Sunday, 18 November 2012

a nouveau excuse for a party

Need an excuse for a party?

Its that time again - the vin nouveau is here! Around these parts there is plenty of Beaujolais nouveau to be sampled but also the Gaillac primeur.While the wines may not be the best you've ever tasted its still a great excuse for a party and as usual Monique's soirée at the Auberge Bourdie at Bach was THE place to be on the third Thursday in November.

TC is now a regular guest musician at the party (even got a personal invite this year when we went for lunch at the restaurant recently) so played his concertina to much applause as always - and our
wine was free!

Restaurant owner Monique ( standing left of doorway)
always comes out of the kitchen to listen

There were several guest spots this year to support Sylvie Nauges ( seen sitting at the back) and her band, including a traditional cabrette player ( bit like the Northumbrian pipes) so there was lots of variety in the entertainment. Lots of dancing too - in tiny gaps between the tables - everything from waltzes to mazurkas and bourées. Its always fun watching the staff negotiating the throng as they balance platters and bowls of food on their way to the tables and, towards the end of the evening, trays heaped with empty glasses returning to the kitchen.

Last night another soirée - this time a village event in Promilhanes, a nearby village where friends of ours are occasional residents. The salle de fêtes was packed well before the start of the meal and we were glad we had learnt our lesson from last year and arrived in good time to choose where we wanted to sit. The menu was the same as last year too - simple fare with as much vin nouveau as you could drink. At least this year we knew what to expect from "duck bones" - exactly what it says! Great piles of duck carcasses in the middle of the table and literally up for grabs. Its a whole new take on finger food and it pays to know which bones are likely to have the best pickings but you have to be quick. Not a bad idea to fill up on the soup beforehand too!

So maybe not the height of gastronomy  but a fun evening in great company and a true insight into life in the French countryside.

Unfortunately the entertainment was something of a let down - the cacophony of a  karaoke sound system struggling to be heard over the noise of chatter in a hall with terrible acoustics drove us (and many others) away before coffee arrived but tant pis we enjoyed a coffee just across the road - thanks Maggie and Bill!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Weathering the weather

Ask any English ex-pat for reasons why they left England and its a pretty safe bet that the weather will feature in the list. We lived near the Peak District in England and loved to visit the Lakes, both beautiful areas, but there's no escaping the fact that the weather was too often too cold and too wet and the summers too short.

Its not just that the weather is better here in France it is the change in lifestyle that comes with it. Since moving here our lives are spent almost exclusively out of doors from April until October. We cook, eat and relax outdoors as well as spending many hours gardening and our sitting room sits empty until the cooler evenings start. Just last weekend ( October 21st) my son and his family visited and the children went in the pool while we sat in the sun, had a barbecue and then sat out til 2 in the morning.

Its not always hot and sunny of course, the good weather last week was a particular bonus as just a couple of days before we had suffered three nights and two days of non stop gales. The weather forecast warned there would be strong winds - the Autan word was mentioned - and by jove did it blow. For three days and two nights it blew " fort" non stop giving precious little chance of sleep and as the local paper said it was not weather "to put your nose outside the door".
The "excitement" culminated in 21 hours without electricity and it was really worrying thinking about all of the food in the freezer which could have been lost ( luckily it stayed well below freezing so all was well)

It rains here too just not all the time! We often have long spells without rain and watering the potager is a daily necessity if the vegetables are to grow. TC despairs every summer as the grass turns yellow.  When the rain comes at last it is usually in the form of a storm ( none of that drizzle stuff hereabouts) the water butts are replenished and the garden revives. Even that yellow grass quickly recovers.

Yesterday and today the wind has changed direction bringing cold air from the north, there has been a rummaging through wardrobes to find thicker trousers and  long sleeved shirts. We had to eat lunch as well as breakfast indoors! This evening we even plan to light the fire for the first time this year. Oh well - at least we know spring is not too far away and with a bit of luck we won't have a repeat of last years big freeze.

I love the sun and warm weather but I also love the green hills and trees and the rivers and valleys of the countryside in this part of France which we wouldn't have without some rainfall so I guess we'll weather the weather whatever the weather as they say.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

a universal language

Another milestone this week - two years since we moved into Ségala - and what a wonderful two years it has been. In some ways it seems much longer as we feel so much at home here and in other ways the time is just flying by (hence no blog since April!).

We had a really busy summer with visitors arriving constantly as the previous ones left. It's great having visitors, we love seeing people and sharing this fabulous corner of France with them but it does cause a significant problem - my French speaking and listening skills went into dormant mode! After they all left and the rentrée commenced  I felt I had taken more than several steps back when I started to try my French conversation skills again with our French friends at our dance workshops.

Although we do know some other English people in the area most of our socialising is with French speaking people who we have met through our interest in traditional music and dancing. I have TC to thank  as his musicianship ( he is an accomplished concertina, guitar, piano player) has opened doors to some superb soirees and fun occasions throughout the year with people of all ages and backgrounds sharing common interests.  TC has also enjoyed the challenge of learning a new instrument the diatonic accordion ( melodeon to us English) which he is now confident to play in public! Last week we went to lunch at the Auberge Lou Bourdie and how thrilled was he when Monique invited him personally to play at the vin nouveau soiree again!

Luckily our French friends are very patient with me as I massacre their language and hopefully over the coming months I will make some progress again - in the meantime at least we can play music and/or dance - a universal language.

April - end of year bal for los dancaires

First time out for the accordion

Bals sous les Halles was a brilliant series of outdoor traditional dances in various villages with market "halles" over the summer

Les musicians de Salles à Milhars

The musicians were pleased to be asked back Le Troubadour for the annual occitan festival in Laguepie

The boy's toy

"The truest expression of a people is in its dances and its music. Bodies never lie"

Agnes De Mille 

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Opportunity knocks

As the extreme cold weather in February (apparently the worst for 15 years) made way for warmer days it became clear just how many plants in the garden were in a terminal state.. The hedges were brown but deep inside there were signs of life, lots of shrubs and the fruit trees had blossom but there many casualties too.

Despite being the hardiest of the palms, that cold for that long was just too much for the newly planted specimens by the pool. Unfortunately it was also too much for the huge clump of bamboo which provides (or did) essential protection from the Autan winds.

In the herb garden the bay, thymes, tarragon, sage and rosemary all bit the dust turning browner each day. Not much help with summer cooking likely!

One by one the casualties were removed and as the pile of bonfire fuel grew ever higher and spaces were revealed it became more and more apparent that this was actually a great opportunity to do some rethinking and make some changes in parts of the garden which had just been left as they were when we arrived.

So we now have a bigger new herb garden, new shady beds at the side and behind the house and a nice new tree at the front.

Now every time I go out I have a good excuse for buying plants ( but come to think of it when did I never need that). There's just one thing though - it would be nice to have a really good garden centre ( one of the few things I miss living here) the local one still has its own dead palms for sale!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Wenceslas never had this trouble.

Last weekend after a mild winter the sudden drop in temperatures had caught us on the hop and we found our stock of logs was getting very low. No problem, we had plenty in reserve at Pavillon our old holiday home just 40 miles away. Snow was forecast later in the day but again no problem, we were ready early and would be there and back inside 2 hours in time to snuggle down in front of a blaze!

How wrong we were! We were about halfway when it started to snow, nothing too bad at first but by the time we arrived it was coming down thick. We didn't dare drive down the steep drive into the garden so kept the car on the roadside and barrowed the logs up through a steadily thickening snowfall.

We didn't hang about and set off hopefully towards home. It soon became clear that the journey would be very slow as despite de-icer the windscreen wipers were freezing constantly and making visibility extremely difficult. We had to keep stopping to break the ice off the wipers, stopping becoming a challenge in itself as the roads were so slippery.

The road along the gorge is at least a reasonable width, and it was looking spectacular with frozen waterfalls and gigantic icicles hanging from the cliffs, but once past St Antonin Noble Val the road towards Caylus is much narrower and very bendy with deep ditches on each side of the road. We negotiated it slowly, all the time aware that this was nothing to the difficulties we had to come! Caylus nestles on the side of a hill in the valley with steep hairpin bends in and out of it - we live on the hills at the top of one said steep hill! We approached Caylus from the south up gentle hills and at our junction we could see the chaos at the foot of the hairpin bends so we took a quick decision to stay as high as we could and continued across country where the road rises but quite gently and is at least straightish. As we drove through Lacapelle we started to feel a little more secure - we have friends there so if we had to give up there was at least shelter.

A little further and we were at St Projet ( the next village to ours ) now we were within our walking distance if all else failed! The hill into St Projet didn't seem like much but it was also on a sharp bend and after several failed attempts we had to give up and drive onwards , once more out into the country. Having walked a lot around the area we knew if we carried onwards we would be able to avoid any steep hills but we were actually now driving further away from home. Eventually we had gone far enough to be able to approach home from the north gently downhill and slid gingerly through the gates of Segala -and there we stayed most of the week.

At least we have had plenty of logs to keep us warm in between unfreezing the water pipes - but that's another story!