Oh what joy it is to be home, if only for a few days. My tanks are filling with that long shadow/warm sun mellow ecstasy which still lives on this far south. We arrived back in France to find that a friend was moving house today. The affair had been in the wind for a while and suddenly the dam of expectation broke, the lawyers dipped their quills and the peasant mob moved in to finish the job. It’s only when you live in France that you realise just how anal the Anglo Saxons are about everything. Here, one day things will unfold. No one knows which day but everyone lives and hopes. By the time it happens there are dozens of people who share the expectation. When the time comes, everyone moves into gear and somehow everything is achieved. No one is allotted any duty and no one is in charge. In rural France most people have vans. Those who do not have vans have trailers. This obviates the need for any furniture removal businesses. In fact, when you think about it, most of the services we think we need and have to pay for only exist because folk don’t know one another. Gilles gave a hand rebuilding beds and I suggested that I cook dinner since there would be plenty else going on. Sometimes things go wrong…….
At about 1 o’clock I was about to put a chicken casserole in the oven to cook slowly for a few hours. The guests appeared at the door. Yes – you spotted the problem. They had come for lunch, thinking that when an English person says dinner, they mean lunch – because everyone knows that the English get it wrong. Accordingly they had double guessed my supposed error. I had single guessed that they knew I did not make that error. Look – this is no problem. You take some tagliatelle, a tin of Spam, a jar of Dolmio pasta sauce, a tin of chopped tomatoes, some garlic, some Parmigiana cheese and a baguette. In 15 minutes a dish of Spamastia Fantasia a l’Anglaise was served. Very few people have served Spam to the French. The meal disappeared and plates were cleaned with bread. I kinda felt that my life had not been in vain.
Later, I took a ride on my bike. There is a field nearby still filled with wild flowers. These days I can no longer do poetry. Life has kicked it out of me and the jingle jangle of road traffic, commercial pop radio, hair dryers, mobile phones, work schedules and world noise blunts me down to a stub. It does this to all of us and we call it getting by and survival. Writing Romance is a different state of mind. It is about escape. You have to see that from which you wish to escape. So, I went to the field of flowers. The sky was a perfect blue and the heavens a dome of azure over my head. Under that same dome all things lived in the only ways they could. A hawk hovered, a mouse scurried and the flowers ….well, the flowers simply blew in the wind as the world turned and the vacuums drew in the pressures and the strong sowed the seeds of their failure in the defeat of the currently weak. And when all the hour glasses are turned again and all the cards are shuffled, the flowers will blow in the wind. I took a short video which is a kind of a poem. It says nothing but itself.
Emma thinx: Make a deal with time while you can still negotiate.
The boy done good! Mark Cavendish won the World road race cycling championship with a fantastic sprint. He is always the first to acknowledge his team who pull him in their collective slipstreams to the finish. I wonder how they feel having exhausted themselves to see one man take the plaudits. Very often I hear of people who have climbed Everest. In the old days you used to get a knighthood or at least some imperial gong. Sadly there are now so many Everestians that you might get a column filler photo slot in your local free newspaper and a free pack of budget sausages from a smiling local shopkeeper. Anyway, my point is that there are hundreds of porters and sherpas who seem to do most of the work. Sherpa Tenzing who climbed with SIR Edmund Hilary was himself named by time Magazine as one of the most influential men of the 20th Century. Since then I’m afraid the poor old guides and labourers have fallen back into the shadows. In the case of the cycling I think all those rouleurs who bash out the miles protecting their sprinters should be known as sherpas. In fact I hereby declare the Emma Calin Sherpa knighthood is awarded to the Sherpas: Wiggins, Froome, Stannard, Thomas, Cummings, Hunt and Millar. They are entitled to a free copy of “Knockout” and of course may use the title for the rest of their lives. Arise Sherpas.
How do you feel about deep fat fryers? Do you think that they are an abomination? Do you have one in your kitchen? Are they the last true demarcation of social class? I have 2 view points: 1) They produce delicious food. 2) They should not be allowed in the house.
Last night I cooked dinner for friends. We opened with Breton Duck pâté with asparagus and figs. We moved on to Moules et Frites – that classic dish of France. (Well, Northern France and Belgium). Now, Frites require a deep fat fryer and so it was that Gilles returned from ASDA (That’s Walmart for the rest of the world) with a DFF. (I told him not to say the word in case the neighbourhood watch committee found out what we had. Arriving in the lorry was bad enough). He also got some Maris Piper potatoes which we finely sliced. The whole evening got a bit Gallic with aperos going on far too late. Then under cover of darkness Gilles went to the garage and operated the shameful machine. Les frites were delicieuses. The mussels were huge – about twice the flesh of the French ones although the shells were the same size. Oh by the way we decided to try a local British wine. Now, our French wine in Saintonge is reckoned to be a bit plain. The British stuff was plain awful. It was expensive, snobby and sour. Never again.
Emma thinx: You are what you tweet.
I had cooked too much couscous. Some neighbouring folk were chatting and kids were playing. The air was warm and the sky darkening to allow that visual harvest of stars which is such a joy away from the cities. Here in Charentes regular folk can see the show. In the UK few people live in the countryside and the urban poor are not encouraged to look up – except to the bosses. There was wine to finish from the curry night and we set about the endless task of re-arranging the affairs of men over an impromptu meal of “N’importe quoi pimenté”. In France you can always be sure of a conversation. In the first few moments Capitalism was defeated as were religions and communism. Soon enough we were in the furrows and the SOIL. If ever you find yourself somewhere deep in a French philosophical tangle – get out your spade and turn over some manure. It’s a show stopper. Once you tie your beliefs and actions to the power and thrust of the land you have raised your tricolore and you are marching in step. During the meal the name Pierre Rabhi emerged and I realised that I had never heard of him. He appears to have been and to be still influential in France in the “back to the soil” movement which more critically appears to me to be about getting back to simplicity. He has created the expression “une insurrection des consciences” (revolt of the conscience) against the unsustainable values of our hi-tech world. He’s an interesting guy. I can’t find any interviews etc in English but here is a link to him talking in French.
Everywhere you see those wretched signs proclaiming that “La Rentrée” is upon us. As always in the commercialised world it means that you’re supposed to be buying stuff. The UK equivalent is “Back to School”. All manner of sexy satchels and cutie calculators fill the shops. I just feel so sorry for the kids as the shades of the prison house start to darken their dreams. Even now as an adult the thought of the classroom and its cruelties evokes the dread of tyranny in the heart of the powerless. It’s like those advertisements for sausages where a grinning pig carries a steaming banger on a fork. Bon courage les enfants.
The above old French picture is in a similar vein.
Emma thinx: The naked furrow is already stitching the robe of Spring.
Surely this is the uninhibited open mouthed scream and proclamation of blooms. I know, I know – I’m a dotty old Doris rattling on about Nature and flowers. Today Gilles and I rode our tandem to St. Jean d’Angely. On the roadside close to the village of Ternant the verge was a mass of joyful bloom, alive with bees and butterflies. I took the photo in order to share them. I think there is a wild flower growing scheme in France but I have no details. Whatever is going on you see bands of wonder and ecstasy along roadsides and on disused land. In a previous blog I raised the issue of the how and why we discriminate between weeds and “plants”. In Charentes fig trees grow like weeds. If you buy a pack of four figs in a UK supermarket it’s like entering a cathedral of cuisine and crossing that huge accent/income demarcated gulf between the working and middle classes. (Four figs £2.99p ($5) at Waitrose). And that’s the price of weeds!
I was chatting to an English lady today. She has been here for a year and will probably stay for a further 6 months. The main issue, as always in this life is money. It is very difficult to obtain work here for anyone. If you don’t have a perfect command of the language you choices are much reduced. Another factor with language is that unless you quite quickly achieve a level of fluency to allow day to day chat without effort, a certain fatigue and sense of isolation creep in. In the past 2 weeks, 2 people have said this to me. Very probably all manner of folk have enjoyed holidays in France and dream of moving into the land of gourmet bread and sun. My advice – get to grips with the language and ask yourself if you have that desire and discipline. When you get home get a TNT decoder and a satellite dish and point it at ASTRA 1 (19.2 degrees East of South). Watch French TV all the time. The News is great because you probably know what the story is already. The presenters will speak good French. When they say a phrase – you say it. Don’t be shy! Check out Claire Chazal on the TF1 news at 8pm (7 pm in the UK). She helped to teach me French. She also writes romance novels. I must confess I’ve not checked her out but it’s on my list.(If you wanna watch foreign TV in the UK I recommend www.sateuropa.co.uk The guys there are very helpful and professional without ripping you off.
OK – so tonight we have Poulet Provençale. I have cut rosemary, chives and thyme from my herb garden. Once I had a micro skirt/ now I dig around in dirt. As you get older- scrap the skirt. Get down and dirty and give it some flavour!
Emma thinx: Sex isn’t everything in life, just its continuance and joy.
Then I saw it! The evidence of another world – of other beings beyond our experience. There on the road between Saintes and St Savinien the signs were unmistakeable. A brown paper bag, several wrappers for fries and a couple of Big Mac boxes. At last the French have caught up. Hot hatch boy racers with boom box sound systems had already arrived as a kind of robot advance guard. Graffiti scribbling foot soldiers had already tagged the whole of the Paris metro with coded maps and tags. Now, they feel strong enough to attack the hinterland and throw their trash from cars to show us their might. Possibly the evidence was planted by holidaying foreigners – yes – that must be the answer! In any event my general impression of my part of France is that it is immaculate by most international standards. To me, the sight of such poor conduct was quite shocking and unexpected. In my old stamping grounds of South London, whole tribes and generations of rats and pigeons are sustained by discarded fast food and its containers. Charente Maritime, even in urban concentrations is not littered in any way. I think it all comes down to my old theory of social etiquette. If others don’t do it – YOU don’t do it. There is still a sense of continuity between what the oldies did and what YOU do. At my curry soirée I encountered a most interesting Anglophile who had spent time in England. She acknowledged the contributions of the Brits to the world and to the notion of democracy. Then she said “But – the democracy and freedom you have created has destroyed you – you are choking in a liberty of everything – and in the end an infinite everything is a nothing because it has no shape. ” Now, I know it’s rare – but I wish I’d said that. The view from a distance is often the best.
Let me return to the matter of recycled waste. Normal household waste is collected regularly from communal bins and the service is fantastic. A community elder assured me that recyclable waste is collected every 15 days at night. Now, having debated this matter many times with neighbours – some of whom believe that there is no pattern other than the winged shrug of the gods, a few nights ago I left the windows open on Re-cyclemas Eve. I felt like a kid. Perhaps I would see the truth of the sac. I awoke at 2 am. A truck pulled up. A young lady in a baseball cap with pony tail jumped off and scooped the pile. Look – if you’re reading this don’t tell the children. Let them keep their dreams for just a little longer.
Cooking moules marinières tonight. In Carrefour they have scoured the globe to find the finest wines of the European community and blended them into a most fabulous “Spécial Fruits de Mer” for about a quid (£1 sterling or $1.60 cents). My advice: If you are buying trash wine for a low low price, mixed (blended) plonk is often the best because they bung some sweet in with the sour. Garlic, onion, wine and sea food – I want to live for ever.
Emma thinx: An infinity of everything shapes nothing.
Tourism – good or bad; discuss. And indeed we do here in Charente Maritime. I’m sure that there are many university courses about the long term economics. I mean, will there always be a group of people with money who will be able to be tourists? Many huge cruise liners essentially contain tourists within their own travelling country and cut off income to all those hideous foreigners. Travel is likely to become more and more expensive and therefore more exclusive as wages stagnate or more likely fall back. If you go for Tourism at all costs then you may let real industry wither and watch the dust blowing through your themed gift shop and cafe complex if the punters don’t come. In St.Savinien I hear both sides of this debate. If you fill the street with cafes and restaurants you could hardly retain the calmness and “local” feel that currently is its charm. Without some kind of work the young will have to leave and the town will have no income or commerce. Personally I would like to take a long term overview. My fear is that however hard you try, if wages fall and folks become poorer and poorer you may end up chasing a phantom dream. I think we need to know how the super rich intend to treat the poor…..but I could almost make a guess.
As for last night’s soiree – all the curry disappeared and no one died. I had a bop about to Lady Gaga and discussed Kant and morality with a couple of profs. Guests turned up with all manner of extra foods and party fare. Imagine my astonishment to find a lady running about with plates and cutlery to help with washing up. Then she started on the work tops and the stove, explaining that she could not just simply be a guest and HAD to help. I had never met her before but she was fantastic and she’ll always be on my invitation list.
Emma thinx: Tourism – Lifting for 2 weeks the blindness of 50.
Curry – that most British of foods and possibly the most non French. A few days ago I decided to have a curry bash and invite a few folks. All morning I have been mixing and matching Balti, Madras and Korma sauces. I’ve drained the dahl, browned the boeuf and chopped the chicken. Nothing can go wrong! As I wait for the event to start I try not to think about those very few occasions when dinners and soirées have – well – needed on the hoof adjustments. I think the worst food was when I had decided to serve whitebait as a starter for the first time. I dumped a big wedge in a hot wok and dug them out as a kind of mashed fish block. I just told the guests it was high fibre pate with eyes.
But probably one of the worst dinner parties I ever held was when I was a member of the Socialist Workers Party. Comrades were always ravenous and survived on dry crusts and revolution jam. What they didn’t know was that I had only joined because I just wanted to be a member of SOMETHING. A guy came round selling his revolutionary newspaper and told me I was a down trodden daughter of toil. I was young with kids, debts and a bum job so it rang a bell. When the comrades found out I had a gas stove and a saucepan I kinda became a culinary apparatchik, but with the emphasis on the chick. If these guys had overthrown the government and seized power, a citizens’ committee would have appointed ME as ministress of cuisine (except that would have been both sexist and bourgeois). So, the comrades came for dinner. Talk was intellectual and inflamed with hatred of the Trots, Communists and the league of General Purpose Reds. WE were the only pure Socialists. I was really pleased that I had joined up with the right stuff because I wasn’t sure if I was a communist or not and I could just have easily fallen in with them. As dinner ended, the bearded head comrade stood and indicated that we should all stand and sing a song called “The Internationale”. Well, I guess all you guys out there know the words (check it out here). The comrades clenched fists and sang through what seemed like an hour of revolutionary fervour, all the while glaring at me and I tried to mime, hum and control nervous giggles. By this time my horny handed husband of toil was on the phone to the Maggie Thatcher to see if they could send in the Army. (That poor man – he just had to take so much of my nonsenses and fads). I think I was the first person they had met who didn’t know the words. Now – If they’d gone for Abba I’d have sung “Fernando”.
And whilst the echoes of the Internationale still resonate in my memory, I watched a small section of the Tour of Spain cycle race yesterday. In the commercial break they ran ads for Pay Day loans and ambulance chasing lawyers. To me it just kinda painted a picture of what’s going on and how we are.
Curry time approaches. At least I know how to sing “La Marseillaise”.
Emma thinx: Revolution – 360 degrees of Elites.
There are many types of folks. Stern warnings about stereotyping from chairpersons of the non judgemental, well paid, busy-body community seriously disturbed my ability to tell the difference between a looter and an impulse buyer. Accordingly I have had to look for areas away from the front line of correctness to spot tell tale signs of discriminating differences between groups and individuals. The most obvious has always been the like or dislike of olives. Now – I make no judgement – but aren’t the olive lovers passionate, witty, sexy, talented and probably related to various Greek gods? Aren’t lovers of anchovy stuffed olives actually Greek gods in themselves? Luckily my tribal pheromones repel non olive eaters so I am unable to judge them. A similar thing applies to sausages. Most folk can eat a sausage. Only those born poor or divine choose sausage over all other food. “Would you like the fillet steak Madame? – It is the finest cut in le monde and will be paid for by your publishers.”
“Non – I will have the saucisse de Toulouse with some ketchup.” This has never happened but I am planning. In France we have SAUSAGE. The choice of sausage is so great that I am afraid of geting caught in a hypermarché vortex of infinite choice and be trapped in a condom shaped time cocoon for ever while I choose my sausage. While I await recognition by the Romance reading masses, my choice is often a reflection of price. There are dried sausages, garlic sausages, chicken sausages, horse sausages and I’m sure that somewhere there are sausages made entirely of old minced up sausages. Enough of this trivia – my choice for today is that of Andouillette. Strangely for a poet this word rhymes with the French word “Toilette”. Now you can see why I am a poet. The Andouillette sausage is made from the bottom end of the pig’s bowel. As I said – only those born poor or divine…….Let them eat Sausage!
I’ve been married. I’ve been a mistress. I’ve been a tandem cyclist. But – at last the French Government have given me an official status. I am a concubine. WOW – my legitimacy and heritage go back to ancient Greece and Rome- (and probably modern Rome if anything they say about Berlusconi is true). I am a concubina. This status is enshrined in the register of tax payers and residents. My relationship with Gilles is described as a concubinage. I always knew that some day I’d be a something.
Peach Jam. Today it rains and I have taken to La cuisine. I know – I know I should be writing a romantic novel, but there is something about the sweet more-ish-ness of jam that is so sexy. Gently she let the jam spill from her engorged lips between the ruthless hard muscles of his pecs. It mixed with the salt and musk of his recently spent passion.
“Oh, Emma,” he gasped as he still shuddered with lust….”Why…oh why the jam…”
“Because – my hero – my rock hard man, jam just won’t set without pecs in….”
See – women can multi-task!
Emma thinx: concubine – sexy but prickly.
It was Jazz night at the local restaurant. It was to be a barbecue because last week for the Salsa night it was Paella. We had booked to barbie but as we took our seats by the musicians table they were eating large amounts of what looked like – Paella. I had guessed that they were jazz musicians because one of them was wearing an arty winter scarf, a T shirt and jeans. Le patron appeared. “Oh dear – you booked the barbecue – oh yes- but it is Paella – it is just as good.” Two of our party were not seafood fans. We ordered Paella without the seafood. The musicians munched on – even asking for more. Perhaps they don’t get paid. Suddenly a DIVA trotted in from somewhere across the street. She dashed around a little, then took the micro to explain that she was exhausted because she had been so busy with important concerts at places she described as “Blah blah blah” and another equally important place called “Blah blah blah.” She told us not to worry and that after some red wine she would be her normal fantastic self. She sat with some friends and chatted and then sang a little before going back to her friends to smoke a cigarette and take some medicine. The band played on – she had been in mid song – but such conduct is normal among indoor scarf summer time wearing folk I believe. We munched the non barbecue, partially non seafood Paella. The music stopped. The Diva explained “Now – important – MONGE.” She sat down with her friends to eat. We paid up and left. Some shows are better than others. Last week’s singer was fabulous. I suspect that Monsieur Le Patron has had better days.
As I write we are expecting folk for lunch. It is 2.30 pm. This is the weekend of 15th August and is a major holiday. All routes South are blocked with traffic……
We ate at about 4pm. It was hot. These guys are old work colleagues and are just so modern and clever. They know about things like machines that build micro chip machines that go inside computers. I kinda know how to heat up chips in a microwave. She speaks French/American. He speaks Franglo-americano. The kids sound American but adore baguettes. It’s called evolution. They had to go – but I wish they had stayed.
I want to talk about saving the world, conserving energy and recycling carbon footprints. All of this is embodied in a single concept. The photo today is of a wonderful product that will turn you into a paragon of preservation. The idea is to recycle the kernels of maize into barbecue fuel. I walked from Carrefour with a kinda eco-warrior maiden swagger- a bit like Boadecia-pelting the Romans with re-cycled toilet rolls. We lit the barbecue. Flames shot skyward. Some red embers remained. We semi cooked 4 sausages. The fuel ran out. The future looks – well-cold and raw. Probably best to just eat the fuel.
Emma thinx: If you’re singing for your supper – ask for an advance. Folks are fickle.