I've transferred some posts from my first blogsite to this one. They go back to my arrival in France, and are accompanied by some pictures. I hope that friends will visit me here. I've visited the blogs of others who use blogger, and didn't have to sign up to view them. At any rate I'm going to keep this one up--I hope!
Québecois are a philisophical bunch. We knew winter would catch up with us, we just didn't know when. So we just enjoyed the mild weather which lasted until a couple of weeks ago. Now, the shoveled snow on the path to the parking lot is hip-high, and we had a -35F (with wind chill factor) day Wednesday. Things are normal.
Actually, it's not the cold, the ice or the snow that bothers us, it's the length of the winter and the shortness of the days. Ask any Québecois (Kay-beh-kwah), and that's what they say. We all agree that February is the longest month of the year. Yes, we're aware that there are only 28/29 days in that month, but it stands between January, when the return of light begins, and March, when melt-off starts. Okay, the middle of March!
I never appreciated the difference between the seasons when I was growing up. Mainly because in Oklahoma, the difference is not that appreciable. Also, because I enjoyed hurrying out to build a snowman before the meagre snowfall melted. Didn't matter that the doomed snowperson (hope you like that bow to politically correctness) was marred by dead grass sticking out all over his person. Children delight in snow, and only realize it's cold when they can't feel their toes.
The farther north one goes, the shorter the days in winter and the longer it lasts. Spring here is a true celebration. People open windows closed since late October, and the sounds of life--dogs barking, children calling to each other, cars passing, the distant hoot of trains--comes in. We realize that we've forgotten what it means to be connected to a world larger than the one comprised by our homes and offices. The silence of death--for winter is the apparent death of nature--is broken by spring and the accompanying joyous noises of rebirth.
To me, the meaning of Christmas and Easter are spoken loudly in the return of light which begins in late December, and the glorious burst of colour, earthy smells and birdsong which comes with spring. To know that in the depths of darkness, The inextinguishable Light of the World shines, and in spring, that which seemed dead comes to life, is heightened by the witness of nature herself.
If you celebrate Christmas as a mere Winter Festival, and Easter as the time for chocolate, bunnies and flowers, it still expresses the longing to live in glorious light and to believe that life is stronger than death.
Labels: From darkness to light
I'm finally taking up my description of the trip we made to the Puy en Vellay. The photo shows the two major attractions of this village dating from Roman times. The statue of Our Lady of France is highest in the picture. It was made of melted-down canons taken from Sebatapol. The rock on which it stands, the Corneille, is a vestige of an ancient volcano.
The church in the foreground, St-Michel d'Aiguilhe, named for St. Michael the Archangel. Aiguilhe is old French spelling for aiguille, which means needle. The church does indeed appear to stand on a sharp point of land. This "needle" is another volcanic witness.
The lighted steeple in the distance is a cathedral dedicated to the Mother of Christ, and dates from medieval times. The path to the church is a tortuous climb over cobblestoned streets, which kindly builders have built in degrees, like steps. As we climed to the cathedral, me huffing and puffing, an elderly woman, loaded down with what seemed like garbage bags, climbed ahead of us. Does she do this every day, I wondered?
From the cathedral, a path leads up to the statue of Our Lady of France. My son and family climbed up there, but I was out of breath and my legs were rubber. I stayed at a resting place, caught my breath and got some postcards and a lace bookmark at the souvenir shop conveniently placed opposite my resting bench.
The lace made by the ladies of Puy en Vellay is famous for its delicacy and beauty. I can't remember the name of the technique, but it's worked with spindles, with whirl about in the fingers of these ingeneous women with the speed of light!
Puy en Vellay was one of the major points for pilgrims on the medieval road to St. James of Compostello in Spain. Chaucer immortalized the road in not-so-reverent tone.
I've not described the wonders of the cathedral, because I'm not good at descriptions of architecture, but it is indeed a marvel.
Labels: Puy en Vellay
I arrived back from Clermont yesterday. Si-i-i-gh! Snow on the ground in Québec City, but nowhere near the usual for this time of year.
My younger son, who lives in Montréal, picked me up from the Dorval airport, and we had coffee and pastry before I took the bus home. That helped a lot to ease me back to North America!
I will finish my comments on sights in the Arvergne, after my head adjusts to everyday life.
Labels: Return home
Happy New Year to all! The weather here is more like September than January. No snow in sight, sun and sweater temperature. My first green Christmas since I moved to Canada! Don't mind it at all!
I will return to finish the description of our Thursday excursion, and have another one to tell you about, too. A bientôt!
Labels: Happy New Year
Each couple brought a dish to the party--my daughter-in-law made a to-die-for cheesecake, and everything else was delicious, too. With so many different nationalities present, conversation was stimulating, as was hearing how each overcame the difficulties of fitting into a different culture and language.
Thursday, we all got in the car and drove south to a village called Puy-en-Vellay. This town dates even before Roman times, and has two amazing sites, both of which are tall, chimney-like structures. These are actually volcanic chimneys, whose surrounding volcanos crumbled to the ground ages ago. Atop one, the Mont St-Michel, is a church. How the building materials were hoisted up this fantastically high mount is a mystery to me!
To be continued...
Chocolate! Did someone say chocolate? Chocolate is in the air, chocolate is on the table, chocolate is in gift packages from the neighbors. There's a kind which seems traditional at this time of year. Little oblong chocolates wrapped in coloured foil and fringed at the ends. They resemble tiny Christmas Crackers. Inside, nuts, unctious chocolate filling, coconut, etc. I've saved quite a few of these wrappers for ATC-making. At every home one visits, there's a dish of these little chocolates to pass around.
Today, walking the winding streets, we found a hot Chestnut vendor and each got a newspaper-wrapped cone. My first time eating this delight--delicious!
We walk everywhere, because there are virtually no places to park a car and run in to a store. My son rents a space for his car in a garage not too far from the house, and there it stays, unless the distance is too great. One day this week, some not-too-brilliant person parked a car in front of our house. When the garbage truck came by, the driver honked for some time, then gave up. He got out of the truck, moved the car as far as he could onto the sidewalk (yes, moved it with no instrumental help), then drove on by, scraping the car in passing.
To all a Merry Christmas!
Inside, the impression is very different. Light streams through the stained-glass windows like rainbows. The floor is the original stone--not volcanic rock! Some of these stones have been worn smooth by the thousands of feet which have trod it. There are no benches, just unpadded chairs, bound together in rows by iron bars across their backs. Want to kneel down? You kneel on the floor! Hardy people, the French!
I love simply walking the streets, because there's always a surprise tucked in somewhere. The names of some, for instance. There's the "rue des bottiers", or "bootmakers' street". This reveals that the street existed in the days when all shoes were handmade, and the makers tended to locate on the same street, family, apprentices and all. There's also the street of the butchers.
Whether there is a street of the bakers or pastry makers, I don't know, but I can tell you that you don't have to walk far to find a bakery or pastry shop. Anything you buy is made that day, and designed to increase your waistline! My son often goes out early to walk the dog and comes back with fresh croissants for breakfast. Am I dreaming?
I've got to remember to take my camera the next time I wander the winding, two-horse-wide streets! As I walked up one such street, I saw the little tourist "train" (it's like several suvs strung together), stopped for who-knows-what-reason, cars lined up behind him. There's no room to pass on some of these streets. As I walked on the curving passage, more and more cars were revealed. There must have been the equivalent of two blocks of motorists patiently waiting. No honking or yelling, and most of them would not have been able to see what was holding up traffic.
Labels: Unusual art
The town is surrounded by wooded hillsides, most of which were volcanoes. There are, in fact, hundreds of extinct volcanoes in the region, covered with grass and benign-looking, giving no hint to the terror they must have caused to the human and animal residents of the time.
At the top of the tallest of these volcanoes is a Roman temple, now in ruins, but once a huge and impressive edifice. Negotiations are taking place between the provincial and national governments for complete restoration of the temple. Given that governments the world over move with glacier speed when it comes to deciding who will invest the most money in a project, it will be lucky if my great-great grandchildren will see the restoration realised.
Labels: Arrival in Clermont-Ferrand