Leading a double life

This might sound more interesting than it actually is in reality. I’m not a secret spy, nor do I have a second Mr FancyingFrance tucked away somewhere!

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I am a Gemini so that might have something to do with any duality I may have, if I was totally convinced by signs of the zodiac.

On the other hand, I am lucky enough to have two homes and divide my time between S.E. England and S.W. France. I do consider our French house to be a second home rather than purely a holiday house but there are distinct positives and  challenges to maintaining and travelling between properties.

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Our French house

I’m also mindful of the fact that there are people who don’t have a home at all and that I was fortunate to have inheritances which financed the French property. Although it is never truly fortunate when a family member or friend is no longer with us.

What’s it like to lead a double life?

  • It means travelling quite a lot. Sometimes by car, sometimes by plane. If we fly it’s between  Toulouse and Gatwick. I’ve become a truly light flier as I don’t have to transport any toiletries or clothes as I have some in each place. If we drive, we allow two days and have a found the ideal hotel, for a one night stop over, outside Tours.
  • It involves adapting to a different pace of life, according to where I am.  In France, I feel more as if I’m on holiday. I don’t rush around as much as I do in the UK as I don’t have the same extensive network of family and friends.
  • It necessitates switching between languages. I believe this is very good for my aging brain! There was a time when my French was fluent. I even used to dream in French! This isn’t the case anymore but I’m working on it.
  • It entails adapting to cultural differences in terms of food, shopping, etiquette and more besides. We eat out more frequently in France and always buy food from the local market.
  • It results in us modifying our behaviour. In France, I am even more polite. I do have a bee in my bonnet about saying please, thank you, holding doors open for people and so forth. I have been told that I am too polite. How is that even possible?! When I meet people in France, we always shake hands or kiss on the cheek, depending on how well I know them. When I go into a shop, I always say ‘Bonjour Monsieur, Madame,’ etc. This is the norm. I wrote about the ‘kissing dilemma’ here: https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2015/07/08/faire-la-bise-to-kiss-or-not-to-kiss/

These are just some of the aspects of my double life. I’ve read somewhere that everyone leads a double life to some extent, that we all have a public and personal persona. This was certainly the case when I was a teacher!

Do you lead any kind of a double life? I’d love to know!

 

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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!

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.

Red squirrels and Hoopoes

There are many things I love about our garden in France. I like the informality, the trees, the light, the birds and the wildlife.

I particularly love the red squirrels. I still get overly excited every time I see one. I have seen red squirrels before, both in France and on Brownsea Island, in the UK. However, this just doesn’t compare with having them in your own garden. They are delightful. It’s  so entertaining watching them chase each either round the tree trunks or stood stock still holding a nut in their paws.

My attempts at capturing them in a photo have failed, so far. This one is from pixabay.com

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In the UK we have many grey squirrels, or ‘tree rats’ as one friend likes to call them. She is not a fan! They seem like giants compared to the ones I see here in France which are so much more delicate. Luckily, the red squirrel is protected in France, although there is a fear that the greys may head this way, via Switzerland. They were brought to Italy  in the sixties from the States, as a novelty. Let’s hope they don’t!

We are in Aude but in nearby Hérault, two squirrel bridges have been constructed from rope. These are known as ‘ecuroducs’ and enable red squirrels to cross two major roads in safety.

As a child, I can remember reading ‘Squirrel Nutkin’ by Beatrix Potter. Later I read it to my siblings and later still to my sons. I wonder if that has anything to do with my affection for red squirrels…

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I am equally thrilled when I see a Hoopoe bird (huppe in French). The hoopoe is a very striking bird to look at.  It has a beautiful and unusual crest on its head. It makes me think of it as the punk of the bird world! It is about the size of a Thrush, with a long, pointed bill.

Again, I have attempted several photos but none of them do justice to this gorgeous bird . Here is another one via pixabay.com:

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Previously, I have seen hoopoes in other parts of France and also in Gran Canaria. However, nothing compares with seeing them foraging around our garden. One extremely stormy day, we even had a thoroughly soaked Hoopoe chick sheltering on our kitchen window sill. We were delighted when its parent continued to feed it until the storm had abated and the chick had dried out and was able to fly away.

In the UK, I get a thrill from other wildlife and birds that appear in our garden; woodpeckers, a buzzard, bats and goldfinches, for example. Wherever you live, what do enjoy seeing most in your garden?

 

 

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.