Ferme Berdot

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I was trying to write about a typical day in Berdot but so far there’re no typical days. Days here depend on the weather, what’s going on around and what comes our way.

The weekend I arrived, a storm was brewing and the entire sky was heavy with dark clouds. I dare say the entire sky because back home in Singapore, we only get pockets of sky when we look up from the bottom of our high rise buildings. Reminds me of the ‘frog-in-the-well’. The frog looks up from the bottom of the well and thinks that the world is the big circle above.

Out here in the countryside, things are not taken for granted and we can’t expect each day to be the same as they did before or available immediately. If you want something, you’ve got to work for it. Do I have lots to learn!

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On Sunday we wanted to play golf but the greens need trimming first. Out with the John Deere and a manual grass cutter, we worked as much as we could before the rain came which it did in one strong burst making the ground too wet to do anything. So we retired indoors to do something else.

The following days got warmer and feel more like summertime. Irene taught me how to dig for onions and shallots from the vegetable patch, rows of them harvested and lay out to dry in the sun. We harvested beans enough to last an entire year when boiled and frozen. For the rest of the week, we plucked tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes, and dug enough potatoes and beet root for the three of us and perhaps a guest or two.

On Tuesday we kind of dropped everything for Tour de France when they passed through this area. Irene prepared a picnic, Tony picked up his grandsons, all packed in his 4-wheel to Mas-d’Azil to join the cycling supporters on route from Carcassonne to Bagneres de Luchon.

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Mid-week was perfect for swimming but only after we remove the leaves and twigs blown into the water after the storm. I’ve seen the maintenance man cleaning the condo pool effortlessly but it isn’t as easy when I have to do myself even with Irene guiding me.

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In between the main activities of the day, Tony will share intriguing stories about France, his time in Asia and the amazing trips he made around the world. The best moments for me so far must be dinners at the corner of the garden on the edge of the hill where we eat, talk and do nothing but watch the sun sets and the first star appears in the night sky.

C’est si bon.

 

Joan Yap

 

Along the Pyrénées

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I was quite reluctant to leave Ascain being slightly attached to this small community, actually made some acquaintances, getting used to the church bells ringing every hour and organ music during morning mass, the tiny town square with its Friday night folk dances and Saturday market filled with local produce – all gently draws me into its village culture.

But I have to pack and go soon. Tony, Irene and young Romeo were already waiting to take me on a 350km drive from Atlantiques to the Midi-Pyrénées.

Was a lovely day. “Don’t mind if we go open top”, Tony asked. Of course not! What a treat to breeze through towns linked by winding roads that follow an emerald river with moderate rapids ascending the border range and listening to pre-war French music.

We made a short stop at Espelette known of its dried peppers and quaint handicraft shops. Next we stopped at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to spot pilgrims entering or leaving for Camino Francés. After lunch, we left the small village roads and got on the highway east towards Foix to Ferme Berdot.

Ah! It’s so nice to be back. Was here in April for a lunch stop and eventually ended up staying one night. This time I’m staying for six weeks, grateful to be part of this simple privileged life surrounded by the richness of the air and land in this country. Don’t really know exactly how I’ll be spending my time here but I’m sure it will be good.

Joan Yap

Ascain

Ascain

This is the part of France that felt belonged to a part of Spain that didn’t want to be Spanish. Yes, it is as confusing for you as it was for me.

Best way is to get Wikipedia to explain it – The Basque Country is the name given to the home of the Basque people in the western Pyrenees that spans the border between France and Spain on the Atlantic coast. It’ll need more explanation but basically the Basque people are hoping to be independent of both countries.

So here I am in Ascain near the Spain/France border, in a hotel located between the town square and a cemetery, the best of both worlds within easy reach to both vibrancy and tranquillity.

The Frenchman who checked me in was slightly nervous, just handed me the room key without asking for identification or credit card details. Perhaps this is how they do things in a village hotel.

At lunch, his nerves got the better of him and he tripped over a step, dropped his tray of glasses and a bottle of wine in front of a packed crowd. Could have been a circus act but no one was laughing.

Later I managed to talk to him. Julian is his name. Just arrived from Paris with his family to escape from the spoils of the big city. He’s the three-day old owner of the hotel and was thrown into a million little things running it at high season. No wonder he was puffing like a chimney at the back of the kitchen.

Asked him how he decided on this hotel. It’s the proximity to Spain, the mountains and the beaches all within 30 minutes. Its full house all summer but it doesn’t feel crowded. There’s plenty of space for everyone.

There are little bars and restaurants around the town square but I’ve chosen to eat and drink in the hotel’s pebbled garden with cane chairs below maple trees, a cosy enclosure framed by tall hedges and the church wall. This is a good place for day dreaming and in the heat of the afternoon, I easily imagine being in the forgotten courtyard in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

From city of over 5 million to a seaside town of over 15,000 people to a village of 4,000 (give and take 10 travelling tradesmen), it takes some adjustment. This downsizing is deliberate because tomorrow I’m going to a farm of two plus one including me, for six weeks.

Stay with me, won’t you? Better still - write, chat, message, mail, call, visit – all channels are welcomed to friends.

 

Joan Yap

 

 

 

 

 

Unplugged

Unplugged

It was not apparent at first. The chatter and laughter at the tables, around the cafés, along the pavements and on the streets. People talking to one another, children playing in groups.

Sure this is a sweet little place with a modest history, a humble seaside village with more tourists than residents. In the old town an elderly man with a baguette wrapped in today’s newspapers greeted a friend at the corner of a crumbling tower that once guarded an ancient settlement. I could smell the sea from here though I couldn’t see or hear it.

Round the corner, a delivery man was having problems pushing a crate of beer. A cyclist with his own load stopped to help and together they heaved the heavy pack. An act of kindness worth more than the weight of the bottled stack.

On a sand bank, a few boys were kicking ball. Each time the ball went into the water, the boys dived in with it racing to be the one to retrieve it. Some girls were watching them giggling at their silly game.

Took so many photos and wanted to post them online. Found a bar with free WiFi and then I got lost. Lost in my mails, WhatsApp chats, Facebook updates and messages, Goggle search, news, Wiki and whatever that took me out of where I was into the world wide web.

Many cups of coffee later, I looked up from my screen. The wind must have picked up. There were more boats in full sail out at sea and more people in the café chatting, laughing, simply being with each other.

Suddenly I felt out of place in this small town. Here and yet not. I put away my phone and try to fit in with the rest. Got back into the present just in time to soak in the moments of the old world where people here are with each other and not elsewhere with their gadgets.

Joan Yap

 

Me

I’m an aunt of six and a mother of one

Spent my formative years in a convent but I’m no nun

Stood at mountain peaks and dived in several seas

Explored the world in search of adventure and inner peace

 

I’m often alone but seldom lonely

Of late friends tell me I should write my life story

There is so much to say, yet so little to bare

Besides I’m too young for that, there’s nothing new to share

 

These middle-age years can give us the wrong impression

That when we retire, we’ve arrived at our destinations

But there’s still lots to do when now we’re really free

An author of my future I’ld rather be, for the past is already history

 

Joan Yap

 

life

Sunset over a turquoise pool

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Besides family and friends, what do you miss most when you’re away from home?

Surveys done on Singaporeans reveal the top of the list is FOOD.
No doubt about it. We do miss our food – the rich variety and cultural blends; relatively affordable and delicious local fare as well as the more snobbish choices of fine dining; and most of all, the convenience of eating out without the hassle of cooking and washing.

But in recent years, the central kitchen has taken over the mom-and-pop shops with food courts springing up in every mall with the same mediocre standard and impersonal service. “Street” food has completely lost its flavour leading to a hunt by local celebrities to seek out the best and most authentic Singaporean food around the island.

Next on the list was SHOPPING. Was as in until Singaporeans discover that shopping in Thailand is worth the flight and stay for a couple of days. Shopping in Singapore is still great except that the same brands and shops are found in almost every mall, even malls one block from each other.

So if you regret not buying anything from a shop, there’s no need to turn back. There’s another one just a few steps away. Shopping in Singapore is like walking along the beaches of Pattaya or Bali where the same products are being flogged. The joy of shopping and finding something different is a thing of the past.

What else is there to miss when one’s away from Singapore? What is so unique about here that I can’t get anywhere else?

By the way, one of the things we don’t miss is our weather. It’s too hot and humid. Back in the old colonial era, there is a popular saying about mad dogs and Englishmen both being out when the sun is at its hottest. The wiser locals prefer to be indoors during the day and come out at night like how vampires would live.

On one such hot and humid day, I went for a swim in the evening. The water stayed warm holding the heat from the blazing sun hours ago. The neighbourhood kids who were splashing around earlier have all gone home for dinner. It’s the quietest time of the day here and I’m all alone.

Did my little laps and floated on my back facing the sky. Then I saw the sunset – pinkish gold, golden pink, baby blues and pastel hues. What a glorious end-of-the-day display!

This must be what I will miss most when I’m away from home. Swimming outdoors in tepid water, a turquoise pool to myself, watching day turn to night, staying for as long as I like.

Joan Yap

 

The magic is never gone

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There was a time I believed I had magical powers because I could form images with clouds. Then I was told it’s just imagination and the magic was lost forever.

Well, until yesterday. I met an old friend and we did an un-adult thing – looking at clouds.

Maggie, like me, enjoys doing what we call ‘heart acts’. “You are happiest when you do things following your heart and not your head”, she used to say.

My friend married her school sweetheart and raised three wonderful kids. A dutiful wife and loving mother. Loves talking about travelling and adventures that she did not get to do.

“Let’s go away, just us girls”, she instigated in her dreamy mood staring at a particular puffy shape of a car or a head, depending how you look at the white mass in the sky.

Then her phone rang. Her mood changed as if she was dropped a thousand feet from the clouds to the cold hard ground.

“Got to go. Catch up another time”. And off she went a different person from a minute ago. Head down hurrying to whoever summoned her on a guilt trip home.

Left alone I looked up again. The car/head has turned into a galloping horse. The magic is back. It’s never gone as long as the heart is strong.

 

Joan Yap