Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gee It's Good to be Back Home

Been away so long I hardly knew the place
Gee it's good to be back home
Leave it till tomorrow to unpack my case
Honey disconnect the phone
I'm back in the good old USA
You don't know how lucky you are boy
Back, back in the USA.
(Adapted from the Beatles)

We’re back home in Moab and have resumed our normal lives. It was a long trip from Leran to Moab and it makes me think of how easy it is for some of our friends to take a flight from cities in England to Carcassonne. Our trip was a little more complicated.

Jo Heritage took us to the airport in Toulouse and we deposited Fergus into his "niche" at the counter. He was not too excited abut crawling into his dungeon, but I think, this time, he knew we would pick him up at the other end.

We were virtually the last to board the flight and I soon found that Nancy’s arranging bulkhead seats for us to accommodate my bad knee had backfired. The bulkhead seats on the European Airbus were 16" wide and didn’t have movable armrests. I barely fit into the seat and I groaned at the thought of eight hours with my butt wedged into a bucket. The nice folks at Air Transat gave me the last club class seat available and I flew in relative comfort with free wine and extra service. But free wine at 9:30 in the morning is not that big of a plus. Nancy remained back in the cattle-car class eating plastic cheese sandwiches.

We flew into Montreal, picked up Fergus and breezed through Canadian customs. We drove a rental towards Burlington, Vermont. Our niece, Anna who is just completing her PhD/MD at the University of Vermont was on a shift that wouldn’t get her home till 8:00 the following morning. We were jet lagged and crashed into bed after watching some good old American Football. Naturally, we were still on European time and were wide awake at 2:00 am. We couldn’t wait for Anna to get home and so we set off to return the rental car and head west, towards Utah, at about 2:45 am in pitch blackness. We stopped for the night outside of Erie, Pennsylvania, then east of Des Moines, Iowa and then Denver where we stayed with my family.

We are back in the land of the large. Everything is bigger in America. Our British friend Billy makes fun of that statement, but it’s true. The roads are wider, the cars are bigger, houses are mini-castles. The grocery stores are cavernous and the onions are grandiose. They serve huge platters of food in the restaurants, the beds in the motels are king size, the bathrooms are luxurious. The people are bigger (I’m proof of that). The airline seats are wider. The distances are greater. American miles are longer than the French kilometers. You get the idea. It’s not necessarily good, but it’s true.

It was nice to be able to listen to the radio and understand not just some, but every word. NPR is pretty easy to find most places. Presidential politics dominated the airwaves on radio and television. But American television news is probably the world’s greatest disappointment after Wonder Bread. Would it kill them to actually talk about the issues for a change?

Bien sur, it’s good to be home, but we already miss Leran. Nancy resumes her job at Wabi Sabi and I go back to the hardware store and it’s like we’ve never been gone.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Day Trip to Peyrepertuse

We made our last tourist excursion of the summer over to the Aude and to the castle of Peyrepertuse. Drew and Joan Rothrock had visited there on their way over to Leran for our purchase of the house last May. We had seen their pictures and used some on the blog and had wanted to visit. It was an architecturally fascinating place, more so than Rocfixade or Montsegur, two other Cathar castles in the Ariege. I found two things outstanding. One was the outdoor staircase, called the Saint Louis Staircase, which should be the first picture. It was interesting because it was carved from existing limestone. I can't even imagine how much effort and time that it would have taken. Due to the traffic over the 800 years of their existence, they have become polished and slippery smooth. King Louis of France, now called Saint Louis, commissioned the steps to be built in the most efficient and cost effective manner. And so they carved them from stone.
The second thing I found fascinating was the latrine. Latrines are things that seem to get ignored in history books, but of course are essential. Nancy is standing at the entrance, and I can imagine it once had a wooden or fabric door. The other picture shows the opening she is facing, with iron bars to prevent anyone from entering though it, or perhaps as a seat. I would assume it would take a rather dedicated attacker to wade through the pile of filth at the base of the cliff, climb the cliff, shimmy up the outhouse hole and through the bars. If you look at the second picture, and look near where the three windows are on the right side, you can imagine the latrine being below them at the base of the structure.
The location was first occupied during Roman times but the castle wasn't mentioned in writing until 1070. By 1258, it was one of the premier fortifications in the French defense of their realm against the Spanish in Aragon. As you drive towards the castle, it is difficult to pick out where the natural stone ends and the structure begins. It has had a long and colorful history, and if you want to know more you can "google" Peyrepertuse.
Some of the other pictures are of Peyreperutse from below, the stairway in the upper fortress, and a view of the landscape below, where you can just make out the Queribus chateau. Remember, click on 'em to enlarge 'em.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Desperately Seeking.......

Help Wanted:

Leran Correspondent/s for

In our absence for an unspecified period of time, northofandorra is seeking a qualified individual or individuals to provide timely updates to the blog administrators' West of Andorra remote headquarters. In lieu of qualified applicants, any interested party will be solicited.

Job-sharing encouraged in order to reduce stress and promote diversity. Benefits include: absolutely no monetary remuneration, seeing your name in print, an occasional ride in Old Smokey to the Mirepoix dechetterie, and choice of by-line or nom de plume status.

Camera, basic knowledge of grammar, punctuation and northofandorra philosophy and mission statement are preferred. Samples of writing may be submitted in print, video or public performance.

Last Vestiges of Summer

The first sign for me that summer is slowly drifting into autumn is always the shorter days. Fergus has heightened this awareness. We have two huge veluxes (skylights) at 14 Rue du Four, capturing the first rays of dawn. Fergus is ever-keen at logging as many walks as possible during the day, so during June and July he was alerting us to this breaking news regularly at 05:00. He's now slacking off sometimes until well past 06:00.

Sunflowers, hundreds of fields in staggered plantings, are all in various stages of dreary to dead. Birds are feasting on the seeds without waiting for them to be processed and bagged. Lac de Montbel is used up, significantly down from even the high water mark this year. The waters siphoned off for irrigation, it is no longer the madhouse scene of swimming and boating activities earlier this summer.

Fall foliage is beginning to do its thing, as daylight diminishes. These are some of the "first days of crispness", those cool invigorating mornings that energize you. These are the days that thankfully begin to put the mouche to bed, and it's time to tie back the mouche rideau until next summer.

No Flies Need Apply

It was a bumper crop of flies in Leran this summer. Although we only have one summer to compare it to, this notion was confirmed by numerous others. That's scientific enough for me. I don't know the explanation for the plague, but hopefully it has passed on to some other deserving village.

There are few screens on windows here, except for an occasional homemade one. If you consider that every window on the village houses would require a custom-sized screen, maybe swatting a few flies is easier. But this summer one could develop rotator cuff problems. And our first French fly swatter broke off bit-by-bit with each hit, a somewhat lacking quality in a weapon. Neighbor Alan donated what he promised to be the 'end-all-be-all' in fly swatters, but for every one we kill another appears. It is questionable whether we were helping or hindering the problem.

In summer, the doors of the old timer Leranaise (and early-adopter newbies) are distinctively decorated with jangly curtains. The mouche rideau---fly curtain. It reminds me of my old hippie days. Some look like giant soft pipe cleaners, others are multi-colored plastic strips, beaded glass or metal chains. Some boast colorful patterns of flowers, farm animals or pastoral scenes. They shimmer in the sun, blow in the breeze, get caught in the doorway and break off. But they swear by them. Even once I saw an elderly neighbor inadvertently (I think) smoking the end of one strip in his pipe. Lucky for him, it was the 'pipe cleaner' variety.

We must fall into the category of laggards, since we have not yet succumbed. I was just waiting until I found a "Worst.President.Ever" mouche rideau.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Leaving Home or Going Home?

The clock is ticking. At 05:00 Sunday morning we'll be saying goodbye to Leran once again. It is a bittersweet departure for us. We are especially anxious, in this year of the most critical presidential election of our lives, to listen non-stop to National Public Radio or CNN TV news. We won't breathe until it's over.

But we leave behind what has become our Leran family. With our second summer at 14 Rue du Four under our belts, we now have that sense of 'belonging'. In Leran we discovered a community---friendly, funny, welcoming, real. Brits, Aussies, Irish, Canadians, and, yes, of course, French. And a couple Americans.

Last evening, at Le Rendez-Vous, our little Leran family hosted a send-off party for Doug and I. It was like the continuation of the Marche Nocturne. Pichets of rouge, rose, and blanc constantly appeared; and bountiful plates of scrumptious finger foods lined the banquet table. Mushroom samosa, quiches, saussices, smoked salmon and cheeses---Shirley, who has been in a cooking frenzy all summer in the bar's kitchen, offered to cook for us. To all who organized and sponsored and attended the gala event, thanks and thanks again.

A question lingers: are we leaving home or going home? It may be a family secret.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Carte Postale

My 2008 vide grenier finale occurred today, Sunday, in Lavelanet. Unlike the advertising protocol of most vide greniers, I never saw one leaflet or road sign announcing it. I would have been kept completely in the dark if not for the website haphazardly maintained. Sometimes there are shoe boxes of old sepia or black and white photos and post cards, usually in no particular order. This morning I flipped through a well-organized photo album of old carte postales, painstakingly arranged by village within region and department. Lo and behold, there's two from Leran! I bought the one for 2 Euro, marked down from 10 Euro because the edge had been charred (all the more character I thought). Plus, it had actually been stamped and mailed from Leran.

As we started studying the photo, Doug noticed how tall the plane trees on Cours St. Jacques were in 1915. They hadn't started pollarding them yet. We believe the perspective of the photo is looking down Cours St. Jacques to the east. The name of the recipient, Madame Laurence Labadie, rang a familiar note to Doug. He remembered seeing the name "Labadie" on the deed to our house at 14 Rue du Four. He was correct. At one time, a Labadie family owned our village house.

Could it have been that Antoinette Jeanne was also a Labadie, perhaps sitting in the the very corner where I am now, dashing off a 'souvenir de Leran' to her aunt or grandmother? She wishes her a "gros baise" (big kiss) and signs off.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Goodbye Mr. Chip

Rachel and Gary left this morning for Toulouse, then Amsterdam, Detroit, and home to Phoenix, Arizona. They were busy, busy, busy for nine days. We took them to various markets and attractions throughout the Ariege. We attended market day in Mirepoix, as well as visits to Chalabre, Camon, Pamiers, Fanjeaux, l'eglise at Vals and vide greniers in Hounoux and Esclagne. We even had lunch in Puigcerda, Spain. We visited a winery, had a private tour, sampled nearly every bottle and bought more than a few. We had lunch in Mirepoix, dinners at the bar in Leran, and overindulged at the last Marche Noctune Leran of the season.

On their own, Gary and Rachel visited Limoux, Montsegur, Fontestorbes, the prehistory museum in Tarascon, and the walled cite of Carcassonne. They became familiar with all the rascals and rogues in our village as well as some of our friends. They met Ellie and her sidekick, Abby, two nine year old girls who run, bike and skate around Leran, and who seem to know everyone in the village

We had a few disappointments too. Nancy, Gary and Rachel got to take a short, but not so scenic ride on the Little Yellow Train. We had misread the schedule and didn't realize until we were at the ticket counter, that the train we wanted to ride out of La Tour de Carol was not running in September. I drove the gang over to a nearby town, they got on the train and I picked them up back in La Tour de Carol, a 40 minute ride. That gave us time to have lunch in Spain, and drive over the Col de Puymorens, high up in the Pyrenees. The ride on the scenic portion of the Little Yellow Train will have to wait till next year.

And one disaster, or near disaster. The outcome is still up in the air. Rachel was looking at her photographs on the computer. She removed the chip from the computer and set it in her lap. A little while later she was in the kitchen and she noticed Fergus chewing on something...............her photo chip was being enthusiastically mangled. When she stood up the chip had slipped off her lap and Fergus found it. She was able to retrieve the chip but was devastated. Rachel had some 700 photos on that chip and she was sure they were gone like smoke. Nancy googled "dog chewed digital memory photo card" and learned that the photos can most likely be restored. Apparently it's not the first time. We can hope.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

La Galerie de Leran

Through a narrow passageway at the end of Rue du Four sits an imposing house on Cours St. Jacques. But, like most village houses in France, it's not what you see from the street that is most captivating. The home of Andy and Amanda Attenburrow, Le Castelou, falls into this category. During the month of August, in the Galerie, garden and adjoining salon rooms, several local artists displayed theirs works. It never ceases to amaze us, that for a village the size of Leran, there is always something going on.

The large balls fascinated me. The artist worked with inflatable exercise balls, covered with layers of paper, an incision made to remove the ball, then covered with hundreds of copies of her personal photos.

At Le Castelou, Amanda teaches watercolor and collage classes. Students are housed in one of the several renovated rooms, now part of their Bed and Breakfast. On an easel at the entrance to the room displaying Amanda's artwork was the painting on the left entitled "Village". I kept going back to look at it and realized that Doug had done the same. Later that evening we told Andy we wanted it, and he sheepishly informed us that it wasn't really a village in France, but rather in Umbria Italy. Fine by me, I love Italy too.
Thanks to Rachel for the Photos.

My Tools of the Trade

As our summer 2008 time draws to an end in less than two weeks, I look around at how much we have accomplished....and how much is left to complete. There's always next summer. I guess we're making progress, because there's a smaller space in which to store all our leftover "stuff". The bedroom, bathroom and hallway on the deuxieme etage are no longer suitable for piling building materials. They are actual living space.

I look at my collection of supplies, the French names now almost familiar to me. I think back to the first day I attempted to buy the equivalent of our American drywall taping mud. I studied the illustrations on the buckets at BricoMarche and read my various store literature before hesitantly purchasing any enduit bande a joint. Then I braved using the dry powder topping compound for easier sanding, enduit de lissage.

I stressed the same decisions before buying what I determined to be thinset and grout for setting the tile in the bathtub---carrelage mural and joint fin blanc. The names are different, and as we are finding out everyday, there are many "false friends" in the French language. I didn't want to have bags of false friends lying around.

It seems that there is a special caulk for just about every application, and I'm working my way through the list. I know I'm a sucker for a good marketing scheme, but who am I to argue?

When it comes to painting I thought I would already feel comfortable, but that security quickly dissolved. While there are mat (flat) and satin paints, I was getting lost at the acryliques and glycerols. Murs et plafonds are walls and ceilings; monocouche indicates that it will cover in one coat. Primers are called sous couche. Most DIY stores don't offer the thousands of paint chips you'll find at Home Depot or Lowe's, so people buy huge tubs of blanc and mix their own colors.
I owe thanks to my sister-in-law Leslie for nudging me several years ago to start experimenting with paints and pigments. "You can always paint over it if you don't like it", I seem to keep hearing her saying as a way of indicating that you never really can make a serious mistake with paint. And so I have had my fun with paint and pigments. Oxide jaune, oxide de fer rouge, sienna naturelle, sienna light luberon......A little of this, a lot of that. I just keep on adding until I get something I want to look at for awhile. It's not permanent, it's forgiving, it doesn't have to last forever. And, there's always next summer.

Monday, September 1, 2008

ZOOM and Gloom


Zoom Airlines sincerely regrets to advise its customers that it has suspended operations with effect from 18:00 UTC on Thursday 28 August.

All flights scheduled to depart from have been cancelled and Zoom's aircraft have been grounded.

Both Zoom Airlines Inc and Zoom Airlines Ltd, the Canadian and UK airlines, will be filing for insolvency proceedings in their home countries today.For customers who have future travel plans involving a Zoom flight for which reservations and payment have been made, you should refer to your credit or debit card company to apply for a refund.


The email arrived in my Junk box, and I'm almost wishing I never opened it. I assumed it was confirmation of our return flight, or at worst, a slight change in schedule. But this was a slam dunk. Never saw it coming. It continued on and on, but it didn't take long to get the drift.

Our flight wasn't until September 13, so we at least had a couple weeks to recover from the shock. Imagine the people arriving at the airport to discover the ticket counter boarded up and their "vacation" in a downward spiral.

ZOOM Airlines is (was) a low-cost Canadian company, based in Ottawa. Always thought those Canucks were the most honest, reliable, trustworthy, down-to-earth folks on the planet. Our flight from Montreal to Paris was great, they treated us humanely---so much more respectful than flying the unfriendly skies of some US airports. I'm sorry they couldn't make a go of it.

We have now re-scheduled on Air Transat Airlines (an airline of unknown origin) from Toulouse to Montreal, so they have two weeks to go under. Fergus is excited, though, because we get to drop him off right at the ticket counter (in his kennel of course).