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Archive for the ‘Bastille day’ Category

I forget exactly when we met Caroline, we had not been living in France long, but I do remember where we met.

Just across the river that passes next to our garden is a very large field.  It is owned by the Commune and is used on Bastille day for the fishing day and apart from the odd fisherman during the season it rarely sees a soul.  As it is Community property and we are part of the community it effectively belongs to us and therefore we are the ones who probably use it the most.

It was in said field that I was trying to teach Mrs Powerfulpierre how to ride a bike, without success I would add, she just and still cannot make the leap of faith needed to balance the bike long enough for the momentum to keep it on two wheels.

Caroline lives in California and has a holiday home just up the road from where we live.  She is also friends with our milk providing neighbour, Francoise and as Caroline had a problem with her laptop, obviously she had been pointed in my direction.

Yet again I am struck by the weirdness of a situation, here we were two English people meeting a lady from California in a field in a beautiful but little known part of France talking about a dysfunctional laptop!

Well from there our friendship developed and eventually encompassed both our families as well.

Caroline arranges trips for her students and they stay with local people in and around the village and one year she asked us if we would like to help out by driving one of the two minibuses and take in the sights as well.  Of course we were up for it big time.

So we took the TGV, the incredibly fast French high speed train from Le Man to Paris and met up with everyone to start the journey back home with much sight seeing on the way.

First up was to collect the minibuses and I have to say this was even for a former policeman one of the scariest and stressful things I have ever done.  To start with it was first thing on a weekday morning in the centre of Paris somewhere that I have never nor would ever drive normally.  It is sheer madness, the Parisians take no prisoners and the traffic was heavy.  Also you must bare in mind that I had got used  to the empty country roads around where we live where even the main road into our nearest town on a Monday morning is deserted.

Next up was the location of the rental firm, right underneath the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysées the most busy roundabout in the known universe.  Finally the vehicle itself which I had never driven before and had no time to get used to because it was straight out of the tunnel and into the melee of Parisian traffic.  Then it got worse, the Mercedes bus I discovered did not have a handbrake instead it was foot operated and despite my best efforts I could not get the hang of it.  I managed to release it but when it came to balancing accelerator and foot brake on an incline I just kept stalling.  Eventually by using the proper foot-brake and  what is called in racing jargon heeling and toeing I got out onto the road but worse was yet to come.

I had no idea where the pickup point was and was going to follow Caroline in the other bus across Paris.  That is when a gendarme appeared out of nowhere, flagged me down and demanded my documents.  So there I was on the roundabout, a quickly disappearing Caroline, juggling the foot pedals to avoid rolling back into the rental garage whilst trying to find the documents for the vehicle and my driving licence.

I was going into panic mode, what if I lost sight of the other minibus and I was doomed to driving around the streets of Paris, lost for ever.

I finally got clear of the gendarme and charged across the roundabout completely ignoring other traffic as I tried to catch up with the other bus.

In fairness attack seemed to be the best form of defense, I scattered all before me and there was the other bus waiting for me, but I was still not out of the woods, there was still a long way to go through the bustling Paris streets and as is always the way with these things when we approached a set of traffic lights they would stay green or yellow, the traffic lights here are not the same as in the UK, and Caroline would zip through and then immediately change to red for me.

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Our students at The Louvre

Eventually we arrived at the hotel and loaded up the buses ready for our great adventure.

So next up in part 2 Paris sights and beyond and more stuff than you can shake a stick at.

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We came to France to get away from the rat race of the UK, to live a quieter, simpler life and to a large extent we have achieved our dream.

However things do not always go the way you want to and so it was that on Friday morning we drove to Evron to find some fancy dress costumes for the party we had been invited to on saturday night and find a present  for the anniversary party on Sunday.  Now I have to plead guilty here, when I saw the price of the red indian outfit my wife proposed to wear, I bottled out and we left the shop empty handed with my wife ever so slightly upset with me.

We returned home to find a message on the answering machine from Francoise our neighbour we get our milk from.  She explained that Christaines mother had died on tuesday evening and that the funeral was in the village that afternoon.  Although we did not know her that well, I think she was 94 and had been very ill for some time, it is very important to the people here that you show support for your friends and go to the funeral, there was never any question that no matter what other plans we had we were going to the funeral.

The day had been one of heavy showers and I mean heavy and as I looked for something appropriate to wear my mind went back to my fathers funeral that took place in the same church we were going to.  It was a very wet May when he died suddenly, he had lived in his own flat in the village for about 10 months and in fairness he had enjoyed the gastronomic delights of France with us during that time.  He was 86 when he died and we bought a plot in the village cemetary which stands on the hill on the edge of the village and has the most magnificent views of the countryside.  My father could not speak a word of french and he knew very few people except the friends we introduced him to.  But there must have been 40 or more people at his funeral, not particularly for him though of course they wanted to pay their respects to a man who had been a soldier in ww2 and a fireman.  But because of Margaret and me, the support was phenominal.

We drove up to the village really early because we just knew how busy the church would be when a long term resident dies and we had to park some distance away and walk to the church in torrential rain.  The Mayor was sat in his car parked across the nearest parking spaces keeping them clear for Christaine and her family who were following the hearse from Villaine.

As predicted the church was packed and it was heartening to see so many people paying their last respects and supporting the family.

The following day we went to the fancy dress party and as we had been warned not to come as ourselves or else!  I managed to find some military looking clothes and an army style jungle hat and went as colonel Blake from MASH whilst my wife went as a footballer.  Needless to say the time when it would have been nice to have got some photos of some intriguing costumes, the batteries in the camera failed despite being charged up for a long time before we went.

On the Sunday we went to a wedding anniversary party and the weather was fantastic, we arrived at around 4pm to find our hosts already opening presents on their huge pristine lawn in front of the large lake.  The setting could not have been better for some serious eating and drinking with about 30 or so other guests both french and english.

flower display in the lake

flower display in the lake

We walked down to where the tables had been laid out and helped ourselves to kier, sparkling white wine and blackberry cordial, then we sat and had a prawn cocktail for starter.  I sat with some french people and astounded myself at how well I understood them and I was being understood by them, my french seemed to get better and better the more I drank, how odd is that.  I was really looking forward to the main course, John our host had already told me previously that he wanted to spit roast a piece of beef and I advised him that the best beef we had had was from our friend and neighbour Patrice who rears organic beef cows just down the road from where we live.  His meat is sold exclusively at the butcher in our nearest town and that is where he got it.

The beef being spit roasted

The beef being spit roasted

Gourmet or gourmand, lurking at the table anticipating dinner

Gourmet or gourmand, lurking at the table anticipating dinner

So on to the main course.  Dear reader I cannot describe sufficiently how outstanding the reasonably thickly sliced pieces of beef were.  After the garden fresh sauted potatoes and ratatouille were added to the plates I cut a piece of beef which was still pink and moist, the flavour was big and er beefy.  I was in heaven.

Now the french are renowned for eating red meat almost raw but they were equally satisfied with the outcome and there was a distinct hush in conversation as we all tucked in.

just look at that beef

just look at that beef

Next up was the cheese course, with a fine selection.  Lettuce with a vinaigrette dressing and more bread and wine and then pud.

dessert x 3

dessert x 3

Of course I had to have some of all 3.  The black forest gateau I think was my favourite and all baked by our english friend, Shirley, bravo.

Finally coffee and calvados although a lot of the french had whiskey which I have said before is incredibly popular here.  I also had a cigar which rounded things off nicely.  Here are a few more photos of the day.DSCF3223DSCF3219DSCF3221

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