24th February 2013

We're back!  What a roller-coaster.  We've been to Maine, the most northerly of the New England states.  Talk about masochistic - other than skiers, no-one holidays in Maine in the winter. And now we know why.  Blizzards, snow 8 feet thick and lakes so frozen you can (and we did) drive on them. You may have read about blizzard Nemo while we were over there - certainly a backward Omen.  20F there, 20C in Gaillac. But it wasn't just the temperature difference we noticed. The whole culture is different.  Although there are many American things we love, the US devotion to country and constitution is not just nationalistic, but obsessional. The constitution is sacrosanct, including the right to take up arms. No wonder Obama is having such trouble changing the gun law when every household is armed to the teeth. Him indoors noticed a bumper sticker: we reserve the right to arm bears......
Immense relief to be back in Europe. Ancient culture everywhere. A political climate I can actually discuss with others, wonderful gourmet restaurants with serving sizes small enough to taste the food quality instead of being engulfed by it, and a modest, non-aggressive stance on life.  America:  you have a lot of catching up to do to reach the sensibleness of Europe - with age comes wisdom.

3rd February 2013

One of my favourite French stores is LeClerc.  It's huge, pandering to my multifarious, eclectic mind!  Normally the French go out of their way to be as uncompetitive as possible.   But leClerc - why, it's almost American.  Take the car park. Last summer they went to huge expense in fitting special photo-voltaic panels across the huge roof expanse. This is an amazing boon to shoppers in summer: no longer do we have to hit a wall of heat on opening the car door. It's even cool enough to take the dogs. And, during that ridiculously busy Xmas period, they even had yellow-jacketed attendants pointing the way to available spaces.  But, as usual, what's infuriating are the French themselves.  When unloading a trolley-load at the checkout, don't even think of standing at the top end of the trolley.  I learned that to my cost.  The queuing person behind you will start to fill up the belt with his stuff - leaving you with just 6 inches of room to load items one by one!  And, if you're waiting behind a family with small children, it can take ages. First they sit their toddlers the other side of the belt, whilst they chat to the check out girl and slowly complete a cheque, fiddle with id etc.  (French banks charge a monthly fee for cards, so the French often use the cheaper facility of cheques).
It's no good. Must take a leaf out of the late Michael Winner's book:  keep calm dear.
N.B. Need to take a break - so back in 3 weeks. A bientot.