Thursday, October 9, 2008

Need A Laugh? - French Holiday Diary Extracts!

In a year where we've gone from Spring straight through to Autumn, summer having decided for some reason to give it a miss this year, survived floods of biblical proportions and if that wasn't bad enough, now coping with the prospect of losing all our hard earned money lodged over the years in our safe-as-a-house friendly bank I think it's time I shared with you a moment or two of sheer madness. These episodes of hysterics took place in beautiful south west France in the summer of 2006 when on holiday with my husband who was attending a retreat there thus requiring me to spend many hours alone in our isolated fabulous rented villa.

The following are a few, somewhat at times, hilarious snippets from my diary of that wonderful three week vacation which I hope will bring a smile to your face during these dark bleak days. To protect the identity of my husband and son who remained at home (son, that is) I shall simply refer to them as "husband" and "son".

Wednesday, 19th July 2006:

"The second ring of my alarm got me up at 4:30am. Took my shower, had breakfast then packed the remaining last minute bits and pieces. My long suffering husband of thirty one years was busy doing all the other important things like making sure we had everything of great importance namely our Visa cards, airport documents, cash, the laptop and charger, the list goes on and finally managing very skilfully to fit into my backpack the extra items of clothing I’d decided I would definitely need!

The taxi I ordered last night arrived at 6:20am. All that was left to do now which for me proved the most difficult, was to bid a brief farewell for all of three weeks to our son, who very bravely volunteered to rise at the unearthly hour of 6:15am to see us off. A goodbye hug would be just asking too much....

Dublin Airport was beginning to swing into action when we arrived just before 7:00am. After checking in our luggage and going through customs (I didn’t get pulled over this time!) we sauntered around the Duty Free Shop where husband bought insect repellent and I a floppy denim hat.

The flight to Carcassonne took approximately two hours where the weather was overcast but very warm....

After we collected our Hertz rental car we set off on the last leg of our journey, a further two hour drive to Lodeve. As it’s been a few years since I was in the passenger seat of a car being driven on the “wrong” side of the road (with the exception last year of a taxi trip in Portugal) I was, to put it simply, terrified. It seemed to me that every truck driver in France decided today was the day to take our route to their respective destinations. During the times when we had the road to ourselves (few and far between) I was in total awe of the beautiful scenery. The lush green fields a lot of them vineyards, houses looking a hundred years old with their orange slated roofs and the endless mountain ranges only served to enhance my romantic image of rural France.

We arrived in Lodeve none the worse for our nerve-wrecking car journey. Our first stop-off was the supermarket, Super U, to stock up on provisions for a few days. I was in luck as they stocked my rice cakes, Uncle Ben’s rice and tinned red salmon, what more could a girl ask for!....

Friday, 21st July 2006:

Got up 8:20am. Still didn’t sleep great because of the heat.

At around 10:00am headed off to Learb Ling to see the Temple or to be more precise for me to see the Temple as husband had been to it last November. The drive was exciting to say the least, up the side of a mountain with fantastic scenery including some spectacular giant rocks. These massive pieces of stone loomed skyward as we drove along directly beneath them.

The entrance on foot to the Buddhist Temple was all downhill for which I was truly grateful. I had only ever seen such magnificent houses of worship on television but standing in front this beautiful kaleidoscopic structure took my breath away. Workers beavered away like ants in preparation for tomorrow’s opening of the All Mandala Retreat. The Dali Lama himself was due to give a few talks at the inauguration of the Temple and would have remained there for four days but sadly because of illness he could not attend....

I was fascinated by the height of the bronze Buddha statue, about fifteen feet plus about five foot of a pedestal. The paint work everywhere too was something else, never have I seen such intricate detailed images on such a huge scale. Apparently special painters from Tibet were commissioned to carry out the delicate mosaic artwork....

Saturday, 22nd July 2006:

....I was now totally alone in an isolated house in the heart of the countryside. My only French comes from a phrase book, every number listed in my mobile phone is from Ireland apart from husband who is here but not contactable except by text because he has a different service provider so as long as I wouldn’t need either a doctor, fire brigade, or plumber etc while he was away I figured I’d be OK. Apart from those minor worries I looked forward to the day ahead....

Tuesday, 25th July 2006:

Up 6:20am. Husband went to his Retreat. I did some washing, walked in the sun and read.

....Absolutely sweltering today. Checked temperature on BBC Weather – 38C! Too hot to cook or eat dinner so at around 7:00pm drove into Lodeve.

As there is a festival on at the moment in Lodeve the open space in front of the St. Fulcran’s Cathedral was full of people just sitting at tables having drinks and chatting. We joined them with beer and coke. Every so often a gentle breeze passed by us for which not only I was grateful but I’m sure the golden Labrador lying beneath the table beside us was.

At 7:50pm we decided to head back but just beforehand I wanted to check if the Cathedral was now open as it had been closed when we arrived earlier. To my delight it was open.

As we entered the church was in darkness except for the alter which was awash with candlelight both from the small nightlights around the floor and the tall candles on either side. For me it was a heavenly sight to behold. We took our seats and just absorbed the atmosphere. A short while afterwards three people seated at the side of the alter each began reading a kind of sermon in French which of course I couldn’t understand. During the delivery of these speeches the organist was playing some very powerful pieces....

Wednesday, 26th July 2006:

...We then set off for the dreaded Super U to get in more provisions. Getting the messages is never the worst part it’s putting them into the car out loose as they don’t give you bags. Then getting back into the car is also a killer because of the heat even though we put the air-conditioning on full as soon as we open the doors. When we arrive home it then takes ages to get everything into the house and put away. Shopping back home will never seem so easy!....

Sunday, 30th July 2006:

Up 6:20am. Husband left for his Retreat 6:30am.

While I was washing a few items of clothing I saw a spider, not very big, crossing the floor and under the door in the utility room. That freaked me no end. I stood watching the floor for about fifteen minutes to see if he would come back out so as I could kill him but he didn’t. I returned to my washing then after a couple of minutes saw a similar spider come under the kitchen door whereupon I pounced on him immediately killing him outright. I reckoned it was the same guy had gone through an opening somewhere and come back in, well, that was the thought that consoled me so I was sticking to it....

I was still a bit scared from this morning’s experience with the spider because I was still searching the floor for any crawly things that might appear. To make matters worse earlier I had put out our duvet and sheet to air so before we brought them in we shook them and there were lots of flies and ants on them and because the wasps seemed angry we had to finish shaking the bedclothes inside. By then they were OK but a while later there were loads of tiny flies all over the place whether they came from the clothes or not we don’t know. By now I was panicking and husband was giving out to me. I know I don’t have any control when it comes to crawly things whether they fly or not, maddening it must be....

Monday, 31st July 2006:

Up 6:25am. Husband left for his Retreat 6:35am.

I had a completely uneventful morning thank Heavens. No confrontations with anything of a crawly nature. Tidied up, did some washing and read my book. At around 10:00am fell asleep on the settee. I think the heat is finally getting to me. The expected temperature for today in Montpellier is 37C which means for us at least 39C. By mid-day I’d lost the will to go back out into the scorching sun. The thoughts of applying more sun cream then sweating to death when I come back in has become too much to bear. Maybe I’m just getting too old for this sort of thing. Instead I swept and washed all the floors to try and keep the insects at bay. On reflection I don’t think that was such a great idea as it completely drained me of my last ounce of energy....

Son text to say he had no news and to stop asking him for some. He then phoned me to see if I knew where the adaptor for his toothbrush was. I didn’t. Told him everywhere I could think of to look.

Just then I received a text from my drama teacher, Mary reminding us of the fees for next term. I replied saying I was still away, told her of the high temperatures here and would see her on the 16th. She replied suggesting I treat myself to an ice-cream, good old Mary....

Tuesday, 1st August 2006:

....Between 5:00pm and 6:00pm did some sun-walking and the only thing which got me to come in was the fact that the wasps were getting very brave and angry it seemed, swarming around me and not budging when I tried to shoo them away.

If my nerves were jangled by the wasps then they were well and truly shattered by the time I’d finished cooking dinner on the gas cooker. When I was boiling the rice I didn’t take too much notice of the back smaller ring producing less of a flame than usual. The front large ring was fine where I was boiling water for the spaghetti. It was only when I began cooking the vegetables on the same ring as the rice had been on that I realised the flame had diminished even more so. My suspicions were finally confirmed when I began to reheat the water for the spaghetti – yes, the gas cylinder was almost empty! Panic would be too mild a description of the mental state I immediately entered into at that precise moment, not mind you because there would be no pasta to go with the veggies, oh no, that would have been rational thinking, no, instead it was the terrifying thought that the blasted cylinder could explode in my face if it emptied before I could turn off the gas!

Well, all I can say is Shirley Valentine eat your heart out because here is a woman who gave the performance of her life in her south west France kitchen, the likes of which hopefully, may never be seen or heard of again. I just hope the goats weren’t too terrified by my screaming and crying to God above not to let the gas explode and swearing that if I ever got out of this alive I would never ever come to anywhere again with a gas cooker not to mention promising that from now on I would only speak kindly of people who irritate me....

Wednesday, 2nd August 2006:

At 3:10pm we set off for Super U. Being confined to the house and its surrounding area for over a week now (because of my bad chest can't walk up steep incline from house) somehow makes a trip to the supermarket rank very high in my social calendar. It was literally the highlight of my day, how sad does that sound!

We didn’t have too much to get this time mainly bread and milk and of course, Uncle Ben’s Microwave Rice now that I’m no longer using the cooker which threatened to blow me to smithereens. The freedom of being able to move further than a few feet at a time had me almost running up and down the isles like a dog being taken for a walk by his master after been tied up all day.

The fact that a bus load of Learb Ling shoppers had converged on Super U at the same time as ourselves didn’t help the already chaotic scenes at the checkouts, in fact I’d go so far as to say we were the soul cause of the mayhem. The queue itself could well be a contender for the Guinness Book of Records....

....Later I started on dinner which was of course Uncle Ben’s microwave rice and a few chopped tomatoes, not exactly the crème de la crème of French cuisine but as I’d expended what little energy I’d left worrying about how the microwave rice would turn out any chance there might have been of me preparing another vegetable was by now so slim as to be no chance at all due to mental and physical exhaustion....

....At just after 10:30pm we received a text from son asking where the spare light bulbs were. I suggested a few places but he couldn’t find them. Husband then rang him from his phone. It turned out that he couldn’t find the light switch in the kitchen for the fluorescent light. It was great having a little unexpected conversation with him....

Thursday, 3rd August 2006:

I’m no longer wishing I was going home. I think it was just that I couldn’t breathe in the intense heat and now that I can I’m really enjoying myself. Decided not to bother with any sun lotion so I went out for only about ten minutes at a time which worked well. The only problem is still the wasps, but if I continue my present run of luck at avoiding being stung then I’ll consider myself very lucky indeed or maybe it’s just that French wasps are more selective in who they sting than their Irish counterparts.

At 1:15pm had my red salmon lunch, again. If I never see a tin of John West again it will be way too soon....

....At 5:30pm I thought about getting the dinner ready while husband went into the Reading Room to do his meditation. I found a six piece Microwave set in the kitchen press and decided to steam some potatoes. Husband told me to first do them for five minutes on full then ten minutes on half power. Once again I made the fatal mistake of making my own decision about things electrical and how best to use them.

To make a very long story short I overcooked the potatoes by, I think, allowing them to absorb the water from the steamer because I had the power too high. Instead of turning it down to half for ten minutes as husband suggested I turned it to three quarters just in case half wouldn’t be high enough. The result – soft spongy potatoes which looked fine but felt horrendous. I then tried to conceal the damage by roasting them in the electric oven for a short while but horrors of horrors, husband appeared much too soon, not that having them roast for any longer would have made the slightest difference, the potatoes were already ruined. There was going to be no easy way out of this one no sir, so, like the guilty convict I would have to face the consequences of my silly action.

My punishment was nothing more than a caution, in future I should listen to and be guided by the voice of knowledge. The spongy potatoes along with the carrots I’d managed to cook fairly decently also in the microwave I might add, served their purpose of merely filling our hungry bellies. Next time should be more successful using only the half power.

At around 9:30pm text son to see how things were going. God forbid he’s actually cooking proper meals for himself, no I don’t think I need worry about him using dangerous kitchen utensils more likely he’s living either out of the local Chinese or microwaving frozen pizza or worse still has stashed up an Everest expedition supply of Pot Noodles, the Hot & Spicy variety. Received his reply at 10:10pm, everything fine....

Friday, 4th August 2006:

....Read as per usual while having my breakfast. Later, did a lot of washing including husband’s jeans. In a very lazy mood today. The strong winds were almost scary at times but even though the sun continued to shine it didn’t encourage me to go out sun-walking. Read a lot. Had lunch at 1:15pm, yes, you guessed correctly, saumon rouge. At 5:20pm decided to bite the bullet and go for a bit of sun-walking in what I felt was the equivalent of a force ten gale blowing down the mountside. Blustery conditions aside, the sun was still very warm.

At around 6:30pm got to work on preparing dinner. God bless Uncle Ben for his two minute rice. It takes the worry out of synchronising the rice with the vegetables as usually with me one gets cold while the other’s still cooking. This time the carrots worked a treat, less water in the bowl as husband suggested. I’m listening to and being guided by the voice of knowledge. Nothing could go too far wrong with the cucumber and tomatoes...

....It was around 9:30pm when I text son. About an hour later he phoned husband to say that other son’s fuse in his flat had blown. Husband rang other son. With the precision of an airport control tower official he guided him through the process of untripping the switch which had tripped when the bulb blew. He then had to remove the broken bulb. Other son phoned back to say it was all sorted. I spoke with him for a split second....

Saturday, 5th August 2006:

At 12:00pm I began my first sun-walk of the day. BBC Weather says it’s 30C in Montpellier but it feels a couple of degrees higher. I’m not complaining.

At 1:15pm I had lunch. Unless there is a menu change, which seems unlikely at this point, there will be no further mention of the dish. Not alone is it becoming more difficult to consume, the mere appearance of the name, Saumon Rouge, on this page itself is threatening to send my innards into full-scale battle with the aforementioned fish....

....At around 6:15pm we headed into Lodeve mainly to see if any shops were still open where I could stock up my dwindling supply of Uncle Ben’s Microwave rice and some baguettes for husband. Sadly the shops that were open stocked neither. Had a lovely walk around the town, checked out the Mass times for the Cathedral, discovered a wonderful parking area within a kind of park where pigeons feasted and old men sat talking on benches older than themselves. We came across a sort of souvenir shop where I saw a beautiful tiny white glass cross and gold chain, price twenty eight Euro. Some day it would be mine....

Sunday, 6th August 2006:

....At 10:00am we set off for Lodeve. Took some more photographs of St. Fulcran’s Cathedral from different angles then walked around the magnificent building beside the Cathedral which it turned out was home to the local police force or to put it this way, the most beautiful Garda Station I’ve ever laid eyes on. With its mosaic rooftop and wonderful stonework it seemingly was once a splendid hotel. Irish Architects of police stations take note!

This was to be my first ever Sunday Mass in France and it promised to be the most memorable. At 10:40am we entered through the heavy wooden doors that lead to the awesome vast interior which by now was bathed in the early morning sunlight. Gradually the seats filled up mainly with elderly women, the only men being tourists with their lady friends or wives. A christening was also due to take place following the Mass and the strange thing about that was we noticed the only young people in the Cathedral were those attending the christening.

The French have a wonderful way with music. It’s not just the language, it seems they know how to use notes that make the melody tug at the heartstrings, just listen to their love songs. The hymns were beautiful and some of the responses were sung in Latin which brought a familiar comforting feeling to the ceremony. I received the Blessed Sacrament, the process of which is exactly the same as ours the only difference being that those not receiving stand in their seats instead of sitting as we do. So when I knelt down after returning from the alter I then stood up. One other thing definitely different from ours is that the French kiss the person next to them instead of shaking hands for the part of the ceremony which I can’t now remember the name of. I’m assuming this only applies if you know the person well because people shook hands with husband and I.

I saw other people do it too. The Mass lasted a little over an hour and when it ended they then began preparing for the christening. It was truly a beautiful experience and I’m glad I took the couple of photographs within the Cathedral before most of the congregation arrived.

Afterwards we walked around the sort of park beside the car park where we sat on a bench and I photographed a couple of pigeons. We then went down the town again for a while where husband bought me the white glass cross with the gold chain. It is so pretty.

....The dreaded gas cooker is back to haunt me. While I was sun-walking husband rigged up a full gas cylinder to the cooker. Then while I was having a nervous breakdown he cooked dinner. It tasted wonderful...."

Our villa was situated in the beautiful village of Lauroux approximately five kilometers from Lodeve.

The Learb Ling Buddhist Retreat Centre was a thirty minute drive away.

A couple of days before we returned home we spent a day sightseeing and shopping for the proverbial souvenirs in Montpellier.

It is true to say that those three weeks I spent in the amazing French countryside stand out as being one of the most exciting and at times terrifying experiences I've had to date. It was more than a holiday destination. The many hours in total isolation brought me to a place within myself I hadn't expected to confront on vacation.



  1. I wish! When I wrote that I'd no idea it would eventually be on view to the world! At the time it just helped pass the long hours in isolation but reading it back a few years later some of it did make me chuckle. In these grim times I suppose anything that makes us laugh mightn't be all that bad! Thanks again Donald, Cheers!

  2. It is so difficult to comment on your blog because it would be rude to just say - great blog. While reading it takes me back in time and I can almost see it myself running around forty years ago. Its refreshes almost forgotten fillings and I want to thank you for that.

    And the book?
    Well, you are the book, your life is write for you.