31 October 2010

Snippets and a recently found recipe

We changed our clocks to heure d'hiver in France overnight, and it really is disorienting. I tried not to get out of bed at 5:30 this morning, even though my body knew that it was really 6:30 and was ready to get a move on. Now I can't believe it isn't yet lunchtime.

At the same time, it's nice to have daylight at 7:30 rather than 8:30 for walking with the dog, especially on Sundays. That's because Sundays are hunting days, and the hunters with their guns and dogs show up in the vineyard at 9:00 a.m. It's better to get the walk done before they arrive. (I just heard a loud gunshot from just out on the edge of our property.)

Sauté de veau. I recently read that veal is a food
that most Americans won't eat. Incredible...


I actually walked Callie late yesterday afternoon and again this morning, for the first time in a week. They were short, slow walks, as much as possible on even pavement. My ankle still hurts, but I don't want to give into it completely. It's been a week now since I fell and sprained it. The doctor says I should go get it x-rayed, and I have an appointment to do that on Tuesday.

Monday's a holiday, La Toussaint — All Saints' Day. Most businesses will be closed, though a lot of them are closed on Mondays anyway. The radiology lab is closed tomorrow. It's over in Selles-sur-Cher, 10 miles up the river from Saint-Aignan.

I also went to the supermarket yesterday for the first time since I sprained my ankle. It was crowded with people shopping for their holiday meals. The service station, however, looked like old times. It was open, with no waiting. There weren't more than three or four cars there, and there are four sets of pumps.

We have company coming to spend three days with us. It's old friends from California — we've known each other for nearly 20 years now, from the days when we worked together in Silicon Valley at Claris, Apple's dearly departed software subsidiary.

For dinner, I'm making one of my old standby recipes, with is Veal with Garlic and Olives. Here's the recipe, from Monique Maine's classic paperback cookbook called Cuisine pour toute l'année (1969). It's easy:

Sauté de veau à la provençale

800 g d'épaule de veau coupée en morceaux
2 gros oignons
1 c. à soupe d'huile
25 g de beurre
4 tomates
100 g d'olives vertes dénoyautées
2 gousses d'ail
thym, romarin, sel, poivre

Epluchez les tomates, coupez les en deux, épépinez-les, laissez en attente. Dans une cocotte, mettez à revenir les morceaux de veau avec l'huile et le beurre. Lorsqu'ils sont dorés, ajoutez les oignons coupés en lamelles, les tomates, l'ail non épluché. Salez, poivrez. Saupoudrez de thym et de romarin. Couvrez. Faites cuire à petit feu pendant 45 mn environ. 10 minutes avant de servir, ajoutez les olives.

Since it's a recipe from Provence, I use olive oil, even though back in the 1970s cooks in northern France seldom did. They used peanut or soybean oil back then. I also put in 10 or 12 whole garlic cloves, not just two. And I put in both green and black olives, pitted or not. Just tell your guests that there are pits in the olives, if there are, so they don't break a tooth.

This recipe was hidden from me for more than 30 years. It does not appear in the index of the two copies of Monique Maine's book that I've had forever. Those two are starting to fall apart, so I recently bought a new copy, which is a new edition. Glancing through the index the other day, I came upon the recipe, not under Veau, where you would expect to find it, but under Sauté de veau. Who knew?

I went back and looked through the two previous editions. Nothing in the index. But the recipe is actually in both books. Hiding. And not one word of it has been changed since 1969.

Here's a link to a similar thing I made and posted about a few weeks ago: Veal Meatballs with Olives. And a link to another Veal with Olives recipe from 2009. Both of those are in English. All would be good made with turkey or lean pork.

29 October 2010

Cayenne pepper paste

La pâte de piments — the chili pepper paste or puree — came out perfect, and it was easy to do. Simmering the Cayenne peppers in a little water, and then cutting them into pieces coarsely with kitchen scissors, meant minimal contact with my hands and no pepper vapor or dust in my eyes. I have to say that the vapor did get up my nose a little, but it wasn't unpleasant — not the way it can be when you stir-fry peppers in oil in a wok.

Cook the trimmed peppers in a mixture of water and vinegar.

Most of the ingredients in the recipe below are optional, really. And you could add other flavoring ingredients that you think would be good in the paste. All you really need is peppers, water, and vinegar. Onions, garlic, and ginger are good for extra taste. Tomato paste and carrots reinforce the red color and add sweetness. Smoked paprika gives a smoky edge to the puree, and a little cumin and some herbs can't hurt.

Then cut them up using kitchen scissors.

I turned out that I had about 100 cayenne peppers that were either very red or rapidly turning red, with just a little green and yellow left on them. I used them all, and when I weighed them before cooking, but after trimming off the caps, I had almost exactly a pound of them — 450 grams.

Cayenne pepper paste

I'll let the pictures speak for me and put the recipe I formulated at the end of this post. This is a pepper puree or paste in the style of the North African pepper paste called harissa, which is indispensable as a condiment with couscous or tajines.

I didn't grate the carrots but I should have. They would
have been easier to pass through the food mill.


Speaking of the food mill...

The fine blade of the food mill strains out the seeds and skins
as it purees the peppers and vegetables.


Here's what's left, to be discarded.

I decided to freeze the puree in ice cube trays.

Cayenne Pepper Paste

100 or so Cayenne peppers (about 1 lb.)
2 cups water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
2 carrots, grated
2 small onions, diced
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. mild smoked paprika
2 Tbsp. grated ginger
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. fresh coriander (cilantro) or other herb

Wash the peppers in cold water and then cut off the caps at the stem end. Put the peppers, seeds and all, in a saucepan and pour in the water and vinegar. Add the salt and the bay leaf.

Let the peppers cook, covered, on medium low heat for 30 minutes. Then cut them up coarsely. Use kitchen scissors to minimize contact with your skin).

Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and a little more water, just enough to barely cover all the ingredients. Continue to cook, covered, for 60 more minutes. Add water as needed to keep the peppers moistened.

Let the cooked peppers and vegetables cool and then run everything through a food mill, using the finest blade, or press it through a sieve, to eliminate the skin, seeds, and fibers.

Put the puree back on very low heat and let it simmer until it becomes a thick paste. Be careful not to let it scorch.

28 October 2010

Chillies

We grew peppers this year. Chillies. Piments. Walt did it, really. And what a success! Now the question is: what do we do with them all?

The last time we had a good pepper crop was in 2004, the first year of our vegetable garden here in Saint-Aignan. We grew cayenne peppers — piments de Cayenne. There were a lot of them, and we packed them in vinegar. We're just finishing the last jar of them now. When we tried growing cayenne peppers in subsequent years, they were a failure. They never produced peppers the way they did in 2004... until this year.

Red...

And that's funny, because in other years, we had great crops of red bell peppers. In 2004 or 2005, I harvested the bell peppers and put 6 or 8 of them on the table in the kitchen. My mother was visiting. At some point, I noticed her in the kitchen carefully examining the bright, smooth red poivrons.

When I walked into the kitchen, Ma looked up at me and exclaimed: "They're real, aren't they? They're so pretty that at first I thought they were wax, or plastic." But that year, we didn't get any cayennes. Last year, 2009, when the vegetable garden was a great success, the peppers didn't produce at all. The plants were sickly.

The funny thing is that this year's bell peppers never turned red. We had only one plant, but it did produce at least 4 gigantic green peppers. I finally picked them last week. They were still green. Compare that to the bell peppers we grew in 2006.

...and green...

But back to cayennes. We grew those this past summer, and they did ripen. We also grew jalapeños and some other larger green peppers that we can't identify. Walt has already packed several jars of them, pints and quarts, in vinegar. That's the best way to keep them: Poke a couple of holes in each pepper with a skewer, pack the peppers into sterilized jars, pour boiling vinegar over them right up to the top of the jar, and screw on the lids while the vinegar is still burning hot. The jars will seal, and the peppers will keep indefinitely.

The vinegar the peppers have been pickled in is also good for making salsas or flavoring beans or greens at the table. It's good in Asian-style stir-fries, along with the chillies. You can pack either green or red peppers like jalapeños or cayennes this way.

... piments forts

At this point, we have enough pints of pickled peppers in the pantry — 9 or 10. So I'm going to try something else with the peppers I gathered last week as this, as I pulled out the plants ahead of the arrival of winter. I'm going to make pepper paste or hot sauce. The problem is, I haven't yet found a tempting recipe or method. Do I cook the peppers first? Put them up raw, either chopped or pureed? De-seeded, or seeds and all?

I'm going to try this method...
Habañero Pepper Paste

22 habañero peppers, seeded and minced
8 habañero peppers, with seeds, minced
1 cups water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 carrot, chopped
½ cup onion, chopped
¼ tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. ginger root, minced

Bring the peppers, vinegar, and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes.

Stir in carrots, onion, cumin, garlic, and garlic. Continue cooking for 15 minutes.

Carefully puree the vegetables in a blender until smooth, then return to the saucepan, and continue simmering 45 minutes to 1 hour until thickened to the consistency of oatmeal.

When ready, refrigerate overnight before using.
...based on a recipe that I found here and have adapted slightly. I'll make it using Cayenne peppers.

Language

I'm not doing a very good job of staying off my feet, to let the sprained ankle heal. It's hard for me to sit still for long. The pain is minimal now, and the swelling has really gone down, so I am concentrating on not injuring myself again. When I do sit for a while, I keep that foot elevated.

Yesterday, however, I needed to go to the laboratoire d'analyses in Saint-Aignan to have some blood work done, in advance of an appointment with my doctor this morning. It's a regularly scheduled appointment, not specifically related to the sprained ankle.

Walt needed to walk the dog at first light, which is at about 8:15, yesterday, and that's also the hour when the laboratory opens for business. I decided to drive myself down there. It's only about three miles, and there's no traffic. There's only one stop sign and one stoplight on the route, and usually the stoplight is just flashing yellow. Yesterday morning I didn't have to stop for it at all.

The problem turned out to be that the lab, which is right on the river close to the Grand Hôtel, was crowded. There are three parking spaces, and all three were taken. Two cars were parked at the curb — up on the sidewalk, actually, straddling the curb. You know how they park in France. There was no place right in front of the lab for me to leave the car, so I had to turn into the narrow streets of old Saint-Aignan and look for a space.

I found one, and it wasn't too far but was farther than I really wanted to walk. No matter. I hobbled down the street back to the lab, checked in, and sat down in the last available chair in the waiting room. After a few minutes, it was my turn to go down the hall to the rooms where they draw patients' blood.

The woman who "occupied herself of me," as they say in French, was a gray-haired lady of about my age. She sat me down and then read my paperwork. « Monsieur Broadhurst. Charles, » she said. She pronounced Broadhurst with a pretty good English-sounding accent. She seemed confident. I can't remember whether she said Charles the English way or the French way.

I pulled up my sweatshirt sleeve and she started to fasten the tourniquet around my upper arm. I asked her (in French) if the sleeve was pulled up high enough. It's not in the way, she said. Then she looked at me and said, in French (she never actually spoke English): "With a name like that, you must be brittanique." American, I told her. But with British ancestors.

"Oh, American. That explains the fact that you've taken the trouble to learn to speak French," she said. British people, including many of those who come to live in France, notoriously have limited or non-existent abilities when it comes to la langue française.

It's strange to me that Americans have such a different reputation among the French people. I've heard such comments before. Remember, the British are the traditional "enemies" — of the French. It goes back to 1066 and William the Conqueror as we call him. He was called William the Bastard back then, but by the French (or Normands) not especially by the Anglo-Saxons. King William I of England, he became.

Americans are no better than the British at learning foreign languages. That's indisputable fact. (The French aren't any better, I might add, though that might be changing with the younger generations.) However, there are many fewer Americans in France than Brits, and maybe a greater number of the Americans who come here, including Walt and me, are people who have already developed their language skills. Fact is, Walt started learning French when he was 12, and I started at 14. I have two university degrees in French language and literature.

I worked in Paris, Rouen, and Metz for about 8 years in the 1970s. I taught French in Illinois and in California, for several years in each place, at the university level. I worked as a translator in Washington DC for several years. I'm a weird animal. French and France became my way of life. Hell, I even like French pop music, and Walt and I both have found it a great way to learn French pronunciation and expressions. Most British people I know turn up their noses at "that awful excuse for music" that they hear on the radio in France.

The fact is, too, that an American can't get in an automobile and drive to France. Okay, there's a ferry boat or a train through a tunnel to take, but it's an easy trip for a Brit compared to the long flight an American has to take to get to France. And once you're here, as an American, you are a very long way from home. It's expensive to go back. The jet lag can be a killer. You can't easily go home for just a few days.

You can't ask tourists to learn the language of every country they might want to visit. In most countries, nowadays, enough people speak enough English (especially in the cities) to help anglophone tourists get by, and many tourists from many other countries speak some or even very good English too. But from there to thinking you can "up sticks" and move to France without speaking any French is a very long leap.

My personal view is that British people who come to live in France are not so much arrogant about language — as many French people probably think — as naive. They think they will do fine. After a few years, they must think, they will have learned some French and will be speaking it well enough, if not fluently. Would that it were so easy. They don't come here because they love France and the French. They come for the warmer, sunnier climate and the low cost of real estate. Or out of some sense of adventure.

Learning a new language takes concentrated effort, a willingness to make a lot of mistakes and feel silly, and a lot of hard work. It's easy to get discouraged. During the learning process, at times you feel you are making amazing progress, but at other times you feel like you are stagnating and will never get any further. Let me say that I do know many British people who live here and who have learned to speak French, but also many who don't. It's not genetic.

I told the technician at the lab that my ancestors left the British Isles in the 1700s, as far as I know, and that both sides of my family have been in America long enough not to have any known British relations. "Did they go over on the Mayflower," she asked me in French. I'm sure I chuckled. No, I said. I guess I don't really know.

She asked me if my family name had a meaning in English. I told her it does. A "hurst" is a wooded hillside in old English, I told her. And "broad" means wide. It was obvious that she didn't know the word "broad" in English, so I told her that Broadway — a term all French people know — means la large voie, the "wide street," for example. She seemed to think that was interesting.

I also told her that, while I've been to England a few times, I don't really know much about the country. Once when I went there, about 15 years ago, I spent a few days looking at maps and driving around to see if I could find Broadhurst as a place name anywhere. I couldn't. In the research I did, though, I read somewhere that there was a Broadhurst prison over there.

« Une prison juste pour notre famille ! » I told her. « Vous imaginez ? »

27 October 2010

Pride goeth before the fall

Last Sunday morning I got up late. Late for me, anyway. I've always been an early bird. So Sunday when I woke up and saw it was 7:20, I was surprised.

I got out of bed, got dressed, and made my way downstairs. As I do nearly every morning, I put water in the kettle and set it on the stove to heat up. I got down the teapot and put a teabag in it.

Next I got a pouch of cat food out of the box next to the refrigerator and put it in one of the blue plastic bowls that Bertie eats out of. I walked out of the kitchen with it to the stairs that go down to the entryway and garage.

27 October 2005
the Restaurant Agnès Sorel in Genillé, near Loches


As I passed through the doorway, I thought about pushing the light switch that turns on the ceiling fixture in the entryway. But I walked on past it. "Oh, there's not need to turn it on. There's a nightlight down there anyway," was the thought that went through my mind.

I started down the stairs, which are made of travertine, a kind of limestone. They are wide and they curve down, making a half-turn before they reach the lower floor. It was 7:30 by now, but it was still pitch dark.

27 October 2007
La Renaudière and its vineyard


I was nearly at the bottom when I suddenly felt myself step into what felt like thin air. As I fell, I felt the heel of my right foot catch the edge of a step. I think it was the next to last step going down. I don't know if I hit the bottom step too, but I do know that I hit the tile floor pretty hard.

By then, I was vocalizing, but "Oh no! Oh no!" was all I could say. I was sure I had broken my ankle in the fall. I heard Walt answer me from two floors up. He was obviously on his way down the stairs.

27 October 2008
the last of the grapes


I was lying there in a puddle of cat food. It's the wet kind — some kind of little meatballs in a goopy sauce, a gelée. Bertie loves it.

My first impulse was to stand up. I did it. So nothing was broken, I thought. Good. I started picking up little pieces of cat food off the floor and the rug. Most of it was on the tile floor. I remember being on my hands and knees, scooping up bits of ground meat and globs of gelatin and putting them back in the blue bowl. I'm glad it's unbreakable.

27 October 2009
Walt was taking the TGV to Paris, on his way to New York.
It was also the day of our friend Jean-Luc's funeral.

That's how I sprained my ankle for the second time in five years. The last time must have been in the summer or autumn of 2005, just before I started this blog. I can't find anything about it in my old posts. That afternoon, I was just walking down the gravel road through the vineyard, I remember, and stepped either on a rock or into a hole and my foot turned over. It was very painful but I managed to limp the rest of the way home. I never actually fell down.

This time, nothing was broken and I thought the best thing to do was to walk a little, so after I fed the cat I took the dog out for her regular walk. I walked quite a ways, in pain, but not excruciating pain.

27 October 2010
Côt/Malbec wine from one of my favorite vintners
near Saint-Aignan — very good for easing pain.
That's the Saint-Aignan church on the label.

The excruciating pain came later in the day. I took some of the anti-douleur pills Walt got from the pharmacy when he hurt his cervical vertebrae while working on our painting last summer. I moaned and groaned all afternoon. The swelling set in.

Yesterday I thought my right foot looked kind of like a manatee. Ever walked on a manatee? The manatee doesn't like it. It's painful. But by Monday, and since, the pain hasn't really been too bad. I just have to take it easy for a few more days and avoid any more accidents. Soon, I hope, I'll be back to normal. And I'll be able to go for another walk with the dog.

26 October 2010

Wrapping up

It appears this morning that the oil refinery workers and the labor unions are winding down their strikes. Workers at several refineries have voted to go back to work. They say they are exhausted and at the end of their rope, economically.

Contrary to what some think, striking workers have not been not getting "free days off" for all this time. Their salaries are suspended for the days they are not working, unless they can prove that their employer was at fault and therefore responsible for the strike. I doubt that's the case in the recent "social movement."

It will take a few days for the fuel supply network to be put back in place, but it will happen now, barring unforeseen events. The retirement age will be increased — the law has been voted by the French Assemblée Nationale and Sénat. President Sarkozy will sign it into law.

Some people will say that this was the inevitable outcome, and that the strikers were wasting their time and almost frivously causing other people great inconvenience by disrupting train service, the fuel supply, and so on. After all, they are being asked only to work two years longer, until age 62 instead of 60, to be able to retire on a reduced pension. At 67 instead of 65, they'll be able to collect the full pension.

Personally, I have a hard time telling people to work longer, even if life expectancies have increased significantly in countries like France, Germany, Japan, and other industrialized democracies over the past few decades. After all, I "retired" at age 54. I was very lucky.

In the U.S., you can also collect a reduced Social Security pension at age 62. To get the full payout, you have to wait until you are 65, if you are of my generation, or 66 or even 67 if you are younger.

Many employees of big corporations in the U.S., however, can retire earlier. If you have a 401K plan and you have contributed to it diligently over the years, you can take retirement at age 59½ and start drawing dowb that pension fund. (Assuming there's enough left in it after the recent financial crisis...)

The question in France now is what the effect of this period of turmoil will be on public sentiment toward the labor unions and toward the current national government. President Sarkozy's approval rating in polls is now down below 30% (even though, contrary to what you might think, only 8% of the French workforce is unionized). A week or so ago, polls indicated that 70% or more of the French people sympathized with the strikers and wanted the pension reform bill to be re-negotiated.

The next presidential election will be held in May 2012. That's not very far in the future. Will Sarkozy try to soften his image now and win over those who disapprove of his policies and tactics? Who will the next prime minister be? Will it be more of the same, or will there be some kind of overture toward people who might be tempted to support Sarkozy's Socialist opponent in 2012?

25 October 2010

The fuel situation, Monday

I'm continuing to blog about the fuel situation in France because according to TF1 news, quoting a government minister last night, the situation could get slightly worse today. The twelve oil refineries in France are still being blockaded by strikers.

This map shows the fuel situation in different parts of the
country— very difficult, difficult, and slightly difficult.


I think most of the fuel storage depots have been opened up again by police, and tanker trucks are getting in and out. But France is running on reserves, and on refined oil products (gasoline and diesel fuel) being imported from the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and Spain.

And these departments are the hardest-hit.
Indre-et-Loire is the Tours area, near us.

The government is giving priority to filling stations on the autoroutes — the expressways, which are toll roads. One driver over near Tours, interviewed for last night's news report, pointed out that he not only has to pay high prices for fuel now, but he also has to pay an autoroute toll in order to go fuel up!

An Intermarché station that's closed and empty.

Seven départements in France are facing a critical shortage of what is called le carburant — fuel. Some filling stations might have Sans Plomb 95 (which used to be called essence) or unleaded regular gas to sell. Others might have Sans Plomb 98 (which used to be called super) or unleaded premium gas. Still others might have gazole [gah-ZULL] or gasoil [gah-ZWAHL], or diesel fuel, to sell. But it seems like few station have all three.

No price posted means there's nothing to sell.

In fact, the government says that 25% of the filling stations in the country are completely à sec — "dry," out of fuel. En rupture. Don't even think of asking for un plein — a fill-up — in most places, unless your tank isn't very empty. Many stations have put limits on how much you can buy at one time in order to spread the available fuel around to as many customers as possible.

"Station closed. No more fuel."
"Roulez au pas" means "go slow."

Normally, if you have a French credit card with a chip on it and a PIN, you can fill up any time of the day or night, even when the station is unstaffed. Not now, though, because they don't want people filling up jerrycans and depleting supplies.

I'm posting some pictures that I captured off the TF1 (a privately owned channel) news, via the web site, this morning.

24 October 2010

What the devil...?

A few days ago I made a batch of what are called Pruneaux au lard fumé in French and "Devils on Horseback" in England. They're an excellent apéritif finger-food. And they're easy to make, though it takes a little time.

I don't know why the English call them Devils and what Horseback has to do with it. Is the Devil the prune or the bacon? There's also a concoction called Angels on Horseback, which is oysters wrapped in bacon and then baked, broiled, or grilled. I guess the Devil is the prune, then, and the oyster is the Angel. The bacon is the Horeseback part, even though bacon is pork, not horse meat. Maybe I'm being too literal.

It's a little like Devil's Food Cake vs. Angel Food Cake, isn't it?

Pruneaux au lard fumé, or Devils on Horseback

Prunes are a good way to preserve plums. In French, the plum is la prune and the prune is le pruneau — plural pruneaux. The most famous pruneaux come from the French Southwest around the town of Agen, and are called pruneaux d'Agen. Evidently, plum trees were brought to Agen from the Middle East at the time of the Crusades, a thousand years ago. They thrived.

The prunes known as pruneaux d'Agen in France

The dried fruit and the Southwestern town between Bordeaux and Toulouse are an automatic association in France, and Agen prunes are available, whole or pitted, in all the supermarkets. Actually, I've read that a lot of the prunes sold in France are now imported from California.

The ones I used were packaged and distributed by a company in Marseille. They were sold dénoyautés, which means the noyau, the pit, was already removed. And according to the label on the package, they were dénoyautés à la main — by hand, not by a machine. I seldom buy pitted plums, but these looked good and weren't expensive.

The French equivalent for U.S.-style bacon
is also known as lard fumé.


And I used French poitrine fumée, which is also called lard fumé, because that's the closest equivalent for U.S.-style streaky bacon. What I got was very lean, in nice even slices. It comes from the supermarket. At the open-air markets, a charcutier or charcutière will thinly slice a slab of smoked bacon for you too. Or you can buy the slab and slice it yourself, or cut it up into chunks called lardons for other recipes.

Wrap each prune in half a slice of bacon
and stab it with a toothpick.


To make 20 pruneaux au lard fumé, you need ten slices of bacon. Cut them in half down the middle, because half a slice is long enough to wrap around a prune. Pit the prunes if they aren't already dénoyautés.

Sprinkled with black pepper and ready for the oven.

Wrap each prune in a half-slice of bacon and attach it with a toothpick. Bake the wrapped prunes in a hot oven for 10 minutes, or until the bacon is browned and starting to crisp. Serve warm at apéritif/cocktail time with a glass of wine — red, white, or rosé.

No strike news from me today. Gas and diesel fuel are still only spottily available around the Loire Valley. The employees of the requisitioned oil refinery near Paris are planning to take the government to court again on Monday to try to get the latest requisition order overturned. Across France, trains are still running on reduced schedules, but not so reduced as before.

23 October 2010

Saturday's "social" conflict report

That's what the current situation is called in France: a "social" conflict. It's a labor conflict in American terms. Strikes have lots of names in different countries. Industrial actions. Work stoppages. Grèves. Why is the conflict called "social" in French? Think "socialism" and struggles between the working classes and the upper classes of society. Labor and management, if you prefer.

Yesterday the French senate passed the retirement pension reform bill by a vote of 177 to 153. Now the bill will be promulgated, or signed into law, by next Wednesday, the day before the next planned "mobilization" — demonstrations and marches in the cities.

Yesterday I mentioned that the Sarkozy government had moved to "requisition" a big oil refinery in the Paris area, on the grounds that it produced 70% of the fuel supply up there. The requisition order required striking employees to return to their jobs or face legal action.

An administrative law judge suspended that order yesterday, or at least the part that required strikers to go back to work. The court said that the local police prefect's order was a "manifestly" an illegal infringement of workers' constitutional right to go out on strike. In France, a prefect is appointed by the national government to oversee a "department" — un département — which is an administrative division like a county. There are about 100 departments in France.

I'm finding this a very interesting lesson in how the French government works. I assume that attempting to requisition the refinery and its striking employees near Paris was a way for the executive branch to test the waters. Would the courts let the national government proceed that way?

On the news this morning, reports were that 11 of the 12 oil refineries in France are still shut down. The country is currently running, tant bien que mal (for better on worse), on petroleum reserves being drained out of storage depots. That can't last forever. Could the other refineries be requisitioned "in the national interest" as well?

They say that about 25% of the countries filling stations are still shut down, for lack of fuel to sell.

I read an article in Le Monde this morning — what we would call an op-ed piece — in which the author pointed out that the fair thing for the president to do at this juncture would be to dissolve the national assembly and force new parliamentary elections. The writer said that in 2007 Sarkozy and his party's candidates campaigned on a promise not to change the minimum retirement age. Now he wants to raise it from 60 to 62.

Sarkozy has majorities in the two legislative bodies to get the law passed, obviously. But does he and does parliament have a mandate from the French people to raise the retirement age? Personally, I don't know. I don't remember the details of Sarkozy's party's 2007 platform, and as a foreigner I can't vote here.

One view of the French governmental structure is that the President of the Republic, as head of state, should stand above the political fray and act as an arbiter in political, "social," and administrative conflicts. He or she should call new parliamentary elections when there are major conflicts such as the current on. When 70% of the people responding to pollsters say they thing the proposed pensions reforms need to be re-thought, it would only be fair to let them vote and see if a different parliamentary majority might be elected to govern the country.

In other words, parliamentary elections are not held every two years as they are in the U.S. They are held once every five years unless the President of the Republic decides to call them early.

President Sarkozy certainly hasn't remained above the fray since he was elected in 2007. In fact, many would say that he has usurped the prime minister's role as head of government and gotten involved in everything from trying to make the trains run on time and decide what programs should be shown on television. Anyway, why would a president dissolve the parliament and call for new elections if he thinks his party might lose their majority?

De Gaulle did something like that about 40 years ago. On a controversial question about decentralizing the government, taking some powers away from Paris and giving them to regional authorities, Le Général called a national referendum. He advocated the status quo, but he lost out. And he resigned as President of the Republic because a majority of the voters had rejected his proposal.

In the 1990s, President Jacques Chirac called for parliamentary elections just two years into his first term. He thought he could increase his party's majority in the national assembly. He lost, and then for five years he had to work with a Socialist Party majority and a Socialist prime minister in an arrangement they call « cohabitation » in France. The majority in the assembly chooses the prime minister.

It's all very different from the way the U.S. federal government works.

22 October 2010

A different view of Thursday

Yesterday I got my hair cut by Madame Barbier down in the village. We had a nice chat about local happenings and current events on the national level. The café-tabac across the road from Madame Barbier's shop has been sold, for example. It was closed for inventory yesterday, and the new owners will be open for business today.

I heard the man who was getting his hair cut when I arrived for my 10:30 appointment tell Madame Barbier that he had been fishing. He has caught three fish in the Canal du Berry recently, he said — the canal ends over in Noyers-sur-Cher, where it dumps into the Cher River. At least one of the fish the man caught was a brochet, I heard him say. I'm not sure what the others were.

The brochet, or northern pike, is a prized catch. It is one of the largest freshwater fishes, and it puts up a good fight when hooked. It's bony if fried, but baking a brochet causes some of the fish's small bones to dissolve so that the flesh, white and tasty, is easier to eat. It's been a food fish since at least Roman times. The most famous way to prepare the flesh is in the form of the dumplings called Quenelles de brochet.

Yesterday morning's freeze turned the grape leaves
orange, brown, and red.


Madame Barbier also told me that Valentin Ledys, who has opened a new winery in our neighborhood, is a young man who has just finished his studies in oenology. His father, who was also in the wine business, was killed in a car accident a few years ago, she said. The son probably inherited some vineyard parcels, because he already has his label on the market. I bought a bottle last week at the little grocery store in the village. I haven't been to the winery yet.

While I was getting my haircut, Walt went over to the garden equipment store over in Noyers to pick up our chainsaw. It had needed a minor repair, and the chain needed sharpening. They say it's in good working order now. Walt also went to Intermarché to get some eggs and bacon. He said the filling station there seemed to be open for business, and he didn't see any long line of cars waiting to refuel. We didn't need a fill-up anyway.

Then we drove over to a village about five miles east of Saint-Aignan to see some friends who had a small crop of turnips they were ready to harvest. They had called to offer us the turnip greens, and I was glad to get them because we didn't grow any greens this year. My grandmother's greens of choice were turnip greens, though my mother, when she had a garden, usually grew and cooked collard greens, as I do. I'm not sure I'd ever cooked turnip greens before, at least not in quantity, but that's what I did yesterday afternoon, for the freezer.

Turnip greens stewing with sliced onions
in duck fat and white wine


On the way, I almost forgot to say, we stopped and bought some wine from one of our favorite Saint-Aignan viticulteurs. He told us he finished les vendanges, the grape harvest, about a week ago. He was obviously very busy pressing grapes, but he took a minute to wait on us. He said the grapes this year are about like in 2009, with maybe a touch more acid. The 2009s are good.

After lunch, Walt went out and pruned back four big bushes in the yard for the winter, including two hazelnut bushes. He was ambitious. I, however, got involved in a silly but entertaining French movie from 1996, on TV, and spent the afternoon watching it and relaxing, while the greens cooked. Oh, and then I went for a long walk in the vineyard with Callie.

That's a day in the life. Retirement, you know.

On the political front, overnight President Sarkozy took another big step to try to end the ongoing fuel shortages and strikes. He had the government "requisition" — réquisitionner — a big oil refinery in the Paris region. The striking employees were told that they were requisitioned too. In other words, they must return to work for the public good or face legal sanctions. Strikers say their constitutional right to strike has been violated, since they are being threatened with prison sentences if they don't return to their jobs.

Meanwhile, labor leaders voted yesterday afternoon to call for another round of demonstrations and marches next Thursday and again on November 6. By then, the pension-reform plan will probably have been voted by both houses of the legislature and signed into law. Sarkozy's strategy is to get the law passed quickly, because, as one commentator said, what's the point of protesting a law that has already gone into effect?

21 October 2010

Thursday in France — still limping

Friends reported yesterday that the filling station at Intermarché across the river in Noyers-sur-Cher, where we often go for diesel fuel, is completely closed down, with nothing to sell. Up at SuperU, the filling station is selling fuel only to emergency vehicles like ambulances. Even the little Renault garage in our friends' village, which charges an arm and a leg for a liter of fuel, they say, has run out.

Nick and Jean (A Very Grand Pressigny) report from their village an hour southwest of Saint-Aignan that all the filling stations down there are closed up and empty. Nick writes: "The word in the village is that its going to be next week before either the protest ends or the Army move in to restore supplies. Either way it looks like we're pretty much confined to quarters..."

Yesterday's sunset at La Renaudière,
outside Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher

Yesterday the French forces de l'ordre (police) moved on nearly all the fuel storage depots in northwest France yesterday to remove strikers and their barricades, with the exception, I saw on television, of the one in Saint-Pierre-des-Corps. That would probably explain the lack of fuel the the filling stations all around Saint-Aignan and Le Grand-Pressigny.

According to the government, about 3,200 filling stations in France, or about 25%of the total, have no fuel at all to sell at this point. The pumps have run dry. But that does mean that 75% of the filling stations around the country still have some fuel to sell. It still seems that diesel fuel is the hardest to find. There's still some unleaded gasoline.

Today, too, about 75% of regularly scheduled TGV trains will run, as will 60% of the regional TER trains and 50% of the regular Corail inter-city trains nationwide. The Paris public transit system seems to be running normally.

In Lyon yesterday there were pitched battles between police in riot gear throwing tear-gas canisters, on the one side, and masked young people, some just adolescents, throwing rocks and bottles, on the other. The mayor of Lyon is calling on parents to try to make sure their children are not out on the street without supervision.

Nationally, student leaders have called for another day of demonstrations today. Labor leaders are meeting today to vote on whether to hold another day of demonstrations next week. In Bordeaux and other places, strikers have tried to block access to warehouses that supply the big supermarket chains.

We made "wraps" — pronounced [VRAHP] in French — for lunch
yesterday, with N.C-style pulled pork, chipotle- spiced beans,
broccoli, melted Cantal cheese, and a salsa of garlic,
onions, peppers, olives, and tomates confites.

Access to the airport at Marseille is being blocked, or at least seriously impeded, because of demonstrations organized by oil refinery workers. The traffic backup this morning was « important », according to authorities.

Yesterday there was video on the news of passengers who were trying to get to Roissy/CDG and Orly airports, at Paris, having to get out of their taxis and walk the last few hundred yards to the terminal, with their baggage, because demonstrators wouldn't let the taxis through. They call such operations barrages filtrants — "filtering dams" — and they are designed to inconvenience everyone in an effort to make everybody aware of what's going on.

A close-up of yesterday's sunset,
which I took from an upstairs window

Walt and I are taking the car out this morning for the first time since Sunday morning. I want to get a haircut, and Walt wants to go across the river to Noyers to see if our chainsaw has been repaired — they've had it for nearly two weeks. We also need a few things from the supermarket, and some wine from a winery five miles up the road. We won't go far and we have ample fuel in the Peugeot's tank for our needs... and for the time being.

There are predictions that things won't really get a lot better, in even the best circumstances, for another week, or maybe two.

20 October 2010

No quick fix

The French prime minister, François Fillon, says it will take four or five days to get the fuel supply situation back to normal. Now there are reports that at least a third of the filling stations in France are short on fuel, if not entirely out. Diesel seems to be the hardest to find..

Overnight, three fuel storage depots, one in Le Mans, another at La Rochelle, and the third down at the mouth of the Loire River, west of Nantes, were retaken by police, ending blockades set up by workers and union members. At the same time, France 2 news is reporting that strikers removed by force from the blockades out at Donges, near Nantes, have set up barricades blocking the roads leading into the fuel depot if an effort to keep tanker trucks away. It's not over until it's over, I guess.

Polls this morning indicate that 80% of the people would like the government to re-open negotiations with the labor unions on the question of retirement pension reforms. It remains to be seen whether President Sarkozy will be swayed by such polls, or whether he and his cabinet will maintain their hard-line position that it's too late to start further negotiations.

When it's chilly outside and the gas lines are long,
an old man's thoughts inevitably turn to lunch.

Broccoli stir-fried with garlic and tomates confites.

The strike has entered that delicate phase where positions are hardening and troublemakers are starting to make their presence felt. Meanwhile, the Toussaint — All Saints' Day — school vacations begin Friday, so people are going to be eager to get back to their normal lives. That includes the strikers, the demonstrators, and the people who are being inconvenienced by the fuel shortages. The logjam will break soon, and if the government holds out, it will get its way.

On a slightly different subject, today is the fifth anniversary of my first blog post on Living the Life in Saint-Aignan. I can't decide whether to go on strike and demand retirement benefits, or to just go with the flow. I'll be 62 soon anyway, so I'll qualify for reduced benefits no matter what. And if I keep working, at least I can WAH, as we used to say in Silicon Valley. That's "Work At Home."

19 October 2010

Today's bulletin

It's a little early to know what the situation for travelers and commuters in France is going to be like today. Yesterday a friend said there were 30 cars in line for gasoline or diesel fuel at the SuperU gas pumps in Saint-Aignan. Our region is supposed to be one of those least affected by the fuel shortages.

Another friend said the garagiste in a village south of here wasn't willing to sell more than 10 euros' worth of diesel to any one customer. You know that's not much, with the gallon going for the equivalent of seven U.S. dollars or so.

Today might be the critical point in this whole showdown between the government and the labor unions over retirement pension reforms. It's the sixth journée de mobilisation in just a few weeks. If participation in demonstrations and marches starts to trail off, the government will be able to hold firm. If the size of the crowds continues to grow, all bets are off.

Walt and I are hunkered down. We don't need to go anywhere. We are waiting to see whether the porteuse de pain, the bread lady, will come by this morning. But it doesn't matter — we have bread, butter, milk, flour, sugar, and wine to last for a few days — not to mention all the garden produce that we have in freezer. It's not unusual for us to go 4 or 5 days without once taking the car out of the driveway.

Here are some tidbits from the news yesterday and this morning:
  • Sales in French service stations have been up 50% over average levels since the fuel shortages became news — at least the ones that aren't à sec. That, in part, is why there are shortages.
  • Some fuel storage depots around the country are still being blockaded by workers, but the government is try to keep them open, saying workers have the right to strike and demonstrate but not to blockade critical facilities.
  • Fuel shortages (especially diesel) are worse in the west — Brittany, Pays de la Loire — and in Normandy, Provence, and the Ile de France (Paris area). Central France and the Southwest are less affected.
  • About 1000 of the 13,000 or so service stations in France were experiencing some shortages yesterday, and some are totally closed down. The government says there is plenty of fuel in storage to keep France moving for several weeks. It's just a matter of getting it delivered to the service stations.
  • Hundreds (out of many thousands) of high schools and some universities have been closed down by demonstrating students. Hooligans have taken advantage of the situation to vandalize shops and street fixtures (bus stops, things like that). Several hundred so-called casseurs were arrested across France yesterday.
  • According to polls, 71% of the French people say they feel sympathetic toward the strikers. People seems to be saying that the retirement pension system definitely needs reforming, but they feel that the measures currently being debated and voted on in the French parliament and senate are not satisfactory. They want new reform proposals. The government says it's too late for new proposals, and doesn't seem ready to back down.

18 October 2010

Escargots and other fine specialties

Okay, now the truck drivers in France have decided to get their piece of the action. They are planning to start traffic slow-downs on the autoroutes —what they call « opérations-escargot » — to make clear their displeasure with the governments retirement pension reforms.

On the France 2 news, journalists are pointing out that there isn't much point in slowing down traffic, because in so many regions motorists can't find fuel for their vehicles anyway. The way they will slow it down is to have as many big trucks as there are lanes on the highway driving slowly, side by side, so that nobody can pass them. It's effective.

Yesterday, before our Sunday dinner, I had to make an unexpected trip to Amboise. On the way, I noticed that some service stations were closed but others were open — and I mean stations that would normally be open for business on a Sunday morning.

I had gotten up early to continue my dinner preparations, which had started the evening before. Vegetables were peeled, shallots were sliced already, but the guinea hen needed to be cut into serving pieces. That's what the recipe called for. There were a million things to do around the house, I thought. Many didn't get done, and it didn't matter.

Roasted winter vegetables — turnips, carrots,
rutabagas, shallots, onions, and celery root


If you want the recipe for the main course, here's a link. It's on David Lebovitz's blog, called Living the Sweet Life in Paris. We followed it faithfully, except that we bought a guinea fowl — une pintade — instead of a chicken. That's a little more exotic, and one of the poultry vendors at the Montrichard Friday market (also at the Saint-Aignan Saturday market) sells very nice ones at a very good price (5.20 €/kg).

I also substituted fresh sage for the parsley in DL's recipe, which he says he adapted from a recipe in Susan Herrmann Loomis's French Farmhouse Cookbook. I like sage with poultry or pork.

I had finished cutting the pintade into pieces — two wings, two drumsticks, two thighs, and four breast pieces, plus two pieces of the neck, which was 6 or 8 inches long — and put it in the refrigerator, when the telephone rang. It was a friend who lives in a village 7 or 8 miles south of us. "Do you have petrol in your car?" she asked. I said I did.

"I'm sorry to call you so early on a Sunday morning," she said. It was 9:00. "I really need someone to drive me to the emergency room. I've injured my eye, it's very painful, and I don't think my driving myself to the hospital would be a good idea." I told her I'd be at her house in about half an hour.

I got there and we drove up to Amboise, which is only about 20 miles from Saint-Aignan. We finally found the emergency room — spotty signage — our friend got the treatment she needed, and I was back at home by about 11:45. Walt was working on the dinner preparations all that time.

The long and the short of it is that our friends from Paris were able to make the three-hour drive down from Paris yesterday morning, despite the fuel situation, and they actually arrived early, at 1:00. We didn't expect them much before 2:00. They helped us finish up the work in the kitchen

Then our other friends arrived, with their dog. Gracie the dog was excited to see Callie and all the people. As soon as she came in, she brushed by the coffee table and toppled a glass of sparkling wine with a swipe of her tail. It was white wine so no great damage was done, and our friends from Paris noted that the coffee table was especially shiny and brilliant after we wiped it down with the bubbly! There's a good house-cleaning tip for you.

Roasted guinea hen with caramelized shallots

It's hard to take pictures of food when you are serving it and socializing with guests. I took only two — at the table, without the tripod, so they aren't the best pictures I've ever taken. Our roasted pintade with caramelized shallots was delicious, but it looked nothing like David Lebovits's. It was a mahogany brown. I don't know if that was because it cooked longer than DL's or because it was guinea hen and not chicken.

Whatever, it was delicious. One guest said that she always thought of pintade meat as being drier than chicken meat, but this pintade was not dried out at all. It was moist and flavorful. The vinegar and soy sauce it cooked in had a lot to do with that. The roasted winter vegetables, cooked in olive oil with thyme, salt, and pepper, were good with the bird. Walt's pumpkin raviolis with a buttery sage-walnut sauce were the hit of the day. I think he'll post about those on his blog.

17 October 2010

Wine and fuel

What with the fuel shortages and gas station closings, we wonder whether two of the people we invited for dinner today will even be able to get here. They were planning to drive down from Paris. We're waiting to hear from them. The other two friends live just five miles up the road, so they shouldn't have any trouble making the trip.

We found these wines from the region to have with our dinner:

  • a Touraine Cabernet Franc from Valérie Forgues at Domaine de la Méchinière, a winery just a mile down the road from us in Mareuil-sur-Cher;
  • a bottle of Touraine-Mesland from Domaine de Lusqueneau, which I think is a a blend of Gamay, Malbec/Côt, and Cabernet Franc— Mesland is a village about 25 miles north of Saint-Aignan that has a good reputation for its red wines;
  • a Côt/Malbec from Guy Allion at Domaine du Haut Perron, across the river from us in Thésée-la-Romaine;
  • a Saumur-Champigny from Nicolas Verdier in Montreuil-Bellay, over on the west side of Tours, made from Cabernet Franc grapes;
  • a Touraine Gamay bottled by Justin Monmousseau in Montrichard.
I think we overdid it on the reds. I can't imagine we'll open more than a couple of them this afternoon. There will be six of us, as I've said.

Just to be sure, however, we also bought some whites and rosés:

  • a Perle de Rosée ("pearls of dew") Pineau d'Aunis rosé from the Domaine de la Renaudie, the winery that owns the vines around our hamlet, La Renaudière;
  • a Domaine de la Renne rosé from up the road in Saint-Romain-sur-Cher, which is also made from Pineau d'Aunis grapes;
  • a Valentin Ledys (Domaine de la Chôtinière) Touraine Sauvignon white from the new winery just a few hundred meters up the hill from our house;
  • a local Chardonnay white from the Domaine de la Pounière in Saint-Aignan.
And did I mention the bottle of bubbly Vouvray we plan to have as our apéritif, with some tomates confites on toast with fresh goat cheese?

We seldom buy much wine in bottles, because it is cheaper to buy it in bulk and bottle it ourselves, without labels. But for a special occasion... well, we got carried away. We'll save some for the visitors who are coming to spend three or four days in early November. Too bad we can't burn wine in the Peugeot.

16 October 2010

Fuel shortages

All over France, trains are still running on limited schedules. About half to two-thirds the normal number of high-speed TGVs, standard Corail trains, and regional TER trains are running. But the worst thing is that fuel shortages are starting to be felt.

As Meredith said in a comment yesterday, gas stations around the country are starting to run dry and shut down. The morning news says Roissy/CDG airport only has a couple of days of jet fuel left. Jet fuel, diesel fuel, and fuel oil are all slightly different forms of kerosene. Did you know that more than half the cars sold in France these days have diesel engines? Our little Peugeot is a diesel.

Today was one of those days when you just want to pull the covers up over your head and stay in bed. Not because of the fuel shortages but just because of the miserable weather. I woke up in the 6:00 a.m. darkness to hear the pitty-pat of rain on the Velux windows upstairs. Here it is 8:00 and it's still dark and raining. I have to take Callie out anyway.

Tourangelle, a little pie made with fresh goat cheese
and tomatoes, seen at the Montrichard market


I don't think Saint-Aignan is feeling any of the shortages so far.
I just had to strike that sentence. The porteuse de pain — the bread lady — just came by. She wished me a « bon weekend » and I said « Vous aussi. A mardi alors ! » Tuesday is her next scheduled delivery. « Oui, mardi je passerai s'il y a du gasoil, she answered. Toutes les pompes sont à sec, à Amboise, à Saint-Aignan, partout ! » So the pumps are dry and there's no gasoil — diesel fuel — to be had around here. That was news to me. Luckily the Peugeot's tank is three-quarters full.

Planète Verte is an organic grocery co-op in Montrichard.

Yesterday we went over to the market in Montrichard, the town 10 miles east of us, down the river Cher. There's a nice outdoor market there on Friday mornings, and there's also a co-op grocery where you can buy organic and exotic products you don't find in the outdoor markets or supermarkets. We bought some millet and some corn meal at the co-op, and other things at the outdoor market.

Local tartes and quiches at the market in Montrichard

We're having people over Sunday afternoon — tomorrow, yikes! — for dinner. The plan is to make pumpkin raviolis as an appetizer, and then have a roasted guinea hen with caramelized shallots, along with some oven-roasted winter vegetables, as the main course. Then there will be green salad and cheeses: a Neufchâtel from Normandy, a Saint-Nectaire and a wedge of Cantal from the Auvergne region, a local goat cheese from the farm-inn just up the road, and, if the cheese vendor at Noyers has any on Sunday morning, a blue cheese made from goat's milk that is his specialty. For dessert, Walt plans to make a walnut tart, using some maple syrup we got as a gift from visiting Americans.

Montrichard — Café du Centre, where English-speaking
people gather on Friday mornings, I've heard


Yesterday we bought some local wines for the Sunday dinner. More about those tomorrow.

P.S. Noon: I just came back from SuperU. There were 15 or 16 cars waiting at the pumps to fuel up, where usually there might be three or four. I didn't see any signs about shortages, but if business like that continues it won't be long now.

15 October 2010

An average heating year

Today is October 15 and we turned the heat on for the first time this morning. That's always been the target date for the beginning of the heating season in northern France.

At least in Paris. When I lived there back in the 1970s and early 1980s, we always laughed about the heat in buildings that had "collective" heating systems. The radiators would get warm for the first time every year on October 15, and they would go cold on April 15. Whether it was freezing cold on October 1 or steamy hot on April 1, that's how the heat worked.

Summer's heat stored in jars of
oven-dried tomatoes and pickled cayenne peppers


In fact, when I lived in Paris the last time, it was for three years in a little apartment just off the rue Montorgueil, near Les Halles, that didn't have central heat. I had an electric radiator that was on wheels. You could roll it from room to room, plug it in, and get some heat. "Room to room" is an accurate statement, since the apartment did have exactly two rooms! Actually, it was smaller than our living room here in Saint-Aignan, and much smaller than our new upstairs bedroom suite.

I was surprised a few days ago when I read in Starman's blog, Le Rêve Français, that on October 4, his first day in Paris (and 11 days ago), that nothing has changed on the heating front. He wrote:
“...the weather has become as bad as I expected, wet and cold, and there will be no heat in the apartment until 15 Octobre....brrrr...”
I hope Starman's heat is on this morning, because it's quite chilly outside. Temperatures are in the high 30s F here in Saint-Aignan — it's probably a little milder in Paris — and Walt just came back from the morning walk reporting that there are patches of frost on the ground out in the vineyard.

Yesterday's sunset

I can now report that our heat is working just fine. The temperature in the house is climbing up into the 60s (it's 17ºC upstairs where I sit). The radiators up here are toasty. I actually turned them down a little — they have thermostatic controls, which the radiators downstairs don't have.

Outside, things might be heating up again, from what I'm hearing on the news. I'm talking about politics. Labor leaders are calling for another strike day next Tuesday, after their successful show of force earlier this week. The Paris subway system is running a normal schedule again, though some of the RER lines still have reduced service. A lot of rail lines, including TGVs in and out of Paris, are still operating only half to two-third the normal number of trains.

Callie scans the living room ceiling,
looking for a fly, moth, or spider to bark at.


Meanwhile, the high schools and universities have caught the bug. Many campuses around the country are closed because of strikes and demonstrations. Student leaders are saying that making older people work longer means fewer jobs for young graduates.

And then the oil refineries are not yet operating at full capacity. The government is assuring the public that there are sufficient stocks of gasoline and diesel fuel to get the country through the crisis without crippling shortages at the pump. We shall see.

Yesterday I picked the last tomatoes and
made another batch of tomates confites.


We burn fuel oil, which is about the same thing as diesel fuel, in our boiler, to heat up the steam radiators. We bought 2,000 liters of fioule domestique in September, which should get us through the winter, unless it turns really cold. We hit it at just the right time, when the dollar was high and the fuel oil was abundant.

And as for the heat, today is the first day we've felt the need to turn on the boiler, but we've already had fires in the wood-burning stove several times this season. Including yesterday afternoon, when the house felt chilly but the sun was shining brightly outdoors. A fire in the stove downstairs sends enough heat up into the new loft that you can definitely feel it.

14 October 2010

News of the neighborhood

It's so dark! Here it is nearly 8:00 in the morning and there's just the faintest gray color in the little bit of sky I can see. And it's cold too — around 5ºC, which is 41ºF. It's going to be much colder next week, according to this morning's weather report.

The off-camera people seem to have returned to work on France 2's Télématin show. France 2 is the flagship public TV channel here. You can see it in the sets and "production values." I'm not sure what the situation is with public transport in the cities, but the strikes are definitely winding down.

View from the back gate yesterday afternoon, when
there was enough light for picture-taking


It's about time for me to go out for the morning walk with the dog. I might need to take a flashlight with me! And I might have to put on my long underwear. Later today, I think I'd better start bringing some more potted plants in. Some might be killed if we have a frosty morning.

October vineyard views

Others, the annuals, will need to be pulled out and put on the compost pile. It's still not too late to hope for an été de la Saint-Martin, what we call an Indian Summer, but that doesn't come every year. Saint-Martin's day is November 11. November can be very cold... or not.

A new winery near La Renaudière, where we live

On my walk yesterday afternoon, I actually did take the camera out. Callie and I took a long walk, down through the woods, then back up by a different road, and on the paved Route Touristique through the vineyards a ways.

Monsieur Ledys has some work to do to get his place fixed up.

I noticed that an old farmhouse complex that had been for sale has been taken over by an artisan vigneron — a grape-grower/winemaker — and he's put out his sign. He's using the name of the hamlet just east of ours, La Chotinière, for his winery. I guess that's where his vines are planted. Ledys [luh-DEE] is a common family name here in the Saint-Aignan area.