52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Connaît toutes les rues par coeur

Scenes from a French Airport:

"Of course, nobody was buying property as an investment in those days. I paid £38,000 for our little farmhouse, and I reckon we've spent about £12,000 on it so far. Prices have doubled. I've spent most of the week doing DIY actually. Yes. The wife and mother-in-law are moving out in October, so I've been busy putting in a shower for them. They only pick idiots for those makeover programmes - only those people who have picked the impossible project. No. I don't really watch them. We're about half an hour outside of Perpignan. Yes. It's very windy. Really windy. We're also about half an hour away from a ski station. Just a small one. No poseurs. Only one black run though. I've been most surprised by the roads here: they're excellent. It costs about 35 Euros in tolls to drive down from the ferry. We tend to take the ferry to Caen as it only skirts around Paris. If you come in through Calais you hit the Périphérique and the traffic can be terrible. We live in a lovely little hamlet. Really gorgeous. There are about 30 properties in all: 9 Germans, 6 Brits and 3 Dutch. The rest are locals in their 80s who have lived there all of their lives....."

At this point my whole body was shaking as I tried (and failed) to supress my laughter, so it was with some sadness that I had to stand up and move seats to somewhere I couldn't eavesdrop on the rather one-sided conversation taking place behind me.... It's the details that I loved: the wind, the number of black runs at the ski station, when the mother-in-law is arriving. All lovingly imparted to a total stranger in an airport departure lounge in a wonderfully smug tone. Sounds like a great place to live though, eh? I imagine that his local tabac sells the Daily Telegraph.


Hello. I'm back.

It was a wonderful few days in the late autumnal sunshine of the South-West of France. We wandered around Toulouse, with its narrow streets, and beautiful crumbling brickwork that turns a shade of pink in the light of the setting sun. We sat at little cafes and drank coffee and ate croissants; we explored the markets and we browsed the boutiques. We ate well. Oh, we ate well. Saucisse, confit, cassoulet.... all local specialities and all fantastic.

We went out to the Pyrenees and wandered through a forest admiring the red squirrels, the birds and the tranquility. We hired a car and went out to explore the Cathar heartlands in the mountains, especially Montségur, a ruined fortress perched 3000 foot high on the top of a mountain.

We were blessed with clear weather, and from the top you could admire the vista across the foothills of the mountains and back towards Carcassone. On the drive home we stopped to admire the tremendously preserved fortress that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Yes, it's a bit twee and its narrow streets are absolutely packed with shops selling postcards, tea-towels and replica swords. Yes, it is generally packed with coachloads of tourists (although actually not too bad now we're at the end of the season). Yes, it has been obviously been restored in places over the years (the historian in me would almost prefer to walk around a ruin than see something rebuilt). You know what though? It is still stunning.

So what else do you need to know? That the quality of music played on French radio veers wildly from the sublime ('Take On Me' by A-ha, 'Do You Want To?' by Franz Ferdinand, 'You're Beautiful' by James Blunt) to the ridiculous ('Africa' by Toto, 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' by Stevie Wonder) and on to the simply offensive ('Sussudio' by Phil Collins). Most of the people I met though simply thought that the White Stripes were amazing and that the Clash was where it all began, and frankly that's alright with me. Mind you, that was at a party where the playlist included The Smiths, Led Zeppelin and Daft Punk, so perhaps they aren't representative....

All in all then, a great few days away. I was relaxed right up until the moment that the plane was delayed by an hour, and don't even get me started on the sour-faced welcome you get to the UK as you are penned in like livestock waiting for customs to check your passport.....

Seriously though. I'm calm.

How are you?


  • At 10:11 pm, Blogger LB said…

    that looks wonderful.

    It's great to have you back, though.

  • At 10:27 pm, Blogger Flash said…

    I'm super, thanks for asking!

    Welcome back matey!

  • At 10:51 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Penned in like cattle is a good way of describing it. Did you do any mooing?
    I was there just last week, and in line for a good hour and a half, though you'd think it'd go faster if you have a visa etc.

    But glad you had a good trip, looks beautiful!

  • At 11:17 pm, Blogger Tom said…

    I've just seen you an hour ago in "Spooks"!

    Welcome back, my friend.

  • At 12:11 am, Blogger the urban fox said…

    Douze points for managing to incorporate a 'Joe Le Taxi' reference. Hello again!

  • At 12:37 am, Blogger Jenni said…

    Welcome back, big guy! We've missed you. I am seriously jealous of your vacation. The only vacations I have time for currently are the vacations my brain takes while my professor is talking.

  • At 7:28 am, Blogger HistoryGeek said…

    I'm seriously jealous that you can just take a short vacation to France!

    Welcome back...and thanks for bringing some lovely pictures for us.

  • At 8:30 am, Blogger Aravis said…

    Welcome back ST! It looks like a lovely trip. Glad you had the chance to relax and unwind. :0)

  • At 12:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think you wear your Ramones t-shirt way too often.

  • At 12:23 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    angry_cat said:

    "I think you wear your Ramones t-shirt way too often."

    really? based on what? (can you wear a Ramones t-shirt too often?)


    (Actually it has been buried in the washing basket pretty much from the time I got back from Korea to about a week ago, when I washed it, but there you go.)

  • At 12:30 pm, Blogger Mark said…

    I think that The Ramones t-shirt is ace. Xander has one. But don't people wear Ramones t-shirts more than they listen to The Ramones?

  • At 12:55 pm, Blogger Damo said…

    I've just been told that you don't like excessive amounts of HTML in your earworms, so I've probably contributed to your anger. Oops.

    I thought it might be cool if people could hear them all.

  • At 2:56 pm, Blogger Teresa Bowman said…

    Oooh! You went to Montsegur! That's on my list of places to see. The Cathars were oddballs and a half, weren't they?

    Glad you had a good time. Welcome back!

  • At 4:27 pm, Blogger Michael said…

    Whenever I see pictures of the such things as, oh, castles on your blog, and some of the older architecture of Europe, I get jealous. I need to go back to Europe one day.

    I drive around here, and see flat land, cornfields, and the occasional huge, sterile building.

    Anyways, welcome back and glad you had a good time.

  • At 5:12 pm, Blogger red one said…

    Welsome back Swiss - it's lovely round that bit of France isn't it? Did you go to Albi at all? It's worth a look if you're there again.

    Now I am having pangs for confit de canard and cassoulet.


  • At 5:25 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    we're never without confit in our house (C's parents live near Orleans and make sure we are kept stocked up). We also usually have a few cassoulet in the cupboard as well. The french really know how to do "tinned food" that's for sure. Our standard dinner party meal is foie gras, then confit du canard with sauteed potatoes and green beans... English people are very easily impressed by this (and it is delicious) but it's a really easy meal. You pretty much only have to open a tin!


    I'm hungry just thinking about the food.


  • At 5:26 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    (apologies to any vegetarians reading this, by the way)

  • At 5:59 pm, Blogger soulcrusher said…

    (apologies to any vegetarians reading this, by the way)

    If we were not meant to eat animals their insides would not be so tasty.

  • At 11:09 pm, Blogger Ali said…

    Missed you geezer!
    Glad you're back. It was dull without you.


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