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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in misterajc's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, April 1st, 2012
9:47 am
Romney names running mate
The Romney campaign today announced a surprise pick for Vice President – Exxon Mobil Corporation. “This is a game changing decision, that will really energize the true Republican base: Koch Industries, Haliburton, Walmart, Bechtel, Fox and Shell BP,” said a Romney spokesman. “It's also a breakthrough for minority rights, as it's the first time a Corporate American had appeared on the ballot. With subsidiaries in fifty eight countries and puppet regimes in six, Exxon Mobil brings to the ticket foreign policy experience focused on the only countries that matter – the ones with oil.”

When questioned by reporters about the vetting process, the spokesman said that it had been completed in a record forty eight hours by Exxon Mobil staff. Asked about the possible conflict of interest, the spokesman revealed that Exxon had been vetted by the same Exxon public servants who wrote the Cheney administration's energy policy, so they were ideally qualified for vetting a Vice Presidential candidate.

Exxon Mobil is expected to self finance the campaign. “We would have paid for it anyway,” said their CEO, “But now we get a place on the ticket, too. I know there are some racists out there who don't think that Corporate Americans are real Americans, or even real people, but this election will prove them wrong. Our polls show that we are heading for the same 5-4 landslide that swept George W Bush to power.”

A spokesman for the Obama campaign said they were not commenting on the constitutionality of this announcement until they had seen Exxon Mobil's birth certificate.

Saturday, November 13th, 2010
12:32 am
Variations on a meme
One of these is not true. Guess which...

1) I have been a member of a mountain rescue team
2) I have been described as, "A well known pornographer."
3) I have been published in a scholarly journal.
4) I came second in a UK national bridge championship.
5) I am descended from a runaway slave.
6) I was the second Andrew Conway on the World Wide Web.
7) I was  featured on the front page of a UK national newspaper.
8) I had dinner with Terry Pratchett.
9) I  lived in a building constructed in 1599.
10) I used to cyberstalk people for a living.
Saturday, September 18th, 2010
2:08 am
Burly Q
If I ever try to go to another burlesque show, please shoot me first. The human mind can only take so many sequined pasties before it retreats into paranoia. OK, Reubenesque Burlesque had simulated ritual cannibalism, so they were as cool as Catholic Mass. There was a tissu act that was blah and a trap act that was pretty good. There was another act (black guy, white chick, cool rapport) that was just getting hot when she stabbed him to death and danced with his severed head. I just don't understand modern burlesque. I went go see the whip act, which was near the end (sigh) and was OK but not as good as she does in the park.

The rest?

Too many women with too much make up taking off not enough clothing with too little skill.

No, really, the tassels are supposed to go in opposite directions.

Just shoot me, OK?

Posted via Journaler.
Saturday, March 13th, 2010
9:33 pm
"Audience of One"
I just watched Audience of One an award winning documentary about Pastor Richard Gazowsky of the Voice of God Pentecostal Church here in San Francisco, and his attempts to make a big budget religious SF movie. I found it really painful to watch. I was whip consultant for the movie that Gazowsky was trying to make. That meant that once a week I would go along to the church (in an old movie theater on Ocean Avenue) and crack whips in the foyer, along with the pastor's son Sunny and his daughters Rocki and Misty Dejavu and other parishioners. These are sweet people, always friendly, and grateful that I would volunteer my time to help their project. Though I do not share their religion, nobody pressured me to join of force any of their beliefs on me.

Audience of One shows their project falling apart. The day I met Pastor Richard he told me that he is either crazy or on a mission from God (Who he hears from on a regular basis). He's absolutely right about that. Still, he is charming, charismatic and took his family and flock along on a wild journey. It was hard for me to watch them all as their dreams turned out to be delusions.
Thursday, December 24th, 2009
5:49 am
Five Questions
z111  gave me 5 questions.

Leave me a comment saying "I'll bite" and I'll do the same for you.
Pass it on to your own journal (post the questions and answer them).

1) You'll bite? Of course you will! Where is your preferred place to bite and what do you like about biting?

I think the neck, but the front of the thighs and the side of the rib cage are close runners up. The neck has all the implications of vulnerability, and a bite there can leave a mark that is visible the next day even when the victim is fully dressed. On the other hand the ribs are very sensitive, and the front of the thighs have just the right curvature and muscle texture to fit nicely in a mouth. Why do I like it? I like the intimacy, I like feeling like a predator, I like the primal sense of control, I like the reactions I get and I like the marks it can leave.

2) If your life was going to become a novel, who would you want to author it, and why?

Terry Pratchett, just because he is my favorite author. OK, my life isn't really the sort of stuff he normally writes about, but it would be OK if he changed the plot.

3) Parakeet or dog?

The birds are much less of a responsibility. At this point in my life I don't want to own a dog as it would be much harder to take extended stays in the Bahamas or indulge in other forms of travel.

4) You arrive at a crossroad. One direction has a street sign. The other has no signage whatsoever. You don't know where either road goes. What do you do?

It depends. Am I hungry? Do I need a piss? Is it morning or night? If I needed any of the comforts of civilization I would probably head down the signposted road, otherwise I would head for the wilds. I usually carry a GPS when going anywhere I am not familiar with, so there would be no fear of getting lost.

5) Breaking into systems or creating systems?

Building systems. The rest of this reply had been redacted. It's funny that I will happily discuss my sexual tastes in public, but the stuff I do at work I'd rather not talk about.
Tuesday, July 8th, 2008
8:14 am
Did you know that gullible isn't in the dictionary?
I just got an email offering to compensate people who had been caught by email scams. Now that's what I cal targeted marketing!
Sunday, May 4th, 2008
12:21 am
Food Meme
1. Are you a vegetarian? Vegan?

2. What's your favorite food?

3. White bread or whole wheat?
Whole wheat unless I am in France.

4. What's for breakfast?
These days usually oatmeal.

5. You're making a Dagwood sandwich. What's in it?
Dagwood. Is that a trick question?

6. What's on your pizza?
Canadian Bacon and Pineapple. Or almost anything else.

7. Coffee, tea, milk, or soda?
I've been through phases of each of these. Currently it's diet soda.

8. Dark, milk, or white chocolate?

9. Teetotal, beer, wine, or hard liquor?
Any of the above.

10. Does cilantro taste like citrus, or like soap?

11. Is chorizo the greatest thing ever or is it totally disgusting?
It's OK.

12. Do you use garlic like a vegetable or like a spice?
Both. These days more and more like a vegetable.

13. Onions: raw, cooked, or not at all?

14. Does broccoli taste sweet or bitter?

15. How do you feel about fish?
Fish is good. Really fresh fish is even better. Last weekend I had fish that was still alive about two minutes before it hit the frying pan. Yum.

16. How about sushi?
Sushi is just a vehicle for the wasabi.

17. Fave ethnic cuisine?

18. What's your favorite fruit?

19. Cheese - thumbs up or thumbs down? How about blue cheese?
Thumbs up. Blue is good.

20. Finally, favorite dessert?
Chocolate mousse, the way I make it.
Saturday, January 19th, 2008
7:44 am
Writer's Block: Best. Concert. Ever.
What's the best concert you've ever been to?
That's a hard one. I think I'm going to say GRIMMS, because it is the only time I have seen a band forced to do a third encore they obviously hadn't planned. The house lights were up but the audience went on cheering and simply refused to leave the theater, so after about five minutes the band came back on wearing their street clothes and did a rampaging version of Humanoid Boogie.

The line up of GRIMMS changed from time to time, but originally I think it was Gorman Roberts Innes McGough McGear and Stanshall. McGough is a well known poet, McGear is Paul McCartney's brother, Innes was the lead minstrel in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Stanshall did the voice over at the end of side one of Tubular Bells. In other words, they were a very eclectic group. They presented a brilliant mix of music, poetry and comedy.
Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008
4:27 pm
Privilege Meme
The ones that apply to me are bolded

Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children's books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp
Had a private tutor before you turned 18
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
There was original art in your house when you were a child
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family house
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Had your own TV in your room in High School
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

This is really America-centric. For instance the government paid all my college tuition and most of my living expenses at college. I had high quality free medical care my entire life in the UK. I had a good public library within walking distance of my house. My parents took me to see Shakespeare performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Thought I went to a state school it was older and got better academic results than many private schools. My home town had a free art gallery with masterpieces from many great artists.

The bottom line is that privilege does not necessarily come from your family; it can also come from the society in which you are born.

Thursday, November 8th, 2007
8:06 am
Preventing junkmail
I'd like to put in a good word for a web site called Catalog Choice. This allows you to cancel paper catalogs that you receive in the mail. If you get lots of junkmail catalogs which you never look at, you can just select them here, type in the customer number on the label, and Catalog Choice will notify the sender to take you off the mailing list. Unfortunately it's too late to prevent the flood of holiday catalogs as they are already in process, but if you start now you can have less junkmail in the new year. Please help save a tree or two and cancel your catalogs.


Current Mood: optimistic
Thursday, October 4th, 2007
10:43 pm
Library Meme

These are the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing's users. Bold what you have read, italicize those you started but couldn't finish, and strike through what you couldn't stand. Add an asterisk to those you've read more than once. Underline those on your to-read list.

Yes, there are some books I couldn't stand but read all the way through. They were mostly required reading at high school. Dickens, ugh!

A couple of these I read out loud, as bedtime stories to the kids. At least The Hobbit and The Count of Monte Cristo, and the first volume of Once And Future King.

I'm amazed there is so much Neil Gaiman on the list, as I find him a tremendously readable writer. Maybe it's all the people who liked Sandman and can't deal with books without pictures.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Anna Karenina

Crime and Punishment


One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wuthering Heights

The Silmarillion

Life of Pi : a novel

The Name of the Rose

Don Quixote



The Odyssey

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Eyre

A Tale of Two Cities

The Brothers Karamazov

Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies

War and Peace

Vanity Fair

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Iliad


The Blind Assassin

The Kite Runner

Mrs. Dalloway

Great Expectations

American Gods

Atlas Shrugged

Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books

Memoirs of a Geisha



Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the West

The Canterbury Tales

The Historian: a novel

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Love in the Time of Cholera

Brave New World *

The Fountainhead

Foucault's Pendulum



The Count of Monte Cristo *


A Clockwork Orange

Anansi Boys

The Once and Future King *

The Grapes of Wrath

The Poisonwood Bible: a novel


Angels & Demons

The Inferno

The Satanic Verses

Sense and Sensibility

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Mansfield Park

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

To the Lighthouse

Tess of the D'Urbevilles

Oliver Twist

Gulliver's Travels

Les Misérables

The Corrections

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Dune *

The Prince

The Sound and the Fury

Angela's Ashes : A Memoir

The God of Small Things

A People's History of the United States: 1492-present



A Confederacy of Dunces

A Short History of Nearly Everything


The Unbearable Lightness of Being


Slaughterhouse-Five *

The Scarlet Letter

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

The Mists of Avalon

Oryx and Crake: a novel

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Cloud Atlas

The Confusion



Northanger Abbey

The Catcher in the Rye

On the Road

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Freakonomics: a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The Aeneid

Watership Down *

Gravity's Rainbow

The Hobbit *

White Teeth

Treasure Island

David Copperfield

The Three Musketeers

Current Mood: amused
Sunday, April 15th, 2007
7:46 pm
Unclear on the concept
Google Maps' idea of the Transamerica Pyramid

Current Mood: amused
Wednesday, April 11th, 2007
11:35 pm
So it goes
Kurt Vonnegut died tonight.
Friday, May 13th, 2005
10:00 am
1. Total number of films I own on DVD/video:

The family owns a bunch. Myself, less than ten.

2. The last film I bought:

I think it was "Secretary" which I bought as a present for Paula.

3. The last film I watched:


4. Five films that I watch a lot or that mean a lot to me:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover.
Monty Python's Meaning of Life
Story of O
Fahrenheit 911

5. Tag 5 people and have them put this in their journal:

No way am I going to inflict this on other people. Copy it if you want.
Thursday, September 23rd, 2004
1:06 pm
Too Much Information
In case you haven't already discovered it, the latest on my life is to be found here paulaandandrew . It will make more sense if you read in chronological order, and remember that some posts are by Paula and some by me.
Monday, August 30th, 2004
6:02 pm
Return to Roissy

Today we have to be off the boat by nine, so it’s another early start. The boat rental people take our luggage to the railway station, and we walk over there. It’s an hour and a half until the first train to Paris, which leaves time for another boulangerie run. I find one with a line that stretches out the door, and stock up on croissants and pain au chocolat.

The train is not the sleek express we cane down on, it’s an older double-decker commuter train which stops at a bunch of other towns on the way. There is plenty of room, which is good, as the kids are getting on everyone’s nerves, especially each other’s.

When we hit the Gare de Lyon, things slow down even further. It takes a while to find a luggage cart, find a bathroom, pay for the bathroom, and work out how we are going to get to the airport. There are three choices, bus, expensive but fast, taxi, ditto, and train, a bit less convenient, but cheaper. I opt for the train, and have to wait in line for a long time to get tickets. As we are dragging the suitcases to the platform, and having problems with one that has a broken handle, Paula, who does not deal well with waiting, says that she thinks I am being cheap taking the train when we could have caught a taxi. I am pretty hurt that she calls me cheap after I have just taken the family on our most expensive vacation ever.

I should mention why the bathroom at the Gare de Lyon is so complicated. First of all, you have to follow signs downstairs from the main concourse, then you have to pay the attendant in the booth 50 centimes to get a token, then you have to use the token to get in through the turnstile. This is complicated by the people who try to put 50 centime pieces directly in the turnstile, lose their money and get annoyed. Being France, there are no doors on the men’s and women’s areas, and the women are quite happy to wander into the men’s room if all the cubicles in the ladies are full.

Things go a bit better once we get on the train. We have to change once, but it is just across the platform. We walk out of the station at the airport, and straight onto a courtesy van which takes us to the hotel in Roissy where we will spend the last night in France. The hotel is a Holiday Inn, modern and boring. Ian goes off to enjoy the sauna and whirlpool in the health club, while Paula, Dan and I take turns having a shower with decent water pressure and water that stays at the same temperature.

Paula and Dan go off to forage for food, and return with a bunch of cookies and stuff which tides us over till dinnertime. For dinner we eat at a creperie in what is left of Roissy. The food is not very good, so Paula an Ian return to the hotel before dessert. Dan and I stay on. The desserts are OK, and after dinner we wander around the village. It’s mostly a horrible modern development, with a few crumbling bits of wall or derelict buildings dating back to before the airport. The chateau had been torn down and replaced by a condo development. I’m taking a photo of a billboard for the condos on the side of a partially demolished building, when a plain clothes cop pulls up in his car, asks me what I am doing, and tells me not to hang out there. I’m not sure if this is for my safety of that of the residents, and he is gone before I have time to ask him.
Sunday, August 29th, 2004
12:41 pm
You have no choice
Friday (last week)

We have a fair distance to cover today, as we need to get the back to the rental company tonight, se we wake at 8 o’clock, to have time for a boulangerie run before the locks open at nine. You may have noticed the obsession with boulangeries on this trip. This is because good baguettes are stale within a few hours of being baked, so to keep up a good supply we need to purchase it twice a day.

As I think I have mentioned, stale baguettes are at the bottom of the food chain in France. They are food for pets, domestic animals, ducks, swans, the less aggressive vegetables and plankton. The local limestone is in fact the fossilized carcasses of Paleolithic stale baguettes.

The sun is shining and it looks to be a perfect day, which just shows how wrong you can be. We make it to the first lock at 9:10 am, a best for the trip. The locks on this stretch are huge, about twice as wide and twice as long as the ones we have been going through. There is room for about ten boats the size of ours. We end up in a flotilla of four boats, all going through each lock together.

One of the boats is a party of Americans, and the alpha male in that group seems determined to make as good time as possible, overtaking other boats and making his way up from third in the pack to first. This does him very little good, as he has to wait in every lock for the other boats to catch up before the lock keeper will close the gates and fill the lock. We christen this guy The Ugly American.

Unfortunately The Ugly American pulls up into a tricky lock ahead of us, and instead of tying up at the far end like a civilized person, pulls up in the middle, so that we have to moor on the wrong side, the side that slopes in at about sixty degrees. This requires some tricky maneuvering with the mooring lines and fending off the boat, and getting the boat close enough to the stairs so that the people on shore can get back on the boat, and it doesn’t help that it starts raining at this point. In the end all it costs us is one broken wine glass.

The rain gets heavier, and pretty soon we are in a serious thunder shower. Roberta is at the helm, but in a gesture of solidarity, Hugh and I stay out there in the rain with her, making helpful comments about how holding the metal steering wheel will make her more attractive to lightening. Ian is up in the rain too, mostly to get away from Dan.

The last lock of the day is the most challenging of the trip. There are three boats ahead of us, and this is a small one, so we have to wait for two of them to cycle through before we can get in. It rains while we are waiting. When finally get in, we have to go uphill, and it is about three meters, the deepest lock of the voyage. One of the lock keepers has to come by each boat with a hook on a piece of string, to bring up the mooring lines.

So, here we are in Migennes, probably the least interesting town of the trip, at the boat rental place. I take a quick tour of the main streets by bicycle, and find that real estate is really, really cheap around here, and there is a good reason for this. More to the point, Hugh has stopped by the tourist information office and asked where we should have dinner this evening, “You have no choice,” he is told, and is pointed to the one good restaurant in town. I call and make a reservation.

At eight o’clock we are the first ones there for dinner. We are soon surrounded in the small dining room by three families, two of which have astonishingly noisy children, What’s more astonishing, they remain noisy for the entire three or so hours of the meal. This would be moderately annoying normally, but Kay is so much more annoyed than anyone else, that she acts as a sort of annoyance sink, and I can sit back an relax, knowing that Kay is being annoyed for me.

I remember the oysters with a sauce that tasted like pickled onions, and the duck with a peach sauce. I love pickled onions, and the oysters were fresh enough not to distract from that sublime flavor. I would never have thought to couple duck and peach, but I’m sure I will do so soon. Good food, in spite of the ambience.

Back to the boat, where Dan has managed to find the Israeli army babe we met on the train coming down here. We invite her in for a chat, and I try to picture her driving an armored bulldozer through a Palestinian house.
Saturday, August 28th, 2004
11:31 am

The boulangerie in Vaux appears to be closed, so we have a croissant free breakfast. Our one remaining stale baguette is fed to the waterfowl. There’s a group of five swans who seem content to share with the more maneuverable ducks, though there is one of the swans who gets chased away by the others. Then a second group of swans turns up. There are two parents and five cygnets, about half size and still in their downy brown adolescent plumage. They move the first group out of the way, and then the parents keep the ducks away so their offspring have a clear shot at the bread.

We motor on to Auxerre, the largest town we hit on this trip. The river Yonne has become increasingly entangled with the canal the further we travel. The river will enter the canal on one side, and then leave via a weir a little later. We are spending more and more time on the river. Here in Auxerre we are on the river, so we have to swing the boat around and point upstream when we moor. There’s good moorings on the far side of the river from the old part of town, and several magnificent old churches loom on the skyline.

I check in with the harbormaster. He’s a charming and helpful guy. There’s a ten euro dockage fee, but it’s worth it to be directed to the best boulangerie in town. Kay has been disturbed by having to compete with our kids for food, particularly croissants, and has taken to secreting stashes of them around the boat, like a squirrel hiding nuts for the winter. She tells us to buy as many croissants as we can. When Paula and Ian and I hit the boulangerie, I buy a dozen croissants, and six chocolate croissants, plus some patisserie for lunch. When we find out how good the croissants are we eat half the ones I have purchased, so I head back to the store and buy another dozen.

Back in the boat, the Conways try to decide what to do. There are streets full of half timbered houses to explore, a cathedral, an abbey and a church or two dating from medieval times, sidewalk cafes and the whole of French culture to enjoy. I decide to have a nap. I am cathedraled out. I do not need to see another half timbered cell phone store. I haven’t had an afternoon nap in three weeks. Ah, the luxury.

Hugh and Roberta are back when I wake up, and Hugh and I go on a supermarket run. There is a huge supermarket a couple of blocks from the boat, and we stock up on fruit and beer. I find the fish counter to be particularly artistic, with thirty or so varieties of fish laid out in artistic patterns. Here a conger eel curled around a fan of trout, there a octopus tentacle or two curling out from under the ice.

Back to the boat, where Ian and I devour most of the black grapes I just bought in the supermarket. Expletive, but those are good grapes. They have seeds and flavor, two things very hard to find in American supermarket grapes. I head back to the supermarket to buy some more.

We sit up on the sun deck for a while, eating baguettes and cheese and olives and pistachios, and then Hugh and I cross the river and make reservations at a brasserie that Kay cased earlier. I have to ask Bob the French for eating outside before we go. Does it sound like this whole trip revolves about food? That’s not true, the drink is just as important.

We are seated outside, under a roof of yellow Lipton’s Tea umbrellas. There are two hard working wait staff for the whole restaurant, an older woman and a younger one. The younger one is wearing a pink top and very tight black pants. Yes, I can see her panty line and yes, she is wearing a thong. I’m going to enjoy this dinner. I have the seafood salad, followed by one last chunk of canard. The seafood salad has smoked salmon, crawfish, shrimps and mussels, and is very tasty. The duck has been salted first I think, and is rich dark meat, though the skin does not have that crispy texture that duck skin should have.

We order dessert. Dan and I both order the chocolate, but it turns out there is only one left. We arm wrestle for it and he wins. The waitress in the pink top is watching, too. I think Dan must have cheated, he’s really serious about his chocolate.

After dinner, Hugh, Roberta and I head to a neighborhood bar where there is live reggae. It is a miracle of French engineering. I did not mean to write that, but Dan just muttered it to himself, and it made it to the printed page. There was not much engineering involved in the Reggae, but it is more French than West Indian. Never mind, it is an excuse to sit outside and drink beer and check out the local babes. It’s a shame so many attractive French women smoke.
Friday, August 27th, 2004
9:34 am
Moria on champagne

The day dawns bright and sunny. When I say the day dawns, I don’t of course mean that unhealthily early moment when grandfather sun peeks over the rim of the earth bathing us all in cold unpleasant morning light. I mean the much more comfortable time when sane people on vacation roll out of bed, say around nine o’clock.

There is a strong breeze most of the day, enough to turn the umbrella on the sun deck inside out if we try to put it up. It’s a tough life being an umbrella on our sun deck. If you’re not being battered by the wind you’re being threatened by low bridges.

We stop for groceries at the first village we pass through. There is a boucherie and a boulangerie, both of which also carry fresh produce and staples, so we are set up for the rest of the day. I carry a heavy haul of groceries back to the boat by hooking the plastic bags over the handlebars and walking the bike.

Back on the main Nivernaise canal, we tie up to the bank and stop for lunch. There’s no choice about this, the locks all close at lunchtime. I check out the route ahead by bicycle. We want to stop at a wine making cooperative up ahead, and it’s not clear from the maps and guides exactly where it is. As it turns out, it’s pretty hard to miss, with its own landing stage by the canal. Then there is a steep hike up a road for a few hundred meters in the hot sun, followed by a welcoming draft of cool air and the smell of yeast as the road enters a hole in the ground.

The whole winery, including the parking lot, is underground. There are huge man made caverns in the hill, originally limestone quarries. Some of the famous buildings in Paris were made of limestone quarried from this hole in the ground, and sent down river. It was a quarry from the twelfth century to the 1920s. In the Second World War, the Germans used it for munitions storage. For a while it was a mushroom farm, and now it houses a wine coop, famous for their cremant, or sparkling wine.

We follow the road down to the tasting and sales room. The caverns are not well lit, but it is clear that they extend for a long way, and contain a lot of bottles of wine. Sparkling wines are mostly aged in the bottle rather than in barrels, so instead of the rows of barrels piled three high that I am used to seeing in American wineries, there are stacks of bottles stacked like firewood, extending in the gloom as far as the eye can see. I now see why champagne bottles have that tapered shape. They stack really well with one layer facing one way and the next layer facing the other way. There are five million bottle of wine here, about three year’s production. I suspect they are only using a small portion of the underground space.

We take the tour, and get to see quite a few of those bottles, as well as various statues that have been carved out of the living rock. Many of them have an earthy sensuality to them. There sparkling wine pouring out of a huge bottle carved in the roof, with a naked girl clutching the stream of liquid. There is a very well endowed Bacchus. There is a carving of a carver, in the act of carving a naked woman out of the rock. There’s even a memorial to those who died on September 11th, 2001, which features a naked man and a naked woman.

The air underground is a constant 13 degrees centigrade (55F) so it is quite a shock when we emerge into the daylight and the heat of a Burgundian summer. I turn around and walk straight back into the cave. Duty calls, though, and we head back to the boat, where we go on to the village of Vaux and moor by the towpath for the night.

As we have been approaching Vaux, the sky has been darkening, and once we are moored it starts raining. It turns out to be a heavy thunder shower, which lasts all evening. That’s OK, we planned on eating on the boat tonight, anyhow.

I cooked up those trout that I bought yesterday. I cut their heads off and hold them up in a bag. “Does anyone want to make fish stock?” But I get no takers. I poach them in white wine with butter, lemon and a little ham, and serve with a salad and potatoes avec too much beurre. The meal is a big hit. We follow with a cheese course, and fruit salad with vanilla sauce.

In hot weather the French drink their red wine from the fridge. I’m a little shocked by this, but Bob is a retired wine maker, so I assume he knows what he is doing. After dinner, I load the pictures Roberta has taken so far onto my computer, and we look at them till the battery is flat. She has some amazing time exposures of the Eiffel Tower at night, where she changed the focal length of the lens during the exposure, so the continuous lights are lines radiating from the center, and the sparkly flashing lights are individual dots.
Thursday, August 26th, 2004
8:13 am
Swabbily, swabbily, swabbily, gently down the stream.
Tuesday (nine days ago)

The rain rain rained like rain this morning. No need the swab the decks today, we have a self-swabbing climate. After an hour or two of this, we tried to switch the controls to the indoor set, but for some reason we could not get the switch over to work. Is it something to do with the fact that the outdoor helm is leaking transmission fluid? We try to call the boat rental place, but we are out of cell phone range. Hugh bravely says that he doesn’t mind steering in the rain. Hugh always likes to have things to complain about.

By lunchtime it starts to clear up. Kay and Paula are getting paranoid because supplies are running low, but we have enough for lunch, and dine off baguettes and camembert and ham and croissants and three other types of ham. We stop at the first town that is supposed to have a grocery store, or two, but one is closed for lunch until four and the other one competes by taking a lunch break until five. We admire the fleet of local swans and continue.

Ever seen a swan take off? They need nearly as long a runway as a DC-10, except it’s on water and involves a lot of splashing and frantic flapping. Nothing is more graceful than a swan on the water, and a swan in the air has the athletic charm of an Olympic triple jumper, but a swan in transition is about as graceful as a thirteen year old crack addict doing double dutch jump rope.

By now it has stopped raining, so we stop to take pictures of a thirteenth century church with the traditional scaffolding, and because there is rumored to be a trout farm in the vicinity. Why do so many of the old churches in France have scaffolding on them? Is it the only way they can keep them up? Can they only afford to restore one wall at a time? Have they raised enough money in the restoration fund to put the scaffolding up, but not to take it down again?

I am intrigued buy the idea of the trout farm, so I set out to find it on a bike while the boat goes on ahead. I look round the village and see no sign of fish farming, until I come across one vary faded sign pointed back the way I have just come. It leads to a T-junction, where there are no further hints. At random, I make a left, and in a few hundred meters I find the place.

It’s a pretty small scale fish farm. There is a pond full of trout where you can catch your own. The people there seem to be catching lots of fish, far more than the people we have seen fishing in the river and the canal. You can also buy processed fish products, or fresh fish. How fresh? When I order eight trout, the guy behind the counter goes out to a different pond with a net. He asks me if I want them eviscerated, and I say yes, because otherwise they might still be flipping when I get them back to the boat.

The French for trout sounds like tweet, and the French for eight sounds like hweet, so eight trout is “hweet tweet” in French. I throw that in, in the interests of international understanding. The French do not find it funny.

Back at the boat, man the hunter/gatherer/fisherman meets a mixed reception. I settle for cooking the tweet for dinner tomorrow night while we eat out tonight. Hunting and gathering is a curious experience on the Nivernaise Canal. Many of the lock keepers have stands set up where they sell local produce, mostly wine. Bob picks up a couple of bottles of premiere cru Chablis at ten euros each. It would go well with the tweet, but I think we’ll drink it all before tomorrow night.

While I was trout farming in France, the decision was made to do a side trip up a branch of the canal that dead ends at Vermenton, a small town that has more than three shops. There is the traditional church part shrouded in scaffolding, with a roof that seems to consist almost entirely of moss, there is the tower built to keep out the Visigoths, now used as offices for the Bureau of Commerce, there is the tiny main street where every third vehicle seems to be a thundering semi trailer.

We have some stale baguettes and Ian, Kay and I have great fun feeding these to the ducks and ducklings who turn up next to the boat. Ian is not pleased about the amount of canard I have eaten recently. Stale baguettes are the bottom of the food chain in France. All the lower life forms eat them, and the crumbs fertilize the plants.

There is a gourmet store featuring local food and wine where I pick up a bottle of marc. That’s the stuff they call grappa in Italy, a spirit distilled from the seeds and stems and skins and other crap that gets left over when you are making wine. It tastes really horrible and you should never buy any, so there is more left for me.

Bob makes reservations for dinner at L’Auberge de L’Esperance. It’s a tiny place. The dining room has five tables, three for eight people, one for four and one for two. The decor is simple. It’s like eating in a family house. The ladies waiting on us are friendly and whose English seems limited to rare, medium and well done.

My appetizer is a terrine de foie gras de something that Ian does not want me to eat. It is addictively good. The main course is lamb liver I think. It’s some lamb product anyhow, but the sauce is so delicious I’m not sure what it is. It’s at about this point that I indulge in my social gaffe of the evening, when I comment that I issue as many commands when I am at the helm as Hugh does when Roberta is at the helm.

It’s the first time in my life anyone has asked me to step outside to talk about something. I guess Hugh has not recovered from the ribbing I have been giving him about soaking Kay’s bed, and OH MY GOD HE’S GOT AN AXE. AURGGGHHHHH.

Just kidding.

In the dimly lit main saloon of the boat with the window open, small flying things are attracted to the bright light of my laptop screen. At first I chased them away with my fingers, but now I have discovered that it is much easier just to breathe marc on them.
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