Ice and Fire
Last Saturday was one of those days where I looked out the window and had an overwhelming desire to go back to bed. Snuggle back under the (two!) duvets and have another little snooze. The sky looked very foreboding and laden down with something. It didn’t exactly inspire the notion of being productive. However there was much to do that day so no such luck as to slip back into the cocoon.
We decided to split the morning chores of the day. Mon homme the shopping, and me, the cooking of the chilli for lunch. I love supermarket shopping if I’m on my own and I have a list. I like to be able to look at everything, but I need the list. Otherwise I come home with crazy things like culinary string and shoe insoles. Not that these things aren’t needed from time to time, but the thing is, I’ll forget other more pressing items like toilet roll and milk. So I need a list!
This morning mon homme also had to pick up his Grandmère from the hospital (minor hand surgery) so the shopping needed to be done efficiently. And that’s why I stayed home to cook the chilli! This was exactly the kind of warming fuel needed on a day like today. I decided though to squeeze in a quick run before I ate breakfast (sorry did I just say run? How silly! I meant a huff and a puff and a blow myself down the road with a face as purple as a grape).
It was tough heading off in the cold under that heavy sky. Good job I have Charlie for company. He’s a beautiful Australian shepherd that came into our lives recently and I’m a fitter person for it! We headed off, and no sooner were we gone than I discovered where the heaviness in the air was coming from. Snow of course! It started to snow big fat flakes. The kind that rest on your eyelashes for a few seconds. I’m just not used to snow yet. We did of course get snow in Ireland from time to time, whenever there was a “cold snap” but I’m just not that used to it. I can predict any kind of rain. Even here I can feel it coming from miles away, but snow just isn’t on my radar. I’m always amazed how Grandmère and my older neighbours talk about smelling the snow coming days in advance. And then sometimes they say that “it’s too cold to snow”. That one always tickles me! I imagine tiny snowflakes sitting in a little huddle in a big snowcloud, muttering to themselves, “Hell no – I’m not going down there today – it’s too bloody cold”.
By the time I got back there was a fluffy carpet of white all over the garden. That’s when I noticed the artichoke leaves with their tips peeping through the first layer of snow. Waving at me to let me know they were still there. I love artichokes. They combine my favourite colours when in flower. Vivid purple and that delicious shade of silver-green. I’ll have to wait for the flowers another little while yet but the leaves hold strong, ever brave in the winter garden.
After my shower and about 5 cups of tea I set about the chilli. We eat lunch early enough here so the ball needs to get rolling early on in the morning. Lunch is always on the table at noon. This took me a tremendous amount of time to get used to when I moved here first (the aperitif before lunch was funnily enough a bit easier to get my head around). Anyhow I had everything ready, mon homme headed off to pick up his Grandmère and we all met in her house, which is just in the next village for a leisurely lunch.
When we came home I did something I hardly ever do any more. I took a nap! Such a luxury, but then on a cold winter’s day, there’s not much else to be doing! I awoke with a jolt though after about an hour and a half. I had forgotten that the village bonfire was this evening and I had promised my girls that we would go.
I reluctantly got myself together. The wrapping ritual began. The wrapping up of heads with hats, necks with scarves, hands with gloves and michelin-man style jackets in an effort to head off the cold at the outset. Our village is tiny (only about 150 inhabitants) so we didn’t have too far to walk to the terrain. It’s a green space at the top of the village. There’s a small football pitch, a pavilion and a cutesy little band-stand. The bonfire was already roaring by the time we got there.
Now one of the things I love about living here is that any occasion can be turned into an excuse to eat cake! Eating cake is something that I’m actually very good at. Far be it from me to blow my own trumpet but I relish any opportunity that comes my way to develop this skill even further. And here was another welcome opportunity. A table decked out with brioches and galettes des rois (a frangipane based sweet delight!).
It being such a chilly night, everyone was huddled together in the pavilion, enjoying the afore-mentioned delights washed down with vin chaud, the French equivalent of mulled wine. Here they concoct both white and red mulled wine, and I have to say the white is delicious. There were happy children clutching their little cups of hot chocolate happily enjoying the occasion.
After a while, we started to migrate in little groups towards the fire. The conversation was still flowing – I think people always welcome this get together at the end of January as a means of beating the post Christmas blues and sharing a simple pleasure. Slowly however conversations trailed off and one by one everyone’s eyes were drawn to the glowing fire. I always love that lull. That hush where gazes become magnetised by the dancing flames.
I have a friend who says that a fire is great company. I tend to agree. There is a world in those flames and we tend to give ourselves over to daydreams and hopes in the flickering light. What better way to mark the beginning of a year. Daydreams in good company.