Ode to Don Paulo, on the Passing of Another Year

His name is Paul Harris, he’s never embarrassed
By the things that his family do
But he has, on occasion, enjoyed the attention
Of a birthday party or two

When it comes to imbibing, he’s always abiding
And tips his glass to his pals
He’ll shake a man’s hand, say “here’s to ya, man”
And be quick with a kiss for the girls

Happy Birthday, Señor …

Just another weekend in France

“We’re back!” I shouted, with undisguised glee. Well, I sent a text – not quite the same, I realise, but inside I felt like a small blond child… no, wait, that’s not what I mean at all … inside, I felt like I was leading the hoards of the underworld stomping up the garden path to the front door of an unsuspecting country, singing some long-forgotten old-time religion song. No wait, it wasn’t that either…

I do love France; I just can’t stand getting here. I’d rather spend an hour and a half in the Strictly Come Dancing audience, listening to Brucie in all his drivel-ridden glory, than travel via Ryanair ever again. Three hour drive to the airport, 4am start, adverts dropping like bombs on Belgrade, and a landing that should have earned the pilot the nickname of “walk away” (well hey, they say that any landing you can walk away from is a good one). And all for one quick weekend in the everything’s-closed-cos-October’s-out-of-season countryside of the Haute-Vienne! Seriously, you thought Sunday’s in France were ‘quiet’? Try a Sunday in October out in the rurals! Nope – the next weekend is going to be somewhere with a little more verve.

France 6 – C’est le Weekend!

25/07/08 – finished school at midday, so we had lunch at the Bistro de Bourgeois, in a little village called Chavignol. This village is famous for two things – the goats’ cheese (Crottin de Chavignol, which comes in three ‘phases’ – fraise, demi-sec, sec), and that purveyor of fine wines, Henri Bourgeois. After lunch, we went and purchased some of said wine (LE CHENE SAINT-ETIENNE, complete with sliver of oak from the 300 year old tree). Yum – I think you’re driving home, Paspartout!

France 5 – Bourges Cathedral

23/07/08 -Paspartout and I had the afternoon off, so we decided to head to Bourges to visit the cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Bourges), possibly the finest example of High Gothic architecture. The weather was stunning – low 30s (that’s Celsius – a real temperature scale, you heathens!) and not a cloud in the sky. After we had wandered around the grounds and then the cathedral itself (396 steps up to the roof – top of the world, Ma!), we booked a couple of places on a guided tour of the crypt. This should be a good test of what we’ve learned so far at school, I thought. Unfortunately we didn’t understand a word the girl was saying! We nodded politely, thanked her for the visit, and left quickly.

France 4: Let them eat Cake! Versaille – Giverny – Sancerre

18/07/08 – Well, what can you say about Versaille? With the renovated golden gates, it’s one of the most beautiful palaces I’ve ever seen. We took a guided tour (in English – we hadn’t got that brave just yet – the embarrassment on that front is yet to come) of the private apartments, which I would highly recommend. Plus – major bonus – you don’t have to queue; neither for the tour, nor to get into the rest of the palace (and remember, this is only 4 days after Bastille Day – apart from Aug 1st, the most manic public holiday in France). Hall of mirrors? – yep, it looks every bit of palace ballroom as you can imagine, or have seen. If you go to the gardens (and let’s face it – this is Versaille, so you’ve arrived early and are going to spend the entire day here), then you need to finish off with a trip up to the NE corner of the estate (pause to relax under some hazel trees on the way there – hold hands: Paspartout wanted another break anyway!), to the Grand Taillon and Petit Taillon – the custom village built especially for Marie Antoinette (ah, Marie Antoinette; don’t think badly of her – coming from Austria, she knew little of France and its people, and was only a puppet in European politics).

19/07/08 – I thought Monet’s garden, at Giverny, would be dull dull dull (being the keen gardener – ahem! – that I am), but no! The garden itself is organised chaos, and a wild explosion of colour, with many flowers that I hadn’t seen before – an eclectic mix of English cottage and exotica. Inside the house is a collection of Japanese watercolours, including Fujiyama’s Wave, a particular favourite of mine. Important tip – it only costs €5.50 for the house and garden, and only takes a couple of hours to do, but for love of all that’s holy go early! They open at 0930, but by 1100 the coach park (yes – COACH park) is filling up. Old fogies and Americans – dear god, get me out of here!

The drive to Sancerre was long and uneventful, but for the most part alongside the Loire, and the weather was beautiful when we arrived (the first hint of it since we arrived). After the verbal assault from Marianne (they only allow French at the school, and the woman seemed to think we’d remembered anything from April – dur!), and a quick check-in, we had our first random event… tuba, trumpet and percussion, dressed in convict stripes, playing their way, like a pied piper trio followed by c.50 tourists, with ragtime and jazz by way of accompaniment to a guided tour through the streets. We watched in amazement, and as they faded down the hill to their next port of call, we flopped into chair and bed, et la nous reposions pour le weekend…