On vines, walls and empty fields

Umbrellas hanging in the sky
Umbrellas in the sky of the weekly grand marché in Sainte-Foy-La- Grande

We have reached the end of the summer, with visiting friends, the (ongoing) construction of the swimming pool, night markets, long walks in the fields and forests, in short the ongoing climatization of Tanja and Rick to France. So as we move into another autumn, today’s walk brings images and insights to share with you.

Brown earth after the wheat harvest is with us until sunflowers in the spring.

Despite this morning’s heavy rains the air is windy and fresh, clouds skittering across the sky. In one direction empty fields lie as far as the eye can see, fields that once contained bright sunflowers and waves of winter wheat. Now, once harvested, they are left with stubble and brown earth. These are beautiful in their starkness and their earthiness, but they provide little else to the autumnal landscape.

Grape vines after the harvest
After the harvest, we stand empty in our long rows.

On the other hand,  in the other direction are row after of vineyards, so different from the other crops. There is something about the vines that, having given up their fruit, have an ongoing presence and beauty as the leaves gently dry and turn colors.

 

The vines stay on as reminders of the recent harvest and as promises of future as yet unknown, untasted years. The local deer take refuge among the vinerows this time of year and glean whatever grapes are left. Likewise the doves and the pheasants. The vineyards are as they have been for centuries. Like the forests, they present a comforting permanence.

And speaking of permanence I also come across our local stone ruin, usually covered in vines and brambles.

Our local ruin
Opening in block wall of ruin
A window? A door?

Someone however has cleaned up around it, yielding views of windows, walls, and assorted tools heretofore hidden. Now they give us new fodder for imagining what this might have been used for, a house? A wine barn? We will never know, but it is always there and always changing, always challenging us to look at it differently and to appreciate its presence. With no one else around, the solitude gets filled with these fantastical journeys into remote times and people, in many ways very different from today, but in other ways very similar.

So with the completion of our garden and swimming pool in the next few weeks, La Busaneth will be ready for guests. We have a hardy family signed up for January and February as they look to purchase their own part of the Aquitaine. We will then be looking to greet cyclers and wanderers in the Spring before the high season of summer with all its revelries comes round again.

Happy autumn to all our friends, already known and yet to meet.

The Market in Sainte-Foy-La-Grande!

The Sainte-Foy-La-Grande Saturday market is one of the oldest and largest in southwest France. It is open year round, selling all the foods for alimentation, clothes, beds, even laying hens. During the winter it scales down. But because of the demands of the local population, it is well attended and utilized even during the cold rains of winter. However, when the spring comes it blossoms like the local wildflowers into a grand Saturday morning event. This has happened in the last couple weeks. Our two friends from the US, Cis and Jill, are with us for the week.  We decide to show them this gem of local color and commerce.

Getting ready

View of the street market
Market day in Sainte-Foy-La-Grande

It is a perfect cool, sunny spring morning. We begin every market journey assembling our various carts and baskets and placing them into the car for the ten minute drive from La Busaneth to Sainte-Foy-La-Grande. We all check our wallets, for we want to be prepared for anything that might call our to us. And of course, we divert to the scenic route through the vineyards of Pineuilh so our friends can get a better sense of the local campagne.

First Impressions

Colorful woven baskets
Baskets

Arriving in Sainte-Foy, we park the car and walk through the narrow 13th century streets toward the palpable bustle of the market. We are soon bombarded by the colors and festivity of the French market in all its glory.

There are bright clothes from the four corners of the world. Hardware and sundry goods are tantalisingly displayed for easy browsing and purchase. We notice brightly colored woven baskets asking to be bought to contain whatever we choose to buy.

Clothing

One of the first stops is a clothing stall, a moveable boutique, with eye-catching scarves and women’s clothes. Our three women do not disappoint, and through our poor French and hand gestures and smiles, are able to get the advice of the boutiquesse. They and soon are laden with new adornments.

The Market Stalls

As we wander through the crowded marketplace, there are so many sites to see. We hear many people speaking not only French but many different languages.

Lots of varied fowl
Cutting cheese
The cheese monger at Ste Foy La Grande market

There are displays of fresh fish and mussels, fruits and vegetables, meats and poultry, breads, and on and on and on. We notice our favorite cheese monger is back, complete with scarf around his neck and a jovial personality. We had missed him for the last few months and told him so. He let us know he had to have surgery, but now he is back and “parfait”. We end up purchasing from him  small round chevres fraiches, a divine bleu and a dozen eggs.

The coffee monger is in his corner of the market roasting his beans on his small hand-turned roaster. We exchange banter, in which in response to my prodding he tells me he actually is trying to stop smoking. We come away with a large bag of his Tanzanie coffee, which from experience is as good in the tasting as it is in the anticipation.

Home we go

Eventually all our bags and carts are full of all manner of food and clothes, forcing us to leave for home, grateful for the experience and grateful that the French have maintained this grand, practical, and most lovely institution.

 

 

Rainy winter and unexpected surprises!

We recently returned to our French farmhouse after a nice long stay in Louisville celebrating the holidays with friends and family. We discovered while in Kentucky how deep our friendships go with so many people. And it was particularly good to have all our children in one place for Christmas Eve and Tanja’s birthday. After three weeks, our little place in the Aquitaine beckoned. We flew back to a very rainy, wet countryside, for it had rained almost constantly while we were gone. Very unusual according to the locals!

We arrived and immediately lighted the woodburner to take the chill out of the air, opened all the shutters, and set about getting used to our home all over again.

While we were gone, the lads had done major work, including re-plastering our bedroom This meant we would be displaced to one of our gîte bedrooms until we could finish painting. We decided this would be a good idea. Always good to experience what the guests will.  Well, as nice as it is in the summer, this room was freezing! It took us all night to get warm!!!

Shivering under the covers.
Brr! First night back in our house that had been empty and unheated for a month!

I must also say that even in the cold and wet, the French countryside has a charm all its own.

A wiff of smoke from the chimney shows we are home, in the middle of the wet winter countryside.

There is green winter wheat growing in the field where sunflowers shone just a few months ago. Water trickles in the drainage ditches, keeping our indoors dry. The trees without their leaves have a certain majesty as they preside over the bleak midwinter. It looks as though there will be no snow this year…..

Of course this is France, and nothing stays bucolic forever! After two days of warming our house, I noticed one of the plasterboard walls in our brand new kitchen, the one with the electric radiator attached, starting to show air between it and the old wall beneath. Apparently this was an active process!

The buckling of the kitchen wall.

When it started to crack and buckle, I called for Tanja to help keep it from falling completely. We were able to remove the radiator and the movement stopped, leaving a gaping hole where there should have been wall. If we thought we were finished with the lads, we were wrong! Fortunately they were able to come at a moment’s notice, drape all the countertops and furniture in our precious new kitchen, and start the demolition of the plaster rendering down to the stone wall underneath.

After removal of wallboard.

 

We have moved out of this kitchen into the gîte kitchen for the foreseeable future until this wall has been repaired and repointed. It is a bit like camping out, but we are used to that by now. We have guests coming in February, so as long as it is finished by then, all will be well. We have decided to leave the wall as exposed stone so it will breathe better. It will be a great look for the kitchen as well.

The kitchen wall, partially exposed.

 

Meanwhile, on a most beautiful New Year’s Eve, with lots of sunshine, a grand south wind and temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit, I found myself outside variously splitting logs, raking leaves and cleaning up outdoor debris. I had the time of my life! By evening the rain had returned in time for us to brave the horizontal rain going to friends’ New Years Eve Party. We partied and danced until the wee hours, returning to a well earned night’s sleep of recuperation. Well. I awoke the next morning to an angry back crying out its displeasure at having been so abused the previous day.

Tanja the washerwoman on her hands and knees.

This put me to bed for a few days as Tanja, bless her huge heart, completed the painting and cleaning of our bedroom apartment.

Needless to say, I have learned my lesson – again- my own winter’s tale. The good news is we move back into our own bedroom with our own bed tonight and I am almost back to normal. Tanja of course has been her usual loving self, withholding judgment at my antics and staying the course for us.

Happy New Year to all from your loving friends in the Aquitaine. We hope to see you soon!

Autumn 2017 at La Busaneth

A few remaining leaves cling to a tree outside La Busaneth

The crowds have left, the leaves and the temperatures are falling, and we are deeply into the changes of autumn. Finally Rick and Tanja, your erstwhile travelers at La Busaneth, can surface and report on the progress we have made and life in rural France in chilly November.

It has been months since we last reported on our journey. During that time we have been busy completing a large portion of the work on the gîte portion of our dwelling. Rooms have been replastered, painted and scrubbed. Furniture has been purchased from local brocantes and repurposed as newly minted creations gracing our guest bedrooms. Also, we have figured out how to get heat throughout the building, something that was last on our minds during the summer, but now has come to the forefront as nightly frost has come to stay.

Simon’s handiwork in process

Outside, our new Scottish friend and gardener, Simon, is completely redoing the front garden. Already it feels more inviting and planned.

We have had a steady stream of guests, including family and old friends. We even ventured into paying guests who helped us break the ice as innkeepers. Now that things have slowed down there is time to enjoy the season and to reflect on our new lives here.

Most noteworthy, one of the most meaningful events we participated in was this year’s Armistice ceremony in Eymet. We have joined a local French-English choir, Cantabile, and the group was asked to sing at the Armistice Ceremony.

We arrived at the monument on the cold and rainy 11th of November morning, dressed in black, umbrellas up, music at hand, on one side of the tiny memorial garden.   A band of young students was under a tent on the other side. At 10:30, they began to  accompany the group singing a ballad of a young soldier singing to his beloved right before he died at Craonne, a bloody battleground during the Napoleonic wars.

Armistice ceremony in Eymet

The band was out of tune but it didn’t matter. Then the pompiers came marching in dressed in their parade uniforms. Two older military veterans stood at attention. Families with young children crowded into the space as the mayor spoke about the war to end all wars. We then sang God Save the Queen and everyone sang La Marseillaise.

This was one of the most moving patriotic services I have ever seen. It was so obvious in everyone’s demeanor, in the words of the mayor, in the solemnity of the placing of the wreath on the monument, that the French never again want to experience the devastation two recent wars have wrecked on their nation and their countryside. Consequently it was a very simple and moving remembrance.

Four getting ready to bike
Marnix, Tanja, Tanja and Sebrand on their way to Duras for a picnic and coffee.

Today three of our five children and one significant other are enjoying a gorgeous late autumn day as they are here to help us celebrate our first Thanksgiving as French residents. So Tanja and the lads went for a bike ride to Duras.

 

Walking on the field toward home on an autumn afternoon.

The fields and forests have beckoned me to their solitude. I took the liberty to snap some photos to share the loveliness of the day.

Afternoon sun on the front garden view from the veranda.
Lonely berry bush

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We wish all our friends and family all the joys and peace of Thanksgiving.

Guests!

After feverishly working on the gite side of our farmhouse, we have finally gotten it presentable enough, and with adequate furniture, to have our first family guests.  Petra is a childhood friend of Tanja’s. She and her husband Hugo and son Just are staying with us and will be the first guinea pigs. There is nothing like having guests to spur us on to get some of the junk out and the gites ready. Here are the photos of what we have for them…..

Bedroom and shower
The renovated bedroom with new ensuite shower and wc.
en suite shower and WC
The en suite shower and WC in the gite.
Bed in stone bedroom
One of our gite bedrooms simply arranged for our first family guests
Bathroom
this is all ready for Just!

And as an extra added bonus, sunflowers!

Sunflowers
The sunflowers have finally bloomed and brought their shining, happy faces to us.

Love to all from sunny France!!

Tanja and Rick

 

How to get lost in your own rural neighborhood

First, let me say that after a day of heavy rain, thunderstorms and blowing wind, it looked as though the day had improved enough for a walk while Tanja’s osso bucco finished working its magic in the oven; getting lost was the last thing on our minds. The sun had come out and the air was cool with a strong westerly breeze. The visibility was good. We plotted our route from our farmhouse – down the wooded trail to the south, eventually going east, coming back north and then walking west to our house. Simple enough.

Everything started out well. We turned off the road and walked south through the woodland trail we have followed before. The smells and sites of the forest after the rain were absolutely glorious –  pungent mosses, wet leaves, moss covered trees. A vineyard came into view, seemingly far from any civilization. Yours truly suggested we turn east through the vines into another section of forest we could see. Tanja admitted that this was where she got lost soon after we moved into our house, but  we could see the highway in the distance and knew if we kept it in the right perspective we would be fine.

The sun grew warmer and we took off our jackets, wandering in the eastward direction, enjoying the vines and the plum trees, both full of new green fruit.

Cluster of green baby grapes
Green baby grapes
Cluster of green baby plums on a tree
Baby plums

So how did we get lost you ask? Think too much sensory input. The highway we used as a landmark ran in a different direction than we thought. So when we thought we were going east, we were actually going south. Streams popped out of nowhere that had to be crossed or circumnavigated.

Pastoral scene of young calves in a pasture
Young calves

Every pasture in France is electrified and takes great care to enter. The cows were fine, however. They watched us coming, we who had no idea where we were, they who knew exactly where they were: where the food was.

We came across a wheat field and decided we could walk along its edge. First of all, it was massive!

Wheat field to the horizon
Wheat as far as the eye could see.

And secondly, this was some of the tallest wheat we had ever seen, over a meter tall. We found out just how tall it was when we had to detour into its loveliness to escape brambles and wild roses that covered our path.

Tanja standing in wheat up to her elbows all around
Tanja in tall wheat
Rick standing in the wheat field
Rick in wheat

Eventually we saw a landmark near our house and were able to go cross country through vineyards, sunflowers and hay fields until we reached home sweet home. At that point we were perfectly done and the osso bucco was none the worse for wear.

Our Evening Walk

It had been a beautiful day, cool and breezy, with a few clouds skittering across the sky. The lads had tunneled hot water pipes through solid rock walls Jeff had made a new shutter door to replace the rotted one in what will be our new kitchen. The pool was a crystal clear light blue reflecting the sky, too cold to swim in, but reminding us that summer arrives soon. Four pallets rested randomly on the front yard containing 4 tons of travertine for the floor of our new kitchen and salon. They had been deposited there earlier in the afternoon by the grumpy truck driver whose delivery truck was so tall it trimmed several tall trees on its way in.

With this as backdrop, we decided to take a late afternoon/early evening walk instead of our usual early morning walk. Evening light lasts until 10:00 or 10:30, so why not?

Sunflowers obediently facing the evening sun.

We headed west up the slight grade past the sunflower field, with all the

Our farmhouse

small sunflower babies dutifully facing their Ra. (They are called Tournesol in French because that is what they do.) I always wonder how they get turned around, for by the time I arise early the next morning they are already facing east. Well, they were facing west this evening, All of them.

Hot air balloon in our neighborhood
Our house as seen from the road after our evening walk

We turned around to admire our farmhouse nestled among the trees and the hayfields, then turned back through vineyards and into the woods. As bright as it was in the evening sun, the woods were dark, full of birds calling out their evening songs.

By the time we emerged from the woods, the light had changed. A hot air balloon could be seen drifting above the campagne below. We walked past a hayfield in desperate need of a mow, and after an hour came round to the front of our house, complete with our little car out front and the pallets on the lawn. As the sun sets in the west and the cool of the evening settles in, here we are attempting against all odds to upload photos to our blog to post this for you, dear friends, before we retire for the night.

Oh that Oleander!

It all started when Tanja and I decided to replace an oleander shrub in our front garden that barely survived the freeze. With two hearty shrubs on either side, lush roses nearby, and a looming deadline for photos for our website, we bought a new young oleander shrub from the local Jardiland. I figured I had a two hour job of removing the old one and replacing it with the new one. I was soon to be disabused of that notion.

It turns out that oleander have deep, deep roots, including a major taproot. So I dug and dug and dug, hauling out the pick, axe and maddock to try to pull this thing out. I also had an alarmingly real conversation with it, in which I apologized for depriving it of its current life for aesthetics’ sake. My spade hit and I removed many rocks and think chunks of clay, but none of the blue mesh that is supposed to warn of drainage or sewer pipes. Then – CHUNK! A different sound. Something shiney began to emerge as my heart sank. I had hit a sewer line barely 16 inches below the surface.

The hole

It appeared to be a new rift, but who knew in an incredibly old farm house? Because I had reached adequate depth for the new shrub, I considered my options. There was no sewage flowing out of it so perhaps it was not active and I had been spared an encounter with big stinky. Perhaps some duct tape would suffice. Or I could buy a piece of plastic and glue it shut. Somehow my better nature intervened and I decided to uncover as much as I could to determine the extent of the damage. So I dug and dug for several more hours. I determined there were several areas over a 25 cm swath that I had managed to tear with my tools. So much for the easy fix.

I held my breath as I asked Tanja to flush a toilet. I could hear water flowing somewhere deep inside the pipe, but no liquid. That could be a good sign.

Cut apart.

So I spent another few hours exposing as much of the pipe as possible and eventually cutting out a section of the bad pipe. I thought I was doing pretty well, but by then day 1 was over and we needed to get to bed.

Day 2 dawned, wet and rainy, and we went to several home building supply stores before we could find pipe of the right diameter, apparently rarely used anymore. So I bought two sleeves, a 4 meter length of pipe (!) and glue. Rain prevented anything else from happening that day.

On Day 3, I started early, hoping to get my two hour job completed post haste. However, the collars would not fit over the pipe or the insert. Too tight!

Sanding and filing

The guys working at our site gave me some sandpaper, and I spent the better part of Day 3 sanding and sanding, to little effect. This was beginning to get frustrating! they promised to bring heavy duty files the next day, which would be day 4!

The filing never worked, so I had to cut slits in each collar before adding the glue, making a huge mess, and eventually, after getting everyone into the act, joining all pieces together. I think there was more glue on us than on the pipe. And it dried immediately. The bond was not good, so we tied rope around it to hold it overnight as I peeled glue from my fingers.

TaDa!

Finally the pipe appeared to be stable enough to slop more glue on it for good measure, and eventually to fill in all the dirt, this time placing the blue mesh for the poor guy digging this plant out in the future, and getting the new oleander into its proper place, completely oblivious to the massive effort that went into its new home!

For my part, I suppose it was a teaching moment. Be careful when you wield a pick. Get used to everything in France taking at least three times as long as expected. Be grateful for empty sewer pipes. And, of course, be mindful and enjoy every moment that life brings…..

The new oleander among friends.

On getting a French car and cell phone in the rain….

Thursday, 18 May, 2017

Well, it sure rained today! We were out at the chambre d’amis talking with Eric and his sons about the car we had bought, when out of nowhere came a blast of wind and cold rain. This was not like the huge droplets we get in Kentucky. It was a torrent of tiny droplets permeating every corner of our bodies. We were huddled under the porch roof, and it provided little refuge. It was an omen, not necessarily bad, but an omen nonetheless of the day that awaited us. We had big plans to drive first to Duras to open a business checking account then to Bergerac to pick up our new (d’occasion = used) Citroën Berlingo van for which we had signed the papers a week previously, have a nice lunch somewhere, then switch Tanja’s French phone to a regular contract instead of a month by month prepay. That was a lot to try to do in France on a nice day. In bad weather, well, we knew it would take longer. But we had no idea how long it would be.

So, wet from running through the rain to our little rental Peugot, we drove to Loubes Bernac first to the recycle bins. Lot-et-Garonne where we live does not have garbage collection, but they do have excellent recycling and garbage centers, the closest of which is in Loubes Bernac, our village. We drove there with lots of cardboard boxes that had contained stuff we mailed over here and that were mutilated by French customs, plastic, wine bottles and garbage. Then on to Duras to meet with the professional banker.

We had met with the personal banker a week previously to set up our personal bank account, but that person could not open our business account. Today we met a very nice young woman who tolerated our poor French and who proceeded to request the exact same documents we had provided the previous week. Luckily we have finally learned that to do any business in France, at least for the first time, one must have many pieces of paper and information to placate the bureaucrats. So we pulled out our passports, factures showing our address and proving our residence, articles of incorporation of our little gîte business, etc. After close to an hour, we left with papers documenting a new bank account in the name of La Busaneth.

We needed some cash with which to pay the workers at our house. We were told to go downstairs to the person who mans the “teller” window. It is actually a small desk with a computer, sitting to the side of the lobby with no protection whatsoever. That is because this person handles no cash. Instead, after looking into our accounts, worrying, and finally deciding she could help us, gave us a debit card for the amount we wanted for us to use in the ATM to get our cash. Very interesting! I guess it is their way of minimizing bank robberies.

Next stop back to the house to pay the workers, then off to Bergerac. By that time it was – you guessed it – the lunch hour (2 hours!), so we could not transact any business. We found a nice small hotel and restaurant manned by a Frenchman and his partner just outside Bergerac. Of course we each had a glass of wine, a plat, and we shared a dessert. Very civilized.

When it turned 2:00 we drove to pick up the new car. There are many steps to buying a car in France, well documented through numerous horror stories published on the web. For us, it was relatively easy because we went through a dealer who, although it took a week, did all the dirty work and administrative stuff. So picking up the car was fairly easy.

Our new little Berlingo, the workhorse of the family

The Citroën Berlingo is the French people mobile, used for families as well as tradesmen, ubiquitous. It has no frills, a manual transmission, diesel engine, and, most importantly, massive amounts of cargo space. With all the renovation we will be doing, we will have to purchase and transport lots of stuff here and there. Plus, when our kids come, we need a vehicle that can carry lots of people and their luggage. So it made perfect sense to us to get a utilitarian van. It is actually fun to drive, if a bit bumpy and slow.

The next part of our day we spent at Orange, the home of French Telecom, changing Tanja’s phone. The woman with whom we worked was very nice, but with the language issues it took an hour and a half. I think we got what we wanted, but she sent me home with a list of documents I need to mail to them, including – you guessed it – passport, a facture showing residence, etc. I kicked myself for leaving the large expending file with all our documents at home. Oh well, some lessons are hard to learn.

By that time we were soaked to the bone from all our outdoor walking in the rain, hungry and tired. We arrived to a cold house, quickly warmed by the woodburner. (And it was almost 90 degrees two days ago!) Tanja made a great French Asian Salmon dish, which we accompanied with G&Ts, saw a great sunset, and now, with no internet, we are each doing what we can to stay sane. She is looking at places to find stuff for the home and I am communicating with all our friends about our lovely day. It doesn’t get any better than this!

Sunset after rainstorm, view from La Busaneth.