Notre Maison en le Sud de la France: Épisode deux
Bonjour again from notre maison en le Sud de la France. Since I have not had time to get around to writing this second blog until now and some of you are asking what we are doing to fill our time, I will explain:
Our first two weeks were filled with getting ourselves settled, finding our way around, and meeting new friends. We shop at the open market in Saint Chinian every Thursday and Sunday – also where the locals and we ex pats stop for coffee and a chat.
We also had to find the local and nearby super markets – SPAR, InterMarché and Carrefour – so Murray could check out the beer and wine prices (all good) – and the local wine Cave Cooperative where I prefer the local Rosé by the bottle rather than in a carton. It is a very tasty (light and dryish) blend of syrah and grenache grapes, both grown locally. Typical for this Lanquedoc area of southern France. It is also possible to fill a plastic gallon jug from a hose but we have not gone there yet!
With the help of the internet before we left Victoria, I was able to connect with a Women’s International Club that meets in Saint Chinian once a month. WIC is a bilingual club for women of any nationality, to meet and make friends through social and cultural activities. The official languages are French and English. It seemed like the perfect venue for meeting people. As it turns out, it is the women that meet once a month but they are several activities during the month that include, and may even be organized by, their spouses.
The meeting date is the first Thursday of the month, so I attended on 2 October, having just arrived in town on Saturday. Women’s groups all over the world are pretty much the same, including always ending with tea/coffee and baked goodies (and discussions of not enough members volunteering to help…..sound familiar?). I was happily welcomed with a name tag waiting at the desk and one member designated to introduce me to others and make sure I was comfortable.
The list of activities includes groups that meet for walks, games, lunch, art classes, afternoon tea, bridge, and petanque. I have been on two Tuesday afternoon walks, including the one this past week near the village of Minerve. I left home at 1pm and did not arrive home until 6. The walk itself was a steady two hours of climbing up and down, mostly on uneven terrain, but a good workout. Then there was the drink on a terrace after, and the drive to and fro. It is all very social.
Murray and I have joined the petanque group (I know you are going to ask – What is petanque?) which meets two Friday mornings a month in Saint Chinian or one of the other nearby villages. It is a form of boules where the goal is to throw hollow metal balls (we conveniently found a set in the basement of notre maison) as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (literally “piglet”) while standing inside a starting circle with both feet on the ground. Similar games are bocce, bowls and curling. The current form of the game originated in 1907 in Provence. The French name pétanque comes from petanca in the Occitan language, meaning ‘feet together’ or more exactly ‘feet anchored’.
Same story – meet group, play 2 or 3 games, head off to local bistro for drinks and/or lunch. The conversation often revolves around “why are we here?”/”why are they here?”. So we are meeting lots of people – interestingly, mostly about our ages and station in life. Many are from England, escaping the rain but enjoying the French economy since the € (euro) is worth less than their £ (British pound). Unlike we Canadians (there are a few others around but we have not met them yet) who have to pay almost $1.50 for each € (euro). There are also others from Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and even Australia.
Saturday evening we were invited for apéros at anglais neighbors who live just a few houses down from us. They have been here about 7 years since retiring in Essex, England. Theirs is a similar house to ours but lovingly renovated and updated. Apéros is the same as our happy hour but later – 6 to 8pm – since we all eat later here. Again, we could have been anywhere. They had also invited another couple – we drank wine, ate apéros and got to know each other.
Murray’s daughter, Marilee, and her husband Rob from Newmarket, Ontario, were here for a week after they completed a Mediterranean cruise – Barcelona to Rome, etc. and back.
With them, we visited Minerve (a medieval Cathar village besieged by the Catholic crusaders in 1210 – 140 residents were burnt at the stake); and Carcasonne (larger but with a similar history) where we had beautiful lunch including my favorite, cassoulet.
We also shopped at a very modern, open air shopping center in Béziers – Marilee bought boots in anticipation of another Ontario winter.
And visited the Canal du Midi at Capestang which was full of boating holidayers.
Then we were off to Barcelona where we ate, drank, and walked our feet off for three days. I will write about that city in another blog. We sent them off, back to Canada on Sunday, then had another day in Barcelona before taking the train north-east to Montpellier. There we picked up our lease car – a Peugoet 208 – to drive for the rest of our time here. It had 2 km on the odometer when we got in! And no discussion at all about breaking it in as we immediately set off on the highway towards home at 120km/hr. And no warranty check ups before we return it in five months……
What else do we do besides the usual shopping, preparing meals, cleaning up, doing laundry (which gets hung outside to dry), looking after ourselves, and sleeping? I have been visiting the bibliotèque to read up on the history of Saint Chinian. I sit there with a fairly detailed, recently written local history book (in French), a large dictionary, and my notebook. It is an arduous process but I have figured out a few interesting facts (will write about that another time). A couple of times someone has dropped by my table to “talk” and we have one of my “interesting” conversations in what can only be termed Franglish. Surprisingly, it works and I have received more information than is in the book, as well as a smile or two. My language lessons have been mostly that – in situ – plus a few exercises on Duolingo (when I have time!).
Most afternoons, because the weather has been so great, Murray and I get in the car (notre voiture) to drive in one direction or another. In Victoria, we would do this by driving 20 or 30 minutes to walk on Dallas Road, Willows beach, or Island View beach. Here we drive the same distance and find ourselves in any one of the many small medieval-era towns in this area. Some more picturesque than others, but all interesting at the very least for a cold drink or coffee on a tree shaded terrace and the opportunity to watch the locals coming and going. This weekend we had towns to visit: Saint-Pons de Thomièrs for its annual Fête de la châtaigne (no dictionary handy? châtaignes are chestnuts) and Saint-Nazaire-de-Ladarez for its Fête des noisettes (hazelnuts).
So there you are. That is our vie en France more or less.
Of course, we also spend time talking about and thinking about all of you. Avec amour.
À bientôt de Notre Maison en le Sud de la France.
Deidre and Murray Still happy, happy!