La rentrée

September has always been a significant month for me. I think this is because my career has been based in education. I see September, and the start of the new academic year, as an opportunity for a fresh start. I used to look forward to a new timetable, new classes and new stationery! As a pupil, a student and a teacher, I always loved getting new pens, folders and pencil cases. I still enjoy going into Paperchase now!

This September has meant a return to Castelnaudary after two months in the UK, catching up with friends and family. Our French house hasn’t been empty, our eldest son and seven friends spent a week there, before travelling on to Barcelona. It was an international gathering as there were four English guys and four Brazilian girls!

Then our youngest son and five friends were the next to have a holiday here. As they are all students, it was great for them to be able to have a break in the sun without breaking the bank! They were able to relax and enjoy the pool and, by the look of our cellar, have the odd bottle of wine … or six!

As a result, we have also ‘inherited’ a rather nice barbecue and an interesting selection of inflatables, plus a variety of footballs, basketballs and rugby balls!

When we returned to Castelnaudary, we found our garden had morphed – yet again – into a field! Truly, I’m not complaining, although it might sound like it. It’s just one of those things that happens when you are lucky enough to have a second home. When we left our home in the UK, our garden was looking so tidy and well cared for. We were even complimented by our neighbours! Yet, we know, by the time we get back, it will be back to square one. Still, gardening is a brilliant form of exercise…

We’ve had some gorgeous weather since we returned. Look at those blue skies!

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You can just catch a glimpse of the pool. The water temperature is a very pleasant 25 degrees! The shrubs in the foreground are oleanders. I was delighted that they survived being hacked pruned by Mr FF.

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One of the first things I like to do, on our return, is check the Canal du Midi is still at the end of our garden and then visit the port. This rather moody looking shot, was taken while eating breakfast outside a new boulangerie that has recently opened. The colour is really quite odd and, yet, I like it!
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Of course, la rentrée is really all about the return after the long, summer holidays. This could be a return to school, university or even work. In my case, I was delighted to return to teaching my English conversation classes. These take place in the rather grand (from the outside) Palais de Justice.

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I often think that September is the perfect time for me to make some blogging resolutions. I’ve been meaning to update my blog for some time. I need to update my profile and photo. However, my main aim is to change to a self-hosted blog and I think it’s time I changed the appearance of my blog, too. Watch this space!

 

 

 

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La fête du cassoulet

Last weekend was the annual ‘fête du cassoulet’, in Castelnaudary. This year, we weren’t able to go as we were back in the UK, avoiding the heat – haha! Epic fail…

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Castelnaudary is known as the capital of cassoulet and credited with inventing this dish. However, Toulouse and Carcassonne may well dispute this fact! I’ve written previously about this French style ‘sausage and beans’

https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/cassoulet-or-sausage-and-beans-french-style/

The cassoulet festival takes place during the last weekend of August. Not the ideal time for eating a hearty casserole containing duck, goose, sausage and beans, in my opinion! I do love a cassoulet, and cook them myself, I just prefer eating this dish when it’s cold and I need comfort food.

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We have attended the fête du cassoulet before and it was great fun! The sleepy, little town of Castelnaudary really comes alive. Of course, it’s full on holiday season and the Canal du Midi is awash with tourists.

The festival is organised by the ‘Grand Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary’. Confrérie translates as ‘Brotherhood’ but probably equates more with a guild. The Castelnaudary Cassoulet Brotherhood was founded in 1970 to protect the quality and standard of cassoulet.  I hasten to add that there are also women in this Brotherhood! They all wear special robes and a hat which is shaped like a ‘cassole’, the dish in which Cassoulet is cooked and served. They even have a hymn to praise cassoulet which is sung in the local Occitan language.

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This is a screenshot of their website. Do go and have a look if you want to find out more and even listen to the Cassoulet hymn!

Although we didn’t make it to the ‘fête’ this year, we were able to glimpse the essence of the celebrations through this video:

Have you ever eaten Cassoulet?

If you do happen to be anywhere near Castelnaudary, next summer, I recommend that you go along to celebrate the twentieth Fête du Cassoulet!

 

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!

 

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.

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!

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?