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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

For a while now, Frenchified has been Stultified, i.e. on the back burner whilst I’ve been struggling with unprecedented workload and exhaustion. No longer. I miss writing about France, so I’m dusting off the blog and preparing to give it some renewed OOMPH. Thank you for being patient and if things are a bit quiet here as I give Frenchified some much-needed CPR, please do visit me at my other blog, Epicurienne.

Here’s a photo of the menu from the restaurant at the top of the Centre Pompidou. It has dazzling views over Paris and features as a location in various films, like le Divorce, starring Kate Hudson.

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La Tranche Sur Mer, on the Atlantic Coast of France, is one of those typically Euro beach destinations: lots of camping grounds, men who think it’s okay to terrify the female public by strutting around in a pair of form-revealing speedos, kids dragging giant inflatable animal-shaped float-aids along the street and lots and lots of ice cream shops. I can’t actually work out how all the different ice cream shops make any money because there are so many of them, but practicalities aside, they are skilled in the art of displaying their products in ways that make you not just want ice cream but physically NEED it.

The vendors accessorise their ice cream to show what taste you’ll be licking off the cone. In the top picture, the nutella ice cream was indicated by a whole jar of nutella stuck into the top of its vat. In the picture above, strawberries show that the red ice cream is strawberry flavoured. That’s what I call ingenious ice cream merchandising.  Then below we have limes showing lime ice cream and flowers to indicate… what exactly? It can’t be flower ice cream.  Perhaps it’s almond. Those flower petals look suspiciously like dragées and some couples give sugared almond flowers to the guests on their wedding day.

The shot below isn’t great but I have yet to work out what Arlequin ice cream is. Hundreds and thousands sprinkled over the top… all different colours… could be tutti frutti, I guess. I’ve googled and still can’t work it out. If you read this and know what Arlequin ice cream tastes like, please let me know!

Monsieur and I didn’t even glance at the dessert card at the restaurant where we’d dined that evening. We paid the bill, walked out onto the still-busy street, found an ice cream stand where the ‘accessorising’ was particularly good, and ordered. I had a two scoop cup with coconut and guimauve.

“How do you translate guimauve into English?” I asked Monsieur.

“I don’t really know.” Came his reply.

Qu’est-ce que c’est, la guimauve?” I asked the ice cream man.

La guimauve, c’est, euh, la guimauve!”

He gave a gallic shrug, throwing his hands up into the air. Monsieur and the ice cream man were of no help to me at all. Looking at the display, the guimauve ice cream was studded with multi-coloured marshmallow twists on sticks. I hoped that when I ordered guimauve flavour, the taste would indeed be marshmallow, and it was. That’s another reason why this sort of merchandising is so clever: it helps foreigners like me to understand what they’re eating…

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This sign hangs outside a Chambres d’Hôte or B&B on the Ile de Ré. What I love most about this is the name:

La Maison du puits sans fond

Roughly translated, that means The House of the Bottomless Well. It sounds like a fairy story waiting to be written. Sadly, when you look up a dictionary definition, the term ‘puits sans fond’ is far less romantically translated into ‘bottomless pit’.

There are also songs called ‘Puits sans fond’.

Here’s one by a group called Vulgaires Machins. I’m not so sure about their name but their Puits sans fond gets 5 stars on You Tube, so here they are:

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This is a photo of a horse-butcher’s shop in Fontenay-le-Comte. I simply had to take a photo. Monsieur didn’t get it, but he didn’t grow up in a country where eating horse would be like eating the family dog. Kiwis just wouldn’t ever consider it. Because of that, for me, seeing horse butchers is half novelty and half horror. Thank heavens I can’t eat red meat. Now I’ll never have to consider eating Black Beauty’s cousins.

At our Christmas party last year, an Italian colleague explained to us what horse meat tastes like. She thoroughly enjoys eating horse and waxed lyrical about her favourite horse preparation methods. Meanwhile, a strictly ethical vegetarian colleague gagged and had to excuse herself.

If you think eating horse is bad, I suggest you pop across to Epicurienne, where I’m currently discussing the more bizarre items to be found on a Vietnamese menu. Monsieur and I are in Vietnam right now, studiously avoiding the consumption of anything involving monkey, dog or snake meat. Wish us luck! The Vietnamese motto is “if you can catch it,  you can eat it!” Does that include me?

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Whenever I see a sunflower, I think of Vincent Van Gogh, that mad (not in a good way) Dutch painter whose dauby impressionist works depicting vases of these yellow flowers have a habit of giving the auction world a nervous twitch whenever one comes up for sale. Van Gogh painted the sunflower series when he was living in The Yellow House in Arles, a place he shared for a while with Gauguin, until his obsession with the fellow painter led him to cut off part of his ear and give it to a prostitute for safe-keeping.

The French word for sunflower is ‘tournesol’, which, if you break it down into parts means ‘turn’ (tourne) and ‘sun’ (sol, abbreviated from le soleil). Suddenly I have an image of a field full of sunflowers leaning towards the sun as it moves through the sky.

Until recently, I’ve never had the luck to be in France when the sunflowers are at their best, swaying seas of gold blanketing the French countryside. When Monsieur and I visited the Vendée region recently, there they were: field upon field of sunflowers, in the flesh. Not on a postcard, not in a coffee table book. In. The. Flesh.

Being the odd one in this relationship, I asked Monsieur to drive me to a field of sunflowers so I could take some photos. Being the patient one in the relationship, he obliged. There I was, jumping around in the midst of flowers taller than me, trying to get a picture postcard shot. I didn’t think Monsieur was paying much attention, accustomed as he is to my Unusual Photo Opportunities, but how wrong I was.

When I’d shot my fill of yellow tournesols, Monsieur showed my a photo he’d taken of me in the field. There is my face, sure enough, surrounded by the sunflowers, but the plants shield my body so in fact it looks like I AM a sunflower! That picture is definitely being printed off and sent around, once Monsieur gives me access to it. In the meantime, here is some sunshine to brighten up what is otherwise a grey summer’s day in Londinium.

It was grey and drizzly that day in Vendée, too, but the flowers bravely weathered the weather.

They certainly keep the bees busy. This little drone is nibbling away at that tasty pollen at the centre of the flower. Yumalicious. Let’s make some honey, Honey!

Some of the fleurs look a bit tatty, but their colour glows on.

DID YOU KNOW….

That in Tintin, le Professeur Tournesol in the French language editions is our much loved eccentric Professor Calculus in English? I think we don’t need to be told why they changed the name. Just imagine being called ‘Professor Sunflower’. No one would take your theories seriously.

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Monsieur and I jetted off to La Rochelle recently for a long weekend in the Vendée region of France. The first couple of days were so suffocatingly hot that breathing felt like inhaling air directly from a fan heater, but then on the third day we awoke to grey skies, persistent rain and a drop in temperature of around ten degrees. Incroyable. It certainly wasn’t going to be a day for the beach.

After lunch, the skies cleared a bit, so we drove to Maillezais to visit the Marais Poitevin, or Poitevin marshland. Maillezais is a nice little town with an impressive ruined Abbey and a restaurant called Au Chant des Grenouilles, or ‘Frog-Song’, but we weren’t here to visit either; we were here to have another French boating experience, hopefully without anyone being thrown overboard.

Down at the Grand Port, which sounds like a big deal but is really just a little jetty for boats, we rented a ‘barque’ for two hours. This time, Monsieur and I were sitting side by side, each with a paddle in hand. Following a laminated map of the canals known as Venise Verte or ‘Green Venice’ for the green weed that obscures the water’s surface, off we paddled, in perfect tandem, for now, at least…

We turned into a broad canal with the Abbey looming above. The scene was incredibly picturesque, in spite of the missing walls, and we saw sky through the glassless windows. I imagine that the Abbey must have been an imposing cultural centre in its hey-day and in my mind images grew of abbots gathering honey from hives, illuminating manuscripts by candlelight and singing mournful chants as part of their daily routine. Apparently the Dukes of Aquitaine worshipped here. Sacré bleu! (Note: Monsieur informs me that this expression isn’t in popular French usage any more. Strike 78 against the Anglo-Saxone for getting it wrong yet again!)

Rowing on, we marvelled at the fact that we hadn’t yet disagreed on direction. For once, we were enjoying a boat trip without argument or vengeful splashing. Following little green arrows indicating our route, we crossed a wide canal to reach a narrower one. Here the trees formed an arcade above us as we floated past fields until, through all the green, a giant creamy face poked out at us. “Moo” it said. “Moo moo” I replied. “Darling, stop being so silly,” moaned Monsieur.

There in the field above us, we saw quite a few of our dairy friends. They were all the beautiful Charolais breed, with honey-cream skins and huge chestnut eyes. Looking further along the canal, a boat was heading our way. The canal was too narrow for us to pass so Monsieur and I manoevred the boat backwards into an inlet until the boaters went by. This was quite the success story for us in boating terms. No splashing, no shouting, no killing. Could such teamwork possibly last?

We passed under bridges so low that we had to duck, got stuck at a ninety degree turn from one canal into the next but with some highly-skilled bottom bouncing, managed to bump free without taking to paddle pummelling each other, spotted crows and a stork enjoying the peace of an entire field to themselves and observed a group of men with fishing rods preparing their lines. Apart from the cows and the birds we didn’t see much wildlife, apart from a mother duck and her fluffy young. I’d hoped to see a beaver or two, but no luck.

“You know, wouldn’t it be funny if we put a cow in a boat and took him somewhere?”

I told Monsieur. He looked at me strangely with that “you do know you’re talking rubbish, don’t you?” look he reserves for such moments, but later on, in a souvenir shop, I saw postcards showing this exact thing. Here’s a picture I found of horses being transported in this fashion. Apparently it’s the easiest way to get the large animals from one side of the canal to the other.

All too soon, we were turning up the canal towards the jetty, getting ready to jump out of the boat. It had been a lovely way to spend the afternoon and surprisingly peaceful. It just may be that Monsieur and I have now found a way to cooperate on the water, but he still thinks I can’t paddle for peanuts. Hrmph. The feeling’s mutual.

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On Epicurienne I have made no secret of my dislike of children’s souvenir tees which say stupid things like “My Mom went to Vegas and all she bought me was this lousy tee-shirt”. (Honestly, people really do waste their money on silly things, but then they’re probably the same people who eat at McDonald’s in the middle of a diet, i.e. they make no sense.) These annoying tees come in teeny sizes indicating that the wearer cannot possibly read yet, let alone enunciate such things (turn away, now, Mensa children, we’re not talking about you). Anyway, when Monsieur and I were in France last week I spotted a French version of these tiny tourist tees:

It says

“My granny brought me back this pretty tee shirt from La Tranche sur Mer”

I have to admit that the design is sweet, and the cursive writing is très Frenchified, so the result isn’t as tacky as the Vegas versions, BUT isn’t it just a bit ironic that in the land that gave us Bonpoint, Petit Bateau, Absorba and other children’s fashion houses producing clothes so sweet they’re capable of converting the most determined child-free couple into the obsessively child-mad overnight, people would want to buy one of these? I remain unconvinced that the French would make their children wear such things. For ages, I’ve been scouring crowds of kids on trips to France for evidence that I might be wrong, but so far, it seems I’m right. Even the French supermarkets’ kids’ clothes have an almost edible quality of cute. The lousy tee-shirts must be intended solely for doof foreigners who think it’s chic to make their child wear a French-language top, even if they don’t know what it means.

On the other hand, I quite like this one, spotted in Grasse earlier this year:

“If you think I’m adorable, you should see my Mum!”

Now that’s what I call a compliment for a hard-working Maman. So much better…

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