Dec 28, 2014

Irregular Programming: La Pétole


There are some things you assume are universal: death, taxes, and TV programs that start on the hour or half hour, with frequent, annoying commercial breaks. Then you come live in France and find out that you still have to pay taxes and, eventually, die, but that you will never figure out the French TV scheduling, because it looks nothing like in the US.

I'm not a big TV watcher, and even less so in French, though I find that people competing either in a cooking or singing contest makes very nice background chatter when I'm working on mundane tasks like photo editing or cleaning (a.k.a moving things from one pile to another, while purging some of them as a token gesture). But I recently find out that regular programming in France is, in my mind, irregular during my hospital stay when I have no wifi (pronounced, in French, "wee-fee") but do have plenty of time.

My Bridget Jones double movie marathon -- dubbed in French and subtitled in a different French translation -- starts at 7:50pm. It's only sheer luck that I happen to be looking for programming at 7:50, and not 8, but I suppose that's because the dubbed Friends re-run I was just watching (which I caught in the middle, at 7:30) finished at 7:49.

I can't tell you why they program it this way, but I can tell you that the commercial breaks are also wildly different. I think I go at least 1/3, possibly 1/2, of the Bridget Jones movie before the first commercial break. I'm beginning to wonder if there will be any, frankly. When it does happen, it is so long that I'm in disbelief: out of morbid curiosity, I watch them all. They're just as bad as in the US, but since it's such a long break, I could have gone and fixed myself a whole meal during them, if I were only in my own home.

It does bring to mind all those studies they've done on Americans, showing that, largely because of TV programming, people have a basic attention span of no more than 6 or 7 minutes. Commercial breaks are noticeably fewer, and noticeably longer, and I'm not sure if this registers on the scale of large-scale world problems or solutions, but it does make them blissfully easier to avoid.


La Pétole -- sometimes called by its more complete name Le Pétole de la Ravine -- is a raw sheeps' milk cheese from the Haute-Savoie region. It's a tall hockey-puck of a cheese, and hard enough that you almost could slap it down the ice with a stick. Yet, when you cut into it, it's not fully hard -- more like that magical step in between crumbly and creamy.

Despite my icy hockey references (the Minnesota in me), and the fact that it is finally winter, this is actually a summer-fall cheese, made each year starting in summer and reaching its peak of deliciousness in the fall.

La Pétole is a relatively new creation, of the Thoule family, who are the very rare sheep farmers in the heart of cow country. In the summer, the sheep go up into the mountains (up to 1900m, almost 6000 ft) to graze, just like the local cows, giving the cheese a floral, herby quality.


Meaning "becalmed", "la petole" is the windless state of not going anywhere -- just waiting to get a move on. That pretty much describes commercial breaks in general, and especially in France, where one stays becalmed for much longer periods of time, but less frequently: a trade-off I would be happy to make, if only I watched more TV.


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