Cobblers to maple syrup!

Monday

I can’t remember when I last got a pair of shoes soled or heeled. The development of synthetic materials means that shoe repair is probably not a growth industry. That said, Poitiers has a sprinkling of cordonneries that seem to be doing a reasonable trade. Good luck to them. In his book Uncommon Pursuits, historian Eric Hobsbawm devotes a chapter to shoemakers and menders and, having read it, I have a new-found respect for them

Throughout history, they have had a reputation for being political radicals. George Fox, one of the founders of the Quaker movement, was a shoemaker. Their role as working-class spokesmen and organisers in nineteenth-century England is well documented in studies of the anti-enclosure ‘Swing’ Riots of 1830 and of the Chartist movement. In France in 1789, twenty-eight shoemakers were involved in the Storming of the Bastille, and they were the most prominent group amongst those arrested for opposing the coup d’état of 1851. According to historian Jacques Rougerie, the workers involved in the Paris Commune of 1871 who suffered the highest proportion of deportations were, ‘of course, as always, the shoemakers’.

Monsieur L Guichard, Rue Carnot

There are various theories as to how these craftsmen got their reputation for radicalism, too many to go into in any detail here. The work was, at least to some extent, selected by men not capable of being involved in more conventionally valued physical activities. Small, weak, or physically handicapped boys were habitually put to this trade, and this may have provided an incentive to acquire other kinds of prestige. Shoemakers working together in workshops were among those crafts (which also included tailors and cigar-makers) that developed the institution of the ‘reader’: one of the men taking turns to read newspapers or books out aloud. The shoemaker’s work thus permitted thinking and discussion while working. The journeyman shoe-repairer travelling from village to village would be exposed to the culture and politics of a wider world, and the lightness of his toolkit made it easier than in some other trades to carry books with him. He was self-employed and needed by all. He did not rely on wealthy patrons or clients, so he could express his opinions without the risk of losing his job or his customers. There is much more in Mr Hobsbawm’s book, which is well worth seeking out.

Monsieur P. Mallet, Rue de La Tranchée

Tuesday

One of the joys of living in France is, of course, the food; the wonderful fresh produce available in the markets, the wine, the wide range of restaurants. There are, however, some odd little quirks in the French food world. I still can’t get my head round the fact that you can buy tinned Brussels sprouts here. Tripe is regarded as a luxury, and as for the ingredients (and smell) of andouillette sausages … According to Wikipedia, an andouillette has ‘a strong, distinctive odour related to its intestinal origins and components’, which is a diplomatic way of saying they smell of … er … faeces. ‘Although sometimes repellent to the uninitiated, this aspect of andouillette is prized by its devotees.’ They are welcome to them.

It’s artisanal, innit?

Here in Poitiers, the latest gastronomic quirk is the opening of Chien Chaud, an ‘artisanal hot doguerie’ on Rue Carnot. They offer a wide variety of hot dogs, including the Classic New York (onions, mustard, and ketchup), El Gringo (peppers, guacamole, and jalapenos), and Don Corleone (sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, and parmesan crisps). They come in at about €7 each, and you can have nachos or coleslaw with them. Purely in the interests of research, Madame and I have tried them (a Don Corleone for me and a Classic for her). The verdict: very tasty, but maybe not quite enough for a meal.

Do you want relish with that?

Wednesday

A strange dream last night. I’m in a pub in Wandsworth with Sir Anthony Hopkins and Steve McQueen. I’d been doing some sort of clerical job for Sir Anthony and he’d suggested a drink when we’d finished. Over pints of bitter, he is telling a funny story about how he once managed to lose his ticket while travelling on the Isle of Wight ferry. As is the way with dreams, we suddenly move on. It’s now late evening, and we are walking in Fulham, looking for another pub. Sir Anthony abruptly decides that he wants to go home. This turns out be a flat nearby that he’s renting from my aunt. He says goodbye and leaves me and Steve McQueen standing in Fulham Palace Road. At this point I wake up.

Later this morning, I remembered reading an article in yesterday’s Times about Sir Anthony Hopkins (he’s just celebrated his 83rd birthday), which probably accounts for his presence in the dream. However, I haven’t a clue as to what Steve McQueen was doing there. He didn’t say a single word throughout the whole thing. Mind you, he always struck me as a bit of a miserable sod.

Thursday

Do you want syrup with that?

Another strange new food outlet has opened: a Canadian shop in the Cordeliers shopping mall. It sells sirop d’érable (maple syrup), which is fair enough; the maple leaf is, after all, Canada’s national symbol. It also sells a variety of confectionery, along with Canadian rum, brandy, and whisky, nearly all which are steeped in, or infused with, sodding maple syrup. It reminds me of the Two Ronnies sketch about the restaurant that only sells rook. They even sell tins of baked beans in the stuff. (Again, for research purposes, I have bought one of these.) Our neighbour Natalie tells us that the Canadian shop is a boutique éphémère (sounds so much classier than ‘pop-up shop’, doesn’t it?)

Friday

Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the new Covid-related measures at a press conference last night. The ban on people travelling from the UK will remain in place until further notice to minimise spreading the variant britannique. Bars, restaurants, and cafés will remain closed until at least mid-February. Eight additional departments (mainly located in the east of the country) have had their curfew brought forward to 18:00. For the rest of us, the existing 20:00 curfew will be maintained, and reviewed on January 20. According to the Prime Minister, ‘the health situation has become more fragile in the past few weeks … I cannot rule out that we will have to take additional national measures in the coming days if needed.’

Meanwhile in the UK, the predicted end-point is slowly but steadily being moved on. On Monday, in his press conference confirming the lockdown, Boris Johnson spoke of February. By Wednesday, this had become April. I’m now more or less resigned to it being June or July before we will be able to visit the UK.

***

Things I’ve learnt this week:

The national anthem of Bangladesh includes the lines: ‘The fragrance from your mango groves / Makes me wild with joy.’

Kummerspeck (‘grief bacon’) is German for the weight put on from eating too much when feeling sorry for yourself.

The French for a walkie-talkie is un talkie-walkie.

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