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

impressions after nearly 2 months (part 1)…

It’s easy to do a lot of thinking here…I mean REAL thinking.  I think it could be due to a number of things…the peace (we heard our first siren on New Year’s eve…wasn’t a police siren…just an ambulance..maybe someone having a slight crisis or welcoming in the new year with too much vigor ) the lack of  any sounds other than ones of nature or the occasional tractor, the stillness or perhaps it’s the absence of distraction.  Either way, apart from learning a few things about myself, I’ve learnt a few things about life here in this corner of France.  Whether they are based on fact or mere personal observations at this point, I guess I’ll only know in time as I don’t know enough about politics and the deeper aspects of living in here.

France in winter is very under populated.  France in winter belongs to the french people.  The french people in Brittany are incredibly friendly and helpful.  They will try their best to muddle through your questions as best they can even if they resort to speaking french more slowly to make you understand…which doesn’t help at all because they’re still speaking french but they WANT you to understand.  The look of eager intensity to try and get through to the blank expression on your face is quite touching and if there’s even one word of English they understand, or one word I say in French that vaguely makes sense, you can almost hear the band begin to play somewhere in their head.

The french are often mistaken for being proud, arrogant and rude and on the surface, when you don’t now them, maybe they are but we’ve come to realize that rude can be translated to honest and blunt. The words may be “Non, je ne comprend pas, my eeeenglis is ver’ bed…but mon dieu, your french is absolutely dreadful (the latter part being said in very fast french accompanied by a look of total disgust and an exaggerated shrug that could dislodge an elephant).  They say that only 40% of the french language is actual words – another 40% is gestures and the other 20% is facial expression.  Now put it all together.

A Frenchman is trying to get through to a visitor in his beautiful country which he so happens to realise is absolutely stunning and so he is very PROUD of it and doesn’t like visitors brazenly asking for KFC and fish and chips, nor does he like the fact that he is EXPECTED to understand English when he is french and they are the visitor.  He muddles along in English before resorting to a helpful comment that he cant help because your french is bad and so his is English.  Rude?  Tactless?  No – just plain fact.  Thrown in to this are gestures and facial expressions that we only use in on the stage, and we use them timidly at that.  Well now he’s coming across as flicking the air just under your nose with his arms are flaying about wildly, an intent expression on his face and he’s hopping from one foot to another in frustration that he can’t help.  Arrogance?  Maybe a bit, maybe just the french way of communicating with every limb and muscle.

On the whole, they have a very good sense of humour and they don’t seem to take ages to embrace you as a friend.  There are no “cliques”, no hierarchy based on how much you own or where you live, and not too much obsession with eye  shadow and strong lipstick.  Now this I found really interesting and because I noticed it while watching people in a shopping mall (I’ll get to the shopping mall observation next time) I’ve tried to see if it’s true in all aspects of shopping and people being out and about in general.  The french women dress very well in Brittany.  It’s said to be the closest summer playground of the Parisians as the beaches are beautiful and the Cote d’Azur in the south is getting a bit crowded and is quite far to travel.  The french women seem to concentrate on their clothing, their skin, a good haircut and perfume.  A touch of mascara and lipstick and that’s that.

No soap, bars or liquid is overly perfumed  as it will conflict with your proper perfume.  The range of skincare products in the local supermarket is HUGE, they have shops dedicated to one brand of skin care such as Yves st Laurent etc and no matter how tiny the village, their will be at least three hairdressers.

Family in France is what really matters.  Everything revolves around the family, family get togethers and family life.  In fact, the government pays a couple EU 500.00 per child per month.  The other day, we met an couple with 2 girls, 2 boys and one on the way.  Scary..but they seemed happy.

What else…food is actually quite simple and I think. When you’re used to strong flavours and lots of chilies, it can  even be quite plain.  To me, the french out do themselves and other countries when it comes to wine and pastries, pate, olives and bread.  Those are foods that you just want to eat in giant portions.  There are very few flavours of potato crisps on the shelves…natural and an amazing tasting balsamic vinegar are the two main choices.  Where we would put potato crisps on the table as a snack, they put olives and peanuts…peanuts (cacahuetes…pronounced kuk-a-wet) are the national snack, they even do peanut flavoured chips similar to a “Fling” which, to me, are really horrible..but they sell, so I gather they are delicious to some.

Winter isn’t cold as such, but it’s grey and on most days, Primulasthe scene of dark grey leafless trees, the still, silvery lake, the grey sky and the bright green grass which on occasion wears a dusting of crunchy white frost is amazingly beautiful but on some can get a bit too much and the need for blue sky and even weak sunshine would be really cheering and welcoming.  But everyone here tells me that spring is just around the corner and the flowers of Brittany in spring and summer are something to see.  In fact, they bring visitors in from all over the world.  So that’s something I’m really  looking forward to.  At the moment, the villages are brightened up with bright purple and white winter flowering heather and masses of colourful primulas which bravely flower in the cold winter as well as the spring.

Flurries of snow falling about 1.5 cm are due next week but we’ll wait and seeBlue tits feeding on fat balls.…oh and I’m now feeding the birds in the garden with some sort of ball in a net bag that everyone seems to buy and hang in the garden somewhere.  The blue-tits that swing on it every morning are really cute.

Good heavens..the sun’s coming out, must go and see…

A la prochaine


…and oh my goodness even more mud…

So the husband hears the sound of shotguns nearby.  This is hunting season.  Now before you all go crazy and think that’s absolutely terrible call the SPCA, I must just tell you that it’s something you kind of grow to accept – pretty quickly.  Is it part of the circle of life in France and it really isn’t a sport …honest to goodness… definitely not a sport. Compared to South Africa..there is not a HUGE selection of meat here and the portions that are packed in the meat section…are packed for two in proportion to what you should eat together with veggies etc.  Over eating on meat is not an option and just like nearly every home owner has a veggie patch, a good proportion of French country folk “grow” their own meat.  So wild pigeon and “lapin” (rabbit) are just something you eat with the veggies you’ve grown in the garden.

ANYWAY…coming back to my original sentence, the husband heard shooting nearby and decided to investigate seeing it seemed VERY nearby and the owners of the land don’t particularly want shooting in their forest or on their…being big and brave (and speaking way less french than I do) he heads over in Anabel the jeep t investigate.  Yup, no worries, they’re on the other side in someone else’s land so cool beans, let’s do a u-turn and come home.  Ha!  The revenge of the mud!  The u-turn turned out to be a “wheel whizzing helplessly while Anabel has a mud spa of sorts” escapade. So the husband comes home looking a little sheepish and carrying planks from the barn and says to me “If you feel up to it..can you help me get Anabel out of the mud?”.  The reason he put it like that is because there I was, having half cooked dinner and feeling like yesterdays breakfast.  I had come down with tonsillitis…and I had soldiered on through a week hoping it would just go away before I finally braved a chemist with my phrase book and my best french only to discover she spoke really good french and I felt like a complete idiot…an idiot with tonsillitis.  Who on earth get this at this age?!

So I  said yes I feel up to it and put on my wellies to trudge in the dusk, in mud and puddles to go to Anabel’s aid.  The planks didn’t work so I figured the best thing to do while the husband put his foot on the accelerator was to push.  You ever tried pushing a jeep?  You ever tried pushing a jeep stuck in the mud?  It’s like pushing an elephant that WANTS to be in the mud.  It sits there with that placid look on it;s face and when you push…all you do is jolt the metal body … and you think Yay I’m Superman until it dawns on you that pushing just the body is doesn’t even come close to moving the wheels and helping the situation and so.. with breath held, you suggest tomorrow is another day..or the farmer with the six Alsatians who we haven’t met yet but who we spy on through the kitchen window, just might help.  We settle on the farmer and in the pitch black, we squelch once again through the mud road and walk to the farm next door.  He speaks english as well as I speak french…no, I lie…as well as the husband speaks french.  But he comes to our aid with his trusty tractor,  bright headlights and Voila!  Anabel is out in five minutes.  In the meantime, me and my tonsils have dragged ourselves back to the stove and are just thinking that a whiskey wouldn’t be amiss..when in he walks having invited the farmer..who I have no idea what his name is …all I can remember is that the male dog is called Ricky..for a whiskey or a glass of wine.

Yay!  I sat on the floor in front of the fire, the driver of Anabel had Babel-translation-from-French-into-english-and-back-again-on-my-PC on his lap and believe it or not..we managed to have a pretty good conversation for about an hour and a half. …ok the whiskey helped as well….and as it turns out, we discovered that where Anabel had “gone down” was an old compost heap so there was no solid ground there anyway… Ultimately, the whole episode was extremely understandable.  And that’s the story the husband is sticking to.

a la prochaine from my tonsils and me


the beauty of ice and mud…and shopping!

It’s been really chilly with the most amazing frost and a smattering of snow…just a smattering…nothing really landed on the ground…just settled on the roof of the main house across the lake.  We went for our usual walk with the mutts…I’ve given up hoping like heck they’ll somehow remain clean. Now I’m able to laugh at them when they dive straight for a stream, chase carp in the lake and deliberately aim off the grass to walk through the mud.  They come back two-toned…one is fluffy white on top and wearing pitch black boots.  The other one…being a little shorter…looks like a brown/beige bear wearing dungarees as the mud comes half way up his body.

But the other day, we took a walk with the frost thick on the grass and wooden fencing.  All the puddles and mud had frozen and trapped air inside, turning each puddle into an icy artwork of swirls and patterns embedded with autumn leaves.  I can’t describe it in words too well, I just wanted to capture it and paint it…but I decided to ask the keeper of the camera to take a photograph instead and that’s just what he did.   The further we walked, the thicker the ice and frost and when one puddle was cracked to inspect all things beautiful underneath, we discovered it was just over a centimeter thick…it held Ted’s weight as well…a whole 20 kg’s!

We eventually plucked up enough courage to go into Rennes and brave Ikea once again.  Our fist visit to go to Ikea was to put it mildly, a disaster.  This is a shop where we were given the go ahead to shop for anything we needed to make the old bakers cottage a home.  It contains everything you need from cutlery to linen and curtains, office furniture to stunning kitchens and everything in between.  The furniture is in “kit form” , incredibly designed and so easy to put together. walk for miles through bedrooms, offices, kitchens, baby’s rooms, children’s playrooms, libraries, walk in is mind blowing.  Unknown to have to take down codes of everything you like, give it to a central sales desk, collect the “small items you want with a trolley  then go down a series of aisles in a warehouse and collect the bigger stuff…doors here, shelves there, sides of wardrobes over there…packets of screws and doo-dahs along there.  We got SO lost.  We did our exercise of a daily dose of 10 000 steps for about four days…and came back home feeling thoroughly dejected, confused, not to mention just a little “thick” (bear in mind…we never knew any of what I’ve just described on our first visit!)

Thank heavens for the Net..I Googled “how to shop at Ikea” – yes, they do have that info…and with notes all in place, codes all neatly written, lists by the sheet and my brain vaguely in gear and a bit of Tass’s “Pet Calm”  -yes it IS good for humans’s too..and I didn’t have anything else, we set off.     Easy Peasy!  Once we knew how to do this more or less totally self service shopping it was a piece of cake.  The French assistants were amazingly helpful, tried their best to speak English and laughed at themselves and at us.  We came home with Anabel packed tight, put a few of the things together – like an amazing art desk for my “Arty Corner” and a new microwave cupboard for the kitchen and a corner kitchen unit as well.  Our house is beginning to feel like home and with family and friends photo’s and odds and ends on the way, it will definitely have a soul.

I look forward to that..and I miss you all
Keep in touch one way or another

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