Posts Tagged ‘Montpellier’

Those restless flies. How many did you ingest?

December 6, 2016


The heat was evident early on. The previous night, one slept restless. This is often a sign of change in weather. We decided to go and visit a large book-barn situated not far from here. It is called Berkelouw’s Book Barn. It has books but also an indoor/outdoor restaurant and wine-bar. Berkelouw specialises in both new, second hand and antique books. At this particular venue in the middle of a vine-yard, they also hold weddings. On special requests one can also organise a ripping funeral as well. Something to keep in mind for the future. It would be rather nice to be buried surrounded by friendly books. They are so forgiving and don’t hold grudges.

I was rather chuffed to read that Berkelouw’s actually started their book shop enterprices in my birth city of Rotterdam in The Netherlands. Here a link;
Do please read this fascinating bit of a successful Dutch family’s migration to Australia.

After Helvi and I arrived at Berkelouw’s book bar we decide to have a coffee and browse through some books. We wanted to find large print editions of John Mortimer’s memoirs. The heat by then was getting hotter and with our dog Milo in tow I went straight to a table in the shade of a large conifer. Conifers always give shade and welcome humans for rest, giving a free renewal for mind’s spirit. A sustenance not easily obtained in pre-Christmas shopping malls! While Helvi was inside browsing Mortimer books, I ordered a Margarita Pizza and changed the coffee into two beers instead. You can see the two glasses of beer and the table setting at a photo on top of this blog.

I don’t know why this is so, but flies in Australia are almost an institution. You rarely see politicians being interviewed in the open air without battling swarming flies. They fling their arms about as if seeking flight. It is known as the Australian wave. The flies too are housed comfortably at Berkelouw’s. Especially after a pizza arrives. When the Margarita arrived to our table, the flies knew they were in for a treat. I understood why most of the people were inside. It took bravery and persistence to eat outside. Even so, it wasn’t too bad if you kept one arm free. One had to be tolerant, and imagine that the black spot on your slice of pizza moments before inserting it in your mouth was just part of an olive instead of a fly.

Of course, the setting of this book-barn is absolutely mouth watering. Just look at that row of poplars above the table. Next door is Berkelouw’s vine-yard. The whole place is built out of local sandstone. Superb architecture of stone and wood with magic fireplaces in use during winter. The flies are a minor issue, really. One could easily imagine being in Tuscany or even a French country-side somewhere north-east of Montpellier. At the end of our lunch I had eaten at least twelve flies and Helvi reckoned perhaps eight or nine. A small price to pay for such a lovely setting. The Margarita was great. Fresh herbs, especially the basil was spot on. We will go again but perhaps after a good thunderstorm. Flies usually disappear after a good storm. At least, that is what we say. It gives comfort.

Vive la France

July 11, 2013

Vive la France

Somewhere in the bowels of this blog is a piece about a meal of ‘Boeuf de Tartare avec un oeuf’ (beef tartar), I was unwittingly exposed to while in France. It was in the city of Montpelier to be precise… It caused some hilarity when my ignorance about the world of ‘gastronomigue de France’ was so mercilessly and brutally shown up.

A few weeks before this momentous and shameful event we had flown into Marseille only to be marooned at the airport. The French farmers were angry again and had surrounded the airport with their tractors, sharpened scythes and red faces.

No one could get in or out. We had organized a French Citroen to be rented some weeks before in Australia. We were given the keys at the Marseille Hire-car desk but apart from opening the doors and sitting in the car, we could not drive anywhere thanks to the boycott. I turned the key and tried the engine. A few times going brrrm, brrrrrooom, but that’s about all. The car was brand new and had just done a few hundred meters. It was also the smallest car we had ever sat in, more like putting on a jacket than stepping in a car, but it was automatic. For me having to change driving on the right, automatic was tres important.

One farmer took pity on us. Nothing has ever beaten the sheer friendliness and French ‘fraternite and egalite’ of that farmer ever since. Perhaps he recognized the farmer in me? Anyway, he moved his tractor and beckoned a friend of his to lead us to freedom. Alors, alors he kept saying. We drove over a small kerb and along the edge of the runways passing countless stranded planes, followed by a dirt track and voila, we were near the highway towards Montpellier. He waved goodbye and we shouted ‘merci beaucoup’, followed by a heartfelt ‘au revoir. I had exhausted just about all my French.

A few weeks after:

We were seated in a below footpath restaurant on a cobbled stone narrow street in Montpellier. The atmosphere was muted as were the lights. Couples were holding hands and whispering sweet nothingness while picking at their greens and patate de frites… Helvi ordered a sensible filet mignon done rare, and I softly asked for a beef tartar done ‘medium’ s’il vous plait. The Garcon laughed heartily. I did not think it was that funny.

Helvi, ‘why do you always play the fool? Pardonez moi, I asked? She answered me, ‘beef tartar is raw meat’. No, it’s not. It is beef very rare and tenderized as it used to traditionally done under the horse saddles of wild Mongolian Tartars in pursuit of Cossacks deep inside the Crimea. It is the rarest of meat but only just cooked for a minute or so.

The horrible truth was soon delivered to our table. Helvi was right. A massive blob of raw mince and a raw quivering egg on top was facing me across from a triumphant Helvi. I told you, she sweetly smiled. I don’t know why I thought it was tender steak, but we all sometimes carry lifelong misconceptions, don’t we? I genuinely thought the term ‘beef tartar’ came from an historical fact.

Helvi also drove home another truth about those wild Tartars riding on horses and saddles laden with steaks underneath. “They ride their horses bareback, no saddles.” Can you even imagine riding a horse that way sitting bare-bum on your steak tenderizing it all day? They eat a lot of cabbage as well, she added mischievously?

It just never stops.