The last of the summer mussels

An open musselWell, maybe not quite the last; I am sure there will be more. But it feels like they should be the last. This weekend started out overcast with a cooling drizzle that seemed to say, “C’mon guys, you’ve had your fun. Time to get back to work.” The market, which has been heaving over the last few weeks, was strangely quiet. No queues, even for the insanely popular dairy counter (not so insane if you know how the Normans like their cream and butter). And the mussels? Well they were in shorter supply than usual, looking a little forlorn alongside the Lobster and Whelks, still in full spate. So, it’s official: la rentrée is here. Time to get off the beach, out of the swimming trunks and back in the office.

This week, the English classes resume and I need to get myself back in gear. I hope that means I will start blogging again a little more regularly, but who knows? It’s been a great summer, but now it’s time to order the firewood for winter.

Never pass on a free concert

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SaxophonesMy neighbour tapped on my window at four this afternoon. She had crossed the road to tell me there was a free concert at the local museum this afternoon. They are running an exhibition of art by the Nabis artists, Maurice Denis. To coincide with the theme, the local école de musique had put together a concert of music by Debussey, Ravel, Saint-saens and Fauré. The finale was a nonet of saxophones, playing a suite by Ravel. It was delightful and a lovely way to spend a grey afternoon. It was a full house, and the audience were appreciative, if not enthusiastic. Impressionist music takes a certain ear, perhaps.

One thing that struck me was the difference between the teachers and the pupils. Not the quality of the playing; all the performers did very well. No, it was what happened after each piece finished. The teachers, without exception acknowledged the audience and each other. The pupils did not; instead they glanced furtively up from their music stands and slunk off before the applause had died down. What a shame that the teachers had not instilled that essential aspect of performance art: to acknowledge and accept the applause.

I recently downloaded a book written by one of the authors in the online group I belong to. It struck me that he had done the same thing with his writing, which I found both self-indulgent and dense, to the point of being indecipherable in places. ‘Write for yourself’ is always good advice, however, I think it also pays to acknowledge that someday, hopefully, someone else will be reading and to at least give a nod in the direction of the reader. Art is a form of communication: I don’t think it works if it’s one way.

Here comes the Sun (at last!)

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Greve du Nord, Granville, basking in sunshineEnfin! Two days in a row with full sunshine. After a truly rotten Spring, Granville is finally feeling like a real holiday resort once again. Only two days ago, people were scurrying around in coats.wrapped up warm against the chilly north-westerlies.

The unpredictable weather is a real problem for towns like Granville that depend so much on tourist income to keep their economies afloat. Although the recession is just starting to bite in France there are already empty shops cropping up here and there and a sense that people are already changing their spending habits. Whether this will impact on my language courses, I cannot tell. The good news is that finally I’m getting registered to deliver professional training (which can be reimbursed here) so more opportunities ahead! That is if the French Government don’t go ahead with proposals to limit my earnings to 19,000 € (Yes, my US readers, you heard it correctly). I can’t think of a better way to stifle growth than stopping small businesses from developing.

Still, the sun is shining…

Brussels—Belgian Beer, Bruegel and Bicycles

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Manneken Pis in Chocolate, shop window in BrusselsJust returned from the annual Art class jolly, this time in Brussels. (Last year was Berlin—we are working our way through capitals that start with ‘B’).

As before we were the oldest guests in the youth hostel, which was surprisingly comfortable and quiet despite being pretty full the whole week. From there it was a 15 minute walk to the city centre. Highlights of the week were the Musical Instruments Museum which had more bagpipes than you could wave a pair of ear-defenders at,  and some of the strangest instruments I’ve ever seen; the Folon Foundation housed in the farm at the Chateau La Hulpe, with scores of the whimsical works of Jean-Michel Folon, sculptor and watercolorist; and the aptly named Delirium Café that serves over three thousand types of beer. I became oddly attracted to the various types of fruit beer you can find in Belgium, including the Kriek, made with cherries. Thank you, Roy, for introducing me to that!

One evening we stepped off the beaten track and discovered the African quarter near Porte de Namur and a great Congolese Bistro where some of the braver (and non-vegetarian) members of the group sampled the house special – porcupine!

On the way home, a stop at the Matisse museum in Le Cateau-Cambrésis which was well worth the detour, having the third largest collection of Matisse’s work in France, a large collection of Auguste Herbin’s work and others, including a couple of Giacommettis. A great week in a great city and worth another visit.

Puccini at Christmas

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Puccini with a santa hat

We’re off. After a full day’s rehearsal with massed choristers, soloists, brass, woodwind and the odd professional violinist smuggled into the ranks, we are finally ready to face the public.

I have to admit to not feeling we were at all ready, but something magical happens when you get all the performers into one room and it suddenly gels, bar a bit of shouting at the sopranos, which happens every year. In this case, the rehearsal ‘room’ was the cavernous Église St Saturnin in Avranches, which, despite the heating being turned on  full hour before we arrived, was like a cold meat store. One hapless sop asked the conductor if the heating could be turned up and immediately wished she hadn’t as he turned on her with: ‘Madame, je suis chef d’orchestre ; je ne suis pas chauffagist!’

So, the concerts. There are three:
Tessy sur Vire, Église: Saturday 8 December at 6.30 pm
Avranches, Basilique Saint-Gervais, Sunday 9 December at 5pm
Mortain, Collégiale, Friday 14 December at 8.30 pm

Programme:
PUCCINI: Messa di Gloria and excerpts from Tosca
BARBER: Adagio for strings

Soloists
Catherine Lerévérend: soprano
Jérôme Gueller : ténor
Armel Le Dorze : basse

Conductor : Pascal de Saint Jores

Should be fun!

Caught with Pastis down his trousers

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Not me, I hasten to add, but the chap in front of me at the checkout. He’d spoken to me earlier, to cheerfully announce he was buying a can of beer ‘pour la route’, a little too cheerfully, I’d thought.

At the checkout he repeatedly set off the alarm before la caissière asked him to open his jacket. I recognise the problem with the over-sensitive alarm; my library books are always setting it off. However, this chap had no library books and made a grand show of pulling out his pockets and protesting his innocence before she let him go. It was then she spotted the bulge in his pants (!) and called him back.

She pulled out the bottle of Pastis and he shrugged, like a small kid caught with his fingers in the biscuit barrel, and she let him go with a ban from the shop. And, that that was that. No fuss, not argument and no police. It was all very civilised, the second time I have witnessed matters that would have warranted a call to the boys in blue in England, being resolved here informally and effectively.

Maybe it’s because the Gendarmerie are a pretty serious outfit compared with their British counterparts. Like many european police, they are armed and are fairly intimidating (though I think the Polizei come first in the intimidation stakes). Maybe it’s because people take responsibility here and active citizenship means dealing with your own problems. Maybe this is a small place and she knew the guy. There are only so many shops you can get banned from before it becomes difficult to buy food. Either way, I was quite impressed that the matter was dealt with without the (expensive) intervention of the state, and so calmly too. Some might think he got off lightly.

Maybe Monsieur Pastis-Pantalons will consider joining the library.

 

How to sex up your bread

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French advertising for breadPeople often ask me about the differences in culture between the French and British. One glaring example is their approach to food. Even the humblest of french food, the baguette, is revered and eulogised.

Take this advertising slogan I found on the wrapper of my breakfast baguette: “Cybèle est née de l’alliance entre artiste et l’artisane, elle mêle tradition et savoir-faire. Guidée par la main de l’homme, Cybèle restitue les saveurs subtiles d’un pain d’excellence. La baguette de légende.”

Roughly translated: “Cybèle was born from an alliance between artist and craftsman; it melds tradition with know-how. Guided by man’s hand, Cybéle restores the subtle flavours of excellent bread. The Legendary Baguette.”

Somehow I can’t see the Standard British White Sliced living up to that…

Six word Saturday: And the sea kept coming in

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High tide at St Martin

A couple of friends and I passed a very enjoyable day together rambling up the coast from St Martin. Twice a year we get really high tide, and round here we get the highest tides in Europe, so la grande marée is a really big event, both for the views of the salt-marshes completely covered and for the pêche a pied at low tide.

This is the road to Les Salines that crosses the Havre de la Vanlée. The tide came in so fast, it was like a river running

Today I’m helping another neighbour move out from the old town. She’s the second I’ve lost in the last couple of months, and I’m beginning to wonder if its something I said…

As autumn rolls in and the tourists disappear I’m getting myself ready for my second winter here.

Now I always park off road

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two cars parked very closely

Parking, french-style. Clearly, the driver was taught by the ‘that’s what bumpers/ fenders are for’ school of motoring.

Living in a part of town with incredibly narrow roads, I soon learned how to shoehorn my car into the tiniest parking space, but I’m always careful. Not this regular visitor. I have often seen him shunt cars front and back as he shuffles his car into position. Unbelievably, before he set off he tried to reverse even further into the car behind!

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