It's pouring with rain today and so we are confined indoors here in Lot et Garonne. I didn't think it fair to write about our place in the sun while everyone in the UK was suffering from an excess of the wet stuff but as we are now sharing the deluge, here is a description of our little piece of heaven.
I first came to MFQ as a girlfriend, nearly 20 years ago. Boyfriend, now First Husband, was visiting one of his old schoolmasters and his family who holidayed here each year. In summer this part of France is like a veritable Common Room for the exhausted Domine of the education system. I was enchanted, then as now, with both boyfriend and ancient village and fortunately, both passions have survived and strengthened.
MFQ lies on the slope of a hill that tilts toward the south, houses rising in an orderly grid to the medieval church with its characteristic two spires. Looking out from the vantage point on the battlements beside the church, the countryside undulates gently like a rumpled patchwork quilt; small farms, orchards and pastures stretch as far as the eye can see, gently interspersed with patches of dark green forests and bright yellow sunflowers. Narrow, straight roads radiate from this place with here and there, what appears to be a Dinky car, moving slowly, glinting in the sun. But silently, with only the swish of the chestnut trees in the gentle breeze or the twitters of the house martins to interrupt your contemplation. Far away on the horizon a real Disneyesque castle looms, the very image of the perfect fairytale princess's home but close-up, the walls are many metres thick, glowering and impenetrable.
For we are in Aquitaine, Hundred Years War territory, and for many periods of time, in English possession. Fortified by both the English and the French, like most bastides in this part of South West France, MFQ was built to the same general plan. A central square is surrounded on four sides by strong and massive arched stone arcades with huge beams visibly supporting the half timbered houses above. In the north east corner of the square still stands the house of Edward, the Black Prince who lodged there when visiting his father, Edward III's, seneschal of Aquitaine. Once there were ramparts encircling the town; little of those remain though it is thought our house is built into some of its old foundations. Both the town, and our house, have stood for over 750 years.
Streets and alleysways criss-cross at right angles. Until about 25 years ago the alleys, carrerots, were full of centuries of debris. Where once the filles de joie plied their trade, the carrerots are now cleared and, beautifully cobbled with polished stone in arching patterns, they snake down the hill, forming perfect conduits for the occasional heavy downpour. Walk through any alley, apparently devoid of people but with the sounds of life in adjoining houses emanating all around; the clatter of pots and pans as dejeuner is prepared; animated French voices gossiping, arguing, soothing; the music school pianist running up and down her scales; a baby crying. Could be any century... then the unmistakable rhythm of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon floats ethereally overhead from next door's bedroom and we're brought back to the modern age.
It's a dreamy, tranquil place, mysterious and romantic, sometimes virtually silent and at other times, vibrant with festivals and markets. Wait for me in one of the cafes, order une grande cafe au lait and I'll be with you shortly to tell you some more...