A city walk and galette des rois

Sunday. Out for a “round Poitiers walk” organised by a local cycling club Les Cyclotouristes Poitevins (worth joining, if only for their snazzy retro cycling caps). This New Year tradition has now been going for twenty-two years; about 3,000 people took part last year. You can do a variety of distances from 8 k to 17 k. Being wimpish we did the shortest route, but to be fair we also walked 4 k travelling to and from the start-point in the Parc des Expositions. It’s good fun and a great way for us to see parts of the city we haven’t yet visited. We were promised snacks at the halfway stage, which usual means a bottle of water and a cereal bar, but at Place Notre Dame we were greeted with mulled wine, rillette baguettes, goat’s cheese and chocolate. At the finish we ‘warmed down’ with a chilled glass of Chenin blanc at the oyster stand. Chapeau, Cyclotouristes! That’s my idea of an exercise regime.

A video clip of the walk from La Nouvelle République has unaccountably ignored me and Madame S.

Monday.

Poitiers galettes
A Parisian galette

Feast of the Epiphany. Like almost everyone else, we bought our galette des rois (kings’ cake) from the boulangerie. These are puff pastry cakes filled with frangipane and usually topped with a golden paper crown – eaten to mark the end of the festive season. They are much nicer than I had expected. A lucky person will find la fève, a tiny charm, buried inside one of the slices (a bit like the coin in a Christmas pudding). Being a hypochondriac, I had visions of choking to death on this (mourner at funeral: ‘It’s how he would have wanted to go – stuffing his face with cake’), but Madame S was the lucky recipient of a small plastic crown. 

The galette des rois is a very old tradition with its origins in the Roman Saturnalia. There was a brief period during the French Revolution when the idea of a kings’ cake, and indeed the feast of the Epiphany, became a little sensitive. The Convention tried to ban it, but good sense prevailed and soon, on the quickly renamed ‘Feast of the Good Neighbour’, the sans-culottes were happily munching their galettes de l’Égalité.

In the pics above, the one on the left is from Émile’s here, in rue Carnot. In Paris, of course, they do things differently. The one on the right is of Richard Legay, the patron of Legay Choc, the boulangerie in the Marais famous for its provocative patisseries.

Tuesday. In the Café des Arts for a coffee this morning. Marie, one of the serveurs, is complaining to our friend Maryse that she does not see enough of her boyfriend because of the irregular hours he works at the boulangerie.

Me, in an unexpectedly jocular mood: ‘It’s like that Joy Division song, ‘Loaves Will Tear Us Apart’.

Madame S: a sigh, a sniff, silence.

***

‘Sir Jasper Finch-Farrowmere?’ said Wilfred. 
‘ffinch-ffarrowmere,’ corrected the visitor, his sensitive ear detecting the capitals.

P.G. Wodehouse Meet Mr Mulliner (1927)

Wednesday. Today is the start of les soldes, the sales, which in France are regulated by the state. This year the winter sales period is from January 8th to February 4th, and the summer one runs from June 24th to July 21st. There are strict rules about what can be classed as sales items and how they can be advertised, and these restrictions apply to online retailers as well as shops. I vaguely approve of these attempts to keep everyone honest, but it’s interesting to notice cracks appearing in the system, with the government trying to boost the economy by allowing stores to have promotions or soldes exceptionnels.

***

‘Surely: the adverb of a man without an argument.’

Edward St Aubyn, Bad News

Thursday. We have a decent choice of cinemas in Poitiers. There is a CGR (Circuit Georges-Raymond), which shows all the mainstream stuff. It has eight screens, the smallest of which isn’t much bigger than our telly. Then there are two arthouse places, Le TAP and Cinéma Le Dietrich. Le TAP is the cinematic element of the arts complex Le Théâtre Auditorium de Poitiers. This shares some of the CGR screens and shows a good range of recent independent films from all over the world. Cinéma Le Dietrich is a lovely old fleapit in the grounds of Poitiers University. They tend to have seasons of films, and two recent ones have been on British ‘kitchen-sink’ films of the 60s and American B-films – both excellent.

Today we went to the CGR. We’d planned to see L’Art du Mensonge (The Good Liar) with Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen, but we’d got the times wrong and settled for Les Filles du Docteur March (Little Women). It’s well acted and visually attractive, but I found it a saccharine affair. Things look up briefly when one of the Little Women crashes through the ice while skating on a pond, but this is only so that she can be rescued by her older sister, who at that moment realises how selfish she has been to have fought with her previously and vows that from that moment on she will etc. etc. In the end they all marry and live happily ever after, apart from the musical prodigy, who naturally dies of consumption or something.

I have been asked told, in an unusually forthright manner, to state that the above is my own personal view of the film and that it in no way represents that of the household as a whole.

Friday. Darts is for wimps … a recent article in La Nouvelle République announced the opening, by former blacksmith Stéphane Potdevin, of L’Hachez-Vous, an axe-throwing centre here in Poitiers. Apparently there are already branches in Nantes and Lyon. According to the owner, ‘it is an activity that allows you to let off steam, there is no danger, everything is very safe’. There are three sorts of axe available, and a loyalty card scheme allows you to progress from being a Viking to a Log and then a Zombie Hunter. According to Stéphane, he has had bookings from companies who see the activity as a potential team-building exercise (make up your own jokes about being for the chop, reducing the headcount, etc.) Here’s a clip of the owner demonstrating his skill. Warm, inviting-looking place, isn’t it?

Saturday.

Worth reading. A very good piece from the Scottish Review on the commercialisation of Edinburgh. It reminded me of Johnson’s proposed ‘Garden Bridge’ for London, which would have been privately owned.

For cricket fans, there’s a nice piece in the Guardian on Sydney Barnes (1873–1967). Apparently he had ‘hands the size of frying pans’ and, after the 1911/12 Ashes series, The Times reported that ‘Australian mothers frighten children with the name of Sydney Barnes’.

***

The problem of keeping a sense of perspective in life …

On the one hand:

‘… birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.’ Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot.

On the other:

‘Trousers should shiver on the shoe but not break.’ Advice to Arnold Bennett from his tailor.