Sunday, April 17, 2011

Party Animal ...

Well, I made it to the hinterlands of Montreux for the Cla-Val big bash on Friday. And even if I didn't get to make a Deep Purple pilgrimage to the Grand Hotel, it was rather fun.

Bit of history, just for your general edification: Chateau Chillon started off life sometime back in the 1100s as a collection of buildings which gradually - either through gravitation or sheer lasciviousness - got assimilated into today's monumental pile.

Back in the day, when the counts - later to become dukes - of Savoie controlled a fair swag of Switzerland it was one of their courts, administrative affairs remaining at Chambéry.

But at least you could always go off to Switzerland, and clean water, during the dysentery season. Which must have been quite a relief. (Bit like the French court leaving Versailles for a couple of months over the summer, whilst the cesspits got cleaned out.)

Unfortunately Montreux is at the right (or eastern, I believe) end of Lac Léman, which means it's a good two hour trip from here. Up hill, down dale, through tunnels, over viaducts and of course a quick stop at the douanes to pick up a vignette for the Swiss autoroute.

At least going through by day means you get to see all the radars that seem to have sprouted along the central divider of the Geneva-Lausanne autoroute: the Swiss are so picky about their speed limits, and unlike the French they don't post handy warning signs.

Anyway, I got to the place with an hour or so to spare, rattled across the old wooden bridge and found a place to park, then hopped out and started taking photos. The place is actually built just off-shore, with a little beach off to one side: I'm always struck by how tidy Switzerland is, even the municipal barbecues on the beach were spotlessly clean and no-one had nicked the grills. Mind you, they were heavily cemented in place, so perhaps there's no real mystery there.

Eventually a crowd of corporate-looking suits trooped up to the gate to be insulted by the jester, so I rather reluctantly unglued my arse from the jetty I'd been propping up and headed off to meet the great and the good.

Kind of regretted leaving the camera in the car at that point, because that was when I actually got inside the building and the ceilings (along with all the rest, let it be admitted) were spectacular. Nothing flashy, just acres of dark carved wood panelling. I would hate to have to be the one whose job it was to wax it.

So the mediaeval flunkeys were circulating with trays of drinks (should anyone offer you free Veuve Cliquot, don't turn it down - I was starting to regret my decision to drive back that night) and platters of pretty substantial nibbles, and I was sort of orbiting round the periphery checking out the grilled chicken skewers with satay sauce, and trying to see if there was anyone I actually knew lurking in there.

I eventually found the UK contingent by the simple expedient of opening my ears and listening for accents over the babble and went over: finally got to put faces to some of the voices I'd only heard over the phone up till that point.

Which is always nice, not that they'll stay related for long, given what my memory tends to do with names and faces.

Whatever, after the inevitable, but mercifully short, speechifying they herded us into the actual dining room, which was even bigger, and let us find our tables. For some reason they'd put Renaud, Sophie and myself with the other foreigners, so we were lined up like some sort of zoo exhibit next to the CEO's table with the Italians and the Brits.

I'll spare you the sordid details of the next four hours: suffice it to say that the food was more or less what I'd expected (the foie gras was excellent, but the crispy wafer of slivered almonds that accompanied it was rather pointless), the wine was excellent and copious, and the animation mediaeval was much less dire than I'd feared. In fact, it was rather good and to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it.

They'd also got the quantities right and paced the meal nicely, leaving plenty of time for the health-conscious to go out for a quick smoke between courses, so at no point did bloat set in.

In fact, the only real disappointment was the dessert (well, Sophie was horribly deçue, anyway): an enormous pièce montée with Roman candles and all, it turned out to be a polystyrene façade sheltering a number of standard chocolate/pistachio gateaux. Which were also pretty disappointing, but I'm willing to overlook that 'cos the raspberry coulis that went with it was obscenely good.

At any rate, they finally shoved us all out the doors at midnight, and we trooped across the bridge to each get a present, a handshake and a few words from the CEO and his wife. (That strikes me as very American. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't happen in France, anyway.) Then the drunken many staggered off to the bus that was taking them to their hotel: I found the Alfa, turned Sisters of Mercy up full-bore and raced across the bridge in a shower of shit and small stones.

I very nearly stopped just before the autoroute access to take a photo of the Erotik Markt, with its 1000m² of display space (how, I wonder, do you arrange the aisles in a sex supermarket) but wisely decided against it (and anyway it was closed), so I got home around 2:30 and found, to my pleasure, that the dog was asleep and seemed likely to stay that way.

Helen Gray - Pelicans
Because I'm a sucker for punishment, I was up before 8 - that's habit for you - so I even made it off to the market and got the week's shopping done. Of course Sophie was still sleeping it off in Montreux, it was fine and sunny so Bryan was out doing physical things: solitary drinking is so sad, but sometimes a necessary evil. At least I was in good company.

I was rather (extremely) alarmed by the state of the north-bound autoroute when I headed home around midday, for I'd promised Margo that I would head up to her salon to say hello to some of her friends and such, and I had no particular urge to spend a large portion of my afternoon stuck in a traffic jam on the A6.

Carol Ann Waugh - H1N1
At some point, someone really should write a thesis on why it is Belgians migrate. I have my own ideas, but they're pretty unspeakable - especially when I'm stuck behind a convoy of camping-cars laden down with what seems like the entire Walloon potato harvest - and I think it's a subject worthy of proper scrutiny.

Whatever, my cunning strategy of having a leisurely lunch and leaving around 13:30, hoping like hell that the whole bloody mess had moved, like some intestinal blockage on its way to the bowels, sufficiently northwards that I would no longer be bothered by it paid off: at least until Villefranche, where I had to suffer the indignity of a 2km jam but at least it was moving, albeit slowly, and anyway I was getting off there.

Sophie Furbeyre - Draikaina
It's an odd thing, but although I have great difficulty associating names and faces, as I've said - a problem which has put me into mildly embarrassing situations more than once in the past, making me appear a complete and utter prat when I'm absolutely incapable of greeting someone I've met only a short while ago by their name (or even, in the worse cases, incapable of recognising them) - my memory for places is excellent.

If I drive somewhere once, along a given route, I can always get back there, even years later. At the expense, of course, of following the same route - to the point of taking the same wrong turnings and getting back on track in the same way, at least until that too gets assimilated by whatever part of what I like to call my brain (for want of a better word) is in charge of that sort of thing.

Sandra van Velzen - A Storm Broke Loose In My Mind
Of course, the day that someone goes and rearranges the landscape, or otherwise shuffles the visual cues by which I navigate, I'll be stuffed.

Luckily, monuments and the like around here being on the permanent side the only way that sort of thing happens is if they decide to go and shift the road, which is pretty rare. And probably a good thing, because otherwise I'd still try to take the old one, which with my luck would peter out in a bog somewhere.

In any case, it stood me in good stead getting to Anse, with only a slight hesitation at a roundabout that some inconsiderate sod had planted in the road sometime in the past year without thinking to let me know about it.

Elisabeth Michellod-Dutheil - Les Quatres Elements
The Beaujolais is, should anyone out there be thinking of coming over to Ole Yurrup, a very beautiful region. For three seasons of the year, anyway. It's called the region of les pierres dorées - the golden stones - for good reason: all the centuries-old stone walls and houses are built out of a honey-coloured stone that seems almost luminous of itself.

And the countryside - at least up in the monts du Beaujolais - is what they call vallonné - all valleys and ridges and the tiny departmentales taking the easiest way - for a horse-drawn carriage, anyway - from one place to another.

Would almost be a pleasure, in fact, to get lost there - with a camera, a picnic, and plenty of time on your hands. And a GPS, for when you decide you really do need to get where you started out wanting to be.

Les Quatres Elements - detail
Maybe, one of these days, I'll load up the car with the necessities (Camping-gaz burner? Check. White wine? Check. Cream? Check.Beef fillet? Check ... red wine we can buy sur place.) and get lost on purpose.

Back to reality with a thump: met up with Margo and started wandering aimlessly around, camera in hand, until she phoned me - so we went off and got a drink so that she could tell me her news, which was that she'd just had the directeur of the salon at Ste Marie aux Mines, up north, come by to say that he had stands available for the next show "at his discretion", and that he would be pleased if she'd be there.

This is kind of like getting a personal invitation to the Queen's birthday shindig, so she was rather pleased, to say the least.

Karen Tunnell - Liquid Fractals
She apparently knows important people in the French textile world: it was a friend of hers, M. Malfroy of Malfroy-Million (retd.), who spoke to the directeur. And it seems you do not refuse his advice.

(Charming old man, by the way. Must be in his late 70s, goes around the textile shows in a camping-car with his wife - retired from his position as head of the eponymous fabrique de soie at Lyon and doubtless twice as busy in consequence, and an evil sense of humour.)

And that was more or less my Saturday. Drove back on relatively empty roads (south-bound, you see), stopped by for an impromptu apéro with Sophie (gotta keep the blood alcohol level up), then home in time to organise a quick dinner and bed. Because I was completely knackered. So how was your day?


  1. Well done, Margo!

    It's an odd thing, but although I have great difficulty associating names and faces, as I've said
    You should read Oliver Sacks' latest: (shamelessly pimping my own blog!) - he has quite a bit to say about this.

  2. the animation mediaeval

    Tell me more of this pre-Renaissance cartoon tradition.