Rien à Déclaré

E3401D3B-4830-481B-BD0F-8C75AB96C701.jpegI have just finished rewatching a very funny Dany Boon French movie set on the French/Belgium border in 1993, the year European  borders were opened and no one needed customs officials anymore.

The film came out in 2010 and shows what happens in a little border town that basically is no longer a border and how the French and the Belgian customs men have to learn to accept each other as fellow human beings. It is a film about the stupidity of racism,  full of slap stick, silly stereotypes and a soppy romantic ending.

It opens on New Year’s Day, when the laws change and the people can move freely and the irony of watching it while waiting for Britain’s borders to slam shut was not lost on me.

I try hard to avoid all controversial subjects in this blog, for all the blindingly obvious reasons . Maybe it will be just as funny when the border guards and customs people separate Britain from our neighbours in Europe. Maybe standing in queues and being suspicious of foreigners will provide us all with a rich vein of reverse humour.

I cross European borders everyday to shop, to visit friends, to go to the doctor, to work: it is as easy as crossing the street. I want everyone to feel as free as I do right now, walls do not always make good neighbours and the fun comes when you don’t need them at all. Then maybe we will all have Rien a déclaré.

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November

In the autumn there seemed ages to tidy up the garden, no rush in the mild sunshine to get all those jobs done; but I had somehow forgotten about the dark and the rain and the wind. Between all of that and a full time job, there have been only a few half hours of dry daylight to spare and my lovely garden is soggy, muddy and dank.

It reminded me of the old Thomas Hood poem about this low month.

Only a few more days to go of November and then I can put up the Christmas decorations , make the house silly and sparkly, celebrate the end of another good year and start planning for the next year in the garden!!

November

No sun–no moon!
No morn–no noon!
No dawn–no dusk–no proper time of day–
No sky–no earthly view–
No distance looking blue–
No road–no street–no “t’other side this way”–
No end to any Row–
No indications where the Crescents go–
No top to any steeple–
No recognitions of familiar people–
No courtesies for showing ’em–
No knowing ’em!
No traveling at all–no locomotion–
No inkling of the way–no notion–
“No go” by land or ocean–
No mail–no post–
No news from any foreign coast–
No Park, no Ring, no afternoon gentility–
No company–no nobility–
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds–
November!

Thomas Hood

“…later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease.”

Keats “ Ode to  Autumn” must have been inspired by a day like today. Sunshine has spun out so many  flowers, that it seems impossible cold weather will ever destroy them and frost crisp them: but it will.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease…

 

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A Day to Fly.

Lying on my back watching the sky, I saw long white filaments appear from high up and drift on by in the clear blue air. All the swifts, swallows and even martins have long gone, but some thing was taking advantage of the autumn sunshine : spiders.

Spiders,  like this garden beauty, stick their fat abdomens up to the sky from trees and twigs and spin out long threads of gossamer, which contain hundreds of tiny spiders, and cast them adrift to the wind.  The gossamer can carry the young spiders for hundreds of miles away across land or water . They can skim on salt or fresh water and Darwin himself found them on his ship miles from any land.

Many will perish, but many will survive and colonise huge distances.

What daring – what freedom.  What a day to fly!

 

Tasty Titans.

Normally the bathroom scales provoke sighs of irritation when I use them and occasional vows to eat less chocolate, but this morning they elicited whoops of delight.

No, I have not been on a diet and I have not lost weight.  The whoop was in admiration for the weight of my first pumpkin of the season!

As I have lost one pumpkin to mould I thought it was time to bring the rest in and put them on the sunny back step to colour up.  So, I cut my first pumpkin:  bent down to pick it up and could hardly move it as it was so heavy!  This was a wonderful surprise, as this is a new variety that I grew from seed for the first time this year and I was unsure how they would turn out.  I need not have worried!  The plants rampaged across the lawn and six flowers set seed.  One was lost to slugs and mould and then there were five and they grew and grew in the sunshine and the rain.

I have grown larger pumpkins, but none so heavy.

I hauled one on to our rickety bathroom scales and these beauties average a magnificent 10 kilos  each!

If they taste as good as they look, I will be in pumpkin soup, risotto, and roast pumpkin all winter long.

Who said September is shabby?

Autumn Crocus

In my first spring in Switzerland I explored a scrap of meadow, waiting to be built on behind our tidy apartment and found a plant with broad green leaves and long swollen seed head. I had watched every flower appear in the spring on this patch of green and absolutely none of them had preceded this strange seed. The mystery was not solved until a few years later when I moved just over the border into France.

Around my village are lots of parcels of land that obviously belong to different farmers. They mostly support a few fruit trees and lots of grass that is cut at different times for the animals. In this patch work of cut and uncut grass, at the end  of August large beautiful pale purple crocus appear. The flowers push up without any protective green sepals and no leaves of any description. They seem to appear over night and some are mowed down the next day, but many survive long enough to be pollinated.  Autumnal crocus would be better called August Crocus as this is the month of their  glory.

So what is the connection between the mysterious flowerless seed and the leafless flower? Well, the pollinated ovary goes down into the corm underground, where it waits all winter long to make a seed. In the spring the swollen seed head appears with two sturdy green leaves to feed it. Once the seed heads bursts, it disappears until the flowers surprise us again at the end of summer!

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An Alsace Day.

Today was a very Alsace day.

Firstly we went to a very small and a very strange museum called the museum of love in the nearby village of Werentzhouse.  In a tiny renovated Alsace house there is an astonishingly rich collection of vintage post cards in albums neatly stacked on wooden shelves. All are connected to love .

There is barely room to open the album, but each one holds a treasure trove of beautiful post cards. I looked at the album of cards made of real human hair, which was slightly creepy, but also very funny and touching.

I also looked at cards sent by French soldiers in the First World War to their sweethearts back home and was amazed by their variety and also the sauciness  of some of them! The ladies explained that they were bought by soldiers in packs of 12 and they built up to tell a story of longing and love, for the shy or the inarticulate. Both world wars are still so close in the Alsace, I couldn’t help wondering how many young men got to send all twelve cards or to experience the effect on the loved one.

Returning home saddle sore from unaccustomed cycling, we decided to try a glass of Auxerrois wine recommended by our next door neighbour. I love all white Alsatian wines, especially the wonderfully perfumed Gewürztraminer  and Pinot Gris, but Auxerrois is a rarity, possibly because it is so hard to say. This wine was a delight. I am going to stop myself burbling wine snob nonsense, but it is light, and full of flavour and perfume. Not much of this variety is grown and often it is blended in to make Pinot Blanc and essential in Crèmant d’Alsace.  I include a photo and a link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HI7La0dopZU&feature=sharek

to a you tube clip that gives some sense of the history, complexity and great wines of this little border region, where I have planted my unexpected garden .

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You don’t always get what you want ….

This weekend we went looking for a flower. We were told about this flower a year ago, by an elderly botanist who showed us pictures of the great pink spikes of flowers as we ate dinner in a vineyard last summer.

In a mixture of broken German, French and English we discovered that this very rare and very strange plant grew close by and he tried to describe exactly where he had seen it.

The next day we also tried to find it. We tramped over the wonderful limestone cap of a hill that was covered in fly orchids, thorny roses and pinks.  We found the most extravagant orchid I have ever seen in Europe outside of a green house. Large and smelling powerfully of goats, the tongues of its greenish flowers cork screwed down and seemed to lick the stems, giving it the obvious name of lizard orchid. As we dipped back into the neat rows of vines, a bird was startled up and the great parti coloured crest of a hoopoe was plain to see, as the heavy bird lifted up and gave its unmistakable hoopoe call : familiar in the Mediterranean, but so strange here in central Europe.  This little patch of limestone protected for nature amidst the closely planted vines, is a truly remarkable place and is home to so many species that are rarely seen in the Alsace.

Eventually we wandered our way back to the car, stopping only to cool off in the wonderful cave of the local winery.  Swallows nested high up in the eves of the old roof and swooped in to chatter noisily as we sampled some Alsace Pinot Gris and Muscat and chatted to the young woman who lamented Brexit sadly, as she had enjoyed working in England for a while, loved the people and could not see what Britain had to gain by cutting itself off from Europe ( and good wine!).

A year later, we tried again. We tramped the same hill in the sunshine; saw more hoopoes and clouds of Marbled White butterflies, Banded Graylings, Swallow Tails, Queen of Spain Fritillaries and man, many more.  The lizard orchids had gone to seed and we were tired. There had been no seats on the walk so far and so when we found one with the most wonderful view of the village below, I remarked the only thing that would be even better would be if the elusive flowers were right next to the seat – and there they were – also all gone to seed!

 

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If you look closely at the photo you too can see the robust glossy leaves of the plant and the tall brown stems of the seed heads.  This is Dictamnus albus or Fraxinella.  A strange plant that is unique in its own genus  (rutaceae) and very unusual in the wild.  It exudes a curious smelling perfumed oil, that clung to our hands after we had touched it.  In fact it produces so much of this oil that it is also called the Burning Bush as in very hot weather it has been known to spontaneously combust and may well have been the burning bush of Moses in the Bible. The oil can be ignited by a lighter as you can see in this you tube clip of the garden variety.

 

 

We were too late to admire the great pink flowers we had seen in the photo.  You don’t always get what you want, but in pursuit of this rarity we had seen and enjoyed so much, that I think you could definitely say we got what we needed!