Monday, February 28, 2011

What I Haven't Missed....

My brother, Jim, who lives in Reno sent me these photos last weekend of the icicles hanging from the back of his house. Reading the internet news, I've seen all the reports of the miserable weather throughout the US this winter. Rain, snow, ice, blizzards, extreme cold. I have to say...extreme winter weather is something I haven't missed at all while I've been here in France. True, it's been cold. Right around Christmas there were several nights when the temperatures dipped into the teens. We had one measurable snow of less than an inch and another light dusting. There have been many days of rain, fog and mist. But nothing like I'm used to during winters in Iowa. When I first left California, I was anxious to live some place where the seasons changed. I've decided  I'm over that....if I live where the seasons change, I want them to change gently. Like they do here in the Lot!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Saturday Vernissage

While I knew that the Lion's Club was an international organization, I was caught by surprise when Laury told me she'd been invited to submit a photograph to the French club's national competition. Not surprised that she was asked, but rather that Figeac has a Lion's Club.Laury and Jean-Pierre, a friend from Monday afternoon language class, both entered black and white photos for this year's theme,  "Spirit." Saturday morning was the vernissage, gallery opening, for the 27 photos entered in the Figeac regional competition. The winner will advance to Montpelier to compete with other regional winners from southern France. The setting was Les Voutes, a beautiful vaulted-ceiling stone gallery in Old Figeac. There was already a crowd gathered when the doors opened at 11:30am. Laury and I were there along with Jean-Pierre and his wife, Francoise as well as Michel, a Cadrieu Lion. A short speech, voting by the public for their favorite three photos, champagne and nibbles...a perfectly French Saturday morning! To see more of the event and the local entries, click over to Soar-Dream-France

Laury, Francoise & Jean-Pierre

Champagne says 'special' even in plastic cups!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My Fav's

Whether shutters are wooden or metal, brightly painted or faded, they are part of what makes French buildings and homes so charming and photo-worthy. Before I leave the shutter topic, I've put together a slide show of my favorite shutter photos. All were taken in southern France. Some are from my 2009 visit, the rest were taken since I arrived here for this adventure.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Language of Shutters

 Life here in France ebbs and flows in an entirely different rhythm than it does in the States. The French eat later in the evening. Yes, those stories you've heard about not dining before 8pm or finishing dinner until midnight are true! They go to bed later and consequently, rise later. School starts at 9am; it's well after 5pm when the bus brings the kids home. Businesses typically don't open before 9 or 10am and close for two hours over the noon hour, staying open, then, in the evenings until 7pm.  Nothing is open on Sunday. Yes, again those stories are true...every business, shop, grocery store, bank and post office closes at noon.  There is no such thing as 24/7 in France. You have to learn to deal with it; it's actually quite pleasant. I can tell by the 'traffic' here in the village that it's noon by the number of cars going by bringing villagers home for lunch.

What all this means is that the French are not early risers...during the work week and especially on weekends. Closed shutters say this loud and clear. "Our day has not yet started; please respect our rest" A good neighbor doesn't call or come to visit when the shutters are closed. A good neighbor doesn't begin loud yard work while shutters are closed. A good neighbor doesn't walk her dog causing every dog within a half mile radius to start barking....if the shutters are all still closed.  Modern heating and energy-efficient windows and doors have made shutters unnecessary for keeping the house warm. There are no gangs of marauding bandits or invading armies for them to protect against anymore. But, shutters still serve an important role in the life of the village. They are part of the unspoken social language that allows this community to live together peacefully. Really...Sunday mornings are awesome. It's so quiet, it actually feels like a day of rest.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


My love affair with shutters began during my very first trip to France in 2005. After a long and exhausting trip (a story for my memoirs!), we finally arrived at our destination in Provence long after dark and in a pouring rain. I fell into bed at my chambre d'hotes and was totally unconscious until almost 9am the next day. As soon as I climbed out of bed, I walked to the window and threw open the shutters. Emotion caught in my throat as I viewed the beautiful tile rooftops of the village and gazed into a cloudless, brilliantly blue Provencal sky. I was never disappointed, no matter what the weather, when I performed my morning 'opening the shutters' ritual. And when I'd return in the afternoon after a day of sightseeing, I'd  find those same shutters pulled closed. My hostess, Dani, always shut them against the bright sun and intense heat of the afternoon. The light filtering in through the cracks and the still, warm air of the room lulled me into nap mode every day.

Here at Jean's house, opening the shutters is also a morning ritual. If the weather is very cold, they stay closed longer to help retain some house warmth. Some days at Laury's, I'd never open them at all. As day fades into evening, I close them to keep out the cold....

Like many of the other village houses, le Chalet has a shuttered front door. After our last trip out before bed, I pull the shutters closed behind Lucie and me and throw the bolt, making us snug and secure for the night.

And as an added barrier against the cold, I pull the heavy velvet drapes across the door just as many other villagers are doing on these chilly late winter nights. Such an easy and practical way to keep cozy!
There's more about shutters to come in future blog posts, so be sure to return!

A Moment in Time

As I was closing the shutters one evening this past week, I was suddenly caught in that feeling of timelessness that I frequently experience in this old village. That moment suspended in time when I feel connected to the people who have lived here over the centuries. Dusk was gathering, and there was a light drizzling mist shimmering against the village street lights. Damp cool air rolling up from the river met the warmer air hovering against the causse shrouding houses and barns in mysterious fog. The shutter hinges creaked, the metal latch slapped against its holder. It's a sound that I can identify morning or evening as I walk the ruelles of Cadrieu. It's the sound of villagers opening shutters to the morning and closing them to the dark, damp night It's a sound and an action that the village has experienced since its birth over 700 years ago. That evening I joined Cadrieucois across the centuries as I shuttered my house for the night. Like them, I closed out the dark, the cold, and the misty fog. As they have done for centuries, I made my home safe against the enemies of the elements and of society.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bits & Pieces of France

What does that little tube of Eiffel Tower sugar have to do with today's post? Laury bought a box of them the last time we went grocery shopping; she gave me a handfull to have on hand for coffee or tea. I tucked a few into a packet that I mailed to my friend, Randi a little over a week ago. Randi requested a French newspaper, and I knew I couldn't send that without a some other 'bits & pieces' of France. So besides a few tubes of sugar and her newspaper, she also received a book of French language stickers for her kids, a postcard, and a few euro coins. I had a lot of fun deciding which bits and pieces of France to share and putting her packet together over a glass of wine at le President in Cajarc. Sharing bits and pieces of France is what this blog is all about; I loved sharing a few with the Dukes' family as well! I don't have a clue what Randi will do with the newspaper, but knowing my very creative friend it will be fun and beautiful.

And isn't that coffee mug cute? That's a bit of France that Laury gave me. Red and Paris....two of my favorite things!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Afternoon

All the neighborhood dogs including Lucie were raising their voices in raucous barking. I stepped outside to see what the commotion was all about and was greeted by a sky-full of parapenters. At one time I counted 13 of them floating about and riding the wind currents over the river. I spent my Sunday afternoon doing French homework; I think these guys had much more fun than I did!
How are you spending your Sunday afternoon? I hope you're having fun whatever you're doing!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

Septic Success!

The septic inspection man arrived right on time. Laury had her paperwork ready; Christiane came down just in case there was French spoken that Laury didn't understand. There wasn't...Laury did a great job speaking and understanding the questions. Completing the paperwork was the first order of business. "How many rooms in your house, Madame? How many square meters is it? When was the tank last cleaned? How many people live here?" Laury attempted a little light humor by asking if Dali and Sam counted; Monsieur the Inspector hardly cracked a smile...this is serious business, I guess. He collected his tools from the van: a shovel, a pick axe, gloves and a long clear tube thing.
First he lifted the cover off the gray water/grease trap opening....yuck!

It took some digging and prying to access the waste opening...
What do you mean there are pieces of clothing in there???

Using his long clear tube, Monsieur measured water levels.

"Madame," he began, "you determine when you need to clean your fosse septique by comparing the percentage of water to the percentage of ....." Here he fumbled for the right word.
"Sh*t?" volunteered Laury.
"Merde?" I chimed in.
This time we did get a stifled chuckle from Monsieur the Inspector! "Well...yes," he admitted.
He went on to thoroughly explain the system and how it works. He graciously answered all Laury's questions. After washing his hands inside, he wished us 'au revoir' and was on his way.
The findings? Laury doesn't need to clean her tank for 2 years, she is in compliance, her tank will be inspected again in 6 years at which time she will need to provide information about the pipes that drain the tank. Monsieur will sign his report as will his boss. Madame Gentou, the village mayor will also sign it, and it will be kept on record in our mairie.
Laury will receive a bill for 80 euros.
As she said, Monsieur the Inspector more than earned his 80 euros.
"Heck, I'd have paid him 100 euros to dig that up. He has a really yucky job!"


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fosse Septique

It's the buzz of the village the past few weeks, and it's French bureaucracy at its 'best.' It's all about the mandatory fosse septique inspection. Millions of French people use septic tanks as medieval villages and towns rarely have the luxury of a sewer system. SPANC (Service Public d’Assainissement Non Collectif )will visit every septic tank in France by 2012 to assure each and every one is NOT polluting the environment. Click here to read about it. I think it's interesting that every paragraph ends with 'Don't Panic!' For the privilege of having her septic tank inspected, Laury will pay the SPANC guy 80 euros! According to the rules, if there is a problem and she's not in compliance (my guess is that very few septic systems in this 13th century village will be in compliance!), she will have 4 years to make the necessary improvements. There is money available to assist if finances are a problem, and for those systems that cannot be made compliant, the village will assume some sort of responsibility.

So yesterday, I helped Laury clear away the huge clump of vines that tumbles down the wall next to the railroad tracks and partially covers the opening to her fosse septique. It actually turned out to be easier than she anticipated....
"Watch out...woman with hoe!"

'F' marks the spot...

There it is! Laury is lucky; her fosse septique is easy to find and accessible. Some of her neighbors don't even know where their's is located. The inspection is this afternoon, and I plan to be there. I have a somewhat morbid curiosity about waste products. I'll report back the findings.
And yes, I did actually do a little work to help. Did you think I just stood around taking pictures?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fat Balls

Fat balls...yes, that's what they're called, boules de graisse, and the birds love them. They appear to be compacted suet with seeds embedded; they come in their own little net sack to hang them from trees and bushes.. In this rural area, I've enjoyed lots of birds. Down at Laury's, I frequently caught a glimpse of a great blue heron along the river as well as an occasional duck. At night, I was entertained by the owls calling to one another. Here at Jean's there's a real variety. Many are the sparrow-finch-chick-a-dee type that flock to the fat balls. (Can you tell I don't really know what kind they are!?) Lots of crows cawing, doves that coo from the trees and brush, and an occasional raptor that swoops over the open field in front of the house. Most notable, tho, are the magpies! They are everywhere and squawk raucously from the trees. One sunny afternoon I saw 6 of them 'chatting' in the leafless tree directly in front of the Chalet. What a racket they were making!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day from one of my very favorite places in Paris....Place Stravinsky. I visit there every time I go to Paris and always eat lunch at the creperie on the corner. Sitting outside watching the fountains and the people play brings joy to my heart! I hope you enjoy your favorite things today!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Education On My Mind This Week

Education seems to be a theme this week. At language class on Monday afternoon, Christiane explained the mysteries of the French educational system to Laury, Greg and me. She laid it out on paper: maternelle, primary school, college, lycee, university and told us how kids are directed either to university for arts & humanities, other higher education programs for the sciences or to trade school based on which 'Bac' specialty they declare and their score. Students must declare their intentions early in lycee (high school). All students learn English beginning in the lower primary grades. And because there is the expectation of success in all classes, V.'s parents have asked Laury to help him with his English after school one day a week . On Wednesday afternoon because the Chatette was a bit chilly, Laury and V. came up to my place for their weekly session...the letter was 'G.' Over a mug of hot tea and a nibble of something sweet, they giggled over grandmother, girlfriend and grand. Laury is always careful to point out that American English is a little different than British English (which is what is taught here), so V. learns the correct usage and spelling of words for his class.

On Thursday, we had a new pupil in our French class at Christiane's...her grandson, Tom! He's 4 years old and goes to maternelle, but not that day. The teachers were on strike in protest over plans to cut a teacher position and close a class due to a decrease in enrollment. I told Laury it was very fortunate that they picked the most beautiful day of the winter...warm and go on strike! Yesterday (Friday), I walked to Cajarc again. Plastered all over the school...signs of the strike. I need to ask Christiane about this one; I read it as a sit-in and protest with a picnic at 1:30pm. I don't think the French do anything without food!
This one says: "Class closed, school in danger"

"No on the closing of a class"
The French take education very seriously.
I'm sorry I missed the picnic.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Parvis

Cajarc is a charming little town, but my favorite part (as it is in all the medieval villages and towns here) is the old section, the part that dates back to at least the 13th century (although there is evidence of settlement here back when this was part of the Gallo-Roman empire). And my favorite part of old Cajarc is the square or parvis in front of the church, St. Etienne. It was quiet and sun-lit when Laury and I arrived, its peacefulness matched the warm winter day.

                                             Shutters thrown open welcoming the afternoon sun...
St. Therese, the Merci Lady, greeted us as we entered the church. We both lit a candle and wandered a bit.
I paid my respects to my favorite saint, St. Jacques, the patron saint of pilgrims everywhere.

The interior of this old stone church was icy cold! How do people sit through Mass here?
The open door drew us back out into the sunny afternoon....

as did the lure of a beer on the terrace at Le President.
Sante, Cajarc!

Thursday, February 10, 2011


The warm afternoon sun brought out not just us walkers, but also the local fishermen. Under the bridge must be the hot spot as there were 4 men casting their lines there into the Lot. They picked a really pretty place, didn't they?

The men have quite a nice view to enjoy even if they don't catch any fish!

You've seen this bridge you remember? Click here to refresh your memory. The film "Charlotte Gray" was partially filmed in the part of Cajarc that approaches this bridge.

A great afternoon for fishing. And for a walk to Cajarc!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Walking to Cajarc

Ever since I arrived here in September, I've talked about walking into Cajarc. The bus schedule isn't conducive to an easy trip that way for groceries or to do other errands; it works better to go to Figeac for that. Cajarc, though, is only about 4 kms and is definitely walk-able. Every time I'd think about trying it, the weather wouldn't cooperate or something else would come up. Yesterday, though, the weather was lovely, and the time was right. Laury and I rendezvous'd at the bus stop at 2pm and began the trek. We first walked along our stretch of the river where we've taken the dogs many times. Eventually, we had to come up off the river bottoms and walk along the road, not as scenic, but do-able. At the train house where the road crosses the old railroad tracks, we cut back onto this path along the river. It was absolutely beautiful! To our right there were small garden plots still with some winter vegetables. You could tell the cold earth was just itching for warm spring sun and the gardener's hoe. Laury says the little gardens are loaded with all kinds of vegetables and flowers in the summer.

We followed this path along the trees. I could just imagine how lovely it is in summer when they are all leafed out and shady.
At various places there were benches to sit on and rest weary feet. We took advantage of this one for a few minutes.

Then it was back to walking. Before we could say "Mon Dieu, c'est tres beau aujoud'hui" the bridge came into view, and the water tower announced that we had arrived at our destination...Cajarc.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

Lucie and I could tell just from our walk around the village this morning that the sun came out yesterday...and will again today!