Wednesday, 30 January 2013


I'm going to tell you about Meursault and nearby Beaune for a little while, and then I'll be finished with France for a while. As I said before, we were surrounded by vineyards and the area had obviously benefited from this industry. 

There were some amazing houses to gawk at. We didn't visit any of the wine tasting places, as I figured the prices would be more than we were prepared to pay.  

Our first night we ate at the restaurant and were given a free glass of wine. It was supposedly Vin de Campsite and was very nice. However Bill bought some Vin de Campsite, as the name amused him, and what we brought home was nothing like what they served. 

I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say perhaps it didn't travel well. 

What we didn't buy from the campsite shop we cycled the mile or so into Meursault to the convenience store and bought:  fruit, veg, wine, sausages, cheese. 

Bill was keen to enjoy the French food on offer as opposed to the tinned goods I brought.  

Our camping site was at the end of a terrace that gave us tremendous views.  

However, the Mistral  threatened to blow us away the first couple of days.  Luckily, it completely disappeared and all was peaceful after that.  

Experiencing Le Mistral firsthand reminded me a lot of growing up in Oklahoma.  

We looked in the windows of several estate agents and found any number of flats or small houses that sounded reasonably priced, but we'd already decided not to go that route.

There two things I'm sure I will always remember about our stay in Meursault.  One is having eaten escargot and lived to tell the tale.  Once I got used to the chewy texture, the flavour was quite nice.  I confess to having gobbled them down and then taken the photo, as I didn't want to risk having to eat them cold!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Tarn Hows

As I mentioned before, I've always been a bit blasé about the scenery in the Lake District. It's feasible that I've been looking for something more spectacular, my perception blunted by American landmarks. Perhaps I never went at the right time of year. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention at all. We went for a walk at Tarn Hows one day and it all really got me.

Remember these in Wales?

And then the sun came out and I wanted to go around and see it all again!  But we didn't.

The name, Tarn Hows, like many of the local names seemed strange to me.    The National Trust was ready for my question with a sign:

Why Tarn Hows?
Viking settlers from Scandinavia began to arrive in the Lake District between the seventh and ninth centuries. The Norse language left a large impression upon Cumbrian place names. Tarn Hows is a good example of this.
A Tarn is a small mountain lake. This name comes from the Norse word, tjorn which means teardrop, used to describe any small body of water.
Hows derives from the Norse word haugr which means hill. Other variations of this word seen around Cumbria include; how, howe and haw.
Therefore Tarn Hows is aptly named; a small lake set amongst the rolling hills."

Friday, 25 January 2013

Part XXIV - Honour of Thieves

This is part of a series discussing The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen.  Chapter Six is titled Pecuniary Canons of Taste.

Veblen reiterates that the reason people participate in conspicuous consumption and waste their money at ever increasing levels is not consciously to out-do one another, but to live up to the expectations of their peers; to fit in and be accepted.  In spending money for show, he lists areas that may be neglected, such as ‘articles of underclothing, some articles of food, kitchen utensils, and other household apparatus designed for service rather than for evidence’.  

He then makes the worrying statement that society's rules concerning an acceptable standard of living affect more than just a person's economic life. They also influence ‘the sense of duty, the sense of beauty, the sense of utility, the sense of devotional or ritualistic fitness, and the scientific sense of truth’.  He expounds on these various ideas in later chapters.

As an example, he discusses the legal system whose job it is to admonish persons who deviate from a certain code of behaviour. Early on, Veblen pointed out that the ownership of property was a foundation of the acquisition of wealth and position by the upper classes. Even today it could be said that the ownership of property is a sacred concept. It is generally the motivation of theft to raise one's status.    

Back in 1899 Veblen makes the observation that it is better to be a big thief than a petty one, because
“The thief or swindler who has gained great wealth by his delinquency has a better chance than the small thief of escaping the rigorous penalty of the law and some good repute accrues to him from his increased wealth and from his spending the irregularly acquired possessions in a seemly manner. A well-bred expenditure of his booty especially appeals with great effect to persons of a cultivated sense of the proprieties, and goes far to mitigate the sense of moral turpitude with which his dereliction is viewed by them."

He goes on to say that if a man is seen to be stealing ‘only’ because he wished to provide a ‘decent’ life for his wife (who was brought up in the lap of luxury) the theft would be viewed not only as being under extenuating circumstances, but practically as an honourable act. The idea of holding thieves in awe ' peculiarly true where the dereliction involves an appreciable predatory or piratical element’. Further, ‘…all that considerable body of morals that clusters about the concept of an inviolable ownership is itself a psychological precipitate of the traditional meritoriousness of wealth.'

In short, Veblen thinks society was pretty much blinded by money and the person who had it, regardless of how they got it, would command some level of respect. I'm thinking that there was probably some truth to this. I'm still trying to decide if there is still some truth to this idea. On one hand I'm thinking about the rescue of the banks; on the other hand I'm thinking Bernie Madoff. I haven't decided yet.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Through Lyon

On our way to Meursault, we got caught in a traffic jam on the bridge at Lyon. Though we stopped for one night in Lyon on our way south, we weren't staying this time. 

I remembered hearing / writing that Lyon was the gastronomic capital of France and wished we could experience some of that. Also a colleague at work was from this city and though I've since lost touch with her, it would be fun to tell her I'd checked out her hometown. Perhaps another time.

Apartment living is much bigger in Europe than in Britain and the U.S. It's hard to tell whether these would be nice flats, but there were streets of them along the riverside. 

Some had signs hanging on the balconies, which Bill said were protesting about the main road that was built just outside their windows. I expect the buildings were there first, so I'm sympathetic. "Progress" always seems to come at a cost, eh?

When we reached our campground at Meursault I had to laugh:  I'd been furiously trying to snap photos of vineyards from the road. I loved the geometrical rows, but  was having little luck.  At Meursault I could hardly photograph anything but! We were surrounded...

Monday, 21 January 2013

Bridge House

By the way, I'm not finished with the Lake District; it's just that the holidays sort of intervened. I'm not finished with those either, but I'm putting that aside for now.  

Ambleside's traditional stone buildings

If you've never been to Britain (or even if you have) I can tell you that there isn't a huge variation in the topography. Sure, there are flat bits and hilly bits. The west side of the country is even wetter and greener than the east, which is saying something. But it's not like, say, the difference between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, or the contrast between the humid Deep South and the arid Utah desert. However, one thing that does distinguish one area from another is the building materials used.    

Tyneside is mainly red brick or (ugly) beige pebble dash. Up around Morpeth village you see a lot of cream coloured stone and some white plaster. Edinburgh has a pale-ish stone largely covered with coal soot. This colour as well as the row upon row of towering terraces makes the city seem very dour and imposing. Wales has distinctive purple slate roofs (like on my house) and of course the Cotswolds area is full of thatched roofs.  

Tudor-bethan buildings in the background, a tourist in the front


Ambleside grabbed my attention with its two story buildings that looked like nothing but thin, dark grey stones just stacked with no mortar in sight. Perhaps they are held together with gravity plus a bit of ivy or green moss.

One house in particular was especially startling. It was originally built as an apple store (as in storage, not selling) for nearby Ambleside Hall. Its position over the beck made it exempt from land tax. Bridge House is said to be possibly the most photographed building in the village and a popular subject for artists.    

At one point, a family with six children lived in these two rooms.

It is now owned by the National Trust and used as a (rather cramped) shop. I would imagine it's damp and chilly as well!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Part XXIII – Birth, Waste and Academia

This is part of a series discussing The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen.  Chapter Five is titled The Pecuniary Standard of Living.  

Veblen believes that because custom demands a standard of living based on conspicuous waste, this in turn acts as a Malthusian check (I had to look this up) in lowering the birth rate in some classes, particularly amongst those ‘given to scholarly pursuits’.  I guess academia has never paid particularly well, eh?  Veblen explains why ‘there is no class of the community that spends a larger proportion of its substance in conspicuous waste than these’:
“Because of a presumed superiority and scarcity of the gifts and attainments that characterize their life, these classes are by convention subsumed under a higher social grade than their pecuniary grade should warrant. The scale of decent expenditure in their case is pitched correspondingly high, and it consequently leaves an exceptionally narrow margin disposable for the other ends of life. By force of circumstances, their habitual sense of what is good and right in these matters, as well as the expectations of the community in the way of pecuniary decency among the learned, are excessively high — as measured by the prevalent degree of opulence and earning capacity of the class, relatively to the non-scholarly classes whose social equals they nominally are.”

I've no idea how true this idea was in Veblen's time, but I'm thinking it seems a broad generalization to make today. I know university lecturers and professors who are frugal and others who spend every cent.   My general impression is that travel rather than cars or clothing is a priority.  Come to think of it, I know of no academics with large families...

So ends Chapter Five.  Next week we’ll tackle Pecuniary Canons of Taste.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

St Paul to Meursault

Have I mentioned that we're on our way home? Yes, there is an end to this very long holiday. Avignon was as far south as we traveled and visiting Simon was part of the return journey. Our next stop was the village of Meursault.


Before we leave Simon, I must tell you about a film that he showed us. It is called Belleville Rendez-vous or (in American) The Triplets of Belleville. Technically it is a cartoon but Bill and I loved it. It was very apropos, being in part about cycling in the Tour de France, which had just passed through Simon's village when we were there.  

I think it's really about the love of a grandma for her grandson and about the resilience of three old ladies. It is French, but anyone can understand it. The drawings of the city of Belleville are spectacular, I enjoyed the music and it is set in the inter-war period, so how could I not love it? 

You can watch the French trailer here. The American trailer is here.

Monday, 14 January 2013

This Year's Stack

I can't imagine a time when books aren't going to be found on my Christmas wish list.  Last year I was inspired by LR at Magnificent or Egregious  showing us her Christmas books.  

Terrible photo, sorry!  Blame the short days here in the North...

I got some lovely hand lotion (Molton Brown) and Simon gave us both a box of French foods:  duck pate, red wine, chocolate truffles and the like.  Bill bought me a shed load of Art Deco books, which I'm hoping he'll enjoy as well.  My favourite of those so far is Art Deco Fashion by Suzanne Lussier (a V&A publication), but I've not got through them all yet.  He also got me the film Turning Point.  I'd forgotten how beautiful Ann Bancroft was.  It was surprising to see how young Baryshnikov and MacLaine once were (weren't we all?)    

My lovely step-children bought me loads off my Amazon wish list:

W./E. (I expected to hate this and love the clothes, but actually I really liked the film itself - both the story lines grabbed me.  Madonna was slated for this film, but I have to say I thought it was quite good, and of course the clothes were spectacular.)

Let's Bring Back, by Leslie M. M. Blume.  I wondered how this would compare with An Encyclopedia of Exquisite, but it's been a year since I read that, so I need to go back and re-fresh myself.  I've learned loads from Blume's book and, at this writing, I'm only in the Ns.

An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler.  There is a lot in here for the frugal chef and she writes beautifully as well.  Her chapter titles are beguiling and much in the style of MFK Fisher who wrote How to Cook a Wolf in the austerity of WWII.   Adler has given me a lot of ideas to try, but she does seem to rely heavily on olive oil and salt.  However, she gives wonderfully practical advice about a wealth of things, growing and using herbs for one, and she's convinced me to go back to boiling veg, if only to use the water afterwards.   I've not finished this yet, but reading it - like reading Elizabeth David - is almost as good as eating a meal.

1939:  The Last Season by Anne de Courcy.  Having read her book, The Viceroy's Daughters - The Lives of the Curzon Sisters, I knew this would be good and it is.  It has all sorts of vivid details about what people did, clothes that were worn, etc. but also very much sets the scene in the months coming up to Britain's declaration of war with Germany.   

Keeping up Appearances:  Fashion and Class Between the Wars, by Catherine Horwood.  Her Ph.D. supervisor was Amanda Vickery, whose book (Behind Closed Doors:  At Home in Georgian England) I so enjoyed last year...must re-read that soon.   If you haven't seen Vickery's TV series on this topic, I highly recommend it (it may be on PBS in the US).  Horwood's book was focused primarily upon the middle classes, with a bit about either side of them, but it fits nicely in with what Thorstein Veblen talks about.  It made me very glad to live in this day, to be retired and to be living outside of my own culture (because the rules don't apply as easily to me).  Whew, what a relief!

I've yet to tackle:

Art Deco House Styles by Trevor Yorke.  I've only flipped through this, but I'm thinking I probably prefer Art Nouveau objects, but Art Deco clothing.  

London Art Deco, by Arnold Schwartzman.  I'm thinking we're about due a fun (as opposed to business) trip to London soon.  Perhaps this will give some ideas about what to go see?

Art Deco 1910-1939, edited by Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton and Ghislaine Wood.  This is a 'coffee table' sized book and it will be amazing, I'm sure.

I've been on a spring cleaning kick this last week, culling films, books, clothes and what-nots.  Have to make room for new acquisitions, after all!

Did you get anything fabulous for Christmas?

Friday, 11 January 2013

Part XXII - Instinct, Industry and Privacy

This is part of a series discussing The Theory of the Leisure Class, by an American economist named Thorstein Veblen.  Chapter Five is titled The Pecuniary Standard of Living.  

Veblen feels strongly about the need to Keep Up with - or to Surpass - The Joneses:
"With the exception of the instinct of self-preservation, the propensity for emulation is probably the strongest and most alert and persistent of the economic motives proper."

In an industrial society, this emulation takes the form of conspicuous expenditure, which he also calls conspicuous waste.  Veblen thought this waste would easily absorb any increases in production made possible by industrial efficiency.  If it did not this would only be because an individual had not yet managed to keep up with a rapid increase in wealth, or perhaps because the person was saving up for something, ‘ordinarily with a view to heightening the spectacular effect of the aggregate expenditure contemplated.’  

Sadly, there is never the situation where increased efficiency makes maintaining  a lifestyle easier.  Because the accepted standard of living is ever-rising, energies are expended towards ever higher expenditure.  J. S. Mill is quoted as saying  that 
“hitherto it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being.”

Of course, a person's standard of living is determined by the community or class they belong to, but also by the 
‘popular insistence on conformity to the accepted scale of expenditure as a matter of propriety, under pain of disesteem and ostracism’.  

Because living ‘in vogue’ is ‘agreeable and expedient’ and in consequence of the continual increases of the standard, men (as it were) are inclined to develop the single purpose of making more money and to dismiss activities that do not bring money.

The effect on consumption is to focus on those things most obvious to the observers whose good opinion is sought  and to ignore any activity or object that fails enhance ones image.  It was this focus on ‘visible consumption’ that led Veblen to state that the 
‘domestic life of most classes is relatively shabby, as compared with the éclat of that overt portion of their life that is carried on before the eyes of observers. As a secondary consequence of the same discrimination, people habitually screen their private life from observation…. So far as concerns that portion of their consumption that may without blame be carried on in secret, they withdraw from all contact with their neighbors... Hence the exclusiveness of people, as regards their domestic life, in most of the industrially developed communities; and hence, by remoter derivation, the habit of privacy and reserve that is so large a feature in the code of proprieties of the better class in all communities.’

So, those are one person’s thoughts about the lack of a sustainable lifestyle and the fading sense of community amongst neighbours.  His ideas made me think of the Geordie saying ‘All fur coat and nae knickers’; also of Morty Morelli, one of the ex-husbands in the First Wives Club, who wore beautiful suits but cheap underwear.  Whilst my underwear mostly tends to be on a par with my outerwear, I have to acknowledge fixing up the public spaces of my house before the private ones.  However, my needs for privacy are probably more based on my sleeping and my housekeeping habits.  I do tend to resent unscheduled intrusions and am grumpy enough not to answer the door – or the phone - if it damn well doesn’t suit me.

What about you?

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

La Guarde Adhémar

Another place Simon took us was to a village called La Guarde Adhémar. 

 You may or may not recall the Adhémar family from Grignan a couple of weeks ago.  

I haven't done as much research about the history of this place, 

but basically it seems to be about the large herb garden, which we explored.   

Simon said it was also famous for the decorative street signs. 

I don't know if this is actually a claim to fame, but I found myself unable to resist capturing every one I saw. 

 I still think they'd make great note cards.  

I was also fascinated by the objects that various restaurants seemed to use for decor, like a huge bird cage - could it be called an aviary? - 

with metal and ceramic birds in.  

I liked the humour. 

Also, old milk bottle carriers and even an old metal dish rack seemed to have been given a new purpose.

Have a very rusty old bike? 

If you have an attractive stone wall covered with vine, this can be its new role in life.

The herb garden probably wasn't at its all time best, it looked a bit neglected,

but it was still pretty interesting.  

The views over the valley were brilliant;  saw a high speed train in the distance and a loop of the Rhône; who doesn't love the romance of trains and rivers?  

It wasn't until we were leaving that Simon told me the sign said not to touch the plants.  Oops, too late.  I didn't pick anything, I just wanted to get the scents on my hands.   I'm probably lucky I didn't break out into a rash or something. 

Of course there were many different types of lavender plant, also some 'grand woodworm' AKA as absinthe.  

I was intrigued by several types of sage.  Some smelled heavenly, others stunk.  

We had a good wander round, then headed back to Simon's village to find another restaurant for dinner.