Saturday, October 21, 2017

Celebrating the Good Times and the Village Bar

French Village Diaries Celebrating the Good Times Ed 17
Happy 17th Ed!

There has been a lot to celebrate in the village recently and most importantly, for us, was Ed’s 17th birthday. On Thursday 19th October 2000 at around 7.20am, Ed made his way into the world. He was late, 11 days late to be precise, and it took around 17 hours and included a full paediatric team, with a Ventouse sucking device for him to arrive, but we got there in the end. His first day at home was on the Friday, a little bit like this year in that with him away from school during the week we had to wait for Friday evening before celebrating.

French Village Diaries Celebrating the Good Times Ed plays the bar
Ed plays the village bar

Happy Birthday Ed and thanks for lots of fun and music - I’m not sure where you get your musical talent from, but it’s certainly not from me, something that was very obvious at the karaoke night in the bar last weekend.

French Village Diaries Celebrating the Good Times village bar
Morning coffee in the sun at the village bar

To celebrate the first three months of the re-opening of the village bar, I’m calling it a bariversary, they held a karaoke night last Saturday. I’m not sure I have been to more than a few karaokes in my life as no one needs the torture of hearing my voice amplified; in fact I only sing alone, in the car, and to my ABBA cd. However, I loved it, had a great night and haven’t laughed or sung so much for ages (those of you who were there, I can only apologise). The bar may only have been open three months and might not look much from the outside, but inside it’s a warm and friendly place to be that has already become a central part of our village community.

French Village Diaries Celebrating the Good Times village bar
Summer evening buffet at the village bar

Jean-Marc and Catherine worked hard to get it opened and in the last three months we have enjoyed morning coffees, impromptu soirees with music, Jean-Marc’s special cocktail aperitifs served with homemade light bites, as well as summer evening buffets where the long trestle tables have stretched from the terrace into the garden and Jean-Marc’s flaming baked Alaska has wowed the crowd at the end of the evening.

French Village Diaries Celebrating the Good Times village bar
Tour de Rêves Day Two leaving from the village bar

The bar was the start point for Day Two of our Tour de Rêves bike ride, where lots of local friends joined us for coffee and croissants before we set off for what was to be a difficult 79km.

French Village Diaries Celebrating the Good Times village bar
Café Linguis'tic at the village bar

It has also become home to our newest venture in the village, Café Linguis’tic. Every Thursday afternoon the bar is alive with chatter in a mixture of French and English with lots of laughter too. The conversation is light and easy, conducted in French for the British and in English for the French, and so far, everyone is having fun learning more about each other and improving their language conversation too. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have the village bar back up and running.

French Village Diaries Celebrating the Good Times Jerusalem artichokes
Jerusalem artichoke season

Slightly less exciting, but worth celebrating in my opinion is the start of the Jerusalem artichoke season. These sweet tasting beauties (with not so sweet (windy) side effects) are ready to dig up now but will also happily stay in the ground for harvesting all winter. I’ve already been busy roasting, puréeing and freezing them as these little blocks of deliciousness will add flavour and thicken any stew, curry or sauce I make.


When the oven door hinge broke mid-roast this morning however, I didn’t feel much like celebrating. Thankfully, I have a fantastic husband who has fixed many a thing around the house – oven door hinges included (when it first went about ten years ago). It didn’t take him long to strip the door down, find the problem and replace the broken nut and bolt. He also helped me undertake a deep clean, as stripped down is really the only time you can get to both sides of each piece of glass to clean them. It now looks shiny and new, and opens and closes with ease. A working oven and a fantastic husband, that’s worth celebrating I’m sure you will agree.



Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Book review of Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands

French Village Diaries book review Drawing Lessons Patricia Sands #FranceBT
Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands

Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands on Tour October 2-13

(women's fiction) Release date: October 1, 2017 at Lake Union Publishing ISBN: 978-1542045872 352 pages Author's page | Goodreads   

SYNOPSIS

The author of the Love in Provence series returns to the South of France with a poignant portrait of a woman who must learn how to create a new life for herself. Sixty-two-year-old Arianna arrives in the South of France for a two-week artists' workshop full of anticipation but burdened by guilt. Back home in Toronto, she has been living with the devastating diagnosis of her husband's dementia and the heartbreak of watching the man she has loved for decades slip away before her eyes. What does her future hold without Ben? Before her is a blank canvas. Encouraged by her family to take some time for herself, she has traveled to Arles to set up her easel in the same fields of poppies and sunflowers that inspired Van Gogh. Gradually, she rediscovers the inner artist she abandoned long ago. Drawing strength from the warm companionship and gentle wisdom of her fellow artists at the retreat (as well as the vitality of guest lecturer Jacques de Villeneuve, an artist and a cowboy) Arianna searches her heart for permission to embrace the life in front of her and, like the sunflowers, once again face the light.

MY REVIEW

I am a fan of Patricia's Love in Provence series of books and at first I was a little disappointed this book wasn’t the next in that series. However, it soon became my favourite Patricia Sands novel (so far) although I still want more from the Love in Provence series please Patricia.

Drawing Lessons is a beautifully written book following the emotional journey of Arianna as she attempts to rediscover the artist within and create herself a future, following the devastating dementia that has all but taken her husband from her. Her husband Ben’s diagnosis has been difficult for all the family, but her guilt at leaving him in his care facility to travel to an artists’ retreat in Provence, taking those first steps towards a future without him, is almost too much for Arianna. Moving forward is a slow process, but with each smile she manages and with each lesson she learns from those whose company she finds herself in, progress is made. I loved the mix of characters and personalities we met and enjoyed getting to know them and Arianna better as they settled into their retreat just outside Arles.

The descriptions of Provence, the colours and scents of the markets, the history, the beauty of the wild Camargue, as well as the food, as seen through the artist eyes of her characters was sublime; I could reread this book again and again. I was very surprised to learn (at the end of the book) that Patricia isn’t an artist herself. Reading this book I felt I was there too, especially at the market in Arles, and the descriptions of the Camargue have made me keen to return to an area I know a little, but not enough.

Patricia’s writing has enhanced my own memories of visiting the area and if you are planning a trip here this book needs to be on your ‘must read’ list. In my opinion it is so much better than a guidebook, covering history, culture, places to visit and more. Patricia is writer who certainly knows her locations very well indeed.

This is a sensitively written book and despite her heartache and guilt, I enjoyed Arianna’s journey as she discovered that with time comes acceptance, peace and eventually the ability to move on.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

French Village Diaries book review Drawing Lessons Patricia Sands #FranceBT
Patricia Sands
Patricia Sands lives in Toronto, but her heart's other home is the South of France. An avid traveler, she spends part of each year on the Côte d'Azur and occasionally leads groups of women on tours of the Riviera and Provence. Her award-winning 2010 debut novel, The Bridge Club, is a book-group favorite, and The Promise of Provence, which launched her three-part Love in Provence series (followed by Promises to Keep and I Promise You This), was a finalist for a 2013 USA Best Book Award and a 2014 National Indie Excellence Award, was an Amazon Hot New Release in April 2013, and was a 2015 nominee for a #RBRT Golden Rose award in the category of romance. Sands also contributes to such Francophile websites as The Good Life France and Perfectly Provence, and she appears as a public speaker for women's groups. Find Patricia on Facebook, on Twitter on Instagram at her Amazon Author Page or her website Subscribe to her mailing list and get information about new releases. Buy the book on Amazon.com

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You can read my France et Moi interview with Patricia here and my reviews for her other novels set in France by clicking the links below.
The Promise of Provence
Promises to Keep
I Promise You This


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Tour de Rêves Day Six

French Village Diaries Tour de Rêves charity bike ride around the Deux-Sèvres day six the return to Secondigny
Tour de Rêves route day six Etusson to Secondigny

We fell asleep listening to the rain, so it was a lovely surprise to wake up to blue skies and sunshine. Things were looking up for our last day, until I looked closely at the time on my ipad while lounging in bed with a cup of tea. We had set our alarm for 7.30, planned to meet the others for breakfast at 8.00 but my ipad seemed to be telling me it was 8.40. I was confused, until I realised we had used Adrian’s UK phone for the alarm, which was still set on UK time and we were suddenly in a flap and officially late for breakfast.

French Village Diaries Tour de Rêves charity bike ride around the Deux-Sèvres day six the return to Secondigny
Ready to leave (in the sunshine)

It wasn’t a good start for me. I ended up finishing my lemon and ginger tea with breakfast and stupidly declining a coffee. I had often been slower than the others during the week, but that was nothing compared to my snail-like progress this morning for the 22kms into Bressuire without caffeine. It is a mistake I will not be repeating. They all did a lot of stopping and waiting for me to catch up and I could tell Adrian was getting quite worried.

French Village Diaries Tour de Rêves charity bike ride around the Deux-Sèvres day six the return to Secondigny
In the local paper again
Happily, with caffeine in my system once more and pepped up by a surprise visit from a local journalist who was waiting in Bressuire to interview us (we were beginning to feel like celebrities), the rest of the day was much easier for me.

French Village Diaries Tour de Rêves charity bike ride around the Deux-Sèvres day six the return to Secondigny
Along the voie verte to Moncoutant

It was an easy, flat run to Moncoutant along the old railway line and thanks to the family who were waiting for us (to make a donation), we were pointed in the direction of a restaurant for our final meal together. There was certainly a lot to talk about over lunch and we all agreed that despite the physical effort involved and uncomfortable weather, we’d all had fun and having spent so much time in each others company it would seem rather strange saying goodbye later in the day. Things could have been so much different. We were not close friends when we dreamt up this challenge; in fact we had never actually met face to face until our first planning meeting. Over the course of a year we managed about three or four bike rides together, but none of those rides were over 40km, although we had got to know each other quite well via the countless emails back and forth attempting to organise the event. It had been hard work, but we unanimously agreed it had been worth it and that we’d do it again.

French Village Diaries Tour de Rêves charity bike ride around the Deux-Sèvres day six the return to Secondigny
Not more rain!

The weather might have been against us, but the support we received during the week had certainly made up for it. Just to ensure we knew who was boss, the rain reappeared shortly after lunch and was so heavy we had to take shelter under the trees, but we all decided that whatever the weather we would arrive in Secondigny with smiles on our faces and wearing our team jerseys (without rain jackets) with pride.

French Village Diaries Tour de Rêves charity bike ride around the Deux-Sèvres day six the return to Secondigny
Feeling like champions


It was a great feeling to cycle back into Secondigny and rather emotional to be greeted by so many relieved family members and friendly faces; many of them our cycling friends who had completed various stages with us during the week. Sarah and I were presented with flowers by the mairie of Secondigny and there were hugs and smiles all around. Despite being soggy from top to toe, it was a fantastic finale to an amazing adventure. In six days we had completed a 437km figure of eight circuit around the Deux-Sèvres, exploring our department following cycle routes and quiet back roads, meeting some amazing people and having great fun along the way. We really can’t thank everyone who helped and supported us in so many ways enough. THANK YOU.

The Tour de Rêves - a charity bike ride around the Deux-Sèvres department in France, undertaken by four mad friends, supported by many others, all with the aim of raising money for Rêves a charity making dreams come true for seriously ill children.


To read the other posts about our six day adventure click the links below.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Tour de Rêves Day Five

Tour de Rêves day five Thouars to Etusson French Village Diaries
Tour de Rêves route day five Thouars to Etusson 57km

We left the Mortons under grey, heavy skies with more than a hint of rain in the air and made our way carefully (and painfully slowly in my case) down, up and down again the steep streets of Thouars, heading for the river. 

Tour de Rêves day five Thouars to Etusson French Village Diaries
Eiffel viaduct in Thouars
We cycled under a railway viaduct designed by Gustave Eiffel and then stopped to put our rain jackets on. It was so unfair we getting so much rain when September days are usually dry, warm and sunny. Thankfully having drip-dried over a morning coffee in a village bar, the skies cleared and the day began to look brighter.

Tour de Rêves day five Thouars to Etusson French Village Diaries
Pretty bridge over the Argenton river

Once we left the Vélo Francette (whose company we had had for over 150kms) to continue it’s route north through the Loire and on towards the coast in Normandy, we picked up the Vélo-route La Vallée de l’Argenton. This took us through vineyards, pretty villages and up and down more killer hills and I seemed to get slower and slower and further behind the others. I was certainly glad today was only going to be about 55km as I seemed to be walking a good number of them.

Tour de Rêves day five Thouars to Etusson French Village Diaries
Another pretty stone bridge


We lunched at Chez Fanny in Massais, by the skin of our teeth. Sadly, for the second day running we had arrived in a village with a bar, only to find a funeral taking place. Yes, really, we couldn't believe it either. Our morning coffee yesterday had to be abandoned, but we had a bit more luck today and although there was no choice available, a starter of charcuterie and a plat of steak with beans were served to four tired, hungry and very grateful cyclists.

The afternoon was more hills, villages with narrow streets and pretty bridges plus our first puncture of the week, but at least we reached Etusson and our last beds of the trip before the rain began again. Haley and dog George certainly looked after us well, with Champagne, roast chicken and lots of laughs, as the rain poured down outside. It was looking more likely that our final day on the bikes was going to be a wet one, again.

Tour de Rêves day five Thouars to Etusson French Village Diaries
Toasting our success so far.

The Tour de Rêves - a charity bike ride around the Deux-Sèvres department in France, undertaken by four mad friends, supported by many others, all with the aim of raising money for Rêves a charity making dreams come true for seriously ill children.


To read the other posts about our six day adventure click the links below.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Tour de Rêves Day Four

Tour de Rêves charity bike ride Deux-Sèvres Day Four Parthenay to Thouars French Village Diaries
Tour de Rêves route day four Parthenay to Thouars

We slept well, woke up to sunshine and even had other cyclists to chat to over breakfast at the chamber d’hôtes. Unfortunately they had arrived in Parthenay from the north, via the Vélo Francette (the direction we were headed in) and all they could talk about were the relentless hills. I didn’t need to hear that. 

Tour de Rêves charity bike ride Deux-Sèvres Day Four Parthenay to Thouars French Village Diaries
The view from our chambre d'hôtes in Parthenay
I had woken elated that I’d slept well and as my legs had already carried me half way around the Deux-Sèvres I thought I was ready for anything. It soon became apparent I wasn’t. Before we’d even left Parthenay I’d given in and walked up one steep hill and walked down another. I was tired and we still had a long way to go.


Tour de Rêves charity bike ride Deux-Sèvres Day Four Parthenay to Thouars French Village Diaries
A pretty river scene at Gourgé


We left Parthenay by the river, stopping to admire the goats grazing on the almost vertical ramparts and thanks to the extra four cyclists tagging along with us the mood was light and the conversation fun. It was a day of pretty rivers, water mills and even prettier stone bridges. There was so much to see, I’m sure this was what slowed me down (honest).

Tour de Rêves charity bike ride Deux-Sèvres Day Four Parthenay to Thouars French Village Diaries
One rather tired face ready to scoff her lunch in Airvault
Lunch was a delicious and filling plat du jour in Airvault and the perfect fuel to keep me battling the hills of the north all the way to Luzay and the Trompe Souris Café. The steep and narrow road to the café was probably one of the scariest gradients imaginable, so I walked, but the café was certainly worth a visit.

Tour de Rêves charity bike ride Deux-Sèvres Day Four Parthenay to Thouars French Village Diaries
Refreshments offered by Trompe Souris Café

Nestled among rock pools on the River Thouet, the views were amazing, there were comfy loungers and they had kindly offered us refreshments of beer and cakes. I felt so much better after our stop here it was truly magical.

Tour de Rêves charity bike ride Deux-Sèvres Day Four Parthenay to Thouars French Village Diaries
Arriving in Thouars


There were more hills, more stunning views and more ancient stone bridges all the way into Thouars where author Alison Morton and her husband Steve were waiting for us, with food, comfy beds and chilled bottles of bubbly. These kind people had opened their home to us sweaty cyclists on their wedding anniversary no less. Thanks guys, your hospitality and fun conversation were much appreciated.

It was a tough 72km today, but the support we were receiving really helped and with four days completed we were two thirds of the way there and had cycled from the south to the north of the Deux-Sèvres.

The Tour de Rêves - a charity bike ride around the Deux-Sèvres department in France, undertaken by four mad friends, supported by many others, all with the aim of raising money for Rêves, a charity making dreams come true for seriously ill children.


To read the other posts about our six day adventure click the links below.