Alan and Beryl's Newsletter - January 2006

I had hoped to get this out before Christmas, but things caught up with me and here it is already the end of the first week of January of the New Year! Anyway, we hope you all had a great Christmas and wish you all good health, happiness and success in the New Year.

After our trip to Ventimiglia reported in the October Newsletter, the next item on our calendar was a visit to Ferrara to spend a few days with Caroline and her family at the end of October. We were anxious to see the results of the extensive renovations that had been going on since June on the house next door, which they had bought at the beginning of the year. As the house (being 600 years old) is on the list of ancient buildings, it cannot be touched without a permit and any work done has to be in conformity with the rules for such buildings, so getting permission to do things takes quite a time. We were very impressed with what we saw - the place had been transformed! It wasn't quite all finished (much to Caroline's frustration!) in that a few windows and doors were still be be made and installed, but the overall effect was great. The restorations had kept most of the old ceiling beams and floors, the new windows and doors matched beautifully and the rooms looked lovely. They had been allowed to break through the wall between the two houses in one place where an ancient arch under the plaster showed that there had once been a door, and this made a very convenient arrangement. I've put a few pictures of the renovation in the site. As well as seeing the house we also spent time with Anna and Julia, went to the winery near Imola that Caroline and Francesco patronise a lot, had a number of enjoyable meals in the little restaurants of the region and generally enjoyed ourselves. The journeys to and from Ferrara went off really well, perhaps the best we have had, and we didn't run into any serious traffic. (One never knows in Italy, because a public holiday near a weekend can easily become a long weekend using a ponte (bridge), and then everyone takes off to visit family or friends and the roads suddenly become clogged for no apparent reason.)

Once back in Plan de la Tour it was time to get the garden ready for winter, forecast to be a hard one. Beryl had plans for next year which involved digging up and moving quite a lot of plants, and she had decided to reduce the large population of Canna Lilies we had developed, so these were given away to anyone who wanted them. The leaves were very late in falling this year, so most of the leaf sweeping was done in December. We always wait for a mistral after there are leaves on the ground in the hope that it will blow most of them away, but it always seems to bring as many new ones as those it does blow away, and packs them into corners. In between the daily chores there were the usual dinners and aperitifs to attend or give (which are the mark of the post-holiday season here), where one catches up with what has been happening over the summer months when one is too busy with visitors or other summer activities.

At the end of the month we took the coach trip to San Remo for the market there. We have friends who run a coach service to places like Ventimiglia, Monaco, Gorge du Verdon, etc, and it has become a tradition for there to be this trip to San Remo near Christmas, where one can buy one's Christmas presents in the market, and booze at the duty-free shop at the border. So it was with a coachload of friends that we set off. Unfortunately, it started to drizzle just before we got to San Remo, spoiling dreams of sitting in the sunshine sipping glasses of wine, but we did our market shopping without much interference from the rain, had an excellent lunch in a small restaurant, and by then the sun was peeping out so we walked down to the sea and sat on a bench overlooking it for a while watching the sailboats. A quick tour around the old station and the port and it was time to get on the bus to go home. A stop is made at the booze store at the border near Ventimiglia for everyone to stock up on their Christmas needs, and then it was a case of sit back and watch the countryside pass by (certainly beats driving yourself on such occasions!).

Then it was December which soon turned into the run-up to Christmas. This is becoming much more of a festival in France than it was when we arrived here seven years ago, probably for commercial reasons, although many places leave it to the last minute to put up the municipal decorations. St Tropez trumps everywhere around here by installing an outdoor wonderland with ice rink, and the arrival of Santa claus by boat in the harbour, both of which are very impressive, although we didn't go this year. We did however go to a number of aperitif parties at friends, dinners and did our share as well. We had decided not to go to Ferrara for Christmas this year, as the weather had turned cold in November and was staying that way with occasional snow on higher ground or north of us, and we didn't want to be travelling across the Po valley under such conditions. In fact, there was extensive snow on the Po valley and it was as well that we stayed at home. Our enjoyment of the Christmas season was moderated by the fact that we both got a cold just before the day, so we missed out on a couple of receptions but managed to get ourself in shape ready for Christmas dinner, which we had been invited to by our friends Anita and Jack Tuckwood.

Since Christmas our horizon has been dominated by Beryl's departure on 17 January for her annual visit to her sister in Florida. that is now only a week away so she is getting her clothes ready plus the other items she will be taking with her. I'll report on the visit in the next newsletter. In the meantime, dear friends, all the best for 2006.

Love - Alan and Beryl