Friday, August 31, 2012

Wrong way.

The two cows in the field across the lane have a mountain of hay and a full water trough . Something seems to have finally spurred the 'bad' farmer into looking after them. Peer pressure or chance ?

Down to the supermarket bright and early . ' The font ' buys artichokes. Angus wanders over to the cake counter and opts for coffee eclairs and fruit tarts.

Home via the cafe under the arcades. Our morning reverie interrupted by the unmistakable thrumming sound of Madame Bay's Wild Child voiturette . Three honks of its asthmatic little horn. Two short and one embarassingly long. A large turbaned figure drives by , window wound down,   blowing imaginary kisses. '' Cou Cou. I'll see you later. Off to have my hair done " . With that Madame Bay disappears north along the market square. The other traffic heads south. '' I always thought this was a one way street " says ' the font '. " It is " I reply .

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Back home.

The last time we stayed at this hotel in Berlin we came back to find a large crowd of journalists standing outside on the pavement. They were all pointing towards the top floor penthouse where  Michael Jackson , in a red jumpsuit, was nonchalantly dangling a baby over the edge of the balcony with one hand while waving cheerfully with the other. This time it was quieter.

'The font' sees a porcelain rhinoceros in the Meissen showroom on the Unter den Linden.  €20,000. The font leaves empty handed.

Most tourists go to museums. 'The font ' by contrast  is determined to find the final resting place of Bertolt Brecht and his wife in a back street East Berlin cemetery. A literary pilgrimage. We find it. We look at it. Angus thinks that grave tourism lacks the wow factor and will never take off.

The Deportation Monument . Not a great success architecturally. Masses of laughing teenagers  leaping from one stone to the other - a kind of high rise hopscotch. It's right that the monument should have been built on the site of the Propaganda Ministers house . An optimistic , uplifting, reminder that " the moral arc of the universe bends slowly, but it bends towards justice " .

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Where else ?

Flights to Stockholm have horrible connections. We go to Berlin instead. Mid-70's. Cloud. After the heat of France just what is needed.

Something we've never seen before. Many Berlin cafes provide their customers at outside tables with cashmere throws. As the shadows lengthen and the temperatures fall these turn out to be very useful. Where else in the world could you leave blankets on the back of chairs without them being stolen ? I'd give them 5 minutes in London and 30 seconds in Milan. New York cafe owners wouldn't even try.

At the airport a dog that appeared to be half husky , half PON. Flat faced and wooly with a long wavy tail. The font christens it a PONsky. A very amiable looking fellow.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Avoiding the heat.

Off north for a long weekend to escape the heat. Meanwhile here's a short video of a  street musician from Anchorage playing in Spokane. Watching the folk in the background becomes addictive. The musics not bad either.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Les Anglais

' The font ' has arranged a concert to raise funds for the restoration of the frescoes in the village church .  The ancient abbey in the neighbouring market town the venue.  The concert is due to start at seven. Angus is still sploshing around happily, and absentmindedly , in the pool at six thirty. Amazing how much urgency can be relayed in the two words '' Oh Angus ! " .

We arrive trendily late. '' Gascon time " as I tell ' the ( unamused ) font '. The mayor says a few inaudible words of welcome. Madame mayors hearing aid whistles. The last of the audience arrives , banging the door as they enter.Then we're off. The organist has chosen an hours worth of jaunty pieces . The time flies. Angus has a seat underneath a medieval wood carving of a bored looking Mary and Joseph heading off to Egypt . Joseph is wearing wellington boots . Next to him a stern plaster statue of Joan of Arc slaughtering a dragon. Angus is rather alarmed to see the skewered dragon has the words 'Les Anglais ' painted on a collar round its neck.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Pod of Dolphins.

The heat finally easing. The temperatures down into the mid-90's during the day and the mid-70's at night. The locals still sensibly sheltering from the sun behind closed shutters. The little market towns streets eerily still and quiet in the way only French provincial towns can be. Outside the pharmacy a bored farmer has set out a display of scarecrows. An equally bored sheepdog carefully sniffs,  circles and then irrigates each one. For Angus the cooler weather brings a chance to climb a ladder and trim the dead fronds from the top of the palm trees. Not something that was part of the gardeners routine in Scotland.

This video is stunning. A bit slow to start but the action kicks in around the 1.37 mark and really bursts into life at the 2.00 minute stage.  Those of you still suffering from a heatwave should immediately cool down by about 10 degrees. or for a shorter , and more easily viewed version

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What's the likelihood ?

Airlines call the period between August 2nd and August the 16th the ' golden nugget '. The peak travel season when their flights are full and prices, and profits, are at their highest. Here in deepest France profonde our 'golden nugget' season has suddenly drawn to an end. The tourists gone and parking spaces once again available in the market square and on the High Street. If the 'buzz' at the cafe under the arcades is anything to go by it would seem that he beer and absinthe set are happy to have the bar to themselves. 

So far in 2012 this little corner of France has seen the coldest temperatures on record, the greatest rainfall , the longest drought and now an unprecedented heatwave. The poor garden , apart from the ever spreading acanthus, is suffering. 

This morning the local paper has a less than reassuring story that the nuclear power plant down by the river can't operate if the temperature of the river water gets to 30 degrees. It's currently 26.9 , and rising. A temperature that the original planners thought would never be recorded. What's the likelihood of all that happening in one year ? Not so much climate change as climate psychosis. 

Technology corner
i-pad users may, or may not, find this ' cool '. ( Sound kicks in around 22 sec mark - the noise of the hammer hitting the screen is almost as excruciating as the speed at which he types).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nellie. What a girl.

The place to be on a scorching Tuesday afternoon.

Steve Martin, Striped Pyjamas and a Victory.

The heat wave simmers on. The mayor opening up the village hall so that toddlers and the old folk can make use of it. Two o'clock in the afternoon, 106 degrees. A group of  local teenagers arrive and set up ping pong tables in the middle of the car park. They seem oblivious to the heat. The old folk look on from the shade of the porch and shake their heads.

Monday night. The purpose of the red and white marquee now apparent.The mayor has arranged for movies to be shown on the side wall of the salle des fetes. The marquee home to the projector and a 'buffet'. The buffet turns out to be of the liquid variety. The entirely liquid variety. The movies are supposed to start at nine but get going at ten. Gascon timing. No one complains.

A Steve Martin film about two  families and their Labor Day vacation at a lake. Lots of slapstick . Madame Bay roars with laughter. Through it all Monsieur Bay remains obdurately asleep , his head on her shoulder, large glass of wine perched on the chair next to him.  The second movie a strange contrast. Le garcon au pyjama raye. The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. The mayor has chosen it thinking its a childrens comedy. The villagers watch this little morality tale in what passes , in these parts, for near silence.

This morning a victory. The 'bad' farmer arrives with a large bail of hay for the two cows in the field across the lane. He fills up their water trough from a trailer. The cows buck with delight.

Monday, August 20, 2012

All fancy.

Must be the heat. The baker suddenly goes all fancy. Little laminated cards appear describing each of the cakes on offer. The prices up 5% to compensate for this new found level of sophistication.   Angus buys a blue cake for 'the font' and a red one with a raspberry on top for himself.

Lunchtime. ' The font ' looks at the cake . '' Hmmm. That's interesting . You don't often see blue food " . True enough. There's blueberries,  those wild purpley blue potatoes and damsons. Now we can add to the list blue iced cake.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Not a day for horse riding.

Another 100 degree plus day. The heatwave forecast to run well into next week. The pace of life in deepest France Profonde , slow at the best of times, shifts down a gear.  

The cheesemongers stall at the market unusually quiet. In fact the whole market is quiet. Seven thirty am and it's already touching eighty. Most of the beer and absinthe set have moved inside the cafe leaving the outside seats to tourists and shoppers. The waitress bizzarely tells me that " it's not a day for horse riding " . Angus agrees. 

Outside the village hall a strange, somewhat formal, structure has appeared. A white marquee draped in red garlands.A large trestle table in the centre. Red and white balloons wilting in the sun. Mysterious. Perhaps a village gathering is being planned ?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The elf.

Not a cloud in the sky. The town workmen have had a vote and decided that it's too hot to be outside. They sit at a long, shaded, tressle table in the  market place and drink wine . It's ten thirty in the morning when we pass them. One crate gone, two full crates still to go. The workmen are already 'happy'. By lunchtime they'll be flying . The mayor is less happy.

Passing the bakers we see a man in a pixie hat with a pointed beard sitting drinking a Coke. The hat has a bell on the end. He looks like one of Santas elves on vacation. A touch of Disney in deepest France Profonde. There again Disney elves don't have dreadlocks and smoke 'roll your owns'.

The old widow has carried  every garden ornament she can find outside . She's placed them , in some semblance of order, on the pavement . A miniature obstacle course of grinning squirrels and trumpeting elephants. On her walls a mismatch of garish dinner plates mingle with a flock of ceramic butterflies and cicadas . She's just starting to tie red bows onto the three fir trees . '' Brightens the place up ! "  says the old dear waving at us with one hand and pointing at a ceramic windmills rotating sails with the other. ' Certainly does ' replies 'the font'  noncommittally . 

42 yesterday. More of the same today.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A heat emergency.

A heat emergency declared in the South West. Air conditioned premises to be opened up for the old folk. Public health announcements telling you to drink fourteen glasses of water or wine a day. Angus thinks he'll be able to comply with that. The beer and absinthe crowd  already settled down under the arches in readiness for a long, hot, day.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dinner with the Duke.

A day spent working on the cow issue. According to the mayor the farmer is doing well. Very well.  Thanks to the recent surge in the price of wheat the money is rolling in. In fact the grain harvest has  become so profitable that he's spending all his time on his wheat crop and little or no time on his livestock. The relay of water buckets continues. The mayor drops off some hay which the cows quickly devour .

Angus has a slight run in with the barbed wire around the cows field. Pouring water from a bucket into a trough from the top of slippery slope while simultaneously waving at the post lady not a good idea. ' The font ' drives off to the local town for bandges and antiseptic spray.

To dinner with the local duke and duchess. 'The font' has patched Angus up but suggests he wear a jacket to cover  some of the perforations.  

A lovely little castle on top of a hill. A wonderful courtyard garedn. The dukes family have occupied the same house since the 12th century. Wars and revolutions passing them by. Sartorial elegance is in short supply. Extremely short supply. Our host greets us in the courtyard. He is dressed in white linen trousers ( with drawstring tied flamboyantly in front ), white linen shirt and bright red Crocs. She, barefooted, is wearing ( so ' the font ' tells me ) a brown calico dress and a pair of huge, dangly, brass earrings.The pair of them completely loopy in the way only the very ancient aristocracy can be. 

The duchess is followed everywhere by three clumber spaniels, one of whom , Lucy,  is very old. He is followed round by an amiable Newfoundland who rejoices in the name of George. A glass of champagne from Aldi to welcome us across the threshold. For dinner chicken followed by a chunk of brownie and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream . A bottle of elderflower wine . Lucy, as befits her age, gets fed from the table.  Afterwards the duchess climbs the steps at the end of the dining room , picks up a violin , scrapes the strings and sings. The duke applauds.The clumbers look on adoringly. George sleeps. We leave.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Unhappy cows.

41 degrees yesterday. That's 106 in old money . Forecast to be hotter today.  On the top of the ridge the last of the sunflowers shrivelling under the constant heat. By the market square the cafe  has put out yet more, unmatching, umbrellas. Four of them are on the sidewalk blocking parking spaces and providing shade for passing pigeons. Only one of them is positioned by a table. Must be a French thing .

For the last two years the cows in the field across the lane have been well looked after. But, recently, the farmer seems to have lost interest in them. This week particularly bad. They've had no fodder and no water for two days. Their drinking trough completely dry.  They moan through the heat of the night. I return with the morning croissants to find 'the font' determinedly hauling buckets of water a couple of hundred metres through the garden and along the lane to their  trough. No sooner is it poured in than the two cows noisily and happily slurp it up. I link five lengths of hosepipe together to make the job of filling the container easier. Within a couple of minutes a car runs over, and smashes, two of the connectors. Back to the bucket relay. 

I call the mayor. Yes, he knows about what's going on . He's seen the poor things reaching up to eat the leaves on the tree branches and has spoken to the gendarmes . They've been to see the farmer who's told them to mind their own business. The farmers also told the mayor that they're his cows and he doesn't want anyone interfering. He'll look after them in his own way and sue anyone who meddles.

'The font' is fired up and all for getting in the car and driving off to the gendarmerie to lodge a formal complaint. '' There are laws about this " . Angus , who is not an expert of French animal welfare legislation, suggests that this might not be the best solution. We don't want him slaughtering the cows simply because they're too much trouble. No sentient being should die simply because they're too much trouble. For today we'll stick with the buckets and work out how to deal with the bad farmers bloody mindedness.

A trip to see the mayor is on the top of this mornings agenda.