Monday, 23 March 2020

Trapped in Paradise

Usually I write about the nice things that happen in the South of France - visits to local markets, restaurants, vineyards, funny experiences etc.  Occasionally I write about the ‘not so nice’ things such as accidents, caterpillars and Brexit.  I could never have imagined I would be writing about something as shocking as Coronavirus.  

Although I was aware of its existence, I certainly didn’t take it seriously enough at first.  It was just amusing that the hugely important french custom of a physical greeting (hand-shake or kiss) was no longer permitted and we had to mutually agree which ‘non-skin’ part of our body to ‘bump’ with the other person.  Even when it was announced that the schools would be closing, all I felt like doing was putting a picture of a large wine box on Facebook, showing how ‘prepared’ I was.  

But that was all one week BC.  Before Covid 19.  Before Confinement.  Who would have believed that we are now in virtual ‘lock-down’,  not allowed to leave the house unless for a very valid reason, risking huge fines if we haven’t printed out and filled in the required form justifying our ‘sortie’.  Even if we could go out, the beaches are closed, bars and restaurants are closed, so there is no reason to go anywhere except for ‘essential’ food shopping, and only 1 person is allowed to go.

It now seems ironic that just a few weeks ago I wrote a blogpost about the difficulties of working from home, as now I have absolutely no choice, and it is definitely not working!  Although much of what I do is for clients at a distance, it is pretty impossible to sell, rent or search for properties without physically being there and with so much uncertainty around, nobody is booking holiday villas for this summer either.

Obviously my main worry at the moment (apart from the lack of work = lack of income situation) is that I have no idea when I’ll be able to see my family in the UK again.  But there are definitely some positives to come out of this:

  • My filing cabinet and paperwork have never been in such good order!
  • The dogs are happy as we are around all day
  • I have enough wine
  • The french have learned how to form orderly queues
  • There is plenty of time to catch up with all the old friends I promised to stay in touch with
  • It is really really peaceful outside with hardly any traffic, no noisy microlights and just the occasional jet passing overhead. 

I realise that there are considerably worse places to be confined than in a villa with a big garden in the South of France, but despite still being able to enjoy the views, the sunshine and the vineyard walks, I can’t help but feel worried.  This is a long way from being over.

Photocredit:  Sumanley at Pixabay

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Troc around the clock

I love a bargain - it gives me a warm fuzzy glow to find something I need at a very much reduced price - but generally if you want something brand new at a good price you need to wait for the ‘sales’.   Sale-time in France occurs just twice a year, and for very restricted periods - Allied Carpets would definitely struggle to hold their year-long closing down sale.  However, if you are looking for a warm fuzzy glow at other times of the year,  may I point you in the direction of the Troc.

Troc comes from the french word ‘Troquer’ which means to exchange or barter goods or services.  Nowadays you exchange money for the goods, but the name remains the same.  These are usually to be found in large industrial units on the outskirts of towns and are full of strange and wonderful things.  Sellers leave their goods ‘on consignment’, the Troc sells the goods and takes a pretty chunky commission, but there is a real mix of second-hand ‘junk’ (old bicycles, large ‘brown’ furniture, kitchen units and appliances), and also some brand new items from (I imagine) bankrupt shops.  If ever you need a rail of carpet samples, a 3 metre run of metal shelving or 50 pots of paint in garish colours I  can point you in the right direction. 

We also have charity shops here but they are nothing like the lavender-scented shops run by lavender-scented old ladies that you find on every High Street in the UK (obviously I’m talking about places like Dorset!).  These ones are, again, in out of town areas in purpose built units.  The biggest one is Emmaus and the concept is to help people on the outskirts of society (ex-offenders for example) to find their place in the world by living and working as a community recycling people’s unwanted goods.  Everything is neatly presented in 4 large sheds and it is a great place for a bargain (I came away with a rotary clothes dryer for just 4€).  There is also another place I’ve just discovered (the Recyclerie d’Elne) but they seem to go one step beyond recycling - rather than just cleaning and repairing items for sale they completely convert them and I was very tempted by a piano which had been turned into a drinks cabinet.  And if anybody has every heard me play the piano, you will understand!

And finally, we can’t forget the french equivalent of the Car-Boot sale - known as Vide-Greniers (literal translation is ‘empty attics’).  This appears to be a national pastime with lists published in the newspapers of where they will be held.  You don’t have to drive to a muddy field in the rain, these events are held in the streets of the villages (hopefully closed to traffic), (usually on a Sunday morning), and trestle tables are set up on the pavements outside the houses.  These can be very social affairs - sometimes there will be musicians and often there will be the ‘wine-man’ selling plastic glasses of dubious quality wine from a large box. 

So, if you have romantic ideas about strolling around a typical french flea-market with an accordionist playing ‘La Vie en Rose’ in the background, forget it - but if you are searching for a bargain, there are lots of places to choose from.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure - and I am very proud of my clothes airer (and the cushions, the vase, the wine glasses, the slightly cracked mirror, the rug and the pot of shocking pink paint)!