Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Walk Around the Village

An early morning stroll around the village is always a joyful & positive way to start the day.

I take a path past the château & it's lovely little footbridge, which crosses the road from the walls of the château to the large wooded garden on the other side.

Then on along the river where one finds the old mill just behind the towering walls of the château.

The neat rows of trees create a shady path beside the riverbank.

Just around another corner, I spotted this rose with its intense color & most unusual variegated petals.

Back in the square the sunlight shines on the old town clock. Once the hour was announced by the ringing of the bell at its peek. Sadly the mechanism no longer works but it was not all that long ago that the toll of the hour was a treasured part of village life.

My neighbor Claudette has already hung out her wash in the morning sun.

But not everyone has fully opened their shutters to embrace the day.

Almost back home again now, my neighbor, Aurora's pretty blue gate comes into view. The faintly visible decoration on the side of her wall was painted by the elderly previous owner's artist father. This being one of the many sweet details that reminds us of all of those that walked these same paths before us reveling in the same beautiful morning light.

Memories + a Proud Grandma

My daughter recently emailed me some photos of my youngest granddaughter. Gracie has started taking horse back riding & the photos were from one of her classes. Because I have been having fun this summer sharing past & present photos, I thought I would share a different sort of past & present. Below is a photo I took of my daughter when she was a little girl with her favorite horse, Goldie. She was probably 8 or 9 at the time & loved anything involving horses.

Now fast forward to the present & here is her daughter, Grace, in almost the identical pose. My daughter was struck by the similarities too & posted the two photos on her Facebook page. So many of her childhood friends were amazed at how much they look alike.

I am really happy for Gracie striking out on her own in this new found interest. She seems to be really enjoying it.

I know that my daughter is happy too, to be sharing her childhood passion with one of her children.

I guess I just could not help but post these photos & to let Gracie know just how very proud I am of her.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Past & Present

It is hard to imagine that at one point our little village had its very own train station. Below is a photo of the train coming into the station. The figure farthest from the camera & closest to the train is the station master, who happened to be a women. That certainly must have been unusual for the time.

Today the old depot stands empty. Where the train tracks once were is now a busy thoroughfare. But the bones of the old building still exude the same dignified charm.

The old blue enamel sign still announces the point of arrival & departure.

I am very fond of the small out building that once housed the restrooms or perhaps more correctly the public "outhouse". The words "Hommes" & "Dames" are still unmistakable above the doors. Although, someone has taken away the pretty old doors that had remained there until only recently, there is still enough detail to imagine it as it once was. I believe that the center part, which as far as I can tell was always left open, was for some sort of sink or place to wash up after a long journey.

There is one other building that seems to have been some sort of warehouse space or perhaps something to do with the mechanics of the trains. It has a large opening which makes one curious about its use.

The arriving passengers would walk from the station across the old foot bridge, which crossed the river just in front of the château, & into the village.

The thirteenth century château is still standing, looking very much the same. But the little foot bridge is long gone. Although the bridge is no more, the old stone steps which lead to it are still there, now leading to nowhere in particular.

In 1930 the town experienced a great flood, which is still talked about today. It washed away many of the buildings along the river as well as the foot bridge. The waters rose so high that there were actually boats in the town square.

After the flood a new bridge was constructed. The kind gentleman, who shared these photos from his collection of old post cards with me, remembers the day the new bridge was inaugurated. He was five years old. Everyone wore their Sunday best & came from near & far. But what he most remembers, were the tiny pieces of brightly colored paper that they threw into the air. It was the first time he had ever seen confetti.

In comparing the old photo, which was taken soon after the new bridge opened, to the one taken today, it is evident that the street & the houses remain very much the same. In the old photo you can even see the wisteria arbor that runs across the front of the end house on the right.

That arbor is still there, & as beautiful as ever. Above is perhaps a better view, looking in the opposite direction from the bridge towards the end of the street.

The heavy twisting trunk of the wisteria must be some indicator of it's age but there is no question that it can be seen in the photo taken more than 80 years ago.

It weaves its way completely around the house & is magnificent in spring when it is fully in bloom.

Past or present, there is certainly a great deal to appreciate about this little village.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dinner with Jacinta & Roger

My neighbors recently invited me for a light summer supper. I arrived early to see if I could help in the kitchen but ended up taking lots of photos of the process instead.

Jacinta made a "Moroccan Couscous Salad with Grilled Aubergine & Feta". I have recorded the recipe here for you to try. The first step was to brush with oil & grill the thinly sliced aubergines or eggplants as we call them in the states.

Next she cooked the large pearl couscous in vegetable stock & then drained it.

The dressing consisted of the juice of one lemon, 1 tbsp rad el hanout (a Moroccan spice mixture), 1 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted & ground & 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil.

Mix sauce together, then add the couscous & 1 can chick peas drained & rinsed with 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves finely chopped & 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley.

Just before serving gently toss the grilled eggplant into the couscous mixture.

Crumble feta cheese over the top & serve with a tomato salad & a simple green salad.

The pairing of salads made a perfect light summer meal shared with old & new friends.

It was a lovely evening. Thank you, Jacinta for a wonderful time & this delicious new recipe. It was nice to meet you Sally & John. Hope you had a good trip back home.

Warning: A Rant Ensues

The town of Villefranche de Rouergue is not a colorful town. Its beauty lies in the pearly grey of the stones with which it was built, the deep charcoal grey of the slate roof tiles, & the somber architecture of the early Middle Ages.

Its tall buildings & narrow streets cast dark shadows that resonates a mysterious beauty.

In Freda White's book Three Rivers of France first published in 1952, she says of Villefranche:

" The walls of the city are gone, and there is a dull spread of modern suburbs outside the line they used to bound. But inside it the town is as perfect an example of a medieval trading center as can be found.
The town square, slanting uphill, is completely surrounded by cornières, with the street running beneath the arches."

Those words have remained true until this day. However, on a recent visit to Villefranche, I was heartsick to see that the beautiful old town square has been slated for a "modernization". The old grey stones polished to a sheen by centuries of use have been removed. Where once it was slanting & uneven, rutted by cartwheels, the square has been made symmetrical & level. Piles of bleached white stone are ready to be installed. But the most tragic of all, there are plans for three shooting fountains to be place at its center.

I do not like to find fault with my adopted home here in France but I am afraid I am in harsh disagreement with this latest trend to "update" the town squares of its beautiful historic old villages.

The town of Villefranche holds a special place in my heart. When we first came to this region over twenty years ago & the only year that we spent a winter here, we went to the Villefranche Marché de Noël just days before Christmas. It is a memory I shall never forget. The frosty air made clouds of breath as people talked & bargained. The market, much diminished from the larger lively summer markets, was concentrated in the old town square. The glistening stone that had felt the footsteps of a millennium were a part of the beauty of the market. Stalls with every sort of winter vegetable, apples, dried fruits & spices were busy selling their ware.There were live geese in wooden crates sitting in beds of straw, big round balls of mistletoe freshly gathered, handmade wooden games & toys, & along with the wines, breads & cheeses of every sort, there were special Christmas pastries & cakes. The decorations were beautiful in their simplicity. The lights that stretched above the streets illuminated one single star, while small Christmas trees were adorned in only red bows & tiny white paper flowers. The shops under the arched arcades were bustling with activity, as shoppers looked for all the specialties needed for their Christmas dinners. And from the corner toy store came happy shoppers carrying one perfectly wrapped package, a special gift for some excited child. It was such a contrast from the overly commercialized Christmases of the United States & it truly felt as if we had walked into time gone by.

Now to think that this remarkable square that had survived unchanged for so many years will become a display of modern ingenuity. I use the term "modern" loosely here, as for me, I find these sorts of fountains shooting jets of water high into the air to be sadly already outdated & silly at best. They certainly, in my opinion, have no place in a town that boasts 14th century doorways & one of the most beautiful examples of a medieval fountain to be found.

I must apologize for my rant. My frustration & sadness is overwhelming. I realize of course that there is nothing that I can do. I can only remember & treasure my memories, knowing how fortunate I am to have them.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

La Fête du Village

La fête du village is an age old tradition in France, as the amusing old photograph below can attest. Neighbors & friends from small towns have been joining one another for a night of dining together under the stars for centuries.

When I first arrived here in the French countryside, our village had wonderful lively fêtes with games & music & wining & dining. But at some point during the twenty some odd years I have been here, the fête seemed to lose favor.

In the past several summers, however, the happy village tradition has been revived.

It is a simple affair, with everyone pitching in to help. There is a fire for barbecuing, & many salads with lovely farm fresh ingredients.

But unlike an American barbecue, everything is served in courses as is the French costume. Starting with the apéritif, followed by a first course, the main course, then a cheese course, which is always served after the meal, & finally desert & coffee.

There is of course plenty of wine & crusty baguettes for every table.

The party goes on into the night with music & dancing. it is a multigenerational gathering of neighbors & friends enjoying a summer evening of festivity & community.

Internet Problems & Many Thanks

First & fore most I want to sincerely thank all of you, my friends & loyal readers. I appreciate your kindness & your friendships. The Internet is an amazing place, opening our lives to embrace new found friends from around the world.

I am most appreciative of all the kind & encouraging comments left by so many of you as I left Boston. Each & everyone means so much to me.

Unfortunately, I have really encountered some serious Internet problems this year while in France.

The café where I normally find a connection is not working for me. It is not that it is not working, which is the frustrating part, only that it is not connecting for me & my iPad.

I have one friend whose wifi ( pronounced weefee here in France ) seems to work for me after changing codes & other settings. The photos I have taken here are of things I pass as I walk to her house & the entrance to her lovely garden below.

I can sit on her porch & connect to her wifi quite quickly. But as you can imagine, one does not want to become a nuisance or wear out one's welcome. Therefore, I really do not wish to spend too much time checking out the Internet, which means, after checking my emails & posting a blog entry or two, I have no time to look at all of your wonderful blogs.

I miss being able to visit you & finding out what each of you are up to, not to mention being able to leave comments for you. I apologize for this. My appreciation for the thoughtful comments that you have left for me is even greater under these unfortunate circumstances. So, merci beaucoup!