Sunday, November 22, 2015

Les Talents qui Travaillent le Tubercule ...

As was so often the case, Pooh had a pained
expression when listening to Eeyore
Yes, it is indeed la semaine internationale de l'alliteration.

Let's get it over with straight away: then you may read on and enjoy yourselves. It has been drawn to my notice that some of you may not follow The Register. So under the circumstances, I feel myself obliged to draw your attention to this article, announcing the annual clitoris festival in some small Spanish town.

Whatever the procedure and criteria might be for selecting the festival Queen, and what the parade afterwards would be like, I do not know: nor do I wish to, for I fear the worst.

We have new neighbours: the house they rent has a sort of roof terrace - a very Provençal concept, that - and I guess they were trying it out a few weeks back for there was an enormous fuss and then Blofeld sauntered over the roofline and came to lick his paws on the tiles above the verandah. He was followed by the neighbour's head, which didn't rise higher than the roofline: making for an amusing spectacle when this sort of disembodied football spoke.

"Excuse me, but do you have a cat?" it asked. "Mouais", I replied, "but to which of our disreputable fleabags do you refer?"

"The big white hairy bastard that just nicked two merguez off the barbecue!"

"Sorry squire, ah cannot help you there. Although ah admit that it has a suspicious hair that he should now be innocently sunning himself on our tiles, he is not ours, nor have ah evah seen him befoah."

Not entirely true, for Blofeld is in fact known to the services of law and order around these parts, but it seemed to satisfy the football, which retreated grumpily and - to judge by the noises - gave diverse brats a good clip around the earhole to remind them of the seriousness of barbecue-guardian duty. Just as well really, for the ancient and estimable firm of Delacrotte & Morveux, Solicitors at Arms, charge a small fortune for the privilege of offering up a defense in such cases.

Ohs noes! Catastrophe! (We are in France, so that would be pronounced "katastroff", in case you were wondering.) The coffee machine has died with a fatal case of kidney stones! Woe is us, the sky is falling, how shall we live? Fortunately, being the forward-planning persons that we are, we have three others. Acquired in all legality, I hasten to point out. Although I did like that Bosch: enough for two-and-a-half huge mugs in the morning, and sufficient left over for Margo's midday dose. The Moulinex that Jeremy so kindly donated to his aging parents before leaving for furrin parts is insufficient.

(And do not try to criticise our coffee intake. It is an admittedly feeble flap in the direction of healthy living, totally not an ad-hoc post-facto justification, having read somewhere that coffee helps repair liver damage due to excessive alcohol consumption.)

Anyways, what follows is what happens when you try to multi-task and are, through no fault of your own, chromosomally-inadequate. Not to say "deficient".

Margo having headed off to Pau for her birthday, I thought I'd at least have a stab at fending for myself and making dinner for one, and settled on a salade Lyonnaise as being not insurmountably difficult and also, although there are certain elements that cannot be omitted unless you want a surprise visit from the Spanish Inquisition or the Commission Française de Défense des Traditions Alimentaires, is limited only by your imagination and the contents of your fridge.

Can't go too wrong with a lettuce - unless of course you're English, and take some sad watery flavourless piece of shit and then boil it to within an inch of its life, or French, in which case you might braise it in veal stock and butter. But at least then it would go to meet its maker knowing that it was destined to be served up alongside a Chateaubriand, which has to be some sort of consolation. Ditto the plump ripe garden tomatoes.

The potato slices, fried in duck fat, were as golden as one could wish, and the lardons of bacon (yeah, home-made - so sue me) as crispy and carcinogenic as I could get them. The rounds of chèvre, breaded and fried in the rest of the fat, were quite acceptable. But my poached egg was NOT RUNNY ENOUGH!

It should have wobbled atop the mountain of ingredients on my plate, and when I stabbed it with my knife there should have been a bright golden lava flow of yolk splooping out over everything, making a dressing totally redundant: did NOT happen. I has sads.

(If you're trying this at home, do remember to fry up some garlicky croutons in the bacon fat, as well as the chèvre. It doesn't actually reduce the amount of cholesterol in there, but it lets you feel a lot better about it.)

We is working on this "local bar support group" thing. I don't know whether or not they make enough money from us, but we are trying to do our bit. Last Friday, Margo being absent - again - I went off to inhale a few vitamins and then Cash & Terry turned up with the same idea, then a bit later up came Johann and Sylvia ... so we all decided to stick around and eat.

It was not bad, although personally I find that they could have cut back on the size of the pizzas without anyone reproaching them (but then, looking at they way some people around these parts eat, I could be wrong): the problem was that there were quite a few clients and I suspect that the kitchen just is not kitted out to handle it. Just saying, the service is slow in such circumstances, and if you're at a big table you might find some people tucking into the main course whilst others are sipping their coffee.

So do what we did a few nights later, just go for a table for two. At least like that you're pretty sure to be served more or less at the same time. And let it be said that the hamburger was quite honorable, even if I did - to the disguised disgust of everyone else - eat it with my fingers. And next time, I shall ask for a fried egg in it, and maybe take up a jar of pickled beetroot. To make it proper.

And then the other night I dined with Bob! - a lengthy affair involving pâté, a stuffed râble de lapin, a bit of foie gras, the liver of the rabbit in question (which was evidently surplus to requirements, under the circumstances, and some of which, I'm ashamed to say, Indra managed to nick before it went into the dish) and a couple of bottles which we thought we'd better walk off, with the dogs - and coming back into the village around 00:30 noticed that the lights were still on in the bar, and Robert pointed out that it would be a good thing just to check that they weren't being burgled and if not, they might have some whisky.

As it happens, they did.

Also, none of this new-fangled nonsense about dogs not being allowed in bars. But they are under-age, so no alcohol for them.

Then we both managed to head off last Friday evening for a drink with Rick and Mary before heading home for roast lamb with brussels sprouts and chips - hardly traditional, I know, but Rick is a great fan of chips ... so we made it back here and those of us who like our nicotine dose were out on the terrace doing our bit for air pollution and talking smugly about how balmy it was: for it is true that up til now we have been enjoying - if that's the word - temperatures up in the admittedly low 20s, which is still acceptable.

In the classical Greek manner hubris is, of course, punished - often rather disproportionately if you ask me, but that's neither here nor there - and so of course on Saturday we got up to about 10° and things stubbornly refused to go any higher. Could've been worse: it snowed in Savoie.

This can mean only one thing: time to drag out the Yog-Sothoth disguises from Halloween and go do the Ceremony of Appeasement of The Boiler. (I know, I know. The robes and mystical chanting are not actually required and, whilst personally satisfying, the sacrifices are a purely optional extra: be that as it may, we do feel that just going off to the boiler cupboard and pushing a switch is rather lacking something. Letting the side down. It's supposed to be a complicated, obscure ritual, for godssake.)

And the steam hissed around the joints, the water gurgled through the pipes (I suppose I shall have to go bleed off the surplus air) and now we is toasty-hot. Which is a Good Thing.

This also means we're getting into the truffle season, and maybe this year I shall actually take the time to head off to Moussoulens or Talairan, or Villeneuve Minervois, to one or t'other of the various truffle markets. And maybe even buy a black, warty testicle, having worked out in advance just what I want to do with it this time round. I mean, a poularde demi-deuil is a lot of work for sod-all in my opinion and in any case it's a cold dish, which is not what I want at this time of year: maybe, if I speak nicely to Jacques, I can has some decent mushrooms and then I could just roast a chicken with slivers of truffe under the skin and make up a sauce with vin jaune, cream and morilles.

Alternatively, my elderly copy of Pellaprat has a number of dishes involving beef fillet and truffles: maybe I should be looking into those. And if anyone wants to pop over for a truffle omelette, January or February would probably be about the right time.

In late-breaking news, we seem to be still alive. I would have been blissfully unaware of this fact, as I do not read the papers, nor listen to the radio, and we do not actually have a TV, had it not been that, taking our two hairy retards for a bladder-emptying exercise that Saturday afternoon, I came across old Neville.

He's a Fabian conspiracy-theorist of the old school so it took a bit of time to get any sense out of him, what with muttering about it all being a capitalist plot to oppress the workers, but I finally worked out that perhaps I really ought to go home at some point and check up on the news and my email.

As it turned out Ian and Marie were in Britanny, niece #1 in Jordan, and niece #2 spent the night in lockdown behind the steel security shutters in a bar off les Halles. Which had not, I think, been in her plans for the evening.
Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Piece of Cod (That Passeth Understanding) ...

S'a funny thing, but for about 25 years I called Savoie "home". And the other day, driving back from Chambéry where I happened to be for reasons into which I will not go - sunglasses on, because south of Valence, and "White Wedding" full tit on the stereo because hey, it's Billy Idol and deserves to be played with the volume turned up to 11, right? - and with the windows down around Montpellier there was that clean smell of juniper and thyme and heather and I thought "Hey! I'm almost home." Back in the south, under the wide blue sky, where the air smells of gin. I can go for that.

(On the other hand, and as a cautionary tale, Sarah does not have an ignition key: just a stop/start button. Which is just a few centimetres away from the stereo on/off button ... you can see where this is going. I can report that if, through no fault of your own, you happen to push and hold that button, trying to turn off the stereo, the motor will in fact turn off - despite the fact that you're driving along at about 140 kph. I did not wish to find out what happens if you try engaging the starter motor at that sort of speed so I drifted over to the side - not easy, 'cos there's no power steering with the motor off - came to a halt, and restarted. Just saying, do not try this at home.)

To no pomp, and with very little circumstance, the village bar has finally reopened. Not that you'd have known, from the befuddled looks adorning the faces of some of the locals - mind you, some of them always look like that, case of rather too much inbreeding than is good for them would be my guess.

But whatever, they advertised themselves as doing "depôt de pain" along with drinks, and although it turned out to be industrial fluffy-centered baguette it's still better than the day-old burnt dog-turd facsimiles you can get from the surly lady at the local Vival store - always assuming that she deigns to actually sell you one, maybe most of them are reserved for poo fanciers - so it saves me going through to Lézignan for bread should I want some for lunch, which has to be good. (Sadly, the boulangerie at Conilhac, only a few km away, seems to have closed down. Shame, 'cos their bread was good and on top of it they stocked the cigars I like to smoke. Bitch.)

Did not, however, go off to the inauguration ceremony a week after. There was, it seems, a concert - followed by a meal: folk songs have never appealed, so we passed. Apparently we did not miss much: the organisation of the affair (so not their fault, the mairie was involved) was up to the usual pissup+brewery standards, standing room only, and when Terry discovered that he would have to help drag a table outside to sit in purdah with the other English-persons he gave up in disgust and headed back home. Which earned him a righteous and doubtless well-deserved bollocking from Cash.

We have, however, decided that although we're not going to create a formal support group, the least we can do is organise something amongst those we know along the lines of "we'll be there Friday night around 18h for a beer, weather permitting, see you there". A case of use it or lose it: three years without a local bar is quite enough thanks very much, we'd rather use it.

A couple of Sundays back the church bells starting clanging in their very annoying out-of-tune and subtly off-pitch way, and from about 11am on (could've been earlier, maybe was, but I was not actually out of bed and in any state to check) people started turning up in their glad-rags, with small children and an accordion.

Some of the local yoof, in ill-fitting (or maybe just uncomfortable, because not used to such things) suits had apparently been deputised to look after parking, and as most French drivers will greet advice on that subject with the same sort of response I'd give if someone inadvisedly suggested I have a vegetable soup enema, things got a little bordelique ...

After the service everyone hung around in the little square, all apparently having a good time, and there was what I will charitably call "music". Still trying to work out just what it was. Could have been a baptism, maybe a first communion - or given the date, maybe they'd come to commemorate the death of French rugby?

We've had a little more work done on the house, rather sooner, than we'd reckoned on. Those of you who've been here before may recall that the ceiling in the downstairs living-room had been tastefully paneled in pine and varnished shit-brown, which made it pleasantly dim in summer but downright gloomy at other times. Well, this is no longer the case.

Cédric having ripped out the fireplace to make room for the pellet burner (and also, incidentally, exposing some asbestos piping that was apparently part of some rustic system for piping tepid air into a bathroom or two on the first floor - less said about that the better) also did some collateral damage to the ceiling, so having better things to do one Saturday I got up on the stepladder with a crowbar and had some fun.

Once I'd recovered, and Cédric came back a few days later, we discussed our options. The false ceiling had hidden the original wooden beams and the old plaster ceiling, which was in pretty bad nick, so we came to an arrangement whereby he would charge us a reasonable amount of money and in return stick up plasterboard about 10cm higher, so that some of the beams are still exposed, and plaster over all the rather shitty bits that were revealed.

But he did not wish to sign his name on the old ceiling before covering it up again - unlike Réné and Alain, cowboy builders, who did the first job on March 12, 1975. Do you know, when I was removing the pine planks, I came across a piece of wood, serving absolutely no useful purpose, that had been attached to one of the beams? A piece of wood maybe 15cm long, 5cm x 3cm. Very, very firmly attached with three 8 x 100 screws. I mean, three? Nuclear armageddon could come and go, and that bit of wood would still be there.

Whatever, unplanned or not it's done now, and the old room will be that little bit airier, and probably a whole lot lighter. Especially as part of my demolition work involved removing the old lampshade, which had apparently been designed to WW II specs to block out 95% of all visible light. What were they all on, back in the 70s?

(Anyone saying "You should know, you were there" is banned. With extreme prejudice.)
Is a bepuzzlement. We has been living in this little corner of southern France for what, about two and a half years now, and during that time the bank has been sending out statements and begging letters and godnose what else to this address, but still it does not seem to have penetrated whatever it is that passes for their collective hive-mind that this means that I am actually here, and not there. For once again I just got a phone call asking if it would be convenient for my banker to call upon me next Tuesday, in the moaning.

"But certainly, dear secretary. Ah will be pleased to see her."

"Verrah well, ah shall note you for dix hours?"

"But with pleasure. You do, of course, realise that this entails a 923 km round trip? But if she wishes, she will be more than welcome."

Somehow, I don't think so. 

I also gather that as part of the international conspiracy led by Hollywood, Wall Street bankers, Jews and the Illuminati, both processed and raw meats have been classified by WHO as being carcinogenic. I could care more. Shall just have to wear a tin-foil hat when eating my crispy fried bacon down in the cellar, so that UN death squads do not detect my brainwaves and cart me off in a black helicopter.

Other things are doubtless bad for you too: fish'n'chips, for one. (Truth to tell yer usual home-made variety is generally both unhealthy and pretty gross, as most domestic deep-fryers aren't worth crap. Which is why I have an industrial deep-fryer.) Who cares, we organised drinks at the bar with Richard and Mary, to be followed by a bit of greasy delight here - and a big "Thank you!" to Margo, by the way, for suggesting that just perhaps turning eight huge spuds into chips for four people would be a good idea, rather than going with my miserly five. It's amazing how the damn things just disappear.

Unfortunately I do not actually have eight litres of duck fat (although I am working on this problem) so I had to fry everything in oil: never mind, we managed to force it down anyway. And as we munched our way through the crispy beer-battered fish, and the frites, the wind came up and howled and the rain started to pelt fretfully down, but we nicotine addicts are made of hard stuff for we found ourselves on the terrace under the downpour - me with a cigar, Rick with his usual weedy roll-yer-own and Mary with a camel (don't say anything, thank you) - and I thought that perhaps I'd better do my hostly duty and offer something post-prandial.

"Our son" I said "left us some rather ghastly pastis, but if you'd rather not - and personally I wouldn't - there's some gin, or some decent whisky ..."

"Any port", said Rick, "in a storm?"