23 May 2013

Life after Melle

What on earth did people do before the days of internet? I literally cannot comprehend a world-wide-web-less world (say that 10 times as fast as you can). Here I am in a tiny village in the Pyrenees unable to Skype my parents, unable to Skype my boyfriend, unable to waste time on Facebook, unable to Google some really unimportant yet niggling question, unable to look up that French word that keeps appearing but I just can’t grasp the meaning of, unable to check the weather forecast to see if this depressing weather will ever transform into the sunny paradise I had envisaged, unable to catch up on Made In Chelsea to cure the Francis Boulle withdrawal symptoms I’m suffering, but most importantly, unable to recount the next chapter of my French adventure to my avid readers, who I imagine have been up in arms in their millions, distraught that I have been absent for the past fortnight. ;)

I am managing, however, to use the house computer every few days to do vital things like check emails. And now, after Rob had the ingenious idea of writing my blog on my laptop in my own time and then quickly uploading it online when I get the chance, I am hoping this will allow me to do fairly frequent updates.

Let’s begin. I’ve been back in France for over a week now. I’m WWOOFing (if you don't know what this is, see the end of my last post) here for 3 weeks, in a tiny village called Mont in the Haute-Pyrénées, on a cow and sheep farm where they make the cheese Tomme. I’m not going to lie, the first couple of days I was homesick, which rarely happens with me. The main contributing factors to this homesickness were:

- Obviously, lack of internet, about which I have already ranted.

- Suddenly going back to full French immersion after having spent a week back in England and the comfort of my mother tongue (yes, I am still rubbish at French after all these months, sob).

- The fact that I packed 5 pairs of shorts, about 10 vest tops, but only 1 pair of jeans and one long top....

....and the first day looked like this:

- I decided, being paranoid me, that the people here didn’t like me.

The shower is in the barn, and there are spiders and cobwebs EVERYWHERE. Let’s just say showers have become slightly more infrequent here.

It has got better since then, I can assure you. The internet issue still exists, but I am learning slowly to adapt myself. I’ve realised that the full-on French thing can only be a good thing and can do nothing but improve my language proficiency. On the rare occasion that the sun shines, it is gorgeous. Here is the view out my bedroom on a good day:

The people are actually very lovely and I was just being silly. The shower situation still makes me want to cry, however.

The best thing though, is the food. With proper home-made French meals twice a day, fresh cheese, yoghurt and milk whenever I want, it’s not a bad deal! We had a bit of a kitchen disaster the other day though, when Julie (the woman farmer) had excitedly bought fresh, live crabs from the supermarket, having had a craving for them after seeing them on TV the previous day. However, this being the first time she’d cooked them at home, nobody knew how to eat them when she brought them to the table. Resorting to crushing the blighters with pliers to get to the meat, by the end of the meal there was bits of crab in our hair, all over our clothes, on the walls etc. And the only edible part was the legs, after all that! So, if you’re thinking of cooking crab, don’t. Biggest waste of time ever.

So this is my daily routine:

07:45 Wake up

08:30 Go down to the barn to milk the 6 cows and the 100+ sheep. If it’s not too wet, we then let the animals out into the 25 hectare park on the side of the mountain.

10:30 On Mondays and Thursdays, make the cheese. Otherwise, rub the salt onto the cheeses, or rub in the mould that grows on the rind. Yum :/

13:00 Have lunch. Yum :)

14:30 Have a siesta if it’s bad weather. Go for a walk if it’s nice.

18:00 Go back down to the barn to milk the animals again.

21:00 Have dinner. Yum :)

23:30 Go to bed.

There are 4 of us altogether; me, another WWOOFer called Marianne who’s 45 and Belgian, Julie, and Tom/Yves (he actually has 2 names, I’m so confused) who owns the farm.

And now I need to go and get changed to do some more milking and get covered in lots and lots of poo…

Ciao for now.

08 May 2013

The End. For now...

If I say I'm writing this post in England, then that will tell you that my time in Melle has come to an end. Yes, after nearly 7 and a half months in the west of France, I am back in the real world that is north London. But fear not, I am only home for a week before I set off on another French adventure.

Early evening sunlight in Melle

But more on that later. For now, I feel it's about time that I tell you about my last couple of weeks in the pays mellois.

My absence from the blogosphere can be almost entirely attributed to my research project that was due in last Thursday. I won't drone on about my last minute struggles to get it all done, but let's just say I can't remember ever being quite so stressed. 

So on Thursday evening with the dissertation due at 17:00, I submitted it at 16:58, attempted to tidy and clean my essay-abused flat in half an hour for the landlord's inspection at 17:30, all whilst awaiting the imminent arrival of my parents.

Having my parents FINALLY get to see Melle was so so lovely! As we only had two full days before we headed back across the Channel, we decided to stay local, and so Friday was spent at the market and walking in and around Melle, and Saturday I showed them Celles-sur-Belle and Niort under bright blue skies. And we had 7 different cheeses between us. And lots of pains-aux-raisins. Just making the most of my last few days in France. ;)

Really wish I could teleport this patisserie back to England :(
Aww, bluebells
Dad and Mum loving life in Melle...
Old Melle hospital through the flowers
Niort - the Sèvre Niortaise river in the foreground, and Eglise Saint-André at the back
Eating bread, cheese and pâté by the river
Le Donjon

Rather excitingly, it was Games Night at the Café on Friday night, so deciding that this was the best way to witness Melle life, we went along for the plat du jour (which was Moroccan chicken and couscous) and had a game of Scrabble, as people in Melle do on a Friday night. The games commenced with a standard poem by Afro Man and his side-kick, and then bizarrely followed with a random game of musical chairs for which the music was provided by aforementioned side-kick on a kazoo (Google it if you don't know what one is - coolest instrument ever in my opinion). It may have been the most tedious game of Scrabble I have ever played and we didn't finish it until 1am. And I lost.

Side-kick and Afro Man 
Side-kick and Non-Afro Man taking the game very seriously
The result of 3 hours of wordplay

On the Sunday, after struggling but eventually managing to pack 3 cases and 5 boxes of my crap into the car, we set off on our 10 hour drive back to Blighty.

The greatest work of car loading you'll ever see.

Oh, and I also became obsessed with Wisteria at the weekend:

How could I forget?! I had my last last day at school last week, which was sad! I got given homemade macaroons, several hand drawn union jacks, and lots of cards from my pupils which was so cute, I will miss them loads!

Some of the leaving presents I got from my pupils
Me with Dominique and Anne-Lise, the English teachers

I will write another post over the next week reflecting on my past year as an English assistant and my life in general in France, but until then, I'll tell you where I'm off to next Tuesday.

For the next 6 weeks (hopefully) I am going to be a WWOOFer. For those that don't know, that stands for World Wide Organisation for Organic Farming, and is a worldwide scheme in which farmers advertise their farms and hope to receive volunteers, known as WWOOFers, to help on the farm in return for accommodation and food. So I'll be working on a fromagerie high in the Pyrenees for the first three weeks, milking cows and sheep and learning how to make cheese. If you haven't already gathered, cheese is literally in my top favourite things about life in general, so I am mega mega excited. I should have the afternoons free which will give me lots of time to go for walks in the mountains. It better be sunny!

For the other 3 weeks, I'm hoping to go to a vineyard preferably in Provence, but I haven't had much luck so far in finding a place that still has space, as I left it a bit late to contact them. I'm hoping I'll be able to secure somewhere last minute.

Beautiful sky on the way home from France :)