About Punt King

Punts, Kicks

Now in Toulouse and already into day five of a 12-day stretch.

It was go, go, go in Paris so I’m relieved to slow the pace in a city I know my way around in a bit.

I arrived Toulouse on a Wednesday afternoon Air France flight out of Orly. It’s a sixty-minute ride. The flight operation at Orly is impressively well-organized and disciplined.

You check-in via stand-alone kiosk and tag your own bag. Or you can check-in on your mobile. That’s how we do it in the states of course. But then you must wait until the two-hour mark prior to scheduled departure to learn of your flight’s assigned “hall.” Only then can you hand off your bag. Airline workers check your boarding pass and examine the tag on the suitcase but they’re merely funneling you into a completely automated smart-system that puts the onus of completing check-in on the person flying. The technology is such that this process feels shielded from some of the potentially unnecessary stressful human interactions required of a regular enplanement.

Even security was markedly more professional and definitely less chaotic than the typical TSA free-for-all.

Once thru the x-ray, sure enough there was a clean, well-stocked snack shop that you always seem to see in French airports. No price gouging.

As you board, there’s not a myriad of ordered groups. There’s no frenzy to get on the plane. You can grab one of eight or nine major French newspapers for free as you enter the jetway.

US air carriers should seek to implement some of the sanity-based initiatives advanced effectively in French and German airports. Professionalism, cleanliness and self-reliance at critical parts of a basic check-in (by supplementing rather than diminishing labor’s involvement) makes flying a pleasure. Easier said than done, I guess. Especially given the entrenched place the TSA now has in US bureaucracy not to mention a greater thirst for profit by America’s aviation business positioned entirely in the private sector.

US airlines ultimately control even the government-imposed framework of the flying experience through their lobbying might and it baffles me how little interest the American aviation industry has in tightening up basic principles executed so well in Europe.

From the Toulouse airport to the city’s center, it’s less than 2 euros for a ticket on the tram. It’s about a 25-minute ride. And from there, I walked 15 minutes to meet the young man who handed off keys to his rented apartment via the Airbnb plaform. I’m staying at the exact same place as a year ago. At about 58 dollars a night, the apartment’s location is the key. It’s in the heart of town – close to everything. It’s on a quiet street and in a quiet building.

I was pretty tired the first night on arrival so kept it low key. On Thursday, I went to a gig at Le Rex – a pretty big club that’s close to where I’m staying. The Paris outfit Zombie Zombie was the headliner. I actually preferred the opener – DERINËGOLEM – a two-piece from Sète. Megi Xexo plays violin and gets maximum sound and range way beyond what you’d expect. Brian DeBalma plays drums and the combo is extraordinary. Xexo is from Albania and she incorporates her homeland’s flavor into the duo’s sound.

The audience reaction was very positive such that the Xexo wanted to play longer than the gig’s organizer would allow. There was a brief staredown on this before the house lights came on and made it official.

The indie rock video is mostly a lost art form currently but DERINËGOLEM made a really great one for their tune DERINËBUGGG. They played the song Thursday night and it sounded great.

The oddly-elevated platform bar inside the main room sold pints of lager for 6 euros. After purchasing my second beer of the evening, I missed a step returning to the main floor and nearly went down. It’s actually kind of a miracle there wasn’t a calamity given how I stumbled. I lost three or four ounces from the cup and sprayed some suds on a few standing patrons to whom I apologized. I returned to the bar to ask for clean-up materials, wiped up the mess and carried on without a problem.

Jacques and I went to the Ligue 1 soccer match between Toulouse and Nice on Friday night. The French league makes schedule adjustments on the fly to accomodate unique television windows on Friday and Sunday nights and so it was a complement to Toulouse to get the prime time shot on Friday. The website of the Toulouse Football Club advertised 15 euros tickets (with a 2 euro day-of-match surcharge on seats bought at the box office). Yet, when we arrived the cheapest ducat was 22 euros. Jacques briefly protested but the woman in the booth made the dubious claim that the 15 euros seats were “sold out.”

We sat in the end zone near where TFC’s supporters chant, sing and wave flags. It’s called the “Brice Taton” stand in honor of a TFC fan who was viciously killed in Belgrade before a Europa League match in 2009. The 28-year-old Taton and the TFC fans he was pre-gaming with were attacked at a bar near the stadium by Serbian thugs.

There was a moment of silence for Taton before Friday night’s match. His picture was displayed on the video board during the tribute.

Nice’s lone goal in the first half Friday came on a rush that started with what appeared to be a rough, foul-worthy take-down of a Toulouse player. TFC supporters reacted by shouting a crude sexual slur in unison at the referee.

A tying goal for Toulouse came in the second half followed by a blown scoring chance for Nice who had a three-on-one advantage in the box. 1-1 was the final. Toulouse sits eighth of 20 in the Ligue 1 standings after hanging on for dear life to avoid relegation at the end of last season.

The highlight of my stay so far in Toulouse came Saturday afternoon. Jacques was preparing pastries for an event that night and made a lunch in his backyard. I sipped from a bottle of cheap but tasty Faugeres. It was 75 degrees, breezy and beautiful. An insanely fresh splattering of fresh mozz topped a plate of just-picked sliced tomatoes from the adjoining garden of Vincent and Claire. There was saucisse de Toulouse with real-deal Dijon mustard and a fresh baguette followed by a medley of cheese that included Jacques’ new favorite.

“Beaufort d’ete” is made from cow’s milk produced in the summer in a hilly region between Grenoble and the Italian border. The cheese-makers credit the cow’s consumption of “la riche flore alpestre” or variety of flora unique in the summer like dandelions and the like for producing the dynamic I can’t even begin to describe. It’s amazing.

That night, we met at an old industrial hangar (about a fifteen-minute tram ride from city center) to watch two films selected by La Chatte a la Voisine (the non-profit music and arts collective that stages regular events in Toulouse). There were two English language films: “Kurt Cobain: About a Son” and “24 Hour Party People.” The Cobain flick was essentially an audio interview between a writer and Cobain (after gaining success) set to images of the places the Nirvana frontman came of age in.

“24 Hour Party People” was much more interesting to me. It’s a really entertaining retrospective of the broadcast journalist and Factory Records co-founder Tony Wilson. Set in Manchester, the film is presented in frenetic psuedo-documentary form and narrated by actor Steve Coogan who plays Wilson.

A heavy rain fell during the movie and some dripped through the ceiling in the hospitality portion of the building. The screen in the cinema section is huge. Patrons wore headsets to hear the film’s audio and there were French sub-titles which I tried to mesh with the sound I heard.

Today, I did laundry (mainly for clean socks) and went to see a photo exhibition featuring the work of friend and veteran photographer Franck Alix at a former Carmelite Chapel that dates to the 1600’s. I watched Enable and Frankie Dettori win the Arc on TV. Tomorrow, I’ll see the horses run in Toulouse.

I’ll drop in some details of the stretch in Paris and Lyon but that’s it for now.

I’m only in Lyon for what will be two full days and parts of two others – so I’m pitting the urgency of covering territory against my mind and body’s desire to go a little lazy in the early stages of this long-awaited vacation.

I got up Tuesday morning and headed straight to one of Lyon’s outdoor street markets in the La Croix-Rousse neighborhood. I took the Lyon Metro. The B to the A to the C. I used a 48-hour all-you-can-ride ticket purchased for 12 euros at a machine just before entering at the Part-Dieu station. La Croix-Rousse’s unusually high elevation (833 feet) makes the C train groan and grind its way up a steep hill. Standees on the train grip their balance a bit given the sharp incline. One one side of the main street running through La Croix were vendors selling garments, shoes, jewelry, books, you-name-it. On the other side, it was a full-on food market. The weather is perfect and the vibe at this market was exceptional. This where the French get their stuff. Yeah, they go to supermarkets, too. But the abundance of outdoor street markets – and the quality of the stuff (not so much the non-food sector) make this concept work really well for both the consumer and the producer. It’s such a pleasant way to get what you need.

It appeared to me tomatoes are nearing the end of the line here and the really good tiny grapes are done. But the cheese and bakery items were in full bloom with hordes of shoppers gathered around the reputable producers.

From there, I came back to city center and visited the food hall “Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse.” Named after one of France’s greatest and most-beloved chefs, the indoor hall includes 48 permanent vendors – some of which have full meal service as part of their business. Bocuse died at the age of 91 early this year. His flagship restaurant six miles north of Lyon still flourishes and is considered one of the best in the world.

Lyon calls itself the “Capital of Gastronomy” and Bocuse was the dominate face and creative force of this city’s dining scene over 50 plus years.

Unable to decide given all the choices at the food hall, I walked away without making a purchase. I had lunch instead at “La Grignotiere – Bistrot a Croques.”

I ordered the “Jean-Mi” which was an excellent croque monsiuer sandwich in traditional form. Served alongside a small salad (with a soft drink), it cost just under 8 euros. It was great. The proprietor and chef Pauline ran the whole operation by herself. Her sleepy bulldog sat quietly in the dining room out-of-the-way.

Tonight, I’m going to see Lyon’s hockey team “Les Lions” play Angers at a small old arena in the Confluence quarter.