Newsletter from Alan and Beryl Sewards - October 2002

Its three months since I wrote the last update at the end of July, and now we have gone from full hot summer into fall, with occasional days of rain and frequent mistrals. Since July we have had a very welcome visit from Hella Bertrand, our next door neighbour for most of the time we lived in Kanata, and then from Joy and John Roberts, who apart from being our friends for many years, gave Colin much encouragement and support in his all-too-short youth. We have also been to see Caroline and family in Ferrara (Italy) and went on from them to spend a few days in Tuscany. Hella was scheduled to be accompanied by her friend Judy, but on the afternoon of the day they were to leave Ottawa, Judy's mother was taken into Intensive Care at the Queensway Carleton hospital, and was not expected to live very long, so Judy had to cancel her trip. Hella came on her own and we had a very happy visit, which included a few trips out and lots of good food and wine. As it was August, the weather was pretty good and nice and warm, but not too warm for the odd walk around the village. The time for her departure back to Ottawa came all too quickly. Joy and John's visit took place in September and was also very enjoyable, we caught up on various developments in Kanata, and also managed to get in a few trips and visits to local restaurants, in between John battling with emails, faxes and telephone calls pertaining to his responsibilities back home. John brought a number of books and magazines to read and kindly left them for us when he had read them - English language reading matter is scarce here and quite precious to us! Hella also brought some Canadian newspapers and these were read from beginning to end by not only us but some Canadian friends who live not far away in the village of La Garde Freinet.

Usually summer here goes on into the third week of September but not this year. The hot weather went with the end of August and September was quite autumnal and noticeably cooler. I put the cover on the pool as usual at the beginning of September but hardly used the pool thereafter as it just wasn't pool weather, Finally I put the cover away at the end of September and let the pool cool to ambient. We have also had quite a bit of rain since the end of summer, including one spell of three days when we had 130mm rain. As there has been a serious deficit of water in this region for about a year, this rainfall was welcomed. We have had a few wet days since, but no heavy rain. It has continued reasonably mild and of course the flowers are still blooming, but a few trees have leaves that are turning and some leaves are beginning to blow about when the mistral blows.

At the end of September we set off for Ferrara to spend a few days seeing the Caroline and the family. We took Elio the cat back home - he had been left with us as Caroline & co. were renting a house in the country for the summer and the owners didn't want animals. I'm not sure how he felt about being back home, but they were all very pleased to see him! We hadn't seen the children since end-July and were quite surprised how much they had changed in that short time, in things like talking, drawing, and playing. The girls were back at school and we went along with Caroline to pick them up at 1 pm, after which we all went along to the nearby park where we had drinks and then sandwiches in the local bar in the park while the children played. It was fascinating to see Anna and Julia go off and play with other children and talk Italian with them and English with us when we were within earshot. We had some memorable meals in restaurants and at home, played with the girls, and had a great time. When we left for Tuscany, we followed the route they had used throughout the summer to go to the house they had rented in the mountains. This went down through Imola, bypassing Bologna, and then continued up a very pretty valley. Their house was in Borgo Tossignano and they also went often to Castel del Rio, further up, where Anna went for swimming lessons. It was a lovely run, starting on the flat Po valley and then entering the mountain valley and following it right up. When we go to the top, we continued on towards Florence, over mountain passes, all on little roads with hardly any traffic. We stopped for lunch in a little restaurant near Barberino: all the customers were men, and the menu was recited by the waitress and not written, but the food and wine were excellent. We got on the motorway shortly after but then got into a line of traffic going around Florence, where the motorway had been stupidly reduced to one lane for no apparent reason. Going the other way there was an even bigger holdup, where the traffic was backed up for 10 km. or more and just not moving, again for no apparent reason. We were glad to leave the motorway at Florence Certosa and take to the smaller roads again, via which we quickly got to our destination, Collelungo, near Castellina in Chianti. We had three quiet days at Collelungo, unfortunately marred by Alan getting a tummy bug on the second day. We visited San Gimignano again and checked up on the boutiques in Greve and other local towns, ate well and tested some local Chianti. We drove back home on the Saturday on a lovely clear day and enjoyed the drive, but it was nice to be home!

Nothing much has happened at home. We enjoyed the new air conditioning in the bedrooms during August but it has not been necessary since. There has been the usual garden maintenance, and on 15 October onwards it was permitted to light bonfires, so the 16th we burnt the accumulated garden refuse going back to March! The visits of the sellers of wine have resumed, and we have bought some from the preferred guys, so the stocks are now even better than before, informed by experience. We have had a number of dinner parties, including a successful one with our other French neighbours. We have been to functions in the village and to a VIAC lunch at La Motte, and rediscovered a number of our favourite restaurants, now quiet after the summer tourists have departed. We went to Toulon to Ikea, Habitat and ToysRUs, and have hit the local nurseries and potteries on a regular basis. I continue to go the boulangerie every morning to get bread and/or croissants, and take the odd walk, although our walks have yet to resume on a regular note.

I got a new computer in August, as Caroline had expressed a wish to get a desktop which the children could use, and it seemed a good idea to give her my Dell and get another. The one I got was based on a number of parts assembled by the vendor, I added the rest and display monitor and installed the software. This seems to have worked out well for both of us. My new machine has an AMD Athlon 1800+ CPU, with 256MB DDR RAM, 40 GB hard drive and an ATI 32 MB video card. There is a modem and build-in sound and networking. I have a plug-in 40 GB hard drive in addition which I use for backups. This machine is on all the time as it is connected to my weather station and runs the software which logs the weather data; we also use it for email and general stuff, as well as my music, as it is connected to the synthesizer. I got my IBM notebook back from Caroline when I delivered the Dell, and am pleased to be able to type away on it wherever I want to sit, as I'm doing now! Following enticing ads by our internet provider, I applied for ADSL (high-speed) Internet service but it turned out not to be available to residents of Plan de la Tour, and it looks pretty doubtful if it will become available in the foreseeable future. This is a disappointment as dial-up service is not very good and it would be nice to have an always-on service. Ah well, such is life in France.

Its now the season when one's thoughts turn naturally to lighting the fire in the living room in the evening and drawing the curtains to create a cosy atmosphere, while the mistral howls outside. During the day of course it is warm and sunny most of the time and flowers are blooming all around (morning glory is dramatic at the moment). The clocks go back this weekend (I think) and the effect will be accentuated. As we sit around the fire we shall think of you all, our friends, in the various places we have lived or where you now live, and wish you all the best.

A bientot - Alan and Beryl