A biological hazard

September 10, 2010 Bloggies by Steve Martin Edit

With some fear and just a little trepidation I lifted the child seats out of the car. From under the corner of James and Emily’s seats I could see what I thought was once a bit of sandwich. On this day it resembled something that might have come from some sort of chemical factory. Perhaps the sort of thing the chemical factory throws away because it’s just too dangerous.

Once the seats were clear of the car the extent of the biological hazard became clear. Sandwiches, Fruit bars, Drink bottle lids, sour lollies and bits of chewed paper were all in various states of decay. The chewed paper under Emily’s seat had once been a train ticket from Del Ponti station to Rome.

 

The sandwiches appeared to contain remnants of nuts. We gave them peanut butter somewhere in Germany. The sour lollies went back as far as Belgium. The drink bottle lids were just too hard to pinpoint. We had so many drinks in so many countries that the colours and styles of the lids is just a blur. The only thing that would help us identify the country of origin of those lids is the DNA of the mould growing within them.

I think I found a bit of meat, but from what sort of animal I can only guess. When found it resembled a rather dodgy bit of beef jerky. The sort best avoided or given to a dog you really don’t like.

We are back in La Lande D’Airou for a holiday from our holiday and it’s cleaning time.

We had noticed the car had a staleness about it, but when you are travelling with two young children it’s easy just to blame the smell on the kids, or the fact that you are wearing some clothes for the second time. I can say after spending the day cleaning out the car it’s lucky we are not planning to bring the caravan or car back to Australia. Customs would never let us in. [Perhaps we’d be sent to Nauru to sit and rot and have our case considered by a faceless bureaucrat.]

In the 7 weeks since leaving our Normandy cottage we have travelled north through France to Paris and Amiens. To Brugge in Belgium and then onto Leiden in the Netherlands. Our stops in Germany included Potsdam, Berlin and Nurnberg. In Italy we spent time spent in Venice, Rome and Cinqua Terra.

Our trip back to Normandy included a few days in the Alps on the border of France and Switzerland, with a day trip to Geneva. Once we started to head north we made sure we took in the ancient cite of Carcassonne and the WW2 village of Oradour Sur Glane .

Because we only ever eat out for lunch, we’ve become quite expert in the qualities and vagaries of European supermarkets and food. Before we started our trip we were told glorious tales about the offerings of a French Super Marche. We were told about Cheeses, cured meats, Pastries and sweet things to tempt every taste.

What we can report is that the French supermarket is good. It’s probably better than most Australian supermarkets. The French do Cheeses better than anyone, their bread is good and their pastries delicious. We can also say that an average French supermarket is better than the German, Dutch and Belgian supermarkets we visited. But they are not a patch on the Italian supermarket.

The Italians are so far in front in variety and quality and simplicity that when we first walked in a saw what was available we had a quick debate about whether it was possible to suspend the rest of the trip so we could just stay there and try EVERYTHING there was on offer.

All this food shopping has also led me to a totally subjective, unscientific view about cultures and food, specifically about the French and the Italians. The French seem to love the process of cooking and the  act of preparation the flavour seems to come second to the lprestige and presentation. On the other hand it appears that Italians are interested in flavour and variety. The French love Cuisine and showing off, the Italians just love eating good food.

How else do you explain the difference in the quality of the fresh produce? Steak in France is generally terrible. The meat is so bad that I have thrown away a steak because it was simply too tough. It’s so bad I thought I had forgotten how to cook. In Italy the steak is as good as it gets. They have simple cuts of good quality meat and while Italian sausages are just superb.

Vegetables were another matter. France has a decent selection of their staple vegetables. It was mostly fresh, but really doesn’t last that long. In Italy the selection is twice as large and the food is fresher. It’s also much cheaper in Italy than in France. In Italy I didn’t once see horse meat packaged up ready for sale.... that has to count for something!

European driving is another area we can claim some considerable experience. European roads are generally better than Australian roads. European drivers are generally better than Australian drivers. They are courteous despite the higher speeds, more predictable and more accomplished. This applies in every country we have travelled through with the exception of Italy.

As my three year old son says frequently when he hears me grunt when we get cut off again “They’re shockin’ drivers in this country!” Italians are impatient. They don’t believe in lanes. They overtake when it suits them. They don’t believe in speed limits. I got my own back at times by travelling just that little bit slower than I needed to, or by waiting for a slightly larger gap in the traffic than I needed. Turning at the lights to the sound of impatient Italian horns became music to my ears.

The best drivers are in Germany. They are fast, efficient and courteous and it makes it an easy country  to get around, although towing a caravan down the Autobahn is never going to be relaxing when keeping an eye out for cars coming up from behind at 250Km/h.

And that’s where the biological waste dump that our car became comes back into this story. We have spent hours travelling the roads of Europe, eating on the run and driving from city to city. We could hardly avoid a few spills and a few lost sandwiches. Thankfully there are no stains. Thankfully I remembered my father’s rule that there be “No Ice creams in the car!”

Thankfully every last bit of detritus that made its way under the child seats and into the crevices of the car was dried out by the heat of a European summer. The chickens of La Lande D’Airou have had a feast.

Now I just have to work out what that bit of meat once was and I’ll sleep soundly