Margaret and Poppy take a dip

With temperatures topping 30 degrees today – combined with over- indulging at the delicious barbecue offered by Hans and Margaret, we were wilting by the afternoon. My hand means sadly no dips in the pool before 26 June.  Margaret and Poppy however spent a refreshing and (for Poppy at least) energetic hour in the bassin.

The pleasure of the bassin is the harmony with nature and its surroundings.  The water lilies have started to spread and flowers to come out. To early for frogs bu already there was a giant dragonfly circling round.  The tilleul (lime tree) has also blossomed and is buzzing with hundreds of bees (to fast for me to take a proper picture).

Rinascenza concert

In the early evening I went to a concert given by the choir I used to sing in.  Many of the songs were familiar, but I thought the choir had improved a lot. My two favourite composers, Pergolesi and Monteverdi, continued to be a challenge. And I still find the Russian stuff tedious!

Sally’s visit

I’ve just had a lovely visit from Sally Simon.  We go back over 60 years, to the age of eight, when our parents were great friends and we, initially, not so great!  Sally and I both went to the same secondary school – Tiffin Girls – though she was in the year above me, as she arrived already knowing things like French and Latin.  We have remained in touch over the years and I regard her as one of my closest friends, despite never living in the same place as adults.

We were lucky, as the sun shone for all her visit (until the car journey back to the airport today) and we packed in a huge number of trips, mainly car-based, sadly, because of my hip. On her last day we went to Uzès, which she found as enchanting as all my visitors.  (An added amusement bonus was the medieval fair!)

Concert in Arrigas

I had a wonderful, unscheduled lunch and afternoon with a new friend, Dessa, whom I bumped into in the market.  She has a superbly restored and modernised massive old granite house, high above St Andre de Majencoules, with magnificent, panoramic views to the south, with Camias and Le Rey way down at the bottom of the valley. (No photos as it needed my wide angle lens to do it justice.)  I’ve run out of superlatives for house and view; Poppy was less enthusiastic about her six large dogs, some of whom were being a little territorial.

Just got back in time to recover before going to a concert in Arrigas with Christine Capieu.  I always love the drive to Arrigas, over the hill at Mouzoules, the beautiful descent to Aumessas and then the final winding road to Arrigas, a tiny village just this side of the tunnel which separates the pay viganais with Alzon and the road to Aveyron and the motorway.

Arrigas had a turbulent history during the wars of religion, and its 12th century church was completely destroyed.  Its replacement dates from the 17th century and is quite extraordinary.  I think it is the shock of entering a Catholic church in this predominantly protestant region, but one is hit by the extravagant use of ornamentation and colour, the abundance of statues of course, and some really elegant chandeliers.  The acoustic is good, so this is a popular venue for concerts like yesterday’s.

The first half was an ensemble of recorder players, aided by their teacher plus the Bréau primary school teacher.  It was really not bad for school kids, though not a patch on one I heard a few years back with two outstanding pupils (one the son of my builder) and the teacher.

The second half was a group of four men playing the sackbut (I prefer the French version – sacqueboute), the predecessor to the modern trombone.  The trombone is not my favourite instrument, but the sackbut is definitely a less harsh, acceptable version for me.  But I cannot say that the music, mainly seventeenth century, set me on fire.  Not helped by the fact that I am not a fan of  one of the four musicians who is the director of our local école de musique.  (In particular I don’t think he makes enough effort to promote string playing and in particular to make the case for a cello teacher for le Vigan.)

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Up to Mont Aigoual

My friends Rose and Kath arrived yesterday.  Amazingly, given the endless fine weather this year, it looks all set not to rain during their visit this time!

We did one of my favourite trips: up through Aulas and Arphy, lunch at la Cravate, on up to Mont Aigoual and back down through Valleraugue.  What wonderful views, despite today’s haze.  And everything was just on the verge of autumn – another couple of weeks and the leaves will be turning.  I should come up more often.

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Our latest concert

Phew, it’s over!  Curious, my feelings after a concert are always first, relief that it’s over and that I survived, then regret and frustration that I allowed nerves to get the better of me – and the wish that I could play everything all over again.

Our latest concert was in a stunning setting, a beautiful valley near Anduze.  Across the road from our concert venue was this magnificent big, austere (Protestant….) pile.  It is owned by the family of a woman who was one of Mitterand’s ministers.20130921_IMG_1660.JPG

The Temple de St Sébastien d’Aigrefeuille, an early nineteenth century Protestant church (‘temple’ in France) recently restored as a cultural centre.  Outside, the temple looks like so many in the Cévennes.

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Inside, the stark black and white décor were not to the taste of all, including the former mayor who started the restoration project, but I liked it.

 

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We were five in our ensemble and the concert was a programme consisting entirely of French music, played before one of our smallest audiences ever!  Not surprising given that the total population of the commune is about 500.

Afterwards we stopped for an impromptu meal at a very good restaurant en route to Anduze.

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Tom Vernon

I’ve just been to the funeral of my very dear friend, Tom Vernon.  He died quite suddenly last week – I think his body had just had enough – and it should not have been surprising given how many health issues he had, but it came as a great shock to us all.

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Tom  had already had a colourful life in England, with music and writing intertwined, with occupations as diverse as working for the British Humanist Association – at the same time as singing as a minstrel in a medieval theme restaurant.  (By coincidence my last blog entry was about the visit of Wenol and Paul Blackham.  Paul’s father, Hal Blackham was Tom’s boss at the BHA.)  As someone at the funeral said, it was at the restaurant that he met his future wife, Sally, who was a ‘serving wench’.

Tom was known to a wider audience because of his radio and tv programmes, which centred on his loves of travel, France and cooking.  I saw one of his ‘Fat man on a bicycle’ programmes on the telly before I knew him.

Chris and I got to know Tom and Sally soon after we came to live in France.  Although I saw more of Tom, because of our shared interests in music and computers, it was good that Tom and Chris also shared a mutual respect and affection. Here they are talking amiably, no doubt about food and wine, or perhaps about philosophy:

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I think Tom and I drove Chris and Sally mad with our techie sessions with equipment – computers (Apple, of course), cameras (mine) and sound equipment (his).  But more important was our shared love of singing and playing music.  I got Tom to join Rinascenza, the choir in which we both sang for several years.  And we both happily scraped away at our instruments (Tom violin and me cello) in a quartet, which met irregularly. We were both of us largely self taught; I had had two years lessons in my fifties, but Tom made up for the lack of lessons by an innate musicality.

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But it was above all as a gentle and genial host that I will remember him.  He just loved good food, wine and conversation.  He was always generous about others and full of humour and happy to enter into discussions on an incredible range of subjects.

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Tom and Sally’s home is a magnificent house near Valleraugue, about ten miles from ours. Its crowning glory is a magnificent magnanerie (vast room once used to breed silkworms).  Restoring the house and in particular creating something very special out of the magnanerie has been a passion of Tom’s.  Here he is coming up the magnanerie staircase (designed by our architect friend, Neave Brown).

Tom & Sally Vernon's magnanerie

 

[And I couldn’t resist more photos of the magnanerie.]

Tom & Sally Vernon's magnanerie Tom & Sally Vernon's magnanerie Tom & Sally Vernon's magnanerie

Tom’s funeral was memorable.  On a chilly day, the hills that enclose Valleraugue looked beautiful but sombre as we climbed up the hill to the Protestant cemetery where the funeral took place (how ironic, for a humanist burial ceremony).  We stood perched on the hillside while  various friends and family spoke with much love and humour of the various phases of Tom’s life as it had touched theirs (perhaps a rare ceremony in two languages). A recording of a song composed and sung by Tom made him seem even more present.  And then, to the music of Fauré’s Requiem Tom’s coffin was lowered into his grave.  The pasteur (who had not known Tom) tried his best to be in harmony with the occasion, but could not resist saying “Au revoir”.  For non-believers like me, it was sadly “Adieu”.

Back at Tom and Sally’s house it was hard not to expect to turn round and see Tom.  Sally was, as usual, beautiful.  And dignified, in control of herself, as were her sons and their families.  I was so glad to meet Jos and Hal, the two sons whom Tom talked about so often and was so proud of.

Goodbye, dear Tom.  As someone said “A gentleman and a gentle man”.

 

 

Paul and Wenol’s visit

This is the last full day of Paul and Wenol Blackham’s short visit.

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Wenol and I go back nearly 50 years: we were both volunteer teachers with VSO in Sokoto, Northern Nigeria, in 1966.  And at the end of that dramatic year in Nigeria’s history, we cashed in our return tickets to London, flew to South Africa and then travelled the length of Africa, to Egypt, returning to Europe after nearly four months on the road.

We kept in touch over the years, making friends also with husbands and children.  And now Wenol and Paul manage to include me in their hectic annual diary.  When here, they thoroughly spoil me.  The photo above is deceptive – apart from meals they did very little sitting around and threw themselves at a hectic programme of weeding, cutting down trees, painting and doing more than their fair share in the kitchen.

A lot of time was spent eating.  The first day we went up to La Cravate, the restaurant just above us as the crow flies but about 15 km by road. Tasty lunch with this view in front of us:

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If you click on the photo to get the larger version,  you can see Couloustrine (the ‘lieu’ of about six households, including mine) on the far right.  On the horizon is the distinctive shape of Pic St Loup.  Here it is, blown up, and you can see on either side – the Mediterranean!

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 One of the clearest panoramas I have seen.

The next day we had a delicious meal at Le Chandelier, in le Vigan. No spectacular view, but still, its great sitting in the main place watching the world go by.  The town has a very pleasant laid back feel to it now most of the tourists have left.

I needed a good meal as I had spent the morning at the funeral of Jeannot Vacquier, a very nice man who lived in Serres – one of four who made the village meals so entertaining when we first arrived, invariably singing old favourites every time.

Wenol wasn’t enamoured by the lively insect life

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And we all learnt something new about figs, after Wenol spent two days with lips that looked as if she had been at the botox.  (I’ve been kind and not put up a photo, but we both had a good laugh at her expense.)  Thanks to the internet we now know something about fig-lips!