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.

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Bonne continuation!  

One of the fantastic sunsets we enjoy here

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Every Château Tells a Story #13: Le Château de Cénevières, Lot

Château de Cénevières gatehouse

Château de Cénevières gatehouse

The Château de Cénevières towers over its village and the River Lot, which meanders far beneath. The castle commanded a formerly important strategic position and the river, which was once well-plied trade route. My local writing group went on an outing there last week. One member has a particular interest in the château, but I won’t say more since I don’t want to steal her thunder. Continue reading

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Summer Arrives at Last in SW France

 

Abbaye de Marcilhac-sur-Célé

Abbaye de Marcilhac-sur-Célé

C’est l’été and the weather has finally caught up with the calendar. We’ve had wall-to-wall blue skies and hot sunshine for the past few days. This was a particularly good thing this weekend, since we sang in a concert featuring Mozart’s Requiem in the riverside village of Marcilhac-sur-Célé in the Lot. The concert was in aid of the restoration of the ruined abbey there. Continue reading

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Tour de France 2016

Cycles decorating our village

Cycles decorating our village

The Tour de France passed through our village for the first time yesterday, which has inspired great excitement during the build-up. All of the roads along the route have been resurfaced and relined, the verges have been cut and the village progressively decorated. People donated unwanted bicycles, which lined the hill up into the village. Continue reading

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Death of a Village: Oradour-sur-Glane

Oradour - tramway station 2

I wasn’t sure if I should write about this at all. Visiting Oradour-sur-Glane near Limoges this week, I felt like a voyeur. The 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich slaughtered 642 people and torched the village on 10th June 1944, during their destructive march northwards to try to hold off the Allied offensive. Hounded and harassed all the way by Resistance groups, they carried out terrible reprisals. Continue reading

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C’est la Fête!

If you fancy a quick trip from Beauregard to the stars...

If you fancy a quick trip from Beauregard to the stars…

It’s that time of year again when every street corner (and your windscreen if you stop for long enough) bristles with posters advertising local fêtes, vide-greniers and concerts. Some of the early ones have had to contend with appalling weather (more of that in a later post), but the sun re-emerged tentatively on Sunday and it’s got better ever since. The organisers of la Fête de la Musique, which took place yesterday, must have breathed a sigh of relief. Continue reading

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Inside le Château de Najac

The imposing château de Najac, a landmark for miles around

The imposing château de Najac, a landmark for miles around

At least a dozen years have elapsed since I visited the interior of the ruined château de Najac in Aveyron. This imposing 13th-century castle is a landmark for miles around, best seen from the opposite slope on a misty autumn morning. Although I have written about it before, I had no interior shots to post. Now, thanks to taking visitors there last week, I can show you how it looks inside. This demonstrates clearly what a feat of construction it was. Continue reading

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Saint-Cirq-Lapopie: A Plus Beau Village de France

View of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie from above

View of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie from above

About a month ago, I revisited Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, to interview a writing friend, Tracey Warr, who was spending time there as a writer in residence. Saint-Cirq is a plus beau village de France, overlooking a meander of the River Lot. Continue reading

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Cantal Revisited

Jordanne Valley, Cantal

Jordanne Valley, Cantal

I’m always torn between sharing places I love with other people and keeping them to myself. After a fierce internal tussle the altruistic side won. The Cantal is a part of France to which we keep returning, although our last stay was nearly three years ago. Another fix of this stunningly beautiful, former volcanic area was long overdue. Continue reading

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Our Village Fête: Yesterday and Today

 

Traditional dancing at our fête several years ago

Traditional dancing at our fête several years ago

We went to our village’s Fête de Pentecôte (Whitsun fete) last Monday. It’s still an important local event, but in times past it was among the bigger fêtes in the region. We have a lovely book of photographs showing our village between 1900 and 2000. Local people lent their photos and postcards – an amazing 616 in all were reproduced in the book. It includes a section devoted to les fêtes de Pentecôte. Continue reading

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Ma Vie Française #2: An Interview with Stephanie Dagg

Stephanie Dagg with one of her many animals

Stephanie Dagg with two of her many animals

 

I’ve known Steph since 2010 but we have never met! Author, editor, blogger, businesswoman, and smallholder– she wears so many hats it’s difficult to keep up. She’s written a popular book, Heads Above Water, about her family’s life in France. Let’s hear a bit about their experiences. Continue reading

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8th May 1945: End of a War

Caylus - 8 mai road sign

Yesterday marked the 71st anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. We went to the annual ceremony in our village. This is always a moving event, attended by local dignitaries and representatives of the nearby military camp, the site of resistance activity during the war. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #12: le Château de l’Astorguié, Parisot

Château de l'Astorguié at Parisot

Château de l’Astorguié at Parisot

Last week marked the 19th anniversary of the first time we saw our house (no, it’s not the one above). Looking back at estate agents’ details of other properties reminded me that a small château close by was also for sale then. The place was in a sorry state, although it was still beyond our price range, but has since been restored to its former glory. And there’s an intriguing story associated with it. Continue reading

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Opération Escargot

Shell without a snail (you can never find a live one when you need it)

Shell without a snail (you can never find a live one when you need it)

France’s cuisine was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2010, when it was included in the list of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage. Why “intangible”? Good food might be a consolation for the soul, but it’s also a feast for most of the senses. I digress. This week’s damp weather put me in mind of one of the more humble representatives of French gastronomy, which is advancing in phalanxes on my irises and lurking under every leaf. What is it? The snail. Continue reading

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Bach, an Ancient Village on the Causse de Limogne

Popular hostelry in Bach

Popular hostelry in Bach

This was a week of excursions. Yesterday, we rehearsed and sang in the biannual scratch choir concert in Puycelsi, a hilltop fortified village in the Tarn. As always, it was an inspiring event. The concerts are held in aid of the church restoration fund. The mainly 14th-century Eglise Saint-Corneille has a plain exterior but you are greeted inside by an explosion of colour from the wall and ceiling paintings.

We also visited Bach in the Lot for lunch with friends. I’ve written about its well-known restaurant, Lou Bourdié, but not about the village. Continue reading

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Badgers in the Bush?

What's lurking in here?

What’s lurking in here?

Like most people, we have a part of our garden of which we are less than proud. It’s where we dump grass cuttings, leaves and other garden rubbish that we don’t put in the compost bins. Fortunately, it’s shielded by plum trees and stone walls and we don’t frequent it very often. Just the place for wild creatures to make their home. Continue reading

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Ma Vie Française #1: an Interview with Jacqui Brown

Jacqui Brown enjoying a well-earned pâtisserie after a cycle ride

Jacqui Brown enjoying a well-earned pâtisserie after a cycle ride Photo © Jacqui Brown

You’ve heard a lot from me over the past six years about life in rural France. So let’s hear from someone else for a change. This is the first in an occasional series, Ma Vie Française, in which people tell us why they moved here and describe their experiences. Continue reading

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The First Cuckoo?

Another harbinger of spring

Cowslips, another harbinger of spring

Happy Easter, Joyeuses Pâques à tout le monde. Easter this year has coincided with the clocks going forward for summertime and, I think, the first cuckoo. When I hung out of the window this morning listening to the birdsong, I thought I heard the piping sounds of the cuckoo’s call far in the distance. I can’t be completely sure, but let’s assume it was this summer visitor. Continue reading

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French Language Week

Plum blossom in our back garden

Plum blossom in our back garden

Apologies to subscribers via MailChimp, which has played tricks and not included the link to the post in the alert. Hopefully, you have got here by clicking on the blog title at the top of the alert. 

Today is the first day of spring: a bit cool and drizzly, but the birdsong is undiminished and the buds are breaking on the trees well in advance of normal. Today also marks la journée internationale de la francophonie (international French language day). No, I didn’t know about it either, until alerted by an article in The Connexion. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #11: Le Château de Mazerolles, Aveyron

Château de Mazerolles

Château de Mazerolles

As you round a hairpin bend just before the hamlet of Mazerolles, you get a breath-taking view of Najac across the valley, crowned by its ruined château (pictured below). This must have greeted the chatelains of Mazerolles (above) every morning since the 13th century.

Château de Najac

Château de Najac

Continue reading

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Where Have All the Small Birds Gone?

Sparrow fledgling

Sparrow fledgling

Yesterday, we stopped by our retired farmer neighbour’s place for a chat. We remarked that it would be only a matter of weeks before the cuckoo, the first of the migratory birds, arrives. We love hearing that piping sound, which is a harbinger of spring even if the weather is still dire. But we all observed that there appear to be fewer seasonal birds in recent years. Continue reading

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Monsieur C – One of a Dying Breed

Monsieur C's house, before it was sold

Monsieur C’s house, before it was sold

Today, we visited an elderly farmer neighbour, whose wife is in hospital with respiratory problems. They were the first local French people we met in 1997. Monsieur F has always been difficult to understand because of his strong regional accent and lack of teeth, but, after 19 years, we can decipher about half of what he says.

Talking to him reminded me of another of the dying breed of old-style paysans, whom I’ll call Monsieur C. He died in his eighties in the hot summer of 2003. Continue reading

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World War I and SW France

Mort pour la France 1

Mort pour la France 1

Just after 7 a.m. on 21st February 1916, 100 years ago today, German artillery unleashed a 10-hour bombardment that could be heard more than 150 km away. Thus began one of the longest and most devastating battles in history. The series of offensives and counter-offensives of the Battle of Verdun lasted for 299 days, until 18th December, and caused unimaginable casualties. The battlefield remains a mass graveyard. Continue reading

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What Difference Will French Spelling Changes Make?

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

First, I have to note that it’s six years today since I pressed the ‘go live’ button on this blog. Since then, I’ve published 496 posts, made a lot of virtual friends and had a ball researching into French life, history and culture. A big thank you to my readers for following, commenting and sharing your experiences and words of wisdom. What better way to mark the anniversary than with a look at changes to the spelling of some French words that have caused such controversy recently? Continue reading

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Unwintry Winter

Unusually tame squirrel

Unusually tame squirrel

I took this shot of a red squirrel four years ago, in February 2012, when we had two weeks of temperatures well below zero and snow as well. Our lane was like an ice-rink, it took 10 minutes to warm up and scrape the car in the morning and our woodpile diminished visibly. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story: #10 Le Château de Belcastel

Belcastel (Aveyron)

Belcastel (Aveyron)

Although I have written about Belcastel, in Aveyron, I haven’t devoted much space to the château. Its story is that of a phoenix raised from the ashes. The fortress could so easily have crumbled into a pile of stone, had it not been for the vision of a prominent architect, Fernand Pouillon. Continue reading

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Is the Rural French Café Dying Out?

Café at Limogne on market day

Café at Limogne on market day

The village café-bar is a typically French institution, just as the pub is essentially British. Our nostalgic vision of French rural life places the café (often doubling as a restaurant) at the heart of the village, along with the church, the school, the mairie, the boulangerie and the épicerie. But a survey by pollsters Ifop shows that the local café is increasingly a thing of the past. Continue reading

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All About Stone

Typical stone of the region

Typical stone of the region

This is a land of stone. Old houses are invariably built of la vieille pierre (old stone). When you walk along a footpath, it’s usually bordered by ancient stone walls. If you want to plant a tree or shrub, you will dig several planting holes before you find one that isn’t obstructed by a boulder. When the farmers plough the fields, they reap a fresh crop of them, which they place in pyramids prior to removing them.

Continue reading

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Bonne Année and December’s Weather

We had a number of sunsets like this in December

We had a number of sunsets like this in December

First, bonne année to everyone. I hope you had an enjoyable and relaxing Christmas. We are having a dry January – no, not the weather, which is the opposite. Rather, we’re not imbibing any alcohol, except the odd glass if invited out. This is hard when you live in France with access to countless varieties of wine. But we feel we owe it to our livers and our wallets. Continue reading

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Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2015: the Answers

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

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

I hope you spent a very enjoyable Christmas, however you celebrated it. As promised, here are the answers to the 2015 edition of the Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz. The correct answers are in green text. I hope you enjoyed doing it. Continue reading

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Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2015

***Season’s Greetings to All My Readers***

Crèche in a cave at Loze

Crèche in a cave at Loze

Welcome to the fifth edition of the Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz, an internationally-renowned cultural tradition. Here’s something to exercise your brain cells once you’ve exercised your digestion: 20 questions on aspects of French culture, politics, history, gastronomy, geography, etc. Three multiple choice answers are given for each question – but beware, there are some trick questions.  Continue reading

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