My glamour week is going well – Yves Rocher goodies Monday, haircut Tuesday and a bike ride wearing lipstick Wednesday. Here I am touching up before we set off!
We had a great ride this morning. Rors is getting the hang of using his 18 gears so our average speed per trip has shot up. When he gets going, Chris and I are having to work to keep up! We passed a wine delivery point on the way. Here are six empties waiting to be collected and presumably replaced by six full ones. They think of everything in France.
I’m getting into this elegant French woman thing. I’m trying not to spend longer than I need in my farm clothes, although with the lakes and the land and the llamas to look after, there are a lot of grubby jobs to do outside every day so I’m in scruffies for a good part of the time. But I’m changing out of them quicker now.
Our polytunnel has finally arrived, very late Wednesday afternoon. It was meant to come last Friday but it never materialised. Still, we’ve got it now. Caiti’s new bike arrived at the same time – it’s fantastic. It’s a Diamondback. Chris and I got our Diamondbacks about 17 years ago now, and they’re still going strong. Which is a shame, because having seen Caiti’s new version with disc brakes and a super-slick gear changing system, not to mention general all-over sleek design – well, we want new ones too!
Here is the polytunnel.
And here are the instructions for the polytunnel, complete with teabag to help things go smoothly. Something tells me we shall need more than one cup of tea between us during construction! Things are about to get even busier …
Daily snippets for 5th May
Today’s saint: St Judith
Famous French person born this day: Louis Christophe François Hachette, publisher, in 1800. (Hachette Livre these days has a turnover in excess of 2.3 billion euro.)
Famous French person who died this day: Jean-Claude Pascal in 1992. He represented Luxembourg twice in the Eurovision song contest, winning it in 1961.
Today’s word: rouge à lèvres – lipstick
Today’s dicton: Le temps de Sainte-Judith va durer jusqu’au dix – The weather on St Judith’s day will last till the tenth of May
I had two bad moments on Tuesday. The first was when I got this through the post:
I was thrown for a moment. Why did the RSI want more money off me? (The RSI handles the cotisations – social charges – for most self-employed people in France.) I pay my cotisations on a quarterly basis and they are based on what I earn. I’m all up to date. So what was this about? And an extra 652 euros three times a year adds up to a lot. A heck of a lot, when you don’t earn a great deal in the first place!
I told myself not to panic, got a cup of tea, and had another read through. This time I noticed that on this letter, RSI stands for Répertoire des Sociétés et des Indépendants (RSI), and not Régime Social des Indépendants. A strange coincidence? I don’t think so. The whole form looks very official and scary (like the RSI is, as anyone who’s ever had dealings with them knows!). The lettering of the logo is different too, but companies and organisations change their logos from time to time. There is, in my opinion, a strong possibility that the recipient thinks this is the ‘real’ RSI and pays up before realising exactly what they’ve got involved with. Which is? A concentrated scrutiny of the very fine print revealed eventually that this company is selling internet services. So don’t be fooled if you get this through the post. It’s nothing to do with your social charges.
Earlier in the week, Chris had a similar misleading document through the post from the States that appeared to be from the registrar of one of our domains. It was inviting us to renew one of our sites. However, a closer look revealed it was actually trying to get us to transfer the domain from our existing host to this new company. Not at all obvious at first and relying on confusion to get business.
I imagine both the above companies aren’t technically doing anything illegal but it all seems very dubious morally to me.
The second bad moment was when I thought Ruadhri had been messing with the peanuts we planted. We’re growing some in the old salad bowl. I’d pushed them a good 5cm down into the compost, but I suddenly noticed that they were all on the surface. I was going to be cross with him when he came home from school. But a closer look showed that the peanuts have pushed themselves up. They are growing long roots. These have obviously reached the bottom of the bowl so that’s why the peanuts are showing above ground. I shall have to move them into a more suitable container tomorrow.
So, first glances can be misleading. Always delve a little deeper.
Daily snippets for 4 May
Today’s Saint: St Sylvain, Bishop of Gaza, martyred around 311 AD
Famous French person born this day: in 1008, King Henry 1 of France
Famous French person who died this day: in 1858, Aimé Bonpland, explorer and botanist
Today’s word: la tromperie – deception
Today’s dicton: C’est à la saint-Antonin, que vend son vin le malin – A crafty person sells his wine on St Anthony’s day (4 May)
My box of Yves Rocher goodies has arrived. As you read in yesterday’s post, my review of the book Two Lipsticks and a Lover by Helena Frith-Powell, I’m determined to glam myself up a bit and not look too obviously like an ex-pat. I’m now one of the one in three women in France who regularly uses Yves Rocher products.
Here’s what I’ve treated myself too. I love Yves Rocher stuff. It always smells beautiful. Plus there was a factory in Cork, so there used to be a local connection. And the company has never done testing on animals.
Yves Rocher is all about beauty through plants. Yves Rocher himself, born in 1930 in La Gacilly in Brittany, learned about the healing powers when he was young. He said that his love of plants was inspired by the flowering uplands near his village and the nearby forest of Brocéliande. He began to sell a plant-based ointment by mail order, and that’s how his business empire began in 1958. (It was a haemorrhoid cream!) He began with one shop in Paris. Now there are 1,500 in twenty different countries. The company is worth around two billion euros and employs 15,000 people. Pas mal ! Bris Rocher, Yves’ grandson, is at the helm these days. Yves passed the business to his son Didier in 1992, but sadly Didier died two years later in mysterious circumstances. Yves took over again until his death in 2009.
Something I didn’t know until I did my research for this article is that Yves Rocher owns the Petit Bateau clothing company. I’ve dressed Ruadhri in quite a lot of these clothes. They’re not the cheapest but they’re reasonably priced and good quality. Like the cosmetics. Yves Rocher also owns several cosmetics brands – including Daniel Jouvance and Dr Pierre Ricard.
I buy my products by mail order, always very efficient, but Caiti told me the other day that there is an Yves Rocher shop in Gueret, which I hadn’t realised. (Only been living here 5 years!) I will have to investigate. But now it’s time to start my new beauty regime. I’m an eternal optimist!
Daily snippets for 3rd May
Today’s saint: St Philip, the apostle
Famous French person born this day: in 1764, Elisabeth of France, youngest sister of Louix XVI and executed during the Revolution
Famous French person who died this day: in 1997 Sébastien Enjolras, racing driving, killed during practice for the Le Mans 24 hour race
Today’s word; maquillage – make up
Today’s dicton: Qui n’a pas semé à la Sainte-Croix, au lieu d’un grain en mettra trois. Whoever hasn’t sown their seeds by Ste Croix (which is today, 3 May), then instead of one seed they’ll have to sow three.
I got this book for 1 cent from an Amazon Marketplace seller. Add 2,99€ postage and it was a bargain.
Or was it? This book is going to end up costing me a lot of money because it has made me decide that I must be more of a French woman – but not a Parisian. We soon discovered that outside Paris, no-one likes Parisians!
This is a book obviously aimed at a female readership. It has the subtitle ‘Unlock your inner French woman’ in case you weren’t sure. I enjoyed it very much. I’m not a particularly style-conscious sort of person – at least, not yet! – and I was worried this might not be my kind of book. But the author has a very readable style and is always interesting. And it is fascinating to see how the other half lives. Helena interviews models, politicians, businesswoman as well as stylish friends to find out what makes them tick.
The first chapter investigates whether French women are innately elegant, or just arrogant. Do we think they’re stylish because they think they’re stylish, or because they really are? Sadly, it does seem that you can put a French woman and an English woman in the same outfit, and the French woman will just look better. We Brits have some work to do to become chic.
Exercise and healthy lifestyles come under scrutiny next. We learn that French women don’t really do exercising, but they like to be active which helps keep them in shape. Sex is one of these activities. The author talks to a woman who recommends having a lover rather than gym membership. It’s cheaper, just as effective and much more fun.
French women have a secret weapon – good quality underwear. M&S knickers and the first bra you grab in our undies drawer in the morning just don’t cut it. Underwear needs to be matching, feminine and as expensive as you can manage. Nothing less will do. It’s the basis for being stylish. If you wear something beautiful next to your skin, you won’t want to cover it up with something unworthy – and too British.
Cosmetic surgery and cosmetics are the subject matter of the next two chapters. And the latter is by far the more interesting. France has more cosmetic companies than any other country and French women spend a lot of money on beauty products. In Paris and other cities, it’s reckoned that they invest up to 10% of their salary in these items. The author admits her shelves have filled up with pots of cream since she moved to France. I can see the same thing happening to me. Like the author I shall try out some of the potions that French women can’t live without – the body sculpting creams, the foot softeners, the boob firmer-uppers, the two lipsticks. (But not the lover. Chris wouldn’t like it.) However, maybe some Chanel.
A look at Coco Chanel, La Reine du Beige, and haute couture make for a fascinating and sharp-intake-of-breath causing chapter. A bespoke Chanel suit would set you back around 15,000 pounds sterling. Haute couture is on the way out but it will hang on in France for a while yet. It’s just so French.
The chapter ‘Beyond One’s Control’ came as quite a surprise to me. This discusses how there isn’t really a girls-together culture in France. There’s rivalry rather than solidarity. Is this true? My daughter gets on well with French girls at lycée, although the two girls she shares a dorm with are British and South African anglophones. The author makes a valid point in discussing friendships between people of different nationalities. No matter how close you might be, she claims, there is always something missing when you don’t share the same culture and same language. That is very true. I have some nice friends but we don’t really understand each other’s inner workings and probably never will.
Laziness, families and intellectualism come under scrutiny next. French women are notoriously lazy, according to the author, who cites the example of Corinne Maier, who works part-time for the EDF. Maier wrote a book in which she exhorted her fellow workers to ‘work as little as possible and spend time cultivating your personal network so you’re untouchable when the next round of restructuring comes’. The French work a lot less than other nationalities, something they’re very proud of! At least French families are to be admired with their closeness and pro-childness. This can lead to overprotectiveness though. I’ve noticed how children are dreadfully overdressed most of the time, as does the author. They must boil their way through childhood, poor things.
French intellectualism seems to be linked to the fact that kids have to study philosophy at lycée. They take it up in Terminale, their last year. Benj does eight hours of it a week. He’s coming round to seeing that is actually rather interesting and has some practical applications. French people like to think about things and appear serious and studious. Knowing about Sartre and Descartes seems to help that along.
I slightly lost interest in the last two chapters. One was about the French women not getting fat thing that I’ve discussed in other book reviews, and which palpably no longer holds true. At the school Easter Egg hunt the other week, there were a lot of hefty mums. I’m the oldest of all of them by a good few years but in much better shape. And I’m not French. Touché! The last chapter is about the art of seduction and how important this is to French women. It’s a result of being independent and having the freedom that French culture gives them. ‘Marrying and then misbehaving is seen as being free.’ Quite how rife seduction is I’m not sure. Perhaps it is going on here in deepest Creuse all around me and I’m just not aware of it. However, I think I prefer to take this last chapter with a pinch of sel.
All in all, though, a riveting read and one which may inspire you, like me, to be slightly more French.
Finally, in case you think I’m not being very supportive of my fellow writers by opting for cheap secondhand copies to review, well, I’m a reuser and always have been. I’m also the youngest of three so grew up with third-hand bikes, welly boots, duffle coats, toys, books and other non-sex-specific items, and second-hand girly stuff, inherited from my sister. I prefer pre-used things. It’s the oldest siblings and only children who are accustomed to new things who will hopefully go out and buy brand new copies of the books I review! And I have been supportive when I could be. I attended a lot of multi-author functions in Ireland. Every time, I bought a copy of a book by each of the writers I was due to be appearing alongside in advance, if I didn’t already have one (and even if I wasn’t that impressed with what they wrote!) and got them to sign it for my kids. Did anyone ever return the gesture? I can’t recall it happening. But that’s water under the bridge …
The first of May is important for two reasons in France – muguet (lily of the valley) and Fête du travail (Labour Day). And, although it may seem unlikely, the two are connected.
Lily of the valley is a good luck flower here in France. With its little bell-like flowers, it has always symbolised spring. It was through the Celts and their beliefs that it became associated with luck. The tradition of offering it to people as a lucky omen began in 1561 with Charles IX. Someone gave him a sprig of lily of the valley, and he thought that was such a nice idea that he in turn gave sprigs to all the ladies in his court on 1st May.
Lily of the valley is also thought to bring happiness in love. There used to be bals de muguet (lily of the valley balls) and only young people could attend. Their parents weren’t allowed in to keep an eye on them. The girls dressed in white and the boys wore muguet as a buttonhole.
The whole idea of Labour Day began in the USA in 1886 in Chicago, where a general strike took place. It lasted several days and came to a violent end.
Three years later, at the eleventh Congress of the International Socialists in Paris, which marked the 100th anniversary of the Revolution, a decision was made to work to achieve an 8 hour working day. The date of 1st May was chosen as the day of action to commemorate the Chicago incident.
From 1890 onwards, the protesters who marched on the 1st May wore red triangles to represent their demand for an equitably divided day consisting of 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of leisure. Eglantine replaced the triangle, and then in 1907 lily of the valley. And there’s the connection!
In 1941, under the Vichy government, the first of May was officially designated as Fête du travail to give workers a morale boost. In 1947 the day became a paid holiday.
There are lots of sayings about May, and you know I like sayings! So here are some timely dictons:
En mai, fais ce qu’il te plaît. In May, you can do what you like !
Au premier mai, fleurit le bon muguet. On the first of May the beautiful lily of the valley blooms.
Bourgeons de mai, remplit le chai. Buds in May fill the storehouse.
Au mois de mai, le seigle déborde la haie. In the month of May, rye overwhelms the hedgerows.
S’il pleut premier mai peu de coings, s’il pleut le deux tu n’as plus rien. If it rains on the first of May, there’ll only be a few quinces. If it rains on the second, there won’t be any at all. (French people love their quinces!)
De la pluie le premier jour de mai, ôte aux fourrages sa qualité. Rain on the first of May means poor quality forage.
But we also have …
Les pluies d’avril donnent le grain, celles de mai du fourrage. Rainfalls in April mean plenty of grain, while those in May mean good forage.
Pluie du premier mai présage année fertile. Rain on the first of May predicts a productive year.
Voici le printemps de merveille, Voici le joli mois de mai. Here is the wonderful springtime, Here is the beautiful month of May.
Le mois de mai, de l’année décide la destinée. May decides the destiny of the year.
Du mois de mai la chaleur de tout l’an fait la valeur. A warm May gives the whole year value.
Plus mai est chaud, plus l’an vaut. The warmer May is, the greater the value of the year.
Rosée de mai, automne gai. Dew in May, cheerful autumn.
Rosée et fraîcheur en mai, Donnent vin à la vigne et foin au pré. Dew and coolness in May mean productive vineyards and fields.
Quand l’aubépine rentre en fleur, crains quelque fraîcheur. When the hawthorn flowers, beware of cold spells.
En mai, fleurit le hêtre et chante le geai. In May the beech flowers and the jay calls.
Petite pluie de mai, rend tout le monde gai. A little rain in May makes everyone happy.
Averse de mai a plus de pouvoir que dix grands arrosoirs. A May shower is better than ten big watering cans.
Beaucoup de fleurs en mai, bel été assuré. Lots of flowers in May mean that summer will be good.
Au mois de mai, arrache pelisse, chapeau et manteau. In May you can take off your fur-lined coat, your hat and your overcoat.
Mai sans roses rend l’âme morose. A May without roses makes you sad at heart.
Mai mouillé, foin au pré. A damp May means hay in the fields.
Mai ensoleillé rend la paysan orgueilleux. A sunny May makes the countryman very satisfied.
Mai fait le blé, juin fait le foin. May makes the corn, June makes the hay.
Chaleur de mai fleurit ta haie. Warmth in May makes the hedgerow blossom.
Daily snippets for 1st May
Today’s Saint: St Jeremy
Famous French person born this day: in 1881, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, priest, palaeolontologist and philosopher
Famous French person who died this day: in 1935, Henri Pélissier, cyclist