joyful xmas

What a wonderful, peaceful, joyful  Christmas we have shared with our two families in our new home.   Love flowed around our celebrations like sparkling rose and we have survived the mayhem of three generations together with good cheer and red wine.

However, the “peace” of Christmas is yet to befall me because  I have cooked three ducks, a turkey with two stuffings, crusted a ham and a filleted Atlantic salmon for Christmas Eve, for Olivier’s traditional European celebration, Christmas Day lunch, the Aussie event and Boxing Day.  For the first time, I steamed a pudding, such is the allure of my new “French kitchen’’.

Olivier made his favourite French pate – pork rillette – with son-in-law Alain,  two of the sons – Tyson and Herve cooked prawns on the barbeque.  At the last minute, husband clipped small branches off the old, weeping Cyprus tree to make a simple table centrepiece with apple candles and red ribbon.  I forgot the bonbons until dessert – and one of  the ducks (cooked in the new oven) was not cooked when the barbecued “canard” was ready to serve.  There were thoughtful gifts galore with two chile plants (son Tyson and Vanessa) and a voucher for a Sunday breakfast at Stamps restaurant down the hill (Oli’s son Xavier and Patricia) being well-received.   Gift-giving is a delightful expression of Christmas and reflects the Christian meaning of the season, the birth of Jesus Christ.

However, the best thing about Christmas was the sheer pleasure of  sharing our gracious new retirement environment and beautiful instant garden with our adult children and grand-children. To bake cakes with grand-daughter, Josephine, to have all the bedrooms filled with adult children, to have to dodge remote-controlled toys in the hallway, to  be so filled with love on so many levels makes Christmas gatherings of families such joy.  The mayhem of many human beings thrust together in the one place to sit down and eat together and talk and laugh and joke.  The communal fetching and carrying to and fro to feed a crowd,  the all-hands approach of daughters and sons cleaning up after the feast while we retired to the lounge taking coffee and chocolates.  That camaraderie of Christmas is the sweetest gift. It builds family ties. It cannot be bought – it comes from the heart.

My most precious thing, though, is the card from my husband, so meaningful that I think I will frame it and hang it alongside his gift, yet to adorn our walls – “Feathers and Fins” a zany  acrylic on canvas by Cheryl Bridgart.





Sweet memories are made of this…

We have escaped to delightful Stanley Cottage for the weekend in Stanley Street North  Adelaide to celebrate the pivotal moment when Olivier first invited me to Belair for dinner eight years ago.  In my memoir From France with Love I described that night, the first Saturday in December, 2003. Olivier was a new widower, having lost his wife Colette in May of that year.

“As I drove up Olivier’s steep driveway, I could see him, through the open doors, sitting at his desk. As soon as I appeared, he rose and welcomed me with a kiss on each cheek.

“Come and see my garden before we eat,’’ he said. “But would you like an aperitif first?’’

And so I took my champagne as he guided me around his flowers and ferns and named each fuchsia that tumbled from his hanging baskets. He stopped suddenly at the fountain and we watched the miniature waterfall cascade into the pond.

“Your garden is an absolute work of art,’’ I gasped, overwhelmed by its beauty.

“Merci madame. It has kept me sane, cleaning it up again since I returned from France.’’

‘’You can call me Nadine, you know. Madame sounds so formal.’’

A faint smile broke the taut line of his mouth.

“I like the way you care about things so much,’’ I added, but there was no reply. Instead, he led me back to the house and said “A table’’.

The antique French dining table was covered with a delicate lace tablecloth and set for two. His is a house filled with special things. A marble bust of the goddess Aphrodite sites on the 19th century French provincial sideboard, a grandfather clock stands in the corner, a large Louis Vuitton sea chest in another. I had never stopped in this room before, but had merely passed through on my way to see Colette. Now I saw it all, the exotic Indian silk rug hanging on one wall, the set of three superb sketches of Parisian bridges on another, the exquisite china plates mounted on a mock brick wall and the red Persian rug on the floor.  It was magnificent.

“Good heavens!’’ I exclaimed. “This is a real dinner party for two. Much nicer than snags on the barbie.’’ And I thought to myself, This is going to be fun!

“When you are French,’’ he said in a dignified voice, “you have a whole food culture to uphold.’’

And so the evening passed. We talked mainly of books, since it was obviously a common interest of ours.  His house is filled with books in English and French – they are even stacked up in the bedroom and the toilet.

…As we chatted I could feel his usual stiffness relax. I have always gabbled as if it is a crime to leave any airspace .empty. He is laconic and speaks in measured sentences, in which every word is carefully loaded with meaning- all delivered in his delicious accent. I clung onto every syllable, even when I had never heard of the French authors he was discussing. I hadn’t enjoyed such an intelligent conversation with a man in so intimate a setting for a very long time.’’

AND SO I FAST FORWARD TO TODAY – Saturday, December 3.

What would we do to celebrate our extraordinary eight years together.  (We married almost four years ago.) I had seen Woody Allen’s latest film Midnight in Paris with friends when Olivier was in hospital and I wanted to share the film with him.

It was such a delightful film and so poignant to our history as a couple, both through our love of art and literature, but also my love for the city of Paris.

What was more pleasurable was that he could sit in a cinema again, that this was the first cinema “date’’ we had enjoyed since his health plummeted in June this year.  By 8 o’clock we were back in Rundle Street East wondering where to eat.

“Let’s go to the Belgian Café for mussels and chips’’, I suggested.  We once celebrated Bastille Day here with French friends and the restaurant never disappoints with its traditional fare.  Sweet moments relived. The place was packed with people and we were lucky to find a window seat. Even the rain drizzling mercilessly outside could not dampen our happy mood. We ordered soup of the day and one meal of mussels which we shared. I thought how it symbolised how we have shared our lives together.

Afterwards we popped into Mary Martin bookshop for a browse and then returned to our little  love nest in leafy Stanley Street, one of the restored 19th century workmen’s row cottages.  Our hosts Rodney and Regina Twiss had left a complimentary bottle of Steeple Jack Chardonnay Pinot Noir from Ballast Stone on the Fleurieu Peninsula with truffles and gourmet biscuits. So there we sat in the comfortable leather settee like Darby and Joan, sipping wine, eating chocolates – and as is our habit – reading our two Saturday newspapers together.  Is this the love of the glossies?  No. But this reflects what Oli said to me so many years ago at lunch in the Ritz, “We love each other’’.

And the last words I wrote in From France with Love?  “They are still magic words, so laden with promise.’’

A Peep Behind Spanish Doors

Cathy Portas continues her writing about journeying in Spain.


The timing of our visit to Cordoba, in Spain was pure luck as we arrived in the middle of the ‘Patio Festival’. It was an unexpected treat which gave us an exciting peep into people’s homely lives because residents in the Jewish Quarter opened up their private courtyard gardens to the public. All year round their high gates are closed and tourists can only guess of what lies behind them as one walks down the tiny streets of the old town.


The great weather bought out the crowds and foreign tourists mingled with many  Spanish families to create a terrific atmosphere. Sometimes, the lineup of people waiting to enter the courtyards snaked down the narrow streets. We loved it when many locals, while waiting, would try out their limited English with us – and helped us with our Spanish! We soon got used to sharing those little streets with the odd small car and lots of motorbikes- a horn tooting would mean people just moved to the edge, the drivers adept at weaving through.


Walking through the streets of the Juderia, we discovered the Royal Stables, and watched a spectacular Equestrian Show. The silent communication between horse and rider was a joy to see, at one point being joined by a spectacular Flamenco dancer.


Each day brought another unique treat. We had lunch in an impressive large square surrounded by colonnades, next to a big group of families celebrating their children’s First Communion. The pretty girls were dressed in long white gowns, and a little boy was beautiful, too, in a sailor suit! We snapped their picture and they loved it!  A stage was being erected nearby and when we enquired, they told us there would be a Flamenco Guitar performance that night at 10.00pm.

The biggest adjustment we needed to make was that people eat so late in Spain, and we immediately fell into the pattern of taking an afternoon rest, and then going out again later, to sample tapas at different bars and cafés.


After eating that night at Bar Rubio, our favourite bar, we made our way back to the square, to find hundreds of people, including families and children, in rows of chairs, watching an old man in the spotlight on the stage singing the beautiful Spanish songs that seem to be full of pain and longing, to the accompaniment of a young man playing flamenco guitar. We wandered happily back to our accommodation just before midnight, leaving earlier than everybody else. I found out later this was the Plaza de la Corredera, built in the 17th century, apparently Cordoba’s grandest square, and the location of executions at the time of the Inquisition!.


Stanley Cottage – history and homely ambiance

Our brief to Rodney and Regina Twiss of North Adelaide Heritage Group was that we wanted a weekend escape in an intimate memorable environment to celebrate a special anniversary.

And here we are ensconced in Stanley Cottage, a unique, historic row cottage in leafy Stanley Street, North Adelaide. It’s one of 20 apartments, cottages and suites owned exclusively by the Group and are within a few minutes’ walk to the cafes and fashion shops in Melbourne Street.

It offers the homely ambiance of a 19th century attached single-fronted dwelling and renovations have created a quaint mezzanine above the open plan parquetry floored living area. This is a light and stylish space which leads to a walled vine-clad courtyard.

The two-bedroom cottage is tastefully furnished in wonderful Australian antiques and odd, exquisite colonial pieces, which come together in delightful, gracious décor.  The traditional main bedroom has a corner fireplace, a Queen-sized bed and a mantelpiece stacked with popular books.  Each bedside table has current magazines.

The galley kitchen is dated, but light, clean and self-contained with a breakfast bar and substantial breakfast supplies. I cook up the eggs, tomatoes and Barossa smoked bacon effortlessly, which we take outside in the secluded vine-dappled patio.

The living room has a circular table as a tour desk and more magazines are welcome reading matter. Its setting provides off-street parking, absolute privacy in a relaxing environment and the row cottages create a remarkable, historic streetscape.

“A delightful weekend in a wonderful intimate cottage with many little touches to make our stay pleasant and relaxing’’.

See or telephone 61 8 8267 2020