Only in France…

… would you find a middle aged straight man on a public beach… wearing a thong. The person on his left is female (and presumably his wife).

This Frenchman had a cigar which I thought quite fun. He was on a fairly small beach in the coastal town of Collioure. Collioure is absolutely beautiful – the quintessential gem of a southern French coastal town – really something. We enjoyed a couple of hours walking around its old streets. It was busy and had a lot of tourists. We settled at a cafe where we had galettes (savoury pancakes). I’ll post a picture of those later when I get round to doing a food post.

After a morning in Collioure we drove up the coast to just north of Saint Cyprien, to a several miles long sand bar. No amenities but masses of wide open sandy beach. We swam in the Mediterranean. Initially a bit cold but when you get in you realise it’s really not. Was enjoyable and very refreshing.

Coming back to the ‘only in France’ theme – they really do have a totally different attitude to bathing attire. Men don’t wear ‘swimming shorts’ or heaven forbid, ‘Bermuda shorts’. In fact, when we went high up in the mountains to the hot springs spa (is like an outside swimming pool, very sulphurous and warm, with water coming up from inside the mountain) – you are explicitly not allowed (if you are male) to wear anything other than tightly fitted swimming trunks (both the trunk type and briefs type are OK – but you cannot wear shorts). This is the rule for swimming baths all over France.

I own two pairs of said swimming trunks so was able to lend a pair to Sheridan. Our other male friend bought a pair from the spa. Wearing such garb doesn’t leave much to the imagination but it’s terribly European and I can see why they do it (nominally for hygiene reasons).

The hot spring is wonderful. Surrounded by alpine mountains, steam rising from the big open outside pool, it’s a treat. Your skin feels amazing afterwards too. This is the place – do take a look at the site.

Letting in the light

When we arrived at the house in France it was all shuttered up. The smell was slightly musty. We threw open the shutters throughout the house and let in the cool mountain breeze. At night, I would close the shutters in the bedroom as it looks onto the market square and can be noisy. The shutters leading out onto the verandah / terrace are full length.

I took a lot of photos in France; 400 or so. The ones below are of French buildings, mostly residential. I love the style and feel of French buildings.

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Of course, it’s not just French homes that have shutters. It’s most homes in Continental Europe, even as high up as Scandinavia. I love wooden shutters. So civilized, so traditional. Unfortunately – like so many things I covet about mainland Europe – we don’t have them in the UK.

En France


Got back from a week in the south of France this evening.

Enjoyed it. Good break away. Not looking forward to work tomorrow…

Lots of photos and we did a lot of things. Driving in the mountains, cooking (we were at the house – this was surprisingly enjoyable as the 4 of us took turns to prepare dinner), time at the beach, swimming in a hot springs spa high up in the mountain, hiking, visiting picturesque towns and villages. Enjoying very good regional wine.

The Languedoc-Roussillon region is beautiful (borders Spain; is Catalan).

Had paella in Perpignan at lunchtime today.

The picture is of friends walking ahead of me in the mountains. The Pyrenees are beautiful.

The amber nectar


This is a drink I was put on earth to covet – French pastis.

Now, as the UK heatwave protracts, I’m drinking this – one of my most favourite drinks – a lot. I adore the fact you don’t need mixers for this. You just need cold water (from the tap!) and preferably ice (I don’t even have that, but it’s still divine).

Les Anglais hardly drink this. The British just have no clue. It’s terribly French, terribly Continental. That is not why I drink it. I’m the son of Francophiles who’ve been drinking this for generations. Such things rub off.

For those who haven’t had it, it’s a 45% premium French spirit that is a combination of liquorice and aniseed. Please. Don’t give me the philistinic excuse that you “don’t like ouzo or pernot”. Neither do I. Both are vile.

This, however, is divinity incarnate. Especially in high summer.

Pastis is normally diluted with water before drinking, generally five volumes of water for one volume of pastis, but often raw pastis is served together with a jug of water for the drinker to blend together according to preference. The resulting decrease in alcohol percentage causes some of the constituents to become insoluble, which changes the liqueur’s appearance from dark transparent yellow to milky soft yellow, a phenomenon also present with absinthe. The drink is consumed cold, with ice, and is considered a refreshment for hot days. Ice cubes can be added after the water to avoid crystallization of the anethole in the pastis. However, many pastis drinkers refuse to add ice, preferring to drink the beverage with cool spring water.

Although it is consumed throughout France, especially in the summer, pastis is generally associated with southeastern France, especially with the city of Marseille where it is nicknamed Pastaga, and with the clichés of the Provençal lifestyle, like pétanque. Pastis is also consumed in Senegal.

Pastis is probably one of the most popular beverages in France where 130 million liters are sold each year (more than 2 liters per inhabitant).

(Source: Wikipedia)

I know what you did last summer

Those stranded domiciled on this tricky isle will well remember the quite awful summer we had last year. Truly it was a travesty. What unnerves me is reading that the ‘average’ temperature in the UK is just 9c. Single digits?! Frightening. I can see why so many people look to emigrate.

But life’s not all bad.

Very busy 4 and a bit months into my new job. Firing on all cylinders but enjoying the (admittedly, demanding) role and liking the people a great deal. It does take several months to really get to know people but it’s such a good feeling when that happens. Profile-wise, my job is sooo much more senior than the last one. The work I’m doing now is also genuinely really interesting and there’s a very international dimension to it all.

A colleague said to me today that those of us with jobs are living in a bubble as the cost of quite big things (like mortgage repayments) have, for any one on a tracker, dropped considerably. Today, interest rates dropped to 0.5% which is the lowest level they have ever been.

Taken to lunch at Belgo by an old media contact with whom I’m these days quite friendly; lovely guy. And you gotta love moule frites. I didn’t get back to the office in time for the weekly conference call with my (sort of) opposite number in New York but they seemed OK with it. Tomorrow I’m out with work for the second time this week which will be well earned after a long week.

I’ll be in France for the first week of April. Driving down then flying back. Family week away. Should be good. I’ll sure be needing a break by then. We’ll be in the foothills of the Pyrenees, close to the Spanish border. Just booked my flight back, £37 or so one-way. Not too bad. Feels like quite some time since I was last in France. Was 2007, I was on a junket (that those with long memories will remember – our advertising agency took all their clients away – we had a crazy first night out and I threw up in my beautiful bathroom that evening and felt horrendous next day when we were on a boat travelling down the Seine) and I also went with Sheridan though forget whether that was 07 or 06.

Speaking of Sheridan, he’s organising a trip to Florence, Italy some time in May which I shall look forward to. I was in Rome last June and adored it all over again (having been once before).

The benefit of being in the UK is having great neighbours. That said, here’s hoping for a decent British summer – if such a thing can exist!