Saturday, June 25, 2011

This Ain't The Garden Of Eden ...

Well, we've been having spectacular thunderstorms in the evenings with the Belledonnes across the valley as footlights: great gray-black clouds boiling up behind them and every so often they light up orange and yellow from the inside for a couple of km across - good to watch, not so fun if you're right underneath I expect.

All very pretty, but I guess it kinda put a dampener on the fete de la musique on Tuesday night. Difficult to play music with rain beating on the drums and filling your saxophone. (Not that I mind. In fact, I find the image of some poor sod making muffled geyser noises out of a water-filled sax rather amusing.)

OK, I am now officially a White Van Man. Margo is a happy parrot, as there's heaps of room in the back should ever she wish to "borrow" it to head off to shows and such laden down with all her junk, "and we could even"' she said, ignoring my pained frosty looks, "get the dog in there when we go off to Pesselière".

And I must admit it's rather more fun to drive than I would have suspected. Let there be no mistake, it is not a sports car and getting from 1st to 2nd can be a bit sluggish but otherwise it's quite nippy and handles well - although I've not yet mustered the courage to see if she'll take the St Pierre exit at 115kph, that might be a bit excessive. And the sixth gear is definitely nice on the autoroute.

On the downside I have yet to master all the electronics. The Bluetooth phone interface would doubtless be useful if I could think of a good reason for actually using it, but the "media centre", as it proudly proclaims itself to be when I turn it on, seems actively user-hostile. Yes, it will mangle CDs and I can plug a USB key in and in theory it will play my MP3s, but in practice I have not yet managed to work out how to teach it about directories.

Because, being rather anal-compulsive that way, I have my music organised in directories, one per group, with subdirectories for each album and so on: unfortunately the frikking thing seems to want to play the whole damn lot in alphabetic order - except when it doesn't - which is not a lot of use to me. If I'm listening to Alice Cooper I really do not want David Bowie popping up irritatingly in the middle - and vice versa, of course.

I suppose I really should have expected something like that would happen, given that the presence of the little Windows logo button on the steering wheel would seem to indicate that the thing is running Windows CE. (Or Embedded, or Windows For Cars, or whatever they're calling the bloody thing these days. Could I suggest "Pile Of Crap"?)

Whatever, usual sad story today; dawned bright and sunny (and, unusually, stayed like that - something has to go wrong soon) and headed off to do The Shopping. Relatively painless, although I do rather tend to dither a bit at the market - do I really need to buy those shiny poivrons, or those fuzzy peaches?

As Jerry goes back to his stage at Aiguebellette tonight, and Margo is off to a salon in Normandy on Wednesday, the answer is probably not, but I gave in anyway, and bought both. And everything else that took my fancy.

The poivrons will doubtless disappear in a curry some time, and if the peaches don't get eaten they will meet their maker in the form of the faithful old Kenwood, and vanish into the freezer as purée. And I know that the apricots and nectarines will disappear somehow, by some mystical process - that is to say that I never actually see them being eaten, but every day their number diminishes. Can stone-fruit get religion?

Anyway, the point, to which I'm getting in my own good time, please don't try to rush me 'cos it's my blog in case you hadn't noticed, is that on a fine hot day after the market some lubrication nourishment is required, which means a glass or two at le Modesto, Sophie being off sharing quality time with Rémi (or, if you prefer, sitting bored witless through a tennis tournament). Bryan was a bit reticent, practically accused me of getting him drunk last Saturday, completely against his will of course, but I managed to twist his arm. Without, let it be said, great difficulty.

Truth to tell, the real problem is that since Karen disappeared to rusticate in Mumblefuck there's no-one to keep him in training, and he doesn't have the will-power to map out a personal fitness schedule and then keep to it. With the sad, but predictable, result that three glasses of white at midi and he's anyone's.

(Incidentally, should that apostrophe have gone there? It doesn't look out of place, and I can't be arsed googling it, but any grammar nazis may correct me if necessary. Not that I'll pay any attention, mind you.)

So once again time drifted on by, as it will, and having parked my arse before midday I was rather surprised to find that by the time we were all ready to get up and leave it was in fact 14:00.

(On the bright side, they know us now. I suppose there can't be too many loud English-speaking amateur alcoholics at Chambéry, so we probably stick out a bit. at least it saves me from having to actually order. Payment, unfortunately, is still required.)

In my defence, let it be said that Rebecca was to turn up in only twenty minutes after stopping off at the market to buy apples: either they were pretty scarce or she'd decided to plant a tree and harvest the bloody things herself, because Bryan had the time to occupy himself with his prostate twice and I had to get myself yet another glass to avoid dehydration while we were waiting.

And for the life of me I cannot recall exactly how it was we got onto the subject of Clapham Common. I think it may have been around the time that Bryan asked plaintively, with his eyes fixed on Rebeccah, if older men couldn't be loved too, and I rather acidly replied that probably yes, but only by other older men, which got us on to British politicians and then ... yes, you can see where this is going.

But the thought of Harold Wilson prancing naked, with only a pipe in his mouth, around those celebrated toilets whilst waiting for a blow-job (Bryan actually had to ask me how to pronounce fellatio. Can you believe that?) was not a happy one, so we rapidly moved on to other topics.

Which also, incidentally, escape me, and probably just as well for I suspect that it all went a bit downhill from there. I do remember being asked which century I was born in, just because I asked if someone wanted to see my etchings ... the rest is a blur.

And as for the title - I have still not gotten around to giving the lawn that second short haircut it so badly needs. So it's kind of Argentinian pampas down there still. That will have to change: there have been pleas for a barbecue soonish, so I shall have to do something. If only so that the actual barbecue is accessible.

Mind you, the noisetier isn't going to like it. Tough titty, no-one actually asked it to come and grow overshadowing my sacrificial altar.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Who Ate My Brain-Freeze ...

Once again, it's come to that time of year when all I can do is fume in hopeless despair as our American cousins down their teleprompters - or scripts, or whatever - and stubbornly refuse to produce any TV series for a month or two while they go off and enjoy themselves.

Oh sure, they leave a stock of reality shows in the freezer for us, many of them apparently involving improbably sexy housewives and hopefully lingerie, but that's too mind-numbing even for me, and in any case no sponsors have yet come forth to pay for ongoing research in the matter, so what to do?

It would have taken only a bit of foresight to realise that the stock of "Bones" and "The Mentalist" were running low, and order in a fresh supply of "Burn Notice" or "Warehouse 13" to tide us over the summer, but did they bother to think of that? Bloody rat's arse they did.

At this rate, we'll have to start talking to one another after dinner, for lack of anything better to do.

Or worse, bored couples, driven to extremes in the absence of distraction, might have to resort to sex to fill the gaping hole, as it were, and no good can ever come of that. Consider the spike in the incidence of STDs, not to mention the inevitable bumper baby crop come spring. Will no-one think of the children?

Not to mention the sheer magnitude of the public immorality, for of all those desperately shagging couples whose only excuse for this unwonted (and unsightly) exercise is that they're hooked on "Hawaii 5-0" many, although perhaps married, will turn out not to be married to one another. Statistics, or more properly human nature, more or less guarantees this. The TV studio executives really should reflect on their responsibilities here.

Well, it's certainly not going to be winning any awards for "Best-Dressed Lawn 2011" or something like that, but at least the paddock has been bludgeoned into submission.

It took some time, not counting the couple of hours I spent mowing Stacey's lawn so that she'd consent to part with the mower (for it is her friend), and I had to remove a rotting rabbit from the middle (bit of a shame really, it was nearly ripe and the head was just barely hanging on by the windpipe and it kept spinning whimsically, grinning and trying to catch my eye as I carted it off at the far end of a long-handled shovel), but it's more or less done.

Another couple of sessions, just to get it into shape, and we'll be good to go for a barbecue one of these days. Once Margo has finished having fun with the chainsaw.

Because there's no way I'm having her around me with that thing while I'm cooking. I could accidentally stand still a bit too long, and come to resemble a tree. And in any case many of our guests are friends, or a close approximation, and deserve at the least the chance to go home with all limbs intact, and still attached in their original positions.

Sumer is icumen, as we may tell from the fact that we have only two more weeks of (relative) tranquility before Jeremy returns to the roost. Of course he doesn't see it like that: what he sees is the enormous injustice whereby most of his friends finish at the end of the week whilst he, poor thing, still has another fortnight to go with his stage, at a restaurant gastronomique at Novalaise. Which is at least a bit closer to home than was Rochegude.

Margo got one of those nagging feelings on Monday that she'd forgotten something, and after a bit of rummaging around in her memory (and old e-mails) finally worked out what is was. We have guests turning up on Friday - our bridesmaid Raewyn and her brand-new husband, stopping over on their way down to the Dordogne. A good thing she remembered in time, if not they'd have to take us out for dinner.

I shall still have to think of something for dinner - suppose I'd better go check up Meteo France's pleasant fantasies about the weather for the weekend - not to mention how to occupy them on Saturday morning. I could always drag them around the market, I guess.

Well, I must have dreamt about a barbecue at some point, because it started pissing down and Thursday and hasn't really let up since. And I'm talking about real rain here, with hail and everything. Last night it wasn't so bad - we were snugly inside, around the table, eating and drinking to excess with Raewyn and Steve - but today it was pretty vile.

Off to Chambéry as usual and I got totally soaked going around the market - with my usual inexplicable lack  of forethought I left the car without bothering to dig the umbrella out from its lurking-place. Thinking to myself that it's really too much bother trying to carry an umbrella when you're going from stall to stall, and anyway I end up with two shopping baskets at the end and exactly where am I going to stick the brolly handle then?

Fair enough, but it really didn't help as I looked gloomily out from under the awnings of the fruit man at the enormous drops pelting down onto the pavement, getting the sinking feeling that the cold shower I've been putting off for years had suddenly caught up with me. (Mind you, when it's raining that hard an umbrella is bugger-all good anyway. The rain just bounces up off the tarmac: you still get soaked, but from bottom-up. Sad but true.)

At least things got better after that - they could hardly have gotten worse. Having dragged my sad sodden arse back to the car and deposited the loot it started to clear up, which could mean only one thing - drinkies!

So Bryan and I started seriously discussing the respective merits of various whites and their differing nutritive qualities, then Rebecca sidled in alongside us and one thing lead to another, as it will, and we wound up on the balcony of her 7th-floor apartment drinking Chateau Carton, eating bread and cheese, and discussing whether or not a trebuchet de table would have the necessary pull to lob a molotov cocktail onto the roof of the CAF building across the road.

Fortunately - or perhaps not - we ran out of wine before we could get around to empirical verification (just saying "Can too!" doesn't count) so we'll have to put that one off for another day. Preferably when we have some cows handy.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Some silken moment goes on forever ...

Well, I promised to whinge about it, and so I shall. The trip back all went swimmingly (apart from discovering that the autoroute access at Pertuis is only a demi-echangeur, forcing me to do 20km southwards before getting off and then back on in the northerly direction), heading north on the A51 until it came time to get off the sucker before hitting the traffic jams around Valence and take the D1075 up to Grenoble.

Off I duly got, and was hooning carelessly (that's "carefree", not "driving like an idiot", thank you very much) round a corner when all of a sudden I came across a huge, and apparently pointless, tailback that must have been about 10km long.

Godnose what the sucker was doing there, but I followed the damn thing for about 30km, at an average speed of all of 20kph. A far cry from the trip down. Still, end of a long weekend I suppose, and of top of it the Dutch are out and about, so what more can one expect?

At least the thing sort of petered out after Serres as people stopped off to have lunch or whatever, and I managed to overtake the campervans that were raising my blood pressure, and then when I did get home around 15:00, it was bright and sunny - just the right weather to crack open a bottle of rosé. Which, of course, bowing to narrative imperative, I did.

I can, incidentally,  confirm that duck breast, goat cheese, caramelised fruit and honey/mustard glaze is definitely worth making. Margo did not appreciate it - not that I really thought she would - said she couldn't taste the meat.

Me, I think she's ruined her tastebuds with too many years of not smoking. Jerry certainly scarfed it down with vague moans of pleasure, even although I did have to use apple slices rather than figs as planned.

Thursday started out rather unpromisingly. For starters, it was fair pissing down: on top of that, the lycée at Challes wanted Jerry back (he'd checked out on Monday as all they were doing, as the exams are on, was watch films in class). So we headed glumly off, and as we're waiting to turn left across the nationale in Challes there's a light "thunk" as the car behind runs into me.

Or, more precisely, was pushed into me, by the car behind her. Which came out rather the worse for wear, as it took a towball in the radiator, and the bonnet had crumpled alarmingly. My car was fine, still a right arse standing around in the rain helpfully filling out the little constat amiable (so-called because, in principle, you should not be madly shouting at one another, this is France and it doesn't always work, just saying) as one is supposed to do at accidents.

So Margo took Jerry the remaining 500m, and imagine my surprise when she came back with him still in the car. The bloody school did not want him at all, just one of us, to sign a paper saying that he wasn't there. Now why in hell's name they specifically asked for his presence I shall doubtless never know ...

Didn't leave me in the best of moods for going to Lyon, especially as by this time "pissing down" had turned into "torrential", and I swear that bits of the autoroute were more like a swimming pool than anything else. Quite honestly, at points I wondered if I wasn't about to find out what aquaplaning (otherwise known as "screaming in mindless terror as your car hurtles out of control") was like.

Whatever, Saturday's come round, as it will, and we have a long weekend in front of us - Pentecost, don't you know? (For all the strict separation of church and state, the French do love their religious holidays.) Which may go some way to explaining why Chambéry was somewhat deserted this morning, as I did the usual prowl around the market.

Still, can't complain, fewer people to bother me as I pluck the baby vegetables from their resting-place, and caress the bloom on the red-gold apricots. And let's not speak of the delicate sun-warm melons (not, pace Pratchett, the green warty ones), you'd have to go and lie down for a bit.

And I managed to pick up some cherries, which I rather feel are destined to be halved, pitted and then bathed with just a hint of arancio and maybe a spinkling of sugar before heading down our throats. Simple is always good.

Still have to think of a fitting fate for the butter beans (which are, oddly enough, haricots beurre in French), the tomatoes that actually smell of tomato, the two firm aubergines and the baby zucchini, the size of fingers (OK, biggish fingers, but fingers nonetheless).

Plus the nectarines, and the flat, white Italian peaches which are such a bloody pain to eat (tidily) but taste wonderful. And the redcurrants ...

Truth to tell, the only blot on the horizon (for after a rather dubious start to the day, it turned out bright and fine) was the anti-nuclear protesters, dressed up in white coveralls and gasmasks, handing out leaflets doubtless designed to make us all run for the exits screaming "we're all DOOMED!"

Prats. I like cheap, clean, safe electricity.

Still, the scowly-face worked, no-one tried to slip a leaflet into my shopping basket, and I managed to finish my rounds without being obliged to kill or mutilate anyone.

Although that did get a bit tested later on in the day, when I wandered past le Refuge with the firm intention of sipping a white in Karen's honour and found that there were what one could loosely call musicians performing there.

I might be being a bit generous here: let's just say that they had musical implements which seemed to be plugged in (unfortunately only 230VAC, rather than the 30KVDC preferred on the TGV) and noises were coming out of their mouths.

Which, personally, I could have done without.

And sadly, the same sort of madness was going on in place Metropole, and it was loud enough for me to hear as I sat and sipped at Le Modesto. Still, at least that lot weren't singing in French.

On the bright side, it was enough to drive me back home seeking respite (before you ask, Sophie's headed south with the rest of the lemmings), where I've spent my time since out on the terrace, soaking up the sun (and yes, white wine does make an excellent substitute for UV cream when taken orally) pondering the great existential questions that confront us all these days.

Such as, should I do rouelle de jambon on the barbecue with some of those vegetables, or should I go for basse cote in the frying pan? Or, just possibly, tandoori chicken?

I've been working on the matter for some time now, as the sun sinks lower (as does, let it be admitted, the level in the wine bottle) and still have not managed to come to any firm conclusion.

Well, not one that lasts for much more than five minutes, anyway. Perhaps I should just sit out here some more, listen to the crickets, bask in the sun and carry on marinating my liver. An idea is bound to come to me. At least I've got a firm grip on dessert.

Oh, by the way, Mal made it to Ecuador and apparently heads off into the jungle today. I doubt we'll have much news for a while: somehow I suspect that broadband connections are pretty scarce out there.

Later ... my problems have been resolved. I went down to the garden and picked blackberries, which are even as we speak making lascivious noises cuddling up to the cherries, and I spotted some magnificent rosée des prés (horse mushrooms, to you) so it's beef with mushrooms and pommes sarlardaises to go.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

But None Have Your Beauty ...

Well, though I says it myself as doubtless shouldn't, that really was a rather nice dinner, a sort of fitting end to a lazy day under the sun.

Roast chicken stuffed under the skin with heaps of chopped parsley and garlic and gros sel, with stuffed courgette and little pois gourmand and a melting potato and chèvre gratin, the whole lot finished off  by what is possibly the best bloody nectarine coffee cake ever.

If you're interested, go have a look at Smitten Kitchen (credit where it's due) and if you don't think it's wonderful you might as well stop reading this.

I must admit that I did change things around a bit: nectarines instead of strawberries, 'cos that's what I had, and because my spring-form mould is not particularly water-tight (but is a bugger to clean) I did it upside down, in a silicon kugelhopf mould. Which we just happen to have lying around, as one does.

Which just meant sprinkling the bottom rather heavily with the 2 tbsp of sugar (and a dose of cinnamon, just because), putting the fruit on top and then pouring the batter over the lot.

It had caramelised and glazed when I unmoulded it, which was kind of what I'd hoped for, and did it ever smell wonderful.

And personally, I don't think it needs whipped cream.

But about the day - usual scramble into Chambéry to empty the supermarket shelves and go through the market (apricots now!) where I actually bought rather less than usual, given that this week there'll be only one of us around at any given time as I'm in Paris until Tuesday night and on Wednesday Margo heads south to the Lubéron. Bright and sunny, and on days like that there's really only one thing to do: drink.

Luckily Bryan was about (for once, not doing a couple of laps of the lac du Bourget) and his little American friend Rebeccah turned up, then Stacey with her bratlings in tow, so we squatted the few available tables at Le Modesto and downed glasses of chardonnay to up our vitamin intake, always a wise thing to do in the heat.

Then, that afternoon, I finally got off my arse and did something about changing my car, too. As I have to give the 147 back in two weeks, it was about time. Now Margo is doing quite a few shows and such these days and occasionally needs something a bit bigger than the little Suzy, so I went off to the Fiat place to see what they had. Which happened to be a Doblo utilitaire: five seats (three of them for the pedally-deficient, I admit) and a hugeish cargo space.

The other advantage, fiscally speaking, is that as it's classed as a utility vehicle there's no TVTS (that's taxe sur les voitures de société, to you, and involves paying money to the state, so not good) and I can claim the GST on the rental back.

The downside is that it is, essentially, a white van, so Jeremy will feel ashamed if ever he gets caught being picked up or dropped off (not really quite the same cachet as a sports car, let it be said), but on the other hand that does mean that I can - nay, am expected - to act like a white van man. Ie, drive like a maniac. There's a silver lining to every cloud.

Anyway, had a rather pleasant trip up to Paris: for once the SNCF (whose online booking system still sucks a rat's arse, but never mind) stuck me next to a beautiful brunette, who must have been all of half my age. She spent the trip reading some turgid 900-page novel: I fell asleep. Sad, isn't it.

I do love trains. They go past people's back yards, so you get to be a sort of high-speed voyeur. I find that rather nice. You know you'll never see them again, it's totally impersonal apart from whatever stories you choose to invent, which is probably the best part. Baby chateaux, old maisons de ferme, tarted-up houses with a swimming-pool only 50m from the lake ...

Whatever, beautiful weather at Paris, with only the merest soupçon of pollution in the air (that's over and above the yellowish haze that's considered normal), and the stuff for the SNCF actually went well. With any luck they'll be able to go out on the trials with their 1.3M€ of gear and reasonable confidence that they'll get some meaningful data.

The only problem with going to Vitry is that I get to eat at the SNCF canteen, which is about as dire as you'd expect. Even the bread is boring - the caterers must have some sort of device for removing all traces of flavour. On the bright side, at least it's not dry, unlike the EDF canteen at a nuclear power station.

OK, so it all had to go titsup. Christ, I can be so frikkin blond. I got to Gare de Lyon on Tuesday night with 20 minutes to spare before my TGV pulled out and started looking for car 17. It was a single rame: no car 17. So I go check with the controleur on the quai, and handed him my ticket: he gently pointed out that the date on that was for Wednesday, 1/6. Oh fuck.

Can't change the ticket there and then, have to go to the guichet: they can't do it either but give me a phone number. Which is inoperative after 18:00, although I could do it via the intartoobz. So I ring the long-suffering Marie to check that it'll be OK to squat for another night, and head back out to Eaubonne ruefully asking myself how I can be quite so thick. I mean, the website even gave me two chances to review the bookings before confirming ... if any one of you speaks of this again there will be trouble. Believe me.

So anyway, I managed to change my ticket to some ungodly hour Wednesday moaning - TGV from Paris to Milan. Apart from the usual rush getting from Eaubonne to Gare de Lyon no problems there, but once we'd started moving I thought I could at least go get some breakfast.

Off to the restaurant car to find myself behind a gaggle of Parisiennes of a certain age, all arguing about who wanted to order what and how they were going to split the payment ... after half an hour I finally got to the head of the queue, got handed my coffee and patisserie, to find that they either couldn't or wouldn't take plastic. I should have guessed: the staff were Italian.

And then I finally got back home, unshowered and unshaven and consequently feeling like shit, to find it pissing down, with snow not too far above us on the Bauges. Bah. Luckily Margo had not yet left for the Lubéron, and was able to pick me up from Chambéry and decant me at home

Ah, the joys of the countryside. As there's neither Margo nor Jeremy it's me that has to take the dog for her evening waddle around the graveyard. There was an enormous squawking of crows, harassing some poor fox whose only sin was trying to slink unobtrusively down along the vines. Without so much as a chicken feather to be seen.

Friday afternoon it was a quick trip, despite the best efforts of a lorry and a couple of camping-cars: three hours all told down to Tour d'Aigues, or more precisely Cabrières d'Aigues. And I have to say it again - Provence is unreasonably beautiful. Spectacular too - at one point as I was barrelling down the D1075 at an possibly excessive speed, blue sky at my back and steel-gray and black ahead, Alice Cooper streaming around me, five or six lightning bolts seemed to fly up from a peak ahead, like a fist unclenching. Only more quickly than that.

(The headlines in Saturday's paper were all about a team of five climbers up in the Hautes-Alpes who had the misfortune to be struck by lightning. Four survived. Good thing a car is a pretty good approximation of a Faraday cage, I suppose.)

Margo got a little villa for the weekend in a camping ground on the shores of a little lake, l'Etang de la Bonde. Or something. There's a little chateau, Provençal-style, at one end, and it seems to have an endless supply of ducks. At dusk yesterday it was half-covered with fog, and I stood watching as a couple of swans slid in and out the frontier between light and mist. A watery tart brandishing a sword would, I admit, have been a useful addition to the scenery.

I could happily live out my days here - a tanned, wrinkled gin-soaked wreck basking in the sun like some antediluvian lizard, getting ready to die happy. Unfortunately for posterity, my last words would probably be something along the lines of "Garçon! Another pichet of rosé, tout de suite!" Whatever. Posthumous fame is much overrated, in my opinion.

By dint of following my nose as I wandered around with the camera this morning I managed to find a decent bar - have to do something to make up for not being at the market, don't I? Even served copious quantities of nibbles: shame that the olive and I are not really on speaking terms.

Of course people never speak about the dark side of Provence, which is that, on recent form at least, it seems to rain six days a week. I spent a happy morning wandering around under a burning sun, then this afternoon decided to go for a walk with the camera ... stuffed my face with cherries (last of the Napoléons, would've been a shame to let them go to waste) from an abandoned orchard on the side of some little communale and then, as the storm clouds massed overhead, decided it would be a good idea to head back.

I had just made it to the entrance of the camping when the heavens opened: in those last 150m I got soaked to the skin. Which is why I spent the rest of my afternoon naked, with a glass of wine, trying to iron my jeans dry.

Across the road from the bar of which I spoke was a small restaurant, l'Ange Gourmand, whose 13€ menu looked rather interesting, indeed had me salivating a bit, and that night, as Margo had had a rather good day, we tried a drink or two at the bar and then, bloated with inertia and having no real desire to go back and cook fish fillets and go to bed early (no internet, remember? What did people do, back in the days before porn à volonté?) we thought we'd try eating out, for once.

Sadly the menu that had drawn my attention was only available for lunch - I was looking forward to those lasagnes -  but the salade composée with honey-roasted goat cheese, the filet mignon bordelaise, and a rather scrumptious pot of raisins macerated in rum bedded down in a sort of creme caramel that we had to settle for were a more than honourable substitute.

Even picked up some pottery: as a general rule I find the Provençal stuff definitely a bit - well, rustique, lumpen-proletariat if you prefer - but there was a potter with stuff that although it was definitely in the right colours was almost delicate. Came away with a plate and a bowl, don't even regret it. But I shall tell you about the return trip some time later, when I've calmed down a bit. (And if they see fit to release me from the holding cells: you'd think exterminating campervan-driving Belgians was wrong.)