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13 May 2006

Chateau by Jean Lombard

Monday 15th May
Yesterday was the most perfect day. After all the rain and storms, it was beautiful and perfect for walking. Nature was at its best.
In the morning we went to an exhibition by 13 artists at a chateau in Salornay sur Guye. Quite interesting, very varied in quality. There was a felt maker, sculpture, various textile artists and other odds and ends people, wood workers, paper makers etc. I picked up a leaflet on basket making classes and hope to enroll for a weekend in July.
In the afternoon we set off on the Rallye Pedestre – our local community walk and social occasion, with the theme of Motzart. What a walk - first climbing up the little laneways on our side of the valley working our way around the top, down into the valley and up the other side to the top of the hill where the old ruined flour mill is. On the way we stopped at the Château de Borde, and Monsieur and Madame Borde de Borde had opened their home for the occasion. Or I should say, the courtyard, the beautiful little church and the farm buildings. It was all lovely and we all dallied there. We walked the 8 kilometres with groups of local families and their dogs, and had a lot of fun chatting as we went along. I don’t know when I have enjoyed this occasion so much. Perhaps its something to do with how much my French has improved and can now communicate adequately, which encourages people to speak to me. The Amicale set questions which we had to answer and we had to make a musical instrument on the way. Some people made marvelous efforts of course, we were pretty feeble, but really enjoyed ourselves. The views from les petits chemin (little pathways) from each side of the valley were spectacular. At the end we all met up in the Mairie for the results – we were 26th, ha ha. More chat, that first water and cold beer were superb. We sat there chatting until 8 o’clock just enjoying the company and catching up with everyone. The evenings are so light and so enjoyable.
Saturday13th May 2006
A little redstart has made a nest in the stone archway at the entrance to our cave. Beautiful little bird, charcoal grey, with light touches and a red flash around its tail. It’s a very neat moss nest set in amongst my garden hand tools, so I will have to wait to use my trowels and forks! At first the birds were very nervous of us intruders, but they are getting a bit more used to us now. They used to fly out of the nest every time I went in and out of the cave, but now only if I make a noise. Or move around too much. The problem is our neighbours cats! They are watching for an opportunity all the time.
Yesterday the sun came out again, beautiful weather and we were able to sit on the balcony for a while, but still cool in the evening. Again beautiful today and the light and reflection of the sun across the valley absolutely stunning.
There was a fat partridge sitting on our barn roof yesterday, very plump with very pretty markings. What a strange noise it made, something like a small hammer tapping on a hollow pipe, interspersed with a hoarse cry. I think some magpies disturbed it from its nest as it sounded very alarmed, and there were several magpies hanging around. High above a buzzard circled slowly, making gentle mewing sounds, watching out for food on the ground. The lizards are out again as soon as the stones warm up.
Everything is growing like mad, and I expect when the ground warms up properly there will be no stopping the plants and fruit. The cherry tree looks laden, as do the gooseberries and redcurrants. All the herbs are growing really well, and this year the parsley and coriander have somehow survived the winter, perhaps because they are in a sheltered spot, and I see some dill popping up in the garden again. Rhubarb and silver beet are thriving and we are eating my first pick.
I started pulling out some weeds today from the courtyard and the rockery, at the moment quite easy after the heavy rain, must keep persisting and plant early to cover everything up and leave no room for weeds.
We picked up my manuscript from the printer this morning, and I can’t help feeling proud that it has come this far. I know it means nothing with regard to a publisher yet, but still it feels good to see it printed and bound, if in draft copy. I will post a copy to Ireland tomorrow.
We watched a program about Sydney on local television. Strange to watch a program made from an overseas visitor’s point of view. It was done quite well, if loaded a bit towards our ‘glorious’ harbour. However, it seemed to us to be a magnificent free advertisement for Tourism Australia.
John is deeply involved in his family history project and will be able to explore more angles when we go to Ireland later. He plans to visit regularly a 93 year old neighbour who was the old postmistress 40 years ago and used to walk up hill and down dale with her post bag over her shoulder, she said she walked 20km each day, rain or shine. He hopes to record some of her stories and write it down. Right now Mademoiselle Desthieux is in care in Cluny, and her sister in law told John she would be 'ravi' to have him visit and to talk to him. What an opportunity.
The days fly by and I never seem to get enough done. A normal day goes something like this:
Get up around 7 or 7.30 depending on the day. I stand transfixed in front of the window looking across the valley at the sun shining on the rich green rolling landscape. Little scrolls of damp misty cloud move around for a while until the sun gets stronger. If its cold we refresh the fire. Check the emails, and depending on the mood, write some replies. Breakfast watching the international news. A discussion and grand plan on what we anticipate having for dinner that evening. An hour or so of study to keep up my French, some weeding or planting or both, or simply admiring and thinking of improvements! Then my struggling attempt to get into basket making. I am trying to make a huge basket for logs, but already have blisters on my fingers from rolling and plying the bullrush leaves I cut and dried last year. Sometimes we pop into town, or one of us does, to get the local newspaper and bread for lunch. The postman arrives around midday with our mail and the International Herald Tribune. So to lunch and enjoy the newspapers sitting on the gallerie. Perhaps a short siesta depending on what is happening, more gardening, potting some geraniums, perhaps a walk. Before I know it is six o’clock, and sometimes even seven. It is light so late the evening gets away with me. Sometimes we have an aperitif with friends, or relax at home. We watch a local television quiz show which stretches our language skills somewhat! John reads AM and the Aussie newspapers on line as Australia sleeps and reports bits and pieces.
Saturday is market day in Cluny, so we wander around with a basket buying veggies and fruit and some plants.
We are expecting a visit from Ross Steele, former Prof of French at Sydney Uni soon. We hope to make some plans for a French language tour next year.
Our plan is to visit Madrid at the end of the month, driving slowly and stopping off here and there on the way. We have not yet been there and really want to visit the Prado. We will meet Barbara and Steven in Madrid and have some nice meals together.
Sunday 7th May 2006
Château at last!
We arrived here on Thursday and had a nightmare drive down from Paris. However, I must start from the beginning.
We transferred from Bahrain to Muscat with only slight delays and found a taxi driven by a charming old man who had the essential English “AC?” It took us a minute to work it out (air conditioning). And yes indeed we were grateful to have AC in the 40+ heat. The men here wear a fascinating head-dress, really gorgeous I think. Beautiful woven cloth wrapped around a frame on the head. I couldn’t take my eyes off the taxi driver’s headgear, trying to work out how it was wrapped, what the cloth was etc. They all wear long sleeved, long white gowns with a little tassel at one side of the neckline. Very smart.
The hotel was terrific – the Intercontinental – very friendly and ideal for ex patriots or visitors. In fact I gather it is the hub of the English speaking expats, who go there regularly to the English/Irish pub, the restaurants, and families have memberships for the club which gives them access to the two swimming pools, squash courts, tennis courts etc. Lovely large grounds opening on to a long white sandy beach – kilometers long around the bay. Muscat is in a bowl, one side opening on to the coast and the other sides surrounded by huge craggy mountains, apparently rich in iron ore and copper, among other minerals. The climate is cruel, we arrived just at the turn of the weather when it was heating up. Apparently June/July/August are 50 degrees. People just go from air conditioned home to AC car and to AC office. A lot of the Omanese wealthy go south to Salalah where the Indian Ocean makes it cooler. The Sultan had already left for the south when we were there. He has five palaces and a huge liner. He was educated in England and at Sandhurst Military College, and when he returned he took over from his father and turned what was a nation of backward Bedouin tribes living in the desert with no roads, into a thriving rich country with modern amenities, latest technology and highways.
The country runs on oil wealth. The present Sultan who is 65, engaged English companies to develop the oil industry when he took over. He is an absolute dictator but apparently a benevolent one, and rules with a council of ministers. Everyone is well off, and the police are highly paid, so no corruption. Even the Bedouin are not badly off – they breed camels for racing which the Sultan likes. Everything literally depends on the Sultan. Muscat is a modern city now with very nice buildings, beautiful mosques, and excellent roads. Water is from a desalination plant, but some of the country still works on a natural ancient irrigation system, I think it is called the fallaj,with water coming from underground streams. In the city there are trees, flowers, plants everywhere along the roadsides, but a few metres behind the green belts, just desert and huge mountains. It is quite a large country, but most of it empty desert.
First night we were exhausted and tried to go for a walk along the beach only to find it completely taken up as far as the eye could see, with groups of men practicing football (barefoot) in stretches on the sand, leaving no room for anyone else! Instead we had a swim. Fascinating to watch for a little while. We crashed early and slept more or less until 6am.
We had booked an all day tour to the ancient capital of Nizwa, and our guide and chauffeur arrived on the dot of 9 as planned. It was a fabulous day and we were so well looked after. The guide/driver was Indian, and his family have lived here for I think at least one generation.
What a great way to have a glimpse of this vast country with such a short time to get a taste of it. I guess it took us two hours plus to get to Nizwa driving through the mountains dotted with old forts and watchtowers. These watchtowers were used up to 30-40 years ago to protect against warring tribes, until the present sultan took over. The mountains as I said before were full of minerals in limestone, but not exploited at all. There were flocks of coloured goats with long coarse hair among the sparse low shrubs and small wild olive trees. Later we saw long haired sheep and wild donkeys.
Nizwa was a picture out of Arabian Tales – Huge old fort towering over the town, wonderful souk full of silver daggers and jewellery. A fish, fruit and vegetable market, all lively and men with friendly smiles. I say men, because we saw no women at all. We wandered through the souk, bought some spices - saffron incredibly cheap - a silver bracelet and some odds and ends. We then climbed to the top of the fort for a great view of the valley around Nizwa. All the time these huge mountains towering around. It was very hot, so that was pretty exhausting. We were glad to climb back into the air conditioned car. Then unto another old village with another ancient fort – this one is under renovation with the help of UNESCO – using materials that were used a thousand years ago.
Sanjosh (driver) took us to a little village where we could actually see the fallaj working through little channels coming down from the mountains, and where there were also ancient mud houses in twisting little lanes and a pottery making place. The ancient ovens still intact – almost – just a little crumbling. We then went on to another ancient fort which has been completely renovated at Jambrin. Again we sweated our way to the top, again to see a worthwhile view, but also in the building splendid painted ceilings, with reception rooms laid out with cushions and carpets. It was the home of an Imman whose tomb was there.
Time for lunch, so we returned to Nizwa and had a fabulous simple lunch at a wayside restaurant, mutton broth, rice with spices and goat meat, cooked in vine leaves and palm leaves for 24 hours – so tender, and a salad. Great chilli sauce. Beautiful tea made with honey and mint. This was a long day, we took many photographs and returned to Muscat by 6pm exhausted, but happy. We were so relieved to flop into the pool!
We met another Australian for a drink, Rosemary Townsend, a lawyer who has been working in Muscat for almost two years, but lives at the Intercon. We were so tired we had room service supper and crashed.
Wednesday we booked a morning tour of the old town of Muscat – the Portugese were there at one stage. We started off at the grand mosque. What a building, we have never seen anything like it, so grand, so actually beautiful. Quite different from the fairly spare grand mosque we saw last year in Bahrain. It really made us think of the grand cathedrals built in Europe 1000 years ago to the glory of their god. A vast high ceiling, with stained glass windows, huge dome with gold frescoes and gold Arabic writings from the Koran. The walls and massive pillars covered in gold. The carpet has to be seen to be believed. Statistics are quoted as taking 6 years and I don’t know how many women to weave it!. The whole building is marble from India, also the courtyards and the women’s mosque beside it. The guards examined my shawl around my head and pointed out that some of my hair could be seen at the back!, we hastily fixed that. But there was no antagonism, just a friendly request to respect their mosque. They all had guns and police batons. Apparently they are from the Sultan’s personal guard.
I was glad to get my shawl off – so hot!
Off to the old town and the fish market. Definitely the Arabian tales again. If you can imagine a small bay of sparkling water surrounded by craggy slopes with houses nestled at the bottom, boats and nets pulled up on the shore, the men still unloading fish from their nets, all a bustle. We watched people bargaining for tuna, and then the guys filleting and chopping. Lots and lots of tuna. The fruit and vegetable market again was great – always such fun to wander around and afterwards the souk. An endless network of alleys and colour, turning a corner to an aroma of rich spices, gold and silver gleaming in the glass windows of the small shops. Wonderful fun. After all of that excitement we were glad to go into a cool museum and to grasp some of the history of this country unknown to us. We dallied there enjoying the coolness before facing the outside again. We drove around the old town, the modern CBD, and then wandered around the outside of one of the Sultan’s five palaces. Amazing, perched on the side of the water on a small bay, with his own private port alongside. All gold and turquoise mosaics. The end of a great tour!

Back to do our packing and rest for the afternoon, swim and have a little walk. A spot of late lunch in the English pub and a late checkout. Unfortunately that evening our flight back to Bahrain was delayed, and delayed. Very boring. Anyway, eventually we took off and flew out of Bahrain at 1.20am for Paris, very tired and a bit uncomfortable.
We managed to clear customs and baggage in Paris and pick up our car very quickly and easily, and set off south.
That was when the trouble started! About an hour out I began to feel a bit queasy, I realized soon that I would have to stop – we pulled over and I started vomiting…. Wow it was ghastly.
The rest of the journey was a nightmare, stopping frequently. Later dashing from gas station to gas station when the cramps and diarrhoea started. Awful. It meant the journey was very long drawn out, but we got here eventually and I just fell into bed. I have been sick for the last few days, existing on bread and water. Yesterday we went to the pharmacy and got some medication so now on the mend tbtg. All back to normal soon.
In my good moments we have visited some local friends and met others on Saturday at the local market in Cluny. Just started to look at the garden and try to do some things in the house, but taking it all very slowly.!
Chateau is beautiful as always, very green – the only sad thing is the beautiful enormous walnut tree opposite our garden has been cut down. Apparently the field has been sold for the building of two houses!! And the tree was dying or so they say.
The first few days were beautiful, lots of weeds around, but the garden will be good. Its raining today, not cold, and there is lots to do indoors, but we have a fire going to be cheerful!
Just gradually working on the house cleaning up and organizing things.

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