|In Blaye, modelling my homemade skirt|
Saturday, December 31, 2016
As the last few hours of 2016 draw to a close I can’t help but look back on what has been a year of challenges and wonder what 2017 has in store for us.
Back in April I was excited (and apprehensive) about challenging myself with a weeks cycling in La Sarthe. 480km in six days was more than I had ever done but I loved it! There is something quite special about waking up in one location, setting off for a day on the bikes and ending up in a different hotel that night, having carried everything you need with you (or having Adrian carry it, if I am to be accurate). We are already planning more long distance cycling challenges in France for 2017 and I can’t wait to take you along with us.
In June the UK EU referendum result was quite difficult to come to terms with for us. We are a UK family living and working in France thanks to EU rules and regulations. From TVA/VAT rules that help Adrian run his business, to exchange rate fluctuations that affect our income, to French rules allowing EU citizens to be elected onto local councils that affect my life in the village; as Brexit evolves I foresee quite a few challenges to our way of life in 2017 and beyond. I just hope we can continue to live the life we have chosen.
This summer saw us celebrate our 12th anniversary of living here and the weather was perfect. With sunshine and high temperatures day after day it would have been an ideal summer for cycling, cycling and more cycling, if the challenge of a small operation hadn’t kept me off the bike for a month or so. Thankfully I made up for it by completing my 100km in a day challenge in September, just hours before the weather broke and the driest summer we have known came to a stormy end. As I sit here today on a cold and foggy December afternoon, I can’t wait for another hot, dry summer, and as the days are getting longer, it can’t be far off now.
In November, we hit our most challenging time. We received The Call. When you live far away from family you know that one day the phone will ring, the news will be bad and you will have to make a difficult journey. Adrian’s Dad David suffered a massive stroke on Friday 18th November and although Adrian made it to his bedside, he died on 21st November. He was fit, active and healthy and this has left us all in a state of shock and wondering 'why him?' and 'why now?'. We have been back to the UK three times since he died and him not being there feels very strange and wrong. It has, however, made us appreciate each other and realise that there is no such thing as too many hugs for your loved ones and you can’t say ‘I love you’ too many times.
On a more positive note, this year I challenged myself to learn to sew and use a sewing machine. With a few friends in the village we have created a weekly sewing and knitting group that is full of fun, laughter, coffee and cake, as well as great ideas. With their help and encouragement I’ve made bags, bunting and a skirt, as well as having a great time every Friday morning. There is nothing like community spirit to make you feel at home and put a smile on your face.
I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to 2016 and as always, I want to be more organised with my time next year. Read more books, write more book reviews (and be more prompt about doing so), write more regular blog posts and see more of France (on my bike, if possible). I hope 2017 proves to be a year of health and happiness for us all. Thank you for reading, commenting and coming back.
This post has been linked to Dreaming of France. See here for more posts.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
|Purged by Fire by Diane Bonavist|
Purged by Fire: Heresy of the Cathars by Diane Bonavist
In the thirteenth-century, a unique civilization flourished in the region that is now Southwestern France. The tolerant rulers of this realm embraced the Cathar faith which kept the simple teachings of the early followers of Christ, and rejected the venality of the Catholic Church.
To destroy the heretical faith, the pope declared a holy war. With the infamous words 'Kill them all, God will recognize his own,' the crusade against Christendom began. For two decades, these wars decimated the old regions of the Languedoc and the troubadour culture. But when they still failed to destroy the heretical faith, the papacy gave special powers of inquisition to Dominican monks. Their mission was to root out heretics, compel confessions, and burn the unrepentant at the stake.
Purged by Fire tells the intertwining stories of three people enmeshed in the treachery of the Inquisition. Isarn Benet believes he has survived the wars by accepting the pope's will and the French rule, until Marsal, the child he once rescued, arrives on his doorstep, forcing him to question every conciliation he has ever made. Marsal has lost everything to the Inquisition. Raised to always turn the other cheek, now she wants back what the Catholic Church has stolen, and she will aid anyone who helps her do so, even outlaws and rebels. Isarn's son Chrétien can barely remember his life as a soldier and troubadour, the time before he knew and loved Marsal. Condemned and hunted by the Catholic Church, the two escape to the mountain fortress of Montsègur. Here, as the forces of the Inquisition lay siege to their place of refuge, they must make one final choice between life and love or death and faith!
Set in 13th Century France, a troubled time of religious wars and persecution, this is a period of French history I knew little about, but was on my list to learn more. I hoped this book would give me the perfect chance to understand the Cathars and why there had been so much violence towards them.
From the beginning I enjoyed the writing style and the alternating chapters that told the story through the lives of the three different but entangled characters of Isarn, Chrétien and Marsal. I instantly found Marsal, who had been rescued as a baby when the town of Beziers was falling, to be engaging and was intrigued to learn more of her story now she is an adult and alone in the world. Her childhood had been spent in a small Cathar community, but following the death of her guardian, she lost everything. Isarn, who despite taking a huge risk to rescue baby Marsal, now seemed to want to take the easy path for a quiet life; keeping his relationship with Chrétien and feelings for Marsal a secret. Chrétien, his son, was more of a mystery to be unfolded over time. Appearing and disappearing, he seemed to have a hold over Marsal, but also a reluctance to get too close. Despite their lives being difficult, these characters assured I never lost interest in their stories.
This book gave me a good insight to the religious discrimination and persecution of these times and why the Christian beliefs of the Cathars were at odds with the French crown and Roman Catholic Pope. Not an easy subject, but Diane has made it very readable. I’m sure this book will appeal to anyone who enjoys reading historical fiction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Friday, November 11, 2016
|The French, German and Belgium flags in Melle Deux Sevres|
This year marks the 100th anniversary of many of the bloodiest battles of the First World War including the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Verdun in France. It is also a year that has seen many political changes being made across the globe. Britain has voted to sever it’s ties with the European Union, believing it will be a better place standing alone and sadly newspaper headlines that have celebrated policies to reform immigration rules and give British jobs to British workers have led to anything and anyone foreign being deemed to be suspicious and not to be trusted. As an EU immigrant from the UK living in France and the granddaughter of Irish immigrants who moved to England in the 1930’s this makes me uncomfortable and worried for our future. I’m not an American so don’t really feel I have much to say much about US politics, but again when I read newspaper headlines that talk of building a wall on the Mexican boarder, refusing entry to all Muslims and inciting hatred of minorities, I feel sad and disappointed in the way the world is heading.
|The students from Melle, Melle and Melle in our local paper|
Thankfully, I have also seem a glimmer of hope this week for a future where ‘unite not fight’ could be a real possibility. Despite the atrocities and loss of lives of 100 years ago, our local market town of Melle, where Ed goes to lycee, is twinned with Melle in Belgium and Melle in Germany and it was heartening to see the Belgium and German flags flying alongside the French tricolore outside the town hall. This year marks the third year where students from all three towns have got together, united in remembrance of those who died in the First World War. In 2014 they attended a ceremony in Belgium and last year they were in Germany. This year our European neighbours are here in France and participated together in a ceremony this morning.
|Poppy wreath and French floral tribute|
Sadly we couldn’t attend as our village held it’s own ceremony, where two French-born British children laid a Royal British Legion poppy wreath alongside the commune’s floral tribute entwined with the ribbon of the French flag. I see this as another sign of unity between European neighbours and the positive integration of migrants into the community. It was also lovely to see so many villagers of all ages attending the ceremony today, although I’m sure the sunshine provided a bit of extra encouragement.
Ed visited Melle in Germany, on a language exchange programme last month. In fact it was there that he spent his 16th birthday, with a family he had only met five days before, but who made a real effort to make his day special. I am looking forward to welcoming their son Maik into our home next year and although I will probably never meet his parents, I am very thankful to them for making Ed feel welcome in their home.
|Laying the Poppy wreath in France|
I feel we need to do all we can to encourage the younger generation to reach out to each other and build positive bridges with other nationalities and cultures. We are living in a world that needs to remember the conflicts of the past and learn to #UniteNotFight for the future.
This post has been linked to #AllAboutFrance.
Monday, November 7, 2016
|Autumn in the vineyards|
The autumn colours this year have been magnificent and although I probably say the same thing every year, this year I am sure they are better than in previous years and I’m not the only one to think this. I have a friend in the village who has lived here much longer than I have and who has shared photo after photo exclaiming this year to be exceptional.
Getting out on our bikes, walking the dog or even doing the school run or airport drop off has revealed a feast of golds, reds and oranges of all shades, often glowing in the sunshine, that have really lifted my spirits and made me thankful to live where I do.
|Our walnut tree|
We have many different fruit trees in our orchard, but rarely have we had much leaf raking to do, until this year. Looking back, it seems most years we have a mid-September frost, usually only for one night, but it is enough to kill off the courgette and tomato plants and cause the cherry and plum tree leaves to drop. Add an autumn breeze and magically the leaves have gone.
|Our red cherry tree|
This year, with no early frost, the cherry trees have shown their colours in a surprising way; the leaves on the yellow fruiting trees turned a golden yellow, while the red fruiting trees turned from orange to deep red and have clung to the trees as long as possible. I can’t believe this is our 13th autumn and I’ve never noticed this colour difference before. Raking and mowing the fallen leaves was hard work, but good exercise and worth it to be spending time in our colourful orchard.
This year our first frost was last night and wow, what a frost. Scraping the car windscreen at seven o’clock this morning was finger numbingly cold and I wished I’d been able to find a pair of gloves, but as most days last week we were able to cycle in shorts and sunshine, I was woefully unprepared. The car was warning me it was minus 3 and a low-lying mist surrounded the village. It was a dark drive to get Ed to school, but the first pinks of the sunrise brightened up my journey home silhouetting the trees, wind turbines and even the deer in the fields. I don’t really like cold mornings, but I could forgive the frost this morning, as it was so very beautiful.
|Frosted fruit tree leaves|
As I sit here indoors with a cup of coffee and the sunshine warming me nicely, despite the fact the windows need a good clean, I can see the remaining autumn leaves falling like rain as they succumb to the cold. Sadly, I think in a few days our stunning autumn colours will have gone to be replaced with bare winter trees and hedgerows.
At least I have my photos to look back on. I have been sharing quite a few on Instagram but here are a few more. I hope you enjoy them.
This post has been linked to Paulita’s Dreaming of France. Click here to read more.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
|Airs de Famille|
An unusual event took place in our village library today called Airs de Famille, Lecture-spectacle. It was the culmination of a project that has looked into the Deux Sevres departmental photo archives and recorded the childhood memories of the older generation growing up in the Pays Mellois area.
|A village wedding|
Local actress and author Laure Bonnet used a selection of photographs as the backdrop to recounting stories she had been told and songs she had been sung during the thirty interviews she conducted with older people living alone. In the audience were five or six of our oldest villagers who had been happy to share their stories with her.
I will admit to not being able to understand everything, as there were a lot of words to listen to, but I followed most of it and found it very interesting. It seems that the figure of Grandmother in the 1930’s and 1940’s was a formidable one. Often tiny in stature and dressed in black with a white lace headdress, she was the one who was to be obeyed and children were expected to show respect to their elders and at mealtimes especially, be seen but not heard.
It was also quite usual for three or four generations to live together in the same modest house and one young lady remembered there being an empty house behind her in-laws home, but her father-in-law had forbidden the owner to rent it to his son and new bride as he expected them to live with him. Another story told of the young bride living with her in-laws who visited her family for a meal every Sunday, her absence gave her mother-in-law the opportunity to check the cleanliness of the bedroom she and her husband shared to ensure her standards were being kept. I consider myself very lucky to have been born when I was and to have a relaxed mother-in-law.
I went with my neighbour Pierrette, who grew up in the village in the 1940’s and 1950’s. She is never short on stories of her childhood which I love to hear and as we were sitting listening to memories of courting and dating she whispered to me that even though she was 19 when she first met her husband at a dance, her mother had accompanied her and she was expected to return to her mothers side after each dance. There was no hanging around town in mixed groups for her generation, something Ed and his mates have been enjoying since they were about 14.
|Chat and cake in the sun|
As is normal for an event in the village, the afternoon was finished off with homemade cakes and lots of chatting and reminiscing. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon for me and other villagers aged from seven to ninety.
The project has been carried out with the help of the departmental library, which will be keeping these precious memories for our future generations.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
|The Art of Rebellion|
by Brenda Joyce Leahy
The Art of Rebellion by Brenda Joyce Leahy(YA historical) Release date: June 15, 2016 at Rebelight Publishing ISBN: 978-0994839985 252 pages Website Goodreads
Released June 15, 2016, by Rebelight Publishing, this beautifully written, lush piece drops you into tumultuous and breathtaking late 19th century Paris. Sixteen year old Gabrielle dreams of becoming an artist but her ambitious parents agree to an arranged marriage to an aging Baron. In protest, she runs away from her provincial home of Laval to Paris, the City of Light, intending to live with her grandmother and pursue her passion for art. Her bold plan disintegrates as she arrives in Paris to discover her grandmother has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Alone in the capital, Gabrielle wonders who to trust: her new artist friends or the handsome but irritating stranger she met on the train, who just might be stalking her. Gabrielle's pride, ambition and impulsive nature thrust her into Paris' underbelly of betrayal and abuse. Will she find the courage to begin a new life on her own terms?
The Art of Rebellion was on the Calgary Bestselling Fiction list in August 2016
Gabrielle is not like her older sisters, who can’t wait to be married off and become obeying wives to titled husbands. For Gabrielle, art is her passion and as a married woman she knows studying art would be impossible, so she runs away to Paris, the prospect of her promised marriage to an older man too much to contemplate. She plans to live with her Grandmother, study art at college and become an artist, proving to her overbearing mother that she is destined to become more than just a wife. It is an era when women, including Gabrielle and her Grandmother, were beginning to want independence in their lives, but the male dominated world wasn’t yet ready to accept these new ideas.
I liked Gabrielle, she is bold and reckless, resourceful when needed, but still naïve as you would expect from a 16 year old from a wealthy family in the 19th century. Her art brings her to life and I could feel her excitement as the Paris art scene opens out in front of her. A man she meets on the train becomes a companion who escorts her to the Paris Exposition and the Louvre and I enjoyed her reactions as she viewed the masters for the first time and was moved to tears by the experience.
There are a lot of emotions in this book as Gabrielle swings from elation at finding like-minded artists and spends time sketching life in Paris with them, to despair when things don’t work out quite as she planned. Paris and the art world has a dark side too and when life takes a turn for the worse Gabrielle has no choice but to accept what fate has planned for her. In her dark moments I could feel the weight of her despair and watched the spark ebbing from her, all the while hoping she could find the strength I knew she had to help her escape.
This is a young adult novel and the author has captured the tumult of teenage emotions perfectly, but I also think it will appeal to readers of all ages who enjoy historical fiction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brenda Joyce Leahy loves historical fiction and thinks she was born a century too late but can't imagine her life without computers or cell phones. So, perhaps, she arrived in the world at just the right moment to tell this story. She grew up on a farm near Taber, Alberta but now lives with her family near the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, Alberta. After over 20 years practising law, she has returned to her first love of writing fiction. She is a member of several writing organizations, including the Society of Childrenís Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) The Art of Rebellion is also profiled on the Humber School of Writers website Brenda is also a member of the Historical Novel Society and leads a YA/MG writers critique group in Calgary. Visit Brenda's website Follow her on Facebook | on Twitter Follow Rebelight Publishing on Twitter Buy the book: Amazon | Indigo | Barnes & Noble
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Tuesday, October 4, 2016
|September cycling challenges|
Wow, September, we had a blast. Thank you for so many great memories to take with me into the cooler, darker days of autumn and winter.
This year has unquestionably been cycle-crazy for us, with adventures in the Sarthe and Ardeche to list just the big ones, but this summer has probably been one of my laziest in years. A few weeks off the bike following my operation in July, followed by the exhausting heat wave of August left me unhappy with the bathroom scales as I approached my 45th birthday. By contrast, Adrian has cycled further and faster than ever before and as a result is fitter and slimmer than he has been for years. Thankfully our September action on the bikes took things up a gear for me.
The few days we spent at the end of August cycling in the Vienne, followed by a morning ride to a local market and then an afternoon pedalling around the Cognac vineyards, meant I’d been out on my bike for six days in a row. This was enough to ensure I found time for a ride on day seven, even if it was just a 30km local ride squeezed in at the end of a busy day. This was a first for me, cycling every day for a week and it felt good, in fact good enough to go out again on day eight. The scales still weren’t cooperating, but my legs felt strong so I had the foolish idea to cycle another 64km in the next two days to complete a ten day, 400km challenge. On 7th September, I did it and it was the perfect training for my next challenge, 100km-in-a-day.
Wearing our ‘cycling accommodation reviewing’ caps once more, thanks Freewheeling France, we packed our bikes, pasta and the all-important Garmin navigation device and set off for the pretty town of Availles-Limouzine. Here we spent two nights on the bank of the Vienne River, staying in the historic town house La Post des Gardes.
After a comfortable night and a quick walk to the boulangerie for fresh croissants, we set off for our 100km-in-a-day on the bikes that would take us through the Vienne, Charente and Haute Vienne departments. Our morning took us along quiet roads, past shady forests where the first autumnal colours were starting to show and from one pretty village to another, from Availles-Limouzine to St Germain-de-Confolens to Esse and then Brillac, where we stopped for morning coffee. We passed sheep in fields; sensibly sheltering in the shade and with every kilometre the temperature rose so a stop for a quick drink from our water bottles left our arms and legs glistening with sweat within seconds. Fully caffeinated once more we cycled through the delightfully named Bussiere-Boffy, on to Nouic and then Mortemart, one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France before arriving in Blond for a lunch of tuna pasta salad.
We were now 45km into our route to Bellac and with the temperature in the mid 30’s we left the main road and set off to explore the hills, chateaux and more hills of the 'pretty route' Adrian thought would be a good idea. I thought it left my legs achy, my energy levels depleted and I may have moaned a little. Bellac was a welcome sight and we stopped for a beer and nuts by the old stone bridge with the town peering down on us. Adrian bravely cycled up to town, whereas I walked, but was still rewarded with a raspberry flaky pastry delight when I reached the top. This sugary hit was probably the only thing (along with the threat of an approaching storm) that gave me the strength to complete the final 35km back to Availles-Limouzine.
It was a hard-going 35km, although not too hilly or challenging, mainly on pretty lanes with lots of shade and no traffic, but it was oh, so hot. I can’t even remember the names of the villages we cycled through. The final few kilometres were downhill to the River Vienne and once on the bridge I could see the house and balcony, which was a truly welcoming sight. It was certainly more of a challenge than last year’s 100km to La Rochelle, which was mostly flat, cool and overcast, but I did it, three days before my 45th birthday and I was very happy with that.
Back at the house we had a lazy early evening apero of fizzy water, nuts and chicken rillettes on baguette, to rehydrate and refuel before putting the finishing touches to a spicy pork and rice dish I’d prepared in advance. Eaten on the balcony overlooking the Vienne it was a lovely end to a special day. Then the wind blew in, fast and furious and like nothing we had ever experienced before. We had to move quickly to bring in the cycle jerseys and wine glasses before we lost them. Half a shutter flew off the house next door, leaving the remaining bit banging sorrowfully in the wind, while we sat and waited for the end of the world. However, after a bit of rain it all calmed down and the forecast storm seemed to have missed us. It was certainly a spectacular end to an exciting day.
While these challenges focussed more on distance, our other September cycling adventures were far more concerned with hills. I'll post more about those very soon.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
|Death at the Paris Exposition|
by France McNamara
Death at the Paris Exposition(historical mystery) Release date: September 1, 2016 at Allium Press of Chicago ISBN: 978-0-9967558-3-2 ebook: 978-0-9967558-4-9 276 pages Website Goodreads
SYNOPSISAmateur sleuth Emily Cabot's journey once again takes her to a world fair, the Paris Exposition of 1900. Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer is named the only female U. S. commissioner to the Exposition and enlists Emily's services as her secretary. Their visit to the House of Worth for the fitting of a couture gown is interrupted by the theft of Mrs. Palmer's famous pearl necklace. Before that crime can be solved, several young women meet untimely deaths and a member of the Palmer's inner circle is accused of the crimes. As Emily races to clear the family name she encounters jealous society ladies, American heiresses seeking titled European husbands, and more luscious gowns and priceless jewels. Along the way, she takes refuge from the tumult at the country estate of Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt. In between her work and sleuthing, she is able to share the Art Nouveau delights of the Exposition, and the enduring pleasures of the City of Light, with her husband and their children.
This is the sixth novel in the Emily Cabot series, but my first experience and I immediately felt at home with Emily. She is intelligent, organised, inquisitive and determined. It was very easy to slip into her narrative and I enjoyed experiencing Paris in 1900 with her.
Emily and her family are in Paris with the wealthy Palmer family as Emily is working as social secretary for Bertha Palmer, the only woman US commissioner at the Exposition. She becomes part of their social circle, experiencing the fashion houses of Paris and the engagements that must be organised and attended, however things don’t go as smoothly as expected when jewellery is stolen and bodies are discovered. Emily is loyal to her employer and determined to clear the Palmer name, despite the French police and some of their social circle who seem just as determined to prove the guilt. At some point during the book I suspected every character we met and couldn’t wait to find out exactly who was behind the thefts and murders and how they did it.
This book is fiction, but some of the characters we meet are real Americans who were in Paris for the Exposition of 1900. I do have a soft spot for books that blur fact with fiction and this one ticked lots of boxes. Paris is in party mode and the excitement of the exposition and socialising is described in detail, along with the customs, fashion and jewellery of the time. It is a well-researched book set in a fabulous era with a gripping mystery and I loved trying to piece together the facts to work out who was guilty.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR