Being a good Communist, pt.2   Leave a comment

First you have to be registered.


Blablablah magazine is like that older sister : to us, lurking in the wild hills and wet valleys of the Aude she seems strident, successful and demanding. She only lives a few streets away. . . in a permanently sunny and prosperous departement  that we couldn’t afford at the time, and haven’t the energy to keep up with now. But big sistas are good for a few things, and getting prodded into registering is certainly one of them. Bullying Martyn Turner into doing a cartoon is another. That’s your Big Sister pointing at you.


So that’s me told.

We know what we’ve got to do. Register. But don’t point out the glaring typo. It’s one thing to upset the entire French electoral system by voting in a Dutch or British mayor (it has happened) – it’s another thing entirely to snipe at your nearest & dearest.


Posted December 15, 2007 by Richard Williams in Uncategorized

La Liste, or How to be a Good Communist   Leave a comment

France : 36 565 communes
Allemagne : 14 727 communes
Italie : 8 070 communes
Espagne : 8 027 communes
Gde-Bretagne : 522 communes

Il y a 31 927 villages de moins de 2 000 habitants en France. Ils rassemblent environ 15 millions d’habitants. ( 25 % de la population ).

Très petits villages………………….. 3 911 ( 0 à 99 hab. )

Petits villages………………………. 17 124 ( 100 à 499 hab. )

Villages moyens…………………….. 6 759 ( 500 à 999 hab. )

Gros villages…………………………. 4 133 ( 1000 à 1999 hab. )

The municipal elections are approaching – next March every commune in France will be asked to vote for its Mayor for the next 6-year term. Political machinations are afoot. The first salvoe in The Battle for Moux was launched this week in the local paper :-

la liste

We invited Charles & Isabelle round for supper the other night, to get an update on the state-of-readiness of the New Opposition – of which Charles is l’eminence grise. He is well aware that this is, to outsiders, merely a storm in a teacup – our village containing just 500 souls – but it is his teacup and he is about to stir it up. He has also been made aware – through contact with a German who has settled near here – that France is ridiculed elsewhere in Europe for having so many communes : that it makes modern-day governance too smale-scale, too diverse, too cumbersome. And that it puts too much local power in one person’s hands. Our village has had the same gang running it for 12 years – they have grown accustomed to their places at the table ; the populace has become fatalistic about who will run their affairs – and those who would like to see change are anxious about repercussions (or as Charles puts it : represailles – reprisals).

So, when Charles asked me to join La Liste – they need a quorum of 15 – as Minister of Foreign Affairs, or Northern Emissary, I cravenly declined the honour, feeling that we are too exposed as ressortissants to any ill-will that this challenge must inevitably provoke. What little I can do, I shall : my first contribution will be to set up a campaign website, probably a blog, where people can respond/comment/criticise in complete anonymity.

For those interested in the villages of France, Gilbert Delbrayelle has this informative site : Les Sentiers de la Memoire.

oh, what did we offer our French friends to eat? It was lapin a la creme de moutarde a l’ancienne et aux eschalottes, with pommes de terre et celerie-rave parmentier, and green beans. Who? – oh, me with Mary as sous-chef. The praise was genuine and unstinted . . . and all directed at Mary. [ They cannot or will not accept that an English  can do anything other than boil food to bits].

Posted December 15, 2007 by Richard Williams in france, village life

Crow’s Land   Leave a comment

Moux crouches under Mont Alaric at the most northern limits of the Corbieres, an arid mountainous massif 50 km wide and 50 deep. Flying over it at night, it is a black square : there are no towns, no main roads. Deep in its heart : wild boar and deer, red squirrel and pine marten, eagles and kestrels. The soil types vary: from pebbly terraces, sandstone and marls to limestone and the white schist screes of Alaric. In this season the sole colour comes from the rusting oxides of old iron volcanoes (the red-soil of rous-sillion) and the blackened greens of holm oak, cypress and pine.

Origine du toponyme Corbières : Corb c’est le corbeau en vieux languedocien. Une courbiére c’est littéralement un lieu colonisé par les corbeaux. Il y a bien longtemps, avant l’an mille le corb avait déjà laissé son empreinte dans les noms de ces petits pays, le Kercorb, Chercorb, Quercorb, Corbieres. Apparié à la racine ‘ker’ (pierre, montagne) on devine : la contrée des corbeaux.


Crow Alights from CROW The Life and Songs of the Crow Ted Hughes

Crow saw the herded mountains, steaming in the morning.

and he saw the sea

Dark-spined, with the whole earth in its coils.

He saw the stars, fuming away into the black, mushrooms of

the nothing forest, clouding their spores, the virus of God.

And he shivered with the horror of Creation.

In the hallucination of the horror

He saw this shoe, with no sole, rain-sodden,

Lying on a moor.

And there was this garbage can, bottom rusted away,

A playing place for the wind, in a waste of puddles.

There was this coat, in the dark cupboard,

in the silent room, in the silent house.

There was this face, smoking its cigarette between the dusk

window and the fire’s embers.

Near the face, this hand, motionless.

Near the hand, this cup.

Crow blinked. He blinked. Nothing faded.

He stared at the evidence.

Nothing escaped him. (Nothing could escape.)

Posted December 12, 2007 by Richard Williams in personal

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what peakoil looks like   Leave a comment

Wednesdays the oil production figures from Saudi Arabia are released. The numerate crowd over at The Oil Drum have been gnawing at these for a few years. Their articles and their posts on Drum Beat are beginning now to be referenced in MSM (that’s main-stream media to us hicks). In just the last couple of weeks these ‘looney doomers’ have been cited in the Wall St. Journal, the Economist, and some UK papers.

Jeffrey Brown -‘westexas’ – is a leading light, in part for his work on modelling. This is his (with others) attempt to make sense of the figures that wash over ‘general journalists’. Skip the graphs if you must – read on to the end. He’s a geologist in the oil trade – but his conclusions are far from dusty, or sticky.

First: this is what PeakOil looks like.


Now the UK went, in a few short years, from being a huge exporter of oil, to a net importer. The UK was once an ‘Export-Land’, and here is his model for the others:-


As living standards in Export Lands (the Middle East) increase, so does their thirst. They want more oil themselves, which only decreases the amount released to the rest of us thirsty beasts. We worry about ‘Chin/dia’ sucking the wells dry – he’s simply alerting us to a further drain-factor.

This is his take on the US :-


This graph shows Total US Crude Oil and Petroleum Product Imports, which have increased at about 5% per year since 1990.


In my opinion, we will see an epic collision between the conventional wisdom expectations of a continued exponential rate of increase in net oil exports, versus the rapidly developing new reality of an exponential decline in net oil exports. My frequent coauthor, “Khebab,” is presently working on some mathematical models for production, consumption and net exports by the top net oil exporters. Based on the data that I have seen so far, it will not be a pretty picture. I suspect that the models may show that not much more than 25% of the remaining URR in the top net exporting countries will be exported.


In regard to discussions of Peak Oil and Peak Exports, I have described what I call the “Iron Triangle,” which consists of: (1) Some major oil companies, some major oil exporters and some energy analysts; (2) The auto, housing and finance group and (3) The media group.


If one resides in the oil industry leg of the Iron Triangle, and if one has concluded that Peak Oil is upon us, or extremely close, does one say, “We cannot increase our production,” and thereby encourage massive conservation and alternative energy efforts, or does one say “We choose not to increase production and/or we are temporarily unable to increase production for the following reasons (fill in the blank)?”


The latter course of action would tend to discourage emergency conservation efforts and alternative energy efforts, and it would encourage energy consumers to maintain their current lifestyles, perhaps by going further into debt to pay their energy bills, and it would in general have the net effect of maximizing the value of remaining reserves.

The prevailing message from some major oil companies, some major oil exporters and some energy analysts can be roughly summarized as follows “Party On Dude!”

Meanwhile, over on the other two legs of the Iron Triangle, the auto, housing and finance group is focused on selling and financing the next auto and house, and the media group just wants to sell advertising to the auto, housing and finance group. The media group is only too happy to pass on the “Party On Dude” message to consumers.

I recommend FEOT–Farming + Electrification Of Transportation (EOT), combined with a crash wind + nuclear power program.


Alan Drake has written extensively on EOT issues, for example in “Electrification of transportation as a response to peaking of world oil production.”

In simplest terms, we are soon going to need jobs for hordes of angry unemployed males, and in my opinion “FEOT” is a way to put them into productive jobs.

On an individual basis, I would also recommend “ELP,” which is summarized in the following article: “The ELP Plan: Economize; Localize and Produce.”

Now, some of the above may be news to some – and if it wasn’t for my Mary, who has been following it all for over a year – I would be largely ignorant. I read a great deal, online and off, and I watch and listen to a number of news feeds. They none of them have seen fit to refer to any of this – up ’til now.

There will be more, in the near future. Here and in your news.




Wind, salt, love and madness   Leave a comment

The weather has been praeternaturally dry for a long while, and there’s been more outside activity (than internal). Now at last we’re getting some rain to go with the winds : gusts of 100 kph means more time at the keyboard.
O we have winds here – and they have names. L’ Autan blanc and l’ Autan noir (one dry, one wet blowing up from Spain); le Nord; le Grec; le Marin (a mild, damp and depressing wind from the Med), le Ponant (from the west); and lastly our predominant wind (that used to blow for 230 days a year, went away this summer but has now been with us for over a month) la Tramontane – in occitan: lo tramontanto alto (N.N-W), lo tramontano basso (W.N-W). It’s related to le Mistral – born out in the Atlantic, becoming ungovernable youngsters in the Bay of Biscay, then wild teenagers rampaging down the Rhone valley or in our case, over the last mountains of the Massif and down the plain to Narbonne. Here it has a local name, le Cers. Say it hard, with a growl, with a hiss: Serrsss! The summer windsurfers love it – but out there today les p’tits vignerons pruning their vines are swaddled like Inuits. It’s bending the trees and driving me indoors.
But what’s all this got to do with the price of fish? Very little at all.
Except I saw the following flight of fancy on the label attached to a pretty (pretty expensive) embossed glass tub of sea-salt at the supermarché today.

I have been wilfully literal in my translation :-

The Tramontane wind, predominant element of the Aude coast, influences our culture and our passions. It is its force which in summer overwhelms (makes fecund??) the expanses of water over our salt pans.
Come the dawn, when as if by magic the tempest abates, a salt is born – so light it is reluctant to sink.
The Flakes of Salt of the the Aude Country, fruit of the duality of the winds, will bewitch your palate with its typical flavours, for the greatest benefit to your health.

And what has this collage got to do with the price of chips, you may ask:-

Well – Gruissan is where the salt is born. It’s a pretty little old village with a pretty large and ugly salt works, and a pretty amazing collection of fisherman’s chalets-on-stilts that stand clear of the sea when it’s running high up the beach. And it’s where a pretty steamy film was made back in the mid-80’s that got quite a cult following in Europe. It’s a passionate-but-doomed love affair between Betty, a waitress and Zorg her writer boyfriend (the torrid Béatrice Dalle & the tortured Jean-Hugues Anglade). It doesn’t end well. It’s how the French like it.
It’s still hot after all these years – and is in fact called ’37°2 le matin’ or (99 F. in the morning) – the English version : Betty Blue.

Posted December 9, 2007 by Richard Williams in france

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Interesting vintages   Leave a comment

I found this the other day, and took it up to our vigneron friends in the village. I expected it to be vinegar – but with a hard wax seal around the cork, Charles was hopeful. It was bliss. Delicate nectar – smooth with a faint sweet/sour finish.
It simply says on the ‘etiquette‘ Tokay, and vin de pays de l’Aude. Tokay is known as a sweet white wine from Hungary‘s Tokay region, which is made primarily from the Furmint grape, in a similar style to Sauternes. Wineries make Tokaji with semi-dry grapes that have had ‘noble rot’ take hold. The grapes in this state are called Aszu. Charles had never heard of this stuff having been made in the region – but Monsieur de Longueval had a reputation for eccentricity.

The house had stood empy for 30 years when we bought it in 1999 – so we reckoned it was 40 years old. They came from the cellars which extend the fullsize of the house. There are four ‘tonneaux’ or ‘foudres’ on each side. They contained over 2000 litres each, and must have been constructed in situ, when the Maison de Maitre was built in 1863 – as the doorways are too low & narrow.

Next is a 1943 vintage. Charles had heard of similar finds – usually bricked into walls. What better place for la résistance to hide its ammunition – in this case, rifle bullets – than in among the Boss’s wine?
The German army did in fact occupy the village – and spent many an evening enjoying Pierre de Longueval’s hospitality.

However two young maquisards from the village were shot in reprisal for an ambush, in the last days of the war.

German reprisals

Maid in France   Leave a comment

I was first sent to France as a swotty, snotty and spotty teenager for a month chez les Docteurs Barritault. It was a rambling mansion in a two-centime village on the banks of the Loire. Madame la Docteure would give Cook her daily intructions on what to buy at market, and we were summoned à table by a gong. It was la France profonde : lateness was deplored, conversation was in French, hands were rested on either side of the plate (not in the lap) and meals took hours.
Madame B had a little bell at hand, while Monsieur B had a small hill of pills to be washed down with ceremony and a sip of watered wine. Meals usually started with a small plate – never small enough for me – of something cold and slimey. Something preserved in aspic-jelly, to delight or to horrify depending on one’s age and nationality. Usually something unidentifiable (how can one country grow so many unidentifiable things?) Or occasionally something familiar (why did they do that? I could have eaten that egg!)
When all hands were finally correctly at rest, the bell tinkled and la bonne arrived to clear and set the table again for the next course. The plates got bigger but the portions remained the same size: a large expanse of porcelain with a grouping of unknown vegetable-matter alone in the middle. A sauce dish was passed around sufficiently slowly and with such appreciative commentary that the tepidity of the dish was assured by the time it reached les jeunes at the bottom of the table. The sauce was not optional – it was central.
The bell, the maid, the wait, la conversation – and then the next set of dishes. It might perhaps be another vegetable, all all alone – or it might be straight to the meat or fish. Just that – in its sauce. There might be one potato. Or more likely an elaborate confection of them – au gratin, à la dauphinoise – requiring the bell the maid the waiting. And the waiting itself was obligatoire (essentielle!) for correct digestion. As were the various wines – always watered for the young. Not out of mercy for us who loathed these sourly poisonous potions – but as a safe entry-level to the adult world of the connoisseur. Was there then a salad course? I don’t remember. There was certainly a cheese course. Inevitably. There are as many French cheeses as days in the year, and I must have sniffed them all. It seemed then an elaborate and fiendish memory-game: how not to end up choosing that particular (those very many particular) cheese that made one want to pucker in revulsion and spit out the window.
Bell.Maid.Wait. Contented gastronomic silence among all adults save Monsieur whose pills had either not been numerous enough, or strong enough, to quell his rumblings abdominal. Apprehensive silence down our end (no whispering at table, s’il vous plait. We had politely slogged thus far: would the last course be heaven or hell?
At last – pudding. Only the French don’t do puddings. Not the splodgy, stodgy comforting heap that we know and love and regret eating too much of. This, au contraire, is le dessert. It was ‘afters’ raised to its lightest, to its highest pinnacle: it was a work of sugary eggy art. But not art as I knew it. It had strange fruits and liqueurish syrups often hidden below a billow of mousse, or within a pillow of pastry. Complete with a sickly sweet wine – to ‘try’ – alongside.
I learnt to tolerate French food. I learnt to appreciate the alcohol that lurked in the wine. I got a tan and the spots disappeared. I discovered that my stammer receeded when faced with the need to be funny and charming to French girls, girls who thought nothing of changing out of wet costumes on the river beach, a barely modest few paces away. I resolved to live in France one day.

Posted December 9, 2007 by Richard Williams in personal

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