Monday, October 29, 2012

mothers and rain

What do rain and mothers have in common? Simple: whatever either does, someone, somewhere will say it is wrong.

A deluge came last week. It was mostly very welcome after the summer drought. But, of course, some of the rain got into the wrong places. Only a little tweak of the imagination and it is my fault.

Grass grew at the speed of day-light and fungi rose even faster during the night. The agarics were on steroids – caps of 8” across and more - much to the annoyance of the sheep, who seemed to enjoy kicking them over. Perhaps the wet, thin grass is not good for sheep digestions and so their temper. Especially since they had just got used to finding nice, dry chestnuts and acorns. Despite our many years of experience, we were dubious about eating the mega mushrooms as they no longer bore any relation to our habitual rosé des prés .

                                  Sheep one, mushrooms nil

One good result of the rain is that the last of the walnuts have fallen to the ground, ready for harvesting with the magic 'rugby ball' walnut sweeper. This is an amazing device, reportedly invented in California. It is made up of fine wires in the shape and size of a rugby ball, attached at either end to round discs. These are at the ends of a downturned V shaped shank which is fastened to a long handle. (Think of the old fashioned carpet sweeper.) This sweeper is rolled over the nuts which pop between the wires, then it is opened over a bucket by a cunningly placed hook on the bucket side. Now any elderly person can harvest fallen walnuts without bending down, which brings a whole additional harvest of nuts to market. Given that the size of walnut orchards is steadily shrinking, the price of walnuts consequently rising, this is a good thing. I claim credit for being one of the earliest to buy the walnut sweeper, even if not for me but for Arnold.

One bad result of the rain was a flood on the dining room floor in the Farmhouse. Heart in boots (actually boots on door-step so as not to dirty floor) I went upstairs to see where the problem lay. The wall behind the bath was sodden. Fortunately the new plaster board ceiling appeared dry. And then the probable cause occurred to me.
The wall at the back of the bath encases the tuyau d'evacuation des odeurs which is a much nicer way of saying 'stink pipe'. This is the pipe that carries the odours of fermentation from the septic tank, into the skies. (Theory, only occasionally fact.) It goes through a gulley in the roof. So it is highly probable that the seal round the pipe was destroyed by heavy rain.. Perhaps not properly sealed by Ahmed, he of the forked tongue and pointy shoes, self declared roofer, the last man up there.

My fault for not having it (or Ahmed) checked. There had always been a few patches of black mould on the plaster board when the rain had just come down gently. I had, apparently wrongly, always assumed it was due to careless use of the douche in the bath, or a poor seal between bath and wall, so that water would run down to the floor below. But this was the first time I had seen the bathroom wall absolutely drenched. Damp to that degree is not good for the bio-degradable walls of the standard Dordogne farmhouse. My bad. Waiting for M. Doly to come fix.

Monday, October 15, 2012

medieval musical hauntings

Integration is not all about accepting local hunting and eating habits. It can also mean involvement in local cultural happenings, however scary. The incomer will be secure in the knowledge that he or she will be seen to be part of the community, not least by the Maire,possibly the local MP. For me it might just upset other people's idea of me as an anti-social, tone-deaf, cook-only, bookworm.

It was in this brave spirit that I dragged my nearest, most musical, neighbour to a performance of medieval music in the medieval (translate: unheated) church of St Eutrope at St Aquilin, Sunday, October 14th. The title of the concert was 'Jaufre Rudel, la Croisade d'Amour' or 'Jeffrey Rudel, Love's Crusader.' The ensemble performing was called 'Tre Fontane'* .

The second reason for attending was the story of Jaufre Rudel, Prince of Blaye, archetypal medieval troubadour (c. 1113 - 1170). We all know troubadours sang songs of 'courtly love' in which they adored unattainable ladies. The Prince of Blaye, with the help of the medieval equivalent of Facebook - men in tunics and tights on fast horses, carrying handwritten, wax sealed parchment reports - fell in love with the idea of the Countess of Tripoli, one Hodierne. He wrote many songs about far away love. Then he took the oath of fidelity and became a Crusader, embarking for the Holy Land.

Unfortunately, hygiene not being up to modern cruise-ship standards, he fell ill and was at death's door when when the ship docked at Antioch. The Countess, meanwhile, had heard of his devotion (see information transmission above) and made haste to the port. She took him in her arms, he regained consciousness long enough to look upon her face and die. She buried him with all honours and hied herself to a convent.

The third reason was a compelling curiosity about the musical instruments that would be played: (in French) nay, rebec, saz, luth, vielle à roue, bendir. It was not too difficult to work out of what a 'luth' and a 'rebec' might be – but a 'vielle à roue'? There were three male players, one a singer as well as an instrumentalist (nay, rebec, saz) and the songs in Occitan were interspersed with Andalusian/Arab instrumental ensemble pieces. The musicians, well into their second youth, produced a wonderful sound, high and clear, sometimes reminiscent of solo singers in church, not just because we were in a church. The instrumental pieces were haunting, sounds of far off, yet familiar lands.

The 'vielle à roue' was fascinating. It looked rather like a fat bellied violin laid across a player's knees. Aforesaid player then removed a couple of strings and replaced them with a single row of keys, above which there was a sounding board. The hand not on the handle was used to pluck the keys. I kept wondering what the handle actually did, whether medieval technology was up to shaping wood that accurately, how had the tunes been remembered before written musical notation was common.

The other instruments were less unusual, even to my philistine eyes. A 'saz' was just a lute (long handled lute or leather back turtle in Harrap's Anglo-French dictionary¹). The 'luth' was a standard lute and 'rebec' is rebec in English.
The 'bendir', looked rather like the tambourine musical inadequates are allowed to play in school orchestras, but without mini-cymbals. It was just, the dictionary loftily said, 'a percussion instrument'.

But, oh the disappointment with the English language! The wonderful vielle à roue' – caressed wood bellied violin shape with handle, strings, keys,the smoothest of sounding boards, creator of the most extra-ordinary sounds, romance personified in wood. The English call it a 'hurdy-gurdy.' I could cry.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

leaving problems behind

The first thing one does when preparing to leave Paradise (aka La Chaise) for a holiday is to make lists. Lists of things to be done before leaving, of things other people should do, lists of things to be packed, lists of things to be put away.

So, the Saturday before the Tuesday that we were scheduled to leave, I had made my list of things about which I should make lists . I went down to the gîtes to see if everything was in order for my Thursday guests. The dead freezer in the Farmhouse was duly labelled hors service, the live one in the Shepherd's Cottage was firmly labelled 'svp pas ouvrir, contient produits congèles'. Both houses were supplied with loo paper, washing up liquid, dishwasher tablets.

I had a quick look in the sheep shed which the Wonderful Arnold had practically finished cleaning. It smelt a lot less of sheep and looked sufficiently hygienic not to upset urban people. The hornets, wasps and birds were occupied with the fig tree which was in full production and I hoped I had remembered to suggest my guests would take careful advantage of its bounty.

Then I saw Madame Landraudie coming down the drive. She was carrying a black rubbish bag. As she came closer I noticed that the bag dripped. It dripped blood and my heart sank. Madame Laundraudie is the only lady member of our chasse of St Aquilin which has the right to hunt in our woods. In recompense, every year, we receive some game. Obviously she was coming to deliver the usual Percival tithe.

We exchanged polite enquiries about each other's healths, that of our respective husbands and, on my part, on the success or otherwise of the beginning of the chasse season. Apparently it was not too brilliant. The frantic wood cutting that had been going on all around us has disturbed the game. Possibly a little too much enthusiasm the previous season had also reduced numbers.

So she apologised for the size of the piece she offered me, a very young chevreuil. We hoped the season would improve. As my mind raced frantically to work out what I would do with this piece of meat, and no freezer capacity, we moved to discuss the nuisible situation. I raised the question of the foxes that the W'ful Arnold had seen gambolling with the lambs in the fields; foxes that would stop me from keeping ducks or chickens again.

The good news, for me but not the foxes, is that the specialist fox hunter has been contacted and he will come with his specialist pack of hounds that will raise the foxes. (English country people skip the next bit, please.) Hunters will be stationed in the woods and, if we would be so kind as to bring the sheep in for a day, in our fields as well. Then the hunters would shoot at the foxes. We shook hands and I took my prize to the kitchen.

It was the forequarter of the chevreuil and I doubt if, alive, together with the other three quarters, it weighed as much as 30 kilos. I looked at it and copped out. No way could I joint, bone, roll this meat and not least because it had been very recently skinned and was still bloody. What to do?

So, on the way to Spain, car carefully we packed, we stopped at St Astier and I took the chevreuil to my butcher. I said 'please'. He said: vous inquietez pas, Madame, vous inquietez pas.' So, here I am in Spain, not worrying.