Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A retro approach to air-conditioning

    Have I told you how swelteringly hot it's been here recently? How we cope with it is by closing all the shutters during the day time to keep the house cool and opening them at night to let the colder night air pour in.
    Also, I've started carrying a fan around in my handbag and, the more I use it, the more it makes sense. Think about it for a moment. Here's a device that folds up to nothing, is as "green" as it's possible to be (the only energy you're using is your own) and really, really works. And then there's the whole language of the fan.
    Here are the three fans I currently own.  Two I use, the first one's simply to look at.

My absolute favourite--and one of my best vide-grenier finds ever. I spied this lovely little fan a year or so ago on an insanely hot day and it cost me all of one euro. It's made of paper, a bit tattered as you can see, and was originally a promotional item for a champagne company. Strapless black cocktail dress, scarlet lips...isn't she gorgeous?

 My latest purchase happened at last Sunday's vide-grenier in La Bastide-de-Boussignac, a village not far from ours. This fan is creamy-white and--I don't know if you can make the name out--looks as though it was a souvenir from Bali. I paid 50 centimes for it.
  This is the first fan I owned. It was given to me by the lady who ran the hotel in Béziers where I stayed in, I think it was, 2001. It's basic black so it goes with everything.

Non-designer details.

    I must have walked past Mirepoix's cathedral hundreds of times--and the building and formal garden beside it but I only noticed this (see picture above) last Monday. Apart from a gorgeous "shabby chic" paint job that interior designers would charge thousands to do, don't you love those little heart cutouts in the window shutters--and the stained glass window over the door?

Monday, August 22, 2011

High summer indeed.

   The question I ask myself is "what would have happened if the mercury had reached the 50 degree mark?" Yesterday, when I put the thermometer out in the full sun, this is what it read. Forty-eight degrees or, to put it another way, 18 degrees hotter than the water we use in the washing machine's eco-cycle.
    We've had incredibly hot weather for the past few days, made to feel hotter by the humidity. Cooler temperatures are forecast for tomorrow, and rain, which will be something of a blessing. Digging holes this morning in the garden to plant a cutting that was on its last legs (should that be stems?)--at 7:45 a.m., exclamation point--I found that, despite trailing up and down the path with the hose, and liberal pourings from watering cans, the earth is bone dry.
    Rain would be good.
    In the meantime, there are tiled floors to walk on in bare feet, chilled Muscadet (even rosé seems too "warm" at the moment) and crisp salads--tonight's is a Niçoise--that are as lightly dressed as I am.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Eating locally...

     Here's a peek at last Friday's lunch, some of it sourced from the market we'd just been to in Lavelanet, some of it from our, and our neighbour's, garden. 
     Starting at 12 noon and going round the clock, the hunk of bread is off the half a couronne we bought. This is real gutsy peasant stuff, crusty, chewy, and meant to last a week. If we ever do have leftovers, they make terrific croutons All that arugula/rocket/roquette comes from the garden. It self-seeded itself to make a small forest that grows about two metres from where we were eating it. The more I cut it, the more it grows.  I love its pepperiness and often team it with walnuts, and a dressing of lemon juice and walnut oil. I picked those sweet little yellow cherry tomatoes, and the green one further down the garden. The red ones are from next-door. My neighbour has been away for a few weeks and gave me free run of her vegetable patch. 
     Finally, the protein element. We bought two roasted quail from the rotisserie van at the market. Still warm when we ate them, they only cost 2.50 euros each, and we nibbled every last little bit of meat off them. The rotisserie man also sells whole chickens, chicken legs, chicken thighs, roasted pork, big fat sausages, and potatoes that sit in a trough at the bottom of the rotisserie and catch all the juices that drip from the various meats.

     Finally, a pot of redcurrant relish made by a friend--and very delicious it is. Last, but not least, the little blue-handled spoon was made by our neighbour, David Hilton, maker of beautiful tableware. Go and have a browse around his on-line shop.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Eye of the Needle

In Carcassone for the day, we walked down this street and came upon...
At first, we thought she was a painter. Then, as we got closer, we saw that she was "drawing" with needle and thread. It looked as though she was doing it freehand too.

One of her completed works--a "Salvador Dali". Attached to it is a note saying that it's not for sale but for the world to look at. In case you're wondering how she made a living, there was a hat on the ground if you wanted to throw in a euro or two. 
To give you some idea of the intricacy of her work, here's a closeup of the thumb just underneath the egg.

And moving in even closer, you can see the incredible fineness of her work. I can't begin to imagine how many thousands of hours she must spend on one piece of work. All I know is that she was there when we walked towards the main square, and there several hours later when we left.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Tip of the Chapeau...

  Because we'd heard that its Sunday market was well worth a visit, we drove to Esperaza last weekend, a town on the Aude river. It's also a town on the tourist trail, I suspect, because the place was rock-solid with accents other than French and folk carrying Nikons rather than shopping bags. Still, it was fun to stroll around in the sunshine. It always is, and it was pleasant sitting in the sun drinking coffee. Later, we crossed the bridge, admiring the floral boxes and wondering "what do these people feed their plants?"
   By now it was lunchtime but we didn't really feel like the full meal that's the usual Sunday lunch in France, so we picked up a pizza and ate it outdoors by the now-defunct railway station, talking about how great it must have been when even small communities were linked by le train. Some of the old stations have been converted into houses. Others into exhibition spaces. Our local "green way"--a 34 km trail for walkers, bikes and horses--to a large extent follows the route of the old railway that used to link nearby villages. 
   Lunch done, pizza box folded and thrown in the waste bin, I wandered over to one of Esperaza's top attractions. The other is a dinosaur museum and both it, and the hat museum--the star attraction as far as I'm concerned--are housed in the same building.
   This whole area used to be famed for its textile manufacturing and related industries like glove-making and hat-making. Our village used to make jet jewelry and not far away, to this day, is a little factory that makes combs out of cow horn.
   So, a hundred years ago, you tidied your hair, and then you put on a hat, probably made in Esperaza.
   Antique equipment, vintage photos of proud hat-makers, hats of course...all in all, the museum was huge fun. I love seeing how everyday objects are made, and here they took you right through the hat-making process from raw wool to finished chapeaux.
The life cycle of the classic French beret.

If you've ever been unlucky enough to inadvertently send a wool sweater or socks through a hot wash...the same principle applies to berets. Once it's been steamed, this very large floppy thing will be transformed.
Brute force creates another classic shape.
Isn't this medieval hat wonderful?

A hut for a musketeer.