Sunday, 17 November 2013

What to do when evenings get chilly in France

European winters are so long. It's November and the big chill has begun. I'm finding it intolerable to work in JC's garden or even in his garage because I get chilled to the bone. Ex-pat forums have turned towards discussing the misery of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) as we face ice, snow, rain, minus degrees and especially gloomy grey skies until April 2014. I'm surprised the Brits are commenting on this. Aren't they used to that back in Old Blighty?

There's that pervading question now, "What can I do to amuse myself or be productive indoors?" Options are limited for me. I don't have a social network or any regular friends except JC so I'm reaching out to encourage French folks and any expats living near me to meet up and see if friendships develop. It's early days. I tried this some time ago, several times but nothing went anywhere. Last week I met Jocelyne who lives in a little stone village and teaches ballroom dancing. maybe I'll meet Jacquelyne, who is American, next week.

To amuse myself and do something that moves me forward I've been researching and organising what to do during Laura's visit next year. It will be three years since I've seen my daughter and each of us will have changed a bit. Recently I got to thinking about a sub-dream I had years ago, back when Laura was around 14 years old. I thought I'd have had my house paid off in Auckland, that I'd have steady employment and that I could have saved up so the two of us could have a little tour of France and Italy after Laura finished High School. Circumstances put paid to all  that but the idea bided its time and popped out recently and I've realised that, crikey, I'm going to make it happen.

OK, so the red Ferarri won't be there. It will be substituted by trains and buses but Laura and I will at last be swanning around the French and Italian Riviera together. I've found myself spending hundreds of hours late each night learning about distances, cheap accommodation options, transport costs, day trips, activities in places I've never been and those I touched on back in 2010 (see blog posts for June of that year).

This time with a bit more French language competence and general confidence I'm focussing on us having more contact with locals and getting out into the countryside, not just visiting the ritzy spots like Cannes and St Tropez (which may not even be on my list). There are other cool things to do. Borrowing against my tenanted house in Auckland is making a week in the South of France possible for us and helps me pay my rent for a year. Very sensible of me to keep my old home as a source of funds for emergencies.

JC and I attended an evening concert in the old Orangerie at the Chateau de Maintenon (Eure et Loir) which is near where each of us lives. It was a piano duet recital by two young ladies who have teamed up to spread their love of this type of music. An old lady sitting next to me kept wanting to have a conversation with me. I think she was lonely, so I did my best to speak to her and when I couldn't think of anything to say or I couldn't understand her I made the usual French 'noises' and interjections which indicated I'm in complete agreement and am actually very wise. Works every time as the French make a lot of 'noises' in between words and love onomatopeia.

I enjoyed the concert by Aurelie Samani (France) and Gabriela Ungureau (Hungary). They played pieces by Dvorak, Enescu, Schubert, Debussy and Pitts. Not my favourite pieces abut exceptionally well played nonetheless.

It's the end of harvest time. JC has baskets of walnuts. Quinces and apples have fallen from his trees and are being transformed into varieties of jam. I had never had apple jam (not jelly) before. He's been experimenting and sometimes I help with the peeling and stirring. naturally I want to profit from the odd jar or two.

The golden apples off JC's trees are organic and so not pretty to look at but good for jam. The quinces were rather small so they were supplemented by bought ones which are much bigger and come from Spain.  he has made apple and cinnamon jam laced with Calvados, Quince and apple laced with polish vodka, apple jam with three sorts of raisins laced with Calvados - and he's just getting started but I must admit the peeling is the worst part. However, I have a couple of jars in my fridge now for my contribution.
OOOh those quinces- they are fabulous in jam. Reminds me of
 the jams my Gran used to make. That's one of the things I enjoy about France - I can rediscover things I enjoyed about NZ 50 years ago (foods, wildflowers and British weeds etc). They've all but disappeared in NZ but they continue in France.

And then there are the things I only saw in cartoons when I was small but which really exist here. I looked outside JC's bedroom window this morning and saw a Woody Woodpecker foraging in the lawn. They're bigger than you think, almost as big as a pigeon or a large starling, with a red splosh down the head and neck. Very cool. There was no Wile E Coyote today.


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