10pm (French time), Saturday 17 August. We’ve just been downstairs to welcome our paying guests to the farmhouse, after their long journey. Their one year old daughter has woken up from the car sleep, and is looking alert and ready to explore all night. We’ve retreated back to the barn conversion. It seemed quite an effort to clear everything out of the farmhouse, after being settled in there for three months! However, the farmhouse looks even better after a massive clean up and clear up and the conversion looks pleasantly uncluttered and nearly habitable (apart from having no kitchen and needing decorating). It’s taken 2 or 3 days to get organised back in here, but by 4pm all was ready, and later John cooked salmon on the gas ring on the balcony and we dined in style.
The weather has continued to be very variable with a spell of overcast and rainy weather followed by brilliant sunshine. It does mean that all the weeds as well as all the vegetables have grown rapidly. So the early part of the week was spent harvesting, weeding and preserving. John has produced jars of tomato chutney, marrow and ginger preserve, and cooked and frozen all the damsons from the orchard’s defensive (sheltering) row of damsons.
The two days when the routines of cooking, gardening and cleaning were varied were last Sunday, which was still damp and drizzly, when we indulged in local flea markets. The first one was at La Houssiere, near Corcieux, and was held on a wet and muddy field (I realised that we’d been there another year, on an equally wet and muddy day and David Hart had seen the memorable cake plate with all its markings to help divide cake into portions. Alas the cake plate was no longer there!) However, we’d found a picturesque rutted road over the hills from St Leonard, which made the journey memorable. We went on to a second market, but that was quite small and we bought nothing (at either). Thursday was a public holiday to celebrate the assumption of the Virgin Mary, and so there were more flea markets and we went to one at Corcieux (where we camped when we first saw this house). This time it was sunny and as we took the same route in reverse back to St Leonard as we’d taken on Sunday, we found the most spectacular views, our road being intersected by a national footpath and by the Chemin des Ducs. The Corcieux market was large and interesting and John bought a couple of small DIY items cheaply, but no further finds.
Nicola, in the neighbouring village of Clefcy, has been having an even busier week than us, as she has her daughter Emma and two grandchildren over from the States, and her mother over from England. So there have been 4 generations in her house. Into this chaos she invited us to dinner on Thursday evening, together with the patisserie making friends. The American contingent speak no French and the cake-makers no English so it was a lively event involving much translation by Nicola’s mother (who was born and grew up in Belgium), Nicola and myself. The very articulate 4 year old was trying to persuade the patissier to build him a swing right now! We also saw the video Nicola made as she crossed the States by car (via tourist sites like Yellowstone Park) and worked on her and Emma’s newly acquired Coast house in Oregon.
I managed to get enough clearing up done by Friday afternoon to join the St Dié walking group – this time on quite familiar territory! The walk started from St Leonard and went through the Mandray forests, steadily climbing up to the Col de Mandray, (via a little chapel by a spring where, according to tradition, you have to smear your eyes with water and your sight miraculously improves. I noticed a huge improvement as soon as I did that – but it was more due to washing away the sweat, I think!). As we started to drop down to Mandray Church we had lovely views across to the hill above Entre deux Eaux church which we can see from our house (though Entre deux Eaux itself was hidden behind the hill). Everyone was quite chatty – I was even invited to join the winter rambling group for older people – even though they politely added that they didn’t think that I was quite old enough to qualify! They also mentioned that there was a librarian called Helene walking just ahead of us, which was an interesting thought for an ex-librarian called Helen, though when I talked to her, she was a book binder (small firm of 2 people in Paris doing specialist poetry and art volumes) rather than librarian. Somebody else was talking about artefacts in the museum (ah! Cultural interests!) and one of the regular walkers broke into excellent English (heavily accented but very colloquial) – it turned out that he had hitch-hiked in Australia and the United States in the early seventies. So the group contains all kinds of surprises. I even got a farewell kiss from the guide!
10.30 am Monday 19 August. I thought I’d just had a postscript to last week’s news, as tomorrow we’re setting out for 10 days in the UK, during which you won’t get the updates! Yesterday we had a most profitable day at a couple of flea markets. The sun was shining brightly, all the stall holders were relaxed and joking (and consuming Sunday lunch, it seemed, any time we approached), and there weren’t too many dealers! The first market was at St Gorgon (who on earth was St Gorgon?), and it wasn’t till we got there that we remembered that we’d been there last year and enjoyed it (I’d bought my first French book there, a bit of early sixties nostalgia and adolescent angst from Francoise Sagan.) This time John spotted a beautiful hand thrown dark grey jug with black fish outlines (our most expensive buy apart from the earlier fruit press, but well worth the mere £4.50!) and also a heavy cast iron frying pan (65p) and some crème brulée dishes, and I spent some time going through a pile of illustrated books (looked like a sixties book club) and selecting a few. Flushed with success, we stopped at the refreshment room (no tent or marquee for St Gorgon, it was all done in maximum hygienic indoor conditions) for some sausage and chips. Then we drove on to the smaller, but quite delightful market at Jussarupt. Here the stalls were scattered throughout the small village, several in the cool interiors of the barns. There were old ploughs and dresses for seventy year olds for sale in one farmyard, children’s toys in others, a very noisy beer shack and a huge shady barn (alas, lots of interesting contents not for sale) in which I found some interesting novels published in the forties in a magazine format, with superb woodcuts by different artists (again for 65p each – one euro seems the basis for a lot of transactions!). As we hadn’t gone very far afield, there was time for me to go into the evening service at the cathedral, whilst John prepared pork wrapped in bacon, accompanied by the inevitable marrow (“diced courgette” probably sounds more inviting). This morning’s croissants were, of course, accompanied by delicious (home-made) marrow and ginger jam.
This morning one of our officials (this time in Social Security) returned from leave, so this afternoon we’re off to Epinal clutching birth certificates and the temporary cartes de sejour (whose acquisition we celebrated in the last newsletter) to see if we can transfer ourselves into the French sickness entitlements system (if successful, the next step will be top-up – or complementary! – private health insurance). Then back to pack our bags, check all is well for the next 10 days with the visitors next door, and tomorrow (Tuesday) we set off for England.
We’ll spend Tuesday night and Wednesday morning in Broadstairs (tel 01843 869 708), see John’s mother on Wednesday afternoon, and be in Nottingham by Wednesday night or Thursday morning. There we’re hoping to see plenty of Leila and my mother (and Toby, if possible) and are looking forward to dining with the Harts and Lea-Wilsons on Thursday and the following Tuesday and to seeing other friends at various times (Bank Holiday and permitting). You can contact us at John’s mother’s bungalow, 0115 9605186. We’ll probably set off down to Essex to see John’s mother on Thursday 22. Or even Wednesday 21.