Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Ardèche garages

September 6, 2017

In our very hilly area, roads are not straight. They used to be straighter before the invention of the internal combustion engine, but early cars could not cope with the steep gradients which had been negotiated for centuries on foot or with animals. It has struck us that, along with the requirement to re-engineer the roads, when the first cars arrived here they presented an additional challenge – where to keep the motor?

There was often no way to park the car just outside the farm, for lack of a flat surface. The stable floors too were  on a slope (easier to clean out the muck) and were in any case inhabited by the farm animals. So a special garage was needed.

People who had the money, built their garage out of stone, and – as at Les Sarziers – they added an upper floor (in our case for the hens) and made it spacious enough to house other items (in our case, the wine vat). Our garage was built in 1936 and is conveniently located just 20 yards below the main house. The lower level once housed the previous owner’s 2CV (which unfortunately was not included in the sale). Our Walksweeks guests have probably noticed that while they are staying in our house, we decamp to what the locals still call le Garage. We actually live upstairs, which we refer to as the Doghouse (“we’re in the doghouse”: it seemed amusing at the time, and the name has stuck). It was our first restoration project 30 years ago and is a cosy place to stay, especially in the winter, when it is difficult to keep the big house warm and snug.

Over the years, we have noticed that nearly all garages in the Ardèche are separate buildings, erected close to the access road or often just in a little siding off the main road.  Somewhere where the terrain was more or less flat (can’t trust those handbrakes!”) and where it was easy to manoeuvre to join the road. As with the train stations in this area, one did not expect transport to take you to the front of your house. Arlebosc station is nearly two miles from the village, and in other remote areas you might have had to face a three hour uphill walk from La Gare to the Eglise. The novelty of the speed with which a car or a train could transport you over long distances amply made up for these minor inconveniences.

Driving around the hilly roads of the Ardèche you can’t help noticing these shacks, as most of them seem to be in strange places. They are now neglected and what was once a right angle has taken its liberty to lean where the force of gravity is the strongest. Too isolated, they are often abandoned or filled with fire wood or rusty agricultural machinery.

Understandably people are no longer prepared to add 50 yards of unnecessary walking if the car can get them to the front door and therefore in close proximity to the fridge, where most of the shopping will end up.

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In contrast, and in terms of ultimate convenience, I remember when visiting Kate’s aunt in Florida, admiring her garage, which had an interior door leading straight into her carpeted dining room. The garage felt just like another room of the house with a floor that was cleaner than a Swiss kitchen.

And there is of course the English model, where the garage is adjacent, or very close to the house, although I have noticed that in most cases they seem to be a refuge for unwanted furniture and cardboard boxes whilst the car is parked outside fending for itself.

So whether you have a garage full of junk, one that is sliding down the hill or none at all, the visual effect is the same: cars are parked as close as possible to the entrance to one’s dwelling – and why not? In the 21st century all cars seem to be pretty weatherproof and our eyes have got used to shiny colourful objects littering the countryside.

But nothing beats a construction like this ….






Brexit Bulldog*

August 22, 2017

The other day we dropped in on some English friends who have had a house here for years and years.  They come as often as they can and know the neighbourhood and all the local characters like the back of their hand.  Ever hospitable, they will drop whatever they are doing to make you a really good cup of tea, and conversation is always stimulating and lively.

This time they had been intrigued to find a  novelty in the local supermarket: a packet of Digestive Biscuits, but were somewhat miffed at the slogan on the side: “C’est anglais, mais c’est bon!”  Talking it over though, we agreed that Mc Vitie’s must have come up with, or at least approved the slogan, and that after all it was rather clever.  Playing on prejudices and national stereotypes and then gently ridiculing them might actually turn out to be more likely to unite than divide and they obviously think that this is the way to sell biscuits!

I remember ages ago in England, when Gauloise cigarettes first went on sale, seeing an advertisment depicting a packet of Gauloises with one cigarette popping its head out of the top – as it were over the parapet – and exclaiming “Sacrebleu, c’est l’Angleterre!” – a harmless piece of fun, (although of course these days completely impossible).

Two nostalgic images from the brilliant graphic designer Bernard Villemot.  For more, click here. 

It often seems to me that the much vaunted mistrust between the French and English (I cannot say if it extends to the other nations of Britain, but I rather think not) is not as hard-wired as one might suppose.  Both are intrigued by the other, wary but fascinated by unfamiliar customs – le five o’clock, le cricket, versus two hour lunch breaks, the inability to form an orderly queue, andouillette  – hampered by inadequate language skills, but circling around each other, in the manner of unacquainted dogs, and admiring a certain style, un je ne sais quoi about their neighbours.

Eurostar Advertising campaigns frequently use this technique to good effect.  Here are a few examples, although it’s interesting to note that the ads for London are much wittier and  more sharp edged than the generally rather predictably sugary images chosen for Paris.

London first:

And Paris:

So to come to the dreaded B word – which we tried to avoid with our friends, but which only left us with the dreaded T word to fall back on – for all our differences, France is horrified at the imminent prospect of Britain leaving the EU.  The shock and surprise was palpable the day after the referendum.  Now nobody talks about it and everyone hopes that it will just go away.  Europe in general seems to be stongly attached to this complicated neighbour, who drives on the wrong side of the road, and is now preparing to drive away altogether, leaving an irregular, island-shaped hole in the map of Europe.


Who knows how things will pan out?  In the case that residency rights are not sorted satisfactorily, Markus and I will be relying on our Swiss passports and the bilateral agreements that canny Switzerland has been quietly putting in place for many years.  Yes, that oddly shaped white hole in the heart of Europe!  Now there’s another complicated and widely misunderstood neighbour!  Toblerone* anyone?


*With apologies to Dead Ringers

Photo credits, Leg and TWBA Agencies, Samuel Akesson, Mike Gordon & Steve Ubly


Et ça swingue aux Sarziers

August 10, 2017


When we found Les Sarziers 30 years ago, Kate fell in love with the spectacular view over the Doux Valley and I a was taken by the enclosed courtyard of the house.

Last Sunday 150 people shared our love of Les Sarziers by first having a drink in the garden and then moving via dinner under the horse chestnut tree to the courtyard for our annual summer concert.

We organised our first summer concert five years ago and since then had on average a audience made up of friends of around 60 to 80 people.

Last Sunday the number of spectators doubled and there was a slight flair of Woodstock in the air. Not really surprising as we had invited 8 musicians and 2 professional dancers to join me (on the trumpet) and Kate (singing).

The programme was made up of music to dance to from the Golden Age of American Jazz. Tunes that everyone can hum along with, like “Ain’t misbehaving”, “Bei mir bist Du Scheen”, “After you’ve Gone”, “Why don’t you Do Right”, “It don’t mean a Thing” etc.

Towards the end Les Sarziers Junction became Tuxedo Junction and the dancing spread onto the “stage”. The weather could not have been more perfect and the full moon accompanied us all along.

Many thanks to my sister Vreni and my brother-in-law Jürg for setting up and helping with the logistics of catering and of course thanks to “my Band” of the night:

Linda Gallix (Keyboard), Kate (Voice), Emilie Blache (Voice), Jean-Pierre Almy (Tuba, Bass, Harmonica), Nicolas Thé (Drums), Anthelme Millon (Guitar), Manu Falguière (Cornet), Hans Verschoor (Trombone), Thomas (Washboard), Christophe and Arnaud (Bass), Jean-Yves and Ashley, who joined us spontaneously on a couple of numbers and of course Jean-Phi and Emilie for their dance demos.


Photos by Sabine Carlier and Brice Banchet

Emerveillé par l’Ardèche

June 22, 2017

Our départment changes its slogan almost as frequently as you or I change our socks, and “Emerveillé par l’Ardèche”  is its latest version.  Overwrought and almost unpronounceable as it seems to us, we had to think again yesterday when we encountered a couple of Belgian tourists who were, literally, amazed by the secrets that the Ardèche has up its sleeve.

It is boiling hot at les Sarziers and we had planned a day out in the mountains to cool off.   So we headed to le Cheylard and from there into the region of the Boutières, a dramatic landscape of sucs – the local term for long-extinct volcanic domes – plunging gorges and wide sweeping vistas.  At around 1,300 m altitude the air was pleasantly cool, the fields still full of late spring flowers, and in the hedges the elder was in full bloom.

We headed towards the little village of Borée because we wanted to take another look at an unusual work of land art which we had first seen soon after its inauguration in 2008.

Nine years later, the work has settled into its site, the rocks have weathered on their more exposed sides, tiny bilberry bushes have taken root in some of the crevices and the sheep, who crop the hillside, have scooped out comfy places for themselves to shelter from bad weather in the lee of the taller stones.

The work,  known as the Tchier de Borée, consists of 70 irregular shaped stones, set upright in a circular pattern around a roughly paved area, with an omphalos at its centre.  Many of the stones are carved with inscriptions, symbols, runes and sculpted figures and the whole thing has a fantastically complex and symbolic meaning for its creators, Serge Boyer and Fabienne Versé.  If you are interested you can find out more here (bi-lingual text).

Whether or not you subscribe to their mystical view, this is a stunning artwork which communicates on many levels.  It is perfectly set in the landscape, on a fairly steep slope opposite the little granite village.

The stones themselves are of irregular shape, and as you walk around the geometry constantly shifts as you see them from different perspectives and in different alignments.  The stunning backdrop of the mountains frames the work dramatically and in some cases the stones have been chosen to echo the natural shape of the sucs, blending the artistic with the natural rock formations.

For a long time we were the sole visitors, the silence only broken by birdsong, crickets, the humming of insects and the sound of cowbells carrying from across the valley.  The stones had been warmed to body heat by the sun and leaning against them gave you a comfortable feeling, as if you were resting against the flank of a docile animal.

As we watched, a magnificent thunderstorm approached from the south, with spectacular lightning flashes and rumbles of thunder.

And it was at this point that we noticed the couple, wandering amongst the stones, visibly impressed and also puzzled.  They asked us what we could tell them about the work and we got into conversation.

They were staying further south, near Privas and, like us, had come up to the Boutières to escape the heat.  The day before, they had stumbled upon the abandoned abbey at Mazan – perched improbably in the middle of nowhere at an altitude of 1,446 metres, and told us that they thought it was amazing.  Today, they had been looking for a hamlet where the houses still have the traditional roofs thatched with broom.  But as the storm approached and they headed away from it towards Borée they caught sight of the unusual pattern of rocks and came to investigate.

There is absolutely no information sign, nothing but this little hand painted notice asking visitors to keep the gate shut so that the sheep can’t get out.

No leaflets, no entrance fee, no interactive screens – it is left up to the visitor to stumble upon this enigmatic work of art and ….. to be amazed.


Les Bœufs

April 9, 2017

It’s high time to get busy in the veg patch.  We borrow a machine rather like this one to turn ours over (though we don’t usually bother with the fancy get-up) and already the onions, shallots and radishes are up and running.

Man (and woman) have been tilling the soil since time immemorial of course, and very soon cottoned on to the idea of getting some four-footed assistance.

However, inspiring obedience and co-operation from the workforce is clearly not always plain sailing, as these Roman mosaics from Sicily illustrate.  So we were interested to see how Michel, one of the last farmers in France who still works with teams of oxen, manages his beasts.  The comité des fêtes organised a showing of “le Dernier Paysan” last Saturday.  It was a wet and windy afternoon, not conducive to gardening, so we went along.

The hall was packed and the documentary was highly appreciated by a well-informed rural audience who kept up a running commentary on the action.  Markus said it was like being at a football match!  We learned a great deal: for example that he shoes his oxen himself, with nifty little half-hoof slippers which are nailed, cold, onto the outside of the hoofs of the forelegs only.  It was fascinating to see how a pair of animals were yoked together, in strict order of seniority, using a prescribed number of turns of the leather strap – three times round the right horn, once round the head to hold the fronton and three times round the left horn.  It’s a laborious job and one can imagine the success that this invention for speeding things up probably must have had.  On the other hand it looks less comfortable for the animals.

Then leather fringes were buckled on to protect them from the flies and wire mesh muzzles to prevent them from snacking whilst on the job.  All this before harnessing up the two pairs and attaching them to the cart or plough or reaper-binder, depending on the task in hand.  Michel invariably talked to his animals in Auvergnat patois, and always had a pat or a friendly slap on the flank for them.  It was clear that they were content with their lot, well cared for and highly valued.

The next day we asked Roger whether his family had used oxen for field work in the past.  Oh no he said, very few in Arlebosc could afford beasts like that.  They were the equivalent of a BMW – expensive to purchase and expensive to keep, on account of the amount that such massive and powerful animals need to eat.  He could only recall two establishments (known locally as châteaux) which kept oxen.  The rest – his family included – used teams of cows, the disadvantage being that they would tire easily and could only be used for two hours in the morning and again for two hours in the late afternoon.  He said his father bought their fist tractor in 1970 and from then on no longer used la traction animale. 

He does love cows though and it’s so good to see that his cousin appreciates their therapeutic qualities at this time.

One of the pair that arrived ten days ago has had her calf and I met her on her way back to La Mouna where she lives.  Meanwhile another four have been turned out into the field below Roger’s kitchen window and are happily chomping away at the spring grass and dandelions – comparatively speaking, enjoying a life of idle luxury.




Adieu Mémé

March 27, 2017

Many of you will have met out neighbour Roger and will remember that his mother has been in residential care in St Félicien for the past two years.  In all that time Roger has visited her without fail every afternoon, sitting with her and holding on for as long as possible to the special bond which united them.

Two weeks ago her condition deteriorated such that she needed to be moved to the hospital wing and it was obvious that she was nearing the end of her long life.  Roger continued his visits, the family was there to celebrate her 97th birthday on March 17th and her son stayed by her as she slipped away, finally leaving us four days later.

We were at the funeral on Saturday and are doing our best to help Roger come to terms with his loss, together with his cousins and the many concerned neighbours who drop in to sit with him.  We all hope that, in a little while, he will be able to contemplate the much needed hip operation which would enable him to dispense with crutches and get out into the fields once again.  His cousin Marc has brought a couple of cows up to the farm so that, along with Tango the dog and six assorted cats, there is some life and movement around him and Roger doggedly works away at small routine jobs: cutting back the broom, repairing fences and looking after his hens but he is severely restricted and it is a struggle for him.

For Roger and his mother, their life was the farm and to be outside on the land gives meaning to it.  These pictures were taken about four years ago – la Mémé was already well over 90, but she insisted on helping by gleaning the last wisps of hay from the fields, tucking her walking stick – which she hardly needed – into the gnarled old hands holding the rake.  A real picture of a countrywoman.

Happily, Spring is coming and we hope that as the countryside wakes up and bursts into leaf and flower, Roger will find the strength to continue the life he has always known and to take courage from the changing seasons and the rhythm of the land.

La Plume de ma Tante . . .

February 10, 2017

. . . est sur le bureau de mon oncle.  This famous, grammatically interesting but practically useless phrase started many of us off on our journey into learning French.  The reverse equivalent is “my tailor is rich” which is supposed to reassure French learners that they already understand more than they think of the impenetrable English language, (tailor/tailleur and rich/riche).  Once again it is an improbable phrase of extremely limited use, but the biscuit has to be taken by the opening sentence for study in my German book:  “Mein Bruder hat die gleiche Harpune wie du”  My brother has the same harpoon as you!  Oh yes?


We both remember our school French teachers.  Mine was Miss Downer, a dedicated middle aged lady who drove herself to school sitting very upright in her duck egg blue Morris Oxford.  She was a grammarian and a stickler for correct pronunciation, but also guided us through the intricacies of the poetry of Rimbaud and the overwrought alexandrines of Racine’s Phèdre.  Markus cannot recall the name of his French master but describes him as an “extraordinary vehicle” with a fondness for the films of Jacques Tati, which is honour enough in itself!

At all events these two must be considered as having had a major influence on our life choices – from where we live to the fact that we ever met at all.  So thank you to both!

So it was with school-time memories and trusting to our earlier grounding that we decided to try our hands at the Dictée à l’Ancienne held in Arlebosc last Saturday.


Dictation tests are still used in French primary schools and, predictably enough, there was an article in the paper recently bemoaning a decline in standards.  For the same short text, 10 year olds scored 10.6 errors in 1987, 14.3 in 2007 and 17.8 in 2015, most of the mistakes being grammatical faults.

The chief difficulty in a French Dictée is not so much the spelling, as it would be in English, but more the agreements, plurals and grammatical traps, many of which cannot be heard but need to be applied according to the rules.  For example, qu’il soit poli and qu’elles soient polies.


However the linguistics professor writing the article did make the point that children nowadays are confronted with so many new subjects that there is not sufficient time available to drum grammatical rules into their heads.  She went on to raise the question, do we want to produce proficient little grammarians or children who can function effectively in society?

Anyway back to our Dictée.  This was an altogether less stressful affair and around 45 of us, all adults, gathered at the Mairie to be issued with a blotter, a dip pen, an ink bottle and a page of that infuriating squared writing paper that the French (and Swiss) know how to use and I don’t!


The atmosphere was good humoured with us all trying out our nibs and remembering blots, scratches and ink monitors from our primary school days.  There were to be prizes for anyone scoring fewer than ten mistakes and hot drinks and crêpes (we’re just past la Chandeleur) to cheer us up whilst marking was in progress.

In fact outside the schoolroom la Dictée has been a favourite French pastime since the 19th century.  The most famous is the fiendish text dreamed up by Prosper Mérimée in 1857 at the request of Empress Eugénie to amuse the court of Napoleon III.  Results:  the Emperor 75 errors, Eugénie 62 and ….. the punctilious Austrian Ambassador, Metternich junior, THREE!


More recently the cultural TV host, Bernard Pivot, organised regular televised dictation tests up to 2005 and it is still possible to take part in the annual Dictée organsied by the Rotary Club.

We all settled down and listened attentively.  It must be said that there were frequent calls to repeat certain tricky phrases and a great deal more chattering and comparing of notes than I remember from my school days.  A collective drawing in of breath and exclamations of Aïe aïe aïe! helpfully signalled the more fiendish traps to the otherwise unwary.  When it came to the results, the well deserving winner had made only 4 errors and a further three or four people came in under 10.  The rest of us lagged way behind but, as the only non native speakers there, we felt we had acquitted ourselves fairly well with 19 and 22 ¼ mistakes, which was far from being the worst score.

Even in these dreary dark days of winter there is always something going on in the village.  It could be a fête du boudin (black pudding) boiled up on the village square, competitions of the card game belotte or a matinée dansante – a sort of tea dance.  Spring won’t be here for a while but there’s enough to keep us all busy.


Life at 140 Chemin des Granges

January 13, 2017


About eight months ago a very heavy envelope was posted through our letterbox.  It contained an enamelled metal plaque with the number 140 on it and a letter informing us that from now on we were living at 140 Chemin des Granges and that our postal address would be officially 140 Chemin des Granges 07410 Arlebosc France … et vlan!

We had noticed that gradually the villages around Arlebosc had put up signs next to signs informing us that, for example, the hamlet of Trafourine was now on the Chemin de Trafourine which means that if you want to go to Trafourine (which is unlikely) you simply have to follow the Chemin de Trafourine to get to Trafourine.


At the beginning of 2016 the Maire of Arlebosc succumbed to pressure from on high and in April members of the Conseil Municipal were to be found drilling holes with Hervé’s vine planting machine and decorating the countryside with street signs.


So what’s the system?  The names are chosen by using the last house or hamlet on that particular road.  As for the numbers, they correspond to the distance in metres to the crossroads.  We are thus 140 metres from the D578, and the further into the middle of nowhere you are, the more impressive your number.


In the bad old days if you wanted to come to see us for the first time, there were (and indeed still are) several methods available.  You could have used a Michelin map and looked for Les Sarziers, or asked a local in the village or simply googled Walksweeks – the first thing that comes up is a Google map of our surroundings and precise location.

With the arrival of Satnav you would probably have used the car’s GPS and it would have guided you along the D578 to the “Rue de Sarzier”, told you to turn into said “rue” and we are the first house on the right.  This system has the considerable disadvantage that the rue de Sarzier does not exist and that there is another hamlet in Arlebosc called Sarzier without an s at the end, which is also not on the rue de Sarzier- a fact that has caused regular entertainment for confused van drivers.

So why all these new signs?  The mass production of metal plaques and the ensuing littering of signs in the open countryside is apparently designed to make it easier for the emergency services to find your hovel.  According to the Mairie it is a requirement of Articles L2212-1, L2212-2 et L2121-29 du code général des collectivités territoriales (I hope you’re impressed).

Hurrumph!  Rumours soon began to circulate.  It is to stimulate the French metal industry (there might be somebody in the steel industry whose cousin is the uncle of the brother in law of the minister of transport’s wife’s dog) or the French government is selling the new street names to Google and will make millions and millions of Euros (sweet revenge for all those taxes they’ve avoided paying) …

Whatever the reason, we are now left with a lot of street signs that were never necessary in the first place.


Of course in Arlebosc we all try to ignore the new addresses.  Everybody here including the post lady, the firemen, the electricity technician, the artisans, the builders and the rest of the village knows where Les Sarziers is, but nobody would be able to tell you the location of the Chemin de Granges – especially as granges means barns, and there more barns in Arlebosc than kangaroos in Australia.

We feel especially sorry for the local Count, Monsieur de Chazotte, whose family has been living in the Château de Chazotte for several hundred years.  The de Chazottes survived the Revolution and his Château is still the pride of Arlebosc.  But finally in 2016 the revolutionary call for Egalité has been implemented.  His address will be from now on 320 Chemin de Chazotte. Très banal. I suppose Louis XIV would now live at 560 Chemin du Parking, Versailles.


Back to plebeian Les Sarziers.  Thinking that we should make a gesture towards the State and at least inform the Tax Office that our official address is now 140 Chemin des Granges we went on line.  When we attempted to type in our impressive new address we were informed that the Chemin des Granges does not exist, but that they do have on record some people with our names who live at Les Sarziers.  So please don’t bother to update your address books!

I just hope that the French Government will make tons of money by selling the names to Google maps and then we can take the signs down again and make better use of them! Vive la République.

Looking forward to 2017

January 1, 2017

Les Sarziers in the snow

We wish everyone a very  Happy New Year and hope to welcome many of you to les Sarziers in 2017.

Look out for exciting new adventures coming soon on the Walksweeks website!

Kate and Markus

Swingin’ on la Dolce Via

December 13, 2016

Faithful readers may recall that in August 2014 after our walk along the Ballastine we were all set to test out the stretch of disused railway line between Le Cheylard and the Eyrieux valley on bikes.  The entire line has now been revamped for use by wheelers and walkers and has been re named La Dolce Via.

La Dolce Via

Well time flies by and we were simply not getting round to it until  our friend JP took matters into his own hands and organised the whole excursion for us.  We drove, on brilliant little twisty roads, as far as les Ollières sur Eyrieux, where we had arranged to hire bikes.  There was time for a quick coffee before the local bus rolled up and we hitched them to the back for the ride up to le Cheylard – another super scenic 30 km trip, along the river valley and an absolute snip at 3 euros.  Then it was saddle up and away!  A short stretch of open road brought us to the track and we had a beautiful ride down on a gorgeous day passing through tunnels and over viaducts as we followed the course of the river.

The views are varied but always breath-taking and quite different from those you get from the road, the surface also varies but is mostly excellent and at lunch time JP knew the perfect place to stop.

La gare

The station at Chalencon at le Pont de Chervil has been closed for years along with the hotel, but this summer a brand new food truck appeared.  Having been made redundant from the local jewellery factory, which is in difficulties, Raphaelle decided on a career change and persuaded her husband to graft a holiday chalet onto a trailer base to create a bespoke and very nifty kitchen.

Raphaelle's food truckShe’s an excellent cook and we parked the bikes in the shade to enjoy a delicious lunch and a pleasant break.  Altogether a fabulous day!

And that might have been that but for this intriguing poster which caught our eye some months later.

l'Autre Nous

It was the day after Jazz n Cakes, but we couldn’t miss it and we rolled up, somewhat groggily, mid morning to find the station buzzing in a delightful and peculiarly French way.

There was bunting up, couples dancing on the goods platform, pétanque players on the track, children everywhere.  Raphaelle was busy cooking up a giant paella whilst her husband and daughter served jugs of cool white wine to people sitting at tables in the shade and bemused cyclists rode by.  Emilie and Jean Phi led the lindy hoppers and a jazz trio provided the music.

It was just a great scene.  We had met Emilie before when Markus played for her at Kaopa, but now it transpired that Manu, the trumpet player was moving to Bordeaux ……


No doubt you can guess the rest!  Markus has been rehearsing regularly with the Emilie and the band and they had their first gig at the end of November.  Watch this space!



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