Saturday, 30 August 2008

531e Foire de la Crete à Thonon-les-Bains

On the first Thursday of September every year for about 531 years, or so... the mountain folk of the Chablais and indeed a little further afield come down from their mountain retreats and valley hideaways and dragging knuckles in the dust descend upon Thonon to celebrate la Foire de la Crete. Some bustle themselves about the market buying clothes and trinkets and things they could never be without, while others content themselves to lunch at midday on the Crete itself.

Here can be found some of the delicacies that make up the tradional menu of "Cochonaille" which as far as I can find out is more or less anything to be eaten off a pig. Young, preferably, but not absolutely necessary. Some of my favourites are Diots, a sausage cooked in wine and onions and garlic and herbs and peppers and served up in a bun... as sort of French Chablais version of a burger at a State Fair in the US, perhaps or something altogether different in England. Another is Atriaux... or faggots as they are known in the UK. The faggots of the USA bear little resemblance I believe.

One of the main ingredients is of course our little mate, garlic, or l'ail as the French will, and they do...

Oh, go on then... add a bit more. Keep the vampires away... whatever...

and when you've done eating, take a stroll about the remainder of the Foire and have a look at next year's ingredients gently snoozing, snuggling up against Mum...


Make a nice sauce from some fresh black pudding, boudin noir, if you prefer, and if you're like me you will....

Unfortunately, I shall miss the Foire de la Crete this year. I shall be finding out what odd culinary delights might be found in Tuscany... apart from Chianti.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

A Rosé by any other name would taste as...

Another of the wonderful reasons for living in France is to indulge, to join in, in the French love of Rosé wines... I have heard over the years the scoffing of British and American friends who have laughed and jeered at this odd melange, this blending of red wine and white wine.

Eh? What was that again? A mix of white and red?

"Yes," said Bernie, "its just a blend isn't it?"

No matey it ain't...there are whole vineyards dedicated to the growing of grapes just for rosé wines and they can be delightfully refreshing, deliciously addictive; and with a good lunch the prefect accompaniment; they can be powerful but still light. Why, Tavel is a Rhone wine, an appellation in its own right, and is a deep colour, but still a rosé.


"Oh my God...you love that stuff...its Zinfandel, right? My Mom drinks a lot of that stuff. Yuk. Californian cheap crap." She said.

The Provence and Côte de Provence rosés are perfumed and flowery and light and go down beautifully during the warm summer months. There are though, some that do not. One such is Les Gradins, a 2006 Syrah.

As more and more viticulteurs turn to producing rosé wines, there come to market some insipid wines...

Now I love the Syrah grape as much as the next man or woman...Crozes Hermitage can be sublime... The Romans introduced the Syrah grape here so it is said, from Italy but it comes originally from the middle east, or at least from somewhere further east; it is grown in the Antipodes as the Shiraz and some Aussie wines are wonderful, so I'm told, but having lived here in France for several years I have become accustomed to a more subtle taste and I find the Aussie wines in particular rather like drinking a heavy alcoholic fruit juice. I don't have the palate for it, that's all.

But I digress.... someone in the Côte Rhodaniens had a brilliant idea or so he thought and they produced the most insipid rosé I have ever had the misfortune to inbibe. Agreed it is only a couple of euros, say a few euros, okay three and a bit, so what's that in real money - less than three quid? But even then. Friends who came to dinner last Friday were served it as an aperitif and we had difficulty finishing the bottle. We are all English, after all. We rarely put a cork back into a bottle however bad we think it is. But this was bad.

But I wanted to share this and the photograph, on this post to allow any and all my reader to avoid it at all cost.

It just ain't worth it. Even at €1.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Trinidad, Cuba. An April Sunday stroll with friends...

Joaquin and Isobel took us to La Camchanchera, in the back streets of Trindad, on the south coast of Cuba. The band was already playing; more locals than tourists attending and the cigar seller at the door was doing a good trade selling single smokes for a few pesos...

The cocktails were hitting the right spot and this was only midday on the Sunday. We'd warmed ourselves in the sun walking about the cobbled square in front of the old whitewashed church. And cooled ourselves in its peaceful white walled interior looking at the poor but beautiful church altar and ornaments; the singing during the service having an supremely uplifting effect for someone non-religious like me...

13th April 2008


video The band rehearses...

Monday, 25 August 2008

Post Card from Lac Darbon


As summer draws to a close, the late August mornings are cooler, the breeze a little stiffer, and after the recent rain in the mountains, the air and light clearer. It renews the oft felt delight to be out and hiking up into the mountains near here, the views of distant peaks in nearby valleys and further away in neighbouring countries... Mont Blanc glistening in the distance, and to its left the Dents du Midi rising above the Rhone in Switzerland.


Wanting to get back home in time to see Beijing's Olympic Games hand over to London's Boris, we set out early on Sunday morning and are dismayed on the one hand and surprised on the other to see just how many cars are parked at the side of the small lake near to the refuges at the Chalets de Bise.

There must be hundreds of hikers up here.

Booted and with packs filled with pan y tomate and drink, nuts, binoculars and camera, not forgetting shades and caps and fleece for the higher chilly breezes we set off at steady pace and over the brow of a hill watch as two large groups of people gather around their leaders before the first of them turn our way and start to climb to the ridge near to the Col de Floray.


Damn! We say to each other, wanting selfishly, the mountain, the lake, the views and the beauty to ourselves. We catch up the second of the groups and pass the first and with a Bonjour à tous we get in response a Buonjorno !


Mostly Italian, the group stops to look at and discuss a violet flower and then the clanking of the bells around the cows necks nearby.

As we climb we hear them continually chattering and calling; laughing and encouraging the rest of their group forward.

At Darbon we stop for our picnic and as we sit enjoying the peace, we hear the first of them
before coming into view and soon enough the entire crowd is noisily sitting by us and opening their lunch packs ignoring the pleading of the group leader, in French, to wait for the stragglers and the remaining group before deciding where to picnic...


A whole bunch of young kids are calling and laughing and whistling to hear their echoes around the bowl of lac Darbon and the normal speech of others in this natural amphitheatre is carried upward towards us.


Having rested after a delicious pan y tomate, a banana and fresh ripe plums we continue on to the Col de Pavis... through a huge fock of tagged sheep lazing in the sunshine amongst the dried grass. High above them we see the horns of a lone Ibex on the rocks of the Pointe des Pavis and we descend towards the GR5 junction at about 1830m before turning back up to the Col de Bise at 1915m before finally descending back to our car in an even fuller car park...


These people are at least out and using their mountains, the returning walkers in their muddied boots and the climbers with their multicoloured ropes having climbed the Cornettes des Bise pack the small outdoor area of the two refuges offering a refreshing beer or tarte mytille.


A nice way to spend a Sunday in late August.

Wish you were here !

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Coco Rose in a Coriander Pesto (heaven...)

Pod yer Cocos Rose (Borlotti beans...) cook 'em wiv an onion impregnated wiv a girofle; clove to you... and a peeled carrot...

when cooked, remove from heat and strain off the liquid... let the beans cool...

Meanwhile get a mixer and stick a large bunch of coriander in it, and give it a blast. Add some shaved garlic cloves, some pecorino cheese grated, or parmesan, and some pine kernels; about 50 grams or so... Jamie Oliver would tell you to warm them first... then drizzle...lovely word...about a glass, of olive oil in it, and season with some salt and fresh ground pepper. Mix it all together and you'll have the most orgasmic coriander pesto...
Then, having soaked some dried raisons in warm water for about 20 minutes, drain them and add to the beans in a large salad bowl. Chop up the cooked carrot and onion and add to the beans as well. Chop finely, one or two red onions and add them. Keep back a few thin strips of red onion to add as decoration.
Add the coriander pesto to the beans and mix well. I think they look good in separate earthenware bowls with a bit of red onion stickin' out...
But you know the rest. Just enjoy.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Les Fondus du Macadam à Thonon-les-Bains



If you ever wondered about the state of street theatre nowadays, I can tell you that it is alive and well and thriving on the streets of Thonon, in the Haute Savoie départment of France.

This is a well heeled but hard working town on the south shore of Lake Geneva, and the host every August of 5 days of anarchic and merry street theatre; some serious and some slapstick. Some for ardent theatre followers and comedy acts for children. Typical clowns enact a scene with a thread of story for the adults and fun for the kids.


The Stranglings, shown here, were a couple of Britons who brought a certain toilet humour, a sense of the ridiculous and British phlegm, which the French audience loved; especially the middle aged woman sitting next to me who nearly wet her knickers as she laughed so much. You'll just have to imagine the dirty laugh of the little boy sitting to her left. He couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 years old...



The next show seen was the following day 7th August, when at 17h00 in le Cour de l'Ecole des Arts, the show put on by the Compagnie Une de Plus was performance art at its weirdest, its most thought provoking and literally at its best.
This performance art was mesmeric. In hot sunshine in the courtyard of the Art School all was silent. benches laid out and in the middle of the coutryard stood a pole with bars weighed down by brown paper wrapped parcels on strings, swinging as if a huge outdoor mobile like those above a baby's crib. An electronic monotone started with over lays then of music and gradually firework explosions laid over. The pendule starts to swing, the boxes rise. Something large covered in brown paper sheets starts to unravel in a breeze and fall away.
Underneath the wrapping paper is suspended a mannaquin, with the brown head, hands and feet of an artist's work top movable model. The figure is wreathed in a cream coloured shroud like garment.
Striding on stage left a dark brown warrior on stilts with similar head, and hands but elongated rough hoof like feet.
They begin then to explore their world, their relationship builds, establishes it self and is destroyed, one by the other, seemingly with regrets. And ends. All the while the audience from adults to children of all ages is quite silent. They are mesmerised.

And with the show's 35 minute run at an end the applause from such a small audience group is loud, enthusiastic and sustained. The Compagnie Une de Plus seems to be genuinely surprised and gratified their performance has touched so deeply.

Wonderful stuff.

And finally as the heavens opened, and the rain poured down, the little courtyard of La Bodega played host to Lisbeth & Lisbeth and their world of culinary delights, mistakes, laughter and excessive drinking...

They made films of the audience using whisks as cameras, they peeled and cored apples upon their table waists and offered the thin slices to eager participants and one Lisbeth used a candle dowser as a drinking vessel. The more she had the more she needed, the more she needed the more she got...

And when I was serenaded with, "Only You...." I knew it was time to go.

There were still two evenings to be enjoyed....music to be dansed to, clowns to run away from and fireworks to be dazzled by...

Monday, 4 August 2008

I say Aubergine and you say......


EGGPLANT !!
and i never knew why... until I saw the aubergine plant growing in the gardens at "Le Jardin des Cinq Sens" in Yvoire on Saturday...
I have grown peppers, grown tomatoes and chillis and assorted herbs but never ever, aubergines... hence my child like sense of wonder...
If ever you are in the Geneva/Thonon/Evian area and you can make a detour to Yvoire for a short visit, I am sure you will not be disappointed.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Fête Nationale Suisse...*


*Swiss National Day...



The mauve light across the lake heralds the day's early thunder storm in the August heat...

Meanwhile, around here, the peaceful sense of 8am summer holidays with the sound of late waking; across the road, through his portes fênetres, Stephane softly learning his guitar; the twitters, no more - of small birds around the close village houses entering the open windows.

Léoni calls Jonna, her mother. Standing in bright white teeshirt her brown curls falling about her shoulders, her brown skin broken only be her matching white smile as she calls; the little girl wants her breakfast. Her brother not to be seen. Not to be heard.

Aurèle has already left for the market. His picnic needs can only be supplied in part by some. The rest will have to wait. Perhaps the sun will come out at the lakeside beach and with it, "les filles". Fabuleuse.

And soon the rasping mechanical turning of a mozzie-like moped breaks the peace. Now a car. Soon a truck or a tractor to split the day into two. Those that work and those that do not.

Friday 1st August is a normal day here in France. Only the Swiss, or those that work there, rest a little longer, before the fun begins...

And now as I type this, the rain beats outside, the thunderstorm heaviness hitting the clover thick in the lawn, and the promise of feu d'artifices fades...

Maybe next year.