Friday, May 4, 1990

French Gazette Vol. 4 No. 2 4 mai 1990

Hello again everyone.

I’m still all on my little lonesome, Mango having decided to delay her return by a couple of weeks. Before you dash off to write letters anxiously enquiring after my condition, let me state that I’m bearing up well under the strain, all things considered. I pass my time reading, cooking, working on the Ferrari (a Dino, but only a model, I’m afraid) and generally idling. Getting good at that, actually.

Got the car muffler fixed, and it’s amazing the difference it makes. We no longer roar past sounding like a flock of maddened motor-scooters and frightening little old ladies. She accelerates a bit better too, which I suppose is normal. Nothing major has fallen off recently either, so all is going relatively well in that department.

Made it through to Annecy and the wine salon, too. After prowling around a bit tasting this and that (including a very nice ‘84 Bergerac, a wine which doesn’t seem to get around very much) I eventually wound up at the stand of the chap from whom I bought a case last year (Domaine Paul Autard: should you ever see any about, buy it), and to my considerable surprise he actually remembered me and, what’s more, my name! (Did my last cheque bounce, I wonder?) Anyway, I was so stunned that I was easily persuaded to buy another case - six bottles of the ‘85, and another six of the ‘86 - and he threw in a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape white as well, this last being something you’re unlikely to come across in New Zealand. (I did see a bottle once, in a LiquorLancl store of all places, and it cost about $40.) Drank it a few nights afterward, when I had people round for dinner, and very nice it was too.


As you may or may not be aware, Europe is currently undergoing what the English are pleased to call a “heat-wave” ie the temperatures are sitting pretty steady around 26~. Today being a holiday (Armistice Day 1945, if memory serves) I’ve passed most of it (since getting out of bed this morning) in lying out on the balcony and basking, trying to get a bit of colour back into my pallid skin. (A few weeks ago I looked like The Thing that Lives in the Cellar.) Anyway, I borrowed the portable on which I’m currently writing this from work last night, and as the thunderclouds are now coming up, as they have every night for the past week or so at about this time (thereby forcing me away from sunbathing), I thought I’d get a bit of this done. So here I am, gazing at a (typically) grotty LCD screen and pecking away at a ludicrously small keyboard and trying not to make too many typing errors.

The general amnesty law which traditionally accompanies the election of a president in France has had some rather unintended consequences this time round. In an affair involving numerous deputies and mayors, both Socialists and Gaullists, accused of accumulating money for their electoral campaigns by means which would commonly be regarded as fraudulent (typically, false invoices), the judges have decided that they are not competent to sit on the matter (or whatever the legalese is) as the alleged offences are covered by the amnesty law. General outrage, seized upon eagerly by the Communists and the RPR, who only howl the louder (in an effort to drown the voice of sweet reason, I suppose) when it’s pointed out that this particular law was passed with the almost unanimous consent of the deputies, including them. In another twist, I saw someone on TV the other night claiming that the fraud - if such it was - wasn’t really fraud, the persons concerned had to do it to get the money to be re-elected because the French election system doesn’t give them enough to do so honestly and anyway, everyone does it: the fault is thus really in the system and we should give them more money. A case of special pleading, if you ask me, but no-one yet has.

On the brighter side, Rocard has proposed a law which would ban any person inciting racial or religious hatred/intolerance from holding office in France. This is widely - and probably rightly - seen as an effort to undermine Jean-Marie La Pen and company (there’s only one National Front deputy in parliament these days, and he’s not it) and it seems reasonably likely to succeed. I see also that the arbitrator in the Rainbow Warrior affair has decided that France should pay New Zealand the sum of about 12,000,000 francs, to go toward a fund to promote understanding between the two countries. That’ll really hurt the French to the quick - however did you manage it?

And while I’m just nattering away, they’ve finally got around to sticking another aerial on the apartment, which means that we now get La Cinq and M6, these being the other two private TV channels. In practice, this means that Miami Vice, spaghetti Westerns, and low-budget soft-porn are added to the nightly viewing menu. Although they do screen “Dangerman” (remember Patrick McGoohan?) and “The Saint” (Roger Moore before he grew up) on M6. Usually just before the soft-porn, in fact: this is called ‘balanced programming’.

Work is going reasonably well, much as usual (I think I mentioned that Greece is just about wrapped up, which leaves only the actual installation, and I don’t know whether or not I’ll be involved in that at all), leaving me only the aluminium factory at Saint-Jean to get up my nose. This is the never-ending affair of the oscilloscope/data acquisition program I inherited, which I’ve a growing urge to redo from scratch. In theory, I should then be able to touch it without being afraid of breaking it, which is currently not the case. I’m also “minding” an apprentice, something which takes up too much of my time (she seems incapable of exercising a bit of initiative, and consequently tends to seek approval before so much as crossing a “t” or dotting an “i”). Probably not enormous fun for her either - my “explanations” are likely to be incomprehensible at the best of times, and it must be worse when I try them in French. Never mind, I’ve signed up for a few weeks holiday when Mango gets back, far from the madding crowd and all that.

I found out something new about French insurance the other day, too. Got the bill for next year’s house and contents insurance on Thursday (the due date for payment was the preceding Monday, three cheers for efficiency and customer service), this being from the same people who’d quoted the staggering sum of 15,000 francs for simple third-party insurance for the car, and I thought “Hoho!” (or words to that effect) “I shall not pay this, rather I shall wander in to the nice people who insure the car and get them to do this lot as well, especially as I shall thus get a reduction on the car insurance.” It is not that simple (did you think for a moment that it would be?). When, in France, you take out insurance, you enter into a contract, and said contract cannot be terminated at will by the contractee (me, in this case). Oh no. You must give the poor insurer at least three months notice of your intention to terminate the contract (to give him time, I assume, to embezzle a bit more) and, even when this is done, do you think he’s going to refund that portion of the premium which is, shall we say, “unused”? Not on your life he’s not. In fact, with house and contents insurance, the only way to terminate the contract (apart from this three months notice business) is either a change of residence, or death (which I suppose counts as a rather special case of the first), and in neither case is a refund considered. The upshot of this is that, come Novemberish, I shall toddle back down to SAMDA, say something along the lines of “I wish to insure myself with you”, get them to write a letter to the current insurance people rudely notifying them of my intention to stop paying them, and happily accept the rebate on the car insurance. It still seems an unnecessarily complicated way of doing something that’s really rather simple. Never mind, at least I know now.

Hullo, the first rocket has just gone up. The anti-hail rockets, that is. The vineyards are heavily populated with these things, and whenever a thunderstorm comes up they fire a few of them off to frighten off any hail which might be thinking of coming down and damaging the young tender sprouts of the vines (not to mention the bunches of grapes, although it’s too early for that just yet). If no hail falls, the vigneron is extremely happy and thanks the day he had the system installed: if the vines are ruined he is reduced to bemoaning the fact that he fired them too early, or too late, or they’d gone off or something, at least until he gets a sniff of the insurance money. It’s a system which, if it works, opens a few interesting legal questions: assuming that the hail is not intelligent enough to comprehend that the rockets have been fired from vineyard A, it may in fact refrain from falling not only on vineyard A, but also in the surrounding vineyards B, C and D, and it’s common knowledge that the owner of vineyard C never ~ fires off rockets. Does the owner of A have a right to recompense from that of C? (The answer is given on page 4.)

At any rate, whether or not the rockets can be credited, it’s not hailing. Heavy rain, yes (rather pleasant, actually - cools the place down a bit), but no hail. Chalk one up for the vignerons. Whups, there goes another one. Some people are never satisfied.

Anyway, just at the moment it’s probably time for me to go off and start preparing lobster Newburg for my dinner. (For those of you who don’t know, this is lobster flesh sautded, flambéed with a dash of cognac, then finished off in a cream and Madeira sauce. It’s nice, if you like that sort of thing.) Happily, frozen Canadian lobsters are cheap here, and in my opinion the end result is worth it. OK, I’ll be back soon.

And here I am, as promised. You know, the only problem with writing on a machine like this (apart from the screen and the toy keyboard) is that I’ll have to remember to squirt everything I’ve done so far back onto my machine in a feeble attempt to ensure that I’ve goVthe same copy of everything all around. (And to get it printed off, but that’s another matter.) Admittedly, this is not too much of a problem with all of the utilities we’ve got floating around whose sole porpoise in life is to do just that, but it does mean that my desk (currently occupied by only three PCs, which must be some sort of record for me) permanently resembles a rat’s nest with cables flopping in all directions. Not to mention screws and brackets and suchiike from odd systems which have, at various times, been disassembled and - more or less - put back together there. I suppose that this is the price you pay for technology. Things could be worse.

By the way, have I mentioned that I got to see a New Zealand film on Canal+ the other night? A charming little thing entitled “Bad Taste”, produced, directed by, and acted in by some chap from godnose where (one Peter Jackson) and his three mates. The plot is reasonably simple: entire population of a seaside village disappears, taken by aliens as raw materials for an intergalactic hamburger bar; NZ Secret Services special brigade (“the Boys”) save the day. It got the Gore prize at the Paris Festival of Fantasy Films not too long ago (which is probably why it cropped up on TV), and it has a marvellous scene with a chainsaw. I’m not sure why, but the thing did have a distinct Kiwi flavour to it, even in French: could have been the obviously low budget. Recommended, but don’t plan on dining out after seeing it.

Be that as it may, the time has probably come to put this to bed for the night. I’ve eaten and have a glass of wine to hand, night has fallen, and The Stranglers are gently savaging my ears in the background: more to the point, I’ve got to go to work tomorrow and I have the dishes still to do tonight (“and miles to go before I sleep” - Robert Frost, freely adapted). On which note I’ll leave you for the time being.


Back again. Margo turned up a week or so ago and we had a nice week’s holiday not doing terribly much at all. Even managed to go for a picnic at Lac d’Aiguebellette on Wednesday, and it was very nice: we had the place to ourselves. (If you don’t count the swans, that is.) Malyon practiced eating grass, and I puddled around trying out our nice new camera. Thanks, by the way, to all those of you who put up with Mango and Malyon while she was in NZ: it’s much appreciated.

Anyway, this week I’m back at work tinkering with a little box for Merlin Germ (them again). Much to my surprise, my machine was still intact when I arrived, and no-one appears to have cluttered up my disk with new, unwanted and probably useless software. I’ve even got my nice colour monitor still. (The desk’s a bit clearer than it was, though.) Renaud’s off in Greece tippling retsina and trying to install the system there, and not much else is going on. There are a couple of biggish projects in the pipeline though, so that probably won’t last too long. A shame. Never mind, next week I’m on holiday again: Janet Hendry (that was - currently Janet Julian, I think) is supposed to be coming to visit.

Seems there’s another New Zealander at Montmélian, by the way: that makes four, counting us. A rugby player, according to the landlord, who’s been imported to play for the local team. Must get around to finding out a bit more about that, I suppose. Speaking of the landlord reminds me that the Syndic and the insurance company between them still haven’t got around to having our ceiling repaired. That makes one and a half years so far: perhaps it’ll get done before we leave the country, but I’m not too hopeful.


A month later ... doesn’t time fly? I promise that I’ll finish this Real Soon Now, though. How’s life with you, anyway? Over here the weather is fine (at the moment, anyway), and we have Margo’s cousin Mandy and her 16 month-old lad staying with us for a bit. This makes it extremely difficult to get anything at all done, but at least he doesn’t try to eat the paper when you’re trying to read it.

We got invited to a baptism the other day, too. Angeline and Tony’s son (this being, you may recall, the Irish-French couple we met) was to get dunked in a trad. Catholic ceremony, so off we went. An oddly assorted lot we were too: the godmother (an Australian) and one of Angeline’s numerous sisters and brothers-in-law for the English-speaking side, us, Tony’s family who arrived, a bit late, from the Ardèche speaking various mixtures of French and Portuguese and of course the vicar, who spoke French, some English, and Japanese. Plus a couple of little old ladies from the village who snuck in to enjoy the show: I suppose you can hardly shoo them away. (“Go on, you little old ladies, shoo! Out from behind that font!”)

And after that it was time for the party. A typical French family gathering: eating, drinking, much loud discussion of this, that and the other, and a few games of boules (or pétanque, if you prefer) for the gentlemen: the ladies sat around in the sun getting tiddly on port and discussing little Sean. An entertaining afternoon, really.

On the polical front, the only snippet of any interest would be the mayor of Grenoble, who has been suspended from the RPR. Seems they were having a by-election or something which the RPR could not, by any stretch of the imagination, win: this lad’s horrible crime was to suggest to his constituents that, this being the case, they should vote for the Socialist candidate rather than for the National Front. Chirac et al were unimpressed, hence the suspension (although they’d probably happily have voted for guillotining instead), and as far as I’m aware the matter rests there.

And we’ve just got around to demanding yet another extension of our cartes de sdjour. Yet another contract to sign, more photocopies to take of just about every document that comes to hand, signatures - in ~ ink, if you please, stamped self-addressed envelope and to top it all off they’d changed the forms (Wanting to know, amongst other things, your socio-professional category: 1 or 2, and your mother’s maiden name). Anyway, that’s that out of the way for another year.

Almost out of the way, at any rate, except for the fact that the Prefecture cannot find the fiscal stamps which ought to have been stuck on the cards at last year’s renewal, and we’re willing to believe them: it thus seems likely that the secretary at the Maine did not in fact stick them on our cards as she ought to have done, but did something else with them instead. No great problem for us, ‘cos she signed and sealed our cards an’ all, but if the stamps are not found somewhere she’ll probably have to pay for more.

On a lighter note, I gather from the Dave Barry column in the IHT that killer flatworms from New Zealand have invaded England, coming over on commercial flights disguised as attorneys. I’m not entirely certain that it’d be a good idea to believe this, though, as he is sometimes a silly man. (He it was who first broke the news to an anxiously waiting world that lust-crazed walruses were probably involved in the finding of a dead cow at the bottom of the Potomac river in August last year: from time to time he paints his lawn.)

Trevor, Mar go and Malyon