Life in Southwest France

A common sight in SW France. Detail from Sunflower field © Stanisa Martinovic/Photoxpress

 

Welcome to La Lune, French for the moon. This is the name of the area around our 18th-century farmhouse in southwest France, where we have lived 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. This 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 try to convey my fascination with la vie française in my posts.

To see my full profile, please click here.

For the latest posts, please keep scrolling down this page or select a subject you’re interested in from the categories list in the right hand sidebar. 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.

If you want to find out more about my writing please click here or follow the link in Blogroll in the sidebar – Vanessa’s writing.

Bonne continuation!  

One of the fantastic sunsets we enjoy here

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Signs of Spring and Southwest France Weather February 2015

A vivid rainbow I snapped last week

A vivid rainbow I snapped last week

 The SF (Statistics Freak to the uninitiated) tells me that winter runs from November to February. Personally, I feel it’s longer than that, but it’s better not to argue with the expert. Even so, by the end of February, I am usually climbing the walls and longing for spring. This year is no exception.

At least it is going in the right direction. It’s less than a month until the clocks go forward and the cuckoo arrives. And a few signs of change are already in evidence. The daffodils will flower soon, we saw a violet on the lawn (only one and a bit bedraggled, but still…), the evenings are drawing out, the quality of the light is different and the sun has warmth, when it deigns to come out. The birds are more active and vocal, too. I have heard a blackbird singing several mornings running. Buds have appeared on the trees, still tightly furled, but ready to burst.

This month, I’ll provide a roundup for the winter months, November to February inclusive, as well as for February.

Subjective weather assessment

A quick reminder of our subjective weather assessment: we assign each day a plus if it’s fine, a minus if it’s bad and a zero if it’s indifferent or we can’t decide.

From November to February, the proportion of each compared with the average is as follows:

Pluses – 28% (33% average)
Zeros – 29% (32% average)
Minuses – 43% (35% average)

This confirms my feeling that this winter, although not cold, was gloomier than usual. This is borne out by the rainfall stats (see below under Rainfall).

For February, the +/0/- stats are as follows:

Pluses – 10
Zeros – 7
Minuses – 11

This puts February 2015 into the better half of the league table, with 6 better and 10 worse. Although the last week of Feb was pretty dire, we have also had some pleasant sunny days. And it snowed a couple of times as well, although not heavily, so we’ve had just about every kind of weather. The graph shows the percentage of plus days each February for the past 17 years (the line is the trend).

Proportion of plus days each February

Proportion of plus days each February

Rainfall

Our rainfall stats go back to August 2004.

Over the winter months, we had a total of 302.5 mm, a bit less than the average of 307.1 mm. However, it rained more often – on 55 days compared to about 46 – reinforcing the sense that this was a gloomy winter. The mud in places is indescribable, but then this is la France profonde.

In February, which is traditionally a dry month, we had a little more rain than usual – 62.5 mm compared to the average of 57. It rained as frequently as we would expect – the average of 10 days.

Rainfall 2015 to date

Rainfall 2015 to date

Frost nights

Frost nights so far for the winter total 36, 16 of them in February. We can still get frost in March and the occasional frost in April.

March has started wet, but it might as well rain now rather than in the summer. Here’s a dicton (saying), of which French country people are so fond, about March.

En mars, quand le merle a sifflé, l’hiver s’en est allé In March, when the blackbird has sung, winter has gone.

That’s good news, since the blackbird had already started in February. Vivement le printemps!

You might also like:

Seven Signs of Spring in SW France
Nature Comes Back to Life
The first cuckoo

Copyright © 2015 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

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Sunday Promenade Around Félines

 

Church at Félines

Church at Félines

It was more like a forced march, actually. The SF did military service in the Swedish army and can still do a 20 km yomp bearing a 14 kilo pack with the best of them. Last Sunday morning, the sun shone but the wind was bitter, so a gentle stroll was not an option.

We were determined have some exercise and there are lovely walks around here. But, even though we are geographically in the south of France, the winters can be miserable and it’s not easy to get out unless you force yourself to do it. So we took advantage of the dry weather and did one of our favourite walks.  Continue reading

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How to Queue in France

 

Crédit Agricole bank: scene of traditional queuing behaviour

Crédit Agricole bank: scene of traditional queuing behaviour

Forming a neat queue is inscribed in we Brits’ DNA. Not so our French counterparts. Our two countries are separated only by a 30-mile stretch of water, but in some respects it might as well be 30 light years. Having lived here for nearly 18 years, I don’t notice some of the cultural differences anymore or have happily embraced them. But there are still aspects of French life and culture that I don’t get. Queuing is one of them. Continue reading

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A Typical Quercy Farmhouse (and an Anniversary)

 

Bolet and pigeonnier before restoration in the early 1970s

Bolet and pigeonnier before restoration in the early 1970s

In a couple of months it will be 18 years since we first saw our house. A lot of wine has flowed under the bridge in that time. The photo above shows it in the early 1970s just before it was restored and long before we bought it. I have mentioned some of the traditional features of our house in my posts, but I have never looked at them systematically.

Our farmhouse is typical of the prevailing architecture in the former Quercy region, being long and narrow. It was probably built in the 18th century (there is no date on it anywhere) but I have a feeling a house might have been here before that. Continue reading

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Every Château has a Story: le Château de Cornusson

Château de Cornusson in the hazy distance

Château de Cornusson in the hazy distance

 

The word “fairy-tale” when applied to a château usually makes me cringe. But there is something a little magical about the château de Cornusson, with its jumble of towers and turrets. You get tantalising glimpses of it peeping above the trees from the countryside around, but very rarely a full face view. It has an air of mystery and secrecy that you long to penetrate. Continue reading

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Woodpeckers and Weather: January 2015 in Southwest France

 

Acrobatic great spotted woodpecker

Acrobatic great spotted woodpecker

This is the acrobatic great spotted woodpecker that manages to cling onto the fat balls we hang out during cold weather (the red splodge on its head marks it out as a male). We haven’t seen this for several years, so it can’t be the same bird. There is a hierarchy among the birds for their turn. Size is the inevitable denominator: woodpeckers, nuthatches, great tits and blue tits. Robins and chaffinches can’t cling on so they hang around underneath, prospecting for the bits the others drop. Continue reading

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Have a Calendar, Whether You Want it or Not

Fire brigade's calendar

Fire brigade’s calendar

 

We were having a lively discussion during dinner in the kitchen – not an argument – which could no doubt be heard outside. But we don’t expect people to be hanging around outside on a cold Sunday evening in January. So it was with some surprise that we heard a knock at the door. Two uniformed figures stood there. Continue reading

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Sheltering Jews in SW France During World War II

 

Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, which had its place in protecting Jews

Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, some of whose inhabitants played a role in protecting Jews

Today, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by Soviet troops. The unspeakable horror of these places has been described in memoirs and contemporary film footage. But very few survivors remain and it is beyond our imagination today to conceive of how it must have been.

The deportation of Jews – and other “undesirables” – from France is a deplorable page in the country’s history. However, amidst the bleakness, there were glimmers of virtue and it’s those I want to focus on. Continue reading

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Counting Heads: the French Census

The village of Caylus below its château. A far cry from its heyday

The village of Caylus below its château. A far cry from its heyday

 

We had a visit today from the local census taker, having been warned a couple of weeks ago that this was imminent. This happens every five years in a small commune like ours (more on this below). But did you know that the first national census in France, or recensement, dates back to 1328? Continue reading

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Shutters

 

Classic shutters

Classic shutters

 

One of the things that distinguish French houses from English ones is the use of shutters. This is not to say that no English houses have them; rather, that a lot of French buildings do, especially in the south of France. They are part of the charm of French architecture. As ever, when a subject interests me, I find that there is more to it than meets the eye. Continue reading

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The Little Free Library Inaugurated at Saint-Antonin

 

Terracotta rooftops of Saint-Antonin by the Aveyron

Terracotta rooftops of Saint-Antonin by the Aveyron

So many words have poured out in the past few days, and no doubt will continue to do so, about the horrific events in Paris this week. I can’t add anything to them that isn’t trite or obvious. So let’s move on and look at something positive. This post is about a small event but a great initiative. Continue reading

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Things to Do in Southwest France 2015

 

Place du Capitole, Toulouse

Place du Capitole, Toulouse

We’ve lived here since 1997, but many things remain that we haven’t seen or done. As I have often remarked, once you get settled in a place, daily life tends to take over and you are no longer a sort of permanent tourist. So here’s my bucket list of things to do in the region this year. Continue reading

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Southwest France Weather Roundup for 2014

 

Frosty albizia today

Frosty albizia today

First of all, Happy New Year, Bonne Année. And a big thank you to the more than 45,000 visitors who came to my blog last year.

The SF (Statistics Freak) has been slaving over a hot computer today so that I can bring you the weather roundup for 2014. And, despite the fact that it is provisionally judged to be one of the three hottest years since 1900, there are one or two surprises. Continue reading

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Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2014: the Answers

The SF and I overwhelmed by snow - but not yet this year

The SF and I overwhelmed by snow – but not yet this year

I hope you had a lovely, peaceful and rewarding Christmas. How did you get on with the quiz? If you resorted to the internet you can deduct 10 points immediately. Here are the answers, with my notes about each one. Continue reading

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Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2014

 

A very Happy Christmas to all my readers

Mistletoe - abundant in our area

Mistletoe – abundant in our area

 

Here’s something to stretch your brain cells once you’ve stretched your waistbands: the annual Life on La Lune Christmas Quiz. Twenty questions about French history, literature, gastronomy, language, etc. with multiple choice answers.

Continue reading

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French Solstice Customs

 

Frozen sunset

Frozen sunset

We’re in winter now, marked by a sharp frost and bright sunshine (hurray!). The winter solstice occurred today in France at 00.03 Central European Time. The December solstice marks the shortest day/longest night of the year. This is when the North Pole is at its furthest point from the sun. But it varies slightly from year to year, so in some years it occurs on 21st December.

The evenings will start drawing out from here, although it will be imperceptible for a while. But at least it’s going in the right direction. Around mid-January, it becomes more noticeable. What significance does the solstice d’hiver have in France? Continue reading

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Carol Services with the Choeur de Parisot 2014

Carol Service 2014 - Limogne

Carol Service 2014 - Parisot

Christmas carol services are a British import into France. The French have fewer Christmas songs and they don’t have a tradition of special carol services. However, it’s something they have enthusiastically embraced, even if they regard them as concerts rather than a participative event.

Continue reading

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Every Château has a Story #3: Le Château de Caylus

 

The village of Caylus below its château

The village of Caylus below its château, at the top of the picture

Very little remains of this château, except for a square tower in surprisingly good condition and parts of the original ramparts. And yet, in its heyday, le château de Caylus had dominion over a large swathe of the surrounding area. Set on a rocky mount, the castle controlled an important crossroads. Continue reading

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French Regional Cuisine: L’Auberge Lou Bourdie at Bach

'Black diamonds' at the Limogne truffle market

‘Black diamonds’ at the Limogne truffle market

Bach is a small village on the Causse de Limogne, in the heart of truffle country. In common with many rural French villages, it’s a quiet place nowadays. But it does have a rather good restaurant, l’Auberge Lou Bourdie. Continue reading

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Flies and Weather in SW France November 2014

 

Year of the fly

Year of the fly

This year should be christened “The Year of the Fly.” It has been exceptionally mild and an unfortunate result is a mass invasion by flies. We are not the only ones to suffer, although I wondered if something had died in the vicinity. A lot of people around here have been complaining about it. Continue reading

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10 Reasons to be Proud of France?

Belcastel (Aveyron): France's patrimoine is something to be proud of

Belcastel (Aveyron): France’s patrimoine is something to be proud of

The “Stop au France Bashing” campaign is the latest in the beleaguered French government’s efforts to draw attention away from itself. Last week, it posted 10 statistics on its website to demonstrate why citizens should be proud of France. Now, I love living in France and can think of a lot of things to praise. But equally, after 17 years here, I feel I’ve got past the starry-eyed stage. So let’s take a closer look at the reality behind this promotion. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #2: Le Château de Najac

 

Château de Najac with the Seneschal's House to the left.

Château de Najac with the Seneschal’s House to the left.

On autumn mornings, it rises out of the mist, perched on top of its pinnacle; while on summer evenings, it seems to float in the sky, lit from below. The fortress is a landmark for miles around, standing sentinel over a loop of the River Aveyron, which flows far below. The château enjoys a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and the river valley. The perfect place to site a defensive citadel. Continue reading

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Bordeaux #2: Sustenance for Body and Soul

 

Fish stall at the Chartrons market

Fish stall at the Chartrons market

Our mouths watered as we strolled past the displays of fish, fresh produce and pâtisserie at the Quai des Chartrons market. The air rang with the raucous cries of the fishmongers as they broadcast their wares, while wielding filleting knives and oyster openers. This is one of the must-do things in Bordeaux on a Sunday morning – and le tout Bordeaux was there last Sunday. Continue reading

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Bordeaux #1: City of Superlatives

Place de la Bourse with le miroir d'eau in front

Place de la Bourse with le miroir d’eau in front

 

“Can I help you at all?” asked one in a succession of Bordelais as I wrestled with the Tourist Office map. Mostly, we knew where we were going, although it didn’t look like it. However, this was typical of the helpful attitude we encountered last weekend in the capital of Aquitaine. The Bordelais are proud of their city, and rightly so. Continue reading

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Weather for Walks: October 2014 Weather in SW France

 

Autumn colours in the Viaur Valley

Autumn colours in the Viaur Valley

We took advantage of the continuing spell of glorious weather last weekend to do one of our favourite walks, along part of the Viaur Valley. I mentioned this in my previous post. It’s a walk that’s best done on a fine autumn day. The colours are magnificent, chestnuts litter the ground and there’s hardly anyone else around. The only sound is the river rushing over the rocks not far from the path. We don’t get there often enough (it’s a 45-minute drive). The last time was in autumn 2011. Continue reading

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5 Reasons why Autumn is the Best Season

 

Parisot lake in autumn

Parisot lake in autumn

Not least because of the luminous wall-to-wall blue skies we have enjoyed here for almost two months. Every season has its charms, even winter, although by the end of February they’re well hidden. But for me, autumn is a special season down here. Why? Continue reading

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A Captivating Novel of Corsica Explored

nessafrance:

Writers Abroad friend Dianne Ascroft kindly invited me to appear on her blog today, talking about my historical novel, The House at Zaronza, the story and the research behind it.

Originally posted on :

This summer I read a wonderful historical novel set in Corsica, The House At Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman. I’ve always wanted to visit this island so I soaked up the scenery and atmosphere as I read. I was also completely absorbed in the story. It is a well written love story that unfolds through letters discovered nearly a century after they were written. Since I enjoyed the book I am delighted to tell you that I’ve invited the author, Vanessa Couchman here today to answer some questions about the book.

Welcome Vanessa. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

VC: The House at Zaronza is set in early 20th-century Corsica House Zaronzaand at the Western Front during the First World War. It follows the fortunes of Maria Orsini, a young woman from a bourgeois family, who lives in a Corsican village with her parents…

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Plague Cross

 

La Croix du Miracle

La Croix du Miracle

Wayside crosses are very common around here. Some date back to the Middle Ages; others are more recent. We’ve even seen one erected on top of a dolmen, imposing the supremacy of Christianity over earlier pagan religions. Sometimes, they had a particular purpose, like the one above, known as la Croix du Miracle. It celebrates the halt of the plague during one of the many epidemics that affected the region. Continue reading

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The Day the Village had NO BREAD

Temporarily bread-less village

Temporarily bread-less village

Our life here has its Clochemerle moments (explanation below). I experienced one of them yesterday when our local village had no bread. Bread is not just the staff of life to a French person; it’s an essential accompaniment to every meal. Yesterday, there was a whiff of revolution, which I compounded. Continue reading

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Monet’s Garden at Giverny

 

Monet's house at Giverny

Monet’s house at Giverny

Most people have heard of Claude Monet (1840-1926), one of the founders of French Impressionist painting. Many people know about and/or have visited his house at Giverny in Normandy, where he landscaped the gardens and developed the lily ponds that he immortalised in many of his paintings. We made our first visit at the end of September, on our way up to the UK. Continue reading

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