It’s the little things

We’re well into week two of confinement, and so far I’m doing just fine with it!

  • Having a routine and sticking to it helps.
  • Not being on my own helps.
  • Having the garden to work in helps.
  • Being allowed to go out for short walks in the countryside helps.
  • Cooking and eating delicious meals make for variety and definitely helps.
  • Knowing that the shops are open and fairly well stocked helps.

I could add to this list, but you can tell that I’m counting my blessings!!  🙂

For a long time now, I have written my articles at the beginning of the week, sent them to Annie, who checked them for any errors (and she always found some!!), and then I posted the articles on Fridays on the blog.  After last Friday’s post, and with the drama of the Covid-19 crisis unfolding all around us, I didn’t think I had anything meaningful to write about.  But then I went for a walk yesterday afternoon, and I changed my mind!

I had taken my camera with me, but when I wanted to take my first picture I found that I had forgotten to put the memory card back in its slot.  So I resigned myself to not take any pictures.  My walk started behind the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian and took me along the Chemin de Sorteilho.  After a while, I headed down a track on the left which brought me to the Chemin des Gazels (you can find the route on google maps!).  When I reached the Chemin des Gazels I turned left and headed back towards the village.

had observed many beautiful flowers along my walk, but what really struck me was that there was a clarity in the air, which was all to do with the absence of noise.  I could hear the sound of my footsteps, the sound of birdsong, some rustling in the bushes, the sound of my own breathing when I walked up a steep incline, the sound of water in a hidden brook.  But there was no noise from planes, from traffic, from agricultural machinery or from any other human activity!  It felt somewhat eerie but also incredibly peaceful!!

It was after that realisation that I happened upon a white lavender plant in full flower.  I knew Lavandula Stoechas only as a plant with purple blue flowers, so I was thrilled to see one with white flowers.  And that’s when I remembered that my phone had a built-in camera!! 😉

After that, I took a few more pictures which I’ll share with you below, but for me the essence of the walk lay in observing the little things that were all around me.  I really enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of that moment in time!

Smile!  😀

You will have read by now that the population of France has been confined to their homes since noon last Tuesday.  Extreme measures in order to stop the spread of the Coronavirus!  President Macron announced a 15 day period in which people are to stay indoors, and I have a feeling that this may be extended.  We’ll see how effective it will be, and how people are going to be able to live with this perceived loss of liberty.  Personally, I am not particularly bothered.  I have everything I need at home, and plenty of small projects to finish, books to read, etc.  I’ll have time to telephone friends and family, write e-mails, and catch up with all kinds of things.  I might even be able to start work again on my long-shelved cook book project!!  Now, wouldn’t that be something??  🙂

People will be allowed to leave their homes to go to work if they cannot work remotely, or are working for one of several essential services (electricity, water, medical, food, etc.), to go shopping for essential supplies, to visit their doctor or pharmacy, for imperative family visits (childcare or care of elderly relatives), and for physical exercise or dog walking, the last two are to be done in strict isolation.  The food shops will remain open, and no doubt the shelves will eventually be re-stocked with pasta, rice AND toilet paper!! 😀

It will certainly be challenging for people who live in France’s big cities or areas where population density is high.  In Saint-Chinian we should be OK – people are pretty well spaced apart to begin with, and if contact is limited so should be the spread of the virus.

Last Tuesday morning, as I took a quick walk around my garden, my eye was caught by the blooms on my tree peony.  Seeing the sparkling water drops on the gorgeous blooms brought a smile to my face!  I cut several stems to bring home with me, so I could admire them for a few days.  I hope you’ll enjoy them too!

So, it might be au revoir for a little while.  Rest assured, I’ll write again as soon as inspiration strikes or whenever I feel I have something worth telling you about!  Until then, stay well and safe, and smile! 🙂

Look what I found!

Life goes on as always in Saint-Chinian, despite the hysteria surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. People are still greeting one another in the street, albeit less often with kisses and/or handshakes.  I’m sure that people will pick up that tradition again before too long, once the worries have subsided.

To clear my head, I went for walk – nothing strenuous, just past the campsite and through the vineyards.  The weather was spring-like and I found lots to distract me!

My walk took me along a canal which is one of the remnants of an extensive irrigation system.  As I walked along the canal, I noticed a plain terracotta tile lying by the side of the water.

Here’s what I saw when I was peering over the wall and into the water:

Dozens and more tiles, all neatly laid out!!  I continued to walk along the canal, and took a few more pictures.

There were tiles the whole length of the canal!!  As I was walking along, I figured out why they were there – they are being cleaned!!  There’s someone in Saint-Chinian who sells reclaimed building materials, and this must be part of his operation!  The water gently scrubs the old cement and anything else off the tiles.  The tile I saw lying by the side of the canal must have been cleaned already!!  What an interesting discovery!!

Along the way there were also many wonderful flowers!  First came the buttercups:

A little farther was a field – yes literally a field – full of wild narcissus!  If my identification is correct, this is called a petticoat daffodil.

Here’s a picture of the field – unfortunately you can’t see the daffodils very well, but you should get an idea:

In the vineyard next to the daffodils, there were lots of white flowers: wild rocket!  The leaves have a lovely peppery taste!

Here is another harbinger of spring: a clump of violets:

Daisies flower in Saint-Chinian pretty much all through the winter.  Seeing one of these flowers always cheers me up!

Farther along the river was a viburnum bush, bursting into flower:

The sweet bay tree next to it was also in full flower!

The sound of splashing water drew me down to the water’s edge – across the river there was a little waterfall.  And look at the pale green leaves bursting out!

In the undergrowth, honesty was flowering.  Why is honesty so underrated??  And why is it so often overshadowed by other things??

Dandelions appeared along the path.  Some had been around for a little while:

Most of the vineyards had been pruned already:

A stone wall runs along the path back towards the village and it is home to many plants, some of which I would call weeds!! 🙂   The plant in the picture below would take over in my garden if I did not keep it in check:  fumaria muralis or common ramping-fumitory:

The grape hyacinths were very pretty:

I love the acid green of this euphorbia plant!

I saw this pretty pink flower in only a couple of places along my walk.  I didn’t remember having seen it before, and I was not able to identify it other than it probably belonged to the toadflax family.  The flower was only about the size of a small fingernail.

And then I was back across the river and I was back on the edge of the village.  One last glimpse of flowers: a peach or apricot tree in full flower!!  A promise of bounty in months to come!!

That walk really cheered me up no end and cleared my head.  What do you do when you want to change your frame of mind?

Up in the air

For some time I’ve been thinking of visiting the Passerelle de Mazamet, a footbridge across a gorge above Mazamet.  The footbridge allows pedestrian access to the mediaeval village of Hautpoul, which is also on my list of places to visit!!

Here is a map of the location:

Since I’m not going to be able to visit any time soon – and even if I did visit, I might not be able to walk across the bridge because of my fear of heights – I thought I would share the post below with you.  It was published recently on www.francetaste.wordpress.com.  A big thank you to the author for allowing me to re-post the article!


IMG_5111What is it about humans that we love to look down on everything? To get up high, for a better view? The chill of vertige with the thrill of omniscience.IMG_5092On a balmy February day, a friend and I went to the Passerelle of Mazamet, which has been on my bucket list for a moment. One of those things that’s too nearby to miss, but far enough that I never got around to it. The drive from Carcassonne to Mazamet takes nearly an hour. Longer if a nervous retiree from a distant department is ahead of you and slowing to a crawl around the curves but, with a bigger engine, speeding like an idiot on the rare straightaways, as if that makes up for anything. IMG_5151The $*%&ing driver ahead of us aside, the route was absolutely gorgeous. It goes up and up and up, and the vegetation changes to dense forest. There were signs about the pass being open, snow markers on the sides of the road, but we were in fleece jackets and during our hike had to take those off. A weird winter. It was 70 F here yesterday.IMG_5129

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Lush February forest.

IMG_5117The passerelle was inaugurated in 2018. It’s 140 meters (460 feet) long over the Arnette river and 70 meters (230 feet) above the ground. It’s free and open 24/7, but you’d be crazy to go after dark. We were glad to be there in February–plus it was lunch time and the French do one thing during lunch time: eat. So we had the place almost to ourselves. It would be much less fun in the heat of summer with a gazillion people on the narrow path. Even worse, a gazillion people on the passerelle. It can hold 42 tons, which is a lot of people, but even a couple of other people walking made it bounce such that I was glad I hadn’t eaten.

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Into the void.

The only other people were grandparents with three girls. One was maybe two or three years old, and she galloped up and down the passerelle fearlessly. One was maybe 12 and she clung to her grandmother for dear life. We passed them in the middle of the passerelle on their way back. And we discovered another girl, maybe 7 or 8, on the other side, steadfastly refusing to budge.

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Looking down.

We saw the grandfather start back and figured he was coming to the aid of the middle girl. He stopped and took photos. Lots of photos. The littlest girl came tearing down toward him. She passed him, then turned around and came back to him. He never stopped taking photos.

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Going back.

We started back and were about halfway when the grandmother and the oldest girl, still clinging and looking like she was going to puke, came back. Grandpa wanted to film them. As if the granddaughter would want to remember this moment. Who was the middle girl supposed to hold onto? Grandma was taken, and grandpa was filming. Nobody seemed worried about the middle girl or even the little one. Yes, the passerelle had no holes where the little one could fall through, but she was at that nimble age where she could climb the chain link side, which came up to my armpit, and be over it in a flash, and grandpa still wouldn’t stop filming. His obliviousness reminded me of a type: “I’m doing this for you! You’re going to do it and enjoy it whether you like it or not!”

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Mazamet.

On the way down, we passed other grandparents out with the grandkids, starting to show up once it was 2 p.m. And more retirees. A lady with very inappropriate shoes (ballerinas with wedge heels…what are those called?).

IMG_5143
La Voie Romaine.

To go up, we took the steep route, called the Voie Romaine, or Roman Way, which was the ancient salt route, and partly paved with stones. It had a heart-pounding 19% grade, but I’d rather take that going up than down.

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Stone walls of the former gardens.
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This seems to have been a protohistoric home, naturally protected from the wind and rain on the south side of the slope. But I’m not sure. The gardens also had little towers.
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On the wall of the circular structure. Looks like a donkey to me.

IMG_5124IMG_5142IMG_5138The descent, on a path with an 8% grade, was via the Jardins Cormouls Houlès, which date to the middle of the 19th century, with interesting towers and stone walls. First we checked out the ruins of the church of Saint-Saveur, which dates to the 1100s. IMG_5099IMG_5101IMG_5098IMG_5113The church was built on a hilltop, for views. Up in the air. Like life right now, waiting to see where things will land, trying not to fall.

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A little shrine at the start of the path.
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Interesting plastic bottle for holy water. What will they think of next?
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Another bustling shrine.
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Am haunted by the possible meaning of that doll.

I’m leaving you with these ghostly images. I couldn’t pick one, so you get three.IMG_5130IMG_5131IMG_5132

Full of flavour

From time to time I hear of a restaurant or a chef and make a mental note to go and eat there one day.  I’ve been meaning to try the Bistrot Saveurs in Castres for some time now and I finally managed to eat there last week, when I went on a day out with friends!!

Castres is about one and a half hours by car from Saint-Chinian –  a beautiful drive through lush countryside!  It’s a town that once was very prosperous through its textile, paper and tannery industries.  A walk around the town will have you enthralled by the beautiful buildings along the river Agout and the renaissance mansions of the rich and nobles of bygone days.  All that is for another post – the prime purpose of my recent visit was food! 🙂

The Bistrot Saveur is close to the centre of Castres.  Actually, most things are close to the town centre – Castres is eminently walkable!

The kitchen is presided over by Simon Scott, who has worked in prestigious London establishments such as the Ritz Hotel, where he was sous chef, and the Savoy Hotel, where he was head chef!  The dining room reflects the food which is contemporary and elegant.

Here’s a look at one of the menus:

And here is some of the food – the nibbles that accompanied our drinks:

The lollipops were made with parmesan and spices, the little dishes contained marinated fish with citrus fruit and pomegranate seeds, and the macarons were filled with a black curry cream.  All really yummy and a hint of what was to come.

All four of us ordered the Menu Saveurs, which is the restaurant’s lunchtime menu.  Since there were two choices for each course, we did manage to have all the dishes on the menu brought to our table 🙂

Here’s one of the starters – Pollack prepared like gravadlax, served on a bed of spinach mousse and accompanied by crispy vegetables and leaves and raz-el-hanout sorbet.  Raz-el-hanout is a North African spice blend and it gave a wonderful flavour to the sorbet.

The second starter was equally delicious – it was very much inspired by local ingredients.  If the first starter was mer (as in sea), the second starter was decidedly terre (as in land)!  Beautifully cooked puy lentils, topped with a samosa filled with black pudding, an egg cooked at 63 degrees Centigrade, and ice cream made with fresh goat’s cheese.

For my main course, I ordered the puff pastry topped chicken and mushroom, which was served with a puree of topinambour (Jerusalem artichokes), as well as a mixture of delicious winter vegetables (carrots, Brussel sprouts, Chinese artichoke, baby potatoes).  The portion size was absolutely perfect and the flavours were amazing!

The second main course on the menu was grilled sea bass filet on a sweet potato puree, served with chick peas, cooked ‘red meat’ radishes, and a shellfish reduction.  I only had a little bite to taste but I would have been just as happy having this dish for my main course as the chicken – I can’t really say which I preferred, both were delicious!

I opted for cheese to finish my meal – a selection of Mr Marty’s sheep’s cheeses, accompanied by walnuts and quince pate.  I don’t know who Mr Marty is, but his cheeses were very tasty!!

My dining companions all opted for the chef’s take on tarte tatin: beautifully caramelised apples atop a crispy speculoos (gingerbread) crust, topped with raspberry sorbet.

We ended this great meal with coffee and some wonderful pistachio financier cakes (they were very small), which were still warm from the oven!

The menu, including a glass of wine and coffee was absolutely fantastic value at 25 Euros per person.  I feel that I’ll be going to Castres again before too long and I’ll make sure to take more photographs of the town then, for another blog post!

If you want to eat at Bistrot Saveurs, be sure to book a table – the restaurant gets very busy.  You can find the website here.

The big picture

There are big pictures all over the place – murals that cover entire sides of buildings.  I’ve often heard them called muriels – have you heard them called that too??  In French, murals are often called trompe l’oeil, literally translated as “deceive the eye”.  Some of the murals in the following pictures are incredibly convincing and live up to their trompe l’oeil name!!

The first one is in Lodeve, and it is a very good example of a trompe l’oeil, as it blends real with fake – can you tell which windows are real and which are not?

The following mural is in Montpellier – the walls are pretty much flat, but the painting’s perspective makes it look incredibly 3D!The next mural is in Capestang, just right around the corner from the restaurant La Galiniere.

Beziers has a good number of murals – here is the oldest that I know of:

There appears to be a theme to the more recently painted murals in Beziers: famous artists and their works!

Here is L’Arlesienne by Georges Bizet:

Dejanire by Camille Saint-Saens:

Le Depit Amoureux by Moliere:

Jean Moulin, a native of Beziers and a hero of the Resistance, opened an art gallery in Nice as a cover for his resistance activities.  The following mural commemorates Jean Moulin and his gallery:

The mural in the last picture of this post is on a newly created square in Beziers.  The mural hides a series of what I imagine are run-down houses awaiting renovation – a pretty neat idea!

This was to be my last article of 2019, but somehow it never got posted and ended up in my drafts folder!  Since I wrote this post, Saint-Chinian has unveiled its own trompe l’oeil. It’s not quite finished yet, so I’ll post a picture of it when it is.

Shades of colour

February has arrived.  The days are getting longer, and there is a promise of spring in the air!!  Nature is showing us that renewal is on the way!  😀

This is a wonderful time of the year to go for a walk – be patient and observe, and you’ll be richly rewarded!

The almond trees have started to flower:

The mimosa trees are producing an absolutely glorious amount of bright yellow fluffy blossoms:

The red flowers of the red Japanese quince bush provide a jewel-like cheerful spot of colour

In some vineyards, the ground between the rows of plants is carpeted with wildflowers:

All these sights gladden my heart and lift my spirits!!  I hope they lift your spirits too!!

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