Looking out of the window, the courtyard is looking magnificent with all its hanging baskets and tubs of beautiful coloured geraniums, lavenders and herbs sitting alongside the purple wisteria. We are delighted to be able to hear a Cuckoo singing away merrily reminding us of the season change and we have discovered Wrens nesting in the old wine caves, Red-Tailed Blackstarts nesting all over the place and a large ‘mystery’ bird nesting in the outbuilding that contains the table-tennis. All are flying frantically to and fro as they endeavour to feed their young!
I have to concede I am ready for the start of some hot weather having spent the entire winter cosseted by the warm glow of a wood fire, fit for a king, courtesy of Brian’s relentless use of the axe and chainsaw in the old wood store. I often ask why he doesn’t just have it delivered cut to size, he says he likes belting three bells out of it!! I think it’s a hunter/gatherer man thing! I have also spent more time than I should watching television programmes (good for French language skills) and also the English programmes with the likes of Jamie Oliver’s tirade about the poultry industry proving to be a good topic of conversation for us as our farming life in England lead us down the path of the RSPCA Freedom Food, having 10,000 Free Range Hens besides the more conventional stock. I read that the programme had an effect of helping local farmer’s demand for lamb as consumers were turned off from eating chicken. Not for long I should imagine with the existing price differential as people start to tighten their belts! Whilst the programme tried to explain the benefits of free-range production we didn’t think that it explained the problems inherent in a free range system, (eg. the increased risk of cannibalism, disease etc)., whilst the conventionally reared flock were subject to all sorts of practices which would almost inevitably lead to greater problems than would be the norm, being continually stressed by groups of cameramen and gaping visitors would not have helped. We both get upset by these programmes but Brian is worse than me and spends his time mumbling and grumbling under his breath, with occasionally strong words erupting from the general background!
And so, Monday morning has come around which means I take my regular trip into our local town of Doué la Fontaine, to go to the market for all the usual stocking up of delicacies and fruit. This time I arrived to find there is much excitement and couldn’t believe my eyes as there were camels, both two humps and the one hump sports version, Llamas ….. yes … several on the side of the road!!! It kind of jolted my mind a bit, am I hallucinating or what? I am completely puzzled, had they escaped from the Zoo?! There they were as large as life, moving around freely, grazing on the grass verges and then I notice, alongside them, in front of the wall of the ‘builders merchants’, large cages containing real, living lions and tigers. (I feel there is a strong possibility that UK Health and Safety Officers would, at this point, have collapsed in an incoherent heap mumbling something about safety assessments), it’s very strange that France seems to have about two such officers to cover the whole of the country and they probably work part-time in the vineyards – perhaps the lions and tigers have eaten the rest. So, what was the reason for all this exotic wildlife?
A treat was in store La Cirque est arrive! ”Z A V V A T T A” Tour!!
Young men were rushing around with arms full of advertising posters, depicting fiercely snarling tigers, and ‘Rico’, a colourful clown with the customary big red nose! They were busy nailing these to trees and posts and there was a little white van with a huge loud speaker on the top circuiting the tiny rues drumming up the evening’s customers!! Oh what fun and excitement the circus magic brings with its heart stopping aerial performances and breaktaking gymnastics, clowns and jugglers! Memories of my first trip to the Circus when I was a little girl came flooding back, it was so exciting watching those big elephants, trained tigers and then there was all that laughing to the slap-stick clowns! (Brian reckons it would be even more fun if you could see the big cats actually eating the Health & Safety Officers – he’s very strange at times)! The enormous circus tent looked stunning, tall palm trees in wooden tubs were being busily transported across the road on forklift trucks towards the entrance for an elaborate effect and I suddenly felt the urge to get a couple of tickets (pure childish pleasure I know, but hey, whatever floats your boat as they say)!
And so, I searched around and finally got our tickets, hastily finished my market shopping:- large Baguette, hot, succulent Rillauds from the Rotisserie, lots of fruit Cerise, Pomme, Peche Jaune, les Huitres for Brian, Crevettes for me, Fromage and lastly, Melons (carefully chosen with tender loving care by the Monsieur who sniffs each one individually and explains he is marking this one with one cross to be eaten today, and the other with two crosses to be eaten tomorrow – I love his system)!
Then, thinking about tonight, I start to return to Le Puy Notre Dame. I just love that road as you turn the bend and start to descend down the bank, because you can see in the distance the imposing church on the hill (in the Loire of the 11thcentury the hill of Le Puy Notre Dame was known as Mary’s Mountain) rising majestically above the surrounding vineyards and patchworks of fields.
As I enter the village I see a gang of workmen busily erecting a hugely high scaffolding tower at one side of the Eglise in preparation for some work to commence (Health and Safety Officers spring to mind for a second time, because they are dangerously performing trapeze like antics up and down the poles interspersed with wobbly balancing acts … oo er…I think they have been seduced by the circus acts)! On getting closer I see there are passers-by making their way through the old church portals and the obvious reason is to view the new bell which had just been transported and placed inside the church next to the sculptured choir stalls and the ornate brass crucifix which dominates the alter.
I quickly park my car alongside many others and walk towards the church to join in to have a look as we have been waiting a long time for this moment! Wow … what I found was a magnificent piece of fine artistic craftsmanship, golden coloured and weighing in at 590 kgs – how lovely! It was hanging from scaffolding poles, magically glistening against the sunlight shining through the beautiful coloured panes of glass. On it’s
side are engraved the words, “chanter longetemps les leures, les peines et les joies d’ici-bas“-“To sing for a longtime the hours, the pain and the joy of those below”. Marvelling at what stands before me, I exchange the customary Bonjours to a group of people at the side of me, who start to explain how they had witnessed the manoeuvring difficulties of getting it carefully offloaded from the lorry and inside the church, it could not have been easy and I should imagine there had been a fair number of ‘Bonne Courages’ and ‘Attentions’ from the spectators! I am told that it is going to be left there for a few days for all to view before finally being hoisted up into its new life-long position, after all it is a once in a lifetime chance to see it before disappearing up into the belfry! I thought at long last we will once more be able to hear loud joyous peeling and we will be able to acknowledge the time of day, happy celebrations of marriage and baptism, mass, or, on the more sombre occasions when the bell changes its pace completely to a long, slow and heavy toll, for burials with the sad passing of family members or friends. As we both have agreed, village life has not been the same without a dong! There is going to be a special service on Sunday for its inauguration, and so we will be raising our glasses to celebrate the christening of our nouvelle cloche called ‘Marie Louise’ who, once more, will be ‘a ringing’ and bringing life back to the village of Le Puy Notre Dame for many centuries to come and I just can’t wait to hear it!
In fact, talking of raising our glasses, it brings to mind a recent faux pas of mine. I accepted an invitation from our friends to “arroser”, Le Coupe du Monde. This was intriguing, because as far as I knew the verb, “arroser”, simply means to water, as in garden. We promptly arrived at the said time to help to water their garden thinking they had suddenly become stricken with a maladie of some description overnight and had been incapacitated and needed our help, where the world cup came into it I had no idea! On arrival I could see I had unwittingly caused a faux pas as they were both looking very much okay, and after puzzled looks and much questioning to establish if they were both indeed well and didn’t need my assistance with the watering can, hiliarious laughter broke out between us as the situation resolved itself and the different meanings of the word was carefully explained. Arroser also means to “toast”, something, as in have a drink to. In fact, this story is continually being told to their family and friends over aperitifs, so needless to say to this day I have never lived it down, but one thing’s for sure I am now on serious ‘Red Alert’ when the word ‘that calls for a drink’ is ever mentioned and I don’t rush off for my watering can anymore!
Now I am back home I find Brian enjoying a welcome respite from renovation work, by tending to his newly created herb garden (which started out as a few plants but is now becoming a serious hobby and taking over vast pieces of the courtyard at a fast rate of knots, typical of him, it starts as a few plants and now there are more plants than in the herb garden in Montreuil-Bellay)! I tell him about the morning events (…not absolutely sure he shares quite the same enthusiasm as me about Zavatta this evening but never mind! …) and he has decided to have his ‘bell viewing’ which will, I imagine, finish up with him disappearing into the little Bar/Tabac in the nearby rue de la Collégiale, just alongside the church, where he always enjoys good company with a few of the local celebs, to drink a café/calva or two. Or, if not there, then to someone’s cave, to share their moonshine Pineau for an hour whilst they put their collective heads together to try to find a believable reason to explain to their wives or partners why it was necessary to disappear for so long in the first place! Probably the best and most believable reason would be that they had decided to, “Arroser” the arrival of the new village cloche.What else could a *Ponot do!!* (A ‘Ponot’ is a word used to describe a male inhabitant of Le Puy Notre Dame, ‘Ponette’ is the feminine version).