Sunday 1st June
It has rained…..and rained…..and rained……..and is still raining!

In general I don’t mind a drop of rain or two. It waters the land and gives me a good excuse to spend the day in front of my computer, without feeling guilty about wasting those glorious sunshine hours.

However, this time it has gone a little bit too far and I am seriously considering having a word with the powers-that-be to bring an end to this extremely silly spate of bad weather.

We have had Olivier’s Mum and Dad here for a week. They arrived (from a sunny Paris region) in the rain, left in the rain and spent much of the week sitting in front of the telly looking out at the rain!

We exchanged them at the end of the week for a friend from Leeds who arrived in the rain, and judging by the weather forecast to come, will be spending a week staring out of the window and saying “Mon Dieu, I can’t believe my rotten luck etc”.

On Wednesday, we will exchange friend Dave for my Dad, and if the rain is still falling then, I think I may need to return to Leeds with him for a little sunshine therapy!

Am I sounding a little ranal? (ie obsessed with the rain) The accompanying thunder and lightning has sent poor softie Bisou into a frenzy of trying to squeeze herself into drawers and small spaces. Here you see her in our ‘dressing room’, having pulled out some bags stored in a corner, and squeezed herself onto one of the shelves!!

P-O Life is out but not entirely delivered yet due to the rain and the need to entertain the in-laws. Father-in-law has Parkinson’s so things move rather slowly when he is around, but he is a lovely man and well worth the effort.

He was really looking forward to the lovely weather and a dip in the sea and pool but no…. it rained all week (Have I mentioned the rain?)

Anyway, I managed to get him out and about a little, his favourite venue being the wine museum at Chateau Montana, just off the Le Boulou – Perpignan road opposite the village Catalan.

The visit was of course accompanied by a snifter or two to help the medicine go down! Which brings up the question “Should we feel an obligation to buy when we go for a wine tasting?”

I was speaking to a French lady recently who works in one of the chateaux, who told me she feels quite offended when people taste the wines and leave without buying anything.

It’s not her ‘cave’ – she just works there and it was an attitude which I found quite disappointing but not really surprising.

I do find that many of my French friends have different ‘expectations’ from my English ones and most certainly a different sense of humour.

When I put an ad in P-O Life a couple of months ago to try and sell my son, I received this email from a French lady. “Monsieur/madame. Je vous signale que vous n’avez le droit, ni de vendre ni d’acheter les enfants en France. Cela peut vous mener au tribunal » !!!!

Anyway, back to the wine museum at Château Montana.

For those who are interested in wine making methods of the past (I must admit to being a bit of a charlatan when it comes to staring at old tools!) this small museum is probably quite fascinating, including explanations of the history of winemaking. This poster describes oidium, a powdery mildew called Oidium tuckeri which was introduced to England from North America in 1845 where it was discovered by a gardener named Tucker in his greenhouse in Margate in 1845. Today the fungus is more widely known as Uncinula necator.

After the museum visit, Olivier’s family came over from Calce, Marseilles and Porté Puymorens, fortunately on one of the few dry days we have had over the past couple of weeks.

Here are a few photos of them. Note the photo where all the men are sitting at the table. And where are the women I wonder? Yes, you’ve guessed it. In the kitchen doing the washing up! Very macho but I have Olivier well trained and he has no problem donning a pinny and getting stuck in to both cooking and cleaning up, under my capable direction of course

When they left we had an evening out with friends in Sorède at restaurant Ma Maison. Lots of fun and laughs, great atmosphere ‘à table’ and nice grub. What more could we ask for?

Olivier kept throwing me his ‘You’re making too much noise’ look which I resolutely ignored! For once, you can see me on a photo as I actually managed to hide my chins behind a very nice guy called Guy. (Sorry Guy – I’m sure you must get that all the time – I’m hopelessly predictable!!) You will note in the first photo that Merry and Sue are looking a little rosé and clearly need glasses!!

The big forum do that I was hoping to have last night had to be postponed due to non stop rain.

There were upwards of 70 people coming and there was no way I could have fitted them into the house without playing sardines – and wet sausages don’t have much appeal!!

Of course, yesterday afternoon, we had the first dry period for ages! Luckily for the dozen or so people who still turned up, as they won’t be here for the next date, I forgot to take any pictures so they can all breathe a sigh of relief. It turned out to be a very pleasant evening but the problem is that, in anticipation of the hordes originally coming, I bought 50 litres of wine from Chateau Montana, in the white plastic ‘bidons’ which don’t conserve the wine for long! Oooops.

Despite our best efforts, we didn’t manage to make a big hole in it last night, so I am hoping it will keep for the next ‘forum knees up’. My dad is coming to stay on Wednesday, and he does enjoy a glass of wine or two so that should shift another litre or so! Only another 45 litres to go!

Finally, driving through Céret yesterday, I found myself behind a most lovely sight – this chappie pedalling away on a bicycle, with his trusty hound sitting in a home made ‘cartie’, ears blowing in the wind, looking comfortable and contented as the world sped by. Isn’t life great?

Thursday 12th June
Well, apart from continuing gusts of warm wind, the weather seems to be finally opening its heart to summer, now that all my guests have departed!

With a cloudless blue sky and a hot sun warming my cockles, I certainly ain’t complaining!

QThe heavy rains of the last few weeks have played havoc with pools and their chemicals (don’t I just say that so naturally, like having a pool is just an everyday possession? I must be getting used to it and finally becoming a toff!!) so if you have a pool and it is difficult to control, turning quickly, full of algae, don’t worry – it’s not your fault.

Life is SO much more comfortable when you have someone else to blame – in this case the weather!

I took my Dad back to Barcelona today to catch his plane back to Leeds. He continues to defy the aging process and has managed to wear me out once again with a week of walking, talking, driving, eating, drinking (we had a good go at getting rid of all the wine before it went off).

We breathed a sigh of relief as we crossed the border over into Spain, passing through Le Perthus. The place was deserted – no striking lorry drivers as the papers had threatened, no petrol price demos….so setting off four hours earlier than usual seemed little over zealous.

However, a couple of kilometres outside Barcelona, all hell broke loose, with lorries on a go-slow, tooting their horns and gesticulating wildly out of cab windows, and the mozzies (Spanish police – not quite the right word but they were buzzing) standing along the sides of the motorway, looking rather cute in their dark glasses and tight pants.

Never mind. We got there eventually and it added a tad of excitement to a rather boring journey, during which both Dad and Lulu fell asleep and missed an overdose of ladies touting their wares on the roadside between La Jonquera and Girona, which normally gives rise to heated discussion!

I feel so sorry for these prostitutes, some looking as young as fourteen or fifteen, yet they stare into the car so aggressively and seem so at ease with what they are doing, as they sit on the roadside on plastic chairs with parasols, waiting to be picked up by strangers.

How lucky are those of us who have never been bullied or dominated, or had to consider the consequences of arriving at the end of the week, without enough money to feed ourselves and our families.

I did a little bit of research for P-O Life while my Dad was here – kind of killing two chickens (one spring) with one stone by walking the Dad and taking some photos of the Via Domitia or Domitienne Way at the same time.

It was the first of Roman roads in France, or Gaul as it was known at the time, and crossed southern France to link Italy and Spain. It was planned by and named after the proconsul, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus in 118 BC, who chose the same route for his road that had been taken one hundred years before, in the opposite direction, by Hannibal and like his illustrious predecessor, he rode an elephant.
Arriving in Roussillon, the Via Domitia splits up into two routes, the coastal route, passing through Elne, Saint-Cyprien, Argelès , Collioure, Port-Vendres and Banyuls and the inland route passing through Montescot, Le Boulou, Les Cluses and Le Perthus (Pannissars).

Both routes join together again in La Jonquera and becomes the Via Augusta.

The route was laid out in a virtual straight line, mainly a dirt road but usable all year round and paved or flagged where it passed through populated areas.

At Les Cluses Hautes, on the Le Boulou – Le Perthus road, the remains of a Roman fort overlooks the Via Domitia. The Romans levied a toll (1/40th of the value of the goods carried) at the Portorium, a toll gatebuilt across the road.

Definitely worth visiting Panissars, (turn right after entering Le Perthus and follow signs for Bellegarde) where you can still see the Via Domitia hewn out of the rock, alongside the ruins of the ancient monastery of Santa Maria de Panissars, site of some fabulous views and walks.

I climbed up to the top to take a photo, on uneven steps not made for a man of Dad’s superior age, leaving him to wait for me at the bottom.

Puffing and panting as I reached the top, I glanced down to make sure the pater was still standing at the bottom – but no! A glimpse of moving white Tilley hat bobbing up and down on the ascent told me that Dad had decided to make the climb – and arrived in a far better state than me, with a big grin of achievement on his face.

He certainly earned his gin and tonic that day! Dad, you are amazing!
Friday 13th June
Well, shiver me timbers and blast me barnacles – it’s wazzing down again! We’ve had more rain over the past month than than they must see in the rainy season in the Amazon!

Friday 20th June
Please bring back the rain, thunder and lightening and howling wind – it’s so hot here! Ha! Fooled ya! Only joking!! Yes, summer has finally arrived with a vengeance and the P-O is wearing a grin.

Isn’t it amazing how everything changes once the sun comes out? Places and people take on a different aspect and body language and even the wrong seem right!

The pool has so remained a virgin this year but we changed that this morning with a lot of whooping and screaming as we dived in and leapt out very quickly – it is still very nippy in there and needs another day or two to entice me in!

This weekend is the beginning of the summer festivals in the P-O, so I’ve had a competely dry week on water and diet coke to prepare myself for the ordeal to come –

if only I could learn to demurely say ‘No thank you – I’ve had enough to drink. I will have a headache in the morning’ instead of a boisterous ‘Yeah Go for it. Fill her up!!’

Saturday is the Fete de la musique, a national event throughout France and Sunday is les Feux de la Saint Jean, a yearly tradition to celebrate the Summer Solstice of St Jean around the 23rd June.

Troops of walkers and representatives of villages and towns throughout Catalonia, meet up on the Plateau des Cortalets, where they set up tents and prepare for a sleepless night!

The ultimate goal is to get up to the peak at 2,784m high, with bunches of wood to contribute to the huge bonfire prepared on the summit. This gathering is known as the “Trobada” (a catalan word meaning “meeting” or “reunion”).
The next day, relay runners carry the “flamme du Canigou” down onto the plain to all the villages they pass through on the way to Perpignan. In the evening, these flames light the “Focs de la Sant Joan” or “Feux de la Saint Jean”, fires that have been prepared in towns and villages all over the region.

There is some kind of celebration in all the towns and villages around the region and here in Maureillas it is a time to meet up with old friends who you haven’t seen since the end of the last year’s festivals as people do tend to go into hibernation over here in the winter. Monday will be a kind of ‘coming out party’!!.

Thursday 26th June
It’s just like living in the south of France! Way up in the thirties, azure blue skies – and that smell of heat and herbs and lavender that makes you think that you must be on holiday even though you know that you’re not!

The beaches are still quite empty, the sea a tranquil transparent turquoise and the world is walking around with a smile on its face!

On Monday we went to the feux de la Saint Jean and watched the children leaping over the fire, as bored looking firemen stood around ready to extinguish them as usual.

Such a disappointment – none of them ever catch fire.

I don’t think I’ll bother next year!! Before the fire, we went to the Val Rosa, a small restaurant on the Le Boulou – Le Perthus road which does moule-frites à volonté (until you drop) for 10€.

It turned out to be a nice cheap night as there wasn’t anything to buy at the Saint Jean fire – not a beer in sight – so we left quite early to go home and have a quiet drink and a game of backgammon on our terrace, next to the pool, and ponder the mystery of a festival in France with no beer or wine!

The forum knees up, reduced version – the real one having been washed out due to weeks of torrential rain – took place last weekend and would you believe it – I forgot to take a single photo!! if you’re wondering what various forum names might look like, I’m afraid I can’t help – but I think I know a man who can! O wise old owl – I do recall that I saw you a-snapping! Watch this space!

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