Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Kalba and the Furniture Factory

You'll no doubt have noticed that I've been rather more absent than not from this blog of late. Although I'm sorry about that, I make no apologies (if that's not too much of a contradiction in terms), having been up to the top of my head in the - almost - final stages of putting our guest accommodation together. Days are long, with practical work filling the daylight hours, and everything else being relegated to the post-prandial slot, not to mention the website redesign-rewrite which currently can only find a place in the wee small hours .....

Things have moved on a bit from the hod-carrying days of two years ago: pickaxes and plastering floats have been replaced by mounds of tools and materials for wood working and finishing as I've turned myself into a one-woman furniture restoration factory. Although I do actually know people who've taken a van to IKEA a couple of days before their first guests arrive and bought absolutely everything in one fell swoop (yes, honestly: it's seriously scary to see how many recently opened chambres d'hôtes and gîtes look like IKEA showrooms), and although I'm the first to admit that IKEA's stuff does have its place - yes, even at Grillou - I could never be one of them. I need a bit of age and character and idiosyncrasy alongside my squashy Ektorp sofas. So over the last year or so I've spent weeks sourcing various bits of 'pre-loved' (read: unloved) furniture from antique dealers, brocantes, depôts vente, Emmaus and private sellers all over Ariège and Haute-Garonne.

It's all a bit déja vu; this time 14 years ago I was manically restoring 28 Thonet bentwood chairs ready for our restaurant opening that autumn. I still remember my panic one August day when the heavens suddenly opened, I was on my own, and I had a courtyard full of chairs in bits and wet with walnut-husk stain. Sadly we sold those chairs on (for a healthy profit!), along with lots of other English 'country' furniture, before we left the country, though I've managed to pick up one or two here including a very rare Thonet Number 4 dating back to the 1880s.

Although there's a huge amount of old and antique furniture to be had here it's not been entirely straightforward choosing the right pieces for Grillou. Much of it is huge and grand, designed for maisons du maître or petits châteaux (although many a French person will happily use it to furnish their tiny modern pavillons and villas :-O); Grillou, although large and rambling, is a bit of an oddity in that it's actually a collection of smaller, once separate buildings - if France had such things you'd almost call it a cottage - and was rustique rather than wealthy (um - it still is ...) so immaculate, beautifully polished antiques would just look plain daft.

Anyway, here's a bit of a look at some of the products of Kalba's Furniture Factory as it approaches closure. All of the pieces here were in an execrable state when I found them; stupidly I didn't take 'before' pictures so you'll just have to use your imagination. Oh, and you get a bit of a sneak preview of some of our rooms too .....

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Tettigonia viridissima

Late this afternoon Grillou had a rather unusual visitor. Here she is:

Meet Tettigonia viridissima. She's a Great Green Bush Cricket: une grande sauterelle verte.

How do I know she's a female? Simple. That thing at her rear end is her ovipostor. She's laying eggs. In - um - the coir doormat in our hall :-D . She seemed remarkably unfazed by the presence of a large pinkish-brown animal crawling round her with a camera just a few centimetres away. Tetti (hope she doesn't mind me being familiar) stayed for nearly an hour, during which time she left us with (I'm told) over 300 eggs ...

Life's never dull, here.

Saturday, 13 August 2011


It's a tough time here in Ariège just now. Particularly for an indecisive Libran music lover like me.

Thursday: the first night of the new Ercé in Jazz festival, or Vivaldi meets Guinness meets Brazil with the violin group Cordzam in Salies du Salat?

Friday: Blues in Sem, the second night of Ercé in Jazz, or Lëk Sèn at the first night of Ingénieuse Afrique in Foix?

Saturday: Eastern European music from Zaman Zaman at the café culturel Le Souleilla in our neighbouring village, the third night of Ercé in Jazz, or two gigs (Ahmed Cissé and Les Choeurs de Brazza) at Ingénieuse Afrique?

Sunday: lots of folklore-y stuff in St Girons at Autrefois les Couserans, the son et lumière Le Secret des Cathares in Foix, or Harouna Dembele at Ingénieuse Afrique?

Monday: the night market at Castillon - always good fun - or a several-times-postponed trip to Toulouse to collect an oven?

Tuesday: the Choeur de Crimée performing Rachmaninov's Vespers and other goodies in the church at Le Mas d'Azil .... or an early night? Okay, I admit it; after five consecutive (very) late nights and many hours spent dancing, we chose the early night .... but the week went on, and we'll be catching up with the Choeur de Crimée next week at the Festival de Saint Lizier ......

There's always a big sense of build up in the fortnight approaching 15 August, which is a public holiday here (Assumption), and none the more so than in years like this when it falls on a Monday and thus creates a long holiday weekend. "France at a snail's pace!" cried our regional paper; according to one commentator it's the time when many holiday homes get opened up, and camping cars get dusted off, for the one and only occasion in the year. After Assumption thoughts, and holidaymakers, begin to turn homewards, the village fête reigns supreme, and the prospect of la rentrée begins to loom large. In a couple of weeks we'll have the roads to ourselves again.

One dilemma we don't have is whether to pass the next four nights with our fellow villagers under the plane trees at Rimont's annual fête locale. Why? Well, if you've ever heard any of the bands that trawl village fêtes here you don't need to ask. If you haven't, think Birdie Song meets 1980s French pop meets Songs From The Shows meets Jonny Hallyday take-offs, all played at ear shattering volume through appalling sound systems (from Grillou we can hear not only our own fête, but that of our two neighbouring villages, though thankfully not all at the same time). Maybe you just have to be there to appreciate it, but I think I'll just leave that one to the imagination ...

PS Monday's band is called Ad'vil, which also happens to be a brand of ibuprofen. I rest my case.