‘Au cas où’ you need some wood, or a bag of fruit.

We’ve been getting in touch with our inner Ariègeois(e) today.

Our foraging country in the Ariège

We spent six years in France, living in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the Ariège, a département where almost everybody still had firm roots in the simple self-sufficient lifestyle of their forbears.  Nobody that we knew would have considered installing, as David Cameron recently has, a faux shepherd’s hut in the back garden.  Instead, most people had a serviceable shed, built of bits of this and that and adapted to personal requirements.

Nobody that we knew ever bought firelighters for their wood burning stove.  Instead, we’d all hang around as the weekly market packed up, rescuing the wooden fruit boxes, now empty of peaches and pears, which when broken up provide perfect kindling material.

Everyone we knew never left home without an ‘au cas où‘ (‘just in case’) bag, to fill with wild mushrooms, or walnuts, or sloes, or chestnuts, or apples, or any free food that came their way.

Foraging in the Ariège…..

That’s been us this week.  We don’t need a garden hut.  But we have got a wood-burning stove.  And today we’ve been re-purposing the wooden casing that our delivery of logs came in.  It’s soft wood, so we know we can only use it sparingly on our stove.  But it’s there – and we will use it.  So here we were, sawing it into manageable lengths, sorting and storing it.

We’re the odd-bods who gather the discarded fruit boxes at Ripon market. We’ve been breaking those up today too, for kindling.

 

Malcolm does a fine job of sawing up some wooden pallets.

And yesterday, our friend Gillian had us over to raid her plum trees.  We came back with a pail full of greengages, and a pail full of czars. Today was the day when we started to convert this ripe fruit into chutneys and cakes and hooch and crumbles.  Our French friends would definitely approve.

 

Snapshot Saturday: a truly turbulent yet transient sunset

We had quite an arresting sunset the other night.  As with all sunsets, it was evanescent: here at one moment and gone the next.  I’ll show it to you at the end of the post, together with the rainbow that briefly accompanied it in a rainless sky.

That sunset though reminded me of another sunset, even more dramatic, which we experienced in France in February 2014.  Evanescent it might have been.  But it’s etched in my memory forever.

Sunset seen from the church at Laroque d’Olmes.
The moment is almost over.

Now then.  Here’s our English sunset, from just a couple of weeks ago.   Which do you prefer?

A response to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: Evanescent.

Snapshot Saturday: Danger! Death by chilli

M. Chilli’s chillies

When we lived in France, the easiest way to persuade a French friend that you did not have their interests at heart was to produce a spiced dish, especially one with chillies in.

‘Oh, we love spicy food’, declared Henri and Brigitte when we broached the subject of cooking them a curry.  All the same, we were careful.  We dished up a korma so mild that it barely qualified as spiced at all.  ‘Ouf!’ exclaimed Henri, after the first tentative mouthful – ‘are you trying to kill us?’

With this in mind, it was a huge surprise to us when one Friday in Lavelanet market, we came upon a man with a stall full of chillies.  Orange chillies, yellow chillies, green chillies, purple chillies, fresh chillies, dried chillies.  He had no customers at all.  So he had time to chat to us, and explained that he’d come to love chillies, and to be passionate about seeking out new varieties, growing and using them.  He was one of two such growers in France.  We bought from him.  He had other English customers.  The French?  Not so much.


Jean Philippe Turpin and his stall at Mirepoix market.

That was five years ago.  After relying on northern Europeans to bail him out, slowly but surely he started to attract a few French customers too.  He’s still in business.  Perhaps, despite the danger represented by a Red Savina chilli rated 500,000 on the Scoville scale, he hasn’t managed to kill anybody off yet.

M. Chilli’s smallholding, devoted exclusively to chillies, chillies, and more chillies.

 

This post responds to this week’s WordPress photo challenge: ‘Danger!’

 

Snapshot Saturday: Wanderlust for the mountains

This is a bog-standard view of the Pyrenees as they looked near where we lived.

I can’t look at a picture of the Pyrenees without wishing I were there.

When we lived in France, these mountains were the constant backdrop to our lives.  They were our playground, where we would enjoy flower-studded meadows in the spring, clear bright summer heat, autumn colours to rival those of New England, and glittering winter snowscapes.  Winter and summer, we walked these mountains, climbing hundreds of feet to be rewarded over a leisurely lunch-time picnic by views of valleys, forests and dramatic rocks, before we had to descend to the foothills once more.

Caraybat, near Foix, at this time of year.

They were a natural boundary – often a barricade – between France and Spain, and the few roads linking these countries make wonderfully scenic journeys in their own right.

Travelling to our French town from England, we always knew we’d arrived ‘home’ when we caught sight of the Pyrenees once more – almost always as the sun was setting.  The first glimpse of those jagged peaks, whose shapes and names we came to recognise so well always made me as emotional as if I’d just met once more a long-lost friend.

The Pyrenees in summer: near Saint Julien de Gras Capou.

‘Wanderlust’, this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge, means a strong desire to wander, travel and explore.  I know I’ve hardly begun to know the Pyrenees.  They are where I want to travel, to wander, and above all to explore.

Intent on satisfying our wanderlust: hiking near Montaillou, French Pyrenees.

Snapshot Saturday: Snowshoes, sunshine, shadows

It's easy to feel like the only person out in the landscape. But you'll have come with a friend or two, if only to haul you upright when, inevitably you fall deep into a drift of snow.
It’s easy to feel like the only person out in the landscape. But you’ll have come with a friend or two, if only to haul you upright when, inevitably you fall deep into a drift of snow.

Back in France, in the Ariège, the very best way of getting out into virgin snow and becoming at one with a pure, glittering white winter landscape was take yourself off to the nearest mountain, strap on your snowshoes and walk through the fresh crisp air as if you were the only person in that particular bit of world.  It was hard work though, and after the first hour, I’d had enough.

Three years on, and the memory of the pain, sweat and general exhaustion of the entire procedure has faded.  I remember instead the vivid sunlit skies and startlingly white and unspoilt snow.  And sometimes there were shadows: clear silhouettes mirroring, yet enhancing the world above the glistering mantle.

This week’s WordPress Photo challenge is ‘shadow’.  The challenge is now issued on a Wednesday rather than a Friday.  I think I’ll now usually respond on Saturday, not Sunday.

Ambiance chaleureuse

‘Ambience’: this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge.

I felt stuck.  In my head, I rummaged through my photo collection.  I discarded foggy moody atmospheric mornings like this one.  I rejected bright summer meadows and crisp snowy winter walks as not quite projecting the ambience I want to think about on this dismal January day.

Here’s what I’ve chosen.  It’s an image that’s more than six years old now, but it sums up much of what we loved best about our years in France.

mutuelles-rando-3rd-oct2010-0711

Our walking group had played its part in organising a walk for ramblers from all over the region.  We’d arranged signage, helped sponsors set up their stall, marshalled the event, walked ourselves, and handed out certificates at the end before the visiting walkers departed.  Now we could relax.

Here we are in the mediaeval town square in Mirepoix, unwinding over a good and copious meal with plenty of wine.  The sun is shining.  The afternoon stretches lazily ahead of us.  We’re among friends. This is an ambiance chaleureuse at its finest.