Sunday, July 22, 2012

On the road again .

The heat still rising. Due to stay above 35 all this week. The forecast says it might nudge 40 on Thursday. Later this morning Angus and ' the font ' will be loading up the car and heading north in search of cooler climes. General direction Brittany. In our absence Jasper the vacationing dog , who seems to have settled in remarkably quickly, will be guarding the rickety old farmhouse. He'll be spending most of his days in the shade of the downstairs kitchen. Jasper  is a rescue dog, comes from Sussex and is not ( as is commonly assumed ) a Jack Russell. He is an eighth Weimaraner, an eighth Bassett an eighth labrador , and so on . This varied gene pool has given him tremendous reserves of energy and mischief. He even surreptitiously managed to liberate some of Angus's birthday cake . 

For those of you who asked about the little restaurant with the outstanding food. It was FromVianDoux in Camden, Maine. Just opened. Run by an enthusiastic young American couple. Maybe a dozen tables. Located in an unprepossessing side street off the main drag. Pretentious name - Fromage/Viande/Doux. Modern and uncluttered interior. Not the sort of place that you'd expect to be serving the sort of food that would be quite at home in a two Michelin star restaurant in Paris. I'm not sure how long they'll stay in business because the prices they charge , considering the complexity and quality of what they provide, can barely cover their costs. One of those unexpected finds that makes travelling a joy. Talent and enthusiasm in equal measure .Good luck to them.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The rarest of visitors.

Friday morning. The electrician, his baseball cap wearing mate, and the two morose lads show up to repair the lights in the downstairs kitchen. Work finished, the head honcho informs me that he's off on holiday to St.Tropez for a month. Moneys tight.  Could I possibly pay him now ? The two morose lads spend most of their morning standing in a flower bed smoking a cigarette. 

Late afternoon. The stonemason, the rarest of visitors,  arrives in his large Mercedes and suggests that he be paid in advance for the steps by the pool. Angus says that he'll gladly give him a deposit when he sees a design, a quote and an example of the stone that he intends to use. The unhappy stonemason goes. ' The font ' wonders if we'll see him again this year.

The garden beginning to reveal former glories. Acanthus running wild. The strangely exotic  'pineapple' plants sprouting in the herb garden and gladioli appearing in the wasteland by the garage. We also have a new canine visitor - Jasper. Even though we  have a full house Jasper manages to be the centre of attention .

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Manitou, the sheltering toad and Hugo.

Angus returns from the airport. The Manitou is still parked in the courtyard. There is no sign of the young man . Late in the afternoon he returns with his boss and a small grey van. '' This is my boss " he says introducing me to an older man in grey sweat shirt, grey shorts, grey socks and dark grey sandals. The epitome of grey. After an hour precariously perched on the Manitous extendable arm , the gutters are repaired. New sections safely welded in place.  ' I''ll drop the bill off tomorrow ' says the boss displaying a hitherto hidden sense of urgency .
Boy is it hot. Baked by the sun the plane trees are losing their bark. The lawn covered in large sheets of crinkly parchment. Another week of this heat and they'll have shed it all. Much of it manages to fall , annoyingly, into the swimming pool.
The pepper patch a home to a family of toads seeking shelter from the unforgiving sun . I think of shooing them on but leave them in peace. These must be adventurous toads. Most of the others sit on the bank of the village pond dozing in the heat. They don't even bother hopping into the water when the old farmer wanders by. Judging by their numbers and the noise they make 2012 is a bumper year for toads.

Out early. Hugo, the malevolent Maltese, and Brunhilda, the German billionaires dog are patrolling the village. Hugo ignores me. Brunhilda pauses briefly as if to say ' didn't you once know a small white polar bear ?' . They wander off past the war memorial, heads down, important things to be done . The pressure of life  in a two dog village.
This is the route the Tour de France will take later today as it swings it's way through Tarn-et-Garonne. Mile after mile after mile of sunflowers. All eyes here on Bradley Wiggins. Excitement comes, briefly, to France Profonde.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Where can I put my Manitou ?

Hot. Searingly hot. ' The font ' is up at five thirty to get things done around the house before the temperature rises and activity becomes impossible. Madame Bay arrives at seven on the dot . Gold ' Wild Child ' voiturette careering madly through the gateposts before coming to a gravel scattering  halt in the courtyard . Today Radio Nostalgie is playing Beatles songs. Madame Bay can be seen in the upper hallway moving both arms up and down in time to John Lennon singing ' Let it be ' . She is joining in lustily if incomprehensibly. The overall effect is that of a large , atonal, but exceedingly happy, albatross .

Seven thirty . A young man arrives at the door and asks where he can put his Manitou . Angus ponders this strange request before stammering out a befuddled " I beg your pardon ? ". This is a phrase he finds himself using with increasing frequency as he gets older . People now seem to say the strangest things . In America he finds himself begging peoples pardon frequently.

An empty house for the next twenty four hours. The Texans have gone. So have the last of the cost centres. A new wave of visitors due tomorrow. Angus stops off at the McDonalds at the airport for a coffee and a macaroon . He's hoping that by the time he gets home the young man with his Manitou will have repaired the gutters.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Tour de France.

The Tour de France heading towards Tarn-et-Garonne. As a result no parking places around the square. All the bays filled with cars sporting northern number plates. Angus has to forego his morning coffee at the cafe under the arcades. The newsagent now stocking an exotic array of Dutch,German and British newspapers. There's even a solitary copy of yesterdays Herald Tribune . High summer indeed.

The credit card bills arrive from the American holiday . Angus notes that ' the fonts ' visit to the Nantucket spa is a costly affair. By comparison it makes a round of golf on the island look positively cheap.  Angus does a quick calculation and works out that he could gross nearly half a million bucks a year if he became an expert in Reiki and charged himself out at the same rate. ' The font ' is less convinced . '' Are you assuming there'd be any repeat business ? " .

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


The airline departure lounge at Heathrow. Next to us a young English football player and his wife. In the thirty minutes  waiting for their flight no less than 17 people ask the footballer for his autograph. 4 foul mouthed Englishmen ( clearly not believers that a gentleman should only swear on the rugby pitch or when under direct enemy fire), 4 even more drunken Italians, a South African couple " could you just sign these for our children ? ", two Americans, two Japanese, three ( exceedingly polite ) Germans and an apologetic older couple who want something to give their grandson. So Wayne, and Colleen, I have to take my hat off to you both for your patience and well mannered acceptance of constant boorishness. Not even the riches of Croesus could possibly compensate for the complete loss of privacy that fame brings.

Pancakes.How difficult is it to make pancakes ? They are a culinary adventure too far for the breakfast kitchen at the fancy hotel by Boston Harbor. Great big thick things appear , Gooey and undercooked in the middle. By contrast the pancakes at the Taj Hotel on Boston common are perfect. Pipping hot, light, fluffy and no relation to Ms.Betty Crocker. The best in the world ? Angus is happy. ' The font ' has oatmeal.

Dinner at a restaurant in Boston . A man arrives and tethers his two dogs to a tree. He then sits at an outside table a few feet away from them, chatting happily to his guests. Shortly after three goldens arrive and are tied to an adjacent tree. By the end of the evening there are eleven dogs asleep on the sidewalk, all looked over, all well behaved. We strongly approve .

Deepest Maine. A furniture maker on Route 1 north of Rockport. Exactly the same style of breakfast table and chairs that I sat on as a child in Scotland . Hand made and at a price that's reasonable. Who would believe that such craftsmanship still existed in the North East ?

Bottled water. If the waitress tells you that they don't sell sparkling water look under specialty cocktails. Maybe it's a Maine thing ?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Must be summer.

Dry and hot. So hot the trees are bribing the dogs .  Early in the morning  a band of clouds brings a threat of rain . By ten the clouds have gone and the sky is clear. France Profonde left to the sunflowers and the crickets. The German billionaires are back . Brunhilda , their dog , dozing unconcernedly in the shade in front of the chateau gates . The Parisians with the house with the fancy ironwork are also here . It must be summer.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

No one told the stallholders.

July 14th. Bastille Day. The ancient combatants stage their march through the centre of town. No one has told the Saturday market stallholders about the march. There is a brief discussion of the ' you move . No, you move ' variety. Then the procession - three old soldiers carrying flags , the members of the retired gendarmes association , the ladies of the beautiful byeways committee,  Madame Bay, her hairdresser daughter Sandrine and a gaggle of grandchildren and their friends -  sets off and slowly navigates  past the clothes stalls, the bakers tressle table and the little caravan that sells cheese. Barring an incident with  pile of baguettes , all goes smoothly. Madame Bay , memorably resplendent in a red, white and blue outfit, is delighted with the crowds that have turned out to watch . 

In the afternoon an antique fair miraculously appears in the marketplace. A dozen or so tourists appear, then disappear. The stallholders carry on chatting amongst themselves, smoking, and drinking armagnac from hip flasks. A chance to meet and chat. Five on the dot and the stalls disappear. The pressure of life in deepest France Profonde .

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wordless Bastille Day.

Scenes fom our local supermarket . Bastille Day. July 14th 2012.

American life. Striated plastic.

A long tail back on the interstate south of Portland. July 3rd. What a great day to schedule major road repairs. Who could ever have imagined the traffic would be heavy ? While we wait  'the font' points out that our rental Ford Taurus, '' built by the proud men and women of the UAW " as the sticker on the windscreen proclaims, has no less than 19 different type of plastics on the dashboard. Ruched, dappled, rucked, frounced, plaited, pleated, tucked, corrugated, puckered, rimpled and two Swedish words that roughly translate as striated. Plastic wood, plastic leather, plastic metal.' The font ' wonders if 19 different plastics on one dashboard might be some kind of record. Someone is clearly very bored.

We drive up and down the road in Ogunquit four times. 'The font' trying to match the photo of the inn from its website with the run down motels and fast food outlets we pass. Finally, with an 'Oh dear ! I suppose that might be it' we find the inn. Or to be more precise we find the pre-photo shopped original.  The sign in the forecourt  says " Fine Lodgings ". Underneath a smaller sign jauntily tells us  " You drive the miles. We provide the smiles ". On the other side of the parking lot our attention is drawn, irresistibly,  to a fifteen foot tall lobster in top hat and tails with a cane in its right claw. The illuminated  Fred Astaire of the crustacean world  . The sign might also say Crab 'n Lobster or it might say Crabby Lobster but it's now so faded it's impossible to be sure .

At the front desk a tatooed young man playing a computer game. Boots, white socks, cargo shorts and a black tee shirt with the words '' Grateful Dead. Europe Tour 1972 " written across it in runic script. Check-in formalities over (Angus looks again to see if we really have pre-paid in full) we are escorted to our room. We pass the 20,000 gallon hot tub , the salt water swimming pool and the bar. '' We can sell you a bottle of red or white wine or you can bring in your own ". Angus's sense of foreboding grows. This sense of unease is not helped by the fact that despite being one of the busiest weekends of the year there seems to be no one else around .

The suite , for that is what our guide terms it, is small and irregularly shaped. It is also very full of  furniture. In the centre a vast overstuffed, cushion covered bed. The bed has a black wooden headboard decorated with a dozen carvings of  hunting scenes. Men in feathered hats and lederhosen chasing deer through forests. Very Central European, very realistic . The sort of thing that would gave an inquisitive two year old nightmares. ''It's antique"  says the young man by way of explanation . 

At the foot of the bed an enormous pull out sofa that's seen better days. Next to it an armchair. ' The font ' puts a bag on the chair and discovers it's a recliner , or to be more precise, a tipper. The bag falls on the floor. The chair continues to rock backwards and forwards as if possessed of a mind of its own. 'The font ' comments on the collection of metal cows placed, as if grazing, on the rafters. Each of them has a little label carefully tied around its neck saying ' moo '. '' People love them '' says the young man. '' I can almost believe it " ' the font ' replies . The young man takes this as a compliment and smiles.

"And now the peace dee resistance ". Our host opens a door into what turns out to be a simply enormous bathroom. One entire side is taken up by a glass wall. Visible behind it an array of matt black knobs and nozzles and , in the centre, a panel with a keyboard and a red flashing digital display. '' Turn this, press that and the shower turns into a steam room. Remember to open the louvre after use ". The young man pauses for effect. '' Press this, turn that and it becomes a twenty jet shower ". He then adds " It's awesome . You can get eight in there ". Angus is puzzling over the eight person shower  when he hears ' the font ' ask ''and what exactly is that ? " On the other side of the bathroom is  a double bath power jet Jacuzzi. Set at eye level on the right there is a portable television of 1980's vintage, on the left a trough of six red artificial geraniums. Above the taps , built four feet up in the wall , is an open fireplace. '' Is that a real fireplace ? " asks 'the font'. ' Yes ' the young man replies. ''Wouldn't it be dangerous if the embers fell out ?''. He gives us a look that seems to suggest we should get out more.

Over dinner last night the cost centres and visiting Texans listened to Angus relate this happy tale. They think the fonts choice of  inn sounds wonderful. An experience. A snip at $375 a night. Fine lodging indeed.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The mayor and the alien tourists .

One minute past seven. The mayor arrives just as the cork pops out of the bottle. '' M'Ongoose, welcome back ! Could I possibly borrow a ladder ? ". He's in a blue boiler suit and red tartan pork pie hat . The mayor stays just long enough for two glasses of champagne and then heads off with the ladder to hang out the Bastille Day tricoleurs on the war memorial. Angus is sent off to make sure he doesn't fall off the ladder and injure himself.

Into the breakfast room to find Madame Bay sitting at the head of the table, large coffee cup in  hand. She's wearing an improbably large straw hat, Marie Antoinette style, and reading her magazine , a French version of the National Enquirer . This week it has a lead story about aliens.  A recurrent theme for magazine and readers. Most sightings it claims come from ' farmers, policemen , doctors and ( in a typically French touch ) lovers '. It then goes on in a brisk educational tone to say that ' many people think that UFO's are a recent phenomenon but they are not. There are reliable reports of strange objects in the skies dating back hundreds of years' . After more , much more, in a similar vein it concludes with the line ' earth may be on a list of interesting places in the universe that intelligent life forms might wish to visit. Tourism by aliens is almost certainly a reality '. Madame Bay emits a loud clucking noise as she reads and digests this final line . It's in print so it must be true. Why alien space tourists should wish to come to deepest France Profonde and congregate in Madame Bay's orchard at four in the morning remains a mystery .

The electricians arrive , then leave. The security light has a fault. '' We'll be back tomorrow with a replacement ". They do however repair the lights in the downstairs kitchen . In doing so they fuze all the bedroom lights.

Tomorrow, when less jet lagged,I'll definitely get round to writing about the inn from hell in Ogunquit ,  the amazingly good restaurant in Camden and where to get the best breakfast pancakes in the world.