Monday, June 9, 2014

Happiness Is A Warm Bottom ...

Municipal Monstrosities, N° 10
"Hell", I thought to myself, settling down uneasily on the leather seat behind the steering wheel, "I really must get some of those senile nappies to avoid just this sort of embarrassing moment" but no, on closer inspection I had not piddled discreetly, it's just that the Alfa has heated seats.

Anyway, you'd think that by now I'd have learnt to avoid vernissages. Young Hélène (who is only 70, and not to be confused with old Hélène, who is not) gave us some invites to the opening of an exposition at her second home, off in Aigues-Vives about ten minutes from here as the crow flies, twenty as the road wriggles. (Actually, there are about five places called Aigues-Vives in the Aude - it means "lively water" in occitan - and so of course poor Neville, who also go an invite, got hopelessly lost and headed off to one of the wrong ones.)

It's a pretty little village, baking under the sun: as usual the monument aux morts is one of the highlights of any visit. I don't know what the Lonely Assassin is doing with that toroid (probably using gravitational lensing to focus cellphone signals or something) but it seems to be giving the guy in the bowler hat serious heartburn.

The exposition was good stuff, the work of an ancient English guy who'd spent yonks in Italy, Germany and France: collages, intricately detailed constructions of string, paper and scraps of wood, and some prints. It was the last that really caught my eye, and by the time we left we'd arranged to buy two. Which was not on my agenda when we set out.

You might have noticed that we had yet more elections in Ole Yurrup recently, and the results have left the political classes twittering furiously. The European Parliament has always been a bit of a joke: it was set up as a sop to public opinion by the great and good that set the project of European union on its way - it's always lacked power, and legitimacy. Quite frankly, yer average Frog-person - or Portuguese, or Spaniard, or German come to that - could care more about who gets sent off to Brussels.

They are more worried about who represents them where it counts, at the local level. (And given the miserable levels of participation in France even for those, I have to believe that lots of people have given up on the whole thing.)

Up to now it's been a club for superannuated politicians who can posture as they like (hell, José Bové was a candidate this year, and if anyone can posture it's him) knowing full well that with no power comes no responsibility. And now, in old news, it's been taken over by people who want to destroy it. Maybe not a bad thing, it's not as though it ever served any useful purpose apart from paying burnt-out hacks vast sums of money to shuttle between Berlaymont and Strasbourg, and flap their mouths where no-one's going to listen. I suppose it keeps them off the dole, and out of the unemployment figures.

Also, given the endemic corruption, it also keeps their immediate families and their idiot nephews off benefits as well. And it would be overly harsh to say that they do absolutely nothing: to show willing, it has been known for them to commission an outside consultant to produce a report - on what doesn't really matter. The consultant, not necessarily related, is paid by the MEP - or rather, his office, funded by the EU - who then multiplies the already inflated bill by some number or another but invariably more than three, and then bills that amount to the EU as expenses. Nice job, if you can get it.

Although they're still relative novices in some areas: I understand that the mairie de Paris is offering courses to would-be parliamentarians on subjects like the care and feeding of dead voters, and the fine art of payroll-padding. I gather that there is at least an ethics committee (mostly staffed by indigent offspring unsuited by intellect to any other form of work), which meets from time to time behind the wheelie bins on the third sub-level of the underground carpark.

Changing subjects entirely and completely without warning, it was not without a twinge that I suggested to Margo that we head off on a drive. Brought back childhood memories of being bundled into the back seat of the family car for that New Zealand penitential tradition, the "Sunday drive". We always pretended that we enjoyed it, for fear of being abandoned in a forest somewhere.

Anyway, we drove vaguely off with STD in the back of the car, hoping to get him used to trips so that he will not vomit (a waste of effort, I'm sad to say) in the direction of Bizes-Minervois. For it has a river that goes through it, which is a good thing in summer, and it is quaint, and pictureskew. And bloody hot, I should've worn shorts. Just saying.

And as you will note, its coat of arms figures a crownèd serpent chowing down on a poor small wriggly guy who seems rather uncomfortable with the whole business, which is kind of odd because up till now the only place I've seen that is on the badge of an Alfa Romeo ...

Now as it turns out the Alfa badge has on the left side a red cross on a white background in memory of the Crusaders, and on the right side this people-eating snake, which is the blason of the city of Milan, which inherited it (OK, stole it when no-one was looking, they're Italians) from the Visconti family - and nobody knows where they stole it got it from.

Rather strange to find an heraldic device from the north of Italy in the south of France, but there turns out to be a perfectly reasonable and almost believable explanation (as I keep pointing out to the gendarmes on the now-rare occasions that they come past and comment on the unseemly vivacity of our pot-plants, wondering just what it is exactly that we use as fertiliser. Since the unfortunate incident with gendarme Blot and the ranunculus, their visits tend to be short.).

It turns out that Bize-Minervois was, for some reason (probably an ancient charter or something), the joint property of four feudal lords, or seigneurs if you prefer: one of this Gang of Four was, ex-officio, the arch-bishop of Narbonne. (I know I've mentioned their monumental pile before so godnose why they wanted a share of this little backwater place, maybe they just fancied having a little place in the country where they could go for a swim in the river in summer.)

And back in the day, the arch-bishop in question was one Cardinal de Bonzi (I am not making this up), born in Milan and doubtless with a rap sheet as long as your arm, who nicked the city coat of arms when he left, took it as his own (not, I'm told, an uncommon thing), and handed it on to this little village that just happened to be partly his. Mystery solved.

Apart from being pretty, the place is also renowned for making what is possibly the best olive oil in France (and, therefore, the world). I cannot actually vouch for that because I could not try a glug from every bottle - time, and the fact that Shaun was in the back of the car, desperate to throw up again, would not permit it - but I can say that the stuff is eye-wateringly expensive.

Whatever, we have people round for dinner tonight - it being the lundi de Pentecôte I am not, for once, working - and I guess I'd better go think of something to do in the food department. Being as everywhere's closed it's going to be something that can be done with what I happen to have to hand: luckily there's an abundance of fruit and vegetables, and some chicken pieces, so it will probably involve poulet à la moutarde, and a fruity mousse.

But before that, I'd better go get some sun. Only got another four months of it before autumn rolls around again.

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