Monday, 19 April 2010

Why French Trade Unions are Like a Volcano

Worldwide, transport is in a state of chaos as the result of an unavoidable natural phenomen. People are stranded on the wrong continent. Food supplies may be affected. Injured soldiers cannot be brought home for treatment. Heads of state cannot get to Poland for the President's funeral and Angela Merkel is travelling across Europe by bus.

Spain is offering its airports and railways as an alternative route home for stranded travellers in Asia and the Americas. The Royal Navy is about to start a "Dunkirk - style relief mission" to repatriate Britons from continental Europe. Eurolines is offering extra services and international ferries are filled to capacity.

In France, the SNCF railway workers are on strike.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Paris in the Spring, Paris in the Rain

I've been kept busy over the past couple of weeks with far too much work and a very agreeable number of visitors. The right kind of visitors too: the kind that do the washing up when you're out at work, are happy to go for dinner in a Perfectville creperie when you decide you haven't got the strength to go into Paris, who find interesting things to do that are off the beaten tourist track and who don't insist on going up the Eiffel tower when the queue is about 4 hours long.

The weather has been changing here recently. Sunshine has been mixed with storm clouds and the fresh blossoms on the trees have been beaten by the rain. Much of the beauty of Paris comes from the the effects that the light has on the buildings and last week all of that took place against the backdrop of an ever-changing sky. Here are the best of the pictures:

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Salon des Vins

A couple of weeks ago, I was given a couple of free tickets for the Salon des Vins, which happens twice a year in Paris, once in November and once in March. Hundreds if not thousands of independent producers from all over France bring their wines to an exhibition centre in Paris and thousands of Parisians flock to the stands to taste them. My friend S. and I went with an open mind about what to try, but the first stand we visited was a producer from Languedoc-Roussillon, which is in the south west of the country, and we soon decided that the people from there were by far the friendliest. This might be because Languedoc-Roussillon wines don't have a lot of snob value in France and Parisians tend to like snob value, so these guys had to work that little bit harder to sell their wares. Many of the producers just gave you one glass of whatever you asked to try, but the Languedoc ones led us carefully through their selection, starting with the simplest and cheapest and working up to the most sophisticated and expensive along the way, telling us about the grape varieties and production along the way. I developed a particular taste for wines that had been aged in oak barrels, which gives them a flavour that I never used to like but which now reminds me of the scent of the earth and the woods in autumn. I'm no expert on wine, but it was interesting to try the different kinds in order, because it really made me notice how, while the cheaper, simpler ones taste just as good at first, as you drink more, the flavour becomes boring, whereas with the more sophisticated varieties, you get different flavours as you work your way down the glass.

For anyone in the UK who wants to try it, Fitou is the main Languedoc-Roussillon wine that you can buy there. I also invested in a gorgeous summery white from the Loire valley that tasted completely different to any other white wine I've ever had (and I don't normally like white wine much anyway) and a sparkling rose from Savoie which looks too pink to be real, tastes all sweet and girly, and which I plan to drink on my birthday.

As I say, I'm no expert in wine, but with a tasting session like that a couple of times per year, I reckon I could become one if I stay here long enough!