Monday, October 22, 2018

flied lice

Having regained my sense of taste a day or two after the dinner I'd cooked this past Friday, I ate some of my fried rice as part of the Ducoulombiers' traditional Sunday dinner of leftovers. And you know what? It wasn't half bad. I'd also be interested in trying some of the galbi again, but I'm not sure what's been done with it.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sunday's balade

Given the travails I went through yesterday, I skipped dinner last night, which did me a world of good today, when I went on a nearly four-hour walk.

Like on Saturday, I walked through the marais to La Garette, which is about three miles east of Le Vanneau-Irleau. I tried a slightly different route, at the beginning, that eventually joined up with the bike trail going to Niort. (Dom had told me about this route.) This time around, I walked through and beyond La Garette so as to rack up two hours' walking time one way. But for whatever reason, the walk back went faster, so I ended up walking less than four hours. Not a big deal; I still had 22,000 steps to my name.

This was sort of a prep walk for a rehash of the walk to Niort that I did last week. I'll be walking to Niort again this coming Tuesday, but this time, I'll be largely avoiding the D9 highway in favor of taking the bike trail, which is a bit longer, but which will, I hope, keep me safer from traffic.

Here are some shots from today's walk.

Trail, garden, and canal:

The road goes ever on and on:

So many bovines:

A solitary cow chews its cud:

Two ways to La Garette, it seems:

Quaint house at the end of a bridge:

This is a pun: se lever de bonne heure means "get up early." By changing bonne heure to bonheur (almost the same pronunciation), the meaning changes from "I get up early" to "I awake in a spirit of happiness."

More blue shutters, this time in La Garette:

At this point, I've turned around and walked back to Dominique's place, but instead of going right back in, I've passed La Demeure du Marais and walked out of Le Vanneau-Irleau to rack up some extra steps. There's a huge crucifix right at the edge of the village:

And finally, here's a better shot of Uncle Jesus:

a brief Saturday walk

I don't know why I do this to myself. I made the very poor decision to go take a walk right after lunch. I had wanted to explore, in the daylight, the path that I had walked in near-total darkness this past Tuesday. On that day, my walk through the dead-quiet marais had felt a bit like a trip through a Lovecraftian horror scenario; in full daylight, nothing felt threatening at all, and all was beauty and splendor. Had it not been for my obstreperous intestines, it would have been a perfect stroll.

I set for myself the goal of walking to La Garette, the next village over, a little over an hour away. Barely ten minutes into my walk, I could feel my guts rumbling, though, so I knew I was in for some rough chop. Despite the impending gastric troubles, I did my touristy best to take photos along the way.

Around the thirty-minute mark, I could feel that things were going from bad to worse. I don't know why the Good Lord wired me this way, but whenever I eat a meal, it's not long before the previous meal starts clamoring to be let out. During my recent church tour, I attributed my troubles to still being sick (which I still am), and that might have been partially true, but more fundamentally, I have intestines that move to a very particular rhythm, and if I don't take proper precautions, my guts will do what they can to ruin my day.

With almost forty minutes to go to reach La Garette, my insides were screaming so badly that my brain was making desperate calculations as to where, along the path, I might be able to duck out of sight and take a shit. The fact that I hadn't brought along any tissue paper was becoming less and less important as the screaming of my colon began to take over my entire consciousness. Walking was actually becoming difficult, and my puckered asshole was starting to tremble like a muscle that's been forced to hold a weight for far too long. I was actually worried that I was going to burst in my pants right then and there.

About thirty minutes out from La Garette, I was in full-on "fuck it" mode. I reached a point of the long country road where I saw no one ahead of me and no one behind me, so I ducked over to a spot under some trees (that provided no actual cover should a biker suddenly appear), dropped my pants, and launched the brown version of Regan MacNeil's projectile vomit out my ass. Having no tissue with me, I relied on nearby grass and leaves to help me with my wiping. Miraculously, I avoided getting any shit on my fingers.

As I was finishing up my wiping, I saw to my horror that a biker was tooling toward me. He was still a couple hundred yards off, but I was totally exposed. I quickly yanked my pants back on, then turned away from the approaching biker as I re-buckled my belt and tied my windbreaker (windbreaker! ha!) back around my waist. I knew the biker could have easily seen me from a distance as I was pulling my pants back on, but there was nothing I could do except play it cool as I resumed walking. The moment the biker and I passed each other, I gave a curt nod and the standard on-the-trail "Bonjour"... and just like that, the moment was over. The man either saw me doing my dirty deed, or he didn't. There was nothing I could do about that. Thank God he didn't make a big deal of the incident. He could have done so, and I'd have had that ringing in my ears for the rest of the walk.

The moment was over, but the intestinal crisis wasn't. Another annoying quirk of my guts is that I can't shit a whole load out at once, which is highly, highly inconvenient: it comes out in "chapters." With thirty minutes to go to La Garette, I knew I'd need to find a legitimate toilet into which to blast out Chapter Two of my warm, stinking load.

I could feel the second cataclysm building as I walked, but I made it to La Garette before the urge became as insane as before. I had been hoping that a public toilet would be immediately visible; one wasn't. Instead, the first building I encountered was some sort of community center, inside of which were a bunch of happy French guys in cowboy hats engaged in American-style country line dancing. I saw an open door near the back of the building; this turned out to be a kitchen with a ton of food being laid out and prepped by caterers. One man saw me, and I asked him whether he knew of any public toilets around. His lips tightened as he took in my massive frame, my sweaty shirt, and the bandanna on my head. "Nope. No idea," he said in a clipped tone. I thanked him and limped off, the second load of shit in my ass now pounding against the gates, begging for sweet release. Walking around the grounds a bit, I finally spotted a toilettes publiques. It was the same one I had encountered in the dark last Tuesday: shabby, run-down, and lacking any running water. I went in, anyway.

The public toilet had two cubicles in it, and miracle of miracles, someone had left a small wad of dry toilet tissue in one of the stalls-- just enough to wipe my ass. Cringing at what I was about to do, I sat on the porcelain and let fly into what was essentially a dead toilet. I think I was the first person to shit there in a long time. I sat there for several minutes, letting my intestines convulse and pause, convulse and pause, until I was pretty sure I had emptied myself out enough to be able to turn right around and walk back to Dominique's place. Thanking the gods, I used the fortuitous toilet paper to wipe myself, then I left the nasty toilet behind and successfully walked home without incident.

I've had bad luck with public toilets since arriving in this part of France. When I did the church tour with Maman and Papa, the public WC turned out to be a fucking squat toilet. I didn't know those existed in France, but there it was, and its manner of flushing was horrific: a misaligned PVC pipe belched water all over the filthy floor of the cubicle, carrying flecks of shit everywhere. That cubicle also lacked toilet paper, but luckily, I had brought my own that day. So fuck you, Murphy's Law!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the following pictures, especially now that you understand what they cost me, emotionally and physically.

This first pic is important because it showcases a local motif: blue shutters. I don't know why that's such an in thing here, but many houses in the area sport blue shutters like these:

Someone wrote "Kevin" on the street, so I had to take a picture:

If you look at a map of the marais, you quickly realize that a lot of these watercourses are actually manmade canals:

A more focused look:

These long roads that run parallel to the canals can go on for nearly a kilometer before turning or ending:

Stretching into the distance...

"There are fields, Neo. Endless fields..."

Another long stretch of road:

Giant rolls of hay:

A small herd of cows, plus people in the distance. Lots of walkers were out enjoying the beautiful weather and the lovely scenery. This is definitely walking country, especially as it's mostly flat.

Those bovines and humans:

Here's another shot of the same cows. Notice that one cow has somehow crossed the narrow canal to graze on the other side, putting it in the path of us humans. I don't think that that was supposed to happen.

And here's a mama letting her baby feed. Can you see the calf under there?

At this point, I've left the marais and am back in civilization. Here's a particularly spiffy-looking property:

I liked the way these houses were staggered to match the curve of the street:

This sort of masonry is common throughout this region. Note the patchwork nature of the brickwork:

And here's a closer look:

When I finally made it back to Dom's neighborhood, I stopped by the tiny local grocery, the one that sells "éco" products, and bought myself some bottles of juice, a weird bottle of cola, and two organic cookies that turned out not to be very good. The store's proprietor reminds me a lot of Jodie Foster. I need to take a picture of her before I go back to Korea.

Thus ended my Saturday peregrinations. Coming back was much more pleasant than walking out, and thanks to my ass, the day ended up being way the hell more exciting than it had any right to be.

Saturday lunch

Maman and Papa made an appearance for Saturday lunch at Dominique's house. Maman brought her excellent mousse au chocolat as well as a flan-like crème aux oeufs. The main course, which had been discussed the previous evening, was a wonderful boeuf bourguignon with meat as tender as my galbi was tough. Also on offer was homemade spätzle, which made for a perfect complement to the beef Burgundy.

All of the kids were there, and although lunch was a bit rushed because some of the kids had things to do, I had the chance to enjoy an excellent meal and to continue a discussion of history and culture with Papa, who seems to lean decidedly conservative in his social and political views.

Le Vanneau-Irleau is, I think, a fairly conservative-friendly haven where people can speak openly about, for example, a need for a return to traditional values. In many ways, the village feels like a throwback to another era: it's quiet and picturesque; people greet each other on the streets with big smiles; folks here value hard work, the soil, family, and community. This may be one of the last pockets of traditional French culture around. Papa shook his head and said that the town he used to live in, Carquefou, has gone to the dogs over the past decade or so. Much that was old had been destroyed and refashioned; social disintegration had begun to wear away at the thews holding the town together. It was time to get out, Papa concluded.

Politics or no politics, this was a good, satisfying meal. I could have eaten all the beef myself, but I settled for serving myself two modest platefuls. And I made sure to have one of each type of dessert.

war monument

This sad little monument for fallen local citizens sits across from the Eglise St. Eutrope in Dominique's neighborhood. Even if you can't read French, you can guess the monument's purpose by the dates you can see on it (you may have to enlarge the pic to see the smaller set of dates): 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. Especially among the older generation here, there are still echoes of these two brutal world wars.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

the featured chef

On Friday, despite having a stuffy nose that kept me from smelling and tasting everything all day, I spent the day prepping and cooking both Korean galbi and Korean-style fried rice. Dominique and I had gone shopping for ingredients the previous day, and I ended up too tired to start prep work that same evening, so I went to bed with the intention of waking up early on Friday and putting all the food together.

I was given two Friday tasks by Dominique: (1) let in the guy who was going to come by before noon and restock Dom's supply of wood pellets (granulés de bois) for his heater, and (2) pick up two bags of bed linens from a particular truck that was to come by in the early afternoon. The pellet dude turned out to be friendly; he finished a bit before 1 p.m., which is about when I had wanted to walk over to Maman and Papa's house for lunch. Right as I was leaving, though, the bed-linen guy drove up and handed me two heavy sacks. I don't think he even realized I wasn't French. I went to lunch after that, but I couldn't taste a damn thing because of my cold. It all looked delicious, though.

After those two distractions and a lunch that looked delicious, I was able to return to and concentrate on my cooking. Fried rice takes a hell of a lot of prep work, which goes slower when you've got a cold, and you're using the world's dullest chef's knife. I spent most of the afternoon simply cutting things into tiny cubes for easy frying later on.

It's the start of vacation for several of the Ducoulombier kids now; the dinner table promised to be full, and I had also cavalierly invited Maman and Papa to dinner with us. Was dinner going to be a triumph or a tragedy? I was confident in my marinade, but not in my execution of the beef: Dom and I hadn't been able to find the correct cut of meat despite help from the store's butcher, who promised to read up on galbi cuts.

In the end, I made twice as much fried rice as I should have, and enough meat that the entire family ate maybe five-sixths of the galbi. I found the meat way too tough, but people around me had seconds and thirds, complimenting the Korean sauce and the fact that all these flavors were new and unexpected. Dom reassured me that the meat had been cooked well by French standards, but I did see Papa give up on trying to cut his own meat (along with being 83, he's also suffering from macular degeneration, which makes him bemoan his "handicapped" status), and Maman cutting it for him.

I think the fried rice was a bigger hit: Héloïse demanded the recipe and helped herself to rice several times. I'm just happy it all turned out edible: cooking without being able to smell or taste anything is like flying blind: a truly nightmarish experience. I'm very unhappy with the tough texture of the meat, and I'm not entirely convinced that all the compliments were genuine; the Ducoulombiers are considerate enough to want to avoid hurting my feelings. Then again, I did watch most everyone at table go for seconds and even thirds. Would they do that if they hated the food?

So this was a failure, as far as I'm concerned. I wish I could have been able to taste my own cooking; that would have helped me make a more objective judgment of the evening. In the meantime, I'm thankful to Dom's kids, three of whom helped me finish my prep in various ways: Tim helped pan-fry the meat; Héloïse and Joséphine helped mix and reheat the rice.

Sorry for the lack of pictures. I had my cell phone with me, but I was too busy cooking and stressing to bother to snap any images.

Friday, October 19, 2018

seen on the way to the train station

After our tour of four churches, Maman drove us all into Niort, where she let me and Papa off to wander the downtown area while she went off for an appointment. This is what led me and Papa to wander some open squares and back streets before ending up at major locations like the church of Saint André, the fortress/dungeon, and the park called la Brèche, where I had been two days earlier.

Having gone to the toilet twice before being dropped off in town, I was fine, and Papa and I had ourselves a good, placid walk before we eventually turned toward the train station, where Maman had agreed to pick up Papa. Dominique was scheduled to arrive at the station about twenty minutes later to pick me up so that he and I could go shopping for Korean ingredients for Friday's dinner.

When Papa and I popped out of a back street and came upon la Brèche, we saw a dragon-like sculpture that seemed to have a functional purpose. Later, as we crossed the park, we came upon a little sculpture of a figure that appeared to be from Chinese culture, maybe Confucius or a Taoist sage. I palpated the sculpture, which actually wobbled a bit under my fingers; it had been sloppily attached to the stone with something like silicone sealant. It was also hard to confirm the thing was actually metal; it could have been metal or some sort of heavy plastic, for all I could tell.

the one building Papa liked

Papa would get along well with my buddy Mike because, like Mike, he has a deep sense of history. As we were walking along the streets of Niort, Papa pointed out how the shops and restaurants sported renovated fronts, at the ground level, that didn't at all match the upper floors of the old buildings in which the establishments were housed. He found the modernized fronts to be tacky and tasteless; the whole aesthetic was an enormous disappointment to him. When I said, "Maybe that's the price of modernity," Papa replied that that didn't excuse the architects and designers from trying harder to match the modern storefronts with the style of the old buildings.

Around that time, we stumbled upon a modern bakery whose storefront Papa found pleasing. The front had been made to blend with the rest of the building such that there was no anachronistic clash of designs:

fifth church (Niort, centre ville)

This is the Cure Saint André.