Halloween Spookiness

It’s just about 5 pm here and in America, you really wouldn’t have expected to see any trick-or-treaters out yet. But this is still a relatively new holiday in France and I have the feeling it’s going to mostly disappear, at least the way we mostly know it in America.

I was just out picking up a couple of things from the fruit and veggie store and the Vival market. I didn’t expect many kids to show up at the fruit store, but Loic at the Vival said he has only had one kid come in so far.

The first year we were here, we did have a pretty good number of kids come around to the house. Last year I don’t think we had any. This year I didn’t even buy any candy. Somehow, I don’t think you can suddenly create a tradition where one never existed.

This week is a big vacation week here, which could account for part of it. So many people are on holidays elsewhere that I don’t think it occurs to them to go door-to-door in a place that isn’t “home.” And I get the feel too that parents aren’t crazy about the idea of their kids going around asking strangers for candy. It’s just not really “done” here.

It may be different in bigger villages or in cities. Also, if this had been a weekday, some of the kids from the nursery school would have been brought around to the shops by their teachers. But right now, the streets are pretty dead, and not in a Halloween kind of way!

I DID however, have my own spooky surprise. As I was walking back home I heard a voice behind me. I looked and there was no one there! Then, the voice told me not to be afraid! That made me even more afraid!! But it turned out to be one of our crazier residents who was standing in his window talking to himself then to me! I think that’s as close to Halloween as I’m going to get this year.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Is this really Fall?

Although we have had some wonderful autumns before in France, I don’t think we’ve had one this spectacular. A friend of mine in Colorado told me they had 18″ of snow yesterday; today I would say the temperature was around 80 degrees F!

What’s lovely is that it cools down at night, so the heat is not oppressive at all. There’s only one problem with it; I really have work that needs to be done and this weather makes me want to sit outside all day!

As always, you see tons of people on the street as soon as the weather is like this. Everyone wants to stop and chat as well, because we’re all looking for an excuse not to go back inside.

This is a school holiday week in France (Toussaint), so lots of people are on vacation. What luck for them! No matter what vacation plans you have, it’s much nicer to do them in the sunshine, that is unless you were hoping for an early ski season!

There is a downside to it all though, and a rather serious one. We are still in the midst of a serious drought in the Aude. Today’s INDEPENDENT had an article saying that there are a lot of trees that are dying because they just didn’t get enough water this year. The water tables are disturbingly low and apparently we’re something like a year behind in the amount of rainfall that we should have, so even if it rains all winter, it won’t top the levels up enough.

Now, we had a lot of rain last winter, but since there was almost none during the period from June to October, all the benefit of the heavy rains early in the year are gone.

With luck, we’ll soon get what we need. But I am going to enjoy the sunshine for now.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Espezel!

Yesterday was our annual visit to the agricultural fair at Espezel. Yes, it rained, but no, we didn’t mind.

In fact, it rained early when we were walking Shmoo, but had stopped by the time we left for the fair. Miraculously, it didn’t rain while we were there and started to rain again while we were driving home. Of course, the only benefit to not having rain right at the minute we were there was that we, personally, didn’t get wet. The ground, however, was a mud pit everywhere outside of the main village. That meant that all the livestock exhibits were a challenge, since I am not known for my grace even during fine weather. I did manage to get through without falling on my butt though, so that was a plus.

I swear that there there were even more booths this year than last. You really wouldn’t think it possible that more people could set up. We didn’t get to every single exhibitor, mostly because after a while you can’t take in anymore information. As it is, we had trouble deciding where we should buy what. Finally, we tried not to make too many purchases at any one booth, preferring to buy from as many different people as possible. I think we wound up not going crazy and didn’t buy anything that we wouldn’t normally eat.

We bought several kinds of cheese (cow and goat) some dried sausage of different types, fresh duck sausage to broil or grill, aligot, that magical concoction of mashed potatoes and melted cheese that is cooked in huge cauldrons and stirred with a wooden spoon, a goat and tomato fougasse (kind of like a sauceless pizza), an apple fougasse (like a free-form apple tart), a huge beignet that I shouldn’t have eaten because that’s just too much fried dough, wine, vinegar and a can of paté. Between that and our purchases at the apple festival last weekend, we really don’t need to shop for a while.

My only negative came when I bought a bottle of wine for Mom and a bottle of Banyuls vinegar for me. I had wanted a 500 ml bottle of vinegar and paid for that, but discovered that the guy had slipped a 250 ml bottle to me instead. I thought the bottle he put in the bag looked small, and I should have gone with my instinct and said something. Still, I wasn’t about to drive back for that, so live and learn in the future I guess.

We didn’t stay to watch any of the demonstrations of herding, because we could tell that the weather was going to get worse. However I did see a lot of beautiful Border Collies wandering around and that made me sad a little because I really was missing Maggie. Shmoo gave me lots of cuddles when we got home though, so that helped some. God forbid I should see a BC for adoption in a weak moment, because I will probably do it!

As always, the drive up to Espezel is stunning. Even in the rain there are wonderful sites to see. Yesterday, the clouds were hanging on the hills and everything looked magical under dramatic skies. I don’t think I could pick a place in the world that I would rather live or anything I would rather do than wander a fair like Espezel.

Ciao for now.

Randy

A Morning Adventure

When we got up to the bike path/rail tracks it was still pitch dark outside (not helped by the rainy weather). Shmoo was in a state; lunging and wanting to get “something.” I thought he was seeing my shadow, as I was back-lit by the street light behind me. I put my flashlight on and he practically dragged me ahead; this in spite of wearing his head collar!  We got to where he wanted to go and I see him sniffing a big, gray rock. Only, when I focus the light on it I saw it wasn’t a rock at all, but a HEDGEHOG! The ones I’ve seen up till now have clearly been babies, because they were tiny little things. This was pretty big; about 9 or 10 inches long.

At first, I thought maybe it was a porcupine and was kind of worried that Shmoo would get quills in his face, but I realized that it was not the right kind of quills to be a porcupine. I just had never seen a full grown hedgehog before I guess.

Anyway, he was VERY excited but I pulled him away before he could hurt it or get hurt himself. I think the fact that it was curled up and lying still saved its life, because he couldn’t chase it..

We finished our walk, but when JM showed up to meet us, I didn’t let Shmoo play the run-to-daddy game (now that I read that here it sounds very embarrassing) because I thought he was still too obsessed about the critter and might take off after it in the dark. I really didn’t want to deal with that.  When we got back to where it had been lying, it was gone, so I guess it took advantage of our leaving to get itself someplace safe.

I suppose that is one of the things that our “great hunter” is often tracking on our morning walks. I always assumed that it was just a cat, but that is clearly wrong. If I hadn’t been using both hands to hold onto the beast’s leash, I would have gotten a picture, although you all probably would have thought I was just photographing a fuzzy rock!

Ciao for now,

Randy

Not this weekend!!!!

The rain that we so badly need has arrived (not much for us so far) and it is gray and Octobery. And I don’t mind, really. However, this weekend is the agricultural fair at Espezel! We look forward to that all year and I cannot imagine that it will be much fun if it’s raining!

I’m not sure which will be worse: wandering through the streets trying to look at what people are selling while juggling an umbrella, being hit in the face by OTHER peoples’ umbrellas, getting wet feet or wandering up to the livestock tents in a field of mud. To be honest, none of that sounds like a thrill a minute.

So, for once I’m going to hope for NO RAIN, at least on Saturday and Sunday. I also think it would be very sad for the seller’s who probably count on making a lot of money next weekend. Do you go or do you not go? I have to admit if it was me, I would be torn.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Apple Festival 2009

Yesterday turned out to be just as predicted: beautiful, chilly, windy and perfect for a visit to the Mirepoix Fête des Pommes 2009.

We were pretty early, just after 10:00, so there weren’t a lot of people yet, which does make it easier to look around calmly, especially when your arm is attached to a Shmoo. All of the displays were set up, however, and we had our pick of apples, etc.

We made one major mistake: not bringing our wheeled shopping cart. Once you load 3 kg of apples, a bottle or two of juice and several cans of patés and confit de canard, a canvas carry-all is VERY heavy. Poor JM was doing the carrying, since I had the aforementioned Shmoo and I think he was really suffering by the time we got back to the car.

There definitely seem to be fewer vendors this year. I don’t know if it’s because they feel they don’t sell enough or because some of them have gone out of business because of the economic crunch. We did our part to help though. And, from what we’ve tasted so far, it was worth the money. The Honey Crunch apples are really outstanding and JM thought the duck paté with green peppercorns was terrific. Maybe I’ll try the confit today.

Shmoo did get a bit excited at seeing other dogs, but he was better than he has sometimes been in the past, and by the time we were leaving, he was ignoring them all. I don’t know if that was tiredness or the realization that I wasn’t going to let him play with them, but it was a welcome result. I don’t think he’ll get to go to Espezel though. Nothing to do with him as much as I realized that it is hard to really shop and look around when you have to always be vigilant not to let 85-pounds of pure muscle take off in a crowd.

Here are the pictures that I managed to take despite my furry appendage; enjoy.

This year's theme was music

This year's theme was music

Here are the Bongos

Here are the Bongos

It was hard to get the whole guitar into the shot

It was hard to get the whole guitar into the shot

A Xylophone is always nice

A Xylophone is always nice

Some nice patés under "les couverts" (covered walkways)

Some nice patés under "les couverts" (covered walkways)

We came home and lit a fire. Then, last night, I finally got to try my fireplace grill with some English-stlye sausages made by someone in the area. I need to work out some of the bugs (not used to how long it takes to grill stuff), but the end result was worth the effort.

That’s what I call a perfect Fall day.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Signs of the Season

We got up this morning to find that it was COLD! Really, below freezing cold. One of our friends had to chip ice off of her windshield to drive into work and I was bundled up with earmuffs and gloves when I walked Shmoo.

We even had to break down and put the heat on, because it was getting too cold to type. I brought wood up for the fireplace as well, because I think we’re going to light a fire this weekend and try my new fireplace barbecue! Sausages and ‘taters cooked in the fire! I can’t wait.

Tomorrow is also the Apple Festival in Mirepoix! I will take pictures of the apple sculptures for posting so you can all feel as if you were there. It really is going to be perfect fair weather: a bit of a chill in the air, bright sunshine, the kind of day you want to be thinking of making apple pies.

Next weekend, of course, is the fair at Espezel. That is really the highlight of the Fall for us and for many of our friends. We like to get there early, even though that means that some of the things I’d like to see aren’t happening yet. However, it also means I can find a place to park, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Also, next weekend is when we change time. I love the extra hour during the day, but it will be really dark for dog walking duty in the morning and evening. The positive side of that is that with the kind of crisp, clear weather that we’re having, you can see every star in the sky. It’s really a treat to look up and see them on the black velvet of the sky. I will hold that thought in mind as my silver lining.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Nosy Neighbors and Why We Need Them

JM spoke to my MIL yesterday. She told him that Papa had gone out to get the papers Sunday morning (they live in Paris) and she suddenly realized he had been gone for a long time. She was starting to worry (okay, worry is what she does best, but still) when he finally appeared, all white-faced.

It turns out that there were some roadworks on the street where he buys the newspaper and he slipped in the mud. This caused him to fall into a trench in the road. He’s almost 80 and was unable to get out on his own, so yelled for help. Three people passed by and not one of them would help him! They were all “too busy!”  Imagine; an 80-year-old man is stuck in a trench but you are “too busy” to stop to help him or even call the police to get him out????

Eventually, with great effort, he managed to escape his prison, and is luckily doing okay, but things could have been much, much worse.

While we were still recovering from the shock of this news, we read a story in this morning’s paper that was more horrifying. An elderly man in a Parisian suburb was recently found dead of natural causes. Judging from the letters in his overflowing mailbox and an expired yogurt in his refrigerator, he had been dead for TWO YEARS!!! All of his bills were paid by direct debit, so there were no unpaid bills to make people suspicious. The only reason anyone checked on him was because there was a “bad odor” coming from his apartment.

The management company for the apartment building says that the “responsibility” is shared, and I suppose that’s true. But shouldn’t the mailman at least have thought there was something odd about a mailbox that hadn’t been emptied in two years?? Was he so unlikeable that even his family (in Portugal) didn’t wonder where he was?

In the same article it mentions a woman in another Paris suburb who was found dead after six months in her apartment. Again, no one had thought to check on her.

I can tell you that this could not happen here in the Possum Kingdom. If one of the neighbors has their shutters closed and they are not known to have gone away, someone will check on them.

Now, when we were moving here, my Parisian MIL said she didn’t like villages because “everyone knows your business.” I have to say that is precisely WHY I like living in a village. I like the idea that if I’m not out and about, someone is going to notice and worry about me.

Sure, both of those people would still probably be dead, but at least someone would have gone to see. And, certainly, my FIL would not have had to lie in a muddy ditch worried that he was going to die there.

Bless my nosy neighbors.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Update to my last post

I did find a downside to yesterday’s fair. All the ponies on the railroad tracks left LOTS of Pony Poop. This is a major delicacy to Shmoo, apparently, and our walks today have been fraught with danger. I do NOT want him eating it then licking me! YUCK! YUCK! YUCK!!!

So, for the next couple of days, until it dries out and is no longer delicious, we have to go back to walking on the road.

Ciao for now

Randy