Monday 28 July 2014

taking the waters

Summer pasture lands just above Barèges, July 2010

And finally,
the big day comes.

I get up later than expected from my after lunchtime siesta and trundle over to the Tourist office in our village. The bus for the thermal baths is slowly filling with patients when I arrive ten minutes later. 

The driver takes us up the Barèges valley, along the road to the col du Tourmalet. We overtake panting cyclists wishing to measure themselves against the greats. 

Ten minutes later, we arrive in the spa of Barège, a long, thin village clinging to the hill slope along the river Bastan. The thermal baths have been here for over three hundred years. 

French people have been coming here every year to take the waters. To be taken care of. To find healing and peace in the shadow of the mountain, beside the bubbling brooks and thermal springs.

And finally.
Today it is my turn.  

Sunday 27 July 2014

black and white yarn (hand-spun)

I had kept behind some white singles from my last project because I wanted to experiment with a two-tone double ply yarn.   

I fell in love with the black fleece the moment I clapped eyes on it. Never mind if the locks seemed a little dry, or were heavily matted with straw and...well, we'll keep that a secret between spinsters.

I had already spun with it back in April, during one of my earlier attempts at the wheel. At the time it had been a real pain to spin, but I put it down to my lack of experience. Coming back to it again this time round, I realise that the difficulty lay in the fleece itself: they were brittle (probably through age) and far too short to spin easily (probably because the fleece had been twice cut).

I struggled to find much pleasure in spinning the black singles, although my mood lifted considerably once I had plied the singles together. And at least I'll have learnt that sometimes even a free fleece is a little two much effort...


"Black and white yarn"

Ingredients: around 30g of washed and carded wool. The fibre used was white and black Barégeoise from Gèdre.

Spinning: Two singles spun from all rolags in the Z direction, using the woollen technique.  
Plying: two singles plied in the S direction until balanced. 

Finishing: Wound off into a skein, washed and dried weighted to set the ply.
Quantity: 30g giving 59m of finished yarn

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Aveyron / St Affique

I am stirred from a deliciously deep sleep by the sound of the wind whispering through the trees. The golden rays of dawn are streaming through the circular opening above my head. As I drag myself fully into the day, I can feel the canvas walls around me are breathing. Only an arm width away, N is pottering beside the stove. Seeing to the early morning pot of coffee.    

N and I have a tiny germ of a dream. 
Nothing fancy or big. 

Just a secret desire to spend a lot more of our time grubby. To work more closely with the natural world. To reduce the stuff in our life so as to live more simply yet more fully, more deeply. In a more manageable manner. 

Often, that is the only thing that we want. Mountains. Tiny house/yurt/cabin in the woods. High grass. Veggie patch. Wild flowers. Stars. Sky. Fresh air. (A few sheep).  All that hippy-dippy off-grid, composting toilet, Tom and Barbara stuff.

On our way back from the wedding, we couch-surfed in an alternative hamlet in the hills above St Affrique. We ate courgettes picked fresh from the veggie patch and spent the night in a yurt, perched on the side of a steep hill.

For now, it's just a little dream. A seed we planted in our imaginations a few years ago but that we tend to regularly with drops of hope and love. Sometimes it feels as if our seed is too small, that the conditions are too harsh for it to thrive, let alone take root. 

But that last night in the Aveyron was one of those nights when we wonder. Perhaps our tiny seed will one day sprout some tiny roots? might just be possible after all.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

a hand-sewn wedding

Une mariée si belle dans sa robe de dentelle Chantilly cousue-main (les fleurs du joli bouquet aussi), un mari tout heureux, une témoin-interprète qui avait un peu le trac pendant la cérémonie...

Puis...avec un "oui" bref, ils deviennent époux et s'appartiennent désormais.  

Vive l'amour bilingue! 


The bride was just stunning in her hand-sewn gown, with exquisite Chantilly lace and hand crafted bouquet. 
The groom was glowing with joy, grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat.
The witness-interpreter was more than a little nervous during the ceremony.

And then...with a simple "I do", they became man and wife, belonging to one another from this day forth. 

Hip hip hooray for love in two languages!

Monday 21 July 2014

Aveyron / Larzac

Une nuit sur le plateau du Larzac, hebergé par un jeune bergers. Forcement.  

Le lendemain matin, un petit tour à pied avec N. D'un pas un peu hésitant. Mais ensemble.

La terre dans l'Aveyron était rouge. Il y avait du soleil mais ça caillait. Le vent soufflait fort. Très fort.

Moi aussi, je souffle. 
C'est la première fois qu'on marche ensemble, que je marche même, depuis un petit moment. On parle. On rit. On fait des projets. On contemple le paysage. On sent l'odeur des aromates écrasés par nos pieds. On se donne la main. On se dit que l'on devrait marcher plus souvent. Forcément.


We spent the night on the mythical Larzac plateau, hosted by a couple...of shepherds. Bien sur. 

The next morning, N and I went for a little stroll. Taking little, hesitant steps. Together. 

In the Aveyron, the earth was blood red. It was sunny but freezing. The wind's breath was strong that morning. Very strong.

But it blew the cobwebs from my mind. 

It was the first time we've walked together, that I've walked, for a while. We talked. We laughed. We made plans. We admired the landscape. We breathed in the delicious odour of wild herbs crushed beneath our feet. We held hands. We decided we should do this more often, go walking again, more often. Bien sur.

Sunday 20 July 2014

le Gers / Auch

Se perdre dans le centre médiévale d'Auch, captital de la Gascogne, s'emerveiller de ses pierres anciennes et ses ruelles étroites et remarquablement abrupts, le tout baigné d'une lumière douce.  


We got lost for an hour or two in the medieaval streets of Auch, capital of the ancient kingdom of Gascony. We marvelled at the ancient stones, the impossibly narrow streets, all bathed in a soft light.


July 20th 2012. Graduation Day. Truly one of those "once in a blue moon" sort of days.

A day we thought would never come.

It was a day of euphoria for me and my family. Rightly so. We had come so far together, overcome so many difficulties.

I can remember on the day being washed along in a tide of immense and deep founded joy: the relief at having finally finished, the pride of achieving First Class Honours, the fun of swishing about town in my billowing gown, the support of my parents who helped me to get there, the encouragement of my big brother and sister who had blazed the trail long before me.

Now when I think back to that day, the thing that makes me happiest is to look at the picture above, to see myself, almost indistinguishable in the crowd. Sat beside my peers, not in a room all on my own.

For once looking normal, just like everyone else.

Saturday 19 July 2014

en attendant le bain

J'ignore completement combien de temps j'attends le bain. Un mois? Un an? Plutôt seize...

Mais je sais ça fait longtemps. 

Malgré l'espoir que pourrait evoquer le terme français pour les soins-thermaux pour une anglaise - une cure - je sais qu'il ne s'agira pas d'une guérison spectaculaire. 

Mais n'empeche que ça va me faire du bien. D'être soigné. D'être écouté. Comprise. Accepté.

La semaine prochaine, ce sera le jour-J. 


I don't exactly know how long I've been waiting for something. Anything. A month? A year? More like sixteen...

Despite the French name - "la cure" - I know a month in thermal water won't cure me. But it might make me feel a little better. To finally be taken care of. To be listened to. Understood. Accepted.

Next week will be D-Day.

Tarbes / Jardin Massey

Etre assis assis sur un banc public avec mon amoureux. Un pique-nique à l'improviste pour fêter le début de nos vacances d'été. Entourés de cedres de Liban, le cri des paons et le soleil qui est revenu. Si on fermait les yeux une minute, on se croirait dans un pays etranger...


Sat on a park bench with my sweetheart. Enjoying a picnic thrown together at the last moment. Celebrating the start of our summer holiday. Surrounded by Cedar trees, the sound of peacocks and the sun which has decided to come back. You'd think we were in a far off land, if you close your eyes for just a moment...

Thursday 17 July 2014

de retour

L'hibernation a du bon mais l'appel de l'été...

Et hop, on reviens des vacances. Dix jours en tandem avec mon à plus de douze en même temps. C'était à la fois fatigant et revigorant, rassurant et "deboussolant"...mais surtout très lumineux.

Il y a eu beaucoup de route et donc beaucoup de découvertes. 

Il y a eu du soleil et des averses, des couchers de soleil merveileux et la serenité de la  pleine lune.
Il y a eu un très joli mariage, des envies de toujours et des bonheurs en construction.
Et au retour à la maison, il y a eu l'envie plus que jamais de prendre les choses en main et essayer de façonner la vie que l'on voudrais vivre.
La (douce) parenthèse est finie ... et je me réjouis aussi de revenir par ici. 

Hibernating is all very well, but who can resist the lure of the summer...?
So here we are, back from our holiday. Ten days spent side by side with my dearest...and with more than twelve other souls at the same time! The trip was both exhausting and invigorating, reassuring and disorientation...but very, very wonderful. 
There was plenty of travelling and so plenty of new things to discover.
There was sunshine and sudden downpours, glorious sunsets and the gentle peace of the full moon.  
There was a most lovely wedding, with wishes of happily ever afters and promises of future happiness to be built together. 

And when we got back home, there was a strong desire to take the bull by the horns and really try to start slowly crafting the life we, I, want to live. 

The brief pause is over...and I'm very glad to be scribbling back here.

Monday 7 July 2014


I feel a bit like I've spent the last lingering weeks of spring and the reluctant start of summer in hibernation.

The past few weeks have been quite intense, yet also very revealing. Since getting back to France my general state of well-being seemed to take a bit of a dip...which then turned into a nose-dive through June. 

Fatigue but also a whole heap of other symptoms means that it was important for me to prioritise rest and really look after myself. I've ended up deliberately going into hibernation by taking to my bed and rarely going out for the past few weeks.

Thankfully after months of feeling very bemused by the apparant lack of recognition, understanding and support for my illness (M.E./CFS) since moving to France, we've tried a new GP with an enquiring, problem solving mind. After much questioning, prodding and poking, she's pinpointed another condition - Fibromylagia - as the root of my current dip in well-being.

For the time being, I need to rest up and take some time to really be kind to myself, continue eating wholesome, organic, gluten and dairy free food, as much oily fish as possible and get out in the sun whenever I can. In the meantime, she's organising a five week course of specialised treatment just up the valley at our local thermal station.

Apparently it might take quite a while for me to start getting properly back on my feet again. But I must admit that it's an enormous relief to finally know what has been going on, and that finally perhaps the French don't collectively think I am a malade imaginaire  after all...

So for the time being, I shall be taking a brief hiatus from writing here. We are off tomorrow for a gentle adventure across the south of France to go to my dear friend's wedding next weekend. And I'm sure I'll need some time to recover quietly and slowly once we are back in our green mountains...

A très bientôt!

Sunday 6 July 2014

living without

Casting my eyes over the plate I see a colourful landscape - the steamed courgettes, the quinoa and split peas, the nuts and the seeds, the buckwheat and chestnut flour bread. Not an ounce of meat. Not a grain of wheat. Not a drop of milk.

Not so long ago, I wouldn't have thought it possible to make something so delicious with so many missing ingredients. Whilst we've eaten pretty much vegetarian for over four and a half years and our diet has never been heavily reliant on processed items, we had a handful of ingredients that always made the top spot on the weekly menu.

And so we've been exploring different ways of living and eating, starting by abandoning those French staples of bread and cheese.

Three months ago, we decided to finally take the plunge and see whether living without gluten and dairy would make living with M.E./CFS and Fibromyalgia any easier. We decided to overhaul our diet not so much in the hope of a cure but rather as a conscious decision to choose a path of food as nourishment, possibly even medicine.

The initial fallout, both physical and mental, was not pleasant as our bodies readjusted. Without the shop bought cakes or biscuits when the afternoon energy dip came, I had to reach once more for a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts.

Breakfast time was initially the hardest and I cursed as food preparation became laborious. I felt especially burdened by the lack of ingredients, choices and alternatives available to us here, halfway up a mountain. Gluten and dairy free products are not as developed or easily available here as in the UK elsewhere and so for a few weeks we were having to make everything from scratch. In order to keep the fire of change burning, we expanded our modest library of wholefoods literature. And most importantly, we kept talking.

It certainly has been a time of much reflection and discussion.

To be continued...

Saturday 5 July 2014

se mouiller les pieds [vallon de la Glère]

On est tout juste au début de juillet et pourtant, on se croirait du nouveau en mars - la semaine n'a été que pluie, vent et giboulées. Et puis voilà. Depuis ce matin, le soleil est revenu avec intensité, une force qui réchauffe la vallée et le coeur. On avait qu'un seul envie, préparer un pique nique et manger au bord d'un bien sur, se mouiller les pieds dans l'eau glaciale après! 


We're already at the start of July and yet you'd think it was actually March - we've had nothing but rain, wind and sudden downpours all week. And then voilà! This morning the sun returned, shining brightly, warming up the valley and raising the spirits considerably. There was only one thing for it: prepare a picnic and go and eat beside a raging mountain stream...if only to have a quick paddle in the icy waters after lunch!

Friday 4 July 2014

overdoing it

It had become a familiar pattern. At least once a week I'd miss one of my morning or afternoon resting slots, choosing to begin a new project or lingering on a task instead. Often this missed rest slot would pass unnoticed and I'd feel a secret inner feeling of glee as I was able to carry on regardless. "See, no need for resting after all. What a waste of time..."

Often it started with one missed rest. But then the following day, I'd skip all rests. And perhaps do an hour or two too much of teaching. Or "forget" to go to bed early. Other times, I'd "forget" I needed to turn the computer off after dinner and slowly wind my body and mind down ready for bed. This would then of course throw my whole rhyme out of kilter, muck up my sleep pattern and make me become exhausted and anxious.

The new doctor is of course right. 

Somehow, I must break this cycle.
Somehow, I must slow down.
Somehow, I must learn to listen to my body again.

It's just that for some strange reason, in my mind listening to my body equals acceptance of the situation, which somehow suggests giving in to this bothersome illness.

{Yummy organic veggies from the weekly farmer's market}

Tuesday 1 July 2014

a diagnosis

Early July.

Am sat in the doctor's consulting room, a swarm of butterflies fluttering around my stomach. On my lap, a pile of tangled threads, my knitting lies forgotten. In my hand, I grip the piece of paper in my hand tightly. In the years I've been sick, I've never particularly liked going to the doctor. It's even harder doing it in French. 

I'm beckoned into the consulting room and the doctor takes the blood test results from my hands, scanning them quickly with a knowing eye. I'm invited to hop up onto the bed, where she proceeds to take my blood pressure, before poking and prodding me in a variety of places on my body. Some illicit a dull ache, whilst others are particularly tender under the pressure from her fingers. She signals for me to return to my chair opposite her. She taps away at the computer for a few moments before asking me questions about my sleep patterns, energy levels and general feelings of well-being.

If you are British and you've never had the pleasure of going to the Doctor in French before, remind yourself what it felt like taking your French GCSE oral exam. Except that the symptoms you are describing are real (and in the case of M.E./CFS, the brain fog can make your thinking less than clear), not icons on a printed examination card, and the person you are talking to is both your local GP, not your French teacher.

Because after struggling to find any support, medical or otherwise, for the past two years, I finally dragged myself out of the house to try a new doctor earlier this afternoon. I went into the surgery a nonchalant English girl with a self-diagnosed M.E./CFS relapse, convinced all she needed was some bed rest and a lemsip.

Forty-five minutes later, I emerged from le cabinet medical looking just that little bit more gallic thanks to a confirmation of Syndrome de Fatigue Chronique, a diagnosis of Fibromylagie...and crucially, a list of prescriptions as long as my arm...including "une cure".

{Photos from a barefoot walk up at the plateau de Saugé, early July 2013}