Thursday, December 11, 2014

Voices From The Grave

Today Jess and I visited the peaceful country graveyard in Issac which is perched on a gentle slope surveying the countryside just at the edge of the village. It is surrounded by a high gray wall with a wrought iron gate at the entrance.  How fitting that the ones who have gone before are laid to rest in a place of prominence as you head into the village........

Some people might find visiting a cemetery a bit morbid.....not me (or Jess, a mini- me!)  Perhaps it is the Irish is me.... In Ireland, when one dies, it is custom to celebrate their life as it is done with an Irish laugh, to cry, to tell stories, to relive your memories of the deceased.  The graveyard is a glimpse of the story of who lived here and died here, last year, or perhaps last century, what families populated the area, what secrets lay beneath the concrete beds?  To me, walking and stopping at each and every grave in the Issac cemetery brings those souls back to life for a moment just as it says on a plague on one of the graves;


"One is never quite gone as long as there is someone to remember and talk about you from time to time and so bring you to life for a moment."

"Que ton repose soit doux comme ton coeur fut bon"
May thy rest be as sweet as your heart was good

The majority of the graves are cased in concrete, and there is a mix of old and new, of tended and abandoned, of the prosperous and the paupered.  The Angel of Death shows no or poor, young or old.....

I was shocked to find that a lot of the graves only have the family name, no dates or specifics about who is actually buried there.  It was interesting to see that even with the graves spaced generously and the rows having  bigger spaces, the graveyard is half empty.  There are not that many graves altogether, but perhaps it is just how many families that are in the area and each family continues to use the same plot?  The population of Issac has decreased in recent years dropping from 472 people in 1968 to 370 in 2007 and judging from the lack of people around since I have been here, it has decreased again since 2007!!!!

There were loads of fresh chrysanthemums and beautiful potted plants and shrubs on many graves throughout the cemetery so it is obvious that the graveyard is frequented and graves tended by family members.

There are beautiful ceramic flowers on a lot of the graves - a great idea because they seem to be better than real flowers or artificial ones for their lasting power from the elements:

I was excited to see a  "Famille Mazieres" grave.......the name (Domaine de Mazieras) of the estate that my villa is on.....a connection to the family and its place in the locality and a history I intend to investigate further (when my French improves!!!!)

I went through the whole graveyard thinking there would be at least one Irish name in it, but no, they were all French except for a baby who died with the last name Ball which I take to be English, and it was a recent death.  I must also say that the Irish hold the award for the best crosses (especially the celtic ones, of course!!!)

It was interesting to see some trends through the years.  Sometimes pictures of people were put on the gravestones:


Long ago, slate (and concrete) were used to mark graves:

 In the 1900's, ceramic plaques were common:

Sometimes plaques were put on that obviously represented an interest or love or occupation of the deceased such as this wild boar one for a hunter, I presume, or one for a soldier:

I loved seeing really ancient looking cement flower urns.  The moss is definitely an aging touch!!!!!


.......and older above ground cement coffin graves:

The trip to Issac Cemetery was intriguing.  It is my guess that the graveyard only dates back to the 1800's, possibly 1700's and that there must be another earlier graveyard somewhere else near the village.  Even so, Jess and I saw some really interesting stuff and enjoyed our graveyard exploration and we look forward to learning more about the families of the area and their history!!!!!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Typical Day

I guess I have been in France long enough to have fallen into a daily routine (having a child at school actually fasttracked this daily routine process!!!) I get up about 7:45am and Blue gets up at the same time.   I make my morning cup of tea and Blue gets herself dressed for school and then watches some cartoons while she is eating her breakfast (cream crackers with butter or cinnamon toast crunch cereal!).  It is my intention every school morning to leave the house at 8:30am but I am always a few minutes later than that by the time we get shoes and jackets on, find keys, etc.  Blue walks down to open the gate of our courtyard while I drive the car through the gate and she closes it and gets in

.                                                          The gate out of our courtyard:

The village of Issac is only down the road (about a mile) but our driveway is very long also and has quite a few pot holes so I have to drive slowly with my little Peugeot!!!!  Blue has to be at school at 8:45am and if I don't get her there at that time, the gate is locked and she has to ring the bell for the teacher to come with keys to open it.....highlighting her tardiness, so I try to be on time!

                                                        The gate to Blue's school yard:

Blue looking tres chic heading to school!!!!

After Blue is dropped off at school and I have another cup of tea at the house, Jess and I go for a walk to explore the extensive estate we are on. (Jess hasn't gotten the go ahead to start school yet)  There is so much to see and so many roads and paths and fields to explore that each outing is an adventure. In the middle of a field away from all the houses and outbuilding, there is a grove of trees and bushes that hides cave-like entrances into five underground chambers that must have been used during war time to hide from the enemy.  I hope I can find out more about the history of the estate and unravel some of the mysteries that surround it!

After our walk, it is time to pick up Blue for lunch at 11:45am.  We bring her back to the house and the girls play outside while I prepare something to eat.  Blue has to be back at school at 1:15pm, except on Wednesdays when she has no school in the afternoon.  Blue could stay at school for lunch but she hasn't asked to, so until she does, I will pick her up and bring her home for a break from hours listening to all french!  On Wednesday afternoons, we usually plan a trip further away to see some cool place that we have read or heard about and want to see.

When I drop Blue back at school, we normally go for a drive to explore the endless country roads and hidden villages.  If I need to, I also run to the Intermarche, the local supermarket chain in either Neuvic or Mussidan to pick up something to cook for dinner.  We are back to pick up Blue at 4pm.  In the evening, I light a nice fire in the wooden stove to make the house toasty and warm.  The girls and I chat while I make dinner and then relax for the rest of the evening.

Pictures from our walk this morning......

Monday, December 8, 2014

Vive La France!!!!

Well, I have been living in France for a few weeks now and I must say the whole French country experience strikes a cord within me.  I love the unspoiled countryside with houses that have been there for centuries and whisper tales of bygone days…..  I love the sleepy little towns that rarely show any signs of life (like ghost towns really).  I love that the French (here at least) have the audacity to just enjoy life.  Imagine!!!!  No one seems to be killing themselves working.  They take their time to greet people properly (the kiss on each cheek as a greeting!!!!), to eat leisurely (at least two hours for lunch), and to enjoy life by putting living life to the fullest and family first instead of working and making money as the number one priority. 

The shops are closed a lot, butchers and bakeries especially only opened early in the day, and most have closed days not only at the weekends, but on Mondays and sometimes Tuesdays too.  Restaurants are the same, opening on what seems to be a whim.  Some people coming to France would find this simply inconvenient and annoying.  Not me, I love the eccentricity and charm of it all!  I love the grandeur and flair that the French put into everything.  I love the way they speak, the smoothness and romance in every rolled syllable.  I love the style and sense of fashion that is put into every outing.

This is a simple country life, a way of life that has spanned generations.  I can breathe in the deep history of every place I go.  Pain and pride intertwined.  The toil that went into each and every stone in every building.  The craftsmanship and life put into each and every thing, not enough to build, everything had to be and is, a work of art and beauty.

The rolling hills and beautiful green fields are reminiscent of my beloved Donegal, rekindling childhood memories of freely roaming the unfenced land, of beautiful summers and days filled with laughter and the smell of fresh hay and turf fires.  Here I find the peace my soul craves.  Here I am finding my long lost self…..I feel like I have come home!!!!