Caught Up (kinda!)

Do you know, I’m not sure how helpful it is for me, or for anyone else, to read about how I failed at completing 40 Acts this year, so I think I’m going to stop blogging about what I haven’t done, but rather briefly think about what I have done. If anyone wants to follow 40 Acts, the blog is here so you can read it for yourself.

For ACT 13 I posted some Ninja notes through random post boxes, some with Bible verses, others with encouraging sayings

For ACT 15 I tried to pray whenever I felt prompted…which wasn’t very often, I must admit!!

For ACT 16 I promised our neighbours, who are facing the closure oftheir restaurant, that we would support them in their takeaway business. So far, that’s meant three pizzas and two slices of gorgeous Chocolate-Apricot gateau! Not exactly a hardship! We are also committed to shopping locally – partly through necessity, but also to support small businesses through this difficult time.

For ACT 18 we are driving much less…!!! (Though not necessarily by choice) Isn’t it amazing how Venice is so clean when the everyday traffic stops

 

For ACT 23 I am trying hard not to moan through this confinement period: we know it is for the good of our health, and the good of others’; we have work to do and so can earn money; we are able to go out for a short walk in the beautiful countryside round here (1 km from our homes, no more than 1 hour, go alone); there are supplies in the local supermarket & other shops. We are lucky. I know there are people confined in small appartments with children, trying to work, or unable to work, worried about where money is going to come from…so definitely NO COMPLAINING!!1

For ACT 24 I’m telling you about LEND WITH CARE which is, in my opinion a great charity to support. Now I give a £15 voucher to any young couple I know getting married (!) so they can choose who to support on a new venture, as they start on their new life together. And it’s the gift that keeps giving: as you are paid back, you can lend to another entrepreneur. With an outlay of my initial £15 I think I have supported 4 or 5 people starting new businesses.

There! I’ve caught up in a more positive way!!

LUNCH TIME!!

I’ve got three lessons this afternoon, and quite honestly I’d rather just have a nap…

Dead Car

Don’t worry! This isn’t us!!

Last Friday I had set off for work nice and early (7.15) as I had a lesson at 8.30 in Clermont. About a kilometre before the junction onto the motorway there was a small clunk and the engine stopped running. I drifted over to the side of the road, and tried to restart.

A-huh-a-huh-a-huh, wheezed the engine without coughing into life.

Happily we had just signed up for a good breakdown package which had kicked in on the Monday before (looks a bit suspicious!!), so I was able to phone through for a breakdown truck. However, with me, these things are never quite as simple as they might be: it was one of those push button 1 if… helplines, and so I had to phone & listen about 5 times before I could work out which I needed! I finally chose the right one, and it went onto a website where I filled in my details (I do ask myself what one does if one doesn’t have a smartphone, or you don’t have internet access…) Having done this, I was told that my emergency locator wasn’t turned on, and please enter manually my position.

With fingers rather numbed and clumsy through cold (it was about -2°) I somehow managed to say that I was located in a road in a town in department 91 (we’re in dept 42!) and was cheerily told that my location in dept 91 had been logged and a breakdown truck would be with me in 45 minutes.

 

“What?! No!! Oh *$#*!”# ” I spluttered and tried phoning the helpline again.

Of course, there is no instruction “Press button 6 if you have inadvertedly sent a breakdown truck to the wrong department” (or if there was I didn’t understand the instruction!!) so I panicked and got a bit weepy. But then, pulling up my big girls’ knickers I thought about it and found another number on my bit of paper to phone. I explained my dilemma, was told not to worry and so relieved that the resue mission in dept 91 was going to be cancelled, I restarted my cry for assistance. I seemed to manage to enter my location successfully, received another text telling me that the breakdown truck would be with me in 45 minutes.

I settled down to wait. Even though the car was on the side of the road, with its hazard lights flashing, I thought it best not to wait in the car in case of being shunted by one of the reasonably infrequent but heavily laden lorries that whizzed by, so I walked briskly up and down to keep warm. Thankfully, by 8.00 the sun was coming up and the air was becoming warmer. Then my phone rang.

“Hello, Madame? You are located where on Rue Whatever?”

AARGH. The resue mission hadn’t been cancelled and somewhere in department 91 a breakdown truck was looking for me!

I explained the situation and he was very understanding, telling me not to worry. He rang off, and I started to wonder if in fact my second call had been correctly logged. By now it was 9.00 and customer services was open, so I rang that number. I was right: it hadn’t been logged, so the wpman at the other end of the phone took the details manually… and within 20 minutes a breakdown truck from Noiretable (16 km from our village) had turned up.

He loaded the little poorly Fiat onto the back and off we went.

At first he thought it was something straightforward, but more investigations proved it was more serious. I called a friend to pick me up, while the Garagiste did more diagnostics. The final upshot is that the timing chain (which is the equivalent of a cam belt) has broken. It will cost at least 1,000€ to mend, but it could be more if it has damaged other parts of the engine when it broke.

We have to decide if it’s worth doing, if we want to do it, if we can afford to do it, and if we don’t do it what we are going to do…we need two cars as we work in oposite directions! For the moment, a kind friend has lent us his second car, but we can’t rely on it for too long.

Hey ho.

What do we eat in February?!

I have just spent a good 30 minutes or so, writing a witty post. I then carefully saved it. I then, just as carefully deleted it.

Maybe I should blame the cat…

I can only promise you that the previous post was much better written than the following. How tragic that it is lost…

SO…

It is difficult enough to try to lose weight in France, with the delicious cheese, and patisserie, and charcuterie and bread. Temptation is at every turn, whatever season of the year it is. But I’m starting to believe that there is a secret Government conspiracy to make it particularly hard to stick to a diet in the early months of the year…

You have made a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight! Hah! I spit on your resolve! I will break you like a twig!!

First of all, in January, the French celebrate Epiphany with a Galette des Rois – or King Cake. I think these might take different forms in different regions, but here in 42, the most common is this:

It’s basically a puff pastry pie, with a filling of almond paste, which is delicious; it’s usually eaten with a glass (or two) of cider, at a family event, or a get together with friends or colleagues. The Galette should be divided such that each guest receives a slice, plus an extra, symbolic slice for any unexpected visitor, or poor person, that should pass by.

In each Galette a fève is hidden. This was originally a dried bean, but is now a porcelain or plastic figurine; in the past a King, but more and more they are of Disney characters, or Asterix, or other things. The person who discovers the fève in their serving is declared le roi (the king) or la reine (the queen) and gets to wear the golden paper couronne (crown) that is always provided with the cake. If it’s a mass produced Galette it will be in the box, if you buy it at the boulangerie, the crown will be handed over with your purchase.

To avoid accusations of “King fixing”, it is traditional during the slicing of the galette to have the youngest child at the gathering sit underneath the table to call out the name of the person to receive each slice – Le prochaine c’est pour Papi – so the server can’t be accused of playing favourites!

I remember my first experience of a Galette des Rois was with my first night school class, in about 2009: they fixed it so I received the fève, and I still have the little plastic King on my desk.

Here’s our collection of fèves – all rather high quality ceramic ones, except my King – a green chicken with gold stripes, a porcelein advertising plaque, a smart green boot (I’d like a pair of these in my size- though obviously not in ceramic!) and a curious black cube with A, Z and C on its sides. We keep these on the kitchen shelf.

We’ve not had fèves recently as it’s now possible to buy mini-Galettes, just enough for two people, which, although they are just as delicious, don’t come with the crown, or the fève.

So having recovered from eating puff pastry and frangipane, we move onto Candlemas, 2nd February, when it is traditional to eat pancakes, or crêpes.

The tradition of eating crêpes at Candlemas is attributed to Pope Gelasius the 1st, who had pancakes distributed to pilgrims as they arrived in Rome.

It is also said the tradition of eating crêpes started as it was a good way of using up the extra wheat before a new harvest. Symbolically, as a round crêpe looks like the sun, it was also a good reason to rejoice as the days started to get longer.

As well as eating pancakes or crêpes during Candlemas, all candles in the house are lit, and the feasting takes place by candlelight. Also on this day, the Nativity scenes are put away as it signals the end of the Christmas season. I’ve just noticed that the Christmas lights around the village have been taken down – I noticed them a couple of weeks ago, but now they’re gone, presumably for the same reason. Mind you, some communes keep the lights up all year round, but just don’t illuminate them until December!

But not only is one supposed to prepare your pancakes by candlelight, you also need to flip the crêpe in the air with your right hand, while holding a gold coin in your left hand, and ensuring that the crêpe lands properly back in the pan.  The symbolism attached to this way of flipping your crêpe dates back to the late fifth century and is linked to a fertility rite.

It is also said that the first crêpe made should be put into an armoire (wardrobe) to ensure your plentiful harvest later in the year. I don’t know how long said pancake shoud remain in the wardrobe, but I have to say that as my first pancake is usually a disaster a better place to put it would be in the bin!

So, if you have feasted on Galettes, and then pancakes, what’s next…?

Once Candlemas is over, in our region at least, the bugnes start arriving. Bugnes are rather delicious little doughtnutty things…

A French social media site tells us that bugnes are: Languette de pâte boursouflée par la friture et servie saupoudrée de sucre. On les appelle merveille ou oreillette selon les régions. – Mon grand-père faisait des corbeilles de bugnes au printemps. (Trans: strips of batter puffed up in hot oil, served with icing sugar on top. They are called fritters or little ears depending on the region. My granddad made baskets of bugnes in Spring)

I like my bugnes dipped in jam!

If you want to practice your French this site explains a little more, telling us that indeed bugnes are only from the Auvergne-Rhone Alpes area, and giving recipes too.

Bugnes are around until Shrove Tuesday, when, of course, all delicious things are given up for Lent. Or not, depending on one’s religious leanings…At least you can take 40 days before the chocolate feasting begins…as the flying bells drop chocolate into your garden.

What?

Flying Bells?! What about the Easter bunny?!

Well, Church bells are – or used to be – an intrinsic part of French life, but they are traditionally silenced on Maundy Thursday, then on Good Friday, no bells in France are rung in honour and remembrance of Jesus Christ being crucified.

It’s believed that the story of the flying bells was created as a fun way to explain the absence of bell ringing to young children. Parents tell children that the bells sprouted wings and flew to visit the Pope in Rome for a blessing. Once there, the Pope presents the bells with delicious chocolate bells and eggs. On Easter morning, the bells fly home to France. Then laden with chocolate, but needing to ring out for Easter Sunday, the bells drop the chocolate treats in the gardens all over France for children to find.

Bells? Bunnies? Who cares…it’s CHOCKLIT!!!!

PS The title of the post comes from today – I saw there were bugnes on sale at the Boulangerie as I bought bread, so I bought six for a treat. I came home with the bread and the bag of bugnes.

“Wotcha got there?” said MrFD as he spied the bag.

“What do we eat in February?” I replied

BUGNES!” we said, in unison.

A local chateau fort

A Chateau Fort is the French word for what we’d probably call a castle – not one of your poncy chateaux with fancy turrets and posh staircases like this one:

While we have a couple of those in the area, they’re not open to the public (unless you go Air bnb!) But we do have the ruins of a good old Chateau Fort – Le Chateau des Cornes d’Urfé

This was the “cradle” of the Urfé family, who ruled this corner of the Loire departement – but of course the departement didn’t exist then! Anne d’Urfé – a bloke – was one of the first Seigneurs, and his heart is interred in the little chapel here in St Just. Honoré d’Urfé wrote what is considered to be one of the first novels, a story called “Astrée”, after which our street is named. Later on, the family owned a more Chateau-y Chateau, Le Bastie d’Urfé, on the plain

but at the beginning the Chateau des Cornes d’Urfé was their home. It was remarkably well situated to view the Chateau in St Just itself, and that in Champoly, about 10 km away And – of course – it dominated the valley in the mountains, probably making it ideal to demand tolls from those passing, as well as keeping an eye on any aggressive movement of men from either of the neighbours!

I visited with my friend, Jane, while she was here.

This is the view from the tower, looking towards St Just. As you can see the chateau is now in ruins, and while volunteers come every summer to help to restore the building, they can only do so much. We were amused that the only nod to health and safety was a notice saying “Soyez Prudent” (Be careful) – climbing the steps inside the tower was not for the faint hearted: unlit, uneven, steep, low-ceilinged and no handrail of any description (until the final 10 steps when there was a rope to hang onto!) I’m sure in the UK it wouldn’t have been allowed!

After admiring the view we strolled around the bottom of the Chateau

 

We used to bring visitors here all the time, but I hadn’t been for ages. It was a pleasure to come back – especially on such a nice day. It wasn’t very clear however, but on a really clear day you can see Mont Blanc in one direction and Puy de Dome in the other.

When good intentions go wrong!!

I had such good intentions…

 

I had just set off to work, and was driving quite slowly. As I looked in my side mirror I saw a beautiful white moth clinging on for dear life. Thinking it would get squished by a car if it fell off I stopped, and tried to encourage it to move off the mirror. Using an old parking ticket I flicked it off the mirror.

It fluttered briefly, and lmanded in the middle of the road.

“No-o-o! You’ll get squished!” I said, and hastily scooped it up again (it was early. There were no other cars coming)

It fluttered again, and caught a slight breeze, so fluttered over to a trellis fence where it landed. I could see it clearly against the dark fence.

“Phew,” I thought, “It’s safe now…”

…and watched in horror as a bird flew down and ate it!!!!

 

Hey ho.

Sorry, no. The bird has already eaten it!!

A little library.

It seems these little libraries are popping up all over, using all manner of inventive items to house the books:

     

We used to have one in the village which used an old stationery roundabout, with doors. A bit like this, but less new and clean and attractive

It wasn’t very well insulated, and the books quickly became damp and damaged. It certainly didn’t look very inviting. Sometime over the past year it disappeared.

Well, this morning I passed the place where it had been, to find a beautiful new display case, which is obviously well-constructed, and definitely weatherproof! It is a delight!

  

You can see that there are fixed chairs too, so should one be inclined to, one could sit in the sunshine and read one of the books. It’s not the most picturesque part of the village, but it’s not hideous!

As the sign on the side tells us:

Book Cabins made by the employees of the wood workshop of our Upcycling centre, using recycled/reused materials taken from our collections, and reintroduced into the cyclical economy. If you see what I mean!! Acora is a second hand centre, where they also repurpose old pieces of furniture.

Of course, all the books are French, but with tourists in mind (there’s a campsite in the village) I went home immediately and rooted out some of my English books which I added to the library. Hopefully some other people will add their foreign language books. I think these free libraries are a great idea. The New MrsM – whose blog I read – created one as one of her 40 Acts of Kindness a couple of Lents ago, and there’s one set up near Church (I popped a few English novels in there a couple of months ago)

Have you got a Little Library near you?

 

Avoiding la Fete Patronale (as much as possible!)

Last weekend it was the Fete Patronale of our village. This is when the whole village has a fun time, with a travelling fair, and fireworks, and fun events for the Kiddies. It starts on Friday night, when the fairground opens, with flashing lights, and loud music, and goes on through to Monday evening, when the fair has its last hurrah. There are fireworks on Saturday night, and the fair shuts down about midnight that evening; on Sunday the loudspeaker bellows out its announcements and running commentary. The main street with its parking is taken over by the stands selling candy floss, and hook-a-duck and shooting stalls…

Did I say “the whole village”? Hmm, maybe not. We overlook the square where the fair sets up. We are therefore subject to all the noise and inconvenience from Thursday onwards. We get mightily pissed off by it. (as you can tell by the fact I’ve written a post complaining about it practically every year I’ve been writing this blog!!!) But, it’s part of village life so we can do no more than try to live with it. And, thanks to a friend and Mr FD, this year was the most bearable it’s been.

Friday evening wasn’t too bad – we closed all the shutters and had the TV a bit louder than usual. When we went to bed, the music was still going – the bass in particular was reverberating through the air – but I was so tired that I managed to fall asleep, despite the noise. Mr FD put on his noise cancelling headphones and listened to the radio until the fair closed down.

On Saturday, the noise didn’t really start until about 3 o’clock, when Mr FD suggested we took ourselves off somewhere. We couldn’t decide where, but finally we took our books, music and a bottle of water up to the local chateau, where there was a bench beneath the shade of a plane tree. We spent a (almost) peaceful afternoon there: we could still hear the music, and especially the rhythmic thump of the bass, but it was dulled enough to be able to ignore it. We were joined for much of the time, by this charming little cat

We went home at 6.15, feeling thoroughly refreshed and at peace. We then went up to Friend Richard’s – he lives about 5 km outside the village, and had kindly offered to let us sleep at his place that night. We had a meal with himù and Friend Cathy, and then drove down to the village to feed the cats and to make sure they were OK during the fireworks. Then we drove back to Richard’s. We settled into bed – but even there we could still hear the bass beat and the faint sound of music floating on the night air! We were grateful not to be in the midst of it!

On Sunday afternoon, we decided to do the same thing, so we took our books etc., plus a couple of flasks of hot water and tea bags, and scones (for afternoon tea!)  back to “our” bench. We read and listened to podcasts until about 6.30. Then we spent the evening with all shutters tightly closed watching TV. We couldn’t work out how Pomme could sleep quite happily out on the balcony, with the flashing lights, wailing sirens from the dodgem cars, and thumping bass. But she was happily sleeping away the evening! Although I wasn’t as tired as on Friday, I told myself that, as I am perfectly capable of falling asleep in front of the TV, I was able to drift off to sleep with the thump of music as a background noise. And I did!

Today is the last day for the Fete – I think they have even started to dismantle some of the stands. So we can breathe a sigh of relief that it’s all over for another year…and we weathered this year better than most!