Friday, May 21, 2010

Mirepoix, Extermination and Collingwood

I feel that I have not done Mirepoix the attention it deserves. As stated earlier, there is nothing wildly exciting about this sleepy bastide town. Folks seem to go about their daily tasks with a modicum of good humour. There seems to be a procession of festivals and market days that offer just the right mixture of variation to prevent the locals from going mental. Kids play some sort of ball game or other in the narrow streets and ladies bring their chairs out into the streets of an evening to chat with neighbours and to offer reluctantly smiling 'bon soir's to eager young tourists (ie us) as they make theirvway home from a hard day's sight-seeing/touring the country-side.

Ken received a full-blown mouthful of French invective from a young lass today. She emerged from a house round the corner outside which Ken had parked his car for a few days in succession. Sadly for the nose-out-of-joint French lass, the scorn was totally lost on Ken, who understood exactly zero percent of the message she intended to convey. He parked his car elsewhere nontheless. The young lass drove off and Ken will probably never see her again. Ken reported that she mentioned the word 'fenetre', which means 'window' most often. This probaby means that Ken really understood more of the interaction that he has let on ...

The past week has comprised a lot of motor rambling, mostly to castles and chateaux with the Cunninghams in their car. It has more leg-room in the back seat and is fitted with a glass sun-roof, so mountain viewing is facilitated more than the Megane than the Clio.
Today was spent tootling eastwards towards the coast, where we visited castles perched hundreds of metres on the top of pointy crags overlooking vast valleys and little villages below. These were once the homes of Cathars, who were able to defend themselves by firing arrows at and drop boiling hot oil on, anti-Cathar-oriented people (especially Catholics) in the 10th to 12th Centuries. It took 100 years to eliminate these Cathars from the time of Simon de Montfort (who hailed from the Dordogne region - we saw his family chateau) to the implementation of the Inquisition. As mentioned earlier, no trace remains of them.

Now it seems to me that a little pattern is emerging here. Just the same as what the British did to the Scots hundreds of years ago, first you eliminate the entire population of peoplev who are mildly irritating and make it a hanging/burning-alive offence to practise all cultural aspects of the irritants' (eg Cathar/Scottish) life (eg engaging in Cathar religious ceremony or wearing the tartan kilt) and then hundreds of years later (when you are certain that not one irritant remains alive) you open tourist shops and sell rich tourists mementos of the by-gone era such as battle axes with Cathar emblems emblazoned on them (in southern France) or ties/scarves made of family tartan (in Scotland). This is double standards and hypocracy gone mad! Still, if there's a buck (euro/pound) to be made ... What chance do indigenous peoples of today (eg Ausralian aborigines, Inuit or Tootsies) have?

There's lots more to write about, but that will just have to wait till a later blog. I'm too tired to continue, especially after the thrashing dealt out to the Magpies by Geelong today. My goodness I was pleased for Geelong supporters all around the globe. How exaulted they must be feeling right now!



Thursday, May 20, 2010


Most of you are aware that I am not a Believer. It's wonderful poncing about on the planet, care-free and innocent. Taking life as it comes and not interfering too much in the lives of others. I respect the views of others, but cannot imagine that there is a super being who created me or who watches over me.

However, this belief system has been sorely tested in the time that I have spent on this trip. Here are a few indications that have given my 'epistemology' a good shake. First is the weather. It has been all that we could have wanted it to be WHEN WE WANTED IT TO BE. I'll give you an example. When we have driven into the mountains it has been bright and sunny and clear. When we have driven to villages and castles it has been gloomy and dull. It has worked out perfectly!

Much more than this, though, was the phone call I received from Stephanie. Now you need to understand that our children NEVER phone. Never. So when a call came to me while I was actually in the chapel of the Black Virgin in the village of Rocamador (in the Dordogne), from Stephanie, this shook the living daiylights out of me. A miracle! And then Ally and Georgia sent emails! One miracle after another. What am I to believe?!

So that's how you find me now. Staunch atheist, but mounting evidence of a superior being, watching over me and minding how I go. I'm still staunch, but only just ...

Your Favourite Rambler,

Guess Who!

Motor Rambling II

While feeling much more comfortable about 'mirror' driving, I still have lingering doubts about cultural differences here in France. First, it seems totally inappropriate to leave space on between your car and the one in front for another car to pass you and then fit nicely into the merry procession along the King's Highway. The much preferred approach in Jolly Old France is to maintain a 3mm distance between your car and the one in front, waiting till there is the merest winkle of space in the on-coming traffic and the put the lives of every living soul within 50 km by whipping around you and running up the bum of the next car along. It can be quite frightening, until you realise that everyone (except 'one') is doing it.

The other really frightening thing is the bad habit that French drivers have of screaming up to a corner of a secondary road in front of one (ie me) and slamming on their brakes WITHOUT LOOKING! Get it? You are driving along the highway at the speed limit, or a bit faster, and a car suddenly appears on your right on a minor road at full tilt on a collision course for you AND IS NOT LOOKING! Of course they are always going to ram on their brakes. They know that, BUT 'ONE' DOESN'T! 'One' is momentarily petrified. One fears imminent DEATH! But the moment passes and one lives to tell the tale (in this blog).

Where the French really excel with their driving is coping with tiny spaces on the roads. Sudden decisions to effect a U-turn are treated with tolerance and understanding that would not be accepted anywhere else on the planet. Parking is another wonder of precision driving. Imagine parking so close to the side of a house that you have to pull your external rear view mirrors in on both sides (you know the way they bend in) before you park so that you can get your car hard up against the wall to leave a way for traffic to get past. The streets here are titchy! Still, with a great deal of supportive directions from Jude and Nada, Ken and I can effect the parking of our cars so that people can access their front doors and other motorists can get past. But it is not easy. Hats off to the French, who make these manipulations perfectly on a twice-daily basis!

Today we motored (just Jude and I) to Andorra. It isn't special, other than the fact that it is a separate Principality, charges no tax (so stuff is cheap, including diesel and clothing), consists of one shopping street, and is situated high, high to the sky in the mountains and the people speak Spanish/Catalan.

On the way home we saw a hedgehog trying to cross the highway. I didn't like his/her chances of survival ...


Monday, May 17, 2010

The Cathars are no more!

Don't be too sad, but you really need to know that there are no Cathars left on the planet. Nope. They were all totally eliminated by that band of eager-beaver religious fanatics the Catholics. Complete and utter annilation! A greater example of successful genocide you will not find. Ever!

It seems that the Cathars, who inhabited this neck of the woods (and also in parts of what we now call 'Italy' had beliefs that differed somewhat from those of the Catholics. For example (excuse me while I reach for my book by Rene Weis called 'The Yellow Cross') in that they based their faith on the Gospel of St John. Just that and no more.

The most important sacrament was the 'consolamentum', appazzas (ie 'apparently'), a ritual that was applied for the inordination of 'Perfects' and for the consolation of the dying. This latter would have been a rather bleak time of one's life because after that moment there was no more food and water. Nope. Nothing more to eat or drink - CURTAINS!

I am not saying that these were wonderful people, or that their views on life were wholesome and pure. However, did they deserve obliteration at the hands of the Catholics (whom they despised) through the agency of the Inquisition? I DON'T THINK SO!

There is lots more to learn about the Cathars, but the last I teresting thing I'll tell you about them is that the only Crusade waged in Europe was mounted against these hapless believers and it was totally successful.

So there you go. Off you go to the library to dig out some more interesting facts about the Cathars. A Cherry Ripe for everyone who can post some interesting fact (or two) about them. [Do they still make Cherry Ripes?]

Your Happy Bloggers

The Ramblers

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bastide Rambling

It seems that there was a time before France was France that there was a bucket load of English roaming about the countryside in the the Land of the Franks and things were looking a bit bleak for the local barons and other similar powerbrokers. The solution to this sticky situation was to re-settle the peasants into large, well-planned towns, which they called 'new towns'. These towns are called 'bastides'. All this happened during the Hundred Years War, which lasted for about 100 years. That's almost a century.

Mirepoix is a fabulous example of a bastide. It has wide-ish, well-planned streets set out in a rectangular geometric pattern, a wall right around its perimeter and a town square and church. In times of great trooble, all the people rush into the town and chuck yonnies and arrows at the marauding English. Another example we saw near Beynac was Monpazier. Have a look on Google Earth and see what I mean.

'Bastides' like Mirepoix dot the French countryside. KC commented that they look like indusrial towns built in the eighteenth century and you have to give your head a really good shake and remind yourself that they were built in the 12th and 13th! It can give you quite a headache. These 'bastides' function quite well here in the 21st century and are living, breathing communities (unlike cute villages like Beynac which thrive only on tourism and are really only museum pieces). [By the way, if you would like a squizz at Beynac, have a look at the movie 'Chocolate'. While not shot entirely in Beynac, the scene at the beginning where the mum and the little girl are walking up the hill in the snow is shot in our very street. Also later when the Johnny Depp character pulls up in his boat. We watched it last night with a GCR omlette on our laps - being Sunday night, and all.]

in a later blog I am going to tell you all about the Cathars, but only if you eat all your veggies! Yes, including those brussels sprouts!

Your extraordinarily good pals,

The Ramblers!

Foie Gras

Just before we leave Beynac, a comment or two about foie gras. For those of you who know about it, don't read this post. Go and do the dishes; take the dog for a walk; pat the children; watch a football replay. Kip, Immy and Erinoer - get to your study!

Your foie gras is made from goose livers. It is a pate that you spread on biscuit or a piece of bread as an appetiser and eaten before the main meal with an aperativ (eg dandelion and oxalis wine). It is quite tasty, though doesn't quite match it with duck l'orange pate you can get at the Victoria Market or Aroma Deli, if you ask me.

Foie gras is sold everywhere around Beynac. In shops with photos of geese ('oisoies') tracking around in herds looking very content, or from the goose farms themselves where you can see the geese themselves. All looks most idyllic; and it is. UNTIL YOU DISCOVER WHAT THEY DO TO THE GEESE THROUGHOUT THEIR BORN DAYS!

It seems that goose livers (the basic ingredient of your foie gras) grows to inordinate proportions within your average goose if you force-feed them with ground-up corn. This force-feeding is effected by holding a funnel over the upturned open mouth (beak) of your goose and pouring in the mash. While one hand of the foie gras farmer (usually farmette) holds the funnel, the other hand strokes the neck about half-way down! Can you believe it? Many postcards and posters present drawings/paintings/photographs with depictions of this seemingly cruel act (I could be wrong, the oisoies may really enjoy it , but doesn't LOOK all that comfortable) ...

Mind you, the worst thing about foie gras for the goose is that they are put to death just prior to the implementation of the foie gras recipe. As far as I know there is no device yet discovered to extract goose liver that allows them to continue happily strutting up and down their grassy swards in a mob with all their chums (as they can be observed doing as you drive past a goose farm). But you could say the same for roast chicken and lamb chops, I suppose.

Anyhoo, I just thought I'd tell you about foie gras and its manufacture.