Cavorting in Calvados

Back from a break in Normandy where cold, windy weather and an excruciatingly painful knee somewhat curtailed activities. However a stop-off at a Calvados distillery refreshed the senses and taste buds, if not the knee.

My neighbour first introduced me to Calvados, surreptitiously adding it to my coffee one night after the village fete. I wasn’t looking and sipped the coffee quite happily. An hour later I had great difficulty finding my own front door despite the fact that I live opposite, just a mere handful of metres away. Since then, whenever he visits Normandy he has brought me a bottle back “straight off the farm”…er…that is to say… made privately for the makers own personal consumption.

Calvados is distilled from cider made from specially grown and selected apples. The fruit is harvested and pressed into a juice and then fermented into a dry cider. After that it is distilled into eau de vie. It can only be sold as Calvados after spending two years maturing in oak casks. The longer it is left, the smoother it becomes.

512px-Calvados_Apfel_0596

Apples for Calvados

Calva_still

A Calvados Still

It’s a versatile spirit – an aperitif, a digestif, useful in cooking (particularly to pep up pork) and in coffee.

There are a number of traditions that surround Calva. One I was told of was le trou Normand, or “the Norman hole”. This is a small drink of Calvados that you take between courses during a very long meal, supposedly to resuscitate the appetite.

But I really like the sound of an old ritual that the Norman farmers followed at the end of a meal. It is called the seven rounds of Calvados and it goes thus:

Round 1.          Le Café Calva (a tot poured into the coffee)

Round 2           La Rincette (a little nip)

Round 3           La Sur-rincette (another little nip)

Round 4           Le Gloria (yet another)

Round 5           L’Alléluia (and another)

Round 6           Le Coup de pied au cul (the kick up the backside)

Round 7           Le Coup de l’étrier (the kick in the stirrup – that is the kick out of the door and onto the horse)

It was a ritual for men only and said to leave the ladies free and happy for the evening. I can bear witness to that last point!

Couperne_Calvados

The End Product…Mmm!

Three Years On

Roll back three years, February 2014. There I was sitting like Dido in the ruins of Carthage amid cartons, packing cases and bubble wrap. The materials goods of my life packed and awaiting transport to France.

I remember the shivers of trepidation as I wondered what the hell I was doing yet a pleasurable anticipation that the move to France would kick-start my life which, truth to tell was a bit stagnant and aimless.

Today a neighbour asked me how it was all going, this adventure of mine and it set me thinking. I’m not going to make comparisons between France and the UK – comparisons are odious as John Lydgate said in a debate about the horse, goose and sheep. So, here are some thoughts.

Life here in my part of France is one of halves (nearly did a John Moxon there and wrote two halves). Spring through to autumn is a hive of activity with festivals, concerts, fêtes, vide greniers and a hundred and one places to visit most of which I’ve yet to see. It seems to be a law of the expat universe that you only get to see your surroundings when you have visitors.

I love the heat of these summer days on my ageing bones and, if the temperature soars over 35 degrees which it did last summer, there is always the cool, freshness of the house to revive me. This is the season when shutters stay resolutely closed during the day and opened at night. At the end of a long hot day I have the choice of two swimming lakes to wallow in followed by a glass of chilled white wine at the buvette.

In case you fear that I spend my life lollygagging around, take heart. I have my routines. Weekday mornings I write. I have my main meal at lunchtime now usually shared with a neighbour and we take turn and turn about for the cooking.  Most days I have a siesta and then work in the house or garden until the sun goes down. It’s a routine… but  not immutable! The weekends I cut loose a bit.

In contrast to these months winter begins with migration; the swallows that have amused  me all summer disappear en masse, the cattle are brought bellowing in indignation off the summer pastures and the foreigners, mainly Brits in this village go back home. This exodus is shortly followed by the appearance of piles of logs tipped in front of the doors of the houses that line the two main streets. These will have to be carried through the houses to the little yards at the back.

2011-12-25-05-51-46

Winter Fuel

The summer attractions are closed and the ski slopes are wakening. The shutter routine is reversed… open during the day and closed at night. But there is always a twilight zone when, if I happen to be walking down the street, I can sneak a surreptitious peep through the windows, lit from inside. Winter is the time when the village wakes late and goes to bed early. The only constant is Carmelite, a very old lady who, winter and summer alike, stands at her doorstep at twilight murmuring to Santa Maria and counting her blessings.

What else is new?

I like the greeting ritual, the “embrace”, a kiss on both cheeks. Once I realised that “baiser” meaning to kiss has an alternative meaning akin to a well-known Anglo-Saxon four letter word, I hurriedly dropped it from my growing vocab.

I have exchanged my smart Ford C-Max for a Nissan X-trail; old but serviceable and hopefully, like me has a few more miles left. It is far more practical for the sort of fetching and carrying I do such as taking home an eight foot solid oak cornice to make a canopy for a bed or using the brilliant search lights, whilst roaming off-piste at midnight, looking for a missing  dog.

I can converse pretty well in French although telephone conversations stymie me now and again as do the very thick accents that some of the older villagers have.

I’ve become an adept at managing my shopping around the midi-break when many of the smaller shops are closed for a couple of hours. I fell foul of it so many times and made so many futile trips before I learned to organise supermarket shopping (because they remain open) at lunchtimes and all other shopping either before noon or after 2.00pm.

The famous or infamous French bureaucracy defeats me from time to time. I am still waiting for my Carte Vitale after twelve months. This is my passport into the French healthcare system. Fortunately I haven’t needed access except for the dentist and I guess “the system” is geared to the long wait since I have two years to reclaim the fees I have paid.

All in all I am content. I’ve completed a novel, currently out for editing and plan to publish a collection of short stories myself in March/April.  The second novel is in planning stage too. Whilst there’s still a load to finish off in the house, ca marche as they say, it progresses.

I’ve been lucky. What started out as a spur-of-the-moment decision which could have gone seriously wrong has turned out to be probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  But if the gods are smiling on me at the moment I know, capricious beings that they are, that they might yet have a sneaky trick up their sleeves to play on me. So I tread cautiously.

PS: If anyone fancies sampling a bit of la vie francaise , my brother has a lovely self-continued apartment in the house available to let, so come on down for a taste.

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16714011