A New Year’s Letter from France, Fiona Alderman
We live in a relatively small village in rural France and the chances of reading “ English of Today” printed in 1964 in Glasgow are pretty limited I would have thought ? However I was wrong. My French neighbour, Renée , handed in some little books for me as she knew I taught English lessons . Filled with historical facts , quizes and puzzles, I looked to find out where they were published. The House of Grant Limited, which was at 91-95 Union Street Glasgow. I used to get my school books there, and remember going down the stairs, near Central Station, to a bright and wonderful world of new books . I still remember a particular smell it had? Well, this was also the business that had been founded by Donald Grant in 1897 and then directed by his son, Robert Charlton Paton who was my partner Barry Paton’s, father! We believe she got these books by the way, when corrresponding with a pen pal, she was 14 then. Later on her son was at Strathclyde University, another coincidence?
I also remember when Barry and I met way back in 1986, in the Chip bar in Ashton Lane with my mum and we got chatting, or chatted up I am not sure which,and he asked us to a party at his house.This turned out to be in Westbourne Gardens Lane and had belonged before to my sister and husband? Strange old world !
Walking around the village after the Christmas Fêtes were over, it all seemed so quiet and I was wondering what to write about in the New Year. I realised that it has been 14 years since we came here and there have been a lot of changes that we rarely think about, and we just accept . We recently came across a website that showed Salignac around 1912 in the form of postcards. Our road, now called Rue Fenelon, was in fact Rue du Chateau and was one of the principal streets at that time. Our house, seen in this photo, on the right , was probably a shop of some kind, as it has an unusually big arch. There was a lot of commerce here at this time and it was flourishing with butchers, bakers, hairdressers, haberdashery and quite a few hostelries apparently! We knew an old lady, Mme Valade, born here in 1915, and in that house she later ran a busy café. She told us there were so many people then that some days she couldn’t see to the other side of her street!
Nowadays the centre of the village with all its shops has moved up and around the square , Le Champs de mars. This is where our favourite café is, called Café de la Place and in true French tradition is where life really exists! . We have seen many changes over the years here and now a further move is expected soon when the owners are leaving and going to set up shop in the other café just down the road. All very confusing to us! Maybe it will all become evident?
Another historic building is La Halle , dating back to 18th century and was an open market hall that sold potatoes, chestnuts, vegetables, and livestock . Around it’s edges the old farm carts would be lined up with all sorts of produce and this really was then the centre of the village. It is quiet now and is rarely used except for when we film our students for a dance piece , or sometimes they have musical events. Walking down the hill , behind La Halle is Le Couvent of the 13th Century and is one of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in Salignac. This is now privately owned by a lovely French couple and their young daughter, whom I sometimes give English lessons to. I know their house well and the spacious rooms with enormous fireplaces are a feast for the eye! The roof is covered with “lauze”, stone tiles that literally weigh a ton a metre and are special only to this region of France.
Our majestic castle played a part in the Hundred Years War where it was a strong fort against the enemy, with an impressive artillery terrace at the base. Today it is owned by Swiss people who are gradually renovating and restoring it back to its former glory. I have been inside it, a few years back, but only in certain areas. The vaulted ballroom, the elegant living rooms and a huge kitchen that takes up the entire bottom floor . They say it will take at least 30 years to finish the restoration. Time and a lot of money is all that is needed.
I was amused to read last month that 5 youngsters had stolen a llama from a circus in Bordeaux! Apparently he was taken on a tram for a night out. Not surprisingly , the teenagers were drunk and the poor llama was eventually caught and brought back to safety. The youngsters were formally charged too I believe. Serge, as the llama is called, has become an Internet sensation with over 2 million views of a song dedicated to him . There is a very famous singer called Serge Lama in France who was highly taken by this event and who said he “was pleased to have some young fans again .“
The laugh is that other animals had been targeted for “zee great escape” and even some poor zebras, but as the owner of the circus said “zebras are difficult to manoeuvre “ Never!
It is the custom to eat “Galette des rois” at this time just after New Year on the 6th of January and signifies Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas. It is a reminder of the three kings.
Filled with delicious almond buttercream and sometimes topped with candied fruits, it includes a little porcelain item called a “feve”.It used to be traditionally a baby Jesus but now it can be anything that the baker can think of! When the cake is cut into portions the one who gets the “feve” becomes king or queen for the day and wears the gold paper crown that comes with the cake.
To keep the suspense going as to who gets the feve, the youngest person at the meal hides under the table when it is being cut, and he or she calls out at random who shall have the next portion! Lovely!
I wish you all a very Happy New Year or Bonne Annéé in French which everyone is still saying throughout January!
Fifi’s Story from Rural France . January 2014.
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