Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Down, down, deeper and down.....

There is much debate in Caunes this week about last week’s Vendredi Classique concert.

A group called “ Milonga, L’Espirit du tango”  had featured in the Carcassonne festival, but had been rained off after about half an hour. It was a smaller version of the group that entertained us in Caunes last Friday. A potential storm meant that the usual beautiful abbey venue was abandoned and the group performed in the community hall.
Argentinian tango, from the early 20th century and more modern pieces were played by a really talented trio, on piano, bass and accordion, accompanied by a stunning mezzo soprano ( Daniele Scotte), and featuring a couple of tango dancers.
Michael Juraver on bass, and the magnificent mezzo soprano Daniele Scotte
The music was wonderful, and Daniele Scotte’s powerful, soulful voice added real depth to the whole performance. It is, however, the dancers that have caused the debate in town !

They were not glamorous, they were not young, they were not beautiful people. He was balding, not tall and elegant and she was ever so slightly overweight. For me, they were perfect for what I thought was supposed to be a gritty kind of pre rap street dance. Some people have said they were not sensual enough, or not passionate enough. I think they were excellent……but normal.

To me, they were perfect imperfect  performers  representing normal people dancing in a bar, telling stories of relationships through tango…a bit macho, sometimes violent, involving love, sex, and sometimes indifference. I don’t know whether they were great dancers or not, but for me, they helped me understand the complexities of showing relationships through this kind of dance.

Now for something completely different....

In the streets of  Leran

Our weekend continued with a musical theme, when we visited a small village in the Ariege region. There was a very small scale festival taking place, including a procession of things with wheels !

Things with wheels, parading through the streets of Leran
We met up with Alan, an old work colleague from Kirklees, in the village of Leran. He had been the Music Inspector in Kirklees, when we worked there, and now lives in Leran. Since living there, he and his partner, Eileen, with whom we also worked, have formed a village choir. One of his Yorkshire based choirs was visiting the village, and  we watched a delightful concert in the village church with both choirs performing. Old friends were in the Yorkshire choir, and it was a really lovely occasion, seeing the way Alan had enabled these 2 groups of people to enjoy music together.

Alan Simmons, conducting two choirs who met up in Leran in the Ariege

To say we ended the last few days with yet another concert is true….but it was certainly a somewhat different experience.
Status Quo performed in Carcassonne last night…..and we attended. The concert venue is amazing….within the walls of the old city, and quite intimate really. Quo were incredible…still going strong after all these years, still banging out an amazing amount of decibels ( my ears are still ringing), and still providing a very professional job of giving the crowd what they want.

The amphi theatre within the walls of the city in Carcassonne

It was great fun. The audience loved them, and we all sang, clapped, swayed…and some of the audience joined in some serious headbanging.

The stage looked more and more impressive as it got darker
Old headbangers enjoying themselves.

So…. A few days of vastly different musical experiences……all good.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Le Tour: here and there.

I feel it is important to complete my Tour de France posts before the race finishes…tomorrow, in Paris.
Today is “ contre le montre”….isn’t that a wonderful phrase, so much better than “time trial” or “against the clock”.

The result is all but decided. Unless Vicenze Nibali breaks a bone falling off his bike in the next 45 minutes, he will win tomorrow…by an amazing 7 minutes and a few seconds.
The real battle today is for 2nd and 3rd, and it’s exciting as there are a couple of Frenchmen that could make it. One might not, ( the young rider, Pinot…but he will win the best young rider jersey ).

Anyway….. I need to comment on the differences between seeing le Tour in Yorkshire and in Carcassonne.

 We ( Mark and I, and friends, Jane and Verity ) had an excellent spot ( saved by Jane and Verity, who arrived before us ) to view the Carcassonne depart. We were right by the start gate, where all the riders would line up at 10.45 am.

We watched the caravan go through first….much bigger than that we saw in Yorkshire. It makes sense  I suppose that companies that have no profile in the UK, would hardly take their floats and other vehicles across to the UK, to advertise products of which we have never heard.

This company makes dried sausage....they distributed hats and ...dried sausage.

Even before the caravan, people were walking amongst the crowds, throwing marketing material to those making the most noise. I was determined to take photos rather than concentrate on the freebies…..but somehow, acquiring huge plastic sun glasses, and various sun hats took on an importance all of its own. Verity was brilliant at attracting merchandise !

The man giving out red and white hats....he gave Verity 3 of them !

Those giant sun glasses were very sought after.

Carcassonne did seem to take it all its’ stride. A few days before hand, you would not have been aware that Le Tour was coming to town…not like those Yorkshire towns which were decorated in yellow  for weeks beforehand. Le Tour has been to Carcassonne several times before…but still…..I was surprised at how late the decorations went up.

Even on the morning of the Carcassonne depart,  Place Carnot cafes did not open earlier than usual, despite hundreds of people walking through the square on their way to the starting point. The roads were not closed until an hour and a half before the caravan’s departure…..not like the 48 hours closure for Holme Moss !  The roads were also open again 20 minutes after the bikes had been through…….not much disruption at all.

Somehow I ended up with several photos of this policeman

Mark with his Yorkshire depart T shirt

All this isn’t to say that Carcassonne did not seem like an exciting place on Tuesday morning. The crowds were large ( 60,000 )…..but not compared to the 600,000 who had witnessed the fireworks in the city just a week ago on quatorze Juillet. However everyone was smiling, cheering, and having a good time. The crowd was very good natured, although as the start time came closer, we did feel we had to defend our position a little.
Our brilliant position enabled us to get some amazing photos….particularly of Nibali…chatting and grinning.

Nibali chatting to King of the Mountains

Does he know, even here...that he has it in the bag ?

seconds to go
and they're off.....

As I am writing this, Peraud…the other Frenchman who may end up on the podium is doing  well…he has just overtaken the youngster…….so, there may be 2 Frenchman on the podium for the first time in will be brilliant if there are 2 of them. …..not having Wiggins, Froome, or Richie Porte to cheer for… we would like to see a Frenchman succeed....and I think France will just about explode if 2 of them make it.

we did think for a moment, the official photographers would spoil our view...but as you can see from our photos....we did ok
It will all be over tomorrow…..until next year. We are planning to see a finish of a stage next year, and maybe, if we can get up early enough in the morning to get to the Pyrenees before they close roads,  in the mountains. 

We discovered...the next day, that we had made it into the press coverage of the start... Verity and I are busy getting our shots of Nibali et al, and Mark ( with the straw hat) and Jane ( with the blond hair) are hidden in the crowd. We appeared on page 2 of L'Independant.

The press photo of us....taking photos

An excellent morning !

As I finish this post, I find that the 2 Frenchmen did it. Although technically there is still one day to go, unless they fail to finish ( and the last day is more of a procession than a race into Paris...then it's a competition for the sprinters, who aren't in the race for the General Classification ( the overall winners) to see who wins the stage on the Champs Elysees)...there will be 2 Frenchman on the podium, either side of Nibali.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Already exhausted

It is a little over a week since we returned to Caunes after our Tour de Yorkshire trip “home”. However, quite a bit has been packed in during the last week, and we are now looking forward to a couple of quiet weeks before various family members arrive. 

Watching the world cup final on a large screen with French neighbours, interspersed with joining the fete nationale parade from the Mairie to the rugby stadium for pre quatorze feu d’artifice…( then back to the big screen for the world cup extra time ) …..was exhausting in itself.

The children's lanterns all held candles.... we saw a few lanterns that had caught fire by being tilted too much...parents had to be pretty watchful.

These flares were set off along the route of the to parked cars, children in buggies, etc. It looked dangerous, but there seemed to be no problems.

The parade grew and grew as more people joined it as it wound its way around the village. It filled the whole main street at this point.
Then there was le Quatorze itself……having picked up friends from the airport who joined us for the experience, we watched the amazing Carcassonne fireworks from a hillside outside the city.

We waited for the fireworks as it finally got dark.
They were spectacular, and as usual, there is a section in the middle of the display where Carcassonne looks as if it is completely on fire.  The theme for the display this year was love, although at one point we were pretty sure it must have been war.

The weather has been beautiful all week, while our visitors have been here. I began teaching with Melody 38 years ago, and I lived with her during my first couple of years as a teacher. We had some serious adventures during those years ! ( another post maybe ).

So, we have done a fair bit of lazing around the pool, but  we also felt it was important to show our guests how lovely Caunes can be.

Melody and Craig enjoyed seeing Caunes, but particularly enjoyed breakfast in the bar each morning

One morning, I left our guests by the pool and  joined friends for a walk to the cave outside Trassannel, where a group of maquis members were massacred by Nazis in August 1944. However, we managed to lose the right path within 100 metres of the car park from where we set off. We had an excellent  7K walk...but, failed to find the cave.  We discovered where we went time, we'll find it !

If we had done what Wendy said we should do...we'd have been fine !
We should have followed the red and yellow route....#36.....we ended up on #37. I fear, if we'd carried on, and not turned back, we'd have ended up in Paris !

We also invited some friends round for a chili ( on what was probably the hottest day of the summer so far….perhaps not the best menu choice ).

Another round of the café des langues took place in the local bar.

The cafe des langues has now become a weekly fixture in our local bar. Sometimes the conversation dries up...but we certainly have a laugh, and learn new phrases all the time...this week we learned about hangovers ! ( It was the morning after our chili night, Mark was one that felt just a little fragile.

…..and we enjoyed a couple of lovely meals out with Melody and Craig……

and finally, I kept in touch with Jess all day yesterday via various social media sources, to try to share in her " graduation as a teacher day". We flew back to England last year for her  degree graduation, but agreed with her, that perhaps we didn’t need to be there for her PGCE graduation. Thank goodness for face book, whats app and blogging !

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Le Tour et Hebden Bridge

Le Tour came and went through Hebden Bridge just as quickly as we knew it would. In fact, the TV coverage showed the descent into the town……and the road along the Calder Valley, towards Cragg Vale ( or Cote du Ripponden as it was called in the TV commentary ), as the peleton left Hebden Bridge……but showed nothing of the town or the canal. Hebden Bridge vanished  in an advert break !

We didn’t care.

We had a great day.

Le Tour had left Leeds on day 1, and ended up in Harrogate, where Mark Cavendish crashed out onto the tarmac just metres from the finish line….badly injured, unable to continue on the following day, with a dislocated shoulder and ligament damage.

However, all seemed to agree that the crowds had been amazing, the racing was good and the weather had been lovely. So, Yorkshire had been shown off well, despite Cav’s fall.

A press photo which will surely be the subject of caption competitions for years to come.....Cameron and Boycott....a fly on the wall could well have been bored rigid.

Day 2 began in York, and ended in Sheffield.

 We felt as if this was “our” day.

 It came from York via Haworth and Keighley (The  French pronounciation was brilliant…..sounded like Kyley ), then skirted Hebden Bridge, went up Cragg Vale, through Ripponden….past a house I lived in 20 odd years ago, onto Huddersfield, and then south through Holmfirth and up the incredible Holme Moss, before getting to  Sheffield.

Hebden Bridge, the evening before le Tour arrived

Hebden street theatre

Jess and I walking along the canal, the evening before le Tour

A Hebden Bridge street party...just outside the Trades Club.

Decorated canal barge windows
 I have already posted about the preparations towns in West Yorkshire had made, and the last couple of days before Le Tour began saw even more yellow and red spotty things being arranged everywhere.

Hebden Bridge held a "Grand De Party" in the streets on Day 1. It was brilliant….the weather was glorious and the town was full of visitors who intended to enjoy themselves….and the residents of this fascinating little town always know how to do that.

The Hebden Bridge, part of the street party

Decorations at the town hall

We left home at about 8am on the actual day…to get our viewing point  established. It was lovely, walking through the streets with no traffic. All through roads were closed by 6.30 am, and the checking and sweeping of the route began, prior to the handover from the local council, to Le Tour operators.

getting ready

 When we decided on our spot, we were the only people there, but within a short while, the roadside became crowded, and we were able to exchange Tour stories with our new roadside friends. The atmosphere was great.

early morning....we did not intend to miss a thing, and we picked a great spot

Although he roads were closed to all but Tour traffic, they were open for cyclists who wanted to ride the route….and many did. They all received huge cheers as they went past....especially young riders.

A young his Team Sky kit, enjoying the empty roads, testing out the route.
The caravan came through right on time, but was a little sparse, compared with the caravan we have seen in France. There were only a few decorated floats, but the Tour cars, police vehicles and gendarmes on motor bikes received massive cheers as they went through. One moto- cop managed to high five spectators as he went by.

Le Tour itself went by quickly, there was a 2 minute break away of a few riders, and then the peleton swept by…. I did manage to catch the yellow jersey….Kittel, the sprinter who had won the first stage in Harrogate. ( Who knows if Cav hadn’t been going for that gap that wasn’t really there…. Maybe, he would have been sweeping past us in yellow ).

Kittel in yellow
As soon as it had gone past, those of us by the roadside started to make a move. Some people went to the park to watch the rest of the race on the big screen, some wandered around the town, but we made our way home, all of about half a mile away. Everyone was smiling, …..Hebden Bridge had really enjoyed its Tour day, and I didn’t hear anyone moaning  !

just plenty of celebrations

The peleton was just about to arrive.....phones at the ready
We watched the huge crowds on Cragg Vale, and on Holme Moss on TV. It went without a hitch. Whatever was to happen next ( and as I write this, on day 6, there have been some pretty amazing scenes in France), we knew that Yorkshire had done the tour proud.

After the peleton had gone through, the crowds started to disperse

Press photo of Holme Moss