Friday, October 15, 2004

scoffing sausages and stereotypes

A while back one of my French friends repeated the old line about how terrible English food is. I told him that if the French promised to stick to making food, the English would stick to making music.

It's pretty strange how these two sibling countries in the European family can end up with such different strengths and weaknesses. One explanation may be that historically we have mostly been enemies, so anyone found appropriating aspects of the other culture ran the risk of being called a traitor and dragged around town behind a fast moving horse. That would put me off cooking.

But of course, to some extent these ideas are stereotypes anyway. So last week I suggested to Sandrine, Thomas and Fabien that we test them out but having an evening eating English food and listening to French music. They came around tonight.

I decided to treat my guests to a good plate of bangers and mash, complete with Red Wine Gravy and Branston Pickle. I can only report that they managed to finish all the sausages and mash without being sick. I guess Fabien saying he would marry me counts as a compliment of sorts, even if it did put me off my food ;)

On their side, Sandrine and Thomas brought around the Eiffel Tower of a CD stack to add to Fabien's 152 mp3 albums saved on a portable hard drive. I would list all the people we listened to but that will just bore you, so I'll sum up by saying that we started off in the 50s with Georges Brassens, and ended up in the present with Spook and the Guay and Zebda, both bands which come from Toulouse.

I think it's fair to say that English music has to have a good tune. As long as the words rhyme and the music is catchy, no problem. The lyrics can mean absolute jack. What I learnt about French music though is that it is the lyrics that are the important focus. They are expected to provide a message. The actual music is often a neglected support for the opportunity to make a point.

The music of Georges Brassens is as simple as you can imagine. Just a gentle and quiet dum dum dum rhythm, with very few instruments. His singing was the main focus.

Monsieur Brassens, who was friends with Victor Hugo, disliked authority so much that he wrote a song about a well endowed gorilla who escaped from the zoo and vented his pent up sexual frustration on an over zealous magistrate. I'll tell you about the song where Margot keeps a kitten on her breasts another day.

Strangely enough, we didn't listen to Jean-Michel Jarre, who was one of my biggest influences as a kid. And neither did we listen to the more recent Air, or Daft Punk.

Recipe for Mash:
Boil the potatoes until they are dead. Drain and add butter. After the first vigourous mashing. Add lots of a fungent dry cheese like Cheddar, some creme fraiche and a big spoonful of mustard. Carry on mashing until your arms ache.

Recipe for Red Wine Gravy:
Fry the sausages in lots of oil. When they're cooked, add a heaped tablespoon of flour into the same pan. When the flour doesn't look like flour anymore, pour in half a glass of wine and mix the gunk around. When it's all mixed add a stockcube, more wine, some water etc. Slowly with the liquids though - glass by glass at the most. Eventually you'll have something that tastes and looks like gravy.

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