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 25 August 2012

I never thought I'd say this, said a friend.....

But I'm almost missing Sarkozy!

We both laughed, as Sarkozy hadn't been high in our popularity stakes though he might have done better if he had succeeded in pushing through his reforms of the French economy in the teeth of opposition from his own party.

Then it came back to me...from when I was first in France, at some point the incoming President would be judged in the light of his predecessor....and found wanting. It was just happening a little sooner than usual for Hollande.

That sinister man Mitterand was President when I moved to France and some of the veils were beginning to shift from his past...his service in the Vichy regime....the protection of top collaborators...the suicide of colleagues.....although the bombshell that he had been keeping a second family at the expense of the taxpayer would not be revealed until much later when both families turned up to his funeral.

Then came Chirac, mired in corruption from his time at the Mairie of Paris....and the faces were long.
What a man to follow Mitterand who, be he what he was, could at least use the French language properly! 
Chirac was a only to stroke rumps at the Paris Agricultural Show!

He could stroke a few other rumps too....his boon companion and chauffeur would collect him in an unofficial car at eight o'clock and they were off on the town.
No one knew where he was - probably least of all himself - so on the night that Princess Diana was killed in Paris his Interior Minister had to wait until the President rolled in from his night on the tiles before making decisions on how to handle the affair.
Mme. Chirac was unforgiving. The chauffeur was 'translated' to the post of inspector in the cemetery service.

And after Chirac, Sarkozy...the outsider. The man who was going to shake up France....once he had solved the problem of acquiring a wife to replace the one who had bolted....once he had finished holidaying on the mega yacht of a mega rich friend....once he had dined with his supporters at Fouquets in the Champs Elysees...

Mitterand had had a sombre dignity, Chirac had had charm.....Sarkozy had temper.

He showed emotion...if he was annoyed, everyone knew about it: no waiting a year to send someone to a cupboard in Limoges 'in the interests of the service' for not ensuring that only short arses surrounded the President on televised appearances - the official concerned would be on his bike in very short order.

His appearance at the Paris Agricultural Show was not the regal procession of Chirac either....
To a man who refused to shake his hand he replied
'Casse toi, alors, pauvre con!' which might be roughly translated as 'Bugger off then, idiot.'
For clarity it couldn't be beaten.....but it was felt to be lacking in class.

And now we have Hollande....the man in the baggy Bermudas. 
The man who announced that change was to happen now. 
Except that now was then, when he was campaigning. 
Returning from his holidays this week he announces that change will happen in the fullness of time........

So, while we wait for the reappearance of les neiges d'antan - the snows of yesteryear - let's take a look at  the irrepressible Chirac doing what he did best....enjoying the company of les girls.
Here he is on holiday at Dinan this summer, posing for photographs....note the left hand.

And here he is accompanying his grim wife Bernadette to one of her fund raising events...
And getting into he says to his delightful companion 'You have to watch out for women...'
And for the man sitting on Chirac's right hand....Francois Hollande, the great white hope of France.
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Friday 24 August 2012

The childhood shows the man, As morning shows the day.

A happy little chap, isn't he?

But he would not be much older than this when his mother told him that she hadn't wanted him....she had wanted a girl, and furthermore she had known he was going to be bad luck because when she was pregnant a black rat had run across the path in front of her.

Things did not improve.
He would splash in puddles and muddy the clothes she had made....there would be a quarrel between the parents over his 'wildness' which would end in his father hitting his mother who would roll on the floor crying out to him
'Look what you made him do!'

Little drudge in the household....
Down to the back door of the bakery at 6.00 am, summer and winter to have fresh bread on the breakfast table.....
Doing the shopping after school  in town, to bring it back on the train and found panic stricken by the priest when he had mistakenly put the shopping money on the collection plate....
Out weeding the vegetable garden every evening.....before washing up and then rocking to sleep first the little brother and later the little sister  before his own bedtime.

Summer was his release.
Sent, travelling alone from the age of five, to his father's mother he was in the world of his cousins and their friends, in and out of houses and gardens, taking turns to ride a rusty old bicycle in a pair of shorts made from an uncle's worn out corduroy trousers.....sheer freedom.

His mother would bring the two younger children to stay with her the same town.
He would go to the house every morning to say hello, but that was the limit of the contact. His shabby shorts did not fit her picture of herself as the devoted young mother whose fine sewing adorned her offspring.

Thwarted in his desire to study art, pushed into a job he did not want to do, dealing with a father who became demented when his wife left him, trying to hold things together and blamed for everything, his teens and early twenties were no brighter.
The black rat was always across his path.

Yet when, many years later, his elderly mother began to have accidents...leaving the gas on, taking tumbles...he was the only one of her children to offer to take her into his own home, to convert the ground floor of his house into a flat for her and provide daily assistance and nursing care, at his own expense.

Because the child had been taught by the nuns to honour his father and his mother and to return good for evil.... and the childhood showed the man.

Monday 13 August 2012

High Finance in La France Profonde

A friend's grandson works as a general handyman for the suits him well.
Varied work, mostly outside, and home for lunch!

As part of his job he works at the council owned campsite, a very pretty spot indeed where tall trees provide plenty of shade and the river runs in an arc round three sides of it.

It isn't a tourist hotspot, so the lady whose house lies across from the entrance collects the fees when she trots round in the evening to see if everyone is all right, but the basic amenities are in water, loos, showers and blocks to wash clothes and crockery.
All spick and span.
Part of the grandson's job is to make sure it remains so, as well as cutting the grass and checking on the state of the little bridge which crosses the river.

There are regulars, who stay for a couple of months, most of them (the men at least) being keen fishermen, and there are overnighters, most of whom have ended up there by underestimating the distance to their actual destination and looking for the nearest site at which to lay their weary heads.
Not enough business to tempt the council to tart it up.......but enough to wash its face.

So my friend was surprised to see the question of the campsite being put on the agenda for the next council meeting and when her grandson came home for lunch asked him if he had any idea what it was about.

Yes, he had. It was the norms.

Well, everything in France is governed by norms...but which norms were these?

New ones for campsites...and for hotels, too he thought...and gites....anywhere people could stay. But this was the one for campsites.

She knew it was no use asking for more information, his mind being on his lunch, so it was lucky that she met the maire's wife while going to the hairdresser in the afternoon.

Yes, Clovis is really upset. That's why he put it on the agenda.

Upset about what, exactly? I thought it pretty well ran itself with Marie-Claude nipping over in the evenings...

Well, it does, but then there were these new norms.
It came out some time have to be inspected and whatnot and there's a fee or you can't be classified and go in the guides.
Clovis and Monique went through it...handy her being a retired civil servant, she's used to all this....and it seemed that the campsite was all right, except it didn't have designated know, white lines and little hedges and so on.

But there's no need for all that, there's plenty of room and some people have a couple of caravans and like to park  up together.....

Well that's what Clovis and Monique thought, so they decided that, what with the fees and all that they wouldn't bother to register.
It's always done all right on word of mouth and with the bit of passing trade, so that's what they did.

So why is it on the agenda, then?

Because Clovis has just had another circular from the Prefecture.
They charge VAT at a reduced rate at the moment.....but if they don't register it goes up from seven something to nineteen something!

The regulars wouldn't be very pleased at that!

No, they wouldn't...I can hear old Victor now...!
Clovis did some figures and took them round to Monique and she the time you put on the extra VAT it will cost more to stay on an unregistered site than a registered one!

So what's Clovis going to do?

Well he rang up the Prefecture, but they're not registration, up goes the he's put it on the agenda.

It's just  another wheeze to get money out of people, says my friend.

Like those useless inspections before you sell a the septic tank pulling down weirs to improve water quality because they daren't ask the farmers to keep their sprays away from the telling people to use less water and then putting up the bills because they're not getting enough money's a world gone mad!

And I agree with her, indeed it is a world gone mad.
Manic regulations covering more and more aspects of life...and each with a price tag for the ordinary person to pay.

But she wasn't the only one with news...I had some for her.
I was now classed as a speculator.

You may remember that in the upsurge of ill will to bankers a financial transaction tax was to be imposed, the proceeds going to someworthy cause like an African dictator's villa in Switzerland.
This, it was claimed, would help to make speculation less attractive...would stop speculators distorting the market.

I have shares in a French company which I have tried to sell, only to fall back from the attempt each time foiled by the inability of La Banque Postale

A. To maintain my internet account without changing the access code but not giving me the new one.

B. to understand the word 'sell' in their own language.

I now understand that they were acting in my own best interest.....they were preventing me from becoming a speculator.

Because according to the detail of the financial transaction tax it will  only be levied if you have held the shares for more than one day.

Now dealing rooms see shares hurtling in and out of their possession in minutes if not seconds as they clip their percentage from the passing shower of they won't be hit.
They are thus not speculators distorting the market.

But I am, if I ever manage to outwit La Banque Postale.

Saturday 11 August 2012

A Road in France

My lawyer in Costa Rica is to take a holiday in France with her cousin.
Guidebooks have taken over from legal texts in her office and perusal makes it clear that they are visiting Paris and Provence. Nothing but Eiffel Towers and lavender to be seen.

They are travelling between the two by TGV, their hotels are booked and my lawyer is very excited.
She always loved the idea of France as a girl, but her school did not have enough pupils who wanted to learn French to allow her to learn the language, once spent a fortnight in Normandy as a young woman (it rained) and cannot wait to get on the 'plane.

At home after our meeting, I looked at the travel sections of the online newspapers...and there it was...Paris and Provence, Provence and Paris.... with just a nod to the Languedoc and to Burgundy.

Where's the rest of France?
The bits with Eiffel bridges and clocks and church towers that no one cares about...
The bits with fields of angelica or saffron instead of lavender

The bits that don't pull the crowds...

I used, when at a previous house, to take one road quite often....going to major town for the Saturday market, or to the hospital. There was another road...across country....but it took too long for someone trying to get a parking spot near the market before the crowds arrived, so it was the main road that I used.

A road through a France entirely foreign to those who commission travel pieces.

I would arrive at the main road from the side road through the woods where I would look for mushrooms every autumn, the junction marked by a granite celtic cross.

Unique in the area in its style, it and other crosses in the region were supposed to mark pre Christian assembly points and I was heartbroken when a lorry careened into it...the pieces were there, it could have been repaired....but it was replaced by a miserable, lumpish concrete cross painted dull yellow...the 'ton pierre' so beloved of the 'heritage' professionals of the department.

On to the main road.....and on the left the sinister spikes of what was known locally as Chateau Congelateur - Freezer Towers - could be seen rising over the tiled roofs of what had once been its home farm.
A fifteenth century building, over restored in the full Gothic style in the late nineteenth century, it was a fitting home for a doctor who believed in cryogenics.
He had retired there from Paris and was held to be a good doctor when acting as locum for his  local colleagues, once the patient could get over the fact that he never cut his hair and appeared to have a mandarin attitude to his nails.
He had installed a freezer in one of the outhouses which was, in due course, occupied by his wife, local speculation being rife as to whether she was dead when she went in.
There was a mighty ruction with Electricite de France when a power cut threatened to defrost her....EDF sought an order that he should have his wife buried, but contacts in Paris soon hit that idea on the head and the Prefect contented himself with telling him to buy a generator.
In his turn, he went in the freezer, the process supervised by his son - another doctor - but eventually the pressure of opinion was such that the son was forced to move his parents, freezer and all, to a location in Paris.
Chateau Congelateur was up for sale....but remained unsold years later when I was leaving not only the area but France itself.

The village behind had no less than seven chateaux of all ages and styles and had one of the rare monuments in the area to the Republicans of the era of the Vendee Wars.....the Royalist troops advancing, the maire and eleven others climbed up into the steeple to fire on them and, despite the Royalists firing the church under them, their musketry was enough to see off the danger.

In the twentieth century it was the home of a post impressionist Irish artist....
And I used to wonder if this work of his was from his garden there.

Further on the road, emerging from more woodland, the land began to rise, and the vineyards took over.
In the pre war period there was a tramway here, hauling wine from the hinterland to the big merchants on the Loire...the only trace left being the boxy French railway architecture of the little stations and crossing houses alongside the road.

Over the crest and into the outskirts of the the time I left well supplied with supermarkets, DIY emporia and major outlet stores for clothes...very different from the days when tractors were parked outside the one supermarket as the old boys in wellies went in search of their wives' shopping.
But in the approaches to the mega sprawl stood an old building.

Known as the Carolingian palace, where Louis the Pious learned of the death of his father Charlemagne, it was nothing of the sort....the palace had been sacked in the Viking raids and the remnants of the materials had been used ro build a defensive tower much later.....but the mere belief demonstrated that this had once been an important town on the network of the old Roman roads.

Out of town...and on an improved route.
On the right, a turning for a village of troglodyte dwellings....not cliff dwellings as along the banks of the Loire, but dwellings hollowed out of the surrounds of a quarry, open to the sky, not like the miles of  tunnels now used by vignerons to mature their wine.  Not really a refuge either...but I suspect something to do with escaping taxes.

Flat land now, sloping gently away to the Loire.....but we're only half way and already we could have pulled off the road to explore the quarries, the gardens and the time to take a break.

No wonder the editors don't commission stuff like would take a book, not a third of a column....and they believe our attention span is the same as their own...negligable.

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