Pink. When I was a girl, I couldn’t be doing with it at all. Pink went with frilly dresses, white knee socks and patent leather shoes. Pink went with ballet lessons and Violet Elizabeth Bott. I utterly despised it, even though I was far too much of a wimp to be a proper tomboy. These days, I’m far less hard line. I treasure the first glimpses of spring time blossom, and all the glorious blooms of summer. I love a magenta sunset. I even have a pink jumper – though I don’t like it very much.
Today, let’s look at the streets. We’ll go to Spain, France, the UK, and South Korea in search of not-too-pretty in pink. The featured image is a scene from Cádiz.
From time to time, some of you ask me how it was that we came to live in France for about seven years. This post, written on this day eleven years ago, tells the tale.
A WALK IN THE AUDE
February 26th 2010
Last Sunday, we went off as usual with our walking group, Rando de l’Aubo. We went a mere 20 km eastwards into the neighbouring Aude. What a difference a few miles makes. The rugged forests, with hillside pasture for cattle and sheep, fields of maize and feed crops in our own department are exchanged for an almost Tuscan landscape, with little hillside towns overlooking ranks and ranks of vineyards delineating the contours. Both departments are lovely, but we hicks from the Ariège tend to prefer our less manicured and somewhat wilder countryside.
Still, Sunday’s walk was quite a sentimental journey for Malcolm and for me, because we walked through the village, Ferran, that was our first introduction to this part of the world. A few years ago, an old friend of Malcolm’s sent him an email. In his letter, he said that it was February, and he’d been sitting outside in his shirtsleeves, gazing out at his perennial view of the distant Pyrenees, at that time covered with bluish-white snow. Did we fancy a visit to him in Ferran? We did. We were of course seduced by those hillside towns, those vineyards, and especially by those views of the Pyrenees. Not too long after, we came over again, to house hunt, and of course didn’t find that elusive, perfect spot. Only after we’d returned home did our friend’s wife, who’s an estate agent, spot the possibility that we just might like the butcher’s house in Laroque where we now live.
It was crazy really. We bought it without really knowing the first thing about the area. But we’ve never regretted it. We’ll never finish exploring the hillside pathways, always deeply mulched with fallen oak and beech leaves, or the craggier routes up mountainsides, or the gently undulating lower paths through meadowlands, bright with orchids and other flowers, as well as butterflies, throughout the spring and summer.
But that’s the Ariège. Ferran and the other villages we skirted last Sunday are typical of the Aude. Colour washed houses and farms in shades of barley, corn and almond perch high on the hillside, looking down over their vineyards, and beyond – one way to the Montagne Noire, the other to the Pyrenees. The hills roll away into the distance, not so blanketed by forest as our hills are, but at this time of year, green and lush. Though we only walked about 13 km, by the end we were exhausted, because throughout the day we’d been buffeted by the winds for which the Aude is known. But how lucky we are to have two such very different kinds of countryside within such easy reach of our homes.
So many of our favourite springtime flowers have cheerful sunny faces., beginning in January with aconites, then going via celandines, daffodils, marsh marigolds, primroses, dandelions and cowslips to glorious meadows of buttercups in June. Here are just a few of them.
I can’t end the post though, without reminding myself of the crowds, the hosts of daffodils in the woodland slopes of the Pyrenees, nearby to where we lived in France. The French don’t have the same love affair with the daffodil that we have here in England, but this was a spectacle I’ve never seen bettered anywhere.
I bet you’ve been thinking, in these gloomy rainy days, that a bit of a break somewhere like the south of France might cheer you up. But not necessarily. In honour of Flashback Friday, I’ve found my post from 29th January 2013, written in the corner of Southern France that we used to call home.
RAIN RAIN …
The banner headline on this morning’s regional paper, La Dépêche du Midi, told us what we already knew. There’s been twice as much rain this month as is usual. Of snow, we’ve seen hardly a flake.
Driving back from Foix yesterday, we saw meadows that have become mini- lakes. Even more fields glistened with water as the water table has risen to the very surface of the soil. It’s made the month a somewhat gloomy one, even though the days have been pretty mild. The mountain peaks are snow-capped, as expected, but the white stuff barely creeps down the mountainside and with all the low cloud and zilch visibility, it’s sometimes hard to know where the Pyrenees have disappeared off to.
Our regular yomps into the countryside have been a bit curtailed. Walk after walk has been rained off, and when we do go, we choose our routes with care. If we don’t, we’ll be lugging kilos and kilos of glutinous heavy clay with us as it clings to our boots and the bottom of our trousers.
Roll on the 2nd of February, Chandeleur (Candlemas), the day when Winter decides whether to stick around or push off. Last year, it was icily cold, and Winter stayed and made his presence felt with several weeks of constant snow, ice and bitter cold. This year, he‘s looking much more half-hearted about it all. We blame ourselves. We invested in snow-tyres and snow chains for the car. We clothed our olive tree and a few other plants in white dresses of horticultural fleece.
So Winter laughed in our faces. We daren’t change the tyres or undress the tree though. We all know what will happen if we do.
When we lived in France, the route of the Tour de France twice passed our house. Before the cyclists whizz past, there’s the publicity caravan, an unending stream of advertisers tossing out toys and trinkets to the expectant crowds waiting for the cyclists to pass. Here’s one ….
Let’s hope that, with vaccines developed, next year will end more positively than this.
This photo shows the view from our study window in Yorkshire, in a year when we had snow in England – 2018.
Yesterday, the last day of our ten day tour, I took you to the Pyrenees: to the slopes near Montferrier in the Ariège – you can read all about it here – and to Scaramus, where I had my first experience of snow-shoeing.
These days, while travelling’s discouraged, and normal day-today life often seems difficult, many of us have come to rely on our local shops, recognising what a blow it would be if they were to disappear. Here’s a post I wrote ten years ago in France, celebrating independent shops. It feels dated in some ways. ‘Saturday girls’ seem to belong to a different era.
A NATION OF SHOPKEEPERS…OR A SMALL TOWN WITH SMALL SHOPS
11th December 2010
Depending on your point of view, it was either Napoleon or Adam Smith who first called England ‘a Nation of Shopkeepers’. But it was only after I came to settle here in France that I started to think of shopkeeping and market trading as skilled occupations, and realise just what is involved in keeping the customer happy.
It’s probably because it was just so much easier, where we lived in England, to nip down to the supermarket. There weren’t too many independent shops on our daily round: so much for a nation of shopkeepers. Mind you, we loved it when Emily was a Saturday girl at the French patissier who was then in Harrogate, Dumouchel. She would often be sent home with a couple of unsold petits gateaux for us to enjoy, or some slowly-fermented sourdough bread. It was small shop, and quite expensive, so she learnt quickly to value customers and to treat them well, so they’d come back. She learnt too that while most of the people she served were friendly and appreciative, customers could be curmudgeonly too.
So who are the good commerçants here? Well, down at the bakers, they’ll often put aside our much-loved pain noir without being asked if I’m not in bright and early, knowing we’d be disappointed if they sold out.
Today at the market, madame who runs the cheese and charcuterie stall had printed off some recipes specially for me, because she knew I might enjoy trying them out.
Down at Bobines et Fantaisies, the owner goes to Toulouse most weeks to seek out unusual scarves and accessories, so there’s always something new and worth trying at her tiny shop. ‘Let her try it on. If she doesn’t like it, bring it back!’, she’ll insist, as you dither between a couple of scarves and a chic but cosy winter hat. These shopkeepers remember us, our tastes, our whims and foibles. They welcome us, and chat cheerfully with us, even if we leave the shop empty-handed.
There’s just one shop here that doesn’t cut the mustard. ‘Il n’est pas commerçant’ we all grumble. Those of us outside the select band are routinely ignored, and as we feel our custom isn’t valued, some of us now go elsewhere.
But not to the supermarket. Oh no. Yesterday we DID pop into one, but as the muzak system was belting out a schmaltzy version of ‘Auld lang syne’ in what passed for English, we very soon shot out again. Small Shops Rule OK.
The featured image is of a cheesemonger in Toulouse.
This post is a contribution to Fandango’s Flashback Friday. Have you got a post you wrote in the past on this particular day? The world might be glad to see it – either for the first time – or again if they’re long-time loyal readers.
I keep on referring to myself as Country Mouse. That’s because I am, and have been for the last thirteen years or so. But it’s not always been like that. Here’s my back-story, written during our last weeks in France, back in 2013.
We were Christmas shopping in Toulouse yesterday. A day in this, the fourth largest city in France, is always a treat. And yet….By about half past three, we’re footsore, weary and confused like Aesop’s poor dear Country Mouse who decided the simple, yet safe country life was preferable to the riches and dangers of life in the city. We want to go home.
I was nearly always a city girl. Raised in London, after pre-school years in rural Yorkshire, I had a childhood enriched by Sunday afternoons at the Natural History Museum or frenetically pushing buttons at the Science Museum. We’d go to watch the Changing of the Guard at Horseguards Parade, nose round hidden corners of the city, still scarred in those days by the aftermath of wartime bombing. We’d go on our weekly shop to Sainsbury’s: not a supermarket then but an old-fashioned grocery store, with young assistants bagging up sugar in thick blue – er – sugar paper, or expertly using wooden butter pats to carve up large yellow blocks of butter. If we were lucky, there would be a Pearly King and Queen outside collecting for some charity.
It was Manchester for my university years. I loved those proud dark red Victorian buildings celebrating the city’s 19th century status as Cottonopolis, as well as the more understated areas once populated by the workers and managers of those cotton mills, but developed during my time there as Student Central. I loved the buzz of city life, the buzz of 60’s student life.
Then it was Portsmouth. Then Wakefield, and Sheffield, and Leeds. City life meant living with up to 750,00 neighbours. And I thrived on it. I never felt too far from wide open spaces, yet a short bus ride brought me theatres, cinemas, exhibitions, shops, choices of schools for my children. When we moved in 1997 to Harrogate, with a mere 75, 000 inhabitants, it felt small.
In 2007, we came to the Ariège, to Laroque, population just over 2,000. The largest town in the whole area is Pamiers, with a mere 19,000 inhabitants. How could we still think of Harrogate as really rather tiny? So we needed to change the way we saw things. We’re accustomed now to at least recognising most of the people whom we see round and about. We enjoy the fact that we count many people in the community as friends, and that we all turn up to the same events. We relish the space, the more relaxed pace of life, the sense of belonging that we have here.
Now, as we plan our return to England, the idea of the clogged roads of the Harrogate rush hour is unattractive, the busy streets unappealing. Ripon, where we more recently lived is much more like it: 14,000 people. But we ask ourselves – is even a town this size too big and scary for Country Mice? Should we continue as we’ve started? Perhaps we should look at Galphay, Gargrave, Greenhow or Grewelthorpe, average populations about 400? Or Masham, about 1,250? All of these are near our centre of gravity, Ripon.
So much to think about. But wherever we end up, we’ll still want the odd sortie to The Big City. Toulouse hasn’t seen the back of us yet.
And reader, we did end up in a village near Ripon. North Stainley. Population 700
Photos 4, 5, 6 0f the Toulouse series; the Pearly Kings and Harrogate’s Valley Gardens courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
It’s Hallowe’en today. Time to carve those pumpkins into frightening faces, and then tomorrow … throw them away. What a pity. Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes, they’re good to eat, and it’s a shame you rarely see anything but the good old bog-standard Jack o’ Lantern here. They can be large, small, yellow, red, orange, green, even bluish or black, and on mainland Europe they’re much more appreciated.
Enjoy the pumpkins on display, many of them from Le Jardin Extraordinaire in Lieurac , near where we lived in France. And then have a go at the comforting recipe I offer here because you don’t really want to scare the neighbours with an evil orange face peering out of your front window do you?
#Kinda Square.Today is the final square in Becky’s month long squares project. Thank you Becky, and thank you fellow squarers. It’s been fun. I’ve met kindness, had my interest kindled and met – virtually of course – many bloggers-of-a-kind.
It’s that time of the month again, when I re-publish a post from our years in France. This one made me sad. It reminded me of times when people could simply be together enjoying each other’s company; where kindness and friendship were easy to demonstrate; and when an affectionate hug was nothing to fear. Kindred spirits. Ah well…
We first came upon the mega-ramble when our own group went along, a couple of years ago now, on a walk organised by the FF Randonnée Midi- Pyrénées group. We and about 800 others. It’s something of a military operation. Breakfast is offered, refreshments along the route, which has to be signposted beforehand and cleared afterwards. Photocopied maps are handed out, and when it’s all over, there are exhibits to mooch round, apéros to drink, trophies to award (the oldest walker, the person who’s travelled furthest to participate, that sort of thing). There’s often a sit down meal on offer too, though not that day.
Interesting, but walking with dozens – hundreds – of others isn’t really our thing. This means we quite often sit out the Sunday walk, because these occasions happen pretty often.
Today, I made an exception. In France, basic health care is free, but most people chose to top up by insuring themselves with a Mutuelle, which covers all the bits the system doesn’t pay for. To publicise themselves, and various health charities, the Mutuelles of the Ariège organised a walk near Mirepoix today, and they needed our help.
Early this morning, under the covered market hall in Mirepoix we set up tables, prepared healthy breakfasts (breads, cheese, fruit juices, dried prunes) and registered walkers. Some people waymarked the route, others acted as marshals, and lots of us got to walk as well. Only 171 walkers today. Why would we be so public-spirited? Perhaps this picture tells you why.
Something else though. Sitting down with everyone after it was all over, I reflected how far we’ve come. This week, Malcolm’s been in England, so apart from exchanging English/French conversation on Tuesday for an hour, and enjoying lunch with an English friend on Friday, I’ve spent the rest of my time walking or eating with friends, shopping, singing, going to the gym and all the rest, entirely in French (well, I’ve done some hard labour at home too. But I only had myself to talk to). Over two years ago, when we first sat down for a communal meal, we could see people’s eyes glaze with fear as they thought they were going to be stuck with that English couple. Could we speak French? Well, yes actually, but both easy chit-chat, and more serious discussion were difficult for us in a noisy group situation. Today I was happy to be the only foreigner in the group: instead of fearing me, it was ‘Is that chair next to you free? May I sit with you?’