25th November 2009. With the erection of 40 or so wooden chalets (aka garden sheds) in front of the Hôtel de Ville in Bayonne - ready for the Christmas market - there's now no hiding from the fact that Christmas is coming. The lights aren't up yet though.
When I was over in England in September, the previously mentioned Major Bloodnok was kind enough to make me a present of 2 large Christmas puddings. They've been sat in the cellar ever since and each time I go down there I'm tempted to bring one up into the light of day and sweet-talk Madame into heating one up. (Fat chance!) She does like them - but only at Christmas. (Rats!) I think that, as a food item, appreciation of them is usually limited to those of an Anglo Saxon origin. We're going up to Paris to stay with Madame's brother for a few days over Christmas and, for a few crazy moments, I thought that one of the Pudding Brothers would make an excellent contribution to the Christmas fare. That is, until the mental image of a table full of chauvinistic Gauls swam across my mind - each regarding their steaming slice of pudding with the utmost suspicion, poking and prodding it with looks of disdain as if it were still alive.. reluctantly tasting a morsel that could be harbouring e-coli at the very least. And this from a nation wot eats andouillette!! No, I don't think I'll bother. The French have a great expression for this: donner de la confiture aux cochons.. or to give jam to pigs!
At the risk of annoying those who live to the north, I must mention the unseasonably good weather we've been enjoying here for the last week (after the storms!). Temps of 24C and today it must be ~18-20C.. with matching blue skies.
With my knees giving me gyp at the moment, it's clear that our Golf is too small for us (ie, me) if we want to visit Tante S, Madame's auntie who lives in the Jura near the Swiss border (830kms away) as well as doing any long trips of exploration into Spain and Italy. After an hour's driving, I need to extend my legs which, in the Golf, I'm unable to do. So for the last few months we've been looking at all the options. We've test driven all kinds of cars and now we've homed in on the VW Tiguan as being the most suitable. With a little luck we should have one in time for our Christmas jaunt up to Paris..
Mentioning Tante S reminds me of the time when she and her now late husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary one summer in the mid 90s. They'd decided to have a celebratory dinner and had invited a representative from each part of the extended family (to keep the numbers down to a manageable level) and so we came to be invited. We'd planned our annual visit to the Pays Basque such that at the end of it we could drive up & across to the Jura to arrive in time..
We wanted to avoid the boredom of the autoroutes so we thought we'd simply "straight-line it" across France - going by the Departmentale* roads - thus seeing a bit more of the country. After driving all day on lonely roads through mountains, forests and villages we stopped overnight at a village called Bourganeuf (between Limoges and Clermont-Ferrand) which is as near as dammit in the centre of France. We quickly dropped our bags in a 2* "Logis" hotel in the centre and then went out for a swift leg stretch before dinner. I remember being amazed to find a fish shop still open at 7pm. What's more, the display of gleaming fish on ice under the lights looked as fresh as could be and - remember - this was in a village 200 miles from the coast..!
We returned to the hotel and went into the cosy and heavily beamed dining room. Looking around, it was clear that this was the real France (aka la France profonde). After browsing the menu for a few minutes I realised that this was somewhere that took its food seriously. All the classic dishes were there. Madame often says that food is the second religion in France but I'd go further and say it's the first - as more people go to restaurants than go to church. Looking through the wine list I couldn't believe what I was seeing - most of the wine was priced at somewhere between £200 and £800 a bottle.. There were some fabled wines there that I'd only read about - Château Palmer, Château Gruaud-Larose, Château Haut-Brion and Château Yquem - and this in a un cheval village in the middle of nowhere.. Who was buying this? Needless to say, we had a bottle of something far more modest!
/to be continued..
* Autoroutes (motorways) are A roads.. as in the A63 from Bayonne to Bordeaux (UK equivalents? The M1, M5, M6 etc).
Nationale roads are N roads (as in N7) - these equate to the A roads in the UK.
Departmentale roads are D roads - and are equivalent to the UK's B roads.
Hope that's cleared up any confusion there may have been!