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Every time a bell rings an Angel gets his wings

In villages all over the world bells mark time.  They mark the hours, often the half hours and even the quarter hours through the day and sometimes throughout the night.  They call to prayer, they toll for the dead, they ring out joyously the news that two people are wed.  They sound their eccastic pleasure on Christmas morning and in France they are silent from Good Friday til they sound sonorously, building slowly, softly, increasingly exuberantly on Easter Sunday. After they have flown to Rome to be blessed and have dropped their goodies for the worthy on their flight home, of course.   Here in my village we have eight-til-late bells tolling out the hours and giving a single bong for the half hour.  I rather think I know their secret – shhh, don’t tell but … they are mechanised.  However a human person, possibly the Priest himself rings the bells for Mass.  He’s a dashing figure who wears his Catholic robes with a panache that the kings of couture would applaud on the catwalk.  He is also quite clearly tone deaf and devoid of any rhythmn.  A far cry from the rehearsed peels of my village church in England.  That was melodious this is frankly cacophonous.

Church bells to me are the soundtrack of ordinary life.  They mark out that rhythm that man has lived to for centuries.  It matters not whether you are part of the Church. It matters not, indeed whether you have any religious faith.  The bells provide the backdrop to life itself.

My birthday is at the end of September.  My youngest daughter came to stay for a week and wanted to take me for lunch.  Her treat.  This is a HUGE deal when the daughter in question is a student.  We drove to Brioude.  Its a town I have wanted to explore for a long while, just over the border in the Haute Loire (also part of the Auvergne Region).  We had very delicious lunch and then walked in the rather insistent mizzle that marked my birthday out from the WHOLE of the rest of the sunshiney month.  We heard the bells of the Basillica and we knew instantly from their sober tone that they were marking a funeral.  No-one needed to tell us to be quiet as we passed the building, the bells did it for us.  And somehow, those bells wrapped us for a moment in the huddled sadness of the group waiting to greet their loss for the last time.  Brought us to a halt, illicited respect.  Yes, bells are the soundtrack to ordinary life and that soundtrack is played in simple notes that mortals simply recognise and divine.

These bells are in Sainte-Anastasie in the Cezallier Cantallien.  They sit in a fine clocher-peigne which for non French speakers translates as a ‘bell comb’.  It describes perfectly the open structure that prettily suspends the bells rather using than a tower to house them.

DSCF4013PS:  Zuzu, George Bailey’s ‘little ginger snap’ is quoted in the title … at the end of the magic that is Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ squeezed tight by her daddy whose Guardian Angel (second class), Clarence has literally been his salvation she tells him this fact.   Her teacher told her so ….

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This piece was originally written two years ago, in response to The Daily Press weekly photo challenge (Extra)Ordinary – all other entries are here

Don’t Stop Me Now!

They played this song nine years ago and we wept an ocean.  They played it because we were saying adieu to a boy.  Sixteen years old and he had made his own decision to leave the earth.  I still feel the anguish like a razor to my heart.   Yesterday, I found this piece of driftwood which seems to me for all the world to be an elephant.  He loved elephants.  Particularly pink elephants.  He loved many things especially including my daughter.  My daughter loved many things especially including him.  She wrote yesterday that she hopes he is in a happy place.  I know he is.  I know he is smiling.  I know he is laughing.  And I know that in some intangible way he took me to this trunky trunk to gently remind that he is happy.  And that the part of him that dwells in each of us that love him will never be lost.

DSCF3904PS:  The song is Queen, of course.  Who he also loved.  Of course.  And he loved that I had worked for them when the dinosaurs were barely hatched in the garden.   I on the other hand am very cross with him for getting in first … there is nothing worse than outliving our young.

This is my response to The Daily Post prompt ‘Happy Place’ …. you can see all the other’s gloriously displayed here  And here, with a smile, is a bonus

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Coup de Cœur – Part Three: I beg your pardon …

I’m no magician and smoke and mirrors are not part of any repetoire I possess however much I might sometimes wish they were.   In arrant contrast, it was abundantly clear that the incumbent owner of the house was a maestro of the art.  What greeted us was a filthy mess though there were still a number of rather lovely pieces in the house.  But we had this feeling, this sense that it can be, will be, beautiful again.  We signed the Acte that made us the legal owners exactly a year after we first viewed it.  A year that will remain forever tatooed on my little brain and a year that provides the reference for my novel in progress.

Three months after signing the Acte, the process of cajoling the previous owner (who mostly spends his time in Marseilles and seems mostly to be unable to leave his bed though he was beyond vigorous when we met) to come and take what he wanted from the house before the start of les grandes vacances on 1st July or thereabouts, was ongoing.  The village had been totally and remarkably supportive of us and we had agreed that they could use the ground floor as an Office de Tourisme and that they could revert to the years old tradition of using the house in their famed Nuits de Marcolès.   In France if the owner of the effects wants them you have to dance a lengthy gavotte before you can retain them or eject them.  We danced.  The village stowed things upstairs to make way for their tourist office.  We continued to dance.  The summer festivites came and went.  We still danced.  Le Monsieur came and went sporadically and things disappeared.  He was clearly suffering from the cold further south in Mediterranean Marseille because he decided to rip the radiators from their moorings excavating chunks of wall with them.  All this is legal by the way.  We carried on dancing.   Finally about a year ago word came that he had taken all he wanted.  Exhausted, we threw off our Red Shoes and stopped dancing.

I drove south to my newly empty house.  Wind back.  Empty?  Nah!  Every stick of junk he possessed was  still there.  Somehow my enchanting house, the place I fell in love with on the internet, remember, had turned into a cold, unwelcoming landfill site.  We had known it was impossible to walk across the grenier (attic) floor, my husband had kept the worst secrets of the cave (cellar) from me on the basis that the ladder was dodgy.  Lies, all despicable lies – I’m quite the mountain goat on the quiet and I bound up and down ladders quite nimbly, thank you.  But I chose not to argue, nor look, frankly fearful of what I might find.  The truth was far worse than any imagined fiction.  And sandwiched in the middle of top and underground floors are two others, which somehow seemed to have sprouted their own detritus.   Abundantly.
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Enter the town.  Monsieur le Maire de Marcolès is officially my hero.  His assistant can clearly trace her ancestry to celestial angels.  The town would see to the emptying.  The least they could do in the face of our saving their jewel (they call it their emblem) … well actually they didn’t need to, but my goodness me we snapped their hands off with the speed and certainty of a Kingfisher skewering it’s supper.

The town workers (generally referred to as les ouvriers) set about their task.  They fitted it in between their routine and other jobs.  I journeyed down after a month and was overjoyed.  A week later I went again and could not believe what greeted me – there was even more debris than the week before.  This bizarre and unwelcome routine continued for weeks.  Smile-despair-smile-despair.  Every single time I thought there was nothing else to unearth, the jolly ouvriers found more.  Not that I was complaining, they were moving the damned stuff.  And it was just stuff.  Lots and lots of stuff.  The physical incarnation of a clearly disturbed mind.  The demented collection of a frenzied, and almost certainly certifiable magpie.

In November, we were in the Mairie (town hall, if you will) discussing something or other with the beatified assistant when the chief ouvrier came staggering in.  He looked at us, shrugged the most glorious gaelic shrug I have EVER seen and told us we were entirely and clearly mad to have taken on the house.  The beatifeic one laughed angellically.  I felt sick.

Christmas loomed.  We were to spend it in England.  HB² arrived at my mother’s house on Christmas Eve.  On Christmas Day (his birthday incidentally), he checked email.  The beauteous creature who is the assistant to the mayor of Marcolès (I’ve recommended her for canonisation) had sent us a note:   ‘The house is empty.  Happy Christmas’.  We danced.

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PS:  The picture shows me clasping a rose.  A rose plucked by the Mayor the first time we showed him inside a house he remembered from his childhood throughout his adolescence and for a large chunk of his adult life when it was always, always part of village festivities.  Until the previous denizen moved in.  The rose-bush flourishes on the side of the house.  The Mayor has taken it upon himself to keep it tended in our absence.  And tells me whenever he has pruned, or re-fastened it to the wall with a liberal sparkle in his eye – sparkling at ladies being something I have noted, he is more than rather good at.   I may not have been promised a rose garden, but I beg your pardon – I got one tended by the highest official in town!

And just because I can and I fancy giving you a bonus … here’s Moira Shearer again but this time strutting her red shoes  to Joy Division’s ‘She’s Lost Control’  … let’s face facts, I know the feeling.

Catch up on the previous installments of this noble saga here which contains a link to part one

Coup de Cœur – Part Two: Therefore is wing’d cupid painted blind!

We fell in love on the internet.  It’s the modern way.  The one touts their promise, the other falls under their spell and happily ever after they both live.  House and owner.  You didn’t think I was talking about Two Brains and I, did you?  You got  that I am talking about our fragile hearts being ensnared by our Maison Carrée?

The house was advertised all over the place – every single immobilier in France seemed to have it on their books.  Clock forward two and a half years and hindsight and a bit of experience has taught me that this means nothing.  Often an agent will have grabbed the content from an unprotected site and will be advertising it as his own.  But we knew where it was and we knew it was the former Tour Seignoural for the perfect little city it sits plumb central in.  And it is officially a city even though it would appear to be a small village to modern eyes, and we simply swooned when we found the website for the proprietor who was currently running the little jewel as a Chambre d’Hotes.  The description, down to the seductive promise that he is an accomplished masterchef and would  cook you local food  magnificently if you wished and that breakfast was all conjured from the local boulangerie, epicerie, charcuterie, fromagier,  had me wondering why he was selling at all.  After all this three bedroomed beauty, including the miraculous bathroom all  newly fitted, was kitted out with the most elegant antique country furniture clearly snaffled from local houses of some note and auctions and brocantes and the owner certainly and assuredly had excellent taste.  Hold that thought.

Beware the power of the picture!  Beware the interweb!  What greeted us when we arrived was entirely a different picture.  What on earth induced us to go ahead and buy I am not convinced I will ever know.  A certain madness unexplained.  Assuredly bull-headed stubborn-ness and a sense that this disaster of a place can be, will be, really special and an uncharted recognition that we should be the people to return the house to it’s former unpretentious glory.  And give it a properly appointed bathroom rather than what greeted us which I have flatly refused EVER to use.  And a kitchen that does not stink in that sickly sweet way of festering food complete with maggots and fresh fly-eggs – sadly it became clear that this was the state that unsuspecting visitors who had booked in on-line found the house in and I sincerely hope that none ever took their host up on the opportunity of his unashamedly trumpeted home made meals – rather they hot-footed it to the Mairie to complain loudly and threaten nasty reviews on the very internet upon which we had found the house languishing apparently so alluringly.

Once we had bought the place, once the place was ours we were hit with the reality that HB² is mostly on the wrong side of the Atlantic and that I, although more than once invited to row that ocean on account of my once-upon-a-time Olympian prowess as an oar puller, I was simply not equipped to begin, let alone complete the task of emptying the house once the ancien proprieteur had taken what he wanted … you guess that bit surely – anything nice, anything pretty.  Well, he would, wouldn’t he! There follows the account of the next nine months in which we, collectively being Winnie the Pooh, never lost heart.

 …. In the meantime, here I am looking somewhere between despairing and disgusted in the best of the bedrooms the day after we took ownership.

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PS:  The quote is Twelfth Night – Helen declares of her Demetrius that ‘Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is wing’d cupid painted blind ….’

PPS:  Part one of this saga is here

Few desires, happy life

My husband and I, not because we want to, live apart for much of the time.  Our collective desire is to be together.  That would be our happy life.  When we are together we cook.  When we are apart, we often cook separately what we have cooked together.  It makes us feel closer in some way.  In Grenoble recently we went back to a favourite little Moroccan restaurant. There is a large North African and Arab community in the city and it is one of the things we love about the place.  This is not the grandest, nor the most expensive but it is family run and in the simple surroundings which appear not to have changed in decades you will get a fantastic meal served with grace and style by one of the children and not break the bank.  If I could remember it’s name I would share it ….

We had this dish as a starter not for the first time and back home in Cantal decided to try and replicate it.  Since then we have made it together and we have made it apart.  The restaurant has the edge, of course but I would urge you to give it a go because it is rather luscious.

 Zaalouk:

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Peel an aubergine (eggplant) and dice it, put into a pan with sufficient water to immerse (initially it’s light and spongy texture will cause it to float) and a teaspoon of salt.  Cover, bring to the boil and simmer until really soft.  Then drain in a collander and let all the water release.  Meanwhile, chop around 3 ripe tomatoes (if your tomatoes are dull and flavourless please use tinned – life is too short to willingly eat uninspiring tomatoes) and crush as much garlic as you dare – I use a fat clove for each tomato.  When the aubergine is well drained (feel free to give it a good squish to this end) sautee the garlic and tomatoes in a glug of olive oil with around a teaspoon of crushed cumin seed, twice that of crushed coriander seed and a half teaspoon of paprika (smoked or not depending on your own preference).  I add a pinch of sugar too – I find it makes tomatoes more tomatoey for some mysterious reason.  When the tomatoes are well cooked down stir in the aubergine pulp.  Let it cook for about 10 minutes and then fork it, mash it or even blend it (I blend with my trusty stick blender because I prefer the silken texture it gives).  Taste and add salt (mine is black and volcanic from Hawaii but that is not at all necessary – it honestly happens to be what I have in the house and is not any kind of arty condiment affectation) and more crushed coriander seed.  You can finish with chopped fresh coriander (cillantro) and it will be all the better for it but it is hard to find here in my coin perdu and I can’t seem to get it to grow successfully – a matter of huge frustration which borders on the obsessional.  Last of all drizzle with more olive oil.

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This can be eaten hot or cold – we favour just above warm with bread – here in bread heaven we have a ridiculous choice of course, in North Africa I imagine it would be eaten with pitta and, as an aside, I have dipped crunchy raw veggies in it too and it is good and feels rather virtuous.

As a point of interest – the aubergine was once called mala insane (the apple of madness) and it is a member of the nightshade family.  Though not deadly, it does contain toxins which will upset a sturdy tummy when turning from flower to fruit.  You have been warned.

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PS:  The title is a Moroccan proverb of which I am very fond

The Wind Beneath My Wings …

‘You’re not dead – so stop living as though you are!’ shouts CC Bloom as played by the immeasurable Bette Midler at her best friend in ‘Beaches’.  The story of two girls who meet under the boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ and begin a 30 year friendship cut short by jealousy, poor (and even more unfortunately, conflcting) choices of significant others and all the other things that can and do get in the way of ordinary lives – and then impending, premature death wields his scythe unscrupulously to focus us further on the importance of living the life we have whilst we have it.  I watched the video with each of my daughters in turn when they reached the age of 11 or so.  Some would say it was an odd thing to do – some would say it crossed boundaries – it certainly made us cry and it certainly reminded us that life is a lottery and that we can lose those we love the most and that we should make the most of every day.  Here, in response to The Daily Post’s weekly prompt entitled this time, Boundaries is my local beach (or one of them) – lakeside on the Dorgogne you can see the Correze on the other bank and the unutterably Disney Chateau du Val in the distance.  Boundaries are important in life but steer them clear of  love  …. and whilst you have life promise you will feel it, promise you will breath it, promise you will see it, promise you will live your life and not a dynamic death.

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PS:  ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’ comes from ‘Beaches’ … it is one of the very few songs that has caused me to pull the car over and listen to it when it first came on the radio.  When you have a chance, lend an ear to it yourself and ask yourself who that person is in your sentience – there is one in every life, I do believe.