Monday, 30 April 2012

The Australian in Monoprix

I have spent all day worrying about a woman I met in Monoprix in Carcassonne today.
Not one of my photos....taken from a copy of "L'Independent"...showing Carcassonne's Monoprix on the left.
The woman was from Perth, Australia, and told me she had arrived in France 2 days ago. My concern for her was that she did not seem to have any grasp of the fact that French people speak a different language.
Apparently she was looking to buy a bowl or bucket, so that she could wash some clothes in her “apartment”. She said she had been offered the apartment to rent for a month, but although she had the keys, “ it was up 3 flights of stairs and came with no information” and she could not work “the plugs”…..and had failed to find a way to wash any clothes. ( Electric plugs ? plugs in the sink ?.....I wish I had asked her what she meant )

It was clear she did not understand that a different language was being spoken around her. I saw her speak in louder and louder English to people around her, who shrugged without comprehension. The checkout assistant did not understand or respond to her question about whether the shop would be open the next day ( it will be 1st May, International Labour Day, so it will be closed). When her question was clearly not understood and ignored, the Perth woman merely repeated it…again, more loudly, looked at me and shrugged.
I told her the shop would be closed, and told her the  French for it, but there did not seem to be any flicker of understanding that there was such a thing as another language to English.

The lady from Perth looked as if she was in her late 70s, possibly older….she was alone, had rented an apartment for a month in a country on the other side of the world. I think she is probably wonderful, she is obviously adventurous, courageous and brave. However, I do not know how she is going to manage. Apparently I was the first person who had spoken to her since she arrived.
We had just popped into town to pick up various bits to augment our developing French wardrobe, and had to get back to the car before our parking ticket ran out….. I should have stayed with her, I should have found out more about how she was going to cope…..

As I left her at the checkout, I said that I hoped she had a wonderful stay in France, and she said that she was sure she would……but I have still worried about her all day.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

They all came

We decided that we would like to meet all our neighbours…, we sent them all a note, introducing ourselves,  inviting  them for aperitifs.  Apart from knowing there was one English family in the street, and that our immediate neighbours were Dutch, we had no idea about any of the others.

Our road, The Rue du Maquis de Trassanel is named after the Resistance group who were massacred in Trassanel in 1945. They apparently left Caunes to hide in a cave in the mountains, via a goatpath that went through what is now our garden.
Our road......our house is right at the other end of the street, hidden in the trees.
There are 12 houses in the road, we are at the far end, furthest from the village.
Well, we discovered we have some fascinating neighbours.

There is a Brazilian woman and a Welsh man who have built an incredible wooden eco house into the hillside. They have a delightful child who at 9 years old speaks fluent English, French, Portuguese and apparently some Occitaine.

There is a lovely family with a 4 year old who enjoyed playing with a few of the vast collection of toys we have acquired to entertain younger guests.

Grandpere lives next door to the rest of the family, and is really enjoying the south of France after retiring here 3 years ago from the north.

A beautiful French woman arrived with her equally beautiful boyfriend, and gave us a book on cycling on the Canal du Midi ( and a bottle of wine). I loved her immediately. I want someone to help me improve my French, and she was fantastic, as she listened, clearly understood my grammatically poor attempt at conversation, and every so often, gently prompted me with the right construction. That is exactly what I want. I later discovered that she helps run the local jazz club….perfect.

The ex- mayor and his wife arrived, and gave us a gorgeous orchid to welcome us to the street.
The ex- mayor is  one of the local doctors….his son , another of the local doctors lives next door to his father. The son could not come, but arrived 24 hours later clutching 2 bottles of wine, with apologies for not attending !

A lovely man arrived, apologising that his wife could not attend, handing us another bottle of carefully selected wine and a bag of fantastic toffees.

The Dutch couple came….again, with wine, they had only arrived back in Caunes the day before. They have been doing what we intend to do, spending half our time here in France and half back “home”. They have been driving down from Holland each year for the last 15 or so years.

Our other guests included a good friend from England who was actually our first official guest, the landscape gardener who has helped us organise the garden, the pool and some of the building work we have had done, his partner and their gorgeous 1 year old daughter,  and another English couple who lent us their  French house as a base for looking for a property this time last year. 2 other English families who live in the street also came, one of them was accompanied by a very adorable dog called Nellie, who was told several times to “ Go home”, but she was clearly having too much fun…… as were we.

Some of the alcoholic gifts we were given, to welcome us to Caunes.

We were nervous about staging the event, but are clear it was a very good thing to have done. Walking down into the village now takes much longer as it involves stopping and having conversations with our lovely neighbours, and a trip to the bar means lots of warm greetings and chatting….in various languages, with all manner of people.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Drookit in the Languedoc

Billy Connolly said there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. I have always been a believer in this. Ensuring a warm woolly, a waterproof something or other, and having the right shoes has always been important, in theory, to me. I admit to being less than practical though and have often found myself, on holidays around the world, having to buy yet another emergency sweatshirt, or cagoule, as my unpreparedness catches me out again. But I smile and recall Billy Connolly's wise words.

Vide Grenier in Carcassonne.....150+ stalls expected......4 turned up.......very drookit.
We all know the weather in France has been a little unseasonal so far this spring. I have not worried….knowing that come those 30 degree summer scorchers I will be looking forward to some grey coolness as a break. However…… today……along with most of the last 3 weeks, continuing with the Billy Connolly ( well Scottish ) theme……. is a drookit day.

I love the word….drook, or drouk, as a verb, to drench  or soak, or steep…so it can refer to people, animals, trees, or even pulses which require an overnight drookin.

Somehow to feel drookit is not just feeling wet, but to be miserably so. It has to be one of the most expressive words in the Scottish vocabulary.
My first official visitor to our new house in Caunes left today after 5 days of feeling pretty drookit. We found some warmth and sun by crossing the Montagnes Noires yesterday and visiting Albi….but this side of the mountains has remained drookit all week.

Albi, yesterday, looking amazing....some pale blue patches and shadows indicating a hint of summer weather may be on the way....the other side of the Montagnes Noires.

I will avoid the inner misery implied by the word and think about how much good it is doing my newly planted shrubs, and how full the water butts will be when I need the extra water for the garden. In the meantime I will revel in the fact that the view from my terrace is spectacular no matter what the weather…and go and dig out another pair of warm socks.

Caunes Minervois, from my terrace, looking fairly drookit.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Russians in Carcassonne

Taking my first official visitor to Carcassonne today, we came across one of those experiences that just make the day.

It was cold, windy and fairly damp, and we took refuge in the St Nazaire Basilica. Apart from the outstandingly beautiful 13th and 14th century rose windows, we were thrilled to discover the Doros choir. We sat, mesmerised . Warmed by the experience we continued with our touristy visit to the cite, found a lovely place for lunch and consumed a small carafe of red and revelled in the delight of these men's amazing voices.

Returning to Caunes, I looked up the choir's details and came across this link. It is of the choir some months ago, but captures exactly the experience that Sue and I had today, listening to the voices and gazing around us at the beautiful glass.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Darn that

I love the way blogging takes your mind from big things to little things in just one leap. From thoughts of elections, I suddenly realised I was thinking about the lost skill of darning.

Deciding to cut up an old single sheet, to make cot sheets for the crib where baby Izzie will be sleeping when she comes to visit next month.... I discovered a darn.

It's a very small darn, about half an inch wide....and I remembered that this was one of the sheets that I "acquired" when my cousin Margaret died a few years ago. It came with a whole pile of bedding that I thought might come in handy one day.

I have never darned anything in my life, in fact I remember being told off by my domestic science teacher when I informed her my mother would throw a sock away rather than sit and darn it.

So, cousin Margaret must have noticed a small rip in this otherwise perfect sheet, found some matching cotton and mended it with these overlapping, weaving in and out kind of stitches.

I still wont darn anything, but I love this little patch of stitching, and am so pleased it has survived and will be part of Izzie's crib's bedding.

Thanks Margaret. This has made me think about you today and remember what  lovely cake baking, hand knitting gorgeous home maker you were.

A photo of my lovely cousin Margaret, with her mother, Auntie Mamie...taken in about 1952.

Friday, 20 April 2012


I am fascinated by the election coverage here......first round on Sunday.

Will Melenchon split the left ?

Will the old slick fighter pull out all the stops and come through at the last minute ?

Will the green spectacled green Eva Joly do better than Marine le would be good to think so, but Le Pen seems to have tried to offer a more acceptable face than her father.....still frightening stuff though.

Was it  left or right supporters who defaced likely winner, "affable socialist" Francois Hollande's poster in Trebes yesterday ?

All the candidates.....interestingly, only the Communist candidate's poster includes any information about policies....the others go with image and sound bites....oh well.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Frivolous projects

There are many things that need to be done around the house ( and garden) in Caunes, before our first official visitor arrives next week. There are  important, and possibly urgent things to be done.....but somehow the less important tasks seem the most attractive .

The paints were sorted out

The large hole in the plaster above the blue mosaic tiles by the pool house, was ignored. This will require a man who knows what he is fix it.
I decided the blue mosaic tiles needed decorating.

So, the hole in the wall filling, the digging, the rescuing the freeze affected plants, planting the new beds, sorting out the tip of a garage....can all wait. Now I will look around for some other piece of frivolity  with which to fill my time.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Disasters and miracles

It was wonderful to arrive back in Caunes. It did feel like home when we arrived, for what will be our first long stay here. As expected some of the spring flowers are out and making everywhere look delightful. All was well with the house....a new hot water tank  has been fitted while we have been away, and the decking around the pool is nearly finished.

However.....disaster in the garden

One dead palm tree, and two dead mimosa trees.

Although this is sad, it's hard to be depressed about it. There is so much else going on in the garden, where the snow and ice did not manage to destroy things.

vines look fine

there will be figs

wild irises look great

The almond trees have fruit, the apple blossom is spectacular, and the lilac trees are wonderful. So being a glass is half full sort of person, I am loving being back. ....and, as I write this, Mark is in the garage, building a swing seat..... probably to be the subject of a further blog.

Friday, 6 April 2012


Just a few days to go before we head back to France. Apart from a couple of weeks when I feel I want to be in England, when my daughter has her 21st birthday, I will be in France more or less throughout the summer. Mark will be “popping” backwards and forwards, but I will be based....over there.  I am very excited.

This last week in England, has however, been quite busy......

1.    Wedding dress shopping with daughter ( well, Mark’s daughter, but I have part shares) Jodie, the 3 bridesmaids, the bride’s real mother, and 5 week old grandaughter Izzie. It was a bit like a charabanc arriving at each of the wedding dress shops. Anyway......successful outcome.....dress is magnificent. (Wedding in September)

Daughter Jess, supervising 5 week old grandaughter Izzie, while what seemed like dozens of us helped Jodie decide on a wedding dress.

2.    Daughter Jessie, came home from uni. for a week, to write an essay on John Osborne....could have been stressful, but worked out ok...we probably wont look back in anger too much !

Whilst Jess was writing her John Osborne essay, we remembered that my Uncle Kit had written the music for an Osborne musical in the late was a dismal failure.

3.    Dentist I cancelled it, too busy and I’m not in pain.

4.    Hairdressers appointment.... vital, hair is now nearly the right shade of orange to spend the rest of the spring in France.

5.    Grandson Liam’s 4th birthday ...... brilliant afternoon playing Sponge Bob fishing game and a matching pirate card game. I have never heard anyone giggle as much as that child. He had a good day.

Liam fishing for Sponge Bob
and still to come......

     6.    Easter Sunday, visitors including grandchildren who will
         require egg hunt.

7.    Bank Holiday Monday family meal, requiring stunning chocolate cake to be adorned with rabbits and chickens and flowers etc etc, so quite a bit of baking and chocolate making planned...... and another egg hunt

8.    Last visit to the gym for months.

9.    Decisions about what to take out to France this trip....must take baking powder, as I still haven’t been able to discover it in any of the supermarkets near Caunes.

10. Packing.... agghhhh.

11. House to be clean and tidy, and able to be left for weeks...plants to be arranged for neighbour to come in and water, keys to be left with the right people.

12. Bid farewell to the crows behind my house....the fledglings will have gone by the time I’m back.
The birthday boy enjoying the card game
Then all I need to do is find my list of things to do when I get to the house in Caunes.....