Sunday, September 28, 2008

At a hundred miles an hour through France

There was an early morning trip in the car to Portsmouth. Peter drove us and chatted brightly to Tom as I dozed. The cars rushed passed us in the. morning haze of green and grey. I barely remember the wait in the ferry terminal. Brittany Ferries are rather upmarket and swish. I was fractious and anxious, feeling insecure and provincial surrounded by real grown ups on their jaunts to France. There was a pait of couple sat opoosite us, the women clearly french, so chic, and their hursbands, one english, one french conversing in the strange trans continental franglais of the middle age expat.

On the boat I read and read and read, having ironically picked up a book about an Irish expat to France, and the swallowed the book, finishing it on our first day after arrival. We ate well in the restaurant, cheese and salad nicoise for me , lamb and frites for Tom and chocolate mousse and wine.

Norman, Tom's dad picked us up on Caen, and the two hour drive from Caen to Saint Laurent de Cuves was more dozing as motorways French or English bore me. The landscapes of Normandy have a warm hard light, like looking through a smokey quartz crystal, everythign covered ina slight haze of dust from the pale brown soil. I enjoy the way the local style of house building is so un - english, all tall windows and doors with shutters, local stone and building regs demanding houses be white or cream or light brown or yellow. A painters palette predecided by local government.

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Once unpacked slight, and adjusted to the haze of nictotine that hovers at Norman's house we changed and went for pizza at Le Petit Nicolas in Brecey, the next village over. I shared half and Etna, all chorizo and chilli oil and a Norvegienne, smoked salmon and creme fraiche with extra coquille st jaques.

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Our time in France was spent food shopping in the Super U in Brecey and at Brecey market, painting walls in the corner of the living room, sleeping and eating and drinking. My favourite half an hour was chatting to Yvette, who runs the Bar des Sports in Saint Laurent de Cuves about studying history in England in university. She speaks no English at all, but as the expats keep the bar in business she takes care to speak slowly and clearly with them and make them welcome. We also spent a good 15 mins on knitting and laughing at men who love Volvos, something which inspires geekery in both the English and the French. We took a sneek peak in the church in the village, and a tour of the graveyard, marvelling at the money spent on lavish gravestones. I also hemmed many a curtain in the hope that next time we visit they may have been hung!

Later in the week we went to the castle at Fougere beloved of Victor Hugo, ate a paable Moules Frite in a restaurant with terrible service and then I pretended to be Rapunzel, translated labels and got gently sunburnt. The approach to health and safety there was minimal, with rickety hand rails on tall towers, and every thing being open for the public to climb. Having been ransacked in the Revolution the bare rooms were quite a shock after lavciously furnished NT houses.

The last days of the trip were made frighteningly excitable by the last of a summer's hornets flying into the warm of the house through open velux windows and hiding in the rafters of the unfinished ceiling of the room we were sleeping in. Every time we went to go back to bed, I would spot another and amusing crashing and spraying and whacking with newspapers would ensue. I did not sleep at all on the last night in the fear they would appear again.

An LD lines ferry took us back from the concrete lego brick magnificence of La Havre, and whilst the food was terrible, the boat noisy, we had club louge stickers and so rested on leather sofas, our booty of cheap and tasty wine safe in the car ready for stashing in cellars and gifting at home.

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