Friday, January 16, 2015

Careful What You Say!

For more of the same pithy humour see Strips Journal
We've had blanket, carpet, wall-to-wall coverage of the Charlie Hebdo+ tragedy in the French news for the past week. It's not that I don't deplore what happened or am not interested. I do and I am, but it's been a week now, and there are other things happening in the world.

Little things probably, like two thousand Nigerians massacred by a young girl suicide bomber sent into the crowds by Boko Haram. That got a five-second slot at the end of the news on Monday. Not important enough for more I suppose only five days after the French tragedy, and not a word more since. Or how about the rise of the Swiss Franc, or indeed the news about Gazprom?

David Pujadas, the France2 news anchor seems to have been relishing all the CH-related items. He's been more alert and intense this week than normal. It has to be said, the tragedy has been a hot subject for news teams, and they have absolutely made the most of it and more. It's not often such a 'gift' is handed to them.

In moving speeches applauded by one and all, Hollande vowed to uphold his commitment to free speech. Unfortunately, it's all just empty words. Free speech has been under attack for decades, modified by one law after another. There are two catch-all phrases used by the hounds of SOS Racisme and their ilk to stamp on free speech: incitation à la haine (incitement to hate, which seems to include offence these days), and apologie de terrorisme (justification for terrorism).

Last weekend, millions of people marched to defend free speech (not sure which one though - the original one or the hobbled one), but this week already, a bunch of some fifty cretins were hauled up before the courts for apologie de terrorisme, and a further 200 'incidents' have been reported in schools. In shocked tones, it was reported that some kids refused the minute of silence to honour the dead, and some even said the cartoonists had it coming. I do wonder on what planet the msm live sometimes. Of course there will be kids saying this. They probably come from households where the parents say it too!

Meanwhile, Manual Valls is determined to take a hard line on terrorism, so the repulsive 'comic' Dieudonné is due to be judged soon for his provocative tweet where he said he felt like he was 'Charlie Coulibaly'. Valls has also mobilised the army, put the intelligence services on red alert and implemented the Plan Vigipirate, but if Christiane Taubira has anything to do with it, people like Coulibaly won't have to worry too much even if they're a hardened recidivist. She wants to:
« aligne le régime des récidivistes sur celui des non-récidivistes en matière de réductions supplémentaires de peines ».
She wants to align the regimes for recidivists and non-recidivists when reducing sentences. A first offender might expect a light sentence for something and get off with a fifty percent reduction. Now, the hardened criminal with eighty condemnations under his belt will be able to expect the same fifty percent reduction. While Valls does his utmost to arrest the terrorists, Taubira orders their release asap.This jaw-dropping directive was published on January 9 in the midst of the hostage situation.

As Littlejohn puts it, you couldn't make it up.

What to do about terrorism in the name of Islam, though? In my very humble opinion, I think it's time Islam caught up with the 21st century. Like Christianity before it, Islam needs to be modernised. Catholics no longer have the Spanish Inquisition to worry about, or witch hunts, or any other such barbarities, and it's time for Islam to grow up too.

The process has started. In Egypt, el-Sisi, the president, is calling on imams to implement reforms so that Islam is no longer seen as a source of 'destruction'. In the UK, people like Sara Khan of Inspire, a counter-extremist Islamic forum, are calling upon the Muslim community to develop a British Islam in harmony with British values rather than perpetuating an unhelpful 'grievance narrative'.

Is there such a group in France?

When I did my degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies, we learned that back in the ninth century, the door to interpretation of the texts was closed by scholars who decided that everything that could be said had been said, and there was nothing more to add to the study of Islamic texts. It is this 'closing of the door of interpretation' that has kept Islam so static. You can imagine how difficult it will be to open it again in order to remove obstacles to modernisation. Hard-line scholars are totally opposed, and behind them, probably, maint vested interests.

Still, I can't see a resolution to the world's terrorist issue without a thorough overhaul of all Islamic texts and reinterpretation of sacred words in the name of Peace.

Such a small word, such huge repercussions.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas!

I hope you enjoy your Christmas, however you spend it. Here, to get you in the mood, is one of my favourite carols, O Holy Night sung beautifully by Kings College choir.

Unfortunately, while the Nine Lessons & Carols is on tomorrow, I'll be in a TGV hot-footing it to the UK to spend Christmas with the family. And looking forward to it. :)

See you on the other side. xx

Friday, December 19, 2014

Have at ye! Menopause!

Back in September I went to see a naturopathe and came out with a list of menopause-defying food supplements to get my teeth into.

So, how's it going? Actually, very well; I'm totally won over. There are two outstanding products which I must tell you about (and Mariella Frostrup could do worse than listen up too...!).

Hydra7 - this gives you the most amazingly soft skin. It's made from the berries and seeds of argousier (sea-buckthorn) and is packed with a bunch of omegas (3,6,7,9). You just need a course of one pot to see the incredible difference it makes, which is good as it's sold at a fairly pricey 29.90 Eur for 60 capsules.

It contributes to the hydration not just of skin but of the body's mucus zones too (eyes, mouth, down below, gastric, nasal). It helps iron out small wrinkles, and replaces totally the need for lotions and potions to moisturise body skin. This stuff is brilliant!

The other outstanding product is pomegranate oil. It's rich in omega 5 which has nifty anti-ageing properties and does wonders for women's dryness issues. Dr Sellman advises dabbing it on the vulva to promote hydration. It's not easy to find pure organic pomegranate oil but this stuff is excellent: Pomegranate oil 14.39 Eur for 100ml. I also use a little on my face instead of cream morning and night.

As I can't get enough of pomegranate oil, I'm taking a course of capsules. They are also pretty pricey, but my libido has returned and my hot flashes are reduced in intensity and number since I started taking these capsules along with the oil above: Pomegranate oil capsules 28.58 Eur for 60 capsules.

I was doing okay with the other supplements (borage, houblon, salsepareille) that the naturopathe prescribed, but the pomegranate oil really took things to a much higher level, so thank you Dr Sellman for that recommendation! I feel just like the old me again before menopausal crustiness took over.

It's all about balancing the hormones again, much like what happens with adolescence. Keeping it all stable is quite tricky what with upsets, stress, dodgy diet and medical drugs (which I'm not on).

I read this week that many menopausal women are lacking in testosterone which is responsible for quite a list of issues. For example, it makes them get upset easily when faced with confrontation, plus:
  • disruption to libido and sexual function
  • temperamental
  • decrease in energy and feelings of well-being
  • anxiety, indecision
  • easily tired during physical activity
Testosterone tones up the muscles and improves the health of bones, and blood vessels by making the blood more fluid; it improves physical performance and psychological well-being, and helps with mental toughness.

Doctors can test for testosterone deficiency, but for those who would like to reap the benefits without too much effort, you just have to drink water, and eat meat and sprouted grains. Avoid alcohol, sodas, sugar and non-sprouted grains including bread. The most enjoyable way though of increasing testosterone levels is to make love at least twice a week with a "très viril" partner. No chance of getting a hairy face, deep booming voice or acne if you stick to a good shag... or two...

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Veggie Wars

Gone are the days when I went to Carrouf, ploughing through the aisles to do my weekly shop. I still buy essentials like loo rolls there, but I go elsewhere for food. One of my suppliers is called La Ruche Qui Dit Oui (The hive which says yes), or RQDO. It's a funny name but the idea is good.

A reine, or queen bee decides to set up a ruche. RQDO is a national organisation bringing together a commercial website and local suppliers. It was set up by a couple of whizzo start-up entrepreneurs and is proving to be extremely successful.

The reine signs up on the website to create a ruche. She waits for people to join, which they do by hearing about RQDO and going onto the website to find their nearest ruche. While she's waiting, she searches for suppliers so that when she has enough members, she can go live.

The idea is that suppliers fix a minimum amount of produce that they want to sell before they will 'say yes' to the overall order. There's not much point using petrol to deliver five hundred grams of carrots. If their minimum order is reached, the sale goes ahead; if it doesn't the supplier cancels the orders.

For the consumer, you can choose exactly what you want from the list of produce. If you don't want anything, you don't have to order. At the ruche I go to, you can choose from organic veg, fish, meat, artisan soap, artisan biscuits, and jars of things like caviar d'aubergine and soup, and so on. You can also buy a box of veg according to season from time to time.

There's been a bit of a hoohar recently between the RQDO and AMAP organisations. AMAPs are a similar concept, but you sign up to buy a box of produce every single week, and pay up front or by trimester. It's brilliant for producers because they know they have a fixed consumer list, and can plan ahead for the year's cultivations. For the consumer, they can be reduced to a diet of turnips and cabbage during winter months.

I don't have an AMAP near me, so the decision about which to go for was taken out of my hands, but I'm pretty happy with the RQDO, and like the fact that I can talk to the producers when I go to the ruche on a Thursday evening, and have a bit of a chat.

Hardcore AMAPs fans have been accusing RQDO of being a dirty capitalist organisation consisting of hard-working reines who earn a pittance and evil entrepreneurs who are raking in the profits from their labours. The RQDO takes 16.7% of total sales, gives 8.35% to the reine and uses the rest to pay for salaries of tekkies and admin staff. The average amount earned by a reine per month is €400 apparently although I'm sure my local lady earns a lot less.

The internet was steaming with accusations flying left right and centre (here, here, here) from AMAPers while RQDO reines wrote in to defend their position, and one of the entrepreneurs replied on the RQDO blog.

"La Ruche qui dit Oui ! est un réseau qui réunit des dizaines de milliers de personnes et de multiples organisations. On y trouve des entreprises, des associations, des bénévoles, des clients. Le service qui permet à tous ces gens de se rencontrer, de travailler, de commercer est développé par une entreprise : La Ruche qui dit Oui – Equanum SAS, 50 salariés, une échelle de salaire de 1 à 3, un agrément d’Entreprise Solidaire d’Utilité Sociale.

It's basically a network that brings together thousands of people and multiple organisations, like associations, volunteers, and clients. These people can meet, work and do business via the RQDO which has 50 employees on an earning scale of 1:3. The company has an official status as a socially responsible business.

No system is perfect, but it suits me. This weekend I decided to try the kilo of fish to make into fish soup. The fisherman gave me a polystyrene box of mostly tiny fish, and the recipe, and I made a start. He told me I had to cook the fish and then remove the flesh from the fish. I don't know if this is actually what you should do, but imagine me standing over a hot pot fishing around for very small bits of body and head, getting spiked by vicious bits of bone, and burnt fingers. It took me over half an hour and I was vowing never again would I make a sodding fish soup.

It tasted delicious though, especially with the rouille that I made to go with it which is a fiery mayonnaise. My DB, who moans when I cook fish, was in heaven.

Having looked it up (belatedly), it seems that I just had to put the whole lot through the blender and then sieve it. Have you ever tried to make your own fish soup?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Just Doing It

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you got in your car, drove off, and kept driving? I was thinking about that on the way to shops yesterday. I usually have that thought when I get on the autoroute because they are designed to take you far and quickly (in Europe at least; in the UK you do tend to come up against the sea fairly quickly unless you're travelling north/south).

My route to the shops was not going to take me far (or quickly), but I could have just kept going until the tank ran out. I didn't of course because the consequences would have been dramatic. I'm too chained to my obligations and duties, but I do envy those who just take off and don't stop (unless they drop their obligations and duties and cause untold misery to their family).

It never occurred to me to do such a thing when I was young and single after university because I had little money and less self-confidence. Instead, I waited until I met my future ex-h to leave home and join him in France, happily shackling myself and throwing away the key.

I must be a confirmed homebody a tad too anxious to confront the unknown. By myself, anyway. I'm rather concerned with my creature-comforts now too. Hopeless.

One of my favourite books when younger was Laurie Lee's "As I walked out one midsummer morning" which gave me material to fantasize with, but no desire to imitate. I convinced myself that things were different then, he was a bloke, and there was no way I was going to walk that far. Also, I realised the reality could entail a lot of hard work and I would probably be uncomfortable. I was a living example of Roosevelt's "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today".

Part of my problem, I'm sure, is that having lived in Cairo for a year, I'd had a fair amount of adventure, and much of it was not that pleasant. It was uncomfortable, however.

Another favourite book was "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas. He didn't choose to leave but was thrown in jail, and came to make the most of a bad situation. This is something I can understand - making the most of a situation (eventually, in his case), and, 'there's always a silver lining' (ditto).

Those at Nike tells us to forget our reservations, and just 'Do it'. Unfortunately, doing anything by yourself is getting increasingly difficult here in France. Everything is fraught with rules and regulations, and no one should be ignorant of the law ('nul n'est censé ignorer la loi'), all 3078 pages...

I read about one old lady of 76 - Yvette Bert - recently who was hunted down and dragged through the courts by the Fisc. Why? Because she had the temerity to set up an association which held regular lotteries to raise money for charity. She and her friends in the sheltered accommodation where she lives would get together with others on a Sunday afternoon to play the loto and have a lovely sociable chatty time. "Mamie Loto" took none of the money for herself despite living on a pension of 620 Eur per month.

Her association was official, registered at the prefecture, its aims clearly stated. No one told her it was illegal. So when she was sued by the Fisc, given a 6 months suspended sentence, 6000 Eur fine and a tax bill of 88,000 Eur (on the 460,000 Eur she collected for charity), her life fell apart and her health started failing. Does the word 'bully' spring as violently into your mind as it does mine?

Her cause has been taken up by the Institut pour Justice who have created a petition to support her. It already has over 70,000 signatures. Here's hoping for many more.

Have you ever walked out one midsummer (early spring or late winter) morning?

Monday, November 10, 2014

More Odds and Sods, but mostly food...

What's been going on recently in your life?

Sandwich jambon-beurre
I might not be in Britain, but I can answer the Daily Mail's cri de coeur: "Is there no one left in the UK who can make a sandwich ? Or rather my youngest can. He went off on a school visit to Lac de Salagou with a Festive baguette-jambon-beurre, as requested. No tomato, no lettuce, no pickle. Just ham and tasty raw organic butter. The ham came from Hyper U. No one's perfect... The Festive baguette sarnie is one of the simple pleasures of living in France, and certainly better than an industrial triangle in a plastic box full of salt and fat that those poor Hungarians were being brought in to make.

Still on the subject of food, I actually bought a couple of paper recipe books recently rather than print off the net. One is the Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon and the other is YumUniverse: Infinite Possibilities for a Gluten-free, Plant-Powerful, Whole-Food Lifestyle by Heather Crosby. Not that I'm either gluten-intolerant or a vegetarian, but I like variety, and my DB would prefer to eat as little meat as possible. Both books are written by successful food bloggers whose recipes I've tried and enjoyed, with lovely appealing photos. Funnily enough, both women came to veganism after years of eating extremely badly resulting in increasingly poor health that popping pills did nothing to cure.

The YU book is a guide really on how to incorporate more plant-based food into the average diet. It has sections on the importance of soaking beans, grains and nuts to remove anti-nutrients, how to sprout, how to cook with new ingredients, how to make it all happen. It's quite a challenge to change habits and it's only by taking it in small steps that you avoid reverting to the old ways after a few months.

She gives recipes for homemade spice mixes (Ethiopian, Chinese, Taco, Chai etc.), different sauces and vinaigrettes (Kale and Walnut Pesto, Cashew Sauce, Sweet Potato Sauce, etc), sandwich ideas (Smoky Lentil and Dill, Crispy Eggplant, Sprouts & Tomato, etc.), snacks, and so on. This weekend I soaked some mung beans and amaranth to start sprouting them, and I've just put some pumpkin seeds in a jar of water as I add them to salads almost every day and didn't realise they should be soaked.

I also made a soup from Angela's OSG book: 'on the mend spiced red lentil-kale soup' which was surprisingly tasty. You can find the recipe here. It looks really simple, but the flavours blend together beautifully. I also made her black bean burgers which I forgot about in the oven so they came out rather well cooked, but crumbled perfectly over a kale salad that my DB was delighted to eat after driving back from his Zen retreat in Toulouse.

Talking of Zen, my yoga classes are going well, but I don't think I'm ready for one of the full-on weekends they organise. My DB is taking a couple of Zen courses in town and has been on two Zen weekends. One was too religious-based for his liking while the other concentrated more on meditation. I enjoy yoga for the physical element and the peace, but the group yogi is president of the southern France yoga association and she gave me a magazine to read to encourage me to join and go further into yoginess. It was a bit too much for my superficial taste...!

To help us in our pursuit of regular walks, I bought a couple of blue 1/100,000 IGN maps of the region - the ones that show GR routes and other paths. I love maps and spent some of the weekend poring over them. In searching for the link, I came across a site called VisoRando where you can create an itinerary based on these maps! Just what we need!

At the other end of the health spectrum, we spent part of the weekend the other week at Domaine Puech at the Weekend Cave en Fête where we ate charcuterie, cheese, and oysters, drank the Noémie red wine and were très merry. The producers of the cheese, charcuterie, oysters, champagne, and Alsatian wine were there all weekend and available for tastings. We ended up buying... cheese, charcuterie, wine and oysters. The oysters were 7€ the dozen, so I bought two (dozen). We had a feast on Sunday night!

On a sadder note, last week I had to take my cat to the vet after he developed an abscess in his mouth. He was kept in overnight to have it drained, and came home wearing a plastic Elizabethan-style collar to stop him scratching. He's not pleased at all. It comes off on Thursday, and not a day too soon as far as we're all concerned.

When I bought my sofa a few years ago, I didn't expect it to be so badly made that the back would be falling apart after a bit of rough treatment from the boys... I paid about fifteen hundred euro for it so it wasn't exactly cheapo crap. This weekend my youngest and I turned it on its front (where you put your legs) and I cut the material underneath to reveal... bad quality wood held together with STAPLES! Honestly, it looked like an amateur had thrown it together on his first day at a furniture-making class. My son got out the No-Nails glue and, while I held the sofa up, he gunned the glue into place. While he was working away, we had this conversation:
Me: "Oh it's so nice to be doing this with you. It's really cool that you volunteered to help and didn't have to be press-ganged."
Him: "It's only because I didn't have anything better to do..."
Me: "Hey, don't spoil it...!"
That put me in my place! We left the sofa upright with the packet of cat litter, a dictionary and four books weighing it down over twenty-four hours. Today, we put it back in place, and lo, the sofa-back is no longer wobbly! Result!

So that's what's been going on in my life. Living on the edge as ever...

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The paysan and l'esprit commercial

I was talking to friends recently about "l'esprit commercial" in relation to local shopkeepers and wine producers; how important it is yet how many lack the basics. In these difficult times, they often forget some basic everyday commercial rules:
1. recognise your regular customers - a blank look and indifferent greeting to someone who has been frequenting the place for months and regularly buying produce does not go down well.

2. greet your regular customers with a smile - the bane of the Parisian waiter too, told to smile at customers who he'd rather snarl at for obliging him to fetch and carry to earn a living. It can take some time before a vendor accepts you as a regular customer and instead of just greeting you with a short, sharp "Bonjour", will greet with you a smile and ask you how you are. (I have reached this happy state at my local butcher's. It took me roughly nine months.)

3. make the odd "geste commercial" such as a bit of extra ham, an extra bottle when you sell someone a significant quantity of wine, or a 10% discount, a bunch of parsley thrown in, etc.

Local wine producers are particularly bad, so bad in fact that they have a reputation for being stingy. Take one story I heard about a basketball player who introduced his Parisian friends to a local wine. They loved it and gave him regular orders when he travelled up to see them. He would pay around 1000 Eur each time. Do you think the vigneron gave him an extra box, or even just one special bottle as a gesture of goodwill? Nothing. Rien. Not even a discount. When he wasn't even being greeted with a smile he decided that enough was enough and stopped going there.

I heard another story about a different vineyard where there too, they are so stingy that they charge 1.50 Eur more at the vineyard for their wine than the same wine for sale in the local fromagerie. You make the effort to go to the vineyard, pay extra petrol, and they sting you on every bottle you buy! As a result, my friend doesn't bother going there any more but just buys it down the road from time to time, and less and less as he's reluctant to give them too much money as he doesn't like their attitude.

What is amazing is that these people are always complaining that they don't sell enough! They won't, of course, bring in a PR professional to give advice. That would cost money! Even though it might make them more in the long run. Actually, they don't need one, I can give out all the advice they need, and I cost no more than a few boxes of wine! :)

The contrast with my friend's butcher is telling. He would be greeted with a cheery hello, and offered special cuts, extra bits, and even the pâté bowls when he bought the last slice. As a result he was a faithful customer and spent a fortune in there. He's moved now and laments the loss of his butcher as the one where he now lives does not have the same attitude to customer service.

My friends reckon that this lack of "esprit commercial" comes from their peasant backgrounds. When there was less choice, before supermarkets brought wine from all regions practically to our doorsteps, people went to their local producers or cave cooperative. They liked or lumped the treatment they received because there was nowhere else to go. Peasants are renowned for being stingy and surly so customers just accepted it.

These days, we all have so much choice, we can buy what we need from a multitude of suppliers in a small area, so anyone who wants to stand out has to make it worth his customer's while - recognition, friendly contact, and commercial gestures. Otherwise we might just as well go to Carrouf.

But how can you tell them?