Barn dance, french style

folk_dancers_in_group_01[1]    We know a very talented young couple who between them play the violin, flute, tin whistle and cornemuse, a kind of Breton bagpipes. They play in a band for what is called a Folk Ball. (The label ‘Country dancing’ can’t be used because that is the name given to cowboy line dancing.) I have been wanting to go for some time and yesterday, on a  wet January evening, Len agreed to come with me.

There was a very warm welcome and everyone seemed very friendly. Some people had obviously been dancing for years and danced well but there were plenty like us who needed to have all the steps explained. There were couple, group and circle dances. On the whole the dances seemed to be simpler than what we had experienced in England but that was probably for the best as an introduction.  The non-stop dancing went on from 9pm to midnight.

Today I am finding it difficult to move! My legs from the knees down are not functioning as usual and I fear it could be worse tomorrow. It was good fun though.

‘More galette, President?’

part de galette des rois 2  In France, January is the month for wishing people all possible good things, especially good health. This continues all through the month, not just at the beginning.

It is also the month for eating the Galette des Rois. This is usually a brioche-type cake or a frangipane tart. It contains a little figurine and the person who finds the figurine is crowned king for the day. The tradition is linked to Epiphany on 6th January when Christians celebrate the wise men arriving to worship the Christ child.

This week we had about twenty french and english people in our lounge to eat galettes and drink fizzy wine. It was a bit of a squeeze but it was a good afternoon. The reason for this occasion wa that Len has recently been elected president of an association which aims to bring together french and anglophone people. His task is to put together a programme for the year which may include outings, speakers, meals, visits etc. Quite a task.

An interesting corollory to this is that the real President of France has a massive 1.2m galette made for him every year and he shares it with those who work in the government. Apart from being so big the galette is different in another way, there is no figurine in it. It wouldn’t do for someone to be elected king in the heart of the Republic of France!

A pause

It is seven months since I posted on this blog. That is not because nothing interesting has happened but maybe because we are getting used to living in France and there are fewer things that shock or surprise. Soon after our arrival I asked a lady who had been living in France much longer, how long the feeling of being on holiday lasted. She said ‘Six years’. We are just coming up to 5 years. We still love being here and meeting new people and learning more about the french way of life but it is probably true to say there are fewer ‘Pinch myself’ moments and more ‘Get your lessons prepared’ moments.

Having said that, we’ve had two ‘firsts’ this month.

A ‘pinch myself’ day

For most of the time, Len and I just get on with whatever is planned for the day. But every now and then we have a ‘pinch myself to see if it’s true’ day. ‘Do we really live in France?’ Yesterday was one of those days.

In the morning I met up with a small group of ladies from the french church we attend. We travelled in convoy to the Chateau of Brissac where a guide told us what to look out for and explained some of the history – in french. I found it difficult to follow the dates but I managed to pick up some information about the chateau. It is the highest in France; it contains a theatre built specifically for the nineteenth century marquise de Brissac who was an opera singer; one former duchess loved hunting and was still hunting side-saddle into her eighties! In the cellars we were invited to try some of the Brissac wine.

We had lunchBrissac chateau then drove to the home of one member of the party. She had prepared a beautiful dessert and I enjoyed my first cup of Japanese green tea.

Although we conversed in french most of the time, the group included someone from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Madagascar, two English and ……. two French. I felt very privileged to be accepted.

Half an hour at home and then it was time for the end of year meeting for the Association where I teach. We talked about how the year had gone and lessons we could learn. Meanwhile,   Ernesto, the jovial Spanish teacher, was busy preparing a huge paella on a barbecue outside.

We started with a Sangria fruit punch and nibbles, then paella and to do the job properly this was followed by cheese, small cakes and cherries for dessert, a variety of wines, including a red from Brissac and finally coffee.

After some interesting conversations and feeling very full, we finally left for home at about 11.30. All in all a lovely french day with lovely people.



Retro cycling in Saumur

The Loire is a wonderful area for cycling since it is so flat and there are many cycle routes, but once or twice a year there are special events where cyclists have priority. Today is retro cycling day but we have also seen vintage cars and vintage bikes making their way to Saumur. A huge parade ground is given over to retro stalls, foods and events and we saw some wonderful costumes as we made our way to church this morning.

Cycles and cyclists in retro dress

Cycles and cyclists in retro dress

International relations and quinoa

map of Tenessee    We were invited to lunch yesterday with an Amercan couple from Tennessee who come to   France for a few months every year to visit their son and his family. They have bought a tiny house in the local town Longue and done it up very tastefully.

Their son studied agriculture in the States before moving to France. He married a french girl and they have two children. When the little girl was about eighteen months old they realised she was very thin and not thriving and she was diagnosed with coeliac disease – an intolerance of gluten. They had difficulty finding gluten-free products in France so their son decided to grow their own. He now runs an experimental farm locally where he trials different types of quinoa and oats. He has outsourced the growing of the quinoa to other farmers and he runs a consultancy. Tomorrow he will be presented with a ‘Medaille d’honore’ at the local townhall for his services to agriculture in France. The parents were understandably proud. The apricot crumble we enjoyed included organic oats from the farm which they had rolled themselves with a special machine in the kitchen.

The conversation also turned to babies and births since we are expecting our third grandchild in June. They had an amusing story about a father who was determined that his child would be born on Kansas soil even though they were living in Alabama so he smuggled a bowl of Kansas soil into the delivery room!

Gerard Depardieu at Saumur

Every year in the Spring there is a Book and Wine Festival at Saumur. We have not as yet taken part but this year it was held in the newly renovated theatre. Several authors are present and for an entrance fee you can talk to them and look at their books.

There was great excitement this year because the actor Gerard Depardieu had been invited following the launch of his autobiography.  We happened to be having lunch in Saumur and arrived at the theatre when he had just finished making a speech from the top of the steps. He then walked down the steps towards us, apparently heading for a boat downstream later on. He was leaning heavily on two men – whether for protection or support we don’t know.  He is no stranger to the Loire valley, owning the Tigne Chateau in the Layon Valley.

The topic of his visit was raised at the weaving class. Everyone had their own story – a certain restaurant he visits regularly, kilo steaks and litres of wine consumed, the time ‘I gave him an ashtray!’, opinions about his move to Russia. Le-show-Depardieu-a-Saumur_image_article_largeA larger than life character in every respect.

More french expressions

Spring is here and suddenly it’s hot. The trees are in bloom, the birds are singing (including the cuckoo), the frogs are mating very loudly and we can eat on the patio again.

I taught some of my students ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’ and they in turn taught me:

En avril ne te découvre pas un fil

En mai fais ce qui te plaît

In other words, don’t wear any less until the end of April, then you can wear what you want.  It’s interesting that the expressions apply a month earlier in France than in England. ‘April showers’ in Britain happen in March in France (les giboulées de mars).

Easter has been and gone but the spring holiday doesn’t start till next week. France is divided into three zones for the holidays and because everything is geared around staggering the winter sports, our zone has ended up with a five week term in January and a ten week term before the summer holidays – poor teachers, poor students.

Magnolia, my favourite spring blossom. This is a tree I have so far failed to grow.

Magnolia, my favourite spring blossom. This is a tree I have so far failed to grow.

A weekend in Brittany

We have just come back from a lovely weekend visiting cousins in Brittany – Cap Frehel on the north coast near St Brieuc.

We set off on Friday and approaching Rennes we saw a signpost to a dolmen. My husband, bless his heart, took a detour to find the dolmen and it turned out to be absolutely massive and one I had heard recommended in the past – La Roche aux Fees.

dolmen fees

Thanks to the Atherton family for the photo.


On Saturday morning we were driven around Cap Frehel and were fortunate to have some of the only sunny weather of the weekend. The sea was a beautiful turquoise colour and there were lots of sandy bays and small ports.

TOSHIBA Exif JPEG     On Sunday we had a family gathering at  Cancale, a larger port. Parking was impossible so we drove up the hill behind the town then climbed down some steep (very steep, especially going in the opposite direction) steps to the restaurant. On the way we were delighted to hear a Blackcap singing its heart out.

Blackcap 2








Cancale, a historic tourist resort and oyster producer.

Cancale, a historic tourist resort and oyster producer.

A day in the medieval city of Le Mans, and not a racing car in sight.

We decided to use the holidays to explore a little of the area around us. Le Mans is an hour’s drive away, so we chose a sunny day and headed off. We bought a guide at a little tourist office and followed a circuit around the very compact medieval centre.


The cathedral of St Julien with chapel ceiling painted with musical angels and original medieval stained glass windows.

red pillar

The red pillar house. About ten houses in the old centre have pillars outside which reflect the occupation of the owner. The red pillar is reputed to be at the house of the town executioner – red from him wiping his hands on it. We saw another carved with keys.




The narrow cobbled streets we walked through with many timbered houses.

The narrow cobbled streets we walked through with many timbered houses.

Menhir by the cathedral, supposedly resembling St Julien!

Menhir by the cathedral, supposedly resembling St Julien!