Sunday, October 21, 2018

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.

wandering the (back) streets of Niort

downtown Niort: City Hall and fortress

fourth church