A couple of weeks of work on the house (see below for details, if you’re avidly following the DIY part of the story) culminated yesterday in a trip over the mountains to Strasbourg. This was not to see the glories of the cathedral or museums or (unfortunately) even to dine at one of the three-star restaurants. First stop was an as-yet-unvisited DIY superstore, where we were most impressed by the range of door handles, staircases, sliding doors and came away clutching leaflets, a new thermostatic shower control for the old farmhouse, and a satellite dish connecting lead. Next stop, yes you’ve guessed, was IKEA where we returned some spare wooden shelving, enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the restaurant, eyed up the beds (again), duvet covers, and curtain fabrics, and afterwards bought a third dining room light and a couple of glass shelves. By then the prolonged French lunch hour still enjoyed by most shops other than IKEA and food supermarkets (12 – 2 pm) was over and we headed for our main target, another doors, windows, and bathrooms store, where we bought three sets of door handles and a shutter fitting
We’d set out in rather dismal weather, but the sun was bright (almost blindingly so on the motorway) as we left the last store. Encouraged by the beautiful late afternoon light, we turned off the main road at a sign we’d frequently passed to the Cascade de Nideck. The sun was now behind the mountains, as we drove through a couple of small villages, with part cobbled streets, half timbered houses and huge churches. We drove below the ruins of two mediaeval castles, though couldn’t see them through the trees above us. The road climbed and wound, and I began to think we must have missed the spectacular falls, when by a Forestry house we saw a footpath sign. We were now high enough to still have some sunlight, so parked the car and set out down the path. After about quarter of an hour we could hear the falls and ten minutes later we were on the edge of an escarpment staring across at the falls, with the ruins of a third castle (Nideck) towering on the peak above the falls. With the tall pines, knotted roots, and jagged rocks it all felt quite gothic in the dwindling light. Alsace can look very much like a fairy tale, with gabled houses, storks and mountains. On evenings like that you could imagine the era of wolves and even bears in the great mountain forests.
The most spectacular recent sunsets have been on the evenings preceding hard frosts. Our new sitting room French windows face west (none of the windows in the old house did), and we’ve downed tools and enjoyed some amazing sunsets – the kind with ranks of gold and scarlet clouds fanning out across the sky. The pleasure can be prolonged by strolling to the end of our road and up the lane past farmer Duhaut’s enormous new cow shed to a slightly higher vantage point (as we discovered when a friend, Ann, was with us in November).
We mentioned last time the impending visit of the wood-burning stove salesman. Well, he didn’t have to do any selling. We’d had fresh snow the morning of his visit, we were snug and warm indoors and the prospect of a wood fire burning in a Danish stove was alluring. So he measured up (expressing surprise that our chimney already complied with regulations), calculated a price including delivery, necessary tubing, and installation. After a query he gave us a (small) discount, and we now await delivery.
By contrast, the farmhouse has continued to be somewhat chilly, with its heating cut out on “red” days (totalling nine in two weeks) – but then we are now only there for the shower, the kitchen, and the computer. With Leila flying out Ryanair on January 30th, John decided to make a start on tiling the new bathroom before her arrival, so that we can enjoy a shower in the warmth of the new apartment (he’d disconnected the shower before Christmas as a somewhat early preparation for tiling). So he’s been busy tiling and grouting the length of the wall with the shower on it and half the window wall, in large dark blue and off-white tiles (with a fiddly but highly decorative hand-made tile incorporated), as well as plastering and painting the ceiling. He has plans to box in and tile around the bath on that side, and then also the pipes behind the sink and loo on the other side, creating shelving above that. Finally at the far end he’s going to construct a large cupboard. But those tasks don’t need to be finished for the shower and bath to be useable. So there is a lot that Leila won’t see on this visit. However, more importantly, now we have the door handles (I’d always taken door handles for granted, but it’s taken us so long to choose these, that I shall look at and feel everyone else’s handles with a new fascination), he will at least be able to fit the bathroom door before her arrival.
The other thing I need to do before her arrival is to clear out a few more boxes from the spare bedroom, so that she has a bit more view from her bed than a wall of brown cardboard boxes!
We are particularly looking forward to her visit next week as she has now booked her air tickets for her round-the-world travel, starting in March. One friend expressed horror that we were “allowing” her to travel at such a dangerous time. But when is it ever safe? (I always remember the story of a friend, Val, working in Egypt, who visited the Valley of the Kings after a terrorist attack on tourists, when all Americans cancelled their visits and she had the Valley of the Kings to herself).
The ground outside has been frozen, but, after the thaw which melted the snow I’ve dug over a small patch to plant some garlic. Apparently they like a cold start. I only hope this isn’t too cold for them! Today has been lovely and sunny, despite the frost which remained until lunchtime (and right through the afternoon in the shade of the woods opposite). So I’ve even had washing out whilst finishing the planting.
Last Monday afternoon the lecture was on Giacometti – it had a very pretentious title, but was basically the life and works of the artist. This Monday the subject was simply Bucharest. However it was another epic and passionate lecture, lasting two and a quarter hours, one of the main themes being how misunderstood the Romanian capital was, and how tremendously French it still is, with its French architecture (except for the nasty modern “Anglo Saxon” stuff. This latter term of abuse seems to cover USA and its concrete hotel blocks). Thank goodness I had a few Polos left in my bag to aid concentration for 2.5 hours. During this month the lectures have been held in a different hall, which has a slope upwards towards the screen, rather than the usual steps down to the screen. It felt a bit odd!
The Sunday Times, which we eventually succeeded in ordering from the supermarket Leclerc on the far side of St Dié, has been faithfully arriving since Christmas (and a flurry of e-mails to the Sunday Times Circulation Manager), so it has been a pleasure to read that on Monday evenings.
On Thursday it was keep fit in the morning and Scrabble in the afternoon. Did I explain that a single game is played on a large board at the front, but everyone has their own letters and board. You are all told the same 7 letters for each move, and have to make the highest scoring word to fit the group board. You score points for your own words, but the highest scoring one is put up on the group board. (Is it also played like this in UK groups?) The score for all the best words was 691, but I was quite pleased to make 240ish with my less sophisticated words! After all, I could hardly compete with “miam” which seems to be the French equivalent of “yum” as in “yum yum” (which even in English this spell check doesn’t recognise!). I’ve started to try out a few English words like fax, but they’re never acceptable, whereas “broker”, “dingo”, “slow”, and “in” meaning fashionable are all OK. This week’s useful (as far as scrabble is concerned!) words to learn are “myes” (a kind of mollusc) and “lupique” (to do with the illness lupus). But can anyone with an even larger French dictionary than ours tell me the meaning of “tex”, “wurm”, and “sphaigne”? I feel I can’t query every single word!