Tuesday, August 21, 1990

French Gazette Vol. 4 No.4 21 Aout 1990

Hello again, everyone.

What’s the price of petrol being doing lately? Keeps rising like anything over here: latest was 6 francs per litre, and it’ll be higher tomorrow. It’s almost enough to make you think about buying a diesel. Incidentally, did the rumours about the perfidious French reach you? In case they didn’t, here goes for a quick resumé. During the first week or so of the affair, the French government denied that there were any French citizens in either Kuwait or Iraq and, whilst always claiming to be solidly with the EEC viewpoint (but against sanctions), seemed to be acting their usual shifty selves: an aircraft carrier was sent to the Gulf, but in such a way that it’d take two weeks to get there, and it seemed that it’d only be carrying transport helicopters. Suddenly a few feet of backbone crawl into Mitterand’s spine: Iraq is roundly condemned for hostage-taking and it transpires that the aircraft carrier is in fact carrying attack copters and going full steam. What happened? If you can believe the word of certain diplomats in the region, at about the time of this volte-face the French negotiations with Iraq, carried out through the PLO, for the release of all French citizens (in exchange for something or other, no doubt) fell through. No-one knows, but it’s interesting, anyway.

We’ve had a reasonably busy time: Jill and John Julian spent a few days with us on their way to a conference in Florence, and then Ian and Marie passed through on their way back from Austria. My faith in human nature has been restored: they managed to take a plate with them when they left this time. They must have had a great time: it rained almost solidly in Austria while they were there, and Marie had a cold. She claimed it was Margo’s fault, due to leaving the windows open and the resultant draughts. Their departure was as disorganised as usual: the Friday Ian won a gold piece at Carrefour, and so he had to go in on Saturday morning to pick it up. They planned on leaving at 11am to be in Valence at 1pm to see some of Marie’s family, so off Ian went at 9am to pick up his coin. He arrived back at about 10:50 (Marie was gently fuming by this time), had a coffee and set about packing the car. About 11:30 they went down to the car for the last time, quarter of an hour later they were still parked down below, trying to work out where they’d put the oil so that they could top up their thirsty Peugot. I somehow have my doubts that they arrived on time at Valence.

News has come in of a new leap forward for medical science: American researchers think that they’ve isolated one of the chemicals in human sweat that causes under-arm odour. (And they wonder why they’re falling behind the Japanese.) It appears that the beastly little chap has in fact been isolated before: as the article puts it, “about 20 years ago it was thought to play a rOle in schizophrenia, but this research was discredited when it was discovered in the bloodstreams of perfectly normal non-schizophrenics: at the time, no-one thought to try to link it with body odour.” A perfectly understandable lapse, in my opinion.


One month later, isn’t it? Little Frog has just had her first birthday party, lucky thing. She endured the whole thing very stolidly, but she wouldn’t eat her nice cake. Anyway, she’s up and walking about happily now - still needs a hit of a hand to get over obstacles (like the edge of the carpet) but other than that she has no problems. She also goes off to the halte garderie - a sort of creche affair - a few times a week: gives Margo a chance to have some peace and quiet for an hour or so in the afternoons. Doesn’t seem to worry Malyon being left with strange people, which quite surprised Margo.

That being a Saturday, the next day we went off to another birthday party at a place called St Hilaire du Touvet, the rationale for this being that it was the annual hang-gliding and parachuting festival. (Plus it was the day appointed for Rémi’s birthday party, he being a young lad of three years, and you don’t mess around with someone like that.) Sunday being the last day, there was a great deal of silliness going on. Someone took off disguised as a dinosaur, yet another as a cherry tomato. (At least, I think that’s what it was. It was small, round and red, anyway.) Then they got on to the novelty items: parachuting off disguised as a snow-plough, or abed, or sitting in a bath ... the sort of person that wants to jump off cliffs is warped to begin with, stick him in company with like-minded wombats and he is likely to become dangerous. Just grin a lot (but not so much as to appear alarming), and back slowly away.

On the way back down we met - or saw, at least - Mr Reaper (first name Grim). He seems to have come down in the world: he still has the scythe slung over one shoulder, but he’s been reduced to riding a beaten-up bike and, judging by the string of onions round his neck, has taken up market gardening to try to make ends meet.

Still waiting for our nice shiny new cartes de séjour, too. I went in to ask a short while ago: Margo definitely has the right to work, which is nice, and our dossiers were only sent off to Paris on July 12, so I suppose that it’s reasonable that they have not yet come back. No problem, we’ve just had to go off and ask for an extension of our extensions, usual story. (In Germany, it seems that you can go on doing that for about seven years before they find out that you’re on a tourist visa -assuming that you have a visa, that is.) This time at the Prefecture they directed me to the infamous Room 8 (General Foreigners), from whence I was redirected to Room 11 (Algerians & Students) who re-redirected me to Room 8 (again) whose inhabitants, on learning that it was about a 10-year carte, admitted to this being their responsibility, and answered my questions. (It seemed rather a shame to disturb them, really - they looked to be having such fun when I walked in, certainly didn’t seem to be overloaded in the work department.)

Oddly enough, my boss started asking me about the problems of getting into France - work permits, all that sort of thing - for a Romanian woman, he said. Married to a Frenchman, he said. It still didn’t click. It appears that Jean-François Quesnel, a man I’d have sworn to be a confirmed bachelor, is in the throes of organising himself to get married. “I”d never have thought him an amorous man” said Margo, and it’s true enough: romantic possibly (given an extremely active imagination, and even with that Margo was tempted to deny the possibility), but I find it difficult to imagine him getting down to. the sweaty realities, off with the clothes and on with the heavy breathing. And there’d always be the temptation to laugh ever so slightly at his little pot tummy. (Whilst he was away arranging all this last week - unbeknownst to us, of course - Evelyn brought croissants along for our morning tea. I disgraced myself by eating two - one was mine, the other was for Valerie, I can only say that she really should have turned up earlier for work and anyway I’m a sucker for proper croissants. Beware of imitations: there are “croissants” and then there are “croissants au beurre”, which are the real thing, accept no other. Anyway, someone - and it was wasn't me - asked why she didn’t do this more often - “so that the boss doesn’t get any tubbier”, she replied.)

Come the start of October, I have to take a few weeks holiday so that we can go off to Pesselière to see Ian and Marie off to New Zealand. Thought we’d profit from this to hang a left at Auxerre toward Orleans, and from there go down the Loire valley to Tours, looking at various chateaux en route (I’m lead to understand that there are one or two worth a visit down that way). The main problem is finding out where to stay. I’d thought - innocently enough - of going into the nearest bookshop to pick up a copy of a guide to the auberges (a word for which there is not really ~a proper translation, “inn” will probably have to do) but discovered that I can’t do that just now. Yes folks, last years edition has vanished from the shelves, and the 1991 edition will not he in until October this year (at the earliest). This is slightly annoying. Never mind, we’ll just have to trust to luck. (Ian suggested we go camping. Bah humbug.)

The end of summer’s arrived - not officially, you understand, but quite definitely anyway. (Not the case. It now being September 23, it is, according to the competent Ministry, Autumn.) It has rained. And rained. Then it rained some more, as if to make up for the waterless summer. Not only has it rained, in fact, but it has also snowed. Not a lot, but snow is snow. I imagine that the farmers will be happy, but I have my doubts as to the vignerons. Due to the nice hot weather they’d all been planning on a really early harvest, but with this weather the poor little grapes will have become so waterlogged that they’ll just have to wait. And hope that they don’t split. However, it’s all cleared up nicely now. Just taking advantage of the fact that I’ve absolutely nothing to do at the moment to type up a bit more of this before we head off. The rest of the place is a hive of activity: Renaud is busy packing up all the stuff to go down to Toulouse on Monday, when he has a system to install, and most everyone else is hanging around with their heads and other appendages buried in the obscene innards of test gear for washing machine controllers. My responsibility there was the little steam-powered network that connects all the different bits of test gear together, and as that works and nobody has enough time to think up anything else for me to do, I’m idle. So what? you ask, what’s new? Not a lot, I must admit.

16/ 10/ 90

Back again, all happy clean and smooth. We have our nice shiny new cartes de séjour - not, let it be said, without one last wheezing effort (a successful one) by the administration to get as far up my nose as possible. For my card I was asked to supply fiscal stamps to the tune of 224F, these to be stuck on my card to show I’d paid. (Mango didn’t have to do this, I don’t know why - she has the same type of card as me, now. Anyway.) You can’t just give them the money and get a receipt or a nice impressive-looking stamp, this is too simple: you have to join a queue of smelly men in raincoats holding suspicious-looking parcels in plain brown wrappers, buy these silly stamps and then hand them over with your whatever it may be - drivers licence, whatever - the person to whom you have handed them then licks them and sticks them on your whatever, which thus becomes Official. All this means that you have to queue at least twice, often in the same office - buy your stamps from one secretary, and hand them over to the one at the next desk (assuming that you get to the head of the queue before they close for lunch). If they could only think of a guaranteed way to make you stand in at least five queues they’d be over the moon.

This is not too much of a problem: it did annoy me, though, that for the first time in three years they complained that the stamps I’d handed over weren’t the right type, would I change them please for ones with “Travailleur Etranger” written all over them. Even that’s not too bad: what really gets my goat is that, once having bought these blasted fiscal stamps, there’s virtually no way of cashing them in if you discover you don’t need them. Grrr! (Postscript - I actually handed mine over to the local rates/tax office, who managed to sell the things for me, so it didn’t actually turn out too badly, I suppose.) On a merrier note, we left here the 1st October and arrived at Pesselière after a rather squealy (thanks to Malyon) trip on the good old RN6. Only real problem was getting into the house -the key was with the neighbours, but they didn’t respond to our knocking. Finally asked a native what to do, answer’s quite simple - don’t bother with the door, just walk in, go down to the other end of the house, pop your head in the kitchen and say hello. Easy.

A little-known fact to put into your diaries (might crop up in Trivial Pursuit, you never know): in Auxerre there is a suburb which goes by the delightful name of “Rat’s Foot Enterprise Zone”. Nice, hmm? We know this because we criss-crossed it looking for what I suspect is a completely mythical LeClerc supermarket. Be that as it may, Ian, Marie and Elise arrived Wednesday night. Supposed to be in the afternoon, but Marie’s mother, when we rang, was a little less sanguine - around 11 pm was her guess. In the event it was just as we were sitting down to dinner, and they ate all our chicken.

Thursday we decided to get out of the way and went off to visit Vezelay, a town which is in pretty much the same state as its builders left it, some time in the Middle Ages. (Flush toilets apart.) It has rather a grand abbey, and lots of craft shops (rare in France). From there we went down to a litle hamlet called St. Père, which has a much smaller but very nice Gothic (I think) church which they’re in the process of restoring (the last repairs having been carried out in the 1800’s by the indefatigable Viollet-le-Duc) and, a few kilometres further on, Les Fontaines Salées: the site, as usual where there’s smelly water, of Roman baths. Didier arrived that night, too. We could tell this because, owing to a misunderstanding (either he thought it was a butter stockpile, or he thought be was to be sleeping there), he flung open the door to our room about midnight.
Saturday, of course, was the party. I stuffed a sheep, for the first time in my life, spit-roast sheep being on the menu. The stuffing was not, let’s face it, a great success - a rather dismal failure, in fact. On the other hand, Marie’s coucous were somewhat rate themselves, so I wasn’t alone. The sheep itself was fine, though. The next day was a bit rough - leftover champagne for breakfast.

Monday we managed to pack the car and get on the road as far as Auxerre, where a money machine ate my bankcard thanks, once again, to the Credit Lyonnais. I admit we set them a difficult problem, going in just before we left to change our accounts from “Foreign, in French francs” to the “Standard French-person” model, and I did ask them to make sure not to invalidate our bankcards before the end of the month, so I suppose it’s our own fault that they closed our accounts and cancelled the cards the very next day. “Efficiency” and “customer service” are words not much used in French banking circles. Anyway, we then wasted a couple of hours running round Auxerre trying to find a bank branch which was open (most of France being closed on Mondays, this is not a trivial task.) Finally headed off into the sunset in search of the Loire valley - surprised to see a deer calmly watching us from the roadside as we drove through the forest of Chambord. A perfect end to the day as Frog threw her dinner over mine host at the hotel.

The next morning we got to the chateau of Chambord itself. Very impressive, very big, very nice - but the heating bills must be ridiculous, and reroofing would be a hell of a job. Thanks to Francois I and his wife Anne of Brittany, salamanders and ermine figure prominently in the decor (in point of fact, this is true of most of the chateaux on the Loire). Then, to everyone’s relief, we got to Blois and found a laundromat (there is no washing machine at Pesselière). It is an interesting fact that when you go on holiday the boot of your car actually gets smaller and smaller, and everything you’ve packed increases in volume by a factor of up to 10% (in cases where the boot is small to begin with), which helps to explain why, when you’ve set out with all the luggage packed neatly and a few cubic feet to spare, you always arrive home with the back seat awash in odd socks, grubby sheets and biscuit packets. Blois is a nice town, with its very own chateau which has a famous staircase erected by, you guessed it, Franqois I - more salamanders. We left Blois and headed past Chaumont-surLoire (no salamanders, it’s a proper mediaeval castle) and finally found a chambre d’hote for the night.

Next day, time to do Amboise, which happens to be the property of the Count of Paris, heriditary pretender to the (nonexistent) throne of France. One of the outstanding features of this place (apart, of course, from the usual salamanders) is the main stairway, designed for horses. Practical hint: should ever you visit the place, don’t forget to duck when going through doorways (unlike one of the Charleses, who neglected this elementary precaution and was, as a result, trepanned by the lintel). Then we thought we’d try to get down to Ussé, which is - supposedly - the chateau which inspired Sleeping Beauty. We made the mistake of going into Tours (a large city which has all of two signposts, as far as I could tell) and consequently wound up on the wrong side of the Loire. Eventually managed to get back on the right side and found the place: unfortunately, a tour is expensive and we’d have wound up going through with a gaggle of schoolkids, which didn’t really appeal. So we went to Azay-le-Rideau instead, which is rather nice and possesses the distinction of being only the second chateau to he built with the staircase inside.

Finally, on Thursday we made it to Chenonceaux, which is perhaps the loveliest of the lot (shame about the low water-level, though) and then a nice relaxing 10-hour drive home to empty out the mailbox. Where we discovered that, two years on, The Story Continues ... the story of our ceiling, that is. You may remember that, about two years ago, I wrote of the interesting sensation to be had sitting on the loo with water dripping on you from the light fixture overhead. You may also remember that I’ve written precious little about that since, and you may have assumed that this meant that all was well. Wrong! Two years now the paint has been chipping off the ceiling in the bathroom as a result of the soaking it got, and some of the plaster around the shower is turning to mush, and the syndic (who is, in theory, responsible for such things) still has not got off his fat rude parts to do anything about it. Until a few weeks ago, when he wrote to Mme Magnin saying that it was ~jjy responsiblity to contact ~y insurance agency about the repair work. I did this, and once they’d finished laughing they very kindly phoned the syndic to laugh at him. They told him firmly that they could see no point in paying an assessor to come round and look at work that was not at all their responsibility, and that he’d better think again. Assuming he does so, we might hear more in a few months.

Anyway, I think that’s about it. Slowly wInding down at work in preparation for the weekend (not that I’ve done any winding up to speak of), you’ve heard pretty much all of what’s new with us, so all in all it seems the prefect place to stop. Ciao!