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Live French Saints – Part Four




Authors note: If this is your first time on this page, checking out Parts One,Two and Three of this engrossing narrative might be instructive. (but, no promises!)


By now, you’re probably getting the impression, as I was, that the Toussaint’s life was totally sunshine and blue skies. Not. Remember that old rant: “Into each life a little rain must fall?

A big raindrop – particularly for Marie Andre – were her two daughters. They were seriously squabbling over the inheritance of their late Pere. (Marie Andre’s first husband.) The sunny sky here was their children. Making Bernard and Marie Andre grandparents. The doting happy kind. As most are.

The other raindrop actually had a cloud with a silver lining. Marie Andre’s Mother. Who lived with them. While she had  her own suite and “did her own thing” she was definitely part of the household. And seriously engrossed in Italian. Not for a voyage. But just because it interested her.

Ok, so far so good. So – where’s the raindrop? Her health. Not the best. Which pushed a desired move to southern( more sunny )climes to the bottom of the “to do” list.

Then there was the garden. Of course, a pleasure, like most gardens. And like most gardens – a lot of work. For Marie Andre and Bernard, REALLY a lot of work.

Here’s why: Back of house. Patio (bien sur) below it sucessive rows of flora and fauna descending to a (more or less) level expanse of grass. Beyond the grass, bush and forest. So not only flowers and herbs to be nurtured. But grass to be cut and bushes to be trimmed. (Can you say: ACTIVE backache?)

These “raindrops” didn’t seriously dampen the spirits of Bernard and Marie Andre. They continued to greet each day with a smile. A joke. And unfailing appreciation for their good fortune.

A particularly fortunate moment for me was the day I accompanied Bernard to an “Old Rabbits Skins” rehearsal. (his band, remember?) He’d brought along the blue Les Paul Special for me. As it was ordained that I absolutely MUST “jam” with the “rockers of a certain age.” While, in all modesty, I do have a few “pas mal” moves on the acoustic guitar, I hadn’t hung one of the electric variety from my shoulders for many, many years.

Oh never mind! Of course no excuses would be accepted. The quandry was the usual one. What would we jam “on?” Since I was familiar with but couldn’t really contribute anything worthwhile to their  50’s “Rock Nuggets” – I suggested “the Blues.” A classic “fail safe” when musicians groove for the first time , as it has only three basic chord changes.

The first, and only Blues number that ever interested me enough to learn (part of) it was: “Hideaway” by Freddy King. (Brother of you-know-who!)

“The skins “(as do all guiartists) knew this tune. So, I managed to make it through, relatively unscathed. And, possibly add some “street cred” to Bernard’s rep.

Alas, alack, and gosh darn it – After 6 days of incredible hospitality ,great adventures, and not a few fine photos, it was time for the exotic stranger from the far away lands to do his “Willy Nelson.” (“On the road again….gee it’s great to be…”)

In spite of our warm connection, I don’t get many emails from them. But, each time I phone, the reception is the same. Plus 10. The number one question being: “When are you coming back?”

While I don’t know for sure, I would be suprised if Bernard and Marie Andre are not still kidnapping strangers and zapping them with their saintly vibe.

Happily, I was one.


What are ya thinkin’?

Live French Saints – Part Three


Ruined Beauty - Limited Edition Photographic Art by Christopher Strong



Authors Note : Although I can’t promisePART ONE  and/or TWO  could add to your enjoyment/interest/understanding of  this missive.


While DA BG’S “raison d’etre is always to film his memorable meetings with marvellous people(like the Toussaints) – this voyage he was also on a photographic mission. The subject: Ruined Chateaus.

When this become common knowledge, Marie-Andre offered to tour me around the ones she knew. Several of which were not on my pre-tour research radar.

And so, since Bernard was off to play golf(active retirement, remember?) I was willingly kidnapped.( After all, how can you refuse your hostess?)

What impressed me most that day were not the chateaus.  But the attitude of Marie Andre. She was never bored or fidgety while I trolled for photo opps.  Happily doing her own thing, enjoying the scenery AND pointing out possible points of view overlooked by the exotic stranger from the far away lands. Contrast this to one of my ex -girlfriends who always brought a book along on our wilderness walks!

After several marvy Chateau gems, Marie Andre suggested lunch. (my arm twisted again!) Happily our “petite resto” had an outdoor terrace.  The deserted kind.  Perfect for  a weary, hungry photographic team.

On the route home, we scooped up some REALLY fresh butter and milk from a local farmer. One of the great joys of country life. Food treated with respect – not chemicals. (interesting concept -wot?)

The fact that Marie Andre’s enthusiasum for my “pile of ancient stones” project had not waned, came when I discovered what appeared on the internet to be the Mother of all ruined chateaus. It was a decent train ride away. Outside of a major city. When I announced my intention  to add this jewel to my photographic crown, Marie Andre ‘phoned a pal in that town, who then offered to treat me to a resturant meal and, more importantly, a bed. High Cotton! No long train ride TWICE on the day!

That was the good news. The bad, was the Chateau. It was a total LLLLLLLOSER! Bearing almost NO resemblance to it’s internet counterpart. And to add insult to photographic injury, surrounded by a high wire fence. WHY? Who would want to go on anyway?

But that wasn’t the worst of the bad. The worst was that I would have to, and did do the long train ride twice on the same day. Because my hostess -to -be was not off work until 7pm, and it was now barely noon. With (now) no other reason to be here, and facing 6 hours of nothing, I decided to return to villa Toussaint.

Bad decision. I never met my gracious hostess-to-be. Who that night, dined alone.

As Mr. Sinatra warbled : “Regrets…..I’ve had a few.”

Part Four -Next Time.


What are ya thinkin’?




Live French Saints – Part Two



Author’s note : PART ONE of this gripping opus may be insightful/interesting/inspirational/revelatory…or not.

One of my great unhearlded talents is the ability to arrive just before the meal. (Be it lunch or dinner. As for breakfast – I’m already there.) Proof that this mojo is unconscious is the fact that after sufficiently drooling over my sunken-tub equipped palace – lunch arrived.

It was Chicken Jim. But not as we know it. An Asian  recipe. Spicy but nicey. The wine however, although from the east, was not mysterious. Cote de Bourg 1996.

As we chomped and slurped, even before they groked my cinematic mission, Bernard and Marie Andre made it clear that  their hospitality did not have a “best before” date attached.

After lunch Bernard toured me down his “Hall of Guitars.” Not, dear reader, a flowery figure of speech – but an existential reality. The Hall began at the junction of the living room and the kitchen, continued down past the laundry room, finally spilling out into the garage.

Both sides of the hall walls were festooned with every varitey of guitars – electric and acoustic -including a ’56 les Paul Special.  (Can you say: Rare ?) I once owned one of these, but “traded up” to something else. If I had it now and sold it, I would be living for a year or two  in a Moroccan Villa .(with servants) Oh well!

The program for that night was a music (not rock) concert a fair distance away. “Would I like to go?” was the (uneeded) question. My quandry was the obvious one. Cash!  I doubted even my emergency bike repair fund could help me here. And, of course, after all their hospitality , I wouldn’t expect them to pay my way.

So – what to do? Fortunately, Marie Andre to the rescue: “I’m not sure there are still places available.” Ok – I demured. Let’s see what happens.

You’re ahead of me again, aren’t you? What happened was: Tickets WERE available, one WAS purchased without consulting me. Marie Andre , not crazy about the long drive and arriving in the wee small hours, would be guarding  the fort.

At apero time, a gaggle of Bernard’s friends(a gaggle being more than four less than fourteen) arrived to imbibe and blah, blah. Then, to horse – and off to the fair!

The concert, in three words : Fab,Gear AND Groovy. We had good(‘tho not front row) seats, the sound was perfect. And – no riots!

Post concert we decamped to a nearby watering hole and got sufficiently watered down. Although, I hasten to add, well within the limits of responsible driving.

Arriving back at Villa Toussaint, weary but content, we were greeted by a “heat and eat” meal (pasta – what else?) Marie Andre had prepared.

That was the good news. The bad was that there appeared to be only a quarter bottle of wine left. Bernard went in search of reinforcements. Returning with half a bottle. Provisions assured. We chowed down. Then bedded down.

Not bad, wot? – my first 24 hours with this saintly duo?

Part Three – Next Time.


What are ya thinkin’?