The Little French English Improvement Project

little french person trying to improve her english, little french english person trying to improve herself, french english person trying to improve a little bit… and blogging along the way. (Now in Deutschland)

Posts Tagged ‘food’

A new blog and some new resolutions

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on July 30, 2014

Yes, you read that right. A new blog is coming up and has even started to emerge into the chaos that is the internet. Not that the internet is in need of more pages, or that I am bored with my one original blog. It’s still my favourite. However people have been telling me I should try establishing my online presence as a baker, so I’ll oblige… and try. Let’s see how it goes!

alice challet disorganisedhttp://alicethebakingfrog.wordpress.com

 

Posted in Food | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Learning key life skills in Germany

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on May 27, 2014

When navigating your way around a german kitchen, or indeed a german party, one of the most difficult things to find is a bottle opener. Surprising, is it not? When all your instincts, long nurtured clichés, and the physical evidence of empty Pfandflaschen (deposit bottles) piling up on every street corner/table/ledge tell you beer is indeed flowing. So a word of warning: when you, confused tourist in teutonic lands, ask for one, do not be surprised when someone hands you a lighter instead.

You see, a true German can open a beer bottle with just about anything, and not having a bottle opener leaves room in the kitchen drawer for other, more obscurely exotic kitchen essentials: your schnitzel hammer for example or this terrifying and dangerous cousin of the tin opener (you may actually need the schnitzel hammer to work it):

Having become used to this state of affairs, my policy has long been to find the nearest smoking german and ask them to open my beverages. If there are no smokers around, any german person will do the trick, the only condition being that there is in the vicinity an object with an edge. Not too difficult then. Do not judge me for taking the easy way out. Over the three and some years I have lived on this side of the Rhine, I have tried, usually ending up covering myself in beer and ridicule: at best I would manage to slightly bend one tiny bit of the beer cap and give up with a sore knuckle. Worst case scenario so far, I broke a lighter and dropped the bottle which smashed on a rock, spraying everyone with the foamy stuff. Maybe it is simply that my frenchness prevails when it comes to accessing alcoholic drinks. Certainly I may be rubbish at opening beers with an USB sitck, but I am very good at uncorking wine. It was even noticed by my colleagues when I was working in a posh-ish hotel in Kiel. Give me a wine bottle and a corkscrew and sit back and enjoy the show. I won’t need to lean on anything or squeeze the bottle between my thighs, no drop will be spilled, no loud popping noises and would Sir like to try a sip first?Scan0012

 

 

Maybe that was what my friend Jan picked up on last Sunday at the barbecue. Not that I did open any wine there – all screwtops there (BLASPHEMY), but there was a wine bottle lying around and that was what I was told to use, if I wanted to get to my beer. No I won’t open it for you, you need to do it yourself.

I failed miserably the first time around, but the second cap flew a metre or so away with a satisfying pop on my first try. I could have clapped, if I had not been holding a bottle of beer in my left hand and a bottle of wine in my right. Never mind, and hurray! I am now officially one step closer to being German, which considering the french results of the European elections, cannot be such a bad thing, surely.

Posted in Germany, Life, Uncategorized, Wine | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A year and one month ago: Stumbled into a cappucino habit.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on May 2, 2014

As I may have mentioned before, the deal with my Berlin adventure was: I had a starting budget of a couple of hundred euros and a month or so to find an income, an internship or both. So after I found a friendly cyber-café with printing facilities on my first day and haggled over a bike (and won the argument) on the next, on my third day in the German capital, I mounted my new steed with a wad of CVs in my bag and I pedalled and skidded around town stopping in every promising-looking restaurant and café I could find. Believe me, there are a few.

Now something you have to understand is that March in Berlin last year, was nothing like it was this time around. No green shoots sprouting out of the branches like caterpillars, ready to spread their leafy winds, no sunshine or short showers criss-crossed by rainbows. It was unforgivingly, freezing cold. Ice and grit everywhere to be seen, but mostly ice. Over cobbles. And don’t get me going on the cycle paths (their turn will come). Luckily there were hardly any other people on the street, but after a few slips, falls, and near misses, I could understand their decision to stay inside to hug their radiators.

IMGP0416And this is how, after a few hours, freezing cold, rather damp and bruised on my left side and not feeling my fingers and toes, I chanced upon Café Wunderlich. It looked so small and warm and red and inviting, I just had to go in. It doesn’t look much of a café really, people sometimes walk right past it without a glance, but it is definitely worth a visit. There is no showy theme, the main concept of the place is “good coffee”, as you can immediately see when you go in. The coffee machine sits, throned in splendour behind the bar, all shiny silvery knobs and dials and levers, gently clicking, whirring and puffing out coffee scented fumes. I walked dripping to the bar and as I was waiting for my espresso to be ready – I discovered that day that coffee can’t be rushed – I found myself telling Moritz I was French, in Berlin since three days previous,  studying,  looking for work, came from the countryside and had English relatives. He’s the kind of guy who opens people up.

Then the coffee came. Now you must understand that being French, my attitude to coffee had always been somewhat medicinal. The stuff I was used to was bitter medicine to cure a low regime. When an energy boost was required, I would go to a café or bistro, ask for a coffee, take a sip, wince, pour sugar and swallow the rest in one swift gulp. This time around, I prepared to do the same, built up my resolve, took the first sip, and felt all my muscles relax instantaneously.  It was loveliness in a small china container with a handle. The bitterness was there, it is coffee after all, but so sweet and smooth. It had the consistency of a molten dark chocolate truffle dissolving on the tongue, filling your entire mouth with flavour. I sipped it slowly and scraped the last drop from the bottom of the cup with my spoon – I still do it with every single cup.

That was my first visit. I am now a regular there, although none of my three successive flats in the past year have been located closer than 6km from the café. It is worth the trip though so every two or three days I cycle over for my caffeine fix, usually in cappuccino form. This is Moritz’s recommendation: in his café you won’t be served lukewarm coffee at the bottom with a layer of impenetrable frothed milk floating on top like a cloud of isolation foam. The two are blended in a creamy light frothiness, decorated with hearts and flowers and palm leaves and you can’t quite tell where the foam starts and where the coffee ends.Once you have tasted it you will forswear Starbucks forever.

Posted in Food, Germany, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Cure for all ills

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on February 25, 2013

Some of you might have heard me say that carrot cake would cure anything, even political despair. Give them cake, right? Chocolate cake, Frau Boxler’s mocha cake, macaroons etc would take care of the rest. But recently I have driven around the countryside with my grandad in tow and now I know better. You see, although I still don’t have a driving licence (at 25; shocking I know), I can drive when accompanied by an adult who knows how to drive. Never mind that I feel safer with Papy sitting in the passenger seat where I can see him than if he were driving himself.

IMGP9282So anyway, in order for me to acquire experience of driving along narrow winding roads with a rockface on one side and a ravine on the other, we go together to visit his friends from way back when; old grannies and grandads who went to school with him, or sat next to him and my grandma on coach trips to Lourdes or somewhere. Nowadays they sit around their front rooms wrapped up in shawls and scarves, waiting for winter to be over. We have long conversations about the weather, the war, farming, and grandchildren like myself who should really be looking for a husband and produce offspring. Someone heats up coffee in a pan on a wood-burning stove, which we drink from worn out bowls or cups or glasses. As the conversation goes on, an old bottle is brought out of a dark cupboard and someone will ask, or rather state: “You’ll have a little drop, won’t you.” “Une goutte”, a drop, “of eau de vie” of course. My grandad chuckles and protests, just a bit.

The bottle itself if usually a little sticky and dusty; it has been kept in there for so long. The stopper never quite fits, so there’s an accumulation of “stuff” round the neck of the bottle – you don’t really want to know. Sometimes, as a conversation piece, there’s a pear floating around in there (my grandfather’s godfather put that in there), or a stick, an articulated wooden doll, or even a snake or two. Someone explains: it’s quince, pear, plums, marc de raisin or some other fruit, and you have to take their word for it because really, you could not tell the difference. Either it tastes like pure alcohol and will burn your tonsils off, or if you’re lucky, it tastes of sugar. If it has any flavour at all, it will be of coffee because it is poured straight into the warm cup or bowl you’ve been using, even if you have explained that you’re supposed to steer the car all the way home and it’s getting dark. “Come on. Just a drop. It can’t do you any harm.”

Because whatever the shape and size of the bottle, the percentage of alcohol or sugar and which members of the extended family were involved in the distilling process, it’s good for you. So far, it has been recommended to me as an aid to digestion, a cure for the runs, the solution to headaches (hair of the dog perhaps), and as a panacea for all coughs, sneezes, tickly throats and bad colds. For internal and external use. If you have a sore throat and a runny nose, imbibe cotton wool in eau de vie and tie it around your neck with a scarf. That should sort you out. And make you smell like an alcoholic.

Well I spent hours outside in the cold over the past few days, shovelling never-ending piles of snow from the yard, and although my many layers of clothes made me look like the Michelin man, I got the sniffles. Maybe I should try the “goutte” remedy. But Mam went to the chemists today and bought some Fervex. Just in case.

Posted in Family, Food, France, Life, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Granny recipes against alzheimer.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on March 2, 2012

My old friend insomnia is back! It is now half past five in the morning and I have been staring at this very uninteresting ceiling for the past seven hours. Silent sleep has deserted me and in its place, ideas and thoughts bouncing off the walls like pin balls and hitting me regularly with a loud clanging ping sound. How am I supposed to sleep with all that racket? I try counting enough sheep to muffle up the noise but some ideas just ram through (he he) and get me anyway. Most of them are useless (doing push ups until it tires me out –  I don’t think so) so I send them back on their merry way until the next time they fly by. Other ideas I keep and let roll about in my head for a while until I can make sense of them. One of those tonight has turned out to be a gem.

Because you see, I have got a charity place in the Great North Run. It is now official: on the 16th of September I will be running 13 miles wearing an Alzheimer’s Society T-shirt and that not only involves some training and running shoes, but also a fair amount of fundraising (a minimum of £375 to be exact). I was mulling this over when a series of notions zoomed my way:

ߛ The solution to most of life’s challenges is cake ===> ie: bake sale.

ߛ Fact: grannies make the best cakes. There always used to be a tart, clafoutis or cake on my Grandma’s kitchen table in the good old days when she could still tell the difference between lemon and washing liquid. It was systematically a little burnt around the edges but no one cared, it tasted delish.

 ߛ I have been meaning to meet little german grannies ever since I got here. One of the point of coming to Germany was to meet the locals, and grandmas have been around for a while, they should have a lot to tell. I also of course always intended to ask them about their favourite typical recipes ; food tends to be a good starting point for any conversation.

ߛ My very good friend Steph mentioned something about old people’s homes…

PING

I have already drawn up a list of old people’s homes to get in touch with to see if I could come in and chat with the residents about cake. The security levels surrounding grannies’ kitchen secrets are normally extremely high, but with a bit of luck I might be able to coax out one or two recipes, round up a couple of friends and organise a bake sale at university. I like the idea of getting grandmas involved. It’s such a shame I did not get to know mine better before Alzheimer’s disease caught up with her. Hopefully this whole thing might also encourage other people to get in touch with their grans and get them baking…(and send me the recipes?)

However before I call all these people it would probably be a good thing to get some sleep. Night-o.

Posted in Family, Food, Germany, Great North Run, Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Very late breakfast: unexpected comfort food for expats in Berlin

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 7, 2011

Should I really  apologize again for my unpredictable, more than patchy writing habits? I think not, time is scant enough as it is and my bed is beckoning dangerously so let’s get to the point! I spent the weekend in Berlin, and it was pretty good.

You might be aware -or not- that I have been in Deutschland this past month and a half and the fact is: since my arrival, I hadn’t once stepped outside Regensburg (lovely little university town – I’ll come back to it some other time). So when Sven and Paul suggested a trip up to the capital, I jumped out of reason’s range, into the back of the car and we sped along northwards on the motorway, leaving all homework, academic and administrative bothers behind. This weekend was NOT going to be museum orientated: we set out to be unreasonable and  enjoy youth while we still have it; party much, drink a reasonable amount (my mam might read this blog so I’l leave it to everyone’s imagination) and sleep very little.

So at some point around 2pm on Saturday as we were walking along in the parks around Kreuzberg drinking takeaway coffee and gently emerging from our stupor, we realised we were going to need breakfast. And we went to THIS place:

We had walked past that shop the night before on the way to a party and it looked cool, a nice sort of whacky modern vintage look with big chunky furniture and many lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, and of course classic display racks and glass shelves covered in carrot cakes and scones and muffins. As an official half-expat it was pretty obvious I would have to go there at some point.

I was a little anxious at first, and with good reason: my experiences of british food abroad have been very mixed. Soggy chips, half-defrosted fish and wobbly set gravy. Some people do seem determined to confirm everyone’s deep-seated prejudice that british food is crap. Well this time I was pleasantly surprised. Particularly as far as the tea was concerned.

Tea preparation and serving policy varies much from one establishment to the next I have noticed, and this cuppa was very much in keeping with the contrasted stylish/funky atmosphere of  “East London- God Save Brit Food”. It came in one massive thick mug, and with all the elaborate paraphernalia one might expect from a specialist coffee/tea shop. Now I’m not normally one for over-complicated pedantic tea ceremonial. Like anyone else I just shake a teabag around in a mug of boiling water until the desired colouring has been achieved and then add milk. However for once I decided to obey the 5min indication on the timer and it was worth the wait. I drink about 1,5Liters of tea every day, and since I have come to Germany all I’ve had to quench my thirst was, well… german tea (ie: not English). But this time was something else. Possibly the best cuppa I have ever had. EVER. I was heaving a sigh of pleasure with each sip. Does anyone out there know what brand of tea they serve in that place, I didn’t even think to ask.

Anyway, that was for the tea. The food was good. I know this is a bit of a contrast with the lyrical description of a humble cup of tea but it was scrambled eggs on toast, so how much can I say? I could I suppose write an ode to comfort food but it’s getting late. Scrambled eggs is not exactly a good choice if one wants to write a restaurant review, but that wasn’t the point. It was comfort food, it was obviously freshly made, tasted good and was just what I needed. It went perfectly well with the cup of tea and I felt at home for a while, except I was speaking German all the way through.

What else can I say about the place… The staff are very friendly and all native English-speakers! If I remember rightly the cooks were English, and the waiters Australian and Irish. We were waited on by ozzy Annabelle, who smiles a lot and fits in perfectly with the surroundings: friendly bubbly and just a little bit odd (and I mean that as a compliment). She even posed with a scone for me, how much more helpful can you get?

So my verdict: I will definitely go again next time I’m in Berlin, if only a cup of tea and a scone and to enjoy the atmosphere.

And I know it’s a veeery long shot, but if the young man who was sitting at the table opposite us should ever happen on this blog, I really feel I should have come over and said hello that day (Saturday 5th of November) ; please get in touch?

Posted in England, Food, Germany, Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lovely Mousse au Chocolat

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on June 9, 2011

A couple of days ago, or maybe it was last week, somewhen I wrote an article about cooking, and included quite a few photos of what my friend Jan calls food-porn. Don’t worry, nothing X-rated, just the kind of photos that make you drool, head for the fridge, and then hang your head in disappointment because there isn’t in there anything quite so good looking… aaaaand you have to prepare something and wait until it is cooked, baked, cooled, set, ready to eat. Anyway amongst these photos, said Jan noticed a picture of chocolate mousse and asked for the recipe, so here goes:

I found this (or at least the basic concept of it) in a book quite simply called “130 recettes au chocolat”. To whom it may concern, this book was published in 1986, so we’re not dealing with modern cuisine; it’s good old traditional stuff, full of sugarrrrrrrrrr and creeeeeeeeeam and CHOCOLATE! Perfect chocolatey perfection in a wine glass.

For four people: 25cl double cream; 100g milk chocolate + 25g cocoa powder (the original recipe asks for 125g of ordinary chocolate, but I think it tastes better my way, HA!); 5–10cl milk; 4 egg whites; 200g sugar; a little water.

1. Whip the cream until stiff and leave in the fridge.

2. Gently melt the chocolate over a low heat with the cocoa powder. When smooth, add a bit of milk to make a thick chocolate sauce and leave to cool

3. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Heat the sugar and water together in a pan. In the unlikely event that you have a sugar thermometer boil until the sugar reaches 118 degrees, or count 13 seconds after the sugar starts to boil. Then slowly pour into the egg whites while beating continuously until the mixture cools down.

4. Gently fold the chocolate sauce and half the cream into the egg mix.

5. Pour the preparation into 4 wineglasses and leave to set in the refrigerator for a few hours. Decorate with the remainder of the cream ( you may notice on the pictures that I ran out) and some chocolate sauce, or chocolate flakes

Posted in Food | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

“Tous en cuisine”: converting the french to britishness…

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on June 3, 2011

Well, I was going to go swimming this morning, but it turns out the pool is closed for a major underwater hockey tournament. I am not one for text speech, but my initial (and still current) reaction was simple: WTF. I apologize to all practitioners of this noblest of sports (is it?) but I just wanted a swim, sob. SO I wrote yet another blog about food instead. I do believe in yesterday’s post I mentioned a cooking competition, and promised to say more about it, so here goes:

Have you heard of “Tous en Cuisine avec Alain Ducasse”? If you are an English-speaker, probably not because it’s French, and his year will be the first series. However, I believe it to be pretty much the same as the ITV programme“The Best British Dish”, where amateur cooks compete in front of TV cameras to create a typical “national” dish. In order to apply, you had to send in a recipe inspired by local cuisine, but adapted to your taste and personality, either by using unusual ingredients, or putting them together in an unexpected way.

Like I mentioned in yesterday’s article, I have never been able to keep to recipe instructions. The very first thing my mam taught me to cook was bolognese sauce, and very soon after that, I started adding herbs and chilli to it, much to the despair of my little sister’s over-sensitive tastebuds. I suppose this habit could be a problem if I one day decided to go into gastronomy, where you have to have standards, and recipes have to be the same from one day to the next, but for a competition like this, where you need creativity and inventiveness, it’s just what I need! So anyway, I had to come up with a savoury recipe for four people. Personally I’m more of a dessert-person, but this is what I turned up with, my take on “Potée au choux”: the crumble anglo’vergnat———>

Potée is in my opinion one of the most typical specialities in the Auvergne. Basically, it’s a big old soup: you take salted pork, cabbage, carrots, onions, potatoes and turnips and boil them in water for EVER with salt, pepper, garlic, cloves and a bouquet garni. Then as it often happens for this sort of dish, on the first meal you eat the meat and veg, and on the following day, or in the evening, you have the soup with croutons, or more traditionally, poured over bread and cheese.

Like many of these traditional hearty country soups, it can be a bit blobby, and there’s plenty of room for improvement if you want to make it look more fancy and posh. In a bold move I decided to turn it into a crumble and by thus adding a lovely crumbly crunchy topping of rye bread and cheese, both personalize my dish and solve the blobbiness in one fell swoop.

I thought it was bold and inventive, but when I told my french friends about it, I only had to say the words crumble and english for them to start laughing and sneering and saying “what a waste of perfectly good ingredients”. Whoever you are and wherever you come from, you will be aware that british cuisine does not have the best reputation, and nowhere does this prejudice go deeper than in France. As a matter of fact the French are very intolerant to any sort of foreign food or flavours, but the relationship between France and English being what it is, the indigenous on both sides have difficulties seeing past the frogs legs and snails, or the jelly and SPAM. I could go on forever about culinary racism, but this blog is already way too long. My point is, if I do get through to the next round, I’ll carry on putting britishness into my recipes to prove my point to these miscreants!

Posted in Food, France | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Slaving over a hot oven

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on June 2, 2011

However observationally impaired you might be, if you’ve read any of my blogs or if you think you know me at all, it can’t have escaped your notice that I’m a bit of a foodie. By the way according to the OED:

foodie, n.  /ˈfuːdi/

colloq: A person with a particular interest in food; a gourmet.Sometimes distinguished from ‘gourmet’ as implying a broad interest in all aspects of food procurement and preparation.

So that’s me.

By now I’ve already discussed books, languages and karate; well cooking is just as important to me as all of the aforementioned. Wherever I go, whatever my mood, I need a decent kitchen. It isn’t even just about being able to eat what I want when I want, cooking is just therapeutic. A bit like ironing, except after the cooking comes the eating, and other people’s reaction to it, all the aaaahs and mmmmmhs… It is always a pleasure seeing my mam’s face light up when she sees a nice neat pile of freshly  ironed clothes and linen, but it isn’t quite the same thing. Once I lived in CROUS acommodation and all I had was a 10L fridge and 2 hot plates to share with a dozen other people on the same floor. I was miserable.  And incidentally I lost a bit of weight, so maybe it was a blessing in disguise. However, I wouldn’t go back to those days of eating nothing but sandwiches microwave-zapped potatoes and scrambled eggs and dehydrated soup. Nooooo way!

Anyway I’m much happier now and although my kitchen is small-ish, it’s more than enough to be inventive with, and I must confess, I went slightly overboard these past few days, producing all sorts of foodstuffs, but as ever, mostly sweet things. As time goes on I am becoming more and more of a dessert expert. My main problems however are:

-first, picking out a recipe (whenever I offer to be in charge of lunch, I systematically end up spending hours pouring over cookbooks)

-secondly, sticking to it. I never EVER follow a recipe through. There is always something added in or taken out. I reduce the amount of sugar, add cocoa powder, use a different tin, add icing, replace cream with coconut milk… (this actually led me to enter a cooking competition, but I’ll write this another time, shall I? )

In the meantime, here are a few photos of my latest achievements, or “foodporn” as my friend Jan calls it

chocolate mousse

cheesecake

more cheesecake

fresh bread

fresh pasta

a honeycomb rose for mother's day

more more cheesecake

my entry for the cooking competition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

so what do you think, does it look nice?

Posted in Food, Life, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The french farmers’ frolics I missed yesterday

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 30, 2011

Yesterday as you all know was the last saturday of January, and therefore the day of the foire de la Sainte Paule; and while I didn’t go this year, I have seen it many a time in the past and I thought you might be interested to hear about this strange indigenous custom. It is after all a very froggy-french type of thing. So froggy-french in fact, that it gets boring after a few times. I enjoy it the most when I have a foreign person with me to see them stop and stare in amazement. Basically it’s like a giant outdoor market which takes over the small provincial town of Issoire.It used to be purely a livestock market, but these days have gone now, and although you can buy a hen or a rabbit or a cow there, most people don’t.

Because I didn’t go this time, because I am not an organised person and because writer’s block is crippling me today, I think I’ll make an impressionist description of what I remember of previous years, with little metaphorical brushstrokes. It probably is the best way of doing this anyway, because I don’t believe there is any methodical way you can go about describing (or visiting) the Sainte-Paule. It is mayhem, organised chaos. A maelstrom of smells, bright colours, people, and loud noises. And all of this very french, apart from the market stall of the cake-selling Irish lady.

First of all, let me warn you: you will get lost. Issoire isn’t exactly a metropolis but during the foire, the houses and shops disappear completely behind the flapping awnings of the stalls. And there are so many people: most of the rural population from the surrounding area descend from their villages on the hills and plateaux to eat tripe for breakfast. Yes, I know: tripe. For breakfast. yum. The smell of it hangs over the town all day. It’s inescapable, especially if you’re foreign: you have to try it. My dad will treat you. He likes to take a foreigner and drop them in a circle of béret-clad french farmers talking about cows, agricultural machinery and the weather whilst eating tripe and maybe drinking a few glasses of cheap red wine from a buvette.

That would be the frenchest thing to do, but if you’re not so keen on eating a cow’s stomachs, you can just have a wander around. The way it works at the Ste Paule is you stand on the edge of the crowd for an instant take a deep breath and step into the flow. If you’re small enough, I imagine you could just jump and literally let yourself be carried away by river of densely packed people walking the streets. As you move along you can hear vendors advertising their wares, shouting at the top of their voice, and sometimes making a performance of it. “A massive technological advance ladies and gentlemen! The brand new no-tear, no-wear socks! Look at this: I am now going to take this knitting needle and rip through the sock! A foolish thing, you say, Madame. Well just look! And there. Have a look, no hole, no tear! The sock remains undamaged. There is nothing better when you wear boots on a regular basis. I cannot help but notice Monsieur you are wearing boots yourself now! Have you noticed how boots wear out your socks within a couple of weeks? Well, these times are over! With the new no-tear no-wear socks! The fibres, a special blend of…. ” And the same sort of things for knife-sharpeners, vegetable slicers, saucisson, cheeses… Most of the time, if you’re a girl and smile at the vendor, they’ll offer you a sample and call you Mademoiselle, or Madame if they think you look old. At 23 I look young for my age, so I’m still a Mademoiselle, but I dread the day when people start calling me madame. The first person to call me that will die instantly, struck down by “the look”.

But we’re still quite safe I think, last November I had to show proof of age to enter a wine fair. Back to Issoire. So we were letting ourselves be carried around by the compact mass of foire visitors. Whenever you see a stall you like and want to have a closer look at it, you have to squeeze yourself out from between a pram and an elderly fat lady. It can be so difficult you sometimes can just imagine a popping sound when you finally manage to extricate yourself from the crowd, like pulling a corkscrew.

And while you’re standing looking at things, that’s when people start seeing you. You see, for as long as you’re moving, you just melt into the crowd. It’s when you stop you become visible. People see you as they walk by, like they would look at the scenery from the window seat in a train. And sometimes they’ll recognise you. I’m usually identified as being Julie’s daughter (the one who travels). Both my brother and sister hang out a lot in Issoire, so they’ll be with their friends right now, while I perambulate in the streets alone with a million other people. But my mam is a teacher, and as such, everyone knows her. So even if I don’t stay with her, I still get spotted by a few people, who ask me how I am, what I’m doing these days, and the unavoidable: so you’ve come back to France for a few days? and of course: is your mam here, where is she? ridiculous useless question: unless you tie them up to a signpost, there is no way you can find people at the foire. And even if you do know where they’re supposed to be, you can walk past them a dozen times before you see them, unless you know they’ll be holding a dolphin shaped helium balloon on a string and waving a baguette around (or something noticeable to that effect).

I am aware I haven’t mentioned the traditional mimosa, or the tractors and agricultural machinery yet but all this walking around has left me tired, so I’ll just buy a paper bag full of candied nuts, step out of the crowd and away from the tripe smell and go and wait by the car.

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