The Programme for next years European capital of culture programme (so far) has just been put online in English. Click the link below or the image above to be transported to the virtual programme now.
Over the weekend I headed out to St Just to l’hotel de département for the Scottish themed Artisan 13 festival. The Conseil General along with the Anglo Med business network had worked in co-operation with the Scottish tourist board to promote Scottish and Provencal designers, jewelry makers, musicians and food experts to create a unique Provencal-Celtic blend.
The expo featured some fantastic Scottish musicians, dancers and singers playing traditions folk music. I have to say it left me a little teary-eyed and emotional, even a little home sick (even though I’m English!) It was lovely to hear some songs in the English language again, and it was great to see the local children getting involved too.
We moved on to the exterior food stalls and outdoor activity stands. We saw most of a live food show by 2 top chefs who created deserts containing Foie Gras. I tried the samples, and can’t say I liked it too much, but I was impressed by the preparation and techniques they used.
For lunch we had a Scottish/Provencal mix of Haggis accompanied by a Seafood platter! Probably not the best mix I know, but we were trying to get into the spirit of the day! (Note the chutney accompanying the Haggis. I have never heard of this before, so I suspected it was to make the Haggis slightly more palatable for the French!)
We then headed over to the Scottish produce stand where they were selling traditional Scottish smoked fish for a very reasonable price. Note the very special label below…
We also talked to one of the head Chefs of the stand, who runs one of the largest catering schools in the Provence. He told us that they do exchange programs with other catering schools around Europe over the summer, where students can come and learn about traditional Provencal cooking, and vise-versa for the French children they exchange with. A lovely idea!
All-in-all it was a fantastic day with a great ambiance. I’m looking forward to seeing more events like this in the lead up to Marseille-Provence 2013 capital of culture.
Upon arranging in France 4 months ago, my main initial priority was to settle in and get my French up to a strong level as quickly as possible. Although I had a level of French when I came over, I was very focusing on wanting to sound as French as possible. I now feel my French has improved a lot and I can follow and contribute to most conversations with friends and family.
So out of the blue this week I got a call back from a local business, (I won’t name the place or the line of work as I don’t want to jinx it!) to ask if I could pop by for an interview for a position I had applied to a week or so ago. Although I was happy to receive the call, I was suddenly panic about the thought of having to do a whole interview in my new, far from perfect language. I hate interviews in English, and having to explain myself, my motivations and my past experiences in French sounded very scary indeed – especially with the thought of a Manager staring at me the whole time studying my responses. I knew that this had to happen, and that I shouldn’t expect to get the position over other native speakers who might also be interviewed, but to treat it as a new experience. Still, the merest thought of what mistakes I might make through my nerves caused me to hyperventilate!
I spent a long time preparing what I wanted to say, translating my qualifications and achievements into their equivalent in French and working through every possible mistake I could possibly make so I knew what to avoid. I want to make sure I was formal, but friendly and as I can’t really disguise the fact I am English I should instead make more of it. I decided to dress up in a nice suit, shirt ands tie combination, borrowed some nice shoes off my Fiancées dad and generally worked on my appearance in the hope to it might take the emphasis away from any faux-pas I might make.
So today was the interview day, and after several toilet visits I prepared myself for the interview. I arrived early, announced my arrival with the secretary and took a seat in the plush reception. After a while a young French gentleman in a suit emerged who had obviously been interviewed before me, and I was called in for my interview. The interview itself went very well indeed. Although my interviewer spoke very quickly I had no problems understanding everything word he said, and I was able to answer any questions posed at me with ease and confidence… Thank goodness!
After 10 the interview was over and I was shaking hands and leaving the office, before saying goodbye to the secretary. I might not have got the job, but at least I felt happy with myself to have got through what felt like a big hurdle without any problems.
A little round-up of recent events…
Ok, so Le Mistral is currently battering our house making it very difficult to sleep at night due to the foroscious noise. For those not in the know, Le Mistral is the strong Provencal wind which travels from the North towards the South out across the Mediterranean sea. Myth has it that a Mistral will last for 3 days, and if it doesn’t stop after 3 days then it will rage for another 3. So far this seems very accurate! The strangest thing about this wind is its ability to switch on like a light. All was calm when we went to bed last night, but during the night all of sudden we were woken up to all hell breaking loose, as plant pots, wind chimes and out-door furniture went crashing about as the Mistral commenced. It was a case of my fiancé making a quick dash to the window boxes to bring in the plant pots before any damage was done!
The great thing about the Mistral however is that it clears the sky of all cloud, as the picture below demonstrates…
So the week before last I was invited by an old University friend to a concert at Le Dome. She is currently touring the world with the Australian Pink Floyd, and this date in Marseille was part of a massive arena tour of France and the rest of Europe. Le Dome is the largest indoor events venue situated in Saint-Just in the 4e Arrondissement and seems almost like a mini arena, similar to the Birmingham NIA.
I took a few friends along, and we made our way to the VIP section, behind the sound desk. I had heard a lot about how bad the sound quality is in the Dome, but we had a great position and I thought the sound quality was generally great. The show itself was very impressive, with an incredible light show and all manner of stage tricks and visuals to bring the Floyd back-catologue to life.
After the concert we attended the ‘after party’ for a short while. It is a long time since I toured with my old band, but it still amazes me how unglamorous venues and festivals are backstage. I found it hard to imagine recent performers such as Beyoncé and Rihanna pigging out on peanuts and lounging on the plastic chairs in the rather empty and bland backstage lounge. Maybe Monster Munch is more their thing? Who know… Anyways, it was good to catch up with an old friend for a short while before we departed into the chilly Marseilles night.
For much of last week we had a lot better weather, and the temperature hovered around 18 – 20 degrees with a tiny breeze. We were invited over for our first BBQ of the year (In Februay!?!) at the mother of my fiancé in the Blancarde area of the City. I thought this might be a perfect time to buy some fresh fish from the famous Marseille fish market on the Vieux Port. I am slowly getting a lot better at identifying the various strange and wonderful species of fish we have down here, so I felt confident I might be able to order something suitable for the BBQ!
Once I got down there I hovered around the various stalls in amongst the fish lovers and bemused tourists for a good 15 minutes. I desperately tried to suss out which fish I wanted, the name in French, how many I wanted and how much I would need to pay by listening to other people ordering. At last I plucked up the courage and asked one gruff-spoken, leather skinned Marseilles fisherman for some Dorade Sar, or small Sea Bream. There are many different varieties of Sea Bream in the mediterranean, the most highly prized being the Dorade Royal or Guilthead Bream in English. Unfortunately all the stalls were fresh out of Dorade Royal, so I felt the Sar could work well on the BBQ. I thought 15 Euros seem to be the amount many other people were paying so I plumped for the same. I soon started to worry as the man filled a bag with these fish, 10 in all before handing it over for the cash. I walked home feeling a bit silly that I had ordered so many fish, and that I would be eating Sar for the next 2 weeks solid!
One final thought before I go…
One of the things that I have been having a lot of problems with lately is when you have English words, phrases or names within everyday French speech. I have been working very hard on my French accent, but when it comes to pronouncing anything in English I always revert back to my English native speaking accent. This inevitably leads to me having to repeat what I have just said again, as the person I’m talking to hasn’t got a clue what I just said. Take asking for a packet of cigarettes for instance. I have now worked out that I need to say the English word, phrase or name with a fake French accent in order to be understood.
Rather strange if you think about it… On y va!
Due to the schools being off for half term vacation, my Fiancée and I were both lucky enough to have a weekday off together. We were joined by another couple of friends and decided to head out on the ferry-boat service (The Navette) to the îles du frioul from the Port. The service goes at different intervals every day of the week, and has only cancelled 75 times due to bad weather in its entire history. Pretty impressive really when you see the state of the sea during a Mistral!
The trip costs 15 euros, or 10 euros if you want to bypass Chateau d’if.
First things first LUNCH! We stopped off near the little port for a lovely lunch. Moule Frit, cold beers, sunshine, great service… and these fantastic views. It really made me realise how lucky I am to have this on my doorstep.
We then all went for a stroll around the footpaths on the Island. The rocks landscape still holds many clues as to its strategic use during the Second Word War, as disused bunkers, trenches and gun positions testified.
The landscape was stunning, with tiny inlets and small secluded beaches could be found between gaps in the craggy rocks. The colour and clarity of the water is something that still blows me away.
After a bit of calamity trying to get a ferry back (first one was too full meaning we were forced to have another Pastis!), we got back home. A wonderful take, which I highly recommend. I can see this being very popular during the summer, so make sure to arrive at the boats well before departure to make sure you get a space.
I think it is time I come clean and face up to an addiction I have. Over the last few weeks I find myself constantly needing a fix. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night with only one thing on my mind. I really need help…
My addiction is not with Alcohol, Drugs, Gambling or Sex, however. I am addicted to the bread from my local boulangerie, specifically’La Benette’.
Sometimes I find myself unable to stop eating a Banette without finishing the whole thing in one sitting. Sometimes more than one. It goes perfectly with any Pâté , Frois Gras or Cheese. I really need help! It is just too good!
If you are ever in Marseille, and would like to experiment with this particular vice, I recommend my local Boulangerie. Click the image below, or go to the following address…
So as many who know me will testify, I have a slight (!!) obsession with sea fishing. I personally find it a great way to relax and unwind, and I also think it is a very intelligent sport. It takes a lot of knowledge to understand the habitats that fish can be found in, their eating patterns, how the conditions and weather can affect their behaviour and so on. I also love eating fish, and I don’t think anything comes close to catching a fresh fish, killing it respectfully and humanely and eating it that day.
Since arriving in Marseille I have quickly realised that all of the knowledge and techniques that I had learnt to use in the UK was now redundant, and I had to relearn a new way of fishing the mediterranean way. The species are also completely different, with far more variety than I am used to in the UK. For those interested a great resource to demonstrate the different species can be found HERE. Luckily I have friends and family out here that are more than happy to show me some of the techniques and take me out fishing. One friend invited me out yesterday on his boat, moored in Les Goudes – a small traditional harbour in the Calanques south of Le Pointe Rouge.
My friend has a great knowledge of the local area, having lived in Les Goudes all of his life. Having not really seen a lot of the Calanques from the sea, I was more than happy to see some of the rock formations and isolated inlets that I had heard so much about. The weather was not great as my pictures below will testify, but the sea was pretty calm to it was very comfortable fishing.
We were fishing using a very old and basic technique, which in the UK we call trolling. The basic concept is using a lure to mimic the actions and movements of a small fish, which you pull along on a long line following a slow-moving boat. This type of fishing targets aggressive predator fish – which around Marseille includes Loup/ bar (Sea Bass), Liche, Barracuda, Denti, Bonitou (Bonnito / Tunny) and Maquereau (Mackerel and king mackerel). The technique is incredibly simple, with a single weighted hook with a long fish-shaped latex body which flaps as it is pulled through the sea. My friend told me that the old fisherman used to use pig skin instead of the latex.
We then slowly chugged around the coast and islands whilst the lure followed us about 300 Yards behind.
Although the fishing was pretty slow, with just a couple of small bites, the scenery more than made up for it with stunning rock formation, bird life and beautiful clear water…
My friend also talked to me at length about the new changes to the area that will be coming in to force with the new National Park status. I posted a report hosted by the BBC about the opinions of the locals about these changes in a previous post which can be found HERE. My friend said many locals living in Les Goudes and the surrounding areas are very concerned about the forceful way that the National Park changes have been made (by Parisian authorities), and feel their voices have not been heard. The area is incredibly sensitive, and the changes mean that all the local boats will no longer be allowed to fish in the area for pleasure, whereas many professional outfits who take more fish and cause greater damage are allowed in, by buying expensive licenses. Even though there are already rules in place to restrict the type of commercial fishing, we saw a few examples of these rules being broken on our small trip out.
My friend was also worried about the impact of an increase in tourism to the area due to the National Park status, and what effect that will have on the fragile environment. The National Park status has already changed the restrictions on building in the area, and new developments have already started appearing in Les Goudes and the surrounding areas – many owned as second of third homes to wealthy people living outside of the area. This has also had a knock on effect to the house prices in the area, meaning children whose families have lived in Les Goudes their entire lives are priced out of the market, due to properties being snapped up by wealthy people from outside the local area as investment potential.
We also saw a few buildings along the stretch of coastline, who have been bought up by compulsory orders during the National Park takeover, which many local residents fear will be made into hotels and leisure complexes in the coming years.
Back to the fishing, and unfortunately we didn’t catch anything! I have been told countless times that the fish of the mediterranean are very ‘particular’, so this obviously wasn’t our day! Still a wonderful trip, and a great chance to get some local knowledge on the area and opinion on the coming National Park changes from people who have lived in the area their whole lives.