Wednesday, 2 August 2017

246. Deep in deepest France

31st August. This morning, I finally set in motion the process to apply for dual nationality by posting a bulky envelope containing a great wodge of paperwork. Apart from a form I'd printed off the internet with the basic information, I had to include a copy of my passport, a certified translated copy of my criminal record (blank of course - need you ask!), certified translated copies of my birth certificate and my parents' birth certificates, a copy of our marriage certificate, my wife's birth certificate, a copy of her father's birth certificate - pause for breath - a statement from the bank here that we have a joint account, a statement from the tax authorities, plus a 55€ "timbre fiscal", a stamped addressed envelope address to us, and a registered letter. Phew...          

How does that expression go? "Times flies like an arrow - but fruit flies like a banana.." I realised this morning that it was 10 years ago today that we set off in our hired van from England for sunnier climes. We'd sold our house in England, and we didn't have a house to go to in France - all we had was an address for a gîte down in the Pays Basque. We'd well and truly burnt our boats. We thought we might have to spend up to a year there before we found a house to buy. It didn't quite work out like that! (see here)

And for anyone reading this who is contemplating moving across the Channel - the $64,000 question - "Do we have any regrets?". I'm afraid the answer is no, not one. Would we do it all again? Yes, in a heartbeat. Would I give any advice? I'd say plan your move, plan your move and plan your move. Try to think through in advance all the "what ifs"- and nail as many of them as possible while you're in England.  

The other significance of this date was, of course, the final act in the short and ultimately tragic life of Princess Diana. Twenty years ago, we'd been invited to France to take part in a friend's wedding anniversary celebrations over a long weekend near Bourges. We had to leave early by car on the Sunday morning to return to England. As we drove north, we started picking up the morning news faintly on the BBC long wave and, to our disbelief, we heard the shocking announcement of her untimely death a few hours earlier in nearby Paris. Like everybody else, we were absolutely stunned and we couldn't begin to imagine how on earth she had managed to come to grief in a chauffeur-driven limo in the centre of Paris. Needless to say, it's been the subject of endless speculation ever since.  

The only comment I'd make is that I thought she'd breathed some much-needed fresh air and normality into the stuffy Royals. At least, that's my perception. The truth is, none of us really know what went on in that marriage and that family. I have my own views. Suffice to say, I don't think Charles has ever realised what he lost by pursuing his own aims. Perhaps I shouldn't say this but he became almost likeable while he was married to Diana - some of her magic having rubbed off on him.  

28th August. The atmosphere cooked up something special up for us early this evening.. The skies darkened and then the first flickering flashes of sheet lightning started. Then the lightning became more or less continuous before it moved on to bigger things. Suddenly there was an intense electric blue and white flash - like a big city transformer exploding - as lightning struck somewhere close by. This was followed a second or two later by the mother of all explosions as a bass drum roll of thunder shook the house in a continuing rumble that sounded for all the world like a stick of bombs going off a few streets away. Unfortunately, the pup had chosen that moment to have a sniff around the garden - and I've not seen him move so fast before as he shot indoors!

24th August. Just noticed that the slideshow I had set up in the left hand column has disappeared. I'll have to see about reinstating it with another photo storage service.. I think Photobucket has changed its terms and conditions and now that it has captured billions of treasured images, it wants to charge...

22nd August. A loong time ago I lived on a Greek island and in the late afternoons/early evenings I used to work in a drinks store owned by a Greek guy. When trade was slack, we'd close up and drive out to a shack where we'd make and then bottle ouzo. Later in the evening, we'd go to an open air bar out on a headland where inevitably - as night follows day - someone would start dancing the sirtaki.. It's surprisingly hard to learn the sequence of steps - after all, there are only so many things you can do with two arms, two legs, two knees and two feet. Or so you'd think! This little clip takes me back.. I was never this good:
I've just discovered that there was a Festival Biarritz Années Folles (Biarritz in the Roaring Twenties Festival) in June 2017. A few wannabe 'Boy' Capels on show here.. Plus I would have needed to brush up my dancing skills (such as they are) if we'd gone.. One of the problems with these events is that it can be guaranteed that the MC will pick up a microphone and insist on talking and talking ad infinitum. (surgical intervention being required). I have a notoriously short attention span for many of the activities portrayed here (apart from 21:36!). I think I would have glazed over before too long.. and been caught sneaking a peek at my watch!

19th August. Yesterday it was the turn of Barcelona to experience the horror of a terror attack. It seems that they're occurring with increased frequency these days. I believe our interests would be best served by not revealing any details at all about the measures that are being taken to nullify these attacks.

18th August. I omitted to mention the passing of Glen Campbell, who achieved instant global fame with his enigmatic song - "Wichita Lineman". On the face of it, it's pretty much a 'nothing' easy listening song but then the mental images accumulate - a nostalgic lineman up a telegraph pole out on the lonely prairie, with the wind in the wires, missing his girl - and combine with what sounds like morse code and voila.. it all comes together. I heard this song the other day for the first time in years and it has stood the test of time very well. Have a listen:
Another unforgettable retail experience to chalk up.. It was decided by Higher Authority that the toilet seat in the downstairs loo needed replacing. With the pup unable to be left on his own at the moment, I was dispatched out on a solo mission - to implement "Operation Toilet Seat"! The toilet in the downstairs porcelain reading room is, at a whopping 37 centimetres wide, of Godzilla-like proportions. I soon found myself staring at a bewildering array of seats at a local DIY megastore armed only with a tape measure. I finally homed in on a likely suspect, made the purchase and dashed for home.

When I unpacked the object, I checked to see where it had been made (knowing in advance what the answer would be). Yes, of course, it had been manufactured in the People's Republic of China (PRC). I think we're doomed. The writing's on the wall. How is it that we can't even produce toilet seats? Is there nothing the PRC can't make?

The grey-suited functionaries currently shining their backsides in Brussels should be asking themselves the question: how is it that a country on the other side of the world can manufacture a simple domestic product, ship it to Europe and still sell it at a competitive price? Having established that our manufacturing costs are too high, the next question for the well-fed fonctionnaires should surely be - what do we have to do to make our industries more competitive? The answer is clear: we must reduce the punitive burden of the 'social charges' that European manufacturers are liable for.    

16th August. Here's a short video of Nutty - the latest addition to the household.. (I made it just for the record - Martin Scorcese it's not!)
The Edinburgh Festival has occasionally seen new comic talent emerge. Judging by the 10 Best Jokes from this year's festival, I think we can safely say that established comedians need have no further worries about their job security in 2017. I can't believe that these dire offerings are the 10 Best. If I told one of these, I'd expect no more than a polite smile - at best.    

12th August. After the passage of a long year since we lost our golden boy, the house once again is alive with the sound of the pitter-patter of paws! We drove up to a cocker spaniel breeder in Lot-et-Garonne on Thursday and - surprise, surprise - we came away with a 2½ month old pup. There were around 12 of them vying for our attention but he stood out from the rest - he picked himself - but if I'm honest, I could have grabbed the whole squirming mass of them! There wasn't a single one that we wouldn't have given a home to.

We decided we needed time to make our minds up so we drove to nearby Duras to talk it over, away from the distraction of a dozen playful pups - with the help of a glass of the local red. By some quirk of French law, dogs have to be registered with a name with the initial letter for the year in question. This year's letter is N. In the end, we chose this little feller, who will soon be answering to the name of Nutty.. (once he's learned it!)  He's settled in quickly without any dramas, and we're looking forward to the day when we can take him out - another couple of weeks yet.

11th August. One for the ladies.. Here's an interesting tale from the dusty margins of history.. and it's one that I'd not heard before.

I'd once read somewhere that Coco Chanel had opened her first shop at Biarritz (left) in or around 1915 - but I was unaware of the rest of the story. A hundred years on, the location remains largely unchanged.

It appears that she'd had an independently wealthy English lover, Captain Arthur Edward "Boy" Capel, and, in the time-honoured fashion, he had generously advanced her the start-up money she'd needed to open up her first shops (she surprised him later by paying it all back in full!).

"Boy" & Coco
He was described as "an intellectual, politician, author, a ship-owning tycoon, polo-player and the dashing lover and sponsor of the fashion designer Coco Chanel" - and he continued seeing Coco Chanel after his marriage.. so, in the language of the day, he'd be classed as a cad and a bounder. In those days, the only punishment possible for a transgression such as this would have been a sound horsewhipping!☺ Today, her former shop in the centre of Biarritz is home to the Bookstore and Maison Adam - both of which are worth visiting.

I was just re-reading the above description of 'Boy' Capel and it occurred to me that we don't make them like that any more. Is there anyone around today who fits that description? I very much doubt it. Tragically, 'Boy' was to be killed in a road accident outside Cannes (either on a motorcycle or in a Rolls-Royce - the history books are unclear) in 1919.

There's now a "Boy" Capel Challenge - a classic car rally that does a lap of the Côte d'Azur, starting from Cannes and visits Aix-en-Provence, Gorge du Verdon, St. Paul de Vence before returning to Cannes. Here are the participants as they rumble through Cotignac - a lovely Provençale village we visited a few years ago. Enjoy this stroll through Cotignac on what looks like a lazy out of season Sunday lunchtime - best in full screen:
On the face of it, the world has changed greatly - but if you read this account of the hedonism of the twenties, it will quickly become apparent that 'excess' wasn't a product of the modern age - it had all been done long before.

9th August. Here's an interesting and thought-provoking documentary that tries to define progress. Today, more than ever, we are being constantly presented with "improvements" to existing technologies and when we're unable to absorb any more changes, we get new technologies thrust at us. 

In my lifetime, we've gone from playing music on 78rpm records - to 45s - to 33s, then to reel-to-reel tape recorders to cassettes, to CDs - and then it went crazy... Now, we have music available on MP3 players, USB sticks, our mobile phones, the cloud (?) and so it goes. (I'm sure I've missed a few steps out at the end there!). It's the same with photography. Without going through the same process of listing the changes in cameras over the last 50 years - just ask yourself how many obsolete cameras do you have tucked away gathering dust in drawers at home? (We must have at least 6 cameras of varying stages of obsolescence - no longer used.)

During the last decade of my working life, a common mantra was that we had to "embrace change". And since then, politicians have used the need for change in their campaign slogans - but without defining exactly what that change would consist of, and perhaps more importantly, who it would benefit (apart from getting them elected!). If, however, we're against change, we're seen as reactionary dinosaurs. Surely we must establish the benefit of any change before adopting it lemming-like. Mobile phones are a good example. I have no need for a mobile phone. Let me repeat that: I have zero need for a mobile phone. Nada. Zip. Niente. I've inherited one from Madame but it just sits on the hall table and there it stays. Sometimes I feel all changed out!

Coming back from the Auvergne last week, we pulled off the A89 to find somewhere for lunch and we stopped at Montignac in the Dordogne. It was a "tourist-rich" environment and clustered around the entrance to a riverside restaurant we were contemplating were a number of English girls - each of them armed with an iphone. Instead of looking at the menus posted outside, they were frantically calling up the restaurant's page on Trip Advisor to see what people thought of it - before suddenly deciding that a restaurant across the river had received better reviews - and they were off!

6th August. The parking gods smiled on us this morning in Biarritz.. Yes, an August Sunday and we found a place straight off. We had to arrive there at 10am though! The town was alive with rumbling Harleys, blatting their "potato-potato" sound, and innumerable bloated German 4x4s. In the middle of all this, and close to where we parked, was a superb 40 year old example of what is arguably automobile perfection – an early 70s Porsche 911 in ice green - similar to the one here but different colour. No frills, no fat – just a lithe, supple and timeless shape designed for one thing and one thing only. These cars have their detractors I know but, aah, that shape.. This is the car I always wanted - a Porsche 912. Designed as an entry level model, it had a 1600 flat four and it was later upgraded with an 86bhp VW 2 litre four. As I never wished to blat around at the speed of heat, it would have suited me fine. Join me in drooling over this one here! This model was briefly affordable until just a few years ago but values have skyrocketed (40,000€+) in recent years as baby boomers chase the car of their teenage dreams.

Hard at it at the Bleu Café on the Grande Plage this morning!

3rd August. Please don't forget to send me your tips for including on my interactive map of our favourite affordable restaurants in France where they still cook to the old standards. By that I mean restaurants where the dishes are prepared and cooked in the kitchen - with not a microwave in sight! See here for further details.

2nd August. Just as the Fêtes de Bayonne kicked off last week, we escaped up to Salers in the Auvergne. For many people, Salers is famous for one thing: its grass-fed beef. The Salers breed has to be hardy to survive the long winters up at altitude and their thick coats are a rich mahogany red. They all seemed to be fitted with bells around their necks and so we were serenaded every evening by what sounded like gusts of wind blowing through a wind chime factory - as here!

Here's the village of Salers.. Three thousand feet up, it's built of volcanic basalt, and it presents a solid yet unprepossessing face to the world with its dark stone edifices and heavy split stone roof tiles.

This dourness is reflected in the food - here there are no large white plates with slices of meat artfully arranged on top of a mini-tower of 3 carottes rondelles - with a 'signature' swirl of jus.. (spare me!)
 No, it's solid fare here and there are such local delights as 'pounti' (I never got around to trying it) and something called a 'liogue'. (a large diameter sausage served sliced - this I did try). Another evening, I tried pig's trotter (foot) with foie gras. I must admit I wasn't sure what to expect with this! It turned out to be something that was the size of a slightly flattened tennis ball that had been breaded and deep-fried. It contained nothing readily identifiable (rather like a haggis!) and it was rather bland in taste. The jury's still out on that one. (Perhaps it was a tennis ball! Aagghh!)

A speciality of the Auvergne that I've had before is chou farci which translates as an unappetising-sounding 'stuffed cabbage' in Anglo-Saxon. It is anything but.. We had a healthy slice of this one lunchtime and it was delicious. (NB. Must use a savoy cabbage).

Another speciality of the region that we tasted was Gentiane Jaune. I think this falls straight into the "Acquired Taste" category. We've all done it - bought an exotic-looking bottle on an overseas trip, got home, tried it once, and then 10 years later you find it at the back of your drinks cupboard covered in dust with the screw-cap seemingly welded on. (Ask me how I know!)

La truffade
If I had to pick one dish that was omnipresent and exemplified all the local specialities, then I'd have to say it would be truffade.. perhaps the dish of the region. On one occasion, we had it twice in one day!

Here, the making of it is demonstrated by the presenter (below) who sounds as though his trousers are on fire (he comes in at 0:11). It is the ideal fuel if you anticipate digging a ditch sometime in the near future - but for bumbling around the lanes, visiting villages, it's probably a few calories too many! However, when it's accompanied by a glass of Saint-Pourçain rouge*, it all seems to make sense.. (More here)

* We've had the white Saint-Pourçain several times but the red was new to both of us - and very nice it was too. We now have a ½ case on order..
Let's not forget that this region of France was heavily involved in the 100 Years War.. The 15th century Château d'Anjony is one of those medieval structures that simply takes your breath away.. (more here and here)

Outside of the villages, the physical features of the landscape have been laid out on a grand scale:

As for the above video, I refuse to do anything (with my clothes on!) that requires me to cry out "Woo-hoo!"..

Meanwhile, I’m now smarting from a letter I opened at lunchtime. We’d been to St J de L one evening about a month ago and we were chatting on the way home - in a 50kmh limit with a known radar camera.. As I went by the camera at 57kmh I thought “Oh noooooo!”.

Oh yes, the fine came today. For doing 7 kmh over the limit (ie, just over 4mph) I have to pay a 90€ fine. Grrr!


Anonymous said...

Hello Nutty!
We look forward to some photos and news of the new Pup.
Congratulations all around. Lesley

Pipérade said...

I will - if only I can get him to sit still for more that 3 seconds!