Lavoirs

For the occasion of the Nouzerines Fête, someone did a wonderful job cleaning the lavoir in the village.

Clean St Clair's Lavoir

This is right next to St Clair’s spring, which allegedly has miraculous properties where eyesight is concerned.

St Clair's miraculous spring

The lavoir was sparkly clean for the special event. A mere two weeks later it is all green and scummy again, sadly.

This little lavoir is not far from us

You come across lavoirs in every town and village in rural France, and sometimes seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There were the places where women used to do the washing in the past. They were places to meet friends and have a chat while doing the backbreaking work of handwashing everything from handkerchiefs to sheets. There was a bit of competition attached too – everyone would be watching out to see how many of a certain item their neighbours had, and what sort of quality it was.

 

 

 

The women came to the lavoir in the second stage of the washing. They would already have soaked and scrubbed the laundry, and boiled it in a cauldron with cinders, caustic soda and, unlikely as it might sound, lard. Then they would heave the wet, heavy washing down to the lavoir, or river, in wicker baskets on their back to rinse it. Most lavoirs have wide edges to them, where the women could spread out their laundry, and kneel, often on a wooden sort of step they brought with them which had straw in to give some padding for their knees, to carry on with their labour.

After rinsing, the women would batter the wet washing with a wooden battoir, a sort of small paddle, to get the water out. They would either carry these back in their wicker baskets or, if they had a great deal of laundry, in a wheelbarrow. Then it would need to be hung up to dry somewhere, either indoors or outdoors, depending on the weather, and finally it would need to be ironed.

 

 

 

 

It was incredibly hard work. The women had to carry heavy, wet washing to and from the lavoir, rinse, wring and bash it, their hands permanently cold and wet and their backs bent all the time. And in all elements. I for one never cease to be grateful for my washing machine. It comes in as number 12 in the Tesco Mobile list of greatest inventions ever (4000 people polled) list is herehttp://thevibe.socialvibe.com/index.php/2010/05/21/list-of-100-most-important-inventions-of-all-time-includes-email-ibuprofen-sliced-bread/. I think it merits a much higher placing, but it’s something we take so much for granted these days that it easily gets overlooked, particularly by the younger generation.

So next time you come across a lavoir in your travels in France, do stop for a moment and think about the women who used to use it.

 

The lavoir at Boussac

Do ‘To Do’ Lists Do Any Good?

I’ve had a rewarding day today. I’ve actually got through almost everything on my ‘to do’ list. I’m a listaholic, forever making lists, but generally losing them or forgetting to take them with me at the crucial time. Yet still I make them. There’s something about writing a few words down in a certain order that makes you feel you are in control of things, if only temporarily.

So what did I achieve today? First item on my list was ‘soft fruit’. I have a line of fruit bushes battling with the thistles at the end of our nominal vegetable patch. These started life way too close to the big oak tree in the garden, so 18 months ago I moved them. Last year they sulked and produced very little fruit, and the birds got 99% of that. This year they’ve done better, despite the fact I never got round to putting nets over them. However, I still only have 100g or so from 10 bushes. One gooseberry bush and my sole whitecurrant bush have disappeared altogether, leaving a collection of red and black currant bushes, and one sparse goosegog. Next year I promise I will give them the attention they deserve. I must make a list to remind myself.

Second item was ‘Maisie’. She’s one of our freebie goats (we have three altogether) and she keeps escaping from the field she shares with Denis. She’d been put back in the stable, where she was very happy, but I wanted to get her back into the field. So Chris has obligingly put up another strand of barbed wire where we think her escape point was. Hopefully she’ll stay put now.

Third item: ‘swim’. The water was 21 degrees and the air temp was 23 degrees, but I enjoyed my dip. It took me an hour and a half to warm up afterwards unfortunately! When I get cold, I take a while to thaw out. The pool was up to 24 degrees by teatime, positively roasting, so I had a longer swim then. I am getting into this footballer’s wife lifestyle very enthusiastically!

Fourth item: ‘facepaints’. Caiti will be doing facepainting at the AIPB summer fete in July so I’ve ordered a 400-face pack of Snazaroo paints today. The price was €88 euro. The plan is to charge €2 a time so we only need a classful of kids to break even. The kit comes with plenty of paints and brushes and a book of inspiratin.

Fifth item: ‘HATW submission’. HATW is Heads Above The Water, the working title of my living in France book. (First 2000 words in this post.) I’ve put together a submissions package for Summersdale and emailed that in today. Fingers crossed. That was a HUGE thing so I’m delighted I’ve got it done.

Sixth item: blog. Work in progress!

PDphoto.org

But are ‘to do’ lists any good? It’s rare for me to get through mine and I usually end up feeling despondent and a failure when only one or two things get crossed off. Apologies for the touch of drama queen here, but I tend to spiral downwards quickly. So I had a trawl online to see if to do lists are reckoned to be helpful. One piece of advice caught my eye: ‘Male a list of what you need to do to reach your goal.’ I think the writer meant ‘make’, or possibly the whole thing just needed rewording to read: ‘List a male you need to reach your goal’! (Who would yours be?) Anyway, other wise words I found were: ‘Effectiveness has a lot to do with being organised and working to a structure, without being driven by it.’ So, if your ‘to do’ list helps you be better organised then it is doing some good, even it you can’t achieve everything on it. And let’s face it, we’re all over-ambitious when we make these lists, as we are with New Year’s Resolutions.

 

Mind maps are an alternative to ‘to do’ lists, and since they engage both sides of the brain as you make them, they’re reckoned to be more memorable and effective. I use the latter for plotting out stories and brainstorming. However, I shall start putting them into practice more with my daily organising as they’re prettier for a start and because, according to this website, help the user ‘emerge as a better individual’. I could do with that!

There are web-based to do list packages such as Bla-Bla List, Ta-da List and Remember the Milk, which are very popular. I’m not into these computer based ones, I have to confess. I go with pen and paper but those of you who are more computer literate than me might find those useful.

And now for something completely different. The silliest search terms that brought people to my site from last week were:

  • Women who cut grass naked – suggests a large subset of the population are into this, and on a regular basis. I only did it the once!
  • My fence posts aren’t straight – surely a Charlie Drake song like ‘My boomerang won’t come back’
  • Why is there salt in Bird’s custard – like I should know?
  • Nude French Christmas part 2 – I wonder what happened to part 1?
  • Flowers with bath water – possibly a still life painting?
  • Cycling sayings France – I could come up with a few.
  • Custard dates – anyone want to go out with a bowlful?
  • www.women carp fishing naked.com – frankly, this one is just wishful thinking!!

 

Renude-able Energy

I mentioned Naked Bike Ride Day in passing in a previous post. Well, this weekend saw the first of these naked rides in France. Marseilles has its cyclonudiste event today, and Paris next Saturday (18th June). By my reckoning Nouzerines is about halfway distance-wise between the two, so I should really stage my own on Wednesday, halfway between the two time-wise. However, I’m not convinced that will happen as all three kids will be at home. But I’m not ruling out a mini private event on a child-free day. Seriously. I did my naked gardening after all! And, as a keen, green cyclist, I sympathise very strongly with the idea behind Naked Bike Ride Day which is to demonstrate how vulnerable humans are to vehicle pollution and to dependence on oil, as well as how exposed cyclists are to danger when riding the streets in this day and age. (See my post on cyclists’ rights.) Naked Bike Ride Day is also about promoting body-positive values: living a healthy life in tune with the environment, celebrating the diversity of human bodies and supporting a confident self-image. The participants generally go for bright and silly body painting, balloons and decorations on the bike and there’s a party atmosphere. It’s meant to be fun while making a serious point. And it’s OK to wear some clothing if you’re more comfy that way.

Slogans on placards on bodies are encouraged by the organisers. Here are some of the best ones:

  • Travel light – leave your cars and clothes behind!
  • My energy’s renude.
  • Burn fat not oil!
  • Crude is rude! Don’t be a prude – go nude!
  • Bicycles make cleaner traffic jams!
  • I’m nude, not lewd.
  • Bet you can see me now, driver!
  • Clothes-free and oil-free, but they can’t take my dignity!

Tempted? Still time to head to Paris for the 18th! Here’s the poster for the event, and the website is here.

 

 

Cherry Confusing

It’s cherry picking season here in France. It’s a good year for them. The trees are covered. Even my young, little trees in the garden have produced a bowlful each. And they taste beautiful.

We’ve been gleaning from roadside trees as well and so far have collected three very different sorts of cherries. And this is where I’m starting to get confused. Cherries are cerises in French, but they are often also referred to as griottes. And, to complicate things further, you get cerises griottes too. I’ve done some research and I think these latter are long-stalked cherries, but I’m not 100% sure. And then of course there are merises which are very small, dark, wild cherries. Morellos are the larger, dark cherries. So, I know we have some morellos, but what the other two types are, I’m not certain. One variety is very bright red and sweet, and the other is a more purple red, also deliciously sweet.

3 types of cherries or griottes

But whatever type they are, cherries are a good source of Vitamins A and C and potassium. They also have beta carotene in them, more so in sour cherries. They also contain pectin, so jam making with them is easy, and anthocyanins, which are linked to cancer prevention. And they’re good for your teeth. Cherry juice is good at fight tooth decay as it’s antibacterial. Quite a superfruit in fact.

The Chef in Boots gets home from lycée on Friday night so I’ll set her to rustling up some cherry ice-cream for us. I’m sure she’ll be able to concoct a recipe. Last week she rustled up blackberry ice-cream off the cuff, and it was the nicest ice-cream I have ever had.

I started destoning the morellos today but I quickly lost the will to live, so we’ll be eating those fresh! However, the cerises/griottes/cerise-griottes we harvested today are bigger and firmer and should be easier to process. I have plans for cherry jam (probably David Lebovitz’s recipe) and tarte aux griottes (and in the picture in the recipe book, these look like my bright red cherries). Here’s my version of the recipe for the tarte.

Yum!
  1. Destone and gently cook 350g of cherries/griottes until they are thick like jam, mixing in 100g of sugar and a pinch of cinnamon.
  2. Line a flan dish with a round of paté brisée (shortcrust pastry) or make your own using 250g flour, 125g icing sugar, 150g melted butter and 1 egg.
  3. Pour the cherry mix into the flan dish. If you like, you can use pastry offcuts to make a grid pattern over them. Cook for 40 mins at 180 degrees C (hot oven).
  4. Serve with cream.

 

Daggses with Wolves

Chris’s family is over at the  moment and this afternoon Ruadhri, Caiti and I went sightseeing with them. Chris had to stay home and tackle shower repairs, and Benj had an assignation with his petite amie.

We went to the wolf park – les Loups de Chabriere – just outside Gueret. This is a great tourist attraction for the town. And it was our best visit yet. We must have been three or four times now. Our last visit was the day of the Christmas Market a couple of years ago. The mulled wine was a lot stronger than we realised and we giggled our way round to see the wolves afterwards. Not surprisingly, in the depths of winter, they were curled up keeping warm. And when we’d seen them in the summer they were hidden in the undergrowth to keep cool. But today we got up close and personal with them. It was fantastic! We were there for feeding time, and at one point, the wolves in another enclosure all began howling. It was a scary sound. I can see why people got so freaked by wolves in the past.

There are wild wolves in France, around 200, but much further south, in and around the Pyrenées. They are thought to have moved into France from Italy. Environmentalists want to protect them, but local shepherds aren’t so keen on the idea. However, if sheep are properly protected then wolves won’t take them.

More controversial is the scheme to release Slovakian brown bears in the Pyrenées. There are currently 20, but no more will be introduced unless any die ‘accidentally’. A few bears have been found dead in suspicious circumstances. It seems that having wolves and bears on your doorstep has been a bit much for some Pyreneans.

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.The last one isn’t of wolves, obviously – it’s the Dagg cousins Sam, Nuala, Ruadhri and Caitlin with Auntie Sue at the far end!

 

200 Today!

I hope Caiti will make me a 200th bloggiversary cake

This is my 200th post. My 100th post appeared in February. That seemed to be quite a landmark, but this one is more so. I’ve come a long way in 100 posts. They’ve covered such things as llama births and deaths, kitten discoveries, Eurovision, book reviews, naked gardening, cycling and geocaching, to give just a few examples. Have a dig around the A-Z index to see what I’ve written about.

The turning point was signing up for WordPress’s post-a-day challenge. That made me sit down and devote time to the blog – possibly too much time for a while. My creative writing suffered temporarily, but I’ve got the balance right now I think. So long as I write at least 1000 words a day for one of my works in progress, then I allow myself to blog too. I like to write about the different things that are part and parcel of our lives here in France.

Back in February I was getting around 50 hits a week. Not terribly impressive. But last week I had 924. My monthly totals are climbing steadily too. I had over 2000 in May, and I’m already up to 719 on the 6th June. The reason is simply getting more content out there. If you write more posts on a variety of subjects and use plenty of tags, then people will pick them up when they’re searching the net and you draw readers in. I know those figures are only small fry compared with most websites, but I’m very proud and I intend to keep up the good work. I might as well be ambitious and aim for 1000 a day! My best daily score so far is 189, so I’ve a way to go yet.

On my 100th anniversary, I awarded two Stylish Blogger awards. I’ll do two more today.

First up, an award for Helen Hanimann’s blog. I love this blog, www.runquiltknitwrite.com named after Helen’s favourite pastimes. It’s always interesting and inspiring, and has lovely photos. Helen knits gorgeous socks and makes the most beautiful quilts. You’ll be inspired by this creative expat.

Caitlin and her foundling kittens

And the second one goes to My Evil French Twin, which is Caitlin’s photography blog. Do check it out – she has some lovely photos up there. She’d love some comments.

When you give these awards you’re meant to reveal 7 things about yourself. I’ll just refer you back to the original 7 – I have to retain some of my mystery after all!

Since my 100th post I’ve launched Books Are Cool, my writing and book-related website. Keep an eye on that too.

So thanks for reading Blog in France, and here’s to the next 100 posts on it!

Tempting Fête

Nouzerines in the morning

June and July are the month for fêtes in France. Pretty much every little village with have one at some point, often tying in with its ‘saint patronale’ (patron saint). Nouzerines is connected with Saint Clair, whose day is 1st June. So the weekend closest to that is when the Nouzerines fête takes place. The drawback is that early June has a tendency to be unsettled and stormy in this part of the country. We should possibly consider swapping St Clair for a less meteorologically challenged saint.

 

 

 

 

 

Trish and Michel, my co-manners

I was at the fête Sunday morning, manning the AIPB cake stall. I got there shortly after 8am and the vide grenier (car boot sale / bric-a-brac stalls) was in full swing already. I dread to think what time they must have arrived to get set up. There was a mass and procession from the church to St Clair’s spring at 9.30am, but I couldn’t participate, which was a little disappointing, since I was busy selling slices of carrot cake and flapjacks and scones to mainly French customers. However, this is a very important duty. There are certain things French people really need to know about British culture, and English cakes are near the top of the list. A French person who can master a scone with butter and cream is well on the way to becoming an Anglophile.

Sunny vide grenier scene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nouzerines in the afternoon with my nephew James

Fêtes are very popular. They’re all quite similar, but it’s a winning formula. Dancing and fireworks the first night after a repas (meal), then next day a vide grenier followed by some sort of spectacle (show), often musical, and some kind of concours (race) or defilé (parade). Nouzerines was set to have troupe of 45 Portuguese dancers (I hope the stage was well screwed together) and the Sapeurs-Pompiers batterie-fanfare, followed by the course de la patate. This latter looked great. It was a relay involving carrying potatoes on spoons. There was a long list of rules on the posters advertising it, which included not touching your potato or eating it or throwing it, and you were definitely not allowed to stop to do such things as scratch or pee! But sadly the whole afternoon was washed out by rain as these photos show. Chris, Ruadhri and I went down with Chris’s visiting sister and brother and their families. We got well and truly soaked. However, the kids won some tat on the ‘hoop a duck’ stall and then had a toffee apple each, so they were happy enough. It was worth going.

Rors, wet and thoughtful

Maybe we’ll get the sun next year!

Expat Women

I’ve been reading Expat Women: Confessions: 50 answers to your real-life questions about living abroad.

As an expat woman twice over, I was fascinated to find out what this book had to say. Over the last twenty years I’ve learned the hands-on way about moving and living abroad, and while there can never be any better teacher than experience, a book such as this can be an invaluable springboard to the adventure.

There are six chapters which discuss the following areas:

  1. Settling In: This is a very strong, positive chapter, which grabs culture shock by the scruff of its neck and gives it a good shake! There are lots of ideas and tips on how to help yourself settle in to your new surroundings and make the most of this new experience. It deals with minimising culture shock through good preparation; the positives and negatives of living abroad, especially when family ties are strong; managing expectations; coping with being a ‘trailing spouse’; overcoming isolation; setting up a social club; making and mistaking new friends; making yourself feel welcome in your new surroundings, even if others don’t do so immediately, and the pros and cons of hiring help around the house.
  2. Career and Money: The emphasis of this chapter is on retaining your sense of self-worth in your changed working, or non-working, situation. Specifically it looks at how to cope with giving up your job when you move abroad with a partner and how to assess the options and resources that are open to you; coping with a job abroad that turns out to be disappointing through improving your relations at work and thinking ‘big picture’; getting the work-life balance right; dealing with lack of respect at work; networking and volunteer work; starting your own business; getting financial advice and planning for contingencies; dealing with financial dependence on a partner, and sticking to a sensible budget.
  3. Raising Children: Children can be the make or break for a move abroad. I know several families who have either not taken the plunge to become ex-pats because of worries about how it would affect their children, and others whose unhappy kids have been the reason for them returning home. We ourselves moved to France from Ireland with children aged 4, 12 and 14. They each had their own minor problems at various times, but with common sense and optimism we overcame these and all three are now completely French and proud of being pioneering and bilingual! Issues discussed here include pregnancy in a foreign country and deciding whether or not to go back ‘home’ for the birth; dealing with child unfriendly temporary accommodation; international adoption; raising bilingual children with particular emphasis on the value of learning languages; special needs children, and here research and support are crucial; helping teens adapt – the older the child when you move abroad, the harder it can be for them; dealing with teen suicide; overfocussing on the children as a trailing spouse, and, in contrast, dealing with empty nest syndrome.
  4. Relationships: At first glance this chapter might seem rather catastrophic, but it’s simply preparing for the worst-case scenario. Ex-pat life is often nothing but good for a relationship, since you are drawn closer as you deal with the new experiences living abroad throws at you. Speaking for myself, I have now spent 5 years working alongside my husband in our new business, 24/7. It’s been brilliant. Actually getting to spend time with the person you wanted as your life partner has a lot going for it! The chapter contains advice on dealing with a dissatisfied trailing spouse; overcoming difficulties in intercultural couples; adjusting for different needs and aspirations where one half of a working couple is happy as an ex-pat, and the other is not; keeping communication channels open; dealing with divorce, both during and afterwards; coping with domestic violence and infidelity, including online betrayal (here ex-pat triggers play a part – culture shock, cultural differences, one partner feeling isolated etc); ending an affair.
  5. Mixed Emotions: this chapter takes a considered look at overcoming negativity; undergoing medical treatment in a foreign country and culture; adapting to different holiday traditions; dealing with alcoholism; becoming settled as a TCK – third culture kid (someone who, as a child, has spent a lot of time in cultures other than their birth one); missing friends; retiring abroad, and caring for aged parents from a distance. This last issue carries a lot of guilt with it, and is another frequent reason for ex-pats to return home. The authors talk sensitively and sensibly about coping with guilt in this respect and building the life you want away from them.
  6. Repatriation: returning home can be welcome, in which case it should be easier, but it can also be sudden and unwanted. There will inevitably be upheaval on return – reverse culture shock, emotional upheaval. There is plenty of calm advice on how to make the best of the situation and help yourself re-adapt.

The whole book takes the form of 50 questions and answers. I was sceptical of this as a suitable structure for it to start with, but it actually works out extremely well. OK, it may not mean that every single aspect of ex-pat life can get dealt with, but that wouldn’t be possible in any book. (As the authors’ disclaimer says: This book is not comprehensive … .) However, as the chapter reviews above show, this book covers a lot of ground, and in a very sensitive way. The whole book is grounded in actual experiences and this method of presentation lends a conversational, confiding tone to the book that makes it very easy to read.

The conclusion is frankly inspired. It sums up expat life succinctly and expertly:

Expatriate life can be, and almost always is, an incredibly enriching experience. It can stimulate your senses, tantalize your taste buds and introduce you to a world of wonder you might never have experienced had you not dared to pack up your belongings, journey outside your comfort zone, and immerse yourself in the culture of a foreign land.

But the most important phrase of this summary is undoubtedly … ultimately you are the greatest determinant of your own success.

If you are tempted by expat life, or are having it thrust upon you, do read this book, and, as it urges, remember that you are the crucial ingredient. It will be what you make of it.

There are plenty of resources at end of the book: information about the authors – Andrea Martin and Victoria Hepworth, two energetic, determined and go-ahead expats – their acknowledgements, information about the website www.expatwomen.com with 2 pages of testimonials, 4 pages of books for readers to refer to, and finally an exhaustive list of ex-pat-life related websites from The Adoption Guide to Zest and Zen International.

There is a lot of wisdom and information packed into this book, but even more humanity.

The Joys of June

June in France is all about holidays and exams. Thursday 2nd June is a public holiday – Ascension. And because it’s a Thursday, schools and many businesses take the Friday off too. It’s called faire le pont – to make the bridge. So nothing much will happen till after the weekend now. And hard on Ascension’s heels, comes Pentecost, so we get le lundi de pentecôte as the next bank holiday on the 13th June. Pentecost is when Christians celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit fifty days after Easter Day when Jesus was resurrected. It always strikes me as odd that France, such a studiously secular country on the political front, has public holidays with a religious background. I’m not complaining. I’m happy to have them. They’re not days off for us since we’re self-employed, but there’s no school and I don’t have to make the one kilometre round trip to check the post box at lunch time!

Carrying Bertie out to the field with Mum Windermere in tow

The summer holiday season for Angling Lines clients is in full swing now. We’ve had bookings on our big lake and in our gite and lakes since March, but the busiest time is getting under way. Windermere was very co-operative having little Bertie when she did. The summer’s guests will have the extra fun of seeing a little llama discovering the world.

Next week will be a sort of holiday for us since Chris’s sister and brother and their families are coming for a week. It’s a long, long time since we got together. I shall be meeting my sister-in-law Abby and my kids will be meeting their cousins Sam and Nuala for the first time. Then the following week Benj and Caiti will be at home for a study week before they take their Bac starting on June 20th. OK, that’s not holiday, certainly not for them, but it’s a good preparation for les grandes vacances (summer school hols) which start at the beginning of July since it gets me used to having to feed two hungry teens every day again. (See this post.)

The Bac is le Baccalaureat, the set of exams that students take at lycée, and roughly equivalent to A-levels, but slightly higher. They take these in two sittings. The first is at the end of their second year there (Première), and the second batch at the end of their third and final year – Terminale. Caiti is taking French this year. Benj did that last year, plus maths and science, so this year he has to cope with philosophy (sad face), history and geography (so-so face) and German (happy face)! He’s already done his German oral, and despite it not going along the lines he expected, he came out confident and pleased with

Rors watches as the scaffolding comes down

how things went. Caiti is not very excited about her French (neutral face), but she’s done well in the mocks (examens blancs), despite her difficult few months of being ill. And even Ruadhri has several evaluations coming up. He’s not bothered (happy face). He has a minimalist approach to devoirs (homework) and schoolwork in general, but is doing very well.

Oh, and a last holiday. It’s the Nouzerines fête this coming weekend. Despite pushing it right to the  line, all the scaffolding has come down from around the church, which now sports a fine new bell tower. I’ll be womanning the AIPB cake stall, with the help (I hope) of one or other children. If you’re local, then please come and support us!