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.

Monday 31 October 2011

Secrets of the tomb....

CrysanthemumImage by daisee via Flickr
The eve of All Saints' was not marked by trick or treating in my area of La France Profonde, not even on the little modern housing estate on the edge of the village.
No child in its right mind would brave the wrath of the farm dogs and no parent in its right mind would risk Papy - once apprised of what was required of him - 'treating' a child to a glass of gnole at eighty per cent proof.

Not that the day was unmarked. People who normally lived a troglodyte life behind their shutters were seen at the cemetery with cleaning materials for Tante's tomb....municipal employees were tidying up the alleys and the water tap was finally repaired in preparation for the avalanche of chrysanthemums to be brought by relatives on November 1st.
I liked the feast of All Saints. One week afterwards, the municipal employees would dispose of the wilted chrysanthemums and I would visit the dump to collect the flower pots which were, at that time, both hard to find and expensive.

Normally the cemeteries were deserted.....I could wander about looking at the tombs...everything from a simple slab with lettering half obliterated by time to gothic style mausolea with wrought iron and massive locks very much in evidence.
I often used to wonder whether it was to keep someone out or to keep someone in.
Celebrating the passing of mother in law by the purchase of a very sturdy iron lock in her memory...

In one graveyard a few villages away a stroll to the edge backing on to the fields would revel a heap of earth with bones....which used to set me thinking about the habit of only being able to rent a grave these days...forget eternal rest, when your thirty or fifty years is up, out you go.

Of  course, every commune would set its own rate for tomb hire, communes with old peoples' homes being particularly suspect...and that, linked to detailed study of the prices proposed by the funeral directors...the 'pompes funebres'....could give rise to unseemly incidents.

Thus the gendarmes who came across a van in a ditch before the driver could rouse a local farmer with a tractor to pull him out.
They were somewhat surprised and decidedly put out to discover a corpse neatly wrapped up in the back.
It would mean Paperwork on the grand scale.
Worse, when the driver appeared it was clear that he had been drinking.
He explained.
The corpse was his Tante Marcelle who had died at his mother's home, where she had been looked after for years.....but the price of a plot was exorbitant...and as for the price of the local undertakers!
So the family decided that she should appear to have died in her old village where she still had a house...and a plot, bought in the lifetime of her deceased husband.
And he had drawn the short straw to provide the transport.

Why didn't you just get the local undertaker to take her body there, then?
Well, have you seen what he charges!
Well, what about the undertaker in her village?
It's the same firm! They're everywhere! You should see what it costs for the refrigerated bed!
What do you want that for?
Well, it's hot, and people don't want funny smells when they're paying their respects...we can't do without the bed, but we thought if we could just economise a bit on the transport...

The gendarmes had of which involved Paperwork and one which didn't.
A call to their barracks confirmed the family relationship of driver and corpse...and the van was allowed to go on its way.
And this is not back in the dark ages of Monsieur Untel...this was only a couple of years before I left France!

It's a good job the family were not thinking of economising on a that department there is now a ban on bonfires in the garden.....all compostable items must be taken to the local recycling plant as it is euphemistically known.
How it is supposed to help the environment to use litres of fuel to drive kilometres to the gyppo headquarters...which is what these sites have dump your prunings rather than burn them yourself and have the ash for your garden is beyond me, but, as usual with France, if there's a box it has to be ticked.

Being of a generation that saved its bawbees, I think I would definitely prefer to go up in a pyre of apple wood in my own garden than to form an element of a spontaneous combustion in the compost skip at the local dump, but, of course, no one will ask me.

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Saturday 22 October 2011

It's That Man Again.......Dominque Strauss-Kahn demands to be heard...

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 04:  Former IMF chie...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
The town of Lille is renowned for

A...the annual Braderie...when stores and stand holders purvey their wares in a weekend of orgiastic shopping
B...a cheese.....le Petit Gris, whose aroma is so virulent that is is a contravention of the town bylaws to carry it in a taxi.

It has a Eurostar station as well, but that's by the by.

But Lille has come to the forefront of French news recently following a disagreement between various lodges of the Grand Orient observance practiced in the area.

French freemasonry has little in common with the British version where a disagreement between lodges would give rise only to solicitors jiggling with their trouser legs and Mr. Padge being refused retrospective planning permission to turn the flat above his offices into fifty kennels for immigrant workers.

In France, it is more serious and in Lille it has resulted in a number of local notables ending up being questioned by the police...who in their turn are being questioned by the internal disciplinary service of the police....about a prostitution ring.

Thanks to the Grand Orient squealers, the police have been made aware of a prostitution racket based on two of the best hotels in Lille...the surprise being that one of their narks...concierge at one of these intimately implicated in the affair.

One understands his scruples when one learns that a senior policeman  is also being investigated for involvement in the racket...a policeman who was aiding Dominique Strauss-Kahn with his election campaign as an advisor on security.

Also implicated is a businessman working for a large roadworks firm who happily admits to organising 'parties fines' - orgies might be the best translation here - involving the senior policeman and...inevitably, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

These events took place not only in private apartments in the centre of Paris but also in the United States while Strauss-Kahn was heading up the IMF, the whores being flown out as 'secretaries'.
One wonders whether the firm for whom they supposedly 'worked' will be prosecuted by the French authorities for employing them 'on the black' but, somehow, one doubts it.

Why should a businessman see fit to act as a pimp?
Because, he explains, it was good for business to be able to drop into conversation that his firm had the ear...or some other organ...of Monsieur Strauss-Kahn.
Monsieur Strauss-Kahn, influential member of the PS (Socialist Party) who are in power in the area and, as such, control the award of roadwork contracts.

So, once again, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been the means of exposing areas of French society that might have preferred to continue living under their gilded stones.
Not only has he exposed the phallocractic nature of gender relations in what thinks of itself as high society in France, but now he demonstrates how cheaply a politician's integrity can be bought.

One is accustomed to lumping all politicians together as crooks, capable of any base manoeuvre to get their hands into a few more tills, and the spectacle of a leading man of his party....tipped to wallop Sarkozy in the 2012 Presidential elections...willing to lend himself to such baseness just confirms the cynicism with which politicians are regarded.

General de Gaulle speaking on the BBC during t...Image via Wikipedia
General de Gaulle

There have always been dirty dogs sniffing around the legs of the seats of power, but can you imagine this man cavorting with prostitutes in order to allow a firm to get a contract for public works?

Portrait of Encoch PowellImage via Wikipedia
Enoch Powell

Or this man, despite his undoubted acquaintance with Suetonius' 'Lives of the Caesars'?


But these men had power...or were on their way to acquiring it.
Modern politicians have not....they are but the chorus line of 'Fiddler on the Roof' kicking up their legs to the baton of Goldman Sachs and their masters approve them holding the same standards as themselves.... frequenters of strip joints and pole dancing venues, all in the interests of business.

Thus the shamelessness of Strauss-Kahn...the standards to which he must conform are not those of the ordinary people...those who work to give their families a decent life...the electors, but the standards of those who created the virtual world of finance that the ordinary people are now paying for.
Elections are a sham. Whatever the face of the political party, its movements are controlled by the bankers who use the legitimacy of elected governments to line their own pockets.

So, returning to France after the shenanigins of  New York does Strauss-Kahn creep into obscurity?
Far from it. He demands to be heard. He appears on TV, downplays his conduct.
When a young woman brings charges of attempted rape against him......he demands to be heard - as a witness, if you please!
And now he demands to be heard in the affair of the prostitutes of Lille...regarding mention of his activities as 'malevolent' in character...
He is a man in a hurry.
If the PS win the Presidential elections he wants his hand back in the till, but while scum continues to rise to the surface he has to take a back seat.
He wants it all sorted.

The affair also shows the difference between French and British society.
By now, in Britain, some rugby club would be altering the words of their version of the 'Twelve Days of Christmas'.......substituting Strauss-Kahn for Lord Montague of Beaulieu.
In France people just shake their heads. Mockery of politicians has consequences, as a few radio presenters have discovered to their cost.

But there will be an effect.
Down in the gendarmerie barracks at Partouze les Bains the adjutant is speaking to the duty officer.

We're getting more and more sex cases reported....and people want action.
As if the usual incest cases aren't enough now we have some pest exposing himself under the windows of the old peeoples' home.
What's being done about it?

Well, I'm waiting, sir.

Waiting for what?

For Dominique Strauss-Kahn to demand to be heard.

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Friday 14 October 2011

Thank you the dynamic duo....

Scarlet macaws near Jaco, Costa Rica                             Image via Wikipedia
I had reached the stage with my Costa Rica blog that I was about to revert to my old habits...throwing heavy objects and boiling my head.
Nothing would get the brute to put up new posts....

And then the voice(s) of sanity came to my assistance....

Perpetua told me what to do....


Phil showed me how to do it.

So I've given it another try...and just put up a new post which, to my delight, actually appeared!

The blog is still called

Costa Rica Calling

but it's got another URL...

Aren't there some super people in the Blogosphere!
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Thursday 6 October 2011

France's (frozen) Cultural Heritage

Restaurant Le MalesanImage by nedoho via Flickr
There are many facets of the French dream....chic women sipping mineral water in pavement cafes, old men in berets playing boules in sunlit southern squares, a glass of pink wine on the terrace as the sun sets over the  fields of lavender behind your holiday home, quaint villages silent in the heat of noon, the wine...and the food.

Yes, the food.

UNESCO evidently shares the dream as it listed French gastronomy as part of its intangible heritage programme in 2010, together with gingerbread making in northern Croatia and the technique of making leak proof joints for Chinese junks, which makes the hype about this in the French press somewhat overblown...but,there, if it is not overblown it could not be hype.

Following the earlier jacking down of the VAT rate on restaurant meals from 19.6% to 5.5% all should have been plain sailing in the world of fruits de mer and vol au vents, but someone has thrown a (frozen?) baguette in the roues.

The National Assembly is debating a proposition to oblige restaurateurs to mark with an asterisk items on their menus which are made from fresh produce, as opposed to those  using frozen or pre prepared products.

Panic in the dove cotes!

Why should this be?

After all, according to UNESCO's Paris press office one of the factors influencing the listing was
'The choice of good products, mainly rural, the assembling of dishes and wines, the decoration of the table and the gestures of smelling and tasting what has been served on the table.'

All right, you have to depend on the customers for the smelling and tasting bit...but the rest, the 'choice of good products, mainly rural' etc  is under the control of the restaurateur, so where is the problem?

One does not imagine, does one, that all this stuff that comes to your table under silver domes, lifted in unison by waiters rejected by the national synchronised swimming team, is anything but the result of' 'the choice of good products, mainly rural'?

No imagination is needed.
One knows.

Madame Cuistot will be seen in Leclerc loading up with special offer charcuterie and bags of mixed salad for her lunchtime buffet menu at the local caff..

The Argel delivery van will be unloading frozen cassoulet at the back street restaurant in Chiottes la Gare...

The Brake delivery van will be doing likewise with civet of hare at the market place restaurant in Benitierville...

While Monsieur Tourne-Fric, owner of Chateau Blanchelinge, has taken his own refrigerated van to the branch of Picard in the next big town but one to avoid
A. Frozen food delivery vans being seen to drive up to his restaurant...
B. Being seen by any of his clients in the car park of  the nearest branch.

I was not a great fan of eating out while in France...too many examples of 'le gastro' afterwards, but there is no doubt that good food is to be had...just look at Sarah Hague's evening out at La Reserve's just that it is not as prevalent as the French dream would have you believe.

I used to find that a fair clue was the length of the menu.
If it was more than a page long and promising everything from pike in yellow sauce to veal kidneys flamande then you could take a fair bet that the training of the kitchen staff owed more to smart co ordination of freezer and microwave than to co ordination between stove and table.
How would it be possible to offer so much if everything was cooked from scratch?
The waste bins would be overflowing with goodies and the night would be peopled with frugally minded British expats in balaclavas filling their carrier bags.

Good places have small menus..and that goes for the top of the range place right down to the caff, though there is a caveat with the caff....the menu is so small it might just be the 'plat du jour' and when that 'plat du jour' is andouillette it might be preferable to retire before hostilities commence.

How will you know if the 'plat du jour' is andouillette?
Because as you open the door of the caff a smell resembling the Calais sewers in an August heatwave will hit you.
That's how.

There was a brasserie in Angers which I used to like when in the was big, busy and bustling and had a few staple items plus one or two specials, so the kitchen could concentrate on getting things right.
It wasn't cheap, but it was good.

Not cheap either and generally not so good used to be the 'chateau' restaurants where a lot of emphasis was laid on the decor, the gardens, the lighting...but not so much on the food which was either straight from the freezer with a bit of decor or the chef owner's interpretation of 'fusion'.
Fission might have been a better description of some of the combinations on offer.
And nuclear my reaction on seeing the prices!

We occasionally stepped into these hallowed palaces of hype when we had had visitors who would persist on wanting to take us out as a thank you....though we felt that it should have been the other way round for all the pleasure and laughter they gave us, not to speak of the shopping, the cooking and the washing up!
It would have been more than churlish to refuse, however....the ladies had packed frocks and intended to wear them.

The whole afternoon before the evening reservation, every bathroom and most of the bedrooms would be occupied by ladies undergoing titivation while the men anaesthetised themselves on the balcony with a few cold bottles, only to disappear into the garden for something or other the moment the ladies emerged, primped and preening.
By the time whippers in had been sent to gather the men, all the bathrooms and bedrooms would be occupied again by men being pushed unwillingly into something more formal than shorts and polo shirts and the whippers in re titivating themselves.
You needed a pack of collies to keep that lot under control.

The GPS would be confiscated and we would set off in convoy travelling dark country lanes which seemed to become narrower at every turning until the back end of the convoy would start flashing headlights to signal alarm and despondency.
It was fatal to stop and go back to reassure them that yes, you did know where you were...yes, you did know where the chateau was...because inevitably the driver of the last car had a concealed GPS about his person which was intent on sending him to the destination via two motorways and a grass track.
It was safer just to drive on until reaching the chateau gates, where a lighted drive led you to the car park which was usually some distance from the restaurant area so that views of the gardens could be preserved.

High heels scrunching on the gravel...and the party stops for the man who managed to evade his wife's surveillance and kept on his sandals who now has gravel under his socks and will not go a step further until it is removed.
Wife displeased and vocal.
The man holding open the doors of the restaurant puzzled.

Arriving in the bar to a sotto voce argument about sandals going on in the background, the whole farce would swing into action....aperitifs and nibbles.....ordering, requests for translation followed by disbelief...'foie gras and hibiscus jelly?!.... 35 euros for a bit of pollock?!....more aperitifs, male muttering about enough of these whiff-whaffs and where was the grub?...and we're in the dining room, all chandeliers, table linen in strange pastel colours guaranteed to clash with the food and the inevitable wonky table.

I'm not sure whether it was because it was a party of foreigners or whether the serving staff were picked on the basis of looking as though there was a bad smell under their noses but almost inevitably there was an air of condescension about the service which would degenerate into downright disapproval as one member of the party, having become disgruntled at the wine waiter's practice of keeping the table's wine at a distance and going into a trance whenever one tried to catch his eye, got up and brought the wine coolers to the table where the party served itself. idea how to behave...

It was fun to dress up and go out, but I think I had more pleasure in some of the little places we dropped into by accident, coming back later than expected and in no mood for cooking.

One such was on the edge of a hunting property, a cottage with long tables and benches, where Madame served pate, stew and cheese.
Take it or leave it.

We took it....and so did a big party coming in shortly afterwards, led by an ex President of France.
We ate pate, stew and cheese, drank wine from the store kept by for the Ex's parties and finished the evening to a chorus of trompes de chasse playing out in the road with half the village gathered to enjoy it.

Forget the lilac table linen and the chandeliers...that was real ambience.

And that was one place that would have had no problems with the asterisks.

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Monday 3 October 2011

Good Home Wanted for a Man of Straw

In the run up to the French Presidential elections in 2012 a sad case has come to it comes to light at every election.

                                                     Dominique Paille.


No, not Dominique Strauss-Kahn, he can look after himself.......Dominique Paille.

This poor man only wants one thing in life to make him happy.

He wants to be a minister.

No, not a minister of religion...a French government minister.

His hand in your pocket.

He has all the qualifications....

Went to the right schools, made the right friends.....

Learned how to use his post as a hospital director to hoover up campaign funds from pharmaceutical companies when he turned to politics......

And, after a couple of misadventures in court over misunderstandings about the proper use of funds, showed that he was truly qualified to be a person in whom the trust of the people could be vested by escaping scot free from a bigger mess, leaving an unfortunate woman who served only as a channel for the transfer of monies to take the rap.

He was maire of his commune...with an accompanying allowance for expenses that qualified locally as halucinatory in its magnitude...and councillor for the department and region, as well as shoving aside the sleepy incumbent to become a deputy for his department.

He had not only his allowance as maire, but his allowances as councillor and deputy...and in those days there was no ceiling on the amount of expenses allowances one could hold, unlike now when the ceiling obliges those concerned not to give up the dosh  over and above the amount allowed, good gracious me no....but to give it away...usually to their wives and children.

A pretty good CV, one would think.
Ideal for a future minister.

So what has gone wrong?

He has two fatal defects.

The first is that he has no sense of which way the wind is blowing....he has an unbeaten talent for changing his coat at the wrong moment and deserting a winning camp for that of a loser.

And the second is that he is unlikeable.

I remember him as deputy.
No occasion was free of his presence from horse trials to the award of medals to the mothers of many.....the hair plastered to the skull, the damp palm, the oily repetition of
'Paille, Deputy.'
As he shook your hand....

His arrogance....local councillors declined to attend his election meetings at their peril...their commune would be cut off from the gravy train.
He would visit communes, and instead of asking about local concerns would spend his time shut in the maire's office on the telephone to his election the commune's expense.

The joy when he was overturned at the last election was palpable. Not quite fireworks behind the salle de fetes and a vin d'honneur, but not far off.
For once he had been following the right candidate, but his own defeat put him out of the running as a minister.

He was given a compensation prize, as one of the President's counsellors, ....then he was spokesperson for the ruling party....but the compensation was meagre...only 8,000 Euros a month.

He was put up for election as senator representing the French overseas....he failed miserably.

He was made boss of the Office for Immigration and Integration in January 2011....a safe and well paid haven. But he still wanted to be a minister.

So he changed his coat again in favour of another presidential candidate and, surprise, surprise, was sacked as boss of the Office for Immigration and Integration in August.

Times were hard.

He qualified as a lawyer....not by undergoing a course of study but under the provisions by which those 'appropriately qualified' can become  lawyers without having a clue about the law, thus allowing him to accept money for advice openly as opposed to in briefcases under the table or brown envelopes under the blotter.

Still, it was worth it. Sarkozy's star was dipping toward the horizon and he was going to be a minister!

But Sarkozy's star proved to be the Death Star for Paille.

Dominque Strauss Kahn happened...the Socialist Party was in disarray.....the prime minister made a cock up of the elections to the Senate, and thus to his own hopes of seeing off Sarkozy as the candidate of the right and the Centrists...where Paille had thrown his coat in the ring...decided to back out.

Sarkozy has bounced back and Sarkozy has a mafia like memory for deceit and treachery.
Even if he gives a ministerial job to Paille's candidate, Paille will be out in the cold.
For good.

What remains for this man? Which party will give him shelter?
He's tried most of them in his time and stuck with none.

So, if you have any political contacts and think they could offer poor Monsieur Paille a good home....he'll be waiting on the end of the 'phone...
Let some one give him a home for Christmas....

Saturday 1 October 2011

Costa Rica Calling

Coat of arms of Costa RicaImage via Wikipedia
I have given up hoping to wangle Blogger into putting up my Costa Rica blog so have followed the good advice of Perpetua and Phil...amongst others...and started all over again by importing its content into a new envelope, as it were.

It is still called

Costa Rica Calling

but it now has another URL...which looks like the sound I made when trying to shift it over.

Despite the clearly expressed advice I had managed to get it all arse about face and now am putting this up in haste as a thunderstorm is about to engulf us, making pulling the plug on the computer a matter of urgency...and also because I note that Blogger refuses to save anything I have been editing....

I shall try to contact followers on the old blog.....but, for the moment.....

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