Tuesday, December 19, 2006

19/12/06 I'll have the toad soufflé, garçon

Not a good choice.

Honestly, there's no way you can make toad good. Even with ketchup. You're probably better off opting for the pigeon-dropping paté. Which is not, oddly enough, a paté made from pigeon droppings, but one which is delivered by being dropped from specially-trained homing pigeons. Often right through a window, 'cos the little sods don't actually know what those are, but there you are.

Anyway, I hope you're all well. Personally I called in with Jeremy to see Renaud and Sophie after the market, stayed for lunch and downed a couple of bottles before coming back home to clean out the interior of the woodburner, which had started to draw attention to itself by farting great clouds of evil-smelling smoke rather than actually heating anything. A messy job, but at least I won't have to do it again before next Spring.

Always provided, of course, that it (Spring, that is) arrives - just at the moment it feels that it already has. I mean, 11pm and it's still around 15° outside, a warm southerly blowing gently up the street and the bats are still orbiting rather than hibernating.


Back again, another week older and hopefully proportionately wiser. And still warm. It's got to the point where the heating-oil suppliers are actually ringing their old customers to see whether you wouldn't by any chance like a top-up: usually they don't bother because they can't keep up with the demand anyway, but right now they must be feeling the pinch. Normally the Belledonnes across the valley are a pristine white down to about 1000m by now, but as it happens they're more muddy grey/green with the odd thin patch of snow right up at the top. They've even had to cancel the Criterium up at Val d'Isère for lack of snow. Not that I'm complaining, mind you.

You may have noticed that Xmas is approaching - time for you lot to dust off the barbecues and fill the watering cans with petrol to aid ignition. And it's precisely because it's that time of year that I headed back to Grenoble yesterday, to check out on prospective presents and, incidentally, to do a bit of topping up in the spice/sauce department.

Say what you will about the European surrender monkeys, they do know how to organise public transport. Grenoble is a reasonably large, spacious city with lovely green areas which just happens to sit in a bowl in the surrounding mountains, which makes for really massive pollution problems in summer, and on top of it the older parts were designed for narrow-gauge horse-drawn carriages rather than cars, so they consciously try to discourage driving in town. Partly by making the central carparks expensive enough that you'd want to take out a second mortgage before going to one, or maybe think seriously about selling the kids off on the wharves at Marseille, and partly by making it a no-brainer to park outside and use the trams and buses. These days I park at Les Sablons, on the eastern side of the city, from whence it's a 5-minute tram ride to Place Ste Claire or Victor Hugo, right in the centre. It costs a flat 2€50 for the car-park - all day, if that's how long it takes - and that includes a round-trip tram ticket to the centre of town for each and every occupant of the car.

I must admit that I don't have to live there and so I'm not having to deal with the daily problems of - let's say - getting off the bus, staggering 500m to the door of your C18 apartment building with what feels like half a tonne of roof tiles in the (slowly ripping) plastic bags at the end of each arm and then lurching up the five (picturesque) flights of stairs (because there is no lift) before realising that you have only your toddler with you and it's quite possible that the 5-year old did not, in fact, follow you off at the bus stop. It's usually around then that you realise that you are being followed by all the neighbourhood cats because the jar of cream at the bottom of the plastic bags has broken and been leaking all the way up the stairs, and that the concierge has doubtless found the other missing packages and now knows - as if she didn't already - all about your miserable sex life.

Still, it's better than with a car. I remember that when Ian and Marie lived in the 13th in Paris, they had a car. Because there was no parking outside their apartment (well, there was in fact a park, but it was permanently occupied by some sort of vehicle that was in fact physically incapable of moving) they had all those problems, plus the next morning they had to try to remember where the hell they'd left the car the previous night. Which could be anywhere in a one-kilometre radius - or more precisely, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, it was in fact everywhere in a 1km radius. Until of course you collapse the wave function by actually looking for it, at which point Sod's Law takes over from quantum physics and you find that your car has been ticketed, clamped, and towed to the pound.

Anyway, after that little digression ...

A quick trip off to the Carrefour d'Asie greengrocer's for more rubbing spices and noodles and red sugar, then back to Place Ste Claire and the "epicerie fine" (the name of which, unfortunately, escapes me - not that you're going to head over here just to visit the place. Although if you happen to be here, you could do worse than visit it.) which lurks in a side street between the covered market and rue Bayard to buy decent curry and mustard powder and gourmet chocolate.

And as it's more or less next-door, down to the Laiterie Bayard, which I'm sure I've mentioned before - the word "laiterie" just doesn't do it justice. It's some sort of Pythonesque cheese shop with cheese in it - amongst other things. I'd be amongst the first to admit that some of their cheeses are - to my taste - a bit elderly, but going by the prices they seem to be able to get away with there must be a well-heeled market for - let's say - three year-old farm-matured cheddar, or seemingly-petrified gouda. I managed to escape with only a couple of goat's cheeses, a bottle of a Speyside single malt for me and a 15-year old Antillais rum for Renaud. (This sort of thing is why, whenever I go to Grenoble for shopping porpoises, I stick a large backpack in the boot of the car. It saves me arriving home with arms of differing lengths.)

Having got out of there alive, it was time to wander off north a bit into the older centre of town, down the high, narrow streets where the Arab butchers and Indian restaurants lurk. I love those. And by happy coincidence, these are the best streets to walk if you happen to be looking for Arab pastries, and Jeremy is very partial to a corne de gazelle (which is, should you ask, a brittle pastry wrapper filled with an almond/honey paste, shaped into a crescent and then baked and suffocated with icing-sugar) so I picked a couple of those up.

Decided there was sod-all point in going into the FNAC to see about picking up a new phone, given that the place seemed to be actually regurgitating Christmas shoppers (and on top of it all that alcohol in the backpack was starting to weigh on me a bit) so it was back again to Ste Claire and this time into the Irish shop. Where, apart from the whiskies, the tinned haggises, the cheese and CDs of Celtic moans backed up by the wailings of the tin whistle, you can buy Crunchy bars and Flakes. Which is what I did. (Also got tinned haggis and fudge and stuff as stocking-fillers for Xmas at Pesselière, but that's another matter.)

Then finally, because there was still a little bit of room left in the backpack, I popped across the road and into the porcelain shop and came out with a new dinner set, so we now eat off something that doesn't look as though it's had to survive two small children. First time in a long while that I've eaten off unchipped plates.


I'm reduced to writing this using the "compact" keyboard from Jeremy's machine, 'cos I spilled half a dry martini into my keyboard on Saturday and it didn't appreciate it. Neither did I, to tell the truth - waste of a good martini - and the real bugger is that Microsoft no longer make the "Natural" keyboards that I really like, and I didn't have the foresight to buy in a bulk lot back when they were being produced. Margo has the same keyboard as I had, but trying to steal that isn't really an option, so I just have to hope that the "Natural Ergonomic" keyboard I ordered last night (and which had damn well better arrive tomorrow) turns out to be an acceptable replacement. I really did get used to that split, tilted keyboard.

Fortunately, I don't have that much to write. Malyon has class Saturday morning and theater in the afternoon (yes, she's involved in the latest Upstage production at the lycée) so we'll be leaving for Pesselière on Sunday morning, hopefully arriving before the chicken gets stuffed. If I may put it so. We'll try to leave before the conversation turns to politics, probably Thursday or Friday, and on Saturday or Sunday Jill and John are supposed to be turning up on their way back to Barcelona after a week's skiing (hur-hur!) at Val Thorens.

I mentioned that Malyon is now an official Frog-person: I had to go off to the mairie this morning and get her put on the census list so that, amongst other things, she can

  • sit her baccalaureat exam
  • get put onto the electoral roll so that she can vote for Jacques Chirac as president (yet again)
  • do her military service
As she's still a minor getting her a French passport involves us supplying our birth and marriage certificates, so that can damn well wait until she's 18. Not that it's that important: she still has her NZ passport and her French ID card will be good enough for travel within the EU.

Right, Jeremy has some googling to do tomorrow so I'd better go and put this keyboard back. Merry Christmas to you all, and I hope summer turns up soon.


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