corders in the hague

It's like having the Corders round for dinner - except the kids don't smash stuff and Mike doesn't drink all your booze. And when you're bored you can get rid of us with a mouse click rather than having to start tidying up the house.

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Location: The Hague, Netherlands

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Paris

I just got back from France, where I was covering the opening round of the Rugby World Cup. It’s tough work, but somebody has to do it. I got to watch all of England’s games, which wasn’t nearly as entertaining as it was back in 2003. More importantly, I watched Fiji beat Wales in what has to be one of the greatest rugby games of all time. 38-34, if my memory serves me correctly.
The game was in Nantes, near the Atlantic coast. I got a train there in the morning, had an excellent lunch in an odd little restaurant that somehow tastefully fused Chinese and classic French cooking. I started with spring rolls filled with confit of duck, followed it with sensational fish soup, washed down with a couple of glasses of local sauvignon blanc and rounded off by a runny chocolate pudding and a sort of very thin custard. I lumbered onto a tram to the stadium and tried to stay awake for the game.
Somehow, the trip for me revolved around good and bad meals and quite a few match days with no meals at all.
Far and away the worst food was the first meal out I had – a sausage called an andouillette, which not only looked like a deep-fried turd, but also smelled and (I’m guessing here) tasted like one. It was in Lens, the ugliest city in all of France, and I was surrounded by lagered-up England fans. It really could not have been any nastier.
An andouillette is a sausage made of rubbery intestines not so much stuffed as coiled into a length of slightly less rubbery intestine. So when you cut into it, the gristle kind of springs out at you, preceded by the stench of an ill-cleaned abattoir. I pride myself on having a reasonably strong constitution, but this particular snag floored me. I actually gagged while trying to eat it. The idea of an offal sausage was sold to me by the French photographers I was dining with and, in my defense, they all ordered one too and none of them could eat theirs either. I guess we just got bad ones, though having been through this lunchtime from hell, I’m not convinced there’s such a thing as a good andouillette. Well, I’ve just googled it and Wikipedia tells me it’s made out of a pig’s COLON and stomach. The Internet can be a terrible thing.
I couldn’t eat another thing for two days and my misery was compounded by having to watch England struggle to beat the United States.
Still, it wasn’t all bad. I spent most of the time in a small hotel just off the swanky Rue Faubourg St Honore and ran off the food and drink by jogging along the Champs Elysee and through a park called Les Tuileries to the Louvre, crossing the Seine and cutting back between two buildings called the Big Palace and the Small Palace (the small one is pictured above and really isn’t very small at all). You can imagine why the downtrodden masses started offing aristocrats’ heads in Paris, I’ve never seen so many pompous buildings topped with gilt statues of women exposing their breasts in one place. If I were living below the breadline and the toffs ruling my country were spending their time building ridiculous palaces and powdering their wigs, I’d get pretty pissed off too. Oddly, both the big and small palace were built after the revolution. Some people never learn.
A couple of quick observations about the French while I remember them: They really do say “Ooh la la.” Particularly rugby commentators. I never heard anybody say “sacre bleu,” but I might not have been listening well enough. French drivers are either the best or the worst in the world. I can’t work out which. In the narrow street I was staying in, cars were always parked so close together that I couldn’t shuffle sideways between them. I have no idea how they get into or out of the spaces. I’d need a crane. Then there’s the experience of driving around the Arc de Triomphe. Much funnier writers than me have described it, I’ll just say it was very, very frightening. I think an aerial view would have the Arc as a queen bee and all the cars spinning around her like crazed drones.They have odd shops in Paris. I think this was probably a product of the posh neighborhood I was staying in, but a random sampling of stores included one selling shoe laces, another selling nail clippers. Just nail clippers. Another appeared to be selling showroom dummies, which was kind of surreal. And there were shops selling fur coats. I’m sure that anywhere else in the world these would be surrounded by armed guards and steel shutters. One shop had a few bars on the windows, but my impression was that they were there to keep out light-fingered ladies looking to make off with a mink, rather than Peta activists and their buckets of red paint.The French smoke more than any nationality I know of with the possible exception of the Indonesians. I sat in a restaurant in Bordeaux and a woman sitting behind me appeared to be taking drags of her Gaulois between mouthfuls of food. I stayed in Bordeaux a couple of days and over two nights out, I must have eaten every piece of a duck apart from the beak. In one restaurant I asked the waitress what a certain dish meant and she replied: “The inside bits of a duck.” Despite my andouillette nightmare, I took the plunge and it was fantastic. Little bits of heart and other internal organs braised in duck fat and served with a slightly sweet wine vinegar dressing.To close, I’ll also just state for the record that, apart from the night desk supervisor in my hotel, Parisians appeared far more polite and pleasant than their reputation would have you believe. After England’s triumphant humiliation of Tonga (36-20) at the Parc des Princes, I missed the last metro home and had to battle with hundreds of pissed fans trying to hail a cab. I finally walked down a side street and managed to get one. I told the driver to get me away from all the drunks as fast as he could, but instead he immediately pulled over and asked me if I minded sharing. What the hell, I thought. I’ve been at the World Cup for nearly four weeks – one cab ride with a bunch of drunks can’t hurt. But actually the driver had seen a bloke my age with his overweight dad who was staggering not because of too much Heineken but some nasty leg injury that required him to use a cane. The driver said he couldn’t let the bloke hobble around the streets of Paris at 2:30 a.m. and who was I to disagree. I was rewarded when, as we drove along the Seine, the son looked out of the window at the Eiffel Tower and asked, (really) Is that the Eiffel Tower?
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1 Comments:

Blogger Tim & Meraiah said...

andouillette... you sure that wasn't an-toilette?

11:41 PM  

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