Saturday, 16 October 2010

French without tears.......

I lay on a lounger, canopied by twisted vines, knotted through with climbing roses, my bare legs and pale toes warmed by the hot autumn sunshine; I am in France, enjoying the last of the pink wine ......... not now of course, now I'm back home, swaddled in winter woollies, playing catch-up with the sky plus (oh the anxiety of trying to get through Mad Men and Downton Abbey before they roll round again......). But, for a few days, I was away.

'Do you like chestnuts?' asked my friend.
'Yes I do,' I said, 'I love them.'
I had decided some time out was needed. So, armed with a ludicrously cheep return flight to Rodez (honestly, it cost more to get to Stanstead and back.....) I'd packed my ryan-air-sized-suitcase and wheeled off to the Aveyron, in south central France, to stay with an old friend and her young family.
'Right then, lets walk up the track and get some,' she said, 'kids....'
Entente cordial reigns supreme in this multi-cultural home, made-up as it is of a German, two from Vietnam, two from Mali and a Brit..... all abroad. Really, it's like visiting the UN. I stuffed first my pockets and then the children's, with the shiny, fallen chestnuts and we trudged back to the house: an old stone farmhouse, beautifully restored over the many years they have lived there, with the creative eye of a real artist.

'Do you not prick the nuts first?' I asked.
'No,' said my friend, 'I don't think so.'

And so we sat in the heavenly kitchen, hand-painted, patterned walls, strung with chandeliers and the kids' artistic endeavours, listening to the sound of exploding marrons, buried deep beneath the embers of the range. And drank the pink wine.

It wasn't a long trip and I have never visited so late in the year before, but a change, as they say, is as good as a rest. We picked the last of the red tomatoes and yellow courgettes from the vegetable patch, all part of the beautiful garden, it's winding paths and stone steps leading to hidden treasures buried amongst the flora and fauna (gardening: an unknown skill my friend developed after leaving London 20-odd years ago, with enormous success) and we ate soft cheeses and ripe figs sitting in the sunshine. This is an area silenced but for the sound of rutting bulls and the squawk of force-fed geese, this is peace and quite on a grand scale, no roads rage or sirens whale, just the occasional whine of a moped and the bark of a distant dog. And the crunch of gravel under foot as more pink wine is brought to the table.

I ate thick slabs of moist date and walnut cake, baked with the walnuts collected by the children, and stirred the quince jam made with the quinces that hung heavily from the tree close to where we sat and ate, which would fall suddenly with a thud; their heady, perfumed scent still haunts my nostrils. I slept soundly in a large, attic room with a small, single window, waking every morning to a view of butterscotch-coloured cornfields and undulating, French-green, countryside, studded with ex-pats. It was good. Could I live there? Without my sofa cinema, theatre, openings, private views? No, not right now. But I can still eat, drink, play........

Top-tip: go see 'The Social Network', so, so entertaining and absolutely why I've never done Facebook.......


  1. Hubby and I had a discussion about this today. We wished we were brave enough to up sticks and go. But we are not. I wish we had done it when we were younger. Great post - I would have loved a photo. xxxxx

  2. I enjoyed this made me hungry and I am now longing for a glass of pink wine..actually any glass will do! I am eagerly awaiting the start of Downton Abbey in 30 minutes or so. The kids are making me sit thru X- would so prefer the quips and mannerisms of Maggie Smith, now there is a woman that can make me laugh!!

    Best wishes for a wonderful week and good luck with Sky Plus!

    Jeanne :))

  3. You paint beautiful pictures with your words, in fact, you had me was salivating.
    Street cart vendors used to sell fresh roasted chestnuts on every corner in cold weather but I have not seen them in years. The present Mayor of NYC has outlawed everything, perhaps the chestnuts were the first to go. He is trying to pass a law that would make you a criminal if you light a cigarette in Central Park.
    NYC is not what it used to be, but then again, neither are we.
    Thank you for taking me out of myself if only for a few minutes. I would move to that French home in a NYC minute if I could afford it.
    X David

  4. I am so Jealous. I used to live in France many years ago and I still day dream about it. You have brought back many fond memories. Glad you had a wonderful break

  5. I so need a break like this..and some pink wine>

  6. Dear Jo, what a beautifully written post. I was almost there with you then. The house sounds wonderful.

    How lovely to have an impromptu break but I'm with you I like things to be happening whether I go to them or not.

    I'm enjoying Downton Abbey, particularly Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton's performances. I'm forever on a catch up with the Sky+ too.

    Let's get together next week if you're free xx

  7. i so enjoyed reading your fabulous posts...lovely,love and refreshing!
    will be back for more!!! LOL