sailing school

sailing school

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bullfighting in France

Everyone likes the summer in France and I am no exception.  It's a fun time of flowers, fireworks and fêtes.  

In the South it's also the time for Féria, and I really don't like that.  Not many people know that France even has bullfighting, never mind that it is now bigger here than in Spain.  Spain is letting go of it, whilst the South of France is fiercely protecting it. 

A loophole in French animal protection laws allows bullfighting to continue in the South as it can be classed as 'uninterrupted local tradition'. There are activists demonstrating against it, but they aren't making much headway.

Obviously we shun bullfights or 'la corrida' and steer clear of towns such as Nîmes, Béziers and Arles where they are a huge event and the high point of the year.  Harder to avoid are the Taureau Piscine that take place in just about every village and town and are specifically positioned as family events aimed at children and young people.

These involve young female bulls - 'vachettes' - in a ring where there is a large paddling pool, various obstacles and youths scattered about to get the vachette worked up and in charging mood.  Everyone has a jolly good laugh at the vachette slipping about in the water whilst the youths attempt to put rings on its horns or pull the tail etc. etc.  All good clean fun, apparently.  To me it seems like early training in encouraging animal cruelty. 

I am trying to read up on the reasons why bullfighting is really an okay thing, as almost every local goes rather quiet when the subject comes up.  They seem to like it.  Support it.  Promote it in tourist literature.  Find it a positive, identity affirming, income producing event.  

I can't find a single thing to convince myself that it is anything but barbaric and a sad indictment on the cowardly bloodlust of human nature.  Maybe that's because I'm from a country that couldn't wait to outlaw fox hunting on animal cruelty grounds, never mind label it 'rich in tradtion'.  

La Corrida may well produce revenue for the poor South of France but bullfighting fans are not confined to this part of the country.  

Ex president M. Sarkozy is a keen fan, but careful not to attend in France lest it tarnish his image overseas. That doesn't particularly surprise me. 

However, I was rather shocked to find that 80% of Marie Claire readers who responded to a survey were in favour of bullfighting.  That's a young demographic and one that we would expect to endorse progress.  Not here.  The wine may be cheap and the sun may shine 300 days of the year but the bullfighting mind set reveals a darker side - at least to us - and would be one of the reasons we could turn our backs on the South. 


Friday, June 27, 2014

Albi et la fête de la musique

We decided to take a break - 'prendre une pause' - and drive to the World Heritage city of Albi for a couple of days.

We were lucky as the sun shone incessantly, our hotel had a pool and our room a terrace overhung with wisteria, and it just so happened to be the national Fête de la Musique, so double lucky!

Albi, like Toulouse, is built of slim rose toned bricks and has a very distinctive architecture as a result.  A friend commented 'Game of Thrones' and I think this is rather apt. 

Any settlement that's over two thousand years old and has witnessed pestilence, famine, war, revolution, bloodshed, political intrigue and religous slaughter is bound to have a bit of character.

On a quiet morning before the bustle begins, weaving along the narrow cobbled streets in search of an almond brioche (or two) is almost like time travelling.

I enjoyed the history...

the Toulouse-Lautrec museum..

 ..and the architecture.

I did also enjoy the Saturday morning brocante, but was a bit taken aback at the touristic prices - the by word is 'nice to look, nice to hold but certainly don't consider anything sold'!

Alex was very happy to be immersed in all manner of music for three days...

It still amazes us to buy a drink from a specially set up street bar, wander around with wine glass in hand along with thousands of others, watch bands and DJs perform to all ages from 2 to 100 and not catch even a glimpse of a policeman or security - the whole event is trouble free.  Very impressive.

Albi was very appealing, the only thing missing for us was its distance from the coast.  We shall, however, return whenever we need a World Heritage fix.  And we'll certainly stay again in the cheap and chic, very well endowed 2 star Hôtel Laperouse!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In Praise of Pink Wine and White Oleander

May was a hot month here, April too, which meant that the trees, flowers and vines came into bud and bloom about three weeks to a month earlier than usual.  We like this, but the négociants or vintners of the region are reserving judgement as too much too soon can have adverse affects on a vintage.

One of the loveliest events of the year is the blooming of the oleander - laurier rose in French - which is a plant dear to the hearts of the South because when its bridal like blossoms fill the streets with glorious confectionary colours and heady scents, summer has truly arrived.

It makes me a little sad to think that oleander is almost actively discouraged in Australia.  It's difficult to grow flowers in Australia due to drought and humidity, yet the flamboyant and festive oleander would thrive in such conditions and add a welcome flash of colour for all of summer and autumn.  

Oleander gets a bad rap as the nectar and sap is poisonous if very large amounts are ingested.  But there are almost no recorded deaths from oleander, and birds and animals are largely resistant to it.  The harm it is supposed to do is more urban myth than reality.

Here, oleander is actively planted everywhere, cultivated, cared for and appreciated.  It's thought of affectionately, rather like the frangipani in Australia.  Perhaps a cultural exchange or a jumelage is needed to promote each plant in the other country?!

I love the pink, it is just so showy and cheerful, the falling petals confetti-like, and the colour is evocative of the delightful pink wines of this region.  The 2013 rosé vintage that we are drinking now is an absolute winner, the long, hot summer of last year producing some wonderful wines of captivating colour and taste.  Should I ever return to Australia, I shall miss rosé wine, it's just so - fun!  There's another cultural exchange I'd like to promote.  Maybe I have found my vocation - the Rosé wine and Laurier Rose ambassador!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

There's no word for 'wedding' in French..'s a 'mariage' - but you can have a marriage without a wedding:

A marriage is a long term relationship between two individuals. A wedding, on the other hand, is the ceremony of getting married.

Lucky us!  We got to do the wedding bit!  We were really looking forward to catering what promised to be a très chic event, but didn't realise we'd enjoy it quite as much as the guests.

Not having been to many French weddings (i.e. just the one) we didn't really know what to expect.  Do guest wear hats? Throw confetti?  Make inappropriate speeches?  Are sexy bridesmaids and well scrubbed page boys to be expected?  A three tier cake?  And dancing to bad disco hits?

The answer my friends, is OUI.  Oui, oui, and oui.  All the good things we know and love.

You can't knock a good wedding, especially when the French bride and groom are brave enough to have fish and chips as part of the catering and the whole event is held in a dreamy, rock star South of France maison de maitre (think Mick and Bianca circa '72) with fairy lights, formal gardens and champagne on tap.


We had a ball.  Jacques, dressed as a Frite, kept us supplied with said champagne. Sophisticated Parisienne lawyers danced the Macarena.  Tisane the cat kept watch on the roof of the trailer. 

There was high demand for our fares for most of the night (fish & chips are 'class', 'mignon' and 'chic' for the French) and it turns out the owner of the house is a screenplay writer who may want our trailer to appear in a (murder) episode of one of her detective mini series - let's hope it doesn't involve food poisoning.....

Monday, June 2, 2014

It's been over two years now...

...and we're still here, trying to make our way in a French world.  Sometimes it feels as if it might as well be a Martian world, so alien certain things are!

I've been quiet for four months I realise, and having been innundated with requests (well, 2..) to recommence French Lessons I thought it would be good to get into the groove again.

Facebook people will know that during those four months I posted every day for 100 days things that made me happy - harder than it sounds!  From February to May I featured flowers and kittens and all things in between, including our new endeavour to earn a crust in a country notoriously difficult and intractable for natives and foreigners alike.


A year of planning, six months of tussling with documents and Mairies and eventually Mr. Fish & Chips opened its shutters to serve traditional British poisson et frites to difficult and intractable French locals.  It hasn't been easy, but it's certainly been interesting, we've learned an awful lot and improved our vocabulary into the bargain - mostly concerning fish and chips, strangely enough.

We are still in Pomerols, we are still annoyed beyond belief about Lunch Time and Closed Sunday and Crap Coffee, we still appreciate the cheap wine and charming country side, the finds at the flea markets are still frenchy and fab, but we are on a different side of the fence now.  We are looking at the Languedoc and France as tax paying members of the community and wondering what the future holds.  It does seem that the French people who sample our fish and chips like it and come back for more, but will this afford us a life of comfort and joy in the long term?  Will I ever learn to love being a Fish Wife, Alex a Short Order Chef?? 

In the interests of punchy and interesting posts, I shall try to deliver weekly updates - maybe more often!  Stay alert for vivid thumbnails of our life and times in the slow lane.  Will battered cod and big chips sweep the nation and launch us into the big time?  Or will it all prove too much and it'll be Goodbye Mr. Chips..?? 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It's Still Christmas in France....

Happy New Year! Hope you all enjoyed the festivities on the 31st and 1st.

Happy January Sales!  Hope all you bargain hunters shopped up a storm.

Happy Epiphany! To all those in Spain and Russia etc. receiving their gifts on the 6th.

Happy Burns Night!  Lang may yer lumb reek beyond the 25th.

Happy Australia Day!  Hope you all had a good time on the 26th.

Here in the 'interesting' South of France it's still Christmas.  Yes, truly.  We still have Christmas trees up in shops and in the public squares...


Lights in the streets and signs advertising the Christmas markets....


Stollen, chocolate Santas, baubles, tinsel and wrapping paper etc. available in the shops AT FULL PRICE....


Houses decorated with my favourite abseiling Santa and giant nativity scenes...


I have no conclusion to draw from this.  Perhaps it is a local custom to drag out Noel as long as possible.  Perhaps it is another manifestation of the Lazy French Syndrome (see blog # 42) and nobody has time to take down the decorations as they are still recovering from Lunch. 

Perhaps it is something completely different.  Rumour has it the decorations can even stay up until Easter, and I did see evidence of this last year.  If anyone has the answer to this puzzling situation, I'd be happy to hear it.  Answers on a Christmas card, please, addressed to Pere Noel, La Poste, S. France as he is still large as life at his desk in this neck of the woods...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas in France...

This really is my favourite time of year, and I am truly thankful not to be celebrating Christmas in neither a bikini nor air conditioning.  As we all know by now I could never, and will never, adjust to such an anomaly.


Even though France has the same seasons and similar weather to Britain in December, not everything is exactly the same for Christmas.  Yes, there are trees and lights, holly and mistletoe, hopes and wishes for a white Christmas (usually delivered in the French Alps and Pyrenees etc.) and excessive eating and drinking to be looked forward to.

But some things are different.  Father Christmas seems to climb up rope ladders here to deliver the toys and goodies.  This drives me crazy!  Santa Claus arrives on sleigh pulled by reindeer and goes down the chimney! Everyone is aware of this - the legendary stuff of Christmas - so I do not know where the notion of an abseiling Santa originated. I do not approve.

The French don’t really send Christmas cards, and the ones that are on offer are hugely expensive, really quite boring and often in the form of a postcard rather than a ‘proper’ card complete with envelope, glitter, robins and snow scenes.  Knowing this, I wisely stocked up on cards on a recent trip to London and sent them out in a timely fashion – probably my first and only bit of pre-Christmas planning.

French shoes rather than stockings are put out in front of the tree or by the chimney for Father Christmas/Père Noël to fill with treats.  France also has a Père Fouettard who patrols looking for naughty children to spank...

So very French is the law (passed in 1962) that all letters posted to Père Noël receive a reply – no room for negligence here! Not sure who hands out the punishments to workers from La Poste who fail to follow through on replies - Père Fouettard perhaps?!

The traditional Christmas meal can be on Christmas day but is usually in the middle of the night, after midnight mass is over with cafés and restaurants staying open all night. We are still mulling over whether to give this a try.  I’m inclining towards keeping it a daytime event, as there’s nothing quite like coming downstairs and opening the presents – with the breakfast 'toast' being champagne.

France has a very special place known as the Capital of Christmas, a city called Strasbourg which sits on the edge of the Black Forest in Alsace, all gingerbread houses, fairy lights and frosty pine trees and that’s where we are going for Christmas.  Famous for its Christmas market and starry eyed crowds, we plan to over indulge in mulled wine, late night shopping and sightseeing. A must will be a chilly ride in a horse drawn carriage, and even though I know there won’t be any, I am still secretly hoping for snow and maybe a sleigh ride instead.

We will have to track down some traditional fare for lunch and I will be avoiding the seafood bonanza the French – in common with the Aussies – enjoy over the festive season.  Turkey and mince pies all the way for me. Although, having attended a Foie Gras Fête and seen all the poor ducks and geese piled up, plucked and gutted waiting to be polished off, I might be tempted by a nut roast. It was all too much for hypocritical, squeamish me. 

Not sure what gifts may be waiting under the tree for us, but the trip alone is the best of presents.  And talking of presents, Christmas came earlyish for our indefatigable old neighbour Pam, a big fan of a bottle of wine, a packet of fags and Johnny Depp.  Imagine how thrilled she was when he did eventually drop by to light her up....


And all that is left to say is, in the words of Clement C. Moore in The Night Before Christmas, “I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!’”.  Wishing you all the happiest of holidays and the jolliest of Christmases....