les Davey de France

Alan and Pat live and work in Bordeaux. Alan is a pastor and Pat was a nurse. Now we work with UFM worldwide. Read on! (If you'd like to know what took us to Bordeaux, then start with the archives from September 2004)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

South Africa - continued

So Catrin's passport arrived today, with her visa, issued on 12 January, would you believe.

Well it keeps your mind off domestic politics.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

South Africa - continued

On Sunday and Monday all was calm.

Then today Catrin got a phone call from the South African Embassy to say that her visa is ready and will be posted today.



Saturday, January 12, 2019

South Africa - continued

The same lady phoned back on Saturday afternoon. 

"I have found your daughter's application: Is she a student?"

"No, she's doing a gap year."

"What is a gap year, is she working? If she is working she needs a letter from her employer."

"She isn't working for an employer. She gives English lessons to save up money to go to South Africa. she has a letter of invitation from the orphanage, but she cannot go because you have not issued her a visa."

"Listen to me, there is a process."

"Yes, and in November we visited the embassy where you told us the process took four weeks."

"How can we process applications that arrive in December when we still have applications to complete that came in September. But tell me, does she have a job?"

"No. How could she have a job when she is supposed to be flying to South Africa on Monday?"

The lady put the phone down on me.

Well the good news is that they have found her passport. I have asked them by SMS and by email to return her passport, and I will follow this up by recorded delivery on Monday.

Meanwhile Catrin phoned up about her flight, explained that the South African Embassy had lost her papers and the airline are reimbursing the price of her ticket.

Once she has a passport she can go for 90 days without a visa.


Friday, January 11, 2019

South Africa - continued

The nice lady phoned back on Friday afternoon. 

"We have not received her application"

"Yes, you have. It was delivered by recorded delivery to the embassy"

"Please tell us the date"

Catrin found the slip - it was delivered on the 13 December.

"OK, I will look"

South Africa

We have been waiting for Catrin's visa to come. We sent it recorded delivery, so we know it got there. They were supposed to return it in the same way - we included the envelope and slips.

On Wednesday she phoned the consular service in Paris. A man said he would phone back. He didn't.

This morning we phoned. If they had the visa and passport I could have got a return train to Paris - about 55€ - to collect the visa and passport. There was no answer.

I emailed.

I found an emergency number. The nice lady said she was surprised that we had not received the visa yet, and could I message her with Catrin's name. So I did. She didn't phone back.

Catrin will attempt this afternoon.

But it seems clear that she will not be flying to South Africa on Monday, or anywhere else for that matter, until we can get a replacement.

Grrrrr...

Old hundredth, or Psalm 134

One of the great things about being interested in music is that there's a whole world out there. Here's a recent discovery. Jacob Van Eyck, the carillon and recorder player from Amsterdam. Born blind, he had a good ear and apparently discovered that the shape of bells affects the overtones of their chime.

He was employed as a carillon player and also to play his recorder in the gardens next to the church. And he composed, or improvised, and vast number of melodies and variations for the recorder.

Here's Psalm 134, which we know as Old Hundredth.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Bike tyres

It's the jargon, you see. It eludes you every time.

Last time I bought bike tyres I'm pretty sure I went up to a big rack of them, chose the ones I wanted, found the inner tubes and swanned off with them. I didn't have to worry about anything. It was self-service in the megamarket.

This time it was different. Still clutching my new carte de séjour I entered the pneuerie.

"Hallo, I need to buy two pneus."

"Hi. OK, what size?"

(Aha - I had looked this up, so I knew, and because the numbers were odd I had stored them on my phone)

"Let me look : it's 47 x 559."

The pneumonger rubbed his chin and frowned.

"We haven't got that. What sort of bike is it?"

I described the bike.

"This might be close."

He got down a 26" x 1.75". There, embossed on the side was ... 47 x 559.

"Oh! There we go! It's this one."

"We don't use metric?"

"No, we use inches."

"I also need the chambres."

"No problem." Out came two lovely inner tubes in nice Michelin boxes.

"What about the ruban?" (This one I was guessing.)

"Sorry, we don't have that. We have this kind of self-adhesive tape now, but you can't sell it, it comes in huge rolls."

"But that's what it's called, right?"

"No, it's called the fond de jant. If I were you I'd just look it over and if it's OK leave it."

"You know what? By next time I need some I'll have forgotten fond de jant and I'll call it the ruban again."

"It's not a problem. Anyone would know what you meant."



Cartes de séjour

Well off we went, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to collect our cartes de séjour. The desks were open from 13:30 to 14:45, and we had been warned of huge queues on Mondays and the effects of the Christmas backlog, so we went on Tuesday.

As we scurried up the road, Patricia said, "Isn't that Sally". We squinted and yes, it was. She was parking her bike a couple of hundred yards down the road by the shopping centre. We watched to see if she'd follow us, but no.

At the door a nice policeman stopped us...

You're here for?
Do you have a convocation?
Can I see it?
You have your passport?
And your recepissé?
What about the timbres fiscaux?

I said we didn't need these and he looked at the convocation to check, then told us to follow the yellow line on the floor of the préfecture.

We saw the queue for the correct desks and joined it. It was 13:20 and the desks opened in ten minutes. About eight people in front of us was our friend, Frances, collecting her visa for another year's PhD. She had her timbres fiscaux : 269 euros' worth.

A little later Sally entered and joined the queue about eight people behind us.

Just a few minutes and we left clutching proudly our new cartes de séjour, with their astoundingly ugly photos and their microchip that tells everyone who we are, where we live, etc...

Phew! Sorted!


Friday, January 04, 2019

Hurrah !


Called up to receive my carte de sejour!

Thursday, January 03, 2019

We're in the countdown!

I feel rather too excited about the whole thing, but it will soon be my sixtieth birthday. In France this brings a reduction of 10 euros per month in the price of your bus and tram season ticket. My ticket was up for renewal on the 9th of December so I called in the transport office to get their advice.

The helpful young lady did various calculations and said:

"Let it expire, then get a monthly ticket for January, February and March, then get your annual ticket in April after your birthday. That is the most cost-effective way to do it."

So yesterday found me at the railway station buying monthly tickets for January and February.
"I don't yet have March", said the clerk.


Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Fireworks

There was not a civic firework display in Bordeaux, but from the vantage point of our balcony we saw fireworks going up in Bègles, in Villenave, in Latresne, in Bouliac and they were all very fine.

Avoiding Sky News has greatly decreased my stress levels. I'm much happier now that I haven't any idea what on earth is going on. I doubt if Mrs May et al have noticed any great difference.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

and a peaceful New Year

It's been a nice peaceful week, except for Acte VII of the gilets jaunes here in Bordeaux. Two to three thousand demonstrators gathered at the Place de la Bourse yesterday afternoon. We stayed at home and I followed the action on Twitter as some journalists popped on photographs and short reports.

This time the trouble was more diffuse and took in some of the most prestigious streets, like Cours Clemenceau, where the Auditorium is, Cours Pasteur, Place de la Victoire and, moving a bit further down market, Cours de la Marne.

This last was distressing because that morning Pat and I had popped out to our nearest good coffee shop, Oven Heaven, and the rioting was happening just outside. I sent them a little message to say we were thinking of them and hoped there was no damage or distress. They very kindly replied saying that the only real problem they had was burning dustbins in the street outside and that apart from that all was well.

I feel so sorry for the mayor and the town council. Every Saturday now for almost two months. The shopkeepers say they have lost a lot of trade. There were a couple of concerts we intended going to, our friend Patricia the percussionist was playing in a military band at the Fémina Theatre, but to get there we'd have had to cross the riots. And all this over national issues, not local ones.


Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas eve reflection

This was a year of big changes, all happy ones!

Firstly two graduations. Well, sort of. Catrin completed her degree at Université de Bordeaux Montaigne in Musicologie, chanson française, jazz et musique actuelle. Gwilym had a fancy graduation ceremony to mark his degree in Theology and Worship at London School of Theology.

Gwilym began work at Saint Peter’s, Harrow as Head of Music and Creative Arts, while Catrin is teaching English in Bordeaux awaiting continuing adventures serving in an orphanage in South Africa before possibly training in Musicotherapy.

The Saturday after Gwilym’s graduation we moved house, from Pessac into a new apartment further into the middle of Bordeaux in a new area that is still being built, Euratlantique. We’re very pleased with the flat, on the fourth floor overlooking the future Jardin de l’Ars and with big windows giving us views out over the south of the city — for the moment mainly building sites. Moving was as traumatic as ever, compounded by both Pat and Catrin being ill. Oh well, we hope that we’re settled for a while!

Summer holidays accidentally included the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol which was held in Cardiff Bay and the Edinburgh Festival. We enjoyed reconnecting with our inner dragons and exploring the birthplace of Harry Potter.

Then came the next milestone, Gwilym got married to Elizabeth Elkins, who he met at LST. They married in Norwich and we were glad to see brothers, sisters and some nephews and nieces reunited for the occasion.

Catrin was bridesmaid for Gwilym and Beth, and also for a couple from Bordeaux who married in the Cevennes in November. Bordeaux seems to be the colour of choice this year for weddings. Alan was privileged to preach for both occasions, the first in English and the second en français.

In Bordeaux the other big news is the start of a new church in the Chartrons area of the city, led by our friends and colleagues, Maxime, Demelza and James. The Chartrons has seen churches come and go over the years and was once served by a historic Eglise Reformée, whose imposing and architecturally important building is still there. Catrin is involved with the new project while Alan and Pat continue with the International Church.

Following the house move Alan attempted to change to a nearer choir, but the new and excellent group rehearse too much at weekends so finally he and Pat went back to Arianna in Pessac.

Recent riots in Bordeaux against the backdrop of the unfolding drama of Brexit have found their counterpoint in Alan and Pat being given permanent right to remain in France, cartes de séjour valid for 10 years. We have the official receipts and the cards should be ready in February.

In a perturbed political climate it is good to celebrate the birth of the King of kings, whose kingdom shall have no end. We’ll be spending Christmas Day with folk from China, Congo, Nigeria, the United States, and England and Wales.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Vitamin D

So I went to the doctor. I have a little flare-up of shingles. It's not nightmarish. It just breaks out in itchy patches on my back. I can ignore it, but my doctor did say that when it happens I should go and see her.

Anyway she said, "the body is tired" and gave me a prescription for some vitamin D.

Christmas should be pretty restful now, anyway.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

A News Embargo

You can imagine how the whole "will we, won't we, will we, won't we" hard / soft / no Brexit fiasco plays on the nerves here. We don't get UK television, but we can get SkyNews and each morning we would watch the post-mortem of the previous day's roller-coaster ride.

Until last Friday when I said "ENOUGH!!!"

My stress isn't helping the situation at all, and the situation is certainly not helping my stress.

So we're under a News Embargo.

No more Sky News. No more reruns of Peston interviews. (I'm especially glad of that because sometimes I think he crosses the line between reporting and making the news.) No more watching last night's Newsnight on YouTube.

They can mess it all up without my help.

And boy, do I feel good!


Monday, December 17, 2018

My experience with the gilets jaunes

So I was making my way home on Saturday at about 18:00 from near the Place de la Bourse. There was no public transport in the city centre because of the threatened "Act 4" from the naughty scamps of the gilets jaunes, so off I set to walk to the station where I knew I could get a tram back home. It meant walking along the quays. All would be fine because the rioters like smashing banks and classy shops and there's nothing like that where I would be walking.

Some friends needed to get back to Pessac. I urged them to come with me to the station where they could get a train, but they insisted on walking diagonally across the city centre to Saint Nicolas where they could get a tram to Pessac.

All was calm, all was bright, until I got to the bottom of Cours Victor Hugo, just by the Porte de Bourgogne by the Pont de Pierre. I knew that Cours Victor Hugo was sometimes a flash-point, but suddenly I saw a line of CRS riot police across the nearside of the road, all armed with gas guns and facing up Victor Hugo (away from me).

As I continued to walk there came a stampede of rioters down the far side of the road, just where I needed to walk.

It seemed that the riot police were trying to get them out of the city centre and over the Pont de Pierre where they would disperse, but that meant that their path and mine crossed somewhat inconveniently.

I edged slowly onwards, trying to time my passage with a gap in the stampede. As I went a chap leapt into a nearby flower bed carrying a chair which he proceeded to throw ineffectually in the vague direction of Cours Victor Hugo, thankfully away from me. I resisted the temptation to ask him what he thought he had achieved by this act, interesting though this discussion would be. He ran across my path and I continued in the most inconspicuous manner that I could assume. Others were doing the same.

Once safely out of the path of the rioters I breathed a sigh of relief and reached the station and the awaiting tram with no further incident. I got to the station in about 20 minutes, I suppose.

Meanwhile my friends heading for Saint Nicolas found their passage blocked every second road by tear gas. After about an hour and a half of pointless roaming they went to the station and got a train.

Other friends walked up the far side of the city centre, found buses and got home without any trouble.




Wednesday, December 12, 2018

BREXIT2018

is the dossier number for our application for a permanent residence permit!
We have our récepissés and our cartes de séjour should be ready at end of February.

So relieved!

Today's Christmas song

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Some photos from the evening after the riots

and this:














In the streets where rioting took place the previous evening










Heartfelt

Sunday, December 09, 2018

You've seen the photos and film clips

There's a few things to note:

The violence and damage is limited to a few streets.

That is not to minimise the nastiness - the Apple Store was looted as well as other shops, tram stop shelters were smashed, vehicles were burnt - some on the tramlines, several policemen were injured as well as some tens of demonstrators.

But the majority of folk I know in Bordeaux will have seen, heard and eve smelt nothing. On our journey to church today we don't expect to see any damage. It's limited to a small area of the city centre and I honestly believe that with the minimum of care and common sense we will not be in any danger whatsoever.

Catrin was working until 13:30 yesterday on the far side of the city centre. She was inconvenienced by the trouble because the trams were stopped, so she had to walk home from Quinconces instead of taking tram C. She saw the gilets jaunes assembling, but remember that it's a minority of the demonstators who cause damage and hurt.

 Meanwhile each Saturday things get worse. France needs M. Macron to speak on the television and to show in concrete ways that he has heard and understood and that his government will act to ease the pressure on the middle classes.




Saturday, December 08, 2018

A report on the gilets jaunes



We've not seen any trouble personally. The closest I got was on Wednesday when I had to collect something from a shop near the opera house and before going I just checked the news media and saw that the high school students were demonstrating at the opera house, so I postponed my errand for a couple of hours to let them move on.

The shops in the street around the Maison de la Bible have been advised to close and to barricade their doors and windows today, and the trams will not be going through the city centre from mid-day until things calm down.

The abolished "tax on the rich" that is mentioned is the ISF, an inheritance tax levied on the largest fortunes. The government replaced the tax with one that just taxes bequests of property, the ISI, the intention being to encourage people to buy shares in French companies knowing they can pass them on tax-free to their kids.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Les lycéens

The little scamps have been at it again, blocking the tram, lighting fires in the street, setting fire to their high-schools and generally getting up to all sorts of mischief.

But the trams are running again, and the authorities want to discuss with the protestors.


Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Trouble with trams

Last night we were on our way to a house-warming party for one of the chaps at church who has just moved into a nice little flat in the middle of town. We were getting on the tram when we heard discussions with the driver about a BIG PROBLEM.

The central computer system that controls the traffic lights, monitors the position of all the trams and communicates with the drivers had broken down.

It's wtill not working, so the entire tram network is out of service.

In addition our nearest bus, the 11, is redirected away from our road at present because of road works on a bridge just by the centram station.

We're cut off! Marooned!


Les Gilets Jaunes

You will have seen the disturbances in the centre of Paris at the weekend when the "gilets jaunes" rioted in protest at fuel prices, taxation and the general feeling that the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer while the middle class is quite simply disappearing.

Direct taxation is low in France and we now pay substatially less under Macron than we did before. Indirect taxation is fairly high, however, with 20% VAT and then supplementary taxes on tobacco, alcohol and on motor fuel. The price of fuel at the pump has been falling over recent weeks, but over the time that we have been in France it has risen a lot.

For us in the city that doesn't affect us much, we go almost everywhere by public transport and when we do use a car the cost of fuel is included in what we pay. But it does have an impact on food prices in shops, of course. Also France is a big country and many people live outside the city centre here they are obliged to use a car for getting around.

Apart from that, M. Macron is a banker, a profession that currently fills the role of pantomime villain, and doesn't have the common touch that recent presidents have had. He wanted to restore the prestige of the presidency, but that can leave ordinary people feeling distanced from you.

In Bordeaux the gilets jaunes rioted in the centre of the city, too, and tear gas was used in the cathedral square.


Monday, December 03, 2018

The coffee machine is dead. Long live the coffee machine

"The water flows OK. Just not enough. I suppose the first thing to do is descale?"

We had bought our coffee machine when we moved into the flat in Pessac. It was one of these despicable ones that use coffee pods, there's 36 brands available in our supermarket now, though we bought the machine itself from the flagship coffee-pod store on the smartest street in Bordeaux, just up the road from the mustard shop. They had pre-Christmas offers on their machines. Now three years later we were getting a thimbleful of coffee, no more.

"That's an electronic problem.""

"And to fix it?"

"You'd have to buy 30 euros' worth of coffee pods and the repair would cost 40 euros. The machine is worth 170 euros." (We'd paid 70.)

We reflected and discussed. Our coffee crisis coincided with another offer from the flagship coffee-pod store where if you signed up to buy 20 euros' worth of coffee each month for a year, you could have a new machine for 1 euro. The old machine, like the old coffee pods, could be taken to the store for recycling.

The following day saw me cuddling our old machine, now beautifully clean, as I took it to the store to be recycled or reconditioned. Our new machine is a tiny white jewel, much smaller and very quiet, but still making that quick shot of strong coffee that we have come to need so much.

20 euros' worth of pods doesn't last all that long, but we can top it up with whatever is on offer in the supermarket. After all, we're addicts, not connoisseurs.




Wednesday, November 28, 2018

But you're a pharmacist...

The letter had been hanging round for a few weeks and I thought I had really better get it done. I do like to wait a little while. I have this theory that the vaccines get better as the weeks go on, but the last week of November is leaving it late. So off I went to ask about getting my flu jab.

In Pessac one year the nurse came to do it. Another year I got the vaccine just before a visit to the doctor. I have the impression that the procedure changes every year.

"Hallo. I have this form for a flu jab. How do you do that now? I feel like it changes a lot."

"Oh yes, we can do that."

"What? Here? At the pharmacy?"

"Yes, that's right." The guy went off to get the vaccine. I took off my jacket.

"But we'll go in a side room."

"Oh, OK, though it doesn't bother me. It's only my arm.

So the pharmacist?"

"Yes, well you used to have to get the letter approved by your doctor, then get the vaccine from the pharmacy, then go back to the doctor to have the injection, but the take-up rate was fewer than 50%.

So they changed it to allow nurses to do it, but most nurses just have an office and then visit people at home, so sometimes it would take half a day to do one vaccination.

So last year they chose three regions in France and tried allowing pharmacists to do the vaccination."

"And French people are very attached to their pharmacies"

"And French people are very attached to their pharmacies. So now it's been rolled out nation-wide."

"But a pharmacist's training..."

"We all got trained to do it."

"To be honest with you, it's not hard. I'm pretty sure I could do it myself. After all diabetics inject themselves. And I'm not your first one?"

"There's this year's file." It was stuffed full of papers.

I felt nothing. He checked I was having a reaction to the injection. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries about the all-conquering Welsh rugby team and the glories of the 1970s and I went on my merry way.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Panoramas de l'Ars

The top part of the tower just beyond the metallic car park is now half-completed. It will have 9 floors of concrete for offices, and 9 floors of glass-clad wooden structure for apartments, separated by what I think will be a tenth floor garden area.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Well it's all go!

So I have now received my convocation to the préfecture for the 12 December, at 14:35 at guichet 22.

The is the same date and place as Pat, but ten minutes before.

So yesterday I sppent a happy moment scanning and downloading various documents that we will need.

Two passports (every page)

Two birth certificates.

One marriage certificate.

Two years' worth of electricity bills for 2013 and 2014

Rent record for 2015 - 2018

Tax statements for 2013 to 2015

Proof of rights under health system.

We'll need to provide an attestation each about the amount of time we have spent outside France during the last five years.

And I think that's all.

We've been told that the people who deal with this at the préfecture are very pleasant.






Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Les gilets jaunes

There is currently a social movement against President Macron and his reforms, especially focused on the price of motor fuel at the pumps. Although prices have fallen over the past few weeks, it is still true that both diesel and petrol cost less in Spain and people feel ... hard done by.

Thus large groups of people wearing their regulation yellow security vests have been meeting at strategic points to block the motorway bridges, toll booths and junctions. This has caused traffic mayhem in Bordeaux, our trams are full to bursting and our buses are delayed, rerouted and sometimes just plumb cancelled. It si a good time to be living in the centre of the city near the station!

The situation is serious, some people have died at the roadblocks when drivers have panicked and so on. Meanwhile some wag mused on how agreeable life would have been if instead of imposing the yellow vest to be kept in all cars in case o breakdown, the government had chosen pink tutus.

There's always one.


Brrrrr

It has suddenly got very cold in Bordeaux. Over the course of two days it went from about 17°C to about 4°C. In our flat we seem to maintain a temperature of around 22°C to 25°C. Our thermostat is set to 19°C, but we seem never to have plumbed these depths and so our radiators have not yet heated up. Such, I suppose, is the efficiency of modern insulation.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Cartes de séjour : right to remain

Good news on the cartes de séjour front : some people in the Gironde have had letters giving appointments at the préfecture.

Messa per Rossini at the Cathedral

Well we did it. It was nuts. It was crazy. It was mad, but we did it, and we pulled it off!

Something like 13 or 14 hyperactive italian romantic composers recruited by Verdi to write a requiem in honour of Rossini.

Arianna, a choir of some 30 to 40 voices, augmented to 130 or more by a collection of choristers from all around.

A 50 piece orchestra including an ophicleide.

Five awesome soloists. All were great, the contralto and the bass were outstanding - and the bass used to be a maths teacher!

Two hours of music ranging from sweet unaccompanied melodies ("think gondolas", said our choirmaster) to wild frantic blasts ("look terrified", he said). Verdi did the dies irae. Enough said.

Some of the choir couldn't sing. I know, because I stood next to two of them at different times.

I watched the player tuning his ophicleide. He blew a test note, shrugged and crossed himself.

The piece was well-written. Here's an example. The first half ends with a speedy fugue on Amen, with the theme introduced by the basses. The inevitable happened. At one point there was a race between the four voices of the choir. "We won", said my friend, Guy. At another moment a group of separatist basses decided to do their own thing (Basques? Corsicans?). But every so often the whole thing stops and the basses reintroduce the theme.
Masterly.
We could all muster at the next bass entry.

The cathedral was absolutely full, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to hear this crazy, unique piece of music.




Monday, November 12, 2018

It's a "gros truc".

Tomorrow is the concert of the Mass for Rossini, given to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Rossini and the 30th anniversary of the founding of the choir, Arianna. There's about 130 in the choir, a 50 piece orchestra and 5 soloists. We're doing it in the cathedral and apparently it's close to being a sell-out.

Essentially on Rossini's death Verdi decided it would be a good idea to pay homage to the great composer by getting a gang of Italian romantic opera composers to collaborate on a requiem that would be a tribute from his friends and colleagues. The result is a two-hour extravaganza. We've been learning the piece and practicing for over a year. Here's a couple of remarks.

These are Italian romantic opera composers, so the piece is larger than life. It's full of loud and soft, fast and slow, soaring soloists, a very menacing bass, four trombones, an ophicleide, the kit and the caboodle.

It'll be my swan song with the choir. I've joined another. Arianna's rehearsal place is too hard to get home from late at night by public transport.

Arianna doesn't select its singers by audition. You come along, sing with the choir and if you fancy it then it's OK. Most Arianna regulars can sing pretty well, at least by memory, but for this piece the choir is augmented by many others, and I have found some who really can't sing at all.

At the penultimate rehearsal on Saturday, before we got into position, the conductor Fred said, "Before we start there's one thing... Can Alan please sit in the front row." I did this but all the way through was a bit baffled as to why. Had he spotted me on my mobile phone when the soloists were blasting through their parts? Was it a rerun of when I got thrown out of the school choir for laughing? Afterwards one of the Arianna folk explained that he wanted to get those who have some idea of what they are doing spread out among those who .. well, who don't. I am to serve as a guide for the front row.

The penultimate rehearsal went better than I expected, until the last movement - a Dies Irae composed by Verdi - you get the picture - where there were moments of horse race between the different axes of the choir.  I have to review two movements before the performance tomorrow evening - one where the men sing a capella and the Dies Irae, just so I can sing with minimal dependence on the score and keep my eyes fixed on the conductor.

A meeting with an asylum seeker and a refugee

A young guy appeared at church last summer from a country where changing your religion is forbidden by law. He told us his story, of coming from a mixed background family, belonging officially to one religion but always being more attracted by another. Eventually he decided to become a Christian and started attending a house church. The church was raided, some six people were arrested and the others scattered. He hid in a village for a while, then found a "guide" to help him get out of the country.

People like this often want to come to the UK because they speak a little English, but you can't get entry visas or get smuggled in so the "guides" instead persuade you to go to France or Belgium. Thus he ended up in France.

He subsequently heard that the leader of the house group had been found dead, ostensibly he had committed suicide on his release from detention.

So far our friend has been given a place to live - a shared room in an apartment near the centre of town - and he has started French lessons. In 10 days he goes to Paris for an interview which will be conducted in his native language to ascertain his right to asylum.

France has made various decisions :

1) to allow asylum seekers to enter the country

2) to then consider in France their right to asylum, followed by permanent residency or repatriation.

France has expressed its will to receive especially Christians fleeing persecution or civil war in the Middle East.

We talked about how in just 10 days time he would in all probability have the permanent right to remain in France.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

We don't entirely understand what these earthworks are about

unless they have started to landscape the future Jardins de l'Ars.


Thursday, November 08, 2018

A visit to Paris

We caught the 6:30 train from Bordeaux to Paris to go to the South African Embassy on the Quai d'Orsay. That train is amazing - we hurtled through the French countryside at 300 km per hour (180 mph) and arrived in Paris shortly before we left Bordeaux - or at least it felt that way.

Paris was grey and cold, but we negotiated the metro and got to the embassy. We needed to pick up some papers, and we got that done in about 5 minutes. Then we had some other important business to do before our return train at 3:15.

First the Marks and Spencer Food Shop. There are several of these in Paris, so we chose the nearest and easiest to get to and scuttled off to find happiness in the form of:

A Christmas Pudding
Mincemeat
Mince pies
Lemon curd (for Catrin - a recent passion)

It doesn't seem a lot but it weighed my rucksack down and also squashed my banana to pulp.

Then off to a traditional Paris café - Starbucks - before zooming off to the Atelier des Lumières for a son et lumière show based on the work of Gustav Klimt.

The Atelier des Lumières is an old forge in central Paris which, unsurprisingly, closed down and left this large, empty, unattractive space. Perfect for housing immersive art projections. You enter this huge dark hall and when the show starts you are surrounded on all sides by moving, melting, morphing images - even on the floor - and by music. For Klimt they used Wagner, Philip Glass, Beethoven, etc.


The instructions were less than clear regarding photography. One sign said no filming. The dominant sign said No Flash, so we took it that still photos were allowed as long as you didn't disturb the darkness of the room.

We caught our return train in good time and arrived back in Bordeaux tired but happy.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Plantes pour tous

Houseplants are not easy to find in the heart of a French city. Lidl will sometimes sell something - they had some chilli pepper plants a while ago. Auchan will do a small range occasionally. Ikea sells a range of moderately priced plants. Otherwise there are the florists, but their houseplants are very expensive indeed.

Enter Plantes pour tous, a group of nurseries and growers who group together, take an empty commercial unit or a municipal room and put on a two day sale of plants priced at 2, 5 or 10 euros.

They've visited Bordeaux twice over the past few months, the first time at the Halle des Chartrons where Pat and I went and queued  to enter. We came out with a Scindapsus (a variegated vine with heart-shaped green and gold leaves) two different Sansevierias, a variegated Ficus Benjamin, a lovely spider plant and a miniature orange tree. Ikea provided a tall Dracaena and two small Aloe veras.

Plantes pour tous returned to Bordeaux yesterday and I went along hoping to find one plant in particular... and they had some! a Cyperus alternifolia (papyrus plant). I also came home with a contrasting Scindapsus and a Zamioculcas zamifolia. This latter was an impulse buy because I don't know the plant at all, it's frankly a funny looking thing, but it has the great virtue of being indestructible. Apparently to kill these plants you have to really want to.

Our apartment is now much greener and filled with life.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

The adventurous Daveys ride again

We left the flat at about 2, laden with cabin bags, sleeping bags and a bag of snacks. The following eight days would be filled with travel and adventure, but we began by lugging our bags down the stairs. The lift was out of order.

Tram C took us to Quinconces. Tram B took us to Doyen Brus where we met the other intrepid members of our party and clambered into Uncle Eli's elderly but valiant Renault Espace. Bags, suits, a guitar and a barrel of beer filled the boot. We filled the seats. We ventured off onto the motorway system to do the six hour or so journey to the Cévennes.

We were to stay overnight in some holiday flats in a little village not far outside Alès. The funny thing with the Cévennes is that whatever the distance you have to travel, it takes at least 30 minutes. And that's without diversions, alarmingly narrow village streets and doing the same circuit twice. Diversions, alarmingly narrow village streets and doing the same circuit twice became the leitmotif of our weekend as we hunted for our flats, for the mairie where our friends would marry, for the function rooms where the service and reception would be held, and then for our flats again. It is the first time I have arrived late for a wedding that I was conducting. But then, as I remarked at the third time round the same roundabout, it's always good to have scouts doing the navigating.

The wedding went off well. The maire of Saint-Christol-les-Alès was charming. The service was lively and prayerful. The reception was immensely long, full of delicious food and many, many speeches. I ate snails for the first time. It was hidden in the middle of a savoury cookie. I only ate the one. Somewhere in the middle of one speech a weary Pat laid her head on the table. I wanted to do so, too. Then I imagined a room full of people all with their heads on the table while the speaker continued with his fourth point for a happy marriage. I started laughing uncontrollably. Pat started laughing and left the room. Someone saw her tears and came to give her a hug. The next course came round. "Please don't make me eat any more", she pleaded.

The next day we had a delicious brunch of left-overs, then went off to Nîmes to await our buses and trains on the following day. We had found a glorious AirBnB right in the middle of town. It's only flaw was that it had no lift, so we hauled our bags resignedly up the flights of stairs.

Monday saw our friend Sally taking the train to Northampton all the way from Nîmes, changing at Paris and London. We had a morning to kill before our coach to Nice, so we spent it at the excellent Musée de la Romanité.

Then off through the pouring rain to Nice where we were joining the folk of the International Churches for a week of retreat. It takes five hours to go by bus from Nîmes to Nice, because France is big and Nice is almost in Italy.

The retreat was held in a holiday village where once more we were regaled with vast quantities of delicious food and hauled our bags up and down stairs a lot. It didn't rain the whole time, and although the schedule each day was gruelling, starting at 8:30 straight after breakfast and continuing till 22:30  - I have suggested that the organiser switch to decaffeinated coffee - we had a wonderful time with our mainly American colleagues from France, Italy, Russia, Hungary, Germany, Turkey, etc...

We flew home yesterday - it only took just over an hour to fly from Nice to Bordeaux, and we were glad to unpack our bags and stow them in the cupboard. Pat is nursing a sore back and I'm medicating my poor aching knee and I think we'll put our bags in the hold next time we fly.

Here's some photos:













Monday, October 22, 2018

A concert of Fauré in Arcachon

Saturday began with the excitement of a visit from two of our old neighbours in Pessac, Monique and Yvette. We ate on the terrace until it was time for me to scuttle off and meet some fellow choristers to zoom down to Arcachon where our choir, Arpège, was giving a concert of Fauré in the basilica.

The weather is currently beautiful and warm and we made good time, found the church easily and parked without problems. Rehearsal went OK, the light-setter-uppers did their work and we were dismissed for picnic time. I went and ate my sandwich on the jetty watching the sun set.

Came the hour to change into our song rags - black suit (in my case chinos and jacket) with white shirt and red tie. We had one changing room. Ladies used the small toilet.

The high voices began with the Messe basse, sang with our charming soprano soloist, followed by a couple of motets for sopranos and altos.

Then we other men entered and we sang the Cantique de Jean Racine.  Fauré set this for a competition when he was 19, based on a fine Jansenist text. The church was full, perhaps 200 - 300 in the audience and their applause was enthusiastic and very long. I realised that we were singing very well indeed.

A piece followed for tenors and basses. Again it went well. Some more motets finishing with the nicely rowdy "Tu es Petrus", and then the brief interval.

The second half was the Fauré Requiem. I have mixed feelings about this piece. It has all the beauty, lightness and charm of Fauré : lovely melodies, beautiful vocalises, complex and sometimes adventurous harmony, it's a glorious piece of music, but rather than expressing faith it seems to aim at calm, at resignation and a vague optimism. We sang wonderfully. There's a kind of homogeneity of sound that this choir achieves, along with really strong and sensitive dynamics. At the end for In Paradisum I thought of soaring eagles and we did get that kind of dandelion seed in the wind feeling. I was ... blown away.

I'm still coming down from it all. What an exciting group to sing with!


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Ambassador!

Yesterday we gathered at the amphitheatre of the Musée d'Aquitaine for a Brexit Reachout Meeting organised by and in the presence of the UK Ambassador to France, Lord Ed Llewellyn. He outlined the current state of Brexit negotiations, observing and reiterating that at this time last year everyone predicted that we could never agree the amount of the divorce settlement, and then we did. He wanted to reassure everyone that a deal is possible.

He repeated the current advice of the British Embassy to apply for a Carte de Séjour. When told that the Prefecture of the Gironde was reluctant to issue them to European citizens, and that in some other centres the situation is even worse, he promised to address this with the Prefet that very afternoon.

We also heard that the Prefecture of the Gironde has been instructed to issue Cartes de Séjour to qualifying people who ask for them.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit there is, of course, no deal. The French Government is preparing legislation to handle this. nous devons faire en sorte qu’en cas d’absence d’accord au 30 mars 2019 les Britanniques résidant en France ne se retrouvent pas brutalement en situation irrégulière (We should arrange things so that in the case of no deal on 30 March 2019 the British living in France do not find themselves suddenly in an illegal situation.)

There was a long question time where people's fears and uncertainties were expressed.

As for us, we have sent off our requests for cartes de séjour, and we await the response of the prefecture.

Friday, October 19, 2018

On the beauties of the French language

elféksa

She only does that = That's all she does. (Elle ne fait que ça)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

I know I should be better-armed than this but

every now and again something happens that just shakes you.

The allegation that a squad of 15 hitmen led by a doctor with a bone-saw should dismember while living a political dissident is just so horrific.

I mean, 15 people? Why 15 people?

And a doctor with a bone-saw dismembering a living man while playing music through headphones and advising his team to do the same?

Surely, I thought, no doctor would? No doctor could?

But doctors are no better and no worse than any of us, and have no better record.

I so hope that this story is not true, but sadly it could be.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Bordeaux in the autumn

is very capricious.
Friday we had temperatures of 29°C.
Saturday we had brisk easterly winds.
Sunday started fine and pleasant.

Then in the afternoon, just as we left the house to go to church, the heavens opened. We were swiftly drenched. Utterly drenched. Catrin's umbrella was no use whatsoever as we had that horizontal rain again.

So much rain fell that the drainage on the roads couldn't disperse it all, so when we left church later we were repeatedly soaked by passing traffic launching sheets of muddy water at us.

As soon as we got in we peeled off our wet layers and were thankful for a nice, dry, warm flat.

Numbers were down morning and evening. Some are away, some ill, one poor chap couldn't find anywhere to park his car!


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Inauguration of La Tram Douce

A couple of weeks ago I was cycling back from near the Marché des Capucins. It's not very far, but the direct route takes you down Cours de la Marne, the main road to the central railway station. It's a narrow road with lots of bus routes and desperately needs resurfacing. Not ideal cycling territory. So I decided to take parallel roads.

Oh the fun I had!

In the course of about 1/2 mile I got lost at least four times, occasionally having no clue whatsoever where I was. The problem is that Bordeaux is not built on anything resembling a grid. Not at all! If anything it is like a spider's web built by a deranged and intoxicated beast. Odd angles. Weird curves. Tangents and forks. We have it all...

Anyway, the Marie has come to my rescue! On Saturday we participated in the inauguration of La Tram Douce ("the soft weft"?) The idea is to provide a clearly marked route down the higgledy-piggledy side roads along a 2km route from la Place Sainte-Eulalie to the Place Sainte-Croix, or basically beyond where I wanted to go at both ends.

It was a wonderfully odd affair. First the speeches from the various mayors. Then we got an explanation of what would happen. Then we had to perform certain physical jerks before starting our route.

The route was punctuated by stops where we had to do actions based on various animals, such as walking sideways (pas chassées) like crabs, or standing on one leg with our arms held our, like flamingoes. Other stops had small concerts by two drummers, a trumpeter and a vocalist. The grand finale was a dance duo. We were given orange juice and cold chai to keep us going until the cake and orange juice that awaited us at the end of the route. In all it took us about two hours in the beautiful autumn sunshine. Then Pat and I followed the red line back home, and it took about 15 minutes.












Well it has been a very busy week here in Bordeaux

In terms of weather, we have avoided all extremes, though we have had our usual localised thounderstorms with heavy downpours. There's standing water in the building sites around the flat, but nothing unusual.

In the work there's been various extra things going on, including a meeting of the CNEF33, the new reborn, reformed grouping of evangelical churches in the Gironde. It's great to get folk together and to try and coordinate initiatives and to respect each others situations. It's not without challenge, but we have some good folk involved. We also had a couple of meetings of our steering group and started working on our transition to a different structure.

Adding temporarily to the load is this transition period where I am singing in two choirs. The first is Arianna, which is now entering the final throes of rehearsals for the BIG PROJECT, the Mass for Rossini, composed by a committee of Italian Romantic Composers. It's pretty much as you'd expect and seldom performed because it's a bit of a marathon and needs a beefy orchestra, solid soloists and a big choir. However, it's also good fun to sing because it's totally over the top. The concert is on 13 November and that's the night I regretfully leave the choir. I'll miss the folk and the choir director who's a splendid chap, but I won't miss reserving a car to get me out to the rehearsal rooms.

The other choir is called Arpège (I don't know why choirs can't have easier names) and our project at the moment is an evening of Fauré that we'll give in Arcachon on 20th October. Some of the pieces are just for the ladies and some are pretty straightforward to learn, like some short motets. One I know fairly well, the Cantique de Jean Racine, but I've never sing the Fauré Requiem. I said to the conductor, "So basically I have three weeks to learn this." "That's about it", quoth he. Then he switched me from bass 1 (high bass) to bass 2 (low bass) because of balance and stuff. Sometimes I wander a little, so I think of myself as having to try and avoid being bass 1.5...Still, it's very pretty. I was fretting about one movement in particular, the Offertoire, which isn't an easy read, but we only have two phrases to sing. So I'm fairly confident.

Arpège has breaks, which is wonderful. We get to eat bad things, like Haribo and chocolate bears, and to drink herbal tea. Our musical director is another splendid fellow and he trains us very intently.

In other musical news Pat and I are having a Purcell moment, singing "Sound the Trumpet" together from "Come ye sons of art".

Meanwhile we are very glad that the pavements linking our flats to the tram stop have now been surfected with tarmacadam. I was fed up of putting on clean dark trousers only to get dust all over them as soon as I left the house.

In short it's been a crazy week! No wonder I've been tired all the time!

Next week will be calmer.




Friday, October 05, 2018

The joys and the irritations

They've tarmacadamed the pavement opposite our flats, and we are filled with joy. Up till now the pavement was composed of nasty black stones of varying sizes that were frequently flattened but continuously stirred up so they attacked the sole of your foot through your shoes, or even from inside your shoes. But now we have smooth, black, shiny tarmac. What joy!

It may go a little way to solving one of our other little annoyances. Some women decided to work the street our flat is on. Let the reader understand. They are on the day shift, so they stand or sit in the blazing sun waiting for a car to stop.

A while ago one lady took to yelling at passing men. "Ça va?" If they responded in any way she'd yell, "On y va?" One day she came up as I was waiting for the no. 11 bus.

"Ça va?"
"Bonjour. Ça va très bien, merci"
"On y va?"
"Où? On y va où?"
"Sex!"
"Ah non, et merci de ne plus crier dans la rue comme ça!"

She didn't understand me the first time. From her look I'd guess she is late 50s, perhaps portuguese, someone's mother and grandmother.

I guess that soon they'll move away onto the boulevard. In a square between us and the station the day time sees groups of children in a playground and men playing boules on the boulodrome. The daytime is quite different as the square becomes the haunt of black prostitutes. Apparently in Paris these women are trafficked from Nigeria. I don't know about here. Prostitution is not illegal in France, but being a client of prostitution is illegal.

Another minor hassle we have is that since the town hall renamed the street only abotu half the things we order from Amazon get delivered. The post office is fine unless it's a big parcel in which case they can't be bothered to call you down to collect it. But other carriers can't find the street name in google maps and so they give up. In the best case they ask you what to do, when you can ask them to leave the parcel in a local wine shop. In the worst case they send it back to Amazon.