Monday, July 14, 2014

Drinking Water ...

Another one for the collection
... is not good for you, for it rusts you from the inside, but I may just have to start for the price of wine is going to go through the roof, what with 15000 square hectares* of vines being destroyed by hail in the Aude alone last weekend. Well, when I say "destroyed" I guess the vines themselves are still there but there'll be no point in harvesting this year because they no longer have any grapes.

Actually, reboot that. I had occasion to fill up the wine tanks the other day, in anticipation of Beckham's impending visit and the damage that could do to the stocks, and the nice guy at the cave coopérative suggested that I go take a look at the damage around Homps and Olonzac just a few km to the north, so having better things to do that is what I did. Just looking, you could be forgiven for saying "so what?", but when you look closer you can see that half the leaves are on the ground, and those that are still on the vines are starting to wither because the stems have been twisted and bashed about. And the odd thing is that there's a very clear line: just out of Homps on the right of the road the vines were healthy and happy, to the left - not so much.

I guess that most of those vignerons who had insurance might just tighten their belts and hang on until next year - those who didn't will probably close up the shop. Just hope that the uninsured turn out to be those making mostly cheap rotgut and floor polish, in which case I shall shed no tears, but those are rare these days (a far cry from twenty-mumble years ago) and it will probably turn out to be small producers, and startups, that go under.

Much to my relief - and to that of my proof-reader - the delivery guy turned up Friday in a squeal of tires and to an excited chorus of barks from STD (who seems to reckon that his job description involves protecting all of place St-Régis against people that he has not personally authorised) and hastily handed over my new keyboard, so I now no longer have random characters appearing as I type. Any future misspellings will be entirely my fault.

Kitties! Look at them whilst I steal your wallet
Somewhat to my surprise Microsoft still make - and the rueducommerce website still stocks and ships - the "Comfort Curve" line of ergonomic keyboards, so when I discovered that my computer had virtually overnight become dyslexic I hastily ordered one. To my mind they're one of the best ever made - a matter of taste and habit I know, much like using a trackball instead of a mouse. I mean, I've seen Renaud try to use mine up at the office, and I swear that he just can't resist the urge to pick it up and move it around the desk, trying to get the cursor to budge.

Now there's something I am going to have difficulty replacing when eventually my Logitech one dies on me as I can only reasonably expect it will sometime in the not-too-distant future, given how long I've had it. So far I've been able to get away with cleaning out the accumulated greasy gunk once a month, but I don't know how long I'll be able to get away with that. And the only one I've been able to find is some cheap Bluetooth knock-off, which will probably try - and perhaps succeed - to pair with my phone, and stubbornly refuse to talk to anything else. (Now that you ask, no, I don't particularly like Bluetooth. My experiences with it have been - mixed, at best.)

Then, after the keyboard, Beckham and a flatmate turned up for the weekend. Forewarned is, as they say, forearmed, and I'd had the good sense to load up on thirty litres from the cave coopérative just to avoid one of those embarrassing moments when the wine runs out half-way through dinner.

We squeaked through in that department but the meal was not without its mishaps: in an excess of enthusiasm I took the heavy baking tray with six individual soufflés au chèvre et citron atop it out of the oven one-handed, and had almost got out to the table when the damn tray warped as it cooled and delivered all but one up to the mercies of gravity and a very hard tiled floor. I am afraid that I used a few of the choicer, more robust rude words in my repertoire. Bitch, Bruce.

Whatever, Zair promised to cook the next night (possibly hoping to avoid a repeat performance of the flying dessert): and if you think I'm too proud to have someone cook for me, especially when they're proposing a home-made Lebanese meal, you're wrong. So Saturday I took him through to the market to find flat-leafed parsley and adequate amounts of mint and lemons and tahini and chickpeas and all the other fixings for a decent Lebanese salad and hummus, and we sort of organised to have the girls come through and we'd meet at la cité so that they could do touristy things.

The fête de Carcassonne starts next weekend, which probably goes some way to explaining just why it was that, as we gratefully put our feet up for a glass of vitamins in the sun in a friendly little bar that just happens to be more or less on the route back to the car, an oompah band struck up with a medley of Abba - climaxing, if I may use the word, with a rousing rendition of "Fernando" scored for tuba and piano-accordion. If there are any circumstances in which the use of waterboarding as a deterrent technique is justified, I think that would have to be one.

We fled, and went our way up to la cité more or less as planned, and about the first thing we did was find somewhere to eat. And, of course, drink. Yes, Beckham went for the cassoulet, which would not be my meal of choice in summer but there you are: Margo, wiser, went for terrine and then just a cuisse de poulet and of course I had no option but to choose the foie gras followed by a magret de canard poelé. I must admit that I had not expected to be served an entire duck breast all to myself, nicely cooked though it was.

And let it be said that the foie gras was, although nice enough, under-seasoned as is very often the case - just a little more pepper is all I ask, people - and godnose what possessed them to serve puréed pumpkin with cinnamon and perhaps a bit of maple syrup on the side. Not really the happiest of combinations. Still, the chips were irreproachable.

We rolled out after dessert and tried to walk off some of the surplus-to-requirements calories, unfortunately coming across a coutellerie selling some rather interesting hand-forged cutlery which we may have to revisit sometime soon, but after a couple of hours forcing our way through the masses of tourists (I had, I must admit, forgotten that Carcassonne is kind of a tourist Mecca, being a World Heritage site and all) we all got thirsty again and decided to head stop off at Trèbes on the way home for a refreshing health drink in a shady bar on the banks of the canal du Midi.

That done and out of the way I was more than happy to show Zair where things live in the kitchen and let him get on with it before retreating to the terrace to check up on the state of the rosé, and to get the barbecue ready for the lamb leg steaks we'd picked up earlier.

Beckham had expressed a desire to go off to the beach on Sunday, but when she finally made surface there was a gentle breeze playing around, and I guess that the thought of being sand-blasted on Narbonne-Plage didn't really appeal all that much for a after a late, leisurely lunch of left-overs we decided instead to go get a dose of kulcha at Lagrasse. Where, in addition to other virtues too numerous to mention, such as its C14 covered marketplace, the abbey, the river and the rabbit-warren of narrow twisty streets, there are also a number of bars - all of them, at the start of the tourist season, open on a Sunday to welcome the thirsty footsore visitor.

And we were lucky enough to leave sufficiently early to make it to CDD at Lézignan to pick up a couple of 5l Chateau Carton (to go back to Chambéry) and a few cases of le Petit Spencer to ripen in the cupboard under the stairs that, for want of a better place, serves as the wine cellar around here, before it was time to put on our glad rags and head off to the feast.

Made it there and the tables were bare, so we were forced to mingle and chat with various people we know until, surreptitiously, serried lines of glistening bottles appeared and the fatted pizza was slaughtered and laid out. Any semblance of order disappeared as the able-bodied and small children descended in droves, milling around trying to snag the tastiest bits of pizza or a half-full bottle, leaving the senile and the grannies sitting on the sidelines and smiling benignly. Far too bloody much food, as usual, and I really should warn you that "Label 5" Finest Blended Alcoholic Shoe Polish is considered down these parts to be an acceptable substitute for whisky.

Even old Neville, who should know better, managed to snaffle a bottle and was happily downing the stuff, despite being well aware of the consequences.

And after about an hour of that the whistle blew to remind us that we were here for a serious purpose, ie major eating and we went off to find our seats between a very gai gendarme and his Camerounais family, and a serious but very pleasant family who turned out to own the couple of Ferraris I sometimes see parked out at the top of the village.

One thing led to another, and after the trou Normand and the fireworks but before the dancing had really got seriously underway it started pelting down, and after ten minutes sheltering under the tables it became apparent that this was likely to continue so with some regret we decided that discretion was much the better part of valour, and stumbled back home.

* Don't bother going all medieaval on me. I am merely specifying that the hectares of which I speak are in fact square, rather than oval or star-shaped, or something that looks like a splodge of vomit.

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