31 October 2010

La Grève!

   The strikes in France continue, but their severity has been lessened greatly by the start of the Toussaints (All Saints) vacation break.  These have been the most disruptive of the strikes since we arrived in 2005.  Their primary purpose was to register the general unhappiness of the French people at the idea of retiring at 62 instead of 60. 

   What most people outside of France do not realize is that in order to sweep the elections and beat his arch enemy Jacques Chirac, Francois Mitterrand ran on a platform of severely decreasing the retirement age.  He cut the retirement age to 60 from 65 after he swept into power at the head of a Socialist-Communist alliance in 1981 for the first of two terms that lasted until 1995.  Once a gift like that is given, it is sorely difficult to take it back!!

   The newspapers say more than 70% of the French support the strike, but it seems that there is a difference in their minds between supporting the idea or the right to strike versus the reason for the strike.  Most people that we have talked to realize that France must increase the age of retirement both to appease the budgetary problems as well as to compete with the Western world. I have to admit that if I were offered the opportunity to retire AND still receive most of my salary at 60 years young, I would jump at it and be pretty grumpy at having to give it up.

This chart pilfered from Wikipedia is really interesting as it shows that after 60 (currently) only 12% of the French population continues to work whereas in the US, 43% are still going strong.  It helps that the French enjoy a much higher monthly pension that is meant to replace the monthly salary and not to merely pay for the cable bill as in the US.

Country Early retirement age   Normal retirement age    Employed, 55–59   Employed, 60–64   Employed, 65–69   Employed, 70+
Austria 60 (57) 65 (60) 39% 7% 1% 0%
Belgium 60 65 45% 12% 1% 0%
Denmark none 65 77% 35% 9% 1%
France none 60* 51% 12% 1% 0%
Germany 65 67 64% 23% 3% 0%
Greece 57 65 51% 31% 8% 1%
Italy 57 65 (60) 34% 12% 1% 0%
Netherlands 60 65 53% 22% 3% 0%
Norway 62 67 ? ? ? ?
Spain 60 65 46% 22% 0% 0%
Sweden 61 65 78% 58% 5% 1%
Switzerland 63 (61), [58] 65 (64) 77% 46% 7% 2%
United Kingdom none 65 69% 40% 10% 2%
United States 62 66 66% 43% 20% 5%

Cooking Course at Chateau Champlong

Chateau Champlong
Galette de Trompette de la Mort

Saumon Mi-Cuit aux Aromates et Betterave en Aigre-Doux au Gingembre

Paleron de Veau Confit, Émulsion Blanquette, Galette de Trompette de la Mort

Tartelette Sable Breton, Mousseline Citron Vert et Pomme Gala Caramélisée, Sirop Citron Vert

Olivier, Véronique et Nathan

Nathan and Trish

Mike and C

The kitchen in Action!
While staying with Tom and Trish on their barge Elizabeth, Trish, C and I took a cooking course with Chef Olivier Boizet at the Chateau Champlong.  There were ten or twelve of us in the class...a mix of American, French and Dutch.  We arrived in the afternoon for the preparation of the ingredients and then he walked us through every step of a three course beautifully traditional French menu.  Watching Chef Olivier in action was poetry in motion.  He moved between the three courses with such ease and everything came ready all at the right time.  He taught us steps and recipes that although designed for his professional menu, could easily be translated to our use at home.  Tom. Nathan and Mike arrived at dinner time and we all shared a glass of champagne with Olivier's chestnut and calvados liquor and some really fine amuses-bouches.

The menu consisted of
Saumon Mi-cuit aux Aromates et Betterave en Aigre-doux au Gingembre
Paleron de Veau Confit, Émulsion Blanquette, Galette de Trompette de la Mort
Tartelette Sable Breton, Mousseline Citron Vert et Pomme Gala Caramélisee, Sirop Citron Vert

After much wine and laughter, we moved the party down into his wine cave for digestif and drinking songs and games until the late hours of the night.  It was one of those experiences that I will cherish for the rest of my life.  Chef Olivier was not only a really fine chef and teacher, but a very open and warm host.