Sunday, July 26, 2015

Il Pleut, Il Pleut, Bergère ...

We should be so bloody lucky. Méteo France has been promising us rain for the past week, a promise that has been religiously postponed every day. The daily routine involves getting out of bed where - all unbeknownst - you've been sweating all night (not surprising, because the temperature does not get below 28°), then starting to sweat some more. Out onto the terrace for the morning coffee and cigar, and the cloudless sky is that particular provençal shade of blue, and there is no breeze. At 8:30, it is already in the thirties, and it's not going to get any cooler.

There are conflicting views about having a swimming pool down here. Not that we have one, nor could we for we have no land, but on the plus side, if you have a swimming pool you can at least swim in it and cool down: or so you might think.

On the minus side, it's a lot of maintenance and should you ever, in an unguarded moment, let it be known that not only do you live in the south of France but also that you are the proud owners of a pool, you will discover that you suddenly have a lot of friends, or friends of friends, or distant relatives, that you thought had maybe died, or that you never actually knew, or of whose existence you were blissfully unaware.

And your phone will start bleeping permanently with people calling or leaving messages to the effect that they'll probably be turning up next morning, hope you don't mind, we'll not be a problem, and the concept of swimming yourself will go by the board as reluctant hospitality and the dregs of good manners oblige you to drag out the barbecue for a midday meal, and buy in another 20 litres of rosé.

So, at least, it is said by Wossname Mayle in his marshmallow opus, and also (more reliably) by those of our friends and neighbours who do have pools, and they have learnt to harden their hearts and not pick up the phone should it ring (thank god for caller ID display), or if - by inadvertence - they do so, to invent a casual lie about how the septic tank has overflown and the pool is full of jolly turds bobbing around, would you like to come around anyway for a game of  Poohsticks? (In my experience, it does.)

Anyways, this moaning it finally did rain, after six weeks or so with nary a drop. We got maybe a drop every 10 cm² for half an hour, and then the clouds buggered off eastward, looking kind of embarrassed.

All it's done is make things worse: instead of just being stinking hot the little rain there was evaporated in about ten seconds flat on the hot tiles, and so it is now more like a sauna out there. Apparently this is supposed to continue for the next few weeks, so I guess it's time to stock up on more beer and white wine, just to make sure that we don't run out.

Fortunately the canal du Midi is just ten minutes drive north of here, so in the evening we can bundle the dogs into the boot and head off to one of the locks for a quiet walk along the towpath, with the cool green water moving lazily under the shade of the trees. Very pleasant, but I'm still waiting to get my autonomous self-driving car so that it can come pick us up at the next lock.

As a general rule I dislike being around dead people, but this time it was a neighbour and ex-maire, and we know his daughter Caroline quite well so noblesse oblige and all that. Funerals in France are always a very social affair. I guess most of the village turned out, hubbubbing under the sun, waiting around for something to happen. (Odd thing I'd not thought of before but I can see the necessity: hearses in these parts have a refrigerated compartment.)

Of course things were running late - they always do - but we finally got to queue up and pay our respects. Truth to tell, that's the bit I really hate about funerals: one never knows just what to say. But Margo persuaded me that I just had to mumble, and as M. le maire just ahead of me in line had burst into tears it seemed to pass muster.

Only the third I've been to in France: with any luck the next one will be mine and I won't have to hang around through speechifying. Especially as my plans rather involve an edifying piss-up with a small cardboard box containing the ashes, a timer, and a small(ish) explosive charge in the centre of the buffet table.
The 13th of July went well - without a sudden storm this time, obliging us to take refuge under the tables as the rain pelts down - and Margo picked up the yoof at Narbonne and got them back in time for the festivities. I guess I shouldn't have worried: I know the meal was supposed to start at 20:00 but honestly, down here, do you really think that's going to happen? (Hint: the answer is "no".)

When they turned up the assembled masses had hardly made a dent in the heaped platters of pizza and other nibbles laid out on the groaning trestle tables, and there was a constant procession of chilled bottles of white and rosé and pastis (and Label 5 paintstripper whisky) coming out.

All good things come to an end and eventually when the plates were looking kind of empty everyone drifted off to the tables for the real exercise of the day: usual five course meal, with at least three bottles per couple.

At least the caterers didn't seem to feel that they were feeding a ward-full of patients from a secure psychiatric facility and so we actually got real cutlery instead of bendy plastic stuff, which made eating the rare beef a damn sight easier.

We hung around for the fireworks display and then, as the mobile disco that is an inevitable part of a small-town fête around here (truth to tell, probably everywhere in France) started tuning up (metaphorically speaking), rolled bloatedly home. Luckily the 14th is in fact a public holiday, because I don't think anyone felt like actually doing anything the next day. Know I didn't.

We actually had plans for decorating the bedrooms, which involved a lightly-structured wallpaper and, preferably, not too many arguments (heated discussions, if you prefer) as we put it up - for let's face it, wallpapering is a job that really needs two and we do not always work well together on such things due to REASONS, and having different ideas as to how things should be done. But last night Old Hélène turned up to let us know that she's sold her house and would we be at the little celebratory piss-up apéro, and one thing led to another ...

What it actually led to was here saying "Oh! But the walls are très charmants and the room full of caractère, you must not put on le papier peint!". And the more we thought about it, the more the idea of whitewashing the walls started to appeal: partly, let it be admitted, on the grounds of price, but mainly because it would be very much in keeping with the style of the place. At least we hadn't gone out and bought forty rolls of wallpaper at €15 a pop ...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Speling Is Opshunal ...

"Armchair" is a simple concept, "easychair" might be American but is understandable, and "dining-room chair" is fine, but quite frankly, a "pus chair"? There are some concepts with which my poor brain would rather not grapple, and this is one. Mind you, I can see why they might be forbidden. For godssake people, even if you have unalloyed confidence in the literary abilities of your five year-old child, you could still run it through a spell/grammar checker. Hell, even the dire attempt provided with OpenOffice would probably have picked that example up.

As will happen, once arrived at a certain age one's obsessions tend to change a bit. It's not that I am in fact obsessed by the question, but I do have to wonder - is there a "right side" and a "wrong side" for toilet paper? It's the sort of thing that I think we have a right to know. Christ, what if, all unwittingly, I've been doing it wrong all my life? That could explain a lot. I wish the stuff would come with a user's guide.

Be that as it may, over here we is suffering - in agony, I tell you - from yet another canicule. The sky is that particular shade of provençal blue, and cloudless: downstairs it's a relatively acceptable 27°, but venture out into the verandah and it's up to 32°, and I don't even think about on the terrace, shade or not. The dogs spend their time seeking out the coolest tiles they can find on the living-room floor and then just lie still: maybe I should put ice cubes into their water bowl.

We is made of sterner stuff, and yesterday being a Sunday decided that nothing would do but we have a barbecue. I had gone off and bought a big bag of vine clippings - sarments de vigne - and I have to admit that they're perfect for something quick like lamb chops, or sausages. None of this faffing about and endless waiting with charcoal, they're up to operating temperature in ten minutes and stay just as hot as you want for half an hour, which is wonderful.

C&T brought round some asparagus and there was a perfectly-ripe melon just waiting, so we ate and drank and occasionally shifted the table around so that we were still in the shade (and maybe we shall have to look at getting one of those sail things to go over the terrace, for 35m² of shade is a lot to ask from one mingy parasol) and then, I'm afraid, we slept, down in the cool.

Not for long enough, because we had an appointment at 18:00 with Richard and Mary, to pick up the last bits of the beds they're lending us, learn about swimming holes and - of course - drink some more in a shady corner of their garden, with the cicadas making a godawful racket up in the trees. We had not planned on it going on quite so long, for Rick tends to fade early in the evening, but around 20:00 we decided that a fourth bottle was not strictly speaking necessary and staggered back home, bed-bases and mattresses on our backs.

Our piratical neighbour Philippe has finally gone over to the dark side. It's a slippery slope, you start off buying one 1950's vintage Peugeot pickup truck to restore, make a mould in Fimo to recast a left front indicator (yes Virginia, they had them even back in the day), then you pick up the estate model just for spares and before you know it the courtyard is full of the damn things, up on blocks and slowly leaking oil.

The canicule came early this year, it is lasting, and even though it's supposed to cool down again for a bit we'll get another one - so they're direly predicting. It is a good thing that rosé is just a drink, not actually wine, and that if you keep white wine in the fridge the alcohol precipitates to the bottom so you just don't drain your glass to avoid intoxication.

Or so I tell myself.

Also, I don't know if we're eating more healthily, but we're certainly eating differently. The humble spud has been more or less banished from the table, the salad is held in high honour, and our olive oil consumption has gone up by leaps and bounds. (OK, only a litre per month or so, but given that I long ago swore loyalty to butter that's still quite a bit.)

Still carnivores, mind you - can't escape that in these parts - and to remind me of that fact there are not one but two shoulders of lamb defrosting on the bench, awaiting the tender ministrations of the boning knife.

One is destined to be rolled with a bit of garlic and maybe rosemary inside, then roasted and basted with a mixture of honey and ground ginger as it cooks, and the other will meet its maker in a treacle cure to become a lamb ham, cooking very slowly in the oven (for I do not yet have a smoker) after a week or so in the fridge, salting.

Whatever, André did in fact turn up - whilst I was up in Chambéry for work, which meant that he only got a tongue-lashing from Margo - and so we now have two rooms on the first floor with fully functional bathrooms. And in one of those the floor is all done, and it needs only wallpaper and skirting-boards to be put up to be complete: happily A & B do not mind the absence of these little niceties (or so they said) so we were able to put them up in relative comfort for the five days of their stay with us.

(Which occasioned yet another trip to the cave coopérative for emergency supplies, but that's beside the point.)

They've not been down in these here parts before, so one of the first things we did was put on good walking shoes and head south through tiny twisty roads (thank you once again, bloody GPS of Doom) to Peyrepertuse, one of the Cathar castles.

Perched on a knife-edged crag at about 800m altitude and accessible only by a track that even a mountain goat would be ashamed to call its own, even a trip off to the local shop for a packet of fags would take on something of the air of a major expedition: on the bright side, it would have to be a bloody determined Jehovah's Witness that made it up there to knock at the postern gate whilst you're enjoying a quiet drink on a Sunday morning.

If anything, Quéribus - just 5km away as the crow flies - is even more forbidding. I still can't think how we managed to get the kids up there when we went, some eighteen years or so ago.

And of course we made it off to Carcassonne, because if you're here you just can't not go, and that's the first time I've ever seen a selfie stick. Do people not realise what prats they look like, holding up a golf club with a phone on the end? (Mind you, the woman was one of the loud variety of American tourists, and probably thought she was still in Kansas.)

Anyway, gotta go: the hairy retards are getting impatient, and the canal is calling.