Sunday, November 29, 2009

Anyone Remember Angélique?

  Around the age of 14, I was spellbound, as were my friends, by a series of novels about a young Française called Angélique. We keenly followed her love life which got off to a rousing start when she was 16 with a forced marriage to a nobleman. I can't remember if it was before, or after, he was burned at the stake (probably after, Angélique tended to serial monogamy) that she cut a swathe through the court of Louis-the-Something. She next headed for the Middle East and a life in the harem. At some point, her thought-dead-but-wasn't comte reappeared and off they sailed for the New World and on and on she went. 
  I may have got some of the details wrong but what I did remember came flooding back at this morning's vide-grenier in Lavelanet where, at one stall, someone was ditching what looked like the entire Angélique series.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

'Tis the season

   We must have already taken last week's supply of "pub"--the printed publicité that shows up in our mail-box--to the dechetterie, otherwise I would have photographed and posted the front page of the Intermarché flyer which shows an almost life-size foie gras.
   Foie gras and other duck parts are everywhere in the run-up to Christmas. The butcher in the marché couvert at Lavelanet had a fine stock on Friday along with duck gizzards, big white fat-laden duck legs for making confit, duck necks to stuff, duck wings, and duck carcasses (I keep meaning to buy a supply of these for stock-making purposes). 
   Also displayed was what looked like an enormous sausage. We asked about it and, as well as explaining what it was--the duck carcass deboned, stuffed, rolled and stitched with stout black thread--the butcher cut us a slice to taste. Good stuff indeed, essence of duck. It can also be sliced thickly and seared in a pan, he said. There's no name for this seasonal "sausage" so I expect it's a dish he invented.
   On the way home, we stopped at the supermarket for basics. The first item that greeted us was a sale on champagne--another sign that Christmas is on its way.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Beautiful Walk on a Beautiful Day.

    Books need to be stacked and measured so we can make or buy more shelves. Work needs doing in the garden. A deadline for a story is fast approaching. But....on this glorious, unseasonably warm day, who could stay indoors. 
    It's been 17 degrees today and we weren't the only ones tempted outside. As we started along the back road to Laroque d'Olmes we ran into friends returing from a bike ride. A few steps on, a young woman was searching for a missing white dog. A jogger went past with two black-and-white dogs loping along behind him. But as soon as we cut across the fields, we had the rumpled green and brown quilt of the countryside to ourselves. 
   What I love about the land around here is its accessibility. You can wander off tracks up steep grassy slopes to see what's on the other side, and find filigree nets of cobweb zig-zagging across your path. The only fences are the thin electric ones that keep cattle from wandering off. On the way back, we had a good view of the chateau and our stubby-towered church. Fields are plowed over, the colour of milk chocolate, or sprouting winter crops that will be plowed into the ground as fertilizer next spring. 
    One house we pass on this walk is surrounded by a high evergreen hedge with a small area carved into it to hold the post-box. Coming back through the village, Peter noticed the shadows of the plane trees. Don't they look exactly as though they're fighting each other?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Night in the village

Coming home tonight, I walked across the place in front of the post office. Everything was dark except for the hairdresser's (yes, we have a hairdresser's as well as a post office and a boulangerie). 

The Choir Drinks Champagne

Some weeks ago, our village choir performed in the church in La Bastide sur l'Hers. As a "thankyou," the curé gave us a case of champagne (the real thing). Peter suggested our house might be a good place to drink it--and hold a rehearsal. 
   So, on Wednesday, we rolled up the carpet, and pushed the big dining table back towards the wall. Our good friend John delivered 18 blue plastic chairs, borrowed from the Salle de Tilleuls where the choir usually practices. 
   I made a few dips, and everyone brought something to eat--and drink. It was quite the feast. Blinis with smoked salmon, chips, snacks, peanuts, three big bowls of nachos, and an enormous croustade from Valérie. 
   Coats went on the chaise longue as everyone arrived. Corks popped and champagne flowed into the 36 plastic flutes we'd been lent by the troisième âge society, the local equivalent of a seniors' group. Time for rehearsal with the repertoire now expanding to include more Christmas carols. We have two gigs booked in December, one in another church, the other at the village night market. 
   Sopranos, altos and tenors sat in tidy rows. Basses stood near the kitchen--and the champagne bottles. More eating and drinking and then another rehearsal of Ding Dong Merrily on High which nearly blew the roof off. 

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Road to Carcassonne

     Snow lies on the peaks of the Pyrennees, the first sign that winter is on its way. But it was a textbook autumn day a couple of weeks ago when a friend and I set off on a shoe-buying jaunt to Carcassonne. (Don't ask--but a subsequent day in Toulouse was more successful, for her, not me.)
    But back to the road to Carcassonne which, once you've passed through the village of Fanjeaux, winds across the plain of the Laurageais. Here's where they used to grow woad. Today, it's maize, sunflowers and vines, now crimson, tawny and yellow stripes across the hillsides, like a corduroy patchwork quilt. I love love these avenues of trees. 
    That tower on the horizon is in the village of Montréal--one of seven Montréals in France.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Fashion Moment at Mirepoix Market

     The foie gras, the bottles of Fitou, the endlessly sunny days of summer, the ravishing countryside, the continual sense of  history, I could go on. But one little known (or little written about) joy of living in the deep south of France is being able to wear exactly what you want. Dress codes may exist around here but, if they do, I've yet to come across them. If you feel like channeling the entire chorus of Les Miserables in peasant skirts and shawls, you can do that (and believe me, I do). Jeans and T-shirts are fine too. Black and bling? Why not.
   Mirepoix has only a handful of clothing stores but high fashion percolates down to the Monday market with remarkable speed. So, like everywhere else at the moment, racks right now are gloomily stocked with black, greige, prunes and purples. Just what we need in a recession, right? 
    Mirepoix market also has more than its share of brightly coloured ethnic/hippie embroidered and patchwork jackets, velvet vests and layered skirts. The friperie stall seems to have disappeared but, in Lavelanet, there's an enormous four-sided stall piled with secondhand clothing, usually three euros an item or two for five. I've dropped a few euros there...
     That's one side of the picture. The other is that if you do want to dress up, you don't have to look far. Check the astounding array of hats.  A shop in Carcassonne sells chapeaux gorgeous and elaborate enough for Ascot. Local festivals often bring out hat sellers who specialize in more casual, but still smart, things to put on your head. But an edible hat? That's a first. I was so beguiled by this Mirepoix stall-holder's leaf-bedecked headgear that my hands shook. So excuse me if the shot is a little bit out of focus.