Autumn in the Possum Kingdom

This is without a doubt my favorite time of year. The weather is often perfect, as it has been most of this week, and the big crowds of summer are gone, but there is still plenty to do.

For some reason, it seems to be the time of year that JM and I like to do most of our exploring. Last weekend we just had the urge to get in the car and do something fun. We have been watching a programme on Channel 4 called CHATEAU MONTY about a British wine writer who decided to spend a year trying to grow grapes using the Bio Dynamics method (goes beyond organic!!!). For a change, instead of a story following someone in an area far away, we realized that Monty was practically around the corner!

That’s relative, of course, as he is in about 1 hour drive away towards Perpignan, but that’s almost next door as far as mileage; perhaps about 30 miles away. We didn’t expect to find his actual vineyard (we didn’t) but we did find the village and the area. We took some pictures ,which are now up on the website if you want to take a look.

This week we participated in the demonstration to preserve the local créche and yesterday we went to a wonderful concert put on by the Rotary Club of Limoux. We had introduced our friends the Einsteins to our dentist, Pierre Bac, who is also active in the Rotary Club. When Pierre found out that Paul was a concert violinist, it was just an event that had to be! The concert was held in the Musée du Piano, which has one of the largest collections of antique pianos in France, and every seat was taken. The Rotary Club International is on a new mission to wipe out Polio, which has had an unfortunate resurgance in the world, and the money will go to that effort.

Today is also stunningly beautiful. We may be forced to go out again, this time to the Hazelnut Festival in Lavelanet. That’s always dangerous though, because with the stalls selling wonderful local products, we can almost not resist buying more than we need!

Viva Fall!

Ciao for now.


The People Arise

Yesterday was the kind of day where you see how a small community can pull together.

We have a nursery school in our village, which is run by an “association,” meaning that it is not entirely public, nor is it entirely private. It is paid for by a variety of sources that include grants, etc.

I’m not here to judge how it is run, although my guess is that the administrative end of things was not well set up, which is most likely the root cause of the problem that it is currently facing. That problem is a financial one.

The nursery school, or “creche,” has fallen into a political black hole and is threatened with closure because they do not have enough money to keep it going. Many of the mothers who use it work, and if it closes they will have no one to watch their children and therefore may have to quit their jobs. It’s not a good situation.

So, the village and the surrounding communities which also use the creche mobilized. 200 people marched in the streets of the village and held a rally in front of the office of the Communauté des Communes, which is the equivalent of a county government as opposed to a village or regional government (confusing, I know).

At first, the doors of the Communauté des Communes remained closed, but eventually a spokesman came out to speak to the people. Granted, he was only there to try and lay the blame at the feet of the Mayor and the City Council, as is often the case with disputes here. Our mayor is not part of the “in” crowd and is independent to the point of having members of different political parties all working together on the City Council. This does not go down well with the local political “machine” and means that often there are disputes that affect the village in a negative way.

Whether the protest will do any good or not, I don’t know. Certainly there was a fair amount of publicity, and since next year is the county election, I would hope that there will be some effort on behalf of the “powers that be” to get something done.

Many of us on the march don’t have children, but we came together as a group to save the jobs of the teachers and a place for the kids to be cared for in safety.

Frankly, I was proud to participate. A community needs to put aside individual differences for a cause that affects the greater good, and there were many from across the political spectrum out in the streets yesterday.

It’s a lesson that should be followed by others.

Ciao for now.


Second Summer

Yesterday it rained. But it wasn’t some nice, sweet, gentle rain, oh no. It just poured down from the sky in buckets and buckets. The street looked like we’d developed a new river.

After lunch, it had slowed to a mild drizzle, so we though, “ah ha! We can take the dog for a walk.” We aren’t fools, however, and I did put on a rain jacket while JM took an umbrella. We got to just past the 8 à Huit and the rain decided to return with a vengence. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen Shmoo look quite that unhappy.

The problem was that in spite of the weather, Shmoo still needed to do his thing and he just didn’t feel like it. I can understand, I didn’t want to be there either. But until he performed, we had to stay outside. Finally, he gave in and did what needed to be done and we turned back. But by then the part of me not covered by a jacket was so wet that the water was running down my legs and going inside my boots. I’m not sure that I’ve ever gotten that wet during a walk. I felt as if I’d taken a shower fully clothed.

When we got back to the house, Shmoo just stood inside the door dripping, his whole body hunched up in misery. All he wanted was for me to grab a towel and dry him off. It reminded me of the moment when I think he realized he had picked the right home. He had never realized before that there were slaves who were willing to rub him dry with a big, soft, fluffy towel and he liked it! Yesterday, he just kind of pushed into my legs as I dried and you could see him relax with happiness at being dry once again.

I could barely get my soaked trousers off, because they were stuck to my legs, as were my socks! I do need a longer raincoat!

By the end of the day, however, the sun was out again and everything had that clean, fresh look it gets after a big rain.

Today, it is simply glorious; a perfect Indian Summer day; not too hot, a little breeze, skies with that beautiful blue that makes you feel like singing.

It’s clear that fall is here when we go out for our morning walk and it is nippy and still dark at 7 am. But on an afternoon like this one, you can forget for a few hours that the dark days of winter will soon be here.

Ciao for now.


The Economy

Try as we might to ignore it, the suckiness of the U.S. economy has become a major preoccupation even for those of us here in the Possum Kingdom.

I’ve written before about how the rising costs of food, fuel, etc. are big news here as everywhere. But for those of us who count on our money coming from the States or the UK, it is even more worrying. Not only are we paying the same higher prices as everyone else, our income has taken a drop as well, so our purchasing power has sunk lower, faster.

Another big concern for those of us who are not yet at retirement age, but who have private retirement accounts and pensions is whether there will be anything left for us to live on when the time comes. Watching banks and brokerages closing right and left is frankly terrifying, even from a distance.

What happens if the bank where all your bank accounts are situated goes under? Yes, things are insured by the FDIC in the States, but they will probably not be able to cover all the losses without huge government bailouts themselves. And, if the bank closes and you do not live inside the U.S., it is impossible to re-open a new account with a different bank. The days of being able to get signature cards notarized at a consulate, then sending them back to the bank are gone. Spending a couple of thousand dollars to go back and do it in person is an absurdity.

Even if the worst happens, we won’t starve and we’ll manage to survive somehow, but it won’t be easy and it won’t be fun. But, then it won’t be easy or fun for anyone, no matter where they are.

I never thought we would see dark times like these in our lifetime.

Ciao for now.


Village Serendipity

One of the things that is so cool about living in a village is that there are always things that surprise you.

On Saturday, we noticed some people walking by our house and kind of staring at it, then, when they saw us looking at them, they kind of smiled as if they knew us. We had no idea who they were, but we’ve met so many people over the years that we thought we might have met them but couldn’t remember.

A little while later we took Shmoo for his walk and ran across them again and smiled, then continued on our way to the gardens. As we were coming home we ran into them yet again! They were a man in his 50s, a young woman in her early 20s and a baby about 18 months old. They young woman asked if I was Randy, as it turned out she was reading my book. I should point out that they were French, not English.

We started chatting and found out that the man (Robert) was the young woman’s father and he had just bought a house in the village. We talked for about 10 or 15 minutes, then started to leave. As we were walking away, Robert said in English, “I am a piano tuner.”

Now, not only was this an unusual thing to say, but as it turns out, JM and I had been looking in the yellow pages about an hour earlier, hoping to find a piano tuner in Limoux who could come to look at Mom’s piano! Needless to say, we stopped dead in our tracks at that prononucement. What are the odds that one would run into a total stranger on a walk in the countryside and that stranger would be precisely the type of person you were hoping to meet? I’m still astonished about it to be perfectly honest.

At any rate, Robert and Laetitia came over on Sunday for a look at the piano. Mom has had it since she was a little girl (quite some time ago!!!) and it seems that it’s a very good piano, very well made and, strangely, although it is out of tune, still sounding pretty good for all of that.

We agreed that Robert should work on it this week and he’s coming this afternoon. Mom started to reminisce about when she got the piano and became all teary with the memories. I don’t think there’s anything we could have done for her that would have made her as happy as getting her piano tuned seems to have done. She’s already started to play on it again, even without the work being done.

Another great moment in the Possum Kingdom.

Ciao for now.


Serpent World?

I know that we have snakes in the area, but except for one squashed snake a couple of years ago I haven’t had any run-ins with them. That is until yesterday.

We came home from our post-dinner walk and I looked down to see Shmoo acting silly with something on the floor. I pulled him away (he was still on his leash) and I immediately saw that he was not playing with his leash, but that it was a  SNAKE!!!

Of course, I did what any rational person does in a situation like that: I screamed out SNAKE as loudly as I could. I have to say that neither JM nor me likes snakes, well, duh!

The problem is that I also know nothing about snakes other than that here we’ve got two   kinds: garden snakes and vipers. Yes, I know that vipers can be recognized by the “V” on their heads, but frankly, I wasn’t going to get that close to it.  So, as we stood there hyperventilating and trying to keep the dog away from it I told JM to stomp on it.

In retrospect, I suppose that this wasn’t the most rational response I could have had, because if it was a viper that was probably dangerous. But, not ever having had a snake in the house before, I couldn’t think of anything else. JM reacted bravely and, since he was wearing his big walking shoes, ably took care of the snake, which was now “late.”

We managed to get it into a trash bag and dumped it, and here again, I suppose it would have been more rational to keep it to show someone who knows about these things and could have told us whether it was a viper or not.

I honestly have no idea where it came from or how it got into the house and I suppose it will forever remain a mystery. I can say that for the first time since I’ve lived here, I felt insecure in our own home last night because I kept looking for snakes everywhere. We were, in fact, quite lucky, because if it was a viper, Shmoo or one of us could have been bitten and today’s entry would not have been quite the same…

Ciao for now.


End of Summer

It is clearly the end of the summer season, although the weather continues to thumb its nose at the departing tourists by being hot and mostly sunny. Nothing like making people feel even worse about having to go back to the daily grind.

The subtle clues of the “rentrée” are there. First, when we take our morning walk somewhere around 7 am, there are suddenly far more local cars on the road with drivers who are clearly on a “mission” that goes beyond picking up the morning baguette. Second, the foreign license plates (including those from other departments of France) are disappearing rapidly.

Mothers are smiling, kids are looking miserable, and not so subtle reminder that school starts tomorrow.

The hypermarches are packed to the gills with school supplies and those are the aisles with traffic jams in and around them. I still remember how much I loved buying my new school supplies, even though I had mixed feelings about going back to school. Some things never change.

In our village, the summer homes are now shuttered. Our good friend Bernie left for Ireland yesterday, a week after David and Jane left for London. That’s one of the worst parts of the end of summer; seeing all of our friends heading back to their real lives in other zip codes. You really do wish you could keep them all the time.

We’re left with an odd bitter sweet feeling about it all. I miss our friends who are only here for holidays. This summer in particular, there has been a hustle and bustle to life in the village and beyond as we had more visitors in the area than during the last couple of years. At the same time, I like the normal peace and quiet that we enjoy and won’t really mind getting back to that. What I will really enjoy is that with the kids back in school, there will be less motor scooters roaring around the streets with bored adolescents circling and circling and circling with their friends; at least during most of the day.

The newspaper has an article on saving on one’s heating costs this winter.

Signs, signs, everywhere signs of change.

Ciao for now.