Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Last Saturday we went to Bort-les-Orgues, a small town on the upper reaches of the Dordogne river. We pottered around, did a bit of shopping then drove up to les Orgues, which are rock formations which look a bit like organ pipes from below. Thanks to recent rain, the views from the belvedere were stunning, as the air was absolutely clear as could be, and we could see for miles. We usually drive through Bort on our way home, past views of les Orgues and think, well one day we'll go up there. So we finally made it.

Bort-les-Orgues used to have arailway running through it, which carried on to Mauriac and eventually to Aurillac, the main town of the Cantal department. However, in the mid 1940's, the Dordogne was dammed, cutting off the railway route. There were a few pictures in some of the shop windows, showing the valley just before the dam was built.

The dam is an impressive structure, and as well as providing electricity, is used as a place of leisure, with sailing, boat trips and other water sports taking place on it.There is more information about the area
here and here (some of it in French).

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

French outing

La st week we went on a coach trip with a group of French friends. First we went here, to the PedaloRail at Drignac, only the weathervwasn't very kind to us, as no sooner had one group set off, than a thunderstorm , lightning and heavy rain came down. Our second group were a bit luckier, as the rain stopped for the return journey.
Then we set off for lunch at this hotel, on the banks of the Dordogne river. Lunch was delicious, with an aperitif followed by an hors d'oeuvre of foie gras, an entree of pork stuffed with prunes, cheese from a wonderful selection, a lovely coffe and chestnut dessert and a cup of coffee to finish. A carafe of red wine was on the table for sharing. The dining room is very pretty, with delicate chanderliers and lovely china and glass.
After lunch , we visited this garden and had a guided tour, and a wander round on our own. All was very calm and peaceful, as it is tucked away in the french countryside, with only a very small village, Auriac en Correze, nearbye. Then back to the coach for the trip home, back through the gorges of the Dordogne. The roads are very narrow and wind up and down valleys, sometimes with splendid views, sometimes through shade-giving trees, through which only glimpses of the view can be seen.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Summer in the Auvergne

Back in the Vallee du Mars, in the heart of the Cantal department, the last few days have been exceptionally hot and sunny, too hot to do much work, except read in the shade with a cool drink to hand..
I first read D E Stevenson's Miss Buncle's Book more decades ago than I can remember, along with as many other of her titles as I could lay my hands on ( not too difficult as I then worked in a public library, but some titles were only available in  the large print version) They were easy to read, with interesting characters and plots, a readable style of writing, perfect at the end of a long day dealing with the foibles of the assumably literate public. This title is fairly typical of D E Stevenson's style, with Barbara Buncle, a single woman whose income, derived from dividends, is dwindling rapidly. Barbara discusses various means of raising money and decides to write a book. The subject she chooses is life in a village, which is where she lives. Happily a publisher for the book is quickly found, and the book published, under a pseudonym, to mixed reviews. The reading public fall in love with Copperfield, as the book is titled, and it becomes a best -seller. However, Barbara's fellow villagers have somewhat different views and would like the book withdrawn from publication. The shifts and turns they make to try and find out the name of the author are highly entertaining.
I hadn't read any Dorothy Whipple, until tempted by an offer from Persephone Books of a collection of her short stories ( along with three other titles, including the one mentioned above).I can see why she was a  popular author and still is. Her writing is sensitive yet concise, her characters ordinary people faced with some of the difficulties life throws at us all from time to time, and they all try to do what is right for them as individuals or family. Some of the stories in this collection are almost novella length, while others just a few pages, all have their own individual impact. I'll be looking for more of her tiles, as they are excellent reading.
I first read another title from a similar era, Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, when I was studying for my Open University degree in the 1970's. What a difference another 35 or so years of living bring to a book, and reading it because I wanted to, not because I had to. I now don't remember if I enjoyed it at the time, but this re-read was very enjoyable.
Clarissa Dalloway, married to Richard a Member of Parliament and mother to Elizabeth, goes through her day, planning for her party to be held in the evening. The lives of her friends and acquaintances, Peter a former lover who wanted to  marry her and has just returned from India; the people Clarissa sees in the park as she walks through, Rezia and Septimus, he a war veteran suffering from what we now call post -traumatic stress and his wife, who he met and married in Italy. There are many other intertwined lives and emotions described, but I think what struck me on this re-read was how fresh it still seemed. The emotions evoked are those felt by almost all human beings and the descriptions of people and places still vivid in my mind, so lucid and elegant is the prose.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

A little less-light reading

 To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World is a fascinating and disturbing read. It's basically an investigation into the environmental harm the desire the Western world has for fast fashion, by journalist Lucy Siegle. This book covers clothing, fabrics and textiles of all sorts, as well as accessories - shoes, handbags and so on, all in great detail. The condition of cotton-pickers in the Ukraine, school age children used as forced cheap,labour; thesweatshop conditions in garment manufacturers in India, and the hand -sewing of sequins by home workers, again in India alll make me look at cheap garments more cynically.The use of animal skins and furs for clothing or accessories is having a disastrous affect on wild animals, despite suppliers saying they use "farmed" animals. The Ganges is in parts of India where it is used as a sewer for the tanning industries, virtually dead. I'm not a particular fan of cheap, fast fashion, but it is sometimes very difficult to find midle-of-the- road priced fashion or even just wearable clothes, especially for older women. The It-bag thing has also passed me by, as I will only pay what I can afford to for a decent handbag. This book does have recommendations for a Perfect Wardrobe, which includebuying less but spending more, that is fewer but better clothes, as well as  recycling clothes by making them into something else, or altering them in other ways.

Kate Colquhoun's history of Britain through its cooking, Taste, is a fascinating discourse from on British cooking and what we Britons ate from the Iron Age through to Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver and others. Scottish, Welsh or Irish cooking. There also seems , in some parts at least, to be a concentration on what  royalty, the wealthy and powerful ate, although the author also tells how their food and tastes did trickle down to "the middling sorts" The diet, or rather lack of it, of the poor is also described in its pitiful detail, showing just how meagre it was. 38% of soldiers going to the Boer war, at the end of the nineteenth century were unfit for service, and there was little improvement by the First World War in 1914. The richness of the diet of the wealthy in Victorian times, with dinners of elaborate food in many courses and eating at equally elaborately decorated dining tables highlights the contrast well. This is a detailed history of mainly English food and how it has changed and developed over centuries, and certainly well worth a read.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

July reads

Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question, David Mitchell Black Swan Green , Meera Syall Life isn't all Ha Ha, Hee Hee, and Josph O'Connor Ghost Light were all read his month and a good mixed bag it was . All interesting, mostly character rather than plot driven but all adding to my reading pleasure and interest. Oddly enough, three out of the four were read for book club or reading group, so although not all my personal choice, they were all good reads, although good in this context does have a variety of meanings.
The Finkler Question, reviewed here, and which won last year's Booker Prize, is a wonderfuly readable winner, about Jewishness and its complexity as well as male friendship, love and loss. The quality of Jacobson's writing was what kept my interest, as much as the themes. Jewish humour is evident, reminding me of a novel by Leo Rosten called the Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N, which I read several decades ago,, and which was extremely funny. I loved Howard Jacobson's characters, especially Treslove, with his constant questiioning.
David Mitchell's Black Swan Green was entirely different, life in a rural village as seen by adolescent Jason Taylor, a secret poet, an undisclosed stammerer and schoolboy. Jason's life with his increasingly distant to each other parents, and his older sister Julia is beautifully described along with his difficulties of hiding his stammer from his  bullying schoolmates and some teachers. Jason's need to be accepted by his peers wars with his desire to be an indiviual, with some amusing results. The 1982 setting , with references to Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands war rang very true, as well as Jason's keenness on computer games. A beautiful read.
Life isn't all Ha Ha, Hee, Hee by Meera Syal is the story of the friendship of three Asian women, Chila, Sunita and Tania, who have all known and looked out for each other since their schooldays. Chila, regarded as slow by most people, is getting married to Deepak, a playboy type. The three women friends lives are presented first, then later the views of their menfolk, Sunita's husband Akach, Tania's English husband Martin and Deepak. Although the story is written with a light touch, the themes it covers are serious enough: marriage, work for women, especially those in the Asian community, relationships within the family between parent and child, education for women, and the possibility of change and what that may bring.
Joseph O'Connor's Ghost Light is beautifully and almost poetically written. The story of Molly Allgood, brought up in the tenements of Dublin, recalling her memories and life as an actress while living in bleak post -war London. Molly's life included John Synge as her lover, as well as two marriages, divorce, widowhood. Her life as a down and out actress in London is bleakly drawn, while her memories of her affair with Synge are warm, tender and delicate. Although I found this a little slow to start, the sheer quality of the writing soon drew me along, and I began to care deeply for Molly and the trials of her and her lover's life.

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