lunching, touring, laughing and stopping to take photos, a lot. Like the one of the 20 foot tall topiary, in the middle of a traffic circle, a nod to the Loire Valley wine country. No tour van is going to go around 3x, in traffic, while giggling women take photos out the windows of a moving car!

So that I wouldn't have to drag stuff I'd bought in Brittany and the Loire towns to Paris, Veronika generously offered to ship my purchases from Germany to the U.S. Flat rate from the base is about 1/3 what you'd pay off post. All arrived safely! Veronika tucked two Ritter bars in with the last box--how'd she know that's a sinful fave of mine?

Last summer, another great gal, Kate, did the same from the naval base in Naples for Chef Faye and for me...to move local olive oil, tablecloths and pottery home from Tuscany.

Getting back to Katherine and the prezzies that utterly flummoxed me today. Faye arranged for a dinner mid-week hosted by her friends at their 15th century home, Le Manoir de Champfreau. As if the Chateau des Sablons was not fabulous enough.

See what lies beyond the gate for yourself at http://www.saumurfrancemanor.com/ 

Photo courtesy of owner's website

Owners Steven Guderian and Bruce Riedner run it as a B&B, as well as call the chateau home. I'll blog about the dinner separately. Their attention to detail, and the decor was out of this world. And dinner was outrageously good. I mentioned the gorgeous lacquered wood tray that held our champagne glasses, and Katherine said that she collects those trays, which are from Florence. I liked it so much, I snapped a pic.

In our travels that week, we popped into many little shops, as well as brocantes (flea markets.) I loved the deep red and natural grain sacks and table linens. I was disappointed when a linen vendor didn't have a queen-sized quilted duvet...which would have looked great in my master bedroom. Oh well, I took some pix for posterity.

What, you ask, did Katherine send?

A lovely Provencal quilted toile pillow sham in deep reds, a tea towel, some German chocolates, an antique lacquer tray and a bird-shaped Christmas ornament. *Gasp*  It's all so perfect, and perfectly unexpected!!

The tray matches my living room colors, exactly--red, green, sage, goldish yellow...I never mentioned other colors and Katherine has never seen my home.

I placed the bird ornament up near the top of my little tiny Christmas tree. A baby, stamped in brass, is my 'tree topper.' It's an antique milagro, or "promise" that a parent likely prayed to, for the health of a child. Either my mother found it in Athens in the 70's, or I found it there when I visited the same little shop in 1983. I merged our collections.

Katherine's card read, "I found this tray at a flea market in Stuttgart this morning. I have one similar to it on my dresser--I use it to put jewelry on before putting it away in a jewelry box. The guys in France used a bigger one for serving champagne. You could probably have 2 glasses sit on it. Did you photograph it? I didn't. Originally the trays are from Florence, Italy. The chocolate is divine! Enjoy. And the bird reminds me of you. Free to fly where you want--NC, NY, France, Italy, then come home. Wishing you a beautiful Christmas in your new home."

Katherine's presents are a true gift, especially at Christmastime. She, Veronika and I shared stories about "where we are" in our 40's, what we've done, what we haven't done, where we've been and not been, and what we hope to accomplish. That Katherine really heard me, and picked up on subleties...then acted upon them, shocks me and makes me feel happy. This Christmas, amidst all the racing and running, I'm reflecting upon the kind of a friend I am to others. If we reap what we sow, then aside from a few speedbumps along the way, I'm doing alright.

I have a wonderful circle of friends, and it just got bigger, by two. And the world just got smaller. I have some ideas about what to pack into a box that's Stuttgart-bound.

Life is good. Level and plumb.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this post!!!
    What a perfect mix of surprises!
    Do you think that Katherine would want to be my friend, too???? Marie