Monday, October 28, 2019

Poitiers Insolite

French Village Diaries Poitiers Insolite Parc de Blossac Toussaint
Floral display Parc de Blossac, Poitiers

Poitiers Insolite (Unusual)

We recently found ourselves in Poitiers with an afternoon to spare. As we had the bikes with us, and for once it wasn’t raining, a bimble to some of our favourite places, with a few new sights too, seemed to be the perfect idea.

French Village Diaries Poitiers Insolite Parc de Blossac Toussaint
Floral snake, Poitiers

Our first stop was the Parc de Blossac where the winter floral displays were looking beautiful. With Toussaint (1st November, All Saints Day) approaching, the florists of France are alive with chrysanthemums in the rich colours of autumn. We are not the only Brits in France to have received odd looks from our French neighbours as we’ve decorated our gardens with these beautiful displays - that the French reserve for the cemeteries and gardens of remembrance on All Saints Day. However, the municipal gardeners of Poitiers seem to have followed our lead as not only were the flower beds full of colourful chrysanthemums, but a floral snake sculpture has appeared just outside the Parc de Blossac too.
We then crossed the town centre, where there is currently a multi-location contemporary art exhibition in place, the Traversées \ Kimsooja. In my opinion, it is art, but not as I know it, but some of the pieces certainly got us talking about them! 

French Village Diaries Poitiers Insolite Traversées Kimsooja
Palais du Justice, Poitiers

One benefit of the exhibition is that the old Palais du Justise (court house) that was once Eleanor of Aquitaine’s residence in the 12th century and has been closed to the public for over 30 years, is now open. The grand hall, (salle des pas perdus – hall of the lost footsteps) with its impressive windows and fireplaces would certainly have been some place for a medieval banquet. 
French Village Diaries Poitiers Insolite Clain
River Clain, Poitiers
We then joined the river Clain to the north of the town, where quiet roads took us through residential areas. 
French Village Diaries Poitiers Insolite
Hollyhocks in October
I was delighted to find hollyhocks still in bloom at the end of October.
French Village Diaries Poitiers Insolite Tour de France 2020
Tour de France 2020, finish line in Poitiers
We then decided on a mission to find the newly installed signage that marks the finish line for when the Tour de France will arrive in Poitiers on 8th July 2020. Cav, if you are reading this, it will be a slightly uphill sprint finish, on a wide section of the ring road, that I hope will have been resurfaced before you race here. I won’t be camping out just yet, but certainly plan to be there on the day.
French Village Diaries Poitiers Insolite Toussaint les lanternes des morts
Lanterne des Morts, Poitiers
With Toussaint so close, we took a detour through the cemetery, where as well as many family mausoleums and chrysanthemums we found a French military cemetery with a Lanterne des Morts as its centrepiece. Les Lanternes des Morts, or Lanterns of the Dead are a peculiar feature, found in only a handful of locations in our area of France. In fact, there are only 36 lanternes left in the whole of France that survived the Revolution (and the subsequent administrative destruction) and 11 of these are in the old region of Poitou-Charentes, with the remainder in the Aquitane. These needles of stone, built between the 11th and 13th centuries, sit near the church or in the cemetery and are a symbol of remembrance to those we have lost. At the top is a cross and an opening and at the bottom, a door where a lamp was placed. The lamp was lit at each death and only extinguished once the burial had taken place. They are always positioned so the opening looks towards the east and the direction of the sun rise, as a symbol of resurrection. I’ve been lucky enough to see a few of those that remain and find them fascinating. 

Next to the French cemetery was an area of German military crosses; the final resting place of 104 German soldiers who died as prisoners of war in Poitiers, during the First World War. We were both quite shocked to see so many crosses in a cemetery so far from the Front Line and battlefields.
French Village Diaries Poitiers Insolite Dolmen Pierre-levée
Pierre-Levée, Poitiers
Our route back towards the cathedral took us past an ancient stone, or Pierre-Levée that has been classified as an historical monument since 1862. This large broken slab supported by three pillars is the remains of an ancient dolmen, a megalithic monument used as a burial chamber.
French Village Diaries Poitiers Insolite Traversées Kimsooja
Traversées \ Kimsooja, Poitiers
Right outside Ed’s place is another art installation from the Traversées \ Kimsooja exhibition. This igloo-like frame is covered in life jackets and represents an emergency dwelling where protections at sea are turned into shelters on land. Designed by an architecture student who has helped with humanitarian work in Lesbos, Greece and invented the shelter based on the life vests found on the island’s beaches.

Our short 13km bike tour certainly took in the unusual and with megalithic stones, 12th century palaces and First World War graves, to modern art depicting the current migration crisis, floral displays and a cycle race still eight months away, was probably as varied as it’s possible to get.

The blog has been more than quiet recently, but then as our lives hurtled towards the 31st October Brexit deadline; neither my mood nor heart were in the right place. We now have another reprieve to 31st January 2020, which although drags on the uncertainty we have lived with since June 2016, I would much rather leave with a fully formed plan in place than crash out with no deal. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Book review of Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table by Carole Bumpus

French Village Diaries book review Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table by Carole Bumpus
Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table
by Carole Bumpus

My review today is for Searching for Family and Traditions at the French table by Carole Bumpus.


This culinary food and travel memoir reveals French families at their best and at their own dinner tables. It is an intimate peek inside their homes and lives; it is a collection of traditional French recipes (cuisine pauvre or peasant foods); and it is a compendium of culinary cultural traditions, sprinkled with historical anecdotes and spiced with humor and seasoned with powerful, candid memories. 

My review:

This book is a gem. American food writer Carole, her husband Winston and her French friend Josiene (who lives in the US) make a pilgrimage to France visiting the homes and tables of Josiene’s family and friends to discover the importance of food and family meals. It was to have been a journey that included Josiene’s mother, however, she sadly died before they set off, but this just added an extra emotional layer to their food pilgrimage.

From the beginning the food was not what I was expecting for a journey in France, but it certainly opened my eyes to the rich culture of immigration and food sharing to be found in the eastern departments. The iron mining towns of eastern France were a hot spot for immigrant workers after the war. In the terraced streets where mothers stayed at home, children played outside and fathers headed to the mines each day, Polish, French, Italian and others lived side by side. Food and money were scarce, but recipes and meals were exchanged and many of these dishes became family favourites for generations to come.

It was fascinating learning about traditions from a different area of France to where I live and gaining a better understanding about the history of the two world wars in the Alsace and Lorraine areas. These areas have been both French and German over the years and many of the personal accounts Carole discovered of the evacuations following the invasions were heart-breaking to read.

Throughout this book, food is described with love and passion, and a real bonus are the recipes Carole shares for us all to enjoy. First on my list to try will be the Mandelbaebbe Taertel (cream and almond tart) as it contains all the flavours I love.

We seem to be living in a political climate where immigration is portrayed as the enemy, so it was refreshing to read this book that certainly highlighted the positive impact immigration can have on culture and our tables. If food, France, history and culture interest you, then don’t miss this book that perfectly combines all of these and more.

About the author:

A retired family therapist, CAROLE BUMPUS began writing about food and travel when she stumbled upon the amazing stories of women and war in France. She has travelled extensively throughout France and Italy, where she has interviewed more than seventy-five families to date for her food and travel blogs. Her historical novel, A Cup of Redemption, was published October 2014, and her unique companion cookbook, Recipes for Redemption: A Companion Cookbook to A Cup of Redemption, was released August 2015, both by She Writes Press. Visit her at  

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Book review of The Art of Regret by Mary Fleming

French Village Diaries book review The Art of Regret Mary Fleming
The Art of Regret by Mary Fleming

My review today is for The Art of Regret by Mary Flemming.


Now in his late 30’s, Trevor McFarquhar lives a controlled, contrary existence. Traumatized by early childhood loss, the silence surrounding those losses, and then a sudden family relocation from the United States to France, he has no ambitions for his struggling Parisian bicycle shop or himself. His romantic relationships are only casual; his friendships, few. He’s both aloof and exacting, holding everyone to his own high standards while being unforgiving of their faults. But then, in the midst of the 1995 Paris Transit Strike, Trevor himself makes an unforgivable mistake. Humbled and ashamed, his veneer cracks, and he slowly emerges from his cocoon to reconnect, to rediscover possibility, and ultimately to redeem himself.

My review:

This book had intrigue from the start. I love a complex character who has issues; someone who doesn’t conform or fit in and Trevor McFarquhar is complex. An American who was raised in Paris from a young age, following the traumatic loss of his sister and father, he has a difficult relationship with his step-father, is disdainful of his mother and brother and intrigued by his sister-in-law. Feeling neither French nor American, Trevor exists in his own world, a world consisting of his minimalist studio, as bare of possessions as he is of emotions and a bike shop that he inherited but never really feels ownership of. He keeps all relationships at a distance and has few friends.

The 1995 transport strike in Paris is a pivotal point for Trevor, saving his business as the bicycle becomes popular. However, the madness of the moment takes over and he makes a mistake, subsequently losing touch with his family, until an unexpected call from his brother a few years later. His actions have changed him and as they try to come to terms with a new family dynamic, he begins to get the answers to questions from his past, but time is running out to make sense of everything that happened in his early years. 

I enjoyed watching his character unravel, discovering his history and pain from the past, never really knowing where it was leading me. There is a lot of sadness in this book, but I was ever hopeful that Trevor would be able to make sense of his life, come to terms with his losses and become someone who is able to connect with those around him, rather than push them away.

Paris of the 1990’s also plays its part in this book as Trevor takes us between the rue des Martyrs where he lives, near to the Sacré Coeur, to the grand apartment on the rue de Verneuil in the 7ème where his mother and step-father live, not to mention the many bistros and cafés he frequents and quiet corners he walks. If you enjoy reading about complex relationships and want to wander the backroads of Paris through the pages of a book, this could be for you.

About the author:

Mary Fleming, originally from Chicago, moved to Paris in 1981, where she worked as a freelance journalist and consultant. Before turning full-time to writing fiction, she was the French representative for the American foundation The German Marshall Fund. A long-time board member of the French Fulbright Commission, Mary continues to serve on the board of Bibliothèques sans Frontières. Having raised five children, she and her husband now split their time between Paris and Normandy. THE ART OF REGRET is her second novel. Find her online at her website here. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Book review of I'll Be Home for Christmas by Karen Clarke

French Village Diaries book review I'll Be Home for Christmas Karen Clarke
I'll be home for Christmas by Karen Clarke

I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Karen Clarke

Publication day: 14/10/2019


Nina Bailey loves Christmas. Except this year she doesn’t. Because it turns out that her husband-to-be has been cheating on her – and her beautiful wedding ceremony in the snow is cancelled.

She’s not really in the mood to be jolly, sing carols, or go anywhere near gingerbread men – in fact, what Nina wants is to avoid the whole thing. So she’s come to stay at her Aunt Dolly’s cosy café to nurse her broken heart.

Nina is determined to get through Christmas with no tinsel, no fuss – and definitely no flirting. So when she arrives and meets infuriatingly handsome Ryan Sadler, with his gorgeous forest-green eyes, she is not best pleased. And when Nina overhears him making fun of her, she is furious. (There might have been an incident with a koala onesie and a spilled bottle of milk, but that really wasn’t her fault!) So despite the spark between them, and the fact that he can whip up a fabulous dinner faster than she can say Michelin star, romance and Christmas are off the menu this year.

Unfortunately, Aunt Dolly hasn’t quite got the message, going to great lengths to provide a proper British Christmas for her beloved niece: a true home away from home. With sparkling lights adorning every wall and a tree to equal the Rockefeller Center’s and, yes, mistletoe above every doorway, can Nina resist the magic of Christmas – and stick to her no-romance rule?

This heart-warming romantic comedy will have you reaching for eggnog, roasted chestnuts and gingerbread cookies! The perfect festive book to read curled up in front of the fire, for fans of Sue Moorcroft, Holly Martin and Debbie Johnson.
French Village Diaries book review I'll Be Home for Christmas Karen Clarke
I'll Be Home for Christmas blog tour

My review:

I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Karen Clarke, is the third and final book in the Little French Café series and I have quickly become a big fan of Karen’s novels since starting this trilogy. She has the ability to set the scene so you feel like you are there, fill it with characters who are alive, quirky and feel like friends and also trap you in a story you don’t want to put down.

Dolly’s café on the Ile de Ré has already given us Nat and Jay and then Charlie and Elle, but can it work its magic once more? Dolly’s niece Nina is coming for Christmas and Dolly is determined it will be a Christmas like no other for the pretty little island off the Atlantic coast of France. She has gone over the top with decorations, introduced Christmas jumpers and mincepies to the locals, and despite Nina wanting to escape Christmas, is planning a full turkey and all the trimmings meal too. And, unusually for the island, this year there is also snow.

Having called off her wedding to her unfaithful fiancé, Nina is off men. She needs space and a clear head to plan her future and work out what her dream job could be. A break with her Aunt Dolly and cousin Charlie is just what she needs. What she doesn’t need is complicated Ryan, Charlie’s best mate, who is staying above the café too.

Things get off to an embarrassingly bad start when Nina meets Ryan (although it is hilarious for us). All Ryan wants is peace and quiet to write his next novel, not hassle from his ex-fiancée, or disruptions from Charlie’s cousin. However, Dolly wouldn’t be Dolly without a spot of well-meaning match-making, but I’m saying no more here, you’ll have to find out the rest for yourselves.

I will say that I am sad this is the last book in the trilogy as I have enjoyed them all and will miss catching up with the familiar characters in Dolly’s special little café on the Ile de Ré.

If you are looking for a bit of cosy comfort and romance to escape the mad run up to Christmas, you can’t go far wrong here.

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French Village Diaries book review I'll Be Home for Christmas Karen Clarke
Karen Clarke

Author Bio: 

Karen Clarke writes romantic comedy novels. Her BEACHSIDE series is set in the fictional seaside town of Shipley and features recurring characters, but each book can be read as a standalone. She is currently working on a new, three-book series set in Devon.

Karen has also written three romcoms with a paranormal twist, all available to download

When she's not working on her novels, Karen writes short stories for women's magazines and has had over three hundred published globally. Some of them can be read in her short story collection 'BEHIND CLOSED DOORS...and other Tales with a Twist'

Karen lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband and three grown-up children.

Author Social Media Links: 


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