Thursday, July 25, 2013

Straw hat Sunday

Last Sunday was most terribly hot.  Nevertheless, my local blogging friend Lyse and I left our husbands sensibly taking siesta and ventured out to the Fête du chapeau de Paile in Quessoy (link in French). Lately I've made the acquaintance of a few bloggers in this area; we had a meeting a few weeks ago involving a walk, some local history and exchange of impressions and a couple of very enjoyable large fruit-filled Breton cakes.

Quessoy, not far from here, where I shop and pass through often, used to be famed for its straw hats, preferred by its inhabitants to the traditional black Breton felt ones.  This year, it was decided to commemorate this with a straw hat festival.  The wearing of straw hats was de rigueur - and on such a day not at all a bad idea - and if you didn't have one you could buy one for a Euro-fiver from this jolly young woman and her jolly barrow, which we did.

Wherever we saw her she always looked very cheerful despite the heat, as were all the volunteers there;

Some people were very merry indeed, a combination of sun and cider, I imagine, one chap who was doing very nicely kept trying to pay me for his straw hat while I was waiting for the above vendor to come back from her lunch. 

Sadly, these hats were not made locally, but presumably in a factory in the PRC or similar, but the money raised went to good causes, including the association Handichiens,

who provide and train these beautiful, noble dogs, mostly labradors, one golden retriever, to assist handicapped people.  

There were plenty of other stalls, including one selling real, handmade, local basket work -

which were enviable, but the price tags showed how much cheaper it is to bring things in from the PRC that have them made in the old ways by hand here - a large sturdy log basket with a strong plywood floor and lovely natural colourwork which I coveted would have set me back 130 euros.  I rather regret not buying a small egg basket or similar which I could have afforded, I'll have to look out for them elsewhere.

There was a woman selling painted glassware, and in the spirit of snap-now-edit-later, we pointed our little cameras at it like everything else.  She broke off talking to some potential customers (who took the opportunity to slope off) to ask defensively why we were photographing.  Lyse replied that it was possibly for her blog, and the woman looked a bit askance and asked if she was from the newspaper... In fact Lyse does write for the local paper too, she has a funny column written in Gallo, which she also blogs, of dialogues between a couple of earthy country gossips, Fifine and Torine, but she didn't choose to make anything of this.  I stood back and rather enjoyed the talking-to she delivered defending the rights of the blogger, the joy of sharing pleasant and interesting things with a wider public, and the possible advantages that might even accrue to such as the seller of glassware from it.  The latter was somewhat confounded, saying that sometimes people stole one's ideas... 

Frankly, seeing her work, I'm not sure why anyone would bother,

But I did find looking at an expanse of glassware on such a day, regardless of its aesthetic merit, did give me a pleasant sense of coolness.

Local fêtes here often seem to have a not-for-sale exhibition of a local persons hobby creations or collection, this woodworker is apparently quite well-known, and his models are certainly impressive:

In the one above the barrel bit in the middle was going round, not sure what manner of machine it is, something agricultural I imagine.

The wooden rocket transporter struck me as quite surreal, especially in front of the large emblazoned motto of the Republic on the wall of the Mairie behind, which I hadn't noticed when I took the photo.   In fact historically, Quessoy was a noted stronghold of anti-Republicanism; another local blogger, Quercus, crêpier of great renown (folk come from far and wide to Quessoy to buy his sweet crêpes and buckwheat galettes, and it was he who made the fruit-filled Breton cakes I mentioned) and very erudite local historian, recently wrote a post (in French) about how, back in the day, wearing the tricolour cockade, an obligation in Paris, could get you beaten up in Quessoy.

We took some refuge from the heat, and drank cold drinks under an awning in the school playground, where the ambiance and festivities were making the sometimes dour folk of this particular corner of the Pays Gallo act somewhat like rowdy Latins, took in the scene and chatted at length, about the matter of minority language and dialect, Anglo squeamishness about the matter of eating offal and calf-meat, anecdotes of growing-up in different times and places, and more besides.  

I picked up a kouignn aman from a bakers stall which was also selling little sponge cake Breton heraldic ermines,

and went home before the cake, and we, melted. Tom had requested I bring him back a straw hat, so I brought back two.  Lyse is modelling hers here, (with a bonus video of Sacha Distel singing Mon Beau Chapeau!) and here are some webcam pics of mine:

I know it's quite a lot of me, but I don't actually do a lot of self-portraits here, and I started to enjoy myself rather!

Lyse's account and photos of the day are on her blog here. It was fun, I hope they do it again.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Knitting lessons in the Jardin des Anglais

Last weekend we took Iso, mother of Princeling, on an outing to Dinan.  Despite already being perhaps one of the most tirelessly busy people imaginable, she has become seduced by the idea of knitting, and I am more than willing to step into the role of wool pusher. Princeling stayed at home with his papa.  

It was a hot day, but we kept going rather well, with the help of cold beer and iced tea; we parked the car and Molly in the coolth of the underground car park, and had a lovely lunch out at a restaurant called La Courtine, which doesn't have a web site but probably doesn't need one, as it's rated no 1 out of eighty something in the town on Tripadvisor, booking is recommended and it certainly was very good.  Then we repaired to the fairly newly opened premises of Fil de Lune, a little further toward the edge of town, where she and I entered into a state of bliss, surrounded by threads and yarns and fibres of surpassing loveliness, which the charming lady proprietor was only to happy to advise us on and sell to us.  Iso came away with some large and lumpy fluffy stuff with a coppery coloured twinkly thread running through it and a pair of the most beautiful, huge, polished bamboo knitting needles to put it on, with the intention of making a scarf.

'I think I love my new needles even more than my new wool...' she sighed as we left.

As a quite unnecessary thank you gift for knitting-related favours she also treated me to three balls of Lang Mille Colori (it's colourway 0017 on that page, quite predominantly pink and green which aren't normally colours I go for, but found myself drawn to in this instance).  

The other thing she had requested was a knitting lesson, which task I delegated to Tom, since it seemed a bit unfair that he was only really involved as chauffeur and dog minder, and since he has been a skilled knitter since the age of about five and is actually rather better than I am at explanations and demonstrations of procedures.  So we took ourselves to the leafy and pleasant shade of the appropriately named Jardin des Anglais, where the benches were rather well subscribed but they found space beside a man doing his crossword.

and the lesson commenced.

Having begun his knitting career at such a tender age in such an early epoch, I have the impression that Tom rather holds to the idea that anything thicker than double knitting wool is something of an abomination and a violence to the spirit.  He tutted a bit at the plumptious confection of fluff and tinsel she had chosen, and remarked later that the needles were a bit like tree stakes, but she seemed pleased with her lesson, and as I countered, with wool like that any mistakes or unevennesses wouldn't be too apparent.

Molly and I wandered off, and said hello to the bust of Auguste Pavie, Dinan's son, explorer of Laos and Cambodia, he learned Cambodian, went native and barefoot, annoyed the colonial administration, dwelled below the Elephant Mountains and clearly sported an impressive beard.

Then we lay down under a magnolia tree and enjoyed its shade,

and the scent of the flowers.


I wonder how Iso's getting on with her scarf in this heatwave?


(On the subject of knitting, I'm in the process of putting all my projects, finished and in progress, and any other appropriate material, onto Ravelry.  When I've completed doing so I'll put a sidebar link here, in case anyone is interested, though I'll still do some related posts, it'll give me an outlet for that activity so this doesn't become a mainly knitting blog!)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Leguminous, again.

I know, I photograph these things every year.  These pea photos are from last week, we've already had the first meal with them.  Soon there'll be enough for pea sandwiches, which is the high point of the pea season, but can only really be indulged in when they are at they're most plentiful, don't ask me why, it's just one of those things you're supposed to do when you have a glut of fresh peas, which is in fact a contradiction in terms; how could you ever have too many fresh peas?  

Recipe: lightly blanched peas, drained and slightly mashed, butter, black pepper, in brown bread.  That's all.

I don't normally do this, as I don't like my hands.  I mean I don't care for how they look, particularly in photos, where I sometimes find myself grumpily asking how my mother managed to get her hands into the shot.  As tools I'm perfectly happy with them.


Mol would sell her soul for fresh peas, even, or perhaps especially, the pods.  If you put a pod of freshly picked peas (bought ones from market or supermarket are not quite so irresistible), a piece of freshly roast duck meat, and a piece of chocolate (which she's never really had anyway and has no great desire for, we can eat it without any excessive groaking on her part), it would be the pea pod she'd go for first.  If she thinks I have one in my hand she bounces along at my heels like a border collie puppy in obedience training, and our shared delight in munching them straight from the plant as soon as they are ripe (I have to pick them and give them to her, she doesn't steal them) is perhaps another reason why we never experience a glut of them.

When I give her the discarded pods, I tend to peel away the inner, plasticky, opercule which can make her sick, which is also the way to enjoy pea pods oneself without being left with a stringy unswallowable mass in one's mouth, a tip I picked up reading Pierre Jakez Helias.

She will settle for a broad bean though. ( I left my feet and ankles in this one, since though I don't much care for the appearance of those either, I like my split old vinyl sabots and that ancient summer skirt.

The broad beans (fava beans in US English I think, must be related to the French fève) are pink ones, Karmazyn variety, and look rather like fat pink thumbs themselves.

The pea beans, a kind of climbing French bean grown for its skewbald fruit best dried and stored, will be along later.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Things of joy

Finding myself wandering away from this activity rather, disinclined much to enter into conversation, happy in a netherworld of pulling weeds, growing vegetables (most particularly leguminous ones), knitting and plodding through The Golden Bowl one Kindle page and one knitting row at a time, possibly the longest it has taken me to get three-quarters of the way through any book, (it was a kind of pledge, I've got a couple of other books on the go too, I really am doing a lot of knitting, and growing veg, and pulling weeds...)

Then the other morning such a shower of blessings fell upon me as to completely restore my sense of the generosity of the universe, to say nothing of other people which are its main, though not exclusive, way of manifesting this, that I am compelled to share something of my joy. I was sitting after breakfast, thinking I wasn't expecting anything in the post, but when our cheerful factrice pulled up in her yellow van, there were three lovely things:

1) A book, from and by David Bick.  David is an old friend from Gloucestershire days, who we rather thought we'd lost touch with.  He was Tom's friend and counsellor from way back, I didn't know him well but we liked each other instantly when we met, I think (I mean I think he liked me, I knew I liked him, and as he's not someone to dissemble I may have been right). He lives with his wife in a small house on a beautiful hillside under some kind of grace-and-favour arrangement at Prinknash Abbey (the monks there are straight-up RC but David was ordained in the C of E, he's a rev but not a vicar). We've seen him once on a trip back since we've been here, but we've never been in e-mail or other internet contact with him, and he always was a rather reserved person, and is fairly elderly now.   Then rather on impulse, Tom sent him a copy a while back of Natalie's The God Interviews.  We didn't hear back straight away, and rather thought we wouldn't, but then the book, which we didn't know he'd written, and the accompanying letter which sounded so like his voice, including thoughtful and appreciative observations and reflections on Natalie's book.

2) An obituary, cut from the print version of the Independent, about Heather, from Joe, rather recent and thus rather late, but not at all bad.  I only wished I could have taken it round and showed it to her and enjoyed her tutting over the inaccuracies, gossiping at length about the people she knew that were mentioned, and barely concealed preening herself at the praise.  Thanks again, Joe.

3) A parcel full of sheepskin off-cuts, from my Lovely Sister, who had ordered them for a creative project of her own, which probably involves microscopically fine and exquisite work of the kind normally done in story books by shoemaking elves or tailoring mice.  When the material arrived there was five kilos of it, so she really didn't need it all, and has sent it to me for the soling and heeling of slipper socks.

Along with this came a couple of books of original knitting and crochet patterns from the 1970s which she had unearthed.  It is wondrous to me that some who lives in such a state of uncluttered order as she has nevertheless preserved treasures from such a long time ago.  They're mostly interesting as simply amusingly retro, but there are a few classic or potentially usable ones, including a kimono-style judo jacket in crochet, I kid you not, done in a rather scary barber's pole red and white but which made up in something silky and shaded and winter-garden-ish would be pretty sumptuous, and take half a lifetime and require a mortgage to pay for... enough, this wasn't going to be a knitting post.

Both of these last items were accompanied by notes on delightful postcards:

A fat Aylesbury duck from Joe, 

and an Edward Gorey illustration from Lovely Sister.

Isn't it a fine thing when people know just what will make you smile?

But that wasn't the end of it!  While I was just trying to absorb all this joy, there was a strange pattering noise at the French doors.  I wondered if it were raining, it was a rather chilly grey morning, but no.  I looked twice and there, hanging from the wall beside the door, looking straight at me a few feet away, was our red squirrel.

I rushed to get the camera, which was to hand but by the time I had it he was away to the edge of the terrace, up on a pile of upended paving slabs,

this is a very cropped image, hence the fuzz, and by the time I'd got the zoom on him he was on his way,

 and the camera focus on the vegetation behind.

I hadn't seen him at all for some time, and we began to suspect that perhaps we were just feeding mice and voles (I know they need to eat too, but encourage them to feed too large a family and they start eating my vegetables).  We'd been putting the nuts out less often, but now, we decided, we would put them on the terrace to try to coax him closer.

Initially he didn't come back, but then the following morning, one nut disappeared early, then just in the time we were having breakfast, the remaining four were quickly dispatched,

and then first thing today, Tom went to the bedroom Velux window and hissed 'He's there!'.

I bruised my legs climbing up onto the radiator in haste to see, and Cyril, as we call him, was up on the slabs again, frozen and listening.  We kept as agonisingly still as we could, but another whisper exchanged and he was gone.  Those ear tufts are clearly very effective.  But he came back again and took some more when we weren't looking, and we have hopes that with time and plenty more nuts, he might grow a little bolder.  I kind of have the impression we're being watched, rather more than doing the watching.

Ah, life!