Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Global warming? Bring it on ...

Well, I suppose you want to know what our Christmas was like: I gather that yours was as it should be, nice and bright and warm with meat and things sizzling on the barbecue ... here it snowed. Again. So we had a white - for once - and very chilly Christmas.

Sort of as planned (which is a fancy way of saying "as planned, but later"), we headed off to Mumblefuck for lunch, and as we didn't have to we didn't stuff ourselves until food came out our ears. My suggestion of a barbecue got rejected more or less out of hand, which I thought was rather unfair, so it was just foie gras, salmon with gratin savoyard and gratin de scorzonère (don't bother looking it up, it's "black salsify" and you won't find it), then good old-fashioned Christmas cake, whilst outside a howling gale (have I ever mentioned that Mumblefuck is particularly well-exposed?) blew the snow around in flurries.

We didn't stint on the wine either, for once: Bryan brought along a number of rather nice bottles and as we weren't planning on leaving too early there was no point in being too abstemious. And anyway, the cars know the road.

I had - perhaps foolishly - promised Mal and Tony that I'd take them to Lyon, so that's what I did on Sunday. It was a beautiful, bright, and wickedly cold day, and things started to go titsup when we got to the péage at Chignin and noticed that the autoroute was completely blocked in both directions. So I did something completely illegal and reversed two or three hundred metres out of there, and we took the nationale via les Echelles.

Which was absolutely gorgeous, with this wonderfully bright blue sky and the forests around covered in a thick blanket of snow, and as for going through the gorges ... a bit hair-raising in places mind you, where there was slush on the road that had until recently been ice, and after delicately negociating a couple of particularly nasty corners I resolved to definitely not come back home that way.

I'd spent a considerable amount of time that morning trying to get the GPS on my phone to work, only to find - to my considerable annoyance - that the GPS app supplied by Samsung had (many say at the insistence of Bouygues) been removed. God alone knows why - a case, I suppose, of the network operators not wanting to surrender a revenue stream and so, despite having nothing to offer in its place, shut it down. Particularly short-sighted if you ask me, as I will definitely consider other operators the next time I renew my phone contract. Not that they aren't all a pack of slaveringly rabid brain-dead scavengers and bottom-feeders, but I might chance upon one that's a bit less stupid. Although I'm not going to bet actual money on that.

Whatever, I could - and did - download Mappy, which is OK if I happen to be within reach of a Wifi hotspot and need a map of the district (Wifi 'cos after that I'm certainly not going to be shelling out extra to Bouygues for the data transfers), but it was of no earthly use to me for navigating around Lyon, so I dug out the old Taride map of the dump and a scrappy bit of paper, and noted the instructions down. Just like in the good old days.

Which probably goes some way to explaining why it was that we found ourselves orbiting Lyon on the periphérique, having followed the signposts pointing to Centre Ville rather than my gut. Still, despite doing an enormous loop around the outskirts rather than barrelling straight through the place as I'd planned, we did eventually get somewhere we actually wanted to be, and promptly parked.

Underneath the Opéra, as it happens, which was pretty good planning all things considered. It's but a hop, skip and a jump from the Hôtel de Ville, the enormous courtyard of which is adorned by a fountain depicting some half-naked bint with rather nice knockers in a chariot, towed by four horses. I seem to recall reading somewhere about that, and the horses symbolise the four great rivers of France or something, but I suggest you not take my word for that. Not if you have an exam question on it or something like that, where they rather boringly expect answers to conform slavishly to physical reality rather than accept that although not, in the strict sense of the term, correct, they should be. In a better world.

The one place Tony really wanted to see was the basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvières, which sits upon a hilltop on the western bank of the Rhône. It's actually quite easy to get to from le vieux Lyon: we just headed south for a couple of blocks, then across the Rhône (I was so glad I'd brought my overcoat and scarf, should've brought my Turoa ski bonnet as well and to hell with the snide sartorial comments), and wound up at the foot of la montée de Fourvières.

Which is, for your information, a stone staircase. Which, as the name suggests, goes up. And then, when you've run out of breath, goes up some more. And then carries on, with more of the same, until you get almost to the top of the hill at which point the stairs run out (probably out of breath) and you get to walk along the winding, climbing and exceedingly icy paths of the botanical gardens. Until eventually (assuming you haven't slipped to your death) you get to the actual basilica. From which you do, I must admit, get a wonderful view over the whole of Lyon: you also - on a winter's day at least, with a typical Lyonnais northerly blowing - get freeze-dried in about thirty seconds flat. And I would like to point out that a polished marble parvis with ice on it can be pretty bloody lethal.

I don't think I've ever been so happy to get inside a church in my life.

Mind you, I was even happier later on when, having negociated the steps of doom in the downwards sense (even easier to slip on the ice that way) and wandered a bit through the ruelles of the old town, we went into a bar. Well, to be exact, we went into two. The first was cosy, woodpanelled, warm and oozing ambiance, but I can only assume that despite their prices they actually lost money on every client they served. At any rate, they were in no hurry to serve us, and whilst I'm not particularly hung up on this idea of having a waiter come up and stick a menu in your face within 5 microseconds of your having entered a place, I do appreciate being asked what I'd like to drink before dying of actual dehydration.

So we left there (no-one seemed to care very much) and went next door, where we actually got served. And I found a shekel on the floor, which is apparently an unlucky thing to do because then we left Lyon. I had planned to cross the river and just head east, but thanks to the one-way system you can't actually do that without breaking several laws, so like good little sheep we followed the signs and wound up back on the periphérique again. It'll become an old friend one of these days.

I could handle that, but then we got onto the autoroute and then up to the péage, where things definitely got gross. Half of bloody Paris must have been on the road, hoping to get up to the ski stations before midnight. Personally, I would not have bet on it. I'll spare you the gory details, suffice it to say that what would, under normal circumstances, have been an hour's trip took us two and a half hours. I was very good, and only twice lamented my lack of foresight in not specifying the laser cannon option for the car.

Anyway, this one's for Malyon, 'cos she asked really nicely: proper bastard puff pastry for quiches and stuff. You start off with a cup of flour and about 50gm of butter in chunks, which you then smear into the flour using the tines of a sturdy fork. You do not want to wind up with something having the appearance of breadcrumbs, but rather floury chunks of butter. Then add an egg and about an egg-shell's worth of milk and mix it all together roughly with your trusty fork until it just holds together and then form it into a ball: do resist the temptation to knead it.

Now you just need to roll it out thinly on a floured table: if you've done it right you'll have big flat smears of butter in it, which are what makes it go flaky (I cannot truthfully say that it puffs up) when cooked. Then line a pie-dish with it and build a quiche on top - or a mushroom flan, or whatever else takes your fancy.

And by the way, Happy New Year. We'll try to think of you enjoying a New Year's day BBQ whilst we're snuggled under the blankets with a warm cocoa, but I can't promise anything.

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