Fiona Alderman: France Has Shut Down
It is extraordinary to see and one I never thought I would experience in my lifetime shops, cafes and restaurants are all closed in France. Only shops selling food essentials, pharmacies and hospitals are open. Schools and universities are now closed for the immediate future.There is fear and worry about what is going to happen and for how long? No postal service either. It seems endless.
This weekend and the next there are local elections all over the country and there was doubt whether they would even take place. One did but the turnout out was definitely lower. The next one has been postponed to a later date.I didn’t go because we no longer have the right to vote because of Brexit. Unfortunate, as there are a lot of British people living in the Dordogne.
Our mayor of nearly 20 years, Mr Dubois, is standing down and making the way for someone younger. I remember when we first came here, I was very taken with him, calling him Ol Blue Eyes because of his intense blue eyes and his powerful Gallic charm.
Another strange thing to happen is the absence of the “bises” the French custom of greeting one another with kisses on both cheeks. We now do this curious elbow bumping instead. The nurses who visit at home are now wearing masks and also the pharmacy has a border of contact to be respected – 1 metre at least between people. Even in the supermarket queue. Haven’t seen much evidence of panic buying thank goodness.The toilet roll shelves are a bit bare though.
I have just watched our President, Monsieur Macron , on his TV address warning of a complete shutdown of the country. He called it The War. It seems very like it now when I go out for just essential shopping or pharmacy needs, I have to have a signed paper stating where and why I am out on the streets. The police have been stopping people and will issue a fine of up to 135 euros if they deem it necessary.To date we might have a curfew of 6pm to adhere to. Strange times.
Well, all we can do is to keep safe and well. Look after each other.
On a much lighter note, I found out that I was cutting cheese the wrong way and had been for years!
First of all, there are so many, probably over 200 different types of cheese in France. It is always served after the main course but before the dessert, never as an appetizer with drinks before dinner as the Brits do.
A plateau , traditionally will consist of a minimum of three types, hard like Cantal and Comté, soft like Camembert or Brie and a goat’s cheese. Sometimes a blue cheese like Roquefort or Saint Nectaire can be added according to personal taste.
Round cheeses should be cut as if it was a cake, into triangular shapes. A piece of Brie however, is quite another matter. Cut the end nose part, but at an angle, then cut another diagonal slice, following with further perpendicular slices.
What to do with a crumbly blue cheese? This is a difficult one as you are not supposed to touch it with your fingers! Cut into parallel slices starting on the core side then smaller portions in a diagonal way. I think you need to have a mathematical mind for some of them and a true feel for geometry? None of which I seem to have.
French log shaped cheeses like Sainte Maure de Touraine are relatively simple, just cutting the end rind and removing the straw around it then cut it into circles.
Square shaped cheese should be cut like a cake, starting with a diagonal cut which leaves you with two triangles. Then cut each triangle in half and continue until you have 16 equal parts.
Runny cheese can be served warm or cold and if it is not too ripe you cut it like a pie with a knife. However if it is very ripe you have to serve it with a spoon.You can eat the rind or not as you wish.
Something else I didn’t know was why there is a wooden box for Camembert? Well, it is to store the open cheese correctly and you can safely put it in the oven to serve it warm.
French etiquette is one to watch when serving a cheese platter. In French households at a dinner party the cheese platter should be passed first from the oldest to the youngest female guest. The hostess being the last female to be served, offers the cheese to the oldest male guest, who then passes it to the younger ones.The male host will be the last to get the platter.
Let’s hope there is enough! I have never experienced this at all in all my years here but maybe it was done without me realising it. A few glasses of wine plus a baguette is needed now I think.Which cheese?
Shall finish this month’s blog and wish you all the very best for the following days to come.
Fifi’s stories from rural France. March 2020.
www.salignacfoundation.com dance and film in the Dordogne.
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