Friday, 29 June 2012

Bulls in the swimming pool

My French has been perfectly adequate for the 20 years of  French holidays we have taken as a family. My limited vocabulary has found us hotel rooms in which to stay, interesting food from market stalls to eat, excellent choices in restaurants and it has resolved problems like lost mobile phones or sun glasses. My all in one, ever useful phrase has always been “ ‘est ce que c’est possible de….(.faire quelque chose)” We’ve hired cars, bathing tents, acquired extra pillows, rafted down fast flowing rivers and attended concerts, all through this very useful, if somewhat clumsy phrase.

I have made some interesting mistakes in my time. In Brittany once, I confidently translated a sign at farm/zoo type place as “ giraffes brush their teeth with dead dogs”, similarly, in Provence I could not work out why the “ bull fight was going to take place in the swimming pool”….still haven’t worked that one out.
Apart from the present tense, whichever past tense it is when you conjugate with avoir or etre, and the basic future tense, I have ignored things like the imperfect, the conditional, past historic and anything to do with subjunctives. So, I have decided, it is time for some progress to be made.

Today, I sat in the bar in the village, drinking my morning coffee and I read a local paper.

 As I sat there, I suddenly realised I was really reading it. I almost laughed out loud when I read the write up of the Jazz club concert I went to last week. I think the journalist went to a different concert and got her reports mixed up. I did not think it was “ une nuit magique” Anyway, I also found out that there is to be a medieval festival in the next village next Sunday, that a singing group from another nearby village is inviting people to come along and join, what Hollande has been saying about the euro crisis and what the French hopes are for Wimbledon and for the up and coming Tour de France.

This was a real leap forward. I know it is easier to understand the written word than when you are hearing someone speak very quickly….but I recognised that I was reading and understanding whole articles, not just fragments of vocabulary that I was able to string together to make some sense.

So….next, improve vocab……listen to the radio, and talk to more people. I am confident within my limitations….I have never minded if I get it wrong, and I do not spend ages searching for the correct grammatical construction…..but I now understand that I must listen to more people and talk to them for any real improvement to take place.
Excuse moi, je voudrais parler avec vous.
The residents of Caunes had better watch out. I am going to corner them in conversations whenever I get the chance.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Caunes Alone


A couple of nights ago I went to the  Caunes Jazz Club.
My last visit was to see an incredibly talented flautist Jeroen Pek and amazing bass player Lilian Bencini. I am not a jazz aficionado, I find it quite difficult and don’t always enjoy the battle to access the music. However, these two were brilliant, and although I didn’t understand the technicalities  of what was going on, I loved it.

This offering was decidedly lightweight in comparison,  perhaps perfect for a pleasant summer’s evening…..but not for me. I knew quite quickly that I would probably not stay too long.
instead of being in le caveau, under the abbey, in the summer, the jazz club is held out side, in a lovely covered garden, wine flowing freely.
I sat down, with a glass of red wine and struck up a conversation with a woman sitting next to me.
On hearing that I had a home in Hebden Bridge, she asked me if I knew her friend Susan. It came as a shock to her that the population of our little Yorkshire town means  it is unlikely I would know Susan……and that I didn’t.

She and her husband had just bought a house in the Black Mountains, presumably as an investment, as they do not intend to live in it. It was difficult to work out where they lived, as they mentioned houses in Turkey, Florida and San Paolo.
Did I make assumptions about her based on her cut glass accent ? or was it the condescending look she gave me when I responded to her questions about how I managed to fill my time ( gardening, reading, swimming, enjoying the village, entertaining family and friends, meeting new people……). Apparently she thought the English only moved to France to further their hobbies, like writing or painting.

There were other gems that struck me as horribly clich├ęd Brit ex pat speak.
For the first time I recognised the…….” I would not choose to exchange views with this person in other circumstances. It is purely that she is English and we can converse in the same language that is prolonging this exchange.”

So, I left the jazz club, determined that I would feel confident enough, next time, to position myself next to French speakers, and not find myself tied up with people with whom I have nothing in common, except  the English language.

This is probably the first negative experience I have had whilst being alone in Caunes….but I enjoyed the wine, I enjoyed the walk back to the house, and I enjoyed sitting  back on my terrace, another glass of wine in my hand, listening to the crickets and watching the swifts and bats swoop. I probably wont start the novel tomorrow…..
the terrace, from which I will probably not write a novel or paint a masterpiece.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Marble Festival


I have been looking forward to Caune’s marble fete after my several walks to the quarry to see where this splendid red marble comes from. Walking around the village, it is impossible to just walk by the sometimes huge…. always interesting, but not always, to my mind, beautiful…..chunks of sculpted marble. Some of the pieces are fabulous, some are a little odd, but as I say, always interesting.


A huge marble totem sculpture greets you as you enter the town,  it cannot be ignored.



The Maire, now the ex -Maire, is one of our neighbours.

Caunes  quarries still produce 3 shades of the red marble….rose pale, rose brun and rouge sang, which is the darkest ( blood red). The quarries were an important part of the local economy up to and including the 19th century. Now, although the marble is still quarried here, it is taken to Italy for polishing and finishing. So, the marble industry here provides some employment, but probably more through tourism, people coming to see the quarry, an old factory workshop operating as a little museum, and buying small trinket pieces.


Our nearest neighbour has had their house name emblazoned in marble at the entrance to their home. 
Anyway….the festival ran over 2 days, the weather was perfect, and I’m afraid, I don’t know very much more about marble than I did at the start of the weekend. I have, however, learned a great deal about being laid back about timings of when things are supposed to happen

I foolishly wandered down to the village at about 10am on the first day expecting to see some of the 60 advertised sculptors working away. I saw one man setting up a few small pieces on  a table outside the abbey, and a few commune white vans driving around putting up road signs….but little else.


My second walk into the village, 4 hours later, was more successful, and there were quite a few stands displaying sculptures…..and quite a few other things…..clearly not made of marble.





The fete association organised a splendid repas and concert last night. As I was on my own I felt a little strange about turning up to the meal, so planned to slip in quietly afterwards, as the concert started. It didn’t quite work out like that.

The meal started at 8, the concert at 9. So at 8.45 I wandered into the caveau where it was to be held. My neighbour Miriam spotted me and insisted I sat with some Americans who had a space on their table…..the meal had not even started…… At 9 the food started to arrive, and by 11 it was just about over. It was a wonderful meal, wine flowed, the Americans (and one Australian) were delightful….much travelled, and had lived in France for decades.  I was shocked that one of the Americans ( who lives in Paris) had bought a very small decorated leather leg bag…….not hand bag, leg bag. ( It reminded me of something we would give to patients to carry their catheter bags ), and she had paid 70 euros for it. I have to say, others on the table were pretty shocked too.

By the time the concert started, many people were tired ( or tired and emotional, after the excellent local wines, not sure which) . People started to leave, and the concert part of the evening fell a little flat. The flamenco duet did not manage to capture the audiences’ attention, which was a shame, as I suspect if they had been performing 2 hours earlier people would have loved them.


                  marble by night......taken on my walk back home from the meal and concert

Day 2 of the festival seemed to be better organised. There were far more stalls set up around the town, and more marble was apparent.


 I however, failed to see any evidence of the great sculpting competition I had been told about, and somehow managed to miss the musical entertainment set for the afternoon. No times had been published for this, so I couldn’t use my new found knowledge and arrive 2 hours after the posted time.  Basically, I heard some interesting drumming emanating from the village, as I cooled off in the pool at about 2.30pm, so I rushed to change and went down to the village again…just as they finished. So I wandered a little more, chatted to the lady from the boulangerie who was selling artisan bread on a stall near the ice cream seller….bought an excellent coffee glace, and wandered back up the hill to the welcoming swimming pool again…..just in time to hear the drums start again.
My favourite is still the lion, much loved by 4 year old grandsons.


No matter how much we told Dexter that this one was a heart.....he refused to believe it. The Australian I met last night informed me that locals call it  "The arse of the world"

My first Caunes festival……verdict…….brilliant, if quirky, looking forward to many more.

I think...although I may have got it wrong,  this is the competition winner....presumably completed long before this weekend, but to join other previous winners on the road up to the quarry. So far I have heard it called a hobbit's ear, and Mr Spock.......better then arse of the world I suppose.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Digital Dilution & Delight

I’m alone now in the house in Caunes. The week before last there were 10 of us, last week just 2, and now….just me. The transition week was good. Carole and I lunched out, breakfasted on the terrace, swam, gardened and explored a little. Now, though, it is just me and my various projects. It is nearly 4 weeks before friends and family return.

The list of things I want to do is enormous….but sitting in the shade, reading the new Hilary Mantel book is one of them, so it’s not all going to be hard work.

I began sorting through the already outrageous number of photos of the children that I have been dutifully loading onto the lap top each day, and I wondered what on earth will happen to the thousands of digital images that already exist of our 4 year old grandsons, our one year old and little 3 month old Izzie. I am quite organised and have always made up an annual photo book through one of those on line services each year. It has come to be an expected Christmas gift for each branch of the family. So there is a hard copy of holidays, celebrations and family events somewhere on the shelves of our children’s and grandchildren’s homes.

Sifting through the 1470 images I have saved on the lap top since May 15, I thought about the very few surviving images of my family when I was a child. We have boxes and books of fading black and white family photos….but all 4 of us, together, not so many. In fact, there are only 2 photos of my parents actually with my brother and I.

Here they are:
Joy and Mike, with me as a 4 year old and my baby brother Kev.....sitting on a horse hair stuffed 1940s sofa, with a very 1950s nifty little clip on tray for your tea, on the arm. This would have been taken in 1959.







This one shows us with me at about 25 and little brother at 21, so, taken in about 1980. Mum died in 1983
How times change.                              
These dated images are precious to me, and I do wonder if this digital age, whilst giving us so much pleasure with the ease of capturing moments in time does dilute the importance of those captured and remembered moments.

However, without the wonders of digital photography, the following photo would not  exist. It was taken by my brother, and tampered with by me. It shows Mark and I when we got married, with his parents on the left and mine on the right. We married 9 years after my mother died.....she does look a little ghostly, and the straight edge of her dress is a tell tale sign of tampering......but I still love the photo.

I expect I shall ponder about all sorts of things, whilst on my own here for the next few weeks.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Hello Silence, my old friend.


Mark, the children and the grandchildren and the children's friends have all gone back to England. The toys have been put back in the upstairs bedroom, the wet suits have been washed, the inflatables have been stored in the pool house…..and peace has been restored. For a while there will just be Carole ( our oldest children's mother..... sounds complicated, but it  isn't and it works well ) and me, here at the house in Caunes. Then when Carole returns to England next week.....just me.



I hope they have all had agood time, and most importantly that the grandchildren have had a memorable time. Our role models for being grandparents, friends who live in Arizona, have always said that their purpose is to create memories for their grandchildren. I do hope that this years’ first visit by the 4 grandchildren will start a wonderful and ever growing collection of French memories for them.

I hope they will recall when they first practiced their “bonjours” and “au revoirs” at the boulangerie. I want them to remember the different food they have tried and liked, the parrot they met on the beach at the lake in Carcassonne. I know they will remember chasing grandad’s shadow on the walk in to town, storm watching from the terrace, the joy of jumping into their own swimming pool, climbing on marble statues and hiding in the huge holes in plane trees that miraculously still stand despite the caverns within them.
storm watching from the safety of great big Egyptian shawls

Some of them will be returning again in August for a second round…..but until then, I am now revelling in the peacefulness of not having 4 under 5s in the house. It was wonderful spending time with them all, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but…….just for a while I had forgotten the sound of silence !


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Looking for Clues

(Please note, this post is aimed at 2 very special 4 year old boys)

The two 4 year olds went on the walk from the village up to the quarry yesterday. Liam, having already done the trek once, was full of useful advice for his cousin Dexter.


They found mysterious markings on trees and on the road. Someone told them they were footpath signs, but they knew that really they were secret clues, pointing them to adventures and maybe wild animals.






They saw some wonderful flowers,




………but were more interested in the huge ants carrying more than their body weight in food…..


and the footprints of wild animals


and snails,

They played on the marble lion, and Liam seemed to grow enormous legs




 and they explained all their adventures to 1 year old Clark, who really wanted to join in with the big boys.
It wont be long Clark.....they'll let you join in all the fun soon.





The resting adventurers


Sunday, 3 June 2012

Marble from Caunes

Caunes is famous for its red marble, which has been used in the construction of the Trianon at Versailles, the Paris Opera House, the Great Mosque in Cordoba and St Peter’s in Rome. It also seems to feature in all the Minervois churches, and most homes own at least one red marble mortar and pestle.

It is impressive stuff, and the village is littered with marble statues which have been carved by various sculptors over the years. There is an annual marble festival where sculptors compete over a weekend to create their masterpieces. The results of the annual festival are then displayed on a gorgeous walk from the village, up to the quarry, where the marble is still extracted, although probably not in the same quantities it was when they were sending it to Rome.



                               Liam and the lion, on a walk from the village to the marble quarry



a strategically placed marble seat, for rests along the way


great views over the plains towards the Pyrenees


         a piece showing some of the colour variations in the marble

a sculptor's shelter, preparing for this year's competition

I am looking forward to the Marble festival this year....and feel  I may find myself developing a more comprehensive  post about the marble in Caunes.


Dexter and Liam playing by other pieces of marble ........just lying around in the village.