Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Joys Of The Countryside ...

First day of the holidays, and it feels good. Even driving here on the autoroute behind stupid people and Dutch-persons that don't seem to know what an accelerator is for, nor even that one does not slow down to overtake, didn't take the song from my heart, nor the (admittedly carnivorous) smile from my lips.

Of course, there are certain narrative imperatives that go with a holiday, and one of these is that, as a general rule, the weather should be foul. No exception: it's alternated between light rain and torrential downpour so far, under a slate-grey sky. And naturally, Jeremy forgot to put up his window in the car when we arrived yesterday ... whatever. The internet-thingy still works, and so, much to my surprise, does my phone: seems I'm no longer obliged to go on a couple of miles hike if I want to call anyone.

This also means that I can get SMS in a timely manner, which is a mixed blessing really because I now know, in real-time, that Sophie's enjoying fine weather down in the Camargue, which I really could have done without. Never mind, it would be churlish to resent that.

In theory Toe-rag and Tony turn up some time tomorrow: she flew in from Quito to Glasgow yesterday, has today to repack her bags, and the pair of them fly in to CDG tomorrow. From whence, due to a slight cockup on the catering front, they'll have to get across Paris to Bercy (I didn't even know the station existed) and thence down to Auxerre, where I suppose we'll have to pick them up. Be good to see her again, and enquiring minds want to know what guinea-pig tastes like.

Probably like chicken, and if enquiring minds really wanted to know they could probably go google a few recipes and try for themselves (from what I understand they're usually stuffed with herby things and then roasted, but I admit I've not done extensive research), but I suspect that would be frowned upon in maison Bimler. Margo can be such a spoil-sport. Mind you, I'm not sure Jean would be willing to lend me a cochon d'Inde if he knew the fate I planned for it, either.

OK, so what is it with the bloody Parisians? So they're doddling along at 70 on the teeny departementales around here, and as any right-minded person would do I overtake at 110, and the b'stards flash their lights at me? What for? Why are they doing this? Have I insulted them in some way by going faster than them? Just maybe they're cheering me on? Strange, anyway.

For some strange reason Jeremy seems to be allergic to Pesselière: after a couple of days inside the place his eyes look like watery fried eggs and his nose drips like a leaky tap. So he had the brilliant idea last night to sleep outside, and cunningly constructed a sort of tent from two twigs, a few tarps, some string and clothespegs. Unfortunately around 5am the thunderstorms started, and the wind got up ..

And I'm getting back into the swing of cooking for twelve or so. Happily no-one's too worried about time - well, that's not entirely true because what in fact happens is that around 13:30 Marie looks up and screams something to the effect that oh bloody hell, have you seen the time, what shall we eat? - so it's banishment to the kitchen to see what can be done with what there is.

Which is usually, in all honesty, quite a bit. The bare essentials at least - a five-year's supply, if I'm any judge - enough charcuterie to feed a small army, vast quantities of cheese in its multifarious forms and splendour (although the Chaussée aux Moines, which bears the same resemblance to actual cheese as a McDo's to a burger, if a McDo's had more polystyrene in it, had to be chucked when it became apparent that even Caroline wouldn't eat it), and always something unexpected lurking at the back of the fridge.

On the other hand, no sambal oelek, no nuoc mam, and no cinnamon, which seem strange omissions to me. But as luck would have it, the main favourites for lunch are quiche and tomato flan, neither of which require anything exotic or, indeed, unavailable.

And you can never go wrong with a decent salad, and heaps of bread.

In a bizarre follow-up to Windscreen-licking Belgians barely escape GPS of Doom, we thought we'd try out Margo's shiny new GPS when we headed off to Auxerre. I do not like it. Setting the language to English means that all the on-screen instructions are, in fact, more or less comprehensible, but she's not yet managed to get it to speak to us in English. So it's rather like being directed by a French vampire, for unfortunately the voice they used is kind of sibilant and - dare I say - sinister.

It's less fun than it might seem to be suddenly disturbed by a hissed instruction to "à six cent mètres, serrez à gauche", in fact I found it positively disagreable. Add to that the fact that the beast seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the farm tracks and routes forestières around here, and apparently wanted us to take them, and it became downright unsettling. I've read enough to know that in circumstances like that there's only one possible outcome: we're being directed to our deaths at the hands of perverse, in-bred, cannabilistic country bumpkins, in some ramshackle outhouse somewhere in a bleak , wind-swept and deserted village. Something to occupy the butcher, so he doesn't have one of his little turns.

Definitely not something on my travel plans for the immediate future.

But whatever, despite its best efforts we did in fact make it through and even found the train station, Mal, and Tony. By which time, of course, the weather had outdone itself, having gone in two days from mid-30s to a high of 15. With, naturally enough, rain. Not so good.

Anyway, it cleared up Saturday, so being a sucker for punishment I went back, camera in hand this time. Despite being apparently peopled by a race of congenital retards, Auxerre is actually a rather pretty city - at least the vieille ville, the old mediaeval city. It's built on a hill by the river, has narrow twisty streets that in some cases are more like stairs, half-timbered houses and, to my mind at least, an excessive number of cathedrals: three, as far as I can make out.

But not that many tabacs, and as one of the reasons for going through was to stock up on cigars, I found that rather annoying. I must have spent three hours wandering aimlessly around the place (don't be silly, I am - according to the evidence available - a male and thus congenitally unable to ask for directions) trying to find one - first one that stocked my brand and then, in desperation, just one that was open - before finally stumbling upon one that had not closed its doors for the summers, and which actually stocked cigars.

Not, perhaps, ones I would normally have bought, but what the hell, there's nicotine in there and at least they're not those ghastly Italian things that are dry as bone, look like a lengthy dog turd and smell of burning compost.

Pleased with that, and with the fact that I hadn't actually bitten any small children (I seem to have neglected to mention that that day was the brocante des commerçants, when the shopkeepers bring out all the crap they've not been able to sell over the past year or so, stick it on stands in front of their shops, put a 300% markup on it and wait for the tourists to bite), I found a bar down by the river and was only mildly ripped off for the privilege of having a beer in the shade on the terrace.

Which, oddly enough, reassured me, and made me feel much better. As did also, for some reason, the sight of a Dutch family apparently disposing of the evidence of the previous night's debauchery in the glass recycling bins so thoughtfully provided around the parking spots for caravans. I didn't count as such, but even just going by the noise there must've been at least three crates being got rid of.

At least I now know what it is the Dutch get up to on their holidays.

Around here it's a lot more serious than that, let me tell you. Ian, of course, still has theses to look over, papers to check for plagiaristic tendencies, and whatever else being a lab director may bring upon your head; Malyon has over 2000 photos of frogs to catalog and annotate; Margo is seriously trying to write her booklet on dyeing techniques; Jeremy is trying to have fun in the middle of nowhere and I, at this moment, am trying to extract a tiny green spider that has crawled into my keyboard.

(This as a prelude to avoiding some of the work I brought with me and really should get onto at some point in time, but procrastination, especially if creative, is much more fun.)

But right now, everyone else has scattered to the four corners of the earth, namely St. Fargeau and Guédelon (yes, that's only two corners but I was speaking metaphorically or something) and I am alone looking after the house, in the sun with the dog.

Who, incidentally, has done bugger-all since arriving apart from lie around in the sun, waiting for food to fall into her mouth. I like to think I'm a bit more productive than that, although I'm willing to admit I could be wrong.

Come to that, looking after the house is not a particularly onerous job. It's been here for five hundred years or so and, barring something major, seems unlikely to go anywhere else of its own accord in the near future: and quite frankly, I can't see anyone around here wanting to steal it.

But I guess one can never be too prudent. Mind how you go, now.

1 comment:

  1. You could try nicotine patches... *ducks & runs for cover*