25 Feb 2007

Fetes and Fairs

Saturday was busy – the small village of La Caunette (10 kilometres from Bize) holds the Fête de la Bigarade (festival of the bitter orange) every year. Lots of different types of citrus trees and other plants on sale, and I had intended to buy a lime tree. But came away with something from ‘the auld country’ …. a gum tree! A swamp mahogany no less - eucalyptus robusta – grows to a rather lofty 20 metres, as the name suggests! But as it will always be in a pot, it won’t be a problem and certainly won’t get anywhere near that size [she says hopefully….].

Note the almond tree growing out of the rock, in blossom, in the picture above.
And then there was a brass band and a parade.

Back to Bize for the 3 o’clock procession that had been cancelled from the previous weekend’s carnaval. And what a sight it was – seen from prime seats at the bar on the corner.

The driver of this, the lead float, apparently used to be the village baker - gone on to bigger and better things!

And 'Jacques Chirac' [alias Miki] riding stagecoach ...
TinTin theme ...

And the Bize Liberation Front - not as sinister as it looks. I missed getting a photo of the action - the BLF fighting off the Crusaders!

The grande finale is when the main float is taken down to the [mostly] dry river bed and torched!

21 Feb 2007

Visit to Carcassonne

A day trip through the Carcassonne for an appointment with a French English-speaking accountant – at least to begin with, I think I need the services of someone to get all the initial paperwork sorted. Perhaps after a year, I will be able to read some of the forms!

I also needed to go again to the CPAM to sort out the health cover issues. Sandra came with me as she also needed to make enquiries. And between the visit to the accountant, and the next appointment, we had plenty of time in downtown Carcassonne to play at ‘ladies who do lunch’ – and a bit of shopping!

Sadly my visit to the CPAM wasn’t entirely successful. Well not successful at all really. After a long-ish wait, it seemed that not only had I not filled out the forms I’d been given last time (I’d overlooked them – they got hidden amongst other ‘stuff’) – but I didn’t have the financial records going back enough years. I need everything going back to 2004. Ah well - another visit – perhaps this time to the office in Narbonne, which is closer.

I’ve been really lucky to have met some very nice people in this and other villages in the short time I’ve been here. There’s Sandra and Patrick, who live just down the road – I met them at a wine tasting event here in the village when I was here last April. Sandra and I tend to get out and about fairly often and ‘shop’ – even if it’s mostly for hardware and house stuff.

And there’s Miki (whose gite I stayed in back in April) and Thiago (who is from Brazil). Miki speaks excellent French and has helped me with a few translating problems and phone calls, and has put me in contact with – among other things – the accountant and a chimney sweep! Thiago kindly offered to help me with some of the painting – said he’d rather be occupied and kept busy! There are definitely some places I just cannot reach with a paintbrush, and I had the very project for him. And here he is, definitely occupied, and looking as happy as a sandboy…

There’s June – who has lived in the village for nearly 20 years. Her and her late husband led a very interesting life indeed – a long time farming in Zimbabwe, quite a few years sailing the world in a yacht and ending up buying and renovating a lovely house overlooking the river in Bize-Minervois! Geoffrey and Anita – who recommended the architect I am using.

I was invited to dinner by Camilla and David (Miki’s brother and sister-in-law) the other night – there were 12 people and it was a really lovely evening. It was held at Miki’s house as Camilla and David’s house had been damaged by a burst water pipe and they’re in the process of dealing with the mould problem. Their house is also in the village, but they are not yet full time residents in France.

There are also other people I’ve met from other villages – there seems to be such a lot going on. And there is so much to do here in the house. My initial fears of feeling isolated and lonely have not been realised. Of course I spend a lot of time on my own, but that’s something I expected and am finding ok – I have a lot to go on with.

So, at this very early stage of the game, my new start in France is everything I could have hoped for and I’ve not for one moment regretted my decision to move here.

20 Feb 2007

Bize Carnaval

This last weekend was the Bize Carnaval – a big affair for the village. Something on every night, finishing off on Monday night with a masked ball in the village hall. One of the highlights of the weekend is a parade with floats through the village at 3pm on the Sunday. But this was the one day when the weather was atrocious and it was called off at the last minute. But it has been rescheduled for next Saturday. Sod’s law - the following day was balmy with sunshine all day.

And there was a fairground set up over the other side of the bridge on the boules ground – and that’s been well attended. The little village has been fairly buzzing! Lots of whistles and drums and music – I went out to see what was happening outside my window the other day, and found myself being serenaded! And here they are – all for a donation for some good cause which I didn’t quite understand. Perhaps for a refill?

The first song was a French one – the second was God Save the Queen. Even when I mentioned that I was Australian, he sang it again - a little louder!

I read on a news site the other day that last month was the driest January on record. June – who has lived in the village for nearly 20 years - said that in all the time she has been here, this year is the only one that the temporary dam in the river has not been washed away by the winter rains and normal flow of the river.

Every summer, the gravel from the shallow part of the River Cesse is bulldozed to create a dam across the width of the riverbed, and it creates a natural swimming pool. (Cesse Pool? – doesn’t sound quite right does it…). And there’s a lifeguard on duty from 2-7pm during the summer months.

And here's a few more pictures of the village I’ve taken over the few weeks I’ve been here.

Here are two shots of the emblem, or crest, of Bize-Minervois. One is shown in stone in the entrance to the old part of the town, under La Porte Saint Michel, and the other is reproduced in ceramics. I’ve been told that the middle yellow wheel-like shape is a Cathar symbol, the two round yellow shapes are cut heads of garlic (Bize was renowned for the garlic that used to be grown on the surrounding hills), and the other two are snakes supposedly swallowing a baby! I’ve not been able to find any explanation or background for that description.

Chez Robert - the village butcher.

The Wednesday market.

Wednesday’s market is a mixture – cheese, bread, fruit and veg, oysters and mussels, plants, shoes, clothes, etc. But vans with their own specialties come on other days of the week too – the meat van, a vegetable van, the fish van and not quite so regularly, shoe and furniture vans. And it’s all announced loudly from the Mairie’s office, from loud speakers that are located around the village. Before the announcement, there’s music. Usually some type of brass band music – strangely, the other day it was “Wimoweh - The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. And then the announcement of whatever is happening, preceded by ‘Alors! Alors! Alors!

12 Feb 2007

Chilli water on tap

I had an interesting visit the other day from a reporter from La Semaine du Minervois (The Minervois Weekly) newspaper. She turned up on my doorstep with a camera, and the village postman in tow. She’d understood that there was a pump in the courtyard, and she was writing a story on water sources around the area.

I already knew that the pump worked, and I did indeed have fresh water on tap. When I first looked at the house with Nic back in September, Madam went to great lengths to explain that this was no ordinary water – it was ‘piquant l’eau’ – and that it came from the Black Mountains behind Bize. Nic and I were a bit puzzled about the name, as we thought this translated as ‘chilli water’. Which in fact it does. But what I’ve since found out, and have had confirmed, is that what the pump produces is fizzy mineral water.

An aside – I just put ‘piquant l’eau’ into Google Translate online and it came up with ‘pricking water’. Oops, seems I still haven’t got it right. I must get that sorted before I try to get the pump fixed and have to explain what I want ….

She is going to give me a copy of the newspaper when it’s published – it’s a weekly paper but she’s not sure if it will be this week or next. So it will be interesting to learn about the water situation in the area.

But it gets more interesting. I had always said jokingly to Nic that there could be a little cottage industry here – i.e. me in the shed with a bottling plant, selling my own sparkling mineral water! However, that’s hardly likely to happen…. The architect happened to be here at the same time measuring up the barn, and I asked him about it. He knew the story. Apparently there is a thin line where the mineral water stream passes underground through the village, and I seem to have one of the few pumps that access the stream. However, he seems to think it’s illegal to do anything with it (other than personal use) as he thinks there are moves underway to market it commercially.

Back in September, Msr had filled the top of the pump with water (like filling a hose before beginning to siphon), then commenced pumping, and managed to get some water out. Bruce tasted it, and thought the water had been sitting a bit long in the pipes. We tried the same method the other day, but just ended up with a lot of water on the ground (only the stuff we’d put in), and the postman pumping for all he was worth, but with no result!

So, I must get the pump seen to and see if I can’t get it working to access the water. It would be a shame if all I could use it for is watering the plants. What a hoot – perhaps I’ll one day have the equivalent of ‘Perrier on tap’……

The paintbrushes have finally come out – and I’ve been busy splashing it around. The downstairs toilet is no longer green – five coats of white paint later, it’s a different room. And more spacious, now that I’ve removed the wooden shelves and curtains. There’s room for a small corner hand basin – but that will come later. In the meantime I’ve put in a small marble-topped stand that I’ve painted white. Sadly I didn’t take a ‘before’ photo of this – it was green and pink (it was formerly in my bedroom, and matched exactly the light fitting and bedhead colours).

And the small passage way leading from the garage to the kitchen is now bright and white, top to bottom. Though parts of the wall will become a different colour, once I learn how to tint the paint. I’m heading down to Narbonne on Wednesday, so will call in to the paint shop and pick up some tints. I’m reluctant to take my paint in to get it done professionally, as I bought it all with me from the UK (a lot cheaper). And I don’t have the nerve to take it to a French paint shop for tinting. So the colour I choose and the colour I end up with are likely to be quite different.

And here’s a picture of my latest impulse buy. An olive tree and kumquat. Well, not really an impulse buy, just a bit premature. My small courtyard will be a mess once the building starts so perhaps I should have waited before buying plants. But I’m so excited that I will actually have some outside space again, after all these years without a garden!

Moving sideways

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