A Busyness of Bloggers

marksinthemargin.blogspot.com
marksinthemargin.blogspot.com

Adullamite, whose blog gives me a great deal of pleasure, said in a recent post

‘I looked through the usual blogs, commented on one or two and will do on one or two others once I have read all the words. The blogs are so good, taking me all over the world, into lives I would never know otherwise. People in different worlds than mine with very different lifestyles….and differing views educate, inform and entertain better than the so called professionals do. They of necessity are limited to what pays, blogs reveal the heart! That is why they are good. At least the ones I choose to look at are.’

Thus he sums up what I enjoy about the blogging world – people talking about what they observe, what interests them, what moves them, what is important to them, what they ferret out – and the blogs I follow, return to time after time, are those with heart.

But they are as rare as hens’ teeth.

I look at the WordPress ‘Freshly Pressed’ section from time to time in the hope of finding a new blog to read…but less and less often.

I need a translation to know what LBGT might be…but I suspect it has nothing to do with gin and tonic…..

I couldn’t give a hoot about people moaning on about their ancestors’ slavery – it’s a rare family that hasn’t known oppression in its past and I’d be a damn sight more interested if these bods would look at current slavery practices with the same anal attention they give to their families’ pasts. Get involved…do something….stop grizzling.

Parenting blogs…yuck!
‘How I refused to believe that my little girl was a pain in the backside and interpreted her last minute refusal to take part in the Nativity play which had taken so much work to stage as an example of an independence that would one day enable her to say ‘no’ to drugs’…Double yuck!
There are some brilliant blogs on being a parent – take a look at some of the family posts on Mark Charlton’s Views from the Bikeshed or Stephen Herrick-Blake’s Bloggertropolis where the love just shines through in both cases…but parenting….no.

Exhibitionists pretending to dally with racism to give an unholy thrill to their audience…not that either.

Expats whose posts seem to consist of saying ‘Wow!’…..

The self promoters – oh look I have five thousand followers….

People who can’t use their own language…..

But enough of ‘Freshly Pressed’ as the blogs I see there , with honorable exceptions, show more attention to technique – to tricks – rather than content.

And content is what counts.

I’ve logged in to blogs about France and found myself enjoying music I’d never heard of….The Diary of Amy Rigby….
Films and how to view them from the blog which ceased to be written with the death of its eponymous owner – Boris in Ayrshire.

Discovering the difference between English and Australian thunderboxes thanks to Days on the Claise

Romanesque architecture illustrated by marvellous photography on the Via Lucis blog…

Recipes with a context on Cheffiles

It’s the sheer vitality of it all that counts…and I haven’t told the half of it.

And how many blogs lack just that….vitality.

Pedants who tell you what each French word means – without the faintest idea of what is happening in their own French backyard….

The well connected – to each other – who receive your comment on their post with a pale ‘thank you for your contribution’ and return to the contemplation of their well connected friends’ navels, minds closed to anything outside their own world…

Photographic blogs….which leave me asking whether the technique of taking a pic has taken over from communicating something through that pic….

Oh, stop grizzling, woman!

A blog with heart, with vitality, doesn’t need to be a literary master piece, nor does it have to be about the extraordinary….but it does need a blogger who tells you how it is – lets you see their world as they see it – and who enjoys the relationship with readers through the comments section, which is, in my view, the best part of my blog!

Just doing a swift trawl through the blogs I enjoy I can visit Scotland, England, Wales, France, Spain, Gibraltar, Belgium, Turkey, the Gulf states, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Canada and the U.S.A……

I can learn about knitting, crochet, ceramics; cooking and preserving; riding and walking; animal rescue and architecture; religion and politics; wildlife and town life; I can see the sights and discover their history…..

And it’s all thanks to those special bloggers – those with heart.

Mind your Language

caedmonIt was my husband’s birthday this weekend and we had the best of all celebrations.
Time to ourselves.

We closed the gates to the drive and settled down to undisturbed peace.

Yes, of course we had to collect eggs, let out the chickens and ducks, change their water, put in fresh feed and then bang them up again in the evening.

Yes, we had to chop banana stems and fodder grass for the sheep and cattle and not get knocked over in the stampede for the bananas as we shut them in for the night.

Yes, we had to give the dogs their wash and deflea session.

But we did not have to speak to anyone else.
We did not have to put ourselves into the mindset of another language or culture.
We could think and speak entirely as we pleased.
All the time.

And what did we find?

For the most part we spoke to each other in English….but when we were talking about local stuff it was surprising how much Spanish we used…I can only imagine because the source of our information, whether oral or written, had been expressed in Spanish which had come, in its turn, to define the mode of discussion.

It would not have ocurred to us that the lunacy of a situation in which the leader of H.M.’s government is a foul mouthed coke head could be discussed in any language other than English, but it was interesting to find that the same process led to discussion of the character of the ex Mayor of San Jose and Presidential candidate using any number of Spanish phrases.

I would not say that it was perfect Spanish, either in use of grammar or pronunciation, but it was the Spanish that came to us spontaneously.

I enjoy the proper use of language, but not to the point of pedantry.
Language lives, evolves; it has to do so to be able to reflect the experience of its users.
I do not understand texting ….but it is an offshoot which has developed to enable those with more time than sense to communicate with each other and as such is no less legitimate than any professional jargon – which is double dutch to anyone outside the charmed circle.

I would never make a translator.
I see languages in their own compartments: products of their own cultures and dependent on those cultures for their meaning.
I can enter those compartments; enjoy the contents, but I can’t bridge the compartments to translate – it is too easy to be clumsy and swift yet takes forever to translate one context to another.

I would be quite capable of the translation classic..the English phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ translated into Russian and then retranslated to English as……. ‘absent idiot’.
But on the positive side, as a translator I could block the work of the European Union for years…..
Any offers?

Expat blogs can be a sort of translation…..illustrating one culture in the light of another in the person of the blogger…and there are many fine ones in the blogosphere.
There are also the others….

Those on Costa Rica which would lead the unwary to believe that the country is populated solely by wild birds and monkeys…like the tropical house at Kew Gardens with the lid off.
Or those which seek to persuade others that Costa Ricans are simple, happy folk, whose only concern is to help the gringo – reminiscent of slide shows of missionary activity in darkest Africa.
Or those that want to sell you overpriced property. ‘Trust me, I’m a gringo!’

There aren’t so many of the rose tinted blogs about life in France these days – if you discount the American girls in Paris rotting their teeth on macaroons – as reality in the shape of taxes eats into the dream world of pink wine and baguettes.
But, by golly, there are still a few blind mouths about….

Those who have a holiday home there and spend their time visiting other expats with holiday homes and eating in restaurants: any criticism of France, any comment on the realities admitted to by anyone French, and they fly up like a fighting cock.
‘Touche pas au grisbi!’ Don’t go for their bundle of golden dreams.

And then there are the pedants: wedded to a certain idea of France (pretty damn far from that of de Gaulle) based on its literature, architecture and gastronomy as they have learned to appreciate them in their home countries. So far gone are they that some of them would even eat an andouillette.
They ‘know’ France…but they don’t know their neighbours.

I was reading of the death of a film director, Georges Lautner, and one of his films came immediately to mind.
Les Tontons Flinguers. A take off of gangster films.
Not so much for his direction, but for the dialogue written by Michel Audiard – a man who had an ear for France.

One of his characters says
‘Les cons, ça ose tout! C’est même à ça qu’on les reconnaît.’
Pratwits…they are capable of anything. That’s how you know them for what they are.

The pedant would soon tell you that is not French…not proper French. ‘Les cons’ is plural and ‘ca’ is singular…
What the pedant can’t tell you is why audiences – French audiences – rolled about.
If you want to connect with old France…find a Youtube download with subtitles to make things easier…and enjoy.
The scene where the assembled crooks sample the products of the illicit still is a classic.

Audiard was also responsible for the dialogue in another of my favourites…but I don’t think that it is subtitled…
‘Les Vieux de la Vieille’ where a trio of First World War veterans decide they are better off in an old peoples’ home than in their own – until they meet matron.
I saw the last of the world that that film depicted….in all its hardship and obstinacy…when I was first in France.
But then…I knew my neighbours.

I’ll let the pedants tell you how to pronounce ‘crapule’ while I leave you with a classic from Georges Brassens

‘Quand on est con, on est con.’
You can be an old ‘con’ you can be a young ‘con’…but you’re still a ‘con’.

Exploring France

toutes directionsI’m closing an existing blog and, rather than lose the posts have put them on a page – ‘Exploring France’ -which you can find above the header photograph alongside ‘Home’ and ‘About’.

I’ve put two up here on the main blog previously…but I think they best belong in a category of their own, describing as they do some early visits to France…long before I ever came to live there.

It strikes me as being a rather clumsy process….one following on from the other…so if anyone has any idea as to how to better present them I’d be glad to hear!

But, for the monent, there they are…demerdez-vous!

A Winter’s Tale from Costa Rica

insidecostarica.com
insidecostarica.com
No Florizel or Perdita, no statues coming to life…just a quiet winter’s evening in the country.

It has been raining since mid afternoon….cloudbursts to start with, filling the streams with the roaring dangerous waters…then thunderstorms…and now steady rain which will end sometime after we have gone to bed.

The sheep don’t go out when it rains…..the cattle have come up to the corral to eat the cameroon – fodder grass – that Danilo has put through the cutter…the horses are with them.

In the house all is peaceful after the dramas of the morning when the PC wouldn’t work and we had to contact Hewlett Packard’s helpline in Mexico to go through the troubleshooting process and finally to relaunch the Windows programme.
I was helped by a delightful man who realised very rapidly that he didn’t have to go through the script – and who did the whole thing in English for which I was most grateful as I find computerese bad enough in my own language and impossible in anyone else’s.

Luzmilla has cleaned the house from top to bottom – dogs fleeing to the chicken houses and men making themselves scarce….
Danilo has gone home.

The last batch of the Christmas puddings are steaming…

The straight-from-the-cow milk, full of cream, has been scalded and is cooling before adding the yoghurt starter…

I made a pizza for supper…but the red wine we tried with it was a disaster. Tannic wasn’t the word for it….

We checked the front label. Three years old.
Then we checked the back label…..where the wine’s ‘sweet tannins’ were vaunted…’nuff said!

So tomorrow I’ll be making a stew….a recipe from one of Leo’s aunts.
We haven’t eaten this for a while…but a bottle of sweetly tannic wine makes a good excuse….

Caramelise sliced onions…set aside.
Brown beef. Return onions to the pan with garlic, thyme and bay leaves.
Cover the meat with a half and half mix of wine and beef stock.
Add juniper berries.
Dollop in equal amounts of jam and mustard.
Cook until beef is tender and thicken the sauce with cornflour.

To be served with ‘stumf’…
Onions caramelised, thinly sliced potato laid on the top…water to barely cover and cooked gently until the potatoes are cooked and the water has evaporated.
Mash.

It’s a potato dish Leo loves…you can substitute carrot or cabbage for the onion…and ideal for a rainy night with a hefty stew.

Shortly I must take the dogs out before bed….they would normally take themselves but we have recently been given a new addition – the Pernicious Poodle Puppy – who doesn’t yet know her way around and so needs to be accompanied…and then I’m off to bed myself.

But over a cup of mate tea I have time to realise how tranquil things are…how much I have unwound….and how, if I am ever to write the book about my life and times in France, I will have to gird up the loins and put time aside to do it.

I have had two attempts…one, to use old blog posts and the other to write from scratch.
Now Perpetua has suggested an essay format and that seems a good idea.

So today I looked out my notes…and tried to start up Scrivener. Of that, least said the better. Back to the notes.

But I would be grateful if anyone has any suggestions for a format….something which would confine my soapboxing to reasonable limits but which is not yet another of the ‘how I hung up my high heels and tamed the septic tank’ sagas.

I listened to a last song before venturing out into the rain…and blessed my good fortune that the winter here is mild.
No cold winter howling o’er moorland and mountain as in ‘The Road and the Miles to Dundee’.

La Vendange

photopatrimoine.over-blog.com
photopatrimoine.over-blog.com
After a wet morning of picking coffee in a natty outer garment formed from two black bin bags I came back to the house and caught up on the blogs I follow…then fell on a post from Janice about the vendange in her area of France.
In an instant the red cherries of coffee high on their wands were replaced in my mind for the dusty purple grapes along the low wires in the vineyards I’d known so well.

I picked grapes with friends and neighbours all the years I was in France, with only a couple of gaps due to illness.
I have no experience whatsoever of picking on the industrial scale, so cannot comment, but the small scale job gave me a lot of pleasure.
For one thing, it was usually only one day, or one and a half and then perhaps another couple of days later, so it was hardly demanding in terms of time, the weather was usually good and the company excellent.

Papy’s middle son Jean asked me if I would help the first year….Mamie usually helped, but she was getting past it and needed to rest and another pair of hands would be welcome.

Now, this was the unscientific age of winemaking, wild yeast on the grapes, no idea of temperature control and the desired result a pink wine a bit on the sweet side to keep the family going through the year.
Accordingly, it was not necessary to stumble out in the dark before the dawn to take advantage of the coolest part of the day…we ventured forth in the afternoon, when the housework and the farmwork had been dealt with and the sun was approaching its’ zenith. It promised to be warm work, and it was.

Jean organised us.
Each person had a wide bucket and a pair of secateurs – so small that I found them difficult to handle and in future brought my own big gardening ones which were more suited to my paws.
I was put with Jean’s wife, to see that I knew what to do; we were assigned our rows of vines and off we went.
The object was to pick the triangular bunches of ripe grapes and, at all costs, not to include the round balls of immature ones, the secondary growths that an all too casual pruning had allowed to develop.
If they went in, the wine would be too acidic.

Most people squatted or crouched, but I found my best method was to shuffle along on my knees hoping not to encounter too many thistles or nettles…it must be a height question, or a lack of attendance at yoga classes on my part. Supple I have never been.
The technique was to place the bucket under the bunches you were picking so that they dropped neatly within and the challenge was to miss no bunch, while being aware that another pair of secateurs was at work on the other side of the plant and your fingers were in imminent peril.

We moved along and I was pleased that I could keep up with the others and not miss anything…Papy inspected each row, with crows of triumph if he found a bunch still hanging on the vine.
Conversation was brisk, the gosssip was hair raising and I was quite surprised to find how quickly the buckets were filled and taken to the trailer sitting behind Papy’s tractor at the edge of the field.
The women were grumbling that there should be someone in charge of the buckets to save them from having to get up and down and then stretch up to the trailer, so Papy was given additional duties which put a swift end to his inspection and crowings….he was too busy coming and going, his pickers keeping him busy.

The first third of the vines had been cleared when Jean called a break.
Papy, the man of the moment, was prepared.
He had the mustard glasses ready….the ones that you buy which contain mustard and then can use for drinking ever afterwards…and the bottles were brought from the bucket which had been hanging in the well….that cool, soft pink wine went down very well the first time – and the second!

Papy went off with the tractor and trailor down to the press but for us it was back to work on the rest of the vines and the afternoon began to turn into evening by the time we had taken our second break and were on the last stretch.

Papy had taken another load, and this was the last, so we all trailed after him down to the house to wash our buckets and secateurs under the tap in the yard, stacking them to dry and then washing our sticky and stained hands.

The modern – well, reasonably so – press was full and in action, a long cylinder which acted a bit like a syringe…the plate at the end pushing inexorably forward, but gently enough not to start breaking the pips, which would add a bitterness which was not desired, squeezing the juice out through the pipe at the far end into an underground concrete tank where fermentation would take place.

The last of the harvest had to go in the old press, a round wooden structure with a central screw where the levels were adjusted with wooden blocks, a long metal pole turned the screw and the juice poured between the slats onto the platform of the press, thence to buckets placed underneath.

We were all heading for home when Mamie appeared from the doorway of the house.
‘Don’t forget….we’re all eating down at Jean’s tonight….I always used to do it, but I’m just getting too old.’
It appeared that I was invited to supper, and, checking with Jean’s wife, who seemed remarkably cool for someone about to entertain the multitudes, that was indeed the case.
‘Should I bring anything?’
‘Oh….well, one of your salads would be nice. Jean liked that.’

I hared home, scrubbed my hands with bleach and tried to wash and change while racking my brains to remember what it was I had served when Papy’s family had last come to supper and, worse, wondering if I had the ingredients in the house.
It occurred to me that it would probably have been my standby…..tinned chickpeas, red beans and flageolet beans, combined with diced onion, black olives and parsley with a good slosh of green and tasty olive oil. Store cupboard stuff.
I put it together and included the batch of pork pies I had made the day before for good measure and was ready at the gate when Papy hoooted to take me down to the village in his old Renault van.
He and Mamie sat in the front and the rest of us crouched in the back with our various offerings, swaying in unison on the corners and combining to keep Papy’s dog from pushing his nose into the dishes.

The tables had been set in the courtyard of Jean’s house, lit by those bamboo outside lights that flare and cast shadows at their own sweet will, and the women were already setting out the dishes they had provided.
The whole thing was a glorious buffet, home made pate, rillettes, rillons, ham and charcuterie, salads, bread and cheese and, of course, wine.

We ate, we talked, we drank, and, eventually, we sang.

My best memory of that long day is the quiet courtyard with the tenor voice of Pierre soaring into the shadows and the warm full response of the chorus as we sang

‘A la claire fontaine.’

Old Friends…..

I am shutting down my other blog…but would like to preserve some of the posts, so apologies to those who have read this before – although in terms of the Eurozone it still seems decidedly relevant!

all mARCH 13 235 July 23, 2012
Sunday morning in Costa Rica.

A warm hazy morning with a slight breeze lifting the humidity as I sit on my balcony listening t0 the Test Match Special team describing the annihilation of the England cricket team at the hands of the South Africans.

As Jacques Kallis thumps a ball from Ravi Bopari to the boundary yet again, I see on the laptop that Bradley Wiggins has won the Tour de France and led his compatriot Mark Cavendish into a fourth sprint victory on the final stage in the heart of Paris…..and turning to the French newspapers see with no surprise that while the journalists are fair, the comments on the victory articles are sour and jealous.

The voice of France.

But not the only one as, turning to the politics reporting I find with delight that old friends have made their reappearance.

Sarkozy? Chirac? Mitterand?

No! Much more interesting….

pumping_shadoks2
The Shadoks. Birds with vestigial wings, long legs and big clumsy feet. Heroes (?) of a television series.

They were a cult in the years in which I first stayed in one place in France long enough to watch television….and even then those series were repeats of the early stuff which I think came out in the 1970s.

They lived on a two dimensional planet from which it was easy to slip off into the void and their aim was to colonise the more stable Terra, inhabited only by retired dinosaurs and an obnoxious insect…but their plans went always awry.

Harmless enough you might think…sort of a French version of The Clangers….but it roused passions, even on second and third repeats, because it was felt that the Shadoks were being used to represent the French people by their creator, Jacques Rouxel.

And the image presented was not to the taste of all.

The Shadocks were ruthless….and stupid.

So stupid that all of which they were capable was blind obedience to orders: whereas the other group in the series, also seeking to move from an unstable planet, the Gibis, were presented as intelligent and cooperative, capable, efficient and peace loving.

They even got along with the obnoxious insect.

thumbnailgibis
Rumour had it that these Gibis – whose collective brain was housed in their hats – were meant to represent the British!

Outrage!

The delight in the Shadoks rested in their perversion of those qualities on which French culture prided itself….logic and mathematics.

What was the nature of a colander?

Anything could be a colander which had an exterior, an interior and some holes.

The holes were not very important.

It didn’t matter how many holes there were, or if you reduced the number of holes by a half, or even if there were no holes at all.

QED…. that the notion of a colander was independent of the notion of a hole and vice versa.

In the same vein, there were three types of colander…

One which let through neither noodles nor water.

One which let through both.

One which sometimes let through one or the other and sometimes did not.

A colander which did not let through water or noodles was a saucepan.

A saucepan without a handle was a bus,

A bus which did not move was a saucepan (slang term for an old banger).

The use of language too was subversive with its twisting of common phrases and proverbs….

Everything which is not clearly authorised is strictly prohibited….

If it is hurting, it’s good for you….

Why do something the easy way if you can make it difficult…

If you don’t know where you’re going you have to get there as soon as possible….

The only way the poor Shadoks could escape to the stability of Terra was by building a rocket…..but the fuel was a substance floating in the air and their leaders told them that the only way to succeed in trapping the fuel was by pumping…..and so the Shadoks pumped.

shadock4_s

And pumped.

And were told that it was only by pumping that they would get somewhere….and if they didn’t get anywhere at least they hadn’t done any harm….after all, better to pump even if nothing happened than that something worse happened if you did not pump.

So why have the Shadoks…under the radar for so long…emerged in the political columns of Le Figaro?

Because the German ambassador must be a fan…he was expounding on the problems of the eurozone recently and delivered himself of the well known Shadokism…

If there is not a solution, it is because there is not a problem…..

shadock3_s
Which led the author of the article, Jean-Pierre Robin, to consider the attempts to control and master the crisis in terms of the two dimensional world of the Shadoks.

In which context the phrases cited above may take on a new resonance.

As may these…..

shadock1_s
In a parody of probablility theory, if something has only a million to one chance of succeeding the sooner you try the 999,999 attempts doomed to failure the better….

While remembering that to finance the said attempts, there are less malcontents if you always hit the same targets…

shadok2_s

And that our self proclaimed leaders have a similar capability to the leaders of the Shadoks….

shaddock hollande
Who speak so intelligently that they fail to understand what they are saying.

Acknowledgements.

Le Figaro July 22nd 2012. Article by Jean-Pierre Robin ‘Quand les Shadocks eclairent les paradoxes de la zone euro.’

The first illustration comes from this article.

Wikipedia on the Shadoks…the French version.

http://www.archimedes-lab.org/shadoks/shadoks.html for the other illustrations.

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With, hey! the dongle o’er the dale…

mysteryreaderinc.blogspot
mysteryreaderinc.blogspot

The name of the thing itself conjures up visions…or their auricular equivalents…of Benny Hill’s ‘I have got a hosepipe’ and Kenneth Williams’ ‘Song of the Bogle Clencher’, so you might imagine my astonishment when my request for internet access at an O2 outlet in Southampton was met by an offer of a ‘dongle’ from a very personable young man.

My flabber has rarely been so ghasted.

He produced his dongle. I was not impressed.
He persisted…he said it would do the trick… and, to my surprise, it did.

After a fashion.

I could read and emit e mails.
I could consult the net….but not all of it.

O2 was intent on protecting me.

I clicked on a dormant blog which serves me as an index.
Part of the blog title is ‘French Fancy’.
O2 had a hissy fit.

It needed to know that I was over eighteen before connecting me and, enough to make anyone north of the border clench their bogles, it also wanted one pound in order to undertake the registration.

Thwarted, I clicked on a current blog I follow…Chez Charnizay, a thoroughly respectable blog just as was French Fancy

Same result.

I suppose that a person brought up in the era when a Presbyterian minister could declare that the Champs Elysees on a Sunday lacked only the flames to make it hell might be aroused to frenzy by the mention of ‘French Fancy….

But…… ‘Chez Charnizay’?