Lurking in my cupboard…

I’m talking about one of the cupboards, in our kitchen, in France.

I was surprised to find this:

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Possibly not the most glamorous piece of kitchen equipment I have ever seen. A Moulinex and not modern by any stretch of the imagination. But do you know what it is?

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I think in modern terminology this is called a citrus juicer but, as you can see from the photo, this piece of equipment is far from modern!

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It does produce excellent fresh orange juice and it very easy to clean. Always a bonus, I reckon.

My family tease me about my love for a gadget. This is true. In the past, I have had a juicer and, more recently, I bought one of these all singing, all dancing ‘nutrient extractors’. I made smoothies and juices and a lot of mess. Some were lovely, some made me feel like vomiting. Apologies if you are of a sensitive nature. I know I should worship at the altar of kale but it just doesn’t do it for me.

My nutrient extractor is languishing in the UK. I’m sure I’ll pass it on to a family member or friend as soon as I can find someone who would like it.

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I also found these bits and pieces…  My research – via EBay – tells me that I might have the remains of a Charlotte 3 or 4.

Are you a fan of gadgets? Do you have a favourite? I’d be interested to know!

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Wind…

Our French house is in the Aude. Aude is one of the windiest regions in France. Some say the windiest. We didn’t know this at the time we bought our house. Maybe all the windmills should have given us a clue! If we had known about the winds would we have changed our minds? I don’t think so.

Depending on what you read, you will be told that the Aude has about 300 days of wind a year. This is because the region is affected by an amazing variety of winds from all points of the compass.

Winds, in France, are given names. The most famous one is the Mistral. This particular wind doesn’t affect us, it is more prevalent in Provence.

However, the wind that dominates the most, in our area, is called the Tramontane. It blows from the north-west and is a powerful, cold wind. It channels through the narrow corridor between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central. It is created when high pressure from the Atlantic meets the low pressure of the Mediterranean. (I knew my geography ‘O’ level  would come in useful one day!)

The Marin is another prevailing wind which blows from the south-east  and the Mediterranean. The clue is in the name. It brings damp and wet conditions.

My research has led me to discover another wind called the Cers. It is dry and cold in the winter but hot and dry in the summer. It is created by the cool, damp air of the Atlantic being forced down from Toulouse as it heads for the sea. I could be wrong but having typed this, it’s sounding remarkably like the Tramontane… Maybe someone will enlighten me!

The Sirocco – the wind, not the car – blows from the south and brings hot, dry and dusty air from Africa. This wind can leave a fine layer of sand in its wake. This has been carried from the Sahara.

The impact of the winds is evident in our local town. Castelnaudary once had numerous windmills. In the seventeenth century there were 32 windmills in the town. After the Canal du Midi was constructed there was a growth in the number of flour mills. Castelnaudary, being the main port between Toulouse and Sete, exported wheat and flour. One can still see evidence of this as one walks around the town. The most ‘famous’ windmill is ‘Le moulin du Caugerel which has been fully restored.

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You can see others that have fallen into disrepair.

 

 

Or have been converted into homes.

 

 

Aude is now an important centre for wind produced energy using wind turbines.

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I’ve got used to the wind – mostly. It’s useful when you want to dry clothes quickly and can help to fan the air when it’s blistering hot.

Rumour has it that the wind can affect people and animals in many strange ways, similar to the impact of the moon.  This may or may not be the case but as a former teacher, I do remember our pupils would always be very excitable, noisy and jumpy  on a windy day! A bit like horses, really.

Elegance…

I really have to thank another blogger for the inspiration behind this post. I’m talking about Eloise who writes the lovely ‘thisissixty.blog’

It was Eloise who drew my attention to this book.

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I must admit I had never come across this book before. I was intrigued.

Before I started reading this ‘Guide to Elegance’, I wanted to delve into the whole concept of elegance. What does elegance mean? Who is perceived as being elegant?

I started with a definition: ‘Elegance is the quality of being graceful and stylish in appearance or manner’, according to one dictionary. Interesting. This suggests to me that elegance involves more than just how a person looks. But then we have that recurrent theme ‘stylish’.

My most popular blog post has been about French style and the whole notion of being ‘chic’.
https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2017/09/26/cest-chic

If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to take a look. It provoked some interesting comments.

But back to the book! It was orinally published in 1964 by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux. She was interested in design and fashion from a very young age and became the directrice of Nina Ricci. The book was republished in 2003 and although the author’s views may come across as old fashioned, in the context of today, they still have a certain charm.

The contents are are arranged alphabetically with everything you need to know about elegance from A to Z; Accessories to Zoology.

The topics that have interested me the most, so far, are Age, Chic and Perfume. To be honest, I haven’t read the whole book – yet – but I am enjoying dipping into the different sections as they take my fancy!

With this mind, I have selected a few of my favourite quotes to share with you.
There is a short section entitled ‘Comfort’. Ms Dariaux (!) states:
“If women continue to seek comfort above all twenty-four hours a day, twelve months a year, they may eventually find that they have allowed themselves to become slaves to the trainer, Lycra from head to toe, ready meals, organised travel….When comfort becomes an end to itself it is Public Enemy Number One of Elegance.

Oops! I must admit I have a friend who has banned me from looking for anything practical when we go shopping! Does that equate with comfort?

From the section on ‘Chic’.

The essence of casual refinement, Chic is a little less studied than elegance and a little more intellectual. It is an inborn quality of certain individuals, who are sometimes unaware that they possess it… if you are aware of your lack of chic, the battle is already half won, because the only really hopeless case is the woman who hasn’t the faintest idea of what is chic and what is not.

I do hope I haven’t dismayed you with these quotes because it really is a charming book, even though I (obviously) don’t agree with everything that has been written. It is very much a reflection of its time but you can still find some gems of information within its pages.

A final thought from Audrey Hepburn ‘ Elegance is the only beauty that never fades’.

I’d be very interested to know your thoughts on elegance. Who do you find elegant? What is elegance? Is the whole concept of elegance outmoded?  I can’t wait to read your comments!

Ghost signs

Are you familiar with ghost signs? I only recently became aware of this  phenomenon when a friend posted some photos of local ghost signs, on Facebook. From then on, I was hooked.

What is a ghost sign? I searched for a definition and I concluded that it is basically the remains – usually faded – of a painted advertising sign on a building.

If you want to find out everything there is to know about ghost signs, I would recommend the brilliant website:

www.ghostsigns.co.uk

Mr Ghostsigns (blogger Sam Roberts) also has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You might be wondering where is the French link?

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Well, I’m now on the hunt for ghost signs in France. Here is one in Castelnaudary.

I have seen others but they’ve either been when I’m driving or when I would have to stand in the middle of a busy road to get a decent shot. I’m now a woman on a mission, so watch this space!

In the meantime, here is an interesting sign I spotted in Toulouse. As it is not painted, I’m not sure if it counts as a ghost sign but I like it anyway.

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Here’s a similar one which is on the wall of a former flour mill.

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I’m still not one hundred percent sure how to translate ‘ghost signs’ into French. Are they ‘les murs peints publicitaires’ or ‘les publicités peintes’? I’m hoping someone out there might be able to enlighten me.

My hunt for ghost signs will continue. Does anyone else find them fascinating? I’d love to know!

3 enchanting places to visit in Occitanie…

You may well be thinking ‘why only three?’ In fact, I could be easily writing about thirty three enchanting places to visit in Occitanie, if not many, many more. But I’ve decided on three because our eldest son and his girlfriend came to stay for a few days, recently, and these were places we visited with them.

First some history! Occitanie, the administrative region, was created on 1st January 2016 from the former regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées.

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Graphic from Pinterest

This large area has it all – varied landscapes, fascinating architecture, interesting culture, stunning sights and of course, sunshine!  Festivals, markets, gastronomic delights…shall I go on? In that case: the Pyrénées, the Canal du Midi, Mediterranean beaches… I’m beginning to sound like a walking tourist board but I’m obviously biased because this is the area we chose to buy our house!

The first must see place is Toulouse. We have visited several times and I only wish I had got to know Toulouse sooner. It really is the most fantastic city and is often referred to as ‘La Ville Rose’ (The Pink City) because of the colour of the bricks that are used in many of the buildings.

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I would certainly recommend Toulouse for a long weekend or a city break. Whatever your tastes, there is something for everybody: retail therapy, culture, history, art, cafés and so much more. I love walking and there are several self guided walks one can enjoy around the city. All you need is a good map (available from the tourist office) or leaflet. The leaflet we used last year cost about 1 Euro with a choice of five varied walks. We managed three of them; one focused on the historic centre of Toulouse, another took us to the green areas of Toulouse, including a section of the Canal du Midi, as well as several beautiful public gardens and, last but not least, possibly my favourite, along the banks of the Garonne, from one side to the other.

More on Toulouse in the future.

My second enchanting place to visit, in Occitanie, is Carcassonne. In particular, la Cité. We first visited a few years ago, in August. Big mistake! It was unbelievably hot within the city walls and unbelievably crowded.

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However, when we visited with our son and his girlfriend everything was perfect! The first view of the citadel is breath taking. It resembles a fairy tale castle and it is rumoured that it was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  In reality, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage in 1997.

There has been a settlement where the Cité now stands since before Roman times and it has certainly suffered through the ages. It has been besieged, burnt and neglected. Although you wouldn’t think so when you see it now. This is because it was restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the nineteenth century. Some people are of the opinion that he ‘over restored’ the citadel, as several of the features he included, such as the pointed roofs on the towers and arrow-slits would not have been there originally. You will have to visit and decide for yourself!

In the meantime, do have a look at this video which was put together by Crème de Languedoc

My third enchanting place is possibly overusing the adjective ‘enchanting’ but I still feel the need to include it – Castelnaudary! My son and his girlfriend had no choice but to visit this small town because this is where we have our home. Obviously I am biased but it was standing looking at the views over the Canal du Midi, towards the port, that really enchanted me in the first place.

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Have you ever visited this part of France or any of these places? If you had to name three enchanting places that you have ever visited, anywhere in the world, which would they be? I’d love to know!

3 recent reads and 3 French series

I love reading. I always have. I think reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures. However, I’m very lazy about reading in French. I love to speak French, listen to French and even write in French but I don’t sit and read a French novel anymore. I think that might be because I studied French literature at A level and then as part of my degree. Or is that just an excuse?!

There are three books I have enjoyed recently. My favourite is ‘Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine’. This is the first novel written by Gail Honeyman. I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved this book. It made me laugh but also brought a tear to my eye. I found it original and beautifully written and I haven’t come across anyone who hasn’t enjoyed it – yet!

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The second book is ‘The Trouble with Goats and Sheep’ by Joanna Cannon. This is also a debut novel and takes place in the summer of 76; one I remember well. It is in part a thriller, in part a story of coming of age but also about the nature of friendships. This book appears to divide opinion, according to the reviews I have read, but it is one I definitely enjoyed.

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My final recent read was ‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith. I have read, and enjoyed, her books previously. This book focuses initially on the friendship between two mixed race school girls, in NW London, in the 1980s. The themes of race, class and gender are visited and overall, it is very well written. However, although the book started really promisingly, I struggled to get to the end – although I did! Again, reviews and opinions are divided on this novel.
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I might have been lazy about reading in French but this hasn’t been the case with watching French television series! Have you ever watched Spiral, or Engrenages, as it is known in French? There have been six series and they were shown, in the UK, on BBC4 on a Saturday night. It is a gritty police drama which takes place in the Parisian suburbs. The main characters are complex and flawed and the acting is fantastic. We are also offered an interesting insight into the French judical system and the way it works. Although some of the action is a bit gruesome, I found Spiral to be totally addictive and I cannot recommend it enough.

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My next two series are part of Walter Presents which is showcased on Channel 4 and All4. Walter selects a range of foreign language dramas, not just French. If you enjoy ‘Scandi noir’, I’m sure you’ll be able to find something to watch.

The first series I’m going to talk about is called ‘Vanished by the Lake’ (Le mystère du lac). It was filmed in the very beautiful Var region and is centred on the return of a woman detective, to her home town, to care for her mother. The day of her arrival, a neighbour’s teenage daughter disappears. The circumstances are similar to the disappearance of the detective’s two closest friends when they were teenagers.

No where near as gripping as Spiral but an engaging watch, nevertheless.

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My second series from Walter presents is Dead Beautiful (Les Dames) and stars Thierry Goddard (who was outstanding as Gilou in Spiral) playing a Parisian detective, Martin – bit of a theme going here! He is on the hunt for a particularly nasty murderer who targets women and uses a crossbow. Alongside the crimes, we get an insight into Martin’s complex love life – how very French!

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Quite a long post from me, this time. Congratulations on making it to the end! I’d love to know what you’re been watching and reading.

Oud

What a fascinating word! It is also written as Oudh.

How should it be pronounced? I’ve tried to find a YouTube clip or an audio file from an online dictionary so that I could share an accurate example of the pronunciation. There were so many variations that I couldn’t find just one!

I pronounce it as ‘ood’ but I’ve also heard other people say ‘owd’. Some people replace the d with a t sound.  There’s also the Arabic pronunciation.

What is oud and why am I rambling about it?!  I’ve written before about my love of perfume

https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/fragrance/ 

and about French perfume commercials:

https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2017/12/20/french-perfume-commercials-oui-ou-non/

and I’ve recently discovered that I’m very attracted to oud based fragrances.

I’ve always been a fan of intense perfumes like Poison and Opium. Lately, I’ve found myself drawn to more ‘masculine’ perfumes. I was given some Molton Brown toiletries and was surprised how much I liked their shower gels which are marketed for men, the woody and spicy ones.

But what is oud? It is derived from the agar tree which is said to have originated in India and grows throughout Southeast Asia. When the tree is infected by a particular mould, it reacts by producing a fragrant resin which is the source of oud. It is an extremely expensive ingredient and is sometimes called liquid gold. Having looked at the price of some of the oud perfumes, I can see why!

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Oud based fragrance can be described as warm, woody, smoky and potent. My favourite review described the scent as not being for the faint hearted!!

Rose is often matched with oud and this leads me to my latest purchase.

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This I bought in Marks and Spencer for twenty two pounds. As I had some vouchers to use no actual cash was involved. I’d tested this on a previous occasion and I just liked the fact that it was so different. When I first put it on, it’s very ‘heady’ but it changes to a warm and original aroma which is surprisingly long lasting. A little goes a long way. I haven’t had any feedback from friends of family, yet…

Strangely enough, it turns out that this week is National Fragrance Week. I had no idea when I started this post.

If you’ve tried any oud based perfumes I’d love to know!