Friday, September 26, 2014

The importance of being connected

French Village Diaries internet social media
The importance of being connected
This summer marked our tenth anniversary of living in France and in that time many things have changed. When we arrived, one of the first tasks was to reconnect the telephone line and sign up to a basic dial up Internet service, mainly so we could check emails. Neither of our mobile phones (and back then they were just phones) had a service in the village, so for the first few days we were very cut off from the rest of the world and especially our family we had left behind. Thankfully we didn’t have to struggle with dial up for too long as within a few years broadband arrived in the village, partly due to us running a business here that required the Internet. It is painfully slow broadband at times, but better than dial up and as we are now a family with three mobile phones, three laptops and three iPads the Internet is important and it's very frustrating when it drops the connection. The mobile phone signal still isn’t great and although I survived the first few years without one and still don't have 3G, I couldn't imagine not having one. Now Ed is of an age when he is seeking independence, having a mobile with 3G means we let him go but are able track him when he is out on his bike with his friends. How different to when I was a teen of the Eighties and going out meant real freedom!

To celebrate our tenth anniversary we spent five days in Normandy this summer with Ade’s parents, and like stepping back in time we found ourselves in a rural gite with (shock) no Internet. Out of the five of us I am undoubtedly the one with the biggest online/social media presence and yet I was the only one who remained Internet free for the five whole days. Ed had been in the UK for a month so was delighted to hook back up on his 3G and contact his friends again. Ade managed to pick up his emails whenever he found an Orange Hotspot and my tech’d up in-laws chose to pay for the overseas 3G to stay connected. I missed it, but I survived and didn’t even have too many withdrawal symptoms.

This week it is Ed’s turn to be off line. He has been on a school trip for four days of walking, canoeing, camping and enjoying the outdoors with no phones, iPods or any other gadgets. This didn’t seem to bother him before he left, in fact he was more worried about leaving without a book and I wasn’t sure how he’d cope without having access to his musical instruments. However for some it was more difficult and one mother caused quite a scene at school on Tuesday morning, screaming and swearing at the staff when she was told her daughter couldn’t take her phone with her. It really did get quite heated and one naughty word she used produced a collective intake of breath from those listening in. I’ll admit it has been rather strange for me being at home without Ed and having no updates, but I’m sure he’s having a great time. Last week he was rather poorly so I’m really pleased he was well enough to be able to go and thankful that I haven’t had a phone call from the staff asking me to collect him.

The Internet is wonderful and has become such a big part of our lives, but I'm pleased I can say it is (just) possible to live without it every day. How many days can you go without the Internet?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book review for Lies Told In Silence by MK Tod

Today I’m taking part in a virtual book tour via France Book Tours for Lies Told In Silence by MK Tod.

French Village Diaries France Book Tours Lies Told in Silence MK Tod Paris First World War ReviewsSynopsis provided by the author.
In May 1914, Helene Noisette’s father believes war is imminent. Convinced Germany will head straight for Paris, he sends his wife, daughter, mother and younger son to Beaufort, a small village in northern France. But when war erupts a few months later, the German army invades neutral Belgium with the intent of sweeping south towards Paris. And by the end of September, Beaufort is less than twenty miles from the front.

During the years that follow, with the rumbling of guns ever present in the distance, three generations of women come together to cope with deprivation, constant fear and the dreadful impacts of war. In 1917, Helene falls in love with a young Canadian soldier who was wounded in the battle of Vimy Ridge.

But war has a way of separating lovers and families, of twisting promises and dashing hopes, and of turning the naïve and innocent into the jaded and war-weary. As the months pass, Helene is forced to reconcile dreams for the future with harsh reality.

Lies Told in Silence examines love and loss, duty and sacrifice, and the unexpected consequences of lies.

My review.
I really enjoyed Mary’s fist novel Unravelled, so was looking forward to reading Lies Told in Silence, which although not a sequel, is about the same characters Edward and Helene. This book is Helene Noisette’s story from before she met Edward to her later years. I assumed I knew the basic facts from Unravelled and was expecting this book to add the flesh. Well, all I’m prepared to say is expect the unexpected. This book gave me much more than I had imagined.

Helene is a sulky 16 year old in 1914 when her father sends the family away from Paris as he fears war is inevitable. Unbeknown to him at the time, Paris would probably have been a safer place than the village in the north east of France that eventually finds itself on the front line. His mother, wife and daughter form a special close bond during the difficult times they find themselves in and Helene matures to a woman who is more than capable of running a household and making decisions about her own future. It was interesting to read about the war from Helene’s point of view and to see how it changed her and her family.

When she meets Edward, a Canadian soldier injured at Vimy Ridge, love arrives in her life and changes things forever. The letters they write to each other during the war are desperate and full of emotion and their snatched moments together wild and exciting. This is a real love story with passion and pain in equal measure. This book came alive from the pages, I felt her heart break and the dull ache of disappointment you feel when someone lets you down and I felt the anger when she discovered the lies that had been told. Lies that had repercussions for many lives over many years.

This book is a powerful emotional read that I recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and I’ll be really happy if Mary has more to write.

About the author
French Village Diaries France Book Tours Lies Told in Silence MK Tod Paris First World War ReviewsM.K. Tod writes historical fiction featuring WWI and WWII.
Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED, was selected as Indie Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society.
In addition to her writing, Mary maintains the blog  where she talks about reading and writing historical fiction.
She has also conducted two well-regarded historical fiction reader surveys and in her spare time reviews books for the Historical Novel Society.

M.K. Tod is delighted to hear from readers at mktod at bell dot net. You can also find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter.

French Village Diaries France Book Tours Lies Told in Silence MK Tod Paris First World War Reviews

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Circuit des Remparts Angouleme 2014

French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Charente Poitou-Charentes
Circuit des Remparts
Here are some photos from our day out at the 75th Circuit des Remparts in Angouleme. We dropped Mum and Dad at the station, as they are off to Bordeaux for a few days, left the car in the outskirts and cycled up the hill to the ramparts. After battling the crowds we squeezed into a cafe for a late morning coffee, found somewhere to park the bikes and set off to explore our first ever visit to race day at the Circuit des Remparts. We didn't have grandstand tickets, but there was still plenty to see, hear and smell and we spent a lovely afternoon wandering around in what can only be described as petrol head heaven.

French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Charente Poitou-Charentes
Up close at the pit lane access 

French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Charente Poitou-Charentes
A sneaky peek at the racing on the circuit

French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Charente Poitou-Charentes
Renault Alpines

French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Charente Poitou-Charentes
An Alvis collection

French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Charente Poitou-Charentes
Rileys and an MG
French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Charente Poitou-Charentes

French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Charente Poitou-Charentes
Funky seats

French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Charente Poitou-Charentes
This dinky vintage bike also caught our eye

Monday, September 8, 2014

Book review of Saving Our Skins by Caro Feely

My review today is for Saving Our Skins: Building a Vineyard Dream in France by Caro Feely, her second memoir about family life on an organic vineyard in Saussignac, Dordogne and one of my favourite reads this summer.
French Village Diaries book review Saving Our Skins Caro Feely Dordogne wine organic Summersdale publishers
Saving Our Skins

Following on from Grape Expectations: A Family's Vineyard Adventure in France her first book about the early years setting up their organic vineyard, (see my review here) this is another great memoir written from the heart. With regulations, bureaucracy, weather and other things sent to try the patience of a saint, life isn’t always easy for Caro and her husband Sean who often seem to be living on the edge and following the fine line between coping and disaster. However, little by little they start to see the signs that their hard work and determination (which they seem to have in bucketfuls) is paying off. It is an uncomfortable read in places, but sharing the bad as well as the good meant I felt their excitement when there were things to celebrate. There is no doubt they have established a name for themselves in the industry and winning the wine tourism awards was a fantastic achievement.

Caro’s passion for their organic lifestyle meant this book was not only entertaining but informative too. If you are in anyway concerned or interested in the safety and quality of the food you eat and going organic, this book will enlighten and educate, without preaching. She certainly made me sit up, take note and left me determined to make a few changes little and often about what goes into my shopping basket. According to Caro, vintners in France are heavier users of toxic chemicals than the farmers and many of the products they use recommend staying out of the vineyard for 48 hours after usage. This really grabbed at my attention and more so when she explains that grapes are not washed before being crushed and made into wine. The first farmer in France to have his illness officially linked to the use of pesticides and chemicals was a winegrower who coincidently lived in Ruffec, only twenty kilometres from where I live. He died of his leukaemia. Caro also talks about the apple farmer in her village who openly admits to NEVER eating his own fruit because of the chemicals he uses on them.

French Village Diaries Organic Charente Vineyards
Organic Charente vineyards
Reading Caro’s book really set the cat among the pigeons and led me to search out alternative products. In doing so, to celebrate our tenth anniversary of moving to France Ade found himself accompanying me to Cognac for the open day at a local(ish) organic vineyard. We took part in their treasure hunt, a four-kilometre trek around the vineyards searching for hidden questions about wine production and then enjoyed a tasting session. Thankfully having read this book I was able to answer a few more of the questions than I would otherwise have done. Something life in France has taught me is that less is more and learning to live by this means I am now happy to spend a little bit more on a locally produced organic wine even if it means drinking a little less. I also feel happy that by making small changes each week to what goes into my shopping basket, I’m not only making good choices for my family but also doing my bit to support the organic farmers like Caro and Sean.

Saving Our Skins: Building a Vineyard Dream in France and Grape Expectations: A Family's Vineyard Adventure in France are published by Summersdale (who sent me a copy to read and review) and are available in ebook and paperback format. Links to Amazon are below.

To find our more about Sean and Caro’s vineyard, their selection of wine and events see here. To read her France et Moi interview with me see here.

You can read my reviews of Caro’s memoirs here:

Grape Expectations

Saving Our Skins

Vineyard Confessions (previously known as Glass Half Full)

My France et Moi interview

Amazon purchase links for Caro’s memoirs can be found here:

Grape Expectations

Saving Our Skins

Vineyard Confessions 

Cultivating Change

Saving Sophia  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Book review for I Looked For The One My Heart Loves by Dominique Marny

French Village Diaries France Book Tours review I Looked For The One My Heart Loves Dominique Marny Paris
Today I am taking part in a virtual book tour via France Book Tours for I Looked for the One My Heart Loves: A Novel by Dominique Marny.

Synopsis ­- provided by the publisher
Anne and Alexis are separated by war as children and reunited later by destiny. A powerful and dramatic love story that spans decades in spite of its seeming impossibility.

Anne, 9, and Alexis, 11, grow up together in the Montmartre area of Paris. While she has a major crush on him, he merely sees her as his friend’s little sister. After WWII begins, the two are separated as their families flee Paris to avoid the German occupation. When they say goodbye, Alexis promises to always protect Anne.

Anne holds on to this promise for years as she constantly thinks of Alexis, wondering where he may be. Anne grows up, finds works in an art gallery, and marries a kind, devoted man with whom she has two children. But her heart still belongs to Alexis and she never stops looking for him. Their paths cross fatefully one day in Brussels many years after they were separated.

Alexis, living in Canada and soon to be moving to San Francisco, has a family of his own; a wife in constant depression and a son. Despite their responsibilities to family and the geographical distance that keeps them apart, Anne and Alexis find a way to love one another, secretly yet passionately.

But after all this time, will they ever manage to be truly together, completely?

My review
I found this to be a dark and dramatic love story and while I didn’t always agree with their decisions and actions, it was a compelling storyline that never failed to make me want to read more.

I liked the character of Anne and enjoyed her childs-eye view of the outbreak of war and the occupation years in Paris. The fear and frustrations of a child on the brink of womanhood trying to understand an adult war came across really well. A young boy’s promise on the eve of the Paris exodus lit a flame in her heart that she was unable to extinguish, despite him never returning and even after learning to enjoy being loved by her husband and family. I felt it was a shame she couldn’t let go of her past and by hanging on she was never fully happy with her life, something her husband seemed to appreciate. A nice touch was that as time passed it was also through Anne’s eyes that we saw other major events like the Paris student riots in the sixties and the Americans landing on the moon.

Alexis was a mysterious character at the beginning of the book. We never saw much of him and when we did he didn’t offer much information, all of which added to his intrigue. Not finding each other again wouldn’t be much of a story, so I just knew he would reappear, but I never had any idea what the outcome of each meet would be, or what their future would hold. There is happiness and exhilaration for the two of them, but secrecy, frustration, sadness and pain too, and can there ever really be a happy ending for a situation like this? Well, I will say the end of the book was a real surprise to me.

French Village Diaries France Book Tours review I Looked For The One My Heart Loves Dominique Marny Paris

About the author
Dominique Marny was raised in a family that loves art, literature, adventure and travels.
In addition to being a novelist, she is a playwright, screenwriter, and writes for various magazines.

French Village Diaries France Book Tours review I Looked For The One My Heart Loves Dominique Marny Paris

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

No September, not yet.

No, I’m just not ready for September, for La Rentrée (back to school), for the shorter days and cooler nights, for autumn or for our lovely summer to end, especially as the weather is giving cloudless skies and warm, sunny days again.

We have been out and about as much as possible this summer, despite August being an unsettled month and a lot cooler than we have ever known it in the ten years we have lived here. I appreciate I have been a bad blogger, but there just aren’t enough hours in my day, sorry. The weeding, ironing and housework are also suffering from neglect, but family time together was our main reason for making the move to France and this summer we’ve made sure we have taken the time to explore more of the French countryside, often with our bikes. With Ed back to school tomorrow there will be plenty of time for dusting and writing. My head is full of words and my notebook full of half written posts almost ready to be shared.

My freezers are filling nicely with healthy homemade food to keep my spirits up this winter. My jams and chutney supplies are stacking up, but keeping on top of the freshly picked produce has almost been a full time job, especially as I hate to waste any of it. The tomatoes were hit with the dreaded blight, but quick action meant that we still have a good quantity of ripening fruits; the pears have been an amazing crop both in quantity, quality and flavour, we have had more beans than ever and the courgettes and squashes are superb. The one upside to disappointing August weather has been the lack of watering required in the potager, although the weeds too have benefited from the warm, wet conditions.

french village diaries marais poitevin deux sevres france barque Arcais picnic
The Marais Poitevin

french village diaries marais poitevin deux sevres france barque Arcais picnic
Picnic time
To celebrate the end of the summer holidays we spent a day in the Marais Poitevin yesterday. We have been returning to this tranquil gem since 2005 and whether on foot, by bike or by barque are never disappointed. Yesterday we hired a barque to explore the waterways around Arcais for an hour and a half, stopping to picnic along the way, before taking to the bikes for a 20km ride. Now Ed is a teenager and taller than me I sat like a queen at the front of the boat and let the boys do the rowing. With the arrival of September we are just out of season so we pretty much had the place to ourselves, which is no bad thing. Taking a boat out with Ade is a bit like a military operation and Ed and I have been drilled in how to row in an efficient manner and keep a steady pace. When the waterways are busy with families going around in circles (an unacceptable manoeuvre for our boat) and causing hold ups, it can get a little stressful on board. Halfway through the bike ride we stopped for a beer in a pretty riverside location complete with artwork and a chatty Poitevin mule in the field. Once back at the car we treated ourselves to an ice cream before heading home. It really was one of those great days out that for just over 30€ had ticked so many boxes; picnic, boat trip, bike ride, beer stop, ice cream, beautiful scenery, great weather, wildlife and family fun in the fresh air. I’m already looking forward to the October school holidays.

french village diaries marais poitevin deux sevres france barque Arcais picnic
A barque from Arcais on the Marais Poitevin

french village diaries marais poitevin vendee france art
Riverside artwork Marais Poitevin

french village diaries marais poitevin vendee france poitevin mule
Poitevin Mule