Deirdre Lane goes back to school in France for a weekend
“Je m’appelle Carmel. J’ai douze ans” In fact, more like soixante douze. Carmel and Tom have retired from Dublin to a village in Cathar country, mid-way between Toulouse and Narbonne, flanking the Canal du Midi as it services the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean sea route. More importantly, it’s surrounded by vineyards and those scrumptious, yet fated, apples from Etang de Marseillette orchards.
With their half-French grandchildren living in Toulouse, they strive to improve their French. Well, Carmel does. Tom turns up for classes and sits in terror and dread of mistaking his past present tense for his present or even past tense. He tried boules and cannot for the life of him understand why they waste their time at such pursuits. He even joined the AVF – sounds sinister but in fact, it is the Accueil des Villes Françaises. Alas, one local lady became rather amorous and took to calling on Tom when Carmel was in Ireland. His daughter found him cowering behind the scarcely used coat stand whispering to her in strained tones down the phone line as the local lady thudded on the door outside. Tom has a lot to learn about French welcomes. It seems it may not just be his homework she was after.AVF’s aim is to welcome and facilitate all new-comers to the area by easing their integration to the local French way of life. An annual fee of €30 covers classes – bridge, IT, Art lectures, Scrabble, singing, photography, Yoga, first aid, patchwork, cooking, French and even English classes. The history classes cover wine in art amongst other things – why of course! The day trips, on foot, by bike or car share are gastronomical affairs – to local vine yards, ice cream makers, nougat creators, chocolatiers and trips to the various markets. Then the local food fairs – the onion one, the potato one, lamb and chestnut and yes, apple and yet more vine events in the Aude area are also encouraged. Those well known Minervois, Corbières are part of the AOC in the terroir Blanquette de Limoux, Côtes de Malepère, Cabardès each meriting an excursion of their own
L’Espace Famille in Carcasonne is run by an advisor in Economie Sociale et Familiale. The goal is to aid and assimilate new-comers to the French ways of life. The waiting list is high and each candidate must apply and meet stringent conditions to join. Their rendezvous, through French, advises on health care, rules of the road updates, international cuisine class and numerous Pause Café retreats for challenged parents and our two Irish grandparents.
The recent devastating hailstorms have destroyed not only the orchards and vineyards, Tom and Carmel’s yard too was severely damaged – their guttering smashed, their solar lights in smithereens, their back door frame obliterated and the door smashed down. Their now scored and dimpled touring camper-van bears testimony to the second season of such extreme weather. Would they swap it for a damp day in Dublin? Most days, no. But there again, there is no place like home.