These News & Views are scooped from around the world; What’s happening? What are people thinking? What would people like them to think?…and some of the amusing things that are going on today.
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Though French television definitely has it merits, especially if you are still learning the language, one constant gripe we hear from English speakers living in France is that they miss the programming from back home!
Web based services such as BBC iPlayer, 4oD, or US websites such as Netflix impose frustrating country specific restrictions which block foreign users.
It isn’t just online television services which are affected either – the fact is, much of how you experience the internet depends on the country from which you access it. Who isn’t sick of being automatically directed to the French version of Google, when the information you want is probably easier to find via the English portal?
Luckily it is a problem that can be quickly and easily solved with the use of a piece of technology called a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The software tricks websites into acting as if you are accessing them from the country of your choice, by routing your internet connection through servers in that country. As an added bonus VPN’s encrypt your internet data, boosting your online security and privacy.
The software is cheap, easy to install, and runs in the background without you having to think about it.
Check out the My Private Network website for more information, get subscribed and welcome your favourite TV shows back!
This month we are celebrating Cuves – or Vats.
I am assuming that in Republican France we were talking about wooden wine storage vessels, the sort that have been replaced with the glistening huge stainless steel tanks that hold our annual rumbling fermentation.
It’s the right time of year for the fermentation so I’m probably right. But what a skilled cooper you must have been. A beer barrel is chicken feed by comparison. These monsters must have been made by a whole team of coopers who would have been apprenticed on regulation barrel sizes before they graduated onto these grand-daddies of them all.
I haven’t been lucky enough to have seen wooden ones but I presume that there are still to be found in Eastern Europe which has similar traditions of craft fermentation, and longevity of Republican Governments !
This month features Cantal cheese and Restaurant Claude Colliot which is an example of the new breed if modern French Parisian Restaurants with a modern, airy atmosphere and the inventiveness of the dishes, including some playful twists on the classics.
We had the “menu carte blanche,” which is the chef’s choice, and each course is a surprise. Which could be frightening (!), but in this case was sublime. The starter was veal tartare, which was the standout of the meal. Exquisitely flavored, and paired with shredded daikon, fresh herbs and black pepper for a perfect contrasting texture. Next up a simple fish course with a citrus-y mango mustard. Then lamb served grilled and perfectly medium rare, with roasted radishes on the side. And for dessert, a scoop of ice cream made with gariguettes, which are a special type of French strawberry, served over fried slivers of julienned apple–an interesting play on “pommes frites.” The dessert was absolutely magical!
The service was wonderful. Not at all rushed, and pleasant at every moment. Our waitress spoke excellent English, and took the time to explain the dishes to me, which I appreciated. Perfect spot for dinner in the Marais when you want to transcend the everyday.
Mademoiselle Roxane Cantal is stylistically arranged amongst the pumpkins as this is October’s pinup. I am sure she has never been to the Auvergne but she does hold a chunk with a certain familiarity.
Cantal cheese is a firm cheese from the Cantal region of France. It is named after the Cantal mountains in the Auvergne region. It is seasonally produced between 15th November to 15th April.
One of the oldest cheeses in France, Cantal dates back to the times of the Gauls. It came to prominence when Marshal Henri de La Ferté-Senneterre served it at the table of Louis XIV of France. As we pointed out last month there’s a glut of French cheeses that were recognised by royalty, this also being one.
Cantal is shaped like a cylinder. Cantal is made from raw or pasteurized cow’s milk of the Salers breed. For Cantal, the milk of cows that are fed on hay is used; the summer milk of the same cows grazing on mountain meadows makes the Salers cheese. Senneterre was also responsible for the introduction of this seasonal variation along with Saint-Nectaire (the one with the name that’s derived from Senneterre)
This semi-hard cheese is aged for several months. The form is massive, and the cheese has a soft interior. Its flavor, which is somewhat reminiscent of Cheddar, is a strong, tangy butter taste which grows with age. A well ripened Cantal has a vigorous taste, while a young cheese has the sweetness of raw milk. It carries a smell that’s reminiscent of earth and the rich pasture land of the Auvergne.
Cantal cheese has a fat content of 45%. It is used in soups, salads, aligot potatoes cheese fondue and gratins. A quick CAVEAT for cheese lovers: Cantal Fermier, like all cheeses made from raw milk, may contain Listeria bacteria on the crust, which should therefore be discarded.
At the time of writing we are still enjoying warm and sunny weather and most of us are hoping for some rain although some areas experienced huge storms during mid September.
Many of the summer flowering perennials and shrubs are beginning to look a little tired but the ‘Mexican’ sages (salvias) which are among my favourite plants are still giving a good show of colour. The ornamental grasses, especially Saccharum ravennae and Miscanthus cultivars, are looking good too.
A genus of shrubs that do extremely well in most gardens locally is Abelia. Abelia triflora flowers earlier in the year but the majority of Abelias flower from July until the first frosts. Deciduous or semi evergreen shrubs which mostly grow to about 1m50/2m with an arching habit. They all like a reasonable soil, sun or half shade and a little summer water …. Provide those and you will be rewarded with a really long period of flower. The flowers are all scented and are very attractive to insects. One of the most popular is the white flowered Abelia x grandiflora which is also available in a prostrate form, there are also pink abelias with A Edward Goucher being the most well known. Variegated forms are sometimes also seen. At La Petite Pépinière we grow a number of abelias in the garden so if you are interested do come and have a look.
Tasks for October include:
* if you have not already done so; planting bulbs – planting instructions will be on the packets but in general plant the bulb at about three times the depth of the bulb and a similar distance apart. Remember to look at the flowering times on the packet when buying so that you maximise the season of interest . Remember too that most spring flowering bulbs come from areas with summer dry climates and prefer sunny positions with good drainage.
* dividing herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses.
* once we have had some rain – planting trees, shrubs, perennials and hedging plants. Do incorporate some organic material (terreau or compost etc) and some river sand or gravel to improve the clayey soils that most people in this area have and water the plants well after planting. Most plants, even if they are ultimately drought resistant will need supplementary watering during their first summer or two. When you are choosing new plants for the garden remember that this is a difficult climate; we have hot, dry summers, quite cold winters in much of the region and strong winds. Choose plants which come from Mediterranean climate zones of the world, or from other areas with similar climates rather than tropical or temperate zone plants; they will perform better and require less watering.
* sowing seeds of plants that will flower early next year such as larkspur (pied d’alouette), wallflowers (giroflé), sweet peas (pois de senteur) and hollyhocks (rose tremière)
* pruning summer flowering shrubs such as Cestrum and oleanders.
Later in the autumn we shall be holding our autumn sale on Saturday 15th November 10am to 6pm , more details nearer the time but La Table d’Emilie will be here again offering their wonderful food.
For further information contact Gill Pound at La Petite Pépinière de Caunes (shrubs and perennials, ornamental grasses, unusual plants and plants for dry climates, garden advice and consultation), 21, Avenue de la Montagne Noire, 11160, Caunes-Minervois.
Tel: 04 68 78 43 81, email Gill@lapetitepepiniere.com
Opening hours for the remainder of 2014 will be 10/11/12 October and 7/8/9 November; from 10am to 6pm on all three days. We are always open by appointment – just phone or email to fix another time. Remember that you are welcome to visit the garden with no obligation to buy but just to make observations.
Well, that’s summer gone for another year. August started so promisingly, with sunshine and warmth but ended with middling temperatures and rain aplenty. You could be forgiven for thinking that it was November, not the end of summer.
For those living in the UK, we can only hope that an Indian summer will enliven us in the next couple of months, but for now, attention turns to the autumn, and all that brings: the returning football season, Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor on the telly, even Christmas ads (a restaurant I was in at the weekend was already shouting about its Christmas menus – shocking but true).
To some people, the pure predictability of that list may be enough for them to say ‘enough’, and go in search of something different. That may even include leaving the UK altogether to taste a new way of life and a new culture (by the way, they do have The X Factor in other countries, so you’ll have to steer clear).
If you are looking to move overseas, you’ll no doubt be interested in the state of the overseas property markets; it may even determine whether you can afford to make that break.
Well, there are some early signs that the European property market is starting pick up again following the economic crash, which resulted in many places having a surplus of unsold, empty houses selling cheaply. Still though, the story is one of general decline.
In Spain, although Barcelona is proving particularly popular amongst British and French buyers – with prices there up around 14% since the early part of the year – there is still a general falling of house prices and there are still bargains to be had.
It’s a similar story in France, where house prices continue to fall. Reasonably stable in the first quarter of this year, they have fallen at an average of close to 2% on an annual basis. The biggest falls were seen in the Lorraine region, where prices in Meuse dropped by 10.1% and in Vosges fell -9.1%.
Over in Italy, the Sicilian town of Gangi recently had 20 empty properties on sale for just one euro each, all to encourage new investment to the area. All the buyers had to guarantee was that they’d spend at least €5,000 on refurbishment to the properties. Still sounds like a good deal to us!
So there are still plenty of opportunities to snap up affordable properties in Europe, and though the pound has taken a bit of a hit in recent weeks, it’s still up well up on the euro compared to where it was a year ago.
At today’s rates, if you transferred £300,000 to pay for a home in France, you’d get nearly €379,000, whereas a year ago, you’d have got less than €352,000. That’s a difference of €27,000 in the space of just 12 months; just think of the difference that could make when it comes to getting the house of your dreams.
And with house prices on the continent still in your favour, what more incentive do you need to move abroad this autumn? Just one thing, when you get there, be careful when you put the TV on. It might be the X Factor…
Written by Simon Hilton, senior foreign exchange consultant at World First
Crossings: A Tale of Andor
by M. K. Theodoratus
An enjoyable fantasy.
Set in the fantasy world of Andor, this is the tale of Crossings, a quiet town where people go about their own business and don’t like change.
Ebe, is one of the locals, an elderly widower, living quietly in his cabin, minding his own business, until the strangers arrive, and set up a dog farm across thae valley on the land his grandmother once owned.
Soon the tranquillity of their peaceful life is shattered as the unfriendly farmers become abusive and menacing to the locals, guarding their land with their ferocious dogs. Ebe’s property overlooks the farm, and he has his suspicions that foul play is afoot. When his dog disappears he pays the farmers a visit, but his reception and a closer look at the farm does nothing to calm his fears, something is happening there, the farmers have a strange look about them, they are hiding a secret, and all is not as it seems.
The police will not help the locals, the farmers from the city have too much money, however, the hill folk are not as powerless as they seem.
Nance, is the leader of the hill folk, she is as old as the hills, fearless, and with her Guardians and powers she stands against the forces of evil who have taken over their lives. When the farmers arrive at her door, Ebe watches powerless as a battle of good against evil ensues, but is it a battle Nance can win, and will the peaceful inhabitants of Crossings ever be safe from the terrible evil?
This is a wonderful story, anyone who has lived in a small community which has been subject to change can immediately emphasize with this small town, not wanting to be interfered with, resenting unfriendly newcomers, and resisting change. However, this is not an ordinary community and the characters in this story are not all normal people, some of them have magical powers and the changes are not minor, they are a struggle of good versus evil.
I read this book in one sitting, it has a wonderful storyline and is a really enjoyable fantasy.
Reviewed by Susan Keefe
Who Turned Out The Lights?
by Ronald Wilde
A very interesting and no holes barred memoir.
I have read many memoirs and I can honestly say, none of them have been like this one.
Diagnosed as diabetic aged ten the author’s parents, ignored the condition, even though his father was a diabetic also. This lack of concern carried on through his life until the disease started to affect him, in ways he could not ignore.
This story is a no-holes-barred honest chronicle of Ronald’s life. He tells his story in a very frank, matter of fact and sometimes humorous way, and gives the reader an incredible insight into what it is like to lose your eye sight.
His story is not told as a sad one, there are many different facets to it as he rationally discusses the impact his life had on his loved ones, and his relationships. Moreover, it is a unique insight into actually coming to terms with the loss of your sight, and the obstacles both mentally and physically which have to be overcome during the process.
As his diabetes worsens other factors affect his life, and the book appears to finish quite abruptly, however this is because, I suspect, there is more to come…
Reviewed by Susan Keefe
Doorways (A Book of Vampires, Werewolves & Black Magic)
by Tim O’Rourke
Pure Magic! These two words sum up this book completely.
Zach and his sister are orphaned and have been sent to live with their strange and evil uncle. His poor sister is ill, however, one of Zach’s favourite ways to escape their unhappy life is to run along the beach. One day he discovers, in the sand, a door. Well, what 16 year old boy could resist opening it? When he does, he finds himself in an alternative world called Endra.
As soon as he steps through the door, he meets William who’s a Werewolf, and a beautiful Vampire called Neanna, who tell him that he’s a Peacekeeper, and they have been waiting for him…
The author, Tim O’Rourke, has an amazing imagination, the story is magical and contains every creature imaginable, from vampires, witches, sorcerers, werewolves and some unimaginable ones too.
This is a great adventure for young adults, or even adults, who are young at heart. For me it is comparable to The Lord of The Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. If you love fantasy, adventure and pure escapism, combined with a good story, then this is the book for you. I can’t wait to read the continuation of their adventures in book 2.
Reviewed by Susan Keefe
Think about the garden almost as much as the house.
You will probably spend a lot of time there and it should be viewed as an important room. Don’t rush into cutting down trees, they were planted for a reason, the shade offered in the summer may be critical and far outweigh the reduction in light during the winter.
However do plant trees, shrubs and perennials at the appropriate time as soon as possible. They are cheaper when smaller and will take years to mature whereas you can buy and fit a loo in a day or so.
Consider how much time, effort and money you want to put into maintenance of the garden. Walk around and look over fences, see which plants are thriving and whether there is an irrigation system. If your property doesn’t have its own source, irrigating from the mains will be expensive. If you don’t know the names of plants you see, take some photos, garden centres usually have helpful staff that will identify them for you. Grass is wonderful but an English lawn in some areas can be difficult to establish & keep green and if it does well will need regular mowing. I know it sounds horrendous, but consider the latest types of artificial grass; they not only look very realistic but feel good under bare feet.
The artificial grass lawn from Golf Green City in the South of France doesn’t need watering or mowing.
Respect the original but remember that houses evolve.
It is important to resist the temptation to over improve; cottages were built for and often by “the workers”. They were constructed using locally sourced materials at the minimum cost. Re-cycling was common, the builders would have made use of whatever was available, practicality was usually more important than beauty.
Stone was often dragged from a river bed rather than quarried, removing the render can reveal a wall of so many small stones that when pointed you see more mortar than stone. Using cut stone for the reveals (door and window openings) and the quoins (corners) was expensive, it would have been easier and cheaper to make a timber lintel (beam over an opening) than a stone one. There are many cottages with cut stone; perhaps there was a ruined château or town wall nearby and the stones were re-used? Look for marks carved in the stones; they may indicate where the stone was originally used in a fortification.
A maison de maître was not just a comfortable place to live; it was also often the statement of success by a self made man for all to see. Well not quite all, only those who passed by the front; usually the rear out of sight of the road and visitors is quite ordinary and of much lower quality.
It would be out of keeping fitting out the interior of a cottage in too grand a style as it would be to treat all of a maison de maître as “public” rooms. A cottage that is over a century old will not offer the same space and natural light as a modern house; there will have to be a compromise between modern expectations and respecting the integrity of the original. Knocking down partition walls and making larger windows can ruin the feel and atmosphere of a cottage to such an extent that it restricts the market when you eventually want to sell.
Having said all of that, houses do evolve and there is a balance to be found where the modern can be appropriately introduced into an old property. Long standing examples would be the introduction of electricity, reducing the size of fireplaces when they were not needed for cooking, replacing rough stone floors with factory made tiles and of course central heating. You will have to decide on the “look” you wish to achieve; it is not essential to faithfully copy the original. It is possible to skilfully introduce modern materials and style without it looking out of keeping. A large dramatic example of this is the very modern extension to the old library in Copenhagen. When the plans were first shown it produced a “monstrous carbuncle” reaction amongst many Danes, but now built there are few who don’t admit that it looks “wonderful”. I have seen several period French houses where modern steel staircases look just right.
Decisions, decisions, decisions …………… that’s why I recommend not to rush.
JOHN MARSHALL – Chartered Valuation Surveyor § Building Pathologist
This article was originally published in French Property News.
September is already on its final lap, but our harvest hasn’t even got past the starting block.
True, we did a bit of moonlighting and quickly nipped in for a drop of zesty machine-harvested reserve for our country wine one night last week, but as for the rest? Pouf, as they say en francais, we are not there yet. Next week, maybe, all going well. The trick is to get the absolutely right balance between freshness and fruit, and at the moment, the acidity in the grapes is still too high.
Not even these baby boar find the grapes sweet enough for their baby boar palates (see what they get up to when the lights go out here).
The good news is, the conditions so far have been nothing short of magnificent, and the grapes along with them. White grapes – like a lot of us – prefer to mature slowly rather than at great speed. For that we need wall-to-wall blue skies sunny-side down, with a dry brisk westerly wind and cool nights. Well, we have all the above in bucket-loads, and the grapes are singing a chorus of hallelujahs all over our fields. And we with them. Long may this weather continue.
Seriously though, hanging on and holding out is a stressful business, no matter how beautiful it all looks at this point.
But waiting can pay off, as we have seen from the recent review of our 2013 wines by the world’s favourite most famous English wine critic, Jancis Robinson MW. She said what we ourselves would most have wished her to say: that our Chardonnay holds its ground against better-known Burgundies; that our Chenin blanc talks the talk – though it doesn’t grunt the grunt – of the great Vouvray and Montlouis classics, and that our Mauzac is a text-book example of what a good, pure mauzac should be. In fact, “pure” and “clean”, “crystalline” and “fresh” are the recurring words. What more could we want? Just one thing, please: an acknowledgement that that these cool climate white wines from the South of France are wines that can age – and she gives us that too. To put it in understated Jancis Robinson terms, we are VVP (very, very pleased)
Also uplifting and encouraging are the reviews from the two most highly respected French wines guides,Bettane & Desseauve, and la Revue du Vin de France, who both also published their authoritative 2015 wine guides this month.
So it’s really been a good month. But the hail that fell just 15 minutes from us in Carcassonne last Monday, and even closer to home in Verzeille yesterday, sounded some warning shots over our heads: nothing is certain until those grapes are home and hosed, and no harvest is good until it is done. Until then, each of us in the family deals with the situation in his/her own way, as we wait – patiently and expectantly
You will hear from us again when it is all over …
Until then, with our best wishes to you, and our fervent hopes that the sun will shine on us all
Downloading this top selling app to your smart phone or tablet will help you to relax and enjoy life like a true Provençal!
Provence is one of those magical destinations which travellers dream about – blue skies, warm days, balmy evenings, healthy cuisine, splendid architecture, a fascinating heritage and the wonderful sing-song accent of the local inhabitants, the Provençaux. It is almost as much a state of mind as a geographical area!
This great app will help you to explore the exciting southern cities of Nîmes, Aix-en-Provence Marseille and Avignon as well as the many beautiful villages of the area. If you love the Great Outdoors then the fascinating Camargue Nature Park and France’s breathtaking Grand Canyon, the Gorges du Verdon, won’t disappoint! History aficionados can marvel at the amazing Pont du Gard aqueduct built by the Romans 2000 years ago and the remains of a medieval bridge built, according to local legend, across the Rhône at Avignon by a shepherd boy!
A good selection of hotels, self-catering accommodation and restaurants is included in addition to many useful tips to facilitate your enjoyment of the area.
The app is available for iPhones and iPads by clicking here: Provençal Roaming. An Android version can also be obtained from Google Play.
Founded in AD 122 by the Romans and known as Aquas Sextias, Aix , the old capital of Provence and seat of the Aix Parliament, is a charming and graceful city with 17 and 18C buildings, squares and magnificent avenues.
The most well-known of these avenues is the Cours Mirabeau , named after the Revolutionary politician, right in the centre of town and lined with magnificent plane trees. Constructed on the old ramparts, the Cours Mirabeau is really the hub of Aix with many cafés including the famous Café des Deux Garçons which were frequented by the likes of the writer Emile Zola and the artist Paul Cézanne .
Aix is also famous for its fountains and three of these can be found along the length of the Cours Mirabeau – the Fontaine des Neuf Canons; the Fontaine d’Eau Thermale and the Fontaine du Roi René.
Finally, before you leave Aix you have to sample the famous Calisons – these confections made from candied fruit, ground almonds and royal icing are absolutely delicious and must not be missed!
Extract from Provençal Roaming. Words and image ©Paul Shawcross
As another summer is consigned to the history books, our immediate attention now shifts to the autumn – although we’ll all harbour hopes of an Indian summer to help us through it.
For many of us, autumn spells grim weather, no time off to look forward to until Christmas, and just the monotonous drudge of the everyday until then.
For some, this is all too much, and they’ll and go in search of something different – a new home in a new country – and the vast majority will never regret their decision. Indeed some have already made their move, and haven’t looked back.
One of expats’ main considerations is how far their money will go in their new country. Whether the exchange rate is in their favour can determine what they can get for their money. If you’re moving from the UK, a stronger pound means a better exchange rate, so mortgage and deposit payments will be lower when you’re transferring your funds. For those transferring pension payments to their new account, their money will go further
Unfortunately for those selling sterling, the pound has endured a difficult August. This was in part down to some confusion around interest rate policy, which culminated in two members of the Monetary Policy Committee voting for an increase in interest rates. The Bank of England’s new focus on wages as part of its forward guidance plan also took sterling lower, as did volatility around the Scottish referendum. At the time of writing, GBPUSD is sat just below the 1.61 level for the first time since November of last year. Despite this negativity around sterling, it’s still up on last year, when GBPUSD was down at around 1.56. Back then, £300,000 would have got you around $468,000. Today, that same amount would get you about $483,000 – a difference of around $15,000. But Brits looking to move overseas will be looking for an upturn in the strength of the pound.
Interestingly, because the euro is going through a similarly tough time, the pound isn’t really suffering against the single currency. As GDP in the Eurozone in the second quarter stagnated, and as inflation continues to fall, pressure on the euro is likely to continue. In the last six months, GBPEUR has risen from as low as 1.193 in May 2014 to 1.264 at the start of September, which equates to an increase of over €21,000 on a £300,000 transfer. USDEUR is up from 0.72 in May to 0.77 at the time of writing. That’s an increase of around €20,000 on a $400,000 transfer.
USD is currently performing well, and has progressed from unwanted to roundly desirable. In the month of August, the dollar was 1.73% stronger than the pound, and at the start of the month was at its lowest level since September last year. For those working in the US and repatriating their salary, more of their money will be making it home. They may even decide the time is right to fix an exchange rate for their currency transfers going forward – what’s known as a forward contract – so they’ll always know what they’ll get.
AUD is looking in good health, despite the fact that the Australian dollar spent most of its month recovering from a devastatingly poor unemployment report that pushed the jobless rate to the highest level in 12 years. Though this in itself is a poor figure, full-time employment actually rose by 14,500, so it’s not all bad. Against the euro, AUD has gone from 0.65 in March to above 0.72 at the time of writing. On a AU$300,000 transfer, that’s an increase of €21,000 in six months. Against the pound, AUD is 2.39% stronger in the month of August, so a good time for Aussie expats to make the most of better rates when buying abroad.
Canadian volatility has subsided in the past few months, especially as news from south of the border has improved. In fact, news from the Canadian economy has also begun to look up apart from one, crucial area; inflation. CADEUR is up from below 0.65 six months ago to close to 0.71 at the time of writing, and in the same space, CADGBP has gone from sub-0.54 to above 0.5650.
Wherever you’re moving from, a continued slip in the euro is making buying property in Europe an attractive proposition, as you’ll get more for your money. The fresh start provided by a big move could be all you need to halt the autumn gloom.
Written by Simon Hilton, senior foreign exchange consultant at World First