07 August, 2017

Aqueras montanhas

After two years of a rather disappointing professional experience at OECD in Paris, I have decided to change job completely. From data-based policy research and evaluation in an international organisation, I have just moved to Pau in Southwest France to head a team of 30 staff whose main role is to administer the activity of local farmers for the local representation of the French government. It is an exciting and challenging professional turnaround for me. This being a governmental position, I am bound once more by the code of conduct and secrecy of the French civil service. I will have to explore avenues for professional blogging when I get a better idea of my new professional environment.

In the meantime, the musical and culinary scene in Pau are not to be disdained.

First on food, I am in the heart of a region famous for its ewe's milk cheeses, spicy chilies, Blonde d'Aquitaine beef, maize grain-fed poultry products, cured ham and all kinds of pork-based delicacies, sweet cherries, and pastries galore... Local wines from the Southwest of France are increasingly improving their quality and Bordeaux is not far away for the snobbish drinkers. I am looking for accommodation close to the central Pau city market, open from 7.30am where I can find cheap local produce six days a week, with a farmers' market on Saturdays for an even wider selection of fresh food. So I am not at all worried about the food part of my new duty station. I am also now only two hours' drive from my parents' country house so I can always drive back home to enjoy my Mum's Asian cooking if I run out of good ideas on what to eat.

On the musical side, it is a bit quiet now in the heart of the summer holiday. Still, I went to hear a very good French gospel group last night. Although their English pronunciation was not always perfect, the New Gospel Family had intensity in their singing, perfect and sometimes excitingly blue harmonies, and the characteristic groove of this moving musical genre. This region also has a local tradition of singing in harmony, both in the Bearn and Basque country mountains so I look forward to being moved by the close harmonies of this traditional repertoire. I hope to audition for the choir of the Pau conservatoire, which sings with the regional symphonic orchestra when vocal parts are needed. I also discovered a local opera company close to my parents' house, which produces a new show every summer with amateur and professional singers and intrument players. Hopefully, this will be an opportunity to get back into a staged production.

And if all this fails to fulfil me, I have the Pyrenees mountains just 45 minutes' drive away for trekking, skiing and amazing vistas. So here it is goes for yet another new, colourful and delicious period in my life!

Aqueras montanhas
Occitan traditional song, Nadau Zenith de Pau 2017, Nadau

07 May, 2017

Goûtons voir si le vin est bon !

Last week end, I went on tour with Choeur Varenne to the wine-growing region of Burgundy. We spent a good part of the three days eating and drinking. Our first stop after two hours' coach ride from Paris was in the middle of the Chablis vineyard. And by 11am we were tasting the resulting wine from previous years.

We learned about the complexity of Burgundy wines and why it is important to try many different bottles before purchasing anything. The soil and growing conditions can be very different on vine plots just two meters apart on the same hilly slope because of varying sun exposure, soil drainage and depth, rockiness. This results in a great variety of wines although they are mostly all processed from the same grape varieties: chardonnay for whites and pinot noir for reds.

We visited historical buildings that had been hosting wine processing since the 12th century. We were treated to a fantastic red wine which changed aroma and taste each time I took a sip from my glass. It started off with red berries when we first tasted it at lunch time and had evolved to leather and cocoa notes by the evening when we opened left-over bottles with our picnic on the way back to Paris.

Of course, we also sang a concert. Electrified by the surprisingly large audience already waiting for us when we reached the rural church to give our concert, we gave one of our best tour performances. We, of course, celebrated our musical success with more eating and drinking at a restaurant in Dijon.

 Three days of eating, drinking, visiting, singing. No wonder I felt exhausted every day at siesta time.

Chevaliers de la table ronde
French traditional song

Photo of me napping: Caroline L.