Wednesday 1st February
After several days of distinctly un-south-of-Francish weather, the sun is out, the sky is blue and Spring is in the air. It is quite amazing how the temperature can change so drastically overnight, and today has been warm and pleasant. As the thaw set in on Monday, school buses didn’t run and Lucien’s school told us, when we rang, not to bother bringing him as ‘there wouldn’t be much going on!’ Tomorrow, there is another teacher’s strike so apparently ‘there wont be much going on’ again so all in all it’s been a pretty good week for pupils of the PO!

Academically, I can’t say we’re very impressed with the local school – there has been a lot of teacher absence this year and no replacement, and there is little communication amongst those staff that do make it to their lessons. At a recent parent’s evening, having queued for well over an hour to see one teacher, (there are no appointments – it’s just a free for all) we found that we were unable to see many other teachers as they had gone home. One teacher, commenting on some weaknesses in Lucien’s spelling, was surprised to find out that he was English. “Oh really, well nobody told me” she said! Lulu sometimes goes for a week or more with little or no homework and discipline does not seem to be a strong point in class. On the other hand, Lulu loves school, setting off every morning with a smile and a badly out of tune song, and that has got to be the most important part of growing up surely.

We received a letter from school last week when Lulu had missed a morning through illness saying ‘Nous avons l’honneur de vous informer que votre fils était absent…’ Couldn’t quite understand why this was an honour but that’s French bureaucratic formal language for you!

My camera is still poorly but I will make up for it, as soon as I get a new one, with oodles and oodles of photos.

Monday 6th February
Received my new camera via Monsieur le facteur (the postman for the linguistically challenged amongst us) at the weekend and spent the next two days clicking away merrily – nobody was safe from the phantom camerawoman. Family bewared in their baths and bed, neighbours ducked out of sight and friends remained determinedly sober at the heure de l’apéro for fear of committing a photographical ‘betise’! Sat down this morning to write it all up and yes! I didnt put the memory card in! Something did actually flash up everytime I took a photo but I didn’t have my glasses and therefore took my usual course of action when in doubt and ignored it!

Instead, I will put on some beautiful photos of Gaudi’s Barcelona, taken by our friend Paul on his last visit, until I have time to take up my new camera and go out on the pull! You can tell they are not taken by me as they are all in focus!! I have chosen these as I am working on an article about Barcelona which should be ready to go online in the next year or two (at this rate!) or hopefully before this Summer. If you have any info, photos or comments that you would like me to include, I would really love to hear from you.

Incidentally, Gaudi’s work has greatly influenced the face of Barcelona Architecture so here’s a little bit about him

Born in Reus in 1852, Antoni Gaudi received his Architectural degree in 1878. From the start, his designs were different from those of his contemporaries, influenced by forms of nature, reflected by the use of curved construction stones, twisted iron sculptures, and organic-like forms – traits of Gaudi’s Barcelona architecture.

Gaudi also adorned many of his buildings with coloured tiles arranged in mosaic patterns adding another important dimension to his buildings which is so often overlooked by architects – the use of colour.

When he was struck by a tram on Gran via in 1926, the whole of Barcelona turned out for his funeral.

Amongst his most famous pieces of architecture:
the Park Guell, a magical park with amazing buildings, sculptures, and tile work all designed by Gaudi. You will also find Gaudi’s old home in Park Guell which is now open to the public as a small museum. The Güell family were a family with great prestige in industrial and artistic circles at this time in Barcelona.

Sagrada Familia
A giant temple, probably Gaudi’s greatest works and the most visited attraction in Barcelona, and unfinished, as he dedicated the last fifteen years of his life to it, constantly adding more and more fantastic and unusual elements, and died before completion.

Wednesday 8th February
Caught out! This will serve me right, not only for pinching Paul’s Barcelona photos, but also for not researching the topic thoroughly before I wrote about it. Fortunately Paul was on hand to correct me! he says “Nice seeing my Barcelona pics on the site but they are “chimneys” and the “glass bottle sculpture” is in fact also a chimney on the Casa
Mila – made out of champagne bottles from the parties Gaudi threw at his place (not in Park Guell).
Another thing worth pointing out is that anyone wanting to see Sagrada familia as in the photos will be disappointed. Using Adobe photoshop I painted out the dozens of cranes that spoil the views. With a bit more expertise I could have finished what Gaudi et al have failed to do and painted on a few more towers but that was taking it too far!” Oh, go on Paul – I always knew there was a frustrated architect trapped inside you, trying to get out – it wasn’t just wind after all!!

Sunday 12th February
I got the legs out today for an airing. The weather has been absolutely beautiful all day, warm and sunny with crisp blue sky, and the legs sighed with pleasure as they felt the first rays penetrate. Of course, I had to first cast off their Winter coat, which didn’t take long with the new cold wax roll-on purchased at the Intermarché for a mere 5€50. Friends who came round this afternoon told us that in Calce, where they live, it was very windy, but here it has been calm and still – the micro climate of the PO!

Thursday 15th February
Have I mentioned the monsters? If you happen to notice old fridges, settees and bathtubs lying around on a certain day of every month, it means it’s ‘les monstres’ day. Once a month, (in the case of Maureillas on the first Thursday of each month,) you can put outsize items next to your bin, to be collected by the refuse collectors.

According to Lulu, who had it on very good authority from next door neighbour Evelyne, these things were originally put outside to appease monsters who came after little children, but were quite happy to settle for a bite of fridge or old bedstead and since the monsters left the PO, the tradition has remained. Please don’t quote him on that!! It is not uncommon, however, to see the local kids (sometimes accompanied by a Mum or Dad) wandering round on ‘monster’ night, to check out the neighbours rubbish. Remember! One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!

Have you read my article about the Fete de l’Ours  or bear festival? Much of it has already taken place, but the rest of it goes ahead in Prats de Mollo from the 26th February, and by all accounts, is great fun. There are however some aspects of the festivities that I find quite puzzling, one of these being the {{Tio-tio}} which takes place during the masked ball. Dressed in white, covered in flour, and equipped with a lit candle, participants dance round in a circle and try to set the person in front alight!!!!!

Apparently, a chap or chapesse with a broom – le porteur du balai – is on hand to put the unfortunates out! (Tio means log and is actually represented by a roll of paper stuck on the back of each dancer. It is this that they try to set alight rather than the whole person!!) Now call me a killjoy, but I’m absolutely certain that there is no way that I would enjoy, in any circumstances, having my bottom set on fire!

Tuesday 21st February
Talk about a small world! An ex colleague and friend from my old school in Leeds has moved to St Cyprien. She left school at the same time as I did, and is still smiling! We have great fun saying “Just think what we’d be doing now if we were still at Guiseley School! Cheers!” Anyway, here she is, hiding her fleshy double chin under a blue rolly thing! (she’s actually horribly tall, slim, young and gorgeous but I’ll get over it!)

The weather is a little bit dull at the moment, fairly warm, but best not to venture out without a woolie if you don’t want to come home covered in goosebumps! We had a lovely weekend – popped over into Spain for dinner on Friday night with friends (I still get an enormous thrill saying that so casually – a bit like popping down’t chippie) and had a fabulous evening, lots of fun and half a cow! Fortunately for everybody concerned, I forgot my camera again, so the only photo taken was me.

I would not normally flaunt myself but as this particular photo does not reveal my double chin, eye bags, red nose and deputy dawg jowel, I have decided to make an exception. However, it does reveal my penchant for red wine! On saturday morning, sitting in the car waiting for Olivier, I found myself faced with a large pair of bosoms peering at me through the window. On further investigation, these turned out to be an invitation requesting my presence at ‘Defi Night – showgirls club’ that had been kindly slipped under the window rim. They do look after you well in La Jonquera!

Monday 27th February
It’s been flipping freezing here today! By 10 am the sky was blue and the sun was bright, lulling me into a false sense of security which was quickly dispelled when I stepped outside, to find the Tramontane howling round my ears. For those of you who haven’t yet experienced the Tramontane (or Tramuntana in Catalan), it is the name of a wind that blows “from the North-West to the Est-South in the south of France and North Catalonia (Mediteranean coast). It blows and accelerates between the North of Pyrenees and Est-South of the Massif Central. It is usually compared to (but different from) the Mistral” (plagarised from {{Wikipedia}} as I’m not clever enough to describe it myself.) When the wind blows, it can continue for several days and is not good for the nerves! Apparently there is an old law passed by Napoleon which excused “crimes of passion” committed when the Mistral (a strong, cold northwesterly wind system that blows from Southern France into the Gulf of Lions) had been blowing for over three days.
Despite the cold weather, splashes of colour are appearing all over the PO as the mimosa, almond blossom and early flowers are tempted out by the sun. Once the Tramontane blows itself out, Spring looks set to barge its way through with a vengeance. However, having spent the afternoon in a biting wind, watching Olivier build a wall, and returned home totally refrigorated, I am now ready for a hot bath and a hibernatory week in bed with my electric blanket. Spring can wait!

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