Thursday, November 23, 2006

Dieppe No.3. People (Part 2)

Dieppe is full of shops for women - with, it seems to me, a predominance of underwear vendors.

Now, most of the underwear on display is pretty fancy, delicate and daring - the kind that a flighty girl might employ to good effect. And yet, without I hope giving too much offence to French women, they are, if stylish, on the plain side and rather dumpy. Are all these non-beauties wearing this fancy kit beneath their dowdy exteriors? They must be.

We ate in the centre of town. This place, a restaurant/hotel, was once a fairly murky establishment when I once stayed there many years ago, taking demi-pension.

The place went up-market slowly, then burned down. Now rebuilt, it has turned out to be comfortable and well-appointed. We approve of it.

Around us as we dined was a motley crew. There was a distinguished, red-faced English gentleman with old-fashioned spectacles perched on the end of his large nose. He wore a yellow sweater, a checked shirt in the pattern of a horseblanket and a scarf tied around his neck inside his shirt. His companion looked like a retired all-in wrestler, bald, smart gold watch, and large pristeen white trainers. He ate with his knife and fork in the air.

When a man, who Margreet described as stunning-looking, arrived to join a party, this male couple forgot their food and were transfixed for several minutes by what they saw.

Next to us was about the plainest, middle-aged woman imaginable with a young, good-looking man in tow. On the other side of us sat a couple who, despite their diminutive size (she was nearly a dwarf), ate like giants. Nearby was a Dutch couple (her body had sunk) who were ruddy of countenance. They ate with the manners of peasants.

Then, beside the area designated for mostly single pensionairs, was a crowd of middle-aged Englishmen who must have had something in common (possibly sailing). They were in a jolly mood, enjoying each other's company, and consuming food and wine to the full.

Our meal, with wine available in carafe, was exemplary, and served by a most hard-working pair of waiters who exercised considerable professionalism.

Eating later at a harbourside café, it was appropriate that I chose maqueraux marinée as it was the season for catching them.

Along the length of the harbour/groin/pier/breakwater were some hundred fishermen either casting their weighted lines or reeling in fish. Their bending rods, swishing fore and aft, made a fine and animated spectacle. One fisherman, leaning over the quayside, was exposing a generous amount of nether cleavage.

The bait for mackerel was feather lures, not needing to be replaced after each cast. For a small brown fish, also caught in quantity, hooks were baited with worms.

Mackerel were often beheaded, tailed, and gutted on the spot, with the unwanted pieces returned immediately to the sea. When buckets were full of mackerel in their entire form, heads down, their tails stood aloft like many a modern youth's haircut.

It was a great architectural mistake when extending the harbour wall, not to have included sanitary arrangements for the fishermen and -women. So the combination of defecation and urination in the alcoves at the extremity of the pier, provided the veritable sight and smell of "Old France".

But the pavements of Dieppe seemed to be less cluttered then before with dog mess, though I saw no one bagging it up as is now the general custom in England.

It was when taking our coats to hang them up at the far corner of a restaurant that I passed a family of five sitting at a table. One of the diners was a white dog. As far as I could make out, his table manners were impeccable.

As is often the case, we find that it does not take long to overeat on our brief trips to France.
So, in the evening, after a little shopping and an aperitif, we might retire to our room for a picnic - in comfort and with the huge panoramic landscape before us - sometimes added to by clouds of starlings on their roosting flights.

A typical picnic might consist of baguette with Brittany butter, red wine, fromage tete for me, duck paté for Margreet, and montagne/Pyrenée for us both. Often, our picnics are shared by a large herring gull that stands outside the window waiting for scraps. If it is the same bird each time, it has become, for us, a Dieppe personality. It is an extremely handsome bird, unlike the patronne/waitress at a restaurant tried for the first time, who, despite the excellence of her food, was such a harridan that we will not return.

Gulls are not the only objects flying in the coastal wind. At a kite festival, on the green sward between town and sea, an Indian kite-enthusiast gentleman set up his little kite of a wasp with spinning and buzzing wings, and flew it through kites of all sizes and shapes from around the world - as if to sting each one. His swift-flying kite was so small that possibly only he knew and approved of what he was up to.

Our return journey was once shared with a crowd of Arsenal football supporters. Some of these kept up an incessant flow of hooligan chanting, using often recognisable tunes with recognisably coarse words. Their voices were out of tune and conducted in a slurred, intoxicated way.

The older of the supporters were not chanters, but sat in the ship's saloon pouring endless pints of beer down their throats and into their universally large bellies.

But the supporters' songs were of no avail. Arsenal had lost (2 - 1) to Barcelona the previous evening. God knows what the noise would have been like had Arsenal won.

The journey home is not always straightforward. We have had to go north to Calais by car because of rough weather or ship breakdown. On one occasion, having kissed Christine goodbye at our hotel, we sailed through seas so rough that our ferry was diverted in mid-channel to dock at Portsmouth instead of Newhaven.

But whatever occurs, we enjoy a lovely break in Dieppe, eating, drinking, and watching its people, and returning home well wined and dined, with a car-full of wine and good things to eat, not to mention a fashionable item or two.