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Tuesday, 25 August 2009


The 'Rencontres de Maubourguet' are about leisure, art and sport.
In Maubourguet that is rugby - and bull-fighting - and art.

It goes on all weekend and makes for a rather good atmosphere.
I couldn't recognise Maubourguet at all - here is the funfair - and here is the estate agent who sold us our house - but somehow it has become a funfair stall!

The artists are very varied - mostly seem very professional - they turn up for one night - make a piece of art while the fascinated public watch - and it is auctioned two days later even it isn't dry!


John is on the roof again.

Essential work boarding up the gaps under the eaves so that the insulation, the heat, and the cat don't keep escaping.

The cat is a keen observer of people working hard in high places. She frequently checks on John to see what he is up to and to see if she can plan her next circumvention of his careful blocking up of wind-ways.

I decided to make a tiny watering hole for small wild creatures as it has been so hot and so dry recently. It is not beautiful but I hope it will attract a dragonfly or two. So far only a water boatman and a ring-necked dove have succumbed to its charms.


Ruth coming down the mountain when she comes

This is the end of the road.

From here there are only walks up the mountains. This was Valcebollere and the Auberge des Ecureuils when we met old friends of mine from some 20 years ago. We had a great meal together and talked and talked.

One of the last times I saw them was with their daughter, then under a year old, now a married woman. We had taken the wrong route through a deserted Game Park in Zambia and kept having to dig ourselves out of the sand in dry river beds while elephants paraded nearby.

J and C love walking holidays and are very fit. We followed their advice and walked up the mountain as you can see. It was lovely and worthwhile but I am a plainswoman and can only go up hill slowly.

I also contacted another friend from the past and then remembered the first time another J and her husband B and two small daughters (same age as R and T) stayed with us at Lake Kariba.

We were woken first by a convoy of lorries in the night. New to that aspect of Africa, we were not unduly concerned but at 5 am we were woken by a loud knock on the door. I opened it to find a soldier with an AK47 pointing at me and a number of other soldiers lying in the front garden with guns aimed at me. They refused to allow me to make a cup of tea for friends and family and we were marched off to the football field in the village with every other inhabitant of the area, white and black, while they rounded up 'aliens'. Do you remember this, older kids?
When it got hot around 11.30 everyone got tired and we were all allowed to go home.

At the moment nothing like this seems likely to happen in France.

Are we 'aliens' though?

Brits are perhaps just Brits and maybe they won't send any soldiers to round us up.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Cosmopolite ou Quoi?

Ever since we have been online via satellite, something strange has happened. We sign in in German. Why is that? Easier than Turkish or Magyar, though!

The other thing is that, on Ruth's computer, "@" has changed into """ (or vice versa) and """ has changed into "@" (or verce visa).


Topaze is growing fast and a couple of Toms have been on the prowl around - one even venturing into the study last night!

Topaze has explored every inch of our house especially the roof spaces She cannot be locked in, any more than the heat and the freezing cold can be kept out.

She has proved to us again and again why we were so cold in April. We were actually living in a barn! The beams, roof struts and tops of walls are Topaze's walkways and exits.

Here is a photo of the quality roof struts over our heads. John is covering them up with insulation as fast as possible.
I have also added picture of that upstairs toilet!

We still are living in a barn but every day John brings about some new improvement as he adds some more insulation and another degree of comfort. (Stop Press! Extra! Extra! We now have an upstairs toilet! Only just though, as, due to the many different sizes of pipe and the materials from which they are made - plus a degree of senile dementia - it took me 4 trips to BricoMarche' in Plaisance before I got the correct pipe union.)

One day Topaze will have to use a catflap in a door. (That one day may be far away!)

Right now she is a free as that icy wind!


Apparently most wells dry up each year and so has ours - this week. (Not a big problem, you might think, but the French are parsimonious and well water is free, whereas mains water is metered.)
10 days ago I could water the whole garden. a week ago I either did the vegetables or the mixed border and pumpkins.

Very soon I could only fill 5 buckets, then just one watering can.

It is very hot - about 36 - 40. No point in holding your breath for a thunderstorm as they are always miss us and are just a field further away.

I thought I would have to watch as the garden died from drought and disease and stress but -

John has made me a tap for the veggie garden from the mains water. It has very little pressure so after an initial brave squirt of 8 ft it dwindles to a dribble and I am back to filling watering cans from it and putting little amounts on individual plants.

New gardens must be watered to get established.

Hopefully in a year or two most plants will survive the summer and I will just nurse the veggies like M. Blandin on the next farm who can grow 20 metre rows of cabbages with one can of carefully administered water.

It is like Lusaka and Zambia again and my childhood in Zimbabwe where water was always in short supply and a reddish colour. I still cannot bear to see a tap running while someone cleans their teeth even if it is me!! <


So its monoculture here as well and no food security.

We are surrounded and dwarfed by the maize that grows all around us.

We chose this place because at least the rural economy was alive even if not well.
We were somewhat surprised that nothing was planted until late in April - only one crop a year? In spite of all that heavy machinery! Well that is because it is maize.

What is maize good for then? (Maize, huh! What is it good for?)

Basically it is for fattening cattle and animals. In Africa maize feeds Africans - by the way - not its primary purpose.

Fact is maize is not a good staple unless you also can get fresh fruit and veg and some protein. In Africa where people can't it is one reason why people succumb to HIV/AIDS. It needs to be supplemented with Soya etc.

Why were so many poor South African women both fat and not very strong - too much maize pap and no real food! It is a serious health issue.

Well it pays to grow it - BUT - IT USES VAST AMOUNTS OF WATER - and it dries up rivers, wells, lakes and artesian basins. (It dries up our well, too. Right In My Back Yard.) (Cultural Note for our male readers. The word "artesian" comes from Artois in Belgium. So Stella Artois actually uses water from doubly Artesian wells.)

So it is bad news. Here people used to grow several varied crops a year - none of which needed this kind of irrigation.

What does maize also do?

It makes people obese. Scientists and physicists are changing the structure of corn starch - modifying it - so that it makes food look lovely and not disintegrate - so ice cream doesn't melt and baked beans shine.

go -on - get a packet of corn starch - moisten it and see how it behaves. It is useful for cooks in small amounts -

You it makes fat and you didn't know how much you were eating did you? Have a look at food labels - go on!

All the way across Europe on our travels there was maize or there was nothing! Only Turkey has a sustainable agriculture.

Hungary had maize. Poland and Romania rural poverty. Maize is taking over the world - wasting water and killing people with malnutrition and obesity.


Here it is!

Our new useful and air-conditioned Opel left-hand drive MPV which we collected while back home.

Much cheaper that anything we could find in France and it does all that we need. We now look as if we belong here as every local person seems to have something similar.


We went to the Jazz In Marciac festival - JIM! (Why did they call it Jazz IN Marciac - in English - and not Jazz a' Marciac - JAM? much more appropriate!)

We heard some fantastic jazz - saw some great performers!

Concerts start at 9 at night. The first night we left around 1.30.

The last night we were there - our fourth concert - we left around 3am, and there was still an encore to come!

We kept going on ice cream and booze in the intervals - no matter how great the show it is still possible to fall asleep in the middle of it after 4 or 5 hours! (Not too much booze luckily. On the way home on the the third of the 4 nights we were stopped by the Bold Gendarmes and I was breathalysed - for the first time in my life. Naturally the verdict was "c'est bon". What would you expect?)

We saw Wynton Marsalis, the Buena Vista Social Club and Omara Portuondo, Milton Nascimento, Avishai Cohen, David Krakauer and Kletzmer Madness, Laurent Cugny and the Enormous Big Band - had a astonishing singer - among others- all really enjoyable. We should also mention Marcus Roberts an American pianist. Wynton Marsalis was right. He is a genius of the piano. You should hear him.

Go on line and check out the festival and come and stay with us next year!

Monday, 10 August 2009


What a lot of pleasure -
and what a lot of work!

I look at the way things grow and quite unreasonably feel proud. It is after all a felicitous outcome of earth and climate rather than my green fingers though until John put in the pump on the well I did carry about 15 - 20 watering cans of water a day!
It wasn't for too long however.
John also made the raised beds which is without doubt the easiest and pleasantest way to grow veggies.
Homegrown vegetables taste wonderful - if they have enough sun and water.
Garden produce is still a gift - so much richer and more abundant than hoped for and also astonishing. Reminds of my babies at 6 months when you look at an infant sitting up and gurgling and you think did that miracle really result from breast milk?
I am being green and as organic as possible which is actually laziness too because trying to cope with pests is really hard work apart from killing slugs which must be done.
The climate does help. I have been able to grow and harvest plants from seeds which is a first for me but then again it is all about learning new and different ways of doing and growing things.
I am a "une debutante de le potager et de la jardinaire"

Sunday, 9 August 2009


John has worked hard - even obsessively to get this room habitable. It probably is comfortable temperature-wise now but more work needs doing to make it smart.
It was a hot, tough and exacting job. It is likely the neighbours kids have inadvertently learnt a few old English words when John was. shouting at the wall.

Yes I know -
It isn't finished
it has come a long way. John is being very thorough and careful - about the measurements at least.

There has been some anxiety from family phoning me and asking if I am really sure that it is safe to be with someone who shouts at the building as John does.

It can almost be stayed in. It lacks a skylight and will have a dormer or a velux depending on planning and the mairie.

The thing is that the temperature should be comfortable all year we hope!


It was 40 degrees under the kitchen roof while John struggled to insulate it and do the wiring to the kitchen ceiling. He could not reach under the beams and could hardly sit upright in much of it.
Need I say more?


Okay - this post is jinxed! This it the 4th or 5th time I have tried to get it uploaded. We had a great time on Republic Day at a Pot luck Lunch in our village. In spite of our hastily gathered and inadequate contributuion we were met with hospitality food, wine, armagnac and songs! It was a great day! Watch again because I hope to upload the video of a nonagenerian lady singing local Basque songs.

Thursday, 6 August 2009


We were invited by our generous neighbour, Roberto of Ecolorado Rafting, to try river rafting on the Gave de Pau above Lourdes. It was a stretch of 14 kms of river and took us just under two hours to do it. It was great fun. Not quite Sobek thank goodness. I haven't done Sobek - the white water rafting below the Mosi-O-Tunya, Victoria Falls from the Boiling Pot. I have just canoed down the middle Zambezi with family and friends.

It was the first time we put on the wet suits we bought for our campervan trip but did not pack. The day was grey which was easier on my eyes but as we got rather wet - it was just a little cool.

The countryside is beautiful and the river swift and cold and we spun around over rocks, rapids and eddies.

The images are of us on a narrow slipway that took us past one of the weirs and barrages on the river. Roberto was able to walk alongside us and take the pictures for me. You can see Roberto with John in the one shot I took.

There was some rough-housing by the paint-ball team in the first RIB.

It was really a good experience, interesting and to be highly recommended. We would both do it again.

Admittedly this was the easier stretch of river. There is a more exciting stretch below Lourdes if you are more daring than us.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


I didn't catch anything. It is difficult to ask for help with a jammed fishing reel when you don't have a French dictionary with you. They load hundreds of trout into the Alaric canal and people in camouflage - chaps actually - fish them out competitively with bait - no spinning - the canal is rather narrow as I discovered.

I was hoping to add fish to our menu and fill up our empty freezer!


The South of France is serious bullfighting and hunting country. Here there are two sorts of bullfight. Traditional Spanish with Matadors and Picadors and the Course Landaise which we haven't seen but the bulls aren't killed. Not sure about people though. On Republic Day we went to a local event 'without death' that turned out to be three children training to be bullfighters with young steers or bullocks! The kids - two boys and a girl were about 13 years or so - I will upload a short video if I can - meanwhile an image perhaps if the internet connection allows.


So you know.
When this photo is uploaded - currently each image takes 30 minutes or forever - you will see the reach of the irrigation spray and the size of our house. It explains the broken roof tiles we inherited and the current damp carpet in the bedroom.
The farmer whizzed around to correct the alignment of his system and no permament harm was done. The water was delicously cool but rather powerful.
I wish he hadn't missed the vegetable garden as our well is beginning to run dry and it is very hot at the moment.


It is time to end this blog – or is it?
It is a blog for you – and for John and me but does it work?
Does it serve any useful purpose for us?
We have been useless at keeping it up to date partly because we have had so much else to do but also because our internet connections are so slow.
Anyhow – whatever – whatever – I will do a few more blogs with pictures but very short and see if anyone notices or comments.


So come and stay L and E and enjoy!
Another part of my Immersion course was visiting Mirande. I was taken to the centre of things by the redoubtable M-S, my tutor and host. There I acquired a cowboy hat for gardening and bought a Bad Boy hat for John to wear on the ride-on mower.


Isn’t it beautiful!
This trip was part of my French Immersion course.
The Cirque de Garvanie is a vast natural amphitheatre surrounded by mountains and cataracts. Roland with his great sword cut a great chip off the ridge in the fight to prevent the Moors invasion of France.

There was a grand spectacle being staged in the valley to which we were invited. Sadly I had the flu and we had to miss it.
From further west and higher up the Col des Tentes it is possible to see this glacier. ‘Those who know’ the “They’s of wisdom’ say the Pyreneen glaciers will have disappeared in 30 years time.