Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Our House!

Well - not quite our house! Mme Caparros's house, actually. This is a picture of the house we stayed in in Montséret.

The house looks small, but it's actually really big inside, as it's deeper than it appears. To the left is the outside kitchen with barbecue etc.

Monday, June 25, 2007

View of Montséret

Here is a view of Montséret taken from the top of the hill with the castle. Not a big town, as you can see.
Towards the middle of the picture, there is a big square building with a yard - this building appears greyer or paler than the rest. Just to the left of that there is a big field. Just above that field, you should see 4 identical houses - they are rectangular houses in overall shape, with some outbuildings. The house we stayed in is the one at the top left of that block of 4 houses.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The artist at work - Quéribus

I didn't do that much drawing or painting in the first week we were in France, but I did 3 little watercolours in the 2nd week (25 cm x 20 cm, the size of the block paper I generally bring with me when I'm away. It's very handy in that there is no need to stretch the paper before working). When I go away, I only bring my watercolour pencils (it's a set of 12 Derwent AquaTone pencils) with me. They are easy to bring along, with no risk of a mess in the luggage, and the colours I have are nice and vibrant, though the set lacks a good red, which I had to buy separately.

One of the places we went to see was the Château de Quéribus, one of the Cathar castles in the region. It was about an hour's drive from Montséret, if even that. Like most Cathar castles, it's on top of a mountain, and I was pretty nervous for the last 10 minutes of the drive there, where the road is quite steep. (Let me make this clear - I didn't do any of the driving, but Brendan has to put up with this nervous passenger beside him, who closes her eyes when the road becomes steep, and puts her hands under her thighs, just to control her anxiety, and to avoid grabbing the steering wheel at the wrong moment, if there is ever a good moment!).

It was a wonderful place, well worth the visit.

So, here is the watercolour I did of it (copying from a photograph at the back of our map), with the various stages of progress, and a rare picture of the artist at work!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Holiday in France

So, we spent the last 2 weeks in Montséret, in the Aude département, in the Corbières region. It's a small village really, in the middle of vineyards and hills. It's really what I imagined rural France to be like - big houses with shutters, farmers on their little tractors going to their fields, coopératives, little shops where you can buy your baguette in the morning, ...

What I had not expected is that it would be so quiet. There was hardly any car going through the town, at any time of the day. And there were lots of swallows flying around, diving and swirling through the sky. And not too many holiday homes. It felt quite authentic, not overrun by the British, like other parts of France.

We flew to Carcassonne with Ryanair, an easy 2-hour flight. Everything ran like clockworks. The only drawback is that our outbound flight was at 6:20 am, not the greatest way to start the day, but, on the other hand, after our short drive from Carcassonne to Montséret, our room in the Relais de Montséret was ready, so we were able to settle down straight away. And what better way to settle down than to have lunch? We had our first meal there - we chose the €24 menu - I had a starter of cassolette de sèches - a dish with something like squid (I can't remember the translation for sèche) in a rich bisque sauce, then I think I went for a veal main course, just perfectly cooked. Then we were presented with a cheese plate. I'm not normally a big cheese fan at the end of my meal, but these were 3 lovely small portions of the most delicious cheeses. And then, there was dessert! I can't remember what I had with that particular meal, but one of the days, I had a peach sorbet that was to die for - two different types of peaches, infused with delicate flavours (one of the flavours was lavender - so sweet!). The food was definitely a big highlight for me, who is normally quite happy with the plainest of foods.

After that, we relaxed by the pool and on our terrace, which had a nice view of the countryside behind the hotel. Our hotel room was lovely, at the top of a little tower, and we had great views of the surrounding town and countryside, like this view of the castle on top of the hill.

The following day, we moved to the house we had rented for the week, Jasmin house, part of Les Cigalous, a small development of 4 houses just a few minutes away from the hotel, on the road to Saint André de Roquelongue (isn't that a great name for a town?).

The house was excellent, bigger than we expected, with 3 bedrooms, a large kitchen/dining room/sitting room, swimming pool, outdoor kitchen with barbecue, and a generous private garden.

The house had everything you would need, and a good shower with plenty of hot water, excellent cooking facilities, TV (if, like me, you want to watch the météo every day) & DVD player (we had brought a few DVDs, which we watched in the evenings - there isn't much else to do in this town!).

The location was perfect, less than 20 minutes away from a large town (Lézignan-les-Corbières), with an Inter-Marché where you can buy all your food, 10 minutes from the Abbaye de Fontfroide, 20 minutes from Narbonne and the sea, and yet, it felt like you are in the middle of nowhere - it's not a through road like a lot of the other villages in the area, so it's just so quiet.

And we were lucky with the weather - while the rest of France was struggling with thunderstorms and floodings, we had sunshine most days. I think we had just 3 grey days in total. And the temperatures were lovely - up to 31 degrees in the first week (a bit too hot, even) and about 25 most days.

I must prepare a few pictures to show you in my next post.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Actually, I found a little bit more about Montséret on the website of the Relais de Montséret - so, here you go: have a look here (it's all in French, and I don't have the energy to translate it, but I'll talk about it again some other day).

And while I'm at it, I'll use the picture of castle from the Relais de Montséret website too. We took plenty of pictures, but I still need to sort through them first (and we climbed to the top of the hill too, so some lovely pictures from there too).

Belated birthday and anniversary wishes

Belated birthday wishes to Ann, Lorna & Paul and anniversary wishes to Padraig and Mary

Sorry for not writing any sooner, but we were away on holidays for the last 2 weeks. We were in France, in a small place called Montséret, about 45 minutes from Carcassonne and 20 minutes from Narbonne. We had a great time, and lovely weather, which we appreciate all the more seeing how wet and miserable it is in Dublin today (the pilot on the plane called the weather in Dublin "exécrable" and he was right!).

Not easy to find any website with general information about Montséret - it's not a very big place. But here is a link to the Relais de Montséret, the hotel where we stayed our first night and where we had a good few delicious meals! If you're ever in the area, we highly recommend it. It's a lovely lovely place, very well run. Our room was very nice, and the food was to die for (and great value)!

I'll be telling you more about it over the next little while. Today, we're just catching up with things (emptying suitcases, getting clothes washed, checking email, picking up Willow from the cattery, opening the post - that's about it really - let's ease ourselves gently in).

Thursday, June 07, 2007


The project I'm working on at the moment is a picture of a rusty boat moored near Letterfrack in Connemara. I'm actually working only on a detail of its hull, just exploring the textures. I'm at the stage where I'm having fun trying out different techniques. Here are some samples:

The original picture:

Spattering, printing with sponge & watercolour paper, lines, sand paper:

Cling-film effect (this is great fun: apply paint to paper, then put cling-film on top, let it dry, remove cling-film - you never know what shapes will come out of it):

CD used for applying paint to paper (put paint on printable CD, then apply to paper, twisting and turning to smear the paint all over):

Monday, June 04, 2007

Joe Jackson in Dublin - A Cure for Gravity

We went to the Joe Jackson concert in the Olympia last night. We had found out about it by pure chance really, in a free magazine we got in a cinema a few weeks ago. I used to get updates about tour dates from the Joe Jackson website, but the emails stopped coming about 6 months ago.

As you know, I'm a big fan. And what a treat it was. This time, it was only Joe, Graham Maby and Dave Houghton on stage - so a simple set of piano, bass and drums. But you can hear they've been playing together forever (as far as I know, well over 25 years).

He covered a good few of the old favourites, like Cancer, Is She Really Going Out With Him?, You Can't Get What You Want, Stepping Out, Chinatown, One More Time, Slow Song, One More Time (my favourite), and a few songs from an upcoming album. To see a list of the set from the Tour, have a look at the Joe Jackson Archive.

He didn't play Awkward Age, which contains some of the wittiest lyrics:
I should have known you were only just fifteen
You had a scowl like a Klingon beauty queen
The seats in the Olympia are extremely cramped, so it's impossible to get up and dance, but I did manage to boogie in my seat. Apologies to whoever was behind me. Thankfully, there was nobody on my right, as the 2 couples sitting beside us found the seats too cramped and went to the back instead.

Joe Jackson is a wonderfully talented musician, and it was a joy to see and hear him playing live. I'm delighted he decided to play in Dublin, despite the smoking ban (he's got a bee in his bonnet about that)

By the way, the picture here is one I picked up from the Joe Jackson Archive website. The ones on the official website are just too ugly.

And in case you didn't know, A Cure for Gravity is the title of Joe Jackson's book, where he describes the feeling of being on stage, when everything is going well, and he feels like he is flying. I think we all shared that feeling last night.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Birthdays this month

To think that I nearly forgot!

After a busy morning - nice breakfast, home pedicure, a bit of work on a couple of machines, lunch and a bit more painting - I just remembered that it's time to list this month's birthdays.

So, here we go:
5 June: Ann
20 June: Padraig and Mary's wedding anniversary (this is a new category in our birthday list!)
21 June: Lorna and Paul

Happy Birthdays!

And one for the road

OK, OK, this is the last one today. The truth is - I'm getting hungry, so that's my next priority!

Here is the Water painting I've been working on for the last few weeks. A bit contrived, but I like the abstract quality of it. I didn't capture the brightness of the sun reflections (see picture here). I concentrated on the shapes instead, which I found quite hypnotic. Next time, I'll have to figure out how to get the shapes AND the light.


Brendan is still asleep, it's bucketting rain outside, I'm waiting for paint to dry before I can add more colours to my current watercolour project, and I'm wide awake, so I might as well write another post.

Since the week ahead looks like it will be as busy as the last few weeks, I probably won't get another chance to post another blog for a good while. Carpe Diem, etc.

This is a picture of a poppy we took at Airfield last week. Definitely an inspiration for another watercolour. Given the delicate texture and transparent colours, I'll have to tackle it completely differently from my other poppy painting. I'm looking forward to the challenge.


Last weekend, we went to Airfield for their annual Woolapalooza, their sheep-shearing event. It always attracts big crowds, and I can understand why. It's quite a spectacle. They had a few other attractions, but the star of the show is the sheep-shearing itself.

You really have to see it to believe how calm the sheep are when the shearing starts. It's complete pandemonium all around, with sheep baaahing all around, but, as soon as the sheep-shearer gets his hands around the sheep, she gets really quiet, completely subdued, despite (or maybe because?) the less than graceful position she's put in. She just stares at you with those big eyes, and makes no attempt to move, as if caught in a parallel universe.

And not a nick! Clearly a very skilled sheep-shearer in action!

Indian Summer

Did I tell you that last Wednesday, on the 29th, we had Mick over (he calls himself Mike, but Brendan always refers to him as Mick or even Mick Mac, so I'll call him Mick). He was visiting from South Africa, and we had a lovely meal in Indian Summer with Padraig and Mary. As it was Padraig's birthday, and we didn't know it, as per his wishes, it worked out beautifully.

As always the food was delicious. I recommend the starter platter, and all of the fish dishes I've tried there have been just perfect! I had the Red Snapper Meen Moilee this time, lovely big chunks of white fish in a sauce with turmeric, coconut and plenty other spices (but not too hot - just right for me).

When we got home, Mick got to meet Willow. Mick liked Willow, and Willow liked Mick. The Perfect end to a Perfect day!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Wildlife of South Dublin - Continued

In the last few days, we have noticed two magpies bullying Willow! Brendan had seen a pair of magpies picking at a squirrel a few days ago at the front of a neighbour's house. Yesterday, we heard the distinctive kak-kak-kak racket made by magpies, and we saw them on the ground, less than a meter from Willow, who was just lying in the backgarden, sunning himself.

Now, Willow is a big cat, and he normally likes to catch birds - but these 2 didn't seem to care. One of them always seemed to stay in front of him, distracting him with its kak-kak-kak, while the other would work its way behind him and get closer and closer, and pick at Willow's tail!

I don't know if it's because of the noise they made, or because he knew there was no point in trying to catch them, or maybe he just couldn't be bothered, but Willow didn't do much. His tail was swishing all right, a sure sign he is not happy. But he seemed not to mind them too much. At one point, he went in attack mode, crouching on the ground, but even then, he didn't really try to catch them.

My guess is that these 2 magpies have a nest not far from here and are doing all they can to keep Willow away from it. But I've never seen such a pair of bold magpies before! You have to admire their courage, really!