The couple renting our house in the south west of France broke the rental contract with us early, after one lost her job locally and the other had to take on new work commitments in Paris. With rigorous project management, they had helped to improve the house interior in the few months while they were there, with all the rooms repainted, heating partially installed, new doors fitted, roof insulation laid, and several other improvements. I drove south-west through the snow, ice and sleet to make the arrangements around the tenants’ departure and for its rental from this spring onwards (please see www.lahune-mansonville.com for details). Rather improbably, I stumbled upon a truly excellent sushi restaurant on a freezing Sunday night in a shadowy corner of Brive-la-Gaillarde, where I ate like a Japanese emperor (and saked my thirst) for less than 20 euros. On the long haul back I got lost, as I nearly always do, in the zombie black hole around Montbéliard, the nightmare border town with the mentality of a high security prison and ringed by hectares of urban sprawl, and with neither compass nor centre nor signpost relating to any town beyond.
We spent the weekend on two long walks when Alli and I joined the Barneses and the Jarvises on a long “popular march” around Kapellen on the Saturday morning, and I went on a similar (but slower and longer) walk with Martin the next morning around and about our own village. The following day Gwen took the dogs for a walk in the woods late one afternoon and got lost just as the light was fading. I managed to find and pick them up shortly afterwards after boy-racing around the nether regions of the Hagenthal woods in the car, panicky thoughts of Little Red Riding Hood skittering across my beaten brow.
The Carnival came to Leymen earlier than to Basel, and I went into the village one Sunday afternoon to see the cavalcade. There were floats featuring local estate agents, dairy farmers and insurance companies, as well as local dignitaries in goose and pig costumes, shuffling oompah floats with slogans for a free Alsace, Charlie Hebdo, and a cheeky drinking song entitled Zwanzig centimeter, played continuously.
Jessie and Ella have each been busy this month, with Ella getting and attending interviews for good public affairs jobs in London, and taking her driving test (not successfully this time, but she is confident about the re-take) and Jessie settling down to work, rest and play inDhaka, where she is furnishing her flat, and where the social life for expatriates looks magnificent. Alli and Gwen spent a week in Sussex so that Gwen could attend an interview at Varndean College in Brighton. She was delighted to be offered a conditional place at the interview, so she knows what she has to do in this last year at the International School in Basel. They left just before Basel’s Fasnacht started, and after thinking that I would go to Basel for some of the various spectacles, I stayed closeted and warm at home with the dogs and the wood-burning stove, opening the door to deliveries from all parts of the world and to workmen from all parts of the Sundgau to inspect our boiler, our bathroom radiator and ourfosse septique. The Jarvises of Hegenheim put on a memorable and hilarious Chinese feast to celebrate the Chinese New Year, and nearly persuaded me to go walking with them on the morrow, but I stood my ground and stayed indoors, surveying the frosty Wolfsloch from my writing desk and venturing out only for bracing walks with the dogs and to fetch more firewood and kindling.
Alli, Gwen and I decamped to Brussels for the last weekend of the month, staying with our friends Laurence and Claude in Rixensart, and saw the much awarded singer of the moment Sam Smith in concert at the Forest Nationale. We also caught up with gatherings of old friends from the area, took a wind-blown stroll around the Lac de Genval, and viewed the spectacular Grand-Place and diminutive Manneken Pis, neither of which Gwen had never seen. Despite the month-long respite in sunny New Zealand over Christmas, it still feels as if it’s been a long and cold winter, and we are looking forward to meeting the sun again. Hailstones were falling even as I wrote this sentence.
Yours hammering on the window,
Leymen Carnival February 2015
Lionel and Alli, Lasne, Belgium, February 2015 (photo: Laurence Deleenaire)