Archive for May, 2008

Tax and Trial

May 30, 2008

You may wonder what the connection is,  but the infamous Fourniret trial coincided with the time of year when everyone has to give in their tax forms and the courthouse is almost directly opposite the ‘impots’ building.

We went to give in our papers, crossing fingers that all was properly filled in,  and were confronted by police and barriers.

“We only want to leave our forms,” I said, waving the wad of blue papers.

We were told we couldn’t park but if Bear stayed behind the wheel I could go in to drop them off.

We drove cautiously past the collection of TV vans and more police and pulled up outside the ‘impots’ building. All the car parking spaces were cordoned off so I leapt out of the car hoping it would be easy to find the correct ‘postbox’ inside.

No, this year, there were two  boxes marked ‘Secteur 1’ and ‘Secteur 2’ instead of the usual four boxes labelled with the areas.

Despite the difficulty of access there was a queue at the Acceuil so I waited hopefully at the ‘quick’ desk where a woman was deep in conversation.

Eventually the chap in front of me interrupted to ask which box he should use and so I took advantage of the pause to chip in and ask as well.

“Put it in the blue box” he said.

I posted the papers and hurried outside. A policeman was watching Bear but I jumped in the car and we were off before he approached. We were not allowed to go back the way we had come so we had to find another way out of town.

They usually ask you to return your tax forms before the due date but I reckon there will be loads of people who have waited until the end of the trial before attempting to deliver theirs. Otherwise, they may use the option of doing it online. This gives an extra week’s grace and also a tax rebate the first time you register.

 

 

 

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Wedding

May 25, 2008

Since moving to France the only wedding I’ve been to is the one I played for three years ago, but yesterday we were guests at the marriage of our friends’ daughter.

As the mother of the bride is the Maire of Charleville and her father works in Reims, we don’t see much of them nowadays so it was a  pleasant surprise to receive an invitaton.

The card said it was at 14.30 in the ‘Hotel de Ville de Charleville-Mezieres’ and we kind of assumed it would be the large building in Place Ducale in Charleville. After waiting in vain  until well after two for people to turn up we decided it must be the Hotel de Ville in Mezieres and made a mad dash across the river.

We were lucky enough to slip into a recently vacated parking spot and found a large group gathering on the steps outside the ‘Town hall’.

“Do you recognise anyone?” asked Bear as we approached.

I didn’t until we were very close and a young man came forward to greet us. It was Olivier, one of the bride’s cousins.

“We were waiting at the Place Ducale” I admitted.

“Yes, so were we.” laughed Olivier. So if the family could be confused I didn’t feel so bad.

I asked if the bride’s Grandmother was there.

“You’ll find her inside on the left”  he said.

We went in and found her in a small office, suffering badly from arthritis but cheerful as ever. Suddenly I was aware that the bride had arrived and was mingling in the waiting throng greeting and kissing everyone. The bride’s mum appeared and did likewise and then people started going up the stairs to a large room where the ceremony was to take place.

We decided to take a seat at the back to let the families have the best view.

The ceremony was very simple and to the point. As the Maire herself just wanted to be a Mere on her daughter’s wedding day, it was left to two adjoints (deputies) to do the honours. One read out a statement of the duties involved in marriage – basically, to take care of each other and children when they have them, and to ensure that the children are given a good education and support in making decisions until they reach majority.

Then they were each asked if they would take the other as husband and wife. They answered ‘Oui’ and that was that: they were declared wed and everyone applauded.

The civil niceties took a bit longer. They read out the full names, dates of birth, addresses and occupations of the happy couple, their parents and the witnesses and then there was the ‘signing of the register’, during which a recording of a morbid Bach Chorale was played.

Then there was a ‘collection’ for the Hotel de Ville. The plates were taken round by a nephew and niece of the bride but they only dared approach people they knew so we didn’t have a chance to make an offering.  It wasn’t clear whether this little girl was a bridemaid but she certainly looked very pretty. Her brother, on the other hand was dressed very casually.

With the ceremony over, we were invited to go up to the second floor for the Vin d’honneur but no-one made a move for several minutes. Eventually people started to gravitate out of the room and we waited in the foyer where we met several more family members whom we hadn’t seen for at least two years. There still seemed to be an awful lot of meeting and greeting going on but at last people started to climb the stairs. (The lady in the white stole under the feathery hat is the Maire of Charleville – bride’s mother).

There were two adjoining rooms with four tables set out with champagne, fruit juice, savoury nibbles and ‘langues de chat’ – the pink biscuits which are the traditional accompaniment for champagne. At this point the bride’s father came up to say hello and at the same time the caterer came to ask hm a question. He started to introduce as old friends from England but was taken aback when the caterer and I greeted each other with four kisses. He was the son of a friend of ours in the village and we knew him from some super meals with the Club des Anciens.

The Vin d’Honneur proceeded with endless top-ups of champagne and everyone milling around talking and taking photos of the happy couple. Her grandmother found one of the few seats round the edge of the room and told me that she didn’t really know what was happening or if and when they were going on honeymoon. The family were renting a large gite and she thought she would be staying there and going home the next day.

Bear and I stayed until nearly four and then tracked down the happy couple to offer our congratulations and a final kiss.

 (That’s NOT Bear speaking to the bride)

 

The Village Shops

May 20, 2008

You can blame Derek for this post. He asked for more photos of the village so here goes. After his latest comment I’m adding this one of the stream:

The first place we come to is the Pizzeria. They make wonderful pizzas and do a roaring trade in take-aways as well. On busy evenings you can order your pizza and then have a drink in the adjoining bar while you wait. It is also a restaurant and the manager who took over a couple of years ago has improved the menu but increased the prices. As it is only a couple of minutes walk from our house we can take guests there without worrying about driving home afterwards.

The nearest ‘shop’ is a hairdressers. It used to belong to Lydia and I was very happy with her and her assistant, Nathalie. Then Nathalie left – rather suddenly – and Lydia took early retirement rather than cope alone. Aurelie, the new owner, is very pleasant but although she cut my hair well she could never blow-dry it as I like it. Another problem was that she was always coughing all over her customers. When a new ‘peripatetic’ hairdresser started up I deserted the shop and now Marie comes to do everyone’s hair at home.

Next we come to the garage. It opened five years ago but still sports a sign saying ‘newly opened’. Sylvain is very handsome and of Italian descent. When we were househunting we looked round his brother’s house which was superb but overlooked a drinks depot, so we declined. However, we find Sylvain very obliging and not too expensive for services. He has done very well out of us with insurance claims as Jay’s car seems to be a magnet for vandalism and then the chap at the end of our road backed into him, causing 2600 euro’s worth of damage.

Next  on our round we come to the hotel, bar, restaurant and a second hairdressers (owned by another of Sylvain’s brothers).  Bear likes to eat at the restaurant once a week and the food is much better than at La Fontaine in town. They only do meals at lunchtime and have a daily menu at 12 euros 50 for two courses, wine or beer and coffee. There are always three choices of ‘plat du jour’ and if Bear doesn’t like anything on offer (he’s very difficult to feed) they will come up with an alternative at no extra cost. Likewise they have three desserts each day but Bear always has coffee ice-cream with chantilly which is never actually written on the blackboard.

Just up the road from here is the new bakers which I’ve already written about so we turn round and go back by a different route bringing us to the Post Office. We are lucky to have La Poste as there are threats to small Post Offices here, too. Fortunately there is a large Industrial Zone on the edge of the village, the other side of the ‘main road’ and so our Poste is safe.

Next to La Poste we have the Surgery (Cabinet in French) which has two doctors, two dentists, three physiotherapists  and a chiropodist. You have to choose a Medecin Traitant (GP) otherwise you won’t be fully reimbursed. It costs 22 euros to see the doctor and you get 20 back (if you pay an extra insurance or only 14 if you don’t). If the doctor comes to visit you at home you pay 32 euros. A session with the physio costs 14 euros and a check-up with the dentist costs, on average, 23 euros but they are both reimbursable. The chiropodist charges 25 euros (27 for a home visit) and you can’t claim that back.

Conveniently situated about 300 metres up the road is the chemists. Collecting a prescription is a time-consuming experience but Anne and her team are very pleasant and helpful. If Bear or Whale run out of any tablets before we have seen the doctor to renew their prescription, Anne will ‘advance’ the necessary medication. If there is anything that’s not in stock she will order it for the following day – including homeopathic remedies.

Opposite the chemist is a charcuterie, patisserie, traiteur (caterer). The owner is more interested in the charcuterie and catering side of the business. His bread is often soggy and he doesn’t have a good selection of cakes. I should think the new bakery has just about put an end to this aspect of his business. Unfortunately this is the only place you can get bread on a Monday but if you’re not a regular customer they won’t let you have a baguette unless they have enough to spare.

The final shop on our way home is the supermarket. This changed hands about two years ago and the new owners seemed intent on making a go of things. However, last Autumn there were rumours things weren’t going well. There were a few weeks when you never knew whether you’d find it open or not and at the end of November the doors closed for good. It doesn’t seem as though it is up for sale and no-one knows what is happening to it.

Anyone fancy running a shop in France?

 

Decisions, decisions

May 17, 2008

Almost American recently wrote a post entitled “What was the best decision you ever made?” (You’ll have to scroll down her blog to find it as I can’t ‘click’ on anything  or leave comments).

It started me thinking what I would choose as my ‘best decision’ and I came to the conclusion that I’ve never made a really good one.

Take a choice of career, as this was the first major decision I ever had to make, and what did I base it on? The fact that I had a crush on the music teacher. I’d always wanted to teach but am not particularly talented as a musician. However, I trained at Music College and then spent my life teaching all sorts of other subjects.

Now let’s look at choice of husbands. Anyone who has read this blog will realise that neither marriage could be described as ideal! And yet here I am living with both Bear and Whale!

So if I was going to say retiring to France was the best decision I’ve ever made then I’d have to admit it: even this is not idyllic.

But I can say I’ve learned to count my blessings, look on the bright side and be pretty optimistic. When you’ve made as many stupid decisions as I have you have to learn to live with them somehow.

Les Saints de Glace

May 13, 2008
 
  Les Saints de glace sont au nombre de trois : Saint Mamert (11 mai), Saint Pancrace (12 mai) et Saint Servais (13 mai).
Selon la tradition populaire, ils ont la réputation d’apporter le froid et la gelée, signature d’un ultime sursaut de l’hiver : « Les Saints Servais, Pancrace et Mamert : à eux trois, un petit hiver ».Ces jours-là ne sont en moyenne pas plus froids que les précédents. Mais, ils correspondent, dans certaines régions, aux dates des gelées les plus tardives observées depuis plusieurs dizaines d’années.
Ils fixent également la date à partir de laquelle le gel n’est généralement plus à craindre, comme l’indique ce deuxième dicton : « Avant Saint Servais point d’été, après Saint Servais point de gelée »    

 

There are three  ‘Ice Saints’ : Saint Mamert (11th May), Saint Pancras (12th May) and Saint Servais (13th May). According to popular tradition, they have the reputation of bringing cold and frost, the sign of a final burst of Winter.

“Saints Servais, Pancras and Mamert mean a short spell of Winter”

These three days are not usually colder than the previous ones but they correspond, in certain regions, to the dates when the latest frosts have been recorded over several decades.

They also mark the date from which there’s usually no more fear of frost: according to the second saying; “Before St Servais, no Summer: after St. Servais no more frost.”

But this year the three Saints’ Days were marked by unseasonably high temperatures. It was time to sort out the garden, and I finally managed to put the remaining ‘raised beds ‘ in place with a bit of help from Jay, as the ground was rock hard. I’d had an idea to plant peas and beans under plastic, hoping the new shoots would find the sunlight through the holes, but, although the plastic retained water, it also encouraged slugs. So off it came and was replaced by nets (to try to keep the cats from digging) and slug pellets.

Bear did his bit and got out the Karcher (to my horror) . He succeeded in squashing quite a few flowers and still couldn’t get rid of the remaining weeds (after CC and I had pulled up most of them by hand.) There were quite a few forget-me-nots flowering in between the tiles and they looked quite pretty. Not many are left now.

With the wonderful drying weather I changed all the beds a day early, and the cats joined in as usual. Why is it that they love to play about and claw the sheets or roll about on them when you’re trying to make a bed?

Men and Marzipan

May 10, 2008

Whale is rather partial to marzipan and so occasionally I pop a bar of it into the shopping trolley for him.

Last time, however, he complained that it was too sweet and asked me to take it away.

A couple of days later he said, “Have you still got that marzipan? If so, I’d like to try a thin slice.”

So I gave him back the bar, together with a sharp knife so that he could help himself when he wanted.

With the arrival of the hot weather, CC put the remains in the fridge.

Today I came across Bear, in his armchair, munching something.

“What are you eating?”

“I don’t know. It was in the fridge. I thought it was cheese but it’s rather on the sweet side.”

As the marzipan is no more and neither of the men could be called pretty, I’ll leave you with a photo of the rhododendron which is just beginning to flower.

May 8th

May 8, 2008

Another ‘Jour de Ferié’ to mark the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany 63 years ago, and all over France local Maires hold a simple ceremony and lay a wreath at the memorial. There’s a minute’s silence, they play the Marseillaise and then it’s everyone into the ‘Salle de la mairie’ for a vin d’honneur.  Our new lady maire conducted the proceedings with quiet dignity, despite the fact that the microphone cut out many of her words and then the National Anthem was barely audible until a chap rushed into the building to turn it up far too loud.

As it was such a lovely sunny day, CC and I had a little wander round the village after lunch. The interminable ‘travaux’ continue. This is where they plan to put ‘jets d’eau’. The water in Rue de la Gare was cut off for a whole day last week so that they could connect the pipes for the fountains but it looks a long way from being finished at the moment.

However, the main road leading in and out of the village is just about complete. They have filled in the pavements with more bricks and put tarmac in all the parking places. Trees have been planted by the carpark and all along the road. The house almost in the middle of the photo is where we used to live. We rented it for six months while house-hunting.

One of the new undertakings of the recently elected council was to provide more parking places, and some seats, near the school and Post Office. Today it was strange to see no cars there but we admired the tulips in the tubs.

  

 Another attractive part of the village is the stream. When it rains it is a brown torrent of muddy water but today it was crystal clear as it rippled gently over the rocks.  The tulips in the background are past their best but still look colourful from a distance.

The ‘commune’ employs four or five full-time gardeners/handymen to keep everything in good order. They clear up after events like the Brocante, paint lamp-posts etc, and will now have many more flower beds to tend. Their hardwork is apparent and it makes it a real pleasure to live here.

Looking after Nino

May 4, 2008

Nino is an elderly Yorkshire terrier. He spends his life attached to a short lead in my neighbour’s kitchen.

It’s not that my neighbour is an unkind person. She is very fond of her little dog, but she doesn’t want him to make a run for it when the front door is opened and she doesn’t trust him not to pee on the floor.

Call me a paranoid English woman but I don’t think it’s a good life for a dog. But then, you can call me a coward because I dare not tell her what I think.

The only thing I can do for Nino is to try to give him some good ‘walkies’ if I’m left in charge  when the neighbours go away for a weekend. 

Claudine gave me her keys on Friday. The instructions were the same as usual. Close the shutters in the evening and open them in the morning. But open the windows in the bedrooms behind closed shutters if it’s fine. Turn the lights off in the fish tanks at night and sprinkle in a little fishfood when you turn them on again in the morning. Oh, and feed Nino and take him out to do his business.

As I unlock the front door I call his name so that Nino doesn’t worry and bark at an intruder. He wags his little tail and jumps about turning in circles making it difficult to detach him from the lead in the kitchen and put on his ‘walking’ lead. As soon as we’re ready he dashes out of the door and cocks his leg up the first flowers.

I try to give him at least a twenty minute walk each time and it’s amazing how fast those tiny legs can go. I’m also astonished at how many ‘crottes’ such a small dog can produce, especially when he eats so little. His rations for Friday night until Sunday teatime are one cupful of ‘croquettes’. Claudine says if he eats anything else he’ll be sick.

He thoroughly enjoys a good snuffle in the grass and along the banks and waters every lampost and quite a few car wheels. We get back home and he makes for his water and then looks up hopefully for a meagre handful of biscuits. I reattach him to his short lead and tell him I’ll be back soon.

What a life.

 

 

May 1st

May 1, 2008

On May 1st it’s a tradition to offer Muguet (lily of the valley) to your friends as a token of good luck and happiness. As the weather has been anything but Springlike those who wish to profit from this custom need to force their plants to be ready on time. Mine is only just beginning to flower.

But yesterday some representatives of the village ‘charity’ called Entr’aide rang the doorbell selling little posies of muguet with a rose. I bought one for CC and another to offer Yvette.

Another annual custom for our village is the Brocante. Today, however, the weather is changeable and it’s nowhere near as crowded as usual. Our road is generally choc a bloc with cars but there are still a few places where people could try to squeeze in.  We did notice on our way to the baker’s this morning that, nearer the action, cars were parked all over the pavements.

The good news was that we didn’t have to push through heaving masses to get to our destination and the baguettes and eclairs were in no danger of being crushed on the return journey.

We did glance at the stalls and found that it was mostly the usual sort of ‘vide greniers’ (in other words a lot of old rubbish) interspersed with several traders offering sweets, clothes, shoes, plants and  baskets plus vans selling chips, drinks, kebabs and icecream. Claude, our ex-gardener was manning a stall and we had given him some stuff from our attic. He greeted us rather mournfully.

“How’s it going?”

“I’ve done 30 euros,” he replied. And the poor chap had been there since 6.30 – in other words for five hours.

Just as we set foot indoors it started to rain heavily and there were several more sharp showers during lunch before the sun made an effort to appear and a bit of blue sky became visible.

According to the weather forecast it’s going to be fine and warm this weekend and all next week but that same ‘meteo’ claimed that it wouldn’t rain here today.