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WINTER IN FRANCE
Barry Paton is deep, crisp and even down Salignac way.


Rue Fenelon, Salignac White Christmas? South West of France? Not really what you expect at all. Different if you were in the Alps or down in the Pyrenees for the ski-ing but not The Dordogne. Well it happened this year and, just as Fiona and I were trudging through the snow to the café on Christmas Eve, I thought that one of the things that was not in my plans when we moved to France a couple of years ago, was a white Christmas! I hadn’t seen one in Scotland for years for heaven’s sake!

Well, the whole of France was affected by a strong bit of Siberian weather for a couple of weeks. I must admit that it did look very pretty with all the Christmas decorations up in the village. The lights twinkling in the dusk, the clean, white snow crisp underfoot and the welcome glow from the café spreading across the village square.

The only problem was the temperature was minus something and I realised that I didn’t know if the car had any anti-freeze. What the Hell! It was too late now and the café was beckoning with its warmth. Suitably warmed when we arrived home through the snowflakes, I did think that it was very pretty. Discovering that I needed to chop some wood for the fire. That warmed me up even more. I may add that this is the most wonderful opportunity to clear all the ‘dead wood’ that one has lying around. You know, the old shelves, the bits and pieces of timber that "will come in useful one day". And you get exercise as well. After a meal and a glass of wine, the white Christmas bit didn’t seem so bad after all. All the time the snow was falling outside while we toasted ourselves in front of the fire.

On Christmas day some friends who live about ten minutes away had invited us to a turkey lunch. Unfortunately their cottage is very remote and up a steep hill, well off the main road. Would the track to the house be ok to drive up, we wondered as we set off early. As luck would have it, we managed with great care and were the first to arrive. Being welcomed in by our hosts, we were informed that the water was frozen and the toilets were out of action. No problem for us men. It was after all a very remote part of the world. The ladies were fixed up with a rudimentary bucket affair I gathered. After a few minutes the other guests arrived. Jan, a Dutchman (who, amongst other things, makes number plates in Sri Lanka - a very long story!) and an English couple who make a living selling French antiques in England.
As our host was English, we were treated to the full English turkey Christmas dinner. All the trimmings were there, stuffing, cranberry jelly, sausages with bacon and more.

Now Fiona and I don’t normally go for this sort of thing (I suppose that as we are Scots has something to do with it) but with the excellent wine, convivial company, and a roaring log fire, we both really enjoyed it. We were certainly treated to a great spread, complete with the flaming plum pudding; christmas crackers and jolly party hats. The lot. It really was wonderful as we looked out over the snow-covered landscape. The time passed quickly as we tucked in and enjoyed. Too quickly in fact, as the darkness was beginning to fall and the temperature was plummeting. Tempting though it was to stay a little longer, it was time to drive home to Salignac. Very carefully we made our way back over the icy roads.

Once home, after navigating ourselves up the slippery hill from our car, we settled down with a glass of wine and a large hunk of cheese. Not exactly how I thought that we would spend Christmas in France but most enjoyable. Once again that is another favour I owe to Mike and Yolande, our hosts. One of these days we will have a traditional French Christmas, whatever that is.

Our Scots cat, however, took a slightly different view. She had not seen snow for at least three years and decided that this was fun stuff! She frolicked, played and chased snowflakes. Just like a kitten that had never seen this whiteness. This is the cat that has taken to the French way of life with a vengeance. This is the former city cat that took to mousing, and other various forms of wildlife, in a matter of moments of arriving here. The presents so far have included dormice, snakes, lizards and a frog. The frog was a problem though, she didn’t know what to do with it and there was a stand off between them for about ten minutes. The frog just hopped away leaving a somewhat mystified cat on the doorstep. This is the cat that cost a fortune in vet fees to have a microchip put in the neck. The cat passport obtained. The vaccinations. At the end of the day the French authorities didn’t even bother to look at anything. And we were worried about how she would settle in? We needn’t have done so; she has adopted a French lifestyle which only cats can do.

It is only us that we worry about! As we now prepare for the New Year celebrations, as exiled Scots we kind of appreciate the weather now. It is raining, misty and grey so we feel quite at home. And just in case you think that we lead the life of luxury in Salignac we are getting ready for next years courses and workshops, replying to enquiries and planning dates. After a year of operation we are now modifying things to suit our customers needs. This includes a new series of screenwriting workshops, which are being hosted by Sam North of www.hackwriters.com and our Dance for Camera workshops, which has proved to be very successful last year. All this administration keeps us both busy and mentally active, while the cat sits beside the fire and purrs. In between times all we have to do is earn enough to keep her fed. White Christmas indeed. If we had stayed in the UK we could not have had such a traditional time. French life is so strange.
Rural France, I love it.

© Barry Paton. Jan 2002
Salignac Foundation
France.
www.salignacfoundation.com

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