Monthly Archive for April, 2011

Anti-mozzie

All too often last summer I would share the bedroom with a mosquito. It was never more than one at a time but, being the only source of grub available, the damn thing would always sup my gore. I learnt to prowl the bedroom before  turned in to swat the little bastard when I found it lurking sneakily in some corner. But I didn’t always find or, come to think on it, sometimes there may have been two. So when I was bitten last week I took advice and prowled the supermarket for the recommended potion. It is said to slaughter nasty flying things for six weeks if one sprays it at entrances to the house and round internal doorways. The story sounded most improbable so I also hissed into various dark corners of the bedroom and, so far, it seems to be working.

The crickets are now in full cry but I’ve yet to see the first queen hornet thundering around. Nor have I seen the pine processionary caterpillars emerging from their nests. But they must have done by now and I’ve begun to allow the dog to wander round since it should be safe from the horrors they are said to inflict.

Anniversary

Tomorrow will be the anniversary of taking possession of this house. I haven’t had a moment of regret to date. I think I was lucky in moving into a small hamlet rather than doing the same as many expats and buying a house in the middle of the countryside, not that I could afford it, with nothing but sunflowers, rape and lots of wine for company. Being nosy by nature I have found the doings of my neighbours endlessly interesting and this is coupled with the language barrier which adds an air of mystery to them. This I am slowly – very slowly – surmounting but it doesn’t make them any less interesting, just adds depth. Bless their hearts, with the one exception of the petit fils of the sorcière, a surly bugger, they have been endlessly kind and helpful. It seems the perfect combination to have complete privacy on the side of the house where I do almost all my living and yet have life going on at the other side.

Roe deer

A neighbour rat-a-tatted at the window that faces the street this morning. I would actually prefer such people to come to the door and have already frosted over another similar window for the sake of privacy, but being able to peer out is sometimes to my advantage so I can’t really complain if natives sometimes peer in. It turned out that my number had come up at the chasse lunch raffle, which I had missed since I was doling out coffee to the two Parisians chez moi who had been sitting opposite, and a large frozen chunk of dead roe deer was handed through as my winnings. I’m unclear about what portion of the creature’s anatomy I now possess but I have decided to carry it down the road at the appropriate time to the defunct café and and ask the proprietrix to turn it into some wonderful dish. I haven’t made contact with her up to now beyond a bonjour but I’m told she is willing to do such things. A chicken galantine is said to be her speciality.

Storm

The mother of all thunderstorms is in progress. The noise has been continual for the past half hour. After a 10-yard dash from the car to the house, I had to resort to a towel to dry my hair. I had to take the car out an hour ago when the storm was limbering up and, as soon as I opened the car door, the two little dogs next door dived in and settled in the well of the driver’s seat.

Mercifully the chasse lunch yesterday was spared. After a roe deer stew and large chunks of boar I had no need to eat later on. I sat amid the French and was pleased to be able to maintain a conversation. A couple of up market Parisians were opposite and they flinched at the raucous and over familiar behaviour of the neighbouring young bucks, but one of the pleasures of being an expat in France is being oblivious to the social gradations. The sorcière‘s grandson, he who battles with the rest of the village in his attempt to erect a grossly inappropriate garage, started up a bonfire of plastic bags when the post-lunch boules tournament was in progress. Alas, the wind was in the wrong direction and very few folk noticed.

Cassoulet

A dinner was held in a nearby village last night over its fete weekend. They don’t do events like this in the UK which is a shame. Perhaps 200 people turned out from infants to geriatrics. I think 8 were expats. The weather was iffy so it was set in a marquee. All brought their own cutlery and paper plates. Three courses, coffee and cheese. The main dish was a great tub of delicious cassoulet. Wine was on all the long tables. A loud disco with flashing lights was at one end and, once the wine had flowed, most people rose and bopped. The portly maire gyrated gently with an equally portly local farmer. There was a crying need for an eightsome reel. The church next door was open, almost unprecedented. Along with another smoker I investigated. It was one of the better ones in the locality. According to a date stone it had been refurbished in 1810 when one would have thought Napoleonic France had more pressing concerns. It was open because it was the nerve centre of the dinner, its aisle holding a trestle table laden with food and equipment. To the side were three great boiling cauldrons heated by gas cylinders. These contained the cassoulet being heated in some thirty of the large tins which are available in the supermarkets. I suspect the result was better than if the fete committee had slaughtered their own pigs and slaved away in their own kitchens.

Later today is the Repas de Chasse just opposite this house. The sanglier is already turning gently on its spit.

Wind

An odd day weather-wise. Blue and c21 degrees but a gale to go with it. This, my expert tells me, is the L’Autan Noir also know as the vent des fous which presages rain and this is indeed forecast. More benign is l’Autan Blanc which also comes from the south east – the colour depends on the whereabouts of the anticyclones – and this is associated with dry weather. Here we also have the Tramontane which usually comes from the Massif Central but can bluster up from the Pyrenees. They have lots of winds in southern France. The Mistral, the Marin, the Grec and the Levant are only four of them. I can’t think of any named breezes in the UK, perhaps because the only significant ones come wuthering in from the Atlantic. It does seem a little odd to give them names, but it allows people to sound wise when things blow. Perhaps this naming process should be extended although William the Raindrop may be taking things too far.

I chose my route round the block today by wind direction to see whether we could pass the caged farm dogs without bringing them to barking, slavering life. No luck. I have taken to amusing myself while the dog chases lizards, sniffs and pees by collecting 4-leaf clovers. Only one today but I have enough of them to keep me in luck for several lifetimes.

Apple Fritter

The dog went bananas on the lawn yesterday evening and I looked out to see the sorcière scowling at it as she advanced down the garden path, her stick in one hand and a plastic bag in the other. I flagged her down and she placed the bag in my hand. I opened it to find a plate inverted on top of another. It contained four brown slices of something, still warm and dusted with sugar. And a pink rose. I listened with no comprehension at her beaming explanation of what it was. She retreated with a bon appetit. It was very nice but it was not until the third segment that I was able to identify it with a certain amount of confidence as an apple fritter. The rose is in a glass. So this afternoon I washed the plates, snipped off one of the rather vulgar red roses that bloom above the front gate and went over to the chateau to pinch a couple of white roses that sag down from its east wall. Bar an outrageously undeserved bee sting, the mission was successful and I placed the bag beside her front door over the lunch hour when no living thing stirs. I hope such generosity does not become a habit.

Rain

Just as in the UK, there’s much upset over lack of rain here. I thought it was normal, as were the high temperatures recently, but this is not so. We’re promised rain next week so things may perk up. It doesn’t prevent the grass growing just the same. It’s only a week or so until I’ll have been here a year. I recall struggling with heating on my arrival since it was damn cold and feeding wood into the fire in a corner of the room. That was before I received a delivery of heating oil and I’ve done no more than press a button on the furnace ever since. And I hope never to feed a fire again. I’ve still a stack of wood alongside a purpose-built barbecue at the edge of the terrace. I haven’t lit a fire there either but the construction is currently in use to house a collar dove that was prematurely evicted from its nest.

Up the road is a herd of about a dozen white cattle. They’re currently in a buttercup-filled meadow. Each animal has four or five cattle egrets in attendance. The farmers here call them shit-eaters which is hardly fair and shows lack of observation. But there are more egrets than livestock and so one sees the birds having to do their own fossicking for insects, frogs etc.

Lettuces

Spain today, a couple of hours or more down the road for cheap booze and tobacco. I was filling orders for half the village as well as myself & my companion for neighbours. I don’t drink whisky these day but a 2.5 litre bottle of something called Sir Edward’s at €22 should keep visitors supplied for some time. I bought it because I fancied the little handle on the bottle. We ate an excellent paella in the sunshine with the mountains frowning down at us.

The people here are much more interested in the Royal wedding than I am. The matriarch was delighted with her mug and a couple of days ago sorciere pressed a newspaper on me a day or two ago which contained an article about it. I managed to preserve my political neutrality in the community by passing on to her a commemorative tea towel that a visitor had given me. I am beginning to receive quantities of her lettuce crop and it’s not easy to reciprocate.

Smells

Alas, the condom trick does not work. A neighbour commandeered the salle de fete for his fortieth last night and the house filled with the usual evil smell. Presumably it is impossible for the reek to come through the water trap on the kitchen sink and I cannot think where it could enter the premises. The only consolation came through a visit to the clan matriarch earlier in the day who said that her son next door had the same problem. One of my visitors had bought her a Will & Kate mug to add to the extraordinary collection of artefacts which fill her house and we went round there for a presentation. She’s the most dedicated kisser of anyone I’ve met here. And hugger. In return for the mug we received 12 eggs, 2 truffles, 1 foie gras, 2 embroidered Spanish shawls and a baseball cap marked ‘Region Midi-Pyrenees’. I shall have to be seen sporting the latter sometime. Instead of being well into her 70s, it transpired she was born within a month or two of me. There is something seriously wrong with my world view. Often I find I regard those who turn out to be my contemporaries as dear old things belonging to the previous generation.