Friday, October 16, 2009

Sally goes to Carcassonne

Sally is now taking herself off for a new adventure in Carcassonne and would ask that if you wish to continue following her that you now go to where I'm sure it won't be too long before she is settled in comfortably with exciting new stories and adventures to inspire and delight you.

See you over there !!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Viewed from Afar

It's that time of year. The time of year when the evenings draw in faster and faster. The time of year when the mornings appear darker and darker with a nip to the air and a thin veil of mist floats on the hills in the distance. The rumblings of the harvester cut through the stillness, the children have returned to college and a deathly silence pervades through the house.

Where did the summer go ? and was I any part of it ? There's a Guest Book full of happy comments, childish scribblings in coloured pen, 'I love your house' it proclaims. Guests often ask if we move back into Le Chateau and I always answer 'No' when all the while I really mean 'Yes' and I haven't quite figured out why I don't just say so. I'm currently enjoying two sitting rooms, one for the morning sun, one for the afternoon rays, two kitchens, two bedrooms, three bathrooms. Someone once rather rudely stated 'You want it all don't you'? , to which I automatically replied 'No' when all the while thinking 'Yes'. Time for some honesty once in a while.

There's something very decadent about having this all to yourself. Idea's, thoughts, dreams, are made easier to digest somehow, they don't tend to jostle together fighting for space and everything is more orderly and can be placed neatly in piles. There's a book brewing, swirling in the air and taking shape most pleasingly. Sometimes I'll allow myself a little 'dollydaydream' just like I used to do years ago. If you stop dreaming you're no longer alive.

This is a picture of the house taken some five miles away whilst sitting on a peaceful hilltop one day. It was strange to be able to see it so clearly, to be so near and yet so far. The hills of the Montagne Noir lay peacefully in the background, a slight heat haze shimmering all around.

It's sometimes very useful to take a different perspective on things that stare you in the face everyday. I hadn't realised until I had viewed the house from that particular vantage point that so many other interesting things lay within my reach too.

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 ?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Holidays at Le Chateau

Open the front door of Le Chateau, take a right turn and continue along the path. The fields are bursting to the brim as far as the eye can see with sunflowers. Scattered in between are fields of newly harvested wheat, their stumps creating a deep golden ragged carpet. On a clear calm morning such as today the entire vista is picture postcard perfect. Le Vent Marin, a warm marine wind from the Mediterranean blew this week though, and boy did she blow. It made the girlie's dance, shake and lift their faces to shiver and shimmy in their flouncy yellow dresses. It was too violent to open the windows, the old shutters groaned and strained on their hinges and I lost two of my beloved flowerpots as they flew over the terrace discarding their jolly bright red geraniums. I sat and cursed silently, pacing up and down as I watched the pool water level plummet and imagined the garden shrivelling up and dying in front of my eyes. I valiantly struggled out to pull some weeds but they were thrown back in my face as the wind laughed at such foolishness.

Progress though, and this is depending on your viewpoint or maybe its just a sign of the times, took place the other day with the installation of English satellite TV in Le Chateau. Apparently its now a real clincher so I hastily added this vital gobbit of information on the website and am now sitting back awaiting the flurry of late enquiries as people tire of waiting for the great British scorcher which hasn't arrived according to my sources and decide to come to the South of France for their own Indian summer in September/October. I'll let you into a little secret, and I don't often do this but I will on this rare occasion. I stared long and hard at the most ridiculously cheap flights in October last night but in the end decided there was nothing I wanted to do more than to stay put.

We lead such an exciting life here you see. You never know when a phone calls going to come through and you're off for a 'jolly'. Take the other day for example, completely out of the blue there's a film producer on the line wondering if 'The Grand Duchess' (my 1951 Riley motor car) can pootle along to the utterly charming Chateau de Saint Michel de Lanes . We didn't take much persuading and the old girl was given her customary buffing. Sadly though the heavens decided to open on July 14th this year so it was a rather soggy affair to say the least. By the time we arrived back home it was too late to go and see the fireworks in Carcassonne but as it was Bastille Day I rather reckoned that French TV would, at the very least, have some footage of the old crooner Johnny Hallyday warbling in front of the Eiffel Tower whilst rockets zoomed into the night sky as the whole of France revelled. No comment. Nothing. Zilch. The air turned blue.

I daresay you may be thinking that I can't have it all. Sunflowers, Chateau's, film shoots and she wants the fireworks too ?

Well yes, that's the sort of person I am.

Easy going.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Carcassonne Festival

It's on with the espadrilles and pinny for the main holiday season here in the Languedoc. As from the 4th July the French were on their vacances and as if by magic everything sprang to life. The Carcassonne Festival has kicked off, Status Quo already having rocked all over the World, fresh as daisies after a wonderful stint at Glastonbury.

We also have numerous commemerations in the region for the 800th anniversary of the crusade against the Cathars, concerts, som et lumiére, castles, abbeys, Medieval sites. It's a pity for the region that not everyone has realised the importance of maintaining the cultural heritage the area has to offer but then this is an old bone I like to chew on from time to time and believe you me it's best left in the corner.

Copious amounts of socialising have already taken place with friends. It's always a joy to sit on another lovely terrace in the dwindling twilight or relax in the peaceful coolness of someone elses kitchen whilst they slave away and I slurp and natter. Our cute kittens, one pure black and a white tabby enchanted a house party one weekend, as we drifted off from an immensly enjoyable evening they were indulging in tit bits of poached salmon, no doubt looking forward to a life of Riley. Well its only befitting as they started off life at Le Chateau !!

Blogging away has put me in touch with some interesting new friends too. Kittyb came to stay and wrote a flattering account of her holiday which was a huge success by all accounts, follow her blog for mouthwatering pics.

But I've been naughty again haven't I ? neglecting my blogspot and gallivanting off, dipping in the sea on the Dorset coast, popping in for coffee at Mat Follis's new restaurant the Wild Garlic, the fairy cake was so divine it floated, over for a chin wag with Claire at Greendrawers, buying a citron tart from Lynne at Le Vieux Four, a leisurely moment with Lu at The Apple Tree and all manner of lovely folks in which to pass the time of day in the pretty town of Beaminster.

Which of course prompted me into another wee project. All in good time as they say !!

Meanwhile there's Vide Greniers to attend, fete's, soirees, pools to be kept sparkling clean, plants to water, cats to stroke, weeds to pull, never ending laundry, Saturday changeovers, and of course life to deal with.

Which about sums it all up at present. xx

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Mediterranean beckons

I'm a spur of the moment sort of person so I announce that we are taking a trip to the Mediterranean a mere hop from Carcassonne. 'When'? His Lordship enquires. 'Immediately' I reply and 'Mummy's little helpers' jump to attention falling over themselves with glee at the prospect of running the show. I'm bundled out of the front door with indecent haste trailing sarongs, flip flops and clutching a tube of toothpaste. 'You'll be fine then' ? I detect a slight uncertainty in my voice. The sound of the door closing resolutely leaves me standing on the driveway.

Heading South through the Corbieres the sky looks a promising clear blue with the sweet fragrance of Mediterranean cyprus's wafting through the windows. I find the perfect spot (naturally) in which to decamp. Situated next to the lagoons of the Narbonne coast, Rome's first colony in Gaul, a silvery path of soft sand winds its way to the shoreline where waves are making a pleasing swooshing sound. The season has barely started down here and ends abruptly on August 30th as the French don't seem to have twigged that the rest of the world holidays all year round.

We drove through the beautiful Le Massif de la Clape, an area of outstanding natural beauty and famous for its wine to the tiny village of Bages. We admire the inlet where Philippe le Longue galleys were built for his crusade which never took place. A wonderful sundial presented by Louis XIV in gratitude to the people of Bages for their care of his exhausted troops on their return from his Spanish campaign adourns the Medieval arch to this fortified village. Houses built in the 18th and 19th centuries for the wine growers cluster together. At this point I would love to continue with my languid and seductive description as I toil with my paintbrush to bring you this picture of rural France but as with most picture postcard scenes brutish and insensitive renovation abounds.

I am however blessed by the sighting of two oyster catchers, well lovebirds anyway in the early morning light of the utterly still and silent lagoon. On one side is the full moon throwing its shadows on the water, to the other side the morning suns begins to show its first rays. The rest of the coastline is barely stirring as we saunter along to the sea. I take my first tentative paddle but then I'm in embracing the salty sea joined only by the solitary fisherman on the rocks in the distance. A breakfast of fresh baguette and Bonne Maman Cassis Gelée brings the invigorating experience to a pleasurable close.

On our return home however I know why I fell in love with the Languedoc.