Busy Fingers

I think I’ve had a bit of a writer’s block for the past month so here’s some pictures of what I have been up lately. A view from the window.

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These bags-for-life from our local supermarket are a great source of inspiration.

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And a view from another window. I love living in the middle of the old town!

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And now for something more serious. I have found the power tools again.

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This is how it started, with a little help from mon cheri.

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And here’s the (almost) finished creation, a wooden mirror frame, just needs a mirror obviously and voila!

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Settling Down

So, I have made a decision to stay in the land of the snail-eaters, give the travelling a break and see what this new life will bring to me. I am determined to learn the language, the shop opening times and the importance of a three-hour lunch. Not that I have any trouble with the latter, quite the contrary!

And with the grape picking finished I also need to find another job which might be a tad tricky, since Languedoc-Roussillon has the highest unemployment in France. While waiting for the miracle of a job to happen I have been occupying myself in other ways; I have started drawing again, made plans for painting the walls, re-organizing the flat and since mon cheri is a carpenter, there’s plenty of tools and materials for other projects too.

I was given a box of crayons after which nothing else existed but the desire to create. The result.

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The project of the day and a power tool, yay! Before…

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…and after.

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And sometimes you just need to be plain silly. Give me the secateurs, I’m ready for the next year’s vendange.

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At the moment my life is undergoing a big change which is great but takes a lot of adjusting too. I need to learn again to share my time and my space and practise the art of patience. Which will take me to my next subject ➡

What can happen if you let a man go shopping alone. He comes back with a shower head the size of a frying pan.

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And this was not the first one. The previous one had lights and several different settings. Both of them completely useless so they’re being returned to the shop as I write this. I dread to think what he might bring home this time.

Plenty of work in here, no need to find an actual job.

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Where is Sari Now?

Every now and then it happens to me that I arrive somewhere and realise that I’m in the right place at the right time, and if it’s not too early in the morning and I’ve had my two cups of coffee already, I might even figure out why. And this is the feeling I got when I pedalled into this beautiful valley in Languedoc-Roussillon, gazed upon the gently rolling landscape, framed by the blue mountains in the distance and smelled the warm air, heavy with scents of lavender and thyme. I had zigzagged almost 2000 kilometres from Scotland, waited, searched and hoped, hardly knowing what, and here it was; I felt like I had come home. Priceless! I had left my beloved Scotland behind and it will always stay in my heart as my first true home but now I had found another one, and I feel it is time for new adventures and new beginnings.

A lot has happened in the past month and my poor little head is still trying to digest it all. I’ve had many amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and some core shakers too, but even the flood that took all my possessions for a never-ending cruise was probably a way to wipe the slate clean and make way for new and better things. A terrific way to test my attachment to things but not one I care to repeat.

Losing the bike charger and hence finding myself temporarily ‘sans velo’ was probably a clear sign for me to stop and take it easy for a while. As I accepted and let go of the things I couldn’t control, I could feel myself opening up to new possibilities. And voila!, a most wonderful thing happened; I might be sans velo, sans vetements et sans my woollen socks but I had found a French cheri! And I couldn’t possibly pass an adventure like that without seeing where it would lead me.

Alors, mes petit esgargots, it looks like I might stay here for a loooong time. Please send me postcards and salmiakki every now and then.

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Sx

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End of the Harvest

A week later, both my swollen knee and shredded patience restored back to normal, I was ready to return to work. Unfortunately the vendange was nearly over but I was happy to be there at the end, together with everybody else, at least the last few days. I was pleased to notice that the sick leave had done nothing to lessen my speed and I was most of the time there among the fastest to finish a row. Not that I am competitive or anything. (My cousin Tanja will understand this, with lifetime of experience!) In just one week the weather had changed considerably and the morning temperatures were more Scottish than French which might have slowed my southern colleagues down while I felt quite at home with my numb hands, the morning mist and the several layers of clothing. A bit like a summer morning in Edinburgh!

If I was in mafia, the secateurs would be my weapon of choice. Efficient and terrifying.

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As the sun got up, layers of clothes were removed and the warmth restored the speed of work and the power of speech – soon the air was filled with happy voices, singing and people shouting: “let’s get naked!’ Anything to keep the atmosphere up. Another moral-booster was food, as our boss well knew, and most mornings we got our pain au chocolat obligatoire because the fact is: pas croissant pas coupe!

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Sorting out the grapes.

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Enjoying the grapes while waiting for the real stuff. Ooh, I like this job!!

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And the reward! I wonder how long it will last…

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The vendange team of 2015, a rare vintage.
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Knee Deep

Life has a wicked sense of humour and I hope I’ll get the joke one day but at the moment things don’t seem so funny. Just as one disaster has passed, another one comes along, uninvited, to test again my poor, frayed nerves. I’m somewhat lacking in the patience department so I realise these lessons are needed but still, give me a break, please!

So, at the vineyard we get transported occasionally from one field to another in the order of the grapes to be collected and as I climbed onto the truck one afternoon, I hit my knee but didn’t think much of it at the time since the pain faded away eventually and this happens frequently anyway. All my bruises are a proof of that. However, later that night the knee started swelling up and the next morning it was the size of a melon, stiff and it was clear I wasn’t going to be able to work for a while.

It wasn’t the first time my knees were receiving attention from the French medical system and just as before, everything happened efficiently and in no time at all I was back ‘at home’, sitting on a sofa, leg elevated and a bag of frozen peas on my knee. Great, a little holiday, you might think but for a restless soul like me it’s extremely hard to stay put like this and well, rest. Still, this is nothing compared to the summer two years ago when I broke my leg and had to stay put for several months instead of a week.

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Once again, I’ve been cat-napped. I should leave all unimportant occupations aside (like looking for a job, dealing with correspondence or looking at silly things on facebook) and concentrate on ear-scratching and giving my undivided attention to the cat-goddess. Meow! She has spoken.

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I try to practise the art of gratitude and to see all the goodness that is in my life rather than what is missing and after some reflection I find that the list is quite long. I have food, clothes,  a roof over my head and some amazing friends, old and new, who look after me and show me that I’m not alone.

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Take a deep breath, enjoy what you have and live in the moment. I say this to myself every day.

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One of the most beautiful sentences in the world; You are not alone.

Tu n’es pas seul.

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Sari Labourez les Vignes, Vigne Vigne Vignolet

It was still dark when I got up at 5.30 and got ready to go and start the vendange, the grape picking at the Mas de Daumas Gassac. This was yet another thing I had always wanted to do even though I knew it was going to be really hard, back-breaking work but at the same time I was sure it was going to be an unforgettable experience.

I was staying with a new couchsurfing friend, Eline, who very kindly got up as well and gave me a lift to the vineyard which was about 5 km away. I had planned to walk there but could see that in the dark this would have been extremely hard and I might’ve even got lost.  Well, my head is so full of ideas that some of them are bound to be bad.

The small road climbed up the hill until we reached the front yard of the vineyard, already busy with tractors, cars and people going back and forth, readying themselves for the start of the harvest.

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There was about 30-40 of us and in the semi-darkness we gathered in a small huddle like a bunch of grapes to receive our instructions for the day and a pair of secateurs that we were to look after and guard closely till the end of the vendange.

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We climbed into the truck and drove to the first field where the boxes were already placed between the rows of vines, waiting to be filled tout de suite. By now there was just enough light to see the bunches of grapes and make out the difference between the stems and your fingers, an important fact I think. This didn’t stop the occasional cries of pain among the vines when people accidentally cut their fingers and ran off to fetch few plasters and then resumed the work with double speed to catch up with the others.

There was always two people cutting per row and depending who your partner for the day was, this could either slow you down or inspire you to reach new levels of speed when you tried to match their pace and at the same time keep all fingers intact. Add to this some lively, carefree conversation, mostly in French, and you are looking at every Health&Safety-officers nightmare. If you were in UK, that is. Here in France they don’t seem to bother about such little details, life is too short to worry about something that hasn’t even happened yet.

When a box was filled with grapes we left it where it was to be collected by a tractor and taken back to the chateau for further processing. The pace was relentless but the atmosphere stayed upbeat and jovial, despite the cold, rain, heat and cuts and scratches. This special feeling amongst our very international group was truly inspiring.  And if you were talking too much or lagging behind the others, further ‘encouragement’ was provided by the boss, whom you didn’t want to disappoint. Ce n’est pas une holiday camp, you know.

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The morning shift lasted about five hours after which we were driven back to the chateau for a tasty lunch and as much wine as you could manage to drink in an hour. Keeping in mind the afternoon shift and the safety of your fingers, of course!

Talking of which, here are my fingers after the first couple of days. Still got all five.

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Looks harmless enough, doesn’t it?

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What a beautiful sight!

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Life on the Slow Lane

When abroad I like to try all sorts of things and immerse myself into the local culture as much as possible, head-first, skin-deep, I’m ready to try (almost) everything once. So, enter France and the snails.

One fine Sunday morning I was headed to a snail farm that had an open doors day; a chance to get acquainted with the life of a snail farmer and also to eat all sort of snail delicacies. I have to say I was a bit more than apprehensive but my curiosity was even stronger, so I was ready to put aside any doubts and don my knife and fork, ready to experience yet another side of la vie française.

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As the sun was beating down, hotter by the minute, I sampled the coffees, quickly moving onto the wine (trying to keep up with the locals!) and had a quick look into the different pots where the day’s lunch was being prepared. There was also other stalls that sold local products like honey, olive oil, spirulina (microscopic algae, a dietary supplement), creams, jewellery and coffee.

You could even do a bit of gambling and place your bets on the most lively looking slider!

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But the weirdest thing of the day was a snail-facial. I had the honour of being the first ‘patient’ of the day and humming ‘anything goes..’ I lay down to receive my free treatment. During my long ride down from Scotland, my face being exposed to the different elements, I had dreamt about a wee pampering session but I couldn’t have imagined anything like this. Apparently the snail slime is extremely beneficial for the skin and I wasn’t going to miss a chance to try it out. As I lay in the shade, four snails were placed on my face and they started sliding around and after the initial tickly sensation, I felt quite relaxed and comfortable. Until one of them decided to go and explore my ear. Eek! The little blighter was quickly removed and placed onto a safer area but if anyone in the future goes and sticks their tongue in my ear I have a perfect reference to explain why it would not be a good idea. But overall it was a surprisingly pleasant experience and after the slime was washed away and my skin smothered in lovely ‘snail-cream’, I swear I left the ‘salon’ looking few years younger, stress-free and thoroughly relaxed.

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After this it was time for lunch. First we sampled some baby-snails and little tasty snacks from the island of Réunion, washed down by copious amounts of wine. The French really know how to live it up.

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And moving on to the main course: snail burgers and a Spanish style snail sauce.

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A seriously delicious snail burger!

IMG_2071We spent the rest of the afternoon on the shore of a nearby river, digesting the meal, soaking up the sun and dipping into the cool, flowing water every now and then. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, quelle belle la vie!

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Bee Nice

My Couchsurfing friend Julien is a beekeeper and I went with him one day to learn all about this craft. I found it all really interesting just to talk about and actually being able to work with the bees myself was fascinating, something I’ve always wanted to learn. White suits on and we were ready to check the hives in several different places, few of them up in the mountains, few closer to the town, locations changing along the required flowers. Up in the mountains the bees gather nectar from lavender and chestnut flowers, further down, from sunflowers and mixed flowers.

I had no idea how I was going to feel beeing amongst thousands of bees but it turned out I was fine, comfortable actually. No gloves needed and the wee things even landed on my sticky hands to eat all the honey stuck on them! Aww! And I got stung only twice but that was my own fault really since I accidentally squeezed the poor things with my fingers. Note to self; watch where you stick those sticky fingers.

And voila! Les ruches (the hives).

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We checked the honey production in all the hives and to see if they had a queen in there. At first you need to blow some smoke into the hive to make the bees go further down in the hive and then you can open the ‘roof”.

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A bit more smoke and then we took off the top layer of the hive to reveal the frames. The white stuff is a sugary feed for the bees which they need occasionally.

The hives don’t seem so big but there can be 30 000-40 000 bees per hive if they’re completely full. That’s a lot of action!

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The honey frames and les abeilles (the bees). Beehave!

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Haute coutoure, Autumn 2015.

IMG_2037So who wants to work in an office with no windows staring at the computer? Not me.

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Flushed away

It was le weekend, a grey and wet Sunday morning which meant that I got a day off and rather than sitting all day in my tipi, I decided to go and visit Montpellier. I just managed to catch the morning bus and 40 minutes later I was in the city’s tourist office getting maps and preparing to explore the city. I walked up and down the streets of the old town for few hours before it started to rain heavily and I had to seek shelter. Little did I know that it was going to be a rather lengthy stay, for the storm was the biggest they’d had this summer.

Lovely day in Montpellier. Stuck in McDonald’s of all places.They have the free wifi, you see.

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Several hours later I emerged into the street and it was already time to catch the bus home. Lovely views on the way home and I was blissfully unaware of what was waiting for me back on the farm.

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Paco welcomed me back with a serious face and told me what had happened while I was away. The amount of rain had caused a flash flood and the river level rose about 4-5 meters just in one hour, taking with it all on its way; the trees, the vegetable garden, the rotovator, the tipi with its furniture, mattresses and all my things in it.

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I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. I had never seen anything like it. The landscape had changed completely and the river rushed on angry, rusty red through it. Then it hit me how lucky I was to be away when the flood happened and that nobody else got hurt either. The garden and the fishes were not so lucky.

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The worldly possessions I had left after the flood. Plus Wee G which was safely tucked away in a shed. I lost the bike’s charger though so cycling will be off the menu for a while.

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But still, there’s so many reasons to be grateful, the life that continues and this beautiful evening sky, to name but a few.

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Down by the Riverside

More stunning views, picturesque villages and sweaty work climbing up some hills on the way to even further eastwards, towards the next woofing farm near Clermont l’Herault which I had managed to squeeze in before the start of the vendange (grape picking). The obvious upside of toiling up the hill is of course the down hill that’s waiting to dry your sweat and give the poor legs a bit of a rest. And this one was a beauty! It went on for several kilometres and it’s a shame that the speed meter on the bike is broken because I might have made a new record and could only guess the speed by the ‘new’ hairdo I’d just acquired.

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I stopped in Clermont l’Herault to charge the nearly empty battery. Or so I thought. For the first time was flatly refused when I asked about it in a bar but I’m not so easily put off and sweaty face glowing with determination I marched into the next place. A haughty-looking woman with her red lips in a pout measured me with her gaze and was doubtful, but I assured her it costs next to nothing to charge this battery and got a permission to plug it in. After I had settled into my little corner I went to the bar to order the obligatory glass of wine (hard life, I know!). It took some time to catch the attention of Mademoiselle Red Lips and when I finally managed, it was accompanied by the most contemptuous look I’ve seen in a long time. I quickly consulted my short term memory to see if I’d forgotten to say s’il vous plait and merci but realized then that I hadn’t even ordered yet, so I was at loss to fathom what could explain this bad attitude coming at my direction. When she brought the wine it was slammed on the table with considerable force and this delivery was made without a glance or a word but a merde-load of the same stinking attitude. My my, somebody is having a really bad day.

The next day I went to the next woofing place, a peaceful little paradise and I got to sleep in a real tipi next to a beautiful river! I settled down, had a little swim and then Paco showed me around the place. He didn’t speak any English so now I really had to make an effort with my French. And there was no wifi so I couldn’t even look up words on the internet. Zut alors!

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Since it was a very hot week we always got up early and worked till lunch (mais doucement!) and the rest of the day was free. I was cutting away a ‘jungle’ that was surrounding some olive trees, painting old wooden doors, watering plants and other little jobs but most of the time I was free to explore the surroundings or just lie spread-eagled on my very own beach and cool down in the river every now and then. One day I decided to have a little adventure and find a shorter route to the nearest town along the disused railway. Silly me. The line was overgrown with grass and thorny bushes and pushing Wee G through all that plus the over the rail sleepers was not really what I had in mind. Stubborn person that I am, turning back wasn’t an option. After a sweaty 15 minutes I suddenly fell and hit my left leg on the rail sleeper. The pain took me right back to the moment two years ago when I broke my right leg in Finland. Oh goody, did I break another leg in the middle of effing nowhere again when nobody knows where I am and there’s no great likelihood of anyone passing by. I congratulated myself for the excellent idea and planning (or lack of it)involved and would’ve kicked myself if the leg been ok to do that. Alas, after a few minutes I managed to stand up so at least it wasn’t broken. Bleeding and throbbing and aching, but not broken. Good, I would get out of here by myself. I won’t bore you with the details of the fest of the trip, but let’s just say that I promised myself to stay on the tarmac from now on, however many kilometres I would have to pedal.

Ouch!!

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Don’t wake up the sleeping chicken!

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