We were ill prepared. The camper preparation barely considered. Barry threw in 5 coats and loads of shirts and I was not much better. Sag had replaced the leisure battery but it was untested. England was cold. With surprising ease I booked Le Shuttle to take us to Europe.
A last minute decision. A cure for restless and far too long ill Barry. Shingles had arrived 5 months before in China and had not left his body. Medication had failed or been refused (I’m not depressed, I’m not taking pills for depression). Weather in England was dire. We would be out of season. In our unloved Boxer Campervan with our beloved dogs, Kali and Bobji, we set off one rain filled day.
We repeated almost exactly our first night in France on our way to Tumbuktoo. An expensive very mediocre hotel – an IBIS – with the exchange rate almost one to one, pound euro. Late of course, we rocked up in Chalon at 6. After a very mediocre meal, we found a bar open in the main square, with young people dancing and it turned out Chalon is home to the world famous circus school, Centre National des Arts du Cirque – CNAC -and a few of them were in the bar tonight, with their contortions and improvised dancing. They’d come for the Salsa night that was going on in the front bar. A man watching with us engaged Barry. In that very French way he argued the difference between Humorist and Comedian. Smily eyes, tobacco breath, lover of language.
The morning run was glorious. We (dogs and I) ran from Park to Park, over water systems all feeding from the great river Marne. Little Venice water courses. The English Garden was a rounded relief after all the formal regimentation of the pollards. Oh those great POLLARDS, fingers of the hands, knarled, the French coppicers. It is here that I first dive into
In the Post Office. They are so IN ADVANCE of us. Gone the them and us, the separating counter. Here sporadic islands of information and such style.
I admire the rounded Romanesques of Chalon (Saint Etienne 12th century rebuilt gothic style and Notre Dame en Vaux a UNESCO 13th century and Sant Alpin the oldest 1170) but they does not move me to enter further. I am revolting against churches. I know they are common building projects, the centre of a town, rich in funding and art. But right now they are leaving me cold.
Vast unhedged fields. Cathedrals of grain silos rising out of flat treeless land. Automatic petrol pumps.
Nuits St Georges
The village camp site is unappealing to Barry so we headed back to town and end up in a Budget hotel still E60 plus dogs. The girls at reception are friendly and recommend L’Etoil bar, which turned out good for Barry as the bar man spoke good English and Barry content with Snails and I with beof Bourginon. To Barry’s amazement the wine we had was £48. A Chevry Chambatin 2007
What? says b, ‘I cannot taste it. I’d prefer a strong Rioja
The barman was the owner. Inherited from his parents, he had worked here for nearly 30 years. Are you happy? I asked. There was an exchange between the father and son and eventually a ‘yes’.
‘Yes, he is my son. So we are just starting now. To work together. We see how it goes. May be I do mornings and he afternoons!’
While Barry takes morning coffee at L’Etoil, I buy a half dozen bottles of Nuits St Georges for the 2nd time in my life. The first time I was living in Earls Court Square, a flat share with Robert Booth – it was his flat on the first floor, packed with books, recording equipment (he worked on Radio 4 as a continuity announcer) I’d come back from a road trip from Nice with Todd who’d introduced me to the Burgundy wines, including Nuits St George, and inspired by this I’d splashed out then and bought a few bottles back with me. I stored them under my bed. Not for long. Robert, searching for some wine, had found them and no doubt enjoyed them. I was furious!
Got lost in morning exploration though small family vine yards up in the gentle hills above the quaint village. Always like getting lost. Came across some planters of young vines and some burning the cuttings of the pruned vines. Smoke in the distance.
We decide against Nice – too far to the East – and headed instead for Arles. It is a surprise for both of us. For Barry it’s the Roman Ampitheatre, for me it’s the old town and Plane trees.
I shall not forget our entrance, the avenue of white naked Plane trees, hands with knobbled joints. How I wish I’d drawn them.
We stay in an Air bnb run by Luic. The first I’d booked and very successful. It’s right in the centre of the old town, in a square called Place Du Forum with one side of a proscenium arch remaining. It is above the Apostroph bar, which it turns out is also owned by Luic.
I feel very 5 foot 1 here, amongst tall, North African, cool, unsmiling, hip men. I imagine being born here rather than East Dereham. Would I have been with torn jeans? I tell B the story of walking down Quebec Road into Dereham town in bare feet, imitating Sandy Shaw my heroine.
‘But they will think you are poor’, says Mary
‘I don’t care. I am Sandy Shaw’.
We have crossed the 8 o clock curfew for food. Here is any time.
First Knife Up Sleeve. I watch while a young man pulls on his cigarette, looking at his mobile, while his girl gets up and pays the E10 bill. And still she smiles at him.
Banging on our door. Car alarm begins. Dogs restless. Barry moaning. ‘Bloody air bnb’ he mumbles. Until, smoke and fire engines under our window.
Dogs and passports out. We stand in the square with others. It’s a car in the near by alley that’s caught fire. After half an hour it is no longer deemed dangerous.
Morning run along the great Rhone river, discover the Vincent Van Gough trail and that the Place du Forum is ON the trail, on the Roman trail too.
Like our patron in Nuits St George, Luic lives just outside Arles with some space and a garden. When I’d looked up that night of the fire, ours was the one of a half dozen lights on.
A mock bull fight with a little vache take place in our square. I am a soft socialist, and find it uncomfortable watching, sympathising with the froth at the mouth of the animal that must dance for our entertainment.
At the market I buy expensive cheese from summer fed cows which lasts us 2 weeks.
The Amiptheatre. ‘Those gladiators being torn apart’, says B. ‘All that battle. What excitement they had in them days. The people in power doing what they wanted. Building this.’ Up B’s street. ‘Our empire – we owned half the world, says Barry.
Rue de Refuge was the first street sign I saw. We are off Rue des Arnes
The parafinalia on the church. All men. Men as saints. Men being eaten, men awaiting heaven.