Wednesday 1st February. Épinard or spinach, is in season. Tonight’s
menu includes a bouillon made with the remains of the sanglier,
a freshly baked loaf of ciabatta, quiche, and to finish the pastry,
a little banana and walnut tart infused with cointreau and vanilla.
Thursday 2nd February. We take it for granted that there is always eau
– as we turn the tap water flows. Today we have no such luck as
everything has frozen and we must adapt – how much easier it is to
appreciate the simple act of washing dishes, or salad for the plate.
Water is piped from an underground source (spring) and the hoseline
(or tuyau, larger than the garden line) is above ground. We knew
there was a chance it would freeze, and as February commences we
have dropped many degrees at night, and now during the day, we can
‘see our breath’ as we speak outside. Prepared with bidons (huge
plastic storage ‘cans’ with taps) we are equipped for what might
last for many days – filling them from another source that arrives
at the road. As I rinse my hands I am more aware of the act, and how
precious our resource is when we have to carry it…
7.20 pm. Mina’s little bowl of drinking water on the doorstep has
turned to ice and it is now -2. France is experiencing around 10
degrees less than the average for this time of year (without the
wind-chill factor) – une vague de froide.
Friday 3rd February. Even though the sun is shining brightly and
there are no clouds, there is a haze in the air and Canigou is
completely obscured. The wind literally ‘took by breath away’ as I
faced a sudden gust. The barrage is now entrancing, with glistening
icicles dripping down its mossy slope; twigs and branches encased in
a chamber of ice, as if preserved for all eternity. The leaves are
also frozen in time – squeezed together and trapped in clusters by
the plates of ice ctystals on the surface of the river. The cascades
have been transformed in to ‘grottes’ with stalactites crowning their
entrance. As the rays of sun hit the waterfall the riverbed comes alive,
dazzling as the light is reflected. This is a new forest, it has once
again reinvented itself as as ‘all is bare’ for winter it compensates
with a spellbinding display of sculptures that human hands could not
hope to equal.
Monday 6th February. The internet is down – in our area we are dependent
on satellites for our service, perhaps it is due to the weather?
My instincts have me still reaching for the tap, I wonder how long it
will take to change this habit? Thanks to the snow we have basins full,
melting for a ready supply of water. It is much warmer today, with a
thick layer of powder and less wind. Saturday was the coldest, -7 on
the guage, but the tramontane (icy wind, equivalent to the mistral)
cut like knives and my fingers wouldn’t work the camera. Today the river
is unrecognisable – because it is hidden. The snow has formed a blanket
over the ice plates and a few ‘holes’ are all that is left. The trees are
familiar, there are still landmarks, yet once again everything has been
reshaped before our eyes. The riverbed usually has contours, and now it
is flat – smoothed out as the snow was carefully deposited. Mina has
followed me into the forest – as we left our own imprint we followed
the fresh tracks of animals (a fox or ‘renard’, a rabbit, a marcassin).
I am never sure how long I am gone, time ceases to exist as I am lost
in the moment and only return when the camera battery dies.
Two hours has passed in a twinkling – the sun has risen higher and even
hunger is not strong enough to pull me away from our explorations. I am
still ‘fascinated by the little things’ – noticing how the leaves skate
across the ice or how they can be held by a single blade of grass.
We have a herd of cows in our field – with a tiny new calf – their bells
‘chime’ as they graze beneath the snow. I am happy with the thought
‘I don’t have to go anywhere’, this is enough – we have everything we
need to be content.
The moon is growing brighter each evening, and reflects on the snow.
Our resident robin is flitting around the courtyard, and between the
trees lining the hill in my view, everything sparkles. The fire is
boiling the copper kettle and a coil of Catalan sausages is thawing
for dinner. The only thing out of place in this picture of peace is
the enormous cat that has appeared to steal Mina’s biscuits and I am
called to protect her…
From The Forest
Days without running water this month: 16
This month it is water that we are most conscious of after watching
exactly where it goes – ‘down the toilet’, as this consumes the most.
We are lucky to have a spring that comes from the forest to a tap next
to the road – at a much lower altitude so it still runs.
In The Garden
21 cows are in our field, which used to be completely fenced and is
now broken. ‘Rescuing’ the last of the vegetables turned into quite
a mission, the ground is frozen to a depth of at least 20 cm and
jumping on the pitchfork didn’t help – crystalised blocks of earth
contained the beetroot, onions and carrots, which will now be soup
(bortsch). I have never lived with such conditions in winter and as
the garden is finished for now – the tops of the fennel drying to
use as a herb, the leeks too small – I am drying pumpkin seeds, and
thinking of the seedlings we will grow in the hothouse.
Exploring The Region
Sunday 12th February. Fête de l’Ours, Prats de Mollo
The fête de l’ours is in full swing, yet it is meant to mark the
beginning of spring, harking back to a pagan fertility ritual.
The costumed bear (ours) is coated in a mixture of ground charcoal
and oil and armed with a wooden baton. Chased by a band of ‘chasseurs’,
he tries to catch the crowd who chant and taunt him, following his
frenzied hunt through the medieval streets. Brandishing and tossing
his baton to his chosen victim, he then hugs them and throws them
to the ground as the hunters fire their guns.
Tuesday 14th February. Gérone (Girona, Catalan), Spain
Monday 27th February. Post: On A Clear Day
Wednesday 29th February. Cerdagne
Tuesday 7th February. The shower is now a solar douche hanging from a
hook on a beam, filled with snow melted in my copper jam-making basin,
sitting on top of the wood fire. It is now clear that the satellite
dish has moved but there is too much wind and ice, so the internet is
Monday 13th February. We are eating Sablé poitevin or ‘broyé, a large
biscuit made with eau de vie – my first attempt at baking a family recipe
after our holiday in October – a speciality of the region of Poitou
(capitale traditionnelle Poitiers).
Monday 20th February. “Ça fait du bien, le soleil”… our ‘mild Mediterranean
climate’ has been restored and the warmth of the sun is most welcome.
Walking along the coast with azure waters sparkling, it already feels
like spring. We are still celebrating the return of running water – what
a luxury! Even the satellite dish seems to be working, so the week has
commenced on a high note. There is not a trace of ice left, just a few
telltale signs as plants now regain their composure – I am hoping
Thursday 23rd February. Post: Mediterranean Temperatures
Friday 24th February. Post: Throwing Open the Doors