Sunday, December 24, 2023

A Florida Merry (Happy) Christmas

We're not quite like the Aussies here - you can't guarantee it'll be balmy enough for Christmas dinner on the beach and sadly it looks like rain tomorrow. But last night was warm and tropical and along with what seemed like half the town, I checked out the arboretum, where different groups decorate and light up the trees. It was an adventure, with kids running excitedly around and signs warning about trip hazards like cables. First, one of those "only in Florida" moments.

 The gazebo was nicely decorated with tasteful Christmas music emanating - I didn't hear "Frosty" once. 

Although it was rivalled by a decorated golf cart parked on the road blasting out some unrecognisable noise that might or might not have been Christmassy. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt. 

Here was our Golden Beach display, with the yellow historical marker and benches to watch the sunset.

The Lions' Club charity had an appropriate theme - and in the background some classic Florida Christmas Palms. Not so silly - palm trees must have figured in the First Christmas.

There seemed to be a bit of an animal theme.

Including Rudolph with his shiny nose. Natch.

Somehow there seemed to be fewer displays this year - there were almost more lights festooned on the onlookers - picking their way in the dark with the help of glowing garlands and flashing mobile phones than on the trees. Well that's an exaggeration. But I'm guessing the last couple of big hurricanes did for some of the trees. And where were the Nativity scenes? I'm sure there used to be at least one or two displays from the churches.

Walking back along the island roads, there was my old favourite the jetskiing Santa

With Prancer (or was it Dancer?) clinging onto the back.

Then in one of the Golden Beach front gardens - I might be wrong but there was something that did look remarkably like...

A Nativity scene!

Hooray for them and a very Happy (Merry) Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Festive Times at Golden Beach

 There's a certain something something about palm trees dressed up for Christmas ....

This year, our main shopping street, Venice Avenue looks even more spectacular than usual.

It seems that after the last two years' ravages thanks to Hurricanes Ian and Idalia, the trees have picked themselves up (probably not literally) and are happily strutting their stuff again. 

Now we're well into December I can just about stand hearing the Christmas music in the shops (shoppes,  as the estate agents like to say) so long as it's not Frosty the Snowman, or Winter Wonderland, or Rudolf, or the Little Drummer Boy, or Mary's Boychild (sorry) or..or. But I have to do the shoppes for stocking fillers (stuffers) for hubby as he hasn't yet discovered my favourite ones and I can get ahead of him. (One time I was in a gift shoppe and they started playing Bridge Over Troubled Water. Suddenly I realised that everyone of my vintage was humming along....a surreal moment.)

Meanwhile my kind neighbour donated some Christmas goodies. They did not last long and certainly not till Christmas. But we will have mince pies (mincemeat pies) courtesy of the internet.

But things have moved on since I came Stateside. A lot of shoppes now sell crackers and they actually call them crackers, not cracklers or crinklers or some other across-the-pond alteration. I remember when I was looking for crackers for my first Christmas up in rural western New York. I asked for them at the Party Shoppe. "No hon, you need the grocery store - in the cookie aisle", said the girl helpfully, "You can buy the cheese there too."

Everyone is in party mood, a lot of events, like parades and tree lightings resurrected this year. Also in party mood were some neighbours I saw from the beach. 

I was walking along early in the morning, when, just a few feet away, where there's a sharp drop-off, I heard what sounded like a sneeze and then another one. I looked round and there were two dolphins, gambolling so close I could almost have touched them. As usual they were too quick for me to get a photo of their glossy arced backs - though I did manage a fin...

(A visiting friend saw one once and screamed, 'Shark!' Seeing that pic you can understand why, although they move entirely differently). The dolphins gambolled up and down the beach for a good few minutes and then gambolled off about their business.

Earlier there was Thanksgiving and a family visit for which the French bakery Croissant and Co did us proud. 

Not exactly pumpkin pie but the guests didn't complain. There was also a small pumpkin pie to satisfy the traditionalists.

And in the evening a chance to sample the local pastime of watching the sunset. Not a very spectacular one on that day.

But fun all the same.

And on Black Friday we gave the shoppes a wide berth and went for a little alligator spotting in the park down the road. Yes it was only a little alligator but, hey, you don't get those in Ohio.

Followed by an excursion to the fishing pier from which - unusually for our relatively sedate town - we spotted a group on the beach with a large flag celebrating a certain former President stuck into the sand and a lady sporting a bikini with "Trump '24" on the top bit and "Maga", literally, on the bottom. If I had spotted similar attire promoting any of his rivals, I would of course have reported it in the interests of impartiality but unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately - I didn't. 

One beachgoer wasn't all that impressed...

If the recent sunsets haven't been that great, the dawns have made up for it.

I'm glad the family came when they did because now we're getting ready for Christmas with some chilly weather. And a storm sizeable enough to close the park by the South Jetty.  The rain lashed down and some poor soul visiting from the north drove into the intracoastal waterway, mistaking it for a road. He was saved by a gallant barman from the nearby Pop's Sunset Grill, who spotted the mishap and raced to get him out of his sinking car just in time. Today my morning walking friends and I donned woolly hats and gloves. The year-round residents just love the chance to do that. Not a frost exactly but a cutting wind. If you can't have a winter wonderland you can close your eyes and pretend

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

French Interlude Revisited - Lovely Old Stone

     The countryside of Correze reminds me of western New York - or maybe it's the other way round as France came first. Hills and forests and farms. But there's one thing that Cattaraugus County doesn't have..

One of the beauties of Correze is its old stone. Every little village has its ancient church, like this one at St Hilaire-Luc

Some date from the 12th century or before. In those days you didn't travel far from your village. Even when I started coming here a few decades ago, most of the villages would still have Mass on Sundays. Not so now. But every old church is a gem. And every village has its quaint corners.

Cottages with climbing roses..

A ricketty gate  - or an artwork?

The war memorial surrounded by flowers

And every war memorial has its poignant list of names, mostly from the First World War. And every time I see one I'm humbled anew by so many lives lost from such a tiny place. Many with the same family names.

St Hilaire-Luc is a little visitor-conscious though. A new type of person now comes to Correze and the back-to-the-landers,  second homers love memorabilia. This is the back garden of the antique shop. They'd probably want an arm and a leg for that metal bucket.

In a discreet way tourism has arrived here.

A few miles away is the town of Ussel - our local metropolis, home of the college, the hospital, the big Leclerc supermarket, the swimming pool. While hubby went swimming, I explored a town I'd only usually gone to for necessities. I'd forgotten what a gem it is, even  though the snooty guidebooks consider it pretty run-of-the-mill. Trouble is, there's just so much of this in France. You're spoilt for choice. 

This looked intriguing

And very fittingly led to a small shrine on the wall.

What stories these old alleys could tell.

And St Martin's Church, now the local hub, with only four priests serving a vast mission parish of outlying villages. And two of those have come from Africa.

One year I went to a big bash in this square, honouring devotees of tete de veau (see below!), robing them in academic gowns and presenting them with spoof diplomas. They cooked the gloopy gunk  in a huge cauldron and people sat at long tables enjoying the feast. That arch with the flower arrangement is always lovely.

The little water fountains are typical too.

This is Ussel's most famous house - once owned by the Dukes of Ventadour as their town home. They had a big sprawling castle out in the countryside and had a lot of trendy troubadour connections back in the day. The friendly book shop owner said it's not open to the public - even though it features in all the tourist brochures. He was excited to see us - he said he had relatives in Charleston, South Carolina.  And the bookshop was spectacular.

One Sunday we went to Mass at the Cathedral in Tulle, Correze's administrative centre, deep in the river valley.   Again it's a town that isn't an obvious tourist spot but still worth exploring.

With some grand town houses - some now being restored

And more narrow cobbled streets.

On Sunday it was deserted, with only one restaurant obviously open. Easy to think yourself back into the Middle Ages - without the noise and smells.

Back to Ussel again and here's the little chapel of Notre Dame de la Chabanne, looking like one of those old German spiked helmets.

The interior is glorious. 

A few years ago we came here for the 8th September Nativity of the Virgin Mary feast. It was packed to the rafters, people singing lustily, "Notre Dam-e de la Chabann-e," We joined in, worrying about our Florida house in the throes of Hurricane Irma. And she came through for us. This year the chapel was much less full. Was it that so many people didn't go back after Covid? Or perhaps it was the rival procession in Eygurande, which also has a lovely shrine. Sadly, when we explored around there,  I left my phone at home, so no photos.

We happened to be in Ussel for Patrimony Days, a European Union thing - where various places not normally open to the public let the tourists in. The Ventadour house wasn't on the list. But the Penitents' Chapel was. 

It's now a museum but on this weekend we could get in free.

A horse pulling a hearse. Magnificently morbid.

Across town in the other museum I was fascinated by these wall beds - a feature of some of the local old houses. Each was exquisitely carved and decorated with different patterned curtains. Though you'd have to have been pretty short to be comfortable in them. I only noticed the chamber pots after I looked at the photo.

It was market day too.

Also open to the public was the Chateau de Theil, hidden away in a suburb behind the big box store district and in the process of being renovated. Judging by the photos on display, it had been a wreck before

Now a group of optimistic young people are hoping to turn it into a luxury hotel. Good luck to them. There are a lot of these sort of places in France, though admittedly not so many around here. If it doesn't work out it won't be for want of trying. They've put a huge amount of effort into it. I said if they got a brilliant chef for the restaurant we'd definitely come back.  We were walking towards the entrance when we heard what sounded like a siren going off and a lot of people shouting. We thought we'd set off some kind of alarm and wondered if we should make a quick getaway, when someone explained. We were the 1000th visitors. All the excitement was for us.

When we said we were from America they cheered even louder. Sorry we couldn't promise them a lot of rich friends who might want to come and stay. But it was good to feel wanted. 

Driving back to Limoges Airport we took in another couple of villages and churches.
This old well was at Lubersac - 

- the name derives from Louparsat in the ancient Limousin language, or Loup Perce in French. The pierced wolf. Apparently a knight killed the wolf to save a damsel in distress, in this case also his girlfriend. His services might be needed again.  The local paper has been full of stories of wolves going forth and multiplying around the region. The farmers are less than happy. The pro-wolf camp say they keep the deer population down. But, the farmers point out that no self-respecting wolf is going to bother chasing a deer through the forest when he can grab a fat sheep in a field. They have a point.  

It was a bleak, rainy day, the first after weeks of sunshine. 

Through the drizzle the church of St Etienne looked austere and gloomy, 

And the interior sombre,  though there were some interesting wall paintings.

A modern touch outside was a brand new dovecote.

A last stop at another little village, Meuzac this time, with a smaller, simpler church

But memorable for its eye-wateringly steep staircase to the choir loft.

I wonder what 'elf n' safety would say about that. Presumably the singers made good use of the strategically placed confessional before attempting the ascent.

Au revoir for now!