Thursday, January 28, 2010

La Belle Gabrielle

Gabrielle d'Estrees and one of her sisters, School of Fontainebleau C 1594

A few years ago MG took me for a romantic weekend in the Loire, we stayed at the lovely Chateau de la Bourdaisière,  it was perfect, lovely gardens, beautiful rooms and very romantic, the perfect base for exploring the Loire and visiting it's beautiful chateaux.

Whilst staying at the Chateau I noticed a copy of the rather cheeky painting above and became intrigued.  The painting is thought to be of Gabrielle d'Estrees and her sister the Duchess de Villars Brancas.

 On further investigation I found out it is believed, Gabrielle was born at the Chateau.  Gabrielle was born into an illustrious family known for producing a long line of fascinating and beautiful ladies, who charmed the Kings of France.  Gabrielle herself became the mistress of King Henry IV of France, he was very much in love with her, she bore him three children whom were all legitimized and he showered her with titles, she had a lot of influence over the King and he was often accused of compromising his victories in order to visit her.  Henry publicly acknowledged Gabrielle as his mistress and he seriously considered marrying her as he already considered her as his wife.  Gabrielle looked upon herself as Queen of France (even though Henry was married to Queen Margaret) sadly she died soon after giving birth to a stillborn son,  before any steps towards marriage could be taken.  Henry was grief-stricken and gave her the funeral of a Queen.

Gabrielle d'Estrees

Whist we were visiting some of the great Chateaux, I noticed that Gabrielle had a bedroom in almost every one, and my imagination started to work overtime, I could almost see Gabrielle drawing up to to the Chateaux, in a cavalcade  of carriages, organising her vast entourage, resplendent in beautiful gowns and jewels.

I have just discovered there is a book about her, available here I will definitely be ordering it on my next Amazon splurge.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ski Day's

We have five ski resorts, all within an hours drive, so why did it take six years, to get off our backsides and go skiing.

Probably because I was never really keen on the idea of skiing having had a couple of brushes with it in the past, my father took me to a dry ski slope when I was a wee child and I remember standing at the top, too terrified to ski down, the next episode was going with a friend a few years ago, the said friend made out she could not ski very well so we both had a beginner lesson with Ski de France, I could not understand a word the instructor said, I did enjoy it but could not get the hang of stopping, luckily we were only on the nursery slope, I also had on a very unbecoming white ski outfit, which made feel like Bibendum, whilst I was struggling, the said friend was gliding elegantly by, turned out she was a really good skier who could ski down black runs, I think she was probably trying to encourage me but I just felt really useless and it put me off.
 MG can ski but had not been for years, he also has knee problems so he thought his skiing days were over.

Then last year, our friends S & F decided we should all go skiing and have a lesson, S can ski so he went off whilst MG, F and myself all had a lesson, F and I were complete beginners and MG wanted to refresh and build his confidence.

After the first lesson there was no stopping us, overcoming each hurdle was quite amusing, it took me ages to get the hang of the button lifts at first I was clinging on for dear life and when you fall off the button lift it's very embarrassing, flailing around trying to get out of the way and desperately trying to get upright again without sliding down backwards.  The next step for me was the chair lifts, I had a fear of getting on and off, the first time I got off the lift I fell over and again was desperately scrabbling about trying to get up.  When faced with a steep slope, the fear gripped me and I clenched my feet in the ski boots thinking this would help me cling onto the slope.

By the end of last season I was skiing down blue runs reasonably OK, It all started to come together, the skiing lark, it is very exhilarating, standing at the top of  a mountain looking at breathtaking scenery, being able to ski down, stopping off at bars and restaurants en route, to meet friends, for lunch, a glass of  vin chaud or a steaming cup of coffee.

MG and I went skiing for the first time this season, on Sunday, we were determined to get out of the house.  Conditions were not ideal, the forecast for the chosen ski resort was cloudy with snow showers, we both woke up not feeling particularly brilliant, but decided to go for it.  We both now possess all our own equipment and we were eager to try out our new skis, I must admit I was a little apprehensive, thinking that I had forgotten everything I learnt last year.

We started off on the nursery slope, just to get our ski legs back, I was amazed to find that I still remembered  most things although I am very snow ploughy and go far too slowly, MG on the other hand was looking very stylish and parallel skiing with confidence.  Unfortunately the weather closed in on us and it was a white out, so we were only up there for an hour.

We will now aim to go at least once a week, I am going to have a couple more lessons to help me get out of the snow plough habit and build up my confidence.  Who knows by the end of this season I might even be able to ski with a modicum of style and go down red runs.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Winter Warmer, Tomato, Chorizo and lentil soup

The cold weather has descended upon us again, so here is a recipe for a delicious and nourishing soup.

Serves 4 to 6, depending on how many helpings you have.

You will need:
A generous drizzle of olive oil

Two red onions, chopped
Two cloves of garlic, crushed
Half a chorizo sliced and quartered
Two tins of chopped tomatoes
1 litre of chicken stock (homemade or stock cubes)
A couple of handfuls of puy lentils
salt and pepper.

drizzle the olive oil into a pan on a medium heat, when the oil is hot add the chopped onions and garlic and sweat for ten minutes.

Add the chorizo and cook for five minutes, letting all the flavours and juices ooze into the mixture.

Add the tomatoes, and cook for a further two minutes

Add the stock, lentils and salt and pepper, bring to the boil and then put the lid on the saucepan and simmer for twenty minutes.

You should end up with something like this:

Serve with warm crusty bread or if your feeling really hungry, garlic bread, It's really filling, so should keep you going for hours......enjoy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The grass is always greener, in January

God, I feel just awful, I still have not shaken this cold, every morning I wake up feeling like I need to use a plunger on my face, although I am not sure if this is my dust allergy playing up or just cold aftermath, coupled with that I still have cabin fever (Still, have not managed to go skiing, but hopefully will ski on Sunday)  I am also feeling the need to travel somewhere, anywhere, I just fancy a change of scene, but this is all due to the fact that it is January and I believe last Tuesday was officially the most depressing day of the year.

I have also been feeling nostalgic for Blighty, I am sure this has something to do with the fact that I have recently been watching an unhealthy amount of British TV and have become hooked on programs like Escape to the country, Bargain hunt, and various others which are too embarrassing to mention......sad.

In my nostalgic mood I have been thinking about the things I miss most about Britain, this is a question I am frequently asked by visiting friends and family, so here is a list of the top five:

 1.  Country Pubs.  I love to go for a slap up meal in a lovely country pub, followed by a long walk in the British countryside, returning to the pub for coffee and a sundowner.

Photograph's from The Blue Lion at East Witton Website (A particular favourite).

2.   Food.  Yep, fish and chips, a really good curry, Thai and Chinese. They do have Indian, Chinese and Thai food in France but sadly not in our region. Indian and Thai don't have the same flavours, as most French palettes cannot take hot, spicy food.

3.  The British Sense of Humour and Public Spirit.  I think most British ex pats living in France will know what I mean.

4.  Less Bureaucracy.  Everything is so much easier in the UK from setting up a business to registering your car.

5.  Boots the Chemist.  Strange I know, but I really miss going to Boots for a tube of toothpaste and emerging with twenty things that I had not intended to buy and fifty quid lighter.

Please don't get me wrong there are lots of things I love about France, but I am saving that for another post, in the meantime if there are any ex pats from anywhere,  living anywhere, reading this post, please tell me about the things you miss from your country of origin.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A January Walk Around Bagnères-De-Bigorre

I am suffering from cabin fever, after New Year, MG and I had very nasty colds which we are still recovering from, we have not been out much, we were supposed to go skiing today, but MG had too much work on,  I did not want to spend this beautiful day in the house, so, I decided to go to Bagnères-de-Bigorre for a mooch round.

Bagnères-de-Bigorre is around a twenty minute drive from our house, It's a picturesque spa town in which much Pyreneean folklore is centred, and was the home of a well known 19C literary society, specialising in works inspired by the mountains.  When we first visited around eight years ago it was rather run down and had a sense of faded grandeur rather like a grand old British seaside resort, but recently new people have arrived and slowly but surely the town is coming back to life.

I took my camera with me as there is a real mix of architecure in the town including very elegant, ancient, quirky and completely run down, so come for a walk with me........

It's the custom here to paint your house in a bright colour

And another!

They have really made an effort with this one, tea and chambre d'hotes!

This has potential

Oh dear, French spa town or the back streets of Naples

This one is really pretty

Heading into the posh side of town

 Very elegant

Have you noticed how quiet it is?  Everybody is having lunch!

Say it with flowers!

The leaning tower of BDB, No, Tours des Jacobins all that remains of a 15C monastry destroyed during the revolution

A 15C half timbered house

When the weather gets warmer, the cafes put out tables and chairs, under the trees for al fresco dining

With a prescription, here, you can have treatment for respiratory, rheumatic and psychosomatic disorders, 

You don't need a prescription to go here, the new spa, for relaxation and beauty treatments

You need a few people to hug this ancient tree

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lady Fortescue, A Woman Ahead Of Her Time

Every so often I get hold of a book that captivates me and takes me over, this recently occurred with "There's Rosemary There's Rue".

It's the autobiography of Winifred Fortescue (nee Beech), first published in 1939.  Born in 1888 the third child of a country rector, she went on to become an actress, interior decorator and fashion designer under the name of CINTRA, writer, and just after the second world war, a philanthropist.  All this in the early part of the twentieth century, she was an amazing woman and way ahead of her time.

In 1914 she married John Fortescue the Kings librarian and archivist, he was 28 years her senior but despite the age difference it was a very happy marriage and he supported her in all her ventures.

She wrote seven books in total and the first one of these was "Perfume from Provence" (published in 1935) about her experiences of moving, renovating a house and living in Provence, she was probably the first writer of this genre.

Sadly most of her books are currently out of print, but still available via Amazon through specialist booksellers.

If you want to know more about Lady Fortescue go here I found this website to be a true companion when reading TRTR. as it has lots of photographs of Lady Fortescue at different ages and photographs of all the existing properties she lived in, it really brought her book to life.

I cannot resist including this rondeau which John Fortescue wrote for CINTRA'S Invitations for her Autumn season fashion show, held in her garden, in Hampstead on a midsummers night.

"In Cintra's garden sweet the roses blow,
And rest is there and peace; while far below,
Like droning of five million human flies,
The hum of distant London swells and dies
And dies and swells, in ceaseless ebb and flow-
The hum of men who hurry to and fro
And seek and seek-for what they hardly know,
But there is calm 'neath silent summer skies
In Cintra's garden.

"There lanterns dim, 'mid music soft and low,
Shall guide the living flowers as they go
Arrayed in Cintra's lovliest draperies,
Till dazzling light reveal them to your eyes.
Come, gentles, see what one fair night can show
In Cintra's garden"

Monday, January 11, 2010

An unusual, but lovely Christmas present

What do you think these could be?

Have you ever opened a Christmas present in front of the giver and then said "Oh it's lovely" when your not quite sure what it is?

This is exactly what happened to me on Christmas day, when my lovely friends F&S gave me the above.

At first I thought they were a decorative piece of modern art and then I noticed the hole and thought perhaps they were tea light holders.

The penny dropped when S said: "The clue is in the colour".

Uh, Eggs?

Hurrah.  A very unique pair of eggcups.

 They are handmade fused glass by Jo Downs, I am looking forward to visiting one of her shops in Cornwall later in the year, but she also has an online shop here 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

And then the sun came out

Today we woke up and the sun was shining, I don't think there is a weather combination that beats  sunshine and snow, today is the sort of day which makes you feel glad to be alive, and makes me realise how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful spot, sometimes it is really easy to take the kind of views we have for granted as we see them every day.

I have taken some pictures of the same views at different times and it never ceases to amaze me how the light can completely change the same view. It reminds me of Cezanne who painted many pictures of Mont Sainte Victoire in Provence always capturing it in different lights.

So this post is more snowy scenes of our garden with the Pyrenees as a backdrop, village and surrounding countryside, this time the sun is shining.

The view, we woke up to, this morning

The same view at dusk

Our lane with the Chateau at the top, complete with scaffolding they are repointing and replacing the battlements.

The garden robin, who won't go hungry in the cold

Crusoe, enjoying himself in the snow!

A view of the village, from the Chateau

The village church, sadly, hardly ever used, but available for weddings!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The snow reaches South West France!


Happy New Year! Apologies for the belated greeting, but am just recovering from a very nasty coldy/flu bug picked up from a New Years Eve party.

I have been watching all the British news coverage of "The Big Freeze" and I am loving the Blitz spirit,  although I am getting the impression that the novelty of snow has now worn off.

But the snow has now arrived in South West France.  Here in the Pyrenees we are a bit more prepared for it, most people have snow chains, so getting about is not so difficult and we are looking forward to fitting in some skiing next week, so I will be posting some pretty mountain scenes.

Here are some snowy scenes of the garden and surrounding countryside, I took these this morning whilst taking Crusoe for his morning constitutional.