Settling in – Weeks 8 and 9

I’ve got rather lazy about the news bulletins whilst my mother’s been staying with us, as the detailed accounts were originally for her benefit. But just so that you don’t think we sunk into total indolence – though we have nearly! – here’s a few highlights of the past two weeks.

Hiring the wheelchair for the duration of my mother’s say has meant not only that we can go on longer trips, but even the short ones like the walk down to the village have become possible again with a mix of walking and riding. I haven’t seen a single wheelchair in St Dié, so you can imagine that in Entre-deux-Eaux it’s quite a sight. Whilst going down for the Saturday newspaper we’ve had a long chat with the former shop keeper (the wife) and a short chat with the gite owner (who’s 90 year old mother-in-law was helping her in the garden)  we’ve buttonholed the mayor, and met Farmer Voselle (alas now using two walking sticks following a stoke he had a couple of years ago) driving his cows to pasture. We’ve also walked round the churchyard (there’s an inscription for a curate some 200 years ago that my mother’s fond of which talks of him acting as he preached).

One of the highlights has been my mother’s 91st birthday, which started with breakfast on the terrace, opening cards and presents and culminated with a drive over the Vosges, via the Col de Bonhomme, to a restaurant in Lapoutroie in Alsace which had been recommended by friends. Three hours later we could see why – it was delicious and even had a small vegetarian selection, which is still unusual here (it’s usually only omelette or fish that’s offered).

An unexpected pleasure was an evening trip (plus wheelchair) into St Dié, which is currently celebrating its 9th Semaine de Liberté, with free street performances. We sat on the steps (that’s why I was glad my mother was warmly wrapped up in the wheelchair) below the Tour de Liberté and these brilliantly clad Philippine classical ballet dancers wheeled around us, constantly changing their costumes and performing humorous then haunting then ceremonial dances, all traditional. It was wonderful and very accomplished.

The Sunday flea markets continue to be fun. Did I say at the beginning that I wasn’t going to buy any more books? My excuse is that John spotted them last week – a marvellous 1920s (I think) book on choosing your villa and creating and maintaining your garden, a Pierre Loti novel (which it turned out that my mother had read at school) and a copy of le Grand Meaulnes with lots of photographs of the author’s background (I’d read it at school and it was a novel of romantic nostalgia whose author, Alain Fournier, had mysteriously vanished with many of his men after a battle in World War I – soon after his novel was published – but no trace of he or his men had ever been found. Then on eclipse day, when we were driving towards Verdun we spotted a sign to his grave – a trench of bones had been recently found in thick forest and identified and re-buried. It was a wonderful site and pointed to a sad story of cowardice and lies by the survivors.) We also found another silver serviette ring and bought it for only one euro, which felt a bit like robbery, but as it was the St Leonard Fair, and that’s only two villages away, we did feel we were keeping it in the area! My mother’s greatest pleasure was listening to the brass band playing in the food tent at Raves flea market, as it reminded her of the brass bands from the wool mills of her Yorkshire childhood.

If you’ve been following the saga of Nicola’s patisserie-owning friends, you’ll be glad to know that I finally sold the books from his childhood for 200 euro (about £130), – which wasn’t as much as I’d hoped for, but quite pleasing. As they’re living on the breadline (such an unfortunately apt phrase for their trade) it can mean an untaxed luxury – or even holiday. Now Beatrice says she’s found some more books for me to sell!

Another pleasure has been the Friday afternoon rambles organised by the St Dié Ramblers Society. John’s pleaded bad knees / Achilles tendon / incomprehensible French and stayed at home with my mother, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the forest footpaths up to the ridges of hills encircling St Dié, the spectacular views, the rock formations, the glades and pools, the occasional bit of history or legend, and chatting (from time to time) to other walkers. Mind you we all shared a bit of that today when (in the car) we found a winding forest narrow road out of St Dié towards Moliere’s fountain (!), (which we’d never heard of) which climbed up and around one of the largest peaks you can see in the immediate area – the views over St Dié were amazing and the forest felt so green and old. Fortunately the forests which were so devastated by the tempest in New Year 1999/2000 are beginning to green over a bit and not to look as scarred. The local forests have only just been re-opened to walkers as previously they were too dangerous, with fallen trees and partially uprooted trees, and all the subsequent necessary logging.

The wild flowers we’ve seen from the car have prompted a trip to the library for a French flower book (Alpine lettuce was the answer); the statue of Jules Ferry in the square by the Tour de Liberté  prompted an educational trip to the museum to show my mother the evidence of St Die’s most famous resident who became Minister for Education around 1870 and introduced primary education for all (including girls). I thought that as an ex-headmistress she should see the exhibits, though I think she was really more taken with the reconstruction of a local village shop interior (reminiscent of the Entre-deux-Eaux village shop when we first came to the village) and the ox-shoeing equipment (I didn’t know that, unlike horses, oxen can’t stand on 3 legs so need a huge supporting framework/sling whilst they’re being shod) in the museum!

The rest of the time has passed happily with tennis on TV, scrabble games, shopping, and endlessly varied meals, thanks to John – and most of the time we’ve had sunny weather. Haven’t we been fortunate!

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