Thursday, June 27, 2013

Soirées Inoubliables

Melt in the Mouth Duck with cherries
Georges Guilhot, caviste extraordinaire has his own boutique in the heart of Perpignan where he stocks his favourite selection of mostly local wines.
I've been attending his wine tasting/ food pairing evenings for over 10 years and at every soirée, he pulls something out of his hat that knocks us all for 6.
There was the time we arrived one evening at his wine shop he used to run on Place Republique - we were all handed lighted candles and told to descend a rickedy ladder that led through a trap door to underneath his cave, where Georges had discovered a warren of tunnels and ancient old stables. In the candlelight we tasted his selection of champagnes ..
Another time, he whisked us off to the opening of a Japanese restaurant where we got a lesson in sushi making from the Japanese owner and he matched his selected wines perfectly to the sushi ..
Then there was the evening , he shared a present he had been given with us : a bottle of 1924 Bouchard et Fils. You could have heard a pin drop as he opened this little bit of history and we all shared a truly magical moment. See here
Tuesday night was no different. Another totally unforgettable evening. Paired up with Bruno Leger who is one of the top chefs in Lycée Leon Blum and with the down to earth Laetitia , owner and vigneron from Domaine Piétri Géraud of Collioure , we were treated to a 5 star evening of food and wine.
Nectar from Collioure
We started off with rillettes of rouget lightly seasoned with locally grown saffron from Vingrau and thereafter followed an explosion of flavours and tastes matched exquisitely  to Laetitia's wines. Foie gras foam on a bed of poivron coulis, brochettes of magret de canard with cherries, a mini coco lamb curry, desserts of pistachio ice-cream and cherry clafoutis ...
As usual , Georges had a few surprises up his sleeve, one of them being a bottle of 1959 Rivesaltes from St Esteve. Choclately velvety heaven..
It's not every day you get to taste a 54 year old bottle of wine
I'm going to miss these soirées when I move back to Ireland ... only thing for it, they're all just going to have to come and visit me!
Merci encore Georges et Bruno!
All the dead men
Maison Guilhot
13 Place des Poilus  66000 Perpignan
04 68 66 50 78
Perfect English spoken

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I cheat, You cheat, He/She/One cheats

Le baccalauréat,  like the Leaving Cert in Ireland, is in full swing here in France, it started on Monday with Philo ( that's philosophy to you and me )

The subjects they had to write on for 4 hours solid were as follows:
  • Sujet 1 - Que devons-nous à l’Etat ?
  • Sujet 2 - Interprète-t-on à défaut de connaître ? 
  • Sujet 3 - Explication du texte de Anselme, De la concorde (XIIème siècle)
Subject 1 : What do we owe the state?
Subject 2 : Do we try to interpret for the want of knowing? (Merci Clare O'Dea at
Subject 3 ; Explanation of a paragraph of text from Anselme, from the 12th century.

This might explain why a 52 year old Mother in Paris decided that she was going to replace her daughter in the National French Exams for her English oral!!!
She rocked up on the day of exams and tried to pass herself off as her daughter and only for the fact that a vigilant supervisor noticed that the same child who had just completed her philo exam , had somewhat aged in a couple of days, she may have well got away with her cunning plan.
The Mother is currently being held in custody and no-one knows exactly what her punishment will be... the daughter will be , in any case, repeating her English next year.......

Cheat Happens! You just couldn't make it up!! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

All The Lonely People, where do they all belong?

This weekend was the Fete des Quartiers in Cabestany and a great night was had by all on Saturday. The town hall provides the aperitif, the tables and chairs and some entertainment. The neighbours all bring a plate and of course some wine and everybody has a very enjoyable night under the stars with the kids running riot on their bikes with giddy excitement rejoicing in their nocturnal freedom 

These are all our neighbours from the cul de sac ( a word which the French do not use, by the way, it's an impasse here), neighbours, some of them we haven't even clapped eyes on since last year's fête. Chatting to a daughter in law of one of the neighbours, she enthused about the soirée , saying she had been looking forward to it for months. Others expressed the same sentiments. She lives in a caserne gendarmerie in Perpignan with hundreds of other families. I asked her was it like at big family there, did they get together often with their friends? 
"No, everyone keeps to themselves, we have been there for five years and we have never been invited to another persons house"
"Oh, but you are from Perpignan, you must know loads of people?" I prompted
"No, I don't really have any friends here" she said " I've one girlfriend in Prades but we only see each other about once a year.
This young lovely vibrant lady has no friends to speak of. How sad ..
Yet this is pretty indicative of where we live in Catalan country - you have your family, a few close friends (maybe)and that's it. After 11 years here , we have many acquaintances and they are all lovely people, but you are only really ever scratching the surface with them, going through the polite motions and never really getting to know them at all.
It's interesting to note that nearly all of our French friends here are not locals, but French from other parts of the country. It does seem that the further South you go in France, the cooler the people are. 
In the Canicule ( heatwave) of 2003, an estimated 15,000 people died in France due to heat related stress. The "oubliés de la canicule" are they are known were 41 men and 45 women who died in the canicule and were never claimed. 
From L'Express:
ls s'appelaient Alfred, Roger, Moïse ou Georgette, Eugénie, Reine. Ils étaient légionnaires, rentiers, fonctionnaires des Postes, caviste à la Coupole. Elles avaient été coiffeuses, vendeuses sur les marchés, femmes au foyer. Tous sont morts en quelques jours, dans la chaleur étouffante d'un été meurtrier. On les a surnommés les "oubliés de la canicule". Pour la seule ville de Paris, ils étaient 86 hommes et femmes qu'aucune famille, aucun proche n'a réclamés en cette fin d'été. Aujourd'hui, ils reposent pour la plupart sous les tombes anonymes de la 58e division du cimetière de Thiais (Val-de-Marne). 

Will it be different in Ireland? On verra....

Monday, June 03, 2013

Moving Back to Ireland

"You're doing what?" " You must be out of your fecking mind!" "I think you're very brave" ( sister in law) " You won't last pissing time" "Can I take your temperature?" These are the kind of reactions I'm getting when I tell people that we are leaving the Sunny South of France and moving back to the less sunnier climes of our native Ireland.
Summer Fashion - Ireland
We've spent 11 very happy years in our adopted country after falling in love with it on a ski trip in early 2002. We've lived our 30's here in France, settled down, had the babies, bought the house in suburbia, made a lovely circle of French and expat friends and now we've decided to head north, back to the bosom of the family and to an Ireland where we haven't lived in for over 15 years. Yep, I know ... and as the weather brightens up here, I'm beginning to wonder if maybe they are right, are we stark raving mad after all?
Then, I step outside of my bubble and I know I've made the right decision. The French are just not like us. They don't get us and we don't get them. I just can't see us growing old here, I want our children to be Irish and I want to feel like a part of the fabric of society.
Englishman, David Mitchell , author of Cloud Atlas, has upped sticks and relocated to Clonakilty in Ireland, where we are heading. He totally resonated with me in a recent article in the Irish Examiner
"At this stage in life, you need a good environment in which to bring up your children. After a while you need to be able to communicate with other parents at school, the people around you. It sounds simple and obvious and straightforward but in many many tracts of the world, it's not normal, it's not normal to be reasonably friendly to strangers."
He says "Why would anyone not want to live in West Cork?"
Look, I know that nowhere is perfect and we might be running back to somewhere sunny and warm after 5 minutes of life in the old sod, but it's now or never with the children , aged 6 and 8 , so here we go.
The house is sold, the one way tickets have been bought and the countdown is on.
57 days to go in France........ YIKES!!!!!!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

La Jonquera - Sex, Shopping and Sun

Just over the border here into Spain lies La Jonquera , a shabby run down border town whose main claim to fame until recently was it's roaring sex trade.
Just last month on our local paper, L'independent , it was noted that a roundabout in La Jonquera could make up to 20,000euros a day. It's quite an affront ( literally) to see the girls hanging out by the roundabouts, at the side of the road or in the truckers' car parks. They are there from noon onwards, under their parasols, with their bottles of water and chatting chewing gum style with their scantily clad peers. Even though prostitution is legal in France, it is quite 'de rigeur' for French young fellas to pop over the border for a bit of hows your Father. Brothels, par contre, are illegal in France but not so in Spain and when The Paradise brothel opened in 2010 in La Jonquera ,with over 90 rooms, word spread like syphilis as bus loads of young French men made their way over the border.
The new mayor of La Jonquera, Sonia Martínez Juli has taken the problem to hand and is trying to close down the brothel which is seriously damaging the image of the town.
A town which has just opened a massive shopping outlet centre with over 12000 m² of retail therapy catering for all tastes. It's the biggest border outlet centre in Europe and, with the tramontane gusting a hooley this afternoon, continuing our longest winter ever in the South of France, I popped down for a look. It's only a half an hour from my house and judging by the car park which was 80% full of French cars, I wasn't the only sucker of the day.
It's your typical outlet centre, if you are into labels and designer gear, there are great bargains to be had on mostly last seasons fashion. One brilliant addition though are hundreds of comfy sofas throughout the mall, a great idea for the bored man who just wants to play on his phone...
This may be the final nail in the coffin for Perpignan though, who is really struggling in 'la crise'. Le "Gran Jonquera Outlet" is aiming for the market of 1.5 million inhabitants living between Montpellier to Figueras. 50million euros has been pumped into the shopping centre with stores such as Guess, Benetton, Nike, Jack and Jones, Desigual, to name but a few, lining up to take your hard earned cash. Along with the news that Figeures will be open on Sundays, the tumbleweed will continue to blow down the streets of Perpignan and all the shops that are closing down one by one...
To get to Gran Jonquera Outlet and Shopping Centre, take exit #2 after leaving France - it's well sign posted from there. The supermarket ( with an excellent butchers that made it worth my trip) is open from 07h30 to 23h00. It was a bit manic there today, a Saturday, but I reckon it would be worth a return trip mid week when things are quieter....

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