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I've just got home from Christmas with the folks. It was quite a good holiday this year - mum turned out a great meal every night, including doing the turkey the brine-soak method which worked really well. I'd first heard this method from an American friend, where you soak the turkey overnight in really really salty water, and then it cooks quickier and juicier (never had a failure yet). I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this to mum before, but this year Nigella Lawson (UK TV cook) had described it, so of course it was now acceptable.
The Eurostar back was interesting - the general feeling of a journey totally depends on when you're travelling. For this trip, it seemed mostly french and british expats returning home - not many tourists at all. The train struggled on the UK side, and the announcer took great pleasure in explaining it was the British network at fault. A guy sitting near me practically exploded with smug indignation at this, and was probably a bit disappointed that an anti-british food comment couldn't have been worked in (train delayed to pork pies on the track perhaps). He seemed to take great pains to do this when the announcement was being said in French, although I'd already clocked him for being definitely not-french. I assume he must be an uber-francophile of some kind.
More signs of it being a french dominated train were seen at the boarding, with what can only be described as near panic as people tried to board quicker than everyone else. People wheeled their giant cases up and down the isle, bouncing anyone else out of the way, before re-wheeling them back again against the frantic traffic. At one point two little boys fought each other all the way down, screaming at the top of their voices. Their mother called after them, calling them her petits chatons (kittens), an odd expression for boys, and with my poor french it could equally have been petits châtains (chestnuts), or more likely petits shits (shits).
Getting off the train was the same as boarding - you could easily have assumed there was a fire further down the carriage (if it wasn't for the fact that once off the carriage, everyone stopped in front of the door to adjust luggage, coats and petits shits). The earlier mentioned francophile did a wonderful job of hurdling several suitcases before being finally repelled by a fur coated octegenarian (experience counts). Inwardly I'm sure he was still very happy at becoming a naturalised Parisian, while externally he managed his well-practiced french tuts and huffs - very impressive, hopefully if I get to be like this one day, I'll have sufficiently good enough friends who will shoot me.
Today we moved some boxes and other junk from the office into the 'cave' or cellar beneath the building. This was the first time I'd been down there, and Pascal, who originally found the offices for us, lead the way.
The timer on the cellar light had a ridiculously short fuse, and several times we were plunged into darkness and had to scrape along the walls to find the (unlit) light switch. Pascal wanted to show me something in particular, although it meant dashing down a corridor for a brief look before having to dash back again before the lights went out.
It was a tunnel leading even further down than the cellar, and was an entrance to the Paris catacombs! The catacombs near the Denfert-Rochereau metro are fairly well known, since tourists can enter them, and more significantly since they've been used as an ossurary after the cemetaries of Paris started to overflow. For about a kilometer the tunnels are lined with skulls and thigh bones (well worth a visit, especially if you tell your guests it's really a mass grave from the revolution).
Less well known are the rest of the catacombs - some 300km in length! A friend first told me about them five years ago, as a flatmate of his was a 'cataphile' and regularly explored the miles of tunnels. Totally illegal, with a 60€ fine if you stumble into a policeman down there (which is sooo likely of course). There are websites (apparently - go google) with maps and other hints & tips for the wanabee cataphile.
So, this was an entrance to the tunnels - it was amazingly atmospheric. The light seemed to stop right there at the entrance, making it literally a black hole. Not that we went in, that'll wait until we're drunk and stupid one night...
Click here for a cool item from the BBC news website;
It shows how many british live abroad, where we all are, our ages etc. The main map has a button that changes the size of each country proportionally with how many of us have invaded. I think it's proportional as a percentage of the countries total population as the US barely changes while France bloats up (although still nothing compared to Spain, which is going to burst and spray cheap sangria everywhere).
There's about 200,000 of us in France, mostly working age (not like the Eastbourne of Europe, otherwise known as Spain). Coming the other direction there's only 100,000 french in Britain, so it looks like we're winning!
Last night we had a party. The owner had been wanting to have another grandiose soiree, and the apartment wasn't rented out, so voila, big party time.
A lot of people had been invited, and one of the invitation requirements was to bring a 10€ present which would then get randomly redistributed. Back home in Brit this was called a bran tub, which I can only guess stemmed from the days when we could only afford to give each other gifts of bran, a healthy tradition at the very least. Being Paris of course, rather than bran the gifts were things like champagne flutes and pretty cups. There was a surprising number of magnifying glasses, which I guess is a french thing only because when things get incomprehensible it's usually their fault.
There was an additional rule - we were given numbers to dictate who drew their present from the pile first. Once you had opened your choice, you were given the option to swap with anyone who had aleady picked a present. In other words if you were last in the queue, you pretty much had the choice of anything that was there, while if you were first you had to make do with losing the cool present you'd randomly picked and getting the Kinder egg santa that clearly didn't cost 10€.
It worked quite well, until competition for various presents got quite heated. Many protests about the rules were heard (there was only one rule, which is less than Fight Night, not that you could tell the difference). I picked a bizarre pink thing, and attempted to swap it for some chocolates and it didn't go too well. The host had to charge over and literally wrestle the chocolates from my victim's hands while ignoring cries of 'he didn't choose before ten seconds were up' (a new rule that had suddenly emerged).
This morning, while recovering from a hangover, I decided the chocolates would be breakfast, and after taking a big bite (they were cup-cake sized xmas things), I found it to be quite tasteless. I then took a closer look at the label - they were candles in the shape of chocolate cakes. How sick and twisted is that!
ok, now I'm disappointed. While having a quick (ish) break, I was messing around with Google Earth, and zipping from seeing surfers in Hawaii, to Baghdad, to my nan's place in Wales etc. I was just tapping in the name to see if Google would just dash to right place, which it usually did.
I tried Everest however, hoping to get some nice mountain views, but instead got this;
Nobody on the peak unfortunately, but at least the weather's clear...