19 December 2009

One More Goodbye

Our last days in Valady were filled with dramatic weather,
dropping temperatures, a new project and a very cold but beautiful bike ride
through one small town built of red, red brick after the next.

With each place we have been, the goodbyes are always sad in that
you feel as if you are leaving home all over again. You get used to but never bored with, the magnificent landscapes, the wonderful people and the routine of everyday life.

Almost every morning in Valady we woke up to a fog so thick we would have thought we were the only inhabitants for miles. It wasn't until about 1PM that the sun's heat would finally begin to lift the fog just enough to reassure us of the existence of our neighbors down the valley.

I knew the day Hannah left would mark the beginning of a not-so-bright future...
and for me that meant a day of the moving of the rocks from one pile into many separate piles. Like any work though, it is always the company that dictates how the day will go.

If I have learned one thing chez Anges, it is this-
it's impossible to have a simply average day in the company of Steven and Christian....

Christian lifts a rock...OH MY GOD...the biggest thing he did all day,
while Steven chides him for being an only child and being used to having everything
done for him. The friendly harassment continued for the good part of the day.

After a little display of strength and determination, Steven at last gets that
resistant root out of the ground. We are making way for a stone wall that will be built
by the next batch of helpxers. We hoped to start it ourselves, but rock sorting
and digging took much, much longer than expected....

Of course, the only child takes a break...one of many for him that day.
It's tough for such a little man to lift such big, big rocks.

Something has finally begun on the roof of Anges' future dwelling.
These lovely gentlemen are hard at work right next to us and our rock piles-
smoking, singing, and yelling as they pass the long, wood beams through the air to one
another. The sun peeks out and warms us all up for a while.

Steven helps out with the roof when he can and does NOT believe these guys
are doing it the correct way, but hey, they're having fun, so hopefully it lasts and won't
collapse on Agnes enjoying her fire on a long winter's night.

The workers perch unsteadily and unafraid high above the cement ground of
the foundation below. Christian looks at them like they are crazy because of course,
you could not pay him to get up there himself.

Lonely bridge in the fog.

And one night, Agnes decides it would be nice to take us to an art opening. It was a lovely thought, but little does she know she cannot take us anywhere without expecting to be slightly embarrassed by us. We tried to be on our best behavior...

The last weekend, Chris and I took a bike ride through the hills in the freezing cold and on bikes that did not have low gears- no one said everything about living in France was easy...
We happened on a tiny, local cemetery just before the sun dropped behind the mountains.
Each mausoleum was quite decked out with flowers- both real and not, stone souvenirs and photos of the deceased. Money does not grow on trees in this region,
but one would never know that by this elaborate display.

The hills that define this region in every direction- sometimes more flat or rolling, and sometimes very steep and dramatic, but always stunning and peaceful in the late afternoon sun.

Goodbye Valady!

17 December 2009

Full House

The Agnes household has been a busy one lately...

Chris arrived a few days ago, just as we were giving a tearful farewell to Elizabeth, who headed back to Austria for a holiday with the family. Then, two of Agnes' grand kids came for the weekend, filling the house with piano playing, singing, imagination and youthful laughter...
they both speak very good English and love to repeat things they hear their daddy say
when he gets mad like "bloody hell" and "jesus christ". Dennis, a former helper,
also stayed the weekend, as the man he's been working for went out of town.

A night of bread-making.

Hmmm, now, how does this work again...?

Casper, Agnes' grandson, had a birthday a few days before, so we decided to have a
little cake and singing for him. He turned the big 7 and was pretty happy about it.

I think it was more his spit that put the candles out than his blowing....

Three more to go. C'mon Casper!

Mother and son.

Like most children, Casper immediately took a liking to Chris. You know life's ok
when you can still act like a child once in a while. Birthday boy even got to cut his own cake, which is something I know I was not allowed to do when I was 7. I'm not even sure I
even knew what a knife was much less how to use one- thanks mom and dad!

Then, after the kids retired, a playful boxing match ensued between
Steven and Dennis in the dining room...

swift kick...someone's had a little experience with this- unfair advantage?

All ended well with both of them sprawled out on the tile floor and Steven in a headlock.

13 December 2009

My, What A Belle Castle!

It just so happens that we have been living right next to yet another town on the "top 20 prettiest villages in France" list. Of course, like Minerve, a big sign welcomed us into Belcastel, not letting us pass by without duly noting its claim to fame. The striking castle, which dates from the 11th century, gave the village its name and towers above the town like a guardian angel.

No town is complete without the old men. In this case they took it upon themselves to fish the river from the top of the bridge, which was thirty feet above the water. There was plenty of space to fish along the empty riverbanks but where's the challenge in that huh?

Like most of the other villages we pass through, this one was constructed expertly in stone, from the buildings to the pathways.

Off to the edge of town there was a strange little dwelling that did not match the rest, but showed clear signs of life inside...

The grounds of the castle were closed for the season, but from the road we could glimpse little patches of bright green, moss-covered landscaping and pools of water flowing from one into the next down the hillside.