Thursday, April 27, 2017

ELECTION STUPIDITY CROSSES THE ATLANTIC

I tried for something light. Satire or sarcasm. I just couldn't. First the Americans. Then the French. Same song, second verse.

Trump was normalized by a media fascinated by personality. He wasn't dangerous. Oh, no. He wasn't a threat to orderly governance. Oh, no. He was at worse a fool, concerned with image and ratings. An almost lovable fool. But dangerous? Oh, no. Anyway, he'll never get elected

Clinton was not a valid alternative, they said. A tool of Wall Street. An opportunist. The candidate of the establishment. Just as bad as Trump. Forget her early work with migrants, knocking on doors for McGovern, her voter registration drives, her work for women's rights both at home and abroad. You just can't trust her. I read it on Facebook.

A pox on both their houses.

Americans are just beginning to see the result of their naivete. Let's look at two horrible examples.

America first? That's what Trump said. Then MOAB in Afghanistan, troops on the ground in Syria and Somalia. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. When has an Anglo-European intervention in the Middle East ever led to the desired result? Hundreds of years of history tell us that the answer to that question is NEVER. But somehow, this time will be different?

We are told that Trump's tax cuts will be paid for through economic growth. I repeat, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Not since Kennedy's time has a tax cut served as a significant stimulant. Of course, in those days the top individual rate was 91% and the top corporate rate 52%. There was room to provide stimulus. But both the Reagan and the GWB tax cuts resulted in huge deficits and eventually recession. Really, we need to try riding that old horse again?

You'd think that the example was there for all to see. But nooooooo......

Le Pen is smart, charismatic, good looking. Not her father. She isn't dangerous. Oh, no. She isn't a threat to orderly governance. Oh, no. She is at worse simply a socially conservative rabble rouser with Daddy issues trying to get attention. But dangerous? Oh, no. Anyway, she'll never get elected.

And who the heck is this Macron kid? A banker? Married to his teacher? Never held elective office? He is just not a valid alternative. A tool of the Rothchilds. An opportunist. The candidate of the establishment.

A pox on both their houses.

Insanity is doing the same thing...

Thursday, April 20, 2017

APRIL IN OCCITANIE - BAH! HUMBUG!

It's April in Occitanie.The sun is shining. The birds are singing. The days are warm, but not too warm. The nights are cool and just right for sleeping. The vines are bursting with every tone of green in Nature's palette. Renewal is in the air.

If the above sounds like the lead paragraph of a travel brochure, it should. Because every single one of you who has moved here or who vacations here has offered similar sentiments on a postcard to friends back home or on a Facebook post or in a phone conversation with those poor souls stuck in the final gasps of a New England or North Country winter.

Shame on you. Why not tell the truth instead? I'm here to help. The following are five reasons that those folks stuck back home should be thankful that they're there and you're here.

Knees and Toes: As soon as the weather warms past freezing, northern European men visiting Occitanie villages and towns take the opportunity to show off knees and toes that they've kept hidden for months, kept hidden for good reason. There is nothing quite so off-putting to the visual cortex as a pair of knobby knees as white and lumpy as feta. And no prune is quite as wrinkled as ten sandal-clad toes newly liberated but not yet properly trimmed for public viewing.

The Flight of the Parking Spaces: At about the same time that children in Occitanie go on summer break, so do the parking spaces in their villages. I don't know where those parking spaces go on holiday. Perhaps the aforementioned New England or North Country. But wherever it is that they go, they won't be returning for three or four months at least. And so we circle and circle, eventually parking around the corner and down the block from our usual space, pushing an unsuspecting neighbor out to the very edge of town. Cascade effect.

Camper Vans, Hikers & Bicyclists: Discover the excitement of coming upon a clutch of bicyclists while rounding a blind curve, a pack of hikers in the carriageway just as you top the crest of a hill. This is precisely what Occitanie's narrow, two-lane winding roads were not designed for. And don't forget the ubiquitous slow-moving,  juice-spilling tractors in the fall. In fact, the only time that one can count on the twisting, turning road ahead being clear of pokey traffic is in the winter...when there's no particular place that you want to go anyway.

Grocery Lines:Who in their right mind loads a grocery store shopping cart with twelve bottles of cheap wine, twenty-four bottles of water, thirty-six bottles of beer, forty-eight frozen canapes, four bananas, three rotisserie chickens, two heads of lettuce (two salades for the already initiated), and a tub of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia? Could it be the same guy with the knobby knees whose camper van took up two spaces parked in the back of the store lot overnight? And when do you think that he'll remember that he needs to weigh those bananas in the produce department before he gets to the cashier?

Restaurant Reservations: In February, French restaurateurs are happy to see you. They're closed for supper on Sunday, are closed Monday,and Tuesday, and they don't serve lunch on Wednesday. But when they're open, they appreciate your business. Then comes tourist season. All bets are off. That table by the garden that was yours on Saturday night all winter long whether or not you remembered to call for a reservation? It's booked through September. And you wouldn't want to sit there anyway. It's right next to where the jazz combo sets up. Try again next winter.

Snarky? You bet. But underneath this crusty exterior beats a heart that's...crusty.  Deal with it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

AU LAVOIR, COLOMBIERS - RESTAURANT REVIEW

We live in a town that doesn't do very much to encourage growth or tourism. The streets are rough and bumpy, the tinted glass has been broken out of the street light nearest our house since we moved in three years ago, and the fountain in the square was activated this week for the first time since we moved here three years ago. Oddly enough, many of us like it that way. Quarante is a quiet little village, not on a main road to anywhere, but with a fine baker, two excellent butchers, and a bar that serves edible if not exciting food. We could use an ATM (cash point, money wall...) and a gas (petrol) station but otherwise, most of us are happy that Quarante is a backwater.

Colombiers, on the other hand, seems determined to do everything possible to turn itself into a crowded, overdeveloped, cash hungry example of all that folks like us are looking to avoid when we move to the rural south of France. Ugly apartment blocks? Check. Newly constructed condos with a 'view', meaning you can see a tiny slice of the Canal du Midi from the top floors? Check. And detours lasting months...years...to accommodate construction? Check. I was pleased, therefore, to learn that the restaurant to which a friend invited us in Colombiers was not in town center but along the undeveloped section of the Canal just over the little bridge on the road from Montady.

Au Lavoir occupies a pleasant space. There are a few parking spaces for early arrivals in the courtyard and a few outside tables for when the weather warms. Our party of four were greeted inside by servers who took our coats and led us to the table where three of our friends were already seated. Nice room. Nice table.

And then things started to go downhill.

A small tray of amuse-bouches sat mid table, a cup of lucques (olives) and a little bowl of fish dip with a few chips of toast - enough for three, not for seven, and never replenished to fit the size of the party. Service was slow, positively snail-paced at some points in the meal, and for the most part the food was unremarkable. One could almost excuse the pace of service. We dined on a Saturday night - a night that we usually avoid. And our table mates informed us that a second dining room had just been opened to handle the expected crowds as the tourist season began to liven up. So, growing pains. But let's talk about the food.   

The entire table began with foie-gras, a nicely seared slice snuggled between columns of pineapple and topped with a bit of greens. Foie-gras is easy if you buy well and this was good foie-gras. I chose the lamb for my main, Cathey the sole. Both were acceptable if unremarkable. My simple, slow-cooked shank with a bit of reduction was accompanied by what appeared to be pureed fava, the most inventive bit of the evening. The best that can be said for the lamb is that the chef didn't screw it up. Same goes for Cathey's sole with a pistachio crust. Nice piece of fish properly cooked. Nothing more

Others at the table ordered a veal dish and a beef dish and claimed satisfaction. A lobster tail was sent back to be heated.

For dessert, I had the molten chocolate cake. Again, done properly but without any originality. A friend's plate of little pears looked interesting. And a little digestif at the end was cute, a bit of coconut cream with chipped chocolate and a tiny bite of a sweet bread.

The table shared still and gassed water, a bottle of local rose, a bottle of local red, and a demi of viognier. The tab came to 45 euros per person.

For that price, one expects attentive service and thoughtful, inventive renderings. That's too much for ordinary fare.









Friday, March 31, 2017

HALLEGRIA IN LES HALLES, BEZIERS: RESTAURANT REVIEW

Years ago when we first visited, Beziers' covered market was a disappointment. They seem to have spent some time in the interim, though, upgrading the quality of the merchants on the inside and there's substantial construction taking place around the exterior to facilitate traffic circulation. I don't think that the end result will rival Les Halles in Narbonne but I'm glad for the improvements. When we were in Beziers for a morning appointment and afternoon shopping recently, Les Halles was along the way. We decided to see what sort of lunch we could find. We found Hallegria. We were not disappointed.

At noon the market was winding down and Hallegria was almost deserted. We needn't have worried. By the time that we finished, a lively crowd had gathered. It turns out that Hallegria has a dedicated entrance from the outside and is therefore not totally dependent on Les Halles traffic and hours. The menu on a large, fold-up chalk board was wheeled over and was quite comprehensive. But we all settled for the formula of the day. Start and main or main and dessert for 14.50 euros, all three for 17.50 euros. The start was rillette of saumon fume, two scoops of shredded smoked salmon held together with creme fraiche and topped by lemon wedges. A small side of greens with a pleasant balsamic dressing accompanied the rillette perfectly. Three grilled lamb chops provided the centerpiece of a main plate that included a mound of creamy mashed potatoes, sauteed trumpets, and a taste of ratatouille. Fine French lamb properly grilled. For dessert, a boule of vanilla ice cream between bits of pastry with red fruit and dollops of chantilly. Very refreshing. Our water bottle was kept full and cold. There was plenty of fresh, grainy, crusty bread. And we finished off a bottle of nice rose.

Service was attentive without being intrusive. Food came in an orderly, unhurried fashion. And although three of our party of four only ordered two of the three courses, we all left full and satisfied. 77 euros total, a bit more than a three-course featuring steak/frites and jug wine but of superior quality. Well worth the price.

Recommended.

PS: While Hallegria doesn't have the feel of a sports bar, there were two televisions in sight of our table. They were showing Moto GP. As a motorhead, I found that an added bonus. You might not.



Friday, March 10, 2017

CAFE DES ARTS, BEZIERS - QUICK TAKE RESTAURANT REVIEW

It had been a busy morning. We were tired. We had to wait to do our last little bit of business in central Beziers until after lunch. So we found the Cafe des Arts just off the Allee Paul Piquet and settled in for a quick bite.

Primitive oil paintings of clowns? Really?

The waiter touted the special - a mixed salad, beef bourguignon, and dessert. Not feeling quite that hungry, we ordered off the slate. Two of us went for the bavette, two for confit de canard. French beef is French beef. If you know what to expect, you won't be disappointed. The two who ordered the bavette knew what to expect and were not disappointed. The confit was a proper joint, properly prepared. The frites were fresh, not reconstituted. The bread was grainy and crusty. Service was attentive without being intrusive. And the pink en pichet was quaffable. With two coffees at the finish, 54 euros and change.

As we left, we noticed some nicely presented plates on other tables. The pizza looked interesting and the salad well constructed. If we'd been less tired and more interested in dining, we might have been a bit more adventurous. It's hard to say if we'll return. There are so many choices in the area. But they took care of our hunger and didn't charge too much, so we have no complaints.

Worth a visit. 


Monday, February 27, 2017

LENOVO TAB 3 710F ESSENTIAL (7" Tablet): PRODUCT REVIEW

I don't normally do product reviews. You see, I'm not the typical American consumer. I live quite simply. I wring the life out of everything that I buy and only replace when I can't repair. On top of that, I'm quite the dinosaur when it comes to electronics. That's not to say that I'm not adept. I'd call myself a moderately proficient user. Before I retired, I was the in-house IT first call at my agency. When a co-worker had a problem with their desktop, they called me in and I was the one who decided if more professional (and costly) assistance was required. 80% of the time, I could find the problem and get things up and running again. And I could do more than turn it off and turn it on again.

But I don't own a smart phone. Being connected everywhere, all of the time, is not my idea of a peaceful retirement. I'm not a gamer...not even the simple Facebook stuff. And I don't stream videos from my tablet except for the occasional bits and pieces that come up on news and sports sites. When I want to watch a movie or binge Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I hook my laptop up to my TV.

I do make significant use of my tablet, though. In the morning with my coffee, I check my email, cruise Flipboard, and scroll through the headlines on Yahoo Sports! I respond to any comments on  my Facebook page or my blog. When I go to a doctor's office or the vet or accompany The Southern Woman That I Married shopping, I bring my tablet and read from my Kindle library. And, of course, I take pictures. Seldom selfies. I know what I look like. But it is nice to have a camera handy in the south of France.

Don't worry. I'm getting to it.

My trusty Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 died recently. Yes, I'm an Android guy. And I decided to remain an Android guy. My wife's iPad is nice enough but I just don't think that it's worth the money. She'd still be using her Nexus 7 if our niece hadn't gifted her the iPad. I don't find the iPad to be intuitive to operate and I do find it to be as buggy as any other operating system if it decides to be. So when my Samsung died, I went up on the tech sites that published reviews, cruised Youtube box openings, and read buyer reviews on Amazon and elsewhere.

The object of the exercise? A simple, cost-effective internet cruiser for the purposes outlined above.

The result of my research? The Lenovo Tab 3 710F Essential. About two months ago, it was available on Amazon (.fr) for 69,99 euros plus 12,50 for a good cover with magnetic closure.

What do you get for pennies compared to the big names in tablets? In my view, a surprisingly useful device. Internet browsing is quick and efficient. 1 GB RAM and the quad core processor seem to be quite enough. I've gathered all of my email accounts into the Gmail app and never miss a missive. Flipboard loads and flips properly as do the pages of my Kindle books. The reviews give the tablet's display resolution poor marks but I find graphics crisp and clean enough. Bluetooth streaming from TuneIn to my stereo works as it should. And whether or not the cleaning program that I use regularly is helpful, after two months of several hours of daily usage I can detect no slowing.

And don't forget, although Lenovo is owned by the Chinese, it is IBMs former personal computer manufacturer, it partners with NEC to provide personal computers for the Japanese market, and is the world's most prolific unit vendor of personal computers. 

There are flaws. At 69,99 you would expect there to be. It's plastic. Well put together but plastic all the same. You really need a good case to protect your investment, minimal as it is. The volume and on/off bars are not particularly well placed but are not inaccessible. The camera isn't very good and won't save directly to a micro SD card should you choose to install one to save space on your 8 GB hard disk. I did. I solved the problem by deleting the camera app and downloading one that had the features that I wanted. I carry a camera most of the time anyway. But that's about it as far as flaws are concerned...for me, anyway. In my estimation, the Lenovo works as well as my Galaxy Tab 2 did when it was new and the Lenovo costs about one-third as much. What's not to like?

Recommended.