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I sometimes wonder about Frédéric Mistral. You've never heard of him? Nor had I, until I came to live in France. I knew the word 'mistral' as the name of the icy wind that roars off the Alps down the Rhone valley, chilling many a Provençal holiday-maker to the marrow, but the man himself, apparently named after a wind, remained a closed book despite having a street in practically every southern French town named after him.

THERE'S AN unexpected duel going on inside our letter-box. You wouldn't have thought it, just looking at it from the outside, but inside its placid green exterior there's goodness knows what Gallic mayhem and brouhaha going on . . .

The spi

NEW YEAR'S Day - Euro Day - found us in Cordoba, in southern Spain, penniless.

Well, almost. We set off for Christmas in Portugal armed with packs of new, shiny euro coins, about £10 ($14) worth that we'd bought in France in mid-Decem

THERE'S A very pretty church at St Florian, newly decorated, fresh, warm and welcoming, and you can't ask much more of a church than that. Under a curious French arrangement the building belongs to the state, and the priest is merely the tenant -

Agnès is young, attractive and cheerful, the sort of person who makes you feel better just by looking at her. She and her farmer husband Colin are building a house a little further up the lane. Not personally, of course: her hands-on extend

WE'VE DECIDED to build a new house. No, we're fairly comfortable where we are, thanks, but our present place is built into such a slope, like most houses in this very up-and-down area, that we spend all day going from one level to another. In fact

Montpellier. The big city. It's bitterly cold. We can see a huge bank of snow-laden cloud heading for us from the direction of Marseilles and the Camargue. We've already seen TV news pictures of Marseilles traffic brought to a halt by a couple of