Up And Down The Road

Garden opposite rue St. Jacques 1.13Last night I visited the bar for an on-line Scrabble session.  The only other customer there was Graham, another Englishman.  I soon abandoned my games and joined in an interesting, educational, and often hilarious, Franglais conversation with him, David, and Frederick.  David, in particular, shares my love of language.  All four of us helped each other with words in either tongue.  My PC did come in useful, enabling me to display photographs of the New Forest and Castle Malwood Lodge; and Graham, who is now a resident of Fonroque, to show us his former home in Cumbria.

Boarded up house 1.13On the corner of rue St. Jacques and rue De La Fon Close lies an enormous boarded up house.  Its garden, derelict and completely overgrown until cleared last year, – I think for an overflow of the wine festival – runs along the street opposite our row of houses, much as the Lindum House garden backs onto most of the length of Wellington Road in Newark.  No longer are dead branches in danger of falling into the road.  Although I have no way of verifying this, I am told that the story is that the building has been inherited by a family one member of which is holding out against selling it.

rue St. Jacques 1.13I walked past the church, which stands opposite this corner, down the steep gradient and up its continuation.  As I did so, I wondered how on earth people had managed this deep drop in the thoroughfare in the days of the horse and cart.  Strong animals and firm brakes must have been required.  This put me in mind of Wimbledon Hill and Jack, whose story I told on 13th May 2012.

Long before I reached Le Cluzeau college which stands near the summit, shrill playground cries heralded its presence, and, afterwards followed me along the road.

Alongside this establishment I looked down past vined slopes onto my village below.

Sigoules from Le Cluzeau 1.13This route bears more potholes than the one described the day before, some of which had had dollops of crumbly tarmac sloshed into them.  The wire fence surrounding an empty field carried the warning: ‘Beware of the Bull’.

Soon after I walked through Les Plantes Petites and its S bends, light rain began to fall.  As I wore no raincoat I turned back for home.

Several cars and mopeds passing me on the downhill stretch explained how the pupils reached their eyrie.  It was lunchtime.  I am sure I have seen some of the more intrepid students trooping on foot past my house in the summer.

Yesterday I wrote that rue St. Jacques is paved in stone.  As I trudged up the steep ascent back to No. 6 I was reminded that this is only true of our top end, beyond the church.  Our original pavements have been recently renewed in a very attractive natural material.  The lower ones, long before, were covered in concrete paving that now bears numerous cracks.  Just as in England, I imagine these to have been inflicted by the weight of heavy lorries.

Jackie would have been proud of the hearty vegetable soup which provided the first course of today’s Le Code Bar lunch.  As I said to Frederick, it was a meal in itself.  Nevertheless, I forced myself, and managed to eat a miscellany of mixed cold meats; what amounted to half a chicken and plentiful pasta garnished with shredded parmesan cheese; finally squeezing in an excellent chocolate mousse.  Some people, I noticed, received profiteroles.  I was relieved I hadn’t.  That would have been like Mr. Creosote’s ‘waffer-thin mint’. (Google it if necessary).  Just in case anyone is wondering, I eat nothing else on these days.

Country Living

Stanley Kubrick’s beautifully filmed 1975 rendering of Thackeray’s novel ‘Barry Lyndon’ was last night’s viewing.  The rise and fall of the eponymous gentleman was set in the reign of George III.  Never having read the book, I am not sure whether the satire was the author’s or the director’s.

Road to Monbos 1.13This morning, while cocks were still crowing, I walked up to Monbos, rounded its 12th Century church, and turned left towards Ste. Innocence via Le Bretonnay.  From Ste. Innocence I returned to Sigoules.  Once you have left Sigoules the roads are reasonably well tarmacked, but without clear edges and often with a steep camber.  There are, of course no pavements in the countryside.  Footpaths in rue St. Jacques itself are of stone.  The street has an incredibly deep cleft, just past the church, that really is difficult to climb.  No. 6, fortunately, lies near the top.  A gentle rise takes you past the market square and straight on across the roundabout, levelling out by the football club.  The further you get beyond this point, the more modern are the houses which peter out at Sigoules Heights.  Another ascent and a left turn take you to Monbos, where I took another left for Ste. Innocence.

Fields throughout the walk were either prepared ready for maize or sunflowers, or contained vines wherever they could be placed.  The exception is the downward stretch from Ste Innocence where a forested area is proclaimed a private hunting ground.

It is exhilarating looking down from the high points into the valleys below; rather daunting watching the way ahead snaking up into the horizon.  Always twisting and turning, the road from Monbos to Ste Innocence is more serpentine and undulating than the others.  I was quite relieved to see the Dutchman’s house marking my turning point in the distance.

Just as it had during my very few car rides as a child, when we had no motorways and used winding country lanes for days out, the sun kept switching from one side of the road to the other.  This time I knew why.

As I approched the ancient-looking hamlet of Le Bretonnay a yellow post-office van passed me, made a delivery to La Maison Neuve, turned round, and came back.  The postal service in the New Forest is similar, except that the small vans are red.Logs, Le Bretonnay 1.13 Yard, Le Bretonnay 1.13Red jumper, Le Bretonnay 1.13

Le Bretonnay displays signs of current life in a bygone setting.

On the penultimate leg of my return to Sigoules, an Alsatian, normally demented at my passing by, offered a few barks for appearance sake, then wandered into his porch, sat down, and watched me continue on my way.  He must be getting used to me.

Looking down the road from No. 6 you first see the heads of anyone coming up the hill.  Gradually their bodies emerge.  Today, as I arrived home, a cheerful one-legged man on crutches appeared in just this manner.  As we exchanged greetings I once more counted my blessings.

Max’s menu today comprised superb onion soup; perfect pizza; massive succulent steak and chips with mustard mayonnaise; and cracking creme brulee.  David topped up my small carafe of red wine with some left in another customer’s container.  I had woken in the night to the realisation that I hadn’t paid for yesterday’s meal.  My friends were unperturbed.  They knew I would cough up.  David’s little joke was that they had thought of calling the police but decided against it.

This afternoon the morning’s cawing of rooks and chattering of magpies were, on home ground, supplanted by the chirruping of small birds and wood-pigeon’s plaintive mating calls.  I even got into the garden and began the task of clearing the winter’s debris.  Last summer’s compost tomatoes were now a bit over-ripe.

Wordsworth And Me

Converging diagonals 1.13Last night I watched Michel Hazanavicius’ ‘The Artist’.  This tribute to the silent movie era was fully deserving of its dozen prizes.  Shot in black and white with music for sound, it was a courageous effort which paid off.  Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo were magnificent in the lead roles.  John Goodman as the determined director and James Cromwell as the loyal chauffeur also excelled.  All, as in the days of silent films, made their faces and their bodies do the talking.  Especially as I cannot lip-read, I have to confess to struggling a bit with the total lack of speech, given that we did enter the world of talkies, but eventually I saw the point.  When George Valentin finally gives up his futile battle against the arrival of talkies, he has a nightmare in which we hear giggling chorus girls and a falling feather’s thunderous landing; after the dance sequence from the speaking picture Peppy Miller has persuaded him into, we have a few seconds of colour and audibility.  That was when I twigged.  The moment was as magical as the sudden advent of colour much nearer the beginning of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

My reading this morning was a continuation of Juliet Barker’s ‘Wordsworth.  A Life’, another of Ann’s books I had begun last week; and the first few pages, in French, of Marguerite Duras’ ‘Emily L.’.

The wintry sun penetrating the diminishing cloud cover this morning produced a halo effect as I took yesterday’s walk in reverse. Pazero's dogs 1.13 Artisan M. Pazero’s dogs took a great interest in my passing, the fawn one being far the more vociferous.

As I laboured up the sloping path to the hilltop, a young woman sped past me.  I amused her with the quip that she was too fast for me.  A few yards further on she stopped, tapped her head, turned, raised her arms in a gesture of exasperation, and, smiling in resignation, retraced her steps. She had obviously frogotten something.  ‘Too quick, perhaps?’, I risked.  This amused her even more and she said ‘enjoy your walk’.Orange landscape 1.13

Less vibrant than in other seasons, the winter landscapes have their own muted colour.

Trudging these gentle hills I thought of Wordsworth, throughout his boyhood and early manhood covering perhaps thirty miles a day in the far more rugged terrains of Lakeland, The Alps, and North Wales.  It has taken me a lifetime to discover the pleasure of solitary perambulating contemplation he knew as a youngster.  He was no less gregarious than I, but my young manhood was more involved in cricket and rugby than in the less obviously energetic pursuits.  The teenage poetry which John Harriot, my A-level English teacher, had encouraged me to write, had been abandoned and replaced by the maintenance of my cricket averages.

At twenty, the age at which I married and started a family, William Wordsworth left his lover and their child in her native France.  It was to take me another fifteen years, through Jessica’s influence, to discover the country in whose language I had gained a by then dormant A-level in 1960.

Le Code Bar 1.13Today’s gourmet lunch consisted of the noodle and cheese soup; quiche, and battered seafood medallions with tomato sauce and mustard mayonnaise; confit of duck and ratatouille; and apple tart.  I don’t normally mention the free bread which is always constantly replenished, but today I was treated to some left over from last night’s private party.  Still fresh, it was laced with bacon.  Delicious.  The main course Frederick first placed on my table was whipped away with the comment ‘you had that yesterday.  It’s a mistake’.  I had, indeed ‘had [it] yesterday’.  The duck was it’s replacement.  Fred managed to knock my water over my second bowl of bread.  Very apologetic, he insisted on changing it.  Then came the next mistake.  The poor chap, obviously rushed off his feet, brought back the same damp offering.  I didn’t mention it.  But neither did I eat much of it.  I hope he doesn’t notice.

A Flimsy Masterpiece

Sigoules hillside 1.13

Lunch at Le Code Bar consisted of some kind of noodle and cheese soup; quiche; pork chop, vegetable risotto, and beans; and profiteroles.  Everything was up to the usual standard, but I thought the melt-in-the-mouth quiche quite exceptionally good.  It is time I added that all this fine food comes with excellent service for 13 euros.

Although the fields, ditches, roads, and footpaths bore evidence of yesterday’s deluge, today was by far the mildest since I arrived eight days ago.  I took my postprandial walk in three less layers, two of which would have been in my lined raincoat, than I have so far.  Indeed, for the last stretch, I could have done without my jacket.

D15 into Sigoules 1.13Setting off up the Monbos road, I turned right towards Thenac, right again down the track leading to the D15, and back into Sigoules basking in sunshine.

Ground everywhere is ploughed ready for this year’s crops, and trimmed vines await the sprouting of the 2013 vintage.  Trimmed vines 1.13I wondered what effect all this rain would have on the produce.

Vines and Sigoules Heights 1.13The ambitious streets of Sigoules Heights (see post of 8th June 2012), laid out in 2007, before the worldwide recession, remain largely devoid of the hoped-for houses. Hautes de Sigoules 1.13 Someone has really caught a cold.

This afternoon, I finished Andre Gide’s ‘La Porte Etroite’.  The title refers to the passage in St. Luke’s gospel speaking of the narrow path required to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.  Helpfully translated by someone in the Wimbledon Village Oxfam shop, where I bought the book as ‘Strait is the gate’.  (For the interesting circumstances of this purchase see the post of 14th December last year.)  The story is of the struggle for purity between two cousins in love.  For some years Alissa and Jerome could only express their passion in writing.  When they met they strove to push each other apart.  Only after Alissa’s premature death, through the pages of her diary, was Jerome enlightened as to his amour’s conflict between her love for him and her love for God.  Mind you, this attraction between young cousins cannot be that unusual.  I remember my own unexpressed teenage infatuation with one of mine.

My copy is on the verge of disintegration through age.  The pages of the 1947 paperback are all brown.  Some have come adrift from the stitching.  No matter how tenderly I handled it, my lap, at the end of each reading period, contained corners dropped off the leaves and shavings from the cut edges.  Now very flimsy, the book is a masterpiece.

Spring must be in the air.  As I wrote my notes, a flock of small birds in a virginia creeper on the garden wall were making an awful racket.

This evening the bar had been hired for a private party and was therefore closed to the public.  As I perched on a barrel across the road to enter this post, Frederick came over, insisted on setting me up a table and chair alongside the restaurant, and brought me a drink.

From Which Direction?

27.1.13

Yesterday evening I watched ‘Mission Evasion’, being the French title of ‘Hart’s War.’  It was an enthralling film about a prisoner of war court martial masking an escape from a German stalag, starring Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell.  I viewed the original English version first, followed by most of it in French.  This method helped me tune into a few of the spoken words.

This morning, leaning into a biting headwind that lanced sharpened darts of rain, I walked, via Flaugeac and St. Julien d’Eymet, for lunch with Judith and Roger to their home in Le Beuil, near Razac d’Eymet.  Once I had passed the right-hand turn towards Mescoules, just after Flaugeac, I was retracing steps taken with Judith last summer on a much warmer day.

The bells of the church at St. Julien; the trickling of water in the ditches, and its rushing along streams and over boulders; a tirade from a frantic dog frustrated from getting at me by a lengthy, fortunately secure, fence; and the metronomic swish of my sleeves against the body of my raincoat, were all that kept me company.Orange van 1.13

Not far out of Sigoules my eyes were drawn to an orange van perched on a distant hillside, its glow piercing the dripping veil of rain.  The led to the sight of an enviable smoking chimney.  I really must get some logs in.

To my untrained sensibility the churches at Flaugeac and St. Julien display the influence of Spanish architecture so prevalent in this region. Flaugeac Church and war memorial 1.13 Flaugeac’s belltower is fronted by the ubiquitous war memorial.

Within what I thought was a couple of kilometers from the Munns’ home, I walked straight over a crossroads.  Sometime later, a bit lost, I telephoned my friends, to learn that I should have turned right at the junction.  And yes, I did have a map.  Never having registered the Le Beuil bit of their address, I had been heading for Razac itself.  Walking through their village I turned up a track to the left of the pond.  This wasn’t right.  So I walked straight on, ignoring the track to the right.  Well beyond Le Beuil I telephoned again.  ‘I don’t know how you could have missed it,’ said Roger.  ‘It’s right by a large pond’.  So…….  Back to the pond.  And back up the same path, thinking I’d missed something.  I hadn’t.  But…..  ‘Ah,’ I thought.  ‘Maybe I should have gone up the opposite track’.  As I approached the house Judith was emerging under a colourful umbrella.  Fortunately she didn’t have to venture any further to gather up her errant friend.Barn, Le Beuil 1.13

I had never been to Judith and Roger’s marvellous hillside home, designed, incidentally, by Judith, on my own before; and then normally being driven, when I don’t usually take much notice of where I’m going.  The first time, with Jackie, had been in Lydie’s taxi.  Judith had e-mailed perfect, detailed, directions.  Nevertheless I managed to get into an awful tangle with Lydie.  Reading the directions to our chauffeuse, I confused both her and myself.  She was convinced that every time I said ‘go left’ it should have been right, and vice-versa.  I was equally adamant that Judith’s information would be accurate. And my French ear was even worse then than it is now.  Eventually the penny dropped and I asked Lydie from which direction we had started out.  It was the opposite one from where our friend’s instructions began.  When we finally arrived, Lydie, of course, knew exactly where we were.

Despite my late arrival today, and Judith’s not really having fully recovered from her cold, she served up an unspoiled, perfectly cooked, roast chicken meal with a variety of vegetables.  Roger was justifiably chuffed with his mouth-watering first attempt at treacle sponge and custard.  A very drinkable Merlot accompanied the meal. As always, I enjoyed their company.

Without a hitch, Judith drove me home.

This evening I watched ‘Wall Street’.  Given that I must be one of the few people who had not seen this frighteningly prescient 1987 film from Oliver Stone until now, it needs none of my observations.

When in France, I send my post courtesy of Le Code Bar Wifi.  The bar is not open on Sunday afternoons, but I can sit outside to pick up the signal.  Today the rain never stopped, so this had to be posted the following morning.

Counting My Blessings

LeClerc 1.13Yesterday’s landscapes were invisible this morning, shrouded in drizzle as I went on a shopping trip with Maggie and Mike.

As always, we first visited Mike’s favourite D.I.Y. outlet on the industrial estate outside Bergerac.  Maggie and I stayed in the car and put the world to rights while Mike drew a padlock for the shop assistant because he didn’t know the word for it.  We went on to LeClerc, the amazing French superstore which has just about everything.  My friends bought some ground nutmeg whilst I added to my DVD collection.  I would have needed half a day to have explored their complete stock.

Over coffee in the vast emporium Mike spoke of a towering pillar of smoke they had seen on their last visit.  It was a paint factory being completely destroyed by fire.  His instinct had been to get as far away as possible from the explosions and falling ash.  I, on the other hand……..  Sometime in the mid-sixties, from Amity Grove in Raynes Park, we had seen something similar.  I got in the car and sped towards it.  Nearing Colliers Wood, where an earlier paint factory had gone up, traffic came to a complete standstill.  Everyone else in South London was smitten with the same curiosity.  Tins of paint had cascaded into the surrounding built-up area.

On my return to rue St. Jacques, Saufiene, still with no car, having been driven over on a non-work day by a friend, called in with the paperwork and a date for the detailed measurement of my home improvements.Sky above Sigoules 1.13

The rain having cleared up and the clouds begun to disperse, I took a walk.  I rounded the murky, swollen, waters of the fishing lake where the terrain was soggy enough to have been at home in England.Gully around fishing lake 1.13  The surrounding, normally dry, gully had become a torrent.  Beyond the lake I followed the chalky stone path up the hill and along the top of the field the donkey shares with his goats.  He tracked me as usual and, accompanied by a pack of dogs in the garden of one of the new houses opposite, let out a cacophany of sound.  The rock concert planned for the bar tonight would no doubt have been enhanced by it.  Goats 1.13There were also sheep on this upper level.  I was able to separate them from the goats.  Reaching the crossroads at the top, I remembered the last time I had climbed up there, with Jackie in 2010, just before I was given a replacement hip.  Then, I had been barely able to descend.  This time I counted my blessings.  I continued along the track, following a sign to Mautain.  The downward stretch had become the bed of a clear stream cleaning the white stone.  At the quagmire at the bottom my way was barred by an announcement from the town hall.  I retraced my steps.

Last night in Le Code Bar I had felt honour bound to consume as much as I could of the food Maggie and Mike had been unable to manage.  This was especially so when Frederick brought us an extra portion of duck, and, in response to my friends’ protestations that they could eat no more, patting me on the shoulder, said ‘this boy will help you out, I’m sure’.  Consequently I didn’t need a meal today.

Oh What A Beautiful Morning

Derrick's shadow 1.13Throughout this week I have dipped into a collecton of the letters of A.S. Neill edited by his biographer Jonathon Croall.  Last night I finished them.  Not normally a reader of published private correspondence, which seems to me rather like prying, I read these for two reasons.  The first is the subject, the founder of the famous Summerhill School which he ran for fifty years.  The second, and most important, is how I came to acquire the book.  ‘All the Best, Neill’ was one of a number of books given to me by my old friend Don Eland, that had belonged to his late wife Ann, my even longer-standing friend.

Neill was a legendary figure in child care.  The letters offer a profound insight into the nature of the man and his beliefs.  Summerhill was a very successful residential educational community for children based on Neill’s belief in freedom to live.  He proved that this could aid the emotional and practical development of children from abusive or neglectful backgrounds.

Ann was also a charismatic figure who founded the Stepping Stone Community (see post of 10th. August 2012) with the object of equipping teenagers in care to make the transition into independent adult life.  It was natural for her to have studied Neill, and throughout my reading of the letters I thought of her and the work we shared.

Frosty, sunny Sigoules 1.13Sigoules awoke this morning to a truly ‘frosty fingered dawn’ with a crystal clear blue sky.  The sun’s rays gave the landscape tints of misty indigoes.  Once they found their way past buildings and through trees, they soon warmed us up a bit, but, even towards midday, ditches they had not been able to penetrate still harboured ice.

Frosty landscape 1.13I walked to Cuneges and back, enjoying every minute. Today’s title is a crib of the song from the classic 1955 musical Oklahoma!, celebrating such a day in another season on a different continent, but the sentiment is the same.  I will let the photographs speak for me.Cattle in frosty landscape 1.13Frosty Sigoules 1.13

As I approached Lestignac I was able to direct another French-speaking driver to Pomport.  If only my understanding of the spoken word could match the local people’s apparent ability to grasp what I am saying, I might be able to have more extensive conversations.  As it is, I am quite often at a loss as to how to interpret what is said to me.  This is quite embarrassing when I have opened the dialogue.  Mind you, the painful expression that occasionally came over the face of the helpful bank employee a couple of days ago reminded me of Madame Vachette.  The Vachettes were a kind of adoptive foster parents to Jessica, who was truly bilingual.  We sometimes visited them in Paris and Normandy thirty to forty years ago.  At mealtimes I was always given the place of honour at the right hand of this delightful woman who, like her husband, didn’t speak English.  That excruciating shadow flickering across her face often vied with an uncomprehending smile.  I would feel like Edward Heath, our Prime Minister from 1970 – 1974, whose execrable French accent was rather a joke.  My grasp of the written word, then as now, was far more comfortable.  I would help son-in-law Louis with the Paris Match cryptic crossword.  Sometimes I would decipher an answer which he said didn’t exist.  I felt very smug when I pressed him to consult the Petit Robert dictionary and there it was.  The one game of Scrabble I played with Jessica and Monsieur Vachette gave me an even greater satisfaction.  This kind and generous man told me I could play, on his French board, in English, whilst the others used the appropriate language.  My pride, especially once I had seen the different letter values, would not allow me to accept this.  Those magical creatures known, to my on-line Scrabble friends, as the ’tile fairies’ were kind to me that day.  I won.  I’m not sure I was ever forgiven.Cuneges 1.13

Frosted fencepost 1.13In Cuneges, the white paint on bare wooden fence poles turned out to be a coat of frost.

Maggie and Mike joined me for dinner this evening in Le Code Bar.  We ate tomato and noodle soup; omelette; roast duck; and profiteroles, all prepared to the usual standard.  So impressed was Maggie that she is going to publicise the venue in the tourist information bureau in Eymet.