Saturday, July 16, 2016

Consternation in France when I turn down lunch (yes, really), but if that’s too boring (it is a bit), an odd response to Turkey’s military coup (in that we’re all supposed to cheer along democrats even when they are nothing of the kind) and the ‘Brexit was the right move’ line gets a sound analysis

Illats - Day Three

I am in my third full day down here in the south-west of France, but we have not yet attended any concerts. We have three, three nights in a row, from Monday on, and then I fly off again on Thursday. My aunt had various medical problems and two operations, so it wasn’t certain I would come this year, and when she did decide she would be up to it, I had to persuade my boss to allow me this week off as she is already short-staffed. Next week was out of the question.

So far I have done next to nothing if not exactly nothing, and that is how I like it. I caused some consternation today by asking to be excused lunch. The fact is that although each meal is by no means substantial (and always very tasty), I am no longer accustomed to eating a great deal. At home I can start the day off with half a
big tub of unsweetened Greek youghurt (i.e. the creamy one) and some kind of fruite, perhaps three satsumas chopped up. Then I might not eat again until supper. Or if I have lunch, usually some kind of salad - Greek salad, or one of my own devising (it’s not difficult - just chop up, in any order or combination, an onion/some spring onions, leek, tomatoes, celery, orange, apple or some other fruit and a little chopped up garlic and the lost seasoned with fresh pepper and drowned in olive oil). With that I’ll eat a tin of smoked herring or a hunk of cheese or a pork pie - Christ, this is getting dull writing it all, let alone reading it, so I’ll stop here as I’m sure you get the picture...

As I said, I don’t really eat a great deal these days, and for no reason other than I like to eat only when I am hungry. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like food - I do, a great deal. It’s just that I don’t like feeling full. I more or less stopped eating bread or wheat products some years ago, although I’m by no means anal about it, and will certainly eat, for example, a piece of cake if some were offered, and the result is that the spare tyre almost all of us carry has been substantially reduced, I don’t feel as hungry so often and generally a little more alert. Ironically, I do eat bread when I come to stay here because the ‘something compagne’ bread is a tasty as hell when toasted and a fresh baguette is also very, very nice. So here it the exception.

But as I don’t get up very early while I am here (and this time round I have strictly been turning the light off at 11pm rather than reading throught to gone 2am/3am as in past years) so I’m getting loads of sleep (which I like as I dream a great deal), I don’t eat my breakfast - three small pieces of that very tasty ‘something compagne’ and a mug of tea - until way after 11am. Then, in the course of things comes lunch at around 1.30pm and I’m just not hungry. The trouble is that I do like food and don’t stint myself.

My aunt (step-aunt) if essentially Irish although she grew up in Britain until her early twenties (just under 60 years ago) since when she has been living in France (and, for a short time, Algeria when it was still France) and she doesn’t count herself as ‘a good cook’. That’s mainly because she isn’t, on her own admission, particularly interested in cooking. But in those 60 odd years of living here in France, she has picked up one or two good tips which can make an ordinary dish punch above its weight.

So, for example, the other night for supper we had fish pie. It was very straightforward: a mish-mash of salmon, tuna and sardines covered in mashed potato (‘pomme mashe’ I should imagine it is called hereabouts). But what made it stand out a little were the herbs my aunt added: fresh dill, for one, and one other I can’t yet remember.

As I say, lunch in this household is still traditional: several courses eaten over the best part of an hour and a half (but then that’s also because we talk to each other). My aunt claims the French way of eating, eating protein, vegetables and starch separately, is healthier than having everyhing on one plate, and for all I know she’s right. So we start with some very simple salady thing – grated carrots or sliced tomatoes with dressing – then pate, then a meat course, then a vegetable course, then cheese. And then my aunt has a cup of Nescafe and ‘something sweet’. I don’t drink the coffee because although I like freshly ground coffee, I’m not that bothered about Nescafe.

In addition to all this is the wine. Neither of use drinks a lot and her husband, a Frenchman from Corsica, can’t drink any alcohol for health reasons. The thing is that long gone are the days when I could drink at lunchtime and not feel like sleeping for the rest of the afternoon. And even the modest amount I do drink with lunch these days make me so sleeping, doing anything else but sleep is a bloody chore.

So there you have it: for the most honourable reasons imaginable I asked today to be excused lunch. And as I skipped supper last night, the consternation I caused was rather large. Oh well.

. . .

There will be plenty of ‘oh, well’ going on in Turkey now after the failed coup. You will know as much or as little as I do, but although military coups against democratically elected heads of state and prime minister are not usually a cause for rejoicing, I was disappointed to hear this morning that the coup against president Erdogan had failed. For however ‘democratically elected’ he is, he is increasingly showing dictatorial tendencies and, for example, is giving those parts of the Turkish media not yet controlled by the government a very hard time.

x My sister lived in Istanbul for several years until five years ago, and long before she left she was telling me how her Turkish friends and neighbours, admittedly professional middle-class secular folk of a liberal beng, were becoming worried by how Erdogan was turning the country into ever more of a police state. So, as I say, I was a tad disappointed that this coup had gone off half-cock. It remains to be seen what will happen next (and it doesn’t quite help Britain that our new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson a few years ago lampooned Erdogan in a limerick, describing him as ‘the wankerer from Ankara’. I can’t imagine Erdogan laughed much when he heard that.

Overall, we are living in interesting times. I was listening to British news yesterday and it seems in some quarters Theresa May’s appointment of Johnson and two other ‘leading Brexiteers’, David Davis and Liam Fox as, respectively chief Brexit negotiator is regarded as a move that would have made Machiavelli blush. Well, put last description down to journalistic hyperbole and one too many gins, but it is most certainly a very canny move. As the Financial Times puts it ‘Johnson, Davis and Fox to pursue EU divorce and take blame if it goes wrong’. That’s not Machiavellian in my book, that’s a class move: the wanted Brexit, so they can shoulder the burden of getting a good deal for Britain outside the EU. And if they fuck it up, or even if they deals they strike are poor, one Theresa May – who didn’t want to move anyway – is in the clear. Nothing underhand about that, m’lud.

. . .

A few days ago, I heard a commentary on the EU referendum and its result, one of five as part of a series by the BBC’s Radio 4 by academics. It was by someone called Professor John Gray, who teaches philosophy at Exeter College, Oxford. He didn’t actually identify himself as either a Leaver or a Remainer, but what he had to say did make me think a little (and if you have access to Radio 4’s iPlayer, you can ‘listen again’. It was on Tuesday last, July 12).

Essentially he was saying that the EU is an inward-looking, failing and isolationist organisation on a road to nowhere and which will be left behind by the rest of the world. And given that in several Mediterranean member states the rate of unemployment for folk under 25 is over 50pc and has been for some time, he might well have a point. What struck me was the reasoned way he argued: there was none of this
to my mind hysterical and phoney, ‘take back control and seize your destiny’ and ‘bring back the groat’ rhetoric which helped to make the referendum debate such an intellectual embarrassment (the Remainers were no better, by the way).

Instead he laid out the circumstances as he saw them: with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the EU decided it wanted to be a force in the world and set out along that course. The trouble was that it was already being left behind by the rest of the world where economic growth made the EU’s economic growth embarrassingly piddly. But listen yourselves if you want the real thing rather than my potted and probably simplistic summing up.

The irony, of course, is that the gang of Brexiteers stomping around the country yelling out their jinogistic slogans will have bee wholly unaware of any of that. Of post-Brexit planning there seems to have been nothing, and if things do work out economically for Britain and Old Blighty doesn’t go down the tubes as prominent Leavers predict (and no doubt secretly hope so they can crow ‘we told you so!’), it will be nothing more than a stroke of luck. Fancy!

Tonight we’re off to a concert of gospel music. It isn’t strictly part of the series of concert put on here by the good, middle-class folk of Acquitaine, but I’m looking forward to it as I like a bit of gospel music, me.

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