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: #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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Pastis: A Quercy Speciality

Pastis Anguille de Limogne

Pastis Anguille de Limogne

Hands up everyone who thought pastis was an aniseed-flavoured apéritif. It is; but it’s not a local speciality here. The pastis I’m talking about is an apple dessert made with very fine pastry, which is particular to the Lot and the part of Tarn-et-Garonne that borders it (there’s also a Gascon version in the Gers). Following a conversation about it in the comments on last week’s post, I looked into its origins and recipes. Continue reading

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A Village on the Causse – Varaire

Ancient walkway at Varaire

Ancient walkway at Varaire

Last week our walking group started from Varaire, a small village on the Causse de Limogne in the Lot. Like many of these villages, it’s picturesque, but blink and you’d miss it when driving through. In common with other places, though, there’s more to it when you start to dig around. Continue reading

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Sunflowers in November

A rare sight in November

A rare sight in November

There’s a French expression, “C’est un vrai temps de Toussaint” (it’s real All Saints’ Day weather). This means that the weather on November 1st is cold, damp, murky and unpleasant. And it often is. This year bucked the trend and we ate Sunday lunch outside in the sunshine with friends at Toussaint. It was almost too hot. Above are the sunflowers they brought us from Saint-Antonin market – a rare sight in November, when they have usually been blackened by frost. Continue reading

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Le Drapeau Tricolore: How France Got its Flag

French tricolore

French drapeau tricolore

Today, in homage to the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13th November, President Hollande has asked people to hang the French national flag, le drapeau tricolore, from their homes. We don’t have one and, where we live, few people would see it, but I can do it symbolically via this post. And, as often happens, this spurred me to find out more about the origins of a national emblem that we tend to take for granted. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story: #9 Le Château de Mayragues

Château de Mayragues façade

Château de Mayragues façade

Time for another château. This time it’s one that has been brought back from oblivion by its current owners and in my view is an absolute gem. Le Château de Mayragues is not in our immediate neighbourhood; in fact, it’s almost an hour’s drive from us near Castelnau-de-Montmiral in the Tarn. But I have a particular fondness for this château, which we have known for some years. Continue reading

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When the Weather is Springlike in Autumn

Najac in the mist

Najac in the mist

I’m in the throes of the literary lunacy called National Novel Writing Month, and creating my second Corsica novel. This is not an easy task and it is made doubly difficult by the phenomenally warm weather we have experienced during the past few weeks. I just want to be outside all the time. This astonishing weather has brought out all sorts of beasts that would otherwise be hibernating or dead. Continue reading

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Autumn Colours

Autumn leaves

Autumn leaves

This autumn the colours are magnificent, made all the more vivid and luminous by the exceptionally warm weather for the end of October. A brisk, but warm, wind from the south has chased away the clouds and polished the sky to an improbable blue. We felt we had to make the most of it and so, wearing shorts, we set off on a favourite walk around the area. Continue reading

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Door Knockers in Southern France

Common style of door knocker in SW France

Common style of door knocker in SW France

Everyday sources often provide inspiration for my blog. Yesterday, strolling down the main street in our local village after visiting the market, I noticed the wide variety of ornate door knockers (heurtoirs in French) in a short space. I returned today with my camera. Continue reading

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The Wheels Turn at Teysseroles

Chapel front

Chapel front

As we know, the wheels of French bureaucracy grind exceedingly slowly. Try restoring an historic monument, as we are doing at the nearby chapel of Teysseroles, and they go at a snail’s pace. But now things appear to be moving, or so we hope. Continue reading

Posted in Places, Teysseroles chapel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Every Château Tells a Story # 8: Le Château de Labro

Labro façade detail

Château de Labro façade detail

Yesterday was one of those luminous, mellow days that you get only in early autumn. The trees were turning and it was warm, but not hot. So we decided to take advantage of it to go for a walk and explore another château, that of Labro. The building is within walking distance from us in a remote spot overlooking the lovely Seye Valley. Continue reading

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SW France Summer Weather 2015

Corsican sunset

Corsican sunset

We had a great holiday on Corsica a couple of weeks ago. And it was a good thing we went then, because we had nice weather for the most part. One week later and it would have been quite different: storms, torrential rain and flooding. Stages of the international car rally held there had to be cancelled because the weather was just too bad. Here are a few pix from our hols. Continue reading

Posted in Nature, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Where there’s Smoke…Beware of the Smoke Detector Scam

Our smoke detector, strategically situated in the stair well

Our smoke detector, strategically situated in the stair well

I never cease to be amazed by the inventiveness of potential scammers. Not content with phoning up and pretending to be Microsoft’s help centre, or emailing to tell you that someone you don’t know in Cameroon wants to place millions of euros in your bank account, they have now turned their attention to smoke detectors. Continue reading

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Language Larks: What French Words Mean Depends on Where You Live

Occitan flag - also the symbol of the Midi-Pyrénées Region

Occitan flag – also the symbol of the Midi-Pyrénées Region

Just a short post this week, for reasons that will become apparent later. Before we moved here, in my ignorance I had always assumed that French was a pretty homogeneous language and that the vocabulary of Lille must also be that of Biarritz. The longer I live here, the more I realise that this is not so. Continue reading

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Singing at Puycelsi

Figures above the church porch

Figures above the church porch

Last weekend, we took part in one of our favourite events of the year: two days of rehearsals followed by a choral concert at the hilltop village of Puycelsi in the Tarn. This was the ninth year that these concerts have been held, in aid of the restoration of l’église Saint-Corneille. Continue reading

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Preparing for Winter

Wood pile ready for winter

Wood pile ready for winter

This might seem a little premature. After all, we’re only in early September and it’s still summer officially. But heating these old stone houses has to be taken very seriously. The summers can be blisteringly hot here in SW France, but the winters can be the opposite. Nobody informs you about the latter before you move here. Today, we are having the third new heating system installed in 18 years. Continue reading

Posted in French life, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Weathering the Storm

Large branch from an ash tree

Large branch ripped from an ash tree

 

August went out like a lion with one of the most damaging storms we have experienced for several years. The thunder and lightning were not especially violent, but the wind was, gusting up to 150 kph in places. We are still tidying up the mess. Continue reading

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End of an Era at the Hamlet of Flouquet

The hamlet of Flouquet

The hamlet of Flouquet

It was the end of an era in two senses, to which I’ll return below. Every year, as part of the summer walks laid on by the commune of Espinas, we visit a pretty hamlet called Flouquet. The houses are grouped around a village green and the inhabitants, now only part-time, put on something of a show for us. We learn new things every year. Continue reading

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Stirring Up a Hornet’s Nest

Remains of a hornet's nest

Remains of a hornet’s nest

I lifted the trapdoor into the loft of our pigeonnier with infinite care. On the ceiling, right over my head were the unmistakable signs of very unwanted summer visitors, accompanied by a tell-tale buzzing. I shut the trapdoor fast and descended the perpendicular ladder like a bat out of somewhere. They were back. Hornets. Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #7: the Château de Féneyrols

Le Château de Féneyrols

Le Château de Féneyrols

Our region is crammed with small châteaux that played an important role in its history at one time. Almost every village of any size had one. Now, they are seen as quaint relics of bygone days. I set out to find out more about them and this is the next in my series of occasional posts about these fascinating examples of French patrimoine. Continue reading

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Drought and Southwest France Weather July 2015

Our well, lovingly restored by the SF

Our well, lovingly restored by the SF

I have been reminded yet again this summer of how tough life must have been for the people who lived in our house up until the 1960s, when mains water was installed. Our property has two citernes (water-collecting cisterns) and a well that is fed by a proper source (spring).

Before they sank the well, which is 12 metres deep, they had to do a round trip of about 3 km to get water from a stream if the citernes didn’t have sufficient water. It was uphill on the way back. This brings to mind the Pagnol novels, Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, set in Provence, in which water really was a matter of life or death. Continue reading

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Another Seasonal Hazard in SW France: Mosquitoes

What's this? Find out below.

What’s this? Find out below.

Here’s another seasonal hazard: mosquitoes. I am their favourite meal. There are several reasons for that (see below) and they are becoming more of a pest down here.

Do you have blood group O? Do you have a high metabolic rate? Join the club. Recent research shows that you are among the most likely to attract mosquitoes and to be bitten silly on summer evenings. I know. I share these characteristics. Continue reading

Posted in Nature, Rants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

5 Seasonal Summer Road Hazards in SW France

Summer market stalls at Villefranche

Summer market stalls at Villefranche

The last few weekends have marked the start of the summer holidays in France, when a mass exodus from the towns takes place and people head for the hills or the coasts. Overnight, the numbers of market stalls, tourists conspicuous in their summer gear and foreign number plates double. The normally quiet roads also take on a different aspect. Here are five things to beware of as high summer begins. Continue reading

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Dig This! What the Archaeologists Found at Teysseroles

15th-century Chapelle de Teysseroles

15th-century Chapelle de Teysseroles

I missed a big event at Teysseroles a couple of weeks ago because I was slaving over a hot computer. The mandatory archaeological test digs took place over nearly three days around the 15th-century chapel. This is a requirement before any further restoration work can take place. They made some interesting finds. Continue reading

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Teysseroles Fête and SW France Weather June 2015

In the shade under the trees and the tarpaulins

In the shade under the trees and the tarpaulins

We scanned the weather forecast nervously during the 10 days leading up to our annual fête at Teysseroles, the 15th-century chapel we are helping to restore. The last thing we wanted was to have to put up a marquee, as we were obliged to do in 2013 because the weather was so awful. We needn’t have worried. As we approached last Sunday, the day of the fête, it was clear that it would be dry, sunny and warm. The team breathed a collective sigh of relief. Continue reading

Posted in Places, Teysseroles chapel, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments