Wednesday, May 28, 2014

T is for Tortoise, Travaux, and Tardif ...

There is much excitement in the village these days - or should be, at any rate - for I have learnt that on the 1st of July, at Ginestet, there is to be an exposition of tortoises. I can hardly wait.

The world will doubtless be a salty mollusc for the man - or woman, of course - that can develop a 1m diameter racetrack, with a cunning clockwork system moving a lettuce around the inside track at the blazing speed of 5cm/hr, so that we can watch decent tortoise races on TV. Think of the excitement, the possibilities of betting - it was my idea, I want a cut. Although I'm still not sure exactly how the little insects would go on the hurdles - maybe we'll have to rule out steeple-chases.

It has been brought to my attention in no uncertain fashion that the effects on one's digestive system of 5 grammes of antibiotics per day can be rather drastic. Excuse me, don't go away, I'll be right back ... What happened was that I knocked my elbow a while back and thought no more about it, until ten days ago it started to get red and swell up - at which point I hied me to the quack. (Lucky it's not the vendange yet or I'd have been stiff out of luck.)

He told me it was a hygroma (whatever that may be, you go look it up if you're that interested) and I am prepared to believe him - he is, after all, supposed to know about that sort of thing - prescribed me a large dose of anti-inflammatories, and sent me on my way. But a week later it was not getting any better - worse, if anything, so I headed back and he humhawed and fixed me an appointment with a specialist in Narbonne the very next day.

Off I duly went and sat in his waiting-room, trying not to pick my nose, and I finally got called into the office and he made a few notes and then said something along the lines of "Right, let's take a look at this." He tweaked and prodded for a bit, and said "Ah. A mon avis, c'est infecté ..."

So that was when, without so much as a by-your-leave, he stuck a huge needle in there and sucked out some of the nastiest-looking yellow gloop ("Matter Yellow" is the best match on the colour chart) that I've had the misfortune to see for some time before sitting down again, warning me sternly not to take it lightly because septicaemia does happen, you know, and writing a prescription for antibiotics.

I have to wonder whether his specialty was not in fact horses because what he ordained was ten 500mg doses every day for a week: if that doesn't do some damage to whatever I've got it has at least seriously napalmed the flore intestinal.

In other news, I came across an interesting job description the other day: potential candidates must be "comfortable with dealing with ambiguity and able to form a cohesive and effective outcome from potentially incongruous facts (or lack thereof) and individual perspectives". It was, from memory, for an IT team manager, but it sounds to me more like the requirements for a politician. Or, perhaps, one of those Intelligent Design apologists. Got no data? What you do have is contradictory? Can't prove a thing? Make it up so that people feel good! Everyone else does.

Whatever, completely changing the subject, when I head off to the market I may have a few thoughts buzzing around somewhere in the back of my mind, but usually I have no idea what I'm going to buy, even less what I'm going to cook. This is mainly because on the few occasions that I have set off with a song in my heart, a smile on my lips, and a definite idea in my head, they are fresh out of Tibetan Peppered Cress With Yak Butter, which is a great disappointment to me. So now I head off, amble around poking and prodding to see who's got what, and just what what is, before going around again to do some sterner quality control and, eventually, buy things.

Sometimes the meals that result can be - surprising - but usually I flatter myself that they're rather good, like the time last weekend when I took it into my head to remove the bones from a poitrine d'agneau, roll it up around some decent pork chair à saucisse (which is probably nothing like what you think sausage-meat is), tie it neatly, and barbecue it. That was a definite hit around here. (Also, I found the meat grinder and the sausage-filler attachments for the KitchenAid. They have been ordered. Now I have no excuse for not making my own sausages, nor for not smoking them either, now that I have those kettle barbecues.)

But I shall have to dig Pellaprat out sometime just so that I can check up on fish - the English names and what they're good for - because especially at Narbonne they are so beautiful that I have to buy them and I have no idea at all what to do with them, or even if they're edible. Vegetables cause fewer problems, I have no problem spotting the business-end of an aubergine.

So this morning I woke with the sun seeping in round the shutters, glanced blearily at my watch to note that it was 8:30 (something:30 anyway, as it turned out) and resigned myself to being late before doing the usual things that Need To Be Done: walking the dog, coffee and cigar in the sun on the terrace, check email and stuff and then shower ... left at 10, pulled into the underground carpark at place Gambetta and emerged, to my surprise, in the middle of a second-hand car show instead of the usual flea market. And it was as I was headed out of there on my way to place Carnot that I bothered to look at a clock and saw, to my surprise, that it was only 9:30.

Which goes some way to explaining why, on my first trip round, I found someone that still had a small box of courgette flowers, freshly-picked earlier that morning. And they were pretty enough that I had to buy them, and some fresh mushrooms as well, and cherries seemed like a good bet - and as we were getting on so well I asked the woman what she would recommend as stuffing for the flowers, and we had a good long chat during which she explained to me that the best way, in her opinion, was just to stuff them with cubes of pressed mozzarella and then dip them in a corn flour and water batter before frying.

"You could" she said "stuff them with really finely-minced meat, but nicer and fresher would be to do them Thai style, with shrimp and piment and mint ... but it's fastidieux ..." and as a bit further round on my circuit I found a stall selling honest-to-god hand-knitted buffalo-milk mozzarella, I went for the easy option. Of course, being me, I mixed in some fresh chèvre and a bit of chopped jambon aux herbes just because I could, but in all other respects I followed her recipe to the letter. Must remember to pop by next Saturday and tell her just how damned good it was.

Come to that, when I bought the mozzarella the woman there told me that if I bought it, I'd be back: this may well be the case. Excellent stuff.

Sadly, when I'd got the basket with the apricots and nectarines and baby asparagus nestling in there next to my flowers and sundry other bits  back to the car it was still only 10:30 so I thought I might as well go back to les halles and pick up some meat if any took my fancy - which, of course, it did - and even after a glass of white in the bright sunlight it was kind of early so I thought I might as well take a look around all those used cars. Seeing as they were there.

I probably should not have done that really because the 14 year-old S-type Jaguar with ridiculously low mileage at only 4650€ was a snip. Sadly, although there is indeed comfortable room for five people in there, and a reasonably sized boot, the combination of automatic gearbox and 3-litre V6 petrol engine were enough to put me off. As I do not own a refinery. That, and the fact that if I tried to park it in the village it would not actually fit. Not without the front bumper being in the next village over.

On the other hand there was an Alfa 159 Q4 break, which winked at me, and managed to catch my eye. Six-speed box, the 2.4 turbo diesel engine - what's not to like? I mean, apart from the fact that she's black, and has red leather upholstery? Maybe I shall go back tomorrow. We do need another car, after all, and although little Suzy still does sterling service she's a bit elderly for those long autoroute trips. Also, I like cruise control.

We are still waiting for workmen to turn up again, and I am beginning to feel a Mayle Moment coming on. Only this will not be one of those in which, with a knowingly resigned air, you make a self-deprecating joke of it all, accept that Provence is not Paris, and earn karma brownie points as you lounge on the untiled patio around the unfinished swimming pool and chug down the rest of the bottle of pastis. Never mind that your kitchen is in limbo and your daughter is having a screamingly-loud affair with the young stud that comes in to look after the garden: the sun is shining and what does it all matter really in the Grand Scheme Of Things? You know how it goes, you've all read A Year In Provence.

Mine, I'm afraid, will not be as serene. For one thing, I can't abide bloody pastis, and for another - I am a patient man but there are limits, and living as we've done in a pile of cardboard boxes for ten months means that they are being approached.

Having written that I shall have to put it all off a bit, for only yesterday André the plumber turned up and announced his intention of devoting the next few weeks entirely to us, and this morning Cédric arrived to stick up some gib board and then finish work on the terrace before moving upstairs to stick in the Vélux skylights and get everything lined.

I know it's foolish of me, but now that it's all sprung back into action (even as I write there's a cacophony from one of the first-floor bedrooms as André tries to locate the sewage pipes that apparently descend in an old unused chimney) I can feel a flutter of hope that maybe, just possibly, we will at least be able to move up and install ourselves in the second floor before the end of June. Only a few months later than originally planned, but what the hell - perhaps I should try to appreciate pastis after all.

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