Chinchilla Goes A-Hunting

Chinchilla-Comunicacion-CORTESIA-CASA-PRESIDENCIAL_LNCIMA20131104_0006_57Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica, is on a tour of Europe to attend a meeting of the OECD and drum up investment and tourism for her country.
I’m never happy when Costa Rican politicians visit Europe….they inevitably return starry eyed with new ideas on how to separate the citizen from the said citizen’s money following the example of those masters of financial meltdown, the European Union.
Last time it was VAT…what will it be this time?
The ecotax on heavy goods vehicles currently going down with all hands in Brittany?

Paris was the first stop….
Usual meetings with the President of the Senate….and even with the reclusive Hollandouille, President of the French Republic where the usual platitudes as to investment were exchanged – the French want to flog a tramway to San Jose – and the possibility of opening Costa Rican waters to ships of the French fleet was discussed.

The Costa Rican Legislative Assembly need have no fear of approving this measure as every time the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle attempts to leave port either the propellor falls off or they run out of nibbles in the wardroom so there’s not much chance of pom-pom hatted matelots performing the cancan in the streets of Limon any time soon.

President Chinchilla then went to the real seat of power…the offices of MEDEF, the bosses union, to have more meaningful discussions on inward investment in Costa Rica.
While not privy to the session I imagine that MEDEF would have been interested to know to how the facilitation of the social dialogue works in Costa Rica: as we are now belatedly discovering, in France it works by shovelling bank notes to the tune of several million Euros into the hands of union leaders on a regular basis.
I am sure that President Chinchilla was able to tell them how the social dialogue is facilitated in Costa Rica.

Before moving on to the Vatican, President Chinchilla wound up her visit by giving a speech at the UNESCO offices in Paris where she drew attention to Costa Rica’s strongdemocratic traditions in a region more noted for the despoliation of the people by oligarchal regimes…and to Costa Rica’s respect for the environment…for the natural world.

notre dame de paris wikipedia.commons.orgFrom that point of view it was perhaps infelicitous that on the Sunday the President had attended a mass at Notre Dame de Paris…in the company of government colleagues travelling with her and embassy staff.

She’s a Roman Catholic…so why not? She was welcomed by the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Vingt-Trois, and she heard mass.
Where’s the problem?

In the light of her declarations at UNESCO the problem was that the mass in question was that of St.Hubert.
The patron saint of the hunting fraternity.

les=photos=de=dd=over-blog
les=photos=de=dd=over-blog
If you are not familiar with them, the music of the ‘trompes de chasse’ is based on the calls necessary to direct the mounted hunt…la chasse a courre…. and all over France, in towns as well as in the countryside, you will find the feast day of St. Hubert celebrated by groups of players of trompes de chasse outside and inside churches…from tiny chapels in the forests to the mighty Notre Dame of Paris itself.

Let me leave you with an example of the music that President of Costa Rica may have heard:

Midnight Express from Paris

traindejardin.forumparfait
traindejardin.forumparfait

To make the best use of my ticket for a fortnight’s freedom of the French railways I used to take a long distance train just after midnight from one of the Paris terminals, though the destinations and the company varied over the years.

There was the train to Brest, full of inebriated sailors returning to base – Genet would have been ecstatic – or the train to the Tour de Carol in the Pyrenees, empty but for myself and the staff once it had passed the red roofs of Foix.

A packed train to Avignon…an empty one to Grenoble.

I soon learned to use the loo on the train to wash and brush up before starting the day.

Firstly it was free and there was soap, secondly it was usually reasonably clean and, thirdly, it had a proper loo, not a hole in the ground with or without raised emplacements for the feet known in France as a Turkish toilet. Goodness only knows what the Turks call it.

I remember travelling in the same carriage as a group of elderly American ladies who resolutely refused to use the train loo for fear of being trapped within.
I saw them again on the platform, clustering wonderingly around something that looked like a corrugated iron sky rocket, painted a virulent green: the station conveniences.
One unwary fart and there would have been lift off.

They were still clustered by the time I had left my luggage in a locker – one forgets the freedom of the pre terrorist days – and headed for breakfast in the station buffet, all hissing coffee machines and blue overalled railway staff looking for sustenance before coming on duty.

It must have been a toss up between drawing straws for the first victim or ringing the American consul.

I seemed to change trains at Avignon quite often over the years and thus became acquainted with the loo on the long distance platform, a hefty walk under the brassy sun of the south.

It had, of course, a Turkish toilet which involved the usual gymnastics in disrobing sufficiently while ensuring no garment touched the floor, light bag slung over the shoulder.
You did not take a heavy bag in there as there was nowhere to hang it when the periodic flush….like opening the Aswan High Dam…bore all before it.
Handbags shot under the doors and rucksacks became sodden.
You could tell if an international train had just come in by the polyglot cries of the afflicted within.
It did not, however, suffer the defect of the time switch on the light, set nicely to have you in gymnastic pose when it expires and you are alone in the gloom.
It had, no doubt, a time switch but someone had nicked the light bulbs.

Stations usually had separate loos for the sexes, unlike civic or caff loos, where you would walk past the peeing men to reach the cubicles…and being a somewhat shy young person, I preferred the provisions at the stations.

But a fortnight in France enabled me to see more than the range of loos available to the traveller.

I had prepared my trip, I knew what there was to see and I saw it, from the temple and arena in Nimes to the black swans in the moat at Nevers and by economising on eating I could afford to hire a rowing boat to go out on Lake Annecy, lying back under the late afternoon sunshine, utterly at peace.

There were still branch lines dodging everywhere….on a drizzly afternoon in Bayonne the single track line up to St. Jean Pied de Port was alight with fiery crocosmia all the way to the little town which was the gateway to Spain via the Roncevaux Pass….site of the death of Roland.

Another took me from Grenoble down to the Rhone valley….mountains giving way to hills and then to plains, passing the tower of Crest on the way to a long wait at Valence and a distinct longing to be able to take the steam train at Tournon….but it was outside the system and pennies were tight.

pyrenees-cerdagne.com
pyrenees-cerdagne.com
Inside the system, however, was the little yellow train running through the Pyrenees from Villefranche de Conflent, Vauban’s fortified city under the flanks of Mount Canigou, around the Spanish enclaves tucked within the frontier proper since the time of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659…when some legal eagle had blundered because while Spain ceded all villages north of the Pyrenees to France it ceded no towns! The train with its toast rack carriages was a favourite of mine….travelling on spidery viaducts through the mountains from the main line at Perpignan, where I was lucky enough to see people dancing the sardana….spontaneously, not organised by some cultural body…not far from the Palace of the Kings of Majorca…to La Tour de Carol where the express for Paris waited, the carriages hot and stuffy in the sun.

A Sunday afternoon would see me on a slow train from the violet city of Toulouse……passing the twin spires of the cathedral of Niort in the Marais Poitevin, where boats replaced roads…..and the town of Lucon where Richelieu was bishop before his rise to power, eventually pulling in under the walls of the chateau at Nantes which faced an art deco biscuit factory on the other side of the tracks.

But what was I seeing of France?
The sights…and the countryside between.

Who was I meeting?
Ticket inspectors.

What was I eating?
Apart from a roll and coffee for breakfast in the station buffets it was cheap picnics…a loaf, some cheese or pate which was soft by the time it came to squash it into the sandwich, cheap wine.
I could look at the pissaladieres and quiches in the windows, but I couldn’t afford them until the end of the trip when there might be a surplus while the idea of eating a meal was in the realms of financial fantasy.

I really was on the outside looking in.

How I came to France

I blame the nineteen thirties Popular Front government of France and the BBC.

In pursuance of that government’s efforts to rouse a nationalistic revival to counter the growing threat of Hitler’s Germany, Jean Renoir, son of the painter, made a patriotic film, ‘La Marseillaise’, following a group of ordinary men on their journey from Marseilles to Paris and their participation in the first bloody acts of what was to become the French Revolution.

I saw this film on the television when a schoolgirl and Baroness Orczy and the Scarlet Pimpernel went out of the window.Tout de suite.

I was enthused by the young nation of France….its battles against the armies of the monarchies of Prussia and Austria…its advances into the states of Italy….the brilliant soldiers it threw up from the mass armies invented and supported by the great Lazare Carnot, ‘organisateur de la victoire’ (organiser of victory).

Forgive me…..I was young.

A blue revolutionary coat had a similar effect on me as did a scarlet one on the younger daughters of Mr. Bennet….but without the risks brought about by physical proximity.

France took a hold…I read its history, fell on ‘Les Rois Maudits’ (the accursed kings), in which the end of the Capetian dynasty was recounted by Maurice Druon, at one end of the spectrum and the Paris Commune at the other…..but I did not go to France until I was a student, in command of my local authority grant.

The grant was not munificent…but it felt like it.

Carefully managed it would keep a roof (leaky) over my head, allow me to eat in Chinese and Indian restaurants, buy books without stinting and, finally, allow me to buy a fortnight on the trains of France.

In those pre internet days one booked a ticket by going to the offices of French railways in Piccadilly and handing over the ready, but before parting with the uckers forward planning was necessary.

I could not afford hotels as well as the train ticket, so with the aid of a copy of the Thomas Cook railway timetable for Europe I would plan out a series of journeys by overnight train, allowing me in those pre terrorist days to leave my luggage in a station locker for the day while I explored the area before taking another overnight train to a new destination.

I became an adept…crossed hammers and jours feries held no terrors for me as I plotted my way round the main lines of France!

Inevitably it was best to buy a separate ticket to Paris to get most value from the fortnight’s ticket….the first demonstration of how everything in France begins and ends in Paris…so with my rucksack charged with changes of clothing and a bag of sandwiches I would set off from London for the ferry to Calais, aiming to arrive in Paris in the evening, ready for the first train out after midnight for the first day of my adventure.

At that time you did not need daylight to know that you were arriving at Calais….day or night on the approaches to the dock you were overwhelmed by the smell of drains. The only smell to compare with it is the stench which hits you when you open the door of a French restaurant serving andouillette (cow gut sausage) as the dish of the day in mid August.

You know you are in France.

Calais docks always seemed pretty derelict as far as passenger infrastructure was concerned….one would leave the ferry via the gangplank and wander off along the cobbles to a sort of concrete wasteland inhabited by trains…..sleepers off to the Alps and everyday trains to Paris, stopping at every halt en route.

Of course, we had to climb up into these trains from a low level platform….no problem when young and agile, but advancing years present the traveller with the alternatives of mounting the steps and swinging the luggage forward or throwing the luggage first, caber tossing style, and following after.

Why do the French think the British have proper platforms if not to avoid lower back injuries and claims for tights ripped in the crotch.

The train itself at that period had compartments linked by a corridor, plastic seats and somewhere to hook your rifle should you be called to the front because the Germans had reverted to type and invaded in August.
It had conductors with hats resembling those of admirals and no toilets for the convenience of its passengers as it hauled its way to Boulogne via Wimille-Wimereux, then Etaples and Abbeville to Amiens before collecting itself for the last gallop over the chalk downs with their clumps and clouds of woodland to the valley of the Seine and Paris itself.

The Gare du Nord was shabby and grubby, with toilets guarded by dragons with saucers for the (obligatory) tips, but it marked the start of the adventure.

I would pick up my bags, walk down to the Algerian Stores on the corner to buy a bottle of wine with a plastic top and five stars on the neck, a chunk of sausage and a roll or two and then, turning my back resolutely to the glowing neon sign of the Hotel Kuntz, would head for whichever station held my midnight express.

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.’

Victor…A Word…

john-piper-mosnac-dordogne.jpgOn a wet afternoon in western France a gendarmerie van pulls into the farmyard…its sole occupant gets out shouting

Hoy, Victor! A word!

Hello Jean-Yves! What brings you here? I’m in the barn…just a minute while I shut the doors and we’ll have a drink…

No, don’t shut the doors, Victor….it’s about what you’ve got in that barn that I’ve come about.

On your own, I see.

Yes, I’m trying to do you a good turn….let me see what you’ve got there. Yes, just as I thought!
Victor, you’ll have to get rid of it…put it back where you found it…and quickly.
There’s all hell to pay.
Everyone’s out looking for it and they’ve even taken us off speed traps and breathalysers.

Must be serious then!

Yes, it is!
Apart from you having stolen property in your barn…what the blazes do you want with a bulldozer that size? You haven’t got enough land to make it worthwhile – and how did you get it here from the new bypass anyway?

Ah! Typical!
Us farmers are getting robbed all ways…..diesel syphoned off, animals killed in our own fields, tools stolen, irrigation pipes nicked – even whole crops gone!
Look at that poor guy who had his whole field of garlic nicked….and the forty hectares of grapes that went missing overnight….not to speak of combine harvesters vanishing into thin air!
And where are the Gendarmerie? Breathalysing some poor sod who’s been out drowning his sorrows!

Well it’s not my fault….only a few more years to the pension, thank goodness.
It’s not what I joined for I can tell you…

No, I know Jean-Yves.
When you started there were still bars in your stations – and you were a hell of a lot nicer for it! I reckon that the rot started when they closed down them down.
You turned nasty about then…applying the law to people you knew…
Still, what I mean is that us farmers can have our stuff nicked left, right and centre…but let some big roadworks contractor miss his bulldozer – you’d think he’d got enough, wouldn’t you? – you’re all on red alert!
No wonder we’ll all be voting Le Pen in the elections!

That’s as maybe…but I can tell you that a big firm like Crapule gets a lot more attention in high places than you lot. Might be different if you were cereal boys…in the big league…but you’re not!
The firm thought the ‘dozer had been whipped off to Germany….like a lot of other stuff. You boys are lucky you’re not nearer the frontier.

Clever buggers, the Germans.

What do you mean?

Well, they worked out they didn’t have to have a war to get what they wanted this time….they thought up the E.U.
See, in the war they had to go round requisitioning…this way government – our government – does it for them.
They get cheap veg and flog expensive cars.
Bit like Vichy, really, but more efficient. Very hot on efficiency the Germans…

Come off it Victor! You’re not telling me the Germans are using the E.U. to nick combine harvesters and fields of garlic…

No, but they run the show, don’t they! Remember when Hollande got in and what he was going to say to Merkel?
Turned out to be ‘Jawohl’, didn’t it…
No, the E.U. lets these crooks from Transylvania in and they nick the stuff, take it to Germany and the Germans get it on the cheap…
Clever buggers, like I said.

Never mind all that! You’ll have to get it back there…or dump it somewhere…and sharpish!

Well, we’ve finished with it now anyway, so I’ll get Laurent to run it into Ste. Conasse tonight, dump it round the back where it’s dark. Just make sure you’re not out breathalysing between here and there.

No, all right…but who is ‘we’? You and Laurent?

No! There’s me, of course, and Jean-Antoine and Popaul…here, you’re not taking notes!

No, just interested to know what’s going on. That’s what policing used to be about…
So what the blazes were you three geriatrics up to? Put together you don’t have enough land to make that ‘dozer worthwhile…

That’s where you’re wrong!
It’s the eco tax…you know, the one on lorries that comes in in January. Going to be taxed by the lorry…tollgates going up all over the main roads…
Gerard over at the roads department in Benitierville put us wise! There’s going to be one between us and the abattoir! It’s only down the road…but we’ll have to pay as if we’d been coming from Normandy!

Well you weren’t thinking of using the ‘dozer to knock the tollgate down, were you?

No! We might be old but we’re not stupid!
We had a word with Olivier down at the abattoir and he reckons that we can get in on the back road from St. Ragondin round by les Deux Biscouilles without any problem.

But how are you going to get to St. Ragondin? You’ve still got the main road to deal with.

Ah. that’s why we wanted the bulldozer.
We’ve made a road across our fields to link up with the footpath that brings us out just this side of the village….where the old railway line used to be. A bit of hardcore in bad weather and we’re sorted.
So they can stuff their tollgate…we won’t be paying!
Eco this, eco that….just another word for tax!
It’s bad enough with their blasted windmills…electricity bill up through the roof…but a tax on going a few kilometres is a step too far!

Well, just get rid of it Victor…tonight! You don’t want anyone else knowing you’ve got it…the adjutant is up the wall!

Hang on a minute, how did you know to come round here?

Well, it couldn’t have been the manouches….they were having a face off with our boys with chainsaws at the campsite that night…..so the only other alternative was a totally irresponsible idiot…and that’s when I thought of you!

That evening, at the gendarmerie station, the adjutant answers the ‘phone.

Here, says a voice, I reckon you should know….

Know what?

Well, that windfarm at the back of Ste. Conasse…someone’s driven a bulldozer in there and there’s a hell of a mess….metal all over the place and the gyppos are carting it off by the truckload…….

The illustration is ‘Mosnac, Dordogne’ by John Piper.

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.

Share this:

You know you’re in France when…

libcom.org
Even before you get there Air France is ripping you off.
Their menu…in sardine class…offered champagne as an aperitif, then wine with the meal.

What did we get?

As the ominous foil packets were dished out giving a choice between beef -which those accustomed to French beef declined with alacrity – or glue with pasta, only an offer of one or the other beverage…champagne from a long opened bottle on the serving unit or vin de table in a tatty plastic mini bottle.

Following a delay of an hour and a half before take off sitting in a stifling cabin on the runway while the flight attendents hid from passengers praying for the services of Gunga Din it was not the best welcome to France…but probably the most accurate of what was awaiting the sardines once decanted at Paris Charles de Gaulle….incompetence and indifference.

I had missed the ‘good’ train to my destination….so was obliged to take the afternoon train which at twenty five percent more on the ‘good’ ticket price wafted me halfway across France by train, followed by an an unholy scramble for the cross country bus which would take me a third of the way across France back the way I had come to the one horse dorp in la France Profonde whence friends would whisk me to a shower, food and a decent bed.
If I had asked for the scenic route I might not have objected to paying for it….but as I hadn’t I did.
Neither did I appreciate having to retrieve my cases from the bowels of the bus unaided by the driver…unaided that was until I opened the loo evacuation compartment by mistake. That brought him running.
The additional two hours on the journey didn’t do much to rejoice my heart either.

First, off to the bank to settle my affairs.
i needed to be able to make transfers from my online account. This, it appeared, required me to make an appointment to see an advisor in order to set up a gimcrack system whereby I would be forced to buy a mobile ‘phone in order to receive and despatch some code or other to verify that I was indeed the person making the transfer.
I made the appointment for 11 0’clock two days hence in the branch of the town with the station.

The next day, my friends having to rejig their schedule, I rang the bank to change the time of the appointment.
The usual codswallop…your call is being recorded for the benefit of President Obama…music of suicidal brightness… press 1 for incomprehenson and 2 for total oblivion…until eventually arriving at a voice.
I explained.
The voice replied that my appointment was for the afternoon of the day on which I was calling in a branch far, far away. The branch where I had originally opened an account more than twenty years ago.
How, I enquired, had this come to pass?
The voice replied that I had omitted to give my full details to the clerk when making the appointment so the ‘centrale’ had put things right.
When, I enquired, had they planned to tell me that things had changed?
If you’ve never heard a voice shrug you have never lived in France.

Then I needed to contact people who had recently moved house.
The number they had given me did not seem to exist, according to the voice on the telephone service.
A text message on their U.K. mobile raised no response….until two days later when they called to explain that they would be without telephone and internet for a fortnight.
They had only received the text message when out shopping where they could receive a signal.
The ‘phone and internet should have been installed on the day they moved house…but they had had to put back the move for a couple of days.
When calling into the ‘phone company’s office to rearrange things they found that
A. The office only existed to sell mobile ‘phones
and
B. When they finally made contact with the company they were told that as they had changed the date without warning the contract had been cancelled. They would have to start the process all over again.
So instead of settling things over the ‘phone I had to inconvenience friends by asking them to drive over…not a short distance.

Inflexible, infuriating….in France.

The Green Season

Chinese cabbage and avocado...picked this morning from the garden
Chinese cabbage and avocado…picked this morning from the garden
The Green Season is what hoteliers and others in the tourist trade in Costa Rica call the rainy season – a phrase which does not have quite the same allure, conjuring up as it does the reality of life between May and November when the sunshine of morning is replaced with alarming swiftness by a lightning bolt, a peal of thunder fit for the worst excesses of Wagner and rain fit to soak you in seconds.

I have to admit to liking the rainy season….coming from the U.K. rain has no terrors for me and an afternoon on a balcony in the clouds is an ideal time to settle down to read the books I have ordered from Better World Books U.K. who not only supply used books in good condition at sensible prices but also devote the income to promoting literacy. You could do worse than give them a try.

Still it does mean I have to bustle about a little to make the most of the morning….the washing has to go out early and the veg has to come up in good time unless I fancy seeking out the watercress for the evening’s beef with a black plastic sack over the head and shoulders while Gotterdamerung plays out in the skies above.

I’m particularly pleased with this morning’s veg haul….not just the Chinese cabbage which defeated every attempt to grow it in France, but with the avocados.

Before we moved permanently to Costa Rica we used to come over to avoid the worst of a European winter and on our first visit my husband planted the stones from the avocados we were enjoying.
The fruit on the table are from the tree which sprang from one of those stones…so very much our own avocados.
They are a bit scabby….but they are ours. Untouched by chemicals. Unknown to Monsanto.

The table they are sitting on was made by my husband over forty years ago from an old wreck found in a house he was renovating, using Italian tiles left over from laying new floors.
It has traveled with him where other – ostensibly more valuable – furniture has been jettisoned and it is still in daily use for everything from butchering meat for the freezer to drinks at sundown.
It’s a bit bashed about..not in the first style of elegance…but it’s ours and it serves its purpose.

It’s a quiet life now that the courts have thrown out the proposed development further down the valley….except for collecting and collating the deeds we will need prior to the inspection of the water systems disrupted by the would-be developer’s henchman.

The said henchman has quietened down….still a would-be bully, but now cowed by the courts and by loss of face following a failed machete attack on a sturdy but unarmed gentleman which ended in loss of henchman’s machete and a rock through the windscreen of his van as he reversed from the scene of his humiliation.

Not that initiative does not rear its head….a chap appeared at the door last week trying to interest us in a contribution to laying hardcore on the road from the bridge down to his property (bought from the would-be developer) to benefit his new business.

What might be the nature of his business?

Massage parlours installed in log cabins. He was sure it would attract foreign tourists but no American would travel down the road in the state it was in at present…so, as it would benefit everyone on the road, would we like to contribute?

How would it benefit the neighbours?

We could set up a restaurant.

We declined with thanks.

Life, though pleasant, is not without its inconveniences…

For example, I would be delighted if we could sell the house in France and be free from the taxes and maintenance associated with it.

Much though I love France and the friends we have there, I dread to think what new schemes this or successive governments will dream up to extract blood from already squeezed stones.
I see today there are proposals to tax the use of computers, laptops and tablets the justification being that they access public broadcasting channels….
They might better spend their energies mending the finance ministry’s computer which blew a fuse last week and is not yet up and running again.

Until recently when you bought a television set in France the shop asked for your details and forwarded them to the appropriate official body who would put you on their list.
Therefore anyone with half a brain paid in cash and gave a false name and address.
Some shops winked at this…others demanded ID.

To counter this act of civil disobedience, measures provided that every house would be deemed to have a television set unless it could prove otherwise…
And the standard of proof is high.

If you have never declared ownership, you might get away with it but if you used to have one and then threw it in the bin in disgust at the moronic level of programming you are in trouble.
You can’t just dump a television. France being France you will need proof of disposal.

Burglary? Certificate from the gendarmerie.

Dumped? Certificate from the guardian of the dump.

Put it on the bonfire? Fine for pollution.

No such problem here. You put it out and it promptly disappears. No questions asked.

I know which system I prefer.

Un Grand Foutage de Gueule….or Urine Extraction on the Grand Scale

http://www.lecafedelaville.fr/
France is a country, a society, of entrenched monopolies….if the leaders of the various interest groups would just dress up in houppelandes and liripipes we should have no difficulty in recognising them as the successors of the masters of the trade guilds of the middle ages, carefully allowing only those who conformed to their rule to be able to work at a trade.

You can understand their attitude…to some extent. If they limited the numbers working at their trade they could keep their prices up and afford a bit of fur to line their houppelandes in the winter weather.

De Gaulle tried breaking the monopoly which he said was the permanent enemy of France…..the moneyed interest…so he set up the Ecole Nationale d’Administration to produce people to man the organs of the state.
As we can see today, the moneyed interest just sneered and made sure their kids monopolised the available places….and President Hollandouille busies himself stuffing people from his own time there – the ‘promotion Voltaire’ – into every well paid orifice the state affords.

His predecessor, President Sarkozy, came to power announcing that France needed reform and before his own party – startled that he actually meant what he said – could muzzle him he had attacked one of the sacred cows of France…..the monopoly of the artisan francais. The French craftsman.

One heard a lot about the wonders of the artisan francais in the time when the ‘living the dreamers’ monopolised what was written about France….he had served an apprenticeship (up to a point Lord Copper); his work was insured (it damned well had to be from what I saw of the breed); and he was a local independent workman.

It cost him a a packet to set up though and with unemployment growing the Great Reformer thought it would be good to allow people to try setting up their business without it costing the arm and a leg they would need to develop it.

Thus the new creation of something called the auto-entrepreneur who only paid contributions on what he actually earned as opposed to paying them on what some civil servant with no experience in business thought he should have been earning.

It has been a success. People have been able to try out their ideas without ruinous financial risk: people have stopped working on the black and have declared themselves – thus paying something into the state’s coffers as opposed to taking something out as being unemployed.
People may not make much money at it..not enough to pay the ruinous charges of the artisan francais…but enough to keep their heads above water.
A good thing, one would think, when times are hard.

So the Great Monopandouille wants to stop it.
Of course he does.
The scheme gives rise to unfair competition for the artisan francais.

While the simple answer would be to allow the artisan to operate under the same scheme as the auto entrepreneur which might make it financially possible for him to employ someone, unfortunately only paying up as a percentage of what is made would produce an immense shortfall in the social security budget, let alone leaving thousands of civil servants with even less to do than usual…and it would never do to try to reform the great monopolies of the health service and the state bureaucracy.

No,no…this product of the ENA, trained box tickers to a man, goes for the solution of the medieval guildmasters….if it doesn’t jump through our hoops it won’t be allowed to work.

After two years, it is proposed, the auto-entrepreneur must either cough up like the artisan francais or join the ever swelling ranks of the unemployed.
And very helpful that will be in reducing the deficit in the national finances.

With all the problems facing France, Hollande, Moi-je, President of France, can think of nothing better to do than to pander to interest groups to keep himself in power….which is what he did during his reign as secretary of the Socialist Party.
He doesn’t seem to have learned, to have understood, even to be aware, that running a country is a far cry from manipulating a bunch of brain dead would-be Borgias.

When his Interior Minister is busy allowing riot police to use tear gas at a demonstration where there are people with small children, could he not better employ his resources in clearing up the drug and crime ridden suburbs of the big cities where decent kids don’t stand a chance of setting up their own businesses…let alone entering the ENA?

But these are just ordinary people; people who have been marching in Marseille in protest at the lack of presence of the state in their areas, protesting at the corrupt police who are enforcers for the drug rings.
Much more important to reassure the bosses of the big companies that they can go on awarding themselves pay and perks at will…nomatter how dire their performance – after all, they’ve been to ENA. They deserve it.

Let it not be said, nor even whispered in Gath and Ashkelon, that the big cheese does not set an example in difficult times.
He has announced that he will not be lounging on the new garden furniture chosen by the light of his life for the presidential holiday home in the south of France.
No…he will be in Paris. At work. And so will his ministers.

They have to show they are there.

What is important, he says, is the impression.

Allo, non mais allo quoi!

Does he take the average French person for an idiot?
Impression of what exactly?

Selling off some of the wine from the Presidential cellars while those – far better – at the Lanterne (the house at Versailles on the books of the Prime Minister’s department but favoured by Hollande as by Sarkozy before him) remain at his disposal?

Announcing that the unemployment figures will improve – and allowing his ministers to do their bit by employing more and more advisors paid by the public purse?

The impression people have is that he is extracting the urine…..but what would you expect?
With the taxes he has imposed he has already extracted everything else.

A Glass Half Empty

http://www.blacksheepwine.com

Hello Jean Marc! Where’ve you been hiding yourself recently? What do you fancy?

Oh, a glass of Claude’s rose would go down well….no more of Albert’s white these days I suppose?

No…what with having to pull out so many of his vines thanks to getting esca supplies are a bit limited, even for us and it seems Victor bought a whole barrique off him.

Victor! Spending money!

Well, no…more like a swap, I think. Young Laurent is clearing the vines and a few other jobs in return….but I shouldn’t be telling you that, you being a taxman and all!

Not my problem anyway….and when have I ever shopped anyone? I believe in letting people alone…and I just wish they’d feel the same about me.

Well, you can’t say that the tax offices are exactly bursting at the seams with happy people dropping in to say ‘Bonjour’ can you!

No….usually you only see them a week before their tax returns are due when they all come rolling in wanting us to fill out the forms for them.
Not that I mind. I like to see the oldies and have a chat..makes a change from staring at a screen all day.
No, it’s just that since it all came out about our beloved Budget Minister having secret Swiss and Singapore bank accounts life’s not worth living for us at the tax office.
You go out for lunch and some clown’s asking you if you want to pay in euros or Swiss francs….and I’ve lost count of the people who’ve come up to me in the street and started on about politicians…as if I can do anything about it!

You’re not the only one with problems on that score.
Clement was in last night and he said Plouc’s office was full of worried clients, wondering just where their respected notaire had stuffed the money they’ve been hiding from you lot….and Madame d’Enculade was on the ‘phone all day…gibbering away.

Well, she generally is after eleven in the morning at the best of times…

Anyway, Clement put two and two together.
You know her husband is always going to Singapore on business trips?

Yes, to get away from his wife and enjoy a bit of more congenial company I always thought – after all what business can a guy with a fur coat firm do in Singapore except run up expenses to claim against tax?

Plouc’s business, that’s what. Clement reckons he’s a courrier for Plouc and his mate at the Credit Agricole and that’s why his wife was having fits. Worried about her fur coat days coming to an end…

I wouldn’t think she has much to worry about…Plouc’ll be the next deputy come the elections so no one’s going to touch his little activities, are they now!
Look at what happened to the taxman who fell foul of our minister when he was just a deputy!
He’d done an inspection of a big prune co op and found they’d been fiddling the books for years, so slapped them with a huge amount of back tax.
They go bleating to the deputy who arranges with his mate, the then Budget Minister, to let them off the hook while the poor bugger of a taxman is told to sling his.
He had his doubts about the deputy, even then some twenty years ago, but when he started looking into his affairs he was disciplined…no promotion and no work. Sitting there twiddling his thumbs waiting for retirement.
I tell you, Plouc has nothing to worry about!

Yes, I suppose you’re right….
Look at the way Dubas, the Senator here, carried on for years.
Whopping loans from Credit Agricole based on a few securities he was allowed to keep in his own safe deposit box at the bank then one fine day he walks in and takes them out. And the bank says nothing.

And when there was a change of government and they went after him look what happened!

Yes, the local court let him off and poor Alain the bank manager got it in the neck! What could he do about it…he ‘phoned the regional office and they told him to let Dubas do as he pleased….

Now that’s a bastard whose affairs I’d love to look into….but fat chance. He’s untouchable round here. Knows where the bodies are buried.

Probably ordered the burials from what I hear.
No, I see what you mean. Plouc’s safe and so are his clients.
Still, aren’t the politicians going to have to declare what they’ve got?

For what that’s worth! Did you hear Sarko’s prime minister on the box?

Yes, he said he had a house he bought twenty years ago, a bit in the bank and two old bangers…

Which, given his huge estate north of Paris, is a bit like Louis XIV claiming Versailles as a garden shed and his golden coach as a wheelbarrow – and you notice he didn’t mention the shares he has in his consultancy business.
No, they’ll find a way to fiddle it….just the way Plouc’s been advising his clients for years to avoid tax on their property.

How does he do that?

Easy peasy. You put the property into an SCI – a property company held by you and your family. Then, just like the banks with their sub prime mortgages you start chopping it up. One person has the usufruit….the right to use the property for their lifetime…and you – the bigwig – have the nu propriete…..that is the title to it.
So you don’t have any value in it…but when your front man dies you don’t have to pay inheritance tax because it was yours all along. Just need to be a bit careful who has the usufruit, but apart from that it’s foolproof.

Oh. So is that how Hollandouille fiddled his wealth tax when he stood for President?

No. He just used the criteria of a different tax by which he would come in under the figure to pay it.

But didn’t anyone notice?

Of course they did….but remember what happened to the taxman with the prunes.
You don’t want to spend the rest of your working life in an windowless office with no computer and nothing to do, do you!

So what about all this tax evasion…foreign bank accounts and whatnot?

And how are we going to find out about them, tell me that! They’re hardly likely to own up!
No, I’ll tell you what will happen.
We’ll be instructed to look at all the retired English. They have pensions and a lot of them have them paid into their bank accounts in England.
Most of them don’t have much French and don’t know how to read their tax forms so don’t know they are supposed to declare any bank accounts held outside France.

Well, so has everyone who lives in France, whether they’re French or foreign.

Yes, but most of us have no reason to have a foreign bank account where these English do. So they’re easy meat.
They do their tax return and say what their income is and whatever and then if it looks as if their pension is paid abroad we’ll spring on them and ask them what account it’s paid into.
If they can’t explain it away except by having an account abroad we’ll fine them 1,500 Euros and ask them to justify everything for the last ten years.

That’s a bit rotten, isn’t it! After all, they’re declaring their income.

Well, that’s how it will be. You know how this country is run.
You let the small guys work on the black to keep them quiet: you let the big guys pay their banks and lawyers to hide their money and you wallop the people in the middle.
This way we’ll make any number of investigations, rake in the fines and the government will say its strategy of tax evasion is working while the big boys carry on as usual.

For goodness’ sake! We need another revolution!

And I need another drink…..yes, another one of Claude’s will be fine….