Friday, February 28, 2014

Bill O'Reilly Fondles Donkeys' Balls ...

To be quite honest, I cannot categorically state that this person (for "human being" might be pushing it a bit) does in fact indulge in inappropriate conduct with equus asinus. But then, I have no evidence that he does not, and so am reluctantly forced to assume the worst. For god's sake, America, will you just get your act together and get back to making decent cheesecakes and bad sitcoms? (Preferably, ones that do not involve a big fat obnoxious bald white twat, one Archie Bunker was quite enough thank you, just saying.) For chrissakes, what have we ever done to you, that we deserve Pox News?

So I lunched with Sophie the other day, being up in Chambéry, and as I was waiting for her to turn up at the Café de Lyon I looked about me, and at the wine fridge in particular (for these things tend to weigh on my mind) and the thought came to me that SMEG is a pretty piss-poor brand name, especially for a fridge. Don't know what it brings to your mind, but to mine, it's not a happy sound.

Had occasion to go to Bordeaux this week, passing myself off as a Claval-ite to go look at a problem at the Lyonnaise des Eaux. The guy was so kind as to show me around the control room, which would be immediately familiar to those of you that watch the remake of Hawaii Five-O, even down to the desk with the 2 x 1m monitor set into it. But they did not demonstrate the possibility of pulling up pictures of hot blondes out of bikinis from there onto the wall screens, which left me kind of disappointed.

But I am getting ahead of myself. (This happens, more often than you'd think, or so I'm told.)

Meeting was Thursday moaning, at some ungodly hour when I'm still back in reptile mode and only the hindbrain is more or less functional (ontogeny, recapitulating phylogeny, or whatever) or at least, capable of autonomous operation, so headed up Wednesday. It's a fair trot, by car or train - do not let people tell you that Bordeaux is but a short drive from Toulouse. I suppose it is, for a given value of "short". It's even further, from here. Never mind.

It was odd weather heading up: sunglasses one minute, to cope with the glare, and then pissing down the next. But got in around 15:00 and as if to make amends, the moment I decided to head down to the quais on the Gironde the sun came out, and the clouds buggered embarrassedly off, muttering vague excuses about climate change and how it wasn't really their fault. And the sky went blue, and I had to drag the sunglasses out again, which is a right bitch when you're trying to take photos. (You know, getting eye up to viewfinder ... yeah, it's alright for you smarmy sods who can use LCD screens.)

Had booked a hotel for the night - La Cour Carrée, in the centre of town, which I would recommend unreservedly were it not for the fact that their interior decorator apparently had a psychopathic aversion to soap trays in the shower, and also to having a holder at a useful height for the actual shower head. So not only are you balancing this designer shower head in your hand trying to get yourself decently wet, you're also constantly bending down to get the soap, or the shampoo, or whatever ... not so good, when you get to a certain age, which I am rapidly (the brakes don't seem to work these days) approaching.

Also, it's an old hôtel particulier, which is part of its charm, and the stairs are perpendicular. To be avoided if you are old, or obese, or very drunk. But apart from that, it's charming, and comfortable, and the staff are very friendly and helpful, and even extremely competent. So if you don't fall into one of those three categories, try it: 5 rue de Lurbe, and say I sent you.

Anyway, had time to spare, so took a wander around. Back in the whenevers the wine merchants did their bit for conspicuous consumption by building themselves magnificent homes on the waterfront, hemicycles with neo-classical façades: it's when you go past on foot that you notice that the wonderful arched windows that once offered a view out over the Gironde are now harbouring a shop that will unlock your cell-phone, or give you cheap calls to the Maghreb, or a decent kebab. And a small pile of vomit in one corner, which I guess is par for the course.

The place is also lousy with churches. I tend to suffer from ABC** syndrome so only made it into two of them: basilique St-Michel, which is in what the French would call a quartier populaire or we Anglo-Saxons, less euphemistically, a low-rent district (quoting from the website,  there is "a regular market, where you can find all things and above all it is better to ignore the source" which sounds kind of alarming to me) - and the cathedrale St-André, which is most definitely not.

The first thing you notice about both of them is that the belfrey is totally independent from the church. Seems they learnt (and why does google not recognise that word - nor "recognise", for that matter?) from the Italians that as the place was a swamp back in the day, it was not necessarily a Good Idea to have big (as in 9-tonne), clangy and above all vibrating bells intimately connected to the fabric of your cathedral. If you want it to stay up, that is. (The cathedral, not the belfrey. Sorry, couldn't for the life of me fit a double-entendre in there.)

Both are Gothic, more or less Flamboyant, and have some wonderful stained glass. If you happen to be into that sort of thing, that is. St-Michel lost a good deal during the war, what with it being bombed and everything, and that got replaced back in the 60s with some rather marvelous modern stuff (if you don't mind that - I don't) that looks like jeweled panels, but somehow St-André managed to keep the originals. Which are, hanging twenty metres up in those great stone walls that somehow seem to be insubstantial, with the light streaming in from behind, extremely beautiful. And very educational.

This particular pane, for instance, illustrates one of the passages from the Apocrypha which is usually omitted from modern versions of the Bible, on the grounds that it is just too silly, concerning the foolish angel who overslept on Judgement Day.

You can see that in his haste and confusion he has omitted to don his trousers, and has instead put on some rather fetching garters which he borrowed from the Great Whore of Babylon* - just what they were doing together at the time is not noted, but I suppose it could explain why he overslept. He also seems to have brought a besom to the party, doubtless thinking it to be fancy-dress, rather than the flaming sword as specifically requested in the invitation.

The windows in the next chapel depict, in rather graphic detail, the results of his later job evaluation interview: they are not pretty, and I will not post them here. And in the chapel of St John the Saviour the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is illustrated, just going to show that it didn't really matter if you were Wise or Foolish, you weren't going to stay a virgin very long. (This may be a lie turns out not to be actually the case, as such, but it was too good an opportunity to let slip.)

Dead Bishops
Whatever, spiritual satisfaction and bloating oneself with artwork is all very well and good but let's face it, it fails to fill the belly. (Now if only those bloody mediaeval peasants had worked that one out for themselves, we might have managed to avoid the Dark Ages. Stupid bastards. We could have had flying cars by now if they'd pulled finger, burnt the clergy, got on with their lives and invented technology. For god's sake, do we have to do everything?

So anyway, as you might have guessed there's any number of restaurants in the centre of Bordeaux, and more specifically around place Gambetta. There are also pubs, of which more later ... but after inspecting most of them, dove into Tio Pepe for a surprisingly good meal. Nothing out of the ordinary, if you don't count the manzana that he served as a digestif (have to admit I'd never come across that one before, and it took some time, with my rudimentary notions of Spanish, to work out that it meant an apple liqueur) but done more than competently, in pleasant if admittedly eccentric surroundings. (You have a problem eating dinner with Brigitte Bardot's breasts peeping out from a towel and looking at you? Me, no.)

That was fine but the night was yet young(ish): the obvious thing to do was to slope off and find a bar. With which Bordeaux is also relatively well-endowed. Fair enough, they have a big university, and if the students are too thick to learn anything else (some are) they can at least learn how to drink.

Coming in along the quais there was the Charles Dickens: not too far from the hotel was Sherlock Holmes, promising proper English beer (served, luckily, French-style: they don't insist on it's being tepid) so guess where I ended up? Despite being the oldest in the place, by about 20 years or so.

Sad to say the Bombardier (pression, not bottled) failed to make the impression I'd expected from its name but that's alright, it was Trivial Pursuit night. According to the blackboard the theme was "Culture générale" but if you ask me it was more "kids' TV series from the 80s" because who else would know the names of Shredder's two henchmen? (Hint: that's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, people. Go google it. Actually, I think they'd blocked the Wifi, just to stop that sort of thing.)

Managed to work out the name of the last dinosaur in California (Denver!) and Dexter's sister's name (Deborah!) but wasn't actually competing, so missed out on the bottle of vodka that was touted as first prize.

The really fun part was this French guy bawling out the questions at the top of his voice in a rough approximation of English, and the little groups of students scattered around the place, elbows in a beery mess on the table tops, getting into the spirit of things - in between popping out every five minutes for a fag.

Apparently it's a regular thing - you know, I could quite get to like Bordeaux. Although it does rain: even the municipal rental bikes have handy clips on the handlebars for your umbrella, not a good sign.

* Incidentally, that's a bit of an exaggeration. According to contemporary sources, she was pretty good, and hideously expensive, but not actually Great as such. Just saying.

** Someone is bound to ask. Another Bloody Cathedral/Church/Chateau (strike out where not applicable).

1 comment:

  1. SMEG is a pretty piss-poor brand name, especially for a fridge. Don't know what it brings to your mind

    Scenes from "Red Dwarf", mainly.