Sunday, 26 August 2007

Priceless French experiences

Or things the French do so much better than anyone else.

Having been tagged by Zhu who's in Canada, I have been busy thinking of ten things you can experience/see/do/eat in France that you really shouldn't miss out on. Purely from my point of view. I think there might be lots of food in this list.

1: A long French lunch. Everyone knows the French are serious about food. There must, of course, be some French people who don't care about good food and enjoying it (plenty of McDonald's here), but it's so much more fun to enjoy meals and take plenty of time over the whole eating business. The 2-hour lunch break on weekdays may be a myth, but on a Sunday the French are experts at making having lunch into an afternoon-long activity. The best occasions are family meals for birthdays, anniversaries or just for the fun of having a big family meal. It all begins with the apéro and some little nibbles for a mise en apétit. This can take half an hour easily. Then the meal itself which can take three hours at least. You have time to enjoy your food, to chat with your companions, and decent pauses between courses. You need this time to digest a bit before more food comes your way. Sometimes, it takes so long to have lunch, it's nearly dinner time before you get up from the table. Except you're too full for more food.
You don't want to have these sorts of lunches every week, of course. You'd become an enormous blob if you did and would never get anything done on a weekend ;)

2: Conduite sans frontières. This one isn't exclusively French, but it is one of the appreciable aspects of living in France, which is a signatory of the Schengen Agreement. This means you can climb in the car and drive and drive, to Denmark via Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. And maybe even carry on to Sweden. Or to Portugal via Spain. And all this without ever having to stop at a border control and present your passport. I love Europe.

3: The choice of cheese. Everyone knows about the French love of cheese, the vast choice and variety of cheeses produced and enjoyed by the French. And there is a cheese out there for all tastes. If you like nutty and fruity, try some Comté, cow's milk cheese from the Jura mountains in the east. I like the 18-month aged one. Or maybe you prefer creamy and mild? How about some ultra-fresh Selles-sur-Cher, made using goat's milk in a handful of départements around 150 miles south of Paris, just south of the Loire river. When it's very young it's creamy and fresh, and as it ages it dries and takes on a saltier flavour with a strong aftertaste. Or how about brie? Two cheeses in one: when it's young it is quite firm and mild, but you can also buy it "runny", with the creamy pâte literally seeping out from under the rind. I cut the rind off because I don't like the flavour. French people roll their eyes at this. And my favourite, Picodon (pic). A small, round goat's cheese from the Ardèche and Drôme, in the Rhône Alpes region. It is quite delicious.

4: Buying wine directly from the vigneron. Like cheese, wine is very much associated with France, especially in the "old world". The French are rightly proud of their wine. Some of it is indeed very nice. The most fun way of buying wine is to be able to go to a wine-producing region, pick out a producer, and go directly to the exploitation where the vigneron will tell you about his wine, he might show you the vats where it's fermenting, or the oak casks where it ages. You might get to visit his cave and see dozens and dozens and dozens of bottles in gravity-defying stacking arrangements. And then the wine-grower will offer you a taste of his wine. He'll explain how you should serve it (chilled, room temperature) and suggest which foods go best with it. This is the most fun way of buying wine. And guess what, the closest wine-producing region to our house is Champagne. Oh what a shame.

5: la Tour Eiffel. It may well be a tourist cliché but no visit to France, and certainly no visit to Paris can be complete without the famous iron tower. What more can I say? Take the stairs!


6: The braderie de Lille. The braderie is like an enormous yard sale/car boot sale/garage sale, and it happens in the centre of Lille on the first weekend of September. There are braderies all over the north of France, there's even one in our "village". You pay a few euros for a space and sell all your junk. Great fun. The Lille event is now quite removed from the amateur feel of most braderies. There are still some sections of the 200km of streets and pavements where you can find stalls selling collector's items and old furniture, but it is also quite commercial, with all city centre stores joining in, with special braderie bargains. And of course, moules-frites. Mussels steamed in white wine and served with French fries. I have no idea how many kilos of mussels are consumed, but restaurants compete with each other to have the biggest pile of shells outside. Can get a bit whiffy when it's warm...!

Now I'm going to enjoy a glass of champ' (bought from the producer!) cos it's our 1st wedding anniversary. Might finish this off tomorrow...

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Ah'm aff ma heid

This is my mug. It's rather cool is it not? Well, I like it.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Having a clear out

Thanks to the generous flexi-time arrangement I enjoy at work, I'm now enjoying the weekend! You see today is a public holiday, and I've taken Thursday and Friday as days in lieu out of my flexi-time. The weather being a bit useless (story of the summer), I've decided to get on and do some of the stuff that never gets done.

1. Wedding album. With our first anniversary just 11 days away, I have at last done our wedding album. Or one of them. There will be a second, because I couldn't fit in all the pics and there are lots that I want to put in an album instead of them being stuck in a box.
2. Sorting through some of the mountains of books in this house. Because I am constantly feeding my book addiction, the place is overflowing with printed matter. My book-loving hoarding personality has finally been won over by my more rational personality and I am clearing out a whole load of books that I know I'll never read again... To make way for more books (probably), hurray!

Which leads me nicely on to my bright idea. I can't throw the books away (am physically unable to I'm sure), and I can't give them to a charity shop (two drawbacks: they don't exist in France, and all my books are in English). So I'm putting them up for adoption via my blog.

So if you fancy a new (well, used) book, you can visit either LibraryThing or Bookcrossing. These are the books looking for a new home. Just email me (my email is lisofthenorth and it lives at gmail.com) and say which book you'd like and I'll send it you. On one condition. After you've read the book, pass it on to someone else, or give it to a charity shop. Or leave it on the train. Or whatever. Rule of baggsy applies (that means first come first served). Other books might also be available for adoption, but subject to negotiation.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Painting my toenails ...

... when I should have been applying the blasted stuff to the shutters.

Most of the week we've been enjoying what could be (at last) described as summer here in northern France. And with a weekend of sunshine promised by weather forecasters, I had a bright idea yesterday morning. "Given that it's going to be fine," I said to Hubby, "why don't we paint the shutters?". He agreed that this was a good plan. I mean, this could be the last weekend of decent weather (oh, doom and gloom - but I'm only going on past form for this year), and the shutters did badly need some attention.

So off to the DIY store to get exterior wood paint and a couple of other bits and pieces. Returned home €130 worse off (€50 for a tin of paint??), and Hubby announced his intention to go and get the grocery shopping. "Will you show me how to sand the shutters first?" I pleaded pathetically. And he did. And I was so incapable of using the sanding machine properly that he ended up doing all the shutters for me. This is my cunning way of getting him to do stuff I don't really want to do - just be useless.

It was by now about 11:45, and the sun had moved round to be shining its sunny hotness down on our whitewashed house. Instead of being sensible and retreating indoors to wait out the heat, I set about painting the exterior woodwork. In the midday sun. That was amplified as it reflected off our whitewashed walls. It was hot. But I got it all done. Of course, I couldn't really wait until the cooler hours came round, because I had sensibly invited friends for a bbq. Who else in the world decides to do (messy) DIY the same day she is expecting people for dinner. Silly moo.

Anyway, applied a second coat this morning and the shutters are looking slightly less dilapidated. Of course, we'll probably have to get some masonry paint the next time the weather's looking good, because your favourite painter & decorator has artfully applied little splodges of dark brown wood gloss to the walls...

Still, pretty pleased with myself.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Choices, choices

Imagine you fancy a change (of job, of scene, of whole and total country of residence). So you're on the look out for opportunities of gainful employment in your target region because it's not by clicking your dainty red heels together and affirming "there's no place like home" that you're magically going to wing your way to where you want to be. And, having barely clicked "publish" on the jobs website to send your CV off into the cyber-world to find potential suitors, already 2 emails grace your inbox, with expressions of interest from the promised land. Except that, they are offering a job that you really would like to do, in either Yorkshire or Cheshire. And you wanted Scotland.
It's a toughie.

Lost and found

"Phew" is all I've got to say. After clicking on the usual address, and finding an error page, I worried frantically at what could have happened to Jane's blog. Had she abandoned us here in the world of Blog, so soon after making so many darling interweb friends? Or had something more sinister happened? Well, no, it's just that the dear girl has decided her blog needs an address worthy of its owner. If you were wondering where she'd gone, you can find her at: dozymare.blogspot.com.