When we left Saint Chinian dans le sud de la france après six mois, we had many wonderful friends. They were curious about our life “at home” in Victoria so this Blog is, in fact, a reverse Blog. I will tell nos amis français what our “real” life is like and will introduce them to some of our friends here. First, a bit of geography for reference.
Canada fills up the northern part of North America.
Vancouver Island is on the far west side of Canada. On the Pacific Ocean.
The island is 460 km long and 80 km wide at its widest.
Apparently, it is about 2/3 the size of England. With a population of only 800,000!
I (Deidre) was born in Victoria. My father was born in Victoria from parents who had emigrated a few years earlier from the south of England. My mother was born a few miles south in Tacoma, Washington, USA, a few years after her parents emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland. Murray was born in Brandon, Manitoba (see map of Canada). His father and mother were both also born in Canada from parents who had emigrated from central and southern England.
We have lived in Victoria since 1993 after many years away traveling with work.
Interesting to people from the UK or Europe is that Victoria was established only in 1843 as Fort Victoria, a fur trade post of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Not that long ago in European terms. Prior to that, the Victoria area was the home of the aboriginal/native/Indian original residents – the Coast Salish. The west coast of Canada was first visited by Europeans in the late 18th century. Spanish explorer, Juan Pérez traded with the native people at Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1774 and in 1778 (in fact, in April, 237 years ago),
British explorer, James Cook spent a month (March to April 1778) in the same location while he repaired his ship before sailing north to look for the Northwest Passage. That failed and he headed to the Sandwich Islands to get warm. He was killed there on 14 February 1779. A statue of Cook, a smaller version of the one in Whitby, Yorkshire, stands overlooking the harbour in Victoria. Right across the street from the Empress Hotel but he did not have high tea. In fact, he did not even visit Victoria but since he laid claim to Nootka Sound for England, he firmly established an English presence on the west coast of Canada.
Captain Cook looking towards the famous Empress Hotel.
The Empress Hotel
Victoria is the capital of the Province of British Columbia. That is the Legislative Building looking very elegant across the Inner Habour.
Close-up with the statue of Queen Victoria in silhouette.
The Hudson’s Bay Company, based in London, opened fur trade posts on Hudson Bay from 1670. In the 1820s they moved into the west. In 1842, James Douglas established Fort Victoria for the Company on the southern tip of Vancouver Island and, of course, the rest is history.
Spring flowers everywhere!
This alley way, with restaurant terraces and craft market, looks towards the location of the original Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Victoria (no longer there).
Victoria is on the very bottom of Vancouver Island. We actually live in a suburb called Saanich (an Indian word meaning “land of plenty”), about 20 minutes north of what we call the “waterfront”. This is where we walk and look across about 40 km to the mountains of Washington in the United States.
Seaplane service to Vancouver and Seattle.
1 km long breakwater with daily ferry arriving from the United States (Port Angeles).
We live in a townhouse development called Falcon Ridge Estates. Trees and gardens are the theme and have a view of gardens from the kitchen window.
Our house has a living room, dining room, kitchen, office, bedroom and 2 bathrooms all on the entrance level. It also has accommodation for guests in the lower level – 2 bedrooms and bathroom.
Plus, a basement storage area and a space Murray uses for making wine. We have been known to have parties down there so our guests do not run our of wine to drink!
Our complex, as does most of Victoria, is surrounded by gardens. When we arrived back at the beginning of April, we were greeted by many spring flowers, including the Japanese flowering cherry trees outside our windows.We have friends who live in the east of Canada who have to shovel snow in the winter – in Victoria we shovel pink blossoms in the spring!!
Ornamental cherry trees like in Japan with blossom drifts after a wind.
Working day in spring, on our patio with grandson Pierson.
We have a clubhouse with a social room, swimming pool and hot tub all of which are well-used.Every second Friday, we have a drop in gathering (usually about 20 or 25 people turn up) to socialize with “bring your own” aperos for sharing plus personal drink preferences – a good place to catch up on the latest news/gossip and, of course, talk about our recent trips.
Every month, one evening is organized for a social event such as New Year’s Day levee, Valentines’ Day dessert party, summer BBQ, Hallowe’en, Christmas. Or, movie nights, pancake breakfast, etc. Stretch and tone sessions are held three mornings a week, and in the swimming pool, there is aquafit on the alternate mornings. Also, Sunday evening bridge and Thursday evening snooker.
Murray volunteers twice a week at Heritage Acres, where he helps in the collecting, restoring, and demonstrating of artifacts from the rural past. It is on the Western Canada’s largest collections of working steam engines, tractors, agricultural machinery, household and industrial artifacts.
Once a year, Deidre volunteers at the local newspaper for its annual book sale. They are not counted exactly but it is figured that over 400,000 used books are donated and must be sorted over a two week period in preparation for a 2-day sale. This year almost $160,000 was raised for the Raise-a-Reader Fund which provides assistance to literacy organizations, charities, and schools in the Victoria area.
We also provide day care for Pierson twice a week – a much appreciated break for Mum and Dad – and an even more appreciated time spent with Grammie and Gram.
This is Pierson in the outfit Grammie brought back from France.
So – that is us. Murray and Deidre at home in Victoria, Canada, and missing Saint Chinian, France, and all our friends there.
Jusqu’à la prochaine fois – until the next time. Avec amour.
Quai Villeneuve, Saint-Chinian
When we were first planning our trip to live in le sud de la france pour six mois, we had quite a large area to check out. From our previous trip to the Lanquedoc, we had found the history and le terroir trés intéressant so decided to concentrate on that area. Also, the canal du midi is very picturesque and meanders for kilometres from Toulouse to Sete (south east of here), where it drains, 241 km later, into the Mediterranean.
Saint Chinian is situated in the Herault department, 40 kilometres from the Méditerranée and within sight of the Montagnes Noire to the north-west. It is not on the canal du midi but is not far and we criss cross the canal regularly as it meanders its way through the Lanquedoc (green on the map).
The south of France is proud of its occitan culture and history while it is also very much a part of modern Europe. Occitan, also known as lenga d’òc (hence, languedoc) is the local language of southern France (including Provence and Monaco), a small part of northwest Italy, and is known as Catalan in eastern Spain. The name comes from the fact that the speakers use the sound “oc” for the word “oui”. Apparently, written records date the language to the 10th century but it is probably older.
View overlooking Saint Chinian
Saint Chinian, or Sanch Inhan in occitan (various other spellings: Sanch-Anhan, San-Chanhan, Saint-Anian), has had a long and interesting history since its foundation by Benedictine monks, probably during Charlemagne’s reign, but its first charters date from 844 and 899. The historical record is not easy to put together as any paper records before 1875 were lost in the flood of that year. The following is what has been gleaned by local historians (and I have borrowed). Of course, long before any of this, neanderthals and Cro-Magnon men, women and children roamed this country in paleolithic times, thousands of years ago.
Saint Chinian owes its name to the Benedictine monk, Anhan, who founded the Saint Laurent monastery in 782 on the left bank of the River Vernazobre, on land just behind notre maison. He was beatified in 1102 and the monastery took his name: Sanch Anhan, which became Saint-Chinian in the Middle Ages.
In 826, an abbey was established on the other side of the river, on the site of the town today. It survived relatively unscathed from the Albigensian crusades of the early 1200s (eliminating the Cathars) . There was also the threat of la peste noir (Black Plague) in the last half of the 14th century. The abbot constructed walls around the little village in an attempt to keep the pestilence outside. Only a small portion of the wall exists today deep inside the local garage/mechanic building, near where the abbey stood. The village was for a long time a modest village, essentially agricultural. From 1351 to 1465 there was a permanent struggle between farmers and abbots. Abbot Renaud de Valon was eventually given the responsibility of organizing the economy of Saint-Chinian on a more democratic basis. Yet the farmers rebelled in the next century and the religious wars threatened the abbeys’ existence. Not sure what this was about but probably over the use of land.
Old church with new church behind
In 1536 the village was destroyed by Baron de Faugères, a Calvinist, and again in 1578 by the peasants’ revolt. Then, Saint Chinian emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries as a centre for the manufacture of high quality cloth – wool, linen and silk – as well as agricultural products such as flour, wine and olive oil. The rocky shale terraces where the sheep grazed are still obvious in the surrounding hills. Foreign trade reached as far as the Mediterranean basin and the East. The village and its surroundings flourished, but life for the residents changed with the French Revolution. Because of the suppression of monastic orders, the abbot no longer provided the poor with wheat and so they starved. In 1792, the population of Saint Chinian was 3500. After the Revolution, with the opening up of overseas trade, local industry, especially cloth and tanning, plummeted and received its final blow by a terrible flood in 1875.
Only remnants of the workshops, factories, mills are visible along the edge of the River Vernazobres, which runs through Saint Chinian, because after a heavy rainfall in September 1875 a devastating flood roared down from the hills. It ripped away the factories on the south bank and demolished houses on the other side, leaving behind three hundred destroyed or damaged houses. Ninety-seven residents drowned or died. The devastation is still in evidence today by historic markers on sides of building, sometimes 3 or 4 feet above the road level.
The wool trade had already been declining in the mid-19th century due to the industrial revolution and increased mechanization; and the competition with imports from England and Spain did not help. But, at the same time, a new class of consumers, the bourgeoisie, emerged as a strong market for wine. Wine was becoming a cornerstone of the French economy and French wine garnered international recognition as the benchmark standards for the wine world. So, when it came time to rebuild Saint Chinian after the flood, the old industrial labourers moved into this new wine industry.
The next disaster came when Phylloxera (a sap-sucking louse, which feeds on the roots) appeared at the end of the 19th century in the eastern part of southern France. But it arrived later in the area around Béziers, which had by that time planted its vineyards with American rootstocks, which proved very highly resistant to Phylloxera. Saint-Chinian profited from this and became a vine growing area.
From 1914 to 1918, Saint-Chinian was actively involved in the war effort, hosting refugees from the North of France and Belgium, but also sending many of its young men off to fight and never return.
WWII was a bit different as all of the south of France was part of Vichy France. We found very few WWII memorials but, on the good side, no cities with bombed out buildings. This Resistance Memorial is on the hillside above Saint Chinian.
After the Second World War, Saint-Chinian threw itself into the pursuit of excellence for the quality of its wines. This has become even more important over the last few decades and has helped improve the reputation of our wines on a more international scale. Saint-Chinian acquired AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) status in 1982 and is now producing a wide range of quality wines. There are twenty villages in the Saint Chinian AOC. The grapes used at Saint-Chinian are Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Lledoner Pelut, Mourvèdre and Syrah – not all familiar to us in North America.
Cave Co-operative Saint Chinian
We have lived for six months at 9 quai Villeneuve across the River Vernazorbe from the little village – a two minute walk. Not sure when the first bridge was built, but the stone bridge we use pretty well every day was built in 1610.
The petites maisons which line la rue où nous vivons were built to house les étrangers (essentially foreign workers who came to work in the factories). The date in the official record is before 1811.
In the Bibliothèque, the librarian (who happens to have the same birthday as me – 28 December) very kindly brought in the plans of the village from the archives so that I could see the originals. On those our street looked like this as early as the 16th century. No. 9 was one of three maisons in the building where the arrow points. Not sure what they looked like structurally but they were there.
This property is described on the street plan from 1778 as a maison belonging to Jean-Baptist Gerrieux – patu 9. Note the number is already 9. Apparently, according to an information sheet provided to me by a local historian, Patu is an ancient term used for taxation purposes: is an ancient concept designating a set of indivisible goods intended for common use.
This plan is full of information about the residents and the use of the property. Notice that the buildings across the street and backing on the river are still there. Except for the the first two properties at the bottom right, the rest are gone – demolished after the 1875 flood. One of those is la boulangerie, the best croissants, right on the corner.
The good news is the #9 has a view of the river and pretty houses across the way.
Some of the families listed on the street plan may still be with us. The man next door in #8, I would say well in his 70s, told me he was born in the house and has lived there all his life.
Neighbors such as Elena (middle), and Monsieur René (on left), and others often sit on this bench in the sun and discuss all the world’s problems. Or the latest gossip. Elena is 92. Josette (here with Monsieur René on another day) is the neighbor that I have spoken most often with. She is 68, but looks and acts older. Apparently, about 5 years ago, her husband went off into the woods hunting for mushrooms and never came back. Well, they did eventually find him but she misses him.
Notre maison, 9 quai Villeneuve, is owned by Barbara O’Hanlon. She lives in Ireland and her sister also has a house in le sud de la France. They grew up in Kenya where their father was a doctor. In their 60s they started writing and have now published three books, novels based on their growing up years in Africa and published under their maiden names, Barbara and Stephanie Keating. They first wrote and published To My Daughter in France which is based in Montpellier and in England during the war and in then, also, a generation later. There are vibes of the writing process in notre maison. We have read all these books, which we found on the bookshelves, and enjoyed them very much.
We are now on our way back home to Victoria, BC, Canada. Our time dans le sud de la France and at 9 quai Villenueve has been a very special time in our lives. We will miss the many friends we have made in the past six mois, especially Andreas and Anthony, nos voisins, and the people we have crossed paths with in our day to day life – the fish man in the market where we bought the freshest prawns, the ladies in the boulangerie, the smiley young fellow in the newstand where we bought the weekly Sunday Times.
Also, the patient staff in the pharmacie, supermarket, dentist’s office, and the supply store where we had to order delivery of the fuel oil for the furnace (and the cheery delivery man), the co-op wine people who supplied copious tastings, and the owners of La Caleche, the best restaurant in Saint Chinian. And many others who made our stay comfortable and interesting.
Bonne journée et bon voyage à tous nos amis.
Deidre and Murray. We are happy happy to have had this experience.
As we start packing up and saying good bye to our new friends after our wonderful six months dans le sud de la France, we are thinking of the images we see on a daily basis which are among the memories that we do not want to forget.
The housing here is different – the older (usually dating to the 18th and 19th centuries) buildings are generally three storeys, built of local non-descript stone.
This is party of a rubble wall surrounding our terrace.
Some, in years past, have been plastered over for a smooth, grey, surface. More recent renovations have added a bit of colour but local regulations require any colour to be approved by the Conseil Municipal and they tend to be pastel and subtle.
Street in Saint Chinian
View from our window
Our neighbour’s newly painted house
Almost all the houses, in Saint Chinian and every village, town and city we visit, have shutters on the windows. These are functional, not just decorative like the pasted on shutters we usually see in Canada. Here, open or closed, the colour combinations make the facade interesting and give some indication of individuality.
Also, most of the older houses have a large “garage” door. These were in fact originally “barn” doors, some leading into an area under the house where animals were kept. And, maybe into a pasture or garden area in the back, between the rows of houses. Notre maison (dating from before 1811) has a back terrace which leads off the “garage” so it is easy to imagine this configuration. We actually have two garages since this maison was originally two houses.
Most of these doors are painted to match the shutters (such as ours) but many are truly artsy in their weathered state – a look hard to create if you want a distressed effect.
Rural images usually involve vineyards. Acres (or hectares) of them, sometimes as far as the eye can see. In these vineyards are little huts scattered about – un cabanon de vigneron (a winemaker’s shed). Many sizes and shapes.
These have an old and settled look. But, since wine-making on a large scale was not introduced here until the late 19th century, the fields were probably originally farms or grazing pastures for sheep and cattle. The wool and leather industries were an important part of the local economy up until then. There are various explanations for these huts which were obviously used by the farm/vineyard workers/shepherds and still are: privy/outhouse? or shelter from the sun/rain? There is even an old wives’ tale of the hut being used as a place for women to give birth while they are working in the fields. Older ones, made of field stone, are called borie.
Some have a different look. These temple-like structures, we have sometimes come across, are tombs indicating a long family attachment to that plot of land. Those knarly looking stumps in the foreground are trimmed down grape vines, waiting for the spring to burst forth in leaves and little grape flowers.
This style is usually the shelter for a well. One particularly pretty one is in our Or, an old style outdoor toilet? friend’s garden.
And then there are cars. We are all familiar with the “deux chevaux” often used in films to indicate a true French or Italian driver. The Citroën 2CV was introduced in 1948 as a cheap and utilitarian vehicle for the farmers who were still mostly using horses and carts after the war. Now, they are considered “trendy” and are mostly owned by collectors.
This red 2CV went roaring by, too fast to get a good photo
The latest version of utility vehicle is the ubiquitous “little white van” which have the habit of zooming up behind you on the local roads and tailgating until the perfectly unsafe place to pass.
This one, looking abandoned in a derelict yard along with old farm equipment. iPretty typical.
The farmers own them because they are big enough to carry tools and equipment, but small enough to drive into the vineyards. They also have a perfect tailgate for lunch (bottle of wine and a baguette), sometimes with the whole family.
In the hunting season the “little white vans” become transport for camouflage-dressed men with their guns and dogs who range through the vineyards and woods shooting at anything that moves (hopefully pheasants and wild pigs). Incongruously, because of safety concerns, their camouflage outfit is now topped with a neon pink or green vest. Sorry, I do not have any photos – did not want to get close enough.
Little white vans are also a favorite of small businesses and, if it is yellow, it is probably La Poste.
We will not forget these images soon!
From le sud de la France – Deidre and Murray
The Dordogne is located in the northwestern area of southwestern France, in the region (for all you British historians) of Aquitaine. It is named after the Dordogne River that runs between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees. This is a typical scene – river, wooded hills, and a castle. (note: if you click on the photo […]
It was not my intention to do a lot of shopping while living dans le sud de la France. After all, it is costing us a bit to maintain two homes plus travel and enjoy the delicious food and wine. And, I am not that much of a shopper – yes, essentials and clothes, but I prefer not to spend a lot of money on “stuff”.
BUT, I have discovered the magic of the French brocante et salons d’antiquaires. I got hooked when I decided I wanted a tarte tatin pan for the traditional apple tart recipe I had found on the Midihideways blog (midihideaways.wordpress.com). It was early December but it turned out we were just in time for the annual Grand Déballage (this translates as ‘grand unpacking’, so like a garage sale) which is usually held in nearby Pézenas on the 2nd Sunday in October but had been postponed this year. Lucky for us – but it meant a cooler day, albeit sunny. The city of Pézenas is known for its antiques and the shops of fifty second-hand goods and antiques dealers are open throughout the year. Furniture, old linen, jewellery, crockery, paintings, trinkets, African art, watches, books and posters, and an interesting selection of 1950s era furniture, china, and household items are available.
The colourful and “exotic” second-hand market we attended extended over a kilometre with over 150 exhibitors. Many just had blankets laid out along the street, covered with bits and pieces. Others were more serious with tables or cupboards full of goodies. I was looking for copper. There was not much in evidence but I did notice that items near the entrance had higher prices than further along. About half way into the melee, I saw a set of three copper pots. The man wanted 30 euros – for them all! Not quite what I was looking for so onward. Looking for anything specific is a bit like trying to find Waldo. Do you see the pots?
It was a cool day so everyone was bundled up. This lady was selling retro bakelite jewelry from the 50s – or so she said. It was very nice, new looking, interesting colour combinations and designs. I started looking at bracelets and Murray eventually bought one for my birthday and one for his granddaughter Kendra.
Along we strolled, looking at no end of strange and unusual “antiques”. Murray was impressed that there were these guns for sale – no one worried about them lying out there for all to fondle.
We turned a corner and came upon a jazz ensemble adding music to the atmosphere. But, it was lunchtime. And, in France, lunch means eating and the ubiquitous bottle of wine. And family time.
It was also time for our lunch. Along a little lane off the antique row, we found La Tour Pavée Crêperie where we enjoyed traditional Brittany-style crêpes and hot apple cider. Can you imagine the taste of a butter caramel salt crêpe? Is Murray happy?
Back to the Grand Déballage – we wandered back the way we came and I stopped again to look at the copper pots. I might be able to pack one in my suitcase so offered 10 euros for the smallest. Now I am the happy owner of a perfect little saucepan. What an exciting day! And there is more….
About a week or two later, I read about the oldest and the biggest fleamarket of Montpellier – Marche aux Puces. On arriving, we were a bit disappointed to find more of a garage sale en masse with more second hand clothes and shoes, etc. And the culture was definitely middle eastern. BUT, there were some treasures among the mish mash with a lot of careful looking. I surprisingly found an oval copper pan with brass handles in very good shape for 10 euros. I was happy but should have bargained I guess. Murray found a set of speakers to use on the computer when we want to watch movies. He paid 8 euros and, miracle of miracles, when we got home they worked!! Just a little further along, I found a set of copper pots on a mat among a lot of useless items. This time a set of 5 for 20 euros. Again, I did not want five pots. But there were two that were very nice, with stainless steel inside, which apparently is a good thing. They were about the same size as the one I had already bought but since I was able to “bargain” the owner to sell me the best two for 10 euros (I know, that was not exactly bargaining) I now have another copper pot a bit larger and have gifted the smaller one to my “foodie” friend.
Now I have caught the antique shopping bug. On a visit back to Pézenas, we visited Les Antiquaires de l’Hotel Genieys.
It really is a beautiful shop and at the back is a room full of antique linens. Once I started sorting through and feeling the softness of washed linen I could not resist. I started looking at sheets for about 150 euros but digging through the pile found a very nice one in a natural colour (not bleached) for 30 euros. It is huge – 320cm x 280cm or 126 x 110 inches – bigger than the usual North American queen size – 267cm x 280cm or 105 × 110 inches.
The most common and most desirable sheets are the white matrimonial monogrammed sheets, traditionally embroidered by a future bride for her trousseau. If you are interested, check out this website http://fleurdandeol.com. I found this one (with the odd initials A O) on a very cold Saturday in Marseillan Plage. The equally cold vendor, trying to keep warm in his truck when I dragged him out to unfold the sheets to check the quality, was not into bargaining. I happily paid his asked for 20 euros.
My photos do not do them justice. The sheets need to be washed and ironed but wonderful to imagine them on our bed at home. The natural coloured one will probably be used as a topper. I am now on a search for pillow shams!!!! And for anyone into sewing, you could make a lot of clothes out one sheet.
For sure our suitcases will be overflowing and we will probably have to send a box of stuff home by post BUT we have some great souvenirs and more good stories.
Au revoir for now.
À bientôt de notre maison en le sud de la France
Deidre and Murray Happy, happy!
PS: We did not buy these!
To all our family and friends at this special time of year:
The climate in le sud de la France is not exactly what most of us think of at Christmas. But, among evergreens and palm trees (and daytime temperatures up to 17C), Saint Chinian celebrates the spirit of Noël with sparkling lights.
Many of the local shops decorate their windows to add to the Noël ambiance.
Santa Claus is Père Noël here. He wanders the craft markets and neighborhoods on special days, handing out candies to les enfants. One Père Noël we came across in a nearby town looked a bit more like Mère Noël, but, whatever.
Of course Père Noël does not arrive in a sleigh drawn by reindeer. And houses here do not always have fireplaces. So, he has to be a bit more adventurous in getting into les maisons to deliver les cadeaux to les enfants.
How many Père Noëls are there anyway? He must have a lot of helpers.
Saint Chinian has une École de Musique and les enfants join the local choir for un Concert de Noël.
Notre maison also has lots of lights. Deidre climbed the stairs up to the attic where, besides birds flying in and out, she found a box of Christmas decorations, including three strings of twinky lights. The structure on the fireplace mantle is a piece of grape vine trunk. These are often lying around vineyards that are being renovated. Yes, they do renovate vineyards but we will explain that in another Blog.
That little cardboard Christmas tree is one Deidre’s family bought for a family Christmas in Amalfi, Italy, in 1986. It travels with us folded flat in the suitcase.
Good friends are a recommended seasonal addition. Enjoying Martinis with our newly acquired Noilly Prat vermouth from one of our “out and about” adventures.
Lots of local wines, local cheeses (in this case Roquefort, another specialty of the “neighborhood”), and local produce (dried figs, olives, hazelnuts) are always in good supply. Food for foodies.
So, here we are, living the good life in le sud de la France, enjoying un Joyeux Noël, and thinking of family and friends wherever they are. We love you all and wish you the very best of the season and une Bonne Année.
Deidre and Murray/Mum and Dad/Grammie and Gram