NEWSLETTER SEPTEMBER 2006-09-05
As usual, I am behind in keeping up with current newsletters – it was January when I did the last one. Time seems to go so quickly these days! Certainly the summer seems to have gone by in a flash. Perhaps that was because Caroline and family did not come to stay with us until late July, so when they left there was not much summer left. Anyway, here is a summary of our news. I think that when I wrote the last letter, Beryl was about to go off to Florida for her annual visit to her sister Pam. The trip duly took place, she had good flights both ways and enjoyed seeing Pam, Bill, Sally and Ian, and the shopping! We thinkwe have found the key to the trip now: fly Delta from Nice to New York, then same airline from NY to West Palm Beach, and the inverse for the return journey. Advantages include a later departure time from Nice, which makes it easier to get the flight, simple change in NY, and ease of her being picked up by Pam and Bill. On the return flight, she arrives in Nice after the long transatlantic flight and then just has the car trip home, in case of delays etc., no connections to make.
When Beryl returned to France she found that winter was in full swing. It was a long and cold winter (for this area) and we had a lot of concerns for our plants, which proved to be justified. It was cold without being harsh cold, in fact, this was one of the few years when our pool never had a layer of ice form on it. But it was enough to wreak havoc on many of our plants – the bougainvillea were cut down to the roots, the datura have barely flowered this summer, the ficoids were decimated, and many others suffered. It was a good job that we had put all the movable sensitive plants in our little greenhouse and covered the jasmine and plumbago with sheets (not very successfully, as the mistrals gave the sheets a hard time). This all meant that Beryl had a lot of work to do with her flower beds when spring finally arrived, and they still haven’t really recovered as the hard winter was followed by a serious drought and a fierce summer hot spell.
We had earlier decided that the blue palm that was situated beside the path to the front door, between a cherry tree and a tall conifer, should be moved as there was not enough room for it to develop. We found a man who was prepared to do the job but he said that we had to wait until things had warmed up enough, early May being the best time. So he turned up in early May and did the job very efficiently and expeditiously with his back-hoe. We had earlier cut down the Christmas tree which stood in the flower bed and we wanted to put the palm in that bed, so the root had to come out first. The palm lost a number of its fronds, but the growing tip seems in good shape and we are hopeful that it has survived the move. It looks much better in its new location and that will improve as the flowers around it get more established.
April and May were disappointing months as far as weather was concerned – somehow, spring just didn’t seem to get going. Normally, I get the pool going in April and put the bubble cover on, and by the end of the month it is swimmable, albeit a bit fresh. This year it took much longer than normal, and the cooler times discouraged one from doing other outdoor things.
We went to Ferrara in April to visit Caroline and family and had our usual enjoyable time. It was the first time we had seen the finished renovated houses with the links between them, and they looked really great. The family is enjoying the extra space, just as well they have it, as both Caroline and Francesco are working a lot from home and need offices to work in and receive clients. It was nice to meet some of their friends, learn about the contrada and hear the plans for the forthcoming Palio. We also took a trip into mountain country where they have spent their summers, to have a good lunch and stock up with wine from the favourite vineyards. We enjoyed seeing Anna and Julia again, meeting them from school and going to the park - taking them to the fair was one nice trip. We stayed as usual in our favourite B&B, Il Baggatino, with Alessandria’s warm welcome. All too soon it was time to come home.
We had to have repairs done to the terrace around the pool as parts of it had subsided and cracked, and at the same time we decided to complete the terracing (crazy paving) all around the pool. This was done by our friend and mason Benjamin and his colleague and now looks very nice and should last for ever. In June, the Chateau de Berne at Lorgues had the Caroline Jazz Band for one of the Sunday picnics, and as we like them, we made up a small party to attend. The music was great and we had a most enjoyable afternoon in the Jasmine Garden, now done over in drapes and transparent screens to make it suitable for wedding receptions and weather proof if required. July arrived with the traditional Soupe Au Pistou held in Place Foch, and we joined a lot of our expat friends and locals in attending. It is always great fun and this year the weather was perfect, the food copious and good and unlimited wine to drink!
The weather warmed up in the second half of May but accompanied by several mistrals. June was regular summer but July started hot and stayed that way – for the whole month the highs were above 30C reaching as much as 36C. No rain in April, a shower in May, dry in June, a shower in July and one in August. No serious rain since March. We only have what grass and plants we have as a result of constant watering – happily the well is still providing water.
When the hot weather started at the end of June, we found that the air conditioner did not work. The technician discovered that a lizard had found its way into the electronics package in the outdoor unit and got fried when it tried to walk across a printed circuit board which had 750 volts on it! In frying itself it also fried the board so we were without the system for a week until the new board came and was fitted. We were very happy to get the cooling going as it rapidly got hotter and sleeping was difficult.
Caroline decided to come to us late July when her work load permitted. Francesco was still busy with his new company and could not stay at that time. So we both set off early on the appointed day and met up about half way, at a place called Ovada, north of Genoa, meeting in a new shopping centre which had toilets, cafes, restaurants and somewhere to sit, as well as being air conditioned. Francesco went back alone, while Caroline, Anna and Julia, and the cats Elio and Charlie were transferred to my car for the return journey to Plan de la Tour. As a result of the early start, we were home for lunch. The girls lost no time in getting in the pool, which was the main attraction during their stay. With the heatwave, the water got up to 30C, so no trouble in going in. Francesco finished his work and joined us after a week. The girls enjoyed revisiting all the old toys and exploring the garden and surrounding vineyards, going out shopping, playing ‘house’, doing their washing and all the things little girls do as well as lots of swimming, cannonballs and they even learned how to dive. The second week, Alice, a 7 year old from England, came to stay at the house next door, so they had someone new to play with and enjoy the pools at both places. The third week they had the opportunity to play in the pools with twin 9-year old girls, Jessica and Rachel, staying locally with grandma, and got on very well. We all had a couple of good dinners in one of the Plan de la Tour restaurants, who went out of their way to accommodate the girls wants, After three weeks the time came to pack up and go home and there were lots of tears as the car rolled out of the driveway, but happy memories.
Plan de la Tour now has a new restaurant – Les Deux Fontaines, located on the premises of the old Osteria where we have spent many happy evenings at all times of the year. Helene and Ernst finally decided that they had had enough (after, I believe, 25 years of running the restaurant) and sold the rights to a young couple who have made a lot of renovations. We arranged a goodbye dinner for 14 the evening that was supposed to be Helene and Ernst’s last, but it turned out that the papers had not been signed so we had the dinner then anyway. In July the new patrons had an aperitif for just about anyone interested to which we went and met them and the rest of the world. We went to eat there the first evening it was open and had a very good meal. It has become very popular and as a result the service is rather slow, especially in the tourist months. We will see how things turn out when normality returns!
Another restaurant that has pleased us is L’Aioli. It opened last November in what was called L’Olivette, again a young couple has taken over. Food is good, service also, and the menu comprehensive enough to satisfy. They also have items suitable for children, as well as children’s menus, and have four children themselves, so they know kids don’t like to be kept waiting. Anna and Julia enjoyed their visits there.
With the end of the holiday season and the roads and streets clearing, visitors gone, we can get back to the social life which is such a feature of the community here. We have already had a couple of dinner parties and are invited out to a French one this week. Looks as though its going to be a busy winter!
Healthwise, we are doing not badly. We are taking our medications for things like hypertension, excess cholesterol, indigestion, BPH, etc. which all seem to be under control. Beryl has a problem with an arm itching at night – it has been the subject of a lot of medical attention and we now think the origin is nervous, as none of the remedies has had any effect. Alan had a piece of skin removed from his forehead in March, the operation went well and has healed perfectly. It was a good demonstration of the efficiency and humanity of the French health system.
On that note, I think it is time to finish this letter. You will find some pictures of the events mentioned in this newsletter in the section 'New Stuff' on the first page of the site, click on it to view. We often think of you all and trust that you are well and enjoying life as we are. Let us know how are getting on and give us the address of your web site if you have made one.
Love from us both – Alan and Beryl . .