Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Rocks in Black an' White...

A week or so ago we went to dinner at a neighbour's across the road from us. Our neighbour is a lovely bloke in his early 70's and yet he still does it all himself. Célibataire officially, he is twice divorced and once-left by a long term lover, however his eyes twinkle at the girls and invariably he gets one staying over for 24 hrs on her day off and then one or two others that visit during the week. It keeps him young he says...

...and he also creates really good dishes although when for so many people as we were; eight, he will apologise and do the same menu - I have told him he needn't apologise when it is so consistently good, but he will insist and so, once again, we sat down to three "first" courses;
1) a salad of thinly sliced cucumbers in lemon juice,
2) a dish of sliced oven-softened and peeled yellow and red peppers and,
3) a superb salad of thinly sliced huge beef tomatoes grown in his own garden sprinkled with fresh herbs and usually fresh garden grown basil although for basil, this year has not for him, been too good.

This was then followed by a superb risotto with wild mushrooms. A plate of perfect cheeses, a Brie de Meaux, some chèvre, an époisses and some Abondance and then a fruit salad... except that he forgot the salad because of an overwhelming guest.

She'd done it once before; slapping a dessert, a tart of fraise or framboise into his small oven and then forgotten it. It was well overdone by the time the smell reached us as we sat in his far off sitting room drinking aperitifs of rum with home made lime quarters in dark sugar. Still, she insisted we try it, and all but the Missus did as we were told. It pissed Neighbour off no end, he is the type that would rather you didn't and again he forgot his own carefully made dessert. This time however, she turns up with her English guy in tow and again has neither asked nor suggested but just got her Anglais to prepare, cook and bring along (of all things) a Bread & Butter Pudding.

After that superbly light and refreshingly tasty meal we had to try the Bread & Butter Pudding with its rough bread crust corners pushing up through the damp and covered in sugar.

And it got to be too much. Besides which it was really not very good...

How to spoil a French dinner. Indeed it is so un-French. We were surprised when we first came to live here that guests did not bring a bottle of wine which they then expected to swig during the meal with little regard for what the cook has decided to serve as is the habit in England.

He could at least have tried Delia's luxury version.

And throughout it all, at the start of the Autumn Rugby Internationals; we realised that France was playing South Africa in Toulouse, it was on the telly and we couldn't watch it....

andouillette à la moutarde...

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Autumn Colours No., 3

We live at about 550metres above sea level and at this time of year that is roughly 150 to 200 metres below the cloud level. However we have a weird phenomenon at the end of each autumn when the cloud level over the lake builds up and the air temperature causes the cloud to either rise or fall and sometimes rather than be just underneath it, or worse, in it, we find we are above it... it doesn't last long and usually as winter's battle over autumn is won, the cloud rises and we live beneath the blanket of cloud while the snow capped mountains around us stay in brilliant sunshine.

The pictures above taken from my balcony show the cloud lying low over Lake Geneva which is approx., 380 metres above sea level...

Interestin' eh?

Friday, 20 November 2009

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Autumn Colours No.,1

I had been out on my first 90 minute midweek off-road walk since my knee operation and had felt good upto a point when I needed a breather and a swig of water.
While walking, I was looking for 'that' autumn colours shot and had traipsed about taking the odd shot from a slightly different angle of maple, beech or chestnut leaves. As I took off my pack I became aware of a tired wasp slowly moving about some nearby berries in a last ditch effort to find some sugar before the eventual cold of winter and the approach of death. My little Leica did the rest.

There are times of camera and no mojo...
and then,
There are times of mojo and no camera...

This was one of those days when I think I had both.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Sunday 1st November ...

On the GR5 below the Col de Bise at 1915m heading south towards the Cornettes des Bise and the Col that leads down to Chapelle d'Abondance...

A warm day despite the forecast and whereas I should have slaved over cold stones and wet mortar pointing the front wall of the house before the weather changes and winter arrives I decided I should benefit; and my wounded knee too, from a short walk above the cloud, above the tree line in the mountains and maybe take my Moleskine sketch book to try and capture a huge rock face in pencil, pen & ink...

Having tried it and viewed the results, I thought that mountain sketches are best left to those done by the great Wainwright. How he so meticulously drew those northern English hills; and so beautifully too, I shall never know.

The colours this autumn have been stunning; breathtakingly beautiful, with the golden leaves on the maples and the beeches inbetween the dark evergreen pines, still clinging on until the winds of winter loosen them.

So, then home to while away an hour or two of daylight warm autumn Sunday afternoon mixing cement and sand and finishing off the stonework on the front of the house... I might start to call it a cottage soon...

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Marseille - an end of summer weekend...

I love Marseille. But I'm not so sure why exactly I do so. It is smelly. It is noisy. I can't always understand the accent of the Marseillais, but there is something about the Ville, that I really love. It is vibrant and passionate. It is the biggest town in Algeria so I have been told. It is everything that Paris is not. It is a poor city by and large; at least that is my feeling when I have been there and because I do not know it intimately I may very well be wrong. But there are a great many beggars and some of those could be straight off the streets of Indian cities and North African towns. Arabic music wafts from small shops in the side streets where more than 30 years ago I witnessed my first knife fight in a street amongst these, between two women. Apart from the screams and the shouts of those involved all I remember is sitting in a rough restaurant and having my first menu du jour. I had no idea what I was ordering, or in what order.

(the photo above shows an outdoor art installation on the walls of the old fort in Vieux Port)

As summer ended, up here, I found I needed to dip my toes, to plunge deep into the Med and swim in warm water, and feel that I had not missed having a beach under my feet for yet another year. And when that need was satisfied, have a pastis de Marseille...

...while deciding what type of seafood to eat and where to eat it...

A pot of rosé wine, a first course of aioli, followed by salade des poulpes, a dessert of fresh fruit salad and a strong coffee for €11 + and then the patron wanders over and offers small glasses from an unlabelled bottle of an aniseed flavoured digestif.

The afternoon was spent wandering about the town taking photos of buildings, and boats in the old harbour while looking for somewhere to eat that evening.

Two sides to Marseille architecture...

In the Cours H. d'Estienne d'Orves (now with a name like that it is worth having a square named after you...) I found the Maison de l'Artisanat et des Métiers which housed a travelling exhibition of patchwork... Hmmm not usually my cuppa tea but a quick glance inside and the mention of the words, "entrée libre" got me inside where I was confronted by a collection of modern and traditional style patchwork, mostly on a visit from the American state and former French territory of Louisiana. Most of the work was simply beautiful. Fabulous fabrics, worked delicately and boldly. A real knock out.

One side was this.... a small group of poppies and a single poppy; so turn it over, or go around the other side of the display and ...

see a field of them...

Maples? Simply beautiful. I'll stick some others on Flickr.

A weekend by train through southern France, and filled with sand, sea, tremendous limestone cliffs, fish on plates, Arabic music and sweets at the end of a Ramadan day, pastis, climbing up to Cathedrals, packed street markets, graffiti covered walls and the steady siren scream of les flics - Plus Belle la Vie

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

While still feeling drowsy from the anesthetic ...

I thought the scaffolding was crying out for a couple of potted geraniums, and soon it will be too cold even to keep them out on the south facing side of the house.

Already we have had some killer frosts, as Sylvie next door has reminded me when asking me to go and pick some of her parsley...

So before I hand them to Aurèle for safe keeping over the winter, here they are...

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Renovation of an old barn - 2009, take3


Well almost. But the odd thing is that creativity has entered my life again...

A simple act of sorting through some collected stones and patiently positioning them against an ugly old wall, has been quite an exciting pastime.

I used to think climbing mountains and skiing fast was exciting. But something has obviously happened to me. I have loved it and it has, in the eyes of those close to me been quite noticeable.

Now all I have to do is mix a load of mortar and apply that with a block of tight sponge, and do that while it remains above 5 degrees centigrade, which is usually between the hours of 11am to about 3.3opm or so and when the sun sinks behind buildings and the air temperature drops. All this at only 550metres altitude.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Thought for the Day...

I wish I had not thrown the bloody thing in the bin, but an envelope I received a few days ago containing a well deserved cheque from some Swedish clients, had a beautiful stamp on it.

It pictured a bunch of carrots.

Fancy that. Swedes sending carrots.

Has anyone told them?

Rutabagas the lot of 'em...

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Renovation of an old barn - 2004

Some years ago we bought an old barn in need of renovation while we were in need of a roof. The fact that said barn overlooks Lake Geneva should be taken with a pinch of salt. The barn was in need of everything.

Three years or so after we took it on and started to live in and renovate it around us we decided it needed shutters on the front of the house. Some neighbours, Aurèle et Stéphane, watched as I struggled single-handedly to position and fix them eventually tiring of my growing frustration at my own ineptitude. They came over and took over. By this time, I thought the best thing to do was to go into the house and find a camera and record their endeavours. What they fixed is still in place and swinging open and closed as we desire. All I have done since is paint the buggers.

I was pissed off I must admit with the large patch of flat and ugly concrete above which was laid three rows of breeze block that had been mortared into place to block a gaping hole left where the original barn had been closed by some large door that would have opened onto the street outside. The amount of straw lying about when we took the place on suggested the upper part had stored hay and straw that fed the animals that lived below stairs... in the dank, dark and dreary space that now houses a bathroom, a laundry, two bedrooms, my office and a small wine store.

Only now have I had the real opportunity to get to grips with that ugly space...

Renovation of an old barn - 2009

Day 1... 9th October. Now, five years on I have decided it is time to fill the awful concrete filled space on the outer wall with stones collected from the garden, dug up when the four unwanted barn supporting pillars were removed and some given, again from Aurèle and Stéphane. Slight progress.

Day 2... 13th October... a few more stones posed and it is starting to generate a few complimentary comments from neighbours and passers-by. Encouraging.

Day 3... 14th October. I think I might get this finished before Christmas. More stones donated, all very important as the stone is and from a seam in the mountains that is particular to this area but is, unfortunately porous. Against the treated breeze blocks it will not have a detrimental effect. When the stone is used as a foundation all sorts of problems can be had but the damp only travels a certain distance upwards and the chalet type wooden living area is then put on top...

The damp caves or cellars below is perfect for storing wine...

I'm beginning to feel a little creative...

I'm getting quite a buzz from this. Lumilyon said in a post that she had felt a lack of creativity during August... I had had that very same feeling, but sad to say, with me it lasted into October. Lucifer begone...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

4 nashonal potree dayee

Previously published here...

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The last day of September 2009

I haven't felt too creative lately so thought I would just offer a smile and in some cases, maybe, a laugh to anyone who clicks on the link below...


Saturday, 5 September 2009

the 532nd edition...

There're mountains not far from here where I sit tapping at the klavier and each year on the first Thursday of September people who are normally locked away from the outside world are allowed down to the town of Thonon-les-Bains for the annual Foire de la Crete. This year was the 532nd annual fair. So they know how to do things properly.

Some of these obvious inbreds are employed in the process of preparation, cooking and serving of food to the hungry visitors that flock to Thonon each year. The roads are sealed and myriad stalls are erected and all manner of goods are offered for sale. The cuisine at this time of year is Cochonaille - I am led to understand this is anything to do with pork, particularly the offal and the blood. The food on the stalls is varied and usually always good. I have never had a problem, but sometimes when speaking to neighbours or friends; people at the occasional dinner party I might refer to the atriaux or diots vigneron and often these same people will make an impression of someone about to vomit. Not nice but sometimes humourous nonetheless.

This year I found one or two stalls selling "Hot Dogs" - the name conjures an image of a frankfurter type thin sausage in a soft elongated bun with a line of mustard or ketchup drawn along the length of the sausage from a squeezy bottle. Here nothing could be further from that image of the Chicago cop standing on a blowy street corner in the windy city with gloved hand wrapped around the hot dog while taking the change from the hot dog seller and getting some word off the street at the same time.

Here, these hot dogs are big fat bastard sausages, cooked in wine and garlic and onions and then stuffed into a hunk of pain campagne with some of the jus liberally poured over the saugage and into the bread. The resulting feed is just superb. Drinking some draught beer from a plastic cup to wash down the bread and sausage only heightens the enjoyment.

If a Hot Dog is not required then how about a diot ? This is a mountain sausage from this area and when vigneron as the one I had was, can be cooked in wine and herbs and consist of chittlings, and pork meat, and cabbage and of course all contained in edible skin. Proper food. Then afterwards a little wander around some of the tiny chalets with small groups of people gathered around and about, all sampling wines from various parts of this beautifully bountiful land.

A shopping stroll down one of the many side streets found a stall that sold knives and knuckledusters. How do the French get away with it? I love it. There was no one looking at the knives or other blades; no one seeking to buy or even steal one.

People were passing by and not even glancing at them. What would the reaction have been in Britain if such a stall was allowed in a street market. I imagine it would have been like a magnet to most youngsters. They would certainly have tried to buy one or two. I am no psychologist but I do wonder if the knife crime that is reportedly at such a high rate in the UK is not in part caused by the difficulty in getting hold of a blade. You mustn't have one so you immediately want to have one. Here they are readily available and knife crime is thought to be very low indeed.

Someone? Anyone? Got any answers to my quandary?

One stall that had several people clamouring to buy was the one stuffed to the gills with garlic...

The stall holder wasn't taking any crap from anyone. "What are you looking at? Are you going to buy some or not? Its the best rose garlic from Provence, don't just ask me what is what, get yer money out missus..." All said loudly in a smoker's rasping growl.

So having bought my string of garlic all I needed now was a decent joint of lamb and I'd cook that slowly on a deep bed of garlic cloves and heaven would enter by mouth....

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The Bestest Blog Entry In The Whole World Ever???


Mrs Pondlife may remember me and she went off to New York in 1978 and while there were taken to a nice little Oirish bar where some red haired idiot threw the beer bottle at me rather than serve it to me, and rattled the IRA collection jar from a safe distance.

The red haired idiot never bothered to find out my politics; the very fact I was an Englishman was enough for him.

How the US played at terrorism support then.

Friday, 28 August 2009

droplets on my hosta...

I'm not the most green fingered of people which might come as a surprise to any interested parties given that I garden for a living amongst other activities...

But I bought myself a book on Hostas while on a trip a year or so ago to Shropshire.

My in-laws of the sibling variety like to have breakfast at their local garden centre which is en route to East Midlands airport...so a stop off for a mug of stewed tea and a plate of sausage, eggs, bacon, a fried slice and a huge field mushroom fried in lard; a good cholestorol dose if ever there was one, and a side trip into the gift section brought forth a small handibook of hostas written by a New Zealander lover of these plants. I had no idea they came from Japan. But so it seems.

I hadn't upto that point considered hostas for my small garden, north facing and frozen solid in winter so thought the balcony would be a good enough space. Wrong.

The blazingly hot summer afternoon sun comes around the house in a furious arc, and falls upon any balconied plant. The geraniums hold their own but the hosta in it's pot and the bonsai'd acer both discolour and burn. I removed it therefore, to the garden and thought it was on its way to the green bag for garden refuse and would shortly be dumped with the cuttings from La Tanna' L'O or Chez Bochet at the local déchetterie. But a cool day, and a couple of nightly rain storms, brought forth new leaves and so now it rests in the middle of the shady grass on a stolen rock placed flat into the turf. And not quite over watered it seems to thrive.

We'll have to move house. But if we go further south, we shall have to find somewhere with a good bit of shade and maybe a little dampness somewhere near... I'm thinking Pyrenees.
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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Poem in an outdoor restaurant...

If only i could draw...i'd draw her.
Ms Fit-As-Fuck,
lunching in laughter while ignoring her man opposite
she tps txt in2 mobile...
reads her sms smoke curling about her thin tanned fingers
nails long...
Her long legs crossed easily below the table...
she dips and pokes, pushes morsels and moves about the plate.
Her water sipped she morsel moves again
her lean form hides at something deeper...
now she settles her tackle down and finished
pushes the plate away...
As Geoff would say,
Fit as fuck...fit to fuck...
but not he...

Thursday, 6 August 2009

6th August 1945... 6th August 2009

This guy is the youngest survivor of the bomb that fell towards and exploded above Hiroshima on 6th August 1945. He was born some months after the bomb exploded but in Buddhist terms he dates his age and existence from the time of conception, hence he survived. He was our guide on a visit there last April. And I feel honoured to have been guided around the area by him.

This building was the exact spot above which the bomb exploded. And is I think the only structure that is still standing from that time. It is all rather poignant as i have just started (or restarted) to read David Peace's "Tokyo Year Zero". I couldn't handle the style first time around and did not get past the first few pages... this time is different. So far very strange but very absorbing.

Fused in the heat of the explosion, these porcelain rice bowls have become one massed moulded lump...

The face of Hiroshima today. Smiling Japanese kids give the peace sign and greet us as we pass through the Peace Park and Museum. The attitude of the local people was quite palpable. They see it as their destiny to preach peace, and bear witness to the real cost of WMD. And all this on the day that Harry Patch WW1 veteran, was buried.

One of Hiroshima's specialities. A green tea bun... and they are truly fabulous. At risk of missing the train back towards Kyoto, I had to run back to the bakery and buy some more to feast upon as the Japanese countryside slipped by the train window.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Latest!! - Storms leave beautiful light and colour in their wake...

Dawn towards the Swiss Alps and Gruyere... Wednesday 22nd July.

North Nor-West, towards Lausanne and the Jura, following spectacular thunderstorms earlier, Thursday 23rd July.

Nice spot, 'ere.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Claude Nobs, BB King & The Montreux Jazz Stupidity Festival...

I'm one of those people that like Jeremy Clarkson. Actually seeing that written I realise of course I don't "like" him, but I do find him funny at times, thought provoking certainly, and I like to watch that petrol head programme even though I am not myself a petrol head.

Be that as it may, I have for a long time, supported Clarkson's continual jibes at the Health & Safety people in their yellow plastic over jacket thingys and the constant calls for sales staff in places like Café Néro, to tell you that the double espresso you just ordered is HOT!!! There are times though, that Health & Safety type rules and regulations are not only adviseable but simply good common sense for the well being of all.

European countries have their own versions of H&S and as an example, the Austrian instigated little number whereby the carriage in a vehicle of a fluorescent yellow reflective jacket for use in the event of a breakdown, became law, was adopted by the French.

Switzerland while not a member of the E.U. is still part of Europe which some people seem to forget, and they have interpreted different rules and laws to suit themselves. Fair enough one may think. This became all too clear last Monday 13th July when I went along to Le Petit Palais, in Montreux where B B King was to hold a blues guitar workshop free to all comers. I went to one some years ago and it was quite simply wonderful. This guy is now 82 or 83 years old and he still feels that he wants to hand something back and so for any interested people he will get his band together, sit on a small stage for at least an hour and maybe longer; in front of a welcoming audience, talking to them, answering questions, play short blues riffs, telling stories and then end up with a couple of full blast blues numbers. Great. And this is FREE. Thanks B.B.

However on this hot day, with temperatures hitting the low thirties the room quickly filled and included, elderly people, kids who hated loud music and cried; all the while being ignored by their parents, and some babes in arms. Some even took the guitar workshop in the programme title too seriously and turned up with guitars in huge cases which they placed on the floor of the crowded room allowing people to trip and fall over them and into the laps of those lucky enough to have bagged a seat. Many more crowded at the doors and tried to push their way in.

About 15 minutes after B B King had been on stage talking and playing, Claude Nobs - THE Director of the Montreux Jazz Festival since 1967, which he started with nothing but a bit of string, a marble, some bubble gum and a couple of thousand US $ in his pocket, pushed his way into the room, got onto the stage and announced that BB King was there to provide a workshop and further; as there were outside a few (hundred it seemed) people still wanting to get in, everyone in the room should move around along the walls, so that these others could come in and climb into the gangways and aisles and spaces at the feet of those sitting, and thereby fill the room way past its legal capacity.

As the heat in the room increased, it was easy to see the discomfort on the faces of some of the people and eventually, not long before Mr King finished, they pushed, much to the annoyance of some others, their way out.

It was a good thing no-one fainted, or collapsed. No one had a heart attack, and no security nor medical people were needed. But if they had been, I would not like to have guessed the unpleasant outcome. That function room at Le Petit Palais, surely even in Switzerland, has a limit on the amount of people it should be accommodate at any given time.

Claude Nobs stupidly flouted any rules that country, that town, and that hotel's management must know exists for the well being of all.

The general policing on Saturday 11th, the evening of the Brazilian Night was woefully inadequate to the point of non-existent. There was an air of menace and threat once some of the pissed-up idiot country yokels arrived mid-evening and decided to push their way through the overcrowded pathways outside some of the venues.

This used to be a great Jazz festival, but for me this year, coupled with the near extortionate prices of most of the gigs it has become a has-been festival. I'm not saying that some has-beens are not good, but just a quick look at the list of acts suggest that has-beens possibly out number the maybes...