|The bonfires around the farm burnt down over night to a scattered collection of tangled vine wires. |
The one remaining ex-vineyard still had to shuffle off its tightly wound coils and the front-loader with its busy pilot was not long in starting a few more incendies. The one shown below looks like a rather devilish beast with fiery innards bellowing smoke over the fields.
I’m reminded also of the lazy, angry, rubbish-tip inhabiting Bottersnikes from the four Australian children’s books written by S.A. Wakefield with extremely evocative images of these bushland grumps and their targets, the friendly, giggling Gumbles done by Desmond Digby. The tips of the Bottersnike ears burn red with anger. They continually strive to enslave the Gumbles and lock them away in jam-jars. German editions of the book refer to them as die Butterschnuckels. Sadly I can’t locate any French editions for comparison.
While looking for Bottersnike images I found some new renderings by Brisbane-based Lachlan who rightly describes them as designs “for the great Australian animated film that's yet to be made”. Some earlier renderings here.
There’s a beautiful book about these and other Australian illustrated children’s books called Bottersnikes and Other Lost Things by Juliet O’Conor. One day I might do a post on favourites from my own collection. I remember finding a copy of Blinky Bill or a similar book influenced by Australia’s unique fauna in a Seattle used book store. The store owner looked up and said “that is my favourite book in the entire store”.
I started off this post as I did the last to draw a link between our bonfires and the lighting of the beacons in The Lord of the Rings, and also with the Napoleonic semaphore system which has criss-crossed France since the late 1700s. Once again the mind wanders off into new territory.
While the last bonfires blazed away, holes were excavated next to the earlier ones. While some of the vine-wire is retrieved for scrap, most of the remains are buried in place.
It was interesting to get a bunch of snapshots of soil profiles around the farm. Nearly a metre down soil gives way to the clay I’d find if I dug around a bit more in the adjacent pond.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
This morning’s news is that the piles of vine-posts around the farm are finally being burnt. Once that’s done these fields can be tilled and turned to the task of sprouting grass.
If we rewind to April of this year we can see the vineyards prior to being torn up by the lease-holders. I wrote about this arrachément back in June. That’s left us with the fields as seen below for five months.
When we sauntered down to inspect the scene mid-morning, there were four or five stacks ablaze. One guy with a front-loader was taking care of it all, combining smaller stacks where appropriate, clearing some space around them and then finally dousing them with fuel and setting them alight. The intense heat kept one from comfortably approaching closer than about 4-5 metres.
By lunch time he’d reached the row of vine stacks on the other side of our pond and there was soon a large plume of smoke obliterating the sun. Gustav and I went down to check it out after a while. The warmth was a bit wasted today with an unseasonable 16C before the fire heat was added in.
Late afternoon saw the piles having burnt down to flickering embers wrapped in coils of vine-wire glowing white to yellow hot.
A curious addition to the sunset and fiery embers was this loop of sun-illuminated cloud which I thought may have been a contrail from a turning jet, but Brent claims there have been similar cloudy curlicues here lately due to some local weather patterns. Whether the loops match up to similar figures etched on the landscape below by alien invaders, I can only wonder. If giant tripods start riding across the Gers, you will read about it here first.
|As the sun receded and the only light came from the bonfires dotting the landscape before me, I thought “ooh bonfires .. bon + fires .. must be French ..no?”. Mais non. Bonfire comes from bone+fire, and not from the torched remains of martyrs, but of cattle bones thrown to the flames. The French call their bonfires feux de joie or in the more garden-variety sense of burning rubbish, feux de jardin. |
If one is burning books or heretics then you may recognise auto-da-fé (“act of faith”) from histories of the Inquisition. Sometimes the word bûcher is used where English-speakers refer to a pyre, related to the word bûche for log or stake, and so to be burnt at the stake is to die sur bûcher. This is not related to the words butcher or its French cognate boucher which literally mean goat-slaughterer. The word buck for a male goat or other animal shares this lineage.
Half a millennium ago, the famous Bonfire of the Vanities was an autodafé held in the centre of Florence by the influential friar Savanarola. The “vanities” were a reference to the symbols of “moral decay” thrown to the flames, including books, ornaments, diamond-studded malamute collars and paintings depicting classically posed figures.
With ten red-hued bonfires standing out of the darkness, Gustav seemed rather pensive. I think he was having Viking flashbacks to the good old days of village burning.
A further bonus on top of today’s warm weather and clear skies is the sight of the Pyrenees riding the horizon. Is there a pyre connection?
The name Pyrenees may derive from one of several sources. The most popularly quoted is that it comes from the Gallic princess Pyrene*, who in mythology was the daughter of a king that hosted Hercules during his labours, in point of fact while stealing the cattle of the giant Geryon. It’s not clear if the name is truly a Gallic one, or a Hellenic one that might be linked to pyr/pyros for fire. Maybe she was a “hot one”. Many sources simply claim pyrene as the Greek word for fire, but I don’t think that’s the case. There was a very famous manufacturer of fire-extinguishing equipment, The Pyrene Company of Delaware. However pyren is Greek for the stone of a fruit, and pyrene may be used in that context today. Also there are several females of the name Pyrene in Greek mythology and the derivations may be different.
Another source says the name Pyrenees comes directly from pyr (fire) in reference to “a great conflagration which, through the neglect of some shepherds, destroyed its woods, and melted the ore of its mines, so that the brooks ran with molten silver.”
Lovely view** anyway. I hope some scholarly geographer may be able to set us all straight on the true source of the name.
* I’ve had a horrible audio nightmare of some mum calling out for a daughter of this name in some Australian shopping mall: Py-reen! Some people get a bit excited and say she was a goddess rather than just a mortal princess.
**Which reminds me of when I had my tonsils out in the Buena Vista hospital, Bellevue Hill in Sydney. Shades of La Brea Tar Pits! I hope my otolaryngologist had a belle vue when peering down my throat.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
|Back in the 90s when I started working with a lot of Americans down under, they’d refer to Thanksgiving as Turkey Day, and stick up pictures of crudely drawn birds made by drawing around the outline of their splayed fingers. During my Seattle years I attended a few turkey dinners with those who hadn’t braved weather and airlines to fly back to distant family around North America. |
This year Jean announced she was going to cook “a lot of brown stuff” for a Gersois Thanksgiving dinner and the guest roster from the UK, Australia and Sweden would bring colourful side dishes. It wasn’t practical to find a whole turkey here so she followed George Orwell’s recipe from his Animal Farm cookbook of “four legs good, two legs bad” and assembled a multi-drumsticked superbird from available parts. We donated apple-sauce and a very colourful cabbage, apple and orange salad.
Being rather an outsider for Thanksgiving rituals I was the only person who fell for Jean’s request that I keep a small pumpkin balanced on my head during dinner. Perhaps I was the only person with sufficient deportment skills and grace to pull off such a tricky manoeuvre while quaffing beaujolais nouveau and debating with the Munsoneers.
Jean’s account of the banquet may be found over on Brat Like Me.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Those readers (hi!) who follow this blog’s updates through twitter, RSS feeds or email updates may be seeing a trickle of posts from 2007. There is a reason!
As I’m working on “the draft of the book of the blog”, I’m reviewing old posts in conjunction with my other notes, photographs and various sordid memories. The block of posts I’m working on are those relating to the Europe Spring 2007 tour which had Bondi and I tackle twenty countries across 20,000km in about fifteen weeks.
Since my posts on the road were often quite hurried, and I couldn’t upload many decent quality photographs, I’m taking the time to reformat and republish those old posts as I redigest them. There’ll be a few minor copyedits here and there to correct typos and dead-links, and the addition of more keywords for my own indexing amusement, but otherwise you’ll just see those posts looking much clearer. Where I stitched together photos haphazardly using ancient 2007 technology, I’ve been able to restitch the originals with much cleaner results. The luxury of better bandwidth and better editing software* means I’ve been able to lay out each post with larger image previews and
As of this minute, I’ve updated the posts for March 1 – 4, but it’s not hard to work out where I’m up to as the posts thereafter remain looking a little bit like roadworn 2007.
* Windows Live Writer: and no that doesn’t mean I’m letting the WLW team off the hook for the bugs I submitted years ago that haven’t been fixed.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
|Many mornings I find Gustav standing in the kitchen, hands tucked into his hoodie pockets, announcing that he’s cold and hungry. Well as Lorraine Kelly said recently on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, if you’ve been affected by any of the issues presented in the show so far, go to www.boohoohoo.com … |
This morning I did rectify matters by extending the breakfast menu with a platter of corn fritters. The particular recipe I used called for grated zucchini but those have all disappeared into the last pot of ratatouille, so I diced some red capsicums instead. That’s a simple enough substitution but I’m finding that I often have to make last minute adaptations to recipes either because I forgot something at the shops, or I simple can’t find it locally. For more workaday ingredients, I’m finding the ingredient substitution table at Joy of Baking to be quite handy for such things as self-raising flour, or buttermilk.
|Yesterday I found mustard seeds after looking in four different supermarkets in recent weeks, none of which had moutard en graines or en poudre. At the weekly outdoor market in Lectoure on Friday I finally found someone who sold flaxseed (graines de lin) and another with sun-dried tomatoes. The latter are usually found only in small, expensive jars, so getting a big bag for €7 was a huge win. I have also looked high and low for sweet chilli sauce – even in one of the airport-sized hypermarchés in Toulouse – but didn’t turn up any until a week ago, noting that it had no French labelling – it was originally bound for English/Dutch/German customers. I think I’ll make my own! |
While I was sniffing out mustard powder in the Lectoure Intermarché I chanced on this rack of new beaujolais with a rather unusual label “Pisse-dru”, apparently French slang for “thick piss”!
|Last week’s first culinary experiment was lavender lamb. I spotted an article about using lavender instead of rosemary when roasting a shoulder and was immediately intrigued. The only time I remember having lavender in food was a crème brûlée back in Sydney. |
The recipes generally call for the flowering stalks, but it’s too late in the year for those so impatient me had to settle for the leafy branches. I looked up a number of sites with lavender recipes – all of which said the leaves could be used, but none said exactly how – so I simply fell back to using them like rosemary. The end result was interesting but on balance I prefer the rosemary. Maybe I’ll try again when I have some flowers to work with.
After my biscotti success, I made a larger batch. I divided the ingredients so that the larger portion would be strictly by the recipe, while the remainder substituted fleur d’orange essence for lemon zest. I tell you that shelling and skinning the pistachios gets boring pretty quickly. Munson cunningly placed himself on the kitchen floor, so that every time a pistachio kernel flew out of my hands, he was there to catch it.
The fleur d’orange batch went into a longer thinner dish, producing a very flat loaf. Both smelled wonderful when they emerged from the oven, but I found that when I toasted the slices later, most of the orange scent was driven out.
The thinner biscotti fingers are good for coffee-dunking!
On a trip to IKEA last week, Gustav bought a couple of boxes of spiced biscuits. He told me that a Swedish tradition (like standing in the kitchen and saying you’re cold and hungry) is to put one of these flat on your palm and press into the centre with your finger. If it cracks into three portions then it’s considered lucky and you can make a wish. Above is my first time effort. Munson is the one who thinks he’s going to get lucky.
Actually Gustav has been busy in the kitchen, and recently introduced me to a dish called Flygande Jacob / Flying Jacob, which is a chicken casserole made with bacon, bananas and peanuts. The dish was created in the 70s by a Swedish air-freight pilot who was inspired by carbonara sauce, but had to substitute ingredients with what he had to hand. I found a useful video which illustrates the practice of Swedish cooking as I’ve come to know:
Sunday, November 20, 2011
I was about seven years when I first encountered Tintin books in Bourke library, beginning with The Secret of the Unicorn / Red Rackham’s Treasure pairing. What a world of discovery that was! My only experience of 2D* animated characters thus far had been Disney cartoons and comic books. Without even referring back to the books I can recall it as being the first place I had a story with history, submarines, pirates, a scientist, humour and the little snapshot of a moment in time found in each frame. By the time the last finished title in the series arrived in 1976 I had collected all the books for my own re-reading pleasure. I remember my father would often visit my room in the evening to borrow a few volumes of Tintin and Asterix to read in bed – he must have read the entire series many times over by the time I took them away in the late 80s.
(* I had to say 2D because my first animated love was the stop-motion phantasmagoria that is The Magic Roundabout, like Tintin, another French-language creation. Unlike Tintin, the dialogue was entirely transmuted to a completely new sensibility for English-speaking audiences. )
With the release of the Stephen Spielberg/Peter Jackson 3D animated adaptation of Unicorn(with bits of Rackham and Crab with the Golden Claws thrown in), the French Carrefour hypermarket and supermarket chain has launched a huge marketing campaign using the Tintin characters. The cost of outfitting its 4587 French stores with Tintin posters and displays, Tintin trolley livery and billboards everywhere would have Captain Haddock screaming “Pithecanthropic pickpocket! Purple profiteering jellyfish!”
|Each Tuesday I get a large wad of advertising brochures through the post. Jean calls it the “Conforamagasm” and is very meticulous about making sure that I don’t miss a single leaflet. As Christmas nears, the number and thickness of each is growing. The Carrefour supermarket specials are decorated with Tintin characters, and I can’t say the results are always terribly attractive when the corpse-like skin of the film versions is transferred to cheap colour newsprint. |
Given Captain Haddock’s propensity for colourful language I would have liked to have seen his image screaming Cornichons! or morues dans un carton à chapeau (cod in a hatbox*)! on suitable grocery illustrations. He is next to a beard-trimmer on one page, but I’m still wondering if “big ham” translates literally into French as per the image on the right.
(*”cod in a hatbox” sounds like something that could have come from the mouth of Royce “God on a Wheel” Reed, surely the spiritual daughter of Captain Haddock and Bianca Castafiore. This comes from a frame in Explorers on the Moon. It’s not actually an insult; the Captain is lamenting that the lunar crew will die like cod in a hatbox, or in the English version, the drearier “kippers in a crate”.)
Part of the promotion is enticing customers to buy enough to earn vignettes (little stickers) that will eventually allow them to have some of the “exclusive” character figurines of which there are only 1.5 million available. True collectibles…hmmm. They don’t seem to look very much like the original characters or necessarily like the film versions.
|The good news for Gustav was found in the Intermarché brochure: half-price Swedish sandwiches! |
Actually I think that’s a good one for Captain Haddock: half-price Swedish sandwich!!