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 writer and novelist. You can see my books, which are set mostly in France or on the French island of Corsica, in the right-hand sidebar. Visit my separate writing website to find out more about them.

Life on La Lune relates 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 also 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.

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.

Subscribe to Life on La Lune and receive notification of new posts. It’s completely free, and you can unsubscribe at any time. Click on the sign-up box in the right-hand sidebar. If you’re on a tablet or mobile, you might not see that box. Instead, click on the button in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen: “Follow” with a + next to it. Your email address will never be publicly visible.

Bonne continuation!  

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A glut of plums

New subscribers via WordPress: if the link in the notification email doesn’t work, copy and paste the URL at the bottom of the email into your browser. Don’t right click and copy because that will simply copy the broken link. Instead, highlight and copy the URL exactly as it is into your browser.

A few subscribers who have migrated from MailChimp to sign up here on the website have indicated the link in the notification email doesn’t work. Apologies. I have been onto WordPress about this, and they say it may be your browser settings that are blocking the link.

Sorry for the public service announcement, but I would hate readers to have gone to the trouble of re-subscribing, only to find that they can’t access the posts.

Do you like plums? I do, but you can definitely have too much of a good thing. This year, we have a glut. I have never seen the trees so loaded with them. Some branches are so weighed down with fruit that they touch the ground. Other, smaller ones have snapped under the weight. We can’t possibly use all this fruit, so, sadly, a lot of it ends up on the compost heap, but not before the birds – jays and blackbirds in particular – have had their share.

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A Virtual Fête de la Musique

La Fête de la Musique should have taken place this weekend. For obvious reasons, many of the events won’t be happening, except online. Some public concerts are allowed by special permission, provided they respect social distancing regulations. I notice that Villefranche-de-Rouergue plans one, featuring the carillon in the Collégiale (cathedral). The Lotois village of Beauregard normally organises one of the biggest fêtes in the area, at which the SF’s male voice choir has sung. Sadly, this year, it is cancelled.

Music is so much a part of our everyday lives, that I started to think about what role it played in past times in French country areas. Come with me to a virtual fête de la musique.

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Posted in Auvergne, Aveyron, Customs, Virtual Visits | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Welcome to the New Normal in France

Some things don’t change, whatever else is happening. And so the first two weeks of June have been pourries (rotten). The weather has been chilly, damp and generally miserable. We should be used to this; after all, it happens every year until the end of the third week. But somehow, when the May sun shines in cloudless skies, the pool nudges 30C and the barbecue sees some action, we are lulled into thinking summer has arrived.

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La Fête des Mères (Mother’s Day) in France: Traditions and Customs

Yesterday was la Fête des Mères (Mother’s Day) in France. The French are very family minded. In restaurants, you often see whole families from babies to grandparents sitting down to Sunday lunch. The children are usually well behaved since they are used to doing this. And, in our experience, French people tend to socialise en famille, like the Spanish and the Italians. Since 1920, French women have been awarded medals for raising a lot of children, although the rules have changed over time.  

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Virtual Visits: Discovering the Gorges de l’Aveyron

Twin châteaux of Bruniquel

From tomorrow, we are allowed beyond the 100 km limit without authorisation in France. For the time being, this is the last of the virtual visits, since I hope to start attacking my bucket list of places to see in reality. Today, we’re taking a trip of around 30 km from the plus beau village of Bruniquel to Varen. We’ll drive alongside the River Aveyron that flows through dramatic gorges for much of the way.

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Virtual Visits: A French Country Garden

Today I’m taking you on another virtual visit, but this time it’s close to home: my garden! This is not a brag; the garden is not particularly special or exotic. But it serves to show what can be done in less than ideal conditions. Many plants are flowering, fresh and green before the summer heatwaves grill them. After yesterday’s early morning rain, I wandered about with the camera and took stock. It was good to have a respite from the repetitive mowing, strimming and weeding that gardening involves in the spring.

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Virtual Visits: a Hidden Corner of the Lot

The lockdown restrictions are relaxed somewhat in France, but restaurants and many tourist attractions remain closed. Today, we’ll pretend everything is normal and take a trip off the beaten tourist trail. We won’t see spectacular sights or famous historic monuments. Instead, we’ll meander through delightful villages just over the border from us in the Lot, and I’ll show you things you may not know about.

We’ll see examples of petit patrimoine (historic heritage) that have, happily, been preserved for posterity: witnesses to a way of life that has gone forever. And, of course, there’s lunch.

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Virtual Visits: the Célé and Lot Valleys

View over the Lot Valley from Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

First, thank you and welcome to all the people who’ve signed up to the blog recently. Although France comes out of strict lockdown on Monday 11th May, I am continuing my series of virtual visits around Southwest France. It’s not yet clear how much tourism will be allowed in France this summer, so I am bringing you a virtual aperçu of places you might not be able to see in person.

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Virtual Visits: Western Aveyron

Najac in the mist: one of my favourite photos from 2015

I am extremely attached to the Aveyron département, although we live just over the border in Tarn-et-Garonne. Our part of our département has more in common with Aveyron than it does with the rest. Our neighbours even kiss three times, which is typically Aveyronnais. Named after the river that runs through it, Aveyron is a land of many contrasts and fiercely upheld traditions.

Last time, we saw the eastern part and ended up in Belcastel, next to the gently lapping waters of the upper Aveyron. This time, we’re going to do a tour of the western side, not far from where we live. And I’ll show you a few little-known sights. Photos all my own, as usual.

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Virtual Visits: Aveyron 1

First, thank you for your comments on last week’s post and for sharing your own fantastic experiences of the Auvergne. I enjoyed a spot of armchair travel with you. Next up: a much-needed celebration is in order. Today marks 23 years since we first saw our house in France. We were smitten at first sight and are still here. Virtual champagne all round.

Onto this week’s post. We’re travelling to Aveyron, a neighbouring département. It covers a large area, so we’ll do it in two bites. Speaking of bites, loosen your belts. It’s going to be a bit of an eatathon.

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A Virtual Visit to Cantal

I had a list of places in SW France lined up to visit and write about this year, but they have to wait for better times. Meanwhile, I invite you to accompany me on a series of virtual voyages around the places I know and love. Most are in our own département, Tarn-et-Garonne, or those that border it. But this week I’ll start with one a little further away. We return there as often as we can.

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Seeing the Wood for the Trees

I have always loved woodland, and so we are fortunate to be surrounded by it here – not dense forest, but copses and thickets interspersed with fields. In fact, much of this woodland is not more than 100 years old, since the population was much higher at one time and the land was largely turned over to farming. We are also lucky to have a little piece of woodland of our own.

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Operation Village Market

Last Tuesday was Operation Village Market, which sounds like a World War II Allied offensive. Although well stocked with food, we were running short of fresh fruit and veg. The French government cancelled open-air markets about 10 days ago but were prepared to allow some to continue by order of the Préfet, if they are necessary for local people and the local economy. Our village has two markets per week: Tuesday and Saturday. These were deemed necessary.

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Simple Pleasures

The past 12 days have afforded plenty of time for reflection. Too much, no doubt. Nonetheless, beneath the negative emotions that most of us have been feeling, there are flickers of a deeper process at work: one of re-evaluating and realigning the mental compass. I felt this when we embarked on a walk to the regulation 1 km limit and back yesterday morning. We are restricted in where and for how long we can walk, but we are immensely lucky to be surrounded by glorious countryside that is bursting with the vitality of an early spring.

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A Virtual Walk Around Puylagarde

Château de Puylagarde

Come on a virtual promenade with me today. We are no longer allowed to do anything else, except for “short outings” to exercise ourselves within a 1 km radius of the house and then only alone. It’s hard to believe that only a couple of weeks ago, we were walking unrestricted around the countryside. We had no inkling then of what was coming, although maybe we should have done.

We took advantage of fine weather in February to take Sunday walks on new (to us) paths. Here’s one that we did around Puylagarde, the highest village in Tarn-et-Garonne at 425 m above sea level. From that elevated position the views across the rolling countryside are wonderful. In fact, from one place on the road, you can see the Pyrénées in one direction and the Monts du Cantal in the other, provided the atmospheric conditions are right.

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The World Holds its Breath

Plum blossom in our back garden

While a precocious spring flourishes outside my window, I feel a strange mixture of emotions writing this. A few weeks ago, it seemed inconceivable that parts of the world could grind to a halt so quickly. Now, the COVID-19 situation is moving so fast that governments and health services can’t keep up with it. It feels like something out of a bad apocalyptic movie.

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One Should Never Leave Montauban

Montauban – Place Nationale

“On ne devrait jamais quitter Montauban!”, is one of the immortal lines spoken by Lino Ventura in the classic film, Les Tontons Flingeurs (lit. The Gun-Toting Uncles, 1963). Having renounced a life of crime to sell agricultural equipment in Montauban, Ventura’s character, Fernand, is called to the deathbed of a former associate in Paris. He promises to take on his shady businesses and supervise his wayward daughter. Pursued by murderous rivals and at his wits’ end with the daughter, Fernand regrets his promise, hence the line, which is probably better translated as, “I should never have left Montauban.”

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Stones, Bones and Giants’ Thrones: on the Limogne Dolmen Trail

Dolmen du Lac d’Aurié just outside Limogne

Last weekend, we took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to try out a new walk around Limogne. This small town in the Lot is host to a busy Sunday market and a Friday truffle market in season. It sits in the middle of the causse, or plateau, that bears its name. Plenty of evidence of our distant ancestors’ presence exists in the fields and woodland around the town, and I particularly wanted to see this.

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In Search of Black Diamonds in Lalbenque

You can’t buy them fresh in the supermarket and certainly not on Amazon. They are referred to as Quercy’s black diamonds, but these knobbly tubers look nothing like a gemstone. Selling them follows an arcane ritual, and a kilo can cost upwards of €1,000. They are a highly prized gastronomic delicacy, but they are almost impossible to cultivate reliably. Last week we went to the small town of Lalbenque in the Lot to penetrate the mystique that surrounds the tuber melanosporum, or black truffle.

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Ten Years Today: Life on La Lune Enters Double Figures

Life on La Lune celebrates its 10th birthday today. Unusually, this fact almost passed me by, mainly because I have still been catching up with things after last week’s absence of internet. There’s no significance to having started the blog on Valentine’s Day. It just happened like that. I remember it was a particularly gloomy, chilly Sunday, so I thought why not? And here we are, 10 years later.

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The Day We Went to Paris by Way of Saint-Projet

Saint-Projet

You might – or might not – have been wondering where I’ve been for the past 10 days, owing to the lack of posts. It’s not chagrin about the reality of Brexit occurring on 31st January, although it continues to rankle. More mundanely, we were without telephone or internet for most of last week, after the neighbour had a new line and a livebox installed. You can’t actually speak to a human being at Orange, so after much tussling with the uncompromising robot, our line was finally fixed on Saturday. I have been catching up ever since.

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No Words Today

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The Richness of French Rural Heritage: Gariottes and Cazelles

The backbone of the earth is never far beneath the surface here, as we have found to our cost every time we plant a tree or a shrub! The farmers carefully make piles of the stones they plough up, but more push through every year. It’s almost as if the stones grow here. Although it’s not easy to cultivate crops in these conditions, the stones have made good building materials in the past.

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Bonne Année 2020. Weather Roundup for 2019

First, belated Meilleurs Voeux. Every time we go into the village, we are greeted with enthusiastic kisses and handshakes from acquaintances and good wishes for 2020, “surtout pour la santé” – above all for good health. This will continue until mid-January, when we’ve all forgotten who we’ve already greeted.

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Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2019: the Answers

The picture has nothing to do with the quiz, but it’s one I took this year in the village of Vidaillac (Lot), where someone has created these wonderful wall paintings.

I hope you had a lovely Christmas and enjoyed the quiz. Here are the answers to the 9th edition of the Life on La Lune French Christmas quiz. Ready?

Award yourself one point for each correct answer. Remember that some questions may have more than one correct answer…

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Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2019

A very happy Festive Season to all my readers. I’d like to thank you for reading the blog, which is approaching its 10th birthday in February 2020, and for your thoughtful and interesting comments. Welcome to the 9th Edition of the Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz, my little Christmas gift to readers. Twenty questions on aspects of French history, culture, language, cuisine, geography and politics with multiple choice answers.

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Favourite Blogs about Life in France

On 14th February 2020 this blog will be 10 years old. A lot of words have flowed sous le pont since then in almost 700 posts. And the number of life in France blogs has proliferated since 2010. However, there are a handful that I keep going back to for their entertainment value, and because the personalities of their “owners” shine through their writing. So I thought it was time I gave them a shout-out.

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Long Overdue Trip to the Fronton Vineyards

Château Baudare, a Fronton to which we are rather partial

Hands up if you’ve heard of the Fronton vignoble. If you don’t live here, you probably haven’t come across it, like us before we moved to France. It’s a very small wine-growing area, and only a limited proportion of the wine is exported. We have spent 22 years happily drinking Fronton wine, but we had never set foot there. This changed last Friday, when we went with friends who kindly arranged it all.

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Are You une Huile or un Gros Poisson? Find Out Below

Ideal home for une grosse légume?

No matter how long you live here, or however good you think your French is, you always come across new phrases and expressions, some of them quite bizarre if translated literally. Like our own idiomatic expressions in English, there’s usually a history behind them. This, for me, is one of the pleasures of living in another country. Not only do you learn another language, but you also expand your cultural horizons.

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Cornflowers and Poppies: Symbols of World War I

Symbol of Flanders fields

Today is Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11th November, the day the Armistice came into force in 1918. Tomorrow is a public holiday in France, and remembrance ceremonies will take place at war memorials throughout the country. Wearing a poppy is common in the UK, symbolising the blood that flowed and the flowers that grew “in Flanders fields”. The French equivalent, le bleuet, or cornflower, is less well known.

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