Saturday, 30 October 2010

Randautomne the 2nd walk

Tradition dictates that in the Sunday evening, the weary revellers adjourn to R and J’s house to eat up all the leftover food and drink what remains of the liquid refreshments. It was still only mid afternoon, so there was time to fit in another walk. There was a choice of visiting a church (uphill walk), or visiting a spring which has very iron-rich water (level walk). Our official walk organiser obviously wanted to do the uphill walk, but the majority did not. So he disappeared for the rest of the afternoon.
J, having the local knowledge led the way along the metalled road. A minute or two later, we were in open countryside, with a river running nearby to our right.
Like most communities, this one still has its public wash house, with its 2 large rectangular basins full of water.
This one was in very good condition but I doubt that it is used at all today.
A bit further on the river branched. The smaller of the two branches flowed at a brisk pace towards us, and lead to an “old” mill house which is still occupied either as a summer holiday home or full time. The water roared down two sloping channels, disappearing right under the house.
The gradient of the road had started to increase ever so slightly.This lead to complaints from some of the walkers who had been promised a level walk, but with nowhere else to go we all continued onwards.
The next building of note was a small electricity generating station, taking advantage of the fast flowing river nearby.
There was a strong temptation to ask “are we nearly there yet?” as we trudged on in the sunshine, admiring the mountains in the distance.
The cows are back down from the mountains, and we witnessed 50+ white cattle trooping into a field.
Eventually we reached a house by the side of the road with the information we were waiting for.
A car had whizzed past us earlier at speed, and it was parked up waiting for us. Yes the 80 and 88 year old tearaways had arrived.
Unfortunately lulled into a false sense of security, I had taken off my walking boots and put on my trainers for the advertised “short walk”.
We sploshed along a boggy river bank path, before coming to a bridge made from rotting railway sleepers which enabled us to cross to the other side.
Then it was across a muddy field, a 4 foot wide muddy stream, a bit more muddy field, through a gate and there it was in all it’s glory. The fontaine ferrugineuse.
I had expected some kind of ornate fountain, similar to those seen in most French communities.
This fountain is just water trickling out along a piece of stone or metal which jutted out from a stone wall, and thence wound its way along the ground in a reddish brown smear.
The lack of a formal fountain did not seem to bother my fellow choristers. They had brought along a few empty plastic bottles and proceeded to fill them from the fountain. Most of us ventured a few mouthfuls. It tasted faintly metallic, but not unpleasantly so. As I write this we are all still alive.
We retraced our route, back to the village and eventually there were 18 of us at J and R’s house for the onion soup that she had made and the leftovers.
We all crammed into the kitchen whilst the onion soup was cooked or gratained in the oven. The cooking was delayed while J waited for the dishwasher to finish. If she switched on the cooker at the same time it would have blown the electrics.
We had had a whip round for J and R and she was presented with a big bouquet of flowers and I think that R received some bottles of wine.
J was outraged, she would never invite us back again, she was not expecting anything from us. The president told her that this was tough, as we would not be taking the presents back. J burst into floods of tears...... Ooh la la!
I had always thought that onion soup was a thin liquid with bits of onion in it. This soup looked like bread and butter pudding. As well as onions etc it also had lots of quartered slices of bread in it, it had almost no juice at all. It was very tasty though.

one of the soups

I could only manage one ladle full, still being completely full after the lunch. I did manage a half glass of real champagne of course. I have been trying to lose weight by eating smaller portions and I just can’t eat much at a time these days.
The rest of the choir members had no such problems, ate their soup and then started on the pizzas, apple tarts, etc etc.
Where do they put it all?

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Randoautomne – le repas

We arrived at a small village and parked where we could. Heading for the village hall I spied our 80 year old member, who had not been on the walk. He seemed to be climbing up a shrub, growing on the front of a house. Unfortunately I was carrying bags of food so I missed taking that shot, but as I waited for my camera to power up, he spotted me and moved rapidly towards me. I pressed the shutter and thought “my camera won’t cope with this” Mais voila here he is clutching his grapes, or I should say, clutching someone else’s grapes.
Tables had been laid and various foodstuffs were laid out on tables at each end of the room. The sweet things were in one area, the salty things in another. Outside, under a makeshift awning, and leaving about 16 inches between the bbq and the toilet door, meat was beginning to sizzle.
Now it was time to get serious and the apero drinks and nibbles were consumed. We were supposed to all bring our couverts, no not blankets, but knife, fork, plate, glass etc.
It became obvious that many had forgotten to follow this instruction, so J who has a house in the village, set off in her car to source 15 couverts. I had my set, just in case you were wondering.
The meal passed off well, and as well as meat in various states of cookedness, I ate quiche, pizza, rice, etc as well as things that were a mystery to me. Then there were the various deserts......
During the meal there were various speeches and toasts. One of the speakers congratulated M for organising the choir’s first annual walk in the rain and snow. M became a bit defensive and miffed at this point. Here is my friend Rene, saying a few words, still going strong at 88. He later gave me details for hiring the hall. 36 euros for the whole day, including heating and everything, he said.
The meal dragged on a bit, as meals do over here, but eventually people started to pack up their stuff and drift away into the now sunny afternoon.
I remained behind because once we had put the chairs away, removed the paper table cloths, killed the bbq etc there was more entertainment to come.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Randautomne – Sunday morning muddy waters

On Sunday morning I had difficulty focusing on breakfast. My head hurt a bit too. I thought that it might be the change in the weather, but the majority seemed to think that it was due to the prune spirit. We don’t touch it they said, it’s bad stuff and it makes you feel ill. Now they tell me!
The view out of the window was not promising. It had snowed on the mountains across the valley from us overnight. It was drizzling and misty.
“I’m not walking in this weather” said Ctte. “I once joined a walking group and we carried on walking even when a snow blizzard came, and we even stopped to eat our food while it snowed.” This is the third year in a row that she has told me this story.
We set off in our cars descending down the single track zig-zagging road, like a long metal centipede.
I had switched on my GPS, but shortly after setting off, it mooed like a cow twice and stopped giving me instructions.
I just followed everyone else. We had been given permission to use a forestry road which was not generally accessible to the public.
We turned off the little road and onto a bumpy, lumpy track, eventually coming to a halt on a flat bit that was suitable for parking about 12 cars.
“But where is M who is leading the walk?” someone asked.
Lost in France
Where was he indeed. People tried his mobile, no reply. Eventually they managed to contact a couple who had gone to buy bread for the midday meal. We gave them directions so that they could come and share our pain. They were in a Landrover discovery, so the terrain was no trouble to them. When they arrived, Mr Landrover managed to raise the husband of the Choir president.
New directions were transmitted and we bumped back down the track to the road and then into a car park, we then transferred into fewer cars and set off again, this time 5.8km off up another forestry track nearby.
It was raining now, and we passed Ctte’s car sitting all alone by the side of the track. So she had decided to do the walk after all.
We finally arrived to join the others. N went off into the undergrowth for a pee and came back with a large mushroom.

We already had one satisfied customer. Once suited and booted we set off up the track. This is easy I thought, just like the details said, suitable for everyone.
Twenty paces into the walk and we left the track and headed off up a 60 degree incline path into the trees.
It was not easy going at all. It was uphill all the way, following a twisty single file track through the trees. We sploshed through mud, small streams, twisting back on ourselves but ever upwards. Talking was not an option as we huffed and puffed.
We passed these old animal bones fixed to a tree.
We were in hunter territory. Then it started to snow. 5 minutes later a meeting was held and a number of people turned back, not wanting to get stuck on the mountain if it got worse.
We carried on up the hill passing 2 groups of hunters, complete with camouflage gear and rifles coming down.” When the weather is bad like this”, said one “we stop and head for home”. We carried on up into the thickening skies.
About 15 minutes later we reached our destination. A mountain refuge.
We ate some cakes and explored the WC that had been constructed, complete with a plastic chair as a throne, located a short distance behind the refuge.
no one on the French throne

I wonder where all the waste goes, or perhaps doesn’t go at all.
We then set off back down, honour having been satisfied. It took an hour to get back to the cars. On the way down I passed this little arrangement nestling between two rocks.
A way of sharing hunting information perhaps?
We had asked Ctte why she had left her car in the middle of nowhere. She told us that she had very little petrol left and that if she ran out on the way down, the emergency services would not have so far to go to find her.
In the end, she refused to drive her car and the president’s husband had to do it.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The choir randautomne - Saturday

The choir has been back at work since the beginning of September. Many of the old stalwarts have left but a few new members have drifted in and out and are still deciding whether they will pay the annual membership fee, which has gone up to nearly 80 euros plus an extra 10 – 20 euros for music scores. The new committee members have been voted on and are now in their roles of treasurer, secretary etc I must admit that I have not paid yet. I was waiting to see if I would be unemployed as that would have been a much cheaper membership fee. I will have to get my chequebook out after the Toussaint holiday break.
Every year the committee organises a weekend away, so that we can all bond and get some extra choir practice in.
Since I joined in 2008, accommodation has been at a mountain centre about 40 minutes drive from where I live. This year was no exception and just like last year the number of people attending was not high, especially when you consider that kids and partners can come along too.
For the Saturday afternoon practice we had 23 people, plus the chef de choeur. We have about 60 members.
The number of people staying for the evening meal, bed and breakfast, dropped even further.
This did not deter those remaining behind from enjoying themselves however, and there was the added bonus that it was no problem to get a room all to oneself.
The main official entertainment of the evening was to be a showing of the DVD made from one of our performances of the fisherman and his wife, earlier this year.
Here (out of sequence), they are watching as the big paper fish rises from the depths to make the fisherman’s wife’s latest request come true.
Before this could take place however, there was singing to be done and there were new members present so an initiation ceremony would be needed.
Here is a video of part of a song which was led by J, who seems to be the official entertainment officer, a sort of redcoat with a blackberry on top.
In 2008 I had been the new member, so now it was my turn to enjoy watching it all from a distance. Basically it is like the minister’s cat game, only here an item is added to the shopping list each time and has to be accompanied by the appropriate actions. The sound quality is not good as the audience was enjoying itself too much.

All thoughts of the rain forecast for the walk on Sunday seemed to be forgotten. Helped of course by the whisky, wine, prune spirit, rikiki etc.

Friday, 22 October 2010

“Jumpers” = 1er RCP – Régiment Chasseur Parachutiste – Pamiers

Directions on how to find the camp were not good at all and it was not where I had found it on google map. We asked directions and the second person sent us in the right direction. Although it was an open weekend, there were no posters up to point the way.
After the rain of the previous day (too windy for the helicopters to fly), the sun was shining. It looked like being a nice afternoon.
We parked in the car park just outside the camps boundary fence and walked through the gates, past smartly dressed soldiers from the regiment, who were handing out leaflets about the event.

There was a plane parked on the grass and we strolled around it watching as a boy of around 10 posed in the doorway of the plane, wearing a helmet and a small parachute pack, having his photo taken by one of the soldiers.
There were tents advertising various goods and services, cars, hot tubs, solar panels, bicycles, etc Further on there were stalls selling wines and spirits and the usual farmers market staples such as cheese, james and honey, sweets etc
In the distance small helicopters were taking people up for short rides at around 35 euros a trip. F liked the soldiers uniform trousers, so she asked one of the parachutists if there was somewhere that she could buy a pair. I could see that it was going to be a long afternoon. She was directed to the building housing the stores, I suppose that it would be the equivalent of a NAFFI store. You could buy bottles of regimental wine, a book about the history of the parachute regiments, a book of songs that the regiment sings. There were clothes and although they were in plain view, F accosted the biggest soldier she could find to aid her in her quest for trousers. Alas there were none in her size, they were too long for her she said. The soldier politely told her that his trousers were not for sale.
She had to content herself with a regimental badge key ring.
Back out in the sunshine, she stopped another soldier and asked him what the time was....
Spotting a blonde female parachutiste, F said loudly, Look, there are even women soldiers. Since we had already passed one or two other female soldiers I don’t quite know what her point was.
It took us no time at all to visit all the stalls twice and for F to inform the female soldier manning the territorial army truck, which had all the raffle prizes on display, that the scooter was soon going to be won by her (she had bought 2 tickets during the week). The soldier explained that when F won it, she would not be able to take it away as it would need to be licensed first.

We watched as a string of parachutists jumped out of a helicopter. The first soldier came down very fast, but the others seemed able to zig-zag about the sky at will, even gaining height. Their chutes were very small, presumably as they were not jumping with full kit.
Next came the display and soldiers armed with machine guns and other weapons started to assemble, as did a line of army vehicles, including a tank, a big artillery piece, a military JCB, armoured cars etc,

 Throughout the display, American rock music belted out, Eye of the tiger, the theme from Top Gun are two that I remember.

The regiment is now in training prior to going to Afghanistan in May next year. It will be one of the last regiments to go out and will hand over to Afghan troops at the end of their tour of duty, in December 2011.

Raptor group was on display. About 90 men and associated vehicles and hardware including dogs and their handlers. After their demonstration the public could enter the parade ground and ask the soldiers questions.

It was getting cold but the raffle draw was not for another hour, so we hung about waiting. There were a lot of soldiers there, many from other French parachute regiments and strangely enough the place was crawling with lots of blonde young ladies in very tight jeans. How did they know that I would be there?

There were also lots of soldiers with their wives or girlfriends, pushing tots in baby buggies.
At long last it was 5:15 and the crowd had assembled ready for the draw. It was announced that there would be a 10 minute delay and the crowd murmured its discontent.
I was trying to stave off hypothermia while watching F accost 2 different couples, each of whom were pushing 2 push chairs “Are they twins?”
She also managed to walk backwards into a kerb and I managed to grab hold of her before she hit the ground. Would the bloody draw ever happen?
There must have been about 100 prizes. It was going to take some time, as after 10 minutes we had still only reached the 15 euro off a hair cut prizes.

Gradually, very gradually, the value of the prizes mounted, and we reached the 200 euro mark. This was a box of money off vouchers, and guess what, they read out every last one of the vouchers,. who had donated them, and what they were for. It’s no wonder that people lose it and run amok.
Next prize was also 200 euros worth of vouchers, these vouchers were not all the same as the vouchers in the first box, so guess what........

As the draw progressed, it became obvious that the soldiers had bought a lot of tickets. Quatrieme Companie was winning a lot of prizes. F was not contente, and each time one of them won a prize, her voice got slightly louder as she voiced her opinion that this should not be allowed.

I slowly edged my way backwards and to the side, in case anyone thought that I was with her. J-C had already disappeared off to the loo several times and was having a cigarette in the background somewhere.
Yes it was amazing that with her two tickets, F did not win the scooter, the washing machine, the bike, the large flat screen TV, the 1000 euro oven, or even 10 euros off a hairdo..
It was interesting to see the regiment and to learn a bit about them. They seemed very young, I hope that they all return safely from Afghanistan next year.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

France is a striking country

Demonstrations and strikes have been going on for some weeks now here in France and the action is becoming more sustained and violence has started breaking out. As I write this on Wednesday evening (yes I know I should be at choir practice), tomorrow will be another day of strikes and demos, it is also the day that Sarko will finalise the raising of the pension age from 60 to 62. Being British and a child of the late -50’s this is all pretty tame stuff to me. I remember the miners strikes, selective electricity blackouts sitting huddled round candles in the living room, bin strikes, strikes for higher pay, firemen strikes... the list of strikes was endless. May Day rallies were also attended. I particularly remember a shambling Michael Foot making a speech one year.
While working in Glasgow, I went on strike pretty much every year to protest about pay, cuts in services etc. I was once suspended indefinitely without pay for following union instructions and opening a library which the management had decreed should be shut.
There were about 8 or so of us suspended that day.
Yes it was a bit worrying, but after a bit, the Union decided to pay us the equivalent of our wages from a levy from union members.
It was all very interesting and we had to go to lots of meetings and pubs as part of it all.
Other council departments came out in support from time to time. In between meetings .I decorated the hall to pass the time. At least 2 of the others who had been suspended had break-downs and were never the same again.
The climax of it all came after a month at a meeting held in a theatre of library staff. This meeting changed my life and my outlook on my fellow workers.
The motion was that because management had not budged and had also refused to say that we would get our jobs back, that it should be further strike action to support those in suspension.
Then a weasely librarian, one T. J. stood up, and swayed the gathering with how he couldn’t afford to go on strike, he had children etc etc etc. If they went on strike they could all lose their jobs......
A vote was taken and the result was effectively that those of us who had been suspended would not be supported and no further strike action would be taken. So we were royally shafted.
Fair enough you might think, democracy and all that, however I later learned that T.J. also sold double glazing on the side and was sending his kids to a posh boarding school. I had barely spoken to the man before, but I never spoke to, or acknowledged his presence again.
Fortunately, shortly afterwards, management did give us our jobs back, but, as I said earlier, several of the suspendees were left with lasting mental and emotional problems.
It remains to be seen if the strike will continue into next week and the Toussaint holidays and even beyond.
My only comments on events are:
It is time that the EU governments did something about those robbing bastard bankers
Members of Parliament should live in their constitiencies and pay their taxes in the country that employs them. Just like the electorate that they claim to represent have to do.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Café society

I was pottering about at home on the Saturday afternoon, when my phone rang. It was F. She was in a café waiting for the J-M to arrive back from his bus trip to Pas de la Casm to buy their cigarettes and perfume and she was bored.
It was about 3pm, so I put on a jacket and headed off into town. I found her sitting outside the cafém puffing away on a fag.
We went inside where it was warmer and I had a succession of beers, whilst we waited for J-M. His bus was due at 5:30p; she said. At 5:30 she phoned him up to find out where he was. The customs officers had stopped all vehicles and inspected everyone’s papersm but now the bus was stopped at Ax due to a road traffic accident involving a motorcyclist, who appeared to be dead at the scene.
He eventually arrived at about 6.30 pm.
We had 2 more beers and them headed off for a pizza. I declined the offer of coming back to their flat for a drink, and made it home for 9.30pm Quite a long outing for a cup of coffee.
During my coffee break I learned that Madame and the two of them were no longer friends and that there was no chance of them ever being friends again. They were sorry they said, but they would not ever be coming to my flat for drinks as they did not wish to even see Madame in passing again.
There were many slights imagined or not, which had been building up. The last straw had been when they saw her at the demonstration in town on the Tuesday after the roast beef. The invalid who had been too tired to stay for supper, too tired to make the trip to see the parachutists, had been stomping about shouting into a megaphone, and when she had spotted J-:M, she had just turned her back on him.
This time it is over for good, They had had words on the phone, airing their respective grievances and had both said that this was the END!
Always remember boys and girls, that hell hath no fury like a French woman scorned. mind you there are a lot of nutters of other nationalities out there too.....

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Have you heard the one about le Rosbif and le rosbif

At 11:25 I went downstairs to wait for Madame as I knew that she would be going to F and J-M’s flat for the roast beef lunch.

An yes of course the fact that the French refer to the English as les rosbifs is just as funny the 300th time that you hear about it as on the first occasion.
Eventually she shuffled out of her apartment clutching a plastic bag with bottles in it, and sporting a strap on leg brace on one calf, She was exhausted after her Paris trip. 5 hours standing in the Louvre, 5 hours standing in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles etc etc.
Was I going to F’s house for lunch? She enquired (as if she didn’t know). Yes I said.
Off we went down the steps, her dog dancing excitedly round us. I had thought that we would walk down together, but as we reached her car she said that she was too worn out to walk. She was taking her car. There was a long pause. Did I want a lift?
We arrived in one piece and gained entry through the various security gates.
We listened once again to Madame’s tales of self inflicted woes.
Le apero nibbles arrived to take her mind off things, and she dug in.
F told her how fantastic her birthday had been the previous weekend. 15 all.
The roast beef arrived on the table. The British are used to a well done piece of uniformly grey meat, with perhaps a slight pink blush spreading from the centre.
The French prefer to heat up the oven. put the joint of meat in for 3 minutes or so, or until the very outside of the meat goes grey, then whip it out again.
The result is a piece of meat just as raw as before it entered the oven.
Being debonair and cosmolopitan and once having ordered steak tartare in a restaurant in France in the ‘80s ,(thinking that it must be steak with tartare sauce) I am prepared to munch my way through most things with my sang froide in tact.
After the meal, F wanted to watch the DVD of birthday photos that I had made for her, complete with soundtrack (Thin Lizzy’s “Parisienne walkways”).
F just loved her DVD and played it over and over and over and over.......
I had arranged to take F and J-M to the parachute regiment open day the following weekend, did Madame want to come too? No, she was far too tired and would need to rest.
Madame decided that she was now even more tired. You understand 5 hours in the Louvre, 5 hours at the Palace of Versaille, the hard Parisian pavements.....
F and J-M wanted us to stay to supper. I thought that it was best if I left at the same time as Madame so we thanked our hosts and off we went.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The decisive moment

One of my photographer heros has always been Henri Cartier-Bresson. He was born in 1908 and he championed the idea of “the decisive moment”. That is to say, taking the photo at exactly the right time, not a second before, not a second after, capturing the “perfect shot”.          I particularly admire his street photography as I enjoy taking photos of people in the street as well. Here is a famous example of his work, taken in the Rue Mouffetard, Paris 1954.
Here, quite unintentionally, is my modern version, taken in Ax-les-Thermes recently.

I think you will agree that the only differences are that mine is in colour and has a rather large bird and her mother plus some cars in it........ Who's the daddy?

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

School la Rentree

I am still working at the school. My contract ran out on the 30th of Sept and so my head teacher rang up one of her pals to see if there was any news about my future. After some research, it was reported that my contract had been renewed for a further 9 months, and that someone should have phoned me to that effect. Nobody had of course. There was no news as to whether I would be staying at the same school though. So no immediate return to my Gaye Pole emploi days.
Some days later it was reported that 14 admin staff had lost their jobs in the Departement. Their contracts had run out and they were not going to be renewed or replaced.
Nationally, some 14 – 16,000 AVS posts have been axed, as the government attempts to save cash,
As I write this blog, on the 9th of October, I await written confirmation and a new contract, or any official confirmation of same, or where I will be working.
Still, my situation is nothing in the greater scheme of things as the French continue to voice their displeasure at Sarkosy’s plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62,
I have lost count of the number of demonstrations and stike days so far. There is to be another day of action on Tuesday 12 October, so I wouldn’t advise making travel plans to or from France on that date. Plus, rain is forecast.
I believe that things will escalate thereafter, with a series of selective strikes every couple of days.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

F’s birthday

At 11:55 am I headed back down the road clutching flowers and a birthday card. It was to be a small gathering< None of her children were coming down from Paris Madame was in Paris, and someone else who was due to turn up didn’t come and didn’t phone to cancel. Their next door neighbour, a blonde ex-model who was very, very shy might appear later for a piece of birthday cake if she could be coaxed out of her flat. That left me, F, her bloke J-M and a couple who had driven down from Toulouse.
We had the usual aperitif and then our main course.
It took some time for the Toulouse couple to believe that we would be able to communicate in French, but eventually they relaxed.
F asked casually if I had a headache when I had woken up in the morning. I replied that I hadn’t. They were both suffering after the apero the previous evening. (light-weights)
F loves Michel Sardou, so the television had to be on as there was a special programme on about him. She is even going all the way to Toulouse to see him in concert, early next year.
F with the lovely Michel Sardou

Every so often we had to sing “Appy-Burfdae” just to remind us why we were all there I suppose. F had asked me to record the event for posterity, so I had taken my camera along.
The time for cake arrived and the timide neighbour was fetched. Now I’m no expert on shy people, but she did not seem to be shy at all. In fact she took charge of lighting the sparklers on the cake. She makes a living online, selling potions for slimmers. She had at least one tattoo on show too.

The neighbour didn’t stay long, but took a plate of cous-cous away with her to eat later. I noticed that she ate hardly any of her cake.
As is often the case when people of a certain age get together, various medical conditions were discussed. F has a bit of diabetes, Mrs Toulouse has a lot of diabetes, heart operations, knee problems, feet problems, the list was endless. It became obvious that Mrs T was going to win hands down in the debilitating illness stakes even if it was F's birthday. F had only one escape route. "Appy-Burfdae 2 YOO”
F was looking after Madame’s dog (as Madame was away). Lou-loo had made a futile bid for freedom by escaping under the fence, but she had not realised that the long lead that she was on, would prevent her from getting farm. Getting back was also not going to be easy.

I cannot remember what time I set off back home. The Toulouse couple had gone. There was talk that I must stay for an evening meal, but I could not have eaten another thing.
So F enjoyed her birthday. Just before I left, F said that as Madame had missed the birthday, there was to be another meal the following weekend. Le rosbif, and that I was to come along to that too.....

Friday, 8 October 2010

A second pair a teef

I had been invited to F’s birthday lunch the following day but I had not written down what time I was supposed to turn up. F is a pal of Madame’s in her mid 60’s and lives in flats somewhere just beyond the end of my road. It is something of a love / distain relationship, but they look after each others’ animal/ s in time of emergency / holidays etc.

Madame was going to Paris to attend a Humanitarian conference and would not be attending the birthday bash.
F was not impressed and was even less impressed when Madame’s weekend became extended to a week. Madame was going to stay at a friend’s appartement for free. One should profit from such an offer, she said.
So back to the plot. I found F’s phone number. “Hello F, I said “ It’s Rigsby here, what time am I supposed to come over for your birthday lunch tomorrow.
Of course F is rubbish at understanding French and there was some confusion. Howerer then I heard “Ah, the landlord of :Madame, you are outside and wanting an aperitif? I will come to the gate to let you in right away”.
“No, you misunderstand” I said, “I just want to know what time to arrive tomorrow”
“I’ll be there directly” Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I was talking to thin air.
I was hot and tired, so I dusted off a few rusty English swear words, grabbed my mobile and the notebook with F’s phone number and address and headed back into the sunshine and down the road at a brisk trot.
I arrived only slightly out of breath and paced up and down outside the gates of the apartment complex. Nothing happened. Perhaps I had misunderstood that she had misunderstood.
A car turned in from the main road and stopped at the big gates. The big gates slid sideways and the car progressed. I was just turning for home at this point, when I heard, oh, I thought you were someone else that I am waiting for.
I was spotted and stepped into the compound as the gates slid shut behind me.
As we made our way to her flat, I learned that she hadn’t known who I was, she thought that I was one of the mad Arabs who keep phoning their number at all hours, asking to speak to X Y or Z. Then the penny had dropped.
I ended up staying with her and her bloke, until 11pm, drinking more Ricard and having a petit salad, Both of them are originally from Paris. :With most people I can understand at least 1 word in 8, but with her bloke J-P it is one in 20 and therefore hard going.
As I left F said, “We’ll see you tomorrow at midi et demi (12:30)”.......

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Forum des Associations

Every year as previously reported, the town associations take over the centre of town car parks to man stalls in attempt to get new recruits. The associations range from “Esperanto” and photography, to trout fishing, cycling, board games, martial arts, majorettes, festival committee, electricians without frontiers, Croix Rouge, etc
This year we had a traditional game, courtesy of the Foyer Rural going on in the space in front of our stand. It was hot and C and I watched the two men unload their small blue car, speculating, as experts do, on what they were going to be doing.
“That’s a bag of potatoes” I said authoritatively.
“What are they going to do with them?” says C
“I expect that they are going to throw them at something” I said, “Look at those skittles (I didn’t know the French for skittles).
A heavy, square mat was placed on the tarmac, and 6 tall wooden skittles were placed thereon.
Out came the measuring tape, and bits of metal were placed at the appropriate distances from the pins / skittles.
The bearded one picked up one of the potatoes, which turned out to be a piece of wood shaped like one half of a rolling pin. He then threw this underhand, upwards and towards the skittles. His rolling pin knocked some of the skittles down.
He repeated this twice more. That was his turn over.
“Come on” I said, “let’s have a go”.
We learnt that this game was so popular with the populace in medieval times farmers were gambling away their land, and no work was being done, so it was banned.
Here is C chancing her arm.

There are different variations of the game, some regional. We were looking at “Quilles au maillet” with a 6 pin layout. The aim of the game is not to knock down all 6 pins, but to knock them all down but one. I was given a leaflet should exixt but it doesn’t see; to work, but this other site does. You can use the Google translate button if you want to know more.
You can buy a set of 6 skittles and 3 maillets (the half rolling pins) for 100 euros plus about 30 euros postage. The square of black steel reinforced rubber to stand the skittles on is another 30 or so euros and around 25 euros postage. I am sorely tempted to buy a set, as one of the two places that you can buy them is about 40 minutes drive away.
The afternoon got hotter and hotter and there were not may people coming anywhere near our stand and poster boards, not even me.
We wandered off to watch the trout fishing. It was getting late in the afternoon, so the men in charge released their remaining 50 or so trout into the tank. The aim was for children to get hooked (gettit?) on fishing and it was free to have a go. Once caught, the fish was lightly killed with a short stick and placed into a blue plastic bag for the lucky parent to take home, gut and cook.
It's the reel thing

not too sure about it now, eh?
The afternoon dragged on as I watched demos of American line dancing. Jazz dancing, martial arts etc.
the gentlemen just loved themselves

All too slowly it was time to dismantle the stands and carry the tables and chairs away to the storage area.Then it was time to cross the road for the free aperitif in the courtyard of the Mairie.
C and I got there early as you can see.


As others started to arrive, a duo started playing the guitar and singing to a backing track.
“Zummertime an the liviniz easy”...... The singer wiggled her hips continuously. I suggested to C that the singer might normally wear a hula skirt, perhaps they were cruise liner entertainers .....

People started to edge towards the tables where the meagre supply of booze and nibbles equivalent to 5 loaves and 2 fishes beckoned.

It was ages before someone’s nerve finally broke and snacking and drinking began with a sudden rush.
Yes there were speeches, the mayor and someone else couldn’t make it, someone was given a medal, two people spoke about cutbacks or somesuch.
Not Speechless

Triple Ricard and water (with ice) and nibbles duly consumed, because I pay my taxes, I wended my way homewards.
It wasn’t until I was back in the flat that I made my first mistake of the day......

Monday, 4 October 2010

Visitors 7 – The last supper at Gaia

On the evening of their last day, J and I were kind enough to treat me to a meal out. We ate at Gaia, a very small restaurant in the old part of town. Unlike all the other restaurants which offer cassoulet, steak and chips, pizza, crepes, frozen moules frites (Yes “Café Gros” can’t even be arsed to cook them in the microwave long enough to defrost the mussels), this restaurant, run by an Australian / English couple, have a decent menu, with their own specialities which change according to what is freshly available. A novel concept here in this part of the France.

There were only two other diners inside the restaurant and three outside for the whole time that we were there.
I thought that I had taken some photos in the restaurant, but can find no trace of them if I did. Perhaps I used I's camera.
Because I know the owners it was all very relaxed. Mind you I ate too much for my little “on a diet” tummy to hold.
Meal over we tottered towards the Halle au Grains where the orchestra for the evening were due to play.
When we reached the centre ville, we found that the procession flambeaux was still trundling slowly round the circuit, so we watched this year’s novelty participants namely the vintage cars, majorettes, a brass band, etc complete their last lap.
Then it was back across the road to watch the orchestra. This was a much reduced band compared with the previous evening, and was a tighter combo as a consequence. i.e. there was no time for them to chat to each other when it wasn’t their turn to sing.
We didn’t stay for very long though as J and I had to be up early to get to the airport and onwards to Paris for part 2 of their trip to France.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

VIsitors 6 Summer festival

My visitors returned from the coast in time for the start of the town’s summer festival.

We set off into town and watched the start of the Paul orchestra on the stage in the town centre, before heading off into the medieval centre to watch the firework display.

The Canadians were thinking, small town, probably a few Catherine wheels and a couple of rockets.....
The display went on for 20-25 minutes and was in 3 sections. It was much more ambitious than the previous 3 years and there was a new pattern firework in addition to the heart shape pattern of the previous year. There were also fireworks that exploded much higher than previous years.
My favourite vantage point is quite close to the castle which is perched on the rocky hill.
The trajectory of some of the fireworks meant that they must surely fall on top of us, but we were unscathed by the end of the display. We could see sparks bounding off the roofs of the buildings next to us, but none of the bits of shell casing that we found on our way back into town along our route hit us.
J and I were impressed.
We went to the square to watch the Paul Selmer band. They weren’t as tight as they had been last year. I disappeared (that’s not I as in me) to take photos and once he returned we headed homeward.

The evening ended on a sad note. At 2.30am a couple in their late 50’ early 60’s and who were walking home along the pavement (house next to the light blue one, J and I will know the one I mean), when a 25 year old coming into town too fast, as most drivers seem to do, lost control of his car on the bend and ploughed into them, killing them instantly. The young gentleman (from Toulouse) concerned had had a row with his girlfriend who had told him that he was too drunk to drive. He had set off in the car with a mate (who was asleep on the back seat at the time of the accident), and misjudged the bend versus his speed........
This was not the first time that the young man had been caught for drunk driving. Rumour has it that he had no valid licence, probably not even insured.
The papers were expecting him to get at least 10 years. He was tried very quickly, given five years, reduced to 3 years.. You have to understand that he was in a fragile state at the time of the accident, his girlfriend is expecting their child etc..... I believe that the victim’s family are to appeal against the lightness of the sentence.
The youth is said to be upset that he caused the two deaths the poor wee lamb.... Go figure! It’s not just British justice that is barking mad.