Friday, November 28, 2014

One of those moments

This week I had one of those busy days that got off to a bad start when I woke up with a headache. A day that starts with a headache is a bad way to start the day as they usually fell me and I have no option but to crash. However, it seems a combination of ibuprofen with effervescent vitamin C and lots of camomile tea is worth remembering as this time I conquered it! My morning was then filled with chores, including a trip to the bank and bottle bank, before collecting Ed from school at 10.30 (I know, hardly worth going in for two hours of ping-pong is it).

I was feeling confident, despite the prospect of an afternoon in big town for Ed's appointment at the orthodontist, where there are only two tight parking spaces that may or may not be free. However I was soon stressed as Ed decided to go for a lunchtime bike ride and with ten minutes to go before we had to hit the road, he was nowhere to be seen. I was beginning to worry. Where was he? Was he OK? Where do I search first? When he appeared without a care in the world he found a rather frazzled mother who threw him, his lunch, his toothbrush and his guitar into the car all the while muttering as only a mother can.

French Village Diaries migrating cranes poitou-charentes
Migrating cranes (pic from last year)

It was then that I experienced one of those ‘moments’. Something that just made me stop, look, smile and instantly calm down. A noise overhead made me glance up in time to see a perfect V of migrating cranes flying over our house. It no longer mattered that we were a little behind my schedule; I stopped worrying about being late for the appointment or finding a parking space, I just knew it would all be fine. And it was; we arrived about a minute before two others, giving me the pick of the spaces and the orthodontist was pleased with Ed. He did request an x-ray, so after doing the shopping, we made our way to the x-ray clinic to book an appointment. The cranes weren’t finished with their good luck, as amazingly, ten minutes later we walked out of the x-ray clinic with his x-rays in an envelope and still had time for a pre guitar lesson hot chocolate in our favourite café. What started as a bad day, didn’t turn out too bad, thanks to the cranes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book review of C'est Modnifique by Ian Moore

My review today is for C'est Modnifique!: Adventures of an English Grump in Rural France the second memoir about life in France from Ian Moore. You can read my review of his first book A la Mod: My So-Called Tranquil Family Life in Rural France (which I really recommend reading) here.

French Village Diaries book review C'est Modnifique Ian Moore
C'est Modnifique Ian Moore
This is another funny instalment of life in rural France for Ian, his wife Natalie and his family of misbehaving animals and growing boys. After six years of life in the Loire their plans are taking shape, but life never really goes to plan, especially when you find yourself amidst madness like gun wielding neighbours. In his uniquely humorous writing, Ian treats us to all the best bits of his life in France including; medical appointments, vet visits, school life, travelling mishaps and the mad locals. I laughed out loud a lot.

For Ian, life is full of battles that have turned him into a real Mr Grumpy. He battles against a family determined to go against his wishes and add more animals, noise and chaos to his life. He battles against himself as he can’t help but miss the noise and chaos when work takes him away from home and then there is the age-old battle of the work/home life balance. Some people are never happy and I doubt peace will ever reign inside Ian’s head especially as his goats appear to have given him gout and his courgettes (zucchini) refuse to produce fruiting female flowers - ha ha ha!

Living a similar life I can appreciate the issues behind the humour and while I may feel a bit sorry for poor Ian, his wife Natalie is the real hero of the book for me keeping family life ticking over no matter what is thrown her way. For those of us who love a light-hearted look at the good and the bad of family life in France this book is must read.

You can follow Ian’s via his blog, on Facebook and Twitter and read my France et Moi interview with him here.

A la Mod: My So-Called Tranquil Family Life in Rural France and C'est Modnifique!: Adventures of an English Grump in Rural France are available in paperback and ebook from all good book sellers and links to Amazon are below. Thanks to the publishers Summersdale who kindly sent me a review copy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A French village in hibernation

French Village diaries hibernation cats
Hibernating cat
Despite the mildest November we have experienced (and this is our 11th) I have a feeling that our village has already entered into its period of winter hibernation. This is not my favourite time of year and the idea of hiding away until spring is very appealing however there is plenty going on in the run up to Christmas to keep me busy, but where is everyone else?

Last Friday I attended a meeting the Maire had set up to find out what the adolescents in the village would like the council to do for them. Invitations were personally delivered to all aged 11 to 18 (about 20) but unfortunately the only one to turn up was Ed and if I’m honest it was because I told him he had to! (I really am that mean parent). I had the usual grumps as we walked down to the meeting; why do I have to go? I don’t want to hang around with any of the other kids in the village. I don’t want anything except faster Internet. How long will it last? etc

I felt so sorry for him as all eyes were on him as we arrived and if looks could kill I may well have dropped dead as he walked into the salle des fêtes and had his choice of empty seats. It could have been a lively evening where ideas were discussed, taken note of and plans put into place. Instead, it was a little awkward until his ruffled feathers were smoothed with the Coke and apero nibbles that came out afterwards and he began to feel important rather than intimidated by the attention. Our Maire looked on the bright side; we had the youth development officer who presented the project the local town are planning and she was impressed that we are the only commune in the canton to start thinking about what we can do for our youth. But where were our youth?

French Village diaries hibernation bourse aux jouets
Bourse aux jouets - toy sale
Last Sunday we held a successful bourse aux jouets (second hand toy sale) in the village salle des fêtes. I was very impressed with the number of good quality toys piled up on the tables, ready and waiting for their new families. However, not one seller was a family from our village and although there were some local faces out searching for a bargain, most were from outside our commune, which I think was a shame. Where was everyone?

French Village diaries hibernation telethon volunteers
Village volunteers

We are usually busy at this time of year organising a charity meal for the first Friday of December as part of the nationwide Téléthon fundraising weekend. However at the meeting a few weeks ago to plan the details only eight people turned up and half of them were the four of us organising it! I was confident that we would be able to manage, as it is something we have done many times before, but the general opinion was that if no one could be bothered to come along to the meeting who would come along on the night. Costs would also be higher, meaning less money raised, as usually all the vegetables are donated by local farmers and potager growers, but with none of them at the meeting there were no guarantees of free produce this year. I know I’m not the only one who thinks it is a shame it isn’t going ahead. It has always been a lively, fun evening with a great atmosphere, but it needs the support of the villagers to make happen and at the moment it seems they’ve all gone into hibernation. Roll on spring.

Monday, November 24, 2014

My French garden Living France feature

French Village Diaries Living France Magazine December 2014 My French Garden feature
Living France December 2014
The December issue of Living France magazine is on the shelves now and as I was lucky enough to be featured in the gardening section I was sent an e-copy which I enjoyed reading this weekend. 

I’m sure you will want to pop out and pick up a copy just to see pictures of me lovingly cradling one of my super-sized squash and talking about how being a nosy neighbour can help with your gardening, but if that’s not enough to persuade you, there are also more interesting things like:

  • Where to visit this December, including Lyon’s Fête des Lumières which looks so pretty. Note to self; I must get to Lyon one day.
  • An in-depth look at the Haute Pyrennes.
  • The delicious butteriness that is the Galette des Rois.
  • Plus lots of practical information on property ownership and living in France.

If you can’t find it for sale near you, you can purchase it online by following this link here.

Happy reading.

French Village Diaries My French Garden Living France Magazine feature December 2014
My French Garden Living France Magazine

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book review of A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore

French Village Diaries book review A Week in Paris Rachel Hore The Occupation
A Week in Paris by Rachel Gore
My review today is for A Week in Paris the latest novel from Rachel Hore.

This is an historical novel set in Paris in 1937, in the years during The Occupation and in the 1960’s. When pianist Kitty Travers arrives in 1937 to study at the Conservatoire she has no idea her life is about to change forever. She meets an American doctor, they fall in love, get married and just as their family is settling into life in Paris war breaks out. Her life soon becomes a struggle for survival in a time of lies, secrets and injustices.

In the 1960’s, violinist Fay Knox arrives in Paris to tour with her orchestra for a week. Paris feels familiar despite her barely knowing the city and it isn’t long before she starts to unlock a dark secret that threatens to rock her childhood and make her question her memories and her Mother’s decisions. However, will discovering the truth help her Mother recover from a breakdown?

This book quickly became a real page-turner as we jumped from the sixties to the war years and back again. The characters were strong, likable and I really enjoyed the sense of mystery that slowly unravelled throughout the book. Paris portrayed at her difficult times came alive and there was a great link between the injustices of The Occupation and the Algerian issues of the sixties. I’m sure any lovers of historical fiction, especially the Second World War, would love this novel.

A Week in Paris is available in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon can be found below.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book review of Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat

French Village Diaries book review Wolfsangel Liza Perrat the Occupation France
Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat
My review today is for Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat, a page turning, passionate historical novel set amidst the hardship and secrecy of a village in German occupied France.

Céleste Roussel has to grow up fast. Her father has left to work in the German camps on the promise of wages to be sent home – money the family never receive. Her brother is arrested for resistance crimes and then the Germans mysteriously release her mother, despite evidence of illegal ‘healer’ activity. Céleste has a strained relationship with her mother but is desperate to help her brother and persuades those in charge to allow her to assist the resistance. Although they are reluctant she becomes a Red Cross volunteer working in the hospitals in Lyon as her cover and assumes a secret identity.

Céleste Roussel has to grow up fast. Martin, a German officer billeted in the village falls for her. She confesses this to her sister, a nun at a local convent where there are many hidden secrets, and she is encouraged to befriend Martin and use their relationship for information. However, can she cope with the depth of their feelings? Can she trust herself with the enemy? Can she ever fully trust him? Living a life with two secret parts proves to be a lonely challenge for Céleste but a carved bone angel talisman that has been passed down the generations to her offers her comfort and reassurance.

This was a time when people were living with secrecy, deception and daily hardships, as a village against the occupying enemy but at times against each other too. Liza’s writing brought these difficult times to life.

In this novel, Liza shows the resourcefulness that was demanded during the occupation and the inner strength and deceit that was necessary for survival. She highlights the fact that no one knew who to trust and that the need for secrecy become normal for so many during these years when village life changed so dramatically. As we meet the elderly Céleste at the beginning of the book, riddled with guilt following her actions during the occupation, I was always expecting the consequences to be disastrous but there were still unexpected plot twists right up to the end of the book. If reading about France during The Occupation fascinates you, this book is for you.

Wolfsangel is the second book in the L’Auberge des Anges series although I read it without having read book one, Spirit of Lost Angels set during the French Revolution. Both books are available in paperback and ebook format and links to Amazon can be found below. Liza is currently working on the third book.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A child of Europe remembers 11th November 2014

French Village Diaries 11th November remembrance France
Reading the names of the villagers who lost their lives
11th November is a public holiday in France and a day when services of remembrance are held throughout the country, from small village ceremonies to large events with military presence in towns and cities. I thought I would share some pictures from our village service this morning. The simple memorial is decorated with flags and a floral tribute and following the Maire reading the address from the ministry, four young people read out the names of the villagers who lost their lives for France during the First World War. It was a proud moment for me to see Ed taking part, although where the deep adult voice came from as he opened his mouth, I have no idea. 

Ed is a child of Europe. He was born in England and despite having lived most of his life in France remains very attached to being British. He has English and Irish roots from my side of the family and you don't have to go back many generations on Ade's side to find German blood too. He is fluent in English and French, which he speaks without an accent, and is also enjoying learning German at school. This morning he did his bit for our French village whilst wearing his poppy and this afternoon the house has been rocking as he jammed along to some of his favourite songs, including a song by a German band called Tokio Hotel. Vive l'Europe.

French Village Diaries  11th November floral tribute remembrance
The village floral tribute

This post is linked to the My Expat Family blog hop run by Seychellesmama - sharing family life as an expat. Click on the image below to see what other expat families are sharing.

Seychelles Mama

Monday, November 10, 2014

Street Art and Remembrance

One of the things I love about being out and about in France, especially during the summer months, is that you are almost guaranteed to stumble across an art installation somewhere. It is likely to be big, bold, colourful and free and it is just as common to find something in a small village as in a large city. Art in the streets is something I think of as being very French and is something that France does well, putting in that little bit of extra effort to look good; giving a town, village or riverbank that certain je ne sais quoi and adding a bit of interest to the passing visitor.

I have previously written a couple of posts about regular art features found locally in Poitou-Charentes; in Angouleme (home of the bande dessinée/cartoon art), in Barro (a small village on the river Charentes that has an annual photography event) and in our local town of Melle. This year, having ventured further from home I was not disappointed, although some of the art was a little bizarre. Here are some pictures of my favourite open art displays from this summer.

French Village Diaries Normandy street art Caen World Equestrian Games 2014
Colourful horses in Caen, Normandy celebrating the World Equestrian Games

French Village Diaries Festival des Bords de Vire Land Art Normandy 2014
Festival des Bords de Vire, Land Art in the Vire river valley, Normandy

French Village Diaries Droles d'Oiseaux Vouvant Vendee 2014 street art
Droles d'Oiseaux (strange birds, made from scrap metal) in Vouvant, Vendee

However, one of the most spectacular art displays this year took me even further from home than northern France. London was an important part of my life before moving to France and I always enjoy a visit, especially to The City and the area where I worked. When I realised Ade had work in London during Ed’s October holiday I suggested an extra UK family trip and felt it was important to visit the impressive art installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at The Tower of London. I now know that it’s not just the French that can put on a show when it comes to street art. With one ceramic poppy to represent every British life lost during the First World War the 888,246 poppies are both spectacular and very moving. 

French Village Diaries The Tower of London Remembers 2014 TowerPoppies First World War
The Tower of London Remembers

It couldn’t have been more perfect if it had been planned this way; Ade was based in an office over-looking St Katherine’s Dock (just over the road from the Tower), Ed and I visited The Tower Bridge Experience, then we all saw the poppies together before having a meal out and seeing a show. Even the weather was superb and we got to catch up with friends and family too.

I feel it is very important that the younger generations are made aware of the horrors of war and the sacrifices that were made. Ed has now visited some of the D-Day landing beaches and war graves in Normandy, the poppies in London and tomorrow, to tie in with a school history project on the First World War, he will take part in our village remembrance ceremony. Tomorrow is a public holiday in France and villages, towns and cities will all be holding a service often followed by a vin d’honneur. Ed along with three other young people will be reading out the names of the villagers who lost their lives. I will be a very proud Mum.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Book review of A Christmas Wedding by Julia Stagg

French Village Diaries book review A Christmas Wedding Julia Stagg Fogas Chronicles Pyrenees France
A Christmas Wedding by Julia Stagg

Exciting news! Today is the publication day for A Christmas Wedding: A Fogas novella by Julia Stagg and as I was lucky to get my hands on an advance copy here is my review.

Set in the fictional Pyrenean commune of Fogas, where Julia has already based four novels, this is an ebook-only novella and offers fans (like me) an extra glimpse at life in Fogas during the run up to a special Christmas celebration.

This might be a novella so it’s small, but it’s perfectly formed and I enjoyed being back in Fogas where a simple village wedding to be held on Christmas Eve turns out to be anything but simple. With only six days to go there are last minute problems with almost everything including the caterers, the venue and the groom, who wants to know what love is. Thankfully the community is ready to pull together and help in any way they can and the village soon becomes a hive of festive activity.

Julia has managed to pack a lot into this book from community spirit, romance and a touch of suspense to food and delicious recipes. All served with plenty of humour in a traditional French way, with just a twist of Englishness. I laughed a lot, I cried happy tears and I can’t wait for the next instalment from Fogas. I will also be trying out some of the recipes very soon.

Julia Stagg lived in the Ariège-Pyrenees region of France for six years where she ran a small auberge and tried to convince the French that the British can cook. Having done her bit for Anglo-Gallic gastronomic relations, she now divides her time between the Yorkshire Dales and the Pyrenees. Her knowledge and love of the area comes across in her writing. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and at her website.

A Christmas Wedding is published by Hodder and Stoughton and is available in ebook format for only 99p and links to Amazon can be found below.

You can read my reviews of the other books in the Fogas Chronicles here;

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Au revoir Madame Culottes

All villages have their characters and sadly I heard yesterday that our village has lost one of ours, Madame Culottes, who had reached the ripe old age of 94.

French Village Diaries life Madame Culottes school priory history
Madame Culottes
Her small house is situated on the corner of our road, so we have been driving, walking and cycling past her front door regularly over the last ten years and it was not an uncommon sight to see her modest underwear hanging out to dry on the fence of her tiny yard. I never knew her real name, but have always affectionately known her as Madame Culottes. It is sad to think her washing will no longer be one of the things I regularly see when out and about in the village. Unfortunately I have no idea what she used to talk to us about, other than constantly exclaiming how lovely the little one was and then in later years, how big he had grown. Her accent, lack of teeth and my poor French always proved to be a stumbling block for me, especially in the early years here. Although she lived alone, she was regularly visited by neighbours and when we were lucky enough to have a friendly and regular post lady her yellow van would park up every day (obscuring the view of the drying culottes) and as well as delivering the mail she would bring in the wood from the barn and stop for a quick coffee.

I am not sure if Madame Culottes lived here all her life, but I do know she used to work as a dinner lady at the village school many, many years ago. My neighbour, who is in her seventies, remembers these days well, but unfortunately without affection. I guess things were done differently then but I do wonder what she served them or what mean methods she employed to make sure they ate up.  My neighbour still appears to be scarred by the experience almost sixty years later so it can’t have been nice and I’m not sure she will be mourning at her funeral.

French Village Diaries life Madame Culottes school priory history
The old village school
French Village Diaries life Madame Culottes school priory history
An ancient priory window
Inset into the side wall of Madame Culottes house is an attractive stone window surround that was once part of an ancient priory dating from the tenth century. Its ruined remains were demolished in 1877 and the site was used to build the village school where she then worked. The school has been closed for many years and the building has been converted into municipal housing. She must have seen so many changes to the village in her years and with her passing we have lost a little piece of history.

Au revoir Madame Culottes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Book review of A Lady in France by Jennie Goutet

French Village Diaries A Lady in France reviewMy review today is for the beautifully written A Lady in France: A Memoir by Jennie Goutet. Jennie lives in France with her French husband and three children, but this is so much more than a new life in France book.

Jennie has led an amazing life. She was raised in the US in a multi-cultural family, has taught English in Asia, studied French in Paris, lived a corporate New York life and spent a year working in East Africa for her church before settling in France and raising her family. She is open and honest about the good and the bad times; including family loss and depression and talks about her religion, as it is a part of her, but without preaching. I will admit to being reluctant to start reading this memoir because of the religious content, but I was wrong. In talking openly about it she adds an extra dimension to her life and the memoir, but there is never any talk of her way being the only way.

Jennie has achieved so much in her life, had so many (good and bad) experiences and has helped people all over the world, but is sadly plagued by self-doubt and anxiety. Through this book she has shown me that it is possible for people with different cultures and religions to live in harmony and even enhance each other’s lives and that there is more to religion than war or conflict. I hope one day she is able to appreciate her achievements. I finished the book in tears and my only regret is that this book lingered on my kindle for far too long before I got around to reading it.

A Lady in France is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below. You can also follow Jennie at her blog here.