Life in Southwest France

Welcome to La Lune, French for the moon. This is the name of the lieu-dit (locality) in southwest France where our 18th-century farmhouse is situated. We have lived here since 1997. The name almost certainly has nothing to do with the moon, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.

I’m a British novelist, freelance writer and journalist. My blog includes episodes from our French life, snippets about French history, culture and customs, and details of things happening in our area.

I try to tell it as it is and not to romanticise life in France. After so many years, je ne regrette rien, and I love living here, even if aspects of French life are still unfathomable.

I love hearing about other people’s experiences of France, so do leave a comment underneath a post if you feel moved to do so. I always reply.

To see my full profile, please click here.

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Life on La Lune now has a Facebook page! There, you’ll find additional photos, info and snippets about France that don’t fit on the blog. And you can comment on posts there, too, if you’re on Facebook. I look forward to seeing you there.

Bonne continuation!  

One of the fantastic sunsets we enjoy here

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Getting the Garden Back in Trim


Orchids to mow around

Orchids grow abundantly on our lawn and have to be mown around carefully

What a lovely time of year this is when the weather is fine! At last, after months of gloom and damp, the past few days have been not just spring like, but summery. It’s forecast to continue for the rest of the week. It can go from freezing cold to blisteringly hot in the blink of an eye here. Yesterday we were in shorts and shirtsleeves – inconceivable last week. This can mean only one thing: time to get the garden back on track. Continue reading

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Cuckoos and Winter Weather 2017-18

Daffodils - spring

Daffodils in full bloom

If you live almost anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, you don’t need me to tell you that it has been a dismal, gloomy winter. The technical reason, apparently, is a “heatwave” in the Arctic, which has pushed the Arctic Jet Stream further south than normal and resulted in an uninterrupted wave of depressions. Thankfully, the signs of spring are appearing, more of which below, but I thought I’d share with you a summary of the statistics about the weather that we have kept for 20 years. Continue reading

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A Little-Known World War II Incident: the Croat Mutiny in Villefranche-de-Rouergue

Villefranche - Pont des Consuls

The tranquil riverside town of Villefranche, scene of pitched battles in September 1943

Our local Médiathèque (library) is a hive of literary activity. In addition to the literary festival that takes place every October, there’s a series of author talks throughout the year. On Saturday, we heard Adrian Weale, a former UK army officer turned military historian, talk about his researches into the German SS (Schutzstaffel). His session was particularly interesting because it included insights into a piece of local history: the mutiny by Croatian and Bosnian SS conscripts in Villefranche-de-Rouergue in September 1943. Continue reading

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On the Carpet: the Tapestries of Montpezat-de-Quercy

Montpezat - Collégiale de Saint-Martin

Collégiale Saint-Martin in Montpezat

I’m pleased to say that I have done one of the five items I listed in my January post of things to do in 2018. It’s now getting a bit late for the truffle market at Lalbenque, but that will resume in the late autumn, so all is not lost. Instead, we drove down to Montpezat-de-Quercy yesterday to see the restored tapestries in the Collégiale Saint-Martin and they are certainly worth the visit. Continue reading

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Five Museums in SW France You Must Visit

Albi - Cathedral dominates

Albi – Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile

If you read Life on La Lune regularly, you’ll know I’m a history girl. And there’s plenty of it around in our part of France if you just scratch the surface. Also, many museums in France open for free on the first Sunday of every month, like today. This is a good way to fill a damp winter’s afternoon. I find the giants like the Louvre a bit hard to get my head around, but the French are rather good at small, quirky museums. So here’s my selection of favourite museums in SW France. Continue reading

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All Aboard le “Moscou-Paris”

Winter 005

Frozen sunset, February 2012

It sounds rather like a jolly luxury express, doesn’t it? A competitor, perhaps, to the Orient Express, with starched white tablecloths, gleaming silverware and sycophantic stewards. If only it were. In fact, le “Moscou-Paris” is the meteorologists’ nickname for a wave of glacial air straight from Siberia, rendered even colder by a sustained wind, and it’s heading for us now. From Russia with love, indeed. Continue reading

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Shaken, and Probably Stirred: Earthquakes in France

Viaduc de Millau 2

Ethereal but durable: what magnitude of earthquake would the Millau Bridge withstand?

Have you ever been in an earthquake? I have, when we lived in Birmingham, and it was a very odd experience. I must admit that it wasn’t a very big one and there was no danger of the house collapsing, although it did shake a bit. However, I can imagine the panic that a more powerful tremor would cause, not to mention the damage and the aftermath. France is not generally associated with earthquakes, but we do have them. This week, seismic activity in Europe has been unusually evident. Continue reading

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Eight Years On…


Najac 2012 - fortress

Château de Najac with the Seneschal’s House to the left. One of my favourite shots.

A little celebration is in order. Life on La Lune will be eight years old on Wednesday, which just happens to coincide with Valentine’s Day. Since February 2010, I’ve published some 586 posts, learned an awful lot about France in the process and, most important of all, been in contact with readers from around the world. One of the great things about blogging is that it opens up a cyber universe of new people. I love our interaction in the comments, which has resulted in some wonderful meetings in person. Thank you for reading my jottings and for making time to communicate. Continue reading

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Neither Resisters Nor Collaborators: Returning French STO Workers in 1945


Certain aspects of World War II remain taboo subjects in France, even among people who were not around at the time. For those of us whose country has not been occupied for hundreds of years, it’s difficult to imagine how divisive the German Occupation was. Communities and families were riven by different loyalties, by self-interest and by the desire simply to keep your head down and survive. These divisions continued long after the fighting was over, and led to often violent recriminations. Continue reading

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The Pros and Cons of Brits in France


Peter Mayle’s trio of books about life in Provence

Peter Mayle, the doyen of writers about the good life in France, died recently at the age of 78. His book, A Year in Provence (1989), describes how he restored an 18th-century farmhouse near Ménerbes in the Luberon with the erratic help of local artisans, while enjoying the cuisine, wine and culture of Provence. The book became an unexpected bestseller and spawned many imitations. Continue reading

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That Which Should Accompany Old Age

Espinas - Hamlet of Flouquet

Few hamlets like this are fully occupied these days, but a few elderly folk may cling on

Yesterday, we visited our elderly neighbour, whose wife died nearly two years ago. We often feel guilty that we don’t visit more often, but Monsieur F is almost 90 and now rather frail. He is very difficult to understand, even after 20 years’ acquaintance: the combination of the local accent and his absence of teeth don’t help. He is also hard of hearing and we have to converse through my husband, since our neighbour can’t hear my lighter voice. Continue reading

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When Should You Use Tu or Vous?

Salers Cow

Tu? Definitely.

Teysseroles 2014 - singers

Vous? Well, it depends.

Today, I revisit a topic that I covered when I first started this blog nearly eight years ago. It’s an aspect of French society and culture that perplexes Brits no end and whatever you do, there’s a fair chance that it’s wrong. Yes, the thorny issue of when to use “tu” or “vous”. A report this week on the TF1 news revealed that even the French are finding this less than simple these days and it’s changing fast. Continue reading

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5 Things to do in SW France in 2018

flute de champagne

None for us this Jan. 😦

Meilleurs vœux pour l’an 2018 à tous mes lecteurs. I will still be writing 2017 on cheques until the end of February. Have you made New Year’s Resolutions? I find those lofty aspirations are all too easily broken. However, the SF and I are having a dry January, as we did last year. We feel better, sleep better, but Mon Dieu! is it miserable. So, to distract myself, I will tell you some of the top things I plan to do this year. Look out for them on the blog later on. Continue reading

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Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2017: the Answers


Mistletoe – abundant in our area

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that le Père Noël was generous to you. How did you get on with the quiz? No cheating, I hope. Without further ado, here are the answers. See how well you did.

Continue reading

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Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2017

Copy of Love from Vanessa and Per xx

First, let me wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas. Thank you for reading the blog this year. I always enjoy reading your comments and emails. Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz, 7th Edition. My little Christmas present to my faithful readers and something for you to mull over over the mulled wine, or whatever tipple you prefer during the Festive Season.

Continue reading

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French Flavours: P is for Petits Fours


Petits Fours

Petits fours © smalljude, Wellington, New Zealand

As Christmas is approaching, this week’s post is a frivolous look at a mainstay of the French apéritif, le petit four. At a party recently, someone challenged me to investigate the origins of the name, and Life on La Lune can’t resist a challenge (but please don’t ask me to try bungee jumping or potholing). For those of you who thought petits fours were simply post-prandial sweets to be nibbled with coffee, think again. Continue reading

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French Stereotypes: the French Don’t Speak English

Beret museum

Typical French people? Courtesy of the Musée du Beret, Nay

Every nation is afflicted by stereotypes that other nations love to perpetuate. Englishmen wear bowler hats, drink tea all day, eat overdone roast beef and sport a stiff upper lip. Frenchmen wear berets, drink wine all day, eat garlic and carry their hearts on their sleeves. There’s sometimes a grain of truth in these caricatures, but only a grain. Having lived here for 20 years, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of these myths about France in an occasional series. Continue reading

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Absinthe Friends

Degas - L'Absinthe

L’Absinthe (1876) by Edgar Degas, in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Public domain.

It’s the drink that symbolised the Bohemian culture of la Belle Epoque in late 19th  to early 20th-century Paris. It was consumed by Toulouse-Lautrec, Baudelaire and Satie, painted by Degas and Manet and immortalised in early silent films. This beverage had a harmless-sounding nickname, la fée verte (the green fairy), but came to be demonised for its supposedly harmful effects. What is it? Absinthe. Continue reading

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S.O.S. French Towns

Villefrance - Collegiale de Notre Dame

Collégiale de Notre-Dame in Villefranche-de-Rouergue.

A few days ago, I had coffee with two friends in the centre of Villefranche-de-Rouergue. This Aveyron town, some 25 km from us, is one of my favourite towns in the region. It’s an attractive place, steeped in history and occupying a magnificent site on a hill stretching down to the River Aveyron. The 13th-14th– century collégiale (cathedral) towers over the town centre. But something is very wrong there. Continue reading

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French Flavours: Poule Farcie, a Classic French Dish


This one’s not for stuffing

The ubiquitous roadside posters advertising French fêtes and other social events very often have “poule farcie” emblazoned across the centre. This dish has a number of advantages for large gatherings. It can feed a lot of people and much of it can be done in advance. Chicken is no longer the luxury item it once was, although a Bresse chicken might set you back a bit. And it has the virtue of providing the starter as well as the main course. Continue reading

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A Film Record of an Aveyron Family Post-WWII


Belcastel (Aveyron), not far from Farrebique

Just after WWII, Aveyron was a different country from much of France. It took a long time to get there from anywhere else, people spoke a different language and the way of life had existed for centuries. Change was happening, but it was slow, and age-old customs and traditions clung on. Georges Rouquier, a documentary-maker, captured this world in his film Farrebique, shot in 1946. We saw it at the cinema in Saint-Antonin recently. Continue reading

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Hidden Treasure in Quercy

Phosphatiere - 30 metre gulf

Former mine – what was so precious here?

Imagine yourself at the bottom of this 30-metre deep hole, hacking away at the white rock with a pickaxe and piling the spoil into a wooden bucket.  It’s damp. Visibility is assisted only by the dim light of lanterns. The reddish clay coats your boots, clothes and hands. What are you mining? Precious metals? Gemstones? Coal? None of those but, nonetheless, a kind of hidden treasure that inspired its own “gold rush” – phosphate. Continue reading

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Mushroom Feast

Mushroom season

Mushroom season – I am told this one is edible

I am very partial to mushrooms, but I’m hopeless at finding them – at least the edible variety. This year is a mushroom year. Something about the climatic conditions – a damp September? – has had them popping out of the ground in places they don’t normally grow. Unfortunately, by the time I get there, they are past their best. And countless people are poisoned in France every year by the wrong sort of mushroom. Continue reading

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Well, Well, Well: Finding Water in Bygone Days


Our well, lovingly restored by the SF

Sorry, I couldn’t help the pun. Water has been on our minds rather a lot this year, what with the contamination of our local water supply a couple of months ago. That now seems to be resolved, fortunately. However, our well ran dry yesterday and it will be some time before it replenishes itself. Just as well (sorry, that wasn’t intentional) that the watering season is drawing to a close. Continue reading

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The End of Summer

Autumn colours 10-15 1

Autumn leaves

Autumn is now truly upon us. We have had some lovely, warm days recently, but as soon as the sun dips under the horizon the air cools quickly. Some mornings, the temperature has been close to 0 degrees C already. The walnut trees started dropping their nuts early this year, but we have had a surprisingly good crop, despite adverse weather conditions. And our lawn has been studded with rosés des près, the white mushrooms that start as balls and then flatten out into plates as they grow. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #15: Le Château de Puylagarde

Puylagarde chateau

Château de Puylagarde

The village of Puylagarde has several distinctions. First, it’s the highest village in our département of Tarn-et-Garonne at 425 metres. On a clear day, you can see the Pyrénées to the south and the Monts du Cantal to the north east. Second, it has two châteaux. Admittedly, one of those is a châteaux d’eau, whose function is to distribute water under pressure of gravity. It is a landmark for miles around. The other is a fortified house, of whose existence I was barely aware until recently. Continue reading

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Vaour and the Templars


Vaour - commandery barn

The ruins of the former Templar commandery, Vaour

Situated on the edge of the former royal Forêt de Grésigne, the town of Vaour conveys a strong sense of history. This is not surprising, since traces of Neolithic tombs and later occupation can be found in the forest. Vaour itself is the site of an important Templar commandery. It’s easy to drive straight through the town – as we have done, to our shame – without visiting this historic site. Continue reading

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Summer’s Lease Hath All Too Short a Date: La Rentrée

SW France summer market stall

Summer sight: the olive stall in our village’s Saturday market

Yesterday, the summer holidays ended in France as children went back to school, people packed away their holiday gear for another year and workers prepared themselves for the routine of métro, boulot, dodo (subway, work, sleep). The eight weeks or so that appeared invitingly long at the beginning of July raced past in reality. In fact, the signs of summer winding down had been apparent in our area for the previous fortnight. Continue reading

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20 Years of la Vie Française

Caylus - view from the hill

Our village

Last weekend marked the 20th anniversary of moving into our house in France. We had arrived in France a few days earlier, but we regard the occupation of the house as the true anniversary. This year I had a long drive home from Charroux in Vienne, where I had been attending a literary festival, while the SF was preparing for a minor medical intervention. So there were no fireworks or bunting, just a symbolic glass (or two). We will make up for it later. Continue reading

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Ma Vie Française #5: Author Olga Swan

Olga’s favourite tree in Gaillac

My latest guest is a somewhat unusual occupant of this slot, in that she had une vie française but doesn’t anymore. More of that below. Olga Swan has had several novels published by Crooked Cat Books, including Vichysoisse, part of which is set in this area of SW France during World War II. Her humorous memoir of her life in France, Pensioners in Paradis, is coming out shortly. Let’s hear from Olga herself. Continue reading

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