Sunday, July 5, 2015

French Impressionist: an Anglophile’s view of rural France

No, not that kind of French impressionist 

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been in France – house-, cat- and dog-sitting in the Midi-Pyrénées region.

Two beautiful cats,  – mother and daughter – who slept on my bed and occasionally woke me during the night by having fisticuffs or deciding to pounce on my feet …

Spatz and Inky-puss

… And a lovely dog who quite happily rode out in the car on daily explorations around Aveyron and had her own boudoir built into the kitchen, complete with central heating for the winter months.

the lovely Mosca, reclining

Previously, my only experience of France was doing some photographic work in Paris. Let’s just say I did not see the best side of that city – the only time I’ve stayed in a hotel where the lobby not only boasted two armed guards stationed there all night, but also had a TV set in one corner playing a hardcore porn channel. Not exactly the city our Cara writes about!

But rural France is not Paris, so I tried not to have any preconceptions about this visit. The impressions I came away with have made me seriously consider relocation.

Why the sudden swerve in thinking? Well, here are a few of my impressions of this area of southern France.

The tiny airport at Rodez. Small terminal with only two gates, where you still get to walk out across the apron to the plane, served by Ryanair, so there are usually cheap flights to and from the UK.

The contrast in weather. Hot summers and cold winters. Sunshine and snow, making for a lush landscape of arable crops, forest and green fields.

Variation to the landscape of the Aveyron, hills and valleys, switchback roads that take your breath away.

Medieval towns with almost deserted market squares and stunning buildings.

And occasionally quirky artwork.

And again.

The contrast again between old and new, such as the Millau bridge – the Bridge in the Clouds, the most amazing piece of modern industrial design, which I drove over and then under.

Being able to go out and buy a fresh flute (a fat French stick) before breakfast every morning, and finding that the local supermarket had four square yards of different mustards on the shelves, but only one brand – and indeed one jar – of peanut butter.

But mainly, I think it was the houses. So many places that seemed to have been started and abandoned.

Some probably to the point of no repair.

Yet more contrast with new builds nestling alongside the traditional. Some of those, it has to be said, were characterless boxes as you’d find anywhere, but others had thought and imagination.

Some places that had already been finished and needed little work to move into apart from some vigorous gardening.

And some whose unspoiled charm was so appealing you fell in love with the place as soon as you walked through the door.

Because, I could buy an old stone farmhouse in the Aveyron for less – a lot less – than the price of a terraced house in the UK. Something that costs five figures in France would set me back seven at home. There’s a reason for this, of course, and leaving may mean being unable to afford to come back.

So, do I want to sever my roots right now to try to replant myself in another country, with a language I’m rusty in to say the least, and tackle another construction project that could turn into a lifetime’s labour of love? It could be a fantastic place to write, or somewhere that all smiles stop together.

But as my return flight circled Stansted I looked down at the patchwork of fields below and Britain suddenly seemed a slightly faded, overcrowded place, where rural France remains bright and beautiful in my memory.

Decisions, decisions …

This week’s Word of the Week was provided by the ever-fragrant Everett Kaser and is anastrophe, which means an inversion of the usual syntactical order of words for rhetorical effect. It comes from the Greek anastrephein meaning to turn back. John F Kennedy used anastrophe for greater effect when he reversed the typical positive-to-negative parallelism in his famous line: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Yoda was a great one for anastrophe: “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”


  1. Wow. Your beautiful photographs remind me of a holiday we took when I was 11 (only #$ years ago). My dad DROVE us from Belfast to a tiny place on the coast near Perpignan. Fantastic!

    1. Hi N

      Yup, it was fabulous countryside, and very little traffic. I think one morning I passed about four cars on the road and decided it must be rush-hour!

  2. Wow! VERY nice. And you had me (including the four square yards of mustard) until you came to the lonely vessel of peanut butter. Seriously? The Staple of Life itself? Sheesh.

    And "ever-fragrant?" Hmm... Somewhere there a subtle tweak I smell.

    1. Surely not, EvKa!

      I think maybe you'd have to set up some kind of underground railroad for smuggling peanut butter into the country! And the one make they did have wasn't one of the good ones, either. But then I found fig jam (jelly) and that made up for it :)

  3. Thank you so much, Zoe. Stuck as I am in town, it was so nice to follow out into the country. XXX

    1. Hey, Annamaria, towns can be good, too. I think of you in Florence with some envy. xx

  4. Lovely, and you sure stirred the imagination.

    1. Thanks, lil

      I was very taken with the place, as I'm sure you can tell!

  5. Save me a seat on the plane. Please!

    Make that 2 seats.

    1. You're on, Jeff!

      As long as you save me a seat in Mykonos ... :)

  6. A big decision Zoé! My vote is for that one with a garden needing TLC, wait maybe I can help you with that?

    1. I'm leaning towards the red stone farmhouse last on the page, Cara, but the garden still needs work! I wouldn't move the beautiful fig tree, though.

  7. Thank you to write so well about my country and this part of France. Auvergne and Aveyron. Also your photographies are so beautiful

  8. Thank you to write so well about my country and this part of France. Auvergne and Aveyron. Also your photographies are so beautiful