Château de Najac with the Seneschal’s House to the left. One of my favourite shots.
A little celebration is in order. Life on La Lune will be eight years old on Wednesday, which just happens to coincide with Valentine’s Day. Since February 2010, I’ve published some 586 posts, learned an awful lot about France in the process and, most important of all, been in contact with readers from around the world. One of the great things about blogging is that it opens up a cyber universe of new people. I love our interaction in the comments, which has resulted in some wonderful meetings in person. Thank you for reading my jottings and for making time to communicate. Continue reading
Certain aspects of World War II remain taboo subjects in France, even among people who were not around at the time. For those of us whose country has not been occupied for hundreds of years, it’s difficult to imagine how divisive the German Occupation was. Communities and families were riven by different loyalties, by self-interest and by the desire simply to keep your head down and survive. These divisions continued long after the fighting was over, and led to often violent recriminations. Continue reading
Posted in History, World War I & II
Tagged Daniel Crozes, forced labour, French resistance, Fritz Sauckel, Lendemains de Libération, Pierre Laval, Service du Travail Obligatoire, SW France, Vichy France, World War II
Peter Mayle’s trio of books about life in Provence
Peter Mayle, the doyen of writers about the good life in France, died recently at the age of 78. His book, A Year in Provence (1989), describes how he restored an 18th-century farmhouse near Ménerbes in the Luberon with the erratic help of local artisans, while enjoying the cuisine, wine and culture of Provence. The book became an unexpected bestseller and spawned many imitations. Continue reading
Posted in Books/writing, French life, Personalities
Tagged A Year in Provence, British expats, France, French rural society, living in France, moving to France, Peter Mayle, Provence, rural France, rural life
Few hamlets like this are fully occupied these days, but a few elderly folk may cling on
Yesterday, we visited our elderly neighbour, whose wife died nearly two years ago. We often feel guilty that we don’t visit more often, but Monsieur F is almost 90 and now rather frail. He is very difficult to understand, even after 20 years’ acquaintance: the combination of the local accent and his absence of teeth don’t help. He is also hard of hearing and we have to converse through my husband, since our neighbour can’t hear my lighter voice. Continue reading
Vous? Well, it depends.
Today, I revisit a topic that I covered when I first started this blog nearly eight years ago. It’s an aspect of French society and culture that perplexes Brits no end and whatever you do, there’s a fair chance that it’s wrong. Yes, the thorny issue of when to use “tu” or “vous”. A report this week on the TF1 news revealed that even the French are finding this less than simple these days and it’s changing fast. Continue reading
None for us this Jan. 😦
Meilleurs vœux pour l’an 2018 à tous mes lecteurs. I will still be writing 2017 on cheques until the end of February. Have you made New Year’s Resolutions? I find those lofty aspirations are all too easily broken. However, the SF and I are having a dry January, as we did last year. We feel better, sleep better, but Mon Dieu! is it miserable. So, to distract myself, I will tell you some of the top things I plan to do this year. Look out for them on the blog later on. Continue reading
Posted in History, Places
Tagged Lalbenque, Les Arques, Montpezat de Quercy, Musée Fenaille, Musée Soulages, Musée Zadkine, Ossip Zadkine, Puylaroque, Restaurant les Sens, Rodez, SW France, truffles
Mistletoe – abundant in our area
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that le Père Noël was generous to you. How did you get on with the quiz? No cheating, I hope. Without further ado, here are the answers. See how well you did.
First, let me wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas. Thank you for reading the blog this year. I always enjoy reading your comments and emails. Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz, 7th Edition. My little Christmas present to my faithful readers and something for you to mull over over the mulled wine, or whatever tipple you prefer during the Festive Season.
As Christmas is approaching, this week’s post is a frivolous look at a mainstay of the French apéritif, le petit four. At a party recently, someone challenged me to investigate the origins of the name, and Life on La Lune can’t resist a challenge (but please don’t ask me to try bungee jumping or potholing). For those of you who thought petits fours were simply post-prandial sweets to be nibbled with coffee, think again. Continue reading
Typical French people? Courtesy of the Musée du Beret, Nay
Every nation is afflicted by stereotypes that other nations love to perpetuate. Englishmen wear bowler hats, drink tea all day, eat overdone roast beef and sport a stiff upper lip. Frenchmen wear berets, drink wine all day, eat garlic and carry their hearts on their sleeves. There’s sometimes a grain of truth in these caricatures, but only a grain. Having lived here for 20 years, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of these myths about France in an occasional series. Continue reading
L’Absinthe (1876) by Edgar Degas, in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Public domain.
It’s the drink that symbolised the Bohemian culture of la Belle Epoque in late 19th to early 20th-century Paris. It was consumed by Toulouse-Lautrec, Baudelaire and Satie, painted by Degas and Manet and immortalised in early silent films. This beverage had a harmless-sounding nickname, la fée verte (the green fairy), but came to be demonised for its supposedly harmful effects. What is it? Absinthe. Continue reading
Posted in Food/drink/recipes, History
Tagged absinthe, aperitifs, Artemisia absinthium, banning of absinthe, Belle Epoque, common wormwood, France, la fée verte, Paris, revival of absinthe
Collégiale de Notre-Dame in Villefranche-de-Rouergue.
A few days ago, I had coffee with two friends in the centre of Villefranche-de-Rouergue. This Aveyron town, some 25 km from us, is one of my favourite towns in the region. It’s an attractive place, steeped in history and occupying a magnificent site on a hill stretching down to the River Aveyron. The 13th-14th– century collégiale (cathedral) towers over the town centre. But something is very wrong there. Continue reading
This one’s not for stuffing
The ubiquitous roadside posters advertising French fêtes and other social events very often have “poule farcie” emblazoned across the centre. This dish has a number of advantages for large gatherings. It can feed a lot of people and much of it can be done in advance. Chicken is no longer the luxury item it once was, although a Bresse chicken might set you back a bit. And it has the virtue of providing the starter as well as the main course. Continue reading
Belcastel (Aveyron), not far from Farrebique
Just after WWII, Aveyron was a different country from much of France. It took a long time to get there from anywhere else, people spoke a different language and the way of life had existed for centuries. Change was happening, but it was slow, and age-old customs and traditions clung on. Georges Rouquier, a documentary-maker, captured this world in his film Farrebique, shot in 1946. We saw it at the cinema in Saint-Antonin recently. Continue reading
Posted in History, Personalities, Places
Tagged agriculture, Aveyron, Farrebique, Film, French country life, Georges Rouquier, Occitan, Rouergue, rural life, SW France
Former mine – what was so precious here?
Imagine yourself at the bottom of this 30-metre deep hole, hacking away at the white rock with a pickaxe and piling the spoil into a wooden bucket. It’s damp. Visibility is assisted only by the dim light of lanterns. The reddish clay coats your boots, clothes and hands. What are you mining? Precious metals? Gemstones? Coal? None of those but, nonetheless, a kind of hidden treasure that inspired its own “gold rush” – phosphate. Continue reading
Posted in History, Places
Tagged Bach, Causse de Limogne, Jean-André Poumarède, phosphate industry, phosphate mines, phosphate mining, phosphatières, Phosphatières du Cloup d'Aural, Quercy, SW France
Mushroom season – I am told this one is edible
I am very partial to mushrooms, but I’m hopeless at finding them – at least the edible variety. This year is a mushroom year. Something about the climatic conditions – a damp September? – has had them popping out of the ground in places they don’t normally grow. Unfortunately, by the time I get there, they are past their best. And countless people are poisoned in France every year by the wrong sort of mushroom. Continue reading
Our well, lovingly restored by the SF
Sorry, I couldn’t help the pun. Water has been on our minds rather a lot this year, what with the contamination of our local water supply a couple of months ago. That now seems to be resolved, fortunately. However, our well ran dry yesterday and it will be some time before it replenishes itself. Just as well (sorry, that wasn’t intentional) that the watering season is drawing to a close. Continue reading
Posted in History
Tagged citerne, dowsing, Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources, Marcel Pagnol, puits, source, sourcier, SW France, water diviner, water divining
Autumn is now truly upon us. We have had some lovely, warm days recently, but as soon as the sun dips under the horizon the air cools quickly. Some mornings, the temperature has been close to 0 degrees C already. The walnut trees started dropping their nuts early this year, but we have had a surprisingly good crop, despite adverse weather conditions. And our lawn has been studded with rosés des près, the white mushrooms that start as balls and then flatten out into plates as they grow. Continue reading
Château de Puylagarde
The village of Puylagarde has several distinctions. First, it’s the highest village in our département of Tarn-et-Garonne at 425 metres. On a clear day, you can see the Pyrénées to the south and the Monts du Cantal to the north east. Second, it has two châteaux. Admittedly, one of those is a châteaux d’eau, whose function is to distribute water under pressure of gravity. It is a landmark for miles around. The other is a fortified house, of whose existence I was barely aware until recently. Continue reading
Posted in Châteaux, History, Places
Tagged Avignon popes, Château de Puylagarde, Duèze family, Gourdon family, Hundred Years War, Pope John XXII, Puylagarde, Ratier de Belfort, routiers, SW France
The ruins of the former Templar commandery, Vaour
Situated on the edge of the former royal Forêt de Grésigne, the town of Vaour conveys a strong sense of history. This is not surprising, since traces of Neolithic tombs and later occupation can be found in the forest. Vaour itself is the site of an important Templar commandery. It’s easy to drive straight through the town – as we have done, to our shame – without visiting this historic site. Continue reading
Summer sight: the olive stall in our village’s Saturday market
Yesterday, the summer holidays ended in France as children went back to school, people packed away their holiday gear for another year and workers prepared themselves for the routine of métro, boulot, dodo (subway, work, sleep). The eight weeks or so that appeared invitingly long at the beginning of July raced past in reality. In fact, the signs of summer winding down had been apparent in our area for the previous fortnight. Continue reading
Last weekend marked the 20th anniversary of moving into our house in France. We had arrived in France a few days earlier, but we regard the occupation of the house as the true anniversary. This year I had a long drive home from Charroux in Vienne, where I had been attending a literary festival, while the SF was preparing for a minor medical intervention. So there were no fireworks or bunting, just a symbolic glass (or two). We will make up for it later. Continue reading
Olga’s favourite tree in Gaillac
My latest guest is a somewhat unusual occupant of this slot, in that she had une vie française but doesn’t anymore. More of that below. Olga Swan has had several novels published by Crooked Cat Books, including Vichysoisse, part of which is set in this area of SW France during World War II. Her humorous memoir of her life in France, Pensioners in Paradis, is coming out shortly. Let’s hear from Olga herself. Continue reading
Les convives enjoying an apéritif
I’m constantly amazed at French people’s ability to conjure up a social event from unpromising components, whether it’s an apéritif, an improvised barbecue or a full-blown fête. Last night, some neighbours organised a repas de quartier, a neighbourhood meal, which are becoming all the rage. Everyone within a fairly wide radius was invited to bring dishes to share. Continue reading
View of the château/deanery
I never cease to be amazed by the new things (to me) I discover in this region, where I have lived for 20 years. We haven’t set foot in Varen for ages and even then we didn’t stop to have a good look around. We rectified that last week when we went for dinner at le Moulin restaurant (more of that below). This small but historic village by the River Aveyron in northeast Tarn-et-Garonne rewards the wanderer with some time to spare. Continue reading
Posted in History, Places
Tagged Château de Varen, French Wars of Religion, Hundred Years War, Le Moulin Varen, Lexos, patrimoine, River Aveyron, SW France, Tarn-et-Garonne, Varen
Coffee beans, Mark Sweep via Wikimedia Commons
Coffee fuels the French, who have a penchant for strong black espresso-type coffee. Having to use coffee substitutes during World War II must have been a real hardship in that case. A chance remark to that effect during a recent dinner conversation with friends got my blogging antennae going. Continue reading
Villefranche-de-Rouergue market in the shadow of la collégiale. You’ll find both dishes on stalls here
Time for another instalment of my French flavours series. I realise I have only got to ‘E’ and we’ll never get to the end at this rate, so this week I’ll do ‘F’ as well and you get two for the price of one. Both dishes are traditional recipes from Aveyron dating back centuries. You learn a lot about history and culture just by studying what people eat. Continue reading
Entrance to the Source de Livron, which provides the area’s drinking water. According to local legend, it was once a dragon’s den.
The joys of living in a rural French commune. We currently have to collect our drinking water daily in bottles from the Syndicat des Eaux (local water board), which for us involves a round trip of about 18 kilometres. The tap water is contaminated with cryptosporidium parasites that cause respiratory and gastrointestinal illness, and may not be safe to drink. Because of the drought? Nope. The opposite. Continue reading
Former station house at Féneyrols
Do you enjoy travelling by train? I do, except of course when it’s cancelled or held up by the wrong sort of leaves or by vandals removing the copper from the electric cables, as happened to us recently in Sweden. We especially enjoyed travelling on the narrow-gauge, single-track railway in Corsica when we visited once without a car.
Micheline at Ajaccio Station. These trains were still in service when we backpacked in Corsica, but have been replaced by modern rolling stock.
Sorting through my hundreds of photos recently, I came across the one at the top of the post. It’s the station house for Féneyrols, on the River Aveyron. The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed an anomaly: there is no railway track. Continue reading
French cheque book
It often takes a holiday in another country to throw into relief the quirks of the one you live in. We returned recently from 10 days in Sweden (hence the blogging hiatus), where things are a bit different from France. In France, you may well be asked if you want to pay by cheque or cash in a shop or restaurant. In many Swedish establishments, people will look at you as if you have just descended from Mars if you try to pay by either of those methods. Continue reading