Autumn leaves: Everyday life in Entre-deux-Eaux, October and November 2022

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2022no3.pdf (five A4 pages)

There are
clickable links to eight different photograph galleries in the text

The white frozen grass under the hooves of the tan cattle, the hints of snow, and a sighting of St Nicolas confirm that Autumn has now given way to Advent.

It has been an unseasonably warm and sunny Autumn here as elsewhere, so the autumn colours have been lemon, gold and tawny against the dark conifers. We returned from the UK at the beginning of October via an exhibition at the Louvre/Lens on Champollion, the Frenchman who deciphered the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone. We found the exhibition disappointing as it was more about his life than the deciphering.

some boar digging

All was well back in Entre-deux Eaux, apart from parts of the field which John mows, which had been dug up by boars, leaving large lumps of turf. As we write, a local gardener (rejoicing in the name of Dusty Vozelle) is wheeling quantities of earth from his truck to fill and level the afflicted areas. A more charming November visitor was a very young deer, although it showed possible shotgun pellet marks. But we are not so enamoured of the latest portly nocturnal visitor to our balcony, who has kept John busy clearing up its scat and disinfecting. We suspect it is another pine marten.

On a more cheerful note, the continuing sunny October weather here was ideal for harvesting the green beans, autumn raspberries, blackberries, walnuts, a couple of pumpkins and some gigantic courgettes and squash. Later we picked apples and the first quinces we’d had for many years (we thought the quince tree had been badly damaged from fireblight about ten years ago but it has slowly recovered). The barn shelves have now been replenished with 28 jars of marrow, ginger and lemon jam, and nine of quince jam. The fruit drawers in the freezer are packed tight with blackberry and apple purée, more apples are boxed up in the barn and others stored as dehydrated slices, and we have had tasty nut roasts from some of the walnuts. We are still picking autumn raspberries at the beginning of December! Given our harvest, we should have been equipped to accurately guess the weight of the pumpkin displayed at l’Imprimerie restaurant (and so win a free meal for two) but we had not thought to weigh ours. Pumpkins abound here in all shapes and degrees of knobliness, and do not all disappear for grinning Halloween lanterns. There must be about nine rotting away on ex-farmer Vozelle’s muck-heap.

After our time away, we soon felt the need to be revived by some good French cooking, so drove over to the book village for lunch at l’Imprimerie, where we enjoyed one of chef Morgan’s best surprise menus. As the small restaurant was full and service was slow, lacking one of the usual waiters, we were given a complimentary glass of wine at the start, which of course made any delays quite bearable, especially as we weren’t in a hurry anyway. When we returned there at the start of December, there was an additional member of staff, faster service and no free wine! The new waiter was enthusiastic, interested in the food, and related very well to all the customers (whereas the old one has his grumpy days when explaining about the surprise menu to new guests and presenting the unusual dishes sounds a chore); apparently the new man used to be a nurse, and was finding a busy restaurant quite a rest cure compared to nursing. Each of the December dishes was inventive and tasty, and as so often, the organic wines proposed were unusual.

unfiltered Côtes de Toul

We watched as other diners tried the proffered red wine, hesitated, and bravely decided to go ahead with it; but the couple at the opposite table tasted it, wrinkled their noses and declined the cloudy, fruity red liquid, and were brought a more conventional one. John was intrigued by his first sip, accepted happily and we really liked it with the fire-roasted duck. A propos the duck, the often grumpy waiter was on sparkling form and even made a joke when he brought the quince dessert, about how we first had the coin-coin (quack-quack) and now we had the coing (quince) to which we dutifully pulled a face. Perhaps having a subordinate nurse-waiter to share his burden has cheered him up!

Earlier in the year, before we left for the UK, we had watched a new fibre cable being brought along the road on the telegraph poles and then underground by the regionally-owned company responsible for the new public fibre optic infrastructure, and had wondered when a commercial firm would approach us to connect us to their internet and phone service. Nothing seemed to have happened in our absence, but on our second day back, an SFR rep rang the doorbell to offer their service at a bargain introductory rate, so after discussion, we signed a contract and agreed a date for the technician to connect us.

Before the technician arrived, we moved a lot of boxes in the attic, as well as Helen’s computer and desk to gain access to the entry point of the old cable under the eves. But with these old houses, nothing is straight forward. The technician was delayed at his first job beyond our 8-12 time slot, then worked through the sacred French lunch hours to sort out the cabling, pulling it through the underground channel from the box at the end of the road. He then announced that the existing hole under the eaves, through which the copper telephone cable came in, was not large enough for the new cable to be pulled through (the old cable had been cemented in when we had the rendering replaced), but, as he was not permitted to drill through walls, he would have to come back after we had employed a mason to enlarge the hole. In exasperation, John got a chisel, climbed up the technician’s ladder and did the necessary. Surprisingly, all this was conducted in good humour and in colloquial English, the technician having spent over 12 years in England with his family (and attended the Lycée Français there and then worked as a pub manager).

Remomeix fibre connection

After connecting our two strands of the twelve-strand cable to the main box in a regard, he had to drive over to another village (Remomeix, where the little airstrip and flying club is) to do the final connection (John went with him to watch), before returning to install the router box. It was several days before we realised that our land line phone was not working, which required a trip into the SFR shop in Saint-Dié as it had not been activated following the change of supplier. We were fortunate, however, as we later heard that the strands of a neighbour’s new SFR fibre connection had been accidentally cut by a rival firm while connecting another neighbour to their service.

No doubt John fell foul of French Union demarcations by enlarging the hole in the wall. But Helen also unwittingly fell foul of medical demarcation lines. Concerned about an increasingly large growth on her chin while we were in the UK, she phoned the dermatologist in Saint-Dié (who had treated her melanoma) for an appointment after our return. But it turned out that she should have first gone to our GP for a letter of referral, as dermatologists, unlike ophthalmologists, gynaecologists and paediatricians, have not negotiated a direct access arrangement, so the letter had to be written retrospectively by our GP after the appointment. To add insult to the dermatologist’s dignity, Helen forgot that unlike most health professionals nowadays, her dermatologist does not accept payment by bank card; she had forgotten to take our rarely-used cheque book and did not have sufficient cash, so had to return after pooling cash resources with John. (We have to pay doctors directly here, and then wait for partial reimbursement from the state and from our complementary medical insurance).

However, after those blunders on Helen’s part, the French health care system proved attentive and excellent. The dermatologist’s test revealed an epidermoid (or squamous cell) carcinoma, which was removed in day surgery at Nancy, and the local nurses have been coming to the house every 2 days to change the dressings and to finally remove the stitches. Helen had been expecting more pain when prescribed 14 boxes of paracetamol, but has needed none of them.

Meanwhile John had been trying out some different hearing aids, but was not happy with the sound quality, and the effect (or lack of) on his tinnitus, but the Optical Center felt he has come to the end of the period he can spend trying out aids they can provide.

When we hear about the problems in the NHS, we feel very lucky with our treatment here. But similar problems are building up here. The doctors held a two-day strike at the start of December, as their self-employed but regulated pay is below that of salaried hospital staff. There is also a shortage of GPs, especially in rural areas, where there are dessertes ruraux. The sign at the side of the dual carriageway round one of the small towns to the north of us has returned, announcing to any passing potential candidates that Raon l’Etape is looking for GPs. Our much lamented GP was not replaced after his retirement. Surprisingly there also is a dearth of chiropodists, who are better paid than GPs, and are turning away new clients. When one of the Brain Exercise group noticed that a new chiropodist had set up in Sainte Marguerite, Helen booked in rapidly, before her list had built up. Pharmacies are now where the money is perceived to be made. Today’s visiting nurse sounded bitter that the government has handed pharmacies the right to do the vaccinations against flu and Covid-19. But, although we had our flu vaccinations in mid-October, it proved difficult to get our fifth Covid-19 vaccination done until December, as pharmacies were initially vague as to whether a GP prescription was needed to prove a special case. The French government has not publicised the current rules very clearly and the uptake of follow-up vaccinations has been low.

The Brain Exercise group in Sainte Marguerite is an excellent source of information, and issues of national as well as personal importance are thoroughly discussed before exercises start. The October meeting thought it entirely appropriate that Helen and John were in London at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, and the qualities of the remaining members of the Royal Family were thoroughly assessed. Group members are also always concerned over members’ health and housing. The same cannot always be said for the much larger group of Entre-Deux-Eaux (and now surrounding villages) Oldies who can be more insular. At their October meeting, none of people with whom Helen usually plays games were present, and no one offered to include her in their group, so she sat in silence throughout.

The Brain Exercise group were equally animated at their session on 2 December. It was Helen’s turn to provide the exercises and the food, but first there was animated discussion of the French transport strikes, doctor’s strikes and bioanalysis laboratory strikes, details of an absent member’s move following her divorce, and jokes were recounted. Then it was Helen’s turn. She started with some easy picture exercises from a French site (though some people had difficulty telling the right shoes and gloves from the left, and piecing together the parts of a hat picture. But they found the next exercise, a logic grid a bit like a battleship grid, too hard and gave up, but relished some mathematical calculations from The Times. Some more picture exercises (darts board scores and French saints and foods) from the French site followed. Then the kettle was boiled for coffee and tisanes, apricot juice poured, sponge cake sliced and served with some of the newly-made marrow, ginger and lemon jam and we rounded off with some Christmassy chocolate spice biscuits. The Christmas touch seemed just right as a superbly-robed St Nicolas walked past the window – perhaps on his way to visit a school. John’s jam was much admired. “Has he got a brother?” an elegant widow demanded. “But his brother might not cook as well,” another cautioned.

As you can see, this autumn seems to have been spent mainly on harvesting, eating, medical appointments and games. But we have also enjoyed colourful local walks and scenery, in particular the Bank Holiday morning when we drove over towards Gérardmer and parked by Lac de Longemer. We used to take the canoe and swim there when the children were younger, but had never walked all the way round.

Longemer duck

We thoroughly enjoyed the colours, reflections, and aquatic wildlife as we strolled round, but half way round began to feel it was time for a coffee. As we watched a boat tying up, we realised it was mooring below a large terrace with tables and people, and we speeded up. We sat there in the warm sunshine over our large coffees, and after a while ordered a pizza to share, and then had another coffee to sustain us on the second part of our circuit.

A day later we drove over one of the passes to one of the walled Alsace wine villages, Riquewihr. The village itself was heaving with tourists, so we cut short our proposed stroll round the quaint old streets. The restaurant AOR where we were belatedly celebrating John’s birthday was outside the walls, at the foot of the vineyards, so we didn’t have to face the crowds. We had not been before, and when we made our way up the steps it was disconcerting to find the door firmly closed against us. However, we rang the old fashioned bell pull, as instructed, and were warmly received in the quirkily decorated interior. The tables looked as if their legs were old industrial machine parts and the tops were heavy wood (and ours had a hole in the centre where we could easily have lost some dishes or glasses) and were apparently designed by chef. Chains of spoons against scarlet hung in a circle. Unsettling modern art and black and red panels adorned the walls. The table mats were old 78rpm records. The food, however was inventive and tasty, with influences from his work around the world.

AOR Moni-K-Bill cigar

Our dessert of a smoking chocolate cigar, his signature dish, was created during his stay in Los Angeles around the time of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. It is somewhere we would happily return to. We had thought of a walk afterwards at the Col de Bonhomme, but it was getting cooler by the time we reached there.

Once the weather turns damp, misty and cold in November, we rarely see our neighbours out walking or gardening, but on 25 November our normally quiet narrow road was busy. First to ring our doorbell was the nurse to change the Helen’s dressing (we saw the neat scar and stitches for the first time). Next at the door was the oil delivery man who needed to run a long hose pipe from his tanker to our tank in the barn. He kindly reversed for our neighbour, Claudine, who was waiting to get past his tanker, but she drove too close to the edge of the road and a front wheel went into the ditch and got stuck. Perhaps she was distracted by her three noisy grandchildren. The tanker driver and John looked for planks and rope in our outbuildings, but our rope wasn’t strong enough, so Claudine’s partner went home for a tow bar which was connected to the tanker and it reversed, pulling her out. Meanwhile her grandchildren had been racing around and climbing on the car roof and other neighbours had gathered to watch and to have a good gossip. It was only at this point that one of the farm tractors (which normally thunder past and would have been useful for extricating the car from the ditch) turned up. One of the neighbours, Jean-Marie, who had shuffled up in his crocs, then offered to repair the tyre on our sit-on mower, which he noticed in the open outbuildings, John rode it down the road and J-M returned it, repaired, before lunch. Then in the afternoon his wife, Danielle, and Helen went down for tea and more animated gossip with one of the E2E Oldies Scrabble group who lives in the oldest house in the village. Another scrabble player was already there, and the foursome settled down to coffee and blueberry clafoutis and non-stop gossip and did not even notice the heavy rain outside. It was dark when everyone left, so we had to be very careful to avoid the big puddles up our road. Thank goodness one of the big tractors didn’t come racing past, otherwise we would have got soaked.

It is brighter up our normally dark road now that December has arrived as houses are putting up their Christmas lights. Has Annick (the Laines’ daughter) got even more lights than last year? When we drove over the hills to Alsace last week, the huge teddy bears were starting to take up residence on windowsills in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, but have not caught on here. Entre-deux-Eaux commune has not yet arranged its cheeky hardboard reindeer round the village. Last year there was one at the foot of the cross on the corner of our road.

We have been hearing about postal problems in the UK, so have dug out a black and white Christmas card John made 30 years ago in 1992. We will send it with this newsletter, so that you can print it out. It shows the above-mentioned cross with a bike rather than a reindeer. In those days, our neighbour Gerard was still working, and would cycle down to the corner each morning, prop his bike against the cross (in case Jesus fancied cycling round the village?) and get a lift to the next village. It may be an old design, and only on paper rather than card, but it comes with this year’s warmest wishes for a happy Christmas and for good health and interesting activities in 2023.

Our twenty-first summer of retirement in Entre-deux-Eaux, May to July 2022

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2022no2d.pdf (five A4 pages)

There are  clickable links to additional photographs in the text

At the beginning of May, after a month in Letchworth seeing family and friends, we drove down to Folkestone and the Eurotunnel. Imagine our surprise, after we had boarded the train for France, when we heard a tap on the driver’s window and saw Roger and Dorinda smiling at us. By one of those unlikely co-incidences our Francophile friends (who used to have a holiday home in the next village) had boarded the same shuttle as we had, at the start of one of their French holidays. We arranged to meet up at a service station where we caught up with news and plans in greater comfort over coffee and rolls. They were off to stay in various gîtes, including one outside Mâcon.

peony

Back in Entre-deux-Eaux, John sent off his passport to the chaos of the UK Passport Office, hoping it would eventually emerge renewed in no more than the estimated ten weeks. It felt as if we then spent most of May on medical checks of teeth, eyes and ears. In between, we sorted out a usable part of the potager (the manure still needs to rot down further on most beds), cut the 15″ high grass, sowed onions, broad beans, French beans, courgettes and squash and also cheerful cornflowers, marigolds, candytuft and Sweet Williams seeds in the garden tubs our Letchworth neighbour had given us. The garden was colourful with clematis and peonies.

Our strawberries (including wild ones) were prolific this year. As they do not freeze well (to our taste, at least), John invested in a fruit-and-vegetable dehydrator which gave us dried strawberries with a good flavour. It was also handy when, just before we left for Burgundy, we were offered two kilos of freshly picked cherries from the orchard of the old ferme La Soyotte (one of the organisers of the farm museum lives in the village with our ex-mayor). Amid all this, the twentieth anniversary of our settling in France passed unremarked!

With travel outside France impossible until John received his new passport, we decided to take a short June break in France before the frenzied surge of holidaymakers and the crowded motorways throughout July and August. Who better to consult about comfortable gîtes than frequent-users, Roger and Dorinda. We are fond of Burgundy and they could recommend one of their recent gîtes, La Trélie, to the east of Macon. We booked it for the six days in June that it was still free.

We then unearthed our Michelin Green Guides to Burgundy (from various eras) and popped into one of our supermarkets, Cora, (now open on Sunday mornings, a change since our earlier days here) to get the Green Guide to the Lyons area, which covered the countryside round La Trélie. On the way back, despite the rolling grey rain clouds, we stopped briefly at the village sports field where the annual flea market was gamely taking place, despite the dire forecast. There were a lot of gaps where stallholders had not bothered to turn up, and a hasty walk round did not locate any bargains. Clutching our as yet unopened umbrellas, we met the mayor. “I’ve sent my wife to save places in the food tent. We’ll need to be under shelter shortly.” We reach home before the rain.

It was cool and wet when we organised the trip, but the heatwave began five days later on 11th June, the day we set out. Air-conditioning in cars is such a boon as the temperatures reached 34°C+ outside.

colza (rapeseed)

The non-motorway route that we chose took us through the rolling pastures of the Vosges, where elderly gents on tractors were just starting hay making in their small fields, round Vesoul, where we stopped for petrol, coffee, and almond croissants (a weakness of ours, even at lunchtime), over the river Doubs with its dramatic gorge, then wandered cross-country on narrow roads (guided by Waze and white on our ancient Michelin map) towards Mâcon, then turned up an 800 metre rough farm track to a large restored farmhouse in the middle of blonde fields of grain and colza.

We had been sent two lots of contact details for La Trélie, but the old man who answered the phone before we set out either misunderstood or forgot our arrival time. Fortunately one of the owners was in the area seeing to her three hundred and fifty chickens. We later learned that her wealthy family owns all the land and fields around and the house is let to companies during winter as well as tourists in summer. Within five minutes of another phone call, a car disgorged an elegant woman (no sign of chicken feathers or muck) who gave us the key and showed us round the spacious interior: a large open sitting, dining and kitchen area, three bedrooms, shower room and loo. French windows opened onto a roofed terrace and a barbecue building. We would certainly not feel cramped there.

As the weather was so hot, we enjoyed protracted breakfasts in the shade of the terrace, lingering over lunch in different restaurants, and reading or playing games on the cooled terrace in the evenings, and we did not do as much sight-seeing as we usually would.

a misericord at the Royal Monastery of Brou

Royal Monastery of Brou puppet prop

Our gîte was mid-way between Mâcon (and the vineyard villages of Burgundy) and Bourg-en-Bresse (and farming villages of Ain). On trips to Bourg-en-Bresse, we visited the nearby Royal Monastery of Brou, looked at the elaborate tombs, comic misericords, and art collection in the former monks’ cells, and puzzled over a dramatic “happening” in the courtyard which involved a prowling knight in armour and beautifully crafted puppet props.

In the narrow streets of the old town we enjoyed a risky-sounding but refreshing cocktail of beer, Chardonnay, rhubarb and geranium at the oddly named Scratch restaurant, followed by their menu of the day with its crowning glory of a hazelnut dessert.

Meillonnas church fresco

How better to finish off an interesting day than with the frescoes in the fourteenth century church in the village of Meillonnas.

Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne

Another day we enjoyed strolling round the market town of Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne, with its brick and timber houses, spacious outdoor covered market (empty and echoing that day), and sole surviving gatehouse (where a man on the first floor balcony was assiduously pruning his honeysuckle). We sat down for a coffee outside the basic Café Restaurant de la Poste, then, after watching large plates of food being served to two old men at the table next to ours, ate our way through the menu of the day, finishing with a very good tarte Tatin.

Having dawdled through the rolling fields of ripening cereals of the west of Ain with its Romanesque churches and long, brick and timber farmhouses, some with “saracen” chimneys, our thoughts turned to the vineyards of Burgundy and Beaujolais. As so often on this holiday, we were guided by our stomachs. Roger and Dorinda had recommended the l’O des Vignes in Fuissé, and we thought that, after lunch there, we would climb the nearby Roche de Solutré.

The village of Fuissé lies peacefully among its vineyards, its old washhouse is hung with geraniums rather than scrubbed linen, most of the courtyard buildings are wine producers, as is the Romanesque former church, and a garish circus poster adds colour to the square. The only people in streets in the midday heat were heading to l’O des Vignes, until a truck swerved to a halt and five overalled men leapt out into a shabby building – possibly a rival bar.

After the bright sunlight outside, the bar of L’O des Vignes seemed dim, but the friendly bistrot waiter in his traditional apron led us to a table on their terrace which was shaded by tall trees and busy with locals who seemed to know each other as well as tourists. Behind us lay their more up-market restaurant with its aloof waiters in suits and what looked like untied cravats. The bistrot food was excellent, and we enjoyed the bustle and the informality. (Another day we did try their Michelin-starred restaurant, but preferred the lively bistrot).

Roche de Solutré

Of course, by the time we finished our post-lunch coffee, Helen felt distinctly disinclined to scramble up any rocky promontories in the heat (shame on her when former President Mitterrand climbed it every year between 1946-1995 at Pentecost). Instead she proposed looking at the finds in the Museum of Prehistory at the foot of the Roche de Solutré. The striking escarpment loomed above the vines, disappearing tantalisingly as we drove from Fuissé along the winding narrow roads, then reappearing dramatically. After looking at the finds of animal bones, including a geological layer of compacted horse bones, even John had lost the urge to get to the top of the hill.

Driving carefully down the vineyard roads we passed a car upended in the ditch, with a couple of our age, refusing offers of help and awaiting a tow or lift out. Had they been wine-tasting a little too enthusiastically? The car looked as if it needed something with more power than the small tractors lying idle among the vines.

We did not go wine tasting, though we did look in the old church building in Fuissé to see how it had been converted to wine production, with large barrels in an air conditioned chamber where the altar would once have been. Outside a hosepipe was delivering wine to a large container lorry to be bottled and sold by their client. Seeing the hosepipe was a reminder of holidays in the seventies and eighties when we would take empty bottles into the dingy village wine co-operative to be filled by hosepipe with cheap wine. Ah, those were the days! This time the Beaujolais wine we sipped of an evening on the terrace came from the supermarket.

Hotel Dieu in Belleville-en-Beaujolais

A contrast with the hot Beaujolais wine villages was the cool interior of the 1733 Hotel Dieu in Belleville-en-Beaujolais where the needy used to be cared for and its elegant apothecary. The original furniture of three small wards has hardly changed and it was still in use until 1991 as a hospice.

Eglise de Notre Dame in Belleville-en-Beaujolais

Equally cool was the town’s 12th century Eglise de Notre Dame and its interesting capitals.

Back in Entre-deux-Eaux this year’s baby kestrels were growing fast. We mentioned in the last newsletter the “home improvements” which John made in spring to the attic windowsill on which the kestrels had nested last year. They obviously approved of the protective partition and the balcony extension with its raised edge, as the female took up residence while we were in the UK in April, and laid her first egg on 3rd May just before our return. We were able to follow progress remotely thanks to the videos from the cameras/network storage John had installed.

day 0

The first egg hatched just before we left for our short Mâcon break. This year all four chicks survived and vociferously demanded food. We watched as they grew and began to lurch and waddle. As the time approached for them to fly, John spent quite a lot of time sitting with his camera in the vegetable patch, next to the compost heap, observing the adults bringing food and the juveniles flapping their wings.

day 30 – the first juvenile kestrel to leave

The first one flew early in the morning of 8th July just before we woke. Unlike last year’s trio, it returned occasionally to the ledge to feed and sleep – and perhaps encourage its siblings to test their wings. And over the next few days they have all flown (but occasionally return)! If you haven’t already seen to day-by-day photos and videos, they are on our The return of the kestrels – 2022 website.

Other birds, those greedy ones that somehow find a way into our large fruit cage, are less fascinating as they blunder around unable to find their way out again. However, last week it was Helen who felt trapped in the fruit cage when a button on a pocket on the back of her trousers got caught in the netting. At that moment the mobile phone, which was also in a pocket, rang. Our next-door neighbour, Danielle was offering to bring us some eggs. Since they rebuilt their hen-house, the deep foundations, wire and netting (we used the same for the fruit cage) have protected their hens from theft and murder. Eggs are now plentiful. Helen disentangled herself, phoned John who was doing the weekly shop (“don’t get any eggs!”) and proffered in return some of the blueberries she had been picking. A discussion of crime writers, the library in Saint Leonard, and meeting up to play Scrabble followed. That night’s dinner included poached eggs.

Danielle has been a good addition to the Scrabble players at the Entre-deux-Eaux Oldies’ monthly cards/chat/cake and champagne reunions. At the June session, another of that group, Marie Therese, who lives in the oldest house in the village, brought a cherry clafoutis to celebrate her birthday. And, yes, the cherries from her freezer had come, like ours, from the ferme La Soyotte’s harvest. A few days earlier, we had heard the church bells tolling at length. Sad to say, another of the villagers who had been welcomed us when we bought our house in 1990, had died. He was one of the four farmers who raised cattle and grew crops in the fields around the village. Apart from their house, which is the grandest in the village, he and his wife owned a couple of gîtes. They welcomed us into their kitchen, where we compared notes on letting out properties to holiday makers. He retired some years ago, and had recently been looking very bewildered when he came with his wife to the Oldies sessions. Over our game we recalled this gentle farmer with sadness.

July, and the break-up for summer of local groups, also brought an “end of term” lunch in Taintrux village for Helen’s brain exercise group. The Echauguette restaurant, opposite the mairie, like many now, belongs to the commune, and new managers have recently been installed. The food was typical, with starters of crudités or Vosgesian salad (with breadcrumbs, bacon strips, Munster cheese and poached egg), hearty main courses, plates of cheese and desserts covered in cream, followed by coffees. The star of the show was the Calvados sorbet between courses (wow, was that apple brandy potent!) As ever, it was a noisy, lively affair, also fuelled by the kir aperitifs and carafes of rose wine. It was a surprise to discover that one of the group had been in Fuissé for a family celebration around the time we were there – how surprised we would have been to meet. After the meal we drove to Ghislaine and her husband’s house on the edge of the commune and stood around their vegetable patch admiring it (presumably it would have been too intimate to have been invited indoors).

Our favourite restaurant, l’Imprimerie in the book village is also one that is owned by its commune, we learned recently. But they aim for less hearty fare, offering a menu of the day and two surprise menus of seasonal ingredients, accompanied by unusual and mainly organic wines. With eight small courses, we rarely have room for a cheese course. “Do you not like cheese?” the waiter asked during our July meal there. We confessed that we had in fact indulged in a cheese platter the previous month, when he was not there. He looked unconvinced until John showed him a photo. “Ah,” he sighed, “that would have been the day of my father’s funeral.” He surprised us at the end by producing the dockets listing the dishes we, and other regular customers, had sampled over recent years. What an archive. No wonder we never have exactly the same dishes twice and rarely the same wines.

Much of the décor of l’Imprimerie relates to printing and books. Les Innocents is a restaurant in Strasbourg that we have only been to once before, but a July medical check-up gave us a good excuse to return. For some reason, the décor there aims to recapture the ambience of the thirties and prohibition, with sepia photos of 1920s Australian gangsters and the wine bottles imprisoned behind metal bars. Even the photos of the chefs recall Chicago gangsters with their hats pulled low over their eyes (these were the same chefs who opened Coté Lac in Schiltigheim, some of you may remember from the past?) We again enjoyed our lunch there, served by an efficient, friendly waitress, who was, thankfully, not disguised as a gangster. Afterwards we strolled down to the protestant Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune church to see its striking frescoes which are being restored in a ten-year project.

We try to avoid indulging in too many delicious patisseries here, but were tempted to stop one morning after another appointment for coffees and a lime tart or chocolate confection. What an idyllic image, as beloved of birthday cards, of a patisserie, tables, parasols and the odd bicycle, only slightly marred by the strong smell of fish from the establishment next door.

Thus began our twenty first summer of retirement in E2E, with its long, hot days (did we also mention the hailstorms with hail the size of golf balls and the multiple warning e-mails from insurers to park cars inside and, later, how, if necessary, to make a claim?), leisurely travel, kestrel watching, restaurant lunches and the occasional cake.

E2E fireworks

How did the cattle, which had been grazing peacefully in the fields all day, and the kestrels now perching somewhere in the trees, cope when this rural tranquillity was disrupted on the evening of 13th July? As it got dark and we walked down to the parking area round the village shop and café, we could hear the loud music and had to stand aside for cars from outside the village nosing up our small road in search of parking spaces. It was time to celebrate the storming of the Bastille once more. All the village children and young people must have been there, some dancing, others sliding between the teeth of an inflatable monster, while their elders sat at tables with drinks. Torches flashed in the field as men checked their fireworks. Then, around 10.45pm, bang! A stunningly loud volley as flashes of light shot into the sky and cascaded down. The lights went out, the music and dancing stopped, and everyone dashed to the edge of the field. What a racket! And then it was all over for a year. Liberte, egalite, fraternite and all that.

Should we wish to escape briefly from la Republique, John’s passport has now arrived, so, despite the increasing Covid cases everywhere, a summer UK visit is now feasible.

Additional photographs
A short stay between and Bourg-en-Bresse and Mâcon
Royal Monastery of Brou
The return of the kestrels – 2022

 

The return of the kestrels to Entre-deux-Eaux – April 2022

The kestrels returned on 13 April and have visited the nest every day since. It could be several weeks before any eggs are laid. The eggs are usually laid at 3-4 day intervals. It is only after 3-5 eggs are laid the birds will start sitting.

11 May update – four eggs have now been laid – on 3 May, 5 May8 May, and 10 May

I made some changes to the window sill nest to enclose it but now regret not having had time to review the layout and new camera positions properly before we went to Letchworth at the end of March. I was doubtful the kestrels would return and did not put a camera outside the nest as I had originally intended (it is still in the box). The cameras are connected to network server in E2E and I can access them remotely.

I now have one camera live streaming feed on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmcJ1sezE3so41txXy4w86w/live The feed occasionally fails and I have to restart it.

Both the female (falcon) and the male (tercel) (easy to identify differences) are visiting the nest more frequently now, especially in the early morning. The camera times are French time (GMT+2)

There is a 2022 kestrels web site with regular updates of daily photographs and videos

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The 2021 kestrel web site https://www.blackmores-online.info/Kestrel/index.html pages and 

Our unexpected kestrel visitors – first update

Sullen skies over Entre-deux-Eaux, December 2021 to mid-March 2022

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2022no1.pdf (five A4 pages)

Some photographs have links to more images and
there are also links to photographs in the text

Saharan sandy sky

Saharan sandy sky

On Tuesday 15th March the sky turned a lowering shade of dirty yellow, and the car windscreen wipers had to work hard to clear the windscreen of large sandy splodges. Car wash facilities later did a good trade. Saharan sand was blowing north on the Sirocco as it did in February 2021. The skies have not, of course, been leaden throughout winter here but there have been a lot of dull grey days. So occasional days of sun and recent spring flowers have felt glorious.

Hard on the heels of our December newsletter, the new Omicron strain of Covid caused the re-introduction of travel restrictions and uncertainty over ease of re-entry to France. We were touched by the sympathetic and supportive response of family and friends to our reluctant decision to remain in Entre-deux-Eaux over Christmas despite having booked our Eurotunnel ticket. The post office in Saulcy-sur-Meurthe was the main beneficiary as we bought up all the stamps for European destinations they had in stock for our Christmas cards. For once we were glad that UK shops stock up with Christmas food unseasonably early, as we had bought some mince pies in October (some for Helen’s Brain Teaser group), so consoled ourselves with coffee and the last mince pies the group had not eaten.

Peruvian angels and branches

Peruvian angels and branches

Our thoughts then turned to long distance Amazon Christmas present orders, Christmas decorations for here rather than there, and finally French Christmas fare. We didn’t find any holly in the orchard or forest, so picked the deep pink spindle, white honesty, aromatic sage, rosemary and lavender from the garden, added pine cones and branches from the forest, and later found clusters of low-hanging mistletoe outside the book village, to arrange round the candles, plaster Peruvian angels and kings, and in a wreath on the door.

A few days before Christmas we raided our classy local freezer shop, Thiriet, for some treats over Christmas and New Year. From the entrée section we selected some prawn pastillas, guinea fowl and foie gras pastillas, and scallop and salmon parcels. Crispy prawns and prawn nems came from the exotic Chinese-cum-Thai cabinet, and from the dessert section we chose a box of creamy Paris-Brest and some Arabica coffee, chocolate and whisky confections. We already had a guinea fowl stuffed with foie gras in the freezer, carrots, parsnips, curly kale, and Jerusalem artichokes (delicious mashed with garlic) from the garden, and some favourite wines in the “cellar” – better known as the barn. At the Belgian supermarket we had found Brussels sprouts, actually labelled from Brussels. And to round off, we had some boxes of chocolate and John’s Christmas cake that we would no longer taking to England. So we were all set for several days, if not weeks of feasting, especially with the addition of our pickles to the left-overs (we were glad to find an old jar of pickled walnuts on a shelf in the barn, a delicacy that we have never seen in shops here).

Dickens' London jigsaw puzzle

Dickens’ London jigsaw puzzle

Before we opened it on Christmas Day, we thought that the light (so not books) box that had arrived from Ann and Derek might contain crackers, but were delighted to find hours of entertainment in the form of a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle of Dickens’ London. So, despite the dull, damp and rather nasty weather, we had bright lights indoors, a fridgeful of food, and books, crosswords, football on TV and the puzzle to allay the sadness of not being with the family.

A village decoration

A village decoration

At the start of January we saw two of our neighbours who were out walking after an exhausting festive period with all their family visiting – between them they had ten grandchildren and their parents to entertain. They confirmed that the mayor’s annual New Year greetings (a speech followed by champagne and nibbles) had been cancelled due to the alarming rise in Covid cases. The January and February club reunions, including the popular January lunch, of village oldies had also been cancelled, as had all group gatherings for galette des rois and champagne.

Village lunch for the oldies

Village lunch for the oldies

And the lunch offered by the mayor and council for the village oldies was, like last year’s, delivered to our door. The festive lights and merry decorations around the village seemed to get taken down earlier than usual, well before Candlemas.

As the French hospitals filled up with Covid cases (85% of whom were unvaccinated) there were protests in the larger towns over Macron’s remarks about making life difficult for people who were refusing vaccinations. At the same time we were hearing about Downing Street parties (or work meetings), Djokovic’s attempts to circumvent Australian policies to play in the Australian Open, and Boris’ plans to relax restrictions over mask wearing, working from home, self-isolation and border tests.

Leila and her friends had decided before Christmas that their plan to take a winter break in Berlin might be better changed to the Lake District. But soon after their arrival at the rented house, she wrote that on the day before they had a booking for Sunday lunch at l’Enclume (promoted from two to three Michelin stars a few weeks later) she was feeling very coldy and had tested positive for Covid. As she had only just started to feel better after long Covid, we were concerned, but it does not seem to have lingered for too long. John got pinged by his Covid app here to say that he had been in contact with someone with Covid, but decided it was probably someone at the far end of a supermarket as nothing developed. But it did mean we delayed plans for a restaurant meal. France did not start to relax restrictions until 14th March. The next day we heard that both the mayor and his deputy have Covid.

As we continued to hear of difficulties in the UK over getting face-to-face GP appointments, we were glad to report that here consultations remained possible. But we were affronted to discover, when we rang for routine check-ups, that our much appreciated GP had retired a week or two earlier without our knowing. Apparently he’d started telling patients in October of his departure but we’d not seen him since August.

With twenty minute appointments (which usually ended up being much longer) we had always chatted about language and travels when we’d dealt with health issues, and his health advice, including negotiating the French system, was thoughtful too. Although we knew that he and his partner who had set up the practice together, were looking around for eventual replacements, and were reducing their hours, we didn’t expect it to happen just yet. He looked far to young and fit to go now. But it seems that the forthcoming birth of twin grandchildren in the south of France had influenced his timing. So we saw a new, young, fast-talking colleague, who assessed our records and made all the necessary on screen changes for him to become our médecin traitant. We just hope he slows down a bit in his speech. We did, however, still have the luxury of twenty minute consultations – and he was not running horribly late (we always used to take a good book for the long waits before our appointments).

The next day John was able to get an emergency dental appointment for a painful tooth and was chastened by the stern rebuke he got for his long absence. Thinking she had better make an appointment with her dentist in the same group practice, Helen discovered that he, like our doctor, had decided it was time to retire, and was fully booked until his last day. She was given a date four months ahead with his successor. For some reason one expects these pillars of the community to be around for ever. Even the priest, Pere Eric, who served Entre-deux-Eaux (on rotation among many other local villages) and took Madame Laine’s funeral, has gone back to Burkina Faso.

Talking of Madame Laine, I wonder what happened to all of her husband Pierre’s hunting trophies after their daughter modernised and moved into her parent’s house? The heads hung all round the dining room walls, the largest being a stag. Who now goes after the local boars, as Pierre and his pals regularly did? Many of the older village hunters have gone. But somebody must. When we discussed, with our neighbours, the main dish delivered by the commune as part of the Christmas lunch to our doorstep (along with 2 half bottles of wine each, nibbles, starter, cheese and dessert) we decided the unlabelled meat was probably boar.

Woodpecker work

We have not seen any of the local deer this winter. Before Christmas John was forced to line a gap under the eaves with bricks as a green woodpecker was busy drilling through the wooden boarding into the attic. Was it the same woodpecker who had bored so many holes into the telegraph pole opposite that ENEDIS had to replace it and another recently?

Our last resident in the attic, apart from mice, had been the stone marten several years ago. We recalled it when Jessica talked on the phone about the hole in the wooden shingle roof of her house in Broadstairs and John suggested it could be caused by a marten rather than squirrel. There were some local Kent newspaper reports from earlier in the summer of a marten being spotted. The local pest control were puzzled by the unusual scat that they found. It turned out that a couple of pine martens had indeed escaped from the Wildwood Trust outside Canterbury. The Wildwood Trust seemingly have plans to reintroduce them into Kent. Have the residents been told of the damage martens can do, including killing chickens and gnawing car electrical wiring (which is a significant problem in Germany?) Despite the damage they cause they are a protected species both here and there. Nevertheless, here the local farmers are known to shoot them.

But let it not be thought that we are heartless about wildlife. One morning in February we saw a slinky white ermine sniffing round near one of our old woodpiles, although we have not seen one since or in the previous twenty years (and unfortunately did not have enough time to photograph it).

A couple of weeks ago we went to Colmar to purchase a small window which John fixed on the wall in the attic in front of the opening where the kestrels nested last year. In the hope that they might return this year, he put in a wood base with a special sill with a ledge to prevent eggs and chicks from rolling (or being pushed) off. To complete the welcome he added some woodchips and sawdust. So we hope they will be tempted. Some have already returned to established sites in Alsace and further north in the Vosges.

As we crossed the col de Bonhomme to pick up the window, John noticed that a lorry with a Lithuanian registration plate also had a notice saying “I am not going to England” (presumably to discourage stowaways?) On a less sad note than the lorry, as Helen’s brain-exercise group were deploring the Ukrainian situation, Martine added that her 39-year old son, who works in Germany, had for the first time brought a girlfriend home with him on a visit. He had not mentioned that she is a Ukrainian who has also been working in Germany. There was a panic as Martine wondered a) what food to cook for her and b) what language they could use to communicate with a girl who spoke German and Ukrainian (which they do not) but not French. They had to resort to rusty English. And the tagine was appreciated.

Very creamy Vacherin

On the way to purchase the window, we stopped in Lapoutroie, a village on the other side of the Col for lunch at a hotel where we had not eaten for many years, – since 2005, in fact. Outside were large centenary exhibition photographs of scenes from the First World War, when Lapoutroie was German. Inside they still adhered to a sort of class system which separates those eating the cheaper menu of the day from those eating fancier fare. We had forgotten quite how much cream could be piled on Alsace desserts, but prudently asked for black coffees afterwards.

Other small items of news from here, are that we now have a new, larger garage door after the old one was rammed (possibly by an anonymous trailer) before Christmas. We have not yet replaced the smashed flower tubs, but the vegetable patches are covered in a layer of the cow dung we acquired as compensation from the farmer.

We should finally get a full fibre internet connection before summer (rather than by copper cable from the fibre junction box in the village), courtesy of a Grand Est-owned company which is cabling the villages, as they have been hanging fibre cable from the poles. Orange (France Telecom) has stopped supplying PSTN telephone lines. They will decommission all their copper cabling and their posts between 2026 and 2030. The new companies installing fibre cable have to install new posts where necessary. Ducting doesn’t seem to be affected. We spent a happy hour or two last week just standing on the doorstep watching two young men running a long length of fibre cable from the last electricity/telegraph pole (the new one opposite our front door) through a tube under the road to a manhole outside our garage, where it took a right angle and was edged into another underground pipe and drawn 100m through to the three houses at the end of our road.

Spring flowers

The last bit of good news is that the sun has come out this week, and in addition the snowdrops and hellebores we are enjoying the daffodils and oxslips in the orchard.

Moon 10 March 2022

First Quarter moon 10 March – click to open the series

 

With the clearer skies at night this month and the moon rising in the early evening, John has also been taking a series of photos of the waxing crescent to full moon phases. Long may the good weather last!