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!  

 

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

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

Posted in Corsica, Customs, History | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 , , , , , , , | 15 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

Posted in History, Personalities, Places | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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

Posted in Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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

Posted in Customs, French life | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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

Posted in History, Places | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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.

Continue reading

Posted in History, Places | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Books/writing, Corsica | Tagged , , , , , , | 29 Comments

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

Posted in French life, Places | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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

Posted in History, Places | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

SW France Weather February 2014 and Verdict on 2013

New fountain in market square at Villefranche-de-Rouergue - on a wet and blustery Feb day

New fountain in market square at Villefranche-de-Rouergue – on a wet and blustery Feb day

This month, I have asked the SF (Statistics Freak; aka my husband) to write the weather post, since it’s he who collects all the statistics. I’ve also asked him to look back over 2013 as a whole and make some comparisons with the weather over our 16+ years here. So, over to you, SF. Continue reading

Posted in Weather | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Heart of Oak

November evening sun on oak wood

November evening sun on oak wood

When you live in a place for long enough, you start to take the landscape a little for granted. But if you stop and look a while, you ask yourself how it would be without all those trees clothing the hillsides. Around here, it’s oak (chêne) country. We are in the Rouergue here but are only a short hop from the ancient southwest province of Quercy, called after the Latin name for oak, ‘quercus’. Continue reading

Posted in French life, Nature | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Aux Urnes, Mes Citoyens: the French Local Elections

Hôtel de Ville - Town Hall

Hôtel de Ville – Town Hall

The French municipal elections take place at the end of March this year. Passions are already running high, although a French friend who is standing says candidates are not supposed to canvass until a couple of weeks before the elections. She’s told us all her ideas but I suppose that’s okay, since we don’t live in the same commune. Continue reading

Posted in French life | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Anniversaires and Albi Revisited

Albi - Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile

Albi – Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile

Anniversaries were in the air this week. My blog is four years old today. When I started it, I barely knew what a blog was, let alone how to set one up. Thanks to WordPress and a lot of practice, I am slightly more competent than at the start. Now, 369 posts later, the fount of French things to write about still hasn’t dried up. Mel at FranceSays kindly conferred a Liebster Award on my blog, which I will follow up in a later post. Today, I’ll focus on the other anniversary celebrated this week. Continue reading

Posted in History, Personalities, Places | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Discovering French Street Signs

Classic street sign

Classic French street sign

We take street signs for granted. They’re useful when we need to find an address. Apart from that, we don’t give them much thought. This may appear to be an abstruse subject but delve into the history a bit and they’ll tell you something about a place. Continue reading

Posted in History, Places | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Southwest France Weather January 2014

A long time since we saw a sky like this. Chateau at Najac

A long time since we saw a sky like this. Chateau at Najac

…plus c’est la même chose. As people in northern and western France prepare to batten down the hatches yet again tonight, it’s my sombre duty to bring you the weather stats for January. And independent corroboration from Météo France that it was indeed a rotten month by most measures – just in case you hadn’t noticed. Continue reading

Posted in Weather | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Maiden Name or Married Name?

Now, here’s a controversial topic. I usually stay off them on this blog, since nothing is more likely to get the green ink brigade going. However, this time I’m going to stick my head above the parapet. What’s the beef? By which name should married women be addressed officially? Continue reading

Posted in French life, Rants | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

More Difficult French Phrases

Najac - winter château

Najac château in winter

Difficult for we non-French, that is. While writing an email to a French friend recently I had to consult the dictionary several times to make sure I got a particular construction right. This is after more than 16 years in France, four years of intensive French courses and having twice got to the regional finals (but no further) of a French national grammar competition. I don’t say the latter to boast but simply to show how difficult this language remains. Continue reading

Posted in Language | Tagged , , , , , | 23 Comments

A Brief History of Cheese

The remnants of last night's cheese board: Maroilles coated in paprika, Laguiole and Bleu d'Auvergne

The remnants of last night’s cheese board: Maroilles coated in paprika, Laguiole and Bleu d’Auvergne

At the Tuesday market in Caylus, which stall has the longest queue? No contest: the cheese stall. It’s especially long in summer when the holidaymakers and second homers swell the population. But even in winter you can count on a long wait before you get served. People carry away carrier bags groaning with cheeses of varying smelliness. How did cheese come to play such an important part in the French diet? Continue reading

Posted in Auvergne, Food/drink/recipes, History | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Woodpeckers!

Green woodpecker

Green woodpecker

We have vandals in la France profonde but they aren’t the human variety. After the ravages of deer, wild boar and moles – next up are woodpeckers. The first three have confined themselves to destroying the garden (bad enough); not content with that, the woodpeckers are assaulting the house. Continue reading

Posted in French life, Nature | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Keeping Your Ear to the Ground in Rural France

 

Pentecost fête at Caylus

Pentecost fête at Caylus

A reader recently bemoaned the fact that they had not heard in advance about an event on which I reported. I sympathise. Keeping up with what’s going on is not easy and, dare I say it, the French aren’t always very good at publicising things. Sixteen years ago, we were constantly finding out about fêtes or concerts we had missed. Things have improved but hearing about forthcoming events is still a lottery. Continue reading

Posted in French life, Top tips | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

2013 Weather Roundup for Southwest France

Fortified church at Saint-Grat

Fortified church at Saint-Grat

Saint-Grat from a distance

Saint-Grat from a distance

The spell of mild weather that we enjoyed throughout most of December has continued into January. This doesn’t mean that the weather is good; simply that it’s not cold. On Saturday night, we had a howling gale, torrential rain and even thunder and lightning. I took the photos above during our last walking group promenade of the season before Christmas, when we started from Saint-Grat in Aveyron. It was a beautiful day – one of the few I can remember in 2013. Continue reading

Posted in Aveyron, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Five Signs of New Year in France

Galette des Rois (PhotoXpress_Nath Photos)

Galette des Rois (PhotoXpress_Nath Photos)

First, a slightly belated Happy New Year to everyone. I hope you have a happy, healthy and peaceful 2014. Serial over-indulgence during the festive season followed by self-enforced repose has kept me away from blogging for a few days. But I’ve been pondering the ways in which the French celebration of New Year differs from the British version. Continue reading

Posted in Customs, French life | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2013: the Answers

I hope you had a lovely Christmas and enjoyed doing this year’s La Lune Christmas Quiz. The correct answers are highlighted in red below. I have to admit to having made a mistake on one of the questions when I set it but all will be revealed. And you won’t lose any points as a result. It’s all in fun, anyway, so please don’t write in asking for a recount. Continue reading

Posted in French life, Quiz | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Midnight Mass in France

Eglise Saint-Andéol at Parisot

Eglise Saint-Andéol at Parisot

People celebrate Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve throughout France. We went this year to the service at l’Eglise Saint-Andéol in Parisot. Père Serge, the local priest, had asked for volunteers from le Choeur de Parisot to swell the ranks of the church choir. We thought, why not? Having now been once, it’s probably not an experience I shall repeat but it had its moments. Continue reading

Posted in Customs, French life, Places | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2013

Not on the menu this year, we hope

Not on the menu this year, we hope

First, I’d like to wish all my readers a very happy festive season. Today we almost sat out to eat lunch under a cloudless blue sky but it was just a little too breezy. Alas, the forecast for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day isn’t good. Since many recent Christmases have been freezing cold (and complete with power cut on one occasion), the milder weather is welcome. Continue reading

Posted in French life, Quiz | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

To Crèche or Not To Crèche

Political correctness sometimes verges on the downright barmy. France is a secular society, which is fair enough. Public employees in France are not permitted to display ostentatious symbols of religious affiliation, such as foulards (headscarves) or large crucifixes. These issues came close to home this week.

Continue reading

Posted in Customs, French life, Places, Rants | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

An Opportunity to Meet French Schoolchildren

Villefranche market

Villefranche market

We attended a rather nice event last Friday at a school in Villefranche-de-Rouergue. Le Lycée Beauregard, a secondary school, invited local English speakers to meet the students and talk to them – in English. Continue reading

Posted in French life, Language | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Carol Services with the Parisot Choir

Christmas crèche at Parisot

Christmas crèche at Parisot

This is just a quick heads-up about two carol services that le Choeur de Parisot will be giving this year under the direction of maestro Peter Nowfel. Both concerts will feature the usual readings and medley of carols (in French and English) plus some Christmas songs performed by the choir only. Continue reading

Posted in French life, Places | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Trip to Planet London

 

Different planet?

Different planet? Copyright PhotoXpress/Gary

I am becoming a country bumpkin. No; not becoming – have become. This was quite clear during a recent short trip to London. I haven’t been there for a while and noticed some changes. Continue reading

Posted in French life, Places | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments