May Day

I find it sad that May Day isn’t really A Thing in the UK.  Even the early-in-the-month Bank Holiday is relegated to the first Monday of May, diluting its significance to that of merely a day off.

When we lived in France it was far more important.  It was a day off work of course, because it was the all important Fête du Travail. No shops (apart from bakers and neighbourhood shops, just for a few hours).  No garages. No newspapers.  Only essential workers turned up for duty.

But the streets were quite busy, because May 1st is the day when everyone offers one another a traditional token of friendship and esteem – a sprig or two of lily of the valley, prettily presented.  In every village, every town, you’ll find people on street corners, outside the bakers’, at the cross roads, selling the flowers that they probably spent the previous day gathering and tying into pretty posies.  It’s the one day of the year when anyone who wants to can sell on the streets without a licence – so long as they’re selling only lilies of the valley (muguets).

I used to ask people the origin of this tradition.  Nobody knew.  ‘It’s simply to offer bonheur’, they shrugged.  But my friend Léonce had a couple of stories to tell.  We all know that lilies of the valley have a strong and lovely perfume.  The nightingale notices and smells them coming into flower on the first day of May, and this gives him the energy he needs to get into the woods and begin courting, nest building, and singing.  And those bell shaped flowers?  Well, they apparently surround the Heavenly Gates, where they come in handy by tinkling musically to announce the arrival of another soul from earth.

Lilies of the Valley in our garden in France, one rainy May Day.

Just to prove though that at least one place in England celebrates May Day:  here are the choristers of Magdalen College Oxford greeting the day at 6.00 a.m. as they do every year on this date.  And the whole of Oxford joins in the fun.

Omelette de Pâques revisited

It’s Easter weekend.  For my continuing re-blogging festival, an Easter themed post seems in order.  Let’s try this one from 2010…..

April 2010

Omelette de Pâques

Come to the Ariège on Easter Monday, and you won’t be too far from a community omelette. Communes and clubs all over the department seek out their biggest frying pan, get hold of dozens of eggs, sugar and rum, to make this sweet confection to round off, with any luck, the first barbecue of the season. Why? Nobody in our walking group could tell me, and Google wasn’t much help, but it does seem to be an ancient tradition dating back to….ooh, 1973 at least.

Anyway, the Rando del’Aubo have made this an annual event for some years now. For the last couple, it’s been rainy and cold. Not this year though. Down at the bottom of the page, you’ll find a few pictures of our walk between La Pène, an Audois hamlet on a delightful small lake, and Monthaut, which is a hill….higher up. It was a great way to work up an appetite.

Because the weather was warm, sunny and spring-like, we relaxed at the lakeside after our walk, chatting and enjoying those woodsmokey smells of a barbecue coming to life. Apéros first: Muscat, suze, pernod, whisky…all the usual French tipples, with nibbles to stem our hunger. Then grilled pork, grilled Toulouse sausage, bread (and wine of course), Coulommiers cheese, vanilla or chocolate pudding. And then we still had to find room for the all-important omelette.

Since the beginning of time, it’s been Marie-Therèse’s ‘job’ (good French word, that) to make the omelette, and of course it all ended in noisy recriminations because there were too many cooks all muscling in, breaking eggs, beating eggs, heating the pan, greasing the pan, measuring the rum. Half the raw egg mixture tipped out onto the grass, and Etienne and Danielle dashed off to every farm they could find to buy another….. 4 dozen.

Finally, it was done. Really, this omelette is scrambled egg with lots of sugar chucked in at the end, and flambéed with rum. Once a year is quite enough.

It wasn’t the end of the party though. Oh no. We couldn’t go before downing glasses of Blanquette de Limoux, an Alpine eau-de-vie, then cups of coffee (with madeleines, in case we were still hungry). And as a final touch, Easter eggs.

We came away suntanned and rather full, at the end of an Easter Monday that was one of the first really hot and sunny days of the year. A taste of things to come?

 

My contribution to today’s Ragtag Challenge: egg.

And a Malcolm update:  He’s out of hospital now with lots of medication and check-up appointments.  Looking good!

Ragtag Saturday: Three Kings visit Barcelona

Today is the day when the Three Kings – the same ones who visited the infant Jesus – begin their journey to visit all children in the Spanish speaking world to deliver presents to them. We watched the Carnival parade they brought with them as they passed through Barcelona earlier this evening. Dancing, singing, exhuberant and imaginative displays had us enthralled for an hour or more. It was never like this in biblical times, I’m sure.

Ragtag Prompt: Three. https://wp.me/p9YcOU-lb

Not Christmas yet….

Everyone knows I’m a Christmas Refuser.  Oh, I enjoy Christmas alright.  I made our cake weeks ago, and Malcolm and I regularly ‘feed’ it with doses of brandy to make sure it’s good and sozzled.  I’ll happily rehearse Christmas music at choir too.

But that’s about it.  I do an about turn in any shop belting out Christmas Muzac and leave immediately.  I haven’t bought a single card or present, nor shall I until …. oh…. about the end of next week .  Then it’ll all get done in a flurry of cheerful activity, and I’ll enjoy it, because I haven’t been thinking about it since September.

Then the other day, I came across this six-years-old blog post, written in France.  Simpler times, simpler customs.  I wonder how often the window displays I wrote about here are seen these days? Innocent pleasures….

December 9th, 2012

Christmas on the High Street

Verzeille&decoDec2012 033It was 5 years ago when we were first in Laroque round about Christmas time.  There were no signs of its coming until well into December, and we thought it wonderful: no decorations, no adverts, merchandise or muzak,  just a bustle of festive activity from about two or three weeks beforehand.

The first signs, as in England, were in the shops.  Unlike England however, most shopkeepers didn’t usually buy tinsel, baubles, and several packs of cotton wool to introduce a Christmas theme into their window display.  Instead they had a seasonal design applied directly to the window.  We once saw a scene-painter busily decorating a local window, and wondered what he did the rest of the year.  Shops in small town high streets like Laroque’s would all be unified by being the same but different.  The same folksy interpretations of Christmas motifs, the same limited palettes of white, red, greens and yellows.  Some would choose scenes of reindeer amongst the Christmas tree forests, others Father Christmas,  snowmen, or radiant candles.

Garage in Laroque

Five years on, hardly any shopkeepers are keeping up this tradition.  They’re decorating their shops, but in their own way: dressing up their window display with baubles, snowflakes and Santa Claus figures.  They’re nicely done too, but I miss the particularly French idea, which I’ve seen nowhere else.

Here are the few traditional window scenes I’ve been able to find this year.  Maybe next year even these will be part of the past.

A baker’s shop in Laroque.

Ragtag Tuesday: Toussaint – the Day of the Dead

No, I’m not talking about the Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, that life-affirming joyous celebration of life that happens in Mexico at this time of year.

I’m remembering our life in France.  I’m remembering how, from early October and for the rest of the month, shops and markets would be crammed with pots and pots of chrysanthemums.  It’s hard to know where they could all have been grown.  Or how they could all find buyers.  The Hard Discount supermarkets would sell them for a euro or two, while high-end florists expected a great deal more.

On All Saints’ Day, November 1st, all these chrysanthemums – white, russet, yellow, mauve, crimson – would suddenly appear in the cemeteries, jostled and packed onto family tombs .  And those cemeteries weren’t just crowded with plants.  Family groups make it their business to visit their deceased relatives in the season of Toussaint.  The day itself is a public holiday, and so those family members who’ve died provide an excuse for a family get-together. Here’s a day when, out of respect, there’s no opportunity to air old grievances or argue over the family silver.

Foreign visitors can make a big mistake when coming to see their French friends at this time of year.  ‘There were such a lot of lovely chrysanthemums in the shops, I couldn’t resist buying a pot for you’.  It doesn’t go down well.  There’s only one place for these flowers once they’ve left the shop.  The graveyard.

What HAS happened to all my photos taken in France of Toussaint chrysanthemums in shops, markets, cemeteries?  Who knows?  I’ve had to rely on Unsplash, a brilliant collection of copyright-free photos, offered by the world’s photographers.

Today’s Ragtag Challenge is ‘Dead’.

Happy Yorkshire Day!

I’ve got lots of readers with Yorkshire connections.  With addresses in Australia, southern France, London, Northumbria, Spain and East Sussex, among other places, I bet not one of them has celebrated Yorkshire Day.

Apparently it all began on August 1st 1975, in Beverley, as a protest movement against the local government re-organisation of 1974′

Who knew?  Not me.  Not anyone I know.  We all bumbled through life in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and though the early years of the twenty first century, blissfully unaware until about five years ago that we were supposed to be partying for Yorkshire.

Two Ripon shops take Yorkshire Day seriously.

Now Yorkshire cities take it in turn to host Yorkshire Day, and this year it is Ripon’s turn.  This meant a fairground in the Market Square, a procession with a band and civic dignitaries, a service in the cathedral, picnicking in the Park, and all manner of stalls in the town centre, mainly celebrating Yorkshire charities and institutions.

Such as The National Trust’s stall celebrating Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal.  I was there.  I was one of a small team encouraging mainly families to have fun.  A few punters dressed up as monks from the Abbey, or as fine Georgian ladies who might have enjoyed the Studley Royal Water Gardens.  Most children – boys and girls – got enthusiastic about using the kind of wool which was produced in abundance at Fountains Abbey to get stuck into simple weaving.  They chose their colours with care, threaded their shuttles, and wove, wove, wove.  They ended up with nothing more elaborate than a bookmark, but goodness, they treasured them, and handed them carefully to mums, grandads – anyone who would put them safely away till they arrived home.

And we all ate Wilfra Cakes.  That’s a sort of apple pie cooked with Wensleydale cheese, and a long-forgotten Ripon delicacy, produced thanks to the Workhouse Museum.

If we go back this evening, there are bands playing, and a big firework display.  Well, any excuse for a party in God’s Own Country.  Why not?

The Market Square at midday.