Tag Archives: living in France

Languedoc in February

February is the month we bought our home in Languedoc. I had arrived to finalise the purchase wearing boots and thick woollens and needed to peel off layers of clothing in the Languedoc winter sunshine. I admit to feeling smug. We thought winters were always going to be warm and sunny. What a fantastic life in the sun. Each February since then has brought frost and even a bit of snow.

Languedoc snow in February

just to prove we can get snow in the south of France

EDF always save Red Days for February so they can make the most profits out of us as we snuggle up by the log fire. Red Days, you remember are when electricity costs nearly ten times as much as Blue Days.

This year we were prepared for another February cold snap. We had logs up to the eaves. We had gas bottles aplenty. We had a freezer full of ready-prepared meals to save on cooking.

And then the sun came out . . .

And so did the flowers . . .

Languedoc Magnolia in February 2014

what a sight!

February 2014 has been the kind of south of France winter everybody dreams of.

Mimosa is earlier than ever.

February Mimosa

Roquebrun in February

Japonica is in blossom everywhere.

Languedoc Japonica

It makes a stunning contrast with the yellow Mimosa.

One week after the Roquebrun Mimosa festival, we went back to walk by the river without my having to worry about hordes of people banging into my painful arm.

At the restaurant Le Petit Nice we had dish of the day. We make a rule to have dish of the day whatever it is. That way you try things you might not normally choose. So, we had sanglier, wild pig, and very nice it was too marinaded in garlic and thyme and bay. We sat outside on the terrace overlooking the River Orb.

February Languedoc lunch

view from Le petit Nice

After lunch, a walk by the river and look what we found –

 

Roquebrun oranges

ready to eat

The mineral rich soil in Roquebrun benefits from the village’s unique position and stays warm. In potager gardens along the river lettuces are growing abundantly in the shelter of the rocky mountains.

Languedoc February mountains

keeping out the winter

I simply love this place!

We found a spot where the river was still; the reflections were superb. You can barely discern where the reflection begins.

Orb reflections

 I think the best time to see reflections like this is before the trees are in full leaf.

But look at this! Last year I posted on March 14th about the early blossom. It’s earlier still this year. Here are the same trees –

Languedoc blossomYes, Languedoc is a good place to be in February.

Mimosa Festival at Roquebrun.

Roquebrun Mimosa

spring in Languedoc

 

Roquebrun holds the Mimosa festival each year on the second Sunday in February. This year the weather was perfect and the crowds turned out for a day in Hérault’s spectacular winter sunshine.

Roquebrun Mimosa

sweet scented Mimosa

The mountain village of Roquebrun enjoys its own unique climate. Sheltered from the worst of winter winds, the village nestles in a picturesque valley by the river Orb and is a tourist attraction for walkers, picnickers and canoeists all year round.

Mimosa flowers in February when the air is filled with its sweet perfume. At the Mimosa festival, you can buy a bunch to take home, but don’t leave before you’ve tasted the local wines or visited the Mediterranean garden centre which clings to the rock face above the village.

Roquebrun

February in Roquebrun

In the afternoon, the parade of decorated floats takes place and children in fancy dress take part in the following procession. People with broken arms (yours truly) are advised to keep away from the crush and let someone else take the photographs.

mimosa festival

competition for best decorated float is wicked!

Himself handles a camera very well from time to time, but I find I need to be specific about the kind of photographs I like to use in my website posts. As soon as my back is turned, he finds something he likes better and i’m sure to find pictures of his favourite things when I look through.

Like this one.

 

Harley at the Mimosa festival

on himself’s wish list

Bikers love the twisting climbs through Hérault’s river gorges. I get just as much of a thrill standing still and looking at it!

mountain road

stunning scenery

Who wouldn’t feel great after days of grey winter weather getting outdoors into pleasantly warm February sunshine and breathing in all that clean mountain air?

Colour comes back into your life with springtime Mimosa and new almond blossom. So just to please his old lady with the sad arm and wrist, himself took a lovely closeup. The boy done good.

 

February blossom in Roquebrun

more signs of spring

Thank you for visiting my website.  You can find my author Facebook page at Celia Micklefield or tweet me @CMicklefield. Or you can drop me a message here. Your email remains private.

Till next time. Broken bones permitting . . .

Féria festivities Day #2. Dressed to kill.

The first day of the Féria ends with disco music and foam party that goes on way past midnight. Best to wear your not so best clothes. You are going to get very wet. Kids love it, as do mums and dads. Even grandmas like me have been known to enjoy a little dip in the suds. It’s a great way to open the fiesta. Kids go home exhausted.

foam party at the Féria

pumping up the action

They’ll sleep like logs ready for another fun-packed day.

On day two of the Féria, the professionals arrive.

They wear their suit of lights, the traditional costume of bullfighters.

Matador at the Féria

Matador in his suit of lights

The traditional design of the torero’s costume is steeped in history. The description, suit of lights,  refers to the thousands of sequins and reflective threads of gold and silver embroidered on the silk. The donning of this 18th century costume is a ritual in itself, whereby the torero attended by his squire is literally dressed to kill.

Here’s a lovely video by Mike Randolph about the making of a suit of lights:

After the morning session of our Féria is over, lunch is usually paella cooked in enormous pans or a variety of meats grilled over vine wood on open fires. In the afternoon, it’s time for the Games.

Languedoc bull games

waiting for dancing with bulls

This is going to be exciting. Mothers and grandmas wait with bated breath. Their sons are gathering in the ring to pit their wits against this great beast. Grandfathers look on proudly.

The young bloods of the village lie down in front of the bulls’ entrance.

When the beast charges into the arena, he will, in theory, leap over the prostrate bodies in the sand.

There’s a bellowing noise. The crowd goes quiet. The bull is coming. Look out!

at the Féria

glad he made it!

That was some weight that just went thundering by. The boy in the green shirt near top left of the photo can hardly believe his eyes. There’s more fun to come.

I think he lasted all of three seconds.

These boys have got to be fast. In my next clip, one of them wasn’t quite fast enough.

Day two of the Féria ends with live music from a big band with dancing girls and fireworks at midnight.

Sleep well. There’s another full day tomorrow.

Féria fireworks

fireworks light the night sky

Siesta, then Fiesta! Summer in Languedoc

July is time for Fiesta. Here in our village, every July sees three mad days of celebration. But, it’s hot. It’s hot, Hot, HOT. You can’t sleep it’s so hot.

 

So, if you want to enjoy the three days of Féria, take that afternoon siesta when you can. You’ll need the extra energy to get you through the nights.

First Day of the Féria

The first day of Fiesta begins with games in the arena. A travelling company sets up their bull ring and apprentices from the bullfighting school in Béziers demonstrate their skills with the cape.

Fiesta bullfighting

a proper Paso Doble!

The young man in the photo above is a native of our village and, as you can imagine, raised great cheers from the crowd.

Fiesta crowd

young men admiring bull ring skills

This trainee matador also had female admirers. One young lady in front of me took off her hat and threw it into the ring at the end of his performance. Maybe her telephone number was tucked inside. Who knows?

He bowed and acknowledged her gesture of respect and admiration before returning her hat.

Another young trainee who raised hats from heads and bottoms from seats was a young lady!

female matador

brave female matador in training

There’s interesting history on the question of female matadors. Until 1975, women were banned from the top job. In 1999, Cristina Sanchez, Spain’s only female professional matador at that time retired after 10 years, blaming male attitudes for her decision. There’s more information on this subject here, on WikiGender.

And here’s a video about other women matadors:

 

There are strong arguments against bullfighting, but here at our fiesta, there are no kills. You have to admire the agility and elegance of these performers. That bull can weigh up to 700 kilos. You need guts to stand in front of that.

Oh, and by the way, that T on the boarding there? It doesn’t mean this is the way to the toilets.

bulls' entrance

Toro!

Wicked Stepmother weakens as exhaustion sets in.

Wicked Stepmother looks at the calendar. 4 weeks down. 6 weeks to go. French school holidays go on forever.

wicked stepmother's calendar

plus last week in June, plus all of August . . .

September feels like light years away.

The good ship doing nicely thank you has encountered more squalls. The power switch off (see previous Wicked Stepmother post) happened only the once. Good intentions were slipping. Had slipped. Storms were building on the horizon once again when, out of the wide blue yonder, GB accepted an invitation to go to the beach.

viasplage

the beach at Vias

It wasn’t GB’s idea to go to the beach. He doesn’t particularly like the feel of sand in his shorts. And the beach is no place to take your X-Box, but some of the other gamers thought it would be a fun thing to actually get outside for a while.

This is what he needs, said Biological Parent. It will do him good to get out there, splash around with the lads. Swim in the Med.

Wicked Stepmother had concerns.

Just for the morning, is it? she said.

Yes, said Gollum Boy. We’re going at nine o’ clock. I’ll be back for lunch.

Nine o’ clock in the morningWicked Stepmother could hardly believe her ears. What will you need to take with you? she said.

Nothing, came the answer.

No sun cream?

I won’t need it. 

He made the nine am. start and off he went with his towel. At twelve came a phone call. The parents picking up the boys had decided to make an afternoon of it, too. They’d made lunch for everybody and turned up with their deck chairs.

So, what time will you be back? said Wicked Stepmother down the phone.

I don’t know.

Grey skin, accustomed to dark places and no sunlight can’t cope with a day at the beach. Maybe the other gamers in GB’s group led a more balanced lifestyle with occasional breaths of air and a little exercise. Maybe they had enough sense to cover up their poor grey chests and backs.

GB encountered his first ever episode of sunburn on his chest and shoulders. Throughout previous summers he’d always managed a sensible approach to being in the sun. This summer, when he walked back through the gate his shirt was rolled up under his arm and he wore a look like a lost puppy.

We snapped off a few bits of Aloe Vera to use the viscous liquid inside the leaves. GB didn’t like the stickiness of the ooze.

aloevera

soothing Aloe Vera

We went to the pharmacy and came back loaded with unguents and lotions etc. etc..

Be aware, French pharmacies don’t believe in selling you one product when five will do. Take a shopping bag.

The various creams from the pharmacy didn’t help much either.

Then, we read up about using vinegar.

We’d known about some of the uses of vinegar for some time, but this was news to us.

Of all the treatments we tried, cider vinegar came out tops. Sprayed on sun-reddened skin, a fine mist of cider vinegar cools and soothes and stops the itching.

For the next few days, GB  went without his shirt as his skin was too hot to wear clothes. He stayed in the shade reapplying the vinegar treatment and smelled like a French Fry, which I suppose, in effect, he was.

cidervinegar

magic potion!

There are many claims about the benefits of using cider vinegar. The sunburn treatment certainly worked for GB.

Here’s a link to 15 Reasons to use Cider Vinegar.

So, there we were, sunburn episode behind us and still a whole load of summer in front of us. What would happen next? Would BP continue to ignore GB’s regression into gaming addiction?

Another invitation arrived. From the same gamers’ group. A trip to Laser Evolution in Béziers.

Aha!

This would get him off the X-Box.

This would get him moving. But, only in the DARK.

I didn’t have the strength to argue about the benefits of fresh air.

Click on image below to view Evolution website.

laser evolution

 

See you next time when Wicked Stepmother decides to take a break from planning meals.

I hope you’re enjoying the Wicked Stepmother Chronicles. I know there are a lot of us out there. Don’t forget to drop me a comment. I love to hear what you think.

Alien in my garden? Don’t look if you’re squeamish.

There was an alien invader on my garden wall. Coincidentally, I’d just written the post about cicadas and their life cycle. It’s certainly an alien concept, living alone underground for all those years. The video clip I linked explained why we’d been finding holes in the soil and we’d found empty nymph cases which we assume had fallen from the trees and shrubs.
So, when I saw the nymph attached to the rear wall of our house, I assumed it was empty.

alien cicada

I didn’t want to get too close

But it moved. And it split. I thought this transformation would be over in seconds, but, no. It takes a while. You have to be patient. And the longer I stood there with my camera, so close to this alien on my wall, the jumpier I got.

Can you bear to continue?

alien cicada on the move

it’s coming out!

I switched to video and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Nothing was happening. This video clip would use up all my Coolpix memory and take hours to upload to YouTube with our crappy Broadband speed. I’d no choice but rely on stills.

alien cicada

feeling squeamish yet?

Ah, Jeez, it’s like a blob of green snot. With eyes.

Can I hold on? Dare I stay here? What’s going to happen next?

cicada alien

getting really spooked now

Is that thing looking at me? Look out! It’s moving again.

cicada alien

I’m willing it onward.

Oh, help. I don’t know if I can stand much more. Its legs look slimy and its eyes are weird. If its wings come out in a hurry, will it fly straight at me?

cicada alien

a face only its mother could love

At this point, I can hear an alarm. It’s the bread machine which lives in the utility room. This is a coincidence. Only the other day, I recorded a short clip of dough going around. I called it alien bread because it looked so weird.

 

I have to go and take out the loaf. Normally, I love the smell of freshly baked bread. Now? After getting so close to green snotty insect life?

But, I have witnessed something wonderful, haven’ t I? How many people get to see the birth of an adult cicada? I dash back with my camera at the ready.

There’s a fluttering noise. Have I missed the final stage? Have I missed the chance to take a photograph of brand new, shimmering wings.

I round the corner.

The wall is empty.

But the nymph case is gone, too.

fat sparrow ate the alien

fat bastard!

I am bereft.

After all that? That poor little blob of green snot had lived all by itself in the dark, underground, waiting for its chance to emerge as a new creature with wings, to rise into the tree tops and sing its little heart out (if it’s a boy), only to get picked off the wall by Captain Fat Jack Sparrow.

I want to cry.

Its struggle for life is unbearable.

I’d never make a wild life photographer.

But you can see why I like writing stories where strange things happen.

Summer at the market. More sexy French food.

You can tell summer’s here. The aisles in the markets are full of summer visitors and lots of them are children, eating pastries in their push chairs or tagging along at the side wearing that out of school for the next two months face.

At Clermont l’Hérault, the Wednesday market features in one of Mick Alec Idlelife’s stories. He’s currently working on reformatting a collection of stories with unusual endings for ebook publishing.  There’ll be more news about him soon.

In the meantime, here’s what we saw (pun intended) today at the market.

It looks like an ordinary saw. It’s amazing the notes he can saw from it and the sounds carry so far . . .

We filled our bags with fresh fruit and vegetables. All the seats on the pavement café behind the stall were taken.

summer fruits

Irresistible!

Himself went next door and helped himself at the sausage man’s stall. The sausage man knows us now. When he sees himself coming, he gets out a big bag. The aromas, the colours and the sounds of a French market are always a delight.

And would you believe it? We found a new bar, or at least a recently refurbished one. Neither of us had noticed it before, but today, large and welcoming, a fifties style retro diner with a terrace overlooking the market canopies. So, of course, it had to be done, didn’t it? Up the stairs to a view over the market. The ideal spot for people watching.

summer hats and shades

summer hats and shades

A writer always watches people. Look at these two. Are they together? Or did two people wearing hats like that just happen to stop at this stall at the same time? What is she looking at? What is he looking at? I know ‘cos I was there.

Holidaymakers?

Certainly.

French?

I think not.

This picture is crying out for a caption. Why don’t you send me some ideas? Just for the fun of it. I’ll look forward to that.

Don’t forget to FOLLOW CELIA so you don’t miss new posts.

Cheers!

Edit: 13th July – I was contacted by Natalia Paruz – ‘The Saw Lady’- you should visit her site. Her music is beautiful. And watch the video clip of the musical saw festival. You will be amazed.

Summer in Languedoc. Writers take notes!

It’s SUMMER. That’s official. The tourist information offices are full of bright, coloured pamphlets and brochures with endless lists and calendars of things you can do through July and August.

Some places here were built for summer. Take Cap d’Agde. Although the history of Agde, just inland from the coast on the banks of the river Hérault, goes back to the times of ancient Greece, the resort around the marina at the Cap didn’t exist until the 1970s.

In summer we have water sports for all the family. There’s just about every water sport you could name. My new short story of the month, Aquapark Blues, is set in a water slide park. You can find it here. (This link will work until the end of July when another new short story of the month goes in.) I hope you have a few minutes to read it.

But if you don’t care to participate in water sports, there’s one you’ll love to watch: WATER JOUSTING.

summer water joust

A fine spectacle at the water joust

Water jousting takes place every summer

in Agde, Marseillan, Meze and in Hérault’s own Little Venice, Sète. When the water jousts first began in the 1600s the blue boat, manned by bachelors of the town would be set against the red boat, manned by married men. I don’t know who used to win most often in those days, but every year you are guaranteed a fun-packed show, full of thrills and spills. But don’t be fooled that this is all good, light-hearted fun. The teams may behave in a gentlemanly fashion, but the competition is deadly serious.

Watch this video from the Sète Tourist Office.

Isn’t that exciting? Don’t you just love the sights, sounds? The atmosphere? This is one of the reasons I love where I live.That’s why writers should carry a notebook. Wherever you go here, in summer you’ll find another story around the corner.

The instrument used as the barges approach one another is the hautbois. Today’s modern oboe has a similar soprano timbre. It was a good choice of instrument, together with a drum, for water jousting as the sound is clear and penetrating. It’s clearly audible over all the other noise.

water joust

serious competition

With all this excitement, how am I ever going to find time to write?

Thank you for visiting my website. Please subscribe at FOLLOW CELIA so you don’t miss new posts.

New Vine watch Report tomorrow – PLUS news of guest contributors this month.

Fire jumping on the summer solstice feast of St John. How Languedoc celebrates.

solstice

the sun and moon in a solstice embrace

On the eve of the feast of St John the Baptist, many villages here in Languedoc, celebrate with some kind of fire jumping party. The date, rather conveniently some might suggest, coincides with Pagan midsummer rituals when bonfires were lit to ward off evil spirits. Summer solstice was a magical time of year for the ancient peoples.

Today, children enjoy the festivities put on especially for them. Last night our village laid on a disco party with snow machine. The kids were thoroughly soaked before the bonfires were lit – a good idea for those planning to jump the fire later.

St John's eve snow and fire jumping party

disco with snow machine

Snow machines turn up at most of our outdoor summer parties. On the evenings of Soiree Mousse, you wear your old clothes!

snow before the fire jumping

getting clothes wet before jumping the fires

Volunteer firefighters are in charge of the bonfires. Our village has its own firefighting equipment, all manned by residents – a schoolteacher, business people etc. Cadets are welcome and many village children learn the ropes when they are quite young before becoming volunteer firefighters themselves.

The firemen prepare the bonfires using grubbed up vines. The smaller pile is for the youngest children.

vines for firejumping

old vines make good bonfires

If any of the children don’t look wet enough to go fire jumping, they must douse themselves with water from the firefighters’ bucket!

firejumping preparation

getting thoroughly wet

The fires are lit. The kids are getting excited. There’s a lot of shouting encouragement. Health and Safety? Risk assessments?

 

Why would you want to spoil the fun with rules and regulations? Nobody ever gets hurt. There are so many responsible adults on hand to see that doesn’t happen. Watch the short clips I took last night to see the fun. Here and here.

Is this too dangerous? Should this tradition be stopped? Would you let your children brave the fire jump? What do you think?

Thank you for visiting my website. Please feel free to leave a comment. I love to hear what you think.

Waiting for Gary. Second attempt.

Friday June 14th.

Time: 10pm.

Conditions: warm. A good night for waiting for Gary.

We’d been to The Shack for mussels and chips. We love that place. Salubrious, it isn’t. Situated right next to a main road and a filling station, it hasn’t got the best of views. What it’s got is atmosphere – maybe it’s because I’m such a truck lover I like places that look like truck stops. Anyway, food’s good and hot and there’s plenty of it.

Mussels

good food for Gary watching

Himself and I had a litre of vino collapso between us and wended our way home. It wasn’t properly dark. June days are long and neither of us wanted to be indoors, so we decided on a spot of Gary watching.

You can’t wait for Gary without the special equipment. So, out came the special equipment.

Gary watching equipment

special Gary watching equipment

After a few sips of the special equipment, Writer in Languedoc thought it would be a good idea to make a little video clip. No sooner had I stopped filming, but, you guessed it! The little bugger shot across the wall behind me and hid behind the French window shutter. You can view the video clip here.

Now I know you can’t compare my efforts with those wonderful wild life programmes we see on television. You know the ones I mean, where people talk in hushed voices while they’re waiting for the wolf, or the bear or the yeti. But when the very creature you’ve been waiting for shows up the second you put the camera down, the frustration of Gary watching must come close to waiting for a . . .  rhinoceros or a lesser spotted alien.

Himself went indoors. I stayed put.

11pm. It’s dark. There’s a chattering noise from behind the shutter. A dark shadow of movement. Stealthy hands pick up the camera. Shush. Don’t breathe. When he moves, it’ll be fast.

There he goes!

Gary

Gary the Gecko caught on camera

Gotcha! Not quite all of you, Gary. You move so fast.

So photographic ambitions mount. I shan’t settle till I get a good photo of Gary hanging around in the lamp light, catching moths and chomping them.