Sunday, 9 September 2018

2015 to 2018 changes

It seems an eternity since we were last here together in our French home.  Michelle was able to come for a few weeks in the spring, but I was unable to get the time off so had to wait until the end of August.

In the intervening period we have made steady progress on making our little home more liveable.  The stop gap  furniture from Emmaus is gone and replaced with more comfortable furniture from the 'But' store in Pamiers.  The outside is almost painted and we now have our cooker and stove top connected. If I'm not careful I may run out of excuses not to use it.

Kitchen in 2015 and 2018

Inside the house, old sink now replaced with window seat.

...and finally got around to painting the outside
The cats are still there and hungry as ever!






Thursday, 25 January 2018

La France in Perth

Having recently invited some friends over for a French-themed lunch here in Perth, I felt inspired to write about our experience of seeking out French food, and the presence of French culture in Perth. Most important was to look the part so Richard secured a typically French outfit - beret and stripey t-shirt (hey, no stereotypes here!), adopted his best French accent, and grew a Poirot-type moustache (oops, Poirot's Belgian, isn't he?!).
"It 'az been a good day. I 'ave sold all zee oignons!"

Food-wise, we have bemoaned the lack of variety of Australian cheeses in a previous blog post, but it is possible to buy French cheeses over here - albeit at hugely inflated prices so we rarely purchase them. Roquefort, for example, can retail for around AUS$100 per kilo, making it more than twice the price of the best rib eye steak! C'est fou!
AUS$100 is approx 65 euros. The same cheese retails in France for around 28 euros per kilo.

One of the cheeses we selected for our lunch was a small slice of one of our favorites, a mild cheese made from ewe's milk called ossau-iraty. At AUS$90 or so per kilo, the little 100 gram slice we purchased was probably equivalent to small rib eyes!
Ossau-Iraty cheese for sale at Little Sister deli in Fremantle

You have to be a bit careful when selecting your French cheese, however, as some available over here, such as Le President Camembert, are actually made in Australia, not in France. Ce n'est pas pareil!
Cheese, wine, baguette, cheese jam (not very French) and quince paste (also not very French)

For charcuterie (cold cuts), we were unable to find anything originally from France so settled for prosciutto, chorizo and salami which were probably produced in Australia or China! French paté is also non-existent over here - I think because of Western Australia's strict importation and quarantine laws - although you can buy Normandy paté made up the road in the suburb of Malaga (bof!), and we did hunt down a few small tins of terrine.

Otherwise, all things French are greatly appreciated in Perth, and none more so than French bakery/pastry shops or boulangeries-patisseries. To provide an authentic lunch, we were obliged to sample several of these boulangeries-patisseries to find the best French bread - baguettes - and cakes, including Choux Café in Swanbourne, La Galette de France in Nedlands, and Jean-Pierre Sancho in Dalkeith. Actually, Jean-Pierre Sancho have a chain of bakery/pastry shops across the metro area and coincidentally, the name of the business is inherited from a small boulangerie-patisserie in Lodeve (where Michelle's parents live) called Sancho - it's a small world! The Australian Sancho even include a photo from the 1920s of the original Sancho in Lodeve in their promotion (see below):
The Jean Pierre Sancho on Hay street in Perth City
Zoom in on the photo at the top to see the original Sancho in Lodeve

After all our sampling (poor us), we settled on macarons, small eclairs, petit-fours and a sachet of freshly baked palmiers biscuits from La Galette de France for the dessert course of our lunch. Michelle also made a galette des rois - a frangipani-type almond pastry available in France throughout January, traditionally made to celebrate Epiphany on 6 January. All washed down with cream (not French) and a bottle of French sparkling wine, a Crémant de Limoux, Limoux being only 20km or so from our residence secondaire. We're fortunate that we live close to a Dan Murphy liquor store which carries a range of international booze so buying French wine is easy enough although there's not a huge selection. I did, however, draw the line at buying a 75cl bottle of Normandy cider for over AUS$20 - it would probably cost the equivalent of about AUS$5 in France!

Interestingly, the staff in the French boulangerie-patisseries are often French and indeed, there are now enough French people living in Perth that you often hear French voices in the street - that wasn't the case when I lived here before in the 1990s. There are a number of French organizations in Perth promoting French culture and language, and social interaction for native French speakers, including Alliance Francaise and La Maison de France, and there are even pétanque clubs where you can play in competitions. And, of course, there are a number of French restaurants in Perth run by some internationally acclaimed chefs - Guillaume Brahimi, who featured on the Australian TV show French Food Safari springs to mind with his Bistro Guillaume. So all in all, it is possible to live the other side of the world from France and still experience a taste of France locally, albeit a lot of it comes at a pretty steep price!

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Reflections

I thought I would add my own two cents worth to the blog as I haven't contributed for a while - due to a lack of time (!), the absence of a decent internet connection and the photos that I want to add always being stored on the wrong device. However, scrolling through the blog, I think Richard has covered it really and used the photos I would have chosen. The only thing to add here is a photo of an almost finished kitchen. I would have added a photo of our wood-burner too, but having mentioned it in several earlier posts, we completely forgot to take any photos of it once it was installed in the house!



Our trip to France was an odd one this time, partly due to trying to live in our house with building work still going on - this dictated our schedule and made it a little less relaxing. In addition, Richard was unwell for most of our stay in France - I probably kicked this off by catching a cold in England but Richard's version mutated into a persistent virus. We even went to see a doctor to make sure he wasn't more seriously ill. The health issues didn't end there as my mum was hospitalized for five days (all better now) so what with visiting mum in hospital and helping out my dad, and escaping the building work at home, we probably spent nearly half our holiday in France staying with my parents. Being in the south of France during August, peak holiday season, also made it quite challenging to get around due to heavy traffic and crowds of tourists. We learnt to get around this by doing our sightseeing and motorway driving early in the morning.
Despite these challenges, we still had many lovely moments and experiences: fields of sunflowers, a butterfly farm, catching up with friends and family, four nights of "fete" and live music in the village, evening food markets, visits to our favorite Cathar castles, walks in beautiful countryside, refreshing swims in pools and lakes, good food, wine and cold pastis, and frequent visits from our two favorite french kitty cats (who by the way, to set the record straight, have both turned out to be girls, not a boy and girl as we initially thought and wrote in our first blog about them).
Plus we had the satisfaction of seeing our house taking shape. We painted the main bedroom and first floor landing, Richard assembled bedroom furniture, and we started hanging pictures including blown-up canvas prints of our favorite photos which we organized through photobox.  Next step is probably to improve the look of the exterior of the house with a complete paint job and painting the shutters and front door in fresh new matching colors. Maybe by the next time we visit, our house will have a completely new look!

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Cambodia

....which isn't really the Ariège, but it does have a French quarter to go with its colonial past so there is a link there albeit a bit tenuous. Plus, Jacques Lafayette born in Le Peyrat (the village conjoined to La Bastide sur l'Hers), introduced horn combs (historically, a major industry in the area) to Cambodia back in 1875 so there is a tangible link. (I may have made up that last bit!)
Prior to leaving for France, we had decided to spend the last week of our holiday in Siem Reap in Cambodia to help us face the end of winter in Australia and our return to work. We also reasoned that it would give us a chance to get over the jet lag as there's only an hour's time difference between Cambodia and Perth.
We flew out from Nice on 27th August.  The trip was long but worth it. We flew to Doha, Qatar, had a  couple of hours in transit and then a connecting flight on to Bangkok. Unfortunately we had to wait about 5 hours for the next connection to Siem Reap but for what it's worth, Bangkok Airways have a private lounge for all passengers where you can get free drinks and snacks and wifi so we found a corner there and slept as best we could. Besides, getting through immigration and security at Bangkok airport ate up a significant amount of the five hour wait!
This will actually be our third trip to Siem Reap in Cambodia. We love it. The hotels are fantastic, and sooo cheap. As is the food, drink ($2 for a margarita cocktail) and clothes. The people are also very helpful, kind and easy-going and this makes it very special too.







Our favourite hotel, the Borei Angkor (above) is fantastic; five star standard, but the most amazing thing is that out of season the prices are ridiculously cheap.  An extremely comfortable, spacious and well-finished room and buffet breakfast for US$50!  You would have trouble getting a broom cupboard in a Formule 1 in France for that price!

Most people come to Siem Reap for the temples at Angkor Archaeological Park. Most of them are are 11th and 12th century with a Buddhist/Hindu theme running throughout.   Considering they are getting on for a thousand years old they are still amazingly preserved.   You would need a week to do them all justice.





One thing we should point out is the climate. It is very hot and humid. We did a morning tour of some of the outlying temples such as Preah Khan (see photos above), and found that four and a half water bottles was just enough to keep us going. There are lots of sellers en route, however, to sell all sorts.  This actually worked out quite well as when we came back from our last temple, our tuk tuk (a sort of motorbike with a passenger cart on the back) had disappeared.  It turned out he had a flat tyre, so we took the opportunity of buying a couple of cold bottles of water and promptly poured them down the back of our shirts....yes that is how hot it gets!


Come dry season the above 'baray' will be gone, dried-up, although from above it would look like a rectangular moat surrounding a temple. Actually bit of trivia...the largest man made structure built by the ancient Khmer wasn't Angkor Wat which is the biggest temple but this western baray.

Of course, there is a dark side to visiting Cambodia too. It's a very poor country and it's a little surreal to be holidaying in a place that has a relatively recent genocidal past. I still remember being shocked by the movie, 'The Killing Fields' many years ago. I guess we hope that by being there, not only do we have an enjoyable, affordable, educational and interesting time, but that we are also in some small way doing something that helps the local people to make a living, and that maybe, eventually, in the long run, all this tourist activity will contribute to improving their lot.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Time to take a break

.....the kitchen is still not ready, but there has been a lot of sanding and plastering still going on.  Its sort of functional providing we don't spill anything, but I find it hard to cook without something spilling or splashing somewhere.  We now have a gas hose connection to the cooker top, yay! We haven't bothered to buy a gas bottle yet because we would rather wait until the whole thing is finished.  Plus we don't have any cookware which would probably be a bit of a stumbling block to a successful meal.

 Instead we go through a routine each morning of getting up early before the builder comes, having our coffee, then removing the coffee machine and microwave from the kitchen. Washing up our dishes from whatever microwavable  or reaheatable meal we have bought from Intermarché that may have been left from the previous night. The aforementioned items go on to 'lounge table' and we cover it all with a dust sheet.  Not really how we planned to spend this holiday but c'est la vie!

So we feel obliged to remove ourselves from the house, to drive off somewhere, a bit unsettled that the kitchen is not ready, but it would be to awkward to stay in the house with the work going on. However driving along on route to find something interesting to do we sometimes see  some sights that really lift the spirits.  For instance on the D625 between our village and Mirepoix were these magnificent fields of sunflowers.  They looked fantastic and seemed to go on for ever!

I was that close to having an Age of Aquarius moment, stripping off and dancing naked around amongst them!


Sometimes it is the small things that we maybe overlook. For instance there is a wonderful butterfly farm just outside the village of Lesparou, called Les Papillons d'Amarande.  We visited it in the afternoon, as apparently butterflies like to get up late and go to bed early.....half your luck mate!  Its been run by a husband and wife team for 20 years but they are retiring next year.  I thought what a great way to have an income, some polytunnels, some fruit trees, a few overripe bananas and away you go.  Apparently some of the butterflies are getting a bit lazy now and just go straight for fruit drinks for their sustenance instead of the flowers themselves!                                                                         







Ok I think thats enough butterfly pictures.  There were some magnificent blue ones but the blooming' things never stayed still long enough to get a photo.








Saturday, 19 August 2017

Where does the time go?

Where does the time go?  It will soon be the end of this summer trip to our house and we will once again be back in Australia.  I always feel a bit sad about this time of the holiday as we always put in a lot of time and effort into our house, but we always have to leave it, and rarely do we actually get to enjoy the improvements we have added!  For instance I am looking at a wood burner installed last year that can apparently do a great job of warming the entire floor. Never lit…its still got the performance and manufacturers stickers on the glass front!  

But having said that each year it feels more like a home than a house and fingers crossed if the kitchen is finished in time we could recoup some of the investment in renting it out.  We have even started putting prints up on the wall! I feel someone should be enjoying the place even if it’s not us. Especially with all the new furniture we have acquired and assembled from stores in the area.

There is a saying in the navy....if it moves salute it, if it doesn't paint it.


My wife likes to shop at a store called ‘But’.  It’s a home furnishings store selling everything: TVs, cookers, beds, furniture.  I’m sure you get the idea.  They sell all their furniture items in self-assembly flat pack kits.  I hate it.  I swear you need a combined degree in engineering, interpretive art and telepathy to work out what on earth they are banging on about when it comes to putting the bloody things together.  I kid you not!  It comes with a pictogram book of how to assemble.  Half way through I wasn’t sure if I was assembling a wardrobe or reading a graphic novel on the storming of Troy!  There were some stages of putting together that were so confusing I had to lie on the bed with the booklet as an eye mask and hope that some clarity would somehow infuse into my head through the paper!  And to add insult to injury the instructions said it would take 1 hour to assemble!!!!   Maybe 1 hour in mayfly years…..it took me about three days! Agreed I am a bit inept and a proper electric drill would have really helped. Having said that the task of counting a jumbo meccano set variety of screws would have taken an hour by itself.  I mean why not just have two sizes big and small…not the 15 different sizes of screw that were needed to make this apparently simple wardrobe.   As you can imagine I was very proud of myself when I finally finished it and hence here is a photo of it!

...and when I find the missing hinge and bracket I will probably finish it.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Summer 2017: Nous sommes arrivés

Enfin...

Well actually we have been here for a couple of weeks now but with the lack of wifi and being a bit slack and enjoying the sun and food in-between painting we've been a bit remiss in finding somewhere with free wifi to continue blogging!

Ok, so the kitchen was not completely finished.  We sort of expected this to be the case really, and in hindsight we realize there was no way it could be finished without us being there on the ground as it were to authorize the final decision making. The sink and cabinets were in but we were not aware of all the small things  that still needed to be decided.  Tiles, cabinets, paint schemes, lighting arrangement, pipe work....etc.  It's very difficult to plan this from abroad using emails so it was good to finally meet Sid and discuss how we would proceed.

Work in progress...watch this space

We are old hands now at the phone and internet stuff so once we had unpacked we went to the Orange store to get a new sim card and to replenish the airbox with some data.....€40 for 5mb of data!!!!!  So that lasted less than a week before we had to top it up so we are now strictly rationed.   I am allowed to check the cricket score on BBC, but anything on youtube is banned!  So you can see why we only use the blog when we see the magic 'free wifi' logo.   The nearest to us is the recently opened McDonalds in Laroque-d'Olmes.  Not a huge fan of McDonalds but not above the hypocrisy of going in there for a burger and spending an hour on the net!

One pair of rascals who were a brilliant surprise were the two cats...Fatguts and Dumb-ass, who survived the winter and have now made the square their own!  In fact we have renamed Dumb-ass.  She is now called 'Goggles'...due to her piercing stare!   They have been adopted by a kind-hearted local lady, who really saved their lives.  They still remembered that we were the mugs who would give them tinned mackerel.....and we still do. This photo almost looks as if Fatguts is putting her daily order in!