Sunday, June 16, 2013

More About Buildings And Food ...

One thing I did forget to mention as I went on about the health & safety regulations to which we shall be required to adhere, and which left me with a totally ghasted flabber: unusually - I will resist the urge to say uniquely - for France, they are not prescriptive. Under other circumstances they would be highly detailed, setting out the required methodology - concerning traçabilité, say, they would specify a minimum size for your receipts, which would have to be stapled (9mm staples only) to pale yellow bristol, one receipt per sheet and then kept, in date order, in a vertical filing cabinet.

And provided you followed the rules it wouldn't matter if you were unable to demonstrate that on such and such a day you had fed (or not, as the case may be) two kilos of scrapies-ridden beef brain to your clients, because you'd done what was set out.

Where are my eyes?
No, these rules just define the result that is required, and how you go about it is totally up to you. If you feel like taking photos of the receipts with your phone and then attaching them to a spreadsheet cell which you've organised by supplier's hair colour you are free to do so. I must admit that kind of shocked me, it is so very un-French.

And even the knowledge that the regulations are not in fact French, but EU directives, does not diminish my wonder one whit, because that means that they were established by a committee, each member of which is jealously fighting his or her own corner and defending the right of their peasantry to scour out the butter churns with pig's urine, as is traditional and right.

This is NOT an argument
I personally find that selling your house is a learning experience in and of itself. Case in point: the incompetence of banks, the magnitude of which never ceases to leave me feeling like a stunned mullet, haplessly gasping for air. I would have greatly preferred to slit my own throat with a rusty hair-pin rather than go back to the Credit Agricole for a house loan, so I trotted around a couple of banks.

This may seem odd, but even national banks - like BNP and Société Genérale - still want you to take out your loan with a branch in the place where you're buying. I mean, what the hell is going on here? I'm pretty sure it isn't done for my convenience.

So anyway, I went off to see the CIC, aka Lyonnaise de Banque, who have the privilege of handling Upstart's banking needs, and explained the situation to them. As I had rather hoped, as the business itself is not shifting they agreed to handle the loan from here, which kind of avoids some otherwise unnecessary trips down south. So far so good, but I suspect that the very idea that this was possible raised false hopes.

Fear not, French banks are as incompetent as ever. I asked for a loan, 70 000€ over ten years, and for some strange reason they sent a first proposition for a seven-year term: interesting, no doubt, as it involves no mortgage and can be repaid early without penalty, but neither of us want to be shelling out 900€/month if we can possibly avoid it.

Then we got scary health questionnaires ("have you, or any family members, ever been insane?"), which we filled in with the usual lies, and there also arrived a copy of the actual loan offer - a proper official document, with places to sign and everything. Sad to say, it was not for us - I thought that was a tad too quick - but at least I now know in some detail the financial state of M et Mme Goudejan. Fascinating stuff.

And while all this is going on, we - or more to the point, Margo - are/is trying to organise movers, for at our age there is no way we is going to even contemplate the idea of loading all our junk into and on top of and trailing behind little Suzy, and getting it down there. No, we are actually going to pay professionals to do all that. But we do need dates for that, and as we can't really sign for Moux until we've signed the sale for here, I was kind of perturbed to learn that we are, in fact, subject to péremption.

This is not quite as filthy as it sounds, all it fact means is that as we are landed gentry with our rolling acres of agricultural terrain, first the mairie and them some other organisation of which I've never heard get dibs on it. Of course, if they decide that they do in fact want it this is considered sufficient reason for the buyers to back out, so the sale cannot go through until both have said "non!".

Now the mairie, who gets first choice, said that fairly early on in the piece, at which point the notaire was allowed to send the dossier off to the second lot. They received that on May 27 and, by virtue of article 37 of the code d'urbanisme or something, have two months in which to reply. So given that they have the sale habitude of not in fact replying if they don't want to grab the land, this could push the signing date back to July 28: the point is that we don't actually know.

Which is a right bitch, not to mention a pain in the arse. There is - this is France, as I keep reminding you - a way to - perhaps - speed up the process: if you send them a cheque for 150€ they guarantee to think really seriously about really replying in three weeks, retroactively, from the date of reception of the dossier. Which sounds kind of time-fuddling to me, but what would I know?

Our buyers are also in a hurry, so they apparently stumped up a cheque which got sent off to the notaire who must then transmit this through to the organisme in question (for you cannot send it off directly, this would be cutting out the middle-man and also against nature) and then ring someone there, hoping to extract a promise that we will get our answer Real Soon Now. Whilst we wait, we're rather in limbo, and it's highly annoying because we cannot set a firm date for signing in Moux or shifting or anything.

Suppose I'd better send a mail off to Peter telling him to let Jim and Celine know that their plans to pop over from England on or about the 12th need to be put on hold. Bugger.

Still, on the bright side, I feel that I have done something useful and Good with my otherwise dissolute life, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Thanks to my entertaining her with Uplifting and Informative Nature Tales, adapted slightly from the truth in order to fit the requirements of a younger audience, little Elise next door can now regale me with stories about the "horrible snails, that crawl in your ears and EAT YOUR BRAIN from the inside".

Anyway, one thing I don't do often enough is read James Beard. Come to that, I don't read Julia Child as often as I should, but there you go. I am reminded of this because Margo was off at a salon at La Roche sur Foron, and the SNCF was on strike (or, as they prefer to put it, une journée nationale de solidarité et d'action sociale, take your pick), so I wound up spending the night, carless and careless, on the spare bed at Stacey's, and she just happens to have a copy of "The Theory and Practice Of Good Cooking", by the aforementioned Mr. Beard.

So, having nowt better to do, I picked it up and read it, cover to cover. I knew the name, of course: doyen of American cooking back in the 60s and 70s, a cook for whom I have great respect, and also a wonderful writer, about food and maybe other subjects, I do not know. But honestly, who else could talk - with a straight face - about a "blessing of salt and pepper"?

Or, come to that, the "quick hot kiss of butter"? Also, in the section of that book devoted to sautés in their myriad and delicious forms, he bemoans the falling of boeuf Stroganoff: "bastardised", as he so elegantly puts it, "into a stew".

And if you're looking for some good paternal advice, he has this to say: "with braised veal, buttered noodles are good, and you may have green beans. Drink a Beaujolais". Sounds good to me. A man who loved food, and who let it show. Even to the point of criticising the "current French tendency" to cook everything in vinegar: mea culpa, for I do love chicken cooked that way, but I can see his point. Can easily be overdone, and not necessarily something you want every night.

Which may explain why, tonight, after a white-hot day, I decided on a simple warm potato salad: rougette leaves dried and set out on a plate, mustard, honey and olive oil whipped until senseless with a spoon in a bowl before adding lashings of chives and mint and cornichons, then pouring in the cubed steamed potatoes and sliced spring onions and some sweetcorn, stirring well with cider vinegar, and ladling the lot over the lettuce.

At which point some chopped hard-boiled eggs could usefully be added, and if you happen to have some decent bacon you could fry that up and crumble it in too, deglazing the pan with vinegar which could be used on the potatoes. Just saying.

Whatever, I should probably go to bed now as the week is calling: shall just leave you with another of Chairman Beard's great thoughts, on kohlrabi: "sometimes called cabbage turnip, but with the virtues of neither". I really like that man. As for you lot, mind how you go, now.


  1. scary health questionnaires ("have you, or any family members, ever been insane?"),

    How much will you pay me not to tell them the truth?

  2. then pouring in the cubed steamed potatoes and sliced spring onions and some sweetcorn,
    Not sure that I can forgive you the sweetcorn...

    Made a pumpkin & feta souffle tonight (one of Rosie's friends is vegetarian & I do like to accommodate guests' little foibles if I can), which was voted most acceptable. Followed by cupcakes that really do taste like doughnuts, but don't involve all that effort (not to mention the deep-fryer).