A lot of miles, a lot of quilts.

For years I’ve wanted to go to the quilt festival in Ste. Marie aux Mines, in the diagonally opposite corner of France, near the German border. We had thought of taking the camper van and making it part of a two week trip, but there was too much going on in the garden to leave it for that long; so we went in the car and booked an hotel.

We set off at 6.30 on Tuesday morning; with a little over 1000km to do, we needed an early start. Only stopping for natural breaks and to swap drivers, we made it in 13 hours and found the F1 hotel in Colmar, near the Statue of Liberty roundabout, the small replica statue constructed to celebrate the life of its designer, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a son of Colmar.

It was 40km to Ste. Marie, so the following morning I dropped Nick off part way there; he was going to spend the two days cycling in the Vosges, something he’s long wanted to do, and I headed for the show. It’s held at 19 sites in four villages with buses shuttling visitors from one site to another; with 20 000 visitors you wouldn’t want all of them driving back and forth all day.

There were over 1000 quilts on display, so there was something for every taste, from the very traditional to contemporary to 3-D installations; quilts made by Americans and Canadians during the second world war, for refugees in Europe; incredible “thread painted” quilts which could easily be taken for photos and a huge quilt, made entirely by hand of tiny pieces of fabric, over the last ten years; though one had to ask “Why?”

There were exhibitors from all over the globe; Japan, Korea, America, Canada as well as many European countries. The visitors were mostly French and German, but lots of English, Italians, Dutch and other nationalities whose languages I couldn’t place.

The work of one artist particularly caught my eye; she was doing a workshop on the technique of fabric manipulation, but not till after we’d left. I went back for another look and asked if there were still places at the workshop, if I could persuade Nick to stay another night; yes, she said, but she could do me a workshop the next morning if I wanted – I didn’t need asking twice.

By the evening, I was exhausted, having walked around over half the show in the day; I wasn’t impressed at receiving the first speeding ticket of my life on the way back to the hotel, when I was so busy looking for road signs telling me my route that I completely missed seeing a village sign, or the two gendarmes hiding a few metres behind it.

We went to Colmar for dinner; not the choucroute Nick had been looking forward to, but ate in a Yugoslavian restaurant. We didn’t manage choucroute the following evening either, but ended up eating a superb mezze in a Lebanese restaurant. Colmar is a beautiful city, with an ancient centre which buzzes in the evening.

The morning of day two was spent at my workshop, learning to do what turned out to be a modern form of smocking; I was delighted with the result and will be able to pass on the technique to the rest of the women in the Art Textiles group. In the afternoon I managed to get round the rest of the show; you could easily spot quilters by the end of the day – weary looking women, mostly laden with bags of fabrics, buttons, rulers and surprisingly often accompanied by their other halves, some in a capacity as photographers, others clearly bored and wondering how much longer they’d have to stay, but a few genuinely interested in the art on display.

The following day we left early, it was a long, hard drive home, wet for the first ten hours; but the trip was well worth the effort, I loved the show and Nick thoroughly enjoyed his cycling.



Strange, wet stuff, falling from the sky

Apart from a shower on August 19th, we’d had no rain since June 15th. And for most of this time, the weather has been pretty hot, between 35 and 40ºC in the shade most days.

Unsurprisingly, the garden has suffered. Thanks to the system Nick installed, which allows us to use the treated water that comes out of the septic tank, along with water pumped from the well, we’ve been able to water the veg plot and plants in pots, but that has taken all our water and up to two hours a day. Plants on the banking have died, trees and shrubs in the park are looking very sad and the grass is brown and crunchy underfoot. Friends reliant on rainwater butts have had to stop watering as the cost of using tap water is too high to justify. The vines look green enough, but the vignerons are expecting a small crop of grapes this year, about 10% less than normal, due to lack of rain.

So yesterday afternoon, when I heard distant rumbles of thunder as I picked tomatoes, I was quite excited at the prospect of some rain. The clouds were gathering in the south, obliterating our view of the Pyrenees; the air became heavy and sticky; we could see that it was raining across the valley. Finally, the sun disappeared and the first few drops arrived, big, heavy drops. We moved the geraniums out of the shelter of the house, pushed the chairs back from the edge of the balcony and I have to admit to jumping around the garden for the joy of seeing the rain, before adjourning to the balcony to watch nature’s firework display.

It rained steadily for several hours and I’m sure the grass looks ever so slightly greener already!

No time to rest

It’s that time of year; the time of year when the extra freezer is turned on and filled, the time of year when the garden produces so much good food that we’re hard pressed to cope with it all, the time of year when the shelves in the arrière cuisine groan with the weight of bottled beans and beetroot, jars of pasta sauce, jams, chutneys and pickles.

I’d reorganised the shelves several times, shuffling stuff about to squeeze in another jar here, another bottle there, and this time there really wasn’t any more space for the next lot of jars to be housed. It was time to implement plan A, pushed aside several years ago because we could cope with plan B (open shelving made from briquettes and old planks), so it wasn’t a priority. Plan A; to fit cupboards the length of one wall in the arrière cuisine, giving us more storage space and keeping the jars and bottles in the dark. First step; a trip to Brico Depot in Pau for the cupboards, just the cheapest they have and one day Nick will build decent doors for them. He was supposed to start building them the following day, but we also found a very nice cast iron bed frame in the Troc (second hand furniture shop) in Pau, so he had to go back with the trailer to pick it up. Plans, eh?

Kieran came over to help build and fit the cupboards which I’ve now filled in an organised manner; it’s a real treat to be able to find what I’m looking for.

The small freezer is only half full; something that irks Nick, so as it was too hot to go outside this afternoon, we made a couple of batches of sausages. The first lot are pork and haggis, the rest are pork, apple, sage and onion. They should keep us going for a while.


Il est ce temps de l’année; le temps de l’année où le congélateur supplémentaire est allumé et rempli, le temps de l’année où le jardin produit tellement bonne nourriture que nous avons du mal nous debrouiller, le temps de l’année où les étagères de l’arrière cuisine  gémissent avec le poids de haricots en bouteille et la betterave, des bocaux de sauce pour pâtes, confitures, chutneys et marinades.

J’avais réorganisé les étagères à plusieurs reprises, traînant des choses sur le point de serrer dans un autre pot ici, une autre bouteille là, et cette fois il n’y avait pas vraiment de plus d’espace pour le prochain lot de pots à être logé. Il était temps de mettre en œuvre le plan A, mis de côté il y a plusieurs années parce que nous pourrions faire face avec le plan B (rayonnage ouvert fabriqué des briquettes et des vieilles planches), de sorte qu’il n’a pas été une priorité. Plan A; poser les placards la longueur d’un mur dans l’arrière cuisine , nous donnant plus d’espace de stockage et de garder les bocaux et les bouteilles dans l’obscurité. Premier pas; un voyage à Brico Depot à Pau pour les placards, les moins chers et un jour Nick construira des belles portes pour eux. Il était censé commencer à les construire le lendemain, mais nous avons aussi trouvé un cadre de lit en fonte très agréable dans le Troc à Pau, il a donc dû revenir avec la remorque pour le ramasser. Des plans, hein?

Kieran est venu pour aider à construire et monter les placards que j’ai rempli d’une manière organisée; il est un vrai régal pour être en mesure de trouver ce que je cherche.

Le petit congélateur est à moitié plein; quelque chose qui irrite Nick, alors qu’il faisait trop chaud pour sortir cet après-midi, nous avons fait quelques lots de saucisses. Le premier lot sont le porc et le haggis, le reste sont le porc, pomme, la sauge et l’oignon. Ils devraient nous permettre de tenir pendant un certain temps.

Nick’s big six-o

The weekend of Nick’s birthday was always going to be a busy one, coinciding as it did, with the Caupenne village fete. We went along on Friday night, just to meet up with people, have a drink and eat mussels and chips. On Saturday evening Didier’s band was playing, so, like the proverbial bad pennies, we turned up again, keeping his wife and mother company. Sunday lunch is always the highlight of the weekend, with hundreds of people arriving first for the aperitifs, then a lavish, multi-course lunch which goes on well into the evening.This year the music was provided by a Gascon male voice choir, singing traditional Gascon and Basque songs that most of the locals knew.

Nick had been out cycling with the club in the morning, so had to have a quick shower and change to go to the meal; no sooner had we finished with the coffee and armagnac, than it was time to dash home, change again and head out to the restaurant I’d booked for the evening. A bit excessive? Yes, probably, but a friend was booked to play there that evening, so it would have been a shame to miss it. This is fast becoming our favourite restaurant, not least because of the efforts they make to accommodate my diet, but also simply because the food is superb.They also remembered from when we’d booked back in June, that this was Nick’s birthday, so his dessert was brought to the table with a firework and Nam’s band playing Happy Birthday as the rest of the customers and staff joined in.

He seems very pleased with his present; a week’s course learning to paraglide in the Pyrenees. I don’t know when we’ll have time to fit it in, but I’ll do a full report.

Sorry for the quality of the photos, taken on my phone in the half light of dusk and later.

Le week-end de l’anniversaire de Nick allait toujours etre très occupée, coïncidant avec la fete de Caupenne. Nous sommes y allés le vendredi soir, pour rencontrer des gens, prendre un verre et manger des moules frites. Le samedi soir, le groupe de Didier jouait, donc nous sommes y allés à nouveau, passant la soirée avec sa femme et sa mère. Le déjeuner du dimanche est toujours le point culminant du week-end, avec des centaines de personnes qui arrivent d’abord pour les apéritifs, puis un somptueux, repas qui continue jusqu’au soir. Cette année la musique a été fournie par un  chœur Gascon qui ont chanté des chansons traditionnelles gascons et basques que la plupart des gens du pays connaissaient.

Nick est allé au vélo avec le club le matin, donc il a dû prendre une douche rapide et changer pour aller au repas; à peine nous avons terminé le café et l’armagnac, et il était temps de rentrer, changer de nouveau et aller au restaurant que j’avais réservé pour la soirée. Un peu excessif? Oui, sans doute, mais un ami y allait jouer ce soir-là, il aurait été dommage de le manquer. Ceci est en train de devenir notre restaurant préféré, notamment en raison des efforts qu’ils font pour accueillir mon alimentation, mais aussi parce que la nourriture est superbe. Ils se souvenaient aussi de quand nous avions réservé en juin, que ce fut l’anniversaire de Nick, de sorte que son dessert a été amené à la table avec un feu d’artifice et le groupe de Nam jouer joyeux anniversaire lorsque la reste des clients et du personnel ont chanté.

Il semble très satisfait de son cadeau; l’apprentissage d’une semaine à parapente dans les Pyrénées. Je ne sais pas quand nous aurons le temps de le faire, mais je ferai un rapport complet.

Desolée pour la qualité des photos, pris a mon portable quand il faisait presque nuit.