Sunday, May 30, 2010

Choral performance Number Two

 Early on a Sunday afternoon, we drove into Lavelanet and assembled at the halles, home to part of the Friday market, the annual hazelnut feast and--today--a performance by five local choirs, ours among them. 
   First we rehearsed, then we adjourned to the outdoors and the café, then fuelled by whatever beverage had tickled our fancies, we sang. Finally, all the choirs squashed into position on the stage and performed together. There was no official announcement but word quickly got around that the host choir from Lavelanet had prepared drinks and snacks for us in a building behind the cinema at the other end of the car park. 
    "Snacks" is an understatement. Sucré and salé--sweet and savoury--dishes filled two long tables, with drinks poured at a third one. Tartes, pâtés, it was an incredible spread with my personal vote for the most memorable, a savoury cake studded with lardons, olives and hazelnuts. 
     With so much talent in one room, we soon had it rocking with more music, singing and dancing.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Back in France to snow and choral performance Number One.

    Did I hear that right? We're about an hour from Carcassonne when, over the p.a. system, I hear what I think is something about "Beziers" and "neige." On May 4? Surely, this is just an example of Ryanair's fine Irish humour? 
     But no. We landed in Beziers and hung around waiting for transportation to Carcassonne about an hour away with--an example of Ryanair's fine customer service--not a word about when it would arrive. Cut to a few hours later and we're picking up our car in hurricane strength winds and rain. Driving home, we notice what we think are sheets of polythene spread on the higher meaders. Snow. It's banked up by the sides of the road in Mirepoix but lessens as we approach Léran, Still, not quite what we'd expected. 
    The next weekend was a busy one for the choir with two performances back to back. Saturday, we met up by the old mairie and boarded a bus to take us to church in Portet-sur-Garonne near Toulouse. Here we are at full throttle (with thanks to Marek who, with his wife queen-of-the-raspberry-roulade Shirley, runs our village café).

Friday, May 28, 2010

Springtime in Cambridge...

   Coaches from London don't stop where they used to in Cambridge so, instead of the bus station, we found ourselves and our luggage deposited on an unfamiliar road some distance from the town centre. But Cambridge isn't that big (nowhere's that big compared to London) so a ten-minute taxi ride and we were on my cousin's doorstep. 
    Lots of family catching-up to do as it's ten years since we saw them last and we still hadn't finished by the time they dropped us off at Stansted airport on the following Tuesday morning. Highlights of the weekend: a visit to, and lunch at, the Fitzwilliam Museum. A rowdy night at the pub. A cruise around the bookshops. A look at tourists shivering in punts on the river. 
   Because all of this took place in freezing cold weather. "Oh to be in England, now that's April's here..." but not in these temperatures.

 It's impossible to think of Cambridgeshire--without remembering a poem by Rupert Brooke. As 14-year-olds we were all in love with this impossibly handsome young poet who died tragically (but somewhat unglamorously of an infected mosquito bite) during the first World War.
     Take a look at his best-known work, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, to put you in the mood. Click on Even easier, listen to one of the versions on YouTube.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

London, here we come.

    I always forget how just how vast and sprawling London is. It took two hours to get there by coach, with at least one of those spent crawling through the suburbs past what seemed like endless kebab shops. Mind you, since the authorities started charging drivers a steep rate to take cars into the city centre, traffic has improved immeasurably. Instead of taking the Underground, we filled up our Oyster cards and whizzed around on the red double-deckers. (And for those who don't know what Oyster cards are...think of a credit card that you "top up" and swipe when you get on a bus. Brilliant.)
   Galleries, museums, Trafalgar Square the favourite meeting point on the side of Nelson's column facing the National Gallery, Charing Cross Road bookshops, Camden Lock on a Saturday morning, West End theatre--Felicity Kendal in GBS's Mrs. Warren's Profession, pints at pubs, pub lunches, terrific Malaysian and Chinese meals in Soho. We walked our feet off, my personal best being from the Imperial War Museum  back across the Thames (which I where took these pix of the Houses of Parliament--the classic shot used on HP Sauce bottles--and the London Eye), up Whitehall and finally into Trafalgar Square. As you can see, it was a grey day and, thankfully, not too hot. And did I mention shopping? Shame we were restricted to 10 kg of carry-on luggage each.
    Enjoy the snapshots. 

A day at the seaside...

     On a cloudy Sunday, my sister Hilary drove us to the Suffolk coast with a short stop at Walberswick for a coffee. By the time we arrived at Southwold, raindrops were spattering the windscreen.
     I LOVE Southwold because it's the absolute essence of English seaside places. Lining the front are traditional seaside huts painted in bright and different colours. A long pier protrudes from the beach. The sand and pebbles are held in place by "groynes," which, on chilly summer days, act as handy windbreaks. 
     The rain poured down so we are our picnic in the car. Then we walked to the end of the pier, checked out the amusement arcade and wondered if the landmass we could just make out in the distance was, in fact, the Netherlands (somewhat confusing the junior member of the party who got very excited when she thought we could see "Neverland"). Then the sun came out so we walked into the town of Southwold which is pretty almost to the point of tweeness but not quite. Then we went home and later went out for fish and chips. In other words, a very traditional English Sunday. 

Back to my birthplace.

   Oh, I have been a very bad little bloggiste recently. Five weeks and nary a word from me. If you've hung in this long, my heartfelt thanks. A deluge of posts is about to descend on you. I could backdate them but it seems more honest to write them all at once, get up to date, and proceed from there.
   So...on April 23, appropriately since it's both St. George's Day and Shakespeare's birthday, we drove to Carcassonne, abandoned the Clio, and took off with just under 10 kg of hand luggage and Ryanair which deposited us, some two hours later, in the U.K.
   First stop: my home town of Bury St. Edmunds which, metre for metre, contains an astonishing amount of history. That tower at the top is the Abbey Gate, not the original one which the townspeople destroyed in the 14th century but a replacement built somewhat later. 
   The abbey itself kept going till the 16th century. Now it's only ruins (in a fine example of recycling, the good folk of Bury reused the stones in their own houses). Small sections do remain like this entrance (the lower photo) which is beside the cathedral. At some point, houses were built into it, with considerable architectural sensitivity I think. Back in my teenage years, when I belonged to a theatre group, we used to rehearse in the house on the left with the bay windows. 
    Bury has changed of course since I was last there ten years ago. At long last, the cathedral has acquired a magnificent tower. On the other hand, what used to be the cattle market has sprouted what is inarguably the nastiest shopping centre in the UK, a true abomination, a stylistic mish-mash of buildings centred on what looks like a giant cross-hatched metallic slug. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mirepoix's annual triple market

Carpet of flowers is such a cliché but that's honestly what it looks like.
Can't resist a louche or two of olives.
Just part of the haul.
So it's cracked and stained--just think of the life this platter has already led.
And look how well it goes with some of my other finds found at other brocantes.

Around this time of year, Mirepoix's weekly Monday market starts to get more and more crowded. At its peak, you literally find yourself in people-jams. The only way around this is to shop earlier than you usually do. But, on Pentecost weekend, you could probably arrive there the night before and you still wouldn't find a parking spot. 
   That's because the main square houses a brocante--antiques and collectibles fair--all weekend. Then, on the Monday, there's the annual flower and plant market. And the regular market with all its produce, meat, cheese, and other stalls has to be there too. What happens is that the market expands into the surrounding streets where parking is usually at a premium anyway. 
    But it was all worth it. A terrific one-euro find at the brocante. Lots of pots of lavender and rosemary, and a climbing rose, colour unknown but we're told it's red. The usual lettuce, parsley and other salad makings, and eggs from the egg man. We came away so laden that I stood by a tree and waited while Peter went and fetched the car.