Santa’s on his way

I don’t give in to Christmas until quite late in the season, but I’m getting in the spirit and why not enjoy a little Christmassy loveliness this Monday? Here’s Nat King Cole with The Christmas Song. 

If you’re all bah-humbuggy, avert your eyes. It’s going to get red and festive here.

I love a bit of Christmas, me. Not only is it my birthday in less than a week, but when you’re in the country, you feel the shortening of days more than in the city, where the neon keeps you artificially bright and you can stay indoors if you like. I’m down to nine good daylight hours right now – less if it’s cloudy or yuck – and I figure the Romans did a good job of remembering just why we need a festival right bang slap in the middle of it – not least to keep you going to the really hard bits of winter. January and February can be so foul but at least you have the promise of spring. There’s no springtime promise in December when you aren’t even over the long hump night.

Yesterday, I went to a fair up at Nanteuil-en-Vallée. It’s only 30km or so from me, but I’ve never been, even though I regularly pass signs on my way elsewhere – signs that say village pittoresque and promise to reward you with one of those special little villages that make life here so lovely… the type that you can just enjoy driving through.

I imagine on a wet Wednesday, it’s not unlike every other village in the Charente, but the blue skies and persistent frost, the vin chaud and the smell of cinnamon gave it the edge yesterday. I mean, what do you expect from a village which has a river running through it called the Silver-Gold? The Argentor might only be little but she certainly makes it beautiful. The chief focus of the town is the abbey, which is where the Christmas market was being held, and the church. The abbey is a former Benedictine monastery, dating from 780 AD and from the looks on my friends’ faces, it is pretty cold. Some of them had stalls there today.

IMG_0169There are several colombage houses (half-timbered) which make it look even more delicious.

IMG_0156And although the river itself is not so photogenic, there is a lovely little canal which cuts through the houses and a particularly nice botanical garden.

IMG_0175The tiny canal reminded me a little of one cutting through the geisha district in Kyoto, criss-crossed by bridges. What’s not to be in love with? Water, lovely bridges, autumn leaves… my kind of heaven.

IMG_0180And to be honest, it was also nice to have a wander about with neither friends nor animals. It makes it a bit easier to take it all in, in all its loveliness.

I did most of my Christmas shopping there too – there were probably about a hundred stalls selling all sorts of things from handmade soap to lovely watercolours, knitting, cross-stitch patterns, photographs, pineau, auroch sausages (! There is an auroch breeder in Nanteuil, though I can’t say as it’s a typical thing) and of course my lovely friends selling lovely precious things.

IMG_0164I feel it quite impossible not to feel all lovely when the air is crisp, when I have a warm fire, when I have mulled wine and hot chocolate and hand-made treasures. I confess, the highlight of my trip was the giant man in camouflage and snow boots selling buttons. Sylvie tells me he doubles as the bug guy. Who’s to say you shouldn’t exterminate termites during the week and sell wool at the weekend? I guess that’s why I love places like this. It’s the whimsy of it all.

I bet, for instance, nobody else has a snail among their municipal Christmas lights?

IMG_0154The snail – or cagouille as it is known in these here parts – is the sign for the Charentais people. I don’t know if this is because they eat a lot of them (they do) or because they are slow and countrified (except on the roads) or because they retreat easily back into their shells and Charentais people call themselves cagouillards though it’s that old thing of you can’t say it to them if you aren’t one.

And just finally, here’s a basket of felty Christmassy redness to make you feel festive this Monday…

IMG_0166

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5 thoughts on “Santa’s on his way

  1. The village seems lovely and a snail Christmas light has to be seen to be believed. I would like to have one of those. I did not know about the name cagouillards, but some French gardeners call slugs and snails “les baveux” which I find interesting as it both describes the animal and the saliva-like trail it leaves while at the same time it is an insult that shows your contempt for them.

  2. That really does look like a pretty village. It’s hard to get my head around how old things are there, with a building that’s 1000 years older than anything here. I love the photo of the street with the star overhead.

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