Sunday, 17 November 2013

What to do when evenings get chilly in France

European winters are so long. It's November and the big chill has begun. I'm finding it intolerable to work in JC's garden or even in his garage because I get chilled to the bone. Ex-pat forums have turned towards discussing the misery of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) as we face ice, snow, rain, minus degrees and especially gloomy grey skies until April 2014. I'm surprised the Brits are commenting on this. Aren't they used to that back in Old Blighty?

There's that pervading question now, "What can I do to amuse myself or be productive indoors?" Options are limited for me. I don't have a social network or any regular friends except JC so I'm reaching out to encourage French folks and any expats living near me to meet up and see if friendships develop. It's early days. I tried this some time ago, several times but nothing went anywhere. Last week I met Jocelyne who lives in a little stone village and teaches ballroom dancing. maybe I'll meet Jacquelyne, who is American, next week.

To amuse myself and do something that moves me forward I've been researching and organising what to do during Laura's visit next year. It will be three years since I've seen my daughter and each of us will have changed a bit. Recently I got to thinking about a sub-dream I had years ago, back when Laura was around 14 years old. I thought I'd have had my house paid off in Auckland, that I'd have steady employment and that I could have saved up so the two of us could have a little tour of France and Italy after Laura finished High School. Circumstances put paid to all  that but the idea bided its time and popped out recently and I've realised that, crikey, I'm going to make it happen.

OK, so the red Ferarri won't be there. It will be substituted by trains and buses but Laura and I will at last be swanning around the French and Italian Riviera together. I've found myself spending hundreds of hours late each night learning about distances, cheap accommodation options, transport costs, day trips, activities in places I've never been and those I touched on back in 2010 (see blog posts for June of that year).

This time with a bit more French language competence and general confidence I'm focussing on us having more contact with locals and getting out into the countryside, not just visiting the ritzy spots like Cannes and St Tropez (which may not even be on my list). There are other cool things to do. Borrowing against my tenanted house in Auckland is making a week in the South of France possible for us and helps me pay my rent for a year. Very sensible of me to keep my old home as a source of funds for emergencies.

JC and I attended an evening concert in the old Orangerie at the Chateau de Maintenon (Eure et Loir) which is near where each of us lives. It was a piano duet recital by two young ladies who have teamed up to spread their love of this type of music. An old lady sitting next to me kept wanting to have a conversation with me. I think she was lonely, so I did my best to speak to her and when I couldn't think of anything to say or I couldn't understand her I made the usual French 'noises' and interjections which indicated I'm in complete agreement and am actually very wise. Works every time as the French make a lot of 'noises' in between words and love onomatopeia.

I enjoyed the concert by Aurelie Samani (France) and Gabriela Ungureau (Hungary). They played pieces by Dvorak, Enescu, Schubert, Debussy and Pitts. Not my favourite pieces abut exceptionally well played nonetheless.

It's the end of harvest time. JC has baskets of walnuts. Quinces and apples have fallen from his trees and are being transformed into varieties of jam. I had never had apple jam (not jelly) before. He's been experimenting and sometimes I help with the peeling and stirring. naturally I want to profit from the odd jar or two.

The golden apples off JC's trees are organic and so not pretty to look at but good for jam. The quinces were rather small so they were supplemented by bought ones which are much bigger and come from Spain.  he has made apple and cinnamon jam laced with Calvados, Quince and apple laced with polish vodka, apple jam with three sorts of raisins laced with Calvados - and he's just getting started but I must admit the peeling is the worst part. However, I have a couple of jars in my fridge now for my contribution.
OOOh those quinces- they are fabulous in jam. Reminds me of
 the jams my Gran used to make. That's one of the things I enjoy about France - I can rediscover things I enjoyed about NZ 50 years ago (foods, wildflowers and British weeds etc). They've all but disappeared in NZ but they continue in France.

And then there are the things I only saw in cartoons when I was small but which really exist here. I looked outside JC's bedroom window this morning and saw a Woody Woodpecker foraging in the lawn. They're bigger than you think, almost as big as a pigeon or a large starling, with a red splosh down the head and neck. Very cool. There was no Wile E Coyote today.

Monday, 11 November 2013

When Bretons get armed and angry

When something doesn't suit the French they shrug their shoulders and say  C'est comme ca, c'est la vie. That's just the way it is.  They'd rather put up with  things that don't work for them than do something about it, they usually don't fight the system. But lately there has been a sea-change, at least in North-western France.

Up to 30,000 protestors in revolutionary red caps promised to turn Brittany into President Fran├žois Hollande’s “cemetery” last weekend. Riot police were pelted with stones and flower pots as a consequence of  anger over tax hikes and the depressing economy. The Breton town of Quimper has become a focal point fanger at the truly unpopular “ecotax” on heavy goods vehicles. Last week a protester had his hand blown off by a teargas grenade during clashes with police. 
The government  hoped to stop the revolt by “suspending” until January the tax, aimed at encouraging environmentally friendly commercial transport by introducing new levies on vehicles transporting goods weighing over 3.5 tonnes. But  tens of thousands of demonstrators returned  to vent a wider anger at Mr Hollande’s failure to halt many closures and layoffs in Brittany, and his dismal handling of the economy. The problems are compounded because Holland and his government come up with ill-conceived ideas, try to implement them, receive serious flack and then backtrack. It's an unstable situation.
Mr Hollande is France’s most unpopular president ever, and one survey found that 91 per cent of French people want him to change policies or his government before local elections next March.

There is even deep discontent  among his core Socialist supporters, with 85 percent of those on the Left demanding change.

Bretons are the most likely to get 'stirred'. Maybe it's their Celtic origins. They've chosen as their symbol to wear “bonnets rouges” — red caps symbolic of a 17th century uprising against a stamp tax in Brittany imposed by Louis XIV for his war fund. They also became an official emblem of the 1789 Revolution.

This time it's not just a few angry farmers and transport companies and they are not letting the matter drop. The demonstrations brought together a disparate crowd of local bosses, farmers, fishermen, poultry workers facing redundancy, right and left wing extremists, Breton autonomists and thousands of ordinary French disappointed with the Socialist government. Stones and iron bars were hurled at police and even pots of chrysanthemums, which the French traditionally place on graves of their loved ones on November 1 (Toussaint). Protesters said it symbolised “the death of French jobs”. Police responded with water cannon and tear gas.

 It's possible the malaise could spread further as the unemployment rate is now 11% and not likely to improve for at least a year. France's rating with Standards and Poor slipped again this month due to inadequate government economic reforms. Much of the protesters’ fury is against the 30 billion euros (£25.4 billion) in tax hikes imposed this year, as France seeks to meet its European budget deficit commitments.
 France must abide by her European Treaty obligations, which means reducing the deficit. Since the spending ministries do not really want to make hard cuts, the only way is through more taxes. French people pay a lot of taxes and so do their employers.
The Breton militancy won't fix things but it HAS been effective at getting the government's attention. The toll gantries erected on toll roads designed to collect the ecotax have had to be taken down, speed radars have been destroyed, burnt out. Hooligans love to join in and I'm opposed to wanton destruction  but somehow France has to wake up and find a solution that is fair and improves the economic situation here.
Photos taken from the internet.

Protests over the new “ecotax” on trucks, which aims to encourage environmentally friendly commercial transport, kicked off in earnest last month in the northwestern region of Brittany and eventually forced the government to backtrack and suspend the levy.
Wearing red bonnets, the symbol of a 17th-century anti-tax campaign in Brittany, the protesters — small business owners, fishermen and food industry workers — marched in big, sometimes violent, rallies in the region, which has already been crushed by job cuts and would be hard hit by the new tax.
Some destroyed radars set up in advance along roads to screen passing vehicles and determine whether they need to pay the tax, which would apply to French and foreign vehicles carrying goods weighing over 3.5 tonnes.
Under pressure to rein in its state deficit, France’s Socialist government has announced about 3 billion euros ($4.1 billion) in tax increases for next year, and protests in Brittany come on top of wider opposition to tax hikes.
The ecotax was actually adopted by the previous right-wing UMP government in 2009 but its implementation had repeatedly been put off.
And while the Socialist government suspended the levy last week over the unrest, protesters asking for the tax to be completely abandoned have continued to destroy radars, mostly in Brittany but in other parts of the country too.
On Tuesday, the transport ministry said 11 such radars had been vandalised since the beginning of the protest movement, as had four big overhead road structures equipped with cameras and radio receptors.
This equipment would identify trucks liable for the tax thanks to a GPS box installed inside the vehicles.
Controversy has also started to swirl around Ecomouv’, the firm contracted by the previous government to collect the tax, amid “questions” over how the company was awarded the contract.
Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici on Tuesday said the contract signed with the firm — which is majority owned by Italian company Autostrade per l’Italia — would have to be renegotiated.
“We can question the fact that the collection of a national tax was handed over to a supplier with foreign origins,” he said.
And while protests have so far been concentrated in Brittany, there is concern that the unrest may spread to other parts of France.
Last week, market gardeners staged a rally in a region near Brittany to demand an end to the levy, and several ecotax radars have been destroyed in other parts of France. – AFP
- See more at: