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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Next stop Cannes!

I recently acquired a micro camcorder - think iPhone size - and have been merrily filming away but this is the first minor effort at putting footage together and making what the French call a court-métrage. Bit of fun: our day out in Boulogne for 1€ with the TER Nord-Pas-De-Calais.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Has the DSKK hit the fan?

A word of explanation about my slightly cryptic title. The pronunciation of the acronym of Dominique Strauss-Khan's name in French is Day-Ess-Kah. You do the rest!

Easily the biggest media story in France over the past couple of months has been about the former head of  the International Monetary Fund and his alleged behaviour in New York and, before that, in Paris. It is probably fair to say that in the main he has been fairly treated both in the press and on the television as the French, at least in public, have an almost unswayable respect for the political classes. Except perhaps for a certain Monsieur Sarkozy and even then they go to pains to separate their comments out making clear that anything less than deferential is aimed at the man and not the revered post which he currently holds.

Speculation has been rife about if, when and how DSK can return to frontline politics with opinions varying from claims he has a mental illness (sex addiction) to the potential loss of a "brilliant economic brain". Certainly it seems increasingly unlikely that he will play any major part in the socialists' primary contest to choose their candidate for the presidential elections next year although he was previously seen as the best person for the job, and, if polls are to be believed, would have had a strong chance of taking over at the Elysée Palace. The two, or three depending on your allegiance, remaining frontrunners are all very careful to keep him in the fold yet at a certain distance. Even though the headlines at the weekend were about how DSK had been "blanchi" there is a definite feeling that he is nowhere near whiter than white and that there are now substantial stains on his character whether or not he is ever found guilty in a court. I so wanted there to be a french verb for "bleached" as that seemed more appropriate but they only have "blanchi" so I am offering "blanchi à Javel"!

Interestingly he has been an astute cultural player humbly apologising to the IMF for the embarrassment that the case has caused and yet, at least so far, not making any such gesture in France. Apparently to do so would, in French eyes, be tantamount to a confession. Whilst being a "player" is not necessarily detrimental to a politician's career in France, indeed it can boost it unlike the puritanical USA and more recently UK, it has become difficult to ignore his mounting list of indiscretions and their erosion of the trust that he would need to instill in potential voters.

So at this stage of the game the best he can hope for is to lay low until after the presidential elections next May. If he has been a good boy he could still hope for a high profile job in the new president's government. If not then maybe the proverbial fan may suffer some more.

And to finish off a quick update on the latest polls, which show that François Hollande is still favourite to be the socialists' candidate but that both he or Martine Aubry would comfortably beat Nicolas Sarkozy in both the first and second rounds. Only Ségolène Royal, socialist candidate last time, would fail to topple Sarko. The recent surge of support for Marine Penn appears to have ebbed away leaving her in third position again.

More to come over the next 9 months!

Un gros p'tit déj

There is something very pleasing about introducing people to aspects of your own culture, especially when it is something of your own culinary heritage. Last saturday we were again running in the Lille Half Marathon and I needed to decide on a meal that would make up for the half portion of plain porridge we had eaten around seven o'clock but would be served more towards lunchtime than breakfast. We had already "done" the idea of brunch last year with a rather tasty kedgeree, and in any case this is fairly well established as an occasional event in France. It suddenly occurred to me that we should be offering our guests that well-loved roadside café/restaurant favourite: the All Day Breakfast. And that is what we did.

Of course the concept of this feast would have been lost on the Bopes and Les Oncles without a little explanation which they were given plus the renaming to "Le Gros P'tit Déj" which really sums up what it is all about ie a familiar favourite given higher billing on the menu.

At this juncture I feel I should report our results in the previously mentioned run given that both of us beat our times from last year. Max was not on top form, probably down to not being properly hydrated, and so we decided about two thirds of the way in to run separately. It was rather warm too, a good 6 or 7C hotter than last year at the end and already so at the start. Nevertheless, the training paid off and I clocked an actual time of 1 hour, 56 minutes and small change. Strangely it didn't feel as big an achievement as crossing the line together last year but it felt good all the same. 

So back at Château Newman-Legros much of the preparation had been done by Papa who had stayed behind with his bad leg. The weather at this point permitted al fresco all day breakfasting and he had already installed the parasol and arranged chairs and cushions.  So what was on the menu? My trusty courgette and cheese (Cheddar) scrambled egg provided the main dish along with Toulouse sausage for the carnivores, plus ham, smoked salmon, baked beans, mushrooms, toast, jam and Marmite and waffles. The love it or hate it spread did what it says on the lid ie divided the table though I hope that doesn't mean having to add it to the ever expanding list of British goodies we have to bring back every time we visit the UK. 

Coffee and tea were initially forsaken in favour of rosé wine given the time and the weather, and helped to extend our meal to around three hours around the table. It remains only to say that Le Gros P'tit Déj was a gros succès. To be repeated next year?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How do we solve a problem like Marine?

Very little makes me want to sit right down and vent my spleen: mostly I prefer to mull something over and give it due consideration. However, this afternoon the French parliament is voting on gay marriage, a debate raised by the Parti Socialiste that will almost inevitably not pass as the right wing government has the majority and they are not minded to bring France in line with many other countries in the developed world. Indeed France still considers itself to be a Catholic nation and the right wing parties tend to be the ones who like to be seen to uphold Catholic values.

Now that makes me a tad annoyed and a tad sad. France was one of the first nations in Europe to enact laws enabling same sex couples to be recognised legally with the PACS, but this contract between two people whatever their gender, gives very diluted rights and obligations and is nowhere near to being equal to marriage or civil partnership.  Meanwhile countries such as the UK have brought in equal rights for gay couples and the discussion has now moved on to whether same sex couples should be able to (civil) marry albeit that is the shorthand that many use to describe their civil partnership just as they use husband and wife as terms to describe themselves. The argument for marriage in church is something else again and is not an area for government diktat. I believe that sometimes there is a confusion in people's minds as often civil and religious weddings take place in the same place ie in the church with the register signed there too.

So in France, where if people wed in church they also have to take part in a civil ceremony at the Mairie, just as they do in other countries, you might be forgiven for thinking that it would be easier to separate the two and to allow civil weddings for all.  Mais non! Not whilst there are politicians defending only heterosexual rights. And now Marine Le Pen, the glamorous leader of the French National Front,  has waded in with her jaded and hackneyed declaration that if we allow gay marriage then why not polygamy too?  Perhaps in private she alludes to people marrying their pets? I do hope she is not defending the sanctity of marriage since she has allowed herself to be married and divorced twice already and at the age of 43 has plenty of time left in which to repeat her commitment to this holy institution.

I looked up "Catholic" and saw that the capitalised word pertains to one church as in the Catholic church being the one true church ie exclusive whereas "catholic" lower case adjective has almost entirely the opposite meaning ie

1.universal; relating to all men; all-inclusive
2.comprehensive in interests, tastes, etc; broad-minded; liberal

Such a pity then that the debate this afternoon won't be lower case.

Ms Le Pen is a problem that is not going to go away soon  cf Sarah Palin, but at least she is starting to put her true cards on the table and her catholic appeal may well diminish as her Catholic tendencies become clearer.

PS - fingers crossed the Parti Socialiste will indeed sweep the board next year in which case there is a chance for this attempt at equality.

Rant over.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cherry picking

Salut mes petits lecteurs très chéris! I've just had it pointed out to me that this has been a dormant space for a few months. Anyone would think I had nothing to say though Stuart would know that not to be the case as I seem to be able to respond almost fluently to some of the interesting propositions and ideas he posts on Facebook. It's debate you see.

Summer came early here in le Nord and we were veritably basking in it during April. It was at that time that we made the acquaintance of a temporary lodger, here in Lille working on the production of Verdi's Macbeth at the Opéra de Lille. It made a very pleasant change to have another english speaker - or is that English speaker or even English english speaker? - around. Disappointingly, we didn't after all get to see the opera performed, especially since it had some positive reviews, but we do have a rather lovely mini fig tree kindly given to us by Geof, as in it is small but bearing already one rather large and ripening fruit and a number of more recent much smaller but future large fruit, we hope.

I spent three weeks in the good old U of K from the end of April because, not surprisingly, the cost of renewing my passport in France ie via the Embassy in Paris, was twice the cost of having it done whilst within the realm itself. So I took full advantage and, basing myself in Grantham where the majority of my immediate family reside, I also arranged subtrips to Penshaw and Leeds. And yes, I was there for wedding. Yes it was a beautifully staged event. Yes I was exceedingly bored by the media hoopla and all the fawning and scraping. I'm not sure which I like least out of the UK or the French or indeed the Stateside take on society though "she was born to be a princess" strikes me quite simply as garabage. 'Scuse my 'Merican.

Which brings me to Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The DSK affair. The whole "affair"within l'hexagone is a succinct illustration of how the French tend to treat their great and good, their "movers and shakers" ie with an inexplicable and automatic deference. Add in their attitude to extra marital liaisons et voilà: everyone is very discreet. One gets the feeling that such public figures are somehow different to the rest of us and that their peccadilloes are a totally acceptable and logical part of being who they are. That's not to say that DSK is automatically guilty as charged in the States where the biggest crime would often appear to be shameless hypocrisy: one only has to look at a presidential campaign to realise that a potential winner is required to be almost pure, certainly god-fearing and, never to have issued a cuss let alone a profanity nor have been with three leagues of a joint.

Aha! Another ripened fruit: Eurovision. What on earth were the French selectors thinking when they chose the semi operatic number, something Corsican I believe? Yes, Nolwenn Leroy has " made a cardboard box" as they weirdly say for someone who has had a success, with her latest CD of reinterpreted songs from Brittany but you need to be of slovakian origins to get the douze points in the song contest. When will they learn? In any case can anyone even remember who did win? It was only a month ago!

So last week I macheted my way through the semi jungle that is le jardin Newman-Legros and have reconstituted something approaching an ancient forest, in which we discovered for the very first time two, not one but two, plum trees. We've only been here five summers! It's not as if the trees are small either, though toppled sideways under the weight of the foliage and the fruit, one must be about 5m tall.

Three visits viz including friends and the world's biggest chihuahua and fairly regular use of the magic carpet running machine, and a CV. I read only today that actually having Curriculum Vitae or its abbreviated form heading up said document is outdated. I shall delete the offending letters before proffering this latest oeuvre to the wider world.

That's us just about all caught up, phew! In the meantime I've been picking cherries and to say that this blog was rather all over the place and unstructured might be said to be doing the same. Ha!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Muscles Marine-ière

Just when everything was looking politically cosy, the latest, not unchallenged, opinion poll comes up with a result that has everyone talking, though most of it, it must be said, hyperbole. The recently elected head of the far right Front National party, Marine Le Pen, scored 23% ahead of potential candidates for both the UMP (Conservative) party, incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Parti Socialiste (Labour), Lille mayor, Martine Aubry, who both scored 21%.

Marine Le Pen is the  daughter of the outgoing bête grise of french politics, octagenarian Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose peak performance was to knock out the socialist presidential candidate in the first round way back in 2002.

A lot of hot air has been wasted declaring this to be the beginning of a new revolution in french politics and how Madame Le Pen is assured a place in the second round of the presidential election next year. Papa scraped into the second round only because the socialists performance was so dire and their candidate, Lionel Jospin appeared to take for granted a run off against the incumbent Jacque Chirac. In the second round the Front National added less than one percent to their score and were trounced by a resurgent support from an electorate that had woken up from its disinterested torpor and realised that they needed to prevent an extreme candidate from taking the keys to the Elysée Palace. The contest reads rather differently having passed into french folklore and it is often forgotten that there was never really any danger of a Le Pen victory apart from in media terms.

So why does this early poll indicate such a wave of support for the Front National: it can only be because of its new leader. Marine Le Pen is younger than any of the main parties' potential candidates, let us not forget that we don't have any official candidates,  and will be only 43 come the election. She is attractive, clever, a lawyer by profession just like Sarkozy, and had been steadily building up her image as someone who understands what the French people want, and, with it, her own support. Some say that appearances do deceive as, despite the softer look and approach, under her leadership that policies are, if anything, more rigidly far right wing.
I believe it is sensible to discount an outright victory for Le Pen next year, though possibly she may get into the second round and with it receive the kind of exposure that money cannot buy. More likely though this apparent lead will galvanise both the main parties into doing at very least just enough to bring their own back into their respective folds.  Or it should.  Sarkozy has found himself just about maintaining the support of his own party sympathisers and is thoroughly and widely disliked if not completely reviled, though the UMP have no other choice but to go with his candidature should he stand again. It is unlikely, given his ego, that he would forgo that right. The PS are still shilly shallying about their candidate opting to wait until this autumn to decide. Their previous candidate, Ségolène Royal has thrown her hat once more into the ring but is unlikely to be chosen again. The leading contenders are Martine Aubry, safe pair of hands on the wheel uncharismatic but Angela Merkel-like president of the PS, and the current president of the International Monetary Fund, Dominic Strauss-Kahn. He is at least more of a personality but also a philanderer by all accounts and he has been away from mainstream french politics for perhaps too long. Other polls have shown DSK, as he is known, beating Sarkozy soundly and Aubry winning against Sarko too though by a smaller margin. Those polls hadn't taken into account a possible FN presence in the second round.

Whoever the candidates are they will, again, have to square the circle which is that the French crave change for their country but are not willing to change themselves.  Marine Le Pen is perhaps most aware of this and most willing to make changes. Not changes that would become a modern european state in the 21st century perhaps. Until the other parties start talking meaningful change and strong leadership then they may find themselves elbowed out by the FN muscles Marine-ière.

PS as in post scriptum not Parti Socialiste!  A further opinion poll appeared to show Le Pen in a similar lead but both have been discredited to an extent for having paid the respondees. A generally well considered poll published today (10 March) has the Front National leader back in a respectable third place ie not through to the second round. Whichever way the cake is sliced the socialists currently look well placed to trounce Petit Nicolas.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

aPart - New Year's resolve

How times flies even when you are not really enjoying yourself and yet much has occurred since last I properly put together a few words for the enjoyment of, I suspect, merely a handful, of readers and, yes, tomorrow would mark a gap of four months. Not that I have been débordé  exactly but the motivation to add another volume has been missing.
Was it really three months ago that we were, again, enjoying the sunshine of Anfi del Mar courtesy once more of our lovely generous friends C&C, currently sailing around the world on the good ship Arcadia? Yes indeed it was and I can hardly imagine that we even took running gear and ran almost every other day for at least half an hour and, memorably, along the beach from Maspalomas once at sundown and once as the sun was reascending following its sejourn on the other side of the globe. Since then the opportunity for running has diminished given the lack of daylight, Max's work commitments and general malaise/malady. So the newest toy in the Newman-Legros household is a running machine (the term "treadmill" had rather negative connotations) followed swiftly by a device that can convert a normal bike into a fixed gym machine. Have yet to install the latter but have eased myself slowly into the former whilst the rain drilled down outside.

After our flight to the sun we had a gorgeous weekend with our friends the 3Ds in Civray, they are almost the 4Ds these days if you count Dog though dog's name is Willow. They are over in France "giving it a go" hoping that they can make la vie française  work for them. And if anyone deserves to find, if not fortune, then, a successful life in the calm of rural France, they do. Though a job as a goatherd did not come off that must be because something else is around the corner.

Visit number nine (?) from the ever welcome, Janet, who treated us to tickets to see Nouvelle Star winner  and now big recording artist in his own right, Christof Willem. He gave a fantastic concert at the new Casino and we'll be looking for his latest CD in les soldes that started yesterday. Amazing how times and circumstances change: twenty years ago I would have just gone out and bought the CD, these days I feel almost geriatric for a) awaiting the sales, b) not downloading it.

Then gloriously a first visit from dear Rani. It had taken a while to entice her over but our three days were a whirlwind of introductions to and catching up with. Hoping that she will feel the urge to come over again soon. We took in the La Route de la Soie  exhibition on loan from the Saatchi Gallery which seemed an appropriate thing to do given Rani's line of work as a rights advocate in the developing world.

November saw the celebration of Tatie's 70th birthday with a dinner at La Maison Rouge in Noeux les Mines not far from the Bopes'. It's a surprisingly upmarket hotel for a town whose roots in mining have cost it dear over the last quarter century. The food was nice though owed a little too much to nouvelle cuisine: the accompanying vegetables to my fish were légumes oubliés , in other words the kinds of root vegetables that have lost favour, though still pack a punch flavour-wise,  such as parsnip, rutabaga (swede I think ?), and Jerusalem artichoke (OK not strictly speaking a root), which were, rather pretentiously served in a liquid purée form in a glass mug. 'Nuf said.

Another first visit, albeit less than 24 hours, from Mr Marshall making the most of his route back from Winterberg in my home state of  Nordrhein-Westfalen, in Germany. Danke schön lieber Freund. We adored your presence.

Then all that snow. Well, not exactly, as we only had a couple of cms in Lille but, boy, was it cold! Feel-like night temperatures were in free-fall down to -17C.

Two weeks back in the UK first to celebrate another 70th, this time Toper of C&C - do all our couple friends have the same initial? - up where the worst of the weather had left the ground still covered with the white stuff. Our visit was an added bonus since we had intended leaving for the UK and going direct to Grantham on 21st and yet we were blessed indeed having made the change to our travel arrangements since the weather on the original date was such that Eurostar was in major disarray and the East Coast line ground to a halt. The angels were certainly looking after us as we were safely ensconced in Grantham by then.

Christmas visits always fly past and this was no exception. Highlights include taking Jude and Savannah to see the Rocket the Reindeer Experience and finally capitulating to a cocktail of lurgies we had been exposing ourselves to. Recovery took time and may take till spring to be fully realised.

Back in Lille on 30th December with an extended Réveillon to organise. Tatie and Henri were checked into the five star and very interesting L'Hermitage Gantois, an old convent. They were less impressed with the food that evening as it was not only poorly cooked but hugely overpriced. Luckily then they only had to endure breakfasts thereafter as they were being fed here at table hôtes Hellemmes.  Despite feeling like death warmed in the microwave we both soldiered on and allowed ourselves to collapse on the Sunday afternoon when everyone had departed. A quick taster of the menus: scallop risotto, Moroccan Spiced Pie and Heston Blumenthal's Hidden Orange Christmas pudding. Remerciements  to the wonderful Lidl for their truly spendid individual mise en bouches that we enjoyed both as the clock chimed 2011 and pre big New Year meal at lunch time on 1st.

Oh yes, it was Max's birthday on New Year's Eve too. It usually is.

So, 2011. A veritable tsunami of enthusiasm washed over me earlier in the week, that just as quickly dissipated and today a clarity of thought on next steps that I am hoping will stay with me.  The water metaphor is appropriate given its life sustaining and renewing qualities, but this week has also been one of worry for those in Brisbane, especially Polly and her family. I believe them to be safe and sound having perused the internet extensively and been reassured that their suburb would not be overly affected.  And C&C are all at sea too, so water is very much part of my ongoing and everyday thoughts.

Too long apart  from what is going on around me I need to become more a part of it again. As they say in that rather clichéd way: watch this space!

Photos and corrections to follow...