Monday, September 13, 2010

Still waiting ...

Another week down the tubes, and it's still beautiful weather - despite the past track record of absolutely foul stuff for the rentrée. A bit nippy in the mornings - down to 14° or so - but still fine enough in the afternoons for me to think wistfully of picnics. Perhaps up at Montbenoit if it stays fine - but I'd better make sure they haven't put the cows in the paddock first - or perhaps up above Cruet. Somewhere green, with a view.

In fact, I actually wandered off up to Montbenoit last weekend - partly looking for blackberries (too soon, unfortunately), partly checking out picnic spots, but mainly for a bit of exercise. Rather to my surprise I ran into a guy I used to work with, back in the dim distant past when I was at Miqro: Jean-Luc, known as "Hashish" to more or less all and sundry.

It meant I got a bit less exercise than I'd intended, and rather more sitting out in the sun catching up. Still don't know why he has this bloody diabolical garden gnome, though. The thing looks definitely psychotic to me.

Jerry, being now 16, has an official girlfriend, with whom he seems to spend most of his time when he's here - which means that most of the time, he isn't actually here as such. In body, perhaps, but his mind is definitely elsewhere. On the other hand, it has definitely sharpened his senses. Whereas before, when the phone rang you could wait all day for him to pick it up, even after a lung-bursting bellow up the stairs ("Couldn't hear it ringing over the music" he would explain), it's now off the hook in about thirty seconds. Amazing.

Margo has the big show up in Alsace this week: the Carrefour Européen du Patchwork at Ste Marie aux Mines. She heads off on Wednesday and returns some time Sunday, which means I'll be once more alone with our mental cripple of a dog and, from Friday night, Jeremy. (Strike Jerry out - see above. He'll probably present himself at meal-times, mind you.) Perhaps I shall make a nuisance of myself, and invite myself out to dinner.

Sophie's sister, Caroline, had her 40-mumbleth birthday on the 11th, which she combined with a cremaillère (which is a house-warming party: had something to do with putting up shelves originally) for the apartment she's bought in Aix. We got invited and duly toddled along that evening, bearing food as one does, and found ourselves in front of one of those imposing old spa hotels, which the French call un palace. (Yes, that is indeed an English word. Snuck into the language somewhere around 1920, made itself at home with its metaphorical feet up on the sofa, and no-one has as yet summoned up the courage to kick it out.)

I reckon it dates back at least to 1910, might even be older. You see them in the odd English film, or on rue du Rivoli in Paris: huge old piles with delicate iron-work around the balconies and enormous windows out onto them, the name picked out in tiles on the terrace in front of the entrance, the actual foyer taking up most of the ground floor so that you could fit a safari in there (with the animals, including a giraffe should ever that take your fancy), and enough gilt and mirrors around to make Marie Antoinette feel at home.

It's been transformed into apartments, like so many of them. Fair enough, few people these days travel around with a container-load of luggage and it's a damn sight better that knocking them down to be replaced by sterile concrete boxes. Anyway, I really should have taken my camera, if only to get a shot of the lift, which looked old and creaky enough to have been designed by Mr. Otis himself. Next time I will - but before that I'll have to learn how to drive the thing (camera, not lift) on full manual so that I can get the exposures I want.

The only drawback to the place is that it's on one of the streets that goes off from the Thermes (the actual Victorian-era spa centre) and above the Botanical Gardens. Which is not in itself a Bad Thing, I admit, but I should point out that there is a band-stand there, and that every Saturday night it hosts what is called a bal populaire. (The word populaire not meaning "popular", but "of the people" ie working-class, back in the day at any rate.) Which means an eclectic and rather dire mix of accordion music, thoughtfully piped over speakers for the pleasure of all. As I personally would cheerfully consign the instrument and all those that twiddle with it to one of the particularly low-rent districts of Hell, this is not a good thing. But it finishes around midnight, and if you drink enough you can get over it.

Despite the music, and the fact that I had to stay sober (we alternate designated-driver status, you know), it really was rather pleasant - food and conversation, which are two of my four favourite things. (Yes, the other two are indeed what you're thinking, but like I said, I was driving, so drinking at least was out of the question.) I might try getting out next weekend as well: some ambulant theatre troupe is putting on Beckett's "End-game" at Cognin next Saturday night, and if I'm going to watch Beckett I suppose I might as well at least do so in French. We'll see. Depends on how my brain feels.

Pretty soon, I suppose, they're going to start the vendange. The grapes are certainly full enough of sugar - to my unsophisticated tastebuds, anyway. This will, of course, entail the usual convoys of tractors with enormous trailers full of grapes, and the place will reek of alcohol for a week or two. It'll probably be acclaimed as the vintage of the century - yet again. (Actually, shouldn't be too bad. It's been mostly Goldilocks weather, and if it holds off pissing down with rain until the grapes are in the prospects are good.)

And just in case we do not in fact have thunderstorms this Saturday (as Metéo France is gloomily predicting), I really ought to go off and think of something for Sophie and I to eat - who knows, might even have that picnic after all. There's one recipe I've been wanting to try for ages now but never got around to (partly because Margo has zero tolerance for acid): it involves nothing more complicated than quartering and skinning a poussin or two, marinating the dismembered corpses overnight in chopped lemon peel, garlic, lemon juice, soy sauce and olive oil and then grilling them, basting regularly. Then you just let them cool down in what's left of the marinade, before serving them cold on a bed of crisp lettuce hearts.

Which sounds good to me, especially with some decent bread and  a goat's cheese, coated in crushed pepper and poivron to follow. On the other hand, I'm none too sure what wine is going to stand up to that much lemon ... just have to wing it, I suppose. A decent rosé, as usual. Cheers!

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