A picture a month

Back in the last century, in 1999 (remember those days?? ūüėČ ), I worked on a calendar project with a friend. ¬†She was a professional photographer and I had some computer skills, and so we pooled our skills and resources to produce a calendar illustrated with photographs taken in and of the area. ¬†The calendars were sold to visitors and locals alike – they were very popular! ¬†It was a very enjoyable but one-off project.

Many years later, in 2008, I made a photo calendar for a friend, just a one-off for a Christmas present.  That started a tradition which is still going!  For the past eleven years I have produced a calendar each year, using photographs taken mostly around the area.  I have only ever had a small number of them printed, and I have given the calendars as Christmas presents to friends and family.

A recent conversation with one of my brothers sparked the idea of sharing some of these calendars with you. ¬†Here’s the background to the story: The management team of the nursing home where my brother works, recently decided that they needed new pictures on the walls. ¬†My brother had kept all the calendars from over the years, and he felt that these were just the pictures that were needed! ¬†So the calendars were cut up, the pictures framed and hung up all over the place. ¬†My brother now sees reminders of Saint-Chinian throughout the building!

Here are the pictures from that very first calendar in 2009:

2009 calendar cover

The cover

Landscape near Saint-Chinian

Barrel Cellar, Domaine des Jougla, Prades sur Vernazobre

Pear blossoms, Saint-Chinian

Calla Lily, Saint-Chinian

Redcurrants, Saint-Chinian

Echinacea flowers, Saint-Chinian

Geese, Le Bouys, near Minerve

Casa Milo, Barcelona, Spain

Artemis tinctoria, Saint-Chinian

Vine leaf, near Saint-Chinian

Windmill on the hill above Saint-Chinian

Garden of the Gods, Colorado, USA

The pictures from Barcelona and Colorado were the odd ones out in 2009 – I’d visited both places the previous year, which is why the photographs made it into the calendar!

I’ll be making another calendar this year – I don’t think there’ll be any pictures of far-flung places in it! ūüôā

Smile! ¬†ūüėÄ

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?? ¬†ūüôā

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!! ūüėÄ

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! ūüôā

Easter traditions in Perpignan

The colourful town of Perpignan is worth a visit at any time of year, but if you are interested in real spectacle you have to visit just before Easter.

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Every year on Good Friday, a procession winds its way through the narrow streets of old Perpignan, to commemorate the passion of Christ.  The origins of the procession can be traced back to Saint Vincent Ferrier, a Dominican monk who lived between 1350 and 1419.  La Confrerie de la Sanch, the Fraternity of the Holy Blood, was founded in October 1416 at the Church of Saint-Jacques in Perpignan, with the aim of accompanying those condemned to death, as well as their families, before and after the execution, and at the same time commemorating the passion of Christ.

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Perpignan Cathedral

The participants of the procession are called penitents Рthe men wearing black robes with hats pointing to the sky, their faces completely masked, some of them barefoot or only wearing sandals.  The women wear black veils on their head and are dressed head to toe in black.  The procession is always led by the Regidor, a figure dressed in a red robe, carrying an iron bell, which is rung intermittently, followed by a group of drummers.  The solemnity of the procession as it approached sent shivers down my spine.

In 1777 the authorities decided to confine the procession to the church grounds of the Saint-Jacques church, as it was deemed too baroque and Spanish.¬† The tradition of taking the procession through the streets of the old town was revived in 1950 and it’s been taking place ever since.

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Baroque is certainly a good term to describe the procession today, and the tradition is typically Catalan.   Other processions exist in Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure, where they are still being held at night.

After the Regidor and the drummers comes a very large cross, carried upright by just one man, which is decorated with a great many symbols, which I imagine are instruments of the Passion of Christ, but I could not make sense of all of them.

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Reliquary of St Vincent Ferrier

The penitents carry the Misteri on their shoulders, which show scenes from the passion.  So there are all kinds of statues, which are brought from the churches and chapels of Perpignan and the surrounding villages, including one enormous cross, which had to be lowered every so often to pass below the power lines crossing the road.  The statues of the Virgin are dressed in black with mourning veils, some carrying the crown of thorns in outstretched hands, and all with strong expressions on their wooden faces.  The Misteri are heavy,  and the Penitents are doing this not for the spectators who line the streets, but for their faith.  At times I felt very much like an intruder taking photographs, and I did not shoot any videos (sorry!).

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The procession passes in silence; the penitents do not speak, and most of the bystanders watch in awed silence.¬† The only noise comes from a PA system, where someone is explaining the origins of the Sanch and reading what sounded to me to be sacred texts, some in Occitan. The PA system is also playing the Goigs, the traditional Catalan Easter songs.¬† I would have preferred for there not to been any of that. ¬†For me it didn’t add to the atmosphere.

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The start is at 3pm in Rue de l’Eglise Saint-Jacques, and the procession returns there at 6pm.¬† In between there are four stops to give those carrying the Misteri a break.¬†¬† When there is a break, even a short one during the walk, each one of the bearers has a stick on which to rest the handles of their heavy load.¬† Some of those sticks look as if they’ve been used for a very long time.

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So there I stood, awed by the whole thing, watching it go by, taking photographs of all the Misteri.¬† There had been a little wait before the procession arrived, and just across the street from where I stood was this rather fun sign, so here it is to lighten the mood ūüôā

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There are many Misteri in the procession and many photographs I took, so I thought I would try and insert a slide show for you.

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So, if you ever are in the area around Easter, I would urge you to visit Perpignan on Good Friday, even if the weather does not look too good.  The procession will not leave you indifferent, and neither will the town of Perpignan!

Red all over

As a result of our wetter-than-usual spring, we’ve had the most amazing display of wildflowers this year. ¬†Poppies have been truly exceptional! ¬†One field in particular, just by the roundabout in Cabezac, was simply extraordinary, to the point where I made a special trip just to take pictures to share with you!!

Papaver rhoeas is the latin name of the common poppy, also called field poppy, Flanders poppy or red poppy. ¬†It grows particularly well in recently disturbed soil, and hence it’s association with the churned up WWI battlefields of northern France. ¬†In Cabezac, the field had been ploughed, perhaps late last year or earlier this year, in preparation for a cereal crop or some such. ¬†If any seeds had been sown then, they had had no chance against the poppies – I saw no evidence of a struggling crop.

The field was so spectacularly red that many people stopped their cars by the side of the road and hopped out to take a picture or two. ¬†The snails on the post didn’t seem to be particularly fussed about the poppies or the passers-by.

I walked around the edge of the field, careful not to step on any poppies! ¬†I found this beautiful thistle which looks wonderful against the red background, don’t you agree?

There were also some marguerites:

Some of the visitors walked right into the middle of the field, perhaps thinking of Claude Monet’s¬†Coquelicots (Poppy Field) form 1873, which shows a lady with a parasol and a child walking through a field. ¬†It’s a¬†painting which has been reproduced countless times – I’m sure you’ve seen it somewhere! ¬†The original hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

Nobody carried a parasol the day I took the pictures, but there were many mobile phones in evidence!! ūüôā

I’ve teased you long enough with my descriptions – here, finally, is the field in all its glory:

Something to think about: a single poppy plant can produce up to 400 flowers during its life cycle!  If only some of the poppy flowers in the field produce seeds, there is a good chance that there will be another amazing display before too long.

And another thing to remember: poppy seeds can stay dormant for a very long time, until the soil is disturbed once more…

Come see for yourself?

Last Friday, I was spending time with my parents and I was far away from Saint-Chinian. ¬†Not long after I’d published the weekly post, my father told me that he’d seen something about a shooting “near where you live”. ¬†I was deeply saddened when I found out what had happened in Carcassonne and Trebes. ¬†The funeral of the victims of the attacks took place yesterday. ¬†This must be a very sad time for the people touched by the tragedy, and by the families of the victims, and my heart goes out to them.

In light of everything, it feels strange to publish the post I have written for today. ¬†But life must go on, and I will continue to live my life as before. ¬†I will not start to avoid towns, places or events because of what might happen. ¬†Life is precious and sometimes short. ¬†Let’s make sure that every moment counts!


You may remember a post I wrote last year, about an article which had been published on the CNN website.  The article rated Saint-Chinian among the top 10 destinations to retire to in 2017 Рit caused quite a stir in Saint-Chinian when it was picked up by the national media in France!

Live and Invest Overseas, the company behind the rating and the original CNN article, has published their list for 2018. ¬†Saint-Chinian still ranks in fifth place, ahead of Lisbon, Budapest, Chiang Mai and Bali, to name but a few other destinations!! ¬†You can find the whole list here – you’ll have to scroll to the end of the page for the list.

The story was picked up again at the beginning of January on the Forbes website, under the imaginative headline of “Quit Your Job And Move Abroad: The Cheapest Places To Live In 2018“. ¬†In the article, Kathleen Peddicord, founder and publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, is quoted as describing Saint-Chinian as a “quintessential French country village where everyday life is like something out of Disney‚Äôs Beauty and the Beast”.

Whilst that may be a bit of an exaggeration, she’s spot on with “quintessential French country village”. ¬†The location of Saint-Chinian and the transport links play an important role in the ranking, and the best part (to my mind) is that the people in Saint-Chinian are described as very friendly!! ¬†ūüôā

Saint-Chinian does have a lot going for it – though I may be biased?! ūüôā ¬†I imagine that I take for granted some of the reasons why life in Saint-Chinian is so delightful. ¬†All the same, I do try to remind myself often just how fortunate I am to be living in such a wonderful village!

if you’re tempted to find out why Saint-Chinian has made it on the list of the world’s best places to retire to for two years running, come and visit! ¬†(For accommodation, have a look here.)

The following photos may give you some idea of why people love Saint-Chinian so much!

The wonderful Sunday market in Saint-Chinian

The wonderful Sunday market in Saint-Chinian

Les Platanettes - a wonderful spot for a refreshing dip

Les Platanettes – a wonderful spot for a refreshing dip

Classical music concert in the former abbey church

The village along the Vernazobre river

The Vernazobre river that runs through Saint-Chinian

Jazz concert in the cloister

Landscape around Saint-Chinian

Grape harvest in Saint-Chinian

Grape harvest in Saint-Chinian

A summer evening of food, wine and music at the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian

A summer evening of food, wine and music at the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian

Bastille day fireworks in Saint-Chinian

Bastille day fireworks in Saint-Chinian

Wine tasting at one of the many wineries in the village

Wine tasting at one of the many wineries in the village

View of Saint-Chinain from the Windmill

View of Saint-Chinian from the Windmill

Another view of Saint-Chinian

Another view of Saint-Chinian

Vineyards surround Saint-Chinian - they are beautiful at any time of year!

Vineyards surround Saint-Chinian – they are beautiful at any time of year!

The historic pipe organ in the parish church

The historic pipe organ in the parish church

A wild narcissus patch on the edge of Saint-Chinian

A wild narcissus patch on the edge of Saint-Chinian

Saint-Chinian town hall all decorated for the national holiday, Bastille Day

Saint-Chinian town hall decorated for the national holiday, Bastille Day

The Tour de France passing through the village

The Tour de France during one of the years that it passed through the village

It would take me too many photos to show you all of the wonderful things that make us love Saint-Chinian!  Come visit, to find out for yourself!

Sailing again

If you have visited Saint-Chinian, you’ll probably know that there is a windmill standing on the hill above the village. ¬†It was reconstructed as a fully functional windmill from a ruin a good many years ago. ¬†During the summer months, volunteers from the association¬†Richesses du St Chinianais¬†used to offer guided visits and would make the windmill turn if there was enough wind.

Unfortunately, at some point the rot set in Рin the main beam which held the sails and acted as the drive shaft.  One day, a couple of years ago, the beam just snapped off, and the four sails dropped to the ground.  It was a sad day for the village, but at least nobody was hurt.

The sails were put into storage, whilst experts looked at ways of repairing the windmill. ¬†In the end, it was decided to re-make the sails and the external part of the drive shaft with steel rather than wood. ¬†To my mind it’s been a surprisingly successful repair – you can’t really tell the difference even from just a few meters away.

With the sails replaced, the windmill was opened to visitors again last summer, and the volunteers from Les Richesses gave guided tours once more!  The day I visited, I arrived early enough to watch the sails being unfurled.  I shot a video, which gives you an idea of the tranquility of the spot, and what is required to get this windmill operational!

There was no wind on the day I visited, so unfortunately the sails would not turn. ¬†But don’t be disappointed! ¬†I did write about the windmill back in June 2013,¬†¬†and I included videos of the windmill turning in that post –¬†you can read the post here.

On your next visit to Saint-Chinian, don’t forget to have a look at the windmill – it’s worth the drive or walk for the views alone!!