Château de Saint-Michel de Vax (sorry about the cables)
What a boon the internet can be – in small doses. And we’ve had only a small dose of it recently. More about that in a later post. I can find out almost anything, without moving from my computer in la France profonde. Sometimes, even the internet doesn’t provide the immediate answer; but persistence pays off. So it was in the case of le château de Saint-Michel-de-Vax. Continue reading
Chapelle de Teysseroles
I’ve written before about the visit of the departmental archaeologists to Teysseroles, where we are helping to restore the 15th-century chapel. This is a requirement when works are planned at a historic monument, to ensure that nothing of significance is damaged or lost. Their test dig took place three years ago. Recently, a surprise was in store for our team. Continue reading
Tiny chapel at la Denterie in Cantal
Weddings were in the air a fortnight ago, with the latest royal event. As is often the case, my historical research appetite was whetted. So let’s go back a century or so and see how a wedding would have been celebrated in the French countryside. Continue reading
Caylus from the hilltop above
Pentecôte (Whitsun) is the time for our village’s annual fête. It’s become a tradition for Caylus Notre Village (CNV), an association that promotes and protects local monuments, to organise a series of guided walks around the commune as part of the festivities. We duly turned up at the former lavoir (wash house), one of CNV’s projects, and put our best foot forward. Three walks were billed: 18 km, 12 km and 6 km. The SF and I opted for the middle one, feeling that the longest one would be a bridge too far. Continue reading
Magnificent wisteria in Loze
Sometimes life takes you over. I’ve brought out two books in the space of a month and sung in two concerts, in Gaillac and a tiny hamlet near Puycelsi, in the past 10 days. I’m notorious for trying to do everything at once, but this is not always a recipe for success. So Life on La Lune has suffered a little as a result. Time for a little TLC.
This area is peppered with attractive and historic villages. It’s a pleasure for me to visit them and then to indulge my love of history by writing about them here. I hope I can give you some ideas for places to visit if you are planning to visit, or even if you already live here. Continue reading
Orchis mascula. Early purple orchid
If my memory is correct, we first saw our house here in SW France 21 years ago today. The weather was glorious, as it has been recently – very welcome after a gloomy few months. In 1997, we noticed in particular the virtuoso song of the nightingales, the clarity of the night sky and the abundance of wild flowers in the fields and by the roadsides. Among these, wild orchids grow particularly well in our region at this time of year. Continue reading
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
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
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
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
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
Posted in History, Places
Tagged Albi, Bordeaux, Centre Jean Moulin, Figeac, French museums, Fromagerie Papillon, Musée Champollion, Musée du Beret, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Nay, Roquefort, SW France
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
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
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
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
Posted in History, World War I & II
Tagged Daniel Crozes, forced labour, French resistance, Fritz Sauckel, Lendemains de Libération, Pierre Laval, Service du Travail Obligatoire, SW France, Vichy France, World War II
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
Posted in Books/writing, French life, Personalities
Tagged A Year in Provence, British expats, France, French rural society, living in France, moving to France, Peter Mayle, Provence, rural France, rural life
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
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
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
Posted in History, Places
Tagged Lalbenque, Les Arques, Montpezat de Quercy, Musée Fenaille, Musée Soulages, Musée Zadkine, Ossip Zadkine, Puylaroque, Restaurant les Sens, Rodez, SW France, truffles
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.
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.
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
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
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
Posted in Food/drink/recipes, History
Tagged absinthe, aperitifs, Artemisia absinthium, banning of absinthe, Belle Epoque, common wormwood, France, la fée verte, Paris, revival of absinthe
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
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
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
Posted in History, Personalities, Places
Tagged agriculture, Aveyron, Farrebique, Film, French country life, Georges Rouquier, Occitan, Rouergue, rural life, SW France
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
Posted in History, Places
Tagged Bach, Causse de Limogne, Jean-André Poumarède, phosphate industry, phosphate mines, phosphate mining, phosphatières, Phosphatières du Cloup d'Aural, Quercy, SW France
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
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
Posted in History
Tagged citerne, dowsing, Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources, Marcel Pagnol, puits, source, sourcier, SW France, water diviner, water divining