Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Red Red Hills of Hérault

I left you in Castres, in the delightful London room of the Hotel de l'Europe. Whatever plans we had for a leisurely lie-in were cut short upon looking at the weather forecast. Heading our way was a nasty storm, so we hurriedly got our stuff together, had a quick instant coffee from the selection in our room (I took a cappuccino which was quite filling - luckily), and jumped on the bike.

The previous evening had been mild and pleasant. The following morning was cold and damp. We set off into a misty 12°C along the D622 to Brassac, not seeing much.

Limited views of the countryside
I did note along the way an intriguing signpost to the "Trembling Rock of Seven Fakes" (Rocher tremblant de Sept Faux). It's one of the snazzier natural features of the granite that makes up the Sidobre site, a unique geological area 15 km long by 6.6 wide and 7.5-20 km deep. Along the road you can see giant granite boulders among the trees. The trembling rock is so-called because despite its 900 tonnes, you can move it with a mere wooden stick.

We outran the rain, thank goodness but the weather stayed cold and misty until we crossed into Hérault where it turned warm and sunny HURRAH!

Sunny St-Pons-de-Thomières
By this time, we were in search of breakfast, or brunch as it was pretty late. We stopped at a boulangerie, but they had nothing but unappetising croissants. I'm on a gluten-free kick at the moment to see if it has any effect on my joints, so I wasn't going to jeopardise that for a dodgy croissant. So far eating thusly hasn't had a noticeable effect but I've only been eating gluten-free for a couple of weeks. It takes several weeks to see a difference so I'm told. Unfortunately.

We continued on towards Bedarieux, going past the lovely village of Olargues (a PBV).

And on to Bedarieux where hunger got the better of me and we stopped at MacDo for a chevre wrap. It was either that or just a measly salad. I was sure my joints could survive a wrap...

At Carlencas we turned off the main road and rode towards the Lac de Salagou. It was there we came into red hill country.

The red stone is locally called 'ruffe' which is a name particular to Hérault, from the Occitan word 'rufa' (from the Latin rufus - red). It's made up of clay sediments and iron oxide.

The pale area is a wheat field
 My DB said it reminded him of certain landscapes in the US.

A landscape of contrasts
Every now and then, you can see a basalt chimney which is evidence of intense volcanic activity in the distant past.

Basalt chimney near La Lieude
 We were on a small road, all the better to admire the dramatic scenery.

Between the layers of rock you can find a thin layer of shells

You sometimes see messages written in shells. Usually a declaration of undying love within a heart. So romantic.

A look-out post has been built on this basalt chimney
Near the hamlet of La Lieude is a basalt chimney with a look-out post. I think you can walk up to it which I'm sure gives a fantastic panorama over the area.

Love the stripy vineyard
At Salasc, we turned up in the direction of Octon and the lake.

Most people were enjoying lunch out on terrasses, including a large number of bikers. We didn't stop, having had our delicious MacDo wrap in the elegant surroundings of the commercial zone of Bedarieux...

Love this chappy, me hearties!
I've never noticed this little guy before. I don't know if he's a recent addition, but isn't he fab? He stands proud over the camp site.

Lac de Salagou, ruined village of Celles in the distance
There's an excellent restaurant on the hills overlooking the  lake and ruined village of Celles. At least it was excellent when we went there last, which was some time ago admittedly. It's the Auberge du Lac at Le Puech. The menu still looks good.

We finished our trip along the green roads not long after this, taking the autoroute back as far as St Paul et Valmalle, then coming off to divert through Montarnaud and Grabels.

The colours are very vibrant at the moment. It's a terrific time to travel about the region. Spring is well-advanced and the warmer weather has brought the leaves and flowers out all fresh and new.

I feel so lucky to live down here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Travelling through Haut Languedoc and les Grands Causses

For the last long weekend of May, my DB and I decided to take the motorbike and ride west to Castres. It was a lovely day, so I packed a picnic and we set off on the autoroute to Lodève, then took the charming D35 towards Lunas, a village of 400 inhabitants and a castle.

In the late spring, the gorse was out, lighting up the rolling hillsides with brilliant flashes of gold and heavenly sweet perfume.
Monts d'Orb
We took the tiny D135e2, a single track lane that wended its way through fields and forests. No crazy driving possible on this little road, we were able to admire the scenery at a leisurely pace, and it was well worth it.
Forests of Monts d'Orb
We disturbed a raptor along the road. It was by the road on our left and suddenly burst out across the front of the bike just feet away. I managed to get a photo of it as it flew off to our right.

At a few metres from us!
This is a shady spot along the tiny road, going through the forest of the Monts d'Orb.

Barely room to pass another vehicle...
We found a delightful picnic spot at the end of the D138 at Ceilhes-et-Rocozels situated by a lake and a camp site. A few picnic tables were dotted about which meant we could sit comfortably in our biking gear instead of uncomfortably on the ground. I looked towards the lake, my DB looked towards the bike. The toads on the banks serenaded each other at top volume and plopped into the lake as we approached the water's edge.
Not long after Ceilhes, we crossed into Aveyron, following the D902 which is green along the River Dourdou between Fayet and Camarès.
Another green road took us to Belmont-sur-Rance and it's dramatic church spire at the top of the hill.

From Belmont, we rode south (D32) to Lacaune, greeted at the entrance to the town by a splendid metalwork ham. Not quite Aoste or Parme, but I'm sure it tastes lovely. We didn't stop to find out, however.
Wonder what they produce in Lacaune...
One of the prettiest photos is this one at Lacaze - I love the green of the trees with the grey of the buildings, and the odd spot of dark purple, plus the lovely village and imposing bridge. It's very different in style from villages where I live in Hérault, but isn't that far away.

Pretty Lacaze
We reached Castres via Vabres and Brassac having telephoned ahead to reserve a room at the Hotel de l'Europe there. After a stunning ride, we were delighted to find our hotel was equally stunning in its own way. Here is the lobby, lit from above by a glass roof.

Hotel de l'Europe, Castres
The hotel blurb says that the building is a 17th century mix of baroque - part-Italian, part-Spanish
Keeping the evil spirits at bay? Hotel de l'Europe, Castres
I love the little crypt set into the exposed bricks on the landing. The colours positively hummed in the late afternoon sun. My reaction on walking into the lobby was simply "Wow!".

We were assigned the London room - how appropriate - which was a good 20m² and boasted a large bed, comfy chair, desk and ancient typewriter. For writing all those murder mysteries the Brits are so good at no doubt. On the wall were 12 small photos of famous Brits including Hitchcook, Lady Di, Queen Elizabeth I, etc. The bed could be backlit by a blue light for a smoochy atmosphere.
London room, Hotel de l'Europe, Castres
There was ample room for us and our kit!
London room, Hotel de l'Europe, Castres
The bathroom was a revelation with its large bath/jacuzzi. All this for 77 Eur!
Room for two! Hotel de l'Europe, Castres
A short walk from the hotel was the elegant central square, with its stylish buildings and vast open space.

We got a plan of the town from the hotel and walked around taking in the main sights. It didn't take long as Castres is a small town, and very compact as it used be walled. Along the river are the old tanners' houses which reminded me a little of Florence.
Tanner's houses, Castres
We finished our walk in the public gardens designed by André le Notre with its swirling low bushes, sculptured trees and very few flowers. Other places of interest in Castres include the Goya Museum located in a splendid former bishop's' palace, which houses the largest collection of Spanish art outside the Louvres.
Gardens designed by André le Notre, theatre in background
The Hotel Renaissance looks fab from the outside. It's a 4* hotel so I expect it's pretty fab on the inside too.
Hotel Renaissance 4*
We tested the bath/jacuzzi before dinner to the full and enjoyed the pummelling and water massage à deux. Sunday evening in France is not a good time to be looking for a restaurant even over a holiday weekend, but our hotel receptionist reserved us a table at Le Cercle a short walk away where we had a very pleasant meal and some good wine. It was about the only place open apart from dodgy kebab shops.

The bed was extremely comfortable and difficult to leave the next day!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

March Against Monsanto

Saturday May 23, 2015 was March Against Monsanto day. People from 35 towns in France, plus hundreds of others elsewhere in the world - spanning 48 countries - marched against this pharmaceutical multinational giant to promote awareness and interest in the World Health Organisation's declaration that glyphosate-containing herbicide Roundup, made by Monsanto, is a 'probable carcinogen' in the food supply. Glyphosate has been detected in groundwater supplies as well as rainwater collections suggesting mass pollution on a global scale.

Added to that their production and tyrannical selling of GMOs, their obstruction of measures to label products containing them, and hard core lobbying, Monsanto obviously puts profits before people, the environment and health, so we demonstrated to tell them and the Powers That Be that we don't want their poison, we want healthy food for all.

Our demo started off in the Peyrou gardens at 2pm. Not quite 2pm, obviously as this is the south of France and things never start on time. We eventually headed off half an hour or so later to the sound of drums, a flute, and chants of "Mon-san-to, A-ssass-in".

"With Monsanto, eat 5 poisoned fruit and veg per day"

From the Arc de Triomphe, down rue Foch
The numbers started building up as more and more people joined in. Ages ranged from students and teens, to parents with young children, and middle-aged and beyond.

View looking down rue Foch from Place du Marché aux Fleurs towards Arc de Triomphe
How many people do you reckon the photo above shows? The police declared us to number 300. Rue Foch is about 400m long, and it was packed with demonstrators. I respectfully suggest that the police numbers are rubbish. There was more like a thousand of us, if not more.

Ambiance guaranteed with the piper and drummers on rue Saint-Guilhem
This was the first time I've joined a demonstration. If my memory serves me right, which is not absolutely sure. It was great fun because there were no trouble-makers, and we all enjoyed making lots of noise and holding up the traffic.

We handed out leaflets to passers-by who were generally happy to take them and took lots of pictures of us too.

We held up the trams... oops
I just hope no one missed their train because we held up the trams...
Trams blocked on boulevard Jeu de Paume
Even though people were blocked in trams, they did not look nastily at us, but waved and smiled.
MacDo got a collective "BOOO" from demonstrators. 
We eventually arrived at the Place de la Comédie where we gathered round MacDonald's with the big yellow Greenpeace OGM banner, and yelled a collective 'Boo'. There were several people eating outside who took the 'entertainment' with good humour even though a woman was dancing around with a smoker and puffing smoke over them.

So did Quick. Most customers took it well...
We then moved on to Quick and did the same. Most customers took it well, but one group of a certain religion (I'll leave you to guess which) headed by a woman in a leopard print blouse didn't appreciate the smoke being blown over a podgy lad. He had been tucking into his burger and stopped, open-mouthed to stare at us when we arrived. The purpose of our demo didn't interest Ms Leopard-print in the slightest. She took umbrage, berated a nearby member of staff and got her little family together to flounce off, gesticulating like mad in her fury. I don't think we got our message across to her...

We didn't get our message across to the media either. No one from the tele was there, and there were just brief articles in the newspapers. All played down the numbers and therefore the importance of the issues, and the degree of feeling among the demonstrators. I think they lumped us into the loony-lefty-minority-Occupy box, as though everyone else is delighted at the idea of eating toxic food and drinking poisoned water.

Still, hundreds of people saw us demonstrate and got the message, and every person outraged at what Monsanto does is a victory. I expect Monsanto bosses eat 100% organic and wouldn't touch GMO corn if you paid them. Hypocrisy among big bosses and politicians is well established.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

An Imminent Public Health Vaccination Scandal in France


This video is in French but I've summarised the essentials below

Vaccination of children is obligatory in France. You run the risk of a 3750 Eur fine and six months in prison if you refuse. Serious stuff. 

So, you'd think that those in charge of public health would only impose the safest vaccines on the market, those with a proven track record of safety and the least number of nasty side effects and consequences.

You'd be wrong... and this is brewing into a massive public health scandal.

Two-month old babies have to be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and polio (DTP). Up until September 2014, this was not a problem. They had the tried and trusted DTP vaccine that's been on market for donkey's years. My kids had it, with no problem.

Bizarrely, pharmaceutical laboratories stopped producing this vaccine in 2008 for no apparent reason. In its place are "super-vaccines" such as Infanrix hexa which contains, in addition to DTP, three non-obligatory vaccines - whooping cough, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type b - plus the neuro-toxin aluminium, formaldehyde, and antibiotics (polymixine-B, neomycine) which are not at all necessary for babies and are potentially dangerous.

The traditional DTP vaccine cost a little over 6 Eur. Unsurprisingly, Infanrix hexa costs a lot more - nearly seven times more in fact, at 40 Eur! Follow the money. Always.

These vaccines are too much for small babies and risk setting off an anaphylactic shock in the short term, and auto-immune diseases in the long term. Aluminium and formaldehyde are both toxic, and the vaccine against hepatitis B is suspected of provoking multiple sclerosis. Cases of MS increased dramatically after a hepatitis B vaccine was put on the market in 1994...

Parents are in a total panic about what to do. If they do nothing, they are condemned by the courts; if they accept the vaccine, they are playing Russian roulette with the health of their precious child.

However, the most unbelievable and devious issue coming to light concerns compensation.

The law says that if your child falls ill after being vaccinated with an official vaccine (the traditional ones), you can claim compensation. However, if your child dies, or has an adverse reaction to one of the new vaccines, the ones you have no choice but to buy, you are told that you vaccinated your child with a vaccine not on the official list, so you are liable - it's your fault!

The video above has been produced by Pr Henri Joyeux, oncologist, who is trying to rouse the medical community as well as the wider population to demonstrate massively their objections to this situation worthy of a totalitarian state. His aim is to bring back the traditional DTP vaccine which has a proven safety record and is dead cheap.

To this end, he has set up a petition which is acquiring signatures by the minute. In two days, it reached 200,000 names. Please add your name to it, and send it out to all your friends to do the same. We cannot stand by and let the health of the nation's babies be compromised by voracious greedy pharmaceutical companies and a government which is proving each day that it cares only about hanging onto power, and NOT A JOT about the health of the most vulnerable members of the population.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Getting Rid of Books

What do you do with books you don't want to keep?

When my DB moved to Avignon, he decided to lighten the load by getting rid of a number of his books. Pushed for time, he was just going to throw them out, but I said I'd take them. Throwing out books, even vile trash like the one Fréderic Mitterand wrote (about sodomising little boys in Bangkok in his ill-spent youth), just goes against the grain. Actually, I probably could put a match to his books and not feel much remorse.

I have no room for the rest on my shelves which are already packed two-deep. Most of my book purchases now go on my Kindle. Not only can I buy books in English more easily, but there is ample room on the device to keep them.

In this little collection, I'm glad to see he has thrown out 'The Game', the book about pick-up artists. Obviously he has either learnt all he needs to know, or he has no further use of it because he has me. Or both...

The SAS book is one of a series written by Gérard de Villiers starring the Austrian prince and CIA spy Malko Linge. About 120 million of the two hundred books written have been sold worldwide. I'd never heard of them, but they are on a par with Ian Fleming's 007 books and particularly popular in Germany, Russia, Turkey and Japan. My DB has read almost all of them.

The only book of any value is Sempé's 'Des hauts et des bas' which is worth about 20Eur on Amazon.

Should I try to donate these French books to the local library? What if they don't want them (I wouldn't blame them for not wanting Fréd's 'torchon'). It's not a very big place, and they might want to reserve the space they have for new acquisitions.

Then there's selling them on Amazon. I doubt I could ask for much, because even if I put them up at 0.01Eur, the postage would be enough to put most people off, and I'd still have to wrap them up and take them to La Poste. A lot of effort really.

Maybe I'll take them to Gibert Joseph in Montpellier. It's a second-hand bookstore right in the middle of town. On their website there's a section called 'Je Vends' where you enter the bar-code of the books you want to sell and it'll tell you whether they'll accept them and for how much. You take along your books and they are finally off your hands. In theory. My DB tried this, took along his books and discovered that the bookshop wouldn't take them after all. A big waste of time.

After a brief browse on the internet, I've discovered other solutions. La Fnac offers a secondhand book section. You can fix your price, payments are made through their site, but you still have the books hanging around until someone eventually decides to buy them at which point you have to pack them up and take them to the post office (= faff).

If you're lucky enough to live in Paris, Bordeaux or Lyon, for the purpose of getting rid of books, that is, there's a service called Recyclivre  which will take your books 'dans un geste solidaire'. They will come and pick them up (in an electric vehicle) and then sell them through their site. They declare their business to be 'eco-citoyenne' and 'un service unique'. They don't operate in Montpellier so I'm not that bothered by what they are, but I do like the counters on their website which count how many trees and how many litres of petrol  have been saved thanks to each sale of secondhand books. They also donate 10% of profits to organisations that work to reduce illiteracy, etc. Obviously good eggs.

Pity we don't have a good choice of charity shops here. The Croix Rouge exists but getting to their centres is a pain. Emmaüs is another option, and I've just seen that they will collect (even a few books?).

According to an article in Le Monde in 2012, over a third (37%) of books are bought secondhand in France so maybe if I exert myself a little perhaps I could make enough to buy a nice bottle of white fizz to go with the smooth and silky elderflower cordial I made this weekend, flowers bought from La Ruche Qui Dit Oui. That way too, my DB could enjoy his books a second time around.

(Except Fréd's livre de la honte - book of shame. It's amazing how he's been spared prison for abus sexuelle sur mineur, but then the Soixante Huitards have a Teflon coating when it comes to paedophilia. Much like British members of Establishment except I don't recall any of them actually writing about their desires and experiences in a book and getting away with it... but I digress...).

In the meantime, they'll have to stay cluttering up the dining table.

Monday, May 04, 2015

What happened to April?

I've been getting to know the journey between Montpellier and Avignon in the last three weeks. My DB is now all moved and ship-shape in his new pad, and the next time I go, I'm expecting to have nothing to do with boxes, unpacking or hauling stuff to and from the garage. Phew!

In other news, I'm looking very healthy thanks to some tanning capsules designed to help your skin cope with the sun. A healthy glow does wonders for morale, especially when you know it's been acquired just by popping pills.

I've also been reading about ways to combat osteoporosis. The simplest way by far is to do sport so that mechanical pressure is put on the bones to reinforce them. That plus getting enough vitamins C, D, K to form collagen and bone mineralisation. So now you know. Swimming is no good, of course...

...if your boys haven't 'borrowed' it and returned it wrecked...
I made my Spring visit to Pierrette, my personal clothes shopper and, thanks to the crisis in clothes boutiques, I came away with a hefty collection of snazzy bits and bobs. I'd take some selfies, but daren't show you the decidedly un-snazzy room in which I sleep...

I've been wondering how much longer Pierrette can carry on. She's 71 now and not in the best of health. She told me she'll continue until either her clients have no need of her (unlikely), or she just can't carry on physically. I'm one of her oldest clients, along with 'la dame des impôts' who is not short of a bob and spends a fortune with her!

In order to make room for the new stuff, I took the brave step of nearly emptying my wardrobe of all the clothes I haven't really ever worn. The two 100 litre bin bags contain several jackets. I never wear jackets with lapels and I have no idea why I kept buying them. My job doesn't require looking smart, and I don't find them comfy. They seem to swamp me.

I have yet to actually remove the bags from the landing and take the definitive chucking out step, however... I'm sure that as soon as I do that, I'll need a jacket urgently, and in the exact red colour and style of the one I just gave away. Anguish.

My reading of another newsletter about health enlightened me as to the pointlessness of using antiseptics to clean small wounds. Warm water works much better apparently. For bleeding bobos, apply a 'pansement gras' which Google translates as a 'fat dressing' which won't stick to the scab. I went and threw out the Betadine after reading that. It was long out of date anyway...

Ail des ours/wild garlic pesto
Finally, I bought some 'ail des ours' (wild garlic) from the 'Ruche qui dit Oui' the other week and, after searching on the internet, found a tasty pesto recipe that includes almonds and sun-dried tomatoes. We took a pot on a picnic on one of our recent walks (sneaked in between packing boxes), and very tasty it was too. There's quite a tang to it after the initial mise en bouche. My DB loved it so much that the next time it became available, he bought 4 bunches. This Friday (a holiday oh happy day!), the St Bloggie pesto factory will be cranking out the stuff by the ton... Good thing I didn't throw out all the glass jars in my clothes clear-out too!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Longest Birthday Party

Birthday parties have got longer. It was my youngest's 14th birthday last week and he decided to invite three friends to his 'party' involving cinema, KFC and a sleepover.

Despite the fact it was Easter weekend, his friends were free to arrive just after lunch on Saturday. They spent the afternoon mucking about, coming in only for the birthday tea. Regular readers of this blog may remember my birthday cakes are never a success. For some reason, something either goes wrong, or they are not liked by picky French taste buds.

This year was no exception. My son wanted a banana and chocolate tart with homemade pastry. Easy peasy. I got out the food processor, made up the pastry, let it rest, rolled it out and baked it blind. So far so good. Disaster struck when I was trying to remove the split peas that I'd used to weigh down the pastry. Some of the little buggers had slipped between the dish and pastry when I was taking them out, so I thought I could remove them by tipping up the dish...

Naturally, the pastry fell out of the dish and onto the work surface, where it continued its bid for freedom by making rapidly for the floor. In bits. I yelled, dear reader. I shrieked, and many an expletive passed my lips. I even threw my oven glove across the kitchen (all of one metre). Then I picked up all the bits and wondered what to do.

Luckily the cleaner had been the day before so the 15 or so second rule was not a problem. I didn't want to throw away a tart's worth of pastry, and after some reflection, decided to arrange all the bits back in the dish, like a big jigsaw. At worst, it would end up as a choccie/banana crunch. I put the pastry dish back in the oven to finish off, and later made the chocolate filling (Nestlé dessert black chocolate + brick of organic cream). I sliced a couple of bananas, put them over the cooled base, poured over the filling and put it in the fridge. And hey presto:
Rescued birthday chocolate/banana tart
You'd never guess that it had been on the floor a few hours earlier and the cause of a total hissy fit, would you? It was delicious too. De.Li.Cious!

We sang Happy Birthday, and it all went, to sounds of approval (a miracle!). Then I dropped them off to see Fast and Furious 7 (I was not included in the invitation...) and picked them up later to enjoy their takeaway KFC. I was delighted to find out that cinema tickets are only €4 for under 14s, so that kept the price down, as did buying popcorn from Carrouf instead of paying an outrageous amount inside the cinema.

The next day I found out they were all staying for lunch and beyond (no one was having a big Easter family lunch obviously), and my youngest suggested a picnic at the Lac Cécélés near St Mathieu de Treviers. I made up jambon beurre sarnies for all except one who had cheese, baked some cookies, and we all set off to the lake. My DB joined me after lunch and we went for a walk up the lake and over to the dinky village of St Croix de Quintillargues.
Lac de Cécélés
The boys had a lovely time mucking about with a free-floating pontoon 'boat' but managed not to get wet. They couldn't get far because the wind kept blowing them back to shore, but they used up a nice lot of energy trying.
Four boys on a 'boat'
We left when they'd had enough, went home for more food, and the last one left at 5.30pm. My youngest was shattered but happy. At last I could give the boys their Lindt choccie bunnies, and cook Easter dinner which was a rolled leg of lamb that I'd brought back from England after Christmas. It was excellent, and much appreciated after such a busy day!

My son spent Easter Monday very quietly.