Saturday, August 24, 2013

Disturbed! Mind Threadworms ...

... not that I'm trying to encourage that sort of searcher, oh no, just mentioning it. Also, "dressing for pleasure", which seems to have wound up here, although godnose why.

So anyway, Friday finished up with a bit of excitement around these parts: a forest fire about 6km away I guess, between here and Douzens off to the west. First we knew about it was the great billowing plumes of yellowish-grey smoke, and then a big twin-engined turboprop came flying slow and low overhead, circling and banking so hard that if there were any passengers they'd certainly have lost their lunches on the first pass.

Then a fleet of four or five Canadairs came lumbering in over the rooftops, banking around to drop their loads of water and, according to urban myth, unwary swimmers. They must have made six flights, heading back to Narbonne after each pass to top up with a skim over the sea. They're impressive beasts.

Now there is no market around these parts of a Saturday - unless I go through to Narbonne or Carcassonne, which I suppose is not really any different from heading off to Chambéry - which left me at kind of a loose end. Of course, I had other things to do, which is probably why I decided to go for a walk instead of doing them.

As luck would have it, the GR77 - grande randonnée, one of the countless hiking trails that criss-cross France - goes right in front of the house before heading up into the montagne d'Alaric, this being named after Alaric II, king of the Visigoths back in the 5th: according to the local legend he had a chateau built up on the heights and buried his treasure in a cave there, whatever was left of the spoils from the sack of Rome. Oh, and when I say montagne, this is relative: its highest point is something like 560m, and we're at about 90m here ...

Anyway, I was actually kind of enjoying myself as I ambled along the rocky track, with the cicadas doing their thing noisily in the trees and the hot air full of the smell of pines and sage and rosemary and thyme and lavender - then it dawned on me that the stones were bouncing the heat back on me and that the pines, too far off to offer any shade, were doing an excellent job as a wind-break, and that not only was the air hot, it was also still.

But I carried on regardless, until I made it to the ruins of the prieuré de St-Pierre on a little outcrop of rock just off the main trail, where there was a blessed breath of air, and upon discovering that the camera battery had chosen this moment to go flat on me I decided that I could probably turn back without loss of face.

Monday I had to head back up to Chambéry for two weeks, minding the shop whilst Renaud's off on holiday at Arcachon, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone, combine business with pleasure, and any other metaphor that happens to spring to mind: we went off to the local Intermarché, picked up a 7m3 van, bundled ourselves and Shaun into the thing, and drove merrily off into the morning, destination St Pierre and the final emptying of our left-over stuff from Sue's Garage.

And rather to my surprise, everything fitted in - even the sewing machines at which Margo frowned and said "I'm sure I left orders that those were to go to the tip" - with a bit of room in which to swing a very small cat, if you'd no objection to a bit of blood.

So we were feeling quite pleased with ourselves, all things considered, as we headed back to Montmelian to pick up Jeremy and take him out for a birthday dinner. Under protest, I must say: oddly enough for someone in his line of work, he really only eats to live. Also, he's got this thing against eating in restaurants, which I suppose is kind of understandable.

We twisted his arm, he grudgingly consented, and we went past la Fine Fourchette, which isn't half bad in my experience: it was closed. It is August, after all. On top of it, the 15th of August, which over here is a public holiday, for some reason which escapes me.

Pizza is not really one of my go-to eat-out meals, but the choice of restaurants in Montmelian is rather limited so we drove past La Scala and the doors were open - for family and friends only, it seems, as the woman who came out informed us. In desperation we asked whether or not there was another eatery worth going to in the place, or even one that was open - "Eh oui monsieur, il y a Le Clé des Champs sur la nationale ...", as if we would be able to drag Jerry in to eat where he cooks.

Off then to Chambery, passing by Challes just on the off-chance (everything closed, might have known it), parked, and started hunting. OK, so the dump is considered to be kind of dull after 20h even in the height of the season, but that evening it was clinically dead. The quiet of the grave was broken only by the tourists wandering vaguely, I assume looking - like us - for somewhere to get a meal that wasn't going to fight back, or be all passive-aggressive.

The Beer Tree was closed, as was Modesto, and I categorically refuse to go into Cardinals since they redecorated and removed the slightly shabby charm of the place (and the meals and service are, at best, mediocre in my experience), and we were starting to experience hunger pangs, so we wound up at Le Vivaldi on rue Croix d'Or, having - you guessed it - pizza.

And there's an interesting question. I put it to you, if you were a tourist, freshly arrived in Chambéry after a long coach trip from Turin, would you actually choose to go find an Italian restaurant and eat pizza? I thought not. But those flocks of tourists I spoke of earlier swooped down with gleeful cries and settled in to do exactly that. I dunno, whatever happened to the spirit of adventure?

Not that the pizzas were actually bad. I had one that they called "le Corse" - fig jam, prosciutto, goat's cheese and a drizzle of honey - and it was very pleasant. The damn thing was far too big, of course, and I must admit that with all the honey it got a bit cloying towards the end. But washed down with a couple of glasses of an excellent Corsican white it hit the spot.

Whatever, Margo drove the van back down the next day, hopefully arriving in time to take Shaun off to his first doggy obedience class (see where that gets us, ha ha) but it was my lot to head off up to the office, answer the phone if required and generally look after the place. Not that there was much looking after required, everyone's off on holiday and I think in those ten days I fielded one phone call, which turned out to be a wrong number anyway. Hardly any mail either, and no bills, which is always a pleasant surprise.

Then the other day I was wandering around the market, smile on my lips, a song in my heart - for it was a fine sunny day - and vast quantities of ripe deformed tomatoes, peches plates and other goodies in the bag and could not help but notice a subtle transformation here in provincial France. I have moaned and whinged about it often enough: it used to be that if you wanted a light meal or whatever after the morning's exertions you had buggerall choice apart from the eternal café-croissant or a full, huge and usually totally uninspiring meal involving sad steak and soggy chips.

Things have changed in Paris I guess, Dave Lebowitz writes lovingly of the shabby-swish little cafés serving original food, Le Camion Qui Fume which sells the best burgers in the Ile de France, and other such delights that we stuck here to vegetate in the provinces can only dream of enviously, but still ... going through Carrefour the other day, right next to the fish department was a gleaming sparkly-new erection of wood and stainless steel in which a couple of Japanese-looking guys presided over a fresh squishi bar.

And then, as I headed down avenue de Boigne off to the market I went past a brand-new shop, elegantly kitted out (more stainless steel) and dispensing cups of freshly-made, steaming noodles. At the market itself there was once a rather glum little place that sold sad, soggy-looking pasta: in its place something upmarket in glass and stainless steel (is there some sort of trend here, I wonder?) selling fresh ravioles, fettucine that looked as though they'd just rolled it out (which they possibly had) ... laugh if you will, but I think that just maybe the French are starting to work out that there are other cuisines than their own, and to rediscover the simple pleasures of eating.

Finally, some alarming news, I guess: my preferred journal of reference for the hard sciences had this warning Nude swimmers warned of GONAD-GOBBLING FISH ON THE LOOSE for those who like to go skinny-dipping off the Scandinavian coast-line. So just mind how you go.


  1. the GR77 - grande randonnée

    I for one would hesitate to embark on a pathway calling itself "Big Random".

  2. I was looking at pacu the other day while paying a visit to Napier Aquarium - could they really open their mouths wide enough? And wouldn't they go for the other dangling appendage first? I mean, skinny-dipping in Scandinavia - you'd think the 'nuts' would be pulled up damn close in response to the cold...

  3. I admit to some skepticism about the life expectancy of seed-eating tropical fish in the Oresund, on account of the Oresund (a) being cold as damnit, and (b) providing few if any tropical seeds.

    So these Amazonian fish are now found in the rivers of Papua New Guinea! Some sod thought "Hey, those Papuans' lives are not sufficiently miserable; let's introduce this breed of scrotum-scrunching fish so that guys can't go swimming there without protection."