Monday, April 30, 2012

Depot ventes and vide greniers

    Last Saturday found us in Pamiers (home to the famous Sunday flea market).  Feeling that my prayers to the depot vente goddess were about to pay off, we drove south to Espace 09 which, as you can see, apart from its looks-like-Ikea signage colours, doesn't look like much from the outside. But just you wait...

Once you've made your way past the ranks of pre-owned bikes, scarred tables and dodgy armoires, you enter an Aladdin's cave of delights. 
     Where else would you see a Barbie pink guitar and a life-size crucifix (already sold) in such close proximity?

     Before they began using things that look like plastic dustbins, grape-pickers carried these on their backs. Nearby was a piece of furniture that looked like a piece of real junk until you imagined it flanked by a leather sofa in a New York loft.

    Wearing the patina of many decades and quite a lot of rust, these metal drawers (costing 25 euros) reminded me of something I'd spotted recently.
   As seen in the current Maisons du Monde catalogue, priced at 690 euros.  What I did walk away with were two leaf-shaped platters to add to my collection (subject of a forthcoming post...maybe), which got me thinking about how collections begin. In my case, if I buy two of a kind, I'm already on the slippery slope, which is why I didn't invest in this extremely handsome cushion.

    Look closely. What you probably can't see is that those hand-crocheted oranges are three-dimensional. As soon as I saw them, I remembered the hand-crocheted mat I'd bought at a vide grenier a couple of years ago, which featured three-dimensional red berries. Can you start to spot a theme here?  A hand-crocheted fruit collection. Anyway, I resisted and the cushion can fall into someone else's hands.

   Sunday, despite black clouds hovering over the mountains, we drove south and west to the village of Nalzen, site of what a friend had said was a géant vide grenier. Adding extra fun to the stalls piled with kids' clothes and tons of plastic toys were delicate bouquets of sweet-smelling lily-of-the-valley, the traditional gift in France to give to those you love on May 1 ...
...and a mobile cart selling coffee, croissants, pains aux chocolat and, later in the day, ham-filled baguettes. Instead we went for sausage and pork belly slices cooked over charcoal, and slapped in a split baguette with fried onions.
    Buys here? A big of walnuts, which featured last night in a roquette salad, and a could-be-Persian-but-for-three-euros-obviously-isn't rug.
    With a small, imperceptible tear.
    Already mended with duct tape.

The First Picnic of the Year

   By late March we were already eating lunch outdoors most days so logically it was time to take the food show on the road.
   Our lake, just a kilometre away, is almost deserted at this time of year so we knew that we could easily score a picnic table with view. We joined forces with a couple of friends, met up in the car park and spread out and shared the goodies.
   Tomatoes from the market and roquette, dandelion leaves and bittercress from the garden,
 A big Greek salad...
  A couple of hours later: the remains of a roast chicken, homemade bread, roasted red and yellow peppers (with plenty of garlic) and the last centimetres of the chilled rosé and vin rouge.
   Time to go home.

Asia in a French kitchen.

    Years ago, I bought Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking on the strength of its recipe for kimchee, that incendiary Korean pickle that you either love or hate. Personally, I'm crazy about it but hadn't made it here in France because daikon (white radish) is rarely seen at local markets. PS: I've since heard that you can use the black radish that you find everywhere here.
      I reckoned ordinary radishes would do just as well so, last week, I set to with a Chinese cabbage--these occasionally show up around here--and a fat bunch of neon-pink radishes.
 Here they are soaking in heavily salted water.
 The other ingredients: sliced scallions, cayenne pepper, and indecent amounts of chopped ginger and garlic.
 Drained, the radishes and cabbage are mixed with the hot stuff.
   And then packed in a two-litre jar, topped up with the salt water, covered with a cloth and left for three or four days to turn into kimchee. The jar has now moved into the fridge and I'm imagining the pickle as a side dish, and thinking about some sort of sticky, spicy treatment for that two kilo slab of pork belly that's in the freezer with some plain rice to sop all the delicious juices up.

Bali: Two Weddings and a Funeral

   One thing that knocked me sideways was how genuinely welcoming and friendly the Balinese are. A few days after we arrived in Ubud, Madek invited us to a family wedding, the first of two we attended. He also told us that we shouldn't miss an upcoming cremation. Having watched a Buddhist cremation in Chiang Mai two years ago, I was curious to see what it would be like here where the main religion is Hindu.
   Weddings first. All we had to do, he said, was look for the decorated entrance to the family compound--and walk in.
     Takes a bit of courage actually when you're very obviously the only non-Balinese around. And the only people not wearing traditional dress.
   The women were busy weaving beautiful decorations.
 The men cut up chunks of pork and made literally hundreds and hundreds of satay sticks.
And, same as anywhere else in the world, the kids, once they saw a camera, started fooling around.
   Just part of the finished decorations.

   And the happy couple...
   For the second wedding, Kate and I went down to the market early one morning and invested in sarongs, sashes and, for her, a lace jacket. Peter did the same (sans the jacket).
    Don't they look handsome? This was the little back lane that we walked down several times a day. Normally there are dogs and chickens around.
    Performers kept guests amused at the wedding...

   I was fascinated by this decoration made from meat and chili France, we use that lacy stuff on the right to wrap pâté.
   We'd had such a great time at the Buddhist cremation in Chiang Mai a couple of years ago that we didn't think twice about making our way to the centre of Ubud as instructed, and following the crowds to the side street where events were getting underway. (What happens in Bali is that the body is buried until the family can afford the considerable millions of rupiah needed to perform a proper cremation. Often, it's a mass event. The one we witnessed consisted of two simultaneous celebrations.)
   Dressed in our sarongs, we watched as groups of young men hoisted massive bamboo platforms aloft.

      Riding perilously high, a priest sprinkles water on the crowds below. These traditions date back a long time--well before electricity was invented. These days, young men armed with tall poles stand ready to deflect potentially lethal electrical wires.

    Women joined the procession carrying incredibly ornate offerings.

     The body must not be allowed to come back to earth so the idea is to confuse it en route to the cremation grounds with considerable gong-banging and drumming. The edifices swerved this way and that, reversed, and were taken down side streets so that the departed literally doesn't know where he or she is...which is the whole idea.
    The procession moved along Ubud's main street with vast numbers of patient motor-cyclists behind it. Amid the fumes of petrol and incense, we followed the giant bulls to a temple. Party time. Vendors sold snacks, Coca Cola and Pocari Sweat. Kids waved Hello Kitty balloons aloft.

    The ashes would be taken to the ocean...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bali: Ceremonies Without End.

    Bali is an intensely spiritual island. Daily life, spirit life and the life of the gods are all so interwoven that it's really hard, if not impossible, to separate one strand from another.
    Offerings are made daily--everywhere--to the spirit world. They give thanks to the gods and help people stay on the right side of the demons.
    Every single morning, someone from our homestay would come along with small works of art to place in front of our rooms.

    At the main market, women sold vividly-coloured flower petals, and the small trays woven from palm leaves that hold the offerings.

    The spirits swoop down immediately to accept them. After that, they're considered rubbish. Stray dogs and chickens come along and eat the edible parts. It still took me a while to get used to accidentally treading on one of these small works of art and not wanting to apologise to someone.
     I just want to emphasize that these offerings were made every single day...everywhere--and, at special times, in places you wouldn't even think of.

   We were lucky enough to be in Bali for Galungan, the 10-day holiday that happens every 210 days when all the gods come down to earth.
    For days and days before, men were busy constructing and decorating the penjor, the immensely tall bamboo poles that eventually stand outside the entrances to the family compounds.
 Each of these bamboo fronds is attached by hand. Ripe stalks of rice hang below.

 This gives you some idea of the size of the penjor.
 It's a magnificent sight when they're all stood upright,
 Other decorations and offerings are placed at the family temple.
Carefully cut and shaped from green banana leaves, this pattern is attached to its base with tiny slivers of bamboo.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bali--and What to Wear on Your Head in Ubud.

Women in Bali walk like goddesses, backs straight, heads high--all the better to carry their groceries.

The men too. These guys were ferrying goods from their pick-up trucks into the market.

These ladies are off to a wedding, wearing the traditional outfit of sarong, long lace jacket, and sash. Their hairstyles indicate if they're married or not. Tying your hair low on your neck means you're single.

Greens for today's meals. I love it that her basket appears to be completely empty.