Tag Archives: living in france

Fessing Up…

It’s time I confess…

The place I live is so bloody gorgeous I don’t want to share these photos with you because I’m a little ashamed of just how gorgeous it is. It’s like having admired pictures of other children only then to reveal that you’ve got the Gerber baby at home. And the worst part is that I get to see this practically every day. Sorry! You’re going to hate me by the end of this post if you don’t know La Rochefoucauld at all. If you like, feel free to press play on the video – it’s the Amelie soundtrack, certified to put you in French spirit. You can imagine me riding down through the town on an old bicycle if you like.

Firstly, I must confess, it’s not so much of a Blois or a Chenonceau of a castle. We’re not talking UNESCO castles here. But that makes it even better, because, most days, we don’t have to share this town with every one else.

So… let me take you on a guided tour of my local town and introduce you to the wonderful La Rochefoucauld…

This is our high street. Pretty much everything you might need in life is on this street. There are two bakers, two chocolate shops, two pharmacies, three charcuteries, a pizza restaurant, several dress shops and clothes shops and shoe shops. My two favourite shops are the sewing shop and the Phildar wool shop. There are of course the usual array of banks, tabacs and estate agents. There’s a dusty old book shop that has nothing you need and everything you don’t, with lovely hand-made cards. There’s a toy shop complete with wooden toys, and there’s even a little fruit and veg market.

This corner is just by the Phildar wool shop. I love the Phildar wool shop and I love the Phildar wool lady. You can see the sign for one of the two local restaurants. There’s the much more popular Chez Steph’s further down by the river. The restaurant advertised on the sign was part of a recent scandal – the former manager murdered someone apparently – we may only have 2,000 inhabitants, but it’s still the real world filled with petty jealousies and drunk men in charge of rifles.

All year round, the town is remarkably well-dressed, florally speaking. I love the floral displays around the town. They just make it look so much nicer. Not that these beautiful shops and buildings aren’t enough on their own. This is heading down the high street towards the focus of the town: the chateau.

You can just see the turret of the castle in the distance above the trees. I love this street. I could hang about on this street all day long. The thing that amazed me first about it is that parking is free. In the UK, you’d have to pay about £2.00 for a 30 minute stop here. The first time we arrived, I looked for the pay and display machines, and I’ve been stopped twice by English tourists who can’t believe parking here is free. Most people on the high street don’t stop long though. You pick up your bread, your tomatoes, your charcuterie, your prescription and then you zip off again.

At the bottom of the road, it opens up into a square. It’s got a little café on it, and a boulangerie all of its own as well as the tabac. This square is right in front of the La Rochefoucauld cinema – a small little theatre with about 20 seats – and the library. Also, on the right is the convent and the day hospital. I love this hospital. At first glance, there’s no way you would think it was a hospital.

 

The gardens have all been put into place this year and they go a long way to making the building look even more beautiful. They’ve put the huge pots along the front, filled with gorgeous flowers. There are some very clever gardeners at work in our town.

Finally, you walk down the tail end of the high street and get to Chez Steph’s – the local restaurant. It’s always busy and does a great menu for 15€ at lunch time.

 

You can sit and eat on the patio over the zebra crossing – and the waiters and waitresses scoot over the road with plates of food, occasionally pushing the cheese cart in front of bemused tourists who’ve stopped to let pedestrians cross.

And then… there it is… the pearl of the Angoumois region. The chateau de La Rochefoucauld, sitting on a promontory overlooking the Tardoire.

And if you want to see inside the castle, as I did today for the very first time, you’ll have to pop over to my blog at Anglo-Info where I’ve put my photos from inside. It’s open to the public, but I’ve always been too mean to pay the entrance price. Today it was 2€ because it was the national heritage day. I’ll say nothing about it other than it’s completely gorgeous and splendid. I felt like a total peasant. If my life were a Monty Python film (and it sometimes feels like it is) I’d be Terry Jones at the bottom of the hill saying ‘Ooooh Dennis, there’s some lovely filth down ‘ere!’ and prattling on about being an autonomous collective. Of course, it would be lovely to be Miss Chatelaine.

Anyway, I rummaged through the castle, gawped at the stair cases, gawked at the library, thought about how hard it would be to heat and then went back out into the bright sunshine.

Back down in town, I decided to make the most of the day – and even though the convent is always open, I popped in to take a photograph of the cloistered square too…

So now I’ve exposed my town as a potential tourist trap – if this town were in England, it would be over-run by tea-shops and antiques shops (well, we’ve got two) and tourists and old people on coach trips – I hope you don’t feel too jealous. It’s hard to live in a place like this. For one thing, I’m not sure it can cope with a scruffy little urchin like me.

Much Love Monday will be with you tomorrow, if I’m not overwhelmed by people who want to give me a piece of their mind for keeping La Rochefoucauld to myself all this time.

 

 

 

 

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A good year

I’m off to the La Rochefoucauld chateau for the heritage days after my morning teaching – so I’m holding off on Silent Sunday because I just know I’ll end up with about 200 photographs. I hate too-rigid schedules!

A couple of people had advised I watch A Good Year with Russell Crowe. It’s a film about a callous stockbroker who inherits the home of his whimsical uncle in Provence. Written by Peter Mayle, it’s exactly the kind of thing you might expect from the writer of A Year in Provence. 

I can see why those people thought I might like it. It starts with a too-busy worker, albeit a whole load more mean than I ever was, but still just as dedicated to his job. Kind of different, though. His dedication comes from the desire for money and to get one-up on everyone else. Mine came from wanting to be the best for the students I worked with. Still. Different ends, same means. He inherits a house that he remembers fondly from his youth, and eventually comes to realise he can have it all – the good life AND the money. Lucky, lucky guy.

Despite the Hollywood views and schmaltzy storyline, it was enjoyable. We don’t all end up with a chateau, an exclusive boutique wine, acres of vineyards and a beautiful girl like Marion Cotillard to boot. But the essential idea in there – that you have a different life over here – is definitely true. Although I have never, ever seen a bustling town square or restaurant. Never. Not even today in Angouleme, where it’s the most hectic event of the year – the Circuit des Remparts. The only time I ever see people is in the supermarket or the petrol station. And I never saw a waiter hurry up to please the crowd. If anything, French people are finely in tune with having to wait for food. Marion Cotillard was right about one thing, though. The customer is always wrong in a restaurant in France. Or, more, the chef is always right. He is the chef  – the boss. He decides what you might want to eat, and you go along with it. He’s right too. That menu du jour is always better than a la carte. He looks after you by giving you the very best he has to offer. Mostly.

It doesn’t hurt that the film is directed by Ridley Scott. He’s one of my favourite directors. Let’s just say, this isn’t Blade Runner or GladiatorI like Russell Crowe as well. He was great in 3:10 to Yuma and of course, he was great in Gladiator. I love Albert Finney too – have done since I first saw Tom Jones. It’s not very comfortable from Scott and Crowe – it’s not their usual thing. Maybe that just adds to how awkward he is in France, though. I don’t know. I don’t know enough about this type of movie to comment. It was a pleasant-enough way to spend two hours, though, if not a film I’d watch again. If you watch too many films like this about France, you might forget what it’s really like. 

I can see why it would appeal to Americans, though. I think they love this vision of England and France that they have. At one point, Russell Crowe is walking through Piccadilly Circus with an umbrella and a suit. All that’s missing is a copy of the Daily Telegraph and a bowler hat. And a black cab and a red bus. It’s the same in France. Mostly, I don’t see girls like Marion Cotillard on bikes. I see old ladies on knackered old Peugeots or whip-thin men in racing gear on bikes that cost 5,000€. Still, thinking France is full of girls like Marion on bicycles, their hair flowing, their panniers full of fruit, a baguette sticking out of the top, it’s how rural France is in the movies. Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources, Chocolat. 

And, if the truth be told, often, it’s like that. Just with sweat and old men with their tops rolled up over their bellies, with insects and old ladies in pinnies. But I wouldn’t live here if it weren’t just a bit Chocolat as well.

Hailstones and grey skies

This weather is hard work. I’ve got stuff queuing up to be planted out, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I was bored on Thursday – restless. I wanted to get outside. We don’t have television – only DVDs and downloads, and so there’s no opportunity to get lost in MTV when I feel a bit restless. I make no apologies for being hypnotised by MTV. It’s very soothing. It’s like sticking a baby in front of a washing machine. But No TV, no MTV.

But it was so very foul I didn’t want to go outside. I daren’t plant anything out. Most of the painting was outside and I was teaching in the evening, so I didn’t want to get messy and start painting the kitchen. Plus, I was just feeling plain irritable. I just want to get out of cardigans and jumpers – but it seems like this weather is lasting until at least the middle of next week. I even got my hot water bottle out again. It’s the middle of April!

Anyway, it was nice to have a break from the routine, the dirt, the seeds, the planting, and get a little glammed up. Well, a bit. I went out for lunch yesterday. I love going to lunch. It feels so much more interesting than going for tea. If you go for lunch, it’s like you can still go out for tea as well. In fact, I did. We went to a fabulous little restaurant on the bank of the Charente at Chateauneuf-sur-Charente. It was amazing. The food was wonderful – I judge everything by Le Cheval Blanc in Luxé which is superb – and whilst it wasn’t right up there, it was definitely on a par with a few others I’ve been to, like Le Vieux Moulin at Chabanais. And for 16.50€ for wine, apéros, coffee and a three-course meal, you can’t go wrong. The Cheval Blanc is 19€ for a five course lunch and if I could and I didn’t get massively fat, I’d eat lunch there every single day.

I’m not sure where I stand on lunch. I don’t eat much in the morning and I only usually have a sandwich for lunch, so a proper lunch always puts me in a food coma. Luckily, that didn’t happen yesterday. I managed to keep up my end of the conversation.

What I mostly like about it (apart from sitting next to lovely ladies) is that it’s so anti Samantha Brick. If you recall, Sam Brick is the somewhat controversial lady who wrote a column about how she has no female friends because she’s beautiful and therefore everyone hates her. We must have been at the ugly table then, because all the women there were delightfully non-bitchy. Funny, since I’ve not seen so many glam women for a while – but then again, I’m not used to seeing made-up faces. The lunch party really was super-glamorous. I’d worn jeans and I felt a little under-glam, although I confess I’d put my make-up on. Like I said before, confidence and happiness are the two things that make a woman beautiful, and the company certainly was that.

I also would like to hold my hand up and say I put a bit of a foot in it – well, a toe, maybe – with a ‘friend’ of Mrs. Brick’s. I know. I thought she said all the women she knew hated her….

Anyway, this person had posted a link to a follow-up article of Mrs. Brick’s, in which she says out of the five English couples who arrived in her village at the same time as her, only her marriage is strong and all the rest have fallen apart. Mostly, she seems to blame this on their lack-of-preparedness for French (country) life. I thought she was very remiss in not shouldering some of the blame herself, since apparently, ALL men fancy her and therefore that must surely cause a lot of marital distress. I like how she left out the unnecessary explanation that no man in his right mind would leave her. To be fair, the article wasn’t that outrageous, even if one of her ‘sources’ was her husband. But I accidentally looked through her back issue articles, I realised she’s one of those ‘anti-women’ who hate women and blame them for everything wrong in their life.

Now, that, I can’t stand. As if I hadn’t got enough of this picture before, here she is in all her full-fledged mean-ness and misery. Women are the reason her business failed. Women hate her. She has no friends.

What I dislike is that I’m only one generation up from Women’s Lib. It’s not even 100 years ago that women in England got the vote (and the same for a lot of men, I know) and I am proud I went to a school where girls did physics and chemistry alongside biology (having worked with a science consultant, I know how few female physics teachers there are – so I feel a little privileged that my school had three…) and where no career option was out-of-bounds. I am proud that it made us all amazing, unconstrained women who never felt that they should do domestic science instead of electronics. We had this bus that came round  – the WISE bus – women in science and engineering – and it never even crossed our tiny minds that women wouldn’t have careers in science or engineering. I think it made us great women, not having boys in class. We lived in a world of women who were glamorous and educated and worldy-wise. And yes, we bitched. We bitched and we fell out. Girls do that. Boys do too. But I’m immensely proud of being a woman, and I’ve got a strong sense of sisterhood. My sisters, even those from another mother, are the biggest part of my life.

So I’m pretty glad I come here and I see amazing women doing amazing things – not least of which is bringing up a family – not unlike herding cats at some times, and not unlike soothing angry tigers at others – running businesses, doing everything with flair and a bit of wow! And I remember that I grew up in a time where most mums I knew stayed at home and didn’t have careers and only worked if they had to, or had ‘little’ jobs in shops or hair salons, in offices or as secretaries. I’m only one generation out of oppression – I’ve never known inequality because I’m a woman. Nobody ever paid me less, or asked me if I planned to get pregnant in a job interview (well, not getting pregnant IN the interview… some time afterwards) but I remember wondering if it would be appropriate to wear trousers to a job interview.

So I don’t really care if my mutual acquaintance tells Mrs. Brick I disagree with her, or if Mrs Brick sees my comments on her friend’s page (I was very diplomatic, too! I said I thought the article was quite sensible, despite my feelings about the author…) and if this mutual acquaintance can get past her jealousy of Samantha Brick’s beauty, then maybe there’s hope for us all. I don’t think I would like to be friends with a woman who admits her husband would divorce her if she got fat. I think I’d want to tell her to divorce the husband for being an idiot. He bought her an exercise bike and she took to it. I’d punch that husband and then run away. I hope all my friends would too.

Maybe I should have a little test to carry around with me, just so my new acquaintances can fill it in.

Would you be with a man who’d dump you if you got fat?

Y?

N?

Then I can decide whether they’re good people to be friends with. Anyway, none of the women I was with yesterday would have ticked the Y button, and that’s a good job because that food was delicious and I’d rather eat lovely lemon curd cheesecake than be a size 8, and I think the women with me would agree on the same thing – skinny as some of them are!

And that’s what I liked best about yesterday. The sisterhood. And we’re funny and wise and smart and cool and we make a lot of noise. But that’s the fun of it. I think I love France more and more, the more ladies I meet like these!