17 November 2010

Bertie's busy, and me too

This morning I went downstairs to take Bertie his food. We bought a new brand recently and he doesn't seem to like it as much as the old brand. This new food is Whiskas brand, and the other was the supermarket brand, SuperU. Go figure.

Anyway, I went into the garage and saw what I thought was a pile of leaves on the floor. Narrow, pointy leaves, a dozen or more of them, all pulled apart except for one bunch. Does this cat like bay leaves, I wondered. I'm drying some in the garage. I reached down to pick the leaves up and realized they were dark gray feathers! Bertie obviously caught a bird yesterday. He must have eaten it.

Pictures of the vineyard yesterday morning, in the fog —
a study in straight lines

We've been seeing flocks of titbirds — des mésanges — around the house these last few days, and they have feathers like that. We feed the tits by putting out boules de graisse on the balcony railing and bird seed in feeders out front. Maybe that's not doing the tits a favor these days.

The crews are going through the rows of vines taking out
and replacing broken and rotting support posts right now.

According to weather reports, yesterday was going to be dry and sunny, or at least partly sunny. It was nothing of the sort. A thick fog rolled in and stayed all day. We never saw the first ray of sunshine. This is typical northern France weather in late fall and winter. A high pressure moves over us, and it traps fog at ground level. It's thick and gloomy. It was chilly too, though not what you'd call cold. We had a fire in the woodstove in the afternoon.

One vigneron is busy pruning his vines and
burning the clippings in this home-made contraption.

The fog discouraged me from doing any yard work. Everything is still too wet out there. It would take several days of dry sunny weather to take the squish out of the ground, and make the leaves rakeable and burnable.

My first thought when I write a blog post goes to all the people I know who toy with the idea, or at least a dream, of one day buying or renting a house in France and coming to live here. I know quite a few. Consider the weather, I say to everybody, especially if you want to live out in the country, where it's affordable. If you move to Paris or another big city, the weather probably doesn't matter so much. There's plenty to do indoors. But plan on spending a lot of money.

Grapes still hang on some vines.
These are up against a stone wall.

I know British and American expats who live here in the Loire Valley part-time. Part-time means spending the winter elsewhere. Key West. Boston. Los Angeles. Tahiti. The Sahara. Au soleil. French people who have always lived here and don't have the luxury of a winter residence in a sunny clime tell me it is very important to have an occupation, an activity, a hobby to get you through the winter.

If you are retired, such a wintertime occupation is indispensable. As an American, you don't have to right to work in France. You can start your own business if you know how and have a good idea. You can try to find a way to do work from afar for an American employer. You can write a novel. You can renovate your house.

This blog is one of my occupations, of course. Cooking is another. Reading. Watching films on TV (going out to the movies isn't much of an option out here in the country). Gardening, which is a euphemism for a lot of dirty, cold yard work in the wintertime, if you are up to doing it.

Walking with the dog in the vineyard, rain or shine,
is another wintertime occupation.

I just read and enjoyed a 30-year-old book of essays by a man named Noel Perrin, who left New York City to become an amateur farmer in Vermont. It's called First Person Rural. Thanks to Chrissou for bringing it when she visited. I could really identify with much of what Mr. Perrin had to say about life in the country vs. life in the big city.

Today the forecast calls for another band of windy rain to blow in off the ocean. This afternoon, I'll be in the kitchen, working on making something good to eat. Quenelles de volaille, it's called — poultry dumplings. The human equivalent of Bertie's bird, I guess. More about that later.


  1. Ken, he's a CAT! Does he need any reason to not like a food? NO! Ours love Waitrose's tins... the same manufacturer makes food for Auchan... the "bury" the Auchan cat food and walk away.... now RonRon has started to "bury" her dried catfood.... a blend of Whiskas & Brekkies. Is it something in the smell? They eat it in the end.... but ahow great displeasure initially!

  2. For "ahow" read "show" [penultimate line]

  3. My cat is allergic to fish and turkey. I have to wear 2 pairs of glasses at the store reading the ingredients at he back of the can. Even though fish nor turkey is listed, she throws up when she eats Wiskas.
    Life in the countryside can be boring in the dead of winter but thank God for TV, good books and having friends over. Time to clean up garages, sheds, cabinets and closets.
    We can all be happy that blogging is your hobby. I just hope you never get tired of it.

  4. Ken, as you know, I am one of those living-in-France fantasists. My imagined French winter would include an escape to visit my friend who has had a living-in-Spain fantasy (now about to become real).

  5. no wonder Bertie isnt eating his cat food, he just stuffed himself on fresh oiseau.....it always amazes me that they can pull out each feather so neatly

  6. You have made a really good point about living out in the country, especially in winter. The winter is very long and often, not a vacation.

    Glad to hear that Bertie likes his SuperU food. Also, has he calmed down a bit?

  7. Just imagine what your winters were like a hundred or two years ago!

    Our cat likes only Meow Mix. Lewis tries to spoil her with canned food, but she will only lap a bit of the juice and leave the rest.

    We're happy that you are a blogger, it helps us get through our winters, long hot summers and the months in between.

    BTW, I see bleak and low hanging fog in your photo;-) I do enjoy seeing the vineyard change and am glad you share those changes with us...

  8. I am one of those that likes cool weather and grey days. A brisk walk, a drive, sitting by the fire. Going to the brocante would be my winter hobby...

  9. Up here, in a suburb right next to Paris, cold, wet weather can convince you to stay in, too. Plus I've got a cold, so I don't feel like going out.

    Our cat is old. He meows constantly and loudly, so the neighbors all think he's being neglegted. He's also incontinent and we have to keep him outside. He can be in the house only as long as he'll stay in our laps. No more roaming around. There've been too many accidents. He's become pickier and pickier and we have to keep switching brands to get him at all interested in food. We wonder if he'll make it to his 18th birthday.

  10. Winters in Derbyshire are no fun either. In fact probably more miserable than in the Loire region. We are used to getting all cosy indoors with the fire going, the TV on and lots of comfort food to keep us warm and entertained until the spring. I don't know where people get the idea that just because they are "abroad" the weather should be better in winter, unless, of course, you live somewhere much further south in which case it is probably too scorching hot in the summer.

    One of the problems we have because we are still working is the stress involved in trying to get to and from work in bad weather. That's when the idea of being retired really appeals, even if life in the country might be a little dull at times.

  11. I love the vigneron's contraption. It's very clever.

  12. Noel Perrin wrote several books, very good reading. If you would like the rest of them, send me your address and I will mail them to you. (dgodfrey100@gmail.com)


  13. Ken, I'm so glad you enjoyed Noel Perrin. I can read his books over and over. A lot of what he says applies to many parts of life.


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