Saturday, July 30, 2011

Won't be fooled again ...

You may not be aware of this, but the French shamelessly adopted le fast-food years ago - even before we arrived here in fact, so I can't be held responsible, you know - and McDonalds has two indigeneous competitors pushily pimping crap food: Quick (and nasty) and Flunch.

For years, of course, McDo's have been promoting the "Happy Meal" (still waiting for the French to enact some sort of truth in advertising standards so that they'd be obliged to tout it as "Miserable not-quite food", still no luck so far), and just now I've noticed that Quick has posters up all over the place advertising their "Smiley Lunch". The mind fair boggles.

At some point Flunch will be forced to retaliate with their very own "Morning-after-great-sex Breakfast" (I so do not want to go into the menu for that one, although I have some ideas, some of them actually not involving custard and rude fruits) and it will all go titsup, I'm telling you.

In the "Other News You May Not Care to Hear" department, you'll recall that last week I'd left Bryan in his apartment, trapped with three great slabs of gib board and all his power tools. I thought I'd better check the other day on how he was getting on: when I rang he'd carefully drilled holes in the stone wall and fitted rawlplugs, and was busily taking measurements to the nearest millimetre and transferring them to the placo, so that when he stuck the screws in he'd be guaranteed to miss the anchoring holes by at least a centimetre.

At which point I thought - perhaps mistakenly - that it would be the right time to tell him that many, normal, people actually attach wooden battens to their walls and then nail or screw the boards onto those, safe in the knowledge that you've a much bigger target. The silence at the other end of the phone was palpably hostile; perhaps it wasn't really the moment.

Another note to self: do not make helpful suggestions, ever - and if you absolutely must do so, never prefix them with "But I thought everyone knew that ... ". It doesn't make you any friends. People can be so ungrateful, sometimes: it saddens me. Or it would, if I cared.

A stray neutrino passing through hits, by an incredible zillion-to-one chance, a still-functioning neuron in what I'm pleased to call my brain (it's the closest approximation I've got, and I'm happy with it), fires it, and another random thought is born (doubtless to quickly regret it, and run screaming for the exit). Ali pointed out the existence of wordle the other day, and just for fun I ran this lot through it.

The result, I'm sad to say, looks like a Tourette's Syndrome explosion in a cat-food factory (thanks, Mal, for those feeble-minded foul-mouthed rabbits) with bugger, shit, and arse in brightly coloured blobs. I suppose that should worry me: somehow, it fails to do so.

Once more unto the breach, and unselfishly giving all for you unappreciative lot, Margo (Mrs. Babblings? No, I somehow think not) and I sallied forth in our tireless quest to find the best cheap restaurants around Chambéry. Today's effort, "l'Ozone", is not amongst them, I'm sad to say. It was not exactly cheap and was definitely not the best.

In fact I'd personally be tempted to put it down as one of the worst. Going for the plat du jour I didn't expect anything out of this world, although it is usually a pretty good way to get a handle on a place: if it's decent you stand a good chance with the menu, but if it's crap ... you have been warned.

Put like that I had no right to be disappointed, for out of this world it was not. The ragout de porc was a bit chewy and definitely undersalted (rare in France, come to that, and no salt and pepper on the table either - what's the world coming to?) and a bit on the cool side, and the polenta was sloppy and positively tepid. Had a branch of parsley embedded in it, mind you. The guy in charge of the microwave must have been an horticulturalist. The ratatouille was at least edible, if undistinguished, which made a nice change.

I'd ordered the midday menu and was thus entitled to a dessert, but after waiting 25 minutes for it to turn up I was getting ready to move for the exit and settle up, firmly refusing to pay for the sabayon de myrtilles I'd ordered and not had, when unfortunately it finally turned up. A shame really.

I wish I'd thought to take the camera along, as it was one of the most garish spectacles that's ever been plonked in front of me: A bed of cold purple blueberries half-covered with a fluorescent orange sauce (I think that was supposed to be the sabayon, although I can't say for certain - it certainly bore no relationship to that with which I am familiar) and the whole lot topped off with a ball of sickly green ice-cream that was supposed to be Chartreuse. A picture of that technicolour monstrosity would have at least gone some way to making up for having to eat it.

Probably the most uninspiring dessert I've had in my life, and certainly the least aesthetic. Christ, I've eaten bowls of vomit that looked nicer. (Don't ask. You eat what you get in Africa. Even the eyeballs. And in any case, it somehow tastes better when it's not your own.)

So what with the inefficient service and food that I can only qualify as so-so at best (Margo wisely went for the pizza - as she said, it's not easy to make a hash of that, although they did their best) I rather think that's one place to be written off. So a word to the wise: if ever you happen to find yourself at the Chamnord shopping centre feeling hungry, go to the neighbouring Kentucky Fncked Duck instead, at least you know what to expect. Which is what someone of my acquaintance recently called "tongue-rape", which sounds kind of ambiguous to me but never mind, I merely report it.

Whatever, the gratin de ravioles de Royans au foie gras at le Modesto is still worth eating, which cheers me up no end.

Time goes by, and sadly the weather's getting no better. Thursday now, after five days of  more or less unremitting rain, and the high for the day is about 16°. Might as well be in bloody Hamilton.

Still, it perked up for Saturday. But to great general dismay, le Modesto is closing down for August!  Much wailing, and probably gnashing of teeth. Still, they were - very generously - open until 17:00 today so we shamelessly profited from that (and the fact that they weren't serving meals, so outside tables were still available): Beckham ran up her bar tab and we grazed on whatever came out as they emptied the fridges.

Calamar (not my thing, I admit - never really been able to find pleasure in eating a squid's rectum, even when bread-crumbed and fried), foie gras, some rather nice runny goat (cheese), some excellent ham, a bit of tapenade, more foie gras ... washed down, I'm afraid to say, with even more wine than usual. Mostly because we haven't actually seen the sun for a week, but also because it's such fun drinking.

But fear not, I'm still good to get dinner ready, and in fact I'm wondering just what to do. I have some ham, some soft goat cheese, poivrons and some fresh sweetcorn that I've just charred over a burner, and I think I shall probably finish by smashing the cheese with some herbs, spreading it over the ham, and then rolling it up with the corn, some caramelised poivrons, and a bit of tomato in the middle. Just calling it "ham rolls" doesn't really do it justice, though.

What's really causing me grief is the vexed question of what to serve with it. I do have some filo pastry, which I could always layer with grated parmesan and thyme, then bake and top with tomato and goat cheese, or I could always try this flat-bread from Smitten Kitchen.

Have not yet decided, but I must admit I'm tending towards the filo. Try the flat-bread another day - with Sophie perhaps, but definitely not when Margo's around, because it is not Her Thing. I'll let you know how it goes.

Anyway, time is pressing: I do have two people and an adolescent to feed, you know. Although I suppose I will not be able to call him that for much longer, his 17th birthday rolls round in a couple of weeks. Doesn't time just fly when you're having fun? At least he heads off tomorrow to see Amelia up at Mumblefuck - unless I got that bit wrong, quite likely: another week of relative calm in which to vegetate.

And just because it seems to be the thing to do, here's a completely gratuitous cat. And yes, if she looks as though she's sizing me up for an early death, it's probably because she is. You expected a nice cat in this household? She's border-line psychotic, of course. The drugs help. Your optimism never fails to amaze.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Making your own entertainment ...

Well, if nothing else, I've got a menu idea out of last week's literary discussion. How does "lèvre de veau braisé, coeur à l'etuvée farci à la purée façon grand-mère"* sound to you for that special Valentine's Day meal? Gross? Yeah, I have to agree. Perhaps not such a good idea after all. I shall return to my cook-books.

Now would be as good a time as any for number 37 in our continuing series of Handy Hints for Concerned Parents: "How to tell when your daughter escapes from the jungle". It's a simple, three step process, which goes as follows:
  1. Start a blog
  2. Feverishly scan the stats at least twice a day
  3. Notice with a start that your solitary hit for the week comes from Ecuador
Which also reminds me that sometimes I think that perhaps I ought to be a little more careful about my turn of phrase, which I freely admit can sometimes border on the colourful, not to say obscene, and my use of words. Whatever, some little Taiwanese pervert was doubtless - I hope - disappointed with the results of his Google image search for "plugged enemas". Mind you, it probably says something about the quality of Google's automated indexing as well ...

We really are going to have to put in a serious effort training Beckham. Would you believe that rather than join us in our usual health regimen she headed off to Annecy for a blind date with some guy whose name sounds like a brand of whisky (OK, so that's a point in his favour) that she "met" on an internet dating site? Pas trop serieux, as they say: I'm disappointed.

So the Gang of Bs was, technically, one short of a quorum when we met at le Modesto, where they'd laid out little foie gras canapés for our pleasure (hint: do not ask for canapés in a French restaurant - you're likely to be disapprovingly redirected to a furniture store, for a canapé is in fact a sofa) and the sun actually came out. Fortunately the rules are pretty comprehensive and cover such eventualities: in case of emergencies such as that we may start drinking anyway, which we promptly did.

And I invented a new game, which is throwing little bits of bread (some of those canapés were on pain aux noix, of which I personally cannot see the point) at little old ladies passing by, and then putting the blame on the unsupervised children at the next table. Ah, the simple pleasures of a misspent life.

It was at about this point, when people were starting to get suspicious, that Bryan suggested it would be a marvellous idea if I, having a car at my disposal (the Suzy, Margo's off at another salon near Valence), were to give him a hand picking up some sheets of placo (think gib board, but with about three inches thickness of polystyrene foam on one side for insulation) from the Boite à Outils and taking them back to his place, where renovation is going on fitfully.

That had not in fact been in my plans for the day, but what the hell, I thought, how difficult could that be? And one can't let a drinking companion down in their hour of need, or where is society headed? (Short answers please, on the back of a postcard and including full bank account details, to this address.) I really should have known better.

Getting three sheets of 2.5m x 1m, surprisingly heavy board on top of the car and more or less attached to the roof rack was tedious, but doable: the real fun comes when you have to get them up two flights of twisty, turny and above all steep stairs, along an 80cm wide balcony and through a small door. Note to self: contract cholera the next time a so-called friend asks for a bit of help with a minor shifting job.

Whipped past to see Stacey after that little experience (and wound up doing the apéro thing for a couple of hours, which is about par for the course) and learnt, somewhat to my surprise, that under her mild-mannered, unassuming American demeanour beats the steely, ruthless heart of an evil sociopath.. My kind of person.

She's looking around at changing her phone company - it doesn't really matter, they're all crap, but hey, maybe you can save ten euros a month if you shop around, and that can't be bad - and to this end contacted the lot of them to see what they had to offer. I must admit it can get complicated when you try to tot up all the little bits and pieces, what with phone calls to mobile numbers, international calls, do you get TV with the bundle, and more ...

Whatever, SFR seem to have a particularly dedicated team at their call centre in Bangalore or wherever, for while I was there she got a call from them - the sixth, she later told me, in the past month - trying to get her to sign up with them immediately. Now you or I would probably have told them to bugger off about thirty seconds into their spiel, but she played the poor guy like an expert phisherman.

She put on her stubborn, suspicious bird-brain persona, starting off by pretending that she didn't actually know what the gear she had installed was and getting him to explain all that, then she had him go through the details of her current contract with Orange, then put him on hold so she could go get a pencil and paper to note down the juicy details of their proposal - she put him on the speaker so that I could share the fun, and I could hear his voice rising as he got more and more excited. Or angry, hard to tell.

By the end of it I think he was close to apoplexy, but so exhausted he could only acquiesce weakly when she told him to call back in a month to see if she'd made up her mind. A true chef d'oeuvre, I could only listen in admiration.

She had kept the guy talking to her for about 45 minutes, ten of which were spent trying to get a phone number out of him so that she could ring him back personally if she felt that she needed more details, and studiously ignoring his protests that he didn't actually have a direct incoming line. How cruel is that?

Anyway, we polished off the wine and I eventually made it back home with the loot from the market. The little piments forts were just too attractive not to buy: I can see I'll have to do something Indonesian to accomodate them.

But right now I have to go off and do one of my all-time favourite things: declare the TVA (GST, to you) for last month so we get it paid back. Extremely tedious, and mind-numbingly boring.

And just to annoy me even more, just got a text from Sophie to say that down south the sun has turned the sky a limpid turquoise, lighting up the brilliant greens of the épicéas ... that's her speaking, not me. Up here it is gray and overcast and cool, and likely to stay that way for another couple of days yet. Typical bloody summer.

*It still sounds better than braised calves lips with stewed ox-heart stuffed with mashed potato, though.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

And Then He Kissed Me - On Osculatory Practices ...

Poor Sophie is off in Brittany and apparently suffering the usual dismal Breton summer weather rolling in off the Channel and washing over the stony beaches that the French, for some peculiar reason, seem to find so attractive. She still finds the place enchantingly beautiful. But then, she is French.

She's doubtless right, even some of the places we did get to go to when we were there lo! these many years ago were wonderful, and she's been off to the islands which are supposedly savage and marvellous. Although I suspect I could happily give them a miss in winter: I prefer the sea to be more or less horizontal.

She's very thoughtfully been keeping me up-to-date with her adventures - horse-riding, motocross, whatever - so it's a bit of a shame that virtually every SMS starts off with something along the lines of "Foul weather, gray skies, windy, pissing down with rain ..." But expressed in impeccable literary French, which reads rather better.

We had our 4th of July barbecue, just a bit late this year ... usual story, of course: after weeks of baking heat (what the French call a "soleil de plomb" from the sheer oppressive weight of it) it really bucketed down Tuesday night and Wednesday.

So Thursday dawned gray and overcast, but the sun started to break through around midday - ie about an hour before people finally started to turn up in dribs and drabs - and it turned out not too bad.

At least it wasn't so hot that I entered terminal meltdown as I slaved over the grill, but sufficiently warm that the rosé was much appreciated.

With, unfortunately, the inevitable side-effects: by the end of the day I was, as the French are wont to say "lamentablement cuit" or, put otherwise, in no fit state to drive anywhere. A good thing then that I didn't have to, really. It's kind of odd because I swear I had only three or four glasses - I have to admit that my glass holds a bit more than half a bottle, though.

Whatever, before dedicating the afternoon to lovingly marinating my liver I prepared some piginnabun (cheated, and cooked it in the oven, though), the making of which I shall now relate to you. It's basically steamed pork buns, without the steaming - one of my favourite quickies because it's delicious and also uses up left-over roast pork, which would otherwise get chucked or go and lurk in the freezer for years (not good).

The idea is that you stick chunks of pig in the kitchen whizz to mince the stuff fairly finely, then make up a more or less spicy sauce (depending on taste) to bind the stuff. My recipe (which comes from the good old Womans' Weekly cookbook series) involves frying some chopped root ginger and garlic for a minute or two, then adding a dose of soy sauce, some oyster sauce, a bit of char siu or hoi sin, maybe some sweet chili sauce, sesame oil, red food colouring and thinly sliced spring onions. Then a couple of tbsp of cornflour mixed with water to thicken, fling the pork in and mix to get a nice thick stuffing.

At this point you may congratulate yourself on having got so far and make the bread dough, which is bog-standard except that I like to use lard as the fat, and sometimes a 50:50 mix of rice flour and standard flour. Of course, if you don't happen to have rice flour lying around in the cupboards  this won't be an option, and you will not be confronted with hard choices. (One of these days I shall have to find something to do with the foufou I have in there. Any ideas?)

So anyway, once the dough has risen nicely (I always stick the stuff in the microwave on defrost for a minute or two, works a treat and it only takes half an hour to rise) you should knock it back, cut it into seven or eight chunks, and roll each out into a circle about 15cm in diameter. Then place a ball of stuffing in the middle of each circle, bring the edges up and over to enclose it completely, and pleat to seal.

Place the balls in a deep pie dish (do not forget to oil this, or you will regret it), the idea being to create a sort of daisy (which is why it's called a marguerite over here), then brush the top with milk or sesame oil and sprinkle with nigella or sesame seeds or whatever takes your fancy: that's it. It just needs to rise for a couple of hours before baking - if you are, like me, super-organised you would get it all ready the night before and stick it in the fridge overnight.

While I was busy being efficient I also found the time to make up that Memphis marinade I mentioned last time, and stick a bit of beef in it. I cannot vouch for the authenticity: it involves nothing more complicated than frying a chopped onion and some garlic in butter, then adding a half-cup of ketchup, a good dose of Worcestershire sauce, oregano, thyme, chili and cayenne to taste, 2tbsp brown sugar and ditto molasses, then finally a half-cup of cider vinegar before leaving it to simmer for twenty minutes.

After which an immersion blender could come in useful, if you want a smooth sauce. We actually have one lurking in the pantry, dating back to the time when we were Good and Dedicated Parents who had sworn to feed our darling first-born on nothing but healthy, home-made purée positively oozing with vitamins and stuff. That didn't last long, truth to tell.

Whichever you prefer, after marinating for a day or so in that the meat is ready to be barbecued - slowly, please - then sliced and served with whatever's left of the marinade. At which point you may reasonably expect general applause, because it really is bloody good. And don't limit yourself to beef either - that's what I had, but I reckon it'd be just as good with pork, or even chicken, why not?

And now for something completely different: have to like the title, but I really hate the lack of proof-reading 'cos maceration is NOT that. As usual, go see the sordid details here: "Unhappy Man's Manhood Macerated in Garbage Disposal" - of course, it's The Register.

In further good news guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your lips, it would appear that the Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad of Ecuador has been taken off the list of vanished amphibians, due to its no longer qualifying as such. Because it's been found, and can thus no longer be considered to be "vanished". (Exceptionally for this blog, this item is in fact true. For a given value of "true", anyway, knowing that this may tend towards "false". Whatever.)

Have to wonder how the little bugger went missing in the first place, probably more misplaced than anything else. And to tell the truth, one frog looks much like another, to me at least. Anyway, no thanks at all to Mal, who should be leaving the jungle in ten days or so to get in a month's backpacking around South America, by the way.

The 14th of July marks the unofficial beginning of the holiday season: some people do head off before then, but some people will do anything. The righteous and upstanding wait, on starter's orders as it were, and once Bastille Day arrives the mad rush starts.

Apart from wreaking havoc on the roads, it also means that my blood pressure takes its annual hike as the camper-van season opens. Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against them in the abstract, but when you're at the arse-end of a line of six of the frikkin' things, pootling along at 70kph the better to admire nature's wonders, you begin to understand how Genghis Khan must have felt on coming across a tranquil, isolated nunnery after a furious argument with his mother.

I came across these sumptuously purple beans at the market and had the firm intention of preparing a glorious multi-coloured bean salad to go with the roast pork: imagine my deception when they turned green on cooking. Never mind, they still tasted like beans, and at least there was corn on the cob, the first of the season.

Which leads me, albeit circuitously, to the discussion on kissing that Bryan, Beckham and I had at the Modesto as we guzzled our vitamins. (I think they like us there. Even gave us free drinks, to make up for making us shift from a table to the bar, as someone wanted to eat. Now that's good customer relations. But I digress.)

Anyway, Becks was trying to describe a kiss she'd had, and the best simile she could come up with was "like, you know when you're making potato purée, not too stiff but not runny either, and before you've put the butter in? So you've got it in a bowl, all mashed, and you bend down, and you put your lips in it? Well, that's what it was like."

That is, I must admit, one of the grosser culinary metaphors I've come across, and I'm sure you can imagine that our conversation got quite animated at this point, until cooler heads prevailed and another round of drinks was procured. But I'm still having difficulty imagining exactly what that kiss was like. Come to that, I completely forgot, in the heat of the moment, to check whether it was open-mouthed or not. Or whether there was garlic in the purée. Very lax of me. A quick trip to the kitchen may be in order, to test these hypotheses.

I hope, incidentally, that this convinces you - should more proof be required - that our Saturday gatherings are in fact dedicated to the improvement of our minds and the lot of humanity in general, and not just an excuse to swill alcohol.

Anyway, I'm off: it's bucketing down with rain right now and I have some work I really feel like avoiding, so I need to go do some seriously creative procrastination. Mind how you go.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Anything once, except folk dancing and incest ...

... as once was said, it seems, of one of the various Morleys. Possibly apocryphally.

Doddled off to Aiguebellette to get the dearly-beloved son, and waited as he bade teary-eyed farewells to all and sundry. (I exaggerate a bit. More a case of shaking hands, clapping shoulders, and "see you one of these days". That's the yoof of today for you.) So now we're stuck with him - and, while he's at home, his mate François, who seems to look on our fridge as his.

The restaurant gave him 100€ under the table (which was nice of them, it's a stage non-remunerée and they didn't have to) and offered him a job over August, which he turned down. It was service rather than cuisine, and in any case that's his busy social month. Never mind, he's got plenty to do with Stéphane next door.

Two legs good, four legs better
Over that side of l'Epine the daylight hangs around a lot longer - here we tend to get the light cut off by the Bauges around 20:30 or thereabouts, and Chambéry is worse - and so even late evening there were still plenty of people jumping off cliffs and sailing lazily around.

Which is all very well I suppose if you're into that sort of thing, but I'm not. I rather like the reassuring feeling of having something under my feet, even if it is only a couple of planks.

Still, that's not the only option available: you can just lie on the beaches and soak up the sun, or take out a boat, and the more mettlesome can even go swimming.

Not, incidentally, something I do very often. Not that the water isn't clean or anything, quite to the contrary - it's just that I always seem to manage to get a bit of duckweed or something floating into one ear, which then gets infected and requires massive doses of antibiotics. And being a bit retarded, I've not yet worked out how to swim whilst reliably keeping my head out of water.

Aiguebellette was where we first discovered that, in France, there's no such animal as public foreshore - not as far as lakes and water-courses are concerned, anyway. There are still a few stretches of water-front - all rather rocky, and tending towards the inaccessible - where you can, if you can get there, go paddle your feet in the water for free: for the most part, it's plage payante. Can't complain too much, at least someone gets paid to keep the grass tidy.

Like I said, this weather is not really conducive to grande cuisine. The salad consumption goes way up (happily, there are many ways to accomodate the humble lettuce, at least if you start off with a good one, like my favourite rougette which has thick, crunchy, flavoursome leaves) and we tend towards simple stuff that doesn't require complicated utensils like knives and forks to eat.

Like a decent chili con carne, for instance, with salad on the side and tortilla chips. I cannot tell you how happy I am that these have become almost universally available over in these benighted parts.

It used to be that you had to hunt down a few sad packets in some specialty store and pay through the nose for them - I guess the French have embraced le mondialisation at last, at least as far as food goes. (Actually, that's true. Even back in José Bové's glory days the French were enthusiastic eaters of le fast-food, and now, at least in Paris - I know, that's not really France, but never mind - Mexican, American and Indonesian grub, to name but a few, is pretty easy to find alongside the Asian cuisine that's always been available. In the 13th, anyway.)

Why, even in the countrified bourgeois backwater that is Chambéry, any restaurant that aspires to trendiness seems to feel obliged to offer their variant on the hamburger. (Incidentally, the one at le Modesto isn't half bad. Still no beetroot though, perhaps I should offer a few suggestions.)

Which reminds me that I forgot, a while back, to mention Eléa's Café but then this is an on-going research project, isn't it? The eggs benedict aren't bad (although the industrial sauce béarnaise is that rather startling yellow that can only be achieved by overuse of industrial colorant E605 or whatever) and they do a pretty decent BLT.

I have seen people order a burger there too: I have never been tempted because, quite frankly, it would feed a family of Biafrans for at least a month and I know I would be incapable of eating it. In fact, it's so massive I'm not sure I could even fit it in my mouth, and I will not eat a burger with anything other than fingers.

We're well into July now, and that can mean only one thing: it's the Mondial Folklorique at Chambéry, with all that entails. There are of course spectacles ambulatoires, wherein oddly-dressed people stop, clear a space large enough for the delights to follow by the simple expedient of tuning-up, perform a brief cacophony (may involve pigs' bladders onna stick) and then bugger off to the next place of torture.

There is folk-singing, which makes me very happy that my grasp of French is not perfect. There are costumes involving - usually - acres of flounced starched linen, cutely embroidered caps, stockings, gaiters, and a beard. (This last apparently essential, no matter the sex of the participant.) And then there's the inevitable, lugubrious wheezing of quaint instruments, usually constructed around parts of a goat's anatomy that the goat in question would probably be happier still possessing.

All of which leads to monumental pile-ups on the pavements as folk who have better things to do try to get somewhere that they can do it in peace, struggling through the masses of stunned-mullet gawkers gathered around the troupes, wondering what worse could possibly follow. (I must admit I wonder myself sometimes. It is, inevitably, worse and I don't know how that's done. I hope it's an asymptotic approach to some hypothetical nadir rather than a straight geometric progression, for the outcome of that would, were the festival not limited to one week, be dire.)

In any case, I can definitely see the attractiveness of the Patrician's attitude towards the proponents of street theatre, and would myself happily chip in towards the construction of a municipal scorpion pit. (A public amenity that seems to have been inexplicably omitted from the plans for the reconstruction of the covered market.)

Another thing is the enormous increase in the number of weddings going on - you can tell this, even over the roar of the mower down in the paddock, by the processions of cars all honking like mad, followed shortly afterwards by the full-volume recording of bells ringing out as the victor is declared. And then up in the village the next day the streets are covered in sawdust, for in Savoie for some strange reason you get strewn with sawdust rather than confetti. Perhaps just a reflection of the notorious parsimony of the peasants, who saw no point to wasting good paper, but had plenty of wood to hand.

I'm not entirely sure why this happens, but I suspect it's something to do with the consequences of those chilly October evenings with nothing else better to get up to.

I really do not like funerals. I can't think of a damn thing to say (I mean, just how many ways can you say "Oh, sorry about that" - more to the point, how many times could one stand hearing it?) and I feel like a complete prat. Still, noblesse oblige and all that, so when I got an email from StockIt to say that Réné's wife had died suddenly - aged around 35, yet: cancer's a filthy beast - off I went to sit through the whole Catholic affair. Did not make for a particularly cheerful Tuesday. At least it wasn't in latin.

Whatever. I have some basse côte in the fridge: I think I shall go marinate it overnight in some Memphis barbecue sauce so it's ready to meet its maker on Tuesday night. With a couple of baked potatoes with sour cream, garlic and chives, and the inescapable salad, should go down a treat.

Hopefully, it'll be more successful than last night's quiche. My fault, I know that Jeremy cordially detests the things, but personally I love them and from time to time I let myself cook for me. I suppose I really should wait for some time when everyone else has buggered off, but sometimes I gets certain urges ...

Headed back to Medipole to see Jacques again - the old fool got himself readmitted, having insisted on being checked out too early. So they didn't spot that some sutures hadn't taken or whatever, so his bladder wasn't exactly watertight any more ... gave us the chance to catch up some more in between the comic nurse interludes à la Benny Hill (yes, that really does happen), mustn't complain. His middle son, Vincent, is apparently to open a replica of his Geneva bar/resto, "Au Coin du Bar", in Chelsea - paid for by English clients. Wonder if we could ship Jeremy off to London?

But getting back to my principal preoccupation, as I nicked some rosemary from Stacey's place yesterday (I have never been able to keep rosemary alive here, don't know why - it's always died in frightful circumstances. Burnt by drought, eaten by beetles or, like the last lot, literally mown down in its youth.) it might be lemon and rosemary chicken tonight.

Enjoy your winter, we're thinking of you. And no, those are not mine. No matter what Smut would try to have you believe.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Quiet Night of a White-Hot Day ...

So here I am, out on the terrace at 22:00 with a glass of white, a cigar, and a flaky WiFi connection. At least it's only 25° now, down from the mid-30s we suffered throughout the day. And there's even a bit of a breeze, which is kind of agreeable. But I hate to think what it's going to be like upstairs later on.

Explanatory note for those of you who don't know the place: the ground floor (or the first floor, if you're looking up from the courtyard) has metre-thick stone walls and is, no matter what the outside temperature, always relatively cool. Not to say frigid, especially in winter. So far so good. The next level has thick brick walls and, despite the acres of French windows, is usually liveable.

The top floor, the bit we had built in the attic space, is well insulated but it's still directly under our nice slate roof. What color is slate? Right. Does black absorb the heat? Right again. So after a good day's sun, it's like an airless bloody oven up there. Opening the windows doesn't help that much, because the outside air is no cooler ...

The best part, of course, is that we're practically obliged to sleep with the windows open just so we can breathe, which means that at 5am we get the dawn chorus, a couple of crows going at it like mad on the actual skylight, thanks very much, and often as not the local vigneron has decided that now would be a nice cool time of day to take the tractor down the vines and spray them. The country life has its drawbacks, you know.

The sex shop is just around the corrner
Mental dyslexia? Going through Chambéry tonight there were posters up all over the place advertising the Fête du Cinema. Harmless enough, even if most of the films presented will doubtless be dire, gloomy and totally pointless films d'auteur (which is the usual phrase trotted out when one has no bloody idea at all what to say apart from the fact that it's totally hermetic and of no interest to anyone apart from the film-maker and, just possibly, his doting mother), but my brain insisted on reading Fête de l'Enema. Not the same, and probably not a good sign.

On reflection, perhaps it's not such a mis-reading after all. Every Woody Allen film I've seen since (and including) "Manhattan" has given me an uncomfortable feeling of bloated fullness. Maybe it's just me, although I have discussed the matter at length with Sophie, one time when we had nowt better to do, and if I"m a philistine I do have company.

Looking back on that last sentence, I can see it could be misinterpreted, by those with an evil mind. Sophie and I do not make a habit of discussing enemas, but it does happen that from time to time the conversation turns to literature and the cinema. Just like to make that point quite clear.

Now that I have my white van, Margo decided it would be just perfect for her to go off to salons in, 'cos she can fit enormous amounts of junk in there (doesn't seem to diminish the piles of junk around the house, mind you) and it just so happens that she has one in Normandy this week. So I'm condemned to driving round in her little Suzy, which actually does a pretty good impression of a popcorn popper.

One of our clients does security hardware: infrared and hyperfrequency barriers, motion detectors and stuff like that - these things are hooked together over good old twisted pair which winds up at a concentrator, which handles the dirty business of turning on the floodlights and unleashing the Dobermanns, as well as providing a web-based interface.

Which probably strikes you as not particularly interesting, fair enough as I haven't yet got to the really exciting part, which is that they're paying me to redo the concentrator software so that it will handle homogeneous networks of everything in their product line. (OK, so "exciting" is a relative term. So I lead a boring life.)

Disintegrator beams are fun!
What I'm working up to here is that they had to deliver a working, more-or-less tested version of this fabulous (in the original sense of being from a fable) software to Schneider on Thursday. And at 18:00 Wednesday evening there were still some all too conspicuous bugs.

After a quick trip down to the supermarket for a couple of bottles of wine to keep me going, I'm happy to report that by 07:00 Thursday morning the stuff was deliverable. (I have never really believed those stories about programmers kept going by Jolt soda. Sounds pointless to me, there's not a drop of alcohol in the stuff.) I really am not in shape for regular all-nighters these days: not as young as once I think I was. Of course, had I got off my arse a bit earlier I wouldn't have had to do it, but that's rather beside the point.

It's alright if you can stand up to piss
While that was going on, Margo was driving up to Normandy. She tells me that all went well, to the point of being propositioned by a self-proclaimed "used chateau salesman" in a beaten-up R5, whilst stuck in a monumental traffic jam around Paris. Fortunately the traffic started to move again before he could extract her phone number from her, so that's alright then.

Having little better to do the other day I decided to go take a look at the stats for this little blog. The most-visited entry is one from last year, "New and Useful Phrases" and for the life of me I couldn't work out exactly why that should be, until it dawned on me that it mentioned Lindsay Lohan and her furry front bottom. This doubtless goes some way to explaining things.

Then, in what I personally feel to be a rather eccentric juxtaposition, I found a Google search query leading to last week's effort. It was, and I quote, "anal blondes". I have no idea how I'm going to explain that one to Rebecca; perhaps I'd be better off not even trying. Although the look on her face would probably be worth the inevitable pain to follow.

And it's certainly more memorable than the image search for "cyclists pissing outside" which led to one of my photos - in which, I'd like to add, cyclists were conspicuous by their very absence.

Timor mortis and all that - just been off to see our old friend Jacques up at the hospital. He's remarkably spry for a septuagenarian who's just had his prostate removed. I suppose I really ought to go make an appointment for a bit of hot and sweaty rubber-glove activity.

Anyway, before I go and organise myself - got a whole afternoon to occupy, probably with avoiding doing any of the things I really should get around to, before going to pick up Jeremy from Novalaise this evening (oh, the bliss! We are to be blessed with two whole months of his presence, not that we'll actually see him that much, I expect) - I would like to point out that this lazy summer stuff has its drawbacks. For one thing, it's not really conducive to great cooking, so it's back to barbecues and bloody salads again.

By the way, we've tentatively pencilled-in the inaugural summer barbie to coincide with one of those obscure little public holidays we have around here, on the 14th, so if you happen to be in the district feel free to drop by. With bottle, and bird.