An insider’s guide to life in France

A common sight in SW France. Detail from Sunflower field © Stanisa Martinovic/Photoxpress

Welcome to La Lune – French for the moon. Why La Lune? This is the name of the area that surrounds our 18th-century farmhouse in southwest France, where we have lived since 1997. The name almost certainly has nothing to do with the moon, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.

I’m a British writer and journalist. I post about la vie française a couple of times a week.  This includes episodes from our French life, tips about French manners and customs and details of things going on in our area. I try to tell it as it is and not to romanticise life in France.

To see my full profile, please click here.

The French have an expression, ‘Dans la Lune‘, which means to be in a dream or have one’s head in the clouds. This is a pretty accurate description of our life here sometimes. However, after so many years, je ne regrette rien, even if some aspects of French life are still unfathomable.

For the latest posts, please keep scrolling down this page or select a subject you’re interested in from the categories list in the right hand sidebar. I love hearing about others’ experiences of France so do leave a comment underneath a post if you feel moved to do so. I always reply.

If you want to find out more about my work as a writer please click here or follow the link in Blogroll in the sidebar – Vanessa’s writing.

Bonne continuation!  

One of the fantastic sunsets we enjoy here

Posted in French life | Tagged , , , , , , ,

French Women and World War I

 

Symbol of the "war to end wars"

Symbol of the “war to end wars”

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I is almost upon us. Huge amounts have been written about almost every aspect of the war. But some topics have received less attention than others. One of those is the role of French women during the war, a subject that is a theme of my forthcoming novel, The House at Zaronza.

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French Restaurant Capers

Aligot à emporter - but did he peel his own potatoes?

Aligot à emporter – but did he peel his own potatoes?

French restaurants are currently on the menu in the news. A hapless blogger posted a bad review and was fined by a judge. And as from last Tuesday, restaurants have to indicate if any or all of their meals are “homemade”, i.e. cooked on the premises with fresh ingredients. Continue reading

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Another excerpt from ‘The House at Zaronza’

Pisan Church at Murato, Corsica

Pisan Church at Murato, Corsica

With a little over two weeks to go before publication, here is another short extract from my novel The House at Zaronza. The story is set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front during World War I.

Continue reading

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Les Jardins de Quercy Revisited

Red border

Red border at Les Jardins de Quercy

Gardening in our region is not easy. The soil is poor and stony and the climate can be freezing in winter and baking in summer. Plants either thrive or decline, but you have to wait three years to find out. I’m always full of admiration, therefore, for people who have the persistence and imagination to create wonderful gardens down here. One of these is les Jardins de Quercy, near Verfeil.

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Wildlife and Weather: June 2014 Update

Beautiful swallowtail on our buddleia. I had to wait 10 minutes for this shot.

Beautiful swallowtail on our buddleia. I had to wait 10 minutes for this shot.

Visitors who are used to the constant hum of city life sometimes ask us, “Don’t you find it a bit quiet here?” The answer is no. I’ve never been a city-dweller by temperament and much prefer la France profonde. I sometimes miss the opportunity to pop out to art galleries, cinemas, theatres and so on. But, actually, I’m not sure I took advantage of them when they were on the doorstep. Instead, we have a wonderful array of bird and wildlife. Continue reading

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Abbaye de Beaulieu-en-Rouergue, Centre of Contemporary Art

 

Abbaye de Beaulieu - Front Elevation

Abbaye de Beaulieu – Front Elevation

One of the advantages (well, the only one, actually) of having house guests is that you go out and do things you normally wouldn’t. I have often observed that when you live in a place, everyday life takes over. This is a pity, since there’s so much to see down here and there are many interesting places we still haven’t seen. This week, however, provided the opportunity to re-visit the Abbaye de Beaulieu, only a few kilometres away. Continue reading

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An excerpt from my forthcoming novel, ‘The House at Zaronza’

Front cover final

I’m getting very excited about the publication of my historical novel with Crooked Cat Publishing, which is only just over a month away. I’m also delighted with the cover, above. Between now and 29th July, I’ll publish a few short extracts, starting with the ones below. Continue reading

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Fateful fête at Teysseroles? Not this time

 

200 fête-goers sit down for lunch

200 fête-goers sit down for lunch

At 7.00 am yesterday, I peered outside and saw with horror a black cloud advancing with a rainbow silhouetted against it. With even greater horror, I heard growls of thunder and rain pattering on the leaves. Why was this cause for such dismay? Because yesterday marked our annual fundraising fête at la chapelle de Teysseroles and, after last year’s rotten weather, we had everything crossed for sunshine. Continue reading

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The Good French Pedestrian

Much has been written – some of it by me – about driving in France, including responsibilities at the wheel and penalties for infractions. Much less is written about pedestrians and how they should behave. A recent story in The Connexion about the police in Saint-Etienne cracking down on errant pedestrians spurred me to find out more. Continue reading

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Fête Time at Teysseroles

 

Chapelle de Teysseroles by local artist James Burr

Chapelle de Teysseroles by local artist James Burr

It’s that time of year again. La fête de Teysseroles, the chapel we are helping to restore, looms on the horizon. This is our big annual fundraiser, which attracts more than 200 revellers and swells our coffers by several thousand euros. Continue reading

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Gardens and SW France Weather May 2014

Elaine and David's garden

Elaine and David’s garden

In early June every year, Rendezvous aux Jardins (national gardens weekend) takes place. We make a point of visiting at least one garden during the event. I normally leave green (appropriately) with envy and wish that my garden looked anywhere near as good. This year, we went to the rather new but already well-established garden of singing colleagues Elaine and David, near Villeneuve-d’Aveyron. Continue reading

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Sweet Lavender

 

Field of lavender

Field of lavender – David Hughes/PhotoXpress

Which part of France do we normally associate with lavender? Provence, naturally, where it plays a big part in the perfume and essential oils industry. But did you know that 10% of French lavender production at the start of the 20th century came from the Quercy region of southwest France? And it is still grown on a commercial scale in parts of the region. Continue reading

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Things I Didn’t Know When I Moved to France: Part 2 the Negatives

Winter - one of the things they don't tell you about

Winter – one of the things they don’t tell you about

Thanks to everyone who commented on Part 1, the Positives. They added to my list of unexpected pleasures, including: the (comparatively) empty roads; the variety of regional produce and recipes; the friendly interaction with neighbours and rural French people’s lack of concern with outward show; and the fact that dogs are welcome in restaurants. Continue reading

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Things I Didn’t Know When I Moved to France: Part 1, the Positives

Early summer

Early summer

Now, you’re all thinking I’m going to complain about everything I’ve encountered in France since moving here 17 years ago. Not so. What follows in this post is complimentary; Part 2 (to be posted later) is less so. I’ve restricted myself to five positives and five negatives in the two posts and tried to be even handed. So read on, and see if you agree. Continue reading

Posted in Customs, French life, History | Tagged , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

Unexpected Finds About World War II at a Vide-Greniers

Sunday vide-grenier promenade

Sunday vide-grenier promenade

It’s that time of year again. You only have to park the car for five minutes and you find your windscreen bristling with flyers for vide-greniers (jumble sales). Around here, there’s at least one a week for the foreseeable future. Not that I mind. You might pick up a bargain. The SF and I were looking for a log-splitter at the Caylus vide-grenier on Sunday. We didn’t find one, but I did stumble upon something rather more interesting. Continue reading

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Meet My Main Character from My Novel ‘The House at Zaronza’

Jagged landscape of Corsica

Jagged landscape of Corsica

Today, I’m taking part in a blog hop for historical novelists, entitled ‘Meet My Main Character’. I was tagged by fellow writer and Writers Abroad colleague Dianne Ascroft who wrote about her main character last week. Continue reading

Posted in Books/writing, Corsica | Tagged , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Hoopoes and SW France Weather April 2014 

Hoopoe on the prowl

Hoopoe on the prowl

Some of our summer visitors are quite exotic. The golden orioles are rarely seen, except as flashes of yellow and black in the treetops, but they make their presence known with parrot-like caws and whistles. The hoopoes are distinguished by their Red Indian headdress-like crests, their beaks like sabres and their “hoo-hoo-hoo” call. Their flight is distinctive, too, like a giant moth. Continue reading

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Is it a Bird? No. Is it a Plane? Yes, it’s an Airbus 380

 

Airbus Visitor Centre

Airbus Visitor Centre

For someone with all the technical knowledge of a flea, a visit to an aircraft factory might not seem like a high priority. But when my former university’s SW France alumni group proposed a visit to Airbus in Toulouse, I thought, ‘Why not?’ And I was pleasantly surprised.  Continue reading

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May 1st – la Fête du Travail in France

 

Orchid time

Orchids are abundant in May

May 1st has a special significance in the French calendar, since it’s la Fête du Travail (labour day), when everyone downs tools. Even our local newsagent closes on May 1st, although it is open every other day of the year, Christmas Day included. Since 1947, this day has been a paid public holiday in France. Continue reading

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Nightingales in Southwest France

 

I know this isn't a nightingale but you try getting a photo of one...

I know this isn’t a nightingale but you try taking a photo of one…

I heard the first nightingale of the year on Wednesday. Other people say they have been around for a couple of weeks but they seem to arrive later and later chez nous in recent years. The unmistakable sliding, virtuoso sound emerging from the thicket on the other side of the wall heralded the arrival of yet another summer visitor. Continue reading

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French and Corsican Easter Traditions

Easter Egg - made by local artist Catherine Smedley

Easter Egg – made by local artist Catherine Smedley

The celebration of Easter in France doesn’t diverge hugely from its counterpart in the UK, apart from the obvious religious differences. People consume large quantities of chocolate and Paschal lamb, for example. However, there are some traditions and customs that are different and worth noting. Continue reading

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Spring in Southwest France

 

Cloth of gold: buttercups in our field

Cloth of gold: buttercups in our field

Well, this year it’s easy to tell it’s arrived. The weather has generally been lovely in April – with the occasional off-day. More often, April is cold and windy. The fine weather has brought everything out early and many of the trees are already in full leaf. Only the oaks and walnuts lag behind. No doubt things will change for Easter, as usual, although the Météo is still hopeful. Continue reading

Posted in French life, Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Beaumont-de-Lomagne: Garlic Capital of Southwest France

 

View of Beaumont-de-Lomagne and the surrounding country

View of Beaumont-de-Lomagne and the surrounding country

I’ve been getting out and about a lot recently, interviewing people for various magazine articles. This gets me away from the computer and the internet and introduces me to places I might not otherwise have visited. On Tuesday, my mission was to go to Beaumont-de-Lomagne to interview garlic growers. Continue reading

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First Cuckoo and Weather in Southwest France March 2014

Cherry blossom, which has been abundant this year

Cherry blossom, which has been abundant this year

Today we heard a cuckoo for the first time this year. It’s late: normally we hear one on 29th March +/- three days. And it’s a full week after some friends who live 15 km south of us told us they had heard one. Mind you, it’s been so windy this week that we might not have heard it even if it did arrive earlier. Continue reading

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More French Superstitions

Right way up or upside down for luck?

Right way up or upside down for luck?

The post I wrote in November 2010 (is it really that long ago?) on French superstitions is the most popular I have written. So I decided to continue my researches and find some more for your delectation. Some were kindly donated by readers of my first post; others I have turned up elsewhere. Continue reading

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Trip Along the River Aveyron

Fortified hilltop village of Puycelsi

Fortified hilltop village of Puycelsi

I went to the hilltop village of Puycelsi in the Tarn département on Friday to interview some victims for one of my magazine articles. It’s about 50 minutes’ drive from here but the route is one of the most spectacular in the region. To get there you drive alongside the River Aveyron that forces its way through impressive gorges for much of the way. Continue reading

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Baroque Splendour: La Chapelle des Pénitents Noirs

Chapelle des Pénitents Noirs

Chapelle des Pénitents Noirs

This rather odd-looking building is la chapelle des Pénitents Noirs at Villefranche-de-Rouergue, where the Choeur de Parisot gave its first concert of the season last Sunday afternoon. The simplicity of the exterior doesn’t prepare you for the exuberant burst of Baroque that hits you when you go inside.

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My novel, The House at Zaronza, to be published by Crooked Cat Publishing

Saint-Florent, Corsica

Saint-Florent, Corsica

I’m thrilled to announce that my novel, The House at Zaronza, will be published by independent publishers Crooked Cat Publishing, probably this summer. The novel is based partly on a true story, which we discovered on holiday in Corsica in 2012. It is set against the backdrop of early 20th-century Corsica and World War I. You can read more about it here. Continue reading

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Parisot Choir Concerts in March

We have been without an internet connection for much of this week, so I’m posting this a bit late in the day. However, the Choeur de Parisot is giving two concerts over the next week under the baton of maestro Peter Nowfel. The programme ranges from Anon (very prolific composer) to Schutz, via Fauré, Gounod, Mozart, Rachmaninov and plenty of others. Continue reading

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Montauban: Changes for Better – and for Worse

Montauban - Place Nationale

Montauban – Place Nationale

Montauban is our préfecture, the main town of Tarn-et-Garonne. The département has the distinction of being one of the youngest and smallest in France. Napoleon created it in 1808, 18 years after the others were established, declaring Montauban worthy to be a préfecture in its own right. Tarn-et-Garonne was formed of chunks hived off the neighbouring départements: only 10 others in mainland France (including Corsica) are smaller. Continue reading

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