Monday, July 12, 2010

Dramatic Weather, Beautiful Old Cars & British Accents

Street in Bellême

We're in the middle of a heat wave in France, called a canicule over here. I love the word, but not the phenomenon. Thankfully our old house remains cool. As long as you stay inside, you can remain comfortable. Thick stone walls are efficient; in the winter they hold the heat generated in the chimneys, while in summer they stay cool.

On warm summer nights we often have thunder and lightening storms. Sitting in our window seat in our third floor apartment, we have a fabulous view over miles of green valleys that fall away all around us. When there is an electrical storm, we can sit and watch our own personal light show. The one this week lasted for a couple of hours and was particularly fierce. When a bolt of lightening lit up the sky, we cried out simultaneously. It was mesmerizing.

There are several kinds of lightening. We saw forked lightening, the kind with fingers:

This is clearly not a view from our window, but such a great photo!

 streak lightening, a single thick bolt:

 and a lot of sheet lightening, where the whole sky lights up:


This week was long anticipated. The Le Mans Classic Car Race, a biennial event, took place over four days at the track in Le Mans. If the number of phone calls we received for bookings is any indication, it is far and away the most popular event on the Le Mans calendar. We turned dozens of people away. Our clients have been planning this extended weekend for a long time; all four of our rooms have been reserved for this week since last summer.

The Classic is also a 24 hour marathon, but just for the spectators, not the individual cars and drivers. There are eight three-hour races which stretch over the course of the weekend. Cars built from 1923 (when the 24 Hour Le Mans race was initiated) to 1979, are eligible to race, but only makes and models which have once competed in the 24 hour Le Mans race itself. Similar vintages of cars race against one another. This is one of the biggest classic car events in the world and 7000 cars are on display, not to mention the cars racing and all the gorgeous cars driven by the spectators themselves. It's a real treat to the eyes to be on the road this time of year as so many beautiful automobiles are on view everywhere.

3 of the 4 sports cars driven by our guests, two Porsches and a Jaguar. Not pictured is the Aston-Martin.

All our clients are British. I am quite sure that the English make up the greatest part of any car event in Le Mans; they are simply car-mad! Roy and Julie have come every year that the Classic has been offered. Our other three rooms were taken by a group from an Aston-Martin car club. Mike and Sue stayed with us last fall to make their arrangements for this week. It is their first time at this particular event, although they are 24hr regulars. They brought their fellow enthusiasts, John and Terry, and Dave and Tina. They are a very lively and enthusiastic crowd.

Mike and Dave dressed as 50s car mechanics, complete with ascots and sporty hats

Spectators of the race were invited to dress in appropriate period costumes and were not allowed in certain areas of the course with modern clothing. 

I like to take photos of pretty old cars. They look good in front of our house! There are more classic cars on the road this time of year, but they can be seen at any time. There are many active car clubs in both England and France and when the weather is good, they like to take drives on our country roads, which are quiet, picturesque and curvaceous. Perfect driving conditions. Lovely old vehicles often pass through the village and stop for a look around. My favorite vintages are always the really old ones, from the 20s and 30s.





Our four couples stayed four nights, so we've had a chance to get to know them and vicariously share their enthusiasm. I was struck by how many different accents there were between them. For such a small place, English has a lot of regional linguistic variations. In our group of eight, we had one northerner, who sounds softly Scottish, a woman from Ireland with that lilting Irish rhythm and others from various regions east and west. Mike describes himself as from a working class background, and his wife Sue as from a white collar family, and their accents are markedly different. Mike doesn't pronounce "th", which is also a hard sound for the French. While we might say "with," a French person would say "wiz" and Mike says "wif". Do Californians have accents? I guess it all depends on your perspective. But surely if we do, we only have one for the entire region, which is, after all, bigger in area than Britain. England has many noted variations.


The wisteria is in bloom for the second time, almost as effulgent as the first one some weeks ago. The yellow rose that climbs the front of the house with it, is more or less in constant bloom throughout the warm season. The lavender, which borders our front beds, is out of control. We keep having to move the tables further into the middle of the terrace as the flowers take up more and more lateral space. The bees are gorging themselves and we are enjoying the fragrances which mix and mingle in the warm summer evening air. Our butterfly roses have finally established and asserted themselves. They are among my favorite flowers, for their happy habit of turning different shades of apricot and rose during their brief bloom. 

The dahlias in the upper garden are now in their full glory. Dahlias may not be terribly posh flowers, but they are so faithful, enduring and generous. They provide us with cut flowers throughout the summer and fall.  They come in so many forms and colors. This year we have several white varieties. I appreciate them everyday.

For Janet: neighbors' new apricot house color, lemon yellow boulangerie in the background


  1. I'm loving that apricot house!!!!! Also love watching lightening storms, even though a bolt of lightening blew the chimney right off our house 10 years about loud and scary!!!!!
    Another lovely post...thanks for all the wonderful photos.
    Janet xox

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