Saturday, 16 January 2016

Would you like a cup of coffee?

Good afternoon! How nice to see you. Come in: it is cold outside. The sun has finally won over the fog and the mist, but it is almost the end of the afternoon and it becomes chilly again. Let me take your coat. We shall settle in the sitting room. It is untidy and comfortable: both often go together. There. Take a seat and make yourself at ease. 

Would you like a cup of coffee with some chocolates? Or do you prefer a cup of tea and a slice of cake? As you are in France, in a French home, I would advise fresh coffee but that may be too strong for you. There is tea, different brands of it, green, black, China, Darjeeling, Russian, Indian, plain or scented: you may choose. I shall being you some gâteau de rois; you will not escape it throughout this month, you know. It comes from the other baker's and has a very light scent of orange tree flower water. It is Alain's trademark. Yes, the baker is called Alain. His family has been bakers and confectioners for more than a century. He is now retired but still keeps the shop going, waiting to sell it: neither his son nor his daughter will go on, and his nephew is a university teacher in Britain. This is how old families disappear from The Village. Not only shops, you see, but whole families. 

Yes, I shall pour. You want your tea well brewed but not stewed. Sugar? Milk? Lemon? Here is your slice of cake with your fork and your napkin, and a little table to put your tea things.

What was I saying? Oh, yes. Old families disappear from The Village. I realise more and more how rooted I am in this place, even if I have spent most of my life away from it. But ancestors you knew or you were always told about are strong roots, as well as the earth itself. And the sense of time becomes different. For instance, the lady chemist on the main square, in front of the church, has retired and a new young man has bought the shop. I was so surprised. She must have been here for about thirty years, and we still considered her as a newcomer. Alain's family is not as old as ours but it is an "old family". We have common memories. Grand-Mother started school in The Village and if the car could come and fetch her for lunch, she went to Alain's Great-Grand-Mother's with her brother and her sister. There was no way they could dawdle. They were awaited and time was counted. They had lunch, a little time to play, and were sent back to school with no time to stroll. 

When Alain and I speak of them all, they are still alive. But who will remember those who come to The Village, stay even thirty years, then go away? Whole families who had been the life and soul of the community have thus disappeared.

But you have not come to listen to my rant. How was my week? Well, let me pour you some more tea first.

It was an eventful week. We are glad to have the shopping-cum-cleaning lady. She is very kind and resourceful. The Girls are happy to go out with her. I have more reticence about the cleaning part but I do not doubt that with time things will get better. Then, we have started making plans again: we might be able to go back to Paris in June and meet our friends. Even bolder, we dared think about spending next Christmas in Kigali: our friend from Rwanda will be back in his diocese, with a parish of his own. We have been invited. 

All this means that we shall have more financial ease and that we shall first make a binge over books and music! 

And never be cold again as we have been cold this week. The central heating system broke down; we slowly froze until it was repaired yesterday evening. Just in time for the true turning of the weather to strong frost.

However, you already know all this if you have read my letters to you. As you may have read those two posts from Pakistan that we sent from Karachi where our special guide began touring his country with us. More will come.

I have been reading and re-reading as well, inspite of the cold. I am "close reading" "Little Women" and "Good Wives". It is part of a project of which we may talk again. For pleasure and curiosity's sake, I have taken Nancy Mitford's "Christmas Pudding" from the shelves. Last, the French TV is going to show "Wolf Hall" on one of the State-owned channels; so I have decided to re-read the second part, "Bring up the Bodies". I must confess that my heart goes to "Little Women": too much empathy there, with childhood memories.

This is my main budget of news for the week. What about you? How was your week? What did you do? Another cup of tea and slice of gâteau de rois, first? Then, I sit back in my chair and listen to you. Promise: not a word. But, you, tell me... Please...

Friday, 15 January 2016

Back from Siberia


I wanted to write about "Little Women", "Eight Cousins", "Rose in Bloom", other novels by Louisa May Alcott, about their equivalents in British and French literature, as I have been re-reading "Little Women" and some books for girls that were owned by my Godmother's Godmother (old books!). I wanted to add my two pence worth of knowledge through essays about this topic of girls becoming young ladies in the 19th century literature. I wanted, I wanted, I wanted.

And there were emails and cooking and talking with The Girls and providing hot tea, and promenading the electric radiators. And I had no time. And night fell. And cold came. And it started being a clear night as I like them when they remind me of Mr Pickwick and his friends in winter when they are rejoicing and I rejoice with them in a warm house. But the house was still without central heating, and it was chillier and chillier. It was nearing zero degree centigrades, freezing level. 

And; lo and behold! Rejoice, rejoice greatly! The plumber cum sweep cum boiler man arrived, honking merrily. Never was a man (or woman) so welcome. We shook hands heartily. Without stopping, he went down in the bowels of the house and fixed the boiler in less time than it takes me to type it! 

And the boiler purred.

Can there be a nicer sound? No, not in winter. Perhaps the air conditioning in summer could equal it but no other in winter time.

Full of gratitude and enthusiasm, I have shown the blessèd man the various things for which he is competent and that could require his attention. We took decisions, made a schedule and a tentative agenda and went back up to the light of the kitchen. The Girls were waiting for us at the top of the stairs and thanked him profusely.

Therefore, there will be no consideration upon the literature for young ladies of the 19th century in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and France, but the mere annoucement that we are back from Siberia and that the isba is again a house in la Dordogne.

This adventure made me think of one of the great texts of French literature in the early - very early - 20th century, "La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France", by the poet Blaise Cendrars. Of course, it speaks of this famous railway that crosses Siberia but it is also une oeuvre d'art originale as the poem was illustrated by Sonia Delaunay and painting and text go side by side. Here is the link in English:
I am afraid I did not find the text in English but, who knows, you may be more lucky than I.

I shall now wallow in the luxurious warmth of the kitchen again and cook a light dinner that will not have to be piping hot. Tomorrow, we should be touring Pakistan again, if our guide is ready and if you want to go on travelling with us. I may not be available tomorrow but on Sunday, perhaps, the house will be open, if you wish to share a cup of coffee or tea with me...

Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Siberia in la Dordogne

No, dear friends and readers, this is not a photo of the river in front of my window. There is no snow in The Village, no snow in la Dordogne. Yet, it is Siberia ... in the house of The Little Family. 

The central heating system broke down on Monday late afternoon. It was still comfortable on Tuesday morning but since then, the situation has been deteriorating. The electric system allows one electric radiator for each Girl, and one in the kitchen or wherever the Girls are moving. Were I to put more radiators, the system would break as well (old house...). 

Therefore I have shut the rooms where we do not absolutely need to go, and explained that each room with an electric radiator must be closed to keep the warmth and not to spend it in corridors. This is not really understood: I find open doors that I close, grumbling loudly. And I explain again!

Litres of hot soup, tea, herbal tea, cups of coffee and warm chocolate are eaten and drunk. Duvets extra-duvets, extra-extra-duvets and eiderdowns are put on the beds. And there is great chance that there will be no TV this evening as the sitting room is very cold and too big for one little electric radiator. Why, oh why, was the chimney place sealed?

Appointments have been made to try to restore a normal temperature in the house. If all goes well, tomorrow evening, Sibera will recede and warmth will be soft and sweet.

I can see how much we are used to comfort: no more heavy jumpers, opening of doors and windows in full winter, jeans instead of corduroy or wool trousers. Thin socks. And our house is not overheated compared to other dwellings. We respect the 19°C prescribed by the Government. There are homes where families live in T-shirts all year round.

In order to forget this more-than-disagreement, I squat my sister's bed and type with the laptop in my lap. But I am thinking of this poem by Ben Jonson - the last stanza that inspired lyrics and a song that Kathleen Ferrier sung, too slowly according to our standards, but oh so beautifully with each inflection of sweetness and softness! This is a rememberance of the whiteness of Siberia and a foretaste of the warmth to come (fingers crossed).

Have you seen but a bright lily grow
Before rude hands have touched it?
Have you marked but the fall of snow
Before the soil hath smutched it?
Have you felt the wool of beaver,
Or swan's down ever?
Or have smelt o' the bud o' the brier,
Or the nard in the fire?
Or have tasted the bag of the bee?
O so white, O so soft, O so sweet is she!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

News from la Dordogne and The Little Family

As you may see on the picture above, we are back to la Dordogne today, after having travelled in Pakistan during the two last days. We shall meet our guide, Hammad Rais, each Saturday to show us the beauties of his country until he is tired... And I shall wait for you for a cup of coffee or tea, either on Saturdays or on Sundays.

But for now, a rest in The Village with The Little Family.

Christmas is truly over now. Decorations have been taken down in the four or five streets around the church. There are no more Christmas trees besides the shop doors. The Nativity scene has been stowed away in the sacristy, in the church, and in its cupboard at home. Epiphany and Baptism of Christ allowed us to keep  a Christmas atmosphere until last Sunday, but there is no more excuse now. New calendars with pristine illustrations adorn the walls and the desks. One is missing in my sister's room but as they are now on discount, it will be easy to find one in a nearby supermarket. There are new diaries to keep new appointments. As it was said in previous time: "the old year is dead; here comes the new one!". 

It comes with its load of resolutions. Not that The Girls have much. They are happy with their routine and would not like to change. However, I have some issues being sorted out, and with a little luck, I shall be able to take them on holidays at the end of spring or beginning of the summer. Perhaps, we shall go to Paris and explore museums and bookshops. I said so on Monday evening and there was a great movement of approval and joy. And instead of resolutions, projects.

We shall go back to walk and sit in the Jardin du Luxembourg. It may seem stupid to yearn about a town public garden when one has one's own private garden, but there is nothing to be done in the public garden: the town employees care about it. One does not have to have it mowed, planted, tidied, whatever one has to do in a garden. One walks, enjoys, sits dow, enjoys even more, and does nothing. One may read, listen to music, discuss, look around in silence, sleep, do something or nothing, and be absolutely carefree. Bliss, oh, bliss!

Then we shall go to the musée d'Orsay, l'Orangerie, le Louvre, the exhibition en cours and to be seen au Grand Palais ou au Petit Palais. We shall see our friends, and go Isabelle's violin concert or Louisa's piano recital, listen to baroque singing. We shall go the little Chinese and Japanese restaurants of the Quartier Latin that we know, and try new Italian restaurants or French bistrots, then fall back on the old favourites. We shall walk in the streets, avenues and boulevards, and inhale that sweet scent of carbon, car fumes, and dust. We shall be pressed in buses, hustled on the pavement, deafened by the noise. We shall feel grimy and dirty, hot, red, sweaty. Bliss, oh, bliss!

And, most of all, we shall visit all our haunts: small, narrow bookshops, great, tall, wide bookshops, independent bookshops, chain bookshops, bookshops for collectors, bookshops for students, bookshops for foreigners, bookshops for the French, bookshops with books in French, bookshops with books in English, bookshops with books in foreign languages, bookshops that will suit The Girls, bookshops that will suit me, bookshops where I shall leave them or where they shall leave me and we shall meet at the desk where we shall pay. Bookshops... Bliss, oh, bliss!

With a little luck, it will be the time when Jean-Marie will argue his thesis before the jury, and we shall go to la Sorbonne to hear him talk about Perpetual Peace in Kantian perspective and the practical consequences of the Kantian propositions applied to Subsharan African countries. Then, before he goes back to his country, we shall make plans to spend next Christmas in Kigali, in a little restaurant where we shall celebrate his diploma. Bliss, oh, bliss!

This may seem stupid when one has these beautiful landscapes all around one's house and in front of one's windows. But this is the first time in years that I am making projects that perhaps may happen, and will include other landscapes! It is possible to tire from one form of beauty and to wish to swap it with another form.

Meanwhile, with projects in mind - and not resolutions -, we all three have started clearing the house, which will receive a thorough spring cleaning a little later. We watch the rain falling and the wind bursting through windows quickly open and closed for some fresh air. The fields in front of my bedroom window are flooding slowly. It is grey and coolish, cold sometimes. The sky is like a lid over the earth. This is the typical anti-climax after the end of the year festivities. And this is the time when I get blue and wish I were somewhere else.

No blues right now. Projects buzzing in our heads. Issues to be sorted out before these projects materialise. There is no time for blue moods. Only time to think ahead: bliss, oh, bliss!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Touring Pakistan. Where we meet our guide and visit his city

Hello! My name is Hammad Rais and I'm truly grateful to Camille de Fleurville for letting me introduce not only myself on her blog but also my country Pakistan. You may have heard, read or even talked about Pakistan but in case if none is valid, then it's okay. There are so many other places in the world about which I still don't know. I didn't know about Dordogne few months ago, frankly speaking. But thanks to the blogging world, I'm not only seeing such places but also experiencing lives, emotions, joy, happiness, sorrow, adventures, stories and so much more, as people like you invite me in their lives to share something we all have in common: Life.

So, questions like who am I or what I do or what I like or what I love to eat and more, are how I should tell you about me, a total stranger, living in another part of the world.

So, as I mentioned, my name is Hammad Rais and I live in Karachi, Pakistan with my lovely wife Jia and my son Uzair. I’m working in an I.T. service providing company and live a pretty normal life, just like rest of the world. So, my answer to the question "Who are you" is not so complicated: A normal guy with a little different understanding of the world where he lives. He sees things the other way round mostly and love being so different from the rest. He doesn’t talk much, which may seem odd to others but this has helped him a lot in probably every stage of his life. On the other hand, he loves to listen as he can listen to your stories without telling you to please stop (unless you are boring him). 

Easy going, loving, caring, humbleness, down to earth and more qualities like these basically defines me. I care for everyone and always grab an opportunity to help others. I live by simple rules of life and hate to complicate things for not only myself but for others too (that's why I'm so caring). I’m happy with whatever is in my hands as I don’t chase out "a must-have". I love to walk in the sunshine, love to stare the night sky, love to walk bare feet on seaside and love to see all those little things others normally don't pay any attention towards. My life can be considered like a clockwork life as getting up in morning, leaving for office, spending few hours to make a livelihood, returning home, spending time with family and back to bed to get some sleep before I get up the next morning for the same. Weekend for me is about just spending time with kids at home. My brother and I live together. His kids and Uzair play all day long and it’s my job to keep them play in peace and harmony.

So why do I blog? Now this is an interesting question. Back in Feb 2015, I enrolled myself in a short course of Content Writing as I was looking to find a new job. During one class assignment, the instructor told the students about creating and maintaining a blog. Thus ( was created with no clear intentions about what would I do with it. I did some postings on it and as the days passed, I started to realize that this is something I always wanted to do. Why you may ask? Because I always feel that the way I observe and think about what's happening in my surrounding is totally different from the rest. I see things differently altogether. My behavior, if not totally but in some context, is unique. So, letting the world know what I think and feel, there is no better way than blogging.

Okay, enough about me as now I may have started to bore you up. But it was needed for what I'm about to tell you. Back in November 2015, I posted an article on my blog about The Other Picture of Pakistan (you can read it here). Camille saw that post and shared a lovely comment on it. I replied to that comment and ever since, we became like blogging friends. Her encouraging comments on my several posts paved a way for this collaboration of Touring Pakistan, a blogging series about my country Pakistan.

The name Pakistan mostly creates an image of a country which is associated with bad things around the world. Like many consider this country is populated only by conservatives and radically charged individuals and much more. As a Pakistani myself, I admit there are many bad things associated with my country and most of them are true. But that's not the whole picture.

What I see in Pakistan is immense beauty of nature, unlike anywhere else in the world. Here you will find the tallest of mountains, the greenest of fields and forests, people's amazing hospitality, the richness of art and culture which is as old as time itself, the exotic cuisines your taste buds have never tasted before, where past and present blend in an unforgettable way and so much more. This is the Pakistan I know but it has been covered up in the dust of mostly false propaganda.

 My Pakistan is beautiful and that's what I will share with you here. So, I will start off this journey with a little intro about my hometown, Karachi which is also known as Mini Pakistan.

Famous landmarks of Karachi

Pakistan's largest city, financial hub, home to more than 20 million people, culturally diversified are just the few things I can tell you about Karachi. For me, Karachi is like a mosaic - thousands of small pieces tied up together to make a giant and collective wonder of the world. If you are touring Karachi for the first time, you will find it over-populated, a place where everyone will seem to you in some sort of a rush as if there is no tomorrow.

Empress Market after sunset

But this wasn't always the case. Before the time of Pakistan's independence in 1947, Karachi was mainly a port city with few hundred individuals living by. The British ruled and flourished this land before independence as they turned this small fishing village, back then known as Kolachi, into a city as Karachi became the capital of Sindh when British ruled the Indian subcontinent.

Denso Hall and Library

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Bai Virbaijee Soparivala Parsi Public School

 During those times, Karachi saw the potential of what's up and coming as after being declared as a capital city of a new born country, Karachi burst open for everyone from across the subcontinent. With the passage of time, different cultures mixed up and created diversity for Karachi, while maintaining their own individuality at the same time. Here you will find customs from all over Pakistan, whether its food, art or culture and even sports. Karachi is enormous from every aspect and features all the things you can associate with a big city, where days are full of life and nights never sleep. 

Port Grande

Bagh-e-Ibn-e-Qasim at night

Malir Bridge at night 

From mega shopping malls to open air street markets, from high rise plazas to small cottages, from the coziest streets to the most jam packed main roads, Karachi is filled with both. 

A fry fish stall at Burns Road

Dolmen Mall at Seaview

Hydri Market


Flip-flops anyone?

The Karachi way of life is unique, if you ask me. Lifestyle here differs from one locality to another and this has given diversity to Karachi where all colors of Pakistan blend in perfectly. For a shopaholic and food lover, Karachi is an answer to their dreams. But if you are in for more sight-seeing and amazement of nature, then we have to go much further. That's where we are stopping next in our journey!

  All images courtesy of Google and Wikipedia   

Monday, 11 January 2016

Touring Pakistan

We shall leave the Dordogne from time to time this year, and tour Pakistan – and perhaps other countries as well. But let us start with Pakistan.

“Why?”, will you say.
There is the opportunity, of course. I met a fellow blogger, Hammad Rais, in blogging during the Advent Calendar time, and he posted photos he took or that family, friends, and acquaintances took, of his country. The photos were beautiful and some breath-taking. At the same time, Hammad Rais has a keen sense of humour and made me laugh sometimes with a post and one line under an illustration. I “liked”, commented. He answered. He “liked”, commented my posts. I answered. And I thought it would be a good thing to open the windows of The House in the Dordogne and to let some fresh air come in. Therefore I invited him to post on my blog. And here he is with his country.

There is another reason. After all, I met other bloggers from other countries and I could have invited them as well. And I shall probably do. But there is a special memory associated with Pakistan.

When I was a child, in Paris, Father had to attend a professional and social function once where he went with Mother. It was an exhibition of paintings by a Pakistani artist and of jewellery chiselled by his son, an artist himself. Mother fell in love with the paintings. She was able to talk at some length with the painter, and she described what she saw in (and not only on) the canvases. The artists asked her if she would like and be kind enough to write something of an introduction to their exhibition catalogue (they were touring Europe and North America). Mother said why not? An appointment was made for the next day where she would be alone with the painter and his son, would have a private visit and be able to collect elements for a paper. Father needed something for the press office of his ministry so he commended the idea and asked for a copy of the paper Mother would produce.

I remember the next morning because I went with Mother. And I remember one painting more particularly. It was a tree, something like an apple tree or an almond tree or a cherry tree, in full blossom. But instead of seeing it from outside, you felt perched on a branch at the heart of the blossoms, looking down to the earth if you wished, but it seemed you were, high, high, very high, in the sky, and all was melted in blue and white – flowers, clouds, heavens, all bathed in a mellow subdued golden light. It filled me with joy, not the joy where you start laughing as at a joke, but a deep joy, happiness, something that lasted and that I can recover still, when things go wrong.

I found a description of something similar in a novel by Alison Lurie, years later, and the little girl who was actually perched in the tree felt the same exhilaration.

Since then, I have had a deep curiosity of Pakistani arts and of Pakistan. Father went there several times and always brought us back lovely presents that reinforced my liking of this country.

When opportunity and liking meet, it is something not to let go through one’s fingers. And I would enjoy sharing my feelings with you, friends and readers while discovering the beauties of Pakistan.

Here is a general link that will give you facts about this country:
and I shall add maps to follow every time we shall be travelling together in order to see where we are.

Hammad Rais will introduce himself and his environment. Then we shall be ready to start. Will you come with us? 

I hope so. 

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Red peppers on a white wall: in need of sunshine and warmth during the cold Midwinter!

This poem by Jacques Prévert, translated in English, is like all his poetry deceptively simple. I like its middle stanzas, which are digressions (and, in a way, do I search a justification for mine?). But, most of all, I like the colours: whitewashed walls and red peppers hanging, the blue, blue sky, and the sea not very far with its constant roll of waves and light fringe of foam, the froth of the frock of the woman, the Mediterranean blue, the sand, the heat, and the shadows, the coolness of the house. House. Peppers. Walls. Sun. You. I. You and I only are defined. The rest are entities. You. I.


Into my house you will come
Actually this isn’t my house
I don’t know whose it is
I came in one day just like that
There was no one here
Just some red peppers hanging on a white wall
I stayed in this house a long time
No one came in
But every day and every day
I waited for you

I wasn’t doing anything
At least nothing serious
Sometimes in the morning
I would let out animal cries
I bawled like a donkey
With all of my might
And it pleased me to do so
And then I played with my feet
Feet are very smart
They take you very far
When you want to go very far
And then when you don’t want to leave
They stay there they keep you company
And when there is music they dance
You can’t dance without them
Just be stupid like man is so often
As stupid as his feet happy as a clam
The clam isn’t happy
It’s only happy when it’s happy
And sad when it’s sad or neither happy nor sad
How do you know that it’s a clam
Honestly it’s not really called that
It’s man who called this mollusk that
Clam clam clam clam

Names are so weird
Martin Hugo Victor is his first name
Bonaparte Napoleon is his first name
Why like that and not like this
A troop of bonapartes pass through the desert
The Emperor is named Dromedary
He has the body of a horse and some travelling luggage
At a far gallop a man who only has three first names
He’s called Tim-Tam-Tom and doesn’t have a last name
A little further still there is no one that matters
Much further still there is nothing that matters

And then what can you do
Into my house you will come
I think about other things but I only think about this
And once you have taken off all your clothes
And you stand there nude motionless with your red mouth
Like the red peppers hanging on the white wall
And then you will lie down and I will lie down next to you
Into my house that is not my house you will come.
Jacques Prévert