Guns, hay bales and sticks: every day life in Entre-deux-Eaux, July – August 2016

To download a printable PDF version click on this link E2E2016no3.pdf (two A4 pages)

It was the policeman with the huge gun who impressed Jacob and Farrah outside the castle of Haut Koenigsbourg. And he wasn’t on ceremonial duty. The massacre in Nice and the murder of the French priest have reinforced the need for tight security even in the most picturesque tourist spots.

Kaiser Wilhelm, who had been presented with the ruined mediaeval Alsace castle after their victory in the Franco-Prussian war, would presumably not have been surprised by the heightened security in troubled times. After all he had spent a fortune on a lavish restoration of the castle, complete with towers and pinnacles and a pseudo-mediaeval banqueting hall with banners and weaponry. Alas, having completed his prestige project in 1908, he did not have many years in which to show it off. But he would have been gratified by the coachloads and carloads of tourists in August 2016.

After the policeman, Jacob and Farrah were impressed by the castle’s well which presumably had survived all the sieges, robber barons and the looting and burning of the castle several hundred years earlier (1633 on checking) by the Swedes. They also enjoyed firing imaginary arrows from the restored battlements and imagining the canon fire.

From this you will gather that we have been entertaining Toby, Rachel, Jacob and Farrah for the last ten days. The patio has been improved by the addition of a 3 x 2 m tubular-framed swimming pool and garden tables and chairs sprawl across the patio, balcony and orchard. As we lunched outside one day in the shade of the orchard trees, ripe damsons began to drop on us. As they were tasty, after stewing with some sugar, today we have collected a further eight kilos from the lower branches. Other fruit has not been as abundant, with sufficient for gooseberry crumbles, blackcurrant jellies and blueberries and loganberries in muesli breakfasts, leaving nothing for the freezer this year. A further home entertainment was provided by the farmer cutting, turning and baling the grass in the fields around us, which fascinated the children as they watched from the patio and arboretum.

As well as fighting off marauding Protestant Swedes, the children’s sketchy historical education continued with Asterix-like fights against the Romans as they scrambled up a hillside and fought their way with sticks along a ridge towards the gallo-Roman fort of La Bure on the far side of St Die. This fort was sadly lacking in cannons, but large round stones were stacked up as if in readiness for repelling invaders. Less bellicose walks involved inspecting village rabbits and picking the meadow flowers from the field to the north.

There was the usual trip to the sledge run at the Col de la Schlucht and a meal at Toby’s favourite restaurant, the Auberge Frankenbourg, where the adults indulged in the gourmet menu and the children behaved impeccably like seasoned diners.

Before their visit, John had also proposed trying a new restaurant which the Frankenbourg chef had recently praised. This was no elegant town setting. Our satnav directed us over the hills on the Strasbourg road, then turned off and headed uphill and looped downhill in zigzags, with the last kilometres behind a tractor with trailer heavily laden with hay bales. Finally we were in the long narrow village of Steige which is famous for its December advent windows and its large family run distillery. Near the church we turned left and uphill to a wooden chalet-style farmhouse. A goat came out of its hut and bleated a welcome. We were also welcomed verbally at the door by one of the young owners of the Auberge Chez Guth. 20160722_IMG125522_MotoG-JEBAs rain was forecast, she suggested aperitifs on the terrace, then lunch indoors. We opted to go straight in for lunch as too much alcohol was not a good idea with those bends to negotiate on the return journey. Inside the tables were elegantly laid in the big room that still had a farm feel despite the goldfish circling in a large glass bowl. From the rapidly served amuse bouche of nettle soup with acidulated celeriac at the bottom, we knew we were on to a good thing and thoroughly enjoyed our new find.

And now, having got the garden here in shape, it is time to return briefly to the overgrown lawns of Letchworth, mentally prepared for a courgette and coriander glut when we return to E2E..

Ice saints, ticks and black redstarts – everyday life in Entre-deux-Eaux – May-June 2016

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2016no2-1.pdf (three A4 pages)

Click on the photographs for larger versions

The oldies of Entre-deux Eaux were all agreed that nothing should be planted until the three Ice Saints’ Days had passed. “In fact,” Pierette observed sagely, “I always wait until after May 24th.” At May’s monthly gathering of elderly villagers, the weather was not the first topic of conversation. First there were the recent deaths to discuss more thoroughly than any coroner. This was hardly surprising as Janine’s husband had died that very morning after a long illness, and another club member’s cremation was taking place that afternoon. Having dealt with the deaths, conversation then moved on to health assessments of absent friends, and finally a gloomy review of the recent sufferings of all present. After that the weather and then we were all ready to be cheered by cake and crémant to celebrate the birthdays of all those who had survived.

John had kindly baked a Caribbean fruit cake with an added marzipan layer in the middle for Helen’s birthday (which falls on the day of the second of the Ice Saints, St Pancras). The oldies gazed at this foreign offering suspiciously, and opted for the more familiar gateau Saint Honoré, a delicious cream éclair creation, or for fruit tart. Pierette gamely nibbled a small piece and tried to think of something polite to say, but it took Claudine, a younger oldie who had hobbled in late on her crutches, to take a larger slice and pronounce that it was like pain d’épices (a spice cake). With this endorsement, the rest of the cake disappeared rapidly, and a toast was drunk.

St Pancras’ day itself was wet and dismal, but we decided to celebrate Helen’s birthday with lunch at the Belle Vue in Saulxures. In the past we have had pleasant meals on its busy terrace and an excellent Easter Sunday lunch. But on this day we were the only guests in a dining room seating thirty or more and the gloomy waiter would obviously have preferred to have had the time off, as he rattled off the names of the dishes at high speed and with an air of profound boredom. After a while we began to wonder if the chef had taken the time off, and we were being served pre-prepared and reheated food. The stagiaire (trainee) not only failed to put the dishes in front of the correct person but also failed to describe the food presented without a lot of prompting from his mentor. It was not a festive experience, and Helen attributed her subsequent dodgy stomach to the crab starter.

On a village walk

On a village walk

The baleful influence of the ice saints seems to have continued with very wet weather, and very few seeds have been brave enough to poke through the sodden soil which John had rotovated soon after our return from England. Only the broad beans, peas, courgettes and squash grown indoors in loo roll tubes look healthy. Dare we put them outside in the ground yet? Today’s hail and thunder are discouraging.

However, gardening under way, it was time for a thorough clear up in the farmhouse. For, despite the threats of petrol and diesel shortages, of panic buying in France and of a French air traffic controllers’ strike, Toby was sticking to his plan of driving over for the half-term week with Jacob, his new partner Rachel and two of Rachel’s daughters (the eldest daughter was flying out). Preparations involved John building some deep shelves in his workshop and then shifting the oak planks stored in the farmhouse dining room onto them (the big wooden “sunbeam” style barn doors will get made one of these days!) During the course of cleaning up, Helen slipped on the attic stairs while carrying a clothes airer and a plate. You will be glad to know that the plate survived the bumping unscathed.

Leaving soon

Leaving soon

An interesting discovery during the clean-up came during a rummage in the first barn for the old mop and bucket to clean the barn floor. Behind an old door, above the mop and bucket, and behind the cobwebby bikes hanging on hooks, was a small alcove with a wispy nest containing tiny eggs. John has been tracking their progress and hatching with his camera. The tiny black redstarts emitted an amazing volume of noise when their mother left to find food, but didn’t think much of the shrieks of the two youngest humans when they arrived or appreciate the noise of the nearby washing machine.

Playing happily

Playing happily

The rain, of course continued, with bad floods across northern France, but the travellers arrived safely in the middle of the night. The two youngest, Jacob and Farrah, didn’t mind the rain at all and revelled in jumping in all the puddles and playing in the long wet grass. Other highlights included the expedition Toby led to the trenches at Le Linge (both the older girls having studied the first world war at school). The two youngest visitors entered into the historical spirit of the place, yelling “Kill the Germans!” as they hurtled along the stone-lined trenches between German tourists. On the wettest day, to reinforce the history lesson, we walked over to the Saulcy military cemetery, pointing out the graves of the Jewish German soldier and those of the French troops from north Africa and Indochina, and the two youngest behaved with impeccable decorum before finding more puddles in which to drench themselves and others. Sweet-making demonstrations at the Confiserie des Hautes Vosges were popular as was the chair lift up and wheeled luge run down at the Col de la Schlucht.

A game between courses

A game between courses

All too soon their six days were coming to an end. The visitors decided not to cram in the fairy tale Bavarian castle of Kaiser Bill at Haut Koenigsbourg before a farewell lunch at the Parc Carola Restaurant in Ribeauvillé, but to have a leisurely start and explore the quaint walled village of Riquewihr afterwards. Chef Michaela performed wonders for our table of eight, producing amuse bouches for all, six dishes from the menu gastronomique for three of us, four dishes from the menu découverte for one of us, two orders from the menu Carola and two children’s menus. It was a lovely meal, which we all enjoyed. I think the two youngest were most impressed by their ice cream mice.

During the course of the meal Toby was running his hands through Jacob’s hair when he discovered a strange lump, unlike anything any of us had seen before. Fortunately John had insisted that Helen should book a doctor’s appointment that evening to check that her ribs were merely cracked by the fall (they were), so Jacob was taken along too, and a bloated tick extracted from the back of his neck. He whimpered at the sight of it, and was consoled only by a sucker/lolly from the nice lady at the pharmacy. All they have to worry about now is Lyme disease, which seems to be the current French prevention campaign. To compound the day’s problems, our car (Bluto), which Rachel was driving back from Riquewihr up the Col de Bonhomme, started losing power and showing engine and VSC warning lights. After some discussion with John (in the doctor’s surgery) they decided to try to continue to the top and from there they hoped they would be able to coast down fairly easily. Bluto is now sitting outside Mme Laine’s waiting to be tested by her grandson who has a car repair workshop there. Did we mention that Toby had sliced his fingers deeply with John’s sharp bread knife? Nevertheless a good time was had by all and the day’s good news was that the air traffic controllers had called off their proposed strike for the next day, so Rachel’s eldest daughter would be able to get back in time for her first A-level!

In between all this, there were some exciting tennis matches at the French Open in Paris (during the breaks from rain) and some football friendlies (not to mention the riveting new board games chez Blackmore in the evenings) and now England’s footballers along with those of Wales and Northern Ireland are enjoying the delights of French food and culture (?) before their European Championship matches kick off.

The house has seemed very peaceful in the last four days and we have posted off our votes in the EU referendum, and hunted for treasures (alas none to be found) at the Entre-deux-Eaux flea market this Sunday before it rained in the afternoon. Only a couple of white and purple posies of Marguerites, clover and chives picked by Jacob and Farrah remain to remind us of the family’s lively presence, and they are starting to droop. And to emphasize the quietness, today the baby black redstarts left their nest in the barn for the first time.

However, we shall soon be back in Letchworth for a couple of weeks and hope to see some of you there.