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.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

And Out Went the Light...

Fresh from having his seventy five per cent tax on incomes over one million euros thrown out by the (Sarkozy appointed) Constitutional Council, President Hollande has come up with another cracker....

Puting out the lights in Paris at one o' clock in the morning in order, as his environment minister says, to give an example.
An example of what, exactly?

An example of how to keep the Green ministers in the government and the Green party voting with the Socialists in the National Assembly while hoping no one will notice the rape of the land in the interests of private enterprise in the affair of the proposed airport at Notre Dame des Landes ....duplicating the far from overcrowded international airport at Nantes, just up the road....

An example of hoping that bullshit will baffle brains......

An example of how to annoy the Maire of Paris.....

An example of how to allow lowlife as free a rein in the centre of Paris as in the ghettos of the suburbs in the interests of equality...

Goodness only knows.

President Hollande exhausted his intellectual resources in becoming, in power, he is waiting for the economic cycle to turn up, like Fortune on her wheel, to see him re elected in 2017.

Only someone trained....not the Ecole Nationale d'Administration could have such faith in the powers of the classical Roman goddess to scatter good fortune as she rolls through the darkened streets of Paris.

Experience would indicate that she will either be mugged or that no one will notice her passage.

However, there is always a positive side to things. Depardieu has departed for Belgium, so the hostesses of Air France can put aside their bleach and mops.

Still, the lights are going out here too. but not in sympathy with Monsieur Hollande.

I had hoped that the stalking problems were over.....but find that they are not.

Already, I had been thinking twice about what I wrote about, but when, while staying with my mother, some limb of Satan saw fit to call her to ask if I were actually in  Europe or just laying false trails on the blog it was clear that the pleasure in blogging here was no adequate justification for having a woman in her nineties disturbed and upset by an obsessive.

I have enjoyed all the comments made, the friendships found, the opening of horizons offered by blogging......and would like to thank you for all the pleasure you have given since I started to blog.

I will continue elsewhere...away from prying eyes.... and would be very happy to meet you again there. Send me an e mail, should you have the inclination, and I'll send you the new address.

Happy New Year to you all.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

End of the's Joanna Southcott's box all over again....

I returned home before the date announced by a plethora of charlatans as being that of the end of the world according to the Maya - a bloodthirsty bunch much admired by the 'peace and love and only five hundred dollars a head for a conference on Sirius' brigade.

I had seen the preparations to prevent the devoted and the demented from clambering about Mount Bugarach in south west France....provided not only by the local gendarmerie but even by the Garde Republicaine complete with horses, making a change from their usual country break guarding the vines of the Champagne region from theft by persons or other vignerons unknown.....the whole urged on by the director of the bit of the surveillance services that survey sects.

As until fairly recently the Anglican Church in France was suspected of being a sect - weird rituals with tea cups after the service and the sale and exchange of books in a foreign language providing grounds for suspicion - the news that someone had left the village in order to buy clean underpants before Der Tag was clearly enough to set the surveillance wheels in motion.

All in vain. The portals to another dimension did not open up, no more than the usual number of UFOs were sighted and Plod's overtime was cancelled.

A non event.  

But it was the means of reminding me of something I enjoyed and continue to enjoy about rural France.......its sheer, unadulterated parochialism.
The delight in small happenings, from the shock horror of fourteen people being fined for speeding through Ste. Conasse in the course of one afternoon - about half the population of the commune - to the delight at the reopening of the village hairdresser in Ste. Barbe, everything local is worth attention.

So it was with much pleasure that I clicked on the post from the super blog Le Cafe de la Ville, to find that the blogger's own town had not been left out of the End of the World scenario.....

The area around the station, undisturbed by much activity since the passing of the steam locomotiv, had been reported as experiencing strange noises......

All good fun, even if  retribution is to be expected from the owners of the minibus, the gentlemen of the football club........and how pleasant it is to think that someone can take the time and effort to celebrate  their  own home patch.

I'm on mine, I hope that you are on yours and I wish you a merry Christmas, wherever you are.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Eurovision it's not...

Something like this used to announce European the Eurovision Song Contest...nul points...before the bloated functionaries of the EU decided to pervert Beethoven's Ode to Joy to celebrate their ascension to the gravy train...
The reports of the last budget session made me wonder if the EU leaders were living in a land through the Looking Glass...cuts to the budget for cross national transport, development and broadband let the French keep their farm subsidies....and the EU bureaucrats their perks.

I would like to have the modern version of these camped on the lawns of the Berlimont building in Brussels...

 And then we'd see  a new blitzkreig!

Which is to say that I'm off to Europe for a few weeks...back to the old country...back to intermittent internet access..back to bureaucracy on the grand scale....back to mad taxes....gin eand ear trumpet work with mother...and some super meetings with fellow bloggers!

I  will try to keep up with your blogs but please forgive me if I cannot comment....

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

How French.....

The cooker hood is to be installed before I leave.

It should have been installed much earlier in proceedings but we bought  it when last in San Jose ....and The Men forgot to bring it back here.

We collected it today after a shopping trip for taps (didn't have the model we wanted);
bread (had to go to three bakeries to get enough to last The Men in sandwiches while I am away)
and wine (swept the decks clear of a super Argentinian Torrontes at the Chinese end of line shop).

After lunch, the box was opened and tradition flouted by deciding to read the instructions.
The box was labelled in English, Spanish and French....thus between them there shouldn't have been a problem, so I was unprepared for the despairing howl of

It's all in sodding French!

By the time I reached the kitchen the other sections, Spanish and English, had been found and the tension was subsiding, only to mount again as they made the discovery that the unit was designed to fit into an over-the-hob unit.
Which had not been in our plans.

This not being the ideal moment to remind them that I had wanted a different model I retired to the balcony...the French instructions in hand.

They were in line with most instructions...
Do not put the plastic bag over your head while inhaling;
Use an electrical line tester rather than stuff your fingers into the hole where the switch had been;
But had an additional element.

No spare parts would be available for the units...well, you ask yourself, when are they ever! Blame accountants and just in time stock management.
Not for that reason, ma petite dame.
No spare parts would be available is, according to the French instructions, too dangerous for a non professional to fit them!

The underlying message being that what you need in your cooker hood's hour of trial is.....roll of drums......
The Artisan Francais!

I have referred to the brute before, the glaring presence of his work....visible pipes...white plastic strips covering his cables...for when, not if, there is a problem; his will  of the wisp tendencies where attention to your job is concerned; his total lack of flexibility...if  he is mixing cement he will continue to do so until ten minutes before lunch and chip out the wasted materials two hours later, depositing it neatly out of sight under a shrub.

I would rather stick my fingers into the hole where the switch had been while placing a plastic bag over my head and inhaling deeply than employ the artisan francais ever again.

An attempt to book a coach ticket had not left me too well disposed to France either.
The ins and outs of a bull's arse having been typed into the spaces provided, the site proceeded to payment.
Only it didn't. It produced a page telling me that my French bank....for my own security...wanted me to ring a French mobile telephone number. From Costa Rica.

Ah yes, I remember it well.
When they tell you something is for your own security it will either foul you up completely or, as in the case of the roadsigns telling you that...for your security...the road is under the surveillance of the gendarmerie, cost you money.

And then I read an article Guy had sent over on the plight of the artisan francais.

No, he has not been outsourced to India - they have enough troubles of their own
Nor has he been other artisan francais will take an axe to him.

He is suffering from a bad case of the coefficients.

Coefficients are the curse of France.
Their use in practice means that some clown will pull a number out of a kepi, multiply it by his mother in law's life expectancy and decide that the result is the amount of tax you have to pay.

And this is what has happened to the artisan francais.

He used to pay the taxe I did on our letting houses...the product of that tax went to the commune.
Then Sarkozy abolished it...only to replace  it with eight different taxes, none of which went to the commune. They went to the conglomerate of communes which was supposed to apply economies of scale to local administration.
Of course, nothing of the sort has happened. Each commune has someone someone looking to roads and pathways...and the conglomerate has its own team doing likewise....French local government operating, as it does, on the principle of 'let not poor Nelly (or Francine) starve'.
No chance while there are taxes to feed her.

One of the new taxes is called the CFE....Cotisation Fonciere des Entreprises... and it is based on the rental value of the premises used by the artisan in pursuit of his business affairs.
Deft work with the kepi and calculator reckoned that, in our area, the base of imposition should be put at about 8%...multipled by the next number they just thought of...23.22%.

Then, so as not to exempt those who worked from a hutch in their garden, they imposed a minimum figure of 1,500 euros as a base on which to apply the 23.22 %
The lack of serious grumbles encouraged them to pick from the kepi again the next year.....and raise the base to 5,000 Euros.

The resulting furore on the receipt of tax demands forced the conglomerate to call a public meeting, where the president got off on the wrong foot by declaring that the packed hall showed the extent of interest in the subject ...growls from the floor....and that his staff's simulations showed no effect on the small business sector
He impressed even less when declaring that his staff thought that upping the minimum would only affect big businesses.
Even coefficients can't account for that hallucinatory judgement.

And what could he offer as a palliative?
He would ask the tax office not to apply penalties for late payment....

It was a noisy meeting.....unprintable language was employed....but no conclusions were reached.

I am just glad that I don't want any work done by a local artisan francais in the foreseeable future.
Those who survive this blow will be busy with the calculator, if not the kepi, sharing the burden of the new coefficients with their customers.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Unchain the Gorgonzola....

Costa Rica is not famed for the variety or quality of its cheese and a first glance at the vast slabs of white cheese on the stalls is not encouraging.
Vast slabs of smoked white cheese do not offer encouragement either, while the yellow slabs of what is fancifully called mozzarella would have a native of Naples turn her face to the wall.

There are attempts at hard cheese, by the near monopoly dairy companies Dos Pinos and Monteverde...but the resemblance to the names claimed on the packaging  is distant and the prices such  as to induce apoplexy.

The upmarket supermarkets have imported cheese on their shelves.....and are proud of their range of Gouda....but on the whole the picture is grim for cheeselovers.

I have found one man making super European style cheese in the hills round the Turrialba volcano....though the sulphur fumes from its increased activity make him doubt for how much longer his pastures will be fit for grazing.....but apart from that I now rely on buying full cream cheese in rounds from a lady at the Plaza Viquez market, draining it, then washing it in fortified wine or rum every day and keeping it in the 'fridge betweentimes, wrapped in cheesecloth.
Three months later I have something worth eating.

So, given the situation, the trip to France and the U.K. will be a chance to eat proper cheese again, and to buy to bring back.

I thought it was all so easy...

Goat cheese logs - the cheapo cheapo ones from Super U - which keep for ages until becoming deliquescent enough to eat, the skin peeling off naturally; 
Fournol in its round russet coat;
Maroilles, that deep red brick with a smell that would flype your socks;
St. Agur, the creamy blue so disdained by cheese snobs;
Buy whole or halves of each for the suitcase and I was away.

That was it...until you chimed in and now, even before I hit a cheese counter, the claims of Pont l'Eveque, Comte, Bleu de Sassenage, Bleu de Bresse, Bleu d'Auvergne, Cantal and St. Nectaire are before me...not to speak of my since thinking of Salers, Fleur d'Aunis and the Mizotte du Vendee, let alone contemplating buying Tomme de Laguiole to make aligot.

My area of France was not blessed as regards cheese....goat cheese aplenty from local suppliers, the discs of 'crotte de chevre,' if allowed to dry out, being dropped into eau de vie for a month or two and eaten as an aperitif, but no specialist cheese shop within easy reach and the supermarkets distinctly variable as, like the fish and charcuterie sectors, these were run on sub franchises...obliged to take and present the 'promotions' of the central supermarket supply chain, be it Leclerc, Super U or Champion, but for the rest being left to their own initiative.

So I could be happily buying a soft textured tomme de chevre for months, then on my next visit find that the only goat offering was a chalky white ball from the Netherlands. The franchise would have changed hands.
Not that the Dutch can't make good just never seems to make it to France...any more than do the  wonderfully aromatic Herve, the creamy Passendale and the sharp Brusselae Kaas from  Belgium.

The markets?
There was one good stall in the local town market whose Roquefort wasn't over salty and who sold a good ewe's milk tomme...d'Agour, if I remember rightly.....and whose Camembert was never ammoniac. But he was pricey.....and I only went to the market there for the stall selling small purple artichokes for deep frying.

Friends with a holiday house nearby used to go every week while they were in residence, going home laden with small rounds of Camembert to last them until the next trip.....returning once with proof positive that when the cheese man said his Camembert was made from unpasteurised milk...lait was.

Although having made his pile and retired, our friend used to like to give a hand in the family business and would cover for illnesses and holidays.
Working thus on the lorry reception area, he provided himself with a snack.
A bun with a whole small Camembert within.....not for him 'society sandwiches - six to a mouthful'.

He was enjoying his snack when a lorry arrived, so he put the bun on his desk to enjoy later and went to see to the reception procedures.
Returning some ten minutes' later, the bun and contents were where he had had left them, but his appetite had gone, for the bun lay open, two crescents marking his first bite, well into the cheese, where he now observed that maggots in quantity were disporting themselves.

So you will understand if I don't buy any Camembert.

In any case, I have to leave room for the Stilton....and the Wensleydale....and perhaps a proper Gorgonzola.



Wednesday, 14 November 2012

My Postillion has been Struck by Lightning

It had been arranged that mother would come to visit us in December and January, with the maelstrom from Belgium coinciding with the middle part of the visit.
The kitchen would be ready, beds would manifest themselves, mosquito nets would be purchased....all would be in hand.

Then nemesis in suede shoes, my mother's doctor, intervened.
He did not like the look of her leg (I wonder how he managed to phrase that to escape without injury), he did not like the look of her blood pressure (which would not have been improved by the news on the state of the leg) and, in short, he did not think she could make a long haul flight without undue risk.

On telephoning the surgery on receipt of the news the receptionist said that Doctor could make time to speak to me 'in the circumstances'  and when she put me through he confirmed that he was worried...worried enough, as he said, to brave the wrath of the matriarch, whose lungs and verbal dexterity were, he considered, standing up well to the burden of ninety six years.

So, instead of flying out to escort mother to Costa Rica I am flying out to visit her by way of a trip to France to see to the admin of Wuthering Heights - are you sure you don't want a house in France? - to upbraid the Post Office for losing my mail, visit the taxman, and encourage the Banque Postale to sell shares I told them to sell some months back.
I'm lucky enough to be staying with friends and will try to catch up on people I didn't manage to see last time....if I have time in view of the shopping list which is gaining on me faster than the tides of Mont St. Michel.

 I have to bring back some decent claret from the cellar....that's O.K. as l shall be at the house in any case picking up the books on antique furniture to supply the carpenter with models for chairs for the house in San Jose.

I have to look for shoes and galoshes in size 47...a size unknown to Costa Rica.

I have to look for elasticated waist trousers in pure cotton...not too heavy.

I have to go the supermarket with the ethnic section to pick up Turkish pimiento paste, both sweet and hot.

Goat cheese logs, Fournol, Maroilles, St.Agur...harissa...and would it be easier to get kippers in France or in England...better ring our supplier out in the Vendee....and dried mushrooms....
Oh, and those packs of plastic corks and corkscrew...and is there any epine left in the cellar...?

All very well...but on my success or failure in finding this lot depends my next leg of the journey which will be determined by the weight of my luggage.

Under twenty kilos and I shall fly by Ryanair....but need to prebook.
Over twenty kilos and it's Eurolines where I can take two suitcases for the price of my ticket.

I refuse, ever again, to cross Paris with suitcases and a carry on the train is out.

With or without the trousers and shoes it looks like two suitcases and Eurolines....but then I still have to pay for an extra suitcase flying back.
I have what I think is called an open jaw ticket - all too redolent of the sharks running the airline which I arrive in Paris and leave from London...and if the problems obtaining confirmation of my booking are any harbinger of what will happen when booking an extra suitcase then I will need a week's notice to sort it out.

I found the flight combination on Iberia's website...which promptly went down at irregular intervals so  that booking a ticket was rather like a ladies' excuse me, which followers of Freud might like to know was first typed as a ladies' excise me.

Finally, my reservation was confirmed...but not the purchase.

I have been here before; when my French bank has the interests of my honour an airline ticket booking as it is rather more than I spend in the supermarket once a week.

Why didn't you contact me, then?

We don't do that.

However, when I was in Costa Rica someone totally unknown to me to was able to buy one thousand Euros' worth of musical equipment in St. Jean de Luz on my account without any worries about my security at all.
It took me six months to get the money back and no explanation has been forthcoming to this day...

After a delay of over twelve hours I grew restive...and was lucky enough to be able to count on a good friend in France to pretend to be me when ringing the Banque Postale to see if they had authorised payment.
Telephoning from Costa Rica I find their choice of music not up to the cost of the call.

No, nothing from Iberia.

The local Iberia office not responding to calls I eventually found a well hidden reservations number on the website. Learning how to pronounce the Spanish alphabet paid off as I recited my reservation reference.

Tranquillo, Senora...we haven't processed it yet.....wait until the afternoon....
At least it wasn't the manana of the manana.....

Thanks to my friend alerting la Banque Postale, the payment went through....but the thought of paying for an extra suitcase gives me the willies already.
Oh for the days of clerks who could answer you there and then with the aid of a telephone.

Were I to fly into Stanstead I could catch up with our hardy Harley Davidson septuagenarians...if it's Eurolines I shall miss them and stay in Kensal Rise instead, whose gentrification I lay firmly at the door of the pet shop and the inflatable doggy sex toy in their window.
Where canine sex toys lead the organic butcher is not far behind, nor the soi disant yummy mummies occupying the coffee shop which used to be a quite decent caff.

Mother has a programme outlined..her unexpected Christmas shopping.... visits to the theatre....restaurants...

But in view of what we had first arranged, it is as if her postillion had been struck by lighting.


Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Importance of the Pork Chop in Societal Change

I used to do my basic shopping in Sainsbury's in the 1970s...that era when the sight of a woman staggering out of the store under a load of loo rolls would have you dashing inside before they all disappeared from the shelves, only to return weeks later at double the price.

Bread and sugar were also susceptible to this 'now you see it now you don't' process, but as I had once lost a tooth in a slice of what was laughingly titled 'Mothers' Pride' and didn't have a sweet tooth among those remaining to me these shortages did not affect me to the same degree of urgency.
Even in that era, 'The News of The World' was only fit for bum fodder but having as a child experienced an aunt's economy measures  I preferred the stuff on rolls to the stuff cut into squares.

And let no one mention Bronco.

Not having had savings at that time I look back on it fondly as a time when inflation made my mortgage repayments look silly.
Any spare money not applied to the purchase of loo rolls was applied to paying off the mortgage in double quick time, which, years later, leaves me without a credit rating as I have never borrowed money since and banks now regard me as an client not susceptible to being fleeced and thus unwelcome.

When not employing jumble sale elbows in stacking my trolley with loo rolls against stiff opposition I would take a cast round the store.....picking up the basics, the own brands and looking at some of the novelties in the freezer cabinets before heading off to the cold meat counter to buy German breakfast sausage...liver with attitude.
Queueing as bacon was sliced...none of your packets then...I would be standing by the butchery counter, which did have items packed ready for sale, where something in particular always intrigued me.

Pork chops.

They were always packed in twos and one was always larger than the other.

It so intrigued me that eventually I asked the woman slicing breakfast sausage (without cleaning the blade after slicing bacon) why  these chops were always of differing sizes.

It's for families. The big chop is for the husband and the smaller one for the wife.

What about the kids?

They eat fish fingers.

Thus the typical English family in the opinion of the decision makers at Sainsburys.

Moving to France many years later, a supermarket was an easy way to skirt any language problems...a 'Bonjour' to the cashier and that was it.
Some of the Britpack have managed to spend more than ten years in France using this tactic.....

Supermarkets were pretty primitive in that period - some of them more like souks - and freezer cabinets were only just being introduced to the ones in my area, but, just as with Sainsburys, while cold meats were being cut to order, butcher meat and poultry was already being packed ready for sale.

Not for France a mere pair of pork chops...they came in packs of five, the top two loin chops neatly masking the three shoulder chops beneath.
Chicken breast fillets likewise.

Nor was this the whim of a sole supermarket butcher.
From Intermarche to Super U, from Auchan to Atac, from Champion to Carrefour and even Leclerc....five pork chops was the norm.

As always, I asked Madeleine.
Not that she bought meat or poultry in supermarkets: she had her own basse cour for ducks and chickens and a butcher well under the thumb, but in my early years in France she was one of the people I could turn to for information and advice.
She died years ago now, but I can still see her, looking up from her newspaper as I arrived at the back door and hear her deep voice exclaiming

Pardi! You'll never guess what's happened!

Without her, without Alice and Edith and Monsieur Untel, my life in France would have been much the poorer - and much less informed!

She, of course, had the answer.

Which was that the tax efficient French family is that which has two parents and three kids.
Thus the packs of five.
French children, it appears, do not eat fish fingers.

Originating in policies meant to increase the birth rate after the disasters of the First World War - women are still being awarded medals for having eight kids, would you believe - general tax revenues support the families which reflect the norm of producing one extra child per generation, while generous exemptions exclude the majority of such families from the privilege of paying for the services they consume.

A whole tranche of potential taxpayers escape the net.

I talked about it years later with my neighbours' daughter in law, a nurse.
She and her husband had two gorgeous little girls...but no third child.
So did this mean that the advantage of the third child was illusory?

No. Her husband's family were farmers and their tax regime already exempted them from a great deal of tax, so why go through another birth for an additional child they did not want.
A lot of her friends had had the third child under pressure from their get the tax relief.
The farm had spared her that choice.

I have never objected to paying tax for education or for health services...vital supports for a civilised society.... but to incentivise people to produce more children than may necessarily be wanted in a world where it is finally being recognised that resources are scarce makes no sense at all.

When last shopping for my mother....though not in Sainsburys...I noticed that pork chops came as singletons...or as two of equal size....or as big packs destined for the freezer.
The British system of family support knows no norms.....


Thursday, 1 November 2012

Stepping into the Same River Twice

Before Oddbins and Majestic Wine there was Peter Dominic wine merchants, offering a range from the petillant Portugese favoured by students to stuff that was distinctly a grade above.
I don't know whether I was lucky or whether they had enthusiasts as managers in all their shops, but I learnt a great deal from these gentlemen....the best lesson being to trust your own judgement.

Father had a fondness for Nuits St. George which he bought through The Wine Society and had a nasty shock when he bought a bottle was coarse and heavy, the colour staining the glass.

Yes, said the Peter Dominic manager when I told him. No surprise at all. They're cutting it with the Red Infuriator...stuff from Algeria.

They're all at it.... coarse stuff from the Languedoc to stretch the Rhones, better stuff from the Rhone bolstering the Bordeaux.
Never trust a label. Trust your own judgement. If you think it's is.

As I was to learn when moving to France years later, nothing much had changed, nor has it to this day, but at that point it hadn't crossed my mind to move to France, nor had it crossed the mind of a devotee of Chambery vermouth and Pouilly Fume that I would like a dessert wine when the manager of the branch I then frequented produced a bottle from the fridge.

Go'll be surprised.

I was... it made me think of honey and orange, it sent wonderful smells up my nose and it was anything but heavy. I hadn't tasted anything like it.

Moulin Touchais. Coteaux du Layon. Twenty years old.

I bought what they had until the branch closed and my Moulin Touchais was no more.

And then one day I moved to France.
I looked in various areas: Brittany, the Limousin, the Charente and, not finding what I wanted, moved on to the Loire Valley.
In hindsight it is clear that the other areas did not come up to the mark because my unconscious mark was the Loire Valley itself!

I saw all sorts, then found an estate agent whose method was to allow you to look through files of houses printed in black on coarse yellow paper, pick what you wanted and then send you off with keys...where they existed....and general directions, broad finger on the map...we are here and the enemy is there.
Just the style I loved. Thanks to him I was off the beaten track, getting to grips with what was behind the tourist facade.
I was frequently lost and on one occasion pulled up on a hillside..... a stumpy stone building on the hill above, vines below and a river running at the bottom....the River Layon, upon whose Coteaux I was sitting.

Though I did not buy a house in the Layon area, I used to frequent it....buying wine, visiting friends....and grew to love its quiet beauty.
Near the source was an artifical lake where the surrounding, undrained fields were a paradise of snakeshead fritillaries in the spring and I used to take a detour at that season in order to enjoy them on my way to visit friends at Passavant sur Layon, where the successor to Foulques Nerra's castle dominated the river crossing....the only modern day marauders the holidaymakers eager to buy their wine from a chateau!

Downstream was  Clere sur Layon, nestling in the valley among its vines, its roads made perilous by the lorries running to and fro the vast quarries behind the village, the drivers on piece work and stopping for nobody.

Downstream again to Nueil sur Layon....for the annual horse racing up at the Chateau de Grise before it was sold to the Japanese who stripped it of all its staircases, fireplaces and ornamental detail and sold it on again to be a hotel. The project failed...and such was the low price put upon it by Credit Agricole that I thought of trying to raise the money.....but of course, Credit Agricole had a purchaser all ready...a local bigwig given a present on a plate.
It was in Nueil that I first heard of the festival of Quasimodo.....wondering what on earth this could be - and how it would be celebrated - I was half reassured, half disappointed to learn that it was the first Sunday after Easter, when the introit to the mass of the day began 'Quasi modo....'

Racing was popular...downstream again, on the way to Les Verchers sur Layon was the Chateau d'Echeuilly who also had an annual race day, but that too finished before I had been there long.
I had friends in Les Verchers, whose church spire marked for me the transition from the tiled roofs of the south to the slates of the north, one of whom used to lament that she would have been living in a chateau if her uncle hadn't blown his money in Paris on what was discreetly referred to as paying Mistinguette 'to sit in his car'.

Above Les Verchers the bluff rose steeply, barring the way to the Loire via Doue la Fontaine and the Layon took a right angled turn under the steep hillside, cattle grazing the fields alongside as the road followed it toward Concourson sur Layon, a quiet, nondescript village -claim to fame a site for camping cars. But there's a lot more to Concourson than a pumping station for caravan loos.
The building above is similar to the one where I once again stepped into the same river....and it is a limestone furnace, for here the quiet Layon was once a hive of industry, running through an area of coal seams.
Shallow pits were dug...some of the airshafts are still visible...and local men would make a contract with the landowner to dig until the seam was exhausted and then return the land to its previous state.
The coal was used to heat the local limestone to reduce it to lime which in its turn went to the building trade...and on the fields.

France being France, in the mid eighteenth century the royal government decided that while individuals might own what was on the surface, what was under it belonged to the state, who could thus issue licences for its exploitation....and, despite revolts and resistance, managed to impose this new scheme on the Layon coalfields. The new wealth generated can be evidenced by the Chateau des Mines, still,  I believe in the hands of descendants of the mine owners.
Transport was always a problem, and in the later years of the eighteenth century the Layon was canalised, from Concourson down to its confluence with the Loire at Chalonnes, involving as many as twenty four locks, the project being under the protection of the brother of Louis XVI...known as Monsieur, the customary way to refer to a king's next youngest brother...and thus known as the Canal de Monsieur.
Monsieur was to become Louis XVIII at the restoration of the monarchy after the fall of Napoleon, but his canal fell victim to neglect and destruction in the wars of the Vendee and was not, itself restored.
There is another link to that period in that one of the administrators of the mines based round St. Georges was the Comte de las Cases who as a boy acccompanied his father to St. Helena with Napoleon....and who went to great lengths to try to challenge Sir Hudson Lowe, Napoleon's gaoler, to a duel after the death of the Emperor.

No sign now of the locks as the Layon runs south of Martigne Briand, the chimneys of its chateau visible for miles around

And heads north through the vineyards to the pretty villages of Thouarce and Rablay d'Anjou, the latter a haunt of artists, on its way to St. Aubin de Luigne and Chaudefonds sur Layon, the heart of coal production, with seams running out under the Loire at Montjean and Chalonnes, where the Layon slides into the turbulent waters of the Loire.
But with all this talk of water....where is the wine? The Coteaux du Layon? The wine which tempted you into reading this post?
It is all around you as you travel downstream....from Passavant to Chalonnes you are on a river of wine: the dessert wines of the Coteaux du Layon; dry Anjou Blanc from the same grape, the Chenin, as the dessert wines; Anjou Rouge from, predominantly, the Cabernet Franc and with a bit of luck the pale wine from the Grolleau Gris.
A river into which you can, indeed, step twice.


Monday, 29 October 2012

ENA Sharples

No, I haven't muddled minuscules and majuscules in a fuddle of Funchal:
I wish to consider two institutions.

The first, Ena Sharples, prominent character in the early days of the soap opera 'Coronation Street'.

The second, ENA, l'Ecole Nationale d'Administration, sausage machine for turning out bureaucrats in the soap opera France.

Ena Sharples was an eldery harridan in a hairnet, whose self proclaimed high moral principles enabled her to terrorise all around her into overlooking her propensity for passing her time in the pub and ruining reputations.
One flick of the basilisk eye was enough to reduce any critic to ashes.

The ENA is another elderly harridan, though without hairnet, whose control of French public life is such that it too, with a flick of a basilisk eye, can light a funeral pyre under its critics.

General de Gaulle founded it in 1945, with the idea of forming people to become bureaucrats on the grounds of give France a dynamic internal direction.
Needless to say, it soon fell under the influence of the very people de Gaulle decried and mistrusted.
The well connected.

The very same who had let France walk into the abyss in 1940.

I have just been re reading a 'L'Etrange Defaite' by Marcel Bloc, radical historian of the Middle  Ages and before, a reserve officer called up in 1939 and member of the real Resistance, shot in the later stages of the war, where he treats of the reasons for the collapse of France in 1940.

He puts it down to people in authority being hidebound, stuck in a career path where their superiors would command their fate for the rest of their working lives, where it was better to do something stupid, but approved, than to do what was needed.
The ultimate horror...using their initiative!

And then serendipity, in 'Le Nouvel Observateur' this weekend is an article by Patrick Fauconnier who compares a book by Olivier Saby on his time at ENA with that of Bloc.

Saby describes the plodding, uninspirational ambience...where no one dare buck the system for fear of bearing the cost all their working life...for the future depends on how you are graded at the end of your studies...
Up at the top and its the Inspection des Finances...finangling between state jobs and top jobs in the private sector, with the little retirement prize of  being named Conservateur des Hypotheques for your area where you get a percentage of the fees paid when property changes hands....something else the 'living the dream' magazines and blogs don't tell you.
At the bottom..and it's off to a sub prefecture in the Deux Sevres...or, if you've really been radical...Bethune in the Nord. Bienvenue chez les Cht'is.

The essential art is to memorise French and European legislation...and don't make waves.
Above all...don't contradict your superior...don't let yourself stand out as an individual...or your career will get nowhere.

Those formed by the ENA are not just civil servants...they can take indefinite leave of absence to go into politics or the private sector, sure of returning to the bosom of the public services when the balloon bursts,  guaranteed by their passage at ENA.

For all the good people formed like this are to France they might as well spend their time sitting in the pub wearing a hairnet, slagging off those who don't conform to their views.

And Francois Hollande, product of ENA and so dim that he never made it to the private sector, President of France, has surrounded himself with his colleagues from his year at ENA...the promotion Voltaire...who must be revolving at Mach 3 at the misuse of his name.

Ena Sharples would have eaten Hollande for breakfast.

Merkel is heating the toaster......


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Everyone has one...

I miss my copy of Le Canard Enchaine  (the duck in chains) every Wednesday.
The editorial buggers are so French that they refuse to have an online edition...probably because they don't have enough women on the staff to make them see sense.

There you would find all the scandals, all the whitewashes, all the things the governing classes did not want you to know....until Hollande took power at which point, so Guy tells me, criticism stopped dead. Even a chained duck of a journalist likes his 30% tax exemption.

I'm ambivalent about cartoons.....loved Steve Bell's earlier stuff, loved Giles completely, and had  odd moments for Posy Simmonds...but those in the Canard Enchaine on Edouard Balladur gave rise to a pleasure in understanding the society in which I was living by reference to them.
Like living anywhere abroad...once you master the small ads and the cartoons you are well on the way to getting to grips with things.

One strip cartoon particuarly intrigued me...Les Nouveaux Beaufs.
So I asked Madeleine what is was all about.
She explained that, to her, 'les Beaufs' was a Parisian phenomenon.....guys  with big moustaches whose lives revolved round beers at the local zinc and holidays at the same campsite in the same mobile home every summer, playing boules with the same holidaying neighbours over copious amounts of pastis.

But 'les nouveaux beaufs'?

Their sons. More money, white collar not blue like their dads, their 'bobonnes' ( female helpmeets)  underclad chicks as opposed to the rolling pin wielding harpies of the previous incarnation but the underlying passions were the, football, booze....and holidays.

I came across them once...not being addicted to campsites...on an Iberia flight from Madrid to Paris. Behind me there was a group of about twenty middle aged men and women, returning from holiday.

First gripe....the 'what to do in an emergency' instructions were broadcast in Spanish....and English.
Uproar... even though a stewardesss then came forward and repeated it all in French. This flight went to Paris, didn't why wasn't there a French broadcast!

Second gripe....not that they had to pay for refreshments, but that the beer they all ordered was....Spanish! This flight went to Paris, didn't where was the French beer for the French clients!

And once the Pyrenees were crossed, what a sigh of relief went up....soon be in Paris where people spoke a proper language and served proper beer.

I saw Madeleine's point...and that of the cartoonist who invented 'les beaufs'...Cabu. He memorialised them as men who never let a thought enter their heads, who swallowed any brand of popularism, who were mindlessly sexist, who thought that their car was their even if you don't have any French you'll see from the clip below that they're not a breed you'd welcome into the family..

I don't for one moment imagine that they are a purely French fact I know they aren't. We all risk having one of them somewhere in the entourage.....because the term 'beauf' comes from 'beau-frere'...the brother in law...and most of us have one of those.

And because 'les beaufs' like to celebrate daft things...I thought I would celebrate them in this my three hundredth post.
Happy beaufday!


Saturday, 20 October 2012

Tales from the Alcove

In the Loire Valley you are never far away from the French kings who built and occupied the chateaux we now visit as historic monuments.

Bare as they are after the excesses of the French Revolution and the sale of buildings and contents for paper money it can be hard to envisage the same  buildings in the days of their splendour, but the stories bring them to life.

What more evocative than the fates of the chateaux of Chaumont and Chenonceaux....the one given to a despised wife, Catherine de Medici, by Henri II, the other to his mistress Diane de Poitiers.
Once the king dead and the despised wife Regent of France she obliged the mistress to exchange the properties and made a jewel of the chateau on the banks of the Cher.

Here she introduced the festivities so common in the Italian scene...masques, plays and ballets, her version of the festivities otherwise offered by towns to their overlords...the 'Joyeuse Entree' where fountains ran with wine, learned professors gave speeches in Greek and Latin and pretty girls posed as nymphs while the essential ceremony...that in which the mayor and burgers offered cups of gold coins...clouded its mercenary nature in a veneer of culture.

My first acquaintance with the Renaissance courts of France was via Jean Plaidy.

Mother was fond of historical novels....Georgette Heyer in a friend suggested she try Jean Plaidy...remarking darkly that mother might find them a bit, well, 'you know'.
Try Jean Plaidy she did, and lighted on one of her books about Catherine de Medici. I don't know whether she found it a bit, well, 'you know', but it was certainly lurid even if written so clunkily that it was hard going.
Poison, astrology and intrigue have never sounded so dull.
Still, I remembered this vaguely when making a further acquaintance of the period....and recognised the reference to Catherine de Medici's flying squadron......l'escadron volant......
Her maids of honour, though never was a word so misused.

Nor does the translation do justice to the function of the ladies concerned.
Rather than being the predecessors of those magnificent men in their flying machines, as the image implies, 'volant', flying, is a euphemism for in light of love...of somewhat free morals...having, in that unforgettable French phrase, 'la cuisse legere'.

The death of Henri II left Catherine de Medici Regent of France while her children were young....and her aim was to maintain power in her hands on their behalf, while the aim of the powerful nobles was to seize it for themselves.
After all, she was only a woman...and foreign at that.

So she used the rivalries of the various noble factions to keep them divided rather than united against herself and to this end her maids of honour played their part.
At her command they would make advances to, or accept advances from, the powerful men about the court....and report back to the Queen on the state of the power play.
While in everyday life their morals might be deplored - and were in particular by Protestant ministers (this is the age of John Knox) - she gave them her full support...unless they became which case they exchanged the court for the convent in very quick order.

And as it was easier to keep the nobles under supervision at court rather than at liberty on their own estates, it was necessary to offer entertainment of a more public kind....where, again, the maids of honour would feature in the danses and ballets which kept the mind of the courtiers fixed on learning their steps under the tuition of Italian dancing masters, distracting them from the steps to the overthrow of the royal power.

Was she successful? Given that this is the period of the St. Bartholomew massacre, the age of the Wars of Religion, you might say not.
But she did succeed in maintaining royal power though her eldest son Francois II, husband of the young Mary, Queen of Scots, died young, his younger brother Charles IX reigned only a few years and neither he nor his younger brother Henri III, produced heirs, the kingdom going to Henry of Navarre, that most pragmatic religionist.
Had her daughter in law used her example she might not have ended on the block at  Fotheringhay.

A woman who did follow her example was Francoise Giroud, editress of her lover's newspaper l'Express in the 1950s and 60s.
Despite her revulsion at the way in which she had been used by men when making her way in the film industry of the 1930s, she saw nothing wrong in developing her own escadron volant...women journalists whom she would form as to dress and manners to interview the powerful men of the day.
Just as Catherine de Medici needed to know who was plotting what to ensure her family's survival in power, Giroud needed to have scoops for her newspaper......and to have the drop on these powerful men by means of another French phrase...'les secrets d'alcove'....pillow talk.

None of which prevented her lover...who had refused to leave his wife for her....finally marrying her secretary when Giroud proved incapable of having children.
Clear case of the wrong alcove.

There are faint echoes of the escadron volant to this day....
Valerie  Trierweiler, companion of Francois (Moije) Hollande and political journalist, is taking legal action - again - after it was reported that she had had a relationship with a senior right wing married French politician at the same time as having a relationship with Hollande - who was at that time living with Segolene Royal - while she herself, Mme. Trierweiler was still living with M. Trierweiler.

Now, while this may be normal behaviour in the brothel atmosphere of Parisian society and thus counting as her private life, which should be left undisturbed by publicity, it might be the reporters concerned maintain....that the nexus of journalists and politicians should be which case publication is justified.

I would just note that when she was employed at Paris Match her boss gave the  rules of the publishing house as follows..
Get me results...I don't care by what means, but get me results...'

Sounds like Catherine de Medici to me..


Sunday, 14 October 2012

A Blast from the Past

An extract from a letter.....

1774 August 24

Louis XVI, King of France ,

Having just left Your Majesty's room, still full of the anxiety produced by the immensity of the burden you place upon me, overcome by the touching kindness with which you have deigned to encourage me, I hasten to convey to you my respectful gratitude and the absolute devotion of my whole life.

Your Majesty has been good enough to authorize me to put in writing the promise you have made to uphold me in the execution of those plans for economy that are at all times, and to-day more than ever, of an absolute necessity . ...
At this moment, Sire, I confine myself to recalling to you these three phrases: No bankruptcy; No increase of imposition; No borrowing.

No bankruptcy either avowed or disguised by arbitrary reduction (of interest on public stock).
No increase of impositions; the reason for this lies in the plight of your subjects, and still more in Your Majesty's heart.
No borrowing; because every loan always diminishes the unanticipated revenue and necessitates, in the long run, either bankruptcy or an increase in taxes.

There is only one way of fulfilling these three aims: that of reducing expenditure below receipts, with a view to the redemption of long-standing debts. Failing this, the first gunshot will drive the State to bankruptcy.
It will be asked, “On what can we retrench?” and all officials, speaking for their own departments, will maintain that every particular item of expenditure is indispensable. They will be able to put forward very good reasons; but since the impossible cannot be achieved, all these must yield to the absolute necessity of economy.

Your Majesty is aware that one of the greatest obstacles to economy is the multiplicity of demands by which you are constantly besieged, and which have unfortunately been sanctioned too indulgently by your predecessors.

It is necessary, Sire, to arm yourself against your kindness by a greater kind-heartedness, by considering whence comes this money which you are able to distribute to your courtiers, and by comparing the wretchedness of those from whom it is extracted (sometimes by the most rigorous methods) with the condition of those people who have the greatest call upon your liberality.

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot

But Louis XVI failed to give his minister his support....the courtiers attacked him for cutting the sinecures available to them, the financiers were against him for his support of free trade, the trade guilds were against him  for his policy of allowing people to pursue whatever trade they wished without short, vested interests achieved the downfall of Turgot within two years.

The situation in France is as parlous now as it was in the time of Turgot....and vested interests are equally strong

Louis XVI lasted another nineteen years before going to the guillotine.....Francois Hollande will be lucky if he lasts out the five years of his mandate, but whoever replaces him will be another tool of vested interests...not another Turgot.

The French Revolution arose in great part  from the calling of a national assembly....which was enabled to voice the concerns and demands of the population.
These days there is a national assembly which claims the legitimacy to do the same....while it plays the part of the courtiers and guilds of the age of Louis XVI.

How long will our 'Ancien Regime' last?
Whence will the new legitimacy arise?
And what bloody form will it take?



Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Great British Bake Off

I'm not good at baking.......though if I'd watched The Great British Bake Off at a formative age I reckon I'd be considerably better as the two judges specialise in informing and helping - a welcome change from most 'reality' shows.
It is a wholesome programme - with the possible exception of Brendan oiling his forearms - and one that gives me a great deal of pleasure even if to this day I can't see how you are supposed to get a hot water crust case off a wooden dolly after putting it in the fridge.
I use a big jam jar and fill the case while it is still a little warm. It needs sharp work with the greaseproof and string, but it works for me.

It came as no surprise to learn that the BBC have been selling the programme round the's a winning formula, combining home baking and professional standards in a friendly atmosphere and deserves to do well, but today I read in the papers that the formula has been sold to a French TV chain who plan, of course, to alter it for their home market.

Meddling buggers.

No tent with rain lashing down outside....but an orangerie.
No flatbreads, or wellingtons, or pork pies...but patisserie.
Only patisserie.
Meringues...and, inevitably, macarons.

When groups of friends from the U.K. visited us in France the women could be seen loading up with gold ribboned boxes of things featuring chocolate ganache, fruits and creme patissiere, which the men would inevitably devour before condemning them as fartarse fancies, two mouthfuls of nothing with a whopping price tag.

So they won't be watching, then.

I don't think I will be either despite the best efforts of a Paris based Irish cookery book writer called Trish Deseine who informs us that French amateurs will probably come in to the show with a better base of skills.
'There is a level of understanding and complexity that you don't have with British home cooking.'
She doesn't mean to be detrimental, you understand,
'but it is because of the relative maturity of the food culture in both countries.'

She also believes that French home cooks are better than their British  equivalents.

While I imagine that she has mastered the culinary arts, it is clear that she has also mastered that art essential to success in France...what Private Eye used to refer to as the ancient art of Arslikhan.

The decision to concentrate on patisserie is, to me, yet another example of the Paris/Provinces split....the antithesis of The Great British Bake Off where traditional baked goods are not despised but

I lived outside Paris...well outside....and ladies in the provinces bought their patisserie from the shop....but made their traditional dishes at home.

A tarte aux a shortbread with a layer of prune puree in the middle.

A galette paysanne, where a yeast dough enriched with sugar, rum and creme fraiche is rolled and turned like puff pastry, emerging golden from the oven to be eaten with  fruit compote.

A brioche vendeenne, a plaited enriched yeast dough flavoured with rum or orange flower water and light as a feather.

A tourteau fromage, a base of shortcrust pastry filled with  a mixture of fromage blanc and eggs...cooked until the dome is black.

And not just sweet things, either....

A gateau de Paques, veal and ham pie but with a mix of pork, rabbit and pigs liver surrounding the boiled eggs.

A tarte au Maroilles, think quiche, but using the high smelling cheese from Maroilles in the north of  France mixed with beer and creme fraiche.

A flamiche aux poireaux, quiche again but filled with leeks.

And anyone who has eaten potato pie from the Berry region will know how the housewives could make a belly filler into a sheer delight.

Anyone who lives or has a holiday house in France will have their local favourites and wouldn't it be much more interesting to see regional baking specialities being showcased than to assist at the birth of yet another macaron?

I suggest that the best way to counter the claims of Trish Deseine would be for the British contestants to produce a Bombe Alaska in the shape of Joan of Arc.....and flambe it.

On your marks... get set... bake!

Baked alaska joan of arc flambeed.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

More Adventures in Wonderland

While I know that he didn't, for someone who took his education elsewhere Mr. Hollande, (Moije) President of France, shows all the signs of one whose learning was acquired at the school under the sea, at the knee of the Tortoise.

I support this view by his expertise in the fields of reeling and writhing.

Reeling first.... demonstrated by his pre election promise to renegotiate the European Stability Pact - an austerity measure produced by the Merkozy - which resulted in him reeling from the disapproval of the Mer part of the Kozy (and probably also from the disapproval of the minder from Rothschild's Bank who is at the Elysee to keep an eye on him).

Writhing ensure that the Socialist Party deputies elected on a programme including that promise wriggle round and vote for the opposite measure.

Further supporting evidence for his alma mater.....fainting in coils.
Ably demonstrated at the recent United Nations annual No One Has Talent show for heads of state.

He, with entourage, was about to enter a corridor when he beheld his ex ladyfriend and mother of four of his children, vice president of the Socialist International and president of the region of Poitou Charentes, giving a press conference on the other side of the glass doors.
Did he enter, salute her courteously in passing and go on his way?
Did he do a right about face and remove himself from the vicinity?

No, he spent some time with his back to the doors  - peek a boo, I can't see you, everything's looking fine - demonstrating to fascinated television crews the art of fainting in coils before shabbing off round the back way.

And he is a sound student of the four branches of arithmetic:

Ambition.....well, he he is at the top of the greasy pole.

Distraction.......that bit of fainting in coils will win him no brownie points with his latest lady friend.

Uglification......not a pretty sight in the baggy bermudas.

and, of course,


During the election campaign he had nothing but derision for Sarkozy....referring to him as a 'salopard'.
He treated Sarkozy and his wife with contempt at the handover of power...turning on his heel as they walked to their car.

And now he is treating the ordinary people of France with derision.

A few token swipes at the rich.....but the working population put to contribution to support the bloated ranks of central and local government bureaucrats.

People who want to get ahead, be independent? He'll learn 'em....
The 'auto entrepreneur' scheme set up by Sarkozy, where you paid social security contributions based on what you made, is to have the guts torn out of it.
Bang goes an opportunity to get on your own feet.

At a period when utility bills are soaring, freezing the tax brackets so that more and more will be caught up by them is not a popular move any more than measures to penalise people for running the older cars they cannot afford to replace.

It is not appreciated either that when the state reckons you owe it money it's the bailiffs and the frozen bank accounts.....but when it owes you money, as when the courts order compensation for the state's illegal actions, you can whistle.

I just wonder if the French people will put up with they seem to put up with everything.....or whether another person from Wonderland will make an appearance......

The Queen of Hearts.

'Off with his head!'


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

An Oxymoron's Adventures in Wonderland.

Blissfully contemplating the benefits of a climate that requires neither air conditioning nor central heating I am not unaware that in rural France the seasonal preoccupation is firewood.

The ants will be fine. They have wood seasoned for three years and chopped to length stacked in a rotation system. The latest tranche was delivered in July by Mr. Cromagnon who was glad of the money at the short end of the year in his finances and gave them a good deal.

The grasshoppers, however, will be trying to contact Mr. Cromagnon via a telephone sporadically manned by his wife whose promises as to his likelihood of response are piecrust, as Mr. Cromagnon only touches base for sleep before setting out again on his mission to sell at a premium price the green wood which the ants would not buy earlier.
He knows his grasshoppers and will be at their door with an offer they cannot refuse when he is working their commune.
In the fullness of time.

Some customers do not give a monkey's about fiscal fraud...they want their firewood and if that means withdrawing the folding stuff from the mattress, so be it.
After all, as yet (but don't hold your breath) the insurance companies have not demanded that their clients keep a record of the supplier of their wood in order to pass the buck to his insurers when the chimney catches fire from the tar issuing from the green wood burned in the insert.

Other clients are more rigorous but Mr. Cromagnon is not bothered about taking cheques and giving gives him something to show the taxman.
However, he is less likely to be pleased and may express himself forcefully should they ask him if he has paid his Voluntary Obligatory Contribution on the wood just sold.

Yes, you did read that correctly.
Let us proceed to a little dissection.

Now, anyone who has lived in France for a while knows that mention of 'contribution' or 'participation', while to the English speaking ear betokening some  notion of a goodwill payment, means money passing from your mattress to the coffers of whoever is demanding the said 'contribution' or 'participation' whether you like it or not.
You visit gardens on the Journees de la Patrimoine.....and a well dressed woman is at the gate with a table of tickets.
This is not something so vulgar as a, it is a 'participation'....your recognition of the cost of weeding the wonders you are about to see.

So the Contribution bit poses no problems. Mr. Cromagnon has to cough up.

He's not the only one.....

Farmers who want to keep some of their own grain to sow in the following year are obliged to make a the costs of research of, for example, Monsanto.

Vignerons too...where the 'contribution' is more accurately called a 'cotisation' - membership fee. They're obliged to cough up to support the activities of their regional promotion board, even when said board does nothing whatsoever to promote their particular wine.

There may be others...I have not delved deeply into this particular woodpile.

Still, what about the other two elements....

Obligatory poses no problems either....somewhere along the line the contribution has been recognised in law.

It is the juxtaposition of 'obligatory' and 'voluntary' that makes the eyebrows rise.
How can it be both?

Easy peasy. This is France. Alice au Pays de Merveilles.

In French political thought, the will of the people is held to be expressed in the body representing them.
While the incongruity of this theory and the standing of Mr. Hollande in the polls immediately strikes the eye we are not dealing with transient realities here...we are talking French political thought.

Thus, the will of any particular group is expressed in the body which represents, it does not need to be elected, it just has to be recognised as representing them; this is French political thought, not some Anglo Saxon heresy.

Who has to recognise it? The government which, as stated above, embodies the will of the people.

Thus the organisation 'representing' Mr. Cromagnon has voluntarily decided to make an obligatory contribution.

Which makes it a Voluntary Obligatory Contribution and Humpty Dumpty a French political theorist.


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Arsouille of the Universe

On the left, Condoleezza Rice, ex  American Secretary of State.
On the right, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, ex head of the IMF.

They are attending a jolly organised by a PR group owned by a friend of the latter, in Yalta.
A grandly named European Strategy conference, graced also by the presence of Gordon Brown and the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Erdogan.

B list then.

Strauss-Kahn appears to have put his problems behind penal proceedings for the Sofitel affair and no court appearances in the case of the Lille based prostitution ring.
He's on the circuit again....  a small start to be sure, but with a little help from his friends.....

But what is Condoleezza Rice thinking of to be sitting next to him. Accepting his presence.

This is a man whose attitude to women has been all too clearly revealed. Women are objects, to be used and, in his case, misused.

I know she worked with Bush but can her sense of decency be so dimmed that she would consent to have any dealings with a man like this?

Or is it all right, in her view, as he is not going to lunge at a woman whose status is on a par with his own.
Women employees and prostitutes are another matter...on another planet. None of her concern.

Given his conduct and her tacit acceptance of it, which one is the 'arsouille' of the universe?


Friday, 14 September 2012

In and Out the Plastic Windows

Hello there, Victor! A glass of  Zizi's demi sec?

That would go down well! How did you get your hands on that...the old bugger rations it!

Ah, well....I cut him in on that Rivesaltes that Jean Yves gets through the old railway comrades. There's some of them can't afford to take their share these days so I took it off his hands.....and Zizi has never been able to get in on the syndicate.

 I don't get it. He makes a wonderful demi sec...why does he want to buy Rivesaltes?

Because he can sell his demi sec for more than the Rivesaltes costs and that way he's always got a wine for the ladies.

What ladies?

Any ladies. He's not called Zizi for nothing....

Yes, if you's been quite a day.
I've had my nephew know, Herbert, Agnes' boy.

Yes...she married Robert's son, Didier, from Ste. Connasse....runs the garage there...

That's right. Well, Herbert's been working in Paris, met a girl there, they've got a little boy and they wanted to come back to the country so the kid would have a good start and Herbert could help his dad with the garage.

Sounds a good idea to what's the problem?

The flaming church...that's what!

What's the matter...the priest there hasn't refused to marry them has he...he's a nice old boy, Pere Jean Aymard, but a bit overworked with five parishes these days.

No...they married in's not The's the church!
The church in Ste. Conasse!

What do you mean...what about the church in Ste.Conasse?

Well, Didier looked round and found a nice house....old, a bit to do, you know....with a little garden for the kid right in the centre, near the church, handy for the garage.
They came down, took a look and agreed to buy it.
We all said we'd give a hand to modernise it and all and that was that.
They moved in, Herbert started at the garage and we got down to doing what needed doing.

So what's the problem?

Well it all started out all right....we ran  the toilets into the drain that goes to the river....

What about the SPANC? They couldn't have bought the house without an inspection of the drains...

Oh, Didier sorted that with the inspector....he passed it as A1 for the sale and Didier fixed his suspension.
Anyway, everyone on that side of the village is on that drain and SPANC isn't going to say a word...if over 15% of the houses aren't up to scratch with their drains then they'll have to install a sewage works and no one wants to start finding the money for that.
No, no problem there.

So where does the church come in?

I'm getting to that.
We did up the inside.....Herbert's good with wallpaper by the way......did the ceilings without a crease or a join showing...all the poppies matched up perfectly....and as for the doors!
Lucky he put on bright brass doorknobs or you'd never know where to get out. Lovely job!

But what about the church....?

Well we didn't know about that...
Didier fitted up nice new plastic windows with roller shutters - just the way the insurers wanted - and put some of that nice plastic grille - you know, the stuff they sell in rolls - on the top of the front garden wall to keep the kid safe.
All nice as you like....a real picture. Pity the others in the village don't do looks really tatty except for the place the English have as a holiday home on the corner.
Mark you they spent a fortune...wooden windows - I ask you! Bought old tiles for the roof instead of something modern....more money than sense.

So where does the church come in?

It was on Thursday. Didier had nipped in for an apero after trying for a few partridges. He was a bit fed up because with this drought and whatever there weren't any to be seen.

No, I saw in the paper some bright spark in the Vienne shot a horse and said he thought it was a partridge...

Well, Didier came close! As he went out he saw this man lurking about -  a foreigner - and asked him what he wanted. After all, what would a foreigner want in Ste. Conasse? Had to be up to no good.

Did he understand French then, this foreigner?

Of course he did...he was French, wasn't he, Didier could tell by his shoes...but not from round here.
Anyway he asked if Didier was the owner of the house and Didier asked him what business it was of his if he was.

Because, said the foreigner, if he was he was going to serve him with a proces verbal.

What the hell for?

Because the foreigner was from the STAP.....blasted Architectes des Batiments de France......wasn't he, and someone had denounced them for putting in plastic windows!
They were within 500 metres of the church wouldn't believe it....that gloomy old hole is an historic monument! Something to do with the porch...
Anyway, they were supposed to have any works passed by the STAP and they hadn't.

Surely they'd applied for permission? They weren't that daft!

Well, of course they's not like the drains where nobody can see.
The maire passed it through on the nod on his own responsibility, the way he always does. Nothing wrong with that and, anyway, what would bring those chair bound bobos out of their comfy offices to see anyway?

Something did.

Yes, they were denounced.....and Didier found out later that this foreigner has an aunt in St. Supplice and he must have used this as an excuse to put the petrol on expenses to visit her.
He probably came back via Ste. Conasse after the aperos with her...his car was parked by the church.

Anyway, Didier said if that was the case, what about all the other places with plastic windows? They've all got them...except that English place.
And do you know what he said, this foreigner?
He said he wasn't bothered about them because they hadn't been denounced!

So what did Didier do...he must have been wild!

Well he had his gun....but no one would believe he mistook this foreigner for a partridge, not in the middle of the village, so he telephoned the gendarmerie.

Well they'd never come out....

No, it wasn't for that. It was to give old Claude the car number so he could get the patrol to breathalyse him on his way back.

Anyway, that must have got his back up because Herbert's been told to apply for permission and, in the meantime, take out all his windows...and take down that nice little grille too.

What about the maire? Old Alain won't like that, someone messing on his pitch...

No, he didn't, especially as he got a  warning for not contacting the STAP.
Didn't take it kindly.
He's applying to have the church removed from the list of historic monuments and if that doesn't work then the porch will have to have an 'accident'.

Yes, I think another drop of Zizi's demi sec....


Thursday, 13 September 2012

Revenons a nos moutons....

Thank you for your kind words which were a great help to me.
The last post having served its purpose, I have taken it down.

Now...revenons a nos the parents in western France who, needing one more to make up a class in order that the school should not be closed, brought a sheep to school.

They treat us like we gave them one..... 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Famous Women...or where Maggie went Wrong

Let us now praise famous men and our fathers that begat us....leaders of the people by their counsels.... wise and eloquent in their instructions.
There be of them that have left a name behind them that their praises might be reported.

I have grave doubts as to whether any of the current crop of political leaders would qualify for having their praises reported in the terms laid out in Ecclesiasticus on the grounds of the wisdom of their instructions, but famous they certainly are in terms of their presence in the media.

For what is fame?
Fame is being talked about widely, one's actions being reported, and the media certainly do their best to encourage interest in politicians - if not in their policies, it being deemed unwise to encourage the hoi poloi to meddle with the interests of the hoi oligoi.
Such meddling has the potential to overturn apple carts and find alternative uses for street lamps.

My assumption had been that fame sprang from something done, something achieved, something worthy, but a riffle through the newspapers - let alone the television - shows me that I am sorely mistaken.
Modern fame consists of being what I would have classed as 'well known'......and it doesn't seem to matter what the nature of that notoriety might be.

Just achieve fame and the gravy train awaits.....newspapers will publish articles in which you express your vapid views on holidays, food, relationships, bringing up children......couturiers will lend you clothes.....hoteliers will give you free accommodation in which to be photographed in the buff...and nightclubs will swarm to attract your custom.

So is it any wonder that women, in particular, see a career in just...being famous?
Why study, why fight discrimination at work when you could just wear a minimum of clothing and flash your ...teeth?
Not that it is just that...competition is fierce and the losers are more likely to end up as the good time that was had by all on the local scene than as the A listers in London.....but being famous now seems to be a career option - like media studies without the need to study.

So should you be thinking in terms of turning your life around, take a few tips from Fascinating Aida.


Just think, though....if Margaret Thatcher had followed this career path rather than that of politics...might not the U.K. now be a different place?

Saturday, 25 August 2012

I never thought I'd say this, said a friend.....

But I'm almost missing Sarkozy!

We both laughed, as Sarkozy hadn't been high in our popularity stakes though he might have done better if he had succeeded in pushing through his reforms of the French economy in the teeth of opposition from his own party.

Then it came back to me...from when I was first in France, at some point the incoming President would be judged in the light of his predecessor....and found wanting. It was just happening a little sooner than usual for Hollande.

That sinister man Mitterand was President when I moved to France and some of the veils were beginning to shift from his past...his service in the Vichy regime....the protection of top collaborators...the suicide of colleagues.....although the bombshell that he had been keeping a second family at the expense of the taxpayer would not be revealed until much later when both families turned up to his funeral.

Then came Chirac, mired in corruption from his time at the Mairie of Paris....and the faces were long.
What a man to follow Mitterand who, be he what he was, could at least use the French language properly! 
Chirac was a only to stroke rumps at the Paris Agricultural Show!

He could stroke a few other rumps too....his boon companion and chauffeur would collect him in an unofficial car at eight o'clock and they were off on the town.
No one knew where he was - probably least of all himself - so on the night that Princess Diana was killed in Paris his Interior Minister had to wait until the President rolled in from his night on the tiles before making decisions on how to handle the affair.
Mme. Chirac was unforgiving. The chauffeur was 'translated' to the post of inspector in the cemetery service.

And after Chirac, Sarkozy...the outsider. The man who was going to shake up France....once he had solved the problem of acquiring a wife to replace the one who had bolted....once he had finished holidaying on the mega yacht of a mega rich friend....once he had dined with his supporters at Fouquets in the Champs Elysees...

Mitterand had had a sombre dignity, Chirac had had charm.....Sarkozy had temper.

He showed emotion...if he was annoyed, everyone knew about it: no waiting a year to send someone to a cupboard in Limoges 'in the interests of the service' for not ensuring that only short arses surrounded the President on televised appearances - the official concerned would be on his bike in very short order.

His appearance at the Paris Agricultural Show was not the regal procession of Chirac either....
To a man who refused to shake his hand he replied
'Casse toi, alors, pauvre con!' which might be roughly translated as 'Bugger off then, idiot.'
For clarity it couldn't be beaten.....but it was felt to be lacking in class.

And now we have Hollande....the man in the baggy Bermudas. 
The man who announced that change was to happen now. 
Except that now was then, when he was campaigning. 
Returning from his holidays this week he announces that change will happen in the fullness of time........

So, while we wait for the reappearance of les neiges d'antan - the snows of yesteryear - let's take a look at  the irrepressible Chirac doing what he did best....enjoying the company of les girls.
Here he is on holiday at Dinan this summer, posing for photographs....note the left hand.

And here he is accompanying his grim wife Bernadette to one of her fund raising events...
And getting into he says to his delightful companion 'You have to watch out for women...'
And for the man sitting on Chirac's right hand....Francois Hollande, the great white hope of France.
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