Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Part 1 of 3

A few hours drive south from the Charente on the Autoroute and in the region called Midi-Pyrénees we take the Castelsarrasin/Moissac exit.  We are about 90 minutes east (by car) and a little south of Bordeaux; 45 minutes north of Toulouse (the second largest city of France - Paris being the largest); 30 minutes west of Montauban, etc.

I find that the one of the easiest ways to place things geographically these days is to use Google Earth.

This region of France took some of the worst beatings during centuries of bloody warfare, pillage, plunder, rape, persecution, and starvation of the common folk - all perpetrated by the church, royalty and nobility.

Check out the hundred years war if you have interest.

More on this later.

We congratulate each other about how lightly we got off in Paris without suffering really hot weather. Yes, all things considered, lucky. But vengeance comes the day we arrive in Moissac. The worst heat wave in, some locals say, 25 years, melted our brains for about a week.

Forty degrees Celsius ... 39, ... high thirties. Had there been some relief somewhere we'd have been okay with it but we were living on the third floor of a circa 300 year old building which was a tower of brick attached to similar old apartment buildings, all of which were islands in an ancient stone square in the medieval town centre.

No air conditioning. This is old urban France. No green grass for as far as the eye can see. No movement of air. A couple of nights the temperature  inside was 30C with two fans going. 

How do the locals deal with it?

Well, the windows have to be shuttered during the daylight hours, then when the sun goes down they are opened to let the stale air out and the warm air in. 

Windows are very small because in the day when these homes were built, owners were taxed on the size of windows, so, it's naturally dark in these homes ... kind of like living in a cave.
 Quaint? Well ... only from the outside.

Our relief came by exploring the countryside with our air conditioned car.  The old villages, perched on cliffs and mountainsides were too hot to walk in. And they were like ghost towns. Where was everyone? We guessed that they were all sitting behind the closed shutters, in the dark. We'd come back to these lovely old towns and walk around when it cooled down. 

It did not take long to discover where the locals were. They come out after dark. Because it is cooler. 

Outdoor restaurants are full and they stay that way 'till around midnight. We learn to do the same, then sleep in so late that we loose the best part of the next day - the cooler useable mornings. Duh! Well when it's hot hot hot, if you are sleeping, let it happen.

We are not governed by wakeup calls or early appointments. We are not going home in 3 weeks. We are here for the long term.There is time to do what we want to do.

We rarely eat meals in during these sizzling days. It is no fun sweating over the stove or dripping perspiration onto our plate. Dining out a lot is fun, though it is stretching our budget.

It does not take Joanne and I long to meet people. The photo left is of Julie, the cook at Fromage Rit.
We will savour her wonderful vichyssoise  later tonight.

Raymond (man) and his best mate, Balthazar (dog) are occasional regulars at Jean Pierre's restaurant.  One day we see him walking through the square. Another day he is talking with staff in front of the Marie (City Hall).

The night we dined on Julie's vichyssoise, l'homme et son chien occupied the table beside us. Not able to pass up a chance to speak with the locals, I practiced my French on them. One of the staff told me that Balthazar speaks better French than Raymond. This didn't matter to me. They were both nodding just as much when I was talking. That's all I care about: anyone who listens as I butcher the language gets a gold star from me.  

Raymond and I conversed in simple exchanges. Balthazar ate up my butchered French. Joanne watched and listened and we all sort of became friends.

This heat wave will not last forever. 

The break came after about a week - rather violently, with thunder and lightning and a torrential downpour. This was followed by warm light rain and cooler days of usable weather. Okay, time to explore now.

For more travel photography with local information visit my website.

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