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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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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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

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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

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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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