Monday 31 December 2012

Happy New Year from the Hothouse

Not Auld Lang Syne. Apart from the fact that her dress matches my blog's background, I'm always fascinated that this mind-blowing voice comes from this petite woman.

May you kiss your favourite person on the stroke of midnight, and not have too bad a headache tomorrow . . .

A thought for the New Year

I saw a news feature this morning on Telé matin which ended up being a major trawl on the net. But Well worth it.
A letter was discovered in someone's halloween present, some plastic thing assembled along with fifty zillion other things in a Chinese factory. It's writer was sending a heartfelt plea to us in the West to be aware of the conditions that people, children too of course, work in to provide us with these essential items.
I looked up a bit more about the letter and got onto a site featuring the most extraordinary photographs by 'Tom Wolf'. The first ones I looked at were of factory workers, then where most of them live, the worst cases being cages stacked on top of each other. Then his stunning pictures of the apartment blocks. So odd, I thought the grey one I've borrowed here, was some sort of sculpture or model from Blade Runner when I first looked at it.

Hong Kong has one of the highest densities of people in the world - 6,300 people per square kilometre.
Makes one feel a bit stupid for complaining about the spare room being a bit of a mess. A spare room - what luxury! Have a look at his photos of apartment living in Hong Kong, or the madness of buying stuff in The USA, or his sculpture/room of millions of Chinese made toys . . . oops, another hour disappeared somewhere, but an extremely informative hour none the less.

Sunday 30 December 2012


Ezra and I had a little trip into Carcassonne yesterday. Not to go round any early sales but to indulge in a bit of 'flânerie' or strolling, wandering, contemplating urban surroundings with no great purpose in mind. We've pretty much exhausted the Limoux possibilities, seen all the gardens, quirky gates and hand-bodged sheds. The train is now only a euro each way - hurrah for SNCF, and long may it last . . .  so, for two euros each you get a nice afternoon of observation including a cup of chocolate chaude for under a tenner: not bad.
Above, this enterprising Virginia creeper has made use of a broken down pipe and is growing avidly with the help of trapped leaf mould and water.

A bric-a-brack box of assorted buildings featuring a quaint turn of the century yellow town house, another taller edifice from the 30s perhaps, a rustic vine covered wall, and like a giant cubist ferry riding a wave of ugly housing from the 80s, this apartment block crushed into the space.                

Ezra wanted to show me this fabulous house that he had seen from the train. We met an old man also looking at it. He said it was built for a wine trader and has now been bought by an American to restore. He looked up at the roof, shook his head and said 'sacré bulot' - yes, not something you would take on without a huge bank balance. Wonderful none the less. We shall return and be nosy when they have done some work on it.

An empty? house in a side street near the cemetery. The once tiny twig of a wisteria has taken over, wrenching the gutters from the wall and covering the front door. Or perhaps the owners are even more interested than I am in having a wild garden.

A garage near the station, seemingly completely abandoned, the roof held up with scaffold props, the tins of paint and tools rusting. As the newest car in there was a Renault 5. It must have been like this for at least fifteen years.

A stained glass window in a once splendiferous tomb in the Carcassonne cemetery.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Building No 11

Actually, more public space No 1. But I think I'll lump it into the buildings-sub-Hothouse blog.

Welcome to the South of France where the sun always shines on charming ancient honey-coloured buildings, and people skip hand in hand through lavender fields with strings of onions, pastis, Breton shirts and bicycles . . . hm. There are plenty of spaces like the one above too, with and without jauntily placed cardboard box.
How could you make a area of tranquil repose anymore repugnant. A dog carcass perhaps, or a few old shoes lying around as if their owners sat here too long and became deranged, wandering the streets in their socks, howling for the bar to be open.
Why not a couple of climbing roses against the wall to hide the sinister dark grey patches, or an elegant tree to provide shelter from the summer heat.
What are the two blue railings for? Bicycles I suppose. Or perhaps to lean against while you stare incredulously at this piece of once pink and pale orange tiled nothing. Nice colour choice for the railings though, reminiscent of the afore mentioned lavender fields.

Monday 24 December 2012

C'est quoi 'Humbug'

Oh yes, Limoux was full of festive spirit down at Leclerc this morning. I'm sure the year before last when I went down there on Christmas eve it was almost empty, everyone having shopped themselves stupid days before. Today it was MAD - parking area overflowing into all surrounding office car parks and bits of available scrub land. A lot of honking, fist waving and general non-goodwill to men very evident. I think as the sacred hour of twelve approached there might have been some exciting fights erupting between frustrated drivers.
The inside of the shop was like Oxford street without the lights and police with megaphones. More than a touch of trolly rage Oh, excusé moi, MADAME! mobiles clamped to heads, 'what! how is there no more mousse au canard avec fines herbs, c'est pas possible ça! Check again Henri!! 
At least Slade's 'Merry Christmas' wasn't playing. I'm not actually sure what the equivalent is . . . Petit Papa Noel? - which is several degrees more vile.
Ezra spotted something worthy of the Golden Brussel Sprout award for the most useless gift - a metal statue of Big Ben to grace your Christmas table, a snip at twenty-three euros . . . he looked at it for a moment and then asked me what it was for.  I was unable to answer him.

Building No10

Something has landed above Limoux. 
Set back into a slope of scrubby, evergreen oak, someone, somehow, has managed to get planning permission for this extraordinary house. The plans displayed show a partial grass roof, and of course solar panels. The splayed 'supports' are to be a partially glazed, covered terrace all the way round the building. We felt desperately nosy and would have gone over to ask the guy working on the roof loads of questions, but as there was a huge sign saying basically piss off, angry foreman at work, we didn't. Can't really blame them as it's such an amazing sight in a typical Southern French town full of pink and orange crepi-covered villa-boxes that they would be inundated with boggle-eyed folks. 

Sunday 23 December 2012

Spring? in the Aude

Well, the world didn't end but I think the seasons definitely got put away in a box and taken out in the wrong order.
Today was late April here - 23 in the shade on the terrace, birds tweeting suggestively and crocus bulbs sticking tentative limbs from the soil. Of course it will all suddenly change into Siberia for a few days at some point - not exactly . . . it said on the news that it had been minus 50 there. Last year we had minus ten for a few days which seemed like two months. Anyway, whatever - it was stunning today and all the desire to be out in the garden reappeared resulting in a spring-cleaned woodpile and lots of weed removal.
This is the D118 to Esperaza, Quillan and eventually the coast. This bank of fog always hangs around the valley in certain weather conditions, rising from the river in billowing white clouds.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Friday 21 December 2012

Bugarach 21/12/2012

Pic de Bugarach intact as viewed from the smoking asteroid-decimated landscape all around us. Just us, a Kangoo, and enough food to last for . . . actually, seeing the picnic my fellow travellers have brought — quite a long time.

Back in reality. Picnic is good but sky looks normal, rather grey and dull in fact.
We drove up from Rennes and got stopped by the police. They checked ID, Garth's for rather a long time. In fact they were stopping everyone, which was probably a good thing. Who knows what people might take with them and use to get onto TV for a few minutes . . .

Weather calm, possible deluge in the afternoon. Cows all looking avidly at passing traffic.
Bugarach now milling with TV crews, press and police - on horses, on bikes, in vans and trucks.
Still no music apart from one man playing a trumpet a bit. Food being served by people dressed somewhere between father Christmas and Aliens. Atmosphere of genial boredom and slight hopefulness that something incredible might still  happen.

We parked in a muddy field which was without doubt going to become a slushy pond full of furious car owners trying to get home to do a bit of Christmas shopping later. Walked up and down the high street for a while, like everyone else was doing.
Two reporters from The Sun interviewed me despite the fact I am not endowed with a vast chest, and I had all my clothes on. Must have been the daft red hat.
"Hello, can we talk to you, we're from the sun newspaper."
"Oh, err . . . Ok."
"Are you from here?"
"Well, Limoux . . . "
"Do you believe in the end of the world."
"No. But I do believe it is a time for a major change in our thinking. We need to reflect on everything we are doing to this planet,"(something along these lines) Reporter starts to glaze over.
"What do you you do here?"
"I'm a writer,"
"I see, and how old are you?"
What!, why d'you need to know that!?
"Well, I'm fifty two."
"You're looking good . . . " I knock his camera to the ground, smash it to a million pieces, laugh derisively and go in search of tea. Not really. I probably said something pathetic like  - so where would my picture and the article be then? Arggghh.
'Comely fifty-two year old Kate, a Anne summers party-holder, lives in Limoux with her three ex-husbands. Her hobbies include talking to aliens and shopping'.

The highlight of the morning which sent all reporters into a frenzy, was when a rally of 2CV's arrived, all drivers and passengers dressed as extra-terrestrials. The road was completely blocked with honking small boingy French cars, camera crews and the few locals who had braved the crowds.
A few meters away from the packed main high street was a team of builders who have been working on a new house every day amongst all the lunacy. They were now on the roof, not watching but just getting on with the job, as if it was just another ordinary day of the week, the metallic ringing of their hammers echoing around the valley above the sounds of car horns.

On the way back to the car we chatted to a merry group of French men from Lille who had come to spend the day in the shadow of Bugarach and drink a lot of red wine. They had a lovely picnic set out and invited us to join them. We talked of The English and The French and everyone else and agreed that what ever else this event was, it was rather nice to find a whole bunch of folk from all over the world in one tiny village.
They were all dressed normally apart from one man sporting a pair of Spock ears:

 Live long and prosper.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Bugarach 20/12/2012

It was there last night when I left, honest.
Locals, complaining of immense groaning creaking sounds during the night, awoke to find the namesake of their village had been taken away. Confiscated by God, picked off the Earth like a tick from a dog.
Not really.

Normally, the mountain in this photo should be about two centimetres above the tallest power cable post so it was rather surprising to see nothing at all.
Jack The Ripper weather: cows nowhere to be seen. TV crew numbers increasing, inhabitants decreasing. Only one dog visible in the village. No cats at all. Bar still closed.
Still no sign of vans/ stalls/ musicians/ aliens/ tents/ wailing hoards of people dressed in robes/ evangelists/ creationists/ mysterious sightings of Elvis.

I parked and walked up into the back streets hoping to be able to talk to someone not dressed in black with black sunglasses and black equipment bag.
It really was quiet, no wood unloading, nothing. Eventually I saw a garage door open and risked a hello to the elderly gentleman inside. I asked if I could talk for a moment about the phenomenon but he backed away and said that none of the villagers wanted to talk about it as they were - at that point he used an expression I had never heard before, and I can't remember it now, but I imagine it was along the lines of, totally ******* sick of the whole thing.
I persisted as he looked as if he might break into a stunning youthful smile and my day would suddenly be full of roses and sunshine. I mentioned I lived in Limoux. He beamed and said that his wife was from there as if we were talking about New York. The smile was there in all its glory - turns out we live about thirty meters from her old house.
They had lived in the village for more than forty years and he said over the years it had been a regular occurrence that people would come and describe the 'little green men' they had encountered on the peak. So, nothing new really. I was impressed that his lovely dark green Renault 4, affectionately known as a quatrelle herehad a sticker on the back from Alaska. He nodded and smiled at the memory, "Yes we went on our honeymoon in this car in the early sixties." I wasn't sure if he actually meant they went there in that vehicle, but I like to preserve the thought of that tiny green car making its way through the vast empty landscape.
We shook hands, said perhaps we would meet again and I went off to have a cup of tea in the 'Relais' feeling all warm inside.

On the way I stopped to talk to Mark Howie the champion of the dry-earth toilets. I asked him what actually happened to all the poo at the end of the day, as this had been crossing my mind occasionally since admiring the 'Ecolette' loos the day before. He became even more animated than usual and beckoned me to his van to show me the composted results which were quite amazing.
The cafe was buzzing with people working on lap-tops, mainly men with lovely dark curly hair - odd but rather nice. I had a cup of tea with a mind-bogglingly good biscuit. These are produced by an organic baker in Quillan; if it's the same one that makes the croissants in the market on Friday it might be worth moving to said town . . . or not.
I asked the cafe owner how it was going. Good, not too mad. We talked for a long time about the mountain and the landscape. Most of his usual trade is from hikers, very rarely from Alien species hunters, and he is obviously there as someone who dearly loves the area for its natural beauty. Apparently it has been noted over the years that the mountain does 'make noises' - rumbling, grating sounds and vibrations that usually last for several seconds, fading again to silence. Which is presumably where the stories of the space ship in the mountain started from. He also told me a bit more about the magnetic force of the mountain; people often mention that their cameras and other equipment won't work up there.
I resisted buying a pair of sheepskin slippers, which was perhaps a shame, and took another stroll around.

The mountain was in fact still there. The was fog beginning to clear, the summit poking through the white clouds like an emerging submarine, and inciting a flurry of camera activity. On the way back to the car I met a young man wearing a jacket that I wanted (the jacket . . .) denim, with a piece of kitsch tapestry featuring a deer, sewn onto the back. I asked if I could take a picture so I could steal the idea and we got talking. "It's like a mild autumn here compared to where I live," he said, nodding thoughtfully at the surrounding green pasturelands.
He had a real FILM Hasselblad and an ancient panorama camera complete with built in spirit-level. Most impressed I was. We chatted about the end of the world and how this was really a point in time where we all had to wake up, which seems to be increasingly more peoples point of view: Can only be good thing. Said goodbye, and drove down past the police nattering at the potential road blocks and went home to meet the man who was coming to fix our gas stove.




Wednesday 19 December 2012

Bugarach 19/12/2012

Greasy vile weather. Cows had retreated high up on a hill with a gradient of about one in four: now grazing with their backs to the mountain.
Some Gendarme presence on the road up from Rennes: an occasional cluster of them standing next to their bikes, chatting convivially and not stopping people to check documents/ tyres/ boot loads of Bugarach knick-knacks/ or illegal substances.
Red and white plastic bollards were evident, but not actually positioned across the road. I think the general master plan is to wait and see what happens from what I can gather from talking to various officers.
We drove up the main street. This was more like it.
Lots more police, some on horses. Lots more media people including all French TV channels, German and Japanese. BIG area of Red Cross tents, a stall selling Bugarach t-shirts, police helicopters circling, and a whole flotilla of fabulous dry system loos, beautifully painted in green with flowers and everything, even a string of coloured lights.
I spoke to an elderly man with a large stick and asked if he was a Bugarach resident. He said no and that everyone in the village was 'malade' - mad.
Dogs were everywhere. I think the one with different colored eyes is definitely in control of everything.
Ezra and I walked around to the bar to see what they might be doing: themed cocktails? themed end of the world music evenings? featuring covers of The End, by The Doors, and Armageddon It, by Def Leppard. Nothing. Completely shut, possibly until next summer? I mean, I'm no entrepreneur, but surely it might have been a good time to keep the bar running day and night?
Village inhabitants still unloading wood into their houses: not a bad idea if it's going to be as cold as it was last year.
Film crews still filming anything that moves or doesn't. Still no sign of any people other than journalists, police, emergency services and a few onlookers like me. But really - a few.
It all seems mad: the heavy police presence, the Red Cross tents, and the frightening cost of it all, but it is a fairly unique situation as no-one really knows what will happen. It may just be a dank winter day on the 21st with the same bods sloping about and a few caravans turning up. Or it could possibly be total mayhem with thousands of ernest walkers, caravaners and donkey riders appearing all keening for the loo, a decent meal and a Bugarach t-shirt.
So . . . is it all going to happen tomorrow?
Will the roads be blocked by a thousand caravans?
Will the portaloos cope?
Will the café have enough stocks of biscuits and beer?
Does anyone know what time of day or night the end is supposed to take place?
Were the Mayan people really aware of the South of France, let alone an, albeit impressive, mountain towering over a small village miles away from anything much.
On the way out of the village I stopped to take a picture of a flock of sheep. This peaceful scene reminded me what this area is really about. Quiet, meadowland, eagles, vultures, sheep, cows, natural beauty, and a village that probably hasn't changed a lot in a few centuries.
How odd that it will experience this crazy blip in history, a mad hysteria, the whole world visiting for a few days and then back to the sounds of cow bells and rumble of tractors.

Unless, of course, there is some truth in the rumour.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Bugarach 18/12/2012

Weather good, same road, same cows grazing placidly facing towards the mountain. In fact, I stopped to take a picture of them, mindlessly occupying half the road (me, not the cows). A police car appeared in my rear view mirror, then drew up alongside the car. As usual I went into a cold sweat, even though I hadn't done anything really wrong; tyres a bit bald, shit, where was my driving licence?I hadn't looked recently.
"Madame, you are very stupid to block the road thus", he said, which was true, "there will be many, many people coming along soon."
I looked suitably sheepish, apologised for having littering the road with our mud-encrusted car, and went to see what had changed up the road. I was feeling pretty excited, from what he had said there must now be at least a field full of caravans.
Nothing. Again.
Actually, there were now more police and reporters than inhabitants. The fire brigade had gone, leaving a portacabin. I took a picture and stood listening for a while to the telephone ringing inside it: could have been from a David Lynch short film - cut to inside of portacabin: somebody eating jelly with no clothes on staring at the phone while a eerie looking bald man laughs hysterically.
I hope on 'the day' that someone will actually be manning the phone.
Houses still for sale, dogs walking aimlessly, apart from the one who had a taxi job.
Man in blue anorak nowhere to be seen. Most locals were unloading wood into their houses and grunting about reporters.
Reporters mainly sitting in the 'relais de Bugarach' now nick-named Alien Café apparently. The man in there must be making more this week than over eight normal years. Good for him, and his biscuits were excellent.
Most reporters were far to involved in their busy schedules - Drink coffee, look out of door, drink beer, fit fluffy wind thingy to film camera, take it off again, sigh heavily, drink coffee - to say hello. I did meet some very nice camera and sound folk however, from a major German channel. They had been there since Sunday and I think the rural delights of the village were beginning to pale a little.
Back on the high street things were hotting up with the arrival of a couple of expensive looking black Citroens. Men in black suits got out, shook hands with the mayor and probably checked the big pieces of plywood that had been put up showing the zones of action etc - I don't know as I went for a walk to the lake then to see if there were any communes starting up on its banks. Not so much as a one-man tent.
The boards are a fascinating example of French box-ticking exercises: about half a trees worth of paper on each one. I should've examined them a little closer, but they seemed impenetrably complicated; like those pages you get from the insurance company and a little box to tick at the end to say you have thoroughly understood everything.
I was surprised that there was no menu posted up to tell one what the police and army were going to eat when they stopped enclosing the area for lunch, which usually seems to be the most important part of any French logistical gathering. Fois gras, ou salade de gésiers, bavette au sauce eschalottes, Ile flottante, demi carafe de rouge, café. I am tempted to print one and paste it on the board tomorrow . . . 
There seems to be a lot of different versions of what exactly is going to be cordoned off tomorrow. According to the 'plan of action' which looks like a bad drawing of a giant rabbit, most of the area around the village will be out of bounds. Some say you'll be able to walk in, others say not even walking in will be possible. 250 press passes have been issued however, according to 'a source' so the café's really going to be busy.

The Christmas decoration, typical of small French villages, sputtered into life as night fell, the towering mountain changing to an impressive silhouette. I said goodbye to a few friends I had happened upon and drove out of the village past a large party of journalists and camera people filming each other in front of the village sign. Back tomorrow.

Monday 17 December 2012

Bugarach 17/12/12

There is no doubt that the mountain in question is an impressive and peculiar shape on our planet.
The approach from Toulouse gives, I think, the best view of it - rising out of the surrounding landscape like a vast Homburg hat, slightly misshapen by its giant owner mistakingly sitting on it. If Mr Spielberg was influenced by it for  'close encounters' I can see why.
I have walked/climbed up it, and down it, and got completely lost on the top of it in thick white fog. Yes, I saw weird lights and colours, but in my head due to an unprecedented amount of exercise, not from alien or spiritual presences.
Today, as we are only half an hour away, I thought I'd go and see what was actually going on up there.
I followed the twisting road up from Rennes les Bains, feeling slightly nervous, my mind full of images: thousands of pitched tents, the throb of djembe drums, smoke from a hundred massed vans selling nettle fritters and samosas. Or perhaps a vision of colour: exotic robes of red, orange and gold, lines of bowed praying figures, or stalls selling statuettes of the mountain, postcards and gifts: my aunt went to the end of the world and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.
Nope. Nothing.
I parked and did the tour of the village. One thing that struck me straight away was the abundance of fairly decrepit property for sale. If we were to believe certain articles, everything down to the last fetid shed would have been snapped up at a vastly inflated price. The bar was shut. Nobody in the streets. I did talk to a dog for a while.
The church was open, which is unusual these days. Most village churches are shut sadly, due to people nicking everything that's not nailed down. I wandered around, asked God what he thought about the end of the world and admired the exquisite light patterns on the powder blue walls as the occasional sunbeam broke through the rain clouds.
Out in the wet street again I came across Madame Avid, I think she said her name was; rather a good name I thought. She was cleaning her windows with over-manic energy for someone who was destined to have them covered in a film of space craft and rock dust in a few days time. Her husband appeared and we all talked for quite a long time on the subject of everything being blown to bits. "Rien va arrivé, rien du tout!" I agreed with her, nothing was going to happen. But we did have a great meeting of minds that the world is in a most appalling state and this is probably some sort of major wake up call.
As they had lived in Bugarach for about forty years, I asked them for their personal impressions of the mountain that towers above them: 'Definitely very special. It is a mountain on its head, the younger rock being at the bottom of it, magnetic - planes don't fly over it as their controls won't work.'
I thanked the couple, took a photo of them next to their gleaming windows and continued my walk around, instinctively ducking as two huge fighter jet-type planes shot over the mountain, presumably with no control for several moments.
Back on the main drag I saw an old man in a very new-looking blue anorak who refused to say hello to me, and another dog, slightly larger than the previous one.
Near the 'Marie' or town hall I finally found the action.
The mayor was walking about looking frightfully important with several firemen who were engaged in setting up a 'poste de secours' to rescue hapless folk on the day. This was great; a whole bunch of people appeared, well, four actually, with cameras and tripods. We all stood in the rain for a while the firemen shouted at each other and the kids looked on from the local school. I interviewed some of them.
"Do you believe in aliens?"
"YES, YES!!!!"
"Have any of you seen one yet?"
" Yes . . . me. I saw one this morning sitting on the school roof."
"What colour was it?"
"Do you think the spacecraft is really going to come on the 21st?"
"YES, YES!!"
"But what about Christmas then?"
I said goodbye to the photographers I had met who had been staying in a tent since the 28th of November . . .? and went back to the car.
On the way I met two beautiful Chinese lady journalists who had come for the day . . . from China?! Why not stay for the whole event? We had a chat and then I watched them walking off in their dainty shoes trying to avoid the horse shit scattered liberally over the road, umbrellas straining against the gusts of wind whipping round the mountain.
So that was it. I didn't see the fifty bikers who allegedly passed through all in white robes, or anyone with a sign saying the end of the world was nigh. I drove around the base of the mountain and everything was as it always is up there. Trees, sheep, wind, birds. There was a faint grumbling sound; perhaps the wind carrying the sound of a tractor from a nearby field, or maybe the vessel concealed deep in the rock having a last run through - if that's the theory you are following.
'Break fluid levels OK? indicators all right? Yep. OK we're all set then.'