All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Shining a light on your French electricity bill

Electricity for 1 euroElectricity for 1 euro (Photo credit: nicolasnova)
There are two ways of reacting to the arrival of the electricity bill.
Three if you include sitting down sharply and reaching for the bottle that not only cheers but also inebriates.

The first is to hold it at arm's length, note the grand total through binoculars and decide whether to stuff it in the drawer right away or whether to pay it and stuff it in the drawer later.

The second is to examine it closely to make sure it isn't the neighbour's, that they haven't given you an estimate based on the consumption of the supermarket in the next town and then, once satisfied it is yours, appreciate the fine detail of how much of it is for electricity actually consumed and how much - with VAT added at every step - is for local authorities, future development of the service and other codswallop.

However, there are things that your bill will not reveal, despite all the detail on the front and explanatory notes on the back.

It will not reveal that you, the consumer, are financing ninety per cent of the electricity bill of each and every person employed by Electricite de France...the poor devils being constrained  to pay the other ten per cent themselves.

It will not reveal how much you are paying to allow Green shysters to install wind farms in your backyard to generate electricity which has to be cleaned up to enable it to enter the grid.

And it will certainly not reveal how much of your money is going to finance the activities of the EDF Social Club.

All big firms are obliged to have a social club, run by people elected by their fellow workers, to provide social and cultural activities.
Big utility companies and the public transport sector, being strongly unionised from their days under state control, usually have their social clubs run by the dominant union in the sector, so you might think that the workers were guaranteed to benefit.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

I have used EDF as an example, but in general these social clubs (Comites d'Entreprise) are much of a muchness.
A percentage of the revenues of the company is allocated to them, to do with as they please in the interests of their members.
In the case of EDF the sums allotted amount to eight per cent of the company payroll. With RATP (the Paris public transport body) it is more like two and a half percent.
A considerable sum in either case, with only a vestige of control.

We are not talking coach trips to the seaside with a crate of beer here.

We are talking of holidays overseas, the ownership of campsites and even of chateaux.
Fetes Champetres which eclipse anything the Ancien Regime could put on.

So what's wrong with that? Why shouldn't the workers get a taste of the high life their bosses enjoy on their share option and bonus regime?

Because the workers who have a chance to exercise their taste buds are chosen on the principles of Animal Farm equality and, although in accordance with the latter part of Matthew chapter 20 verse 16 where many may be called, but few chosen, the choice is distinctly out of line with the first part of that verse where the last shall be first and the first last.
In other words, if you and Comrade Machin, shop steward, both want to go to the ball you'd better start looking for a fairy godmother because he's booked the whole coach.

Where suppliers are concerned it is a matter of 'round up the usual suspects'.
These social club directors are very loyal customers indeed, and  a while a whole industry is dedicated to their needs they rarely change a supplier in the search for value and variety for their members.

Following the money from source to seashore is next thing to impossible thanks to lax accounting which owes less to schools of chartered accountancy than to schools specialising in 'find the lady'.
Not unreasonably this gives rise to suspicion that some of it finds its way into funding the very union whose members run the social club.

So as you pay your utility bill  or buy your train ticket you will be delighted to know that in your own small way you are contributing to the efforts of those who bring railways to a halt, block roads, ground aircraft and blockade petrol refineries, while completely failing to protect the job and working conditions of ninety two per cent of French workers.

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Saturday, 24 March 2012

You know how one step can lead to another...

                As the wonderful Lena Horne has explained!

So what steps have I been following?

It all started with Flanders and Swann.....on Perpetua's blog....'The Gasman Cometh'  and 'Have some Madeira, m'dear'....I began to recall other delights of the duo...a 'Transport of Delight', 'Pee, po, belly, bum, drawers'...and, as Lena thing just leads to another....

And so, through Scots folk songs - 'Jock of Hazeldean',' Bonnie Strathyre', I began to recall the songs of my French friends ....loosely called the chanson francais... and came across the website dedicated to its origins -
'Du Temps de Cerise aux Feuilles Mortes'.

What a gem it is!

I'd heard various songs sung at gatherings...the less formal sort..and there used to be a festival of chanson francais just over the departmental border,  but this site has it all.
The wheezy early phonographs..even the first recordings made on paper!

Now, I know that even the most dedicated of Francophiles doesn't always have complete mastery of the French language...but I urge you to visit this site where you have the history of France from 1870 to the 1950s expressed in music.
Here, for example is the 'Le Temps des Cerises', inextricably linked withe Commune of Paris, overthrown by the bourgeois army of Versailles...and the conflict is not forgotten. Look up 'la Butte Rouge'....

Then, think of the defeat of France in 1870......the loss of Alsace and Lorraine and the patriotic songs of the following period, such as, much later, recalling the triumphs of Napoleon and smarting from the defeat of 1870 we have 'la Reve Passe'.
And, commemorating the revolt by the vignerons of Languedoc in 1907, we have 'Gloire au 17eme'..the regiment who refused to fire on the protesters and who, for their pains were given punishment duties in North Africa.
It is all there on this super  hall songs that, once I played them, I remembered old friends humming or singing...songs of the 'grandes horizontales collaboratrices' ...Arletty, Mistinguette....songs I'd heard on the radio...or heard played at revues ...'Quand Madelon'...

'Le chanson  francais' is not all Brel and Bressens, though 'Les Bourgeois' of the former and 'Le Gorille' and 'Quand on est Con on est Con' of the latter are not to be missed.

The message of the wonderful 'Tout va bien Madame la Marquise', (try the Sacha Distel version) is still in use in the newspapers today when talking of politicians and their spin on events....

And talking of spin, the website gives a pastiche of 'Temps de Cerises' which is very apposite in this time of economic crisis.
Written by Jules Jouy in 1886 it declares

'Vous regretterez le beau temps de crises
Quand pauvres sans pain et riches gaves
Les drapeaux de Mars flotteront aux brises
Les drapeaux vermeils sur qui vous bavez
Quand viendront le peuple en haut de paves...'

Well, roll on the time when we shall be singing once again
'Ca Ira!'

Tout les banquiers a la lanterne....

Sunday, 18 March 2012

A Kindness of Bloggers....and a Fix for Blogger

Image representing Blogger as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase
In the relatively short time I have been blogging, since April 2009, I have noticed that the overwhelming number of bloggers with whom I have come into contact have been distinguished by their kindness and their respect for other peoples' views.

I have learned a great deal from them.
They have given me new interests, have opened my eyes to photography and styles of music I would never have turned on by choice - have even changed my mind, whose nature normally resembles that of a army pack mule.

Ayak, whose blog about her life in Turkey was one of the first I found, has singlehandedly turned me from someone convinced that if I pressed something the entire contents of the computer would disappear down the plughole to someone that can now copy and paste without having a nervous breakdown.

Phil, whose wonderful Blogitandscarper is in abeyance at the moment, opened my eyes to what could be done with images.

Owen, whose Magic Lantern Show made me use my eyes when out and about.

The Diary of Amy Rigby, which opened up worlds of music which had passed me by, not to speak of an introduction to living in the U.S.A.

Mark, at Views from the Bikeshed, who offered sound advice on layout and whose blog continually makes me think and assess.

I am currently indebted to Perpetua, who has not only kindly offered to lead me through the weird world of Wordpress but who has also signalled a fix for the latest Blogger problem.

If you have been affected by the roll out of assigning your blog URL to a country suffix rather than to the old, with subsequent loss of the easy change tools on your dashboard, then she has the answer here.
She has suggested that everyone passes the fix on, as we all have differing circles of readers, to give maximum help to as many as possible.

Steve at Bloggertropolis has been posting recently about the changes in blogging...the growing commercialism...and I'm sure that this change in Blogger is to enable Google to attract more advertisers by using the blogging community to better effect.

He has also noticed that a number of blogs he followed have died off, or even out, and I've noticed the same phenomenon.
Is it because people now don't have the same time for blogging...are too busy running to stand still trying to make a living, so that unless their blog attracts money it's not worth pursuing?

I blog less these days...partly as a consequence of my husband enjoying much better health.
Blogging was something that occupied the long night hours of waiting and watching, pushing worry away by concentrating on something else.
Now, I frequently think
'Oh, I'd like to blog about that...' but find that life is too full to make the time and the moment has passed.

I get rather put off by the 'big' blogs....the product reviews, the puffs for restaurants, fashions, etc...
There doesn't seem to be the contact with the blogger that you find on the smaller ones, which is what I value.
The exception to that being The Slog, imprinted as it is with the character of its author and on its way to be being a monster blog.

It is not to say that everything in the blogging world is lovely.....

Some of the 'living the dreamers' react with virulence to any explicit or implicit criticism of their beloved France, as if they had been poked in the eye with a sharp stick.

Some of the 'mummy bloggers' make you think yourself grateful not to be within reach of their backbiting and eye scratching.

But, in my part of the blogging world at least, things are civilised.

Thank you fellow bloggers!

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Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Eau de Nice - No, it's Not a Commercial for Scent.

Friends are visiting from France and have been kind enough to bring a Red Cross parcel; goat cheese, Chaume, harissa.....and a large bottle of Eau de Nice.

I like scent, but normally only buy perfume as it lasts longer on the skin and of course have my favourites - Guerlain's 'Apres l'Ondee', Jean Patou's 'Joy' and I used to like Jean Desprez' 'Bal a Versailles' but either it or I have changed over the years and it just doesn't do it any more. Perhaps I should try his 'Revolution a Versailles' instead.

I would like to have Viktor and Rolf's 'Flowerbomb'...but the price is such as to give me the heebie-jeebies at the thought of handing over that much cash for that little quantity of liquid, so the old favourites it is while they last.

Eau de Nice is very different.
It's an eau de cologne, something I associate with mother dabbing at her temples in hot weather and something I thought very old lady and very not for me.

I was, of course, wrong.

Many years ago in France I had been invited to make the acquaintance of a rather grand elderly woman - in social terms - who was desirous of widening her circle.
She lived in an logis dating from the Renaissance in the medieval centre of an old town nearby, high stone walls and blanked off metalwork gates preserving her privacy.
Her garden was 'a l'anglaise', free flowing and full of flowers.
Ancient limes shaded the terrace.
A trellis for the Chasselas vine screened the kitchen garden.
In winter we would sit round the fire protected from draughts in what I would think of as porters' chairs, tall screens between us and the long glass windows.
You would not have thought that the town existed apart from the odd motorcycle exhaust and the sirens of the police heading back to the office at aperitif time.

Our first meeting went well, though it intrigued me to see that the person who introduced us was not invited at the same time  in later meetings and we hit it off with interests in history, gardening and, of course, politics.
I expect I amused her...this creature from the world of Hume gasping for air in the clear waters of Descartes.

She had had a husband who died early following his treatment at the hands of the Vichy Milice during the war, she had no children and used to laugh heartily at the visits of inspection of her sister's daughter in law intent on seeing that no family knickknacks went AWOL before the divvying up process on her death.

She spent a lot of time laughing.... making provoking sallies at dinner; a little spicy character assassination over the washing up of the antique dinner services she insisted on using; telling stories of her youth round the tea table set under the limes. She had her 'days' for tea, on Wednesdays, although dinner invitations could be on a whim.
A woman of no pretension whatsoever, secure in her own personality and, it must be said, secure in her social status.

But she had a secret.

I used to amuse her with tales of the Britpack....the ever growing number of British immigrants to the area...and she would ask how anyone expected to know about another country solely from books and magazine articles written by their own fellow countrymen.
After all, so provincial was France that it was difficult enough for someone from another area to adapt, let alone someone from a completely different culture.

My explanation was that, with some honourable exceptions, they lived in a bubble. They did not have enough French to be worried about things they did not understand, they paid whatever bill was presented to them and they were just happy to be 'living the dream'.

There were, of course, the pack leaders...the 'helping hands', who provided the link to French culture and practice to people who knew - through little fault of their own - not much about either.
These were always trumpeting about their friendships with French people prominent locally, Maitre X, Councillor Y and the Comtesse Z, which boosted their appeal to those of the Britpack seeking their advice, though I often thought that if they were reflecting the views of their French friends the said friends must either be extremely dense - or taking the urine on the scale of the Paris sewers.

One summer I had been invited to tea on a day which was not her regular one. I was in town at the tax office and she had suggested I drop by afterwards to discuss the results of a fight over retroactive legislation.
It was blazing hot and by the time I had left the stuffy office, climbed the hill and negotiated the cobbles carrying a basket full of files 'glowing' was not the word for my state...I was approaching the equine.

The table was set for only two - a tete a tete being felt to be appropriate for discussing money and property - and as I settled myself, breathing like a grampus after a close encounter with Herman Melville, she said

?I've just the thing for you. You need a dab of eau de cologne on your temples to cool you down.'

She rang the bell on the table and as a figure appeared behind the curtains she called

'Suzanne! Go upstairs to my dressing room, would you, and bring down the bottle of Eau de Nice and a handkerchief.'

Then, turning back to me

'You'll like this. It's very old...a favourite of Madame de Montespan. All violets and spring flowers and a little powdery. Just the thing on a hot afternoon.'

?I didn't know you had help.'

'Oh yes....I don't mind washing the china and the ornaments but at my age you need someone to do the rough and Maitre X put me on to someone a few months ago. She comes twice a week - but not on my regular 'days' of course.'

The returning figure appeared again at the window, and hesitated.

'Come along, Suzanne, please! Your countrywoman is dying from the heat!'

And Suzanne appeared.
One of the helping hands.
One who was friends with Maitre X, Councillor Y and Comtesse Z.

She passed over the Eau de Nice and the handkerchief and withdrew to the house.

My elderly friend wet the handkerchief and handed it me. I dabbed as directed and did, indeed, feel better.

'There now' she said, smiling. 'That was a nice surprise, wasn't it?'

'Only for me, I think.' I replied.

But I've always retained my fondness for Eau de Nice....and am happy to be reminded of the spring flowers of the south of France in the humidity of the tropics.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Seduced by a Sheltie....

I am not the greatest fan of the view of France as being either Paris or Provence – there's an awful lot in between - but I am putty in the paws of a dog, particularly a beautiful Sheltie called Chula.

Thus it was that I allowed myself to be led through her adventures....flying from the United States to France....finding her paws in a new country....exploring St. Remy de Provence...and back to Paris for a walking tour before boarding the 'plane again.
This is a travelogue in a new guise, with the addition of good advice for people traveling with their pets – and some chirpy illustrations, too.

Chula's human, Sheron Long, writes wittily and well of her pet's adventures and the photographs are stunning. We're all used to the stock stuff; well these are photographs of places as they are, taken by someone with a real eye and there are quite a few I turn back to with pleasure.

In the enhanced e book format, there are also videos to play as you go along, some with music, some not, which give the book a different dimension – you have to see the video of the sheep filling the streets of St. Remy!

If you had asked me to read a book about Americans visiting Paris and Provence I would have probably said no...not another one...and turned it down.

I would have been wrong. It's a super little book and I heartily recommend it to you.

Now...the details.

The book is available as a hardcover from OIC Books and Amazon , as a Standard e book available from Amazon and from Apple iBookstore, and as an enhanced e book (with the multimedia) from  Apple iBookstore.
As I understand it, if you buy the hardcover or the standard e book version you can get the multimedia on the OIC site ---not to be missed!

Oh...and Chula has a Facebook page too, which is more than I have - I always thought dogs had more intelligence than most humans...