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.

My University assignment

Here I am, still slaving away at Blogging 101, the University of Blogging.  I’m beginning to get a bit on edge when I fire up the laptop in the morning, because I know Senior Lecturer and Course Director Michelle W will have sent out yet another assignment requiring us to tweak and tinker with our blogs, and generally bring them up to scratch.  I even played hooky the day before yesterday, and the day before that.  Doesn’t she know I have a LIFE to lead?

However, here I am again, back in the University Libary (aka our study).  Today we have to write a post.  And it’s to be inspired by a blog we found yesterday, a blog new to us, which we felt moved to comment on.

I discovered Katherine Price.  She can write in a way that takes me to her world, her street, her little stretch of the Thames and help me to savour with her the local trees and the daily rhythms of the birds, whether a clamour of rooks, or a solitary kingfisher streaking past.  The first post I read was a bit of a hymn to staying put and not moving on, a hymn to her home in suburbia.

And it got me thinking about where I live now, and where I used to live… and the time before that… and the time before that.  It reminded me of a post I wrote almost 5 years ago, and I thought it was maybe time to revisit it and re-work it.

I spent my childhood in London: population 8.5 million.

Then I went to University in Manchester: population 2.5 million.

A few years later I was living in Leeds: population 751,000.

And then we moved to Harrogate: population 76,000.

Then we went to France and I started a blog. We lived in Laroque d’Olmes with about 2,500 other people.

And now we’ve come back to England, and we live in North Stainley.  This is a village whose population is about 730.

Can you see a pattern here?

Everwhere I’ve lived has seemed special at the time.  I used to relish all that a big city could offer, whether the museums, cinemas, or the huge choice of shops.  As I moved onwards and downwards, I remembered instead and with some horror the crowds, the dirt, the general busy-ness of the place before.  Good heavens, even Laroque, not big enough to support a range of shops, much less a cinema or a swimming pool seems rather exotic compared with the facilities in North Stainley (a village hall, a church, and a pub,  to be re-opened in early spring). We’ve traded cinemas for a film on Saturdays once every 6 weeks in the village hall, and shops for the chance to buy eggs from the farm not far from here.  And this blog is where I often report on what we discover as we explore our local countryside .

I’ll leave you with a quiz: can you identify each of the places I’ve lived in from these images?

What a difference a year makes

We’re just back from France.  Specifically, we’re just back from Laroque d’Olmes, the town which we left exactly a year ago, and which for six and a half years, we called home.

We felt anxious about this trip.  What would we feel?  Would we find we’d made a horrible mistake in leaving Laroque?  Would our now rusted and un-exercised French measure up to a week or more of more-or-less constant use?  Would people want to see us as much as we wanted to see them?

On a  stroll near Laroque with Francis and Tine, we meet one man and his (five) dogs
On a stroll near Laroque with Francis and Tine, we meet one man and his (five) dogs

What actually happened was that for the first few days, we barely had time to think at all.  As soon as we got there, we were launched into A Social Diary.  We’d have lunch here with one set of friends, our evening meal there with another.  We’d slot other friends in for morning coffee, or afternoon tea.  One morning we even commandeered the local bar and held court there, in order to catch up with people whom we couldn’t see in any other way.  We started to flag. We simply couldn’t keep up the pace.

And luckily, we didn’t have to.  Saturday was the day the walking group had suggested we set aside for them.  The planned ‘rando’ had to be kicked into touch because of the promise of rain and wind.  Instead, a dozen or so of us walked for a couple of hours whilst Jean-Charles, as clerk-of-works, organised a team to transform a roofed shelter outside the church in nearby Fajou into a banqueting hall.  As ever, this turned into a magical occasion in which home-made tarts and pies, home-cured sausage, cheeses, bread, wine, more wine, cakes and puddings of every kind were crowded onto picnic tables for us all to feast upon as we gossiped and sang and reminisced, trying not to notice the cold and wind only inches away from us.  It felt as if we’d never been away.  Part of our time was spent making plans for the group to visit us here in Yorkshire. Watch this space!

 

After that, life became so much more leisurely.  Lunch in Foix on Easter Sunday with friends, then a lazy Easter Monday with our hosts, getting sunburnt in the garden, cooking and eating the traditional Omelette de Pâques.

..and this was our view, as we cooked and ate our omelette de Pâques on the hillside above Francis and Tine's house.
..and this was our view, as we cooked and ate our omelette de Pâques on the hillside above Francis and Tine’s house.

It’s memories of all those moments with friends that we bring home with us.  Memories too of the much-loved scenery of the foothills of the Pyrenees.  Would we return there to live?  Not a chance.  Laroque itself is going through very tough times, and it shows. The shop, the once-thriving music centre, children’s services – all are struggling.  Some of our French friends commented that perhaps we could have made our lives easier by not getting ourselves involved in day-to-day life there, and they could have a point.  We plugged into the local networks that talked and acted against corruption here, services closing there, money talking somewhere else, when instead we could have been sitting in our little bubble on a sun-dappled terrace drinking wine and  sun-bathing.  But by getting involved, we hope we made friends for life, and understood a little more about the society we briefly became part of.  But never fully part of.  Our very different background, our lack of real understanding of certain basics of French culture left us always feeling to some extent outsiders, however much we were accepted and made to feel at home.  It feels as if this is the right time to be involved in  life in England once more.

A moody sunset seen from the supper table chez Francis and Tine, with the sloe trees in full blossom.
A moody sunset seen from the supper table chez Francis and Tine, with the sloe trees in full blossom.

And anyway, who could bear to be anywhere else but here when the daffodils are in bloom?

Daffodils in Snape, the village along the road.
Daffodils in Snape, the village along the road.

From Pennines to Pyrenees

We’ve crossed the Pyrenees again.  To visit our daughter in Barcelona.

A view of Barcelona from Port Vell.
A view of Barcelona from Port Vell.

And then we shall cross them back again.  To visit our friends in Laroque d’Olmes.

A view of the Pyrenees from between Laroque and Foix
A view of the Pyrenees from between Laroque and Foix

We’ll be in touch when we get back to England again.

The Whitby jet-set

We’ve just had good friends from Laroque staying for the week.  We’ve been obliged to polish up our French, which turned out not to be as hard as we’d feared.  And we’ve been doing our best to show-case Yorkshire.  We didn’t expect that to be hard, and it wasn’t.  But we had fun exploring links between our two home areas, something I’ve talked about before here.  Easy enough when you’re walking in the hilly limestone scenery of the Dales, or discussing breeds of sheep, or our former textile and mining industries,  or bumbling along single-track roads in the country, with no villages in sight.

But it would be stretching a point to find a meeting point between the land-locked Ariège, and the East Yorkshire coast, surely?  Well, as it happens, no.  We had a day exploring the coast near Whitby: and I remembered that during the 1800s, Whitby and parts of the Ariège, Laroque d’Olmes included, had a thriving industry in common.  Jet.

19th century mourning jewellery.  Wikimedia Commons.
19th century mourning jewellery. Wikimedia Commons.

Back in the mid 19th century, the fashionable French and English alike couldn’t get enough of the gleaming, richly black fossilised wood that came out of local cliffs (Whitby) and river beds (Ariège) to be transformed by local workers into brooches, earrings and lockets.  In its hey-day, the industry employed thousands of people engaged in finding and extracting the mineral, carving and polishing it.  Queen Victoria ensured its continued popularity in England by wearing jet as mourning jewellery when her beloved Prince Albert died.

We found no jet.  So Wikimedia Commons had to help me out.
We found no jet. So Wikimedia Commons had to help me out.

Its decline  as a fashion item matched the decline of readily available sources of the material.  Somehow, by 1900, jet had lost its allure, and both areas lost an important source of employment.  Jet in the Ariège is consigned to history books and museums.  In Whitby, however, there’s something of a revival, and there  are once more a few shops selling costume jewellery and other items made of jet.

We never found a single piece, but not for want of trying. Instead, we had a more traditional day at the sea.  We ate large plates of fish and chips.  We seagull-watched.  We paddled on the beach and investigated rock pools.  And we ended the day at the higgledy-piggledy and charming settlement of Runswick Bay, clambering up and down the cobbled streets and admiring the quaint cottages with their views across the bay.

Last news from Laroque

Our removal men travel weekly between northern England and southern Spain with all stops - including Laroque - in between.
Our removal men travel weekly between northern England and southern Spain with all stops – including Laroque – in between.

You’re making your last visit to Laroque today, for the time being.  We left 3 days ago, and now we’re in Ripon.  Those last days were a furore of packing, cleaning, ‘goodbyes’ (though never, never final farewells), and two visits from the removal firm, who couldn’t fit everything in, first time round.  At this moment, perhaps, the person who bought our house is planning his own removal to Laroque.

I never told you, probably out of sheer superstition, the story of the house sale.  The housing market’s incredibly tough in the Ariège just now.  House prices have tumbled 25% since 2008.  Properties remain unsold for one, two, three years, as unhappy owners reduce the price of their homes in hopes of at last attracting a buyer.

Whereas we had nothing but luck.  A man from near Paris, house-hunting here, in the area where he’d grown up, saw our house, arranged to view, and said he liked it.  A week later he came again, showing his ‘coup de cœur’ off to his mum and dad.  He made a low-price offer, as you do.  We refused it, as you do.  But we offered him our non-attached garden, being sold separately, at a generous discount, and said we’d include some of the furniture in the house sale.  Reader, he offered full price, and the rest is history.  Vue-vendue.

We'd just locked the door for the last time.  And helping us wave 'Goodbye' are Martine, Francis and Anaïs, almost the very first friends we made when we arrived.
We’d just locked the door for the last time. And helping us wave ‘Goodbye’ are Martine, Francis and Anaïs, almost the very first friends we made when we arrived.

So here we are in Ripon, ready to house hunt and begin our new lives here.  Oh, and there’s the Tour de France starting in Yorkshire too, in a couple of months.  We’ll keep you posted.

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What to do next?

One of the views from our walk last Thursday.  In the distance, the ruined castle of Lagarde.  In the far distance, the Pyrenees.
One of the views from our walk last Thursday. In the distance, the ruined castle of Lagarde. In the far distance, the Pyrenees.

It’s come at last.  The week we move back to Yorkshire.  On Saturday we did ‘The Long Goodbye VI’.  This time next week, we’ll have been back in England almost three days.

So that’s it for ‘Life in Laroque’.  Maybe one more post.  Maybe not.

So what do I do about it?  Shut up shop and start again?  Or simply change the title and keep writing?  I don’t know how things will change for me once I get back to Yorkshire.  I’m fairly sure I’ll want to keep on writing a blog.  I’ve enjoyed the discipline of getting memories recorded.  I’ve loved having feedback from friends.  At first, these friends were people I’ve shared part of my life with, people I’ve worked with or spent time with socially.  Increasingly, they’re cyber-friends: people who take the trouble to comment, criticise, offer suggestions and memories of their own, and whose blogs interest me.

Yesterday, though, Malcolm made a suggestion, remembering the exhibition I’d had a hand in organising here, comparing the Ariège with Yorkshire.  Why not change the title of my blog to ‘From the Pyrenees to the Pennines’?  That’s what we’re going to be doing after all : exchanging one set of hills for another.  For quite a while, having been away so long, I expect to be something of a foreigner in my own country, and this might be reflected in what I choose to write about.  Or not.  I just don’t know.

I’m sure I’ll lose some of you, dear readers.  Perhaps your interest is in France, specifically this part of France.  But I’d love it if some of you choose to continue the journey with me, as we settle back to life in the UK and travel further afield from time to time.  We’re bound to come back to the Ariège too.  There are favourite people to see, favourite places to visit, and  new places still to discover.

So ……. new blog?  Continue with this blog under a new name?  What do you think?   I’d love to hear from you, especially if you’re one of those bloggers with whom I have cyber-conversations.  Thanks for coming with me this far.  I’ve enjoyed your company.

The Yorkshire Dales.  They're not bad either, are they?
The Yorkshire Dales. They’re not bad either, are they?