L’embarras du choix

http://candidat-2017.fr/candidats.php

Is it so surprising that in the land of 400 cheeses there are almost as many candidates for Président de la République?

After 25 years in France, several of them with my voter’s card in my pocket and a certain fluency in its ways, only now am I beginning to understand (sort of) how this whole voting malarkey works.

It seems that anyone who is able to vote can also declare themselves a candidate in the 2017 French presidential election. And quite a few already have – upwards of 150 by my calculations.

Getting the requisite 500 signatures of elected representatives to make their candidacy official is much harder: so far only a handful have achieved this. And today, March 17th, is the final date – after which the list will be greatly reduced. St. Patrick may dance a little jig.

In the meantime, I have discovered that the list of candidates contains some real gems. There is Super Chataigne (eh oui, super chestnut), a masked contender whose platform is founded upon giving democracy back to the people. I think it is a parody but in France it is hard to be sure.

You have to wonder why they would bother. It’s fairly certain that the vote will come to down to one of a short list of Macron, Hamon, Fillon or Le Pen. But it seems to be dear to the French heart that the election keep its balance, ensuring that everyone, including the Trotskyists, has a voice in the debate. Peu importe – small matter – if they are eliminated before we get to the first round. At least a diversity of views will have been represented.

A degree of pluralité, or pluralism, will mean that the next month will be interesting, even entertaining. And I hope the result will be less catastrophic than other recent election results.

Stay tuned as the saga continues!

Dans le noir

We had a storm the other day and suddenly, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the power went out. This happens fairly often around here, but the outages only last a short time. Sometimes we get ‘micro-coupures’, just long enough for me to lose whatever document I’m working on, and to have to battle to recover it while rebooting the box that connects us to the whole wide world. All the while cursing and swearing at EDF – Electricité de France – that public utility company par excellence.

What was not typical this time was that our coupure de courant lasted a good long while. For almost 24 hours we were in the cold and dark. Not just me but our whole village – that’s about 1,000 people in the dark. Like many French households, ours is 100% electric, so we quickly ran out of heat and hot water, not to mention light and any means of cooking. We do have a fireplace, though, so as the evening grew dark, I scrambled for firewood, and lit as many candles as I could find.

It would have been romantic, even a real adventure if I’d had anyone to share it with. As it was, husband was away skiing (and probably warmer than I was, the bum), kids were off blithely pursuing higher education in the neighbouring Switzerland and the UK. I was left holding down the fort with cats and dogs. Wondering, how on earth did we ever survive without modern means of communication? My phone and laptop soon ran out of juice. Even the land line was disconnected as all our phones require electrical power.

There were no streetlights to provide the ambient yellow light that usually filters in to our house even at night. No blue light from screens lighting up with notifications, no flashing red message lights, no blinking of batteries recharging.

We were dans le noir — literally and figuratively.

Of course, nobody knew anything about what had happened or how long it would take to fix it. I drove into town but everything was closed, and on the radio there were reports of what had happened far away in Brittany, dans le Finistère, where the storm had hit hardest. Nothing about our little corner of Lac Léman.

It was spooky, even eerie. And I wasn’t just cold. I was bored.

For entertainment, I grabbed a LED flashlight I use when walking the pups on moonless nights and began making shadows on the walls. The light bounced off in interesting ways and made a pattern on the walls and ceiling. When that got old, I dug out my trusty Itty Bitty Book Light, a wonder of technology that has saved my bookworm soul in more than one hotel with no decent reading light. Snuggled under the covers, I read until bedtime. Which came even earlier than usual.

And then it was morning. Any residual heat was long gone. I looked longingly at the coffeemaker, and grew resentful at our induction cooktop. For a moment I considered hooking up the gas bottle to the barbecue to heat some water, but the high wind and pounding rain made that unappealing. It would be quicker to get dressed and go into the city, I decided. I had a job to finish for a client by noon, and hopefully the power would be back by then.

As I was leaving, my neighbour beckoned from her yard. She was also home alone but unlike me, was stuck in the drive behind her electrically powered gate. I offered to help her climb over the fence but she decided to sit it out.

We live in a gated community, but fortunately someone had been able to figure out how to open the main gate. I stopped at the nearest gas station and got a lovely, hot, steaming cup of coffee, then went to work at the business centre in Geneva.

Just after lunch, I got a text message from the security company informing me that my alarm was once again functional. Hopefully the burglars hadn’t noticed our momentary lapse.

All was back to normal by that evening. In the end, we were lucky. We had no flooding, no medical emergencies or small children to worry about feeding. But how vulnerable we are to wild weather, and how ill-equipped to survive even one day without modern conveniences.

How’s your weather been? Have you been in the dark lately?

Grand corps malade

Fabien grew up in Seine-Saint Denis, an ill-famed area north of Paris known to all as ‘le neuf trois’, for the number of the French department – 93. He was going to be a professional basketball player, until a dive into a shallow pool left him paralyzed. He was told he would never walk again.

Instead, he became Grand Corps Malade (translation: Big Sick Body), a slam poet. He came to fame in France in 2006 with an album called Midi 20 (Twenty past twelve). I remember listening to it on the radio on the way back home from work. My kids liked him, and I was intrigued. When I saw that he had written a book, Patients, a memoir of his time in the hospital and rehab after the accident, I picked it up.

I don’t often read in French. I wanted to see whether I could read an entire book and enjoy it, maybe even improve my comprehension of the written language. I had spoken for French 20 years but never studied or even read its literature.

I was immediately captivated by Fabien’s voice, and the story he told without sentimentality. The little frustrations: not being able to change the channel on TV, or scratch an itchy eyebrow. It was a simple story about character, and people, and kindness and courage. I was struck by the cast of so-very-French characters who helped him climb out of the paralysis in which he was locked.

Now, he walks with a cane and a bit of a limp. Very tall, very deep-voiced, he is a man with an extraordinary regard, one that is frank and full of humour. And his story is now a film, that he produced and co-directed with the filmmaker Mehdi Idir.

I spent a couple of weeks in the hospital once, a few years ago. The dual meaning of the word ‘Patients’ was brought home to me. Never my strong point, patience, and I probably got better and went home quicker simply to avoid having to be a patient for any longer than I had to.

It’s been ages since I went to see a film at the cinema but I can’t wait to go and see Patients.

Et toi? Have you seen any good movies lately?

Droit de passage

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There is a law in France that stipulates that private property owners must guarantee a ‘droit de passage’ – right of way – to the public who wish to access the waterfront bordering their property. ‘La loi littoral’ states that a band of 3.25 meters must be accessible along the shore to allow people to walk along the water’s edge.

The law is not always enforced, but it seems that in our corner of Lake Geneva, there has been a recent movement to ensure access. So it is that we set out on Sunday on one of the sacred rituals of French life – la promenade du dimanche. A walk along the lake to discover if what we had heard was true.

Our village, like most small towns in France, publishes a quarterly newsletter. It always starts with a short editorial from Madame la Maire, usually a lecture on how we all need to be better citizens (less wasteful, more law-abiding). This pontificating annoys me but presumably not the French: it seems they are like school children who expect to be told off by the teacher.

The recent edition contained a short mention that it was now possible to walk along the lake all the way from our village to the scenic town of Nernier. Une belle balade, it said, to be enjoyed by one and all.

As soon as I read this, off I went to look for the path; predictably, I could find no trace of it. This generally happens any time I try to explore new territory in France. Husband is much better at finding his way so this time we went together. We both enjoy the outdoors and had set ourselves the goal of doing more fun things together.

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Down we went to the port des pêcheurs on Sunday morning and still found no trace of where to begin our walk. There is a wall with a few metal steps leading up to a concrete dock area but this is part of (presumably) the fisherman’s yard. There is no sign indicating anything. We peered around but seeing no one, did not dare to enter. So we went around the property to a small path that seemed to lead in our direction. This soon ended in a field which led us up and away from the lake. The only way to get back to the waterfront was to cut through a rather muddy farm field, which we did, taking large pieces of the field with us as souvenirs stuck to our shoes. We ended up back by the lake and began walking along the shore. This was so overgrown as to be barely passable in spots. We ducked to avoid branches and stepped over wet stones, trying not to slip. Eventually a path of sorts emerged, with small signs for hikers.

Along the way we observed many old properties that were either abandoned, windows boarded up and no signs of life, or simply shuttered for the season. Some of these were magnificent old houses fallen to ruin; others more recent with high fences and more money than taste put into creating Disney-like landscaping.

The lake was calm and beautiful in the soft light of early spring. Swans and ducks circled peacefully. There were no boats or signs of human activity on the water, although we did pass several other people out walking.

I wondered how this happened? High waters? Natural erosion?

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All along the waterfront we observed a strange kind of algae, which had dried to a sort of white vermicelli. It was everywhere.

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One couple we spoke to said that the reason you had to start from the fishing port in our village is that the private property around the Château is closed off to the public. Hmm. A rule for the plebs and another for the nobility? I think I’ll suggest that to Madame la Maire as a subject for her next editorial.

Still, it was a beautiful walk and fun to discover so much of the unseen side of the lake.

Do you have a favourite Sunday stroll?

 

Raconter des salades

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Lies, lies, lies. Half truths, tall tales and outright fibs. Every time you turn around these days it seems a new one is revealed, from Russian hijinks to politicians (not) paying their taxes.

The French language is filled with colourful expressions and ‘raconter des salades’ is a delightful example. Why one would tell salad tales to spin a yarn is not immediately obvious. Yet by gathering different ingredients and marinating them in a sauce, seasoning them with half-truths and jokes and then serving them up as fresh and healthy…it begins to make sense.

When you think about the meaning of the word ‘salade’ it becomes even clearer. Whereas in English a salad is a dish, in French it is also a lettuce or any of the various leaves that compose such dishes. What duplicity!

‘Salade’ the leaves are many indeed. Growing up in Canada in the ice age of the 1960s, iceberg was the only lettuce we knew. Along came the 70s and we discovered romaine (Hail, Caesar!) and in the 80s the advent of the spinach salad. (Raw spinach? In a salad!?!)

Arriving in France I was amazed by the number and varieties of lettuce and other leaves that people ate raw or dressed with different types of vinaigrette. From mesclun to watercress, frisée to lola rossa…the sheer variety was extraordinary. This image gives you an idea. (How did I never realize that dandelions are literally dents-de-lion, lion’s teeth?)raconter-une-salade

Perhaps most amazingly, there were salads served in restaurants that contained few or no leaves at all: salade de crudités with a variety of raw veg; salade Niçoise, with green beans, potatoes and tuna; salade Grecque with its chunks of feta, tomato and olives. When we moved to Lyon I discovered the salade Lyonnaise with its lovely runny egg and smoky lardons. The frisée lettuce served with this one can make it challenging to consume politely, without splattering vinaigrette or wending one’s knife.

I love salads, and not just because they are good for you. There are lemony carottes rapées (that’s grated, not raped because, let’s face it, if anyone is going to do the raping it is the carrot) and betterave (Better ‘ave ‘em? Beets me!) with lovely mâche and walnuts. As I shared in a previous post, the secret is in la sauce vinaigrette.

Pardon my use of so many silly puns, but is that not in keeping with the telling of salads?

What’s your favourite kind of salad?