Monday, August 24, 2009

Summer Holidays in the Languedoc

Here we are then, the back end of August, gulp. The summer holidays have flown by and the great Rentrée (back to school) is nudging its way to the forefront of every one's minds. The countryside is resembling a washed out watercolour painting. The fields and ditches are tinder dry, the earth cracked and parched whilst the sunflowers are shrivelled and brittle.

And this year it's been a scorcher. Days on end of undiluted hot sunshine, the village shuttered up against the heat with just the sound of the dead leaves now whispering amongst the cobbles and dust. The sound of my own voice bouncing back at me like a needle stuck in the groove of an old gramophone 'close the windows to keep the heat out' 'most shops close between 12-2' and so on, and so forth. And then, WHAM, its almost all over with only the memories of the happy families that have spent their summer holidays here in the Languedoc.

But it has been a terrific summer nevertheless. The Grand Duchess has been privileged to transport beautiful brides (and bridesmaids) and be followed by a long trail of guests blasting on their horns as the newly weds are taken to the reception. People stop and stare and break into wide smiles and wave gaily. We've taken guests to local Domaines to sample the wines, wound our way through the tiny streets of the Medieval village of Fanjeaux, resting at the highest point to survey the whole valley of the Aude laid out before us.

We've met people from all over the world who are enchanted by the history that seeps through this ancient landscape taking snapshots of a completely different life back home with them.

For me however a 'Staycation' beckons, and who on earth invented that absurd word, some smart politicians PR machine urging people to stay at home to boost the flagging economy ?

I'll give it a go, if I must.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

French Taste

I'm fed up to the back teeth of the French being portrayed as arbiters of good taste. There is a yawning chasm between French taste and good French taste.

It used to be on a monthly basis that you would affronted by their total lack of comprehension to the finer points of the delicate preservation of their great national heritage but it has to be said, alas, that you can be insulted every single day by their total crassness and misunderstanding of progress.

In Great Britain the National Trust was set up in the 1920's. It was recognised that after the first world war England was blessed with some wonderful houses of historical interest and that it was in the benefit of future generations to preserve their heritage. If it wasn't for the efforts of the Trust many great houses would have been lost forever. After the hideous blight of plastic double glazing and replacement windows with the obligatory ghastly free front door which in an instant wiped any characteristics many old streets held the tide has turned. The windows have now shrivelled as their short life span, a mere twenty years or so, is ended and people have reverted to wood which lasts a hell of a lot longer and is far more pleasing to the eye.

France abounds with Medieval architecture and yet it means nothing. Landscapes that have not changed in centuries are being raped right left and centre. There is no skyline which until last year would have been recognised by Saint Dominic in the beginning of the 13th century which is so sacred that it cannot have a Stalinist concrete tower block built beside an 11th century church, itself built on the foundations of a Roman Temple to Jupiter. There is no 17th century Manor House or Chateau so beautifully proportioned, even as to its windows made of evergreen oak soaked for three years in water and still perfectly sound that cannot at a whim be refitted with plates of double glazed glass framed with white PVC.

France loves its 18.m visitors that flock to its shores every year but it is questionable whether many understand why they come. If they did have any notion whatsoever they would passionately preserve the intricate finesse of their country, but they don't, and they laugh openly at us all for caring.

From beautiful long lines of Plane Trees razed to the earth, from the overnight transformation of my favourite Domaine in the name of progress, from the gentle view of a Medieval village nestling amongst the hills, blighted forever by an ugly wart of a housing development. If things go on as they are then France will just be a archipelago of monuments linked together by hideous modernity.

Never forget that this is the nation that thought fit to erect a glass pyramid in the courtyard in one of Europe's, hence the Worlds premier palaces.

Why not paint a moustache on the Mona Lisa ?