Saturday, April 17, 2010

All I ever really wanted to be was an interior decorator ...

Yes, in case you're wondering the grim looking chap over there on the left, gloomily surveying the bathroom, is in fact me. Not, perhaps, the most flattering likeness, but what the hell. I'd planned on snapping Margo and Jeremy to complete the rogue's gallery, but she sticks her tongue out and he burrows into his nest in the Pile of quilt and sheets that he calls a bed, so that idea went down the tubes quite rapidly.

Headed off to Roanne, home of les frères Troisgros, on Friday to sit around in the unlikely event that I was needed for an upgrade of an old stock-control application I did yonks back (2001, to be precise, and been running like clockwork ever since): they finally decided to change the portable terminals they use and although in theory that should have caused no problems they were willing to pay me to be around just in case ... so I did, and of course, I did indeed turn out to be strictly decorative.

All that meant leaving here at some ungodly hour in the morning, under a bright blue sky: unfortunately, once through the Tunnel de Dullin on the way to Lyon we hit fog, which lasted all bloody day until we got back to Chambéry. Gray, chilly, dismal and totally boring. Still, at least we got back early enough for me to get the barbecue out of its hole and fire it up for the first time this year: only tandoori chicken I'm afraid, but it's a start.

The weekend was supposed to be bright and sunny (great! I thought - more barbecue) and as usual they got it wrong. I suppose there was actually sun, technically speaking, but it certainly wasn't that bright on Saturday: more fog, I'm afraid. And although it was sunny enough on Sunday there was a playful little northerly breeze straight from somewhere rather chilly, so that was fine until you stepped outside. No barbecue, and I didn't make it across the stream into the paddock to give the grass its first haircut of the season either. Never mind, perhaps next weekend I'll get Jeremy to do something about it.

Of course, Jeremy's now on holiday for two weeks so on Saturday, after braving the usual horrific traffic conditions on the autoroute (bloody holiday-makers) I went off and stocked up on meat for three for the next week's meals. Naturally, I'd totally forgotten that Margo's headed off to a salon in Beaujolais on Wednesday (so that's three meals where there's too much meat) and then Jerry mentioned on Sunday that he'd planned on heading off to stay in a chalet with some friends on Monday, and come back Thursday or something. Cue gnashing of teeth, and preparation of freezer bags ...

The big news from the bustling metropolis of Saint Pierre - or our little bit of it anyway, le Mas, is that they're planning on building a couple of apartment blocks in our street. All very tasteful - "Le Clos des Vignes" - and from the artist's impression on the website you could be forgiven for thinking that the street was a lot wider than in fact it is, and that on the western side it looks out over a grassy park rather than falling two or three metres to a scruffy paddock. The land's been bought - about 5000m² of what is currently an old walled orchard about 100m up the road from us - and the mairie has apparently given planning permission, so all we nimbys are getting together on Tuesday night to plot rebellion. Or, at the least, a stiffly-worded letter of complaint.

Not that we're against development per se, but a bit of consultation on a matter which does rather concern us would have been nice, and we're none of us entirely sure that the mairie has given due consideration to little points like access, and what's going to happen when there are another 40 or so cars barrelling up (and probably, in all illegality, down) our tiny road twice a day. S'bad enough with the two or three we get now, given that very few honour the 30kph limit - will no-one think of the children? On the bright side, I suppose it might oblige them to get around to replacing the rickety overhead phone lines (why didn't they put them underground a year or so back, when they laid the gas pipes? Buggered if I know) that are hung from nails on barns and any other bit of building that doesn't look likely to fall down in the next high wind ... it'd be an ill wind, as they say ... maybe we'll even get a traffic light (he said hopefully).

I doubt anything'll come of it - come to that, it's not even sure that this particular project will go ahead, as the old saying about "build the bloody apartments and people will come and buy them, even if they are really crap quality and poorly situated" is no longer as true as it used to be. But if nowt else, it'll be a good excuse for a neighbourhood pissup and general carouse until midnight.

Well, Friday's rolled around, just like it usually does at this point in the week. As predicted, Gerhardt turned up to the meeting with a crate of his fancy German beers, and of course Rémi had vast quantities of wine to hand (if not exactly on tap), so the evening meandered on until late, with everyone talking over the top of everyone else. Still, some sort of manifesto apparently got put together, and maybe I'll wake up some day soon to discover that the street has thrown off the yoke of French subjugation (yes, there really are some diehard savoisiens who think like that) and declared itself independent.

Margo made off to the Beaujolais for her salon and has heroically survived this far despite not having me around to cook for her. The dog, as usual, is missing her like anything, and shows this by wandering around even more brainlessly than usual, hoping for cuddles. For some strange reason she seems to feel that getting under your feet makes her more attractive, completely ignoring all evidence to the contrary. On the other hand her sheer moronic persistence eventually wears me down and she gets her bloody cuddle anyway, so maybe she does know what she's doing.

Jerry's Great Outdoors Experience lasted, it seems, all of one night: after tramping for an hour or so through the fresh snow to find the chalet they were supposed to be staying in they ate their entire food supply in that one evening, and so left the next day. A decision which, although I'm sure was not made lightly, was probably facilitated by the discovery that there was no heating.

He's also supposed to be headed off some time these holidays, dressed in his best, to the Chateau des Allues to see if he can't get a job there over the summer. Personally I think he'd be better off going there in person and looking as personable as possible to present his case (bi-lingual, studying cookery and the hotel trade ...) directly, rather than phoning in advance and getting the brush-off. Whatever, he'll have to make some time in his busy sleeping schedule soonish.

But it won't be this weekend, as he's off tonight to spend time with a mate: this is going to leave me alone with the dog until Sunday, when Margo gets back. Wish I'd known that before I got a largeish hunk of pork shoulder out of the freezer last night ... whatever, I can handle leftovers.

And in more recent news, I went off to Beaujolais myself. Got an SMS from Sophie to say that she was off to St François, so we'd have to put off our moveable barbecue feast until next weekend, then Margo rang to say that she'd sold all her sewing tables, and could I please bring some more up? So, being the wonderful husband that I am, I said yes, and headed off north of Lyon at an unreasonable hour (to avoid the traffic jams - yes, there are still people on the roads) this morning with our Aussie friend Sue along for the ride. (Or, as she said, "to get out of the country". Meaning, Savoie)

Luckily Sue is more organised than I (what am I on about? Was it not I who packed my poor little Alfa with five sewing tables and appropriate inserts and stuff the night before?) and had packed a thermos of decent coffee and a couple of croissants for breakfast. (Unfortunately, the boulangerie/patisserie just across from her front door doesn't do croissants aux amandes, which is a shame. They're a really great way of using up yesterday's croissants - or even better, pains au chocolat - and it goes like this: mix vast quantities of powdered almonds, butter, sugar and a bit of orange essence together with an egg yolk to make a crème frangipane. Add chocolate chips, if you like; I for one won't blame you. Then slit your croissants open, slather the inside with the frangipane, and put them in the oven for ten minutes. Absolutely divine.)

Whatever, we barrelled off up the autoroute and once leaving it at Villefranche sur Saone  I would like to point out that at no point were we actually lost. At least, I knew exactly where we were - in the car, somewhere on a departementale, probably heading more or less in the direction we wanted. And it turned out to be the case, because after a few windy (and, let it be said, very pretty) bits of road, going through domaines and chateaux and things like that, we got do Graves sur Anse which was, oddly enough, where we wanted to be.

Lenore Crawford
So we pulled into the parking (as the French call it), unloaded Margo's merchandise, and had a rather belated breakfast (yeah, coffee and croissants) under a beautiful blue sky - really does make you feel that spring is coming. The we went off to look at the exhibition, where the first thing that took my eye was this.

Incidentally, it's easy enough to tell when you get into Beaujolais. Another name for the area is "Pierres Dorées", or literally "Golden Stones", and it's true that all the old houses are built in these beautiful golden honey-coloured stones. Doubtless cold and damp in winter, but lovely in spring and summer.

Jenny Bowker
Someone - an Australian, I think -  had gone in for portraiture, with rather good results. Well, I thought so, but then what would I know? It's not as though I'm going to pay money for it.

The other thing that always catches my eye is the sumptuously-coloured fabric and embroidery threads. Don't know why, must be the magpie in me ...

I was actually extremely surprised (as was, let me say) Sue. Here you are, in some out-of-the-way little hole (and I'm being polite), stuck in a car park full of Swiss numberplates and ones from all over France (not to mention the odd Pom or two) and you have to wonder "how did they get to hear about this?". I suppose it's all Al Gore's intertubes thingy, that seems to be very popular these days, especially amongst the yoof.

Having sated ourselves with kulcha, and been presented to Margo's friends and extended family from the marvelous world of quilting (some of them were a bit apprehensive about her cooking dinner tonight, but I think I reassured them) we finally decided to leave, having waited sufficiently to be more or less certain that there'd be no more traffic jams.

Hitomi Hanaoka
We also had to make time to pick up some wine. I mean, how can you got to Beaujolais and not drink, preferably taking a few bottles back home? Luckily Sue is very understanding, so we went back and forth on teeny communales and all sorts until we got back to where we'd come from and found a vigneron that was open at midday. The 2005 stony vinyard was more than acceptable, so I grabbed a few bottles of that and took my chances on a bottle of the 98. Let you know how that turns out.

It would not be true to say that every cretin in France was on the roads that day as we headed back: I'm sure that some must have stayed at home. But just how difficult is it to put your autoroute ticket into one slot, and then your credit card into the other? And once you've worked that out, why stay there to change the kid's nappies? I mean, there are places for that. They're called "rest-rooms", and there's an abundance of them on the autoroute. You don't actually have to do it at the frikkin' péage, for gods sake.

So for the sake of my blood pressure we pulled off on the external ring-road around Lyon into Jonage-Meribel, which is actually an enormous park around one of the dead-end branches of the Rhône (or the Saône, who knows or cares). I can recommend it should ever you have the occasion to do the low-orbit tour of Lyon: Sue and I sat there peacefully munching whole-grain baguette with Italian ham and watching the swans come in to land (ungainly brutes, aren't they?) before playing "Sink The Duck (with Rocks)", which is a fun game if you happen to have a duck and some rocks.

Dianne Firth
Still, after all that, another question which weighs on my mind is why all these bloody Parisians go through the tunnels at 90 k. I mean, they are clearly signposted at 110, so why stick in the left-hand lane at 80? Yes, it's dark in there, for all I know there may be monsters, but get out of my bloody way. Parisians.

Hat: Elisabeth Michellod Dutheil

And I'll leave you with this hat ...

1 comment:

  1. That poppy quilt is to die for! (Barry probably would, of apoplexy, if it was selling for anything like I imagine & I'd bought it!) I have appropriated the image to use as the final shot in today's botany lecture :-) Might use it as a screensaver too, it's so lovely to look at.

    Loved the tale of Jerry's little 'outdoors experience,' by the way.