dimanche 30 août 2009

And did those sheep in ancient times?

You may possibly wonder what bagpipes, fog, and a man being pursued by sheep (some of them wearing cute hats) have in common. Have faith: All will be revealed. If, like me, you have increasingly crap eyesight, double-click on the pic to cop the cute hats . . .

Now pay attention 007, because this is where it gets serious, thought-provoking, socially-relevant, and even interesting. Your new French word for today is transhumance. No, I didn't know what it meant either. It means the annual migration of livestock to summer pastures and is living proof that French sometimes also has a single word to describe a whole sentence of English rather than, as is usually the case, the other way round.

Each year farmers in the French Pyrenees lead their cattle, sheep and horses up into mountain pastures at 2000 metres where there will be ample grazing and water, far above the parched lower valleys. Actually they go up in June and come back in October so this is completely the wrong time of year to be recalling this age-old custom. But I only just received the pix from photographic correspondent and occasional partner in crime Martin Castellan, so you're getting them in August . . . tough.

The said custom had died out but it's been revived these last few years as a fun event to liven up the scene for visitors and locals alike. Everyone is encouraged to take part so my choice of photo is a bit of a con. I rather liked the image of the dour old gent in the Vicdessos valley being moodily and atmospherically stalked by hundreds of Tarasconnais ewes. Actually there are loads of other people and animals cunningly concealed in the mist.

Of course the migrations both here and elsewhere in the mountains are an ideal excuse for a good piss-up afterwards. There was a great party in the village of Biert in the Couserans, hence the ubiquitous accordion and the cornemuse, which is of a type of pipes peculiar to the region. Lovely evocative word cornemuse, though the instrument itself still sounds like bloody bagpipes . . .

jeudi 27 août 2009

I say, old fruit, take me back to Mummy

It has to be said that I wasn't in general thrilled by the paintings in the Louvre. True, there's the inevitable Mona Lisa, Gericault's Raft of the Medusa, from before it was hijacked by The Pogues for an album cover, and Vermeer's gorgeous The Astronomer.

However for my taste there's way too many epic God pix, be they Catholic, classical Roman, Greek, bloodthirsty or plain enormous: It all makes for a very long walk. But along the way, I did come across these wonderfully bizarre, fruity old geezers as constructed from garden produce (various) by yer man Archimboldo.

As a personal choice, I reckon the real wonder stuff in the Louvre is the collection from ancient Egypt, including Mummies (various), and a wealth of antiquities from other points around the Med. Go, enjoy, be genuinely thrilled.

*Incidentally, you can get a better look at the old fruits or any of the other pix on the blog by double-clicking on the image.

mercredi 26 août 2009

There's only one way to deal with . . .

I am indebted to correspondent Martin Castellan for best offered suggestion as to how to stamp out the camper van menace in the Pyrenees (see previous post). A little expensive maybe, but definitely worth a try . . . Martin took the picture of the plane out on its normal task of water-bombing a big fire.

mardi 25 août 2009

Giving it the Mad Elbow

I love good names - the crazy, the clever, the downright eccentric; like a resto I saw in Paris the other day called Le Coude Fou. Wondrous . . . it means The Mad Elbow; or as we'd say, the Raising of the Wrist. But it's also a play on le coup de foudre or love at first sight.

I used to know a great restaurant called The Angry Cheese. Don't you just love the overtones of Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear? Then some prong bought the place and changed it to the utterly boring Frère Jacques. How could you possibly dump such a memorable name?

It’s always the details of a place that catch your eye and give it colour and identity. It's kind of handy in Paris in August when the locals have all legged it to avoid tourists like me. Of course I’d legged it from the Aude to avoid tourists like them. But when a great city is mostly away on holiday it gives the place a languid elusiveness that makes it hard to get your bearings.

You mostly navigate by Metro stations and the big museums. We were staying out in the Chinese Quarter, a quick wizz away by the ultra-posh new Metro Ligne 14. Incidentally you can get a three-course with wine, Michelin-listed meal for €20 a head in the neighbourhood; Paris doesn’t have to be pricey.

It has to be said that apart from posters for the deliciously-named Les Lapins Crétins Show, brand-new line 14 is a touch on the bland side. For the real flavour of the Metro you need one of the old lines with their grotty tin-box Hornby trains, grease, grime, sweat, slappers, itinerant sax players and miles and miles of lumpy white tiles. No stupid rabbits curiously.

The subterranean intestines of Paris are loosely connected by an incredible collection of passages which may or may not lead you to the next platform that you’re looking for; there must be literally kilometres of them, weaving their way drunkenly between the different lines and multiple exits to the streets.

To add a touch of class to the whole idea, one old railway station, presumably called La Gare d’Orsay, though I’m guessing, ended up as the wonderful Musée d’Orsay, home to the city’s collection of 19th and 20th century figurative painting. A four-hour or even an all-day wallow in Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Cezanne and many more costs a princely €8, i.e. bugger all.

Both the d’Orsay and the equally brill modern art collection at the Pompidou Centre have their fraught moments if, like me, you have a crap head for heights. Personally I’m not enough of a stupid rabbit actually to want to be dangled off the side of the (very tall) PC building in long glass tubes. The pic, by the way, is of the Louvre taken from the roof terrace of the Musée d'Orsay.

Somehow as a break from art-mania, Claire and I ended up in the bizarre necropolis Père Lachaise. For a crematorium and graveyard it’s definitely a touch prétentieux but some of France’s finest are buried there; Balzac, Proust, Molière, not to forget our own dear Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison of The Doors. It’s the Crem de la Crême.

mercredi 19 août 2009

Feesh by Braque

Here we have une petite entrée, Feesh by Braque, or Les poissons noirs to give them their correct if more prosaic name. I chose them to serve as an appetiser for a series of wanderings through Paris. For all you art buffs, the feesh were painted in 1942 and are part of of the permanent collection at the Pompidou Centre. The observant will note that I stole the gag from the guy who wrote Narrow Dog to Carcassonne and resprayed it.

lundi 10 août 2009

Haunted by remorques

That's to say, trailers* rather than guilt, because; yes, it's the grockel season en l'Aude. And where there are trailers, there are caravans. And where there are caravans, there are (get out your crucifix and garlic) camper vans . . .

I say this with the seasoned, possibly tedious, and certainly totally prejudiced venom of anyone who lives and works in a rural area, and has to put up with these bloody things doing 20 mph in the middle of the road for hours on end every summer. Especially when you are about to miss a train or give birth. I name this child Van Morrison . . .

*Who are these people who drive either in their sleep or on another planet?

*Why do they keep their brains in the on-board chemical toilet throughout their holiday?

*Why do they NEVER pull over to let other people pass and even speed up at overtaking places?

Strangely, my absolute belief that camper van drivers are the most selfish and/or brain-dead people on Earth took a knock last weekend when three of them actually did pull over. There is a God. Not being an atheist, I don't have a problem with the existence of God. But if you do, what better proof could you ask for? In the face of such phenomena; there must be a God.

Meanwhile, rampant bottoms in Rouvenac remind me that the tourist season brings its fair share of other hazards. Rouvenac, I should explain, is the next village up the valley. To a true Fanol, (especially our Monsieur le Maire . . .) this renders it, in best Marcel Pagnol fashion, utterly beyond the pale. They can't even get ADSL in tins-and-string Rouvenac, so don't worry, mesdames et messieurs: We're talking about you, not to you.

Actually they're alright really, in a naïve sort of way. The rampant bottoms are the result of their village Mairie explaining, in a local newsletter, that it could no longer afford weed-killer to posh the place up a bit for the summer visitors. Therefore all good citizens were asked to come and do their bit, weeding the village by hand.

I forgot all about this until one morning when I drove into the village and found an enthusiastic team down on their knees, hard at it. Of course, it may have been an ancient fertility rite but the general age and condition of the bottoms tended to suggest otherwise.

However the perils of pricey weedkiller are as nothing compared to the threat of the Têtes de Gambas Gang. Apparently, and I quote from the same authoritative if slightly quaint local organ: Rouvenac has become a seething hell-hole of vandalism. Picnicking tourists have been chucking their prawn heads, hence têtes de gambas, in the fountain. This knackers the pump: Alors, pas de fontaine . . .

It's Manon des Sources all over again: an old-fashioned tale of love, hate, revenge and the risk of getting duffed by a Gang of Prawn Heads. Quite exciting really . . .

*remorque = trailer

dimanche 2 août 2009

If you remember the Sixties . . .

I always think that my mate Rod should write an "I was there" book of British rock. He started out having a No 2 hit in The Nashville Teens with Tobacco Road in 1964 and much later went over to studio work, after playing guitar for Badfinger and Tina Turner among others. Which means that he covered a fair bit of the turf.

He always thinks I should write it, on the grounds that he was there but can't remember it whereas I can remember it . . . but wasn't there. Well I was sort of, but being only eight in 1969, with possibly the squarest parents in the known universe; I faced certain drawbacks in terms of listening cool.

My parents' singles collection mostly consisted of Bernard Cribbins's original Right Said Fred. Much later on I discovered a copy of Joe Brown and The Bruvvers' What A Crazy World We're Living In, lurking on an old portable record player in the boxroom. Actually, that's not a bad record so I suspect it was left on the turntable by whoever sold my dad the record player . . .

My best mate Nabbsy's parents were distinctly more hip. They had several Beatles singles; original issues which would be worth a fortune today if we hadn't scratched them all to way beyond redemption. We loved the sparky, R'n'B-flavoured I Feel Fine, which sounded even more sparky when serially abused at 78 rpm.

Actually, we had the most fun out of their copy of Shirley Bassey's Big Spender and something that I identified long afterwards as the dance number out of Zorba the Greek. Maybe it's a good thing we didn't know that you were supposed to smash glasses to it . . .

Let's face it, kids are suckers for novelty records, notable ones at the time being The Scaffold's Lily The Pink and (horror of horrors!!) Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris. Like I told you, I was only eight . . . And it's well worth remembering, when some patronising old bore starts to tell you that real music died with the Sixties, that dear old Rolf's infamous TLB was the last British Number One of the decade. The music died? With tunes like that, it probably did; without any help from Don Maclean.

My old man spent the Sixties grumbling that all pop music was rubbish and how they should all get their hair cut and do National Service. What's really scary about this is that he was only about 25 himself when The Beatles released She Loves You. Mind you, he was also one of those people who insist on building their own hi-fi and then have to buy a record to test it.

Under such adverse circumstances, I suppose it's no surprise that the only rock star I had discovered by the age of seven was Beethoven. Curiously, Beethoven actually was and is a massive rock star; he invented the whole trip about 150 years before anyone else. However I did manage to work out that Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da was crap, even if Macca did write it.

Rock'n'roll epiphany (with optional damnation) happened to me in 1972: Slade's Mama Weer All Crazee Now. The first time I heard that low-down growling boogie intro: Whoah! Something happened deep inside me. To this day, I always love a band who know how to beat a riff to death.

After that, it was all Glam Rock; Slade, T Rex, Bowie (or to be precise, Mick Ronson, whose guitar-playing I still adore). These days, I figure it's a good thing that I was never completely convinced by Gary Glitter. On reflection, some of them should have had their hair cut; not necessarily shorter, just better . . .

Meanwhile, unknown to me at the time, the possibility of Rod playing for T Rex had failed on height grounds, because they were all miniscule: "You're a bit, er, tall for our band, man." A bid to join weird folkie rockers Jethro Tull was similarly rendered still-born by lack of a beard. Who says obsession with image is a recent thing?

Soon after, I moved on to mainstream rock. I remember the five albums I bought with my first wages at 14: Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti; The Who, Tommy; Deep Purple, Machinehead; Wishbone Ash, There's The Rub; Queen, Night At The Opera. I've still got all of them except the Queen album, which seemed to be short of guitar tracks so I sold it and went off Queen generally.

In those days, kids didn't have personal stereos, there was just the family record player. Poor little buggers, they will never know the sheer full-blast satisfaction of persecuting their dad with his own stereo. And all to cries of "What's this rubbish?" and "They don't write tunes like they used to!". I suppose you could call it progress.