Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The priest who took the whole service in Occitan

Is this Wee Willy Winkie?

What a little angel, one of the servers at Mass

A quick rehearsal a lot like E. Harling on Sunday mornings!

A cast of thousands!

John, with Robert and Renee

Why is this man playing a cushion?
Actually he was very good.
A man of straw!

Make hay while the sun shines and boy did it shine.
It could be 1950 or even before apart form the wires and cars in the background.

Espinas, before you ask, is the name of the village up the hill and on Sunday we had a really lovely experience at their summer festival. Every year they try to recreate the village as it might have been in the past and this year it was especially well done. All the inhabitants dress up in costumes from the past and in the afternoon they do hay making using the old fashioned machines and animals. There are men with saws 10 ft long showing how whole trees were cut into floor boards, there are clog makers, oil and juice pressers, the school is set up as it would have been before the war, and there are models all over the village showing people undertaking various activities. It's always amazing.

First thing in the morning we got up and went out with our neighbours Mme. Renee and M. Robert Lafon (who have kind of adopted us). We went to mass in the open air and the whole thing was said in the local language Occitan. We could understand some bits but most was totally incomprehensible apart from the odd sentence which made complete sense, a very odd sensation to suddenly hear something you understand in a sea of stuff you don't. We managed a bit with Robert whispering translations into my ear and also with the crib sheet. We joined in valiantly with The Lord's Prayer which as you can see is quite recognisable if you know any French, Spanish, Italian or Latin, although saying it is another matter! Robert was sniggering at our efforts, shame.

Paire nòstre que siès dins lo cèl, que ton nom se santifique, que ton rènhe nos avenga, que ta volontat se faga sus la tèrra coma dins lo cèl. Dona-nos nòstre pan de cada jorn, perdona-nos nòstres deutes coma nosautres perdonam als nòstres debitors e fai que tombèm pas dins la tentacion mas deliura-nos del mal. Atal sia!
After mass which was really beautiful we had a few glasses of cold sangria and watched all the local people folk dancing. There was a man on the accordeon and another playing a set of pipes which looked rather like Northumbrian pipes rather than Scottish ones, the music was perfect for the whole setting and I felt quite emotional. We then went home and Renee announced that we were having lunch with them, which we did en famille sitting in their kitchen and enjoying a lovely family time together, I was very proud of John who can chat away in French like anything now. It was a really special and precious time and we feel privileged to be included in their family times.
We were included again later on when we headed up the hill to take part in the Espinas harvest supper, country soup, coarse pork pate with salad and gherkins, pork with a parsley and caper sauce, white beans, grilled lamb chops, grilled sausage, bread, bread, bread, and some bread, cheese, and peche melba, wine flowed at will and we all munched and sipped and slurped and chatted (although I was driving so chateau de la pompe was on the menu for me.) Coming home at 1am we couldn't imagine ever eating anything again! Also the temperature was 27 degrees at midnight, stap me vitals! It was a great day. An uncle of a day and a joy to live through.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hello My Old China

Ages ago I mentioned that we had made an amazing find at a brocante, a sort of attic sale. So, as promised here are some pix. Now most of you reading this will know that I am keen on pots so when I saw the cheeky gleam of gold in the bottom of a dusty box I was quick to investigate what proved to be some rather nifty gilding on some rather splendid plates. Had a quick butcher's underneath only to see the magic words Limoges and Porcelain. The old ticker started to bump a bit and a rough count up revealed about 30 plates and some serving dishes. On brushing the dust off a bit more we decided it was worth asking the price which turned out to be a measly €50 so we snapped them up and rushed off home where careful washing revealed 17 dinner plates, 6 smaller dessert plates, 6 pasta type dishes, a large serving platter, a large plate and a beautiful bowl. Blimey. Our neighbours reckon €50 was too much as no one want old stuff any more but I'm not so sure, I think we got a bargain and anyway I love them.

It's been a good week for Limoges (which is kind of the French Stoke On Trent) pottery as we were in another brocante, this time a shop, and I fell in love with a fabulous mortar and pestle, which also turned out to be Limoges by a designer called Robj. He's very interesting I googled him but it's too hot to write about him now, another time when my wrists are not sticking to the keyboard, nice image sorry. I think design decor and function come together perfectly in this piece and the fact that it was all shiny and gold had nothing whatsoever with my decision to buy it.

Also...I have finished all my French planning hahahaha so let the inspectors come and see if I care.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

This used to be a blog about archaeology.

This used to be a blog about the dig where I work in Egypt but in recent times it's been much more about our summers in France. However, I am a very proud Auntie today as my godson and de facto nephew Dan has been awarded a place to study at Lampeter and being a sensible type he is going to study ARCHAEOLOGY! Hooray.

I thought I'd repossess the blog for archaeology just this one time and offer Dan and anyone else reading, a list of things which are very rarely found by archaeologists.

10-Dinosaur Bones
9-Mummies (errr actually as an Egyptologist...)
8-Precious Jewelry
7-Alien Artifacts
6-Treasure Chests
5-The Lost Tribes of Israel
4-Whole Pots (who wants whole ones?)
3-Secret Tunnels
1-A Steady Job!!!

Ha ha I've got a steady job although admittedly not as an archaeologist, however, I've always managed to keep involved and I'm really proud that Dan has chosen a similar path. Mind you he is interested in Romans and what have they ever done for us??

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Things to be found in the country

Why is everywhere always up hill? At least it's picturesque.

A butterfly with amazing camouflage

Wild honeysuckle
I think these might be cherries but we didn't eat them just in case.

A stone water cistern with very interesting corbelling (honestly)

Wouldn't mind living here

This is a bit more in our price range however. A shepherds hut, look at that amazing drystone construction! No mortar in sight. (And no that isn't the drystone shepherd).

These little shelters are all over the place to shelter the men who had to be out on the hills in all weather. Some are even tucked into the construction of walls. I've seen stone age dwelling built exactly like this. Hey ethnoarchaeology...get a grip girl you're on holiday.

While the chutney bubbles, the cats zizz and John reads the local paper dictionary in hand I'm about to blog again, it must be a record, well I need something to distract me from the vinegar fumes and the fact that I have managed to choose the hottest day of the year so far to make my annual batch of chutney. It is 8pm and still too hot to open the windows. Good thing we joined the cats for a zizz earlier. I'm glad I decided to attack the wisteria whilst it was cool this morning.
I've mentioned our walks which take us all over the region and allow us to get up close and personal with the wildlife and the countryside. Well the most recent one took us the the valley of the river Lot and we had a truly beautiful walk during which we encountered all kinds of fascinating things including a very shy deer who bounded off before we could photograph it. This is really just to share some of the things we saw. Better go, I can hear the chutney making ominous noises!

Millau pictures for your delectation

I forgot to say that the height of the highest pylon makes the viaduct taller than the Eiffel Tower! There is a vid of the boat ride on my FB page too

Millau Viaduct

On Tuesday we had a marathon day out to go and see the viaduct at Millau. I've been wanting to do this for ages and at last we had the chance. This viaduct is a road bridge which forms part of the A 75 motorway but it is not just any old bridge oh dear me no. Designed by the French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Norman Foster, it is the tallest bridge in the world, with one mast's summit at 343.0 metres (1,125 ft). It opened in December 2004 and you can see it by linking to the webcam http://www.leviaducdemillau.com/english/webcam.html

It costs €7.90 to cross and it is well known for being super busy during the holiday season. Last weekend was one of the busiest in the French calendar as everyone began to go home and they calculated that about 60,000 cars crossed it last Saturday alone.

I'm not big on numbers but here are some fairly staggering statistics:
2,460 m (8,071 ft): total length of the roadway.
7: number of piers
77 m (253 ft): height of Pier 7, the shortest
343 m (1,125 ft): height of Pier 2, the tallest (245 m/804 ft at the roadway's level)
87 m (285 ft): height of a mast
154: number of shrouds
270 m (886 ft): average height of the roadway
4.20 m (13 ft 9 in): thickness of the roadway
32.05 m (105 ft 2 in): width of the roadway
85,000 m3 (111,000 cu yd): total volume of concrete used
290,000 metric tons (320,000 short tons): total weight of the bridge
10,000–25,000 vehicles: estimated daily traffic
20 km (12 mi): horizontal radius of curvature of the road deck

It all makes for a huge impression on the viewer. We not only went over it but also under it by road and then, very excitingly by boat on the river Tarn thanks to Les Bateliers Du Viaduct. Add to that a picnic lunch under a convenient tree, with a good view of the viaduct and the presence of a friendly and hopeful local dog and you have the makings of a spiffing day out which is exactly what we had. I'm going to post pictures separately so please move onto the following post.


Just a mini blog before the marathon tale of going to Millau. We drove a long away all the way across the department of the Aveyron on Tuesday to go and see the spectacular Millau viaduct. On the way I saw something that I had not seen for years, probably not since I was a child visiting France with my mum and dad, and that thing was a poster for a wine called Vin Fou made by a winery called Henri Maire.

The posters were very distinctive with red and green lettering and they all said Vin Fou (meaning crazy wine). Some them then said Henri Maire the name of the winemaker (the Henri seems to vanished here, couldn't find a better pic sorry. Others said Oh je l'aime which means Oh I like it, the wine that is... When I was little these posters were everywhere and we used to play a car game guessing which one it would be. If you got it right you got points and you got more points for an Oh je l'aime because they were less common.

As far as I know my mum and dad had been spotting the posters since they first came to France on a tandem in 1948! I was really excited to see an extremely rare Vin Fou as we returned home on Tuesday and immediately reverted to being 5, screaming, "Vin Fou, Henri Maire" at the top of my lungs to the consternation of John Mike and Sue. Anyway once they understood, photos were taken for your delight and I was thrilled to find that Henri Maire is still going and still producing Vin Fou in the Jura region. http://www.henri-maire.fr/accueil/

So I think a little purchase might just be coming on in honour of two outstanding parents who gave me more than I could ever thank them for, without me even realising it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sir Lunchalot

We have just waved good bye to our last wave of guests the lovely Mike and Sue (sniff) and now we are peaceful and there is time to slob on the sofa and blog. We have had a lovely time going off here there and everywhere and eating lunch at every possible opportunity. We took Mike and Sue to lunch the moment their plane touched down, then had lunch in Albi, and Septfonds and two picnics one at Millau and the other near Rodez it's a tough life, no wonder John calls himself Sir Lunchalot.

After lunch in Salles La Source we decided to have a walk so off we went to look at the wonderful Mediaeval village (almost inevitably) at the top of the hill. It certainly helped the lunch to go down and there was a certain amount of horsing around involving John, that gentle, affable soul, trying to kick me on the bottom. This is not as bad as it sound as he has such long legs that he can do it quite easily whilst walking along side me just by bending his knee up and to the side. I thought his knees were supposed to be dodgy but he seems to manage. In order to retaliate which of course is de rigeur, I have to give a little jump which looks pretty stupid especially from behind. Anyway the resulting photos are amusing (thank you Sue), but, I realise, they do actually show yours truly (even if it is from the back) which is a rare occurrence and wonder of wonders I am not wearing black AT ALL! Mike and John also appear to be pulling some funny faces although we are not sure why. Sue was probably deciding to buy one of the many houses which she identified as having potential and Mike and John are being entertained by the potential cost, although probably for different reasons!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Random jottings from Verfeil

Hello out there I'm blogging a bit to record what has been happening although to be honest the answer is not a lot. On Wednesday we had a great walk in the department of the Lot. 5.5 km most of which seemed to be up hill! I can never understand why a walk that begins by going uphill can also manage to go up hill almost all the way and then end by yes, you've guessd it going uphill. Grrrr. We ended up by looking at the outside of the Chateau de Cenervieres which had a gratifying and requisite number of pepper pot towers making it look like a child's drawing of a castle.

On Thursday we headed for Rodez and collected our friends Sue and Mike who arrived just in time for lunch! We took the off to Salles La Source where the service was much faster and we ate a yummy lunch finishing off with a rare treat for me... milk and white chocolate mousse which was the best ever honestly. We've mostly done our fave touristy things like Cordes and the market, St Antonin and today we are going to Caussade then to Septfonds for lunch. They have this amazing lunchtime deal at Septfonds, three courses and wine included for €15. The cooking is thoughtful and a bit unusual with a strong Moroccan influence and we always love going there.

Aside from this there isn't much to report apart from having to post a recorded delivery letter to the UK which to our horror cost €44. We could have had lunch for that much!!! John is writing, Amelie's paws are on the mend and we think her allergy is to packet cat food so they are both back on tuna! I am covered in teeth marks from dosing her, and Spike thinks we are all a bit strange.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

St Igne The Photos....

Here are the pix.
I'm having trouble uploading the video but will try FB
The table after it has been trashed,
Rambo, in the white shirt, looks as if he's had a good time.

The barbecue gets underway

Pass the aligot

Look at that aligot stretch!

Things get underway yummmmmmmm
The redoubtable M. Robert Lafon in his trendy new glasses.

All quiet and neat to begin with, just wait until later.

This is where it all happens,
a C road is so tiny that you can't even see it on most maps.

The Sausage Festival

OK I promised to write about St Igne and here it is. I assure you that you have never lived until you have sat in a field full of drunken French people and stuffed your face with delicious country food and wine. This is what happens every year at St Igne which is a tiny village high in the hills above Verfeil. There is something magical about how it all happens as there appears to be nothing at all in St Igne apart form this field filled with long wooden tables. They also conjure up a dance floor, a band and food for about 300 people. It is especially wonderful for us to go as members of the extended Lafon family. Renne and Robert have the house opposite us in Verfeil and they have kind of adopted us so we get to indulge in a lot of hellos and cheek kissing that we would miss if we were just that mad English couple.

At first it is all very calm and mellow as families arrive and jockey for position on the long wooden benches. Renne of course has arrive early and staked our claim in a prime position.The barbecue fires are lit and the smell of woodsmoke starts to scent the air as the sun goes down. It is like a scene from Jean de Florette! After an hour or so of chit chat the real business begins and food is served. The menu is always the same and always delicious. We begin with salty crisps and ice cold kir made from blackcurrant liqueur and local white wine, this give the perfect balance of salty and tangy sweetness to pique your appetite for the starter of juicy sweet Quercy melon and salty smoky meaty local ham. As this arrives the wine begins to flow and it just keeps coming, rich ruby red in ill assorted and unmarked bottles filled from a huge barrel. By now the full complement of Lafons and friend has arrived and we have been hugged half to death. Everyone has their Laguiole pocket knives out ready to do battle with the food.

Now the highlight of the evening arrives, the aligot, a fabulous smooth puree of buttery potatoes and melted mountain cheese with a hint of garlic. The better the aligot the more it stretches because the stretchiness depends on the quality and quantity of cheese. Our aligot was very stretchy and they lifted it up high with a special paddle just to prove it. The aligot is served by a chain of willing volunteers and is accompanied by wonderful meaty grilled sausage and more wine. Of course there is also unlimited country bread and at this stage you start to think that you'll never eat anything again. By now the tidiness of the tables has also started to disintegrate somewhat, with crusts, the odd melon rind, sundry serviettes etc all over the place.

But...We have not finished yet, a wonderful aroma of barbecued meat heralds the arrival of grilled lamb raised out here on the hills and tasting of wood smoke and the wild grasses and herbs that formed its diet. It is mouth watering. Bones fly in all directions as the last morsels of meat are sought out. By now the tables are a scene of carnage and the arrival of ice cream cones and coffee add the the melee. The once tidy table tops have disintegrated into a total mess.

Now the real fun begins as the music starts up. One of the things that I love about St Igne is that they always play traditional French music first and everyone joins in with folk dances, and waltzes and surprisingly perhaps tangos and paso dobles, although we are only a short distance from the Spanish border. Grandads dance with grand daughters and the young learn the traditional dances from the old. Even John and I have been known to indulge in the odd waltz, sometimes very odd, depending on the amount of wine consumed! All around is laughter and fun and the sight and sound of people really letting their hair down. One man staggers drunkenly towards the bushes for a pee, only just managing to co-ordinate his legs to overcome the obstacle of the gate into the field. This causes much hilarity.

Eventually the traditional songs give way to disco music and people begin to drift away about 1am. It is a magical time and I am going to post some photos and video clips separately so you can share a little of the magic.
Bissous a tous

A busy weekend

Hello Folks
We have certainly had a weekend full of excitement. First off was the Offenbach Festival at Bruniquel. Didn't get to bed till 4am but it was amazing. Look at http://www.bruniqueloff.com/ for an idea about how much fun it was. Then there was the sausage and aligot feast at St Igne of which more in a sec, Sunday took us first to the Brocante (antique and bric a brac fair) at Laguepie where we made an amazing find soon to feature in this very blog; then to St Antonin for the firework display which was so fab it made me weep, (pathetic I know but there are lots of memories associated with this particular event, such as watching it for the first time ever with John the during summer that we decided to get married, ahhhhhhhhhhhh).

We ended up the weekend on Monday (shameful but pleasant) by going to the market in Caussade where we bought beautiful French net curtain material for The Old Dairy, the net curtains there, let's face it, being a disgrace. Joey advice needed about the sewing up! We also had to buy a new hoover as the old one expired on Saturday with a bang, a cloud of dust, cat fur and smoke. Erk. Other purchases included a new shower head and a bag of cat litter, we really know how to live it up!

We then repaired to Septfonds and our favourite restaurant where we ate an amazingly delicious salad, pink melting slices of lamb roasted with garlic and ginger, buttery pasta, fresh strawberries, (John had cake and cream with his), half a litre of rose Gaillac wine and an espresso for 15 Euros each, can we stay here please?? The food in this particular place always has such incredible flavour and the cooking is really intelligent.

I promised to mention St Igne but I think that might need another post, and I have jobs to do, wash the floor, do the laundry, post post cards, book restaurant for arriving guests, hoover with new natty rechargeable dust buster thingy, replace shower head, brush cats, make plum jam, look at French folders for school, (might put that one off), get lunch ready, phew being a french house wife really takes it out of you. Mind you there must be something in the water here that keeps people fit and healthy, here are Mesdames Dazol and Viguier both over 90 both close neighbours and as hail and hearty as anything. You should see them both eat. When asked by John what breed of dog she had Mme. Viguier replied "il est un petit batard!" Tell it like it is girls.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Out and About

When we have visitors it is an ideal time to do some nice, relaxing touristy things and see a bit of our beautiful region of France. Here we are on the tourist trail with Janet, Philip, Lucy and Steve Moule. Philip was pleased to see that Rugby was a part of the experience even if it did mean going into Serge Blanco's shop in Albi. Food was a big part of our experience too, everyone should have cake for breakfast at least once in their life! We did this at the lovely bakers in Cordes before visiting the market and struggling up the almighty hill. I've included a beautiful view of our village Verfeil Sur Seye and no visit to Albi would be complete without an ice cream! Swimming in the river is highly recommended as a way to cool off and obviously buying haircare products in the supermarket is a very serious business. We had such a lovely time sharing our love of this area with dear friends. Thanks for coming guys.