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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Runaway Success

The first weekend in September means only one thing here in la capitale des Flandres : La Braderie, or the largest flea market in the world and one of the biggest outdoor events in France. On average 2 million visitors descend on Lille to walk around looking for bargains, to soak up the atmosphere and to demolish their share of the many tonnes of moules frites that are the speciality of the weekend.

Although the Braderie has been around in some shape or form for some 800 years, it is only since 25 years ago that it has also been the occasion for a race ie the Semi Marathon, which itself first saw light as a full marathon back in the mid 1980s.  As running, and particularly distance running, has increased in popularity and as a challenge open to most who are prepared to dedicate time and energy to train, so has the number of participants grown. This year there were around 9000 people involved in the half marathon, the 10km and the childrens' event. There was a marked difference this year in that amongst the 5000 odd waiting for the off in the Boulevard de la Liberté were Messieurs Newman-Legros, Max et Peter.

I would have liked to have reported that, after 4 months of training, running on average three times a week and even running the full 21.1km in a practice run 12 days before, we were raring to go, fit and feisty, itching to get pounding the rues and the boulevards of central Lille. Sadly this was not the case. We'd been suffering all week with what may have been some lurgy and were still feverish the night before which didn't help us to achieve the length and quality of sleep we had hoped for. Two days before the day we completed just one lap of le lac du héron and felt terrible. So, it all felt disastrous and, though prepared to start the race, neither of us could envisage completing it or doing so in a reasonable time.  The "before" photo says it all...

The evening before we went to the Pasta Party, an event that has become a pre-requisite of any distance running event. We'd enjoyed the one in Paris for the marathon there last April. The Lille version was sadly lacking: lacking in ambience, decent pasta (no vegetarian sauce?!) and motivation.

Still, early the next day we were bolstered by the glorious weather, blue skies and just enough warmth in the air to keep us at the optimum running temperature. We were supported and encouraged by running old pros Tiff and Stuart, and by the Bopes - the pack of four were detailed to be standing in specific vantage points and to gee us on - and by messages and waves of support from friends and family we just couldn't let down.

Maybe it was the atmosphere, something magical in the air, maybe those waves of support from around the world did carry us along, but, from the moment the race started everything felt just right. Within a kilometre we had postioned ourselves behind two runners who were going at a pace just slightly faster than we normally run, and we stuck with them all the way round.

Lille looks different from the middle of the road, and I had been looking forward to seeing it from this angle. It felt so different and sounded different too, only the pounding trainers rather that vehicle engines. Strangers cheered us as we counted down the k's,  and bands played adding to the festive feel of the morning. Stallholders along the route set up their goods ready to two o'clock when they would officially be able to take money.

Before we realised we were just a few kilometres away from the finish and it was obvious that, were we to keep up our pace, we would be completing the race in a personal best time. It felt so good to be overtaking so many runners who had started to quickly and were now flagging, whereas our pace, if anything, quickened.

Turning down the Boulevard de la Liberté for the final time, turning left into Rue Nationale, avoiding inconsiderate pedestrians in the Grand' Place and being squeezed between the barriers in Rue de Paris before being funneled through the finishing post. Suddenly it was over and we had done it in 2 hours and three minutes, knocking 12 minutes off our time from only 12 days before. Stretches, medals, water and we were at our pre-arranged meeting point having photos taken.

Max is already signed up to run the half marathon in Marchiennes on the 12th October. He also is determined to run the full marathon in Paris next April. Me? I have no plans other than, perhaps, to run in the 10km Foulées in November as the route just happens to take in part of our road. Then, who knows?  We are continuing to run regularly having "caught the bug" and I would not rule out running another half marathon, maybe Lille next year or maybe somewhere else. You only need a decent pair of running shoes and some get up and go.

P.S. three charities benefited to the tune of over £500 in total. Thanks to all who donated.

Monday, August 16, 2010

C'est un temps de chien

Bonjour!? Did anyone notice it was supposed to be august about now?  Vaguely summery weather, occasional white fluffies and bright warm bits?  Hmmmmm. Something must have gone spectacularly wrong with the order as the last few days of depressing grey skies and showers have been bettered by non-stop rain since yesterday afternoon. It alternates between drizzly and knocking-over-the-flower-pots hard downpours and even the pond level is reaching a reasonable depth, indicating that we've probably "enjoyed" around 3cm of the wet stuff since yesterday. There is one silver glint to this otherwise dark and despondent cloud: it isn't really cold. Otherwise we are on alerte orange ie

Soyez très vigilant; des phénomènes dangereux sont prévus ; tenez-vous au courant de l’évolution de la situation et suivez les conseils  de sécurité émis par les pouvoirs publics.
Add in the risk of flooding and how exciting can it get?

Somehow we managed to eat in the garden three or four times including once in the evening whilst friend Margaret was here. Sadly we didn't even get to sit on cousin Marion's balcony whilst in Lippstadt the week before, though we did fit in a barbecue at cousin Uwe's house on the Friday though it was not balmy but damp and chilly by 21h00.  We allayed the cold with good local beer and the warmth of family reunion after some twenty years. How did he suddenly go from being a mere youth to having two daughters, one of whom is 20?  Have I been hibernating?

Which reminds me; we need all positive thoughts turned to warmth and dryness for Saturday evening coming as we are having a Birthday BBQ here at château Newman-Legros. Mopping up (ha ha ha) friends and family in France for a late celebration of my recent landmark as well as getting to know the neighbours a little, especially, we hope, our new next door neighbours, Sylvain and Gaël. We're up to 15 definites with a possible additional ten. The Bopes are officiating over the main grilling station and I am knocking up salads and a couple of fishy/veggie options. It's going to be a challenge to deformalise the event as the French don't seem to do relaxed and laid back and may expect to sit on chairs if not at table. Not going to happen! Still; we can rely on Les Oncles to inject a little levity into the occasion and I can always run away with Rab, who is staying as well as the Bopes and their pooches, till everyone has buggered off home!

Summer visits started last week and recommence this week, on Thursday with only two whole days of breathing space till 7 September. Looking forward to it.  And to some summer. Not least because we are reaching the peak of our half marathon training. More to come after, fingers crossed, the successful running of the latter.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The end of the Exelmans era

For almost ten years we have been more than fortunate in having access to a base in the 16eme arrondissement of Paris on the Boulevard Exelmans. We, I hope, have shown sufficient gratitude to Max's maternal aunt, known by all simply as "Tatie", whose generosity has meant we have a memories stuffed full of Paris and our séjours there. Sadly, but for good reason, that era is at an end.  We drove to Paris in the trusty Citroën ZX with the Bopes the first weekend in July to do our bit of removing pictures from walls and using Polyfilla to make good the resulting holes.

It was my very first time there being driven in a car, apart from the occasional taxi ride from the Gare du Nord, so it was also my first experience of navigating the "roundabout" around the Arc de Triomphe. Not so much a roundabout but more a free for all as 12 roads converge, some traffic-lighted but no road markings to be seen. Seems this is one of the few places in France where the priorité à droite rule still applies on roundabouts. Terrifying. I am certain some people pay for such a thrill.

Over the course of those ten years, Paris has gone from pricey to expensive though we have always managed to find some little gems that have cost us nothing or very little. Mostly we ate at the flat having done a shop at Carrefour Auteil, though sometimes we ate out at either the brasserie opposite, then called the Brussels Café but that "went off" then latterly at Le Fétiche in Auteuil village but that became overly expensive: we realised that two unexceptional salads a small beer and a water had cost us nearly £40!

Of course the 16e is very well-to-do, it's nose pressed up against the villas of Neuilly and bordered by the Seine and the Bois de Boulogne. There are less expensive areas, to which we will, no doubt, be headed in the future.

We didn't get to ride the Métro this time but we did have a run in aforementioned Bois. There was something about running through this famous green space alongside the BCBGs.  We'll be back, perhaps not so frequently and not so comfortably, but the draw of Paris is still there and calling. Au revoir.

The L Word

Or 2 birthday barbecues and a christening, was my alternative title.  But before I get too clever for my own boots, let me explain that this blog entry is primarily about life away from Lille, indeed away from France and back in the good old U of K.  We visited for almost ten days with the Bopes (beaux-parents) in their economical Citroën diesel estate driving some 1600km in the process and getting as far as Seaton Sluice on the North East coast.

So what is this L word?  I think it is Lots of things. Of course it stands for 50 in roman numerals and is my slightly coquettish way of not vulgarly shouting out my newly acquired status as a quinqua, and equally it stands for the Love of family and wonderful friends and of one's own country, even if I don't choose currently to live there. Hey it also stands for my chosen town of residence. It's an 'L'-ementary letter!

Long planned and long awaited, this was to be the first trip to the UK we had made in the Bopes' company. I'd booked crossings and hotel way back when the days were a lot shorter but June arrived soon enough and before we knew it we were pootling down to Hersin-Coupigny, where they live,  to load up the car. Taking the autoroute des anglais, we zoomed up to Calais, or more precisely, Coquilles, where le tunnel sous la manche pops out on the French. A quick detour via a branch of Majestic Wine whose offer on a very pleasing cava was too tempting to miss and before we knew it we were being directed onto a shuttle two hours earlier than our booking, so that by six o'clock UK time we had already missed most of the rush hour traffic on the M25, had a relatively painless Dartford Tunnel transit (oh how we'd agonised about finding the correct change to chuck in the basket) and found our way to our Travelodge at Fenstanton, near Huntingdon.

The hotel was, as expected, adequate and acceptably clean. Sadly the adjacent Little Chef had not been 'Blumenthaled' and yet offered a sufficient menu. I always doubted that Little Chef would ever fully submit to a full Heston overhaul. Why spend all that money when you've just had what amounts to millions of pounds worth of free advertising? Our fish and chips really was OK and the accompanying bottle of wine not bad for the price. Luckily I had vouchers for a buy one main meal get one free deal though head office mustn't have thought the process through as the only way our helpful and pleasant though rather "local" waitress could ensure we obtained said discount was to separate the bill into three elements and for me to make three separate payments.  Pay attention Little Chef - big hassle!

The next morning we were soon on the road and, having made a pitstop in Barrowby to drop off our finery for the impending christening plus booze for the birthday barbecue, arrived in time for lunch at our destination: Penshaw.

This was already our third visit to Christine and Chris and each time we have gone back a month earlier. August 2008 was wet and cold, July 2009 was a little better as I recall actually sitting in the garden but June 2010 was the best yet. The neo-classical monument was always in view and we actually had dinner outside one evening! Our ever fabulous hosts looked after us magnificently and gave the Bopes a real flavour of the area. We checked out Durham, drove up the coast as far as Seaton Sluice, admired Newcastle's bridges and The Sage, and experienced the Angel of the North up close. Add in a very special birthday treat dinner at a local find, Amiros, and Bob's Christine's dad, not her uncle.  Oh, and we fitted in a couple of shortish runs too, to keep our half marathon training up to speed.

Saturday morning wasn't exactly promising weather-wise. OK for driving though. Our destination was Grantham via Holmfirth where cousin, Luis was celebrating his 18th with an all-day barbecue. Luis's fascination with being able to drink legally took me back quite a number of years/decades the difference between our celebrations being that I fully intended not getting drunk! I think I achieved mine. Luis? It was also an opportunity to catch up with Tracy, whom I had not seen since celebrating her 40th 10 years ago.

On to Grantham where another barbecue was planned as an informal celebration of my impending half century. Typically it wasn't quite nice enough to be able to be outside but a good time was still had by all including almost all the immediate family. Cajoled into opening presents a full two days early, I was genuinely thrilled to be give a gorgeous notebook computer by my nearest and dearest as well as a host of other thoughtful gifts from friends.

The big event was Imogen's christening. Sunshine and smiles all the way even when two rather exuberant youngsters discovered the delights of plunging their fingers into the christening cake. Luckily I had already taken a picture for posterity and in any case sister Michelle is the epitome of calm and outwardly at least unafflicted by stress. Max and the other godparents carried out their duties admirably. Mim was duly dunked in warmed water (!) and made not an iota of fuss. The funniest moment of the day has to be when nephew Will-yum (according to his Facebook entry), 19, did a great back flip on the bouncy castle but then slipped off in a pleasingly comedic moment.

L day too dawned hot and sunny. Breakfasted we togged up and went for another run - who'd have thought - and then off to the Fox and Hounds in Old Somerby for a birthday lunch and a cake!

We shopped till we dropped vacuuming up goodies galore in Grantham's many bargain shops the next day. Indeed we spent some six hours indulging in retail therapy and were concerned that it might not all fit in the capacious boot. A couple of glasses of wine later feeling refreshed and relaxed, we decided to extend our stay by a day as the extra cost was less than a cinema outing for the four of us. Thus we had a restful Wednesday and an easy drive back down the A1, A14, M11 M25 and M2. Even Renée was at ease with the ferry as the Channel was millpond-like and the setting sun bathed us all the way to Dunkirk. Easy? Peasy.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Semi Marathon: Half Century

Despite not feeling, nor looking, I'm told, my age, there is one area in which I have started to feel every year of my impending 50 years: my knees.  No cause for alarm as I shall shortly be dosing up with a cocktail of supplements that, whether they work or not, could build a physical barrier as effective as the one across the Thames. I've already sent away for a combined glucosamine/chondroitin supplement. Whilst the former sounds slightly familiar, the latter rings not the faintest bell. Add to this a fish oil capsule high in EPAand DHA and I'm also contemplating turmeric as a natural ayurvedic and in the interim have been liberally sprinkling our food so that everything we eat is a shade of yellow.

Some might think I have hit the andropause and this is my personal equivalent of the buzzy sports car for two ('cept my preference would be for one of those cutesy Fiat 500s) or a motorbike (never) but, if anything, it is the opposite. Out of the doldrums of recent years has appeared a more serene yet positive period of reflection and intraspection. Running is a challenge that is achievable by many,  and running in a public race and finishing it, is an attainable target when many of us reach a milestone in our lives and start to ask ourselves whether that life so far has been sufficiently punctuated by success and achievement.

I re-caught the bug vicariously. We were in Paris to cheer on our intrepid friend, Tiff, who was running in the city's annual marathon partly as a celebration of another decade turning birthday. Unlike us, Tiff is an experienced runner with a number of marathons and half marathons under her belt. Paris was a-buzz with marathon fever when we visited the free exhibition where everything "running" was available in every shape and size and designer label. The runners seemed like mini celebrities gearing up for their moment of glory ie crossing that finishing line.  It was Max who latched on the idea first and, as usual, sprinted ahead in his head to doing a tour of the world in marathons and half marathons well before even a kilometre had been run.

That aside,  we dashed from vantage point to vantage point and managed to wave enthusiastically to Tiff and Laura as they pounded along the boulevards of Paris. From a position on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne we approximated a power walk towards the nearest Métro station in order to be near the finishing line in time to see them complete those 42.2km. It was only the next day that I realised I had done something painful to a tendon and that I could barely walk. Of course, it made it more interesting to tell people that I had incurred my injury at the Paris Marathon!

Afterwards the seed was sown in the fertile soil of post marathon spectating enthusiasm. Tiff and Laura's entourage wanted in. And what a brilliant idea it would be for all of us to sign up for the Lille half marathon?

Still not completely decided, and suffering in the ankle region,  I found myself feeling strangely annoyed and not being able to do my usual Wii runs in front of the television. Max went into overdrive, not so much on any running course but on the technology, and soon he had resurrected his heart monitor - a slim "bra"-like strap which fits aroundthe chest and then transmits his heart-rate to a watch thing on his wrist. Add to this the new-found running GPS app on his iPhone and a bag full of energy bars and strange drinks and he was good to go.  With me.

There I am in my ancient baggy shorts, retrieved from the gardening bag poloshirt and not the latest but the ones before last running shoes. My only concession so far to this new venture has been to buy a three pair pack of "trendy" black half socks. Of course I benefit from Max's technology.

Our preferred run is around Lac du Héron a ten minute drive from us and, in many ways, this has been the real impetus behind the renewed interest as it is just so lovely and peaceful running along with all that nature around you. The only annoyance is the cyclists who all flagrantly ignore the "no bikes" rule in the conservation area. Still, this is France. Also the pathways are not fully metaled and so are kinder to the joints no matter how efficacious my supplements are.

We are now both officially signed up for the Lille Semi Marathon on 4th September. An annual event celebrating its 25th year this year, it forms part of the events for La Braderie ,  perhaps the largest temporary fleamarket in France.

I am more concerned about my knees than running out of breath. We're aiming for a regime of one long run a week plus two shorter ones and some cross training eg Friday we did a brisk walk for an hour and yesterday we cycled for an hour and a quarter. On Sunday I probably overdid it with a 14km run that didn't feel much of a strain but I've been feeling nauseous since and have established it is probably hyperacidosis.  Need to be sure I have sufficient fuel on board for the longer runs and to be stricter with ensuring I get sufficient liquid intake. 

If anyone had asked me a year ago about a half marathon I would have more readily thought of sharing their Snickers, now I am approaching taking part in one with a mixture of incomprehension and excitement.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Back to the 60s

I like vintage and classic and retro and all that jazz, and yet when it comes to the latest craze to sweep France I cannot but get a little self-righteous and appalled.  I write, as some may have already guessed, of Tupperware.  Hands up who thought the plastic range of the sixties and seventies had been long consigned to the past and the deepest depths of the cupboard? I can report that, amazingly, it features very much in the present and is doing well, at least in the north of France, where it appears to be re-inventing itself as a must-have life style product if the Boden-like catalogue is anything to go by.  Indeed you might even say that "il fait un carton", which means it's doing really well but,confusingly translates as "it's making a cardboard box".

The Tupperware "rep" is now called a Culinary Advisor and as our expert lives next door but one to Max's parents (the Bopes) they became the first ones to organise a Culinary Know-How Workshop, which I managed to avoid as I was away in London. It just didn't seem to be the kind of activity to be indulging in in 2010. Not yet post ironic, too kitch for iconic, there just didn't seem to be any acceptable excuses to be linked in anyway with old plastic.  For heaven's sake we've invented Lakeland for all that!  The second we felt obliged to attend as it was being held at "les oncles" and we wanted to be there for them and to up their points count so that they could avail themselves of something even more expensive from the formidably priced catalogue.

I can only blame Max for the third as he actually volunteered. Yes, he signed up for his very own Tupperware party.  Admittedly our party organiser was laying on the heavy psychology to those who demurred with "so didn't you enjoy yourself this afternoon?" I secretly hurrahed the woman who didn't give in.  After much soul searching I offered my support to Max's event, but only as a behind the scenes factotum and as long as I didn't have to sit through a second réunion

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Tupperware.  It is about as attractive as plastic can be and comes in a range of different colours, indeed it isn't even all plastic.  It does what it is supposed to do and looks OK.  So where's the rub? In one word: the price.  It is extortionately expensive.  One example: the mini muffins silicon baking mould cost 29,99€ from Tupperware.  Auchan had one on sale for 8€ reduced to 5€ recently and even the top of the range designer branded one in Printemps would have set us back a mere 20€. The latest gadget is designed to steam in your microwave and is priced at 150€.

It isn't as if we cannot buy plastic containers and implements effortlessly on our stroll around our local supermarket these days and at very competitive prices too.  Why encourage the production of even more plastic that will be around for much longer than any of us currently populating this planet will be?

The plastic takes a back seat during the "party" as the cooking workshop takes top billing. For this is how plastic boxes and kitchen implements are marketed these days: cookery demonstrations using Tupperware products. That's really what I don't get viz the recipes are easy enough to follow, the ingredients easy enough to source, the results tasty enough BUT what has that got to do with Tupperware?

So, to avoid finding myself quivering with indignation I relegated myself to the kitchen and prepared to skivvy behind the scenes. Whilst I recreated the role of Edith Piaf in "Les Amants D'Un Jour"  ie Moi j'essuie le verres, au fond du café, j'ai bien trop à faire pour pouvoir rêver... washer upper or plongeur and oven temperature and time checker, the action started. The Bopes and the Uncles, there to make up numbers at the "safe"" end of the sitting room, and, at the sharp end,  two neighbours and four people from Max's workplace completely unaware they were about to be Tupper-mugged.
First recette of the workshop are "croissants". The filling of choice: bits of saucisse de Strasbourg or hot dogs to you and me.   This is, to date, my least favourite product of all: the "Croissants Party". This useless device is seemingly unavailable in the UK perhaps because it's use is predicated on the availability of pastry ready rolled into a circle as is most such pastry in France.

This is what you do. Thanks Raymondo (if you are old enough to get that reference...). You place the round of pastry on Croissants Party choosing either the 16 or the 8 croissants side - goodness you can turn it over! Press down preferably using the Tupperware pastry roller. Choose a filling either savoury or sweet and place on the individual triangles thus created. Ease the pastry away from the template rolling from the outside in. Voilà, croissants! Nice try. Firstly they are not croissants but croissant shaped bits of shop bought pastry, secondly 16 mini pretend croissants doesn't by any stretch of the imagination constitute a party, thirdly why not just use a knife and cut the pastry yourself since it is usefully backed by non stick paper, finally why pay 30€ for a useless piece of plastic?  Here's Suzanne "having du fun"  with the Croissants Party.   
Sausage "croissant" isn't really my thing so I passed on those but the plate did come back empty and everyone oohed and aahed over the possiblilty of making your very own croissants chez soi. The fact that they were mini made them even more attractive mini being de rigueur. Hello?

I have to admit that the almond financiers were great though at 29,99€ a pop for the silicon mould one would have to use it with alarming frequency to ever have a chance of getting one's money back.

Then a cream dessert Tupper-whipped in a hand driven little whippersnapper thing that costs an arm and a jambe and is, I know this, difficult to wash and dry. Thus whisked cream was chilled then sprinkled with speculoos biscuit crumbs, achieved by means of another Tupper gadget that was equally difficult to clean and dry.  I didn't fancy all that cream.

I think the tomatoes and cheese were Tupper-chopped for the tarte aux tomates et au fromage though a non Tupperware implement such as a "knife" would surely have done equally as well.  I shouldn't carp too much though as this later became our supper starter to which I invited les Oncles.  It was tasty enough.  Then the pièce de résistance the plat principal, a version of the potato dish that normally contains lardons. Tartiflette Irlandaise replaced the bacon with smoked salmon. I should have taken the copyright out on this five years ago or more as, not being a meat eater, I "invented" this dish. Yes, it was me. So the potatoes were similarly chopped I believe but since I was still Piaffing au fond du café I cannot vouch for that.  I do know that the 3 litre plastic casserole (and lid) retails for over 100€. Ouch!  No I didn't burn myself too badly as I extricated it from the over.

Somehow, a bit like going to see the recording of a TV comedy programme, Tupperware party folk find themselves enthusing rather too much about the products as if they were ground breaking scientific achievements. Dazzled by the array of different colours, the gimickry and le fun they find themselves wondering not only how they can possibly carry on without claiming something from the extensive catalogue for their own but also wondering how on earth they managed without for so long.  Soon order forms are being feverishly completed, and dates are being finalised for their very own glee club experience.

For my part I felt ridden with guilt that people we know had been hoodwinked into buying stuff they could have bought for a fraction of the price. Max promised his host gift, a salad spinner (47,99€) to our widowed neighbour whose much diminished pension had been signed away, and looks forward to the "crystal" Tupperware salad bowl and servers he earned from the party. Still, we enjoyed the results that evening and, having been persuaded to fill in an order form, though not order anything, I am looking forward to my reward for "attending" ie a small but perfectly formed Tupperware container.  Plastic, fantastic?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Music, Musique, Muzak

Uff!   We watched the marathon of some four hours that is Les Victoires de La Musique on Saturday evening or rather, feeling more like a victime de la musique,  I gave in and went to bed 90 minutes before it dragged itself to an end. The clues were there of course: the word for prize and price in French is the same ie prix,  and in French those on whom the lauréats  are bestowed are récompensé  which is much too close to  compensated to be a mere coincidence.

Everybody and his mother was thanked and congratulated and there were homages to Michael Jackson by a rather amateur sounding combo and one, inevitably to the inimitable, though much imitated. Charles Aznavour.  Stevie Wonder produced his own homage and crammed in more songs and speechifying than everyone else combined, at least so it seemed. He had earlier been récompensé  with a gong from Fred Mitterand, the French Culture Minister, and was in ebullient mood. I imagined I'd not see his dubious hairstyle anywhere else but on the back of the Wonder head but, during an episodic flashback to previous winners over the last 25 years - for we were also paying hommage to the silver anniversary of the awards themselves -  I espied the exact same, or should that be the exact mane, on the member of a winning group in the early 1990s. For early 1990s style France read late 1970s UK.

There were some obvious winners ie not because their musical output was necessarily head and shoulder above the rest but because they were "originale" which , I suppose, is not a bad thing. Thus Olivia Ruiz won various awards for her increasingly less accessible quirkiness, and Benjamin Biolay won an award or two for being dark and brooding, I believe.  As for the rest, I was lost in a sea of names I had never heard and sounds that didn't really impress or perhaps just confused since I am perhaps not of the generation at which they were aimed?  I have, at last,  now heard of Pony Pony Run Run, Birdy Nam Nam, and Coeur de Pirate (a canadienne with little girl breathy voice at the piano).

Now I really thought I might like Yodelice, who, at least,  has the courage to remain in the singular. Sadly the song he chose for the evening's celebrations wasn't all that. I suppose I was put off from the start hearing it was entitled "Sunday Morning with A Flu" and wondering whether he meant in front of a roaring fire, but it lacked an e so it just evidenced that he had not fully profited from his time in the UK. Anyway the song aspired to, but completely failed to be one of those profound but simple works which somehow transcend their simplicity to become more than just the carefully chosen and meaningful words. 

No awards ceremony is complete in France without honouring Johnny Hallyday who managed to swipe the Tour of the Year award although his is incomplete.  Perhaps he'll get another or bigger one if and when he recovers from his recent overly mediatised poor health, to finish what appears to have started so well. Let's face it, he would have got it however the tour went and if not they would've invented a new honorary award. 

I was later informed that the aforementioned Coeur de Pirate had lisped her way to the song of the year with Comme des Enfants.  To be honest that was the only category I had any strong feelings about, having preferred, by a long mile, Calogero's  C'est Dit.

I gave up watching the Brits some years ago thinking it to be much less than the bluster and hyperbole which precedes it. However, the Victoires appear to have managed to incorporate all that hot air into one never-ending programme, which not only celebrated a quarter of a century but felt as if it lasted as long.  

French music TV ain't all bad though and I am looking forward to seeing the televised concert of Les Enfoirés on Friday evening.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Halal- ujah.

Spotlight on the Nord!   We don't get mentioned much in the news but when we are noticed it is invariably for something ridiculous and often plain stupid.  Comment nous sommes bêtes, nous les ch'tis!

I don't really believe that people have fallen for what is so evidently a political ruse, a way of getting faces into the media spotlight in the run up to the regional elections next month.  But the media is running with it.

The central Roubaix branch of Quick, the hamburger/fast food chain, has, since the end of november last year been halal friendly, or to be more accurate, totally halal. All meats served have been prepared in authorised ways and pork products taken off the menu.  Thus one burger - the Quick Burger Strong Bacon,which boasts not only bacon but also "bacon taste", excuse me? -  has been replaced with a burger decked with a slice of smoked turkey.  Have the people of  Roubaix been spared?

The local population and, more importantly, Quick's clientele,  is made up of a large proportion of muslims so this appears, at least on the face of it, to be a sensible commercial decision. And it's not as if, for instance, non muslims are not able to enjoy halal meat too.  Indeed beau père used to stock almost exclusively halal meat at his shop as it was popular and thought to be tastier then the usual dead animal.

Enter Marine Le Penn, who has graced this blog before, and more than likely will again. Candidate for virtually everything one can be a candidate for here in France where the multiple mandat though much derided and much debated for reform, but still exists. She is, of course, prime candidate to succeed the bête noir of French politics, Jean-Marie Le Penn, who so famously made the run off in the presidential election in 2002. More about that elsewhere.

Marine finds that the burger joint's conversion to halal is discriminatory. The socialist mayor of Roubaix - what's French for bandwagon*? -  appears to agree with her and has made an official complaint to the courts. Kerching kerching!  More wasted public money and more opportunities to appear in the media looking indignant. I have scratched my head and searched my brain and yet for all my thinking I cannot for the life of me understand how a fast food outlet (don't make me call it a restaurant)'s menu can be the source (ketchup with that?) of discrimination. Where is choice? Should we have a right to demand fish 'n' chips everywhere we go and would we be right in appealing to the courts when we don't it? Of course not.

Roubaix is in any case well provided for when it comes to le fastfood and the preponderance of non halal establishments far outweighs the meagre halal offering.  Indeed on checking I discover that there are three branches of Quick in Roubaix and only one of those has gone halal. According to yesterday's news the halal branch has seen it's turnover increase by anything up to 30% and the burger bar opposite is almost empty. Of course that's what customers do isn't it: vote with their feet?

This is, as in the UK, simply pre-election silly season. Whilst the UK gets stories of "bully Brown" we get force-fed tales of Quick islamisation, which provides easy sound bites but has nothing to do with discrimination and, although more about choice, the only real lack of choice here is a decent candidate for the regional elections.
This entry was written without harm to any animals and without recourse to eating any animal products.

* for once less interesting than the English it's "prendre le train en marche" - take the moving train.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Everyone likes a Taste of Garlic

Just discovered that Le Log Lillois features on the A Taste of Garlic site.  Thanks to Keith for his glowing review and welcome to any AToG afficionados who find their way to Le Log - Soyez tous la bienvenue.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

From Degas to Dalida

On our way back from Les Puces  in St Ouen - huge and a little overwhelming - we found that we had time to walk through a part of Paris we'd yet to explore: the area behind Montmartre, the bit looking the opposite way to the stunning though Eiffel tower-less panorama from the terrace in front of Sacre Coeur.

How brave were we to leave intramuros behind and to venture beyond the périférique  to take in the assorted bric-a-brac and collectibles in the markets.  I have never seen so many chandeliers nor so many huge ones. You could warm a room with the wattage they'd take to light up completely.

Anyway, back to behind Montmartre and a scruffy little street market where apparent bargains were to be had. We had an uncertain moment not knowing whether to risk overtaking a woman, dragging a shopper trolley, whose profligate sneezing and hawking was uninterrupted by hand nor handkerchief. What if she'd deposited a generous portion of her germs all over us as we ambled past?  Would the hand gel we so liberally used all weekend have offered an adequate defence?

She finally stopped at a stall and we carried on unimpeded by uncertainty and followed a slight incline upwards towards our goal, where others had already found their eventual or unexpected end - the cimitière de Montmartre. I am a complete fan of the ancient and architectural graveyard and have spent many a happy hour in the company of Père Lachaise but, somehow, I'd never either located nor visited his smaller but equally fascinating rival. It seemed almost appropriate a destination given the demise of neighbours on both sides over the last few weeks.

We were immediately fascinated to see that a road bridge - apparently constructed well after the cemetery was inaugurated - effectively bisects the hallowed ground, and wondered whether it would be better to have one's monument beneath the bridge or not. It certainly affords some shelter from the elements.

A helpful information board indicated the whereabout of the more famous residents and we chose a random few to pass an hour or so.  First off the tomb of the songwriter and musician, Michel Berger who died suddenly in 1992 at the age of 44. It was hardly what you would expect for one so feted, so unexpectedly taken, whose life work still regularly punctuates the airwaves and is endlessly reinterpreted: a flat surface with no headstone covered with what looked to be astroturf. 

Degas, the artist, was allocated a longer span getting to 83 when he departed in 1917.  He was born  Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas and was associated with the impressionist movement.

Max is a big fan, or so he says, of Dalida. So off we trundled to a suitably over the top monument including a life-sized statue of this French naturalised Egytian/Italian singer whose life was almost as big as her career but not as enduring, and whose brother continues to live off her ongoing success. Dalida died of an overdose at the age of 54, leaving a note saying her life had become unbearable. Her memorial is, controversially, within a few metres of a public convenience. 

Though we had chosen some, to us, well-known names, it is as interesting coming upon unexpected celebrities of their time and thus we lit upon Miss Bluebell, the dancer and choreographer and Adolphe Sax, the Belgian inventor of the saxophone. We also learned that Emile Zola has been granted access to and so moved to the Panthéon, and that Hector Berlioz was originally in a less conspicious area of the burial ground but now surveys all from a spot overlooking the roundabout near the entrance.

So in death there is life and history and fascination. Max has determined that he will have a monumental sepulchre when his time comes. He tried to persuade me that I should enthuse at this possiblity but I, despite my continuing interest in necropolises, just want my ashes scattered to the wind. Not quite yet though - I still have to visit the cimitières at Montparnasse and Passy.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

No more noix in November

I feel a tad guilty not to have written a blog since the beginning of December. Not that I envisage the hordes in anxious anticipation of the latest pearls to flow from my keyboard - as if! - but because writing gives me pleasure and there is no reason I shouldn't put pen to paper, as it were, more frequently. It is not as if nothing has been happening over the last 6 weeks or so, the opposite in fact, I just haven't managed to sort it all out in my head into an interesting and pithy article.

Dredging back through my near past memory I recall that the before Xmas period wasn't particularly stressful since we weren't doing any of it chez nous. We usually make our way to Grantham for the UK family festivities returning in good time to celebrate Max's birthday, which, usefully if, like me, you are not a fan of the pseudo celebrations with which we see in the New Year, falls on 31st December.

This year, or last year I suppose, I was reminded a couple of days before Xmas that had we done the usual thing, we would without doubt have either been stuck in the Chunnel or at least affected by the chaos in the aftermath. So, for that, thanks be to whoever!

I finally had my sight tested, very thoroughly, on Christmas Eve eve, and, armed with my new prescriptions we made our way directly to the optician's to choose some frames. I use the plural because the opthamologist gave me something of a choice/quandary! He suggested I go for varifocals but didn't insist, advising that it would be an easier transition at this stage than later, then he thought I should try toric contacts again, although they didn't do anything for me two years ago. They are also twice the price of normal lenses! Max had found a good offer at Général Optique where, he thought, we should be able to get something acceptable within the top-up insurance's - mutuelle - annual allowance of just under 300€. However, even the inexpensive frames I chose, after varifocal lenses, lense thinning and various treatments etc came to an eye-watering 789€. I felt faint. Then, miraculously, a wizzard wheeze was worked out. Not only did the allowance increase to 400€ for varifocal lenses, we were also able to split the order into two and spread the cost over 2009 and 2010 ie the total is covered! Now, as I peer through the centre part of my lenses, I have an understanding of why health care is so expensive in the USA: enormous profits for health connected companies. Shameful!

Our yule kicked off on Xmas Eve as is the wont of adult France (and Europe generally methinks), with an excellent repast at the Bopes attended also by Max's uncle with partner and son. Presents were distributed with the aperatif! The only present I need concern anybody reading this with is the rather generous gift Max and I gave ourselves ie a Wii!

As for the meal, it was of many courses but the pièce de résistance was a fabulous choucroute de la mer or, less appealingly in english, seafood sauerkraut. I immediately realise that only half of that was indeed in english but to do a full "translation" would make the dish inedible!!!

Christmas Day in France, can, in my experience, be a little Boxing Day - esque: dull and boring! We were relieved then to have been invited by the aforesaid uncle and partner to eat at theirs. So, having stuffed our faces till gone one in the morning we duly pitched up chez eux at thirteen hundred hours and started all over again. Except we all wimped out! By the time we arrived at the umpteenth amuse-bouche/entrée we all knew that there simply wasn't any more room inside. We urged a strategic freezer review and thus, somehow, made it to the dessert. Then we began all over again with, thank goodness, simpler fare in the evening when some of partner's family came over.


Why would I choose to give my first entry of 2010 a title referring to November? Quite simply because I wanted to give, albeit indirect, hommage to our next-door neighbour, François Wellemane, he of the long distance bike rides, of the allotments, always ready to shake your hand, call you mon pote and to lend you a garden implement. Although seemingly amazingly fit and healthy for someone on the threshold of his eighties, he was taken ill and died within the space of maybe 12 hours on the Monday after Xmas. It was also his wife's birthday. How many vegetables have we been given over the last few years, how many kilos of tomatoes? And, how many sacks of walnuts for, even though he harvested the crop from his allotment, he wasn't keen and neither is Mamie, his now widow. So, down in the cellar, is the last of the noix and we'll just have to buy our own from now on, though given the way they keep it may be a while before they are fully depleted.

In France it seems that the departed are dispatched much more rapidly than I ever knew back in the UK. So, because of New Year in between, the funeral took place on the Saturday morning in a freezing cold church five minutes walk away. There must have been at least 300 people attending. My lasting impressions are that the priest's jeans were clearly visible beneath his cassock and that the service struck me as being more like a travel rep's spiel to sell time shares in paradise. The stained glass windows were modern but glorious. Mamie was supported on both sides where she sagged grey and bewildered as brother in law August's suit. And no-one sang the hymns apart from a woman who appeared to be in charge - maybe she was a deacon? - and another gentleman on one of those electronic organs. It was icily cold.

The Wii was a huge hit. My mother and her partner visited for a week over New Year, and it helped with otherwise embarrassed attempts at English/French/English conversation. Since then of course, Max has acquired an iPhone with Xmas and birthday monies, so he has moved on technologically!

No New Year's resolutions. Don't believe in them. I have arranged to attend a motivational seminar in London in February that I'm attending with two good friends and that can only be positive. We're also in Paris for the weekend at the very end of the month just in time for personally presenting our voeux to Tatie.