Sunday, 13 June 2010

Changes with our third summer

We are now on our third summer ............... and we get more reclusive by the day :-)

Yesterday was market day in the local town. We were a bit later than usual and it was noticeable how many more large pale tourists there were about. We met the Nice American who flew in for the summer last week and spotted a couple of others that we had met through her.

It felt very much like an office party where you aren't the people that matter. Everyone we spoke to was looking over your shoulder to see who else was there. I hadn't felt like that for a long time. The sort of party where, as a stay-at-home wife, the person you're talking to switches off and starts scanning the room when they learn that you have nothing that they want.

On the other hand, the strawberry lady - that we have been to pretty much every week for three summers - was delightful. And the vegetable lady that we had given up going to because she never ever acknowledged that she had ever met us before is, for her, greeting us like long lost buddies. The husband of my old french teacher greeted me in passing as he did other local people. Maybe we are getting somewhere at last!

We went out to a restaurant last night with some other summer visitors and that too showed changes. We never now go out to a restaurant in the evening, certainly not to one that is a half hour drive away and costs 80 euro for two. We are much happier in the sort of restaurant that costs 12 euros for 5 courses with wine and coffee and is full of french workmen and french families having a treat. The restaurant we went to was in a fabulous setting in the middle of a pristine village (of second homes) and we sat outside on a wonderful balmy evening. The other people were English or we spotted a wealthy Parisian from our town. The food was beautifully presented with lots of white linen and polished glass and cutlery. We had a lovely time and the company was great but......................

We no longer want to eat duck and foie gras, we don't spend our time here visiting the range of good restaurants in the area, aren't fussed about where to buy the 'best' duck breasts or sausage, thought that spending 28 euros on a cake from the special shop was a ridiculous price.

We are happily settling into a very, very quiet life with lots of gardening and pottering - or hard graft building by Him Outdoors. And still loving it.

Sunday, 6 June 2010


Today is being a lovely day. It is much cooler and damp with the threat of drizzle. This morning we went fairly early - before the tourists - to a local market and wandered along noting the ever increasing tourist tat and glad to see the all year rounders. Had a chat to the jam man. He is an Israeli who makes endless varieties of jams and chutneys. He used to give us a little pot and we used to buy occasionally but we have now all agreed that we really don't eat jam and chutney much but have a chat instead. He was bemoaning the fact that the french are so conservative about their eating and were very difficult to persuade to try things. He was hoping for more tourists who were wanting something french!

We then went to a local garden which was open at a cheaper rate this weekend to have a look. Parked at the bottom of a cliff where two large rivers meet and wandered slowly up the tiny village street to the chateau at the top where the garden is. A stunning village, immaculately kept probably by second home owners. On the way up it turned from nearly drizzle to rain for a few minutes so we popped in to a restaurant which was setting up and sheltered. Menu looked good and it has a lovely terrace under a vine - one to note for later.

We got to the garden at the top to discover a car park - wouldn't you know it. Went past the shut ticket kiosk into the shop and paid our money - after reminding the guy that it was supposed to be cheaper this weekend. He was about to start a guided tour so if we would care to wait a minute to see if anyone else turned up............ Nobody did so he started off.

It was a garden originally laid out by a french doctor to a sultan of Morocco on his retirement about 150 years ago. He wanted to make it as Moroccan as possible so he built himself a house in a Moroccan style and surrounded himself with plants. Unfortunately over the years it has been neglected and then bought 12 years ago by the commune and is now an educational garden in the french style. BUT the original trees are stunning. Huge palm trees, magnolia grandiflora and the star of the show is a giant sequoia straight from California! It is enormous and amazing. We were told when we visited them in California that they relied upon the fogs rolling in from the Pacific - obviously the damp air rising up the cliff from the two rivers will do.

The rest of the garden is a lesson for the french to try and get them to compost, mulch, leave wild flowers and show them what they might grow locally. Very unimaginative. There was a good water feature with interesting planting round a pool but since I could recognise everything it really isn't that innovative. There was another bit of a potager with plants to use as dye with labels with which bit you use and what colour and apparently the school kids come and look and then have a go at dying.

Given how useless gardens are usually in france it was lovely and much improved by a cool damp day and nobody else there. Ten out of ten for effort but the planting could have been sooooo much better.

Thursday, 3 June 2010


Where did May go to? Aaaah visitors.................

We have just had another discussion - over coffee outside on a fabulous morning - about the supermarkets here. Him Outdoors spent his working life in retail and I've spent my life feeding him :-) so we have opinions about these things!

French supermarkets are just not up to the equivalent in England and I have at last decided that I shouldn't be comparing them to Tesco but to the Welcome supermarkets in Hong Kong where we lived for 2 years. Then they can just about manage to compete.

It isn't the fact that you can't get some things that are occasionally essential - we are having people round for supper tomorrow and I need cream, spring onions, a non bendy cucumber, and some black mustard seeds would be good but hey that's pushing it a bit. The local supermarket has recently changed from one where the vegetables were excellent and reliable to the same as the one down the road which I didn't use because they were rubbish. So have to plan in a trip to a market tomorrow morning. There is one today in another village but it's very small with only one fruit and veg stall. Tomorrow's will have lots of fruit and veg and possibly a spice stall. Not cream though that's from the supermarket where I have just been and bought the last pot not the 2 I was hoping for.

In Hong Kong it was usual to visit 2 or 3 supermarkets to get a range of ingredients. We were only one of a lot of different sorts of expats so you might go to the American Supermarket for one thing to the local market for another and to one of two other ones run by different countries so stocking different things. It was interesting, frustrating but expected. Somehow here I expected it to be nearer to Tesco.

Him Outdoors' boss for a time in HK was french. His grandfather was Mr Casino and he was making a living advising HK retailers on how to run supermarkets!! When we arrived in France his welcoming email was 'welcome to the country where nobody works'.

Now I've decided to compare them to HK, french supermarkets are really quite good. HK ones didn't have smiley assistants - or any assistants, they had very poor stock, they had no knowledge of their stock and no interest in you as a foreigner. They were always restocking at the busy times, never anyone on the checkouts (don't remember them having the main telephonist for the store on the checkout) very bad pricing on the shelves......... now the french ones look better!