PHOTOS JULY 2010
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As I have said on previous occasions, if you are the kind of person who is always in a hurry or rushing around for appointments and the like then you don't want to be living around here in the Combrailles.
Not with leviathans like this roaming around the lanes round here anyway. It's harvest time just now and these two are hauling bales of hay through the village of Montcocu and heaven alone knows where they are going.
In fact I encountered these two beasts on my way back from shopping in Commentry. The other side of Ronnet it was when I fell in behind them, and it wasn't until we reached the Abbey of Bellaigues that they took the high road and I took the low road.
About 6 miles of narrow country lanes at 25kph with nowhere to pass them. Ahhh well!
Ironically I had been debating about going for a swim at Neris but didn't think that I had the time. I could have gone to Neris, had a swim for an hour and I wouldn't have been that much later coming home, what with all of this.
I went to Espinasse one Sunday afternoon for the local fête and as far as I was concerned it was a fête worse than death. We had the procession of tractors pulling trailers of local people performing traditional country-type activities, but whoever heard of a village fete here in the Combrailles where there wasn't even a hint of a brocante?
The Combrailles is the brocante capital of the world and the locals will vider their greniers at the drop of a hat. All we had today was a brocan't, and that's not on at all.
Another thing that we had that I found totally astonishing was a politically-correct May Queen. Normally the May Queen of any village is a young teenage girl and there are good reasons for this, especially for the pagans amongst us, those of us who are more than 2,000 years old and with long memories, and those of us happen to know a little about early medaieval village life.
But of course the way the world is these days in the UK it's becoming less and less politically correct to have a real May Queen but who would ever have thought that such a taboo would have reached down here?
It's the beginning of the end as far as I am concerned.
Highlight of the fête was the Irish musician who came on stage at 18:00.
Now I bet you that you can go into any Irish pub anywhere in the whole wide world, or any folk night anywhere in any English-speaking area of the world, or anywhere wherever any Celtic musicians might be grouped, and the first two songs that you will always hear will be "Dirty Old Town" and "The Wild Rover".
And here in the backwoods, 200 miles from civilisation and 2000 years behind the times, and what did this Irish musician play as his first two songs? YEEEEUUUUCCCCCHHHHHHH. I had a word with him about it afterwards, and his response was "ohh well". Yes - "ohh well" indeed.
But that was not the most weird part of this. Incredible as it might seem, they stopped the music mid set .... to draw the lottery and shout out the prizewinners.
It was just like being in any Workingmen's Club anywhere in the UK. Over there they would stop the ... entertainment ... (and I use the term loosely) for the bingo. It was absolutely unbelievable.
That was enough for me. I piddled off home after that.
Terry needed a hand on one of his jobs and seeing as I owe him God knows how many days' work after everything that he has done for me I went along to help. And where we ended up was at a house not too far away from Menat, right on the edge of the Gorges de la Sioule - the cleft in the Combrailles that runs from South-West to North-East.
The view is certainly spectacular from here, that's for sure and some people have all the luck. I wouldn't mind a little field right here to build my log cabin, facing southwards with a view like this.
And now a moment of controversy "what, you, Eric? Perish the thought" - ed. I was in St Julien-la-Geneste for the fête du village and Marianne, the local journalist, invited me up into the church tower for a nosey around - she knows that I like to boldly go where the hand of man has never set foot. Anyway, this is what greeted me.
I know that Medaieval religious art is two-a-penny and not usually particularly good but that is no reason in my opinion to just chuck it in a corner out of the way where no-one is ever likely to go, and just leave it there to fester, to let rats and mice make a nest in it and when in 100 years time everyone has forgotten all about it, quietly burn it somewhere in a lonely field.
According to Marianne these paintings relate to the Chemin de la Croix, the road that Jesus followed on the way to his crucifixion at Gethsemane. Now I don't believe in the Divinity of Jesus but for those who do, his crucifixion is the pivotal moment of Christianity and it appals me how people can treat significant objects such as these paintings in such a despicable fashion.
Yes, I'm having another Lancaster Bomber moment, aren't I?
With having the new Nikon and trying to get used to it, I'm taking what can best be described as "Experimental Photos" - of no significance at all other than the fact that I'm trying out new techniques, experimenting with the focal length of the lens, etc etc.
In the early evening while it was still quite light the moon rose quite dramatically. This was the cue to take a quick photo. Hand-held, no tripod and no complicated effects, with the resultant image enlarged by about 10%. I think that it's come out rather well and I'm starting to like this camera quite a lot.
And while I was on the subject of "Experimental Photos" and seeing how well the shot of the moon came out, I stopped off at my favourite photography spot, the birdwatching point near St Gervais, to see what I could do with a cropped and enlarged shot of my favourite subject, the Puy-de-Dome.
Again, it's the standard 4200xwhatever image on full 105mm (that's 3xzoom) with the selection that I want cropped out at 800width. And this is just so impressive too. There are another two volcanoes in the shot and I think that one day I'm going to have to buy a decent map so that I can identify them.
I was on my way to Clotilde's house at Lapeize. She had very kindly invited us round for the evening and so we all took some drink and some nibbles and went socialising.
She has a beautiful house and, even more interestingly, she had a photo of how the place looked when she and her husband bought it 46 years ago. And it didn't half cheer me up to see that. It shows that all things are possible.
Of course, Strawberry Moose was invited. He's never one to miss out on a socialising opportunity.
Sometimes over here in France you realise that globalisation has a long way to go. You see see names and signs that make you stop and double-take, and wonder if in the 21st Century there ought to be some kind of cross-reference dictionary. One of the most famous names that was an early victim of globalisation was a shop attached to the huge Auchan supermarket just outside Dunkirk whose name didn't last five minutes after the British "Booze Cruises" across the Channel began. Which shop could possibly survive the onslaught of the free world market with a name like "Fanny Bag"?
Now I've walked up and down this street on numerous occasions and I don't understand how it is that I have never noticed this shop name before. Now who could pick a better name than that?
And in another "Experimental Photography" mode, I was coming back from St Gervais one evening right as the sun was setting and climbing up over the top of the Font Nanaud I was confronted by this most magnificent sunset, easily the best that I have ever seen.
It's a shame that there's some refraction off the lens and off the mirror. Just imagine how perfect this photo would have been if I had managed to avoid this. But never mind. I did my best, and it's all come out rather well nevertheless.
It's always nice to eat the food that one has grown oneself and I always like to record in photographs the evolution of the vegetable harvest from my garden. This evening I picked the first courgette out of the garden and made myself a delicious courgette and lentil curry. It was magnificent, and there's enough left over in the fridge for 2 more days.
I also went in search of strawberries as there were quite a few when I last looked, but it seems that mildew has done for most of those and the local wildlife has done for almost all the rest. There were only two left and they were delicious too.