All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Mind your step.....

Stiletto heels                               Image via Wikipedia
Something that struck me when I was first in France...before it faded into the background of normality...was the popularity of dancing.
There was always the bal populaire on July 13th after the fireworks where the activity would keep going until the small hours....the couscous supper and dancing organised by the PTA (well, parents d'eleves to be precise)...and the bacchanalia of the annual fire brigade ball.
Even the Croix d'Or  (sort of Alcoholics Anonymous) had a dance, which confirmed my view that it was not just the alcohol consumption which made the feet fly faster as the night went on.
It was an intoxication of another sort...that of sheer pleasure.

The revival of traditional dancing took place while I was there...rondes, schottisches, two steps, to the point at which it is no longer something that figures as a curiosity at local fetes but has regular evening sessions where you are warned that the only respite will be mulled wine and a brioche at midnight!
Age is no barrier.
Most of those circling the room are well over fifty, while the perennial success of the 'the dansants' of the old age pensioners' clubs keep many a village hall in business.
They have a lot of energy, these French pensioners.

But dancing can have its hazards.....and not the ones you might expect seeing tidal waves of people advancing and retreating in the Argentinean Tango having, usually, drink taken.

Recently, at an OAPs' dance, there was an altercation which ended up in court.
A gentleman in his sixties was supposed to have shoved a lady of 70 not once but twice when she was visiting the ladies loo. The second time she collided with a table, fracturing her wrist.

She claims to have had to undergo treatment not only for the wrist but also for anxiety and depression and would like 2000 Euros in damages.
The prosecution wants the judges to award the gentleman four months in prison as well.

Oddly enough, in a previous case, the prosecution only sought a three months spell in jug for a drunken driver who has a death by drunk driving in his previous, so there might be something in the claim made by the defense lawyer that the gentleman is being discriminated against as being an immigrant.

The part which interests me is that between shoves one and two, the lady in question took off her shoe and counter attacked. The gentleman appeared in court with scars to his head and arms. Apparently, at 70, the lady still wears high heels.

The gentleman claims legitimate self defence and points out that the lady has previous on the dance an earlier encounter, some months previously, two couples bumped into each other while dancing.
Lady with her partner, gentleman with his.
The lady expressed her displeasure by giving the gentleman's partner two hearty clips round the ear.

The judges will give their verdict in January and goodness only knows what the outcome will be but what fascinates me is firstly that the lady in question still dances in high heels at 70 and secondly that she was still lithe enough to take off one shoe, balance on the other foot and give a good account of herself at the same time!

Who needs Kung Fu!
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Thursday, 24 November 2011

They call it sport....

François-Gabriel Lepaulle-Chasse a courre a Ba...Image via Wikipedia
We are in November, when la chasse  starts killing your cats, the shot rattles against your windows and longer established British expats tell you that this is all part of French tradition and is to be respected.
What they mean is that they are frightened of the buggers, the gendarmerie are frightened of the buggers and they reckon that you should be frightened of the buggers too.

I've had chasseurs send their dogs into my poultry runs, fire towards the house at close range from the vineyard beside it, and shoot rooks nests out of the trees while the young are still unable to leave the nest...coming onto my land to do so. Not to speak of the insults and threatening telephone calls.

In my own experience, I have known of one man (British) meeting a mysterious death after several run ins with la chasse, a (British) holiday house burnt out - problems with la chasse for years before - and a (British) family forced to give up their B and B business - after problems with la chasse.

Not to speak of the cats, lost, injured or killed, two people shot at while on public roads (one French one British) and a man killed while walking his dog (French). There might be more, but this is just what comes to mind.

Not all associations are the same...some are well organised and observe the law, others are simply bullies in camouflage jackets, whose chasse membership allows them possession of firearms, which in turn gives them effective immunity from the attentions of the gendarmerie.

Still, for the Pollyannas in our midst, help in maintaining the idea of the chasse as just a traditional rural pursuit is at hand.

In the month of November, many local churches celebrate a mass of St. Hubert...a nobleman of the Merovingian court who was so addicted to hunting that he even ventured forth on Good Friday.
As he became a saint, you will have already divined that Something Happened to him on that day and indeed it did.

Having brought a stag to bay he saw a cross shining between its antlers, and  heard a voice asking him if he thought hunting more important than his salvation.
Taking the hint. he became a  monk and eventually Bishop of Liege.
Given the vision you would think he would be the patron saint of the anti blood sports league, but since hunters pre-dated them they got to him first, thus all the adverts for 'la messe de St. Hubert' - not only in rural France, but in posh churches in Paris.

The main feature of a St. Hubert's mass is the presence of the 'trompes de chasse' in the church, playing at appropriate moments of the service.
You will notice that the musicians have their backs to the congregation so that the bells of the instruments face them, just as the hunt servants on horseback are heard by the field behind them when they signal the points and events of the hunt.
You will also note that they wear livery, again, just like the hunt servants.

The point of this is that the musicians, and the St. Hubert's mass, have very little to do with the armed followers of 'la chasse' and everything to do with the moneyed followers of the 'chasse a courre, a cri et a cor'....French hunting proper.

Hunting on horseback.
Main occupation of French monarchs until later ones took a lesson from Louis XVI who was more interested in hunting than in finding out what was going on among the revolutionaries and lost his head.

Don't be thinking Jorrocks' Jaunts and Jollities, here...this is France.

No jumping, for a start. Might fall off...though this used to be a technique for ladies to attract the royal attention in the days of the monarchy. A glimpse of white flesh and the chateau was yours...

No taking your own line either. This is, as I say, France.
You follow your leader, down the long rides through the trees leading to a sort of roundabout where the rides converge....take a look when you're driving past the remains of the old royal forests and you'll see the that the layout remains to this day.

I've put up a link to a video of la chasse a courre here, so that those who wish can look at it without upsetting others who don't.

But if you don't approve of hunting, or you loathe the behaviour of la chasse near you, you don't have to sit down and do nothing, as the wiseacres always tell you.
You can do as the French know...integrate. What you're always being told to do but no one tells you that it's more than exchanging 'bonjours' in the bakery.

You could look into joining  the roc association which tries to dialogue with the hunting fraternity on a way in which all can enjoy the countryside.
Or you could join abolition chasse which has a more formal name which currently escapes me.

A good website to check whether your local band of terrorists are within or outwith the protection of the law is that of the Office National de la chasse et la faune sauvage, and the person to contact is not the man on the desk at the local gendarmerie (they are under 'suggestion' to keep any complaints about anything under wraps in an election run up) but the garde chasse, who is employed by the ONCFS.

In my experience (considerable) these gentlemen know their patch, know the chasseurs and know what's what. They won't stretch a point to help you, but they will administer the law.

Our guy laid an ambush for those shooting the rooks' nests...not that rooks are protected, but the nests are, as offering nesting capacity to raptors.
He arrived before dawn, hid his van and lay in wait with a thermos of coffee until the band arrived and started activity. Then he cut off their retreat and copped the lot of them.

Upshot? They were fined 200 Euros each.

Some days later, I had a phone call from the wife of one of them.

My husband's been fined 200 euros.

I know.

I'll be round to collect it today.

From whom?

You. If you hadn't reported it he wouldn't have been fined.

Ah, yes, France...the land of reason...

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Sunday, 20 November 2011

To my sister in law

When putting up a blog, I was aware that it is in some sense a public document, open to the scrutiny of all, so why do I find myself disturbed when I see your co ordinates in the statistic logger?

I went to comment moderation in reaction to the hurtful comments of one person about my husband's health...I don't put up comments from Anonymous because it's either advertising or someone without the courage of their convictions....and I am aware that there are a lot of people who are kind enough to read the blog but who do not comment.
All this is fairly normal.
So why does your presence in the stats log bother me?

After your treatment of my husband in the period leading up to and the aftermath of the death of his mother you have become mute as far as e mails are concerned, no communication why check out my blog? What do you hope to find there? I don't write much about family, except in passing.

I think what disturbs me is a sense of intrusion....I feel that most blog readers dip in and out, find blogs they like or just want to read occasionally, or read blogs on a subject of interest to them, but whatever the reason for the visits there is a sense of complicity among bloggers.
We are all participating in the same process.

With you, I believe it to be otherwise.

You don't use.

You look for scraps to feed the image you have of yourself and your situation, to feed your sense of injustice that people are not on your side in your new life, to feed your jealousy of happiness.

I would rather you were happy in the choices you have made and that you did not feel the need to rummage for scraps, but if rummage you must I would rather you rummaged elsewhere.
If you want news, communication, opinions open, send an e mail - a good sight more effective than looking for augeries in the entrails of my posts.

You follow the paths of what you call spirituality....shamans, crystals, Mayan prophecies....but the fruits appear to be bitter.
I would be delighted to hear from you that you had discovered the other fruits....those of

Love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Integrate! Assimilate! Tailgate!

Claude Gueant, Interior Minister and Dalek substitute, has been addressing the question of immigration....or rather, the conduct expected of immigrants.

Essentially his message is this....if you come to France, you don't bring your old habits with you. You become like the French.

While he was speaking in the context of Muslim immigration, it would be interesting to see the consequences for the British expat colonies out in the sticks were his ideas to be enforced among them.

No more breaking the curfew, for a start. You are to be behind your hermetically closed shutters by 7.00 pm at the latest, so that French villages preserve their traditional character - that of cemeteries with rather large tombs.
This will also fool the Germans if they bring down the Euro and take over Europe again.

You are to open no door except that of a restaurant between noon and 2.00pm, but you may open your shutters the better to see the serving of fressure, andouillette or tete de veau on your plate.

No more of the insubordinate 'jardin anglais', different coloured plants flopping all over the place.
You will plant everything in strictly aligned rows and eradicate any plant not conforming to the norms with herbicide.

Driving behaviour will alter.
You will drive at five kilometres an hour on a narrow road and park directly outside the baker's shop on a roundabout.
Without signalling.
You will tailgate.
You will give the 'coup de poisson' to any foreign registered car.
You will not give any version of the 'V' sign, but will raise one finger instead. The gendarme will arrest you in either case but it will tell in your favour in court that you have used a French method of outrage to a public official.
When you run over a dog on the road you will not seek out the owner to apologise and offer to take the dog to the vet, you will seek out the owner in order to make him pay for the dent in your bumper.

No more 'white vans'. No more 'English shelves'. No more smuggling golden syrup across the border.
You will happily opt for frozen frogs' legs from Thailand, Label Rouge poultry raised in a patch of mud alongside the battery cages and biftek - the latter strictly  from ancient Prim' Holstein cows.

You will learn to speak French.
Do not be discouraged.
In time your knowledge will extend beyond the mastery of the essential everyday phrases

'cons', 'connards', and 'merde'

and achieve fluency

'casse-toi', 'fous-moi le camp'.and 'putain de merde'.

The more you meet with and talk to your French neighbours, the more your vocabulary will be enriched.
Especially if they only speak patois.

You will observe the dress codes....flat cap and Charentaise slippers for the men, salmon pink corsets hidden under flowered crossover pinnies for the women.
No fascinators.
No panama hats.

Adultery will only be committed at the permitted hours...between 5.00 pm and 7.00 pm so that you are home in time for the curfew.
No more of this disorganised activity as and when convenient.
Adultery is a serious matter.

You will recognise the importance of sport in the life of the nation.
You will sing La Marseillaise in French at the start of the match, not the English version starting with
' A Frenchman went into the lavatory...'
You will support 'les Bleus'....whether it's rugby, football, tennis ...or twirling.
And remember...French teams do not play dirty...they merely anticipate their retaliation.

Your children will attend French schools where they will learn the skills to enable them to make their way in France.
They will quickly become adept at learning by rote, ticking boxes and carrying several kilos of books around every day which will fit them for the sort of jobs generally open to immigrants....stacking boxes in the chicken abattoir.

It may seem terribly complicated, but when it comes down to it all you really have to do to successfully integrate is to remember one phrase.....

French is best.
Sod the rest.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Wine that maketh glad the heart of man....

Particularly the British expat in France, some of whom bear out the view of  Dr.Johnson that few possess the intellectual resources to allow themselves to forego the pleasures of wine as otherwise they would be at a loss to know how to pass the  interval between lunch and supper.

Still, at least they are relaxed about wine...they know what they like and enjoy what they know.

Chez the producers, however, it is a different ball game.

In theory the quality of French wine is maintained by strict regulation, controls and inspections, reflected in the price of the finished product.
The major guarantee is that of the A.O.C. ...the Apellation d'Origine Controllee... which links a product to a geographical area.
The best known example among wines is Champagne....whose producers throw legions of well paid lawyers at any sparkling wine that indicates it is made in the same fashion by using the word 'champagne' on its label.
Thus the labels proclaiming 'Methode Traditionelle'.
The wine that dares not speak its name.

How far the theory stands up in practice is open to question. The wine is blind tasted...but that's before it's bottled and there's many a slip between cup and lip, not to speak of the possibilities of the impossibility of refusing old Jean-Paul's wine as he is your wife's cousin, not to speak of his membership of the ruling party's local branch and his son being the local senator's gopher.

Now, when we think of wine we tend, thanks to tradition and publicity, to think of something that is the product of man's intelligent use of natural resources.
Deep soils are best suited to grain, so shallow, stony, poor soils can be given over to other uses...such as growing vines.
The wines produced from some of these soils can be magnificent...depending on the grape variety and the exposure to warmth.
They can also be total rubbish...

They are all the more likely to be rubbish when a particular A.O.C. becomes fashionable and pressure mounts for land originally outside the A.O.C. limits to be included.
The fate of Chablis and Sancerre, not to speak of Chinon, speaks for the results.

Recently, the growth of interest in 'bio' wines has provided a further complication.
These producers refuse to use the chemical treatments imposed by those running their local A.O.C. committees...worse, they refuse to cough up their contributions to the regional syndicats which take their money and promote the produce of the big firms.
Those who delight in the little ways of France will be entranced to hear that these contributions are described as voluntary and obligatory.
They prefer to sell their wine as 'vin de table'...the lowest rating above industrial alcohol.

Now in my time in France I had come to learn that vin de table could be decidedly drinkable.
In the age of the wine lake - before the European Union gave grants to turn it all into vinegar instead - surplus wine was supposed to be 'stripped' of its character and sold as table wine.
As you can imagine, producers and middlemen did nothing of the sort, so batches of 'vin de table' would arrive on the shelves from all over the place - in my area mostly from Italy via bottlers in the Maine et Loire - distinctly unstripped of their character.

The idea was then that you, spotting a new consignment, would buy a bottle, take it to the car park and taste it...a process made easy by the plastic stopper on the bottle.
If you decided that it was a wine to your taste - and there used to be unmistakable Barolos in these bottles - you would grab a trolley and load up, being careful to check the batch numbers to avoid the possibility of an unlooked for encounter with something sulphurous from Sicily.

I remember fondly another vin de table...this time a legit one from Languedoc...whose label showed a gnarled vine root, which on closer inspection after sampling the contents revealed itself to be a vegetative clenched fist...a true Red wine!

In my last few years in France, younger vignerons were experimenting with grapes unauthorised for A.O.C. rating in their local man had a plot of Pinot Blanc which made a superb white wine. It never made it to bottling stage as his customers were clamouring for it from the moment it finished fermenting and he could command a good price - so much for the A.O.C.

It is well said that good wine needs no bush.
These independent minded producers can sell their vin de table with ease. They have waiting lists of customers in some cases, both in France and abroad, and this does not go down well with the authorities.
This being France, boxes have to be ticked and beaurocrats employed.
Systems have to be respected.

So one vigneron in particular has found himself in deep doodoo.

Olivier Cousin of Martigne-Briand in the Maine et Loire.

Carrying on the family tradition of natural production methods and refusing to stay in the box provided he has had nothing but problems with the authorities for years.
For not paying his contributions he has been effectively bankrupted by the state...his accounts frozen.
Forbidden to indicate the geographical origin of his wine he has flirted with ways of giving a hint....he has labelled some wine 'Pur Breton'...Breton being the local name for the Cabernet Franc grape...he has given the name of his village...and, in one last cocking of snooks, he has labelled his wine boxes...not the bottles...

Anjou Olivier Cousin


He faces a fine of over 30,000 Euros.
To be paid, one supposes from the accounts the authorities have already blocked.

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Thursday, 10 November 2011

From the bathtub...

I am indebted to the wonderful Sapristi Balthazar blog for the above video.
Yes, it's in French...but with subtitles in English, so there's no excuse for not understanding the message.
You always knew the banks were the problem, but I'm willing to bet you didn't know to what extent.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Versatile, eh?

Ayak at Ayak's Turkish Delight has kindly passed me 'TheVersatile Blogger' award, for which many thanks, Ayak.

If you don't yet know her blog it is one of the best around...sincere, caring and funny. Get yourselves over there and enjoy meeting her.

But there is no free lunch. I have to tell you five 'quirky' things about myself and dob five more bloggers in it.

So, to divert attention from my revelations, I'll reverse the usual order and tell you about the bloggers to whom I would like to pass this award.

John Gray at Going Gently has a multifaceted blog...his work, his family, his animals,.his life in a Welsh village. It's a blog followed by many people, but if it hasn't crossed your bows yet, do take a look.

Genius Loci takes you on journeys with the author..journeys to work, journeys to go fishing, journeys to see family...journeys to the local park....and you'll want to journey with him on a blog I find so well written and rich in language.

Delana at du jour tells you just why a fifty year old woman CAN pack up and move to France. You've got it all here...super photographs and descriptions, and even cupcakes...whatever they may be.

A blog I enjoy very much is Chez Charnizay where Niall and Antoinette offer their observations on the seasonal round...deceptively simple and beautifully presented.

A fairly new blog you might not have come across yet is Secretly Skint, where it's all action, from helping with animals to fighting the tax man via family counselling...I'm beginning to think it might well be subtitled 'once more unto the breach'.....!

Now, with any luck you'll have become engrossed in one or all of the talented blogs above, so I can slip in the required revelations under the radar.

After years of eschewing their dark arts, I went to a hairdresser when in London this summer and had my mane cut and coloured. Felt wonderful. have to find a hairdresser to repeat operation. Not so wonderful.

Having bought a pirate music disc on the local bus for the equivalent of one pound fifty entitled English classical music (in Spanish) I discovered that it was music 'classics' from the 1980s and that I enjoyed nearly every one of the 146 tracks. Some I even recognised.

I never thought I would taste a kipper can rate friendship by the willingness of visitors to pack kippers in their luggage for a long flight to a hot destination....until we found a fish called cola de bagre which when salted and smoked tastes like the real, pre Mac Fisheries thing. (Yes, we salt and smoke it ourselves.)

I have consigned my non functioning Kindle to whichever circle of the Inferno will do it most harm.
Amazon were most helpful...but The Thing had clearly detected my apprehension of it and reacted like a rabid dog. Poxy object.

I am in disfavour with the local (American) why doesn't that surprise me?