Category Archives: Weather

Calm Determination

This has been an odd week weather-wise and the heavy-soggy-blustery nature of it all finally took a bit of a break today. I feel rather relieved since I don’t sleep well when it feels as if the house is going to lift off the foundations. We’ve had cyclonic bursts of wind hammering the sides of the house along with constant, heavy rain — then it all swirls and hits the exact opposite side of the building. Rain alternates with hail. The temperatures plunge and snow falls then melts. Most unsettling…

The mood of the weather is rather a match to the mood of the world right now — but I choose not to focus on that.

The house has been on the market for two weeks — and now we wait. Oddly, since I am not always known for saintly levels of patience, I am feeling quite calm and purposeful.

Really looking forward to what will be coming in the post in the next few days. I’ve waited and waited until the time was right and the PRODUCT was right size-wise. I no longer enjoy huge honking camera bodies with humongous lenses dangling off the front. They make my wrists and shoulders ache and they’re a pain to worry about because they’re so expensive to replace if damaged or stolen. And with the ever-smaller equipment nowadays, it seems like the right time to downsize before we leave here.

On Sunday I bought a GoPro Hero 4 Session at a 20% off sale. Then I got accessories like hand grips, telescoping mono-pod, foam-cube protectors and the like, and a bike handlebar mount for Mark to try it out. And since this toy-sized video camera is so tiny, it will fit into a purse. It is seriously teeny-tiny — and we noticed that the Tour de France riders were all using them during the last few weeks.


I’m ready to start making videos in addition to doing still photography and my agencies in London and New York have asked if I plan to add that sort of additional artwork to my portfolio since it now sells so well. Even wee burst videos of 2-ish minutes at 8 megapixel clarity seem to do well!

Happy that I will get ANOTHER my-brain-will-never-get-old-and-fuddly learning curve with a new editing program (ask me again how I feel about that statement in a week!) to master.

And other than the %^&*£@! flu that we’ve both picked up from all of the %^&*£@! sick people in Ballarat — life is good!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Ice Cream in Winter — By The Sea?

When Mark and I met in London at the beginning of 1994, I commented one afternoon on an activity that the Brits engaged in — quite regularly — that I considered to be quite odd behaviour given the weather.

That activity? Eating ice cream — LOTS of it — usually in cone form — in the dead of winter. No matter how icy the temperatures were, we saw people in every city we visited perched on a ledge eating an ice cream cone or sitting on a bench at the seaside doing the same thing. There might be ice on the roads, occasionally even a smattering of snow, but there they sat, bundled up to the eyeballs and eating an ice cream.

What I found even odder, and sweetly funny, were the people who would drive to the seaside to purchase their ice cream from a mobile van or a beachside hut and then sit in their car with the heater running as they gobbled it down whilst watching the icy waves crashing upon the seashore.


Even on the coldest winter day, British people seem to love to go to the seaside to sit in their heated cars, staring at the crashing waves in freezing temperatures, and eat an ice cream cone.

Even on the coldest winter day, British people seem to love to go to the seaside to sit in their heated cars, staring at the crashing waves in freezing temperatures, and eat an ice cream cone.

The lighthouse at Whitley Bay, a seaside town near Newcastle UK, on a stormy winter day. B&W

The lighthouse at Whitley Bay, a seaside town near Newcastle UK, on a stormy winter day.


So here we were on a wintery day two years ago in the north of England, at Whitley Bay on the seacoast just outside of Newcastle. The wind was so high that afternoon that it knocked me sideways when I got out of our own vehicle! The second picture that is just of the seaside and the lighthouse is a more accurate idea of how bleak it was that day. Absolutely no one was game to sit on those seaside benches to watch the waves on that particular afternoon. Brrr!!!

But back in the parking lot — yes — the Mr. Whippy van was doing a good business. The lot near the lighthouse was full of people happy to sit with their engines running and the heater on as they ate their ice cream and watched the crashing surf beyond. Crazy, eh? Or just sweetly eccentric perhaps.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Damaged Drives and A Wintery Pause

It’s been an odd week — I can’t say otherwise. I had a catastrophic hard drive failure on one of my MacBook Pro computers, so I spent an entire week getting things sorted out.

We have no authorized Apple stores anywhere near where we live in rural France and I didn’t fancy trying to ship off a computer when it was 3 weeks until Christmas. As it was, I was rather staggered when I spoke to one authorised Apple repair place outside of Paris and they quoted €99 for the diagnosis, over €500 for the new hard drive installation, and up to €1,000 to recover the information on the hard drive. I had called them on Skype and Mark heard the entire conversation. After I hung up, I turned to him saying, “If I have to spend that much money, I might as well wait until the after-Christmas sales and buy a new one!”

Through sheer stubbornness and bizarre optimism, I managed to clone the hard drive on the working computer, wipe and reformat the damaged hard drive on the dead one, load the cloned information over onto the wiped drive, and get the damaged one up and running again. I have no idea how long that drive will last, but trust me, it will get backed up every single day if new information goes onto it!

My really, REALLY amazing bit of handiwork though was recovering all of Mark’s ‘lost’ photos from Barcelona. I kept downloading test versions of expensive software programs that claimed to be able to ‘find’ images on digital camera drives even if they had been deleted. Day after day I tried program after program with no success until finally, amazingly, one of them showed me ALL of the photos on the SD cards. I was stunned since the computer said that they were empty, yet the software was clearly showing me the photos. And yes — I now have all 761 of Mark’s Barcelona images on both computers and on a back-up drive as well. Whew! It was an exhausting week of highs and lows that ended splendidly.

The rest of my photo essays from Salvadore Dali’s Museum in Figueres, Spain will be up soon. But this past weekend was spent doing things with the darling Mark since it was his birthday.

Gifts were presented on Sunday morning and then after a nice lunch in a nearby cafe, we took a drive in the countryside up into the Midi-Pyrenees mountains where Mark is currently working on a large barn-conversion-into-residence project. I knew that there was snow and ice up there since he had already gotten stuck in a ditch once this past week, had a ride inside the cab of the snowplow, and then he and the snowplow driver pulled him out of the ditch. But little did I know that he had a bit of an ‘adventure’ in mind for me.

Mark at barn-conversion-into-residence job site in the Midi-Pyrenees of France

We drove through Massat and then Mark turned onto a one lane road that had multiple hairpin turns and which wound higher and higher up that mountain range. I was getting white-knuckled by this time since there were no guard rails along the road, no place to pull off if there was any kind of difficulty, and it was a huge plunge if you went off the side of the road anywhere!

Snow covered mountains of the Midi-Pyrenees in December 2012


Up and up we went and then the worst-case-scenario arrived in the form of an old blue van which was going down the one lane road as we were trying to go up. We each backed up a bit to see if there was any room to pass one another, and just as the blue van got stuck in the ice at the edge of the road, Mark continued to back up DOWN that road and he began to move toward one of those sharp curves. It wasn’t my finest hour — I admit that freely — but I suddenly shouted, “Stop! I am getting out!” I was shaking all over from fright and the mental image of us plunging off the side of the road at that curve.

Mark walked up the road, helped the people in the van get out of the ice and back on their way down the one lane road, and somehow without shearing off our side mirror and with the woman driving whilst the two men shoved at the side and back to keep the van on the road and not plunging off the right side, they managed to pass with a whisker’s distance between the two vehicles.

Back in our own vehicle and with a bit of ice and mud being flung into the air, we spun our way out of the very narrow ditch we were parked in. I was close to tears and Mark realised that, given the road conditions, perhaps it hadn’t been such a good idea after all. But I was calm again by the time that we got to the top — another 5 minutes of white-knuckle driving time — and the photos above show the view from the top. This is where Mark has been working every day for the last several months and I had to admit that it was quite a special place to go to work each day.

You may or may not be able to see the small black shapes in the deep shadows. Apparently a small herd of Pyrenees horses arrived this past week and they are being wintered in that paddock next to the construction site.

I’ll be returning to more posts from Barcelona and Figueres in the coming days — so come back soon!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Oh My! I’m Publishing Photos of (GASP!) People!

3 PM UPDATE: Always wanting to make certain that I am doing the right thing, I had a talk just now with two charming gendarmes from the local police department. They assured me that if I was a valid professional, had a press pass (and of course I do!), and was not trying to infringe on people’s privacy, I am certainly allowed to take photos at public events. They also suggested that I just slightly blur children’s faces in a crowd, but they assured me that I was acting quite responsibly and they had no issues with the types of photos I was taking. I had felt quite confident that I was acting ethically and it was good to have that confirmed!

After yesterday’s interesting little foray into EDITORIAL USE in photography, I’m back with more pictures of people taken in the context of a large PUBLIC EVENT. I can still barely believe that it’s even necessary to write that!

This morning I decided to do a little research above and beyond what I already knew.

Look what I found at the local news online — photos of identifiable people, face forward, including (wait while I gasp again) children. Like I said — NEWS coverage, whether print, online, or television, allows for picture taking at PUBLIC EVENTS such as festivals, parades, exhibits, weekend markets, and rather a lot of other circumstances where there are a lot of people present in one place.

Now, enough of that — let’s move on to the fun stuff…

At the Autrefois Le Courserons parade, these wonderful tall puppets came gliding by with no wibble-wobble whatsoever. And just look at how many people are lining the street on both sides to watch.

Giant puppets on parade at the Autrefois Le Couserons celebrations in St. Girons, Midi-Pyrenees, France

And then bzzzzzzzz — there go the beekeepers.

Beekeepers in the Autrefois Le Couserons parade in St. Girons, Midi-Pyrenees, France.

Look how much fun the sausage makers were having on their float!

A jolly time being had by the sausage makers in the Autrefois Le Couserons parade in St. Girons, Midi-Pyrenees, France.

Hope you continue to enjoy these little slices of life in the South of France because it is fun to share even if I do, to quote a fellow writer and world traveller, encounter the occasional ‘Nasty Nellie’ along the way.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Boxes, HEAT, & A Bit Of This & That

A bit of personal and non-travel related commentary today. And no, I didn’t drop off the face of the planet and all is well in our world. But we’re still wading through the boxes that were delivered from Australia via ship to England and then delivery truck here to France.

When we were ‘back home’ in Australia on our 7 and 1/2 acre rural property, we had a studio space/storage area in a separate building from our cottage. And that studio space was bigger than this entire small apartment in France!

Let’s just say we are a little challenged space-wise right now. So a second culling of our possessions is under way. And the apartment is a &*^%$£! disaster zone as a result. We sold off 99.99% of our furniture, donated or sold hundreds of books and movies, pared down the clothes, and then stored the rest (including Mark’s rather massive collection of tools!) for 20 months. 21 months later, they have all arrived and in spite of what we thought was a serious purge back in Oz, we have too much stuff.

I have thinned out the books and music cds and movies (again!) and am donating them to a Cancer Support France group here in the South of France that helps English speaking expats who have relocated to France deal with cancer issues. It’s probably a god-send for them to have such a group since I can honestly tell you that if French is not your native language, being ill in a foreign country can occasionally be a very unsettling experience. So this felt like just the right place to send all of these lovely books and media items.

Our other ‘challenge’ for the last few weeks has been the intense heat and staggering humidity — and it isn’t just here. Huge swathes of France have been on alert due to the high temperatures that soared upward and then stayed there. The last time that this kind of heat arrived in France was in the 2003 heatwave when almost 15,000 people died in France alone. This a country where fans are the norm for coping with summer, air conditioning is a rarity, and along with the many other French businesses that close down for a month, a large number of medical practitioners go on holiday for the month of August.

We’ve also been making a concerted effort to drink huge amounts of water every day to avoid dehydration or heat-exhaustion. Just walking those few blocks to the Saturday market this past weekend (with a hat on and smeared in sun block) saw me returning home dripping wet and weak at the knees from the heat. I was weak and nauseous for the entire rest of the day along with some other rather unpleasant symptoms.

And did I mention that I have been living in a sarong for most of the last 2 weeks? Other than unpacking and sorting, this has not been the most productive period I’ve had since arriving in St. Girons and it is all down to the nauseating heat which has left me, and tens of thousands of other people, feeling quite incapacitated.

I still have the last 2 slideshows to post from 2 weekends ago when the Autrefois was in St. Girons, but for now there may not be any new photo ops until I feel that it’s safe to walk around outside for more than half an hour without feeling like I am going to collapse. Don’t I wish for (and remember fondly!) the body-resiliency of my 20s and 30s — a physical state that I unfortunately no longer have.

Ah well — until the next time — stay cool wherever you are!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Hot And Humid in Summertime France

Ah yes — another installment of our adventures in ex-pat lifestyles.

Each glass of water slides down easily. Adding half of a lemon is rather refreshing, but truthfully, a quick dip in a cold swimming pool wouldn’t go amiss right now.

Don’t believe that little weather widget on the right side column because it is NEVER completely accurate — but it’s the best I can do since Yahoo removed their weather widgets which were actually quite reliable. Even the MSN weather forecast is quite wrong with their humidity index because the air is like suspended water globules right now.

Record-breaking heat is nothing new to my readers in Australia, the USA, and parts of Europe. But I haven’t felt humidity like this in quite a few years and it’s bringing back hot-and-sticky memories of a childhood in the South of the USA and hot-and-sticky memories of living for 18 months in Brisbane, Australia to blend with my hot-and-sticky present in the South of France. Oh my!

No matter how large their big houses might be, no one we know has air conditioning and, with the exception of the larger grocery stores, it seems to be a rarity here. We all cope through a variety of methods that are interestingly ‘retro’ after years of freezing-then-boiling as I came in and out of buildings and cars in Australia.

Keeping the heat out is the first step so I keep both sets of shutters all but closed in the daytime. The heavy old timber shutters block a vast amount of heat and then the roller-blinds that are right outside the double-glazed windows add another layer of heat blockage. I actually brought the shutters up quite a bit for the picture below so that you could clearly see the two layers of shutters.

Double shutters help to keep the heat out in the South of France

Yes, the rooms stay darkish all day long, but that’s certainly better than the bright and blistering sunlight! And yes, I can cope with that tiny square of light from each window. There is even a roller shutter over the French door to the back garden balcony and I moderate the amount of light on each side of the building as the hours pass.

The bedroom stays especially cool with both sets of shutters all but closed.

I’ve made it into a bit of a game so I don’t find it overly tedious — trying to see just how cool I can keep it indoors so Mark has a refreshing home to walk into at the end of the day after he’s been out in the heat on whatever building site he’s working on. The fan may not be as ice-cold as an air conditioner, but it is my friend and that’s all I have to say about that.

It may not be air conditioning, but it moves the cool air around JUST enough!

My pretty new red shopping trolley is thus far getting NO USE whatsoever because it’s too bl%!@y hot to wheel it down the charming streets of St. Girons right now. Ah well — it will be waiting when I need it.

Bright red shopping trolley awaiting a cooler day for adventures in St. Girons

All in all, sarong-on-body and water-in-hand, I am managing just fine. And thanks for asking!

P.S. Just to add a frisson of ‘How’s that?’ from the heavens, as I was ready to post this, the skies darkened, a rather noisy and fast-moving thunderstorm rolled through, the sun came BACK out, and now the wet streets are steaming below my front window. (groan!)

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Unexpectedly Weird Weather

They have tornadoes? In FRANCE???

Who knew!

After a bright and sunny day, the skies got dark last night and rather greenish off in the distance but I didn’t pay any attention to it because, well, we’re in France for heaven’s sakes!

I might look at the skies a little differently from now on when it starts to rain.

This tornado touched down 45 minutes north of here in Toulouse. Here are the pictures of the storm.

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