Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sat Nam

I have had a really stressful week. No really, I have, I'll tell you all about it some time. This evening, then, I was more than ready for my yoga class. It's one of those kundalini classes where you do a bit of exercise, then a bit of relaxation and finally a bit of meditation. It goes without saying that the best bit by far is the relaxation phase when you get to lie down on your mat and pull a blanket over yourself for a full twenty minutes.

I have absolutely no difficulty in falling asleep in public places. I may spend half my nights tossing and turning, reading on the kindle app on my phone, falling asleep again, waking up again, staring at the ceiling, tweeting about staring at the ceiling, but when the yoga teacher puts on that sitar music and turns the lights down low I'm asleep within about five seconds. "Feel your whole body connect with the ground, feel your legs ....." he intones, and I'm in the land of nod before he even gets to our knees. It's a lovely, lovely sleep but it is over all too quickly and then the boring meditation bit begins with uncomfortable mudras and mantras that I just cannot get my head round.

The only problem with the relaxation phase is that I know that I snore. You're shocked, I know —how could a dainty thing like myself possibly snore? However, I am told on very good authority at home that I actually snore quite loudly, perhaps even very loudly. When the relaxation is over, I have a quick shifty to see if anyone on the mats around me is staring, but of course they're all too polite to do that. I suppose I could ask outright if I had been snoring, but what if they said yes and that the racket was actually quite unpleasant and distracting for them? I'd be far too embarrassed to ever go back. No, ignorance is bliss. Sat nam.

The beach at Cap-Ferret taken a couple of weekends ago.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Morocco Part 2.

On the second day that we had the car, we set off a little more nervously than the first day. We decided to drive up the Atlantic coast. P. was a little more wary about driving since he now had experience of being gaily overtaken on the inside, of flocks of sheep being shepherded across dual carriageways and of motorbikes with trailers laden down with enormous piles of grass weaving blindly through the traffic. We would have liked to visit Essaouira because so many people had told us good things about it, however it was just a bit too far. So we made do with Taghazout, a village on a magnificent beach adored by surfers and aging hippies. We stopped the car by the roadside to have a look at the panorama and a guy immediately jumped out of the bushes (that's how it felt anyway) and asked for parking money. We ignored him.

Taghazout

It was a lovely place. We ended up staying for lunch. Z had a pizza, which is what he had for lunch every single day we were in Morocco. It has to be said that the food in the hotel was pretty poor. The things that had been unpopular one evening (fish loaf made with sardines for example) turned up in a slightly different guise the following evening (deep fried slices of fish loaf). The dates were good though, as was the freshly squeezed orange juice. We quickly discovered that if we left wine in our bottle for the following evening, it came back with a good inch or two missing. But what could we do? Accuse the waiters in a Muslim country of drinking our Guerrouane Rouge? We switched to half bottles.

Taghazout

On Thursday we went to the fishing port. A man with the most amazing glasses latched on to us as we were walking in. They were wire-framed and round but the lenses were so thick that you couldn't actually see his eyes. "Je suis pêcheur" he said. The motor on his boat had conveniently broken down which is why he wouldn't mind being our guide. We followed him around the port and the boat-yard and the ice factory listening half-heartedly to his explanations about the fish landed and the boatbuilding materials. The port was really quite an impressive sight - hundreds and hundreds of men swarmed over the quays selling really quite paltry quantities of sardines and anchovies. And all the while I worried again about how much money we should give him. Inevitably he asked for the equivalent of a week's wages, and we gave him a quarter of that so probably far too much. He slipped back onto the crowd of fishermen his glasses glinting in the sun.

Agadir fishing port

Souk-el-Had means the Sunday souk but it's open every day so we went there on Friday. We went expecting the worst, having been warned to negotiate the taxi fare before we went and to ask to be dropped off at a nearby hotel rather than the souk since otherwise we would be delivered straight to the taxi-driver's fake-guide friends. In the end we walked all the way there through some really bustling quartiers. Once inside the souk we sauntered through airy alleys of furniture and pottery and clothes and shoes and spices and fruit and vegetables and herbs and potions and we weren't hassled at all. All in all, it was a much better experience than the souks in either Tunis or Istanbul. Z bought a fake Arsenal shirt and we bartered a little in a light-hearted way.

Souk el Had, Agadir

If you want to see the fantastic view from the casbah which overlooks Agadir, one of the only buildings not destroyed in the earthquake, you'll have to Google it I'm afraid. We never made it up there since it was a bit hazy and we didn't think it would be worth it, and I was a bit anxious about what the difference was between the little orange taxis and the big green taxis and how we would negotiate the price and make sure the taxi waited for us. I had definitely settled into wary tourist mode.

Sunset, Agadir

That night we set the alarm for 2.30 a.m. for our flight back to Toulouse which to everyone's great relief went without a hitch. I don't think that our next holiday will be in Morocco but it was certainly an interesting experience and it's always pleasant to think that you've pulled a fast one on winter by stealing a bit of sun and the whiff of orange blossom. In the end, we're all on the make.

Monday, March 02, 2015

A week in Morocco

This was one of those last-minute holidays. We knew we wanted some winter sun so I looked at all the cheapest last-minute deals possible in places where the temperature was above 25°C. The South of Morocco came out on top for both cheapness and warmth so off the four of us went to Agadir.



We were flying out of Toulouse, Bordeaux being much more expensive because of school holiday dates. We got there in plenty of time for our 1 p.m. flight, grabbed a quick sandwich and went through security. Little did we know that we would still be there twelve hours later and that in all that time, since we had no access to shops or restaurants, we would have ingurgitated no more than the one sandwich, the measly packet of crisps and the tiny bottle of water the airline gave us. (I'm not naming the airline for the moment because I've applied for compensation and I don't want to jeopardise our chances). A combination of snow in Lyon from whence our plane had arrived (late) and some sort of technical hitch with the "flaps" meant that we had to wait for them to bring in a replacement plane from Liège in Belgium. It didn't arrive until almost one in the morning. By this time one couple had left with their tiny baby forfeiting their holiday because they simply didn't have enough formula with them to last through the night (breast is best people); a couple of respectable-looking women had had a fist fight over access to an electrical socket to recharge a mobile phone; another woman had collapsed; and a crowd of crazy passengers were shouting at the police demanding they "do something". Fun times!



We eventually got to our hotel in Agadir at well past 3 a.m. local time, 4 a.m. for out tired and weary body clocks. We were shown to two frankly mediocre rooms looking over a building site, and promptly fell into bed. Just as we were falling off to sleep, the telephone rang, and there was a knocking at the door. The kind night porter had found better rooms for us at the back of the hotel overlooking the pool. So we got up again and trundled through the corridors in our pyjamas, and fell into the beds in our new communicating rooms. By this time it was almost light.


Skip ahead to the next afternoon when E and I went to the hammam with another French family. We were sitting in the steamy heat, covered in black soap when one of the other women opened the door to catch a breath of fresh air only to see the Moroccan woman who had soaped us up rifling through our bags in the ante-chamber. Pandemonium ensued with much shouting and crying and the other French family eventually storming out. We stayed, but it had spoiled our nice relaxing afternoon. The woman was apparently sacked, but not before she'd given us a good scrub down.



After that, there was a little tension in the air. We wanted to get out of Agadir, which to be honest is not the most beautiful city in Morocco. It was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1960 and was rebuilt in a modern, concrete style. P. thought it would be best to go on an organised excursion in a minibus, but I fancy myself as an independent traveller and was all for hiring a car for a couple of days and heading for the hills. I won, of course. But once we got out of town our first stop, Taraudennt, proved to be a little bit too authentic and we spent the early afternoon racing round the town centre looking for sights to see, closely pursued by fake guides and menacing carriage drivers. Times are hard in Morocco and tourists are scarce at this time of year — we were sitting ducks. We saw nothing of note and nowhere that looked inviting enough to eat in.



So off we went to Tiout on roads bordered by argan trees. As we drove into the village we were hailed by a man with two teeth who wanted to be our guide. We gave in and said all right we would have a quick look at the palm grove. Two hours later we staggered back to the car having seen a lot of interesting things but also having been subjected to a lot of veiled questioning about our opinions on Isis and Jews and beards. I had spent the entire visit agonising over how much money we should give him - how much is enough but not too much? In the end he was disappointed but we stuck to our guns, and then of course spent the whole journey back to Agadir in the evening rush hour regretting not having been more generous.



To be continued......

Saturday, January 24, 2015

10 years

Darnation. I missed the ten year anniversary of this blog on 19th January. It would admittedly have been a more momentous occasion if I had been actively blogging since then; as it is it feels more like celebrating my golden wedding anniversary with someone I left years ago.
I did mean to come back in January but blogging for me is all about the wee things and when massive things happen, like the Charlie Hebdo bloodbath and the subsequent terrorist attacks, it all gets a bit too much to deal with in a blog post. What could one say? Nothing that hadn't already been said.
We did speak with our feet of course. I went to a spontaneous rally on the evening of the first attack and the rest of the family marched with 160 000 other Bordeaux folk on the Sunday. I wasn't with them because I'd gone to the truffle festival in Sarlat. Truffles are pungent and earthy and delicious. I especially like them in omelettes. The following week I read an interview with Maryse Wolinski in which she talks about losing her husband, the cartoonist Georges Wolinski. She went to the fridge the day after the shooting and found his very last purchase — a truffle. I wept a little.
Anyway, thanks for sticking around (or at for least keeping the feed in your reader). Ten years eh! How much younger we all were then; how much younger our world seemed.

Photo from January 2005 (Z is now taller than me and E is almost there)

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Goodbye 2014

I'm easing back into this gently.

In 2014 I did lots of things. We finished watching Breaking Bad. Then I watched Girls. We all went to Paris for a week in February and walked for miles. I broke my little toe. I went to Aix-en-Provence in March for a conference. I followed the debate on the Scottish referendum and gave a talk about it in a lycée. I went overboard with tadelakt when we had a bit of work done on the house. I tweeted a bit less than last year. The children turned into teenagers (without E actually being a teen). Z went on a school trip to the USA and we all survived. Then his voice broke. E got an iPhone and she never looked up again. We met my mum in Majorca for spring break. I spent a few days in Cambridgeshire just as the sunshine arrived and it was picture-postcardesque. Then I went to Bergamo for a conference and stayed in a wonderful Airbnb rental that was better than any hotel. I got new glasses and more or less gave up wearing contact lenses. My favourite TV programme was Gogglebox but we still haven't got British TV. I had many delicious lunches and dinners at home and elsewhere with friends and family from near and far. I put almost all the weight I lost in 2010 back on again. I went to a double 50th birthday party in the Dordogne one day and then to Scotland via Limoges and Liverpool the next, then came back to France the following day. I spent a few lovely days by the beach in a friend's house in Arcachon.  As usual, we spent the summer in Scotland and the Dordogne where the weather was similarly mediocre. We celebrated my brother's 50th and I got a new dog-nephew (unrelated events). I made pavlova for the first time and also bread in a cocotte. I co-edited a book. I was really disappointed about the result of the referendum. I watched two series of Rectify. I saw a lot of stunning red skies. I probably spent far too much time on the internet although I didn't blog a single time. I took on new responsibilities at work and that was (still is) rewarding but occasionally stressful. I didn't like the latest Black Keys album as much as the one before. I seemed to listen to Paolo Nutini quite a lot on Spotify. We went to Barcelona for the autumn holiday and I was taken aback by how much I loved the Sagrada Familia. I taught quite a lot and I went to more meetings than ever before. I listened to The Serial podcast. I discovered cauliflower rice and then I went off it. My Facebook identity was stolen for a couple of hours. I organised a conference and it was fun. I continued to post lots of photographs of Bordeaux on Instagram. In November I went to Brussels and it was freezing but already Christmassy. I enjoyed taking lots of photos but let my Flickr account wane. I got a new camera for Christmas. We stayed in France for the festive season and our families came to us. I read a fair number of books, of which more anon.


Tuesday, November 05, 2013

A moment of inattention

Yesterday on the Place de la Victoire at 4.15 pm. The sky threatens more rain. A moment's hesitation: walk home or take the tram? Walk. A few seconds later a scream. A young woman's scream. I turn back. The tram is stopped. A man runs towards it. I gawp from a distance, knowing that something dreadful has happened. The contrast between that knowledge and the sight of passengers streaming from the now-open doors of the tram, swarming across the tracks, already finding alternative ways to their destinations. A few crouch down to look underneath the tram. I start out again for home, eavesdropping on a woman's telephone conversation. "J'ai juste vu ses jambes. Elle était coincée sous le tram." The sound of sirens coming from several directions.
The young woman was killed. How could it have been otherwise?
I'm writing this down here simply because I want to let go of the memory of it.

Monday, March 11, 2013

In Andalucia

I'm in Andalucia for a week with the kids and my mum (long story, don't ask). Mostly we've been eating olive oil with added ingredients. And drinking manzanilla. Here are some things I've seen so far.
Resolutely monolingual guides smoking in the foyer of an historic monument.
My children trying to flee a tiny, harmless dog on an enormous beach
A man with long, dirty white hair sing snatches of flamenco.
A waitress catch up with us ten minutes after we'd left her restaurant to tell us we hadn't paid. We had.
Several cartoon-like baby girls festooned in pale pink flounces.
The brown waves of the Guadalquivir.
Sheep with long, dirty white fleece being herded by a man on a horse-cum-donkey.
These oranges.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Basque escapade

Towards the end of the Christmas holiday, we spent a few days with friends in the Basque Country. The weather was mild and we managed a visit to the Musée Basque in Bayonne, a couple of hikes in the rolling hills around Biriatou and Espelette as well as a quick boat trip into Spain. It's just as lovely a part of the world in winter as in summer. Here's a quick slideshow of some of the pictures I took.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Back and Forward


On the first of January, I walked across the new bridge that spans the Garonne along with the children, their friend and 40 000 other Bordelais. The contrast between the ultra modern vertical lift bridge and the more central Napoleonic "pont de pierre" is striking — the new bridge is unfamiliar, sleek and shiny, the old bridge ancient and honey-coloured. Another nice contrast is provided between the bridge's official name, "le pont Chaban Delmas" for the long-time mayor of Bordeaux, and the name most people seem to be using "le pont Baba" from Bacalan-Bastide, the two quartiers that it links.
     I'm sure I could extract some significance from this ritual crossing: something along the lines of making new connections; the new link between left and right bank and their social make-ups; a city coming together to celebrate the river that runs through it, the passage from one year into the next, the old one so much water under the, er, bridge.  To be honest, however, people were subdued, there was no sense of symbolism or celebration and for most it was manifestly simply pleasurable to be out in the fresh air after such a short night. But then most of weren't actually going anywhere, we were crossing over just to come straight back again.


(This is one of those panorama photos from my iPhone, the bridge isn't really bent in the middle)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year


Bye bye 2012. Fun was had.
I seem to have messed up that photo mosaic since the first two photographs are also the last two. Never mind. I also notice that my favourite photographs are mostly taken during the holidays and at weekends; not so surprising perhaps since the highlights of the year are rarely the humdrum moments spent at work, cooking dinner, folding laundry, catching the tram, looking for lost belongings, shopping. I wish you all a very happy new year of highlights thrown into perspective by lowlights.