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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Paname! On y va!

Let the drizzle drizz. Let the wind blow. Let the temperatures tumble. For this week we are headed for Paris.

Without being disrespectful to the splendours on a smaller scale that make up the fine flemish city of Lille, I have to eulogize a little about a city with which I have been smitten since first I visited it almost 30 years ago.

There is something about that city that immediately evokes an array of different images all of them lending themselves to be photographed, painted or captured in some way. I was surprised to put it mildy to discover that the reconstruction of the French capital was in part influenced by Napoleon the Third's exile in London during the 1840s and his goal to modernize and improve sanitation as much as it was deter revolution via the barricaded medieval streets. Haussman's work is still very much in evidence and gives a grandeur, a magnificence which makes Paris, for me at least, a majestic and impressive city in a way that London is not. There is a congruence about Paris which by its very lack makes London equally fabulous albeit differently.

So, back to the long weekend. Not having had a break since a week away in June last year when we went to Marrakesh, this is a long-awaited trip. Long planned too as I successfully acquired TGV celebratory tickets back in September and so the travel is cheap as is, as ever, the accommodation generously offered by Max's aunt and godmother. The sight of the Eiffel Tower from the flat always always moves me for some inexplicable reason. To think the Parisiens, or parigots, of the time detested the iron structure and looked forward to its early demolition.

Our time coincides nicely with the first Sunday of the month when many of the museum's and galleries are free. I have to confess that I have never really visited the Louvre apart from a 5 minute foray into the foyer once. It always seems so busy and I cannot bear crowded museums. Probably not much hope then this time as tout le monde et son chien will be trying to get in.

I have booked a show though. It is a bit of a surprise for Max. Inexpensive at only 14€ a ticket , and very much off whatever the parisian equivalent of Broadway is, the piece is entitled "Piaf, une vie en rose et noir" and is described as a play with music. A trifle obvious perhaps but whose voice captured the essence of Paris more than Edith?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Internecine Strife

Only last week the Parti Socialiste (PS)voted for Ségolène Royal as their official candidate for the presidency in the elections which take place in April 2007. This put an end to months of speculation and brought the French presidency within the grasp of a woman for the first time.

Despite her convincing win with over 60% of the votes cast in a 80% poll and the margin between her and the other two candidates being some 40 points, there will, it seems, be a period of manoeuvering whilst the big names of the Parti Socialiste attempt to put themselves behind their candidate whilst also establishing some clear blue water between themselves and Madame Royal's iconoclastic approach to politics. They simply cannot understand why and how this political "lightweight" has swept all before her.

There are three battles going on in this presidential campagne. That between the two main candidates Ségo and, although yet to be annointed, Sarko and then the internal struggles in both the PS and the UMP of which Sarkozy is president.

Neither party can believe that the are have arrived at a position where the preferred candidate is one whose main attraction is the ability to bring in the popular vote without slave like adherence to the party doctrine. It is almost as if everything that has been agreed between the great and the good of each party has been sidelined. There is fury that Sarko is being seen as a shoo in and rather unsubtle reminders are appearing that the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) is more than just Petit Nicolas as the diminutive Interior Minister is, not necessarily kindly, dubbed.

In a land where people actually appear to think for themselves and philosophising is still a popular past-time indeed a way of life the fact that none of the other potential candidates (including the current president) would appear to have an ice-cube's chance in hell of even getting into the second round of the election doesn't seem to have fazed the furious elite of the main right wing party. Would they put up a spoiling candidate and, inevitably, lose the presidency to Ségo rather than see Sarko victorious. Nothing would surprise me.

Perhaps in the past the oligarchy that runs France could have relied on votes because of their status but now things appear to be changing: the call for change is growing and there is an expectation that the new president will make a real difference and reverse the gloom the French are feeling.

It amuses me to see that the greatest dinosaur of them all, Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Front far right party, or maybe he IS the party as they too appear to be suffering from internal struggles, has convinced himself that his time could be coming and that he will be in the second round of the election. He appeared on television the evening of the PS candidate election and I have only one word of advice for him: don't. He appeared old, old-fashioned, bumbling, disagreeable. Politics have moved on and the past is not on the agenda. He might well bring change but not the change that the vast majority of the French want.

The mere fact of being a woman seems to represent change in itself and for that reason many are considering their vote. Perhaps reflecting what happened in the UK in 1979 although then the Labour government had seen its popularity all but disappear in the wake of union strife and the winter of discontent.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Pleased not to Pineapple Punch

November is birthday month for us. Both Max's parents, my mother, his aunt/godmother, my young aunt, his grandfather's widow, my oldest nephew, my brother-in-law and assorted friends ALL celebrate their anniversaire in the month of November.

Being in Rumaucourt this weekend reminded me of the "treat" we are missing out on now that we have moved to Lille. Jean-Michel, Max's papa, owns and runs the village shop in Oisy-le-Verger, a few kilometers, wisely, from where they live. This Thursday evening once the shop closes at 19.00, he and maman will repair to the stockroom where , with all those associated with the business (helping, cleaning etc) they will gather around a trestle table on an assortment of chairs.

Then begins the imbibing of the Pineapple Punch. Martine brings this, her speciality, in a big saucepan, the kind with two side handles.

Now said cocktail could have the potential to be extremely quoffable, indeed fun. A drop of rum perhaps. Let me assure you that it is not. The recipe is very short and to the point: take a bottle of inexpensive sparkling white wine, add the contents of one tin of pineapple chunks. Done.
Somewhere along the line some ingredients have surely been forgotten, removed on purpose for whatever reason. The resulting concoction is as drinkable as it sounds. All sit around in happy mode - this is a birthday celebration after all - and accept a glass of Pineapple Punch, even daring to request not too much fruit. Can anything with such obvious "lumps" in ever be good?
Ladle into glasses and "enjoy".

Monday, November 13, 2006

How much a vote?

Being a Brit abroad in the EU I have the right to vote in local and EU elections here in la belle France. I don't, however, have the right to vote in the general nor presidential elections. Rightly so as I am not a French citizen. So that leaves me the option of registering to vote in UK general elections as a non-UK resident Brit.

Not a problem. Except in order to register there is a form to complete, a form which has to be witnessed and signed by another British passport holding non-UK resident.

Right. I don't know any such person in Lille indeed I don't personally know any other British passport holding non-UK residents in France. I know some French people but that is it.

Possible solution, or so I though, would be to contact the British Consulate in Lille and ask if it would be possible for them to help ie to do the deed for me. A speedy response to my email of enquiry came winging back with their response.

They are able to help but for the statutory fee of 30€. Hang on a mo'. That doesn't sound right. So, I have to pay for a British official to sign my application to be registered as an overseas voter? Isn't that so close to a Poll Tax as to be, a... Poll Tax? Since when have we had to pay for the vote? Since being a rich person somehow qualified you to make national decisions perhaps?

I gave it a little thought - not much you understand - and made a decision. Based on the probability of there not being a general election any time before 2009 why should I rush into registering? The likelihood of finding another willing Brit abroad is good.

I subscribe to an internet site for expats (grimace), called Total France . It is excellent for requesting information and advice about living in France as a Brit and I posed the question of whether paying for this Consular service was appropriate. The responses were few in number and mostly offers to sign for less €€€. The question was raised whether having left the UK one should have or indeed be interested in having the vote still. Since I am not thus enfranchised in France then I think the answer should still be oui, or, more appropriately yes. Were I to be offered the opportunity of voting in (probably) Ségo or Sarko then I might well be tempted to relinquish the right.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

On se tutoie?

It's Wednesday and day three of our shower room installation. All is looking well though the room itself will require decorating and flooring indeed the ceiling is rather temporary too! Having plumbers in the house has been a bit of a challenge. How does one behave with total strangers having the run of one's home? Huddled up against the cold (the heating has not yet hove onto the horizon I sit with my computer in the kitchen on constant alert that they may at any moment ask me a question or need something from me. Indeed this has happened already on a number of occasions so I am less concerned about it now though I still have one concern. Vous or tu? Using vous is not unfriendly, merely respectful. Then again tu seems better with the younger one who must still be in his teens and wouldn't expect formality from someone very much his senior. Luckily I have not had to tempt a tu with the older one - though probably not more than late 20s - as it is the lad who does all the running around and otherwise they are together and I can vouvoyer with no risk at all.

Monsieur Le Chauffagiste was supposed to meet us on Monday evening to bring us up to date with progress and to give us a tentative start date for the installation of our gas central heating. He didn't show and since then has not replied to our calls and voicemail messages. What to think? Probably not a lot though it seems increasingly unlikely that he is going to turn up any time soon. Brrrrrrr.

One result to report which sadly does not bode well for the heating. We arranged a service call for our water softener after months of moaning to anyone who would listen that the blimmin' thing doesn't seem to have made any perceptible difference. Anyway Monsieur L'Adoucisseur determined that the evacuation pipe was too small and that the thing has regenerated but once since it was installed back in June. It should have happened on average once a week. So the upshot is that we have been enjoying water as hard as before. No wonder I couldn't get much foam out of my shampoo. All fixed now and working with noticeable results. Downside is that the person who fitted the device originally is also the person who is supposed to be fitting our central heating...

PS Saturday morning. The shower leaks