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Joyeux Noel

Posted on December 19th, 2016

Merry Christmas everyone. This is the hamper that our local mairie in Ménerbes delivers to all residents over 65 who vote. An appetising selection of apéritif wine, duck liver, smoked trout paté, pork terrine with armagnac, duck with foie gras, Cotes de Duras red wine, prunes in armagnac, Provencal biscuits, orange-chocolate croustillants, apple and toffee compote and Arabica coffee. We expect an election soon…… Note that secular France forbids official recognition of any religion over another or none, so it’s “Best Wishes for the New Year”.

Black & White Photography

Posted on December 19th, 2016

I have chosen another set of Black and White photographs that are reasonably pleasing, to my eye anyway. This is the second set (forty images), which can be found: HERE .  I hope you like them. (The first set of B&W photos can be found: HERE)

Quarry carvings

Posted on November 20th, 2016

The other side of our truffle-oak field, not 200 metres from the house, is a small abandoned quarry. More than ten metres deep, the stone-cutters created a subterranean vault. The quarry was abandoned well over fifty years ago, when the stone seam was exhausted or when accessibility prevented newer, more efficient cutting methods. Since then, perhaps 30-40 years ago, a local artist created some extraordinary carvings on the walls. Very few know of their existence and fewer have seen them. The artworks include Mexican-style symbols, a recessed staircase to nowhere and geometric patterns. Some are incomplete while others have been traced onto stone walls and never begun. More photos from the quarry can be found: HERE  

Carrières de Lumières

Posted on November 19th, 2016

The Alpilles hills south of Saint-Rémy de Provence are home to many ancient limestone quarries. At the village of Les Baux one former quarry has been transformed into a magical theatre of light where we went to see the current show on Marc Chagall, called Midsummer Night’s Dreams. Chagall’s works have been transformed into moving pictures projected onto many walls of the subterranean quarry. It is a stunning experience, accompanied by dramatic music and followed by a short show Alice’s Land inspired by Lewis Carroll.

Olive harvest

Posted on November 17th, 2016

Today Monsieur Thédonat came to harvest our olives. He is 84 and still farms several parcels of land around Ménerbes for table grapes, wine grapes, asparagus and potatoes. Several friends have held olive picking days, where everybody helps out but most time is spent at a convivial lunch. We have only two olive trees so our crop is far too small for processing, but Monsieur Thédonat can add our olives to his own. This year many trees have been attacked by the olive fly causing serious damage across southern Europe. The female fly injects her eggs directly into the fruit and the eggs hatch into maggots which eat the fruit. If affected olives have one hole the maggot is still inside the fruit, but…

A curious throwback

Posted on October 30th, 2016

The rue du Chevalier Saint-George in Paris forms the border between the 1st and 8th arrondissements. It was once called the rue Richepance after a slaver in Guadeloupe but was renamed in 2001 to recognise an Afro-French composer and to honour L’Association d’entraide de la Noblesse Francaise who occupy offices at number 9. The Association for Mutual Aid for the French Nobility is a curious throwback to former times. In revolutionary days the aristocracy numbered 140,000 from 9,000 families, yet this 0.5% of the population owned one fifth of all land. They enjoyed privileges including hunting, tax exemptions, feudal land rights and reserved senior ecclesiastic, civic and military positions. Nobles owned seigneurial rights over free peasants who worked on their lands, which entitled them to demand a…

It was different in 1944

Posted on October 28th, 2016

The Chapelle Sainte-Anne de Goiron, dating from the 11th century, stands on a high hill behind the village of La Roque d’Anthéron south of the Durance River. The hilltop enjoys commanding views in all directions, the Alps to the east, the Mediterranean to the south, Mont Ventoux to the north and the Alpilles to the west. It is a haven of peace, where the only sounds are goat bells jangling on the hillsides below. It was different in 1944.  “Méfiez vous du toreador!” (Beware of the toreador) was among the coded messages broadcast from London on 5th June, calling for the mobilisation of 400 members of l’Armée Secrète from surrounding villages. Their meeting point was well chosen. Weapons had been parachuted into the area…

Catholic Madrid

Posted on October 23rd, 2016

Our recent visit to Madrid recalled the country’s devotion to Catholicism. The churches are fabulous and the museums replete with religious art. Both cost a great deal, which prompted me to explore how the Spanish church could acquire such wealth. From very early days, Spanish priests enjoyed great power over their uneducated flocks, representing the only pathway to heaven. Opposing the church could lead to denunciation as a heretic and being burned at the stake. It was vital to keep the priest happy. A tithe of 10%, the diezmo, was paid to the church on all agricultural production, supplemented by additional tolls on harvest primicias (first fruits). The tithe was not abolished until 1841. Moreover you were expected to work on church land for free several days…

An autumn morning walk

Posted on October 20th, 2016

This morning Saffy and I go walking, a beautiful autumn morning walk. We do this together every day, choosing different paths direct from the house, never repeating the same walk more than twice in a week. Today we head east along the colline, through the woods to Lacoste, down through the village into the valley below, then back up the hill for a total of 8km. It is a typical Provencal autumn day, clear blue skies cleaned by the early signs of a mistral. First we meet a hunter in the forest. Both he and his dog are concealed, motionless and we would have passed them by except Saffy scented their presence. He shows me a wood pigeon he had shot and I learned the prized bécasse, or…