A world capital somewhere near us…


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Castlemoron d’Albret, a village not far from us has two claims to fame.  The first is that it is literally the smallest commune in France – its footprint is a mere 3.6 hectares (approx 8.4 acres) – in other words it’s about the same size as the Place Charles de Gaulle which has the Arc de Triomphe in it.  France’s smallest commune also happens to be in France’s largest département, the Gironde.

Castlemron’s other claim is that it is the Crèche Capital of the world.  So the Sud-Ouest, the local paper, says anyway and it has to be admitted that the Sud-Ouest is fond of hyperbole (and of using 10 words when one would do).  Whether or not it’s actually true the promise of nearly 200 crèches set up around the village was quite enough to prompt us to go.

There were crèches everywhere, many of them were in the windows of houses…Dec 13 011aThis is a Breton crèche and features Anne de Bretagne in red, as far as I know she wasn’t actually present at the Nativity…Dec 13 017This one is made from figures collected in Spain.

Dec 13 019As the sign said, this one was created by Australians.  We much enjoyed the duck-billed platypus paying its respects.

Dec 13 018A tiny Nativity made from pictures cut out of a religious magazine,

Dec 13 051Some were beautifully simple as in the one above; others were so detailed, like this crèche Arcachonais below – Arcachon is the seaside resort of choice for smart Bordelais and also prides itself on its oysters.

collage ArchachonaisNot only are the figurines settling down to huitres de Noel, if you look closely you can see the baby Jesus is being presented with a plate of oysters too.

In the Basque crèche he was being given a basket of peppers, presumably Piment d’Espelette (very hot) which isn’t normally foodstuff thought suitable for babies!

There were suspended Nativity scenes,

Dec 13 052and ones ranged along the tops of high walls so that up close all you could see were the bottom of the cherub’s foot,

Dec 13 022crèches from all over the world,Dec 13 016

and arranged along fences.collage fenceIn the church there was this beautiful silhouette

Dec 13 033and a lot of corn is used in Peru:

Dec 13 029aThe whole event was a complete joy but I think my absolute favourites were these two;

Dec 13 039a yurt Nativity and

Dec 13 043the Inuit Nativity, complete with polar bear and seals.

What a find!


Yesterday after I’d put up my post about Something Stupid and the Fussy Librarian I saw it had been liked by a blog I’d never heard of before, Interesting Literature. Naturally I took a look and was hooked from this first item on ‘The Twelve Best Facts From A Year Of Interesting Literature:

1. In 1910, Virginia Woolf and her friends dressed up in costumes and donned fake beards in order to convince the Royal Navy they were a group of Abyssinian princes. And thus they pulled off what became known in newspapers as the ‘Dreadnought Hoax’, earning a 40-minute guided tour of the ship. Several members of the Bloomsbury Group were involved, but Woolf was the most famous among them.

dreadnought oaxIt’s so rare to read a ‘Best Of’ that probably really is and this is just the sort of thing that gets me spending far too much time on the internet.   As in stopping what I was supposed to be doing and having a lovely trawl through their archives.  As I said when I was talking at the Parisot Literary Festival, to write you need to distance yourself from all distractions and that includes animals who want to go in and out, then back in again…and out once more, and addictive blogs.

Oh well, at least I’m not playing Angry Birds…

Something Stupid at the The Fussy Librarian



SomeI’m thrilled that Something Stupid has been picked by the Fussy Librarian to be featured this Sunday, december 8th.  The Fussy Librarian, a new website that offers personalized ebook recommendations. You choose from 40 genres and indicate preferences about content and then the computers work their magic. It sounds like another way of adding to the ever mounting TBR pile and what’s wrong with that?  Knowing that you’ve got enough books to read is sheer bliss!  Their website is www.TheFussyLibrarian.com

A Missed Marketing Opportunity?


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Apparently the latest retailing sensation is Shreddies.  No, not the cardboard like substance that you eat for breakfast because it’s supposed to be good for you, but pants.  Special pants.  “Flatulence filtering underwear” to be precise.

shreddiesI can see a problem here, not because the product isn’t needed, it undoubtedly is, especially amongst people like my mother’s third husband whom she married when she was 81 and he was 83.  We often suspected that much of Ronnie’s forward propulsion was due to wind power.  However, are those who need such garments really going to face going into a shop to buy them?  Can you imagine the suppressed sniggers of the sales assistants as you ask for a, ‘Mixed 5 pack.  No, they aren’t for me, you know, a friend asked me to get them…’?

I can see a booming trade in packages in brown envelopes.

And giving your nearest and dearest a three pack of Shreddies is hardly going to get the same delighted response as a beribboned package from Victoria’s Secret, is it?  It would take a brave person to suggest that the contents might come in useful.  If they’d been around after I’d sat next to my mother at the ballet at the Grand Theatre in Bordeaux I might have been tempted, reckoning that the inevitable disinheriting was worth it.  On second thoughts, as she was staying for several more days and I’d have had to cope with a deeply affronted and reproachful parent, I’d probably have bottled out.

Anyway, it seems to me that the inventors of Shreddies have missed the real target market…

shreddies 2Come off it, more often than not, you’re right to do so, especially in this house.  If they came up with a ‘flatulence filtering’ device for dogs (not a cork) which worked on  Dalmatians, I’d be beating a path to their door, waving my credit card.  Right now.  Flynn keeps visiting something particularly noisome in the woods and having a snack, and boy do we know about it…

Dibble bedLuckily he’s my daughter’s dog and sleeps in her room.  She’s a brave girl.

The Return of the Ginger Ninja


It was beautiful this morning.  Not warm and there was a slight breeze blowing, enough to chill the cheeks but the sun was shining and this far south there’s enough heat in to make taking the dogs out on a sunny winter’s day an absolute pleasure rather than a chore.  Then, crossing the field behind the house I saw something reddish…

Kits is our senior cat and an independent soul.  She’s very affectionate at feeding time and when there’s a fire lit and thoroughly enjoys accompanying you on a walk (once when I was taking the dogs over the main road I saw a ginger figure stepping daintily along the white line behind me), at all other times she rows her own boat.  In other words she’s all cat.Nov 11 025aUnfortunately Kevin loathes her.  He’s seven years younger and quite possibly seven kilos heavier (let’s just say that he’s been guarding against a famine recently) and he leaps on her at every opportunity.

This sort of harmony is not common.

This sort of harmony is not common.

She’d begun to spend more and more time away, we suspected that she’d found another billet because she was never very thin when she did turn up.  This time she’d been missing for over two months and we’d taken to keeping a nervous eye on the verges every time we went out just in case there was a ginger corpse there.

As I hoped, it was Kits in the field this morning.  She was comfortably ensconced in a little nest watching the world go by and certainly didn’t have the air of a cat who’d been homeless for two months.  She chirruped politely when she saw me and got up making it quite clear that as I was there I could go back home now, never mind the dogs hadn’t had their walk, and she’d come with me to catch up on two months worth of breakfasts.Nov 13 007Her tummy is now as round and tight as a drum and she’s asleep in one of the dog baskets.  Kevin jumped her when she’d been in the house for ten minutes and was firmly booted out but sadly it doesn’t look like he’s got any intention of letting her live in peace in the house.

Kevin throwing his considerable weight around.  That's Desi's bowl.

Kevin throwing his considerable weight around. That’s Desi’s bowl.

Still she’s obviously found somewhere quite comfortable for when she’s not here and she looks perfectly content with life so I suppose we’ll have to settle for just seeing her when she chooses to visit.

As I said she’s all cat.

Question of the day…

A common sight in the vines around here

A common sight in the vines around here

I was walking the dogs in the vines yesterday when I saw a pair of knickers next to a freshly pruned vine.  I didn’t care to examine them too closely but they didn’t look like they’d been discarded due to an unfortunate accident, they hadn’t been there for very long as I go past there quite regularly and the only item of clothing I’ve ever seen there before is a forgotten jacket left hanging on the end of a row and as they were green, lacey and pretty minimal I assume they must have come off a female.  None of the vine workers I saw pruning that parcel over the last couple of weeks looked the type to wear ladies underwear though of course you can never tell.

Not such a common sight in the vines...

Not such a common sight in the vines…

This begs the question, why did anyone go into the vines to do whatever she or he did that involved leaving underwear behind?  It’s all very well saying that people will go anywhere for a bit of how’s your father but it’s been raining a lot around here recently and you have to be really short of places to go if you’re prepared to settle for a muddy, damp vineyard that’s in full view of an, admittedly little-used, road.    When I did the vendange several years ago on my co-workers was known as Dirty Emilie because she had a faintly grubby air about her that drove half the men there absolutely wild, especially as she gave off vibes that she was willing to ease their pain.  Her brother who drove her home each evening was reputed to have had to wait while Emilie retired to the vines with one of her co-workers.  However the weather was exceptionally good that year and come six o clock it was still well above 20° and the vines had all their leaves so she had a modicum of privacy even if everyone knew exactly what she was doing.  And with whom.

The Mystery of the Discarded Pants…  I feel that this is one that I’ll probably never find the answer to.  I can’t say I’m that sorry.

Made in where?



Going to Intermarché this morning I was presented with a large notice stuck to the door.  ‘Arrivage.  Cheddar…’

cheese‘Ooh good!’ thinks me, visions of ploughman’s lunches racing through my head.  What a treat to be able to satisfy that occasional Cheddar craving.

Then I saw the rest of the notice,


Resisting the temptation to do a John McEnroe I went to the cheese counter and asked the assistant if the ‘authentic Cheddar’ was really made in France.

She confirmed it was and I pointed out that in that case it was about as authentic as Brie made in l’Angleterre.  I know that there’s a Somerset Brie but Brie de Meaux it ain’t.  I rest my case.

The assistant looked most surprised to learn that Cheddaire is an English cheese.  Or was, as it seems to be made pretty well everywhere but not, as far as I know, in la belle F up until now.  To be honest French cheesemakers may be the best in the world but they don’t seem to have got the hang of Cheddaire, their version was dry and crumbly and definitely wouldn’t grace any self-respecting  cheese board.  And though it costs 18€ a kilo it tastes like the cheap stuff in packets, quite tasty but not 18€ tasty.  It looks like the master cheese makers in the Cheddar Gorge have much to worry about.

And I’m just so pleased that my friend Mary is in England at the moment and is going to bring me back a lump of proper Cheddar.


Just what I always wanted…


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A few weeks ago my daughter and I went to the Chateau de Maintenon.  It was no carefully planned decision; we were staying the weekend at Rambouillet and after a hard morning’s sightseeing and a good lunch the OH declared he was retiring back to his room with Terry Pratchett, leaving the daughter and I to pick somewhere to visit.

As we didn’t have a guide book our choices had to be made from thumbnail descriptions on the tourist leaflet and we picked the Chateau de Maintenon basically because it was easy to get to.  The château is in Maintenon – naturally, and was the home of Madame de M., Louis XIV’s mistress and almost certainly his morganatic second wife (no documents exist to prove there was a marriage but it’s generally accepted that there was).  francoise_daubigne_marqui-2Madame de M was supposed to have been very beautiful and must also have been somewhat of a tough cookie.  She started off as governess to the children of Louis’s previous mistress Madam de Montespan, knocked her off her perch and established herself as the King’s mistress.  Madame de M, who was very pious, then persuaded the King that his immortal soul was in danger through all this fornication and the best solution, now he was a widower, was to marry her.  How many royal mistresses would even have thought of that?  She was also  much given to good works and established a school for the impoverished daughters of noble families, where yet again she showed that she was endowed with a certain steeliness of character.  She once had a real scaffold erected as a means of controlling the pupils.  Fortunately, it was never used.

Her château is right in the middle of town, eminently practical in the days when it took so long to travel anywhere, and the original part is surprisingly small for somewhere Louis XIV used to stay.  She’s said to have suffered from the cold and deliberately chose small, sunny rooms for her own apartments because they were easier to heat.  After several winters spent in French houses with inadequate insulation I sympathise.

As happened so often, the château was extensively “improved” in the nineteenth century with a smart Gothic facade and several large rooms, big enough to reflect the importance of a Second Empire Duke, including a gallery modelled on those in Versailles and Chateau d’Eu were added.  I suppose one day we’ll come to appreciate French nineteenth century taste with all its polished wood, gold leaf, red velvet and delight in ornamentation but I still prefer the simpler charms of the older parts of the château which has been left fairly untouched.

Luckily the improving Duke appears to have been content to leave the garden alone.  It was designed by La Notre, one of the best known landscape gardeners, in 1676.  He must have been an extraordinarily hard-working man, every garden we visited that weekend claimed to have been designed by him.  There seem to be even more gardens by La Notre than there are beds slept in by good Queen Bess herself.  Sept 13 029This one though is absolutely gorgeous.  The formal part is not particularly big and is laid out with lawns and paths in swirls and curls around flowerbeds which include the most deliciously smelly pick roses.  Then beyond the formal garden there’s the grand vista which every decent château had to have.  But this one’s a bit different.  It starts conventionally enough with the all important water feature, so beloved at the time, in this case a canal which leads the eye towards the distance and… an aqueduct.  An aqueduct only about 500 metres from the château.

Sept 13 030aLouis XIV came up with a grand scheme to build a canal from the Eure to Versailles to provide water for the fountains and the route went straight across the bottom of the château’s gardens.  The designer suggested the most practical way of getting the water across the château grounds was via a siphon but Louis, not adverse to blowing his own trumpet, demanded that something to reflect the grandeur of the king must be erected, and came up with the idea of an aqueduct modelled on the Pont de Gard.  But bigger.  The Sun King had to be capable of doing better than the Romans.

The aqueduct was started in 1685 and three years later the King made Madame de Maintenon a marquise as compensation for the damage being done to her grounds by the building works.  Then the money began to run out due to the King’s passion for fighting wars.  The plans for the aqueduct had already been scaled down and by 1695 the work stopped completely.  The King was left with a half-finished aqueduct he had no use for.  So he did what men have done for centuries when they don’t now what to do with something – he gave it to the wife.

I’d love to know what Madame de Maintenon’s reaction was on having her husband’s unwanted possession so generously bestowed on her.  Did she grit her teeth, he was the King after all, and think that it wasn’t everyone who could boast of an aqueduct in their garden while thanking him profusely, but perhaps not entirely sincerely.  Or, being one tough lady after all, did she grimace and say, ‘Well actually Sunny, when you said you were giving me something really big made of rocks I thought we were talking diamonds…’?