Friday, 20 April 2012


I can’t believe it’s only Wednesday ; it seems like we’ve been here for a month, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I woke up this morning in Toulouse around 8am, checked my mails and a few prepaid mobile phone offers, got dressed, phoned my nearest and dearest and got the show on the road : a few books dropped off at the library, a croissant bought from one of our local bakers, a Virgin Mobile Sim card and this month’s copy of Opéra Magazine from the tobacconist and newsagent (I still find it strange not to buy Golden Virginia and Rizlas from him ; I’m amazed he’s still in business with the loss of trade that that means). After that, it was back to the Audi (which must be in seventh heaven with the amount of outings it’s been getting these last few days), radio on and off to the motorway, next stop Maison de la Haute Garonne (look it up) in the foothills of the Pyrenees for an espresso, another croissant and a fight with our Iron Age mobile phone to insert its new Sim card, just as a benevolent proctologist would seek to comfort his patient. As it happened, the patient managed to keep its underpants on. Not having violated a cellular communications appliance since 1997 I was incapable of getting the back off the phone so its honour remained intact until we reached Intermarché, where the entrance hall Figaro, responsible for returns, USB keys, iPod batteries and pretty much every else which can’t be vacuously scanned and dropped into a trolley next to the six-pack of dreadful local beer, passable baguette and two gallon canister of engine coolant, proceeded to defile my ancient Nokia with the expertise of a San Fernando Valley porn pro. Ever the perfectionist, he made me repeat his moves before his eagle eye, anxious that I should demonstrate my new-found knowledge and independence to his satisfaction. Top man, seriously. Within ten minutes I’d topped up my wiper fluid (One gallon = €4 !) and was up and running and, as is the custom with mobile phones, had placed a completely gratuitous and overtly-expensive call to my divine spouse who had, in lifting the receiver in our chalet, confirmed what I didn’t honestly need to know : that she was still alive and well and had not been ravaged either by Slovenian bears or hunky Pyrenean park rangers, although I’m not so sure about the latter, such has been her upbeat mood, today. As long as it makes her happy, eh ? Half an hour and a thousand metres northwards later, I found her and the Fingernails ambling on the GR10, the snow now having completely melted. When we went for a walk there yesterday morning, the snow was a foot deep. Such is April, or so they tell me. We didn’t see any bears, but the Fingernails saw a baby fox.

The weather was so fabulous we had lunch on the terrace. The sky was completely blue, not a cloud to be seen. OK, this was 1.14pm ; we knew all would be different by 1.17, so we grabbed our chance while we could. Then we trotted off down to the car and headed off for Spain, the idea being we’d just pop in and get a jeroboam of olive oil. Right…

The French-Spanish border is a bit like San Diego-Tijuana, but with less crime and far less deodorant. Everything is cheaper where they speak the language of Cervantes, so the barbaric northerners head south for their pleasure. In California it’s stag nights (bachelor parties), sex, drugs and alcohol ; in short, everything that really matters in life. Over here, it’s France and Spain, so different rules apply : the French head south for cheap food and petrol. Not a cat house in sight ; this part of the world rocks to discounted Serrano and Jabugo hams, excellent Riojas and cut-price just about anything else you can think of. We left our shops with more for less than we could ever have got in France and crowned the trip by filling up at 15 cents a litre less than the cheapest petrol station in France ; and that in a place which fleeces French price-tourists as much as it can before they realise it’d be cheaper to shop at home. Imagine how much it would cost in the Spanish boondocks…

We popped into a bakery for the Fingernails to have their tea. My condition was that Fingernail I do all the talking. In the event, she didn’t have to, but we got a genuine taste of the country. Check this out : Mrs. F is of Spanish descent, so she speaks it like a native. Fingernail I heard nothing else until she was 2 ; I started learning it in Los Angeles in 1997 so as not to be left behind in Mexican territory and Fingernail II has just started Spanish lessons in Toulouse. Bottom line : we all speak and/or understand castellano. As we sat in this little bakery, an older man  came in and, not even making the slightest effort to communicate in the language of his hosts, ordered a couple of cakes and bought some bread. The owner, knowing on which side her bread was buttered, replied in exemplary French. Sorry, but I find this insulting and incredibly rude. If you’re coming for the first time, at least ask if the person behind the counter speaks your language. If you’re a regular, then make the fucking effort, particularly as you’re the one profiting from the situation. Arsehole (trou de cul in French). There’s no excuse ; I’m nearly fifty, but I want to carry on learning.

OK, back to shagging tarts. Don’t get me wrong. There are many cat houses on the Franco-Iberican border, but they’re to be found in La Jonquera (including Europe’s largest), so book now to avoid disappointment. You can also get seriously discounted booze and cigs there, so go for it : Serious quaffing, smoking and shagging between Voltaire and Cervantes : you can always tell your WAGS (Wives and Girlfriends) you were on a cultural tour of Europe (Tip : the Salvador Dalì museum is in Figueras, just a bit further south of this particular Shangri-La) and that you spent most of your time visiting the Sagrada Familia (Gaudì’s Barcelona cathedral) while you were, in fact, getting a blowie off some Croatian drug addict. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the glory of Europe. Move to Patagonia if you can. But take a bottle of border-discounted cheap whiskey with you.

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