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On May 1st each year in France is a bank holiday, Labor Day, or the “Fête du Travail”. The village we live in hosts a fete called the “Fete du Bon Ange”, (the literal meaning is “Good Day Angel”) which takes place the same four consecutive dates each year. The local newsletter details the events going on each day, and much to our surprise some rather scary signs have been put up all around the village.

We went along to the opening night of the fete and experienced a bit of village life for an hour or so, although at present we still aren’t able to hold much of a conversation due to our limited knowledge of the language and their thick Provencal dialect! They have set up a HUGE bar that would rival any at Glastonbury and were selling rosé and pastis at one euro a glass – dangerous ground! The boys of the village started to sound horns resulting in people at the bar moving outside so we followed, only to then experience some young bulls and horses being wrestled to the floor and branded in preparation for the next few days ahead.

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Last night we went into the town for the “Bandido départ des Arenes”, not knowing what to expect, just that it had something to do with bulls. When we got into town there were tall metal barriers up all over the place, creating a sort of corridor along the road, and we could hear loud bangs. As we approached we saw numerous men on horses in colourful shirts herding bulls at great speed from one end of the town to the other amidst firecrackers being set off. The more brave onlookers were attempting to scare the horses, but the horses have seen it all before and weren’t at all phased!

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It was an amazing sight, as we were situated at the corner of two roads so experienced the mass of horses, bulls, riders and some crazy extras charging towards us before skidding round a sharp turn in the road in order to continue. A few of the bulls managed to escape from between the horses and dashed back in the wrong direction with people having to jump out of the way.

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This all seems to be in preparation for a big bull fight on Sunday, however they do not kill the bulls in France like in Spain, it is just for the spectacle. Over the next couple of days we have more bulls, horses, ponies, floats, ‘monumental paella’, DJs and bands to watch out for!

George and I have now had four French lessons with our teacher from Mormoiron. She offers Skype as well as face to face tuition, so given it is almost a two hour round trip by car we are already utilising the Skype option more. For our last lesson though we did opt to have a face to face class as it timed in well with the “Fête de l’Asperge” (Festival of Asparagus) being held in the village. We both love asparagus, and thought that was right up our street so scheduled one of our lessons in on the same day to make the most of having to travel the distance.

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It is asparagus season at the moment so there was asparagus soup, asparagus risotto (which we just missed out on!), and asparagus in every size and colour you could possibly imagine. You could also have a go on the tombola to win 10kgs worth! 

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The food stalls at French markets are amazing, we also got free wine and nibbles courtesy of the Marie. We negotiated our way around the stalls and managed to successfully buy some produce including saucisson, fromage, sweet onion chutney, and of course asparagus.

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We couldn’t help but thinking that what the fete should really have been called, is “Festival des Tracteurs”, The Festival of Tractors, as there were so many on display, far more than the asparagus! All different shapes, sizes, makes (including a Porsche tractor!). Seeing all of these tractors was quite apt timing as I have been embroidering a tractor onto my latest binding this week.

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The binding I have been working on has been a bit of an experiment with scarf jointing, piecing various brown and green leathers together in a sort of patchwork. I stuck the leather to the book this week, it is always the bit I fear most as I have often spent a lot of time on the body leather before it goes onto the binding. It is time-critical, you need about ten pairs of hands and to remain calm! I have the infills and doublures to put down, plus a bit of tooling to do on it. I will then have to try out my photography skills, at which point I will feature it properly in a future blog post.

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BIG NEWS! I have also made face to face contact with another bookbinder, Yohana Doudoux, who has just moved to Avignon after working with the binder Trevor Lloyd in Ludlow, UK, for the last three years. She has given me a fabulous list of French materials suppliers, plus an extensive list of bookbinding terms to try and help me translate what I might need help with buying in shops and online – this will be invaluable.

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I have still not managed to lay my hands on PVA glue although I was given an emergency ration last week! I now know that I need to look for, “colle blanche”, (meaning quite literally “white glue”). In the UK you would be able to get this at any corner shop however that doesn’t seem to be the case over here – looks like I will be turning to mail order for that one. I was also donated some absolutely wonderful veneer, which I think is a walnut burl (although I can think of a few people that would be able to correct me on that!) for one of my next bindings which I look forward to testing out on a sample board. It should come up beautifully with a wax or varnish on it and should work very well with the design I have in mind.

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Word from the garden this week is that we have planted some salad and vegetables and George has created a whole new flower bed. We bought some plants from the local village market and have spent time digging and turning the soil in the vegetable patch. Hopefully we will be living off home-grown produce before we know it and that the slugs don’t get to the lettuce before we do!

I have also been keeping a keen eye on the insects in the garden. On closer inspection, what we thought to be large bees feeding on the pollen, are in fact big beetles! They are called figeater beetles and have been happily flying around the garden making lots of noise.

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Today we are sheltering from the wind inside whilst we conjunctivate verbs and learn about “le participe passé”. The wind here in France is fierce, the “Mistral” is a strong wind that typically blows from the north or northwest. The name “mistral”, means “masterly”, and it certainly lives up to that reputation! 

Time to get back to those verbs…

À bientôt!

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