30 Mar 2007

Sports day

Last week saw yet another event in the village – this time an inter-school fun run, with kids from some of the villages of the south Minervois region.There were three routes mapped out – ranging from a lap of a couple of hundred metres for the real littlies, to a much longer one for the oldest kids. The main streets were closed off all day and the village was absolutely packed not only with the kids and their teachers, but parents and grandparents! And much excitement - lots of noise and cheering! Apparently this event is held every year, but in a different village – and this year was Bize’s turn.

“Soda Water” :
The reporter from the La Semaine du Minervois dropped around the other day with a copy of the paper that contained the article about the water supply and a picture of my pump in the courtyard.. The whole of the back page was devoted to a history of the water supply to the village over the last 40 years.

And the (mostly computer-generated) translation of the caption with the photo is:
“A rare glimpse of the past, this pump water was preciously preserved by an English couple in the courtyard of an old residence of Bize, avenue of the Admiral Narbonne: a pump located on the single axis of the source known as of “the soda water” which crosses the village. On its left, the stone réceptable. And on the top, two dates engraved in the rock: 1957 and 1964.”
So it seems that at some stage this house has had English owners, and it was they who got the pump going again. I must find out the story behind this and try to get a bit more of a history of the house.
And here's a picture of a little bit of wild asparagus - picked on Tuesday's walk among the vineyards near the town of Roubia.

25 Mar 2007

French in 5 minutes

No wonder I’m struggling – I’ve been approaching it entirely the WRONG way!

(from Frog with a Blog)

21 Mar 2007

.... and a walk along the Canal

Another Tuesday, another walk. This time starting out from the small village of Mirepeisset, about 8 kilometres from Bize. Walked for a while along the River Cesse - which is the river that runs through Bize-Minervois – and then along the banks of the Canal du Midi. We got to the junction of where the canal branches, with one branch heading south and becoming the Canal de la Robinne which ends beyond Narbonne. The Canal du Midi continues east and ends up in the Thau Basin near Sete.
Asparagus season has only just started here, but it’s still relatively expensive – but the wild asparagus is out. I’ve never seen it before – very thin. But on both walks I’ve been on, the walkers have been collecting it on the side of the paths. Apparently it tastes the same, but it’s free! It won’t be long before there are road-side stalls in lots of villages, selling nothing but asparagus, and of course the markets will be full of it.
The weather these last few days has turned very cold – we’re getting the tail end of the dreadful weather the UK has had over the last week. In fact, yesterday I went with June to a village about half an hour north of here, and there were snow flurries. There is certainly snow on the Black Mountains and the Pyrenees. June took me to a wine producer who sold direct to the public (and most of them do) to stock up on bulk 5 litre containers of wine – 11 euros for the red. She says she likes it because they don’t use many chemicals. So I have 5 litres of red which I must get into bottles before too long. It seems everyone around here has their favourite place for buying bulk, so I’ll just have to try a few. Shouldn’t be too difficult.
And here are a few pictures from yesterday. Lots of boats are tied up near the junction. The canal won’t be open for a few more weeks yet - if at all - because of the lack of rain in the area during the winter. And that is snow that can be seen on the Black Mountains in the background.

A section of the canal that becomes a ‘bridge’ to cross the River Cesse.
An old well on the pathway, near Mirepeisset.

15 Mar 2007

A Walk on the Wild Side

What a great day out on Tuesday.

I met up with the walkers of the village down in the square at
2 o’clock and a convoy of nine cars headed out of town! Up towards St Chinian in the Black Mountains, but then branched out onto minor roads, going higher and higher. Finally parked in a car park with a fabulous view over the countryside. It was such a clear day that you could see Beziers in the distance, about 30 kilometres away.

An old mill on the edge of the river.

The destination of the walk was the source of a small river – the name I don’t remember! Not too strenuous and lasted about an hour and a half. It was such a nice afternoon out – some of the people I’d met the previous Saturday, and I met a few more. And it really was a good French lesson for me. I found out that a couple of people have a few words of English – and I do mean a few. It really is ‘immersion’ for me, so if I want to communicate, it has to be in my excruciating French.
And here's the source of the river - it seems to just come out of the rocks to the left, and commences flowing downhill from here.
And at the end of the walk - back in the car park - coffee, tea and cake!
re the French lessons - I guess I am progressing – but very slowly indeed. I can understand more written than spoken that’s for sure. And my pronunciation really is my weak point. Denis, the teacher, despairs sometimes I know. I have great trouble getting simple words like ‘pere’ ‘faire’ etc to sound right. The frustrating thing is that it SOUNDS right to me! I swear I'm saying it the same way he is and hell, it's not as if I don't have to repeat things enough times in the class .........Perhaps he’s being kind when he says it’s probably my Australian accent that’s the problem.
The barn:
The plans have finally been submitted to the Maire’s office. From there, they go down to Lezignan, where they will stay with a government official for probably 2 months. As the architect says: ‘He is a busy man. He must have a coffee break. Then he must have the two hour lunch. And of course he has a 35 hour week. There are many planning applications to approve, and he is one man for the WHOLE area …..’.
But that’s not really a problem. Leading up to the August holidays when everything closes down for the holiday month, the builders are apparently very busy finishing off jobs. So it will take all this time to get quotes etc, with a tentative start date of September. Ah well. I’m in France now, and it’s no big rush to get this done. It would be different if the house wasn’t comfortable. But it is – and slowly looking better too, as paint covers even more walls and doors.

11 Mar 2007

Troisième âge

I joined the village club of Troisième âge the other day – literally ‘Third Age’. That’s Senior Citizens to us! Only requirement is that you’re over 50, and I fit the bill. June suggested I join so that I could go on the weekly walks, and get a free French lesson – as no one speaks English except one person – and that’s only a few words.

And then
June rings on Friday to tell me there’s a big lunch on at the village hall on Saturday, and I should go – I’ll meet some of the people I’ll be walking with. And only 15 euros for members. And what an afternoon it was. Here we are – invited to sit at the President’s table no less. This seemed to mean we got preferential treatment – we were served first at every course!
And the food – well, there were five courses. A selection of cold meats to start, followed by salad, then followed by strips of cuttlefish. After that, sorbet made nearly entirely of eau de vie which was so powerful I had to give it a miss. But I’ll tell you what, I’m pretty sure I was the only person in a room of about 125 who didn’t knock it back! And then the main course of rabbit with a mustard cream sauce and layered potatoes. More salad. Then cheese. Then a large serve of dessert. And the alcohol – well it started with kir at midday, then rosé, white or red wine. Champagne with the sweets, then eau de vie. And really, more of any of the above that you wanted. These village folk really do lunch in a big way, it didn’t even start to wind down until 5pm. Fortunately it’s only about 40 metres to my front door, so I didn’t have far to stagger home.
Oh and there was a two piece band, and much singing and dancing. And yes, I did get twirled around the dance floor a few times – protestations were useless so I gave in. And I was sitting at the table with some of the people who go walking, so Tuesday shouldn’t be too daunting.
And just for fun - an interesting display I came across in a supermarket the other day, made entirely of dried garlic!

4 Mar 2007

The circus comes to town

It’s set up on the boules ground, where the carnaval was just two weekends ago. Walking over the bridge the other day, I noticed these amazing horses tethered on the river bed - not like any horse I'd ever seen before.

A search on the internet shows that they’re Knabstrupper horses.

Sadly I believe the circus has some exotic animals in cages, so I haven’t ventured in to have a closer look.

And another strange animal encounter yesterday. I went to Capestang via the small village of Le Somail on the canal, and stopped to take some photos of the lovely bridge there.

I noticed a large rodent-like animal in the reeds on the other side of the canal.

I crossed the bridge and got a few more photos – it was the size of a very large cat, head like a guinea pig and long tail like a rat. Another search on the internet identifies it as a nutria, introduced from South America to the southern part of North America, and then introduced to Europe.

Last night there was a quiz night at Anita and Geoffrey’s lovely house down by the river. The house can be seen in the photo at the top of this posting, immediately to the left of the circus poster. A good night was had by all, especially by the winning team – seen here drinking the prize!

At the house, the painting continues. Nic has put me onto audible books, so I download a novel onto the MP3 player, plug in, and paint. And several chapters of a damn good yarn later, there’s another wall done! It’s addictive – I even listened to it while I drove into Narbonne the other day for what I hope is my final visit to the CPAM to sort the health cover registration.

And speaking of driving, I finally found somewhere in Narbonne to have the satellite navigation system fitted to the Suzuki. I bought it with me from the UK – I had it removed from the UK car before I sold it. It’s a really good system with a large pop-out screen, and software which covers most of Western Europe. It was invaluable when Steve and I were in France in 2004 – navigating the Peripherique of Paris was a doddle, and no getting lost out in the countryside!

Here’s a print of an old picture of Bize that the previous owners of the house kindly left for me. My house is the middle one of the group of three on the left, the dark opening being the garage door.

Moving sideways

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