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.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Humbug...but don't put it on Facebook.

Project 365 -27 270109 Bah, Humbug! (3231534159)Image via Wikipedia
You may have decided that all the commercial hype of Christmas is not for garish lights on your house, making all visitors to the front door resemble something from a zombie film extravagant presents dropped in your friends' gardens from diamond studded obligatory parties where someone will inevitably want to use the swimming pool even if it has been emptied for the Christmas holiday in the Bahamas to get away from all of the above and annoy your friends and family who have been counting on you doing all of the above.

You're going to have a quiet family Christmas at home with home made presents and Kings College nine lessons and carols on the radio and you've already started knitting the dog a festive bone.

Now, if you live in France, whatever you do, do not encourage others to follow your example...and certainly not on Facebook, or you risk a visit from the bold gendarmes inviting you to spend the festive season with them instead of with your family.

French courts have  a tendency to believe that what is posted on Facebook is not a private but a public matter...(here)...which can mean that posting what you would like to have said to the gendarme when he gave you a speeding ticket will be treated exactly as if you had said it to the gendarme concerned and you risk being jugged, while moaning about your boss or your firm on Facebook  can lead to the boss or firm deciding that you have incited rebellion....wonderful, the French vocabulary at times...among the downtrodden workers on their thirty five hour week with two hour lunch breaks and regular 'ponts' - bridges - to link one public holiday with another and you will be dismissed and sent to live under the pont d'Avignon rather than dancing upon it.

Why would it matter that you have encouraged others to follow your example in turning your backs on the hype of Christmas?

Because you are encouraging people to boycott Christmas.

And boycotting stuff can be illegal in France...according to the Chancellerie....the bit of the French government that controls the prosecutors, those independent magistrates whom the European Court of Human Rights declare to have no independence of government whatsoever.

These prosecutors have been encouraged to crack down on any manifestation  of  public incitement to discrimination against a nation....for fear of retaliation by the nation concerned it appears, though this is well submerged in the blurb which attempts to use legislation directed at incitement to racism or sexism to justify repression of boycotts aimed at particular countries.

Recently, a legislator, a senator I believe, was hauled up for invading a supermarket and encouraging a boycott of Israeli products in protest against the spread of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.....this was supposed to be and was treated as equivalent to racism.

How would the prosecutors have handled the boycott of South African products in the era of apartheid?
What about boycotting Chinese products on the grounds of its treatment of Tibet?
Or on the grounds of its use of slave and child labour?

Independent as they claim to be, with one voice they would prosecute any incitement to boycott products on these grounds, although the legislation upon which such a prosecution depends was created to attack the very basis of the policies which attract the wish to boycott the products of these regimes.

But Christmas has no is universal - except for some U.K. local councils who seem to believe that it offends non Christians - so you run no risk if you encourage your friends to follow your example.

Hah! This is France!

Now, the French claim to be a logical nation...if you overlook the strange nature of some of their let us approach this in the spirit of French logic, just as the independent French prosecutors will do.

Any fule kno that Father Christmas lives in the North Pole.

Any fule also kno that Russia has been laying claim to said Pole by hammering national flags into the seabed under said Pole.

Thus, Christmas is Russian.

Your statement of opposition to the hype of Christmas and your encouragement of others to oppose it likewise is thus incitement to boycott Russian products......and thus falls within the remit of the, no advice...given to the public prosecutors.

Whatever you do, when the gendarmes come to arrest you, do not resist arrest.
Even if you can't breathe because the gendarme has his arm across your not bite him.
The independent prosecutors are not interested in your little problems.

And why would France be worried about Russian retaliation for your defiance of Christmas hype?

Look whose hand is on the gas taps of Europe.

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Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Calendar time again

French iconImage by pedrosimoes7 via Flickr
About this time of year, if you live in rural France, you lay in stocks of aperitif biscuits and booze and keep a store of twenty euro notes at hand.
It is calendar time, when every organisation from the football club to the fire brigade presents you with their offering, varying from what resembles a group of wild-eyed psycho killers...the football heroic figures dealing in masterful fashion with the Towering Inferno...the fire brigade.
It is tactful to press some of the folding stuff into the hands of their representatives as they take their leave as one devoutly wishes to be spared a visit from the psycho killers and not to be ignored in one's hour of need by the fire brigade.

I was thinking of this when the fishmonger handed me a calendar of stupendous proportions to add to those from the agricultural co-operative, the local supermarket, the garage and the Red Cross, who handle all the ambulance work in Costa Rica...and a great deal more besides..

The first time my husband was taken ill in France, many years ago, the doctor called up an ambulance but as it was lunchtime on a Sunday, it took two hours before it arrived and there was no provision for  a stretcher.
The driver drove and his assistant held on to my husband, by now entering a coma, while they drove for one hour to the local hospital.

I was not allowed to accompany them, and had to follow behind.

At the local hospital, I did manage to see the emergency room doctor and explain the situation.

The hospital did not have the appropriate facilities to treat him.

Another ambulance was summoned.....but there was a delay as the ambulances available did not have oxygen on another hour was lost.

Once again, I could not travel in the ambulance.

Finally he reached a major hospital which could treat him but, in large part down to the delays in waiting for ambulances to arrive, he had suffered major damage and had to spend over a month in hospital.

I was not impressed.

Another moan about public services?
Not at all.
These were the private ambulance services which at that time had a complete monopoly on the  transport of patients, except in the case of road accidents.

They usually double as taxi companies....and each company holds the monopoly on service for its area, so if you think 'Taxis Merdiques' offers a rotten service..... too bad. 'Taxis Merdiques' is what you're stuck with.

Sit in any French hospital waiting room and you will see as many white coated ambulance/taxi drivers as patients, as in many cases the cost of transport to hospital by ambulance/taxi can be claimed back under the health insurance scheme, so one day you are sitting alongside Madame d'Enculade and her taxi driver in the orthopaedic department and the next day she is cutting you out of a parking space at Leclerc...driving herself.

The ambulance theme continued when I returned from shopping to find an e mail from Guy with all the local gossip.

Apparently, the ambulance companies regional confederation had held its annual meeting at which the owners of these companies let rip in no uncertain manner.

They claimed that the fire brigade, in order to cover up for lack of activity in fighting fires and rescuing people generally, were poaching on the preserves of the ambulance companies by taking people to hospital!

Shock horror! What is the world coming to when a monopoly is not respected!

The whole thing is a nonsense.

For a start, most of the fire brigade personnel in rural parts are volunteers, who give up a great deal of their time to train and practice for the task of helping people in danger.
There is no way that these men and women want to take time off from running their businesses in order to poach clients from Taxis Merdiques.

And as far as I can see, there is the usual rate of arson, gas explosions and accidents, so hardly a lack of activity for the fire brigade to need to cover up.

The fire brigade are, not surprisingly, livid.

Their point of view is that if they are called by the SAMU...the medical co ordinating transfer someone to hospital, it is because there is no one else available to do it....Taxis Merdiques being otherwise engaged in running children to and from school under their contract with surrounding communes.
In those circumstances, the fire brigade is carrying out its legal duty to come to the assistance of the population and far from trying to take custom away, the fire brigade, snowed under as it is, would be only too delighted if Taxis Merdiques could get their act together and carry out the business in which they hold a monopoly.

So what is all this about?

I think it may all stem from the increasing problem of health cover in rural areas.
Doctors don't want to live out in the sticks any more and as their numbers decrease those that are left either don't have the time or don't have the inclination to make house calls.

The rural population is elderly...though it seems that young people are starting to return to rural areas as the nature of work changes.....and reluctant to go to the doctor's surgery, having been brought up in the age where the doctor came to them.

A doctor on a house call would automatically call Taxis Merdiques to take his patient to hospital but nowadays the patient - doctorless - is likely to call the SAMU who, if they decide that hospitalisation is called for will not wait around if all Taxis Merdiques' drivers are otherwise engaged but will summon up the fire brigade.
They have targets to meet and ensuring the profitability of Taxis Merdiques is not one of them.

You can see why the ambulance companies are uptight, though.
The ambulances cost money.
The staff need a high standard of training.
Given French employment law, they try to keep staff to a minimum, so urgent calls can conflict with their contract jobs.
And everyone carted away by the fire brigade is a payment missed.

It is the usual way things happen in system super-imposed on another with no thought for the contradictions.

And, as usual in France, no one dares root and branch reform because of the many vested interests involved. Just look at the pensions fiasco if you need proof of that.

All I can suggest is that when the fire brigade come calling with their Christmas calendars the ambulance companies make a very generous donation......they might need a fireman some day.
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Thursday, 18 November 2010

Abroad thoughts from home....

The Country Parson (cinema 1915)Image by New York Public Library via Flickr
I may be the other side of the ocean, but as I haven't sold the house yet, I still have concerns in France.

If only one of these gentlemen who have stashed away loot while fighting the Taliban, or who have inherited millions from African officials with sticky fingers would just produce some of it and buy the place I could rest easy.
Mark you, the other day I had a follow up letter from one of them asking anxiously if I did not trust which I cannot yet trust myself to reply.

Things go from bad to worse.

 I apparently now have to have an energy rating to put on any advertisement for the house.
Given that I call it Wuthering Heights you can imagine the rating I'm going to get...despite insulating the entire roof, double glazing all except the few windows with the original glass remaining and draught proofing everything in self defence.

My new agent...a delightful woman...tells me gloomily that the inspectors downgrade everything that is not dry lined and I have to agree with her assessment given that when I sold the small house the bank providing the loan wanted the house dry lined even though the stone walls were a metre thick!

The inspection, like all inspections in the property sector in France, has nothing to do with reality.
It is just another form of tax.
I gather from the same agent that the chaps doing the lead inspections are now getting cancers from the machines they are using...and no, I'm not saying
Serve them right.
It is dreadful that it is happening....and all for what? Detecting the presence of lead under five coats of paint.

Dry lining this house, all four floors of it, would not only be expensive in the extreme, but would completely ruin the dimensions of the rooms....and it is not necessary.
Still, that won't deter the inspector from downgrading the house.

Then there is the tax situation.

In order to prevent hardship on the part of those who have vast property holdings and little ready cash...probably because they've salted it away looks like the wealth tax...Impot de Solidarite sur la going to be abolished next year.

I do hope you are all much moved and grateful to Sarkozy, abolishing at a stroke the necessity for rich old ladies to nip down to the pawn shop with the family jewels in order to pay their taxes.

I do hope you will be equally grateful when you discover that to make up the shortfall Sarkozy intends to push up Capital Gains Tax!

I have to keep an eye on this as at some point the taxman will declare the house as no longer qualifying as my principal residence and thus subject to Capital Gains Tax at the point of sale....and increased Capital Gains Tax at at that!

What I really need is to be bought out by an institution looking for a country annexe to house disturbed teenagers from the Paris suburbs, which would add a certain spice to life in the locality......but even then I expect the 'norms' would require that the walls were dry lined before said teenagers could legally be installed.

And on top of all this, my septic tank has not yet been inspected.
Were I Parson Woodeforde I might say that the subject of sewage disposal rises oft in this blog (here), (here) and (here)...and those are just the posts I remember....but given the circumstances it is not surprising.

The European Union has given France a deadline for cleaning up its water, and sewage disposal is included in this programme.
Thus water boards have been sending out inspectors to see what's what and to force people with inadequate systems to upgrade them.

This has roused both opposition and emotion in rural areas where since the year dot we have been paying a tax on our water bills for the installation of mains drainage from which we do not benefit.

Further, the inspectors turned out to have
a) a hidden agenda in that  enough installations had to be found to be in good order to avoid the water board being obliged to install mains drainage
b) some very strange methods of assessing the installations in review.
Some people had them crawling about with phials of red and blue colourant, others could just give their word that their tank was O.K. and some were told that all was well when they didn't have a septic tank at all.

Assosciations were founded and started taking a strong line with authority...not a common phenomenon in rural France.
They decided that their adherents would be out when the inspectors called.
This resulted in the initial fee of 85 Euros being raised to 170 Euros when the inspectors came back, catching adherents on the hop.

Some more enlightened local authorities decided to bite the bullet and install mains drainage.....all very well until they looked at their budgets after the loss of the income from the Taxe Professionelle and the drain on resources of welcoming civil servants whose pay had been shifted from central to local government.
So some communes find that because the local authority had not scheduled putting in the mains before the end of 2010...when the service was free.....their inhabitants will be paying for the installation...despite paying for mains drainage already in their water bills since the year dot, as mentioned above.

The inhabitants affected are not totally happy with this state of affairs and are asking where the principle of equality comes in....they can ask away all they like, equality in France is limited to one of the words over the door of the Mairie.

But the poor inspectors are still doing their rounds in the unenlightened local authority areas and have come up with real opposition.
My correspondent in the village next to the one in which the incident took place tells me that they descended upon the property of an elderly couple and stated their intention of starting the inspection process.

The pensioners said

No they were not.

Yes they were.

No they were not.

Who's going to stop us?

The last reply was where they went wrong, it seems.

Roused to wrath by the defiance, hard words were exchanged, the way to the septic tank was barred and blows were exchanged.

The water board says that the pensioner slapped the inspector who then retaliated.

The village gossip says that the inspector threw a punch and the pensioner slapped the inspector.

Both sides have complained to the gendarmerie.

No septic tank inspection took place.

So far, pensioners 15,  inspectors love.

Why am I bothered about whether my septic tank has been inspected?

Because my keyholder does not live alongside the house and  if the inspectors turn up without his knowledge my neighbour is very likely to do a deal with them by which his total lack of sewage disposal will be certificated as being in the norms while mine won't be....even though it is.

This is, after all, France, where form is more important than substance and the figures have to be made up somehow.
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Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The bold gendarmes..

GendarmesImage by Elsemiguel via Flickr
Crime is everywhere.....

We have just returned from making a series of appointments at the main hospital in San Jose...San Juan de Dios. It is a confusing place on first sight, a city within a city, and while we managed to find the first three sections we had to visit, the fourth was a total puzzle.

We found the chapel.....we found a Spanish Colonial building with a central garden full of doctors smoking frantically under the palms....we found a room of derelict beds...but when we had passed the same security guard for the third time we knew it was time to seek help.
We stuck our noses in through the next open door we found and explained the problem.

After a few moments a gentleman who spoke impeccable English emerged and took us to the appropriate department, dealt with the appointment system and led us back to civilisation.

On the way we passed a back gate giving out onto a park which would have been a convenient exit for the shopping we had planned to do but our guide shook his head.

Much too dangerous. Too many young men sleeping rough in that park...drugs....robberies...
I'll take you back to the main entrance.

Which he did.
They worry about crime in San Jose.

On returning home, there was an e mail from a friend in France giving the news.

One of the local bars had just been burgled and five thousand Euro's worth of tobacco had been stolen...mark you, given the plunge in the value of the Euro following Ireland's latest bit of brinkmanship that is probably seven and a half thousand Euro's worth by now.

I know that bar.
When I first moved to the commune it was run a an elderly gentleman whom I thought of as Pinkerton as he never seemed to sleep.
If you wanted cigarettes at five in the morning...he was open.
If the urge for a beer took you at one in the morning....he was open.
He made a fortune and sold out to a dismal character who thought of the bar as a plaything...
If he slept in, the bar was closed until he woke up....
If he went away for the weekend, the bar was closed....
Not altogether surprisingly, custom drifted away to the other bar, the one on the square, which had also managed to take over the tobacco monopoly from Pinkerton... a fact he had mysteriously not disclosed to Monsieur Dismal.

One Sunday the dismal one had had enough. He filled a bucket with stones and headed for the bar on the square to do execution on its windows (here) and shortly after vanished from the scene.

The bar was unsold for quite a while and then there was a flurry of activity.
The bar on the square changed hands and the other one opened again....with the tobacco monopoly. I do not even pretend to know how this was arrived at, but this was the case.

The new proprietor was a thin man hiding behind a moustache which was a cross between Viva Zapata and Asterix the Gaul who did not open the doors until late morning and kept them...or some of until dawn.

His daytime crowd were the local hillbillies....specialists in fast cars and slow women.
A friend once dropped in there for cigarettes one afternoon and came out faster than he went in.

It's like in the westerns, he said.

You go in and as soon as the door opens all conversation falls silent and every head swivels towards you.
It makes you think of 'Deliverance'.
Only worse....they all look alike.

Well, they would. The local hillbillies don't mix or mate with anyone whose grandmother their grandfather had not known in the Biblical sense.

In the evening, the lights would go on in the annexe next to the bar and cars and motorbikes bearing exotic numberplates.....from the next department, that is....would start to arrive.
The music would start and the nightmare begin for the neighbours.
Motors revving, horns blaring and the unbearable 'thump thump' of the bass going on until just before dawn.
These were the night owls.

Everyone complained to the maire....who took no notice.
Then they complained to the gendarmerie....who occasionally came by during hillbilly hour and noted nothing out of the ordinary.

The baker, the producer of razor edged slabs of concrete made from readymix, went round to complain.
He was rewarded by two hours of a car horn concerto.

Then things became quieter.
The annexe was still open, but things started to change. The cars were more expensive. The motorbikes were Harley Davidsons. The clientele were now mainly from the regional capital, over an hour away by car.
What could be tempting these sophisticates from their local bars and nightclubs to drive to a one horse dorp after dark?

The postlady had her suspicions which were confirmed when some young men from the village who frequented the annexe after dark were found in possession of drugs in the local town.

Normally, the police and gendarmerie go mad once they have seized drugs....the press is full of their derring do in seizing a fingernail sized packet of marijauna estimated at some astronomical street value from someone unlucky enough to have been caught in a breath test.

They go mad before they have seized them too.
I was around when two rival gendarmerie outfits staked out a field of marijuana in the commune in which I then lived, which was on the border between two departments and, co incidentally, between two regions.
As anyone living in rural France knows, there is a total blackout on communication between can't even find out if there is a vide grenier in the village down the road but just over the demarcation line without 'phoning someone who lives on the other side, and communication between public authorities is the same.
So one department's gendarmerie were staking out one set of access roads, and the other the other...and never the twain did meet.
They were waiting for the moment when the crop would be harvested.
Once the first cut was made, both forces rushed in, men in flak jackets with megaphones and dogs, while the chap responsible escaped in the melee.
It then turned out that he was growing it under licence.

In the case of these young men, however, it was decided not to prosecute.
One factor in this decision could have been that one of them was the son of a local notable.....but it was interesting that no enquiries were made of the owner of the visits from the nothing.

It was rather similar to the lack of action when the supermarket booze shelves were being emptied regularly on the weekends.....the gendarmerie seemed to be very loathe to pursue the matter.

The booze thefts finally stopped when the supermarket franchise holder and a couple of friends locked themselves into the premises for the weekend.
They found that someone else had had the same idea.
The owner of the key cutting kiosk in the gallery of shops in the same building.
Once collared, something else became clear.
The gendarmerie were not interested because they were getting a cut of the haul.

Now, the postlady could not say that the gendarmerie were getting a cut of whatever was going on at the bar, after all, they were not responsible for the decision not to prosecute, but she reckoned, from the lack of interest in the earlier disturbances, that they were certainly getting a cut of something.

And if that shocks you, you know very little about the gendarmerie in the quiet, out of the way areas of France.

Still, having had a break in at the bar, they are appealing for witnesses.
They'd be lucky!

I can remember when I had not long been in France that a gang drove a bulldozer into the square of the next village and straight into the Post Office, where they pulled the safe into its bucket and drove off.
How many witnesses do you think there were from that square of fully inhabited houses?

Any more than when the owner of the local petrol station was held up at gunpoint for his takings.....or the owner of the hardware store some months later....which explains why the village now has no Post Office, no petrol station and no hardware store.

Nothing goes unobserved in rural France.....Maurice Genevoix's claim that whatever you are doing is being observed from under the visor of a cap is accurate in my experience....but not much is said openly either.
Particularly not to the gendarmerie.
You never know who might be related to the person or persons you saw.
Or you know all too well.

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Sunday, 7 November 2010

All things being equal...

Paris RestaurantImage by squarejer via Flickr
I had been in Paris, running between the French Foreign Ministry, the British Consulate and the Costa Rican Consulate prior to going on to London to run between the Costa Rican Consulate and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office...which for my purposes was in Milton Keynes....before returning to Paris to run to the Costa Rican Consulate again, in order to get all the appropriate papers stamped, signed and recorded in order to apply for residence in Costa Rica.
As it turned out I was lucky to have made the acquaintance of both the Costa Rican consuls at this point as I would later be in dire need of their assistance.

Now in London I was fed, wined and lodged by a good friend, but in Paris I was on my own.

I hadn't thought it would be difficult. I had booked two nights in hotels via the Paris Tourist Board website, each for one night as the first had no vacancies for my second night and found the first hotel delightful...I had a four poster bed in a room which overlooked the garden of another hotel...there was free internet...and a nice Italian restaurant on the corner....which was as far as I felt like moving after a day of  queuing, paying and queuing, not to speak of getting past the Costa Rican Consulate's security system.

They should patent it.

On arrival, you mount the steps to find that there is an intercom system mounted on the wall to your controls the gates which bar your access to the building. Except that unless you are built like a basketball player you can't reach the thing.
Because of the gates.

This was a puzzler. I do not have a mobile 'phone, so could not telephone to ask the inmates for assistance and the hours at which the public were admitted were drawing to a close.

What to do? Throw rocks at the window?
No chance...since 1968 the Paris municipal authorities have replaced cobble stones with takes more energy than a student possesses to chip up a chink of that and hurl it at the police.

The street was deserted...people say Paris is a collection of villages and this bit of it resembled one of those villages where all the shutters are closed and the only sign of life is the gleam of eyeballs in the shadows behind.
I was in luck, though. An elderly lady approached...she was also going to the Consulate. She had an umbrella with which she deftly poked the appropriate button, shouted when the disembodied voice answered and the gates opened.
We were in.
I made sure I had an extensible ruler in my bag for the return trip.

Having since seen Costa Rica in the rainy system, all is now clear.
Every Costa Rican worth his or her salt carries an umbrella - for when, not if, it rains.

The system installed at the Paris Consulate is thus designed with Costa Ricans in mind...who carry umbrellas and will have no problem.
It must be a first test towards residency.

I was ready to move hotels the next day when I thought I'd check the Internet.
There was a most unwelcome message.
The hotel to which I was about to remove myself had cancelled my booking.
The booking I had made a week earlier.
Through the Paris Tourist Board.

I imagine that I gave tongue as the receptionist came over to see what was going on and was most sympathetic. She would ring round and see what she could find.
In less than five minutes she came back. She had found a hotel...her nephew worked there....the porter would take me round and it was only one street away.
It turned out to be the hotel of whose garden I had had a view the previous day, was cheaper than the one I had booked originally and was very comfortable...even if there was no four poster.

Let no one say Parisians are not kind and helpful, especially if they happen to be Algerian.

I got through the rest of my business in Paris, took the Eurostar to London - and the sooner they replace that shoddy, overcrowded specimen with a decent German train the better - and dealt with the paperwork at that end.
I returned to Paris on the shoddy overcrowded specimen, enlivening the journey by an encounter with a young woman on boarding the train.

There is a sort of flow system in the carriage and she was coming against it, which is all very well if you only have bodies to deal with, but I had luggage... my overnight bag and a large bag well stuffed with knickers  and stuff from Primark.

I had seen Costa Rican knickers on previous visits...they varied between items so scanty that you could not make a decent pocket handkerchief from ten of them to things wonderfully labelled as 'bloomers senora' into which you could fit ten ladies. So, to tide me over until I could investigate further....Primark.

The young woman was making progress, but I could see that there would be a problem when she got to me...behind me I had a queue of other passengers and my overnight bag...the seats each side of the aisle alongside me were occupied...the knickers were in front.
There really is not much room on the Eurostar.

But there was an option...between us, one of the aisle seats was unoccupied so I suggested she nip in there...being more manoeuvrable as it were...frigate to my oil that I could pass and unblock the gangway.
With a toss of the head she kept on coming....what on earth she was thinking of was beyond me. What could there be to object to in ducking out of the aisle for a moment?

Well, a pretty young thing with a vanity case will get away with this with the weaker sex - men - but not with a crabby old bat with a bag of knickers and half a coachload of passengers backed up behind her.
She received a firm but not violent rugby hand-off amidships with the knickers which put her into the vacant space and I went on my way while her angry voice squawked

Do you mind!

Which gave me the one and probably the only chance I will ever have to utter the immortal line from 'Gone with the Wind'

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

And neither did I.

There was no worry about being arrested by the guard, either...they're never to be seen when hooligans are around.

I reached Paris without further incident and I had promised myself one last lunch in the City of Light before heading for home on the afternoon train.

Normally I would have gone to Chartier, which, touristy hell that it is, I love.
The food is solid, traditional French, the wine is drinkable, the cheese for some reason is always out of this world and the waiters don't have attitude.

But I had had a recommendation for a place off the Champs Elysee...not frightfully expensive...from a foody friend, so I thought I would give it a try.
A last fling, as it were.

I found it, was shown to a table and a waiter appeared with a menu within a few minutes.
I was thirsty after the journey and asked for some water, tap water, while I made up my mind what to order.
It did look an interesting menu, after all.

The waiter reappeared...with a bottle of mineral water which he was about to open when I stopped him.

No, Monsieur, I asked for tap water.

Yes, but Madame will not enjoy tap water with her meal.

Madame was not intending to stick to water with her meal.

The tap water is not recommended for the palate.

The wine will cure that.

Madame, as a foreigner, does not understand the subtleties of French cuisine.

Madame, as a foreigner, knows very well she will be charged for mineral water while tap water is free.

Madame, as a foreigner, does not have the same sense of values as the French.

Madame, as a foreigner, entirely shares the French system of values when it comes to money and she is not paying for what she does not want and did not order.

Madame, as a foreigner, does not understand the classless nature of France....where a client doesn't think themself too grand to accept the recommendations of the waiter.

Madame foreigner or not, understands all too well the nature of France and is not going to be talked into buying water she does not want even if by so doing she contributes towards the income of the doubtless underpaid waiter.

Madame, coming from a class ridden society, does not understand the spirit of equality in France....a French client understands that they and the waiter are on the same footing, combining to produce an agreeable dining experience.

Madame does not see any problem in achieving an agreeable dining experience once she gets the water she asked for and is able to order her meal.

Madame does not understand that in France everyone is equal....from the Revolution of 1789!

Madame has news for you. When the National Assembly of 1789 debated the franchise it was decided, among other measures, that servants should not be eligible to vote. And that included waiters.

While he was digesting that one I picked up my knickers and left the establishment.
Clearly, no agreeable dining experience would be in the offing.
Which was a shame as the menu looked interesting.

The queues by now at Chartier would be too great to give me time for lunch if I were not to miss my train so I grabbed something that called itself ciabatta at Montparnasse railway station on the way home which made me bless the skills of my dentist and gave me indigestion.

If only I had understood, after all these years in France, how to obtain an agreeable dining experience.......

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Thursday, 4 November 2010

I'm outta here....

(If You're Not in It for Love) I'm Outta Here!Image via Wikipedia
With apologies for the misuse of the lyrics..

If I'm not in it for life.....

If I'm not in it for love......

If I'm not in it for all I've got.....

I'm outta here.

And over the last few years, with my friends dying off, my husband exploited as a guinea pig in the hospital where he had been treated for years, the scandal of water pollution and the unpleasantness of some in the expat community then I am clearly no longer into France for life, nor for love and I'm giving it nothing more.

I'm not alone in this....I was lucky enough to have known the rural France where people helped each other from sheer necessity....where Republican values still counted...where the winter evenings were spent among neighbours instead of being isolated in front of the television...not idyllic, not ' A Year in Provence', but a real life in a real community.

As the years passed and life became easier, so did the sense of solidarity weaken....'chacun tire la couverture a soi'...everyone pulls the blanket over themselves and to hell with the more and more people can afford the blankets.
Everyone who earns two sous more than did his parents thinks he is rich..and assimilates his interests to those of the real rich, who give their payments to the political parties in brown envelopes.
Jealousy, that bane of French life, is given free rein as there is less and less need of co operation.

Didier complains that no one in his hamlet wants to continue the little 'fetes'..the ball trap, the pique nique, the feu d'artifice du 14 juillet...they go off to things organised and paid for by the local authorities. All automony, all sense of comradeship, is lost.
He feels the difference and so do I.

And the physical climate is not what it was either.
When I was first in France I could place a pretty sure bet on being able to have Christmas lunch outside....and now we have temperatures below freezing in November. The summers would be warm...not so hot as to drive me indoors behind the shutters or, alternatively, so wet as to make me buy an umbrella.

So I'm outta here..and into there...or outta there and into here.....

Costa Rica....

Where we have had a holiday home for a few years..have begun to make friends...where the climate suits us...the original banana republic upon which France seems to be modelling itself...

The best way I can think of to show you Costa Rica is in the following video from the best known Costa Rican group, Malpais

I shall be nattering about life in Costa Rica (here), but will be carrying on on this blog too for a while as I can no more leave France behind without a backward glance than I could the U.K.which I left so many years ago.

And I still haven't sold the house!

So ..ce n'est qu'un au revoir mes freres...

The old crone will be here for a while yet, casting the bones....


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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Don't laugh at me, Argentina...but, on the other hand, why not?

The sinking of the Belgrano - Falklands WarImage by via Flickr
The rumbling sound you may be hearing  is not an earthquake about to engulf the lowlands of Scotland, but my father revolving in his grave.

The two Dear Leaders of France and the U.K., Sarkozy and Cameron, have signed a military co operation pact, creating a joint task force which is supposed to make economies of scale and improvements in efficiency while at the same time preserving the sovereign interests of each nation.

President Sarkozy, as always, went straight to the point.
"If you, my British friends, have to face a major crisis, could you imagine France simply sitting there, its arms crossed, saying that it's none of our business?"

Damn right I can.

To be fair to Sarkozy, I think he personally would be willing to push France into action...he is, as his party belatedly found out, not your typical French politician.
But can you imagine the reactions of a more typically 'French' French President?



And, to think the unthinkable....Le Pen?

Since the latter hasn't forgiven the English for burning Joan of Arc, he probably hasn't forgiven the U.K. for Mers el Kebir either, so he wouldn't be authorising the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to sail for the Falklands any time soon. Not that he could anyway...the thing spends more time undergoing repairs in dry dock than it does in the water.

Father...who went through the entire Second World War.... had an unchanging view of the French military....

'Buggers let us down in 1914...buggers let us down in 1940...'

A view not ameliorated by learning that the rockets doing so much damage to the Falklands expeditionary forces had been sold to Argentina by the French.

Now, all this may be conflicts long ago and far away and brave men on the ground are usually betrayed by the  politicians far from the firing line, but I think father has something about which to rumble.

Both countries' military hardwear is obsolete, broken or not fit for are the supply systems which support them.

One look at the U.K. Ministry of Defence's purchasing system would give a respectable Victorian counting house clerk a case of the screaming habdabs...and it ought to give us one too.
Their French equivalents keep their methods quiet...and have every reason to do so given the incestuous link between political party funding and big business in France.

So, given the chronic shortage of money...since banks and even butter come before guns....and the refusal to shake up both Defence Ministries...the two bright sparks have conjured up this wizard scheme to pretend to their countries that they are capable of defending national interests by joining forces.

So two broken reeds are suddenly going to form one strong tree?
I don't think so.
Another case of smoke and mirrors to deceive the electorate.

It would better behove Cameron and Sarkozy to declare the exact nature of the national interests to protect which they send their young people into danger.

France still sends troops to shore up the dictatorships of their ex African colonies.....whose value to France is not immediately obvious, but whose value to French politicians is......valuable.

The U.K. sends its troops wherever the U.S. directs....the value to the U.K. of such action is negligible, even counter productive but the value of such policies to U.K. politicians seems to be fat contracts with Carlisle on  retirement and access to the speaking tour circuit.

Were they to consult their people...the ones who have democratic rights for a few minutes in a polling booth every so often....they might find a distinctively different idea of national interests.

A first class education system....
A health service which works.....
Cutting the fat from public systems....all the tiers of management, the consultants, the Quangos....
A police service which serves people not politicians.....
Action, not 'initiatives' on the curse of drug use....
Proper care with dignity for elderly people.....

Supporting African dictators and U.S. politicians would not rank highly, I feel.

November 11th will soon be upon us again, when we remember what are called the 'sacrifices' made by the armed forces in all the declared and undeclared conflicts since 1918.

Perhaps we should be remembering rather that these men and women were 'sacrificed' by the politicians of the time and we should honour their memory, not only by wearing poppies, contributing to charities and attending services but by demanding honesty of current politicians.

After all, we're still waiting for the fulfillment of Lloyd George's  wish that the U.K. should be a country fit for heroes to live in.....only ninety two years on.
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