Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Of Mountains, Père Noël, And Vegetarian Encounters With Exotic Meat

I hope you have had a peaceful and pleasant Christmas commemorating whatever may be your winter festival of preference. Where I am at present it is called "Noël". I came to France last week and stopped off in Paris for a few hours as you may have noticed. Now P. and I, along with The Divine Miss M., are “down the valley” and not far from Grenoble where P. grew up. We have come to spend a couple of days with P’s papa.

Papa built his house forty years or so ago. It was the second house he built. The first one disappeared in divorce arangements when P. was a child. P. and his brothers all had a hand in helping papa build this extraordinary place. I never tire of the view even though, since the house was built, all the other plots have been sold and much infilling has taken place. In our bedroom there are two windows. The large one has double windows that open on to a small balcony with a view directly across the valley to the mountains of la chaine de Belledonne.

View from the bedroom

Behind the house tower the steep cliffs of the massif de la Chartreuse, part of which may be seen through the smaller window. Being France, both pairs of windows are shuttered. The windows in both design and view tell me I am in a different country.

View from the other window

I don’t know how many hours during the past fifteen years I have sat and stared at the Belledonne massif. Like the skies and the watery reflections of my beloved Fens, the mountains are constantly changing and dancing to the tunes that nature plays. As yesterday wore on, the mountains hid themselves behind a veil of mist. Today, in the rain, a different scene altogether is visible. I shall miss this place when there is no longer a reason to visit. Papa celebrates his 90th birthday next year. He has been making chocolates (he has got The Divine Miss M. dripping the remaindered liquid chocolate into paper petit fours cases as I type. Then the equipment will be cleaned and put back into the cellar until Pacques requires the making of Easter eggs. Papa has led a varied and interesting life. He seems not to have as many clients for his healing services these days. He knows about manipulation, acupuncture, herbs and other Chinese medical practices, although his favourite treatment seems to be to offer colour therapy. I wonder how many other university English language lecturers can put all these skills on their cvs? Papa is a bit of renaissance man.

Yesterday, P’s brother and his family came for lunch. During my childhood, before I was twelve and became a vegetarian, I ate pretty much whatever my mother chose for Christmas. Christmas was the only time of the year when the family ate chicken. How times have changed! Other meats being available, yesterday’s main meat course was ... kangaroo! I never expected to be sitting at table with people devouring kangaroo, but then they had already consumed the foie-gras, a delicacy whose attraction utterly escapes me. We are going back up to Haute-Savoie later today. We’ll drop The Divine Miss M. back home en route. Then P. and I have a day to prepare for the trip back to England. For the first time since I have been living on the boat I shall be returning with confidence that nothing will have leaked from any water system - I can’t say the same about any rain water which will drip into the bilges via gaps in the rear doors, the hatch and somewhere else I have yet to discover. Before leaving I drained the domestic cold water tank, the calorifier and the heating system. The weather had been cold before I left with hard frosts and a thin layer of ice on the river some mornings. I did not want a repeat of last January’s spillage (with ghastly details here). However, this does mean that the first thing I need to do when I get back to the mooring is to start filling up with water even before I light a fire to warm the boat up. I wonder how easy it will be to displace air that will inevitably have found its way into the system? I wish I could do a job without imagining all sorts of problems that will probably never come to pass.

I enjoy being with P. in France and his family is lovely, but I do look forward to going home and getting back to the boat. The workload that awaits me is not something that I anticipate with eagerness, however interesting some of it will undoubtedly be. No doubt more will be revealed in the fulness of the coming few weeks.

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