Tuesday, December 12, 2017

WHO BELONGS IN MY POLITICAL PARTY?

My politically conservative friends are convinced that I'm a masked, rock-throwing Antifa at heart. 

Why?

I believe that the gun lobby has perverted common sense when it comes to the reasonable control of firearms in the same way that the fossil fuel industry is trying to pervert our understanding of climate change. And I believe that both lobbies will eventually be understood to have the same wanton disregard for human life as we now know that the tobacco lobby had.

I believe that what goes on of a sexual nature behind closed doors is nobody's business except for the intellectually capable, of age, freely consenting adults in the room. And I believe that if you choose to participate in commerce in the public marketplace, your opinion of that sexual activity is just as irrelevant to your business as is race, religion, or ethnicity.

I believe that men in blue suits, white shirts, and red ties in state capitals do not have the right to tell a woman, her doctor, and anyone else that she chooses to consult what to say and do concerning her healthcare. And I believe that a woman's healthcare includes her reproductive healthcare.

I believe that the right to protest peacefully is a sacred American right. And I believe that carrying a flag onto a playing field for profit in a manner that is specifically forbidden by the US Flag Code is more fundamentally anti-American than taking a knee to protest racial injustice while that flag is being improperly displayed.

I do not believe that corporations are people or that money equals speech. I just don't. 

My politically progressive friends are convinced that I'm a corporatist stooge, a Reagan Republican in disguise

Why?

I believe that a flat tax can be both fair and progressive. And I believe that because I've done the math and can demonstrate that it is so.

I believe that BlackLivesMatter was doomed from the beginning to being labeled exclusive and racist. And I believe that if you have to take time from the struggle to explain to your allies why Black is inclusive of Brown, Red, and Yellow, you've obviously misnamed your movement.

I believe that MeToo has become a witch hunt that has abandoned the principles of due process and the presumption of innocence. And I believe that, although men are undeniably pigs, a witch hunt is morally repugnant regardless of the righteous intentions of the hunters.

I believe that only the privileged have the luxury to talk about privilege. And I believe that, if you took the time to ask, you would learn that White Privilege does not automatically extend to overweight, poor white women with bad teeth and a Southern accent. With props to Lenny Bruce, if Albert Einstein had a Southern accent, they would never have built The Bomb.

I don't believe that if you are White, you are by definition racist. I just don't.

Who belongs in my political party?

You belong in my political party if you believe that two plus two equal four and not some number approximating four. In other words, you belong in my political party if you believe in math and science.

You belong in my political party if you can talk to people with opposing political views without raising your voice or calling names. In other words, you belong in my political party if you have the ability to participate in civil discourse on topics that you hold dear with persons who don't believe as you believe.

You belong in my political party if you understand that the perfect is the enemy of the good. In other words, you belong in my political party if you know that perfection only exists in the mind of God and that you ain't God. 

Eugene Wesley Roddenberry is God.




Thursday, December 7, 2017

HOTEL TRIAS & RESTAURANT, PALAMOS, SPAIN: RESTAURANT REVIEW

During our stop at the Grau wine and liquor store in Palafrugell, Spain, we asked one of the attendants to recommend a place for lunch. He suggested continuing on to the coast, to the town of Palamos, for lunch at the Hotel Trias.

After about a ten minute drive into the heart of Palamos, we parked in a public lot, walked to the Med, and scurried into the Hotel Trias just as it began to shower. The posted menu looked promising but the restaurant didn't open until 1pm, about a half hour after we arrived. I braved the sprinkles to take a few pictures of the promenade that followed the shore line across the street. Broad and tree-lined, I could imagine that, in season, vacationers and holiday-house owners would pack the walkways and the tents set up by the restaurants that faced the water along the way.

We waited in the hotel's small bar until the lights went on in the restaurant across the reception area and chose seating by windows with a view of the harbor. The dining room was quite large, necessary to accommodate the hotel's guests in season, I would guess, but by the end of our meal only about one-quarter full on a wet and chill early December day. It's a comfortable if semi-formal space - white linens, crystal, and a uniformed maitre'd - as opposed to the guests, somewhat more semi than formal.

We were presented with two menus, one that just described the menu of the day, the second with all options. We chose to order from the former. Three choices each for starter, main, and dessert. The ladies chose white beans with clams to start and the rabbit for their main. I had onion soup and veal. The beans were a fine choice for a damp, chill day even if the clams were a bit chewy. The onion soup was not the French version, more broth and less onion, but the egg was a different touch and the cheesy toasts worked well. As the picture below shows, Cathey couldn't wait to cut into her slow-cooked rabbit. Liz found her portion a somewhat bony but both agreed that the preparation was proper. My veal was of a nice size, covered with Parmesan shavings, and was tasty if chewy as well. Such is French beef. Good frites.

For dessert, the girls had what the menu called pudding. Not quite flan. A small, simple sweet. I expected some heat with my bananas in chocolate sauce but both the bananas and the chocolate arrived cold. Not a problem, though. Good Spanish chocolate.

With a bottle of rosé, the bill came to under 38€, less than 13€ apiece. Well worth the freight. We had the impression driving and walking through town that several restaurants were closed for the season. That was fine with us. Hotel Trias met our needs. Nothing too adventurous or creative. No square plates or superfluous squeeze-bottle dollops of sauce. Just good, cheap eats.

You can read my other restaurant reviews, mostly closer to home in the south of France, HERE.









Monday, December 4, 2017

VINS I LICORS GRAU: LARGEST WINE BOUTIQUE IN EUROPE

One of the regular sporting activities that those of us living in the south of France enjoy is the semi-annual Run to Spain. Most everybody takes part. It's not a track meet, though. It's a shopping run. We go because some items are cheaper in Spain, substantially so. (I buy Cathey's favorite perfume there because it sells for less than in the duty-free shops, much less than in the local French parfumerie. But don't tell Cathey that. It'll be our little secret.) Some items simply are not available locally - a reasonable selection of Spanish wines, a bottle of brandy to feed the Christmas cake. And so, off we go Spain.

Just across the border sits La Jonquera, a small Catalonian town whose name is now attached to a massive array of opportunities to spend euros - department stores and specialty shops, garden centers, liquor stores, tobacconists, groceries and butchers. You want it? You can buy it somewhere along the main drag heading south out of the old town.

We usually make our winter run into Spain after resting up from Thanksgiving but before Christmas craziness hits La Jonquera full force. We decided to fly past the outlets first this time and head farther south, just east of Girona, to Palafrugell, a small town on the Costa Brava that has the distinction of being home to the largest wine boutique in Europe, vins i licors Grau.

Grau is family-owned, founded in 1951 by Miquel Grau i Lluís as a tavern and wine cellar delivering bulk wine. Children and grandchildren have joined the business, moving and building and expanding to the massive enterprise that it is today. To give you an idea of the size of the establishment, imagine the biggest liquor store in Texas. It's called Spec's. The flagship store is in Houston. Grau is twice as big.

The feature is the wine. Shelves and shelves and shelves of Spanish wine. Liz was so overwhelmed by the opportunity to purchase fine reds of every stripe that she flat forgot to check out the whites and rosés. A wall of dry sherries backed by a wall of sweet. Champagne and cognac and liqueurs and more. And let's not forget the liquor. Every stupid flavor of vodka that Absolut produces. Fine scotch. Small batch whiskey. A playground for the discriminating purchaser of hooch imported from around the world.

One caution. If you are looking for a run-of-the-mill spirit, that bottle of Torres brandy not for drinking but for spicing up holiday baked goods, the groceries at La Jonquera are actually cheaper. The same goes for lesser bourbons like Four Roses. But Grau can't be beat for its selection of wines and for the broad range of fine sippin' whiskey on the shelves.

The corporate website HERE tells the whole story with better pictures than the ones that I've attached below. To visit their online catalogue - not by any means a complete listing of what is available at the store - click HERE.

To learn more about our adventures in France, from walking tours to observations on life as an expat, click HERE.















Thursday, November 30, 2017

RESTAURANT TEN, UZES: RESTAURANT REVIEW

Ten sits just off the market square in Uzes, one of the prettiest villages in southern France. The newly renovated space is airy and comfortable with tables of sufficient size and sufficiently spaced to provide for a pleasant dining experience. Service was cheerful, fully bilingual, and attentive without being overbearing. The food presented well to both eye and tongue. And the rate of approximately 30€ per person for a party of five included starters, mains, a dessert or two, two bottles of local wine, and coffees at the finish. Reasonable if not cheap eats. 

So why am I hesitant to give an unqualified thumbs up?  It took me a while to figure it out.

Uzes is a quintessentially French village in a quintessentially French region of southern France. There are those who will say that the Languedoc is just as beautiful but less crowded and less expensive than its eastern neighbors. I know. I'm one of those people. But the fact remains that for many people, villages like Uzes are their vision of France. Add to that a market day filled with eye candy and if the atmosphere was any more French we'd all be wearing berets, blue and white striped sailor shirts, and singing La Marseillaise.  

Yet there we were. In southern Francce. In Uzes. On Market Day. Eating Asian fusion? Four of us started with artichokes tempura with a dipping sauce. Four of us chose sticky ribs for the main. Well prepared and inventive artichokes tempura. Sticky ribs falling off the bone and tasty. But Asian fusion. Our other choices? Ceviche, gravlax, or fish and chips were featured. 

No, I'm not one of those Francophiles trying to be more French than the French. And I understand why our friends chose a restaurant serving dishes that aren't available where they live. But my admiration for French cooking is boundless. And I just felt a bit out of place at Ten.

Try Ten for yourself. As I said at the beginning, Ten offers good food at a reasonable price in a pleasant setting served by a congenial staff. Just understand that it's a restaurant in France but it's not a French restaurant.

Read more reviews and takes on French cooking HERE.







Monday, November 27, 2017

UZES MARKET DAY IN PICS

By the time that 11h00 rolled around on a chilly November day, the Uzes market was packed shoulder to shoulder. I cannot imagine what it would be like on a Saturday in July. As many of us who live in the south of France full time have learned, the best time to go anywhere that a tourist/vacationer might spend the day is either before June or after September. In July and August, you take your life in your hands.

That having been said, the Saturday market in Uzes sprawls over a good portion of the town, has its share of both treasures and schlock, and deserves a visit.





















Monday, November 20, 2017

GUNS IN AMERICA

Another month. Another mass shooting. What's going on? What do Americans think about it? How do Americans propose to deal with the situation?

We need more guns, Some People say. More good people with guns will stop more of the bad people with guns. Odd, isn't it, that even with 300,000,000 guns in the US, it seems as though the good people are never around while the bad people are shooting? Wait a minute, Some People say. Good guys shot the bad guy at that Texas church, didn't they? Well, yeah. After the bad guy killed 26, wounded 20 more, and decided to leave the church. OK, Some People say. That means we need more guns in churches. And that gives you a clue about the brand of Christianity espoused by Some People. Beat your swords into AK-47s.

OK, Some People say. How about the latest shooting in California? California has strict gun laws. That didn't stop the shooter. But Some People forget that California's gun laws are only as strict as the Supreme Court allows. And California is bordered by Arizona and Nevada, two of the least restrictive states in the country with no permits, no registration, and no magazine restrictions.

That's really the story of the gun culture in the US. In order to justify their inordinate, almost religious love of firearms, the opponents of proposals to register and/or ban certain types of firearms and to prohibit certain classes of people from ownership are forced to wander farther and farther afield from logic and reason. They will say that the rifles of Revolutionary times were as far advanced from their predecessors as an assault rifle is from 18th Century technology and that the Founders understood this. As if the Founders had anticipated a guy walking into a church with a weapon capable of killing an entire congregation in the time that it would have taken them to fire one bullet and maybe have time to reload fire one more. They will say that the Second Amendment guarantees an absolute right to firearm ownership when every other freedom guaranteed under the Bill of Rights has been limited in one way or another from the beginning and over time as circumstances have changed. 

When it's pointed out that cars are registered, inspected, and insured and their drivers tested and licensed, Some People reply that we don't blame cars when there are fatal accidents, we blame the driver. Why should guns be different? But guns are different. Guns are different because, when used as designed, cars are not deadly weapons. When guns are used as designed, people die. And the more guns that there are, the more that people die. The most recent studies show that for every one percent increase in gun ownership there is a 0.9 percent increase in the rate of deaths by firearm.

At this point, Some People start throwing out statistics of their own, demonstrating that Some People are the Same People who find statistical anomalies to demonstrate that global warming isn't really happening, much less that there is a degree of human liability. Some People insisted that global warming had paused since 1998, an outlier year that was hotter than blazes. At least, Some People were touting a global warming pause until the last four years proved to include three of the hottest ever recorded. Some People apparently do not live in Miami where downtown streets flood every time there's an onshore breeze at high tide. Some People apparently don't live in Houston where there have been twelve catastrophic flooding events in just the past three years.

Some People are like Those People who were tobacco executives and stood in front of Congress and raised their right hands and swore under oath that there was no proof that cigarettes cause cancer. 

It's time that we let Some People know that we're mad as hell and we're not going to take any more of their pious rantings. The Constitution is not a suicide pact. And it certainly wasn't meant to prevent us from considering the safety and well-being of our children who, by the way, are shooting each other with regularity because Some People can't keep their guns out of their children's hands.

My posts of a political nature are collected HERE.




Friday, November 17, 2017

REPLACING A KEYBOARD: YOUTUBE MAY NOT BE YOUR FRIEND

I bought my Acer Aspire 5336-2615 laptop about six years ago when my old tower went on the fritz. It's been my home office, on my desk, main machine ever since. It doesn't travel. Well, it did follow me when I moved across the Atlantic from eastern Pennsylvania to the south of France. But it's not used as a portable. It stays parked on my desk most of the time. I use a tablet when I'm in other parts of the house or on the road. Oh, I do take the Acer downstairs to the router when a direct connection is desirable over my slower WiFi if I have large files to upload. Basically, though, the Acer just sits there.

It's been a workhorse for the simple tasks for which it is used. Word processing. Lots. Surfing the internet. Lots. Streaming video and music. Lots. No gaming but it is the platform on which I prepare a two-hour internet radio program every week. That means stitching together two dozen songs or more with appropriate commentary into a single MP3 file using fairly complicated sound editing software and a USB microphone. So it's a busy little beaver. Doubling RAM to 4 GB helped speed things up. And a 500 GB portable hard drive keeps the Acer's available memory within reason and assures backup in case of implosion. Given an initial price of about $350, I have had no complaints...until recently.

The left-side Shift key stopped working. I googled, poked around a bit, and discovered that uninstalling the keyboard and restarting might work. It did. Once. But using the right-side Shift key was a reasonable if inconvenient workaround. Not reasonable, however, was having to use the number pad when several of the number keys quit working. And not having the ( key available at all was simply unacceptable. The interweb agreed. There were no quick hacks. Time for a new keyboard.

New keyboards for my Acer are cheap as chips, even in France. You have to be careful though. My first search resulted in an AZERTY keyboard with the key tags in French. But QWERTY keyboards with tags in English are readily available.

Then I made a mistake. I watched a YouTube video showing how to replace an Acer keyboard. I thought that it was specific to my Acer. It wasn't. Or maybe it was but the presenter was simply an idiot. Bottom line? It advised pulling the damn machine just about completely apart. Whoa. Not for me. I'm a reasonably handy guy. I can put together complicated IKEA furniture that will function perfectly without leaving any leftover parts on the floor. But I will not gut my computer on my own.

Fortunately, a young lady lives just down the street whose car carries signs announcing her computer repair business. I called. She came. I'll call her Mlle D. Yep, the keyboard needed to be replaced. Up we went on amazon.fr. We made certain that we ordered an English-language QWERTY keyboard for the right model. A few days later, the keyboard having been delivered, I called again. Twenty minutes later, we were sitting together at the kitchen table. I watched as Mlle D opened a toolkit not much bigger than a couple of decks of cards, one on top of the other, filled with tiny tools. She attached a small screwdriver blade to a multi-purpose handle. And then, after taking out the Acer's battery, she proceeded to pry off the keyboard. Seriously. She pried off the keyboard. Carefully. But she pried off the keyboard. Simple as that.

Merde!

After pulling off the keyboard, disconnecting the cable from the motherboard, and attaching the new keyboard's cable without snapping the new keyboard in place, Mlle D reattached the battery to make certain that all was in order. It was. Snap after careful snap and the keyboard was installed. The price? Embarrassingly low. After all, she explained, you're a neighbor and it only took 20 minutes.

Sometimes, even when life throws you a curve, you can still hit a single. 

You can watch a video of the right way to do it HERE. I wish that I'd seen it in the first place. The presenter claims that his website contains a searchable database that includes videos for many popular models.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

LE COMPTOIR NATURE, LE SOMAIL: RESTAURANT REVIEW

If you live in our neck of the woods (Do French woods have necks?), and if you are into vide greniers (Car boot sales? Community yard sales?), then you've been to Le Somail. Twice every year, spring and fall, this quiet little community along the Canal du Midi is overrun with bargain hunters and with sellers both professional and private intent on convincing the assembled masses that their wares are indeed bargains. Tables line both sides of the Canal and the side streets of Le Somail for a couple of kilometers in total. It's a veritable smorgasbord for the discriminating trash hound.

We've had our share of luck. At various times, we've purchased a good-sized ceramic jardiniere to use as an umbrella stand in our entry hall, a collapsible wire egg basket that fits on top of the microwave but under the cabinet above, and there's a brass bell that we're going to use to replace our electronic doohicky as soon as I pull out my tools and figure out how to hang it.

Enter friends from Mexico. Cathey and Anna met at an exercise class at the Y in Allentown. Each having discerned that the other was an atypical Allentonian, they became friends. We became friends. And after retirement  took us to different countries on different continents, we've kept in touch. Anna and husband Hank have even taken to visiting us here in the south of France in the fall around the time of Anna's birthday and mine.

This year, Anna's birthday day fell on a Monday. She asked us to choose a nice restaurant for lunch to celebrate. Monday? And the week of a bank holiday to boot? Every restaurant that I called was either closed or fully booked. I finally tried a restaurant that had been recommended to us but that we had never tried, Le Comptoir Nature in Le Somail. They were available. It seemed dangerous to book a birthday luncheon for a foodie friend at a restaurant that we didn't know. But what else could we do?

So. Monday. Off season. Quiet. The sun shining warm enough to dine outside. And without one of those vide greniers happening, no hustle and no bustle. Did it work for us?

It did indeed!

Check out the website HERE. The setting right beside the Canal provides a postcard view. The menu has something for everyone and is reasonably priced. And how many restaurants do you know that list the sources of their meats and veggies and ice cream and such? Often, both the region from which they come and the name of the producing farm or family are included. Take the duck tasting platter pictured below. The website even names the family that produces the cereals that were fed to the ducks raised 'at liberty' that provided the foie gras and the dried duck breasts. Also on the plate you'll find fritons - duck fat cracklings - creme brulee with foie gras at the bottom, organic lentils, onion confit, and a nicely dressed green salad. Price? 18€. Cathey ordered what amounted to a full-on Frenchified tapas plate with 10 or 11 different meat and veggie tastes - also 18€. 

Don't wait for the next vide grenier. Worth a special trip.

Read all of my restaurant reviews HERE.

Duck Platter

Tasting Platter


Friday, November 3, 2017

VOX BIGERRI, QUARANTE: CONCERT REVIEW



I get it. Not everyone will make tracks on a Friday night to hear a group of Corsican men sing polyphonic music a capella even if the concert is free and takes place in an historic 10th Century abbey. There was a time when I might have passed on it myself. But The Southern Woman That I Married has managed to refine my tastes over the years. Even if certain genres don't touch my soul, at least I can be appreciative.

Take opera, for instance...

But this music does touch my soul. There's something about a minor key lament that strikes a chord. And when presented with confidence, skill, energy, and even joy, I can't help but be carried along with it. It's not music for every day listening, to be sure. You don't bop around the room to this stuff while you're dusting the furniture. But in the right setting - and L'Eglise Sainte-Marie in Quarante is a most proper setting - folks like the five men who comprise Vox Bigerrie can keep an audience of one hundred or more locals spellbound throughout an hour-long concert.

A quick word about polyphony, keeping in mind that I'm no expert. Basically, polyphonic music is music in which two different melodic lines are sung simultaneously. Most of us are used to single melody lines or melody lines enhanced by chords based on that single line. So polyphonic music can have an overly complex, even discordant sound to the modern ear.

Play the video above. If you like what you see and hear, head over to YouTube for more. The videos that Vox Bigerrie post are different, creative and enjoyable. Just as they are different, creative, and enjoyable as a performance group. If you have the opportunity, see and hear them in person. Wonderful stuff. And check out the annual Festival of the Troubadours of which this concert was a part HERE. The series of concerts lasts from June through October and the venues span the entire region.

You can read more about my takes on French life on my blog HERE. Enjoy.


Monday, October 30, 2017

LE BIBENT, TOULOUSE: RESTAURANT REVIEW

How much is too much?

We enjoy our visits to Toulouse. The airport is well connected to local and international destinations making it a frequent port of entry for family and friends coming to visit us in the south of France. When folks have an early flight out, it makes sense to spend the previous night or two in town, sight-seeing and shopping in the center of the pedestrian-friendly Pink City - named for the distinctive color of the stone that has been used to construct many of its buildings.

On a recent visit, we stayed in an Airbnb in the very center of town just a couple of blocks from the  spacious Place du Capitole overlooked by City Hall. So it made sense that, when we asked our host for a good place for dinner in the neighborhood, he recommended Le Bibent. A fine French brasserie, he said. He even offered to make the reservation. We accepted.

After we unpacked, freshened up, and managed to input the insanely long WiFi key into our tablets/phones, we checked out Le Bibent's website HERE. Interesting. We would clearly be spending 50 or more apiece. That's at the top end of our range. We might have chosen differently had we been left to our own devices. But there we were. Why not? Let's see what 50€ buys in Toulouse. 

Because we reserved late in the afternoon for the same night, we had to accept outdoor seating. That's a shame. The Belle Epoque interior decor is truly stunning. VERY French. But the night was pleasantly warm, the seating comfortable, and the constant flow of humanity - at a reasonable distance - provided an engaging floor show. High tech heaters helped to maintain the temperature as the evening progressed and also accounted for the pink tint in the accompanying photos.

Connie and I started with a perfect plate of foie gras. The portion was properly sized and totally satisfying, the bread was toasted just to my taste, and the red fruit confiture delightful. Cathey had cream of artichoke soup. Unimaginable for me. Just right for her. For our mains, I had slices of roasted veal. Connie had slow-roasted pork on a bed of lentils. And Cathey had Coquilles St Jacques. The one phrase that described each dish was Properly Done. The veal was roasted to my order, the reduction both simple and tasty. Both Connie and Cathey praised the freshness and taste of their choices. And there were no odd-shaped plates, no squirts and dots from squeeze bottles. Just well-prepared, simply presented food.

Desserts followed the pattern. Full-on tasty. Not overwhelming. Just right.  Even my profiteroles were understated compared to some. And the little pitcher of chocolate sauce? My, my...

A word about our maitre-d, a young woman of exceptional talent. She knew every order at every table and directed the servers unerringly when the food arrived. She spoke perfect English to the English speakers at a nearby table but, since we spoke to her in French, she replied in kind. That was refreshing. She also recommended our wines and each recommendation was spot on. She is one of the good ones. 

As expected, the tab exceeded 150€. Was that too much? Some might have thought so. For us, though a bit steep, the fact remains that we had an excellent dining experience served by a knowledgeable and professional staff in a congenial setting that included perfectly prepared yet unpretentious, thoroughly French cuisine. Worth the price. Guide Michelin agrees and has given Le Bibent a Bib Gourmand, meaning that the restaurant provides good quality for value.

For more of my restaurant reviews, check HERE. And again, sorry about the quality of the pics.

Cream of Artichoke

Coquilles St Jacques

Pork and Lentils
Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce