Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Les Pastoralis

I may have mentioned before that I belong to an Internet based club which is a place where single people can suggest outings, decide how many people can come on the outings etc. Well I recently went on such a day trip. The rendezvous time was 8.30am in a small town 40 minutes south. From there we took a very long, winding road up the side of a mountain until we eventually reached the Plateau de Beille. In the winter this is a place for skiing, show shoe walking, cross country skiing etc, but now the sun was shining and stewards were directing the cars into the large car parks. If you ever wondered where the big camping cars go on their holidays, this is the place to see them. There must have been at least 100 of them parked up there, so that’s 100 x £37,000 = £3,700,000 or enough money to keep me in Cadbury’s cream eggs for many lifetimes.
This annual event is a bit like a farming show in the UK, but it’s aim is to celebrate the life and work of those like the shepherds, the way that the transhumance (moving flocks of sheep, herds of cattle etc up to the mountain pastures in early summer and back down in Autumn) helps to manage the vegetation on the slopes. It is also a chance to see the merens horses, which are the descendents of the horses featured in the cave drawings found in this part of France. Short in height, black as night. There were also farmers stalls selling cheeses. Local specialities, hand carved walking sticks, etc. There were stands and tents promoting other sections of the rural community. The hunters with their stuffed trophies on display, the trappers, the people who want the wild wolves and bears which are starting to damage flocks to be killed, the association that does not want wolves trapped and killed (he was not getting much foot traffic, despite having a toy wolf swinging from a gibbet as part of his display).

There were about 20 cows and bulls on display in pens, each with the name of the animal, pedigree, farmer, cost per kg displayed on a board above their pen.
Yes this was a competition. Eventually a prize was presented for the best animal raised by an adult, and also a prize for the best animal looked after by a child.

The show champions

The latter gave an opportunity for more speeches about how brilliant that children were carrying on the traditional ways etc.
There were about 9 of us in our group and we wandered round the stalls, watched the sheep being herded into pens, listened to music from various groups, watched the traditional dancing etc.
We were also here to do some hill walking, so we had an hour and a half walk before lunch time.

Some mountain porn.
more mountain porn

Ahh. No it is not me. I have better legs.

The men had bought meal tickets for 17.50 euros each, the ladies decided that they would buy food from one of the many stands selling freshly spit roasted pork etc.
Our organiser had assured us that the meal would be copious, but it was very disappointing, both in quality and quantity, but it did get us out of the sun for an hour and a half.
During the meal, as I tried to cut into my bits of smoked sausage, it was pointed out to me once again that the done thing is to travel with your own pocket knife to use to cut up your meat etc whenever it might be required.
So we had sheep, horses and a herd of cows on the adjacent pastures. There were also various walks available. The most different to the normal walk was a chance to help train husky dog sled dogs. You were roped to a dog and the constantly straining animal pulled the walker along behind them. Some of the dragged were finding it a bit of a strain as they leaned backwards to stop being pulled over.

After we found the ladies again (under a tree nowhere near where they had last been seen) we set off on another walk in the opposite direction. Once again the scenery was spectacular.

Once back on the site again, we watched displays by people from the Forges des Pyrenees (a museum which focuses on the lives and various metiers which once thrived in the Ariege, but which have mostly now disappeared), so we had a knife sharpener, a blacksmith, a man making millas etc.

The daily grind

Man on fire

Just the job for a hot day. This paste
is poured into a tray, When it hardens
it looks like fudge. I don't know what
it tastes like, or whether it gets cooked
in an oven.

There were speeches denouncing government policies and also the presence of wolves and bears in the mountains. (you will often see “STOP OURS” written on roads, beside roads etc in this area). (OURS = bears)
There was also a motley crew of gentlemen assembled, wearing hats, big cloaks (in the blistering sun) and each with a little, a huge medal on a ribbon and a white sheepskin bag slung round their neck. I think that they were probably something like a worshipful company of shepherds. They filed onto a stage and two women were invested into their number, with two of the existing members taking one each under their wing, draping their own cloaks over the ladies shoulders, and giving them their own sheepskin pouch.

The yeti?
Next up were the dancers that we had watched earlier who now turned into a choir and sang on the stage and then danced on stage (wearing their big wooden sabots (cogs) which madetheir moves even more entertaining.

8 pipers piping
So much more happened during the day, but I have rambled on long enough.
For example there was the purchase of a black beret, which I had embroidered with the initials of the choir that I belong to,. but ......
One of the last events was for the remaining crowd to part, so that the herd of meren horses could gallop through the middle of us. (not a Health and Safety officer in sight)

Anyway when I got home my little cap had not done a good job of protecting me from the sun and I looked like a true rosbif.
p.s. No one was harmed in the taking of these photos.

Sunday, 29 August 2010


Is a small fortified village perched on a rocky outcrop 400 meters above sea level, about 40 minutes drive north west. It is an arty-farty kind of a place which hosts classical music concerts, and most especially, art exhibitions in its many little art galleries. I think that my choir master lives there. I was going to a pool party/ barbecue event at a village nearby, so I took the opportunity to pay CB a visit before heading onwards to my ultimate destination.
Carla-Bayle is surrounded by fields of corn and sunflowers. In the distance the Pyrenees form a shadowy barrier across the landscape.

 The village itself is very small. It looks as though the fortified walls (circa 13 century) have been recently been refurbished or rebuilt, as it all looks new.

Parking in the one remaining space opposite the war memorial, I meandered round the outer wall. Down below me I could see various sculptures on a man made plateau.

Note the 15 hectare lake in the background

There were still lavender bushes and other plants growing on the surrounding soil slopes and the scent of the flowers was very strong. The bees obviously agreed. I have not seen so many of them in one place since bee-boy left the lid of a jar of honey in his room last summer and all the neighbouring bees come along for a feast.

I continued my walk in the sun. It was about 2pm, so only mad me was afoot. There was a church complete with adjacent nude female sculpture (The church was built from the stone from the crumbling ramparts in 1687 on the site of the original chateau), so I went in for a look around.

It was a bit of a shock inside. Shocking pink to be exact, but it was very jolly.

Back in the sunshine I continued my clockwise perambulation. Looking out over the fortified walls towards a small lake in the distance. As I entered the central road, which had small lanes running off on each side at right angles, I discovered the main square. The buildings were brightly painted and the square was clean.

There were lots of small art galleries, many with some of their contents on view to the casual passer bye. I continued wandering about taking photos. I didn’t go in to any of the galleries, I will leave that for another day. I did notice that three scoops of ice cream was on offer for 4.50 euros.

I discovered colombage building, interesting stonework, a hidden fountain and largish basin. The war memorial, like so many in France had many names listed, but also many portrait photos of the fallen.
CB is a little gem of a place, hidden away in the middle of nowhere and could so easily be dismissed all together if you didn’t know that it was well worth a visit. As always these are just a few of the photos that I took on the day.
Oh, and their most famous son was Pierre Bayle , French philosopher and writer 1647 -1906.

Friday, 27 August 2010

World junior kayak/canoe championships 2010

Way back at the beginning of July, the town held the above named event. We knew it was coming because a few months before, painted kayaks filled with plants started appearing on roundabouts. There was even a kayak tied to the lamp post at the end of my road. No other signs telling what was coming or happening of course.
I went looking for the event in entirely the wrong direction.
It was the French family who put me right, so the final day of the competition I headed for the nearest parking lot and walked down to the river.
There was an atheletes' tent village, a bouncy castle... no expense had been spared. Again no signs to tell spectators where to go, so I walked along a path of flattened grass until I reached another slope down to the river path.

There was a start banner on the river, so I turned left and followed the path until I got to a stretch marked 14. There was a metal barrien splitting the path in half. The half nearest the river was for the competitors and the official photographers. The half furthest from the river was for the spectators.
I took up my position in the blistering morning 30 degree sun. Sure enough names and countries would be announced and kayaks would duly speed down the river with the contestants having to manoeuvre round poles, negotiate rapid sections of white water etc.
I was no more than 2 meters from the waters edge but the 3x zoom on my compact camera was not enough to bring the middle of the river action up close.

Female competitor trying to find her kayak
There were also the team members running along the path waving flags, tooting horns, screaming between me and the paddlers. There were also stationary team members videoing contestants and uploading the results ot laptops. It was difficult to get a clear photo is what I am trying to say. I also had a video camera with a huge zoom capability with me, so I tried that out on snap shot mode for a while. It was so slow that although I could zoom in to the action, by the time the camera took the snap, the kayaker had long gone.

You're supposed to go round the gate, not under it! It looked
so easy...

This was the semi final time heats with the fastest 10 to go through into the afternoon’s finals. There was even a Britain in the running, but as the time wore on, he gradually got pushed out of the final. My theory is that the water was getting faster as the morning went on.

A competitor picked at random. Not wearing her
wet suit and not really trying to look cool either.
Note the competitive muscles.

A hot dog (okay, puppy)


After about 2 hours I got fed up and at around about noon, me and my picnic headed homewards to find some shade, never to return.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

That’s entertainment – Dr. Feelgood

Being adventurous I managed to buy a ticket to the “Festival of guitars” being held at a rugby club ground about 40 minutes away. It had started off as an outing or “sortie” with the internet outings group that I belong to. There were about 17 people signed up as being interested in attending. The main attraction was to be Dr Feelgood, a group that I have seen about 4 times during the last 5 years. The other 2 groups were French and would therefore probably be complete S”””e.
With 2 weeks to go, the organiser dropped out. The weather forecast was not good and more people dropped out. Unfortunately I had my ticket and could therefore not drop out.
I was expecting crowds to be attending, so I set off in good time.
Oh goody there were some spaces left in the car park. Clutching my ticket, I made my way to the entrance pillars where I could see someone standing.
I got passed her with a suavely delivered "bonjour", and 5 meters further on, a lurking man mumbled something, so I showed him my ticket and walked on, spoiling the effect of my macho saunter, by not looking where I was walking and tripping up over a piece of metal sticking out of the ground. I kept my suave, cool air, and sauntered onwards as though nothing had happened.
I had hoped to be following the crowds, but so far, I was the crowd. Bugger, the path split into a Y formation. I spotted a security guard, resplendent with his black tee-shirt with “securite” on the back and big boots. He was obviously there to control the crowd.
I pointed to the left hand path and he nodded in a secure manner.
I travelled on. I had not brought my camera with me as I was expecting security to be tight. As far as I could see, he hadn’t touched a drop.
The stadium took up a good half of the local club rugby pitch. There was a small stage at one end, the other three sides of the spectator area (arena) had white marquees strung out. There were about 30 people milling about or sitting under the tents. Most of these were the staff of the on site catering company whose marquees took up one whole side.
An hour to go and the tension mounts. Note Security man on
the left keeping order

the crowd and the Croix Rouge van

I walked up to a sign which said things like “sandwich saussisson” 3 euros “boisson 3 euros” “frites 2 euros”.

Left to Right: Food, ticket and drinks.
Only me and wheelchair man were alone in the crowds

I was hungry so I headed for the food bit. “Two sausage sandwiches, chips and a beer” I said optimistically. She shook her head. “You ave to buy a ticket from zat table”.
I walked the 2 yards to the table and repeated the order to the lady seated at the desk. She handed me 2 sandwich tickets, a drink ticket, and a chips ticket. “Zat weel be onze euros”. I gave her a 20 euro note and a one euro coin. That stumped her. Another lady sauntered over. I told my woman that she needed to give me dix euros back. The other woman nodded.
I made the 2 meter trek back to the food counter, where I repeated the food part of my order. Did I want spicy sausage? No I wanted sausage. What do you want on your sausage? I looked for clues. Do you want some *****? She said, pointing at a large wok like dish with sqwishy stuff in it. Yes please I said. The chips were not ready yet, so I would have to wait she said, as she handed me my 2 bits of baguette, complete with bit of sausage and small scraping of squishy stuff inside. I had just finished eating my sandwiches when my plastic container of undercooked chips dripping with oil arrived. Would you lyke katsup? No thanks I said. After all I didn’t want her thinking that I was American. Clutching my chips and drink ticket I walked a further 2 metres past the ticket table and got my beer.
Good, now only an hour to wait before the first band.........
The rain, like the crowds, never materialised. The first group were nothing special, but they had their two molls selling merchandise at a small stall under one of the marquees.
Only about 20 of the assembled throng seemed enthusiastic about the “Blues Power Band”. The next group “Classics and Troubles” had been around for many years and had loads of albums. Every song started off sounding like some other song that I had heard before. There were even songs with English words in them. They even treated us to a section of their concept album which they had released last year. I managed not to wet myself. As a special treat they were joined by Nono, a “famous” dead brilliant guitarist linked with superstars like J, Hallyday, for a guitar dual during one of their super tunes. Nono had been delivering a pay for guitar master class that afternoon. I cannot play guitar so I will not pass comment.

Some concept album magic

Talking about the English language, a number of middle aged + couples were lolling around on little circles of chairs that they had dragged into position, a bit like cowboys with their waggons in the old films. Aaaargh! Smug, faux posh accents, loudly talking complete, but superior, bollocks. Yes, you guessed it. English one and all.
Finally it was time for Dr Feelgood, who seemed to set up most of their equipment themselves before going off-stage to change into their rock-god gear.
By now the crowd had swelled to at least 150, which must be a bit of a blow to the organisers of the event.
Dr Feelgood delivered their usual performance and I took some photos with my phone's camera, (No signal in the field so it was f*** all use for anything else. Leclerc mobile coverage sucks!)


I left just before the end of their set to avoid the rush for the exit, and the beer sloshing about it the plastic beakers of a bunch of knob’eds who were pogoing and slapping each other on the back right next to me.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The walled garden

Following on from the spate of accidents which saw cars crashing through the wall of my neighbour across the road last year, we finally saw some action. I expect that the insurance took ages to come through and that some paperwork also had to go through the mairie for approval. Earlier this year my neighbour started work to clear the remaining wall. Here he is pushing over the wall's end pillar. Because it had steel reinforcing rods built in, this took about a day.
When it finally fell, it fell sticking out onto the main road a bit and he continued to struggle to cut through the remaining steel rods. Oops!

A few days of activity with a sledge hammer and power tools, then nothing. 
I went away for a couple of weeks and came home to find that work had commenced.
This was fine by me. Although the workmen made lots of building noise. What did annoy me was that they were parking their cars, vans, lorries in my parking area. Especially annoying was the fact that they would leave the vehicles there and piss off for a 2 hour lunch break.
After a few days I got really fed up with them as it was now difficult and even more dangerous for me to try and manoeuvre past them and out onto the busy road. After a few days, I told them to vacate my property.
The results of their labours can be seen in the following photo. Anyone who crashes into the wall now will be dead meat unless they are driving a huge lorry. There are huge lorries with trailers which whizz up and down the road fully loaded with stripped trees, so they may survive, if the logs don’t shoot forward and pulverise them.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Smelly boots and Bee-boy’s parents

After the departure of Bee-boy, I redecorated the apartment. Stripping off the old wallpaper, painting the ceiling etc, etc. The old plaques electriques were buggered and tripped the electrics if switched on. Casting my mind back to when the previous 2 tenants (the tree-fellers) lived there , there was a bang and a smell of smoke one day. .....

Bee boy had always used his portable 2 ring gas stove and his portable ovens for cooking so I did not find out about the problem until the day he left.
I bought a proper electric cooker with oven and got the man who came to wire it up, to safely disconnect the old cooker rings.
I built a wooden platform to cover these and siliconed it into place.

When I got back from my hols, a new tenant had moved in. He is Portuguese and speaks little French or English. Like many of the Portuguese here, he is a mason / builder.
One of my plastic garden chairs was missing, so I put up a notice asking for its return. This had no effect, so after a few days I replaced it with an enhanced version, complete with drawing of a green plastic chair.
The next day the notice had gone and the chair was back on the patio,

There is no two ways about it, he is a noisy bastard. From the rental paperwork I know that he is/ was married to a woman from a neighbouring town. He is probably in his late 20’s early 30’s. There is no sign of the wife, so I suppose that they have split up.
Sometime he parks a big white van or a lorry in the parking. His name etc is on the sides of the vehicles, so he either owns the firm, or his dad does and they share the same name. Anyway back to the noise factor. Three seconds after he comes in, he switches on his TV or radio and it can stay on literally all night until it is time for him to go to work. What luck! He also smokes non-stop. My poor new wallpaper and paint........
Fortunately my bedroom is not directly above him, but if I ever get a tenant for the teeny-weeny studio, they will be right below him.
Still, he regularly cleans his room.

The main problem was his gaggingly smelly work boots. Initially there was one pair parked outside his door on the landing. Then there were two pairs there. A strong smell of aftershave-like perfume would waft up the stairs some time after he returned home from work. This would however wear off after an hour or so, and the stench from the boots would win the day.
I started taking a deep breath and trying to hold it as I climbed or descended the stairs past them. As the weather heated up, this proved to be impossible.
One day I tackled him about it as he passed me as I sat on the terrace. I even pointed to places where he could perhaps leave his boots. Outside in the space under the concrete steps, or under the house in the damp earth floored cellar.
The boots stayed outside his door for several more weeks. Reflecting upon our one sided conversation, I got the feeling that he thought that some mad Englishman was explaining the house’s ventilation system to him.
Then his boots suddenly appeared outside overnight on the terrace, subsequent evenings they moved to the space under the concrete steps.

I have 2 theories.

1) one of the ladies that had visited him had told him that his boots stink.

2) he is trying to keep the hallway and stairs from getting muddied by his boots......

This is a much longer post than intended, so just quickly, I had a brief visit from Bee-Boy’s parents. Madame was out so she missed their visit. For the previous 2 weeks she had been telling me that we were going to be invited to an apero with Bee-Boy and his parents, but that no date had been fixed. This was them just popping in to say hello, before returning home to the Loire the next morning. They may return in early September...

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Greek chorus

When I was at University we studied Euripides “The frogs”. It was in such plays that I learned about the “Greek chorus” and its role in such plays. I never imagined for one second, that 35 years later I would actually meet one.

One of our French born female choristers is married to a Greek. They moved to France about 2 years ago. This year we had a brief visit from her former choir, which is based on Kalamaria. Their blog site is at   http://www.newchoirofkalamaria.blogspot.com/

Yes it’s all Greek to me too, but there is a translate this page button on most web browsers these days, so you can press that if you feel so inclined.
In spite of the dire financial state of the Greek economy, the visit went ahead. They spent a few days in Barcelona before coaching it up to the Ariege.

the arrivals

When told that the Greeks would be staying in a hotel, the choir was up in arms. They wanted the Greeks to stay in their homes with them. Hmm language, logistics........

We had a small "welcome" reception for them, followed by a meal.

Speech in Freek

what are we going to do now?
let's invent Greek dancing
It became obvious that almost no Greek speaks French and vice versa. However a number of them could speak excellent English, being English teachers, so I was kept busy doing translations.

one Greek and his guitar
dancing the night away
Despite their tiring coach journey, the Greeks found the energy to dance around in the courtyard until late at night,  not to forget the singing, before getting back on their coach to go to their hotel in a neighbouring town.
Yes Greek dancing is the sport that you can do between meals.

The next evening my choir and theirs were putting on a joint concert at Mirepoix Cathedral. I did not go as I did not know the songs that we were to sing and I had no intention of trying to mime along to the words/tune.
The performance was to be followed by a buffet meal laid on by the choir members. The following day the 38 strong Greek chorus returned to Barcelona and from there, flew back to Greece.
Rumour has it that we have been invited to go to Greece next year....... If this trip goes ahead, despite being subsidised, it will still be too expensive for me. So there’s my excuse. I think of everything.. (plus I'd rather go to the Edinburgh festival instead)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Choir baby, that's really free!

*** Disclaimer (Everything in this entry is entirely fictitious and any similarity to any people living or dead is entirely coincidental so there! I wrote this blog whilst my mind was disturbed due to eating magic mushrooms, sniffing glue, and too many heavy breathing exercises)

This year’s main choral performance was (you may remember a choral piece penned by our choir master, based on the Grimm fairy tale of the fisherman and his wife).
I was lucky and only had to go to a few extra rehearsals. Many of the choir got more involved and ended up making 80 or so costumes including various wigs, for the children, and the two soloists to wear. A new portable stage had to be designed and built. Scenery and props also had to be made. Transferring everything from one performance to the next, plus interim storage also proved to be a logistical nightmare.
I doubt whether our beloved composer / chef de choeur had thought all this through. He had done his bit writing the scores and recording the demo CDs for the various sections of the choir. The rest was up to the choir committee.

We had two dress rehearsals at which we met the children from the two schools which were taking part, and the fisherman, his wife, and the narrator.
The first rehearsal was bedlam. We also met the theatrical director who had been responsible for “designing the set”. Mostly painted cardboard boxes.
One of the schools was providing a much reduced choir than anticipated, of 10 children.
Remember we have approximately 60 adult members. so 10 kids singing at the same time with their reedy little voices.........

The other primary school, which just has one classroom for all its pupils, provided the prop shifter come extras. They had 4 costume changes and were responsible for moving all the boxes and cubes around. 4 of the cubes were solid wood and therefore very heavy, the remaining 50 or so, were cardboard. It was evident to all that even the cardboard cubes were too large for most of the small children to move them around.
Also, when these kids were off stage, they talked and messed about, making more noise than the actors and narrator. The teachers / volunteers seemed unable to shut them up.By the end of this rehearsal, there was much discontent in the ranks. Certainly I was pissed off. We were kept waiting around for all but the last 20 minutes of the 2.5 hour rehearsal.

I shot off afterwards but I heard later that there was quite an argument between some of the choir committee and the artistic director. However, it came down to being too late to change the scenery etc etc.
I read a blurb written by the director all about how the cubes had a magical quality and how the different shadows that the different combinations of cubes....... She managed to fill an A4 sheet with similar sh#*e.
By the second dress rehearsal a week later, the cubes were still causing problems, the scene shifters were still chatting and running around when off stage..... Oh and we were complete rubbish too. The most difficult musical scene had been left untouched until 3 practices before the first rehearsal..... just don’t get me started.... The cubes moving problems had increased as one of the children had had an accident and would not be able to take part. So their boxes had to be divided up for the remaining children to move.
Photos of a typical cubist rehearsal used for illustrative purposes only and the subject matter of said photos is purely coincidental

Once again the choir was kept hanging around for well over an hour.
The first performance was in the theatre / cinema of a town 20 minutes away. The stage was not big enough for all the cubes, the raised staging, piano, choir, actors. We were squashed together so tightly that it was difficult to manoeuvre room to look at the musical scores.
The only good thing that I can say is that the theatre was full, mostly thanks to the families of the children in the show.
The second show was in our home town. Luxury. A stage big enough to fit all the boxes etc. Enough room for us to stand on our own two feet, instead of someone else’s. the director had a bit of a strop when we pointed out that at least 10 people at each end of the choir was in darkness and their scores were invisible. Something along the lines of “the lighting was set up this morning, it is not possible to make changes now!!!” Fortunately the lighting director (strangely enough a man) moved the lights a bit.
This performance went much better although the children’s choir was one boy down. Once again the theatre was full.
The third and final performance took place in a medieval town about 30 miles NW of my town. We were performing under the medieval halle (market place) at 9pm. This is a large stone building, with huge arches along 3 sides. Sheets of plywood had been fitted into the gaps up to about one third of the height of the gaps.

The stage was rather small, so the choir had to stand on benches to one side of the stage. Lighting was even more difficult than before. There were now also church bells to contend with. Also, if someone went to the toilet located behind the choir, a noisy ventilation fan sprang into action.
The audience were to be seated on plastic stacking chairs. I dread to think what the sound must have been like for them.
Oh and of course we had a storm before and during the performance. It was cold, the wind whistled into the building from our left side, the rain battered off the roof.

The children celebrated the last performance by throwing the wooden cubes off the stage at the audience during the penultimate scene.
The performance over, we adjourned to a small rectangular marquee, attached to the back of the halle. The marquee was where we were to celebrate our final performance by sharing the food that we had brought. The floor was an inch deep in water, thanks to the rain, but also it had been cunningly erected so that a drinking fountain was in the middle of the floor. Every so often, with no one touching it, it would gush water out onto the ground.

You might think that this would make my joy complete? Of course not! The men had been flattening the boxes, dismantling the staging etc etc. This took time, so when we finally made it to the food tent, the women had eaten most of it, except for the cakey type things........... I hung around for half an hour, then made my way out into the rainy night to find my car and GPS myself home in the dark.
(Some readers of my fictional world of blog may remember a tale of a choir master who announced at the end of a practice that he was going out with one of the alto members in the choir. It is strange that no similar (alleged) “dumping” announcement of the 13 year older than him chorister, for a 20 year old younger than him mademoiselle was made. Miaow! )