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le pique-nique

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France’s western isles: Ile de Ré

 

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on first arriving in France - driving

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France is not England

Marianne - a French national symbol, with French definitive stamps

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the 6th bridge at Rouen: Pont Gustave Flaubert,
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from Lyon to Switzerland and Italy - motorway aires on the A42 and A40

cathedrale saint-jean-baptiste de lyon

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after the whirlwind, in les landes  

50 years old: Citroën DS

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Grand Palais, Paris

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bastide towns

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country life in France: the poultry fair

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short biography of Pierre (Peter) Abelard

 

picnic area in France - click for larger image

I am writing this in the open air on the 2nd April 2004. I am sitting at a picnic table among dozens of others in a large area. Very close by is an open-air gymnasium with several optional exercise circuits ranging from 600 metres to 1800m, you can even mix the paths for longer jaunts.

fitness circuit map-click for larger image

The area is immediately accessible from a secondary road; the sun is shining through the trees of the largest forest in Europe. An ant just busied across my paper and I blew it on its way. There is a picnic of cheese and bread and a can of fizz with a mug to receive it, all prepared by a friendly yak. There is a slight breeze.

picnicking in france - click for larger image

My foot is burning from where I stood on poison ivy yesterday in a managed peat bog, a small protected ecology. Such places abound.

We are the only people in the rest area, and it is wondrous peaceful.

marker at abelard.org

I shall now tell you more of the details. There are cars on the local roads, but not so close to make a serious distraction. I just saw some movements across the area so I stood on the weathered concrete bench and then on the table – two people with bicycles. I cannot hear them, but I can hear a crow or two.

There are cork oaks and the endless maritime pines of the region. Often in this French world, I will not tell you just where I am. I am not wanting to turn local places into tourist features. There are such areas all over France. You will often see French groups stopped by the roadside at such places complete with meal, and even with their own folding table and chairs, all complete with tablecloths and bottles of wine! All you need is to be sure to have your French bread and cheese and whatever else to hand for a visit that gives you content and comfort.

These relaxation areas are often called aires and are also abundantly provided along the French motorways [autoroutes]. Eventually, I shall build up a catalogue of the motorway aires, in particular the five yak aires.

Ah yes, your bread and cheese. “How can anyone rule a land where there are 200 different cheeses, ” said Charles de Gaulle. In any supermarket you may buy a range of good cheeses that puts a UK supermarket to shame. In fact, even local French supermarkets, nowadays, sell two hundred or more different cheeses. I would not be surprised if the numbers went well above one thousand. There are vache (cow) cheese, brebis (sheep), chèvre (goat) and and even more estoteric breeds such as buffalo and probably yaks too! There are even mixtures in any combination of vache, brebis and chèvre.

Larger supermarkets [hypermarchés] often have well over three hundred different cheeses. In many areas of France, there are dozens or hundreds of small farms in any area that produce their own cheeses, to their own idiosyncratic recipes. The varieties and subtleties of the taste and texture differences are simply amazing. Even these smaller production runs are often available at the supermarkets and at local street markets and fairs. It is normal for the cheese-makers and supermarkets to offer you a small taster prior to purchase and, in my experience, they will always do so if asked.

It is not uncommon for a French child going on an exchange visit to the UK to be on the ’phone within a day or two, bleating that they cannot eat the food available in Britain. But then French children are taught in school, and often at home, to taste food. The fruit is better, the bread is better and similarly for other foods. I told you about the fizz I had at my table (I’m now back in my studio, developing this item for the site). It was orange ‘Fanta’. Before I return to the UK, I stock up with French Fanta. What! You may wonder. Well, I’m a very attentive soul.

I wondered why the stuff in the UK did not taste so well. So I studied the tins. In France, the product has 10% orange, while in the UK it has 5%! In Spain, it has 7%. Many manufacturers will sell you what they can get away with. Fanta is produced by the hugely profitable international Coke corporation. Doubtless, they have heard that the British have no tastebuds and will swallow anything.

You think things tasted better in France? You’d better believe it, it is not holiday tourist imagination! You simply cannot sell mediocre or bad food so easily in France.

 

 


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