Thursday, December 31, 2009

Signing off

To those who have read this diary over the past three years, thank you for your interest. I am, however, finding it difficult to say anything new about living here, so this is my last post. Cahors is no longer an exotic experience for me, although I am content to be here.

The socialist administration at la mairie wastes less money than the previous rightist one - and is derided by the good old boys for being boring. Personally, I don't miss the expensive glossy mags in my mailbox that told me how splendidly the old guard was doing.

La crise americaine hasn't hit us very hard. The Lot has long been one of the poorest departments and unemployment is well entrenched. On a positive note, the tourist industry here did well last summer, as fewer northerners went abroad for the obligatory long vacation.

It still feels close to the land here. We want to believe the signs that state that our veal is raised sous mère, unlike that that comes from crates in Holland. We can still get local pork from pigs that saw the light of day, unlike most in Spain and England. There are, however, rumours that the goats that produce the milk for our signature cheeses live their lives indoors.

The variety of foods available can be expected to be smaller in an underpopulated rural area, but as the supermarkets now focus only on low prices nationwide, our choices have become even more limited. Many of the better quality items that made Carrefour my preferred grocery store have disappeared from the shelves. Sure, we'll always have duck and red wine to console ourselves with.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Swing Machine

Cahors no longer has a university, but it has a good music school and music flourishes locally, ranging from pipe organ to choral to jazz of all kinds. I have yet to appreciate the mish-mash that calls itself the Blues Festival, but I fondly remember a trad jazz performance in the music school and an organ/choir concert in the church of St. Barthelemy (better acoustics than the cathedral).

This past weekend saw the 40th birthday of a local big band called Swing Machine. The anniversary concert was packed out with an audience of grey beards to toddlers: jazz is for families here. Count Basie would have approved of the excellent pianist. Many of the saxophone, tuba and trumpet solos were also well up to snuff. The second half of the concert featured Chloé Cailleton, a nationally known jazz and scat singer: shades of Ella Fitzgerald.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


There is no entry for le kipper in the French dictionary. "Kippers" are, however, proudly displayed in the market on the travelling fish stall that provides Cahors with the best fresh fish available in this landlocked department. In between the oysters and the langoustines are these smoked herrings that barely resemble the dry red dyed offerings that now pass for kippers in Britain. They have the succulence of Arbroath smokies (although those are smoked young haddock and not herrings). Brits seek them out as yet another childhood memory.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Autumn arrived bang on schedule.  Children are back at school and the French tourists have gone.  Quite a few Brits are still to be heard, enjoying the consistently sunny afternoons. For our part, we are glad to have our town back.  The markets are half the size of a month ago and there is room to bump into friends and time to chat to stallholders without a crowd waiting behind.  The wild mushroom season is in abeyance, as there has been little rain this summer, but there are plenty of vegetables, fruits and nuts.

The local tourist industry says that this was a good season.  Perhaps fewer Parisians went to the islands and more came to the provinces; certainly there were flocks of campervans on the roads this summer.  As for non-seasonal employees, just a few more were laid off than taken on. Despite la crise americaine, life goes on as usual.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Goodbye, Beach

Cahors beach closes today. No doubt la mairie will declare the experiment a success, but the beach was little used, despite being well laid out and maintained. It's doubtful that many tourists came here to swim or sunbathe, boating and walking being more likely attractions, and most of the 20,000 souls that live here went away for much of July and August.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The roof

Roof maintenance is a curse of old houses. I needed to have the moss and plants cleaned off one stretch of tiles and had a local man come round to estimate. "Mille" he announced. "Mille euros?" "Non, mille francs!" So we settled for 150 euros.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Vines in the City

Cahors beach is almost finished, but there is as yet no sign of the floating swimming pool. In the continuing quest for new tourist attractions, rue Feydel, a side street off boulevard Leon Gambetta, has been dug up so that vines can be planted there. The street's previous claim to fame was that it led only to the prison. As a large roundabout on the bypass to the West of the city has already been attractively planted with vines, this afterthought is unlikely to be much more than a curiosity.

Postscript (2010):  It appears that this rather dotty idea was shelved. The road has been repaved and the windowboxes have been replanted.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Pastures old, pastures new

This week, hundreds of sheep were driven over back roads from Rocamadour (North East of Cahors) to Luzech (to the West). The officially sponsored drive is known as transhumance, or move to summer pastures. Following a large wild fire in 1998, it was decided to use sheep to clean up overgrown land: the target is to reclaim 10,000 acres. Over a hundred landowners have signed up to have areas of brush converted to better use.

The flock was a colourful and surprisingly noisy bunch, the thunder of tiny hooves being accented by the bells hung from the sheep's necks. Once rain had given way to sun, the procession was joined by horses and carriages, as well as dozens of the hikers that walk the roads in this area.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring wildflowers

Friday, March 27, 2009

Back on top

The statue of Leon Gambetta, this city's favourite son, is back on its pedastal in front of the new underground car park, after two years perched on some scaffolding.  The parking garage, to no one's surprise, took almost three years to build. Amphitheatre Parking (named after part of a supposed Roman amphitheatre unearthed during construction) opens next week.

Coincidentally, Leon Gambetta's 19th Century collection of pornographic pictures was a prominent feature of the recent exhibition "L'Enfer de la Bibliothèque, Eros au Secret" at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sous les ponts de Cahors

No, it's not All Fools' Day: I checked the date. Cahors is going to get a beach, like Paris and Toulouse. 800 tonnes of sand are on their way. A floating swimming pool is also promised. For those who have given up on the geriatric rock concert that masquerades as the Cahors Blues Festival, there should be something new to watch during the summer.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


We are under attack, it seems, both at home and from abroad. The government is on an anti-alcohol crusade and is reputedly trying to outlaw evils like free tasting at a winery. It's unlikely that this would have any effect on le binge-drinking, but the French government is known for floating slightly dotty ideas and then withdrawing them after widespread protest.

Perhaps more likely to have an economic effect on this part of France is the imminent American 300% tax on Roquefort cheese. Nothing against the cheese itself, simply tit-for-tat for the European refusal to accept America's hormone-laden beef and bleach-treated chicken. Sigh.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tempête Klaus

Cahors escaped most of the devastation caused by the great gale. In areas South and Southwest of here, hundreds of thousands of houses lost their electricity and telephone lines, if not parts of their roofs. Forests were flattened, orchards were decimated and agricultural buildings were blown away.

The river Lot overflowed its banks here and there were worries that the water supply had been contaminated. We were instructed to boil water before drinking it, although the manager of the pumping station said that he wasn't going to bother. We now have the all-clear and can get back to general strikes and other winter entertainments.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

French News

The exodus of the Brits seems to have been the last straw for the 21-year-old English language monthly newspaper "French News". The publisher went into liquidation earlier this month. Nicknamed "the Whingeing Pom", the paper was known for the letters from ex-pats complaining about French locals who misbehaved by lighting bonfires in their gardens and allowing their dogs to bark at night.

Perhaps the funds will be raised to buy the company and pay off its debts. If not, British ex-pats will have to make do with the newer and more accepting "the Connexion".