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 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 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.

If you would like to subscribe to my blog (completely free and you can unsubscribe at any time), please click on the email link in the right-hand sidebar. Your email address will never be publicly visible.

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!  

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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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Autumn’s Bounty: Pumpkins and Pumpkin Recipes

Could this be a winner?

Where we live in southwest France, size is of the essence; in fact, the bigger, the better. One of our local villages held a competition a couple of years ago for the biggest, heaviest and oddest shaped.

I am of course talking about pumpkins, otherwise known as potirons or citrouilles in French. The difference between them seems to be that the potiron is bigger, but, curiously, citrouille is the word used as an insult for a fat person.

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Every Château Tells a Story #17: Le Château de Bournazel

So much for my theory that tourist sites are less crowded out of season. Le tout Aveyron turned up at the Château de Bournazel yesterday, giving the hard-pressed guide some logistical problems. “This is the first time we’ve opened in October,” she said. “We weren’t expecting so many people!” Like everyone else, we took advantage of a glorious, if blustery, October afternoon to visit this château, of whose existence I learned only recently.

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Autumn Food Fêtes and Festivals

We’re definitely in autumn now. This year it has started off rather damp and gloomy, although the weather is often glorious at this time. But I make no secret of the fact that autumn is my favourite season. After a particularly hot summer this year, it’s nice to feel a nip in the morning air and settle down in front of the wood burner in the evening. And wouldn’t life be monotonous if all the seasons were the same?

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Back to Belcastel

Belcastel on a greyish September evening

This week, we celebrated an important wedding anniversary and returned to Belcastel in Aveyron to do so in style. This plus beau village is home to a Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Vieux Pont, which specialises in Aveyronnais produce and local recipes with a modern twist. The family who run the restaurant also run a small hotel in a converted barn on the other side of the River Aveyron. This means we can sample their excellent wine list without having to worry about driving the 50 km home with a police contrôle potentially around every corner.

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Abandoned Village: Saint-Amans-le-Vieux

Today was a beautiful, if still too dry, autumn day, so the SF and I decided to bestir ourselves and make the most of this fine weather for a walk. “Where shall we go?” We are faced with an embarras de choix, since so many walking trails criss-cross this area. Walk from here or take the car? In the end, the car won, and we parked down at the lake in Caylus, where several footpaths converge.

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Bowled Over: One of France’s Favourite Sports

Under the plane trees on the outskirts of a southern French village, an ancient tradition is taking place. A knot of men is gathered, fortified by glasses of Pastis. The sun dipping behind the trees makes zebra patterns on the dusty patch of earth. The “chock” of metal striking metal alternates with voices raised in dispute. What are they doing? Playing France’s 10th most popular sport: boules or pétanque. This has become one of the classic symbols of French culture, along with the beret, the baguette and the bouteille de vin.

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Cordes-sur-Ciel: Dramatic and Timeless

I’d forgotten what a long way up it is. Seventeen years had obliterated our memory of the steep hike up to the cité of Cordes-sur-Ciel perched on its hilltop, which was long considered inaccessible. But we weren’t going to wimp out and take le petit train, which deposits less athletic, but maybe more sensible, tourists at the top. The effort is worth it to see one of the best-preserved medieval towns in the region. Luckily for us, by the last weekend in August the tourist hordes had largely disappeared, but it was busy enough.  

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From Monks to Mona Lisa: L’Abbaye de Loc-Dieu

Imagine a place the locals dreaded so much that they named it locus diaboli, the devil’s place. A lonely, remote spot near the major trade route between Rodez and Cahors, with dark woods bristling with bandits lying in wait. And yet this was where a group of Cistercian monks founded an abbey in the 12th century, and the name of the place was transformed to locus dei, or Loc-Dieu, God’s place. I revisited the abbey, which is now privately owned, last week, after a gap of 12 years or so.

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Missing Cat: Chat Perdu

I wrote this post this morning after our cat had been missing for 15 days. An hour later she miaowed and walked back through the door as if nothing had happened. She was hungry and a bit perturbed, but apparently unharmed. We are so relieved. But I will leave the post here, because it might help others whose animals have gone missing.

Our cat, Bella, has been missing for a fortnight without trace. This is why I haven’t been posting recently – I simply haven’t had the heart. It’s a long shot posting here, but since this blog reaches quite a number of people in SW France, it may be worth it.

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Rally Round: the Caylus Car Rally

It isn’t exactly the Paris-Dakar rally, but it’s an annual event that we really enjoy taking part in. The Caylus rally is not about speed; it’s about discovering the local historic heritage during a 50 km circuit with eight checkpoints. Organised by Caylus Notre Village, which has been instrumental in restoring the lavoir (wash-house) in Caylus, the theme this year was – no surprise – lavoirs.

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Timeless Monument: The Cathedral of Cahors 900 Years On

2019 marks the 900th anniversary of la Cathédrale Saint-Etienne in Cahors. The cathedral is even older than the ill-fated Notre-Dame de Paris. Yesterday, 27th July, was supposed to be the official anniversary, since it was on that day in 1119 that Pope Sixtus II consecrated the high altar. Unfortunately, after weeks with no rain at all, the heavens opened, and the Tourist Office website says that the fête has been put back to Tuesday 30th.

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The French Countryside isn’t Quiet: Spread the Word

One of our co-residents in full song

Lying in bed early this morning, through the open window I heard cockerels crowing, a tractor doing some heavy-duty work not far away, cow bells jangling, dogs barking, pigeons cooing and the sparrows that nest in our walls chirping and bickering. So it wasn’t exactly silent. But I would far rather hear these sounds than constant traffic noise, emergency services’ sirens, thumping pop music and neighbours’ domestics. However, it appears that not everyone appreciates the sounds that accompany life in the French countryside.

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