Thursday

October 4, 2007

Left the beautiful Vianne this morning and slowly motored down the canal past fabulous ruins and forests with duck accompaniment. Sun filtered through soft poplars. Hardly anyone else on the canals this morning as we manoeuvred through a series of five locks. Crew now very well co-ordinated – shall mention them all in despatches at a later date. Just after midday we arrived at our southernmost port of Nerac – a considerably larger town and another (insert own cliché here) ridiculously beautiful spot. Wandered about the town, found a charcuterie specialising in duck stuff and bought some very interesting looking duck sausages and some more confit, for tomorrow night. We shall all explode imminently. Fantastic (12th Cent) chateau built by (I don’t think he did ALL of the hammering personally) Henri 4th and a Romanesque (ish) church with wonderful windows and the most appalling frescoes. Look like they were painted by a troup of volunteers! There are now suddenly thousands of birds in the trees by the canal. It’s bedtime for them.

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Tuesday night

October 2, 2007

– after dinner on the good ship Mas de Agenais dans la canal at Buzet sur Baise

Potatoes roasted in duck fat (all polyunsaturated, naturellement) from the confit du canard, an extravaganza last night, straight from a tin! Damn, these people know how to put their goodies together. Beautiful, fresh vine ripened tomatoes, lettuce, fresh from some garden nearby and an unspeakably tasty sausage, bought from the supermarche in Agen.

We started the day by working though a series of three canal locks, passing over the highway and another river in the process. Quite apart from the engineering ingenuity, the beauty of it was eye watering. Then mile after mile of glorious quiet waterways, extraordinary old farmhouses with attached barns, most of them in very good nick but not overly concerned with getting the lines too straight – lots of sagging rooves and interesting angles – perfect in their inperfection. Hawks swooping upon the carrion rabbits and field mice – quite a menu below if you’re a hawk around these parts.

The very small town of Buzet sur Baise has a rather strange feel to it. Many of these towns are not quite the rural idyll that we conjure up. In fact, this town has a rather bedraggled, deserted and slightly desperate feel to it. The people do not seem happy – windows shuttered up, closed off, not much happening at all. I think they survive on the income from the tourist season which is now over. Not much of a life if you’re a teenager trying to find an identity or a future. The only option for anyone with some imagination would be to leave town. The charming 65 or 70ish woman running the bar in town however was the perfect model of our clichés. Ah! For some businesses, trade is never a problem in France.

Friday

September 28, 2007

That meal was ridiculously good in a wonderful old hotel, a little scruffy and laid back but wow, were they serious about the food. The best lapin I’ve ever tasted (and I’m mad about the stuff) cooked in prunes, sublime duck with a green pepper sauce, chevre ice cream – that was amazing. Never had anything like that before, fabulous smoked herring, wonderful vegetables and prune everything for dessert, which only Alan and I could manage – one feels a certain responsibility in these circumstances to try ones best! It completely reassured me about French regional cooking which I thought had become mired down in traditional intransigence. No folks, there are naughty creative people down here doing shocking things to food. God bless them. Here’s hoping that our friends in the cardio/thoracic fraternity back in Auckland are sharpening their wits and their tools in anticipation.

Today we get on the canal boat. We went down to the Canal HQ yesterday and gave some rather strident Australians a hand getting tied up and got enough information from them to get fairly excited.

Must go and sort stuff out. A bien tot

Thursday

September 27, 2007

Monparnasse station to organise billets for Sunday to Agen. TGV direct – yahoo! BUT , this means we are leaving Paris which is sooooo difficult. Mind you, I don’t recall any time that I’ve felt “ready” to leave Paris.

Metro to Boubou – Centre Georges Pompidou. An extraordinary exhibition of GONZALEZ work. He, a Catalan artist, from a family of gold and silversmiths. Beautiful and very clever pieces of jewellery and beaten silver work. Then, obviously he met Picasso, Miro et al and began to make sculpture. His drawings, so clever and expressive, a similar feel to Henry Moore, although Moore was working a bit later. What was it that this generation of Catalan artists of the time had apart from their geographical proximity?? There is a gutsiness and toughness that must have been an expression of the political/social climate at the time in northern Spain.

Then Campbell, hereinafter to be known as “the patient” has a rather too intimate experience with a work of art – an installed piece which invites the viewer to enter and explore, and on exiting, he discovers accidentally, a design flaw and cut the top of his head rather dramatically. Blood pouring down the face, paramedics arrive with wheelchair, oxygen and full resucitation equipment! (They’ve obviously had previous experience with American visitors having incidents and suing. They are NOT taking chances). It got to be very funny indeed. How delightful our gallant gallic paramedics were, and didn’t they love having their pictures taken hard at work! Alan P made quite a point of ensuring that the wheelchairs and equipment were well in shot. Would that some of the petty bureaucrats that we encounter from day to day here were as charmingly solicitous!

Then upstairs to the permanent collection. The old one, two, three, Picasso, Matisse and……all the rest of them. Magnificent Soutines, Modiglianis, Braques, Dali, Klee, etc etc. It’s so difficult to leave the gallery where there is so much art that has been so important in ones life. We’ve seen many of them before, but each time, in the flesh they are just so bloody compelling I’d just like to camp down there for a week and take my time working through it all.

The more contemporary section (where the aforementioned bloodletting took place) was a real shot in the arm. I realise that I’ve become so cynical about so much very contemporary art. Just too much try hard superficial, reworked, third hand ideas and statements rarely worth the airspace or headspace – but at this level I feel reassured that it’s still really happening.

……..a little like the food really. So many terrines, cheeses, pastries, vins, ordinaire and extraordinaire, breads – and SO little time.

We are all developing aches and pains from walking virtually all day on concrete – but what can you do. It just has to be done. I’m sure this is part of the explanation for the French paradox. We’ve also all hit the wall of jet lag. Went to bed last night at 9 o’clock!!! What a waste, but we were all too exhausted to wring another drop out of the day.

We are all having a fantastic time

Took the metro to the Place des Voges – an exquisite quadrangular structure of one storied galleries, porticoed all the way around. Once the home of Victor Hugo and other assorted literary luminaries. Lots of smaller dealer galleries and the usual crap coffee. On our way back down to the Café Pont Neuf to meet brother Kim and his girlfriend Diana on their way through to Toulouse we stopped and sat on the fake grass outside the magnificent Hotel de Ville where they have set up a huge screen so that the locals can watch all the rugby games, gratuite. The rugby stuff is everywhere here. Amazing signs and graphics. The French are incredibly imaginative with their advertising and propoganda – lots of humour. They are also crazy about the all blacks, thinking them completely invincible. An extraordinary “brand” here. One of the really prestige Franch clothing labels is Eden Park?

Today we took the TGV to Agen to pick up the canal boat. Basically travelling through half of France in the process –very fast. This is such a big country. Sundays in the countryside are very different from Paris. EVERYTHING is shut down but we did manage to find a restaurant for a meal tonight and methinks I detect a wonderful experience in the offing. Tonight will tell. We shall find out in a couple of hours.