Finding the time to ‘stand and stare’. It seems like only last week I was lamenting the end of the summer holidays and somehow the children and I were trying to get back into the school routine of early mornings; bundling everyone into the car on time, usually while someone is carrying their shoes and someone else has a drooping backpack half-open with books threatening to make a bid for freedom. We’ve just about got organised, the daily drill has almost fully fallen back into place and now here we are eagerly looking forward to the two week autumn holiday known as les vacances de la Toussaint.
Time flies, and as the days zip past, I sometimes feel we see little more than what is right in front of our noses, whether it’s the computer screen, the piles of paperwork, laundry (oh, the endless laundry with a large family), more paperwork or the garden that is crying out for some attention and a house that is bellowing ‘clean me’ even louder.
Earlier this week I had my eyes opened a little in a different direction. You know when you drive a terribly familiar route, one can lapse into auto-pilot, not even really seeing the traffic, but lost in your own world and thoughts. I had a trip like that on Monday, driving home from school, with the car quiet and empty, just me and Evie, my constant companion. It’s not a long journey, just ten minutes or so, but it’s amply long enough for me to be alone with my thoughts which is something of a rarity in my life. Ahead the road was blocked; a combine harvesting the corn had broken down and the few cars that used the road were being diverted. I was sent down narrow lanes I had never driven before and by and by I passed an old farmhouse unknown to me, just opposite was a field full of sheep, something of a rarity as we don’t see many around here. What’s more, they had recently been shorn, and with the sharp chill of the mornings this week I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them, thinking they must be feeling cold without their wooly jumpers to keep them warm. I was annoyed I had forgotten my camera; Monday mornings are even more rushed than normal as everyone seems to always get up a few minutes later after the weekend! I only had my phone but I stopped for a second, snapped away and promised myself I would come back.
Of course, one of the many things I love about writing this blog is that it has opened my eyes to so much around me, to places and views that before I would probably have passed with just a cursory glance. Now though, I find myself permanently on the look out for new things, and I imagine how they would appear to someone who doesn’t know the area, or perhaps to someone who has never visited France. Anyway, the next day I gulped my morning coffee, left my paperwork in a neat pile until I returned, hung the laundry on the line to appease some of my guilt, and then sneaked off for an hour or so to explore with my camera.
First I went back to photograph the sheep.
and then I turned around to an old unused barn behind me.
I seemed to see wood stacked in readiness wherever I roamed.
I drove down familiar and unfamiliar narrow streets
and I checked on some houses that I have watched being slowly renovated all year long
One particular building, below, has been a work in progress for what seems like forever, I found this photo I took when the builders first moved in.
It’s an important village house of some standing, originating from around 1750, and although it’s been a major restoration process it seems the end is nigh. I am still undecided about the red shutters though and I’d love to know what you think? Perhaps it’s because I am addicted to the more subtle tones of greys and blues.
I then I came across this archway on the outskirts of another village
Intrigued I parked and wandered inside, conscious that I was probably trespassing but keen to know more.
A little google research when I got home told me that what at first appears to be a ‘folly’ is actually a pigeonnier that once belonged to the L’abbaye de Montierneuf. Most of the ruins which date back to 1072, are situated on private property, scattered amongst the adjoining houses and after 20 years of restoration work are apparently soon to be opened to the public. The pigeonnier was classified as an historical monument in 1951 and the archway was registered as an historical monument in 1941.
Leaving behind the mysterious pigeonnier I went for a walk, the temperature was perfect, neither too hot nor too cold.
But as is my wont, I lingered a little too long. I should have been clock-watching as Millie came out early from school and so returning to the car I took what I thought would be a shortcut. It wasn’t! Furthermore I got distracted by this little chap who the moment I stopped came up to the fence to say hello. I felt so guilty I didn’t even have a mint for him, for I have never in my life met a horse or pony that doesn’t like mints, but I did give his face a good rub, entwining my fingers in his comical mane which stood straight up like a wire brush.
Of course I was late picking Millie up; fortunately, or unfortunately, this is a far too common occurrence and she was not in the least bit perturbed. With a scant amount of homework to do that day she was more than happy to come and do some further exploring with me and together we set off in the opposite direction to home, not knowing where we were going.
We found some ancient sandstone cliffs
and an old communal wash house, long since disused
and we skipped down a couple of narrow alleyways with great curiosity, never knowing where we would end up.
In the midst of nowhere we came across a modern barn, its south facing roof covered in solar panels, an increasingly common occurrence in rural France as farmers make ends meet. With grants, tax credits, interest-free loans and other benefits, solar power is a viable way to produce additional income, whether one uses some of the power for domestic use, or whether one sells it back to EDF (Électricité de France) for five times the amount you pay for your domestic units. It’s a win-win situation, apparently.
The next morning, I grabbed my camera before leaving with the children. No, we weren’t early enough to be able to stop and take photos, but I did hand it to Hetty, beside me in the front seat, and I gave her a thirty second crash-course in how to use it. We all knew the sun would blind us as we reached the brow of the hill and I slowed the car just a fraction (not much as, surprise surprise, we were on the verge of running late) and she clicked away through the windscreen as we raced on towards school.
By the time I had dropped them off and returned, the ‘light’ was mostly all over and the clouds were already closing in. Timing is everything!
I stopped and snapped away nonetheless. Not every day can have blue skies, and not every photo can have perfect light; but even without those attributes we can surely still appreciate what has stood for centuries, and what we take for granted is of course actually history, and there are so many scenes in France that could tell a thousand stories if only they could speak.