Thursday, April 28, 2011

When in le Sud-Ouest...

Hello readers!  Thanks for your patience between blog posts.  My aunt Laura agreed to be our guest blogger, so here are some of her thoughts on the past week we've had in France.  What a week it's been!
Having spent the last few months experiencing much of the world through the eyes of Sarah and Steve, it was  great to have the opportunity to welcome them into our little corner of France and share this European stop. Actually, what was even nicer was to arrive after a 14 hour trip from London to find that Sarah and Steve were already there - flowers already in a vase on the table and provisions in the fridge.  This is truly the way to have house guests!

In fact they had arrived a couple of days earlier and already had the lay of the land.  Bread from the local shop, cheese on the board, sun loungers on the terrace, wine in the fridge, olives in bowls, and a sense of calm that comes with this part of the world - the essentials of life in France.

Just to help to locate you, we are in the Gers, known to many as the "sud-ouest" or midi-Pyrenees. That very beautiful part of France famous for sunflowers, foie gras, rolling countryside and the tour de France. And our escape from the real world.  It was interesting to have the chance to share this with Sarah & Steve.

This week was meant to be the vacation in the middle of the trip, a rest from travel, familiarity amongst new experiences, and long days of sunshine and family time.  So we did our best.  We being, myself, Peter (my husband - the uncle), Rachel (our daughter - the cousin) and Rowan (the adoptive daughter - and adoptive cousin who often comes as part of the family deal). Our plan was to do very little but enjoy each other, hear stories of  S & S's travels and relax.  And we did all that in great measure.  We did try to take in a few sights - markets, walled medieval villages, the odd cafe (or 2 or 3 or 4), and an art gallery or two.  But mostly, we just enjoyed time with each other, sitting for hours over lunch on the terrace, laughing at very bad jokes, and  sharing long dinners that lasted long into the evening.

We were so pleased to be able to introduce Sarah and Steve to this part of the world, or more to the point, the way of life here in this part of the world.  A way of life that includes the daily walk to the village shop for the morning's croissant and baguette and many hours in cafes in local villages.  Sarah took to this quite naturally as it seems to parallel life in Vancouver - but in French, a language in which she seems quite adept.  Steve, though always game to try, specialises in nodding amiably and hoping that no one actually asks him any questions, having said that, his "un oragena s'il vous plait" has been captivating locals across the region.

Sarah practiced her communication skills at the local market.  Vic en Bigorre has a wonderful market and as planning and choosing menus is key to life here, we enjoyed choosing and bargaining for everything from oysters to olives and kilo upon kilo of cheese. Of course we managed to make new friends at the market and the fish seller took a particular liking to Sarah and suggested that she meet his son, the IT manager currently living in Montreal (and apparently doing very well).  Sadly Sarah refused his email address, but made off with free samples of prawns and extra shellfish thrown in for good measure. I think she enjoyed the market.

A local rugby match was the highlight of the week: Marciac (our team) v. Rabestens.  We arrived just as the match began and took our place in the stands, beers in hand, already joining our compatriots singing allez, allez, allez.  Sadly, they didn't do too much allez-ing as our team was dreadfully out-classed.  Though keen, the skills of our slightly oversized farmboys didn't quite equal our enthusiasm.  A fight on the pitch added to the excitement, but sadly, there was no denying our defeat at 39 to 3.  Though tempted, we decided to pass up the 'celebration' paella in the village as the defeat was just a bit too much to bear.

As anyone who has ever visited us in France can attest, a bit of work in the house or garden is always part of the deal, and this time was no exception. I am not sure why this happens and we were really hoping that this time would be an exception and we might be able to just relax the whole time we were here.  But no,  the prior removal of a 40ft x 40ft laurel tree gave us a chance for a fabulous bonfire and we were so pleased to have the extra hands to move tons of laurel and to help fan the fire - a fire that smoldered for 2 days and left us all smelling of smoke.  A bounce on the trampoline seemed to be the only thing that would remove the smell - or so Sarah and Steve thought.

We did manage a day's outing to Bordeaux, one of our favourite cities in France.  It is a bit of a drive from the house, but we managed it, in convoy, possibly breaking the speed record for a Berlingo van (our somewhat silly local car).  A great day though as Bordeaux, a world heritage site, is simply stunning and we did our best to see much of the city's beautifully restored architecture, as well as new playful fountains and the fantastic contemporary art gallery.  We were lucky to happen upon a massive flea market and I practically had to be restrained from purchasing massive sofas, chandeliers and garden benches.  Rachel and Rowan took quite a shine to a stuffed and mounted Rhino, though we really didn't think that it would quite fit with the decor of our house.  The evening ended with a magnificent dinner in a converted chapel where Steve sampled his first foie gras and seemed completely overwhelmed by the lamb.  Rachel and I opted for the vegetarian menu (quite a rarety in France) which was delicious.  Though we were a bit surprised by the amuse bouche - strawberry and asparagus mousse and even more surprised by the dessert - strawberry and asparagus mousse.  Hmmm.  But we all ate well.  Perhaps too well, so Sarah and I decided that a long hike through the countryside was definitely needed the next morning.

We are sorry to be leaving tomorrow morning, but we have a wedding to go to back in London and Kate and Will might miss us if we don't get back.  Sarah and Steve are remaining a few more days and will hopefully continue to enjoy the sud-ouest.

Thanks, Laura, for the great post!  Back to our regularly scheduled program and adventures soon.

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