Sunday, 25 November 2018

I really must protest....

Today I managed to drive into Perpignan and back again.  Not normally something to take such pride in, but today is Day 8 of what was meant to be a 1 Day public demonstration by the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ and driving anywhere has become quite an adventure this week.

The idea of the Gilets Jaunes campaign was to protest against the high cost of diesel –and the protest involved blocking major roundabouts, motorway access points, and ‘Escargots’ (traffic deliberately moving at ‘snail-pace’).  At first we followed the general advice of ‘don’t drive anywhere unless your journey is absolutely necessary’, but then I noticed that the local supermarket shelves were looking a bit sparse, and the garage had run out of diesel - and so had I.  We are lucky enough to live just 20 minutes from the Spanish border where fuel prices are 30 cents per litre cheaper than here, so we decided it was worth a try.

Photo credit:

The roundabout just before the entry to the motorway was teeming with protestors wearing their Hi-Vis yellow jackets (Gilets Jaunes) and waving placards, and they were just ‘filtering’ traffic ie stopping lorries but letting cars through – particularly those who had placed their own yellow jackets on the dashboard of the car, which we had.  We are not stupid.  All in all there was just a minor delay getting onto the motorway, and best of all, the toll barriers were up and we were informed ‘today it’s Macron who is paying’! 
A few days later, buoyed up by this success we then decided to go to Toulouse to collect something that the driver was unable to deliver.  There were even more protestors by this time, and food trucks, tents, flags and klaxons.  We were ‘invited’ to do an extra circuit of the roundabout to show ‘solidarity’ but then managed to get onto the motorway.  The toll barriers were up again but the protestors were handing out the tickets ‘just in case’ – which was unfortunately the case as there were no protestors and the barriers were in place at the Toulouse exit.  (But the journey home was ‘free’ – I must write to M. Macron to say thank you for saving us 18€!)

Today is officially a National Day of Protest – which only seems to differ from the past few days by the fact that no ‘normal’ buses are running and there is a huge demonstration going on in Paris.  Free transport has been laid on to get people to Paris – and my suggestion of taking advantage of that but just going shopping was not received with great enthusiasm!  There were also big demonstrations planned in Perpignan centre and the advice again today was not to travel anywhere – but I had to go to town to prepare an apartment for a guest who has no idea he is going to have problems getting there.  Having planned my journey with military precision (checking Twitter and the local radio) I approached the main roundabout – smoke could be seen billowing into the air as they burnt tyres and pallets – but I was waved through (little did they know it was the dog’s walking jacket that I had on the dashboard!).   Although I passed several ‘escargots’ (with police escorts) and heard shouts and klaxons from the centre of town, I managed to make the trip unscathed, but there was a real feeling of ‘civil unrest’ if not ‘civil war’ about the whole situation.

I was going to finish this blog with a light-hearted complaint that my walking boots are falling apart but I can’t get to Decathlon as it is on a well barricaded roundabout, and my discount voucher expires at the end of the month, but having just had a run in with an aggressive protestor on the motorway (on foot!) who tried to stop us by placing traffic cones in front of the car, I am feeling less amused.  This is rapidly getting out of hand.   In fact within 1 hour of the start of this ‘peaceful’ protest, somebody was run over and killed, and since then there have been several hundred injuries.  ‘Professional’ protestors have now joined the original group, nerves are frayed, businesses and commerces are losing money and there is a dangerous feeling about the whole situation. 

Apparently President Macron is going to make a statement on Tuesday …..

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Wild pigs and dogs don't mix!

This blog is usually about how wonderful life is in the region – but once in a while I have to take off my rose-tinted glasses and admit that there are certain things that are not so perfect.  Sangliers, to be precise.

I have always been aware of the existence of Sangliers nearby – there are often footprints in the garden, strange noises in the forest, and we are regularly woken early by the sound of gun-shots from the local hunters.  There are often articles in the local paper about vineyards being ravaged by these wild pigs, or funny stories about a mother sanglier and her babies appearing regularly on a beach nearby and being fed by tourists.  But these animals can weigh 80kg, and while under ‘normal’ circumstances they keep themselves to themselves, when they feel threatened, they can attack.

We usually take the dogs for a good walk towards the end of the afternoon, they wear ‘high-vis’ jackets and recently I found collars with flashing lights – and as night falls and we can hardly see them, it is very funny to watch these flashing lights running around the vineyards as they try to chase rabbits.  We will not be doing that again.  On Tuesday both dogs disappeared into the woods having heard noises.  Bo, the young dog soon ran back to us in a panic, but we could hear Loulou, the border collie, barking frantically.  After what seemed an age, she responded to our calls and we got her back to the house where she collapsed exhausted and out of breath on the terrace.  They were both covered in mud (as usual!) so I started to clean her with a towel and noticed a wound on her stomach – not really bleeding, but a hole in the skin, which obviously needed stitches.  The emergency vet confirmed this, and said she thought Loulou had probably just got herself snagged on a stick or a rock, but that she would need to be anaesthetized while the wound was cleaned and closed.  The next morning I collected a very sleepy looking dog, with TWO enormous sticking plasters on her body.  The vet told me that they had found a second, more serious wound on her thigh, with muscle damage, and that her injuries had definitely been caused by a Sanglier.

Last year the hunters killed over 13,000 sangliers in the region, which means there are at least double that amount roaming around and I have no intention of meeting any of them. Luckily, with plenty of antibiotics, rest and TLC, Loulou will be OK, but we have learned a valuable lesson.  Walks will be during daylight hours only.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

A pretty perfect weekend!

We’ve just had some friends to stay for the weekend, and it was such a typical ‘perfect weekend in the Pyrénées-Orientales’ that I have to write about it!

 It was their first trip to the region but as they had been travelling around America, and then seeing all the sights of Barcelona, I wanted to make their stay as relaxing as possible.  Their arrival happily coincided with ‘apero-time’ and apart from a quick walk around the vineyards (on the insistence of the dogs), we spent the rest of the evening eating and drinking on the terrace.

Saturday morning found us on the terrace again (all wearing sunglasses and talking much more quietly!) while we had the usual coffee, orange juice, croissants and, of course, home-made apricot jam from our garden -yes, honestly!  (Although I was only responsible for writing the labels!)  As it was already 30° and very sunny, my suggestion of going to Thuir market was rejected in favour of just lounging in and around the pool.  Thank goodness.

At midday we managed to drag ourselves to the beautiful village of Castelnou – one of the ‘Plus Beaux Villages de France’ – which is a very miniature version of Carcassonne with steep cobbled streets and arty shops – but just 28 residents in winter!  (There is also a Chateau for sale for just 1 euro if anybody is interested…) We had a delicious lunch at L’Hostal, from where you can enjoy fabulous views – and excellent profiteroles - then headed back to the sun-loungers just in time for a siesta.

Their visit happily coincided with Le Vendange (grape harvesting time) so I had booked tickets for the annual Fete du Vendange, in Thuir, our closest town.   It is held in the impressive Caves Byrrh (worth ‘googling’ and visiting if ever you are in the area).  You pay a small fee and are handed a wine glass in a small shoulder-bag (should you ever feel the need to put it down somewhere!) and then you wander the alleyways which are lined with stands of local producers offering tastings of their wine.  There is music, and also ‘nibbles’ on offer, and we spent a great evening trying to pretend we knew what we were tasting! 

Sunday morning got off to a comfortable slow start involving breakfast then the pool, and then we took them to Collioure.  My friends come from Suffolk and are very keen on ‘boats’ – so Collioure took their breath away and looked particularly good on yet another hot sunny day.  We had a lovely fishy lunch at Les Mouettes, strolled around and took all the obligatory touristy photos and then headed back to the car – which I think was parked in Port Vendres! 

Sunday afternoon’s dog-walk was really special.  We were up in the hills above our village and you walk through vineyards and olive-groves – and there are even benches dotted around!  There was a beautiful sunset behind the Canigou mountain, and in the distance we saw the (nearly) full-moon appearing just above the sea.  I couldn’t have arranged it better if I’d tried!

I can’t pretend that every weekend is like that – sometimes its cloudy or windy, sometimes the meals aren’t as good as you might have hoped (particularly in my own house!) but for a relaxing weekend with old friends, this one was perfect.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Feeling Hot Hot Hot!

I’ve just been to see some clients in one of the holiday villas I run and as usual, they were draped over the sun-loungers in pools of sweat, sun-cream and sangria (actually it was beer and wine but I’m a big fan of alliteration!).  They are 5 couples who said they were coming to the area to play Boules - but as far as I am aware, they haven’t moved since they arrived.  And who can blame them, as it is very very hot. 

Nobody really knows how hot it is.  Is it 40 degrees in the shade? Does it include the ‘wind-chill’ factor?  What does ‘feels like’ mean?  Either way, it feels hotter than the sun on my terrace, any wind is similar to a fan-oven and doing anything other than swimming and sticking my head in the fridge feels like hard work. 

Apparently it is officially a heatwave and we are on ‘Orange Alert’.  This weekend temperatures will not drop below 31 degrees, people are being advised not to go out between 11am and 5pm, the Town Halls are providing ‘air-conditioned’ rooms for people to go to if they need to cool down, and bus drivers are officially allowed to wear shorts (following a protest in Nantes where the drivers turned up in skirts to prove a point!)

I have never been the sort of person to say it is ‘too hot’ –I chose to live in the South of France specifically for the sunshine and the heat, but this week, it is ‘too hot’.  Luckily I don’t have a ‘proper’ job – so don’t have regular hours where I have to spend time in a office – but there are still clients who want to view houses, or rental clients who need something so there are occasions where I have to leave the pool and venture out…

… which brings me back to my visit to the rental clients.  They had called to say that one of the fans in the bedrooms didn’t work – so I went to deliver a spare one.  When I arrived, every door and every window in the house was open. No, No, No, No, No!   There is a knack to surviving the heat in the South of France and here are my ‘top tips’ (some of which I even heard on Woman’s Hour during my siesta): 
Morning – close all south-facing windows/blinds/curtains.
Midday – stay indoors with everything closed, put the fans on, take a Siesta (and listen to Woman’s Hour).
Evening – As soon as the outside temperature is cooler than indoors, open doors/windows and let the cool air arrive inside.  Basically keep the house open at night/closed during the daytime. 

In principle this all sounds quite easy, but in practice keeping doors closed when there are people and dogs wanting to go and in out all the time is difficult, and if there is any cool night air, it doesn’t arrive until 5am.  Luckily my need for a cold drink of water (or some other need...) usually wakes me around that time and I make my perilous journey down the dark corridor trying to avoid either knocking into the floor fan or tripping over a dog lying on the cool tiles, and fling open all the doors and windows.  Until 9am, when it is already time to close them again.

 So stay cool, and remember the important difference between "J'ai chaud" and "Je suis chaud" - the latter is a different kind of 'hot'!