Coiffures and purple hats…

It was time for a change…and anyway, I had made a slight mistake with a ‘change’ of hair colour and it had turned a subtle shade of green….brown green……

So with much hoo-ing and haa-ing I took a chance on a different hairdresser in the village and decided to go short and hopefully get it back to the usual blonde.  As with many villages in France, there seem to be an abundance of three services and our local village is no different.  As small as it is, there are 4 hairdressers, 3 optometrists and 3 patisseries.  It’s almost as though you need to ‘see’ your new haircut REALLY well and the either celebrate or commiserate it with a pastry.  Either way, it’s become a joke between us to count the number of all three in the tiniest of villages.  I hadn’t had time to go to a hairdresser and eventually thought it might make me feel less frazzled after a busy Summer so I went to one..which was a total disaster as the whole salon was as quiet as a graveyard and about as serious..and the lady in charge attacked my hair with a ferocity that bought tears to my eyes.  So when I say ‘I took a chance on a different one’ I went there in slight fear and trepidation but armed with a photograph of what I was hoping it would look like..sort of.

When I stepped through the door and walked inside, it was to be met with violet walls and a vibey relaxed atmosphere.  The hairdresser came towards me with open arms saying ‘Don’t worry!  I can speak English’ which I discovered was the only sentence she knew.  And after being pampered with coffee, being told off for having green hair and for much discussion in fast french about the photo, she began by ‘returning it to it’s original colour’ and then ‘flourishing it with highlights’.  Cool!  I was delighted and we had a good chat.  I wanted to practice my French which I did, she wanted to practice her English, which she didn’t and we got on really well.  When I expressed my delight in finally finding a great hairdresser she informed me that ‘finding a good Coiffure is more important than finding a good husband!’ The Dear One wasn’t so impressed when I told him that but I came out of there feeling a million bucks and decided to go clothes shopping as well.

It’s weird how you have moments in life where something clicks and you feel a little more comfortable or at home.  It’s not very often that I get to go out totally on my own as the Dear One and I usually run various errands together and sometimes Samuel  comes along as well.  But there I was driving this giant sized Rexton Jeep along the country roads and attempting to park it (but carefully avoiding parallel parking!) I’ve got to the stage when I can chat a bit to the lady behind the counter or at least pass the time of day with the man who comes to fetch the laundry.  I have no idea of his name, all I know is that he and his wife own Normandy Pressing and they now answer to Monsieur and Madame Pressing which they find hilarious.  But they are a very sweet hard working couple in their sixties and fortunately they have a great sense of humour.

Anyway, as I was driving down the road, a ‘something’ was coming towards me on the pavement.  I couldn’t for the life of me work out what it was until I got a little closer and it seemed to me like a big soft toy ball on wheels!  The traffic slowed and so did I to just about a stop when it came adjacent to the car.  It was the dearest round elderly lady in a big woolly jersey and gracing her head like a dollop of jam was a floppy velvet purple hat.  Round eyes and button nose had been pushed into her moon face like currents in a bun and she was singing (or talking to herself) with a mouth devoid of all teeth.  Her bicycle, a battered piece of equipment held together with string teetered along the path at a speed so slow that it barely remained upright and tied to the back mudguard was a bright green plastic crate filled with cabbage leaves.  Funny, but it was at that moment that I felt a little more at home here.  She made me smile, she made me laugh out loud and she was everything that the French countryside is….strong, natural, peaceful, abundant, hard working and full of character.  I wished I could have taken a photograph of her, she’ll be with me in my memories for a very long time.

The beloved and I went to the market on Friday for the usual fresh veggies and to have a coffee in the shadow of the old church with the hustle and bustle echoing down the cobbled street.  We are known now and various store owners yell bonjour and offer a taste of something new.  We were looking for monk fish for a dinner party that evening so we approached one of the fishmongers who reminds me of the fish monger in Asterix with the unfortunate name of Unhygenix.  No he didn’t have any but his cousin might and he pointed two stalls down to a younger version of himself.  And that’s how it is… the market and villages are filled with cousins, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters.  All have grown up there, follow a similar line of work and get together for long summer evenings of gesturing conversations over cheese, wine and baguettes.  As we sat having coffee the young girl at the coffee shop came out with glasses of rose wine and past them down the rows of produce laden tables covered in colourful umbrellas (this is 11 in the morning) and the stall owners toasted each other with teasing and loud laughter.  It’s moment like these that you feel you’re finding a place in a brand new country, that you’re slowly being enveloped in a hug of local activity and are part of the ebb and flow of French village life. It’s a warming feeling as Autumn touches the landscape with gold, orange and copper.

On Monday I fly back to South Africa for a two and a half week visit and to catch up with family and friends.  It’ll be my first trip home in two years and I wish the butterflies in my stomach would fly in formation instead of giving me this fluttering mayhem feeling inside.  The Dear One is staying here with the mutts and will have Samuel for company.  The season is closed at the Chateau and we are looking forward to cosy evenings by the fire,, a chance to finish the cottage and do some indoor bits and pieces of maintenance around the Estate and for me to have a chance of facing my easel and pencils again.  We’re looking forward to the quiet.

For all of you along the path with me, whether you’re heading in to Summer or Winter, take care and ‘see’ you soon

A la prochaine

A place to fall in love with…

Here in Bretagne ( Brittany) the countryside, architecture and character is beautiful…quaint cottages, cute skew buildings and rolling hills – in fact – it is truly Asterix country along with mistletoe and Celtic stones and menhirs dotted around the fields.  The Spring flowers are amazing and the place has taken on the look of its namesake – Britain.

BUT unfortunately – it takes after it’s namesake in more ways than one – it borrows some of  its weather patterns as well.  Not as much rain I imagine…but it rains all year round so often – the days are grey..but the countryside remains a startling green.  After a begins to long for blue sky which I’m told is seen way more often in Summer and that the continual grey skies at this time of the year are very unusual.  Plus they’ve had a bumper winter of rain, the most in 43 years.

One place I’ve longed to go an see is the Perigord / Dordogne area.  The Perigord is made up of four parts – the Perigord Verte (green), Perigord Blanc (white), Perigord Purpe (purple – obviously) and Noir (black) and the whole of the Perigord area is very small..about 10 thousand square kilometers.  The regions vary considerably in that small space – Blanc – full of chalk and lime cliffs with ancient Troglodyte caves,  Purpe – fields of vines (just outside Bordeaux), Verte – greens fields, cows and tobacco and Noir – mountains filled with oak trees, truffles and valleys of fois gras farms. Three huge rivers – the Dordogne, Dronne and Vezere wind their way lazily through ancient golden stone villages perched on cliffs and nestled in valleys.  As you can imagine – everything centers around food and a very slow way of life.

We were waiting for some paperwork to come through (one can’t do a thing here without paperwork) so we packed the car, popped the mutts in the back and headed off for three days to go and see the area.  This involves a 640 km drive, by rights shouldn’t take long, about 6 hours….but when you’re in Anabel and you decide to avoid the toll roads because you don’t want to spend your life on a fast road but rather want to wander a bit through interesting places along the way…to cut a long story short – it took 8 and a half hours.

As we came over the hills from the Charente area and into the Dordogne/Perigord Verte, the scenery began to change and as we entered the Perigord Noir (considered the most beautiful region of France as far as a combination of scenery, lifestyle and climate goes) ..well….I just fell in love with the place and when I looked across at the husband, I could see he had fallen under it’s spell already as well.

The next day we went to Sarlat – a small town that has been declared a museum.  The village lives around markets of food…one day a truffle market, another local veggies, another local meats and pates, another day is for old antiques, books and briq-a-brac from old France.  The street lanterns still look like they are gas and they have a ceremony during the summer where they “light” them each evening.  Some villages have a truffle hunt where they train you and your dog to look for these black delicacies and then they ask each person to see if they themselves can find one – the winner has the “nose of the year”.   I can’t describe it really, I’ve attached pictures and bear in mind – this is still mainly wintery with Spring flowers carpeting the forest floor and gardens but trees still bare.  Domme – and ancient village that looks over the Dordogne Valley.  The architecture, the stone, the cows, the truffles, the food!  Fields of walnuts and almond plantations, the cheeses, the unusual roof lines…oh yes…I was hooked and if I was going to settle anywhere in France – this would be it.  Cool winters, not too much snow and hot long summers with schools on holiday for two to three months, festivals every week…all centered around food and a slow pace of life! What a way to go!

We didn’t want to come home but life carries on and we had to  – it’s much colder here although today and for the next week blue skies and Spring days are forecast, the farmers are ploughing, the birds are building nests and the coypu has found a friend…. so the spirits have lifted.

Enjoy the pictures of a most stunning corner of France

A la prochaine

it’s winter…’s definitely winter

As I mentioned in passing, this little house dates back to the

the bakers house

14th Century and used to be the baker.  The outside bread oven collapsed not so long ago and had to be filled in and recreated to look the original..if you look carefully on the left hand side of the house in the photo, you can see the dome of the old oven.  The  French kind of like to keep lots of old forests in between farms and the old building have to stay as close to the original as possible.  But, having said that, they don’t seem to mind the owner making it as comfy as possible so a lot of the old houses now have double glazed windows (as ours does), wood burners and wall convection heaters instead of open fireplaces (as ours does) and all the kitchen/laundry /bathroom bells and whistles needed to make life comfy (as ours does).  The great thing about this little house with it’s half meter thick walls is that it’s amazingly warm and thank heavens for that.

We woke up the other night to this tick,tick, tick on the windows.  It was raining so to hear this noise seemed a bit odd…while we lay there listening, in between the  “ticking” came this sort of muffled slooshing sound as if someone was throwing mud at the window and as dawn came, we realized what the night time orchestra was all about.  The rain, which made a really loud pattering on the windows as it was driven across the lake by the wind, was interspersed with the slooshing sound of “slush puppy” being


hurled at the house as well…sleet and icy slush was sliding down the windows and in between all that, the high pitched ticking sound was frozen rain.  I don’t mean hail as we know hail to be..I mean frozen raindrops…tiny little balls of ice that danced off the roof, filled up the gutters and lay in sweeps across the roof of the main house on the opposite side of the lake.  I’ve never seen anything like it and was quite amazed at the three different forms of water falling from the sky all at once.  And then on top of that, one side of the house cleared to beautiful blue sky while the other side was dark and threatening and still pouring…hence the stunning photo of the rainbow.
It’s weird how we’re so used to hoping for “good weather” whenever we go on holiday or on an outing, that we sometimes forget to look at what beauty our description of “bad weather” brings.  The busy spider who creates the perfect web outside our bedroom window everyday was now covered in icy crystals of dew that shimmered in the weak sunlight.  The bare trees and dark stark branches show off the colours of the grass and fields, a bright iridescent green and the fresh cold of the air seems to clear any muzzy or cloudy thought from your brain in one fizzy,  icy breath.  It’s quite beautiful and very invigorating.  You just have to make room for it and allow winter to feed your soul.

Warm meals are perfect and all things fresh and tasty are found at the Saturday morning market.  The forests are full of wild winter mushrooms and wine is always around so…plump chicken pieces browned with garlic, fresh carrots and shallots, a splash of white wine, some dried Provencal herbs, wild mushrooms and two market fresh bright red tomatoes coarsely shopped and tossed in with gay abandon and left to simmer.  Within minutes the house is filled with a warm country fragrances.  All you need is a sprinkling of fresh parsley, a fresh crusty baguette a glass of red wine, a warm fire and you’re immediately wrapped in a blanket of delicious comfort.

I believe a dusting of snow might be on the way…I think another market visit is in order.

A la prochaine