Together. Alone

Despite the fact that it’s February, Baz and I have spent the last two days together in France basking in the warmth of clear blue skies. We explored, we took photos and we made the most of all things outdoorsimg_4328

Then, he left me

That is to say that today, after a flying trip, he boarded the bus to the airport, joking about how he had just enough euro ‘pocket money’ for the bus. As I walked back across the car park I realised that it was much harder sending him off home and staying here without himimg_4327

I know it’s only for a few days. I have plenty to keep me occupied and I just need to remain focussed

 

 

A Candle Lit in Carcassonne

A Week of Red Wine and Reminiscence

The sun was rising over Carcassonne, but I was alone as I explored the Medieval Cite

Mum and I spent a week in France in October, just us. I cannot remember the last time we spent alone together like this, and I was delighted that she wanted to see our project

I slept at our house but installed her in our neighbour’s apartment, and the nicest parts of the days were the evenings when we’d have something to eat together and then settle down with a glass or two of red wine, and simply natter

Through the week we discussed various family histories (and, we decided, perhaps a few myths). We also talked about her childhood and siblings, of her experiences and loss as a young girl during World War Two, and then of her long and happy marriage to Dad

We stayed overnight at Carcassonne on the way home, as I wanted to share the Medieval Cite with her

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I was tired, having picked up ‘something’ which turned out to be a chest infection and struck me dumb for eight full days once I was home. Still, the early October weather was kind and we sat in the sun with afternoon drinks, and then wandered off to soak up the al fresco atmosphere at dinner within the city walls

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The next day was our last, so I went out early to take a few snaps. The solitude and peace was totally different from the previous evening, and the light was just catching the Cite

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I noticed someone else: a nun, on her way to open the Cathedral

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I followed inside. She glanced at me, perhaps slightly disapproving, but didn’t ask me to leave. Inside, candles still burned in dedication from the day before, and the enormous windows were illuminated in the golden morning light

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I continued to wander a while, before heading back to breakfast with Mum. We were travelling with only hand luggage and so we were quickly packed and out again to explore. I was keen to show Mum the Cathedral, and the day was deliciously warm

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That day Mum and I lit a candle of our own, as if to mark the end of our week together. It felt right, somehow, and I think of it often


I wouldn’t normally include travel notes, but:

Carcassonne is not ideal for anyone who uses a walking aid, such as my Mum, but it is worth the effort and we just took our time. We saw a lot of wheelchair users managing too

The little road train provides a cheap and convenient tour. However, it is very bumpy so I strongly recommend wearing a sports bra!

 

 

Our hotel was pretty much opposite the entrance to the Cite. Even if you just fancy a sit down over a cuppa or a glass of wine, I can recommend it Hotel du Chateau

There is a beautiful old cemetery just outside the Cite entrance. Worth a look if – like me – you like cemeteries

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Gratuitous shots of someone else’s house

French Property stalking for a quick ‘fix’

I arrive in Carcassonne alone, and drag my wheelie case along the cobbled streets to find the house we saw when we came here a few weeks before IMG_8991

I am a huntress. I know when I am getting close, even though I am not that familiar with the streets. I just feel that I am getting closer

I have only a short time before I have to catch my train, but I just hang around outside,  taking photos when I think no-one is looking. Does this make me a house stalker?

Yes, most definitely, as I press my face to the window to see inside IMG_8601IMG_8607It was for sale but the owner has now decided to ‘renovate’. I don’t know what that really means, but I hope they will not strip the original interior features that I can still see

It’s the many details which make this wonderful house. Each one is complete in its own right, but they also work together to create the beaux-arts buildingIMG_8982IMG_8613

Hundreds of people must pass by this street every day, yet other than the graffiti artist who has recently made their mark, few seem to notice it. Does that make it any less special?

I think not

Same Again, PLEASE

Elegant in grey for four centuries, but now out of fashion?

I arrive at the Mairie, sans maquillage, and the lovely guy at the desk recognises me, smiles warmly and calls me by another woman’s name. As soon as I try to correct his error he apologises, remembering that he did the same thing the last time we met, and we both laugh. Do she and I look similar? He thinks so, he says. I explain that I’ve been told there is a grant toward restoring the outside of the house, and he says he’ll get me an appointment. I wonder what does this other bloody woman look like – is she actually my doppelgänger?

He phones me in the afternoon, while I am on the balcony with colour charts, matching the shutters as closely as possible (somewhere between ‘gauze deep’ and ‘bone china blue’ – though closer to ‘gauze deep’). I am on my way, I tell him, and I go straight there, just slightly grubbier than in the morning. He hadn’t realised how complicated the matter was, that there are forms to be completed for the permit, that 2 quotations must be obtained, and that we must then write a letter to the Mayor and the work inspected before money can be awarded

His English is good, but I try to keep him in French so we mix it up a lot. He’s apologetic about the amount of time involved – six months just for the permission, and longer for the grant – but I’m undeterred

He sends me upstairs, and as I climb the staircase I see that the building is very beaux-arts inside, though municipalisation has disguised much of this. I arrive at the correct office where a well-dressed and (as I discover later) very fragrant lady greets me somewhat coolly, having been pre-warned that this Anglaise was on her way. Her colleague at the other desk is in charge but is clearly a man who would prefer to spend ten minutes explaining to her what needs doing than to do it himself. As it turns out, she’s very kind and she accompanies me back downstairs to the guy I was speaking with before, because, as she explains, he speaks English and she doesn’t. Once installed at his desk she shows us both the extent of the paperwork and produces a sheet of twelve potential stonework/shutter colour combos for which I may request the permit

The choices illustrated are yellow stonework with shutters in mauve, dark or light blue, beige stone or red with brown, orange stone with brown, light or dark green, pink stone with brown or pale blue, or blue stone with light or dark green. It looks to me like the plans for a Disney resort

I am, shall we say, ‘unimpressed’

I explain that we don’t want to change the colours, only to repaint exactly as it is (grey front and white-ish back, both with the same pale blue-grey shutters, minus the rust stains). But no, they explain, there is no white or grey option, only the colours on the chart, though neither is championing these colour choices, and both are sympathetic. I simply will not renovate at all, I say, but of course this is not an option as the Mairie wants it sorted out. This is the stage at which I become aware of the fragrance of the elegantly dressed lady as she sits down next to me, in my stinky wallpaper-stripping clothes and we ponder the colours together. Upon their request I translate the French ‘beige’ into the English ‘beige’. Still beige. He points at the beige desk. ‘What colour is beige in English?’ I point at the desk and tell him it’s the same colour, we all giggle and it’s good-natured and conspiratorial

Forty minutes and several (mainly unrelated) phone calls later, they are still both sitting with me and all three of us are still disillusioned with the horrible colour sheet, perplexed that the authentic existing colours of this house which has stood elegant and French in grey for four centuries are simply and suddenly out of fashion. And I am sure that the irony that the Mairie does not fit into this scheme does not escape either of them

My only hope, they say, is to complete the forms and explain in a heartfelt letter to the Mayor exactly why I don’t want to change anything, I only want to preserve what is here, and just hope that he will give an exceptional permit for this

I didn’t fall in love with an orange and green house. But I would quickly fall out of love with one, so I have to hope that reason prevails…

To be continued (but most likely not for a few months – I’ve obviously got a lot of paperwork, thinking and letter-writing to do). And there may be a spot of crying

Riches to Rags, Defiantly

I’m charmed by neglected things and the spirit of defiance

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There are cracks in our floor, but the tiles are almost more beautiful because of their imperfections. Theirs is an honest story of survival and service, the history of the house itself

Yes, I’m charmed by neglected things, always have been. Recently through necessity it’s French architectural salvage, though I’ll never turn down anything pretty or useful

Or in need of help

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Found in the garage – Pretty AND useful?

I have optimistically bought old radiators from Ebay, with no idea if they will function in France (or at all), and I can’t wait to see the plumber’s face when I show him my latest treasures!

But I am sure our very likeable builder now understands some of the vision for this house. Initially I was made aware by friends that he prefers to rip out and modernise everything (and this was borne out in our early meetings), but I have noticed a subtle change in his attitude – ‘un change de tête’ after further visits. Standing with me in the house, he admired the quality of the ironwork on a window one day, and he talked about how attractive the old shutters will be when sanded and refreshed – yet weeks before he might have suggested replacing them. I might be imagining it, but

I think the house is actually getting to him

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This house has a true riches to rags story, though no-one seems to know the details. And though it doesn’t need anyone’s approval but ours, I suspect that there lurks in our builder a real admiration of this strong survivor, cherished and valued for centuries before being left abandoned and neglected, exposed to the elements for decades. I think he now has a better understanding of why we are doing this and how hard we are prepared to work towards it

It can never again be pristine. Perhaps it never was, despite its grandeur. But pristine wouldn’t really do it for us – we’re not pristine either

How could anyone not love this house, if only for its total defiance?

 

 

 

 

Porridgey Looks and Paint Removal

What would Goldilocks say?

IMG_6919.jpgOf course, we all know how difficult it is to remove Weetabix once it has been left in the bottom of a breakfast bowl

Last night, while researching paint removal on a cornice ( I have used the Peel Away system on fireplaces and beams, but it is messy and horribly expensive) I found a mention on a website of using porridge. Admittedly I was sceptical, expecting to discover that it was an April Fools joke. But no, apparently humble porridge really is perfectly designed for removing water-based paints from intricate plasterwork (I just knew we weren’t supposed to be eating it!)

I homed in on one blogger’s post and she was kind enough to get in touch and give me the benefit of her personal experience (thank you), including the results. I was impressed

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Back when we were kids (late 60s/ early 70s) porridge was a staple on cold mornings. I hated it and used to smother it in top of the milk, golden (demarara) and dark brown (muscovado) sugars to make it edible, pretending that the crunchy golden sugar which went on first was gold and had to be completely buried in brown sugar – soil – before eating. Now, of course, I feel completely vindicated because I realise that we should have been spreading it on the plasterwork like normal people

Porridge gave rise to a much-used expression in our house. I can’t quite describe it but even now, I can tell my older brother that someone gave me a ‘porridgey look’ and he will give me a knowing smile 🙂

I now look forward to rustling up a trial bowl of this and slapping it onto the wall. I will of course wash all utensils immediately after use

What would Goldilocks say?

Collioure, a Jewel in the Med

IMG_8463Perpignan caused a brief hiccup as our sat-nav struggled to decide which road we were on. When we arrived at Collioure the mist was low and we could only just make out the shapes of a chateau and a windmill on the hills in the distance. The sky was grey and the air colourless, dreadful for photos but giving everything a strange calm. Despite the conditions the sea was clear turquoise blue and the entire bay was laid out before usIMG_8522

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As the sun burned through the mist we started to see the warmth of the colours of the stone, and to feel the heat of the day. Having been in the snow of Les Angles only the day before, the Med felt like another world, warm and sensuous

It’s hard to take a ‘new’ picture in Collioure. It’s been painted by artists for centuries and photographed in every way possible, yet it remains a compelling scene. Baz took a lovely shot of the brightly coloured houses on the sloping roads back from the shoreDSC_0430

Lunch wasn’t expensive and we were served with great charm and humour. The fish stew, the squid and the sea bass were all superb. After feeding a small shoal of fish in the bay we grabbed ice creams then coffee. We sat on the beach facing Collioure’s famous tower while C practised skimming stones. As we were leaving she and I hit a seam of precious sea gems (broken glass to other people) and stuffed them into my handbag with no real purpose in mindIMG_8535We will go back. Perhaps not in summer, when traffic queues are rumoured to be three hours long and parking impossible. I hope we’ll overnight next time and enjoy a glass of wine with lunch and a leisurely dinnerIMG_8543The sun was still shining when we left, but we had to navigate Perpignan once again and it’s still all new to us

On the way home we stopped among the Maury vineyards IMG_8578

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