I’ve been trying to give my little helpxrs a taste of life in France. I figured it was the least I could do in return for their hard work and them putting up with my peculiar house and my peculiar ways. I always go to a place thinking that I should make the most of it, since I never know when I will be back that way again. This is why I went to a kabuki show in Japan (I just can’t explain the craziness that is kabuki) and it’s why I got up at 3 am in Brazil so that I could see the sun rise over the Amazon. So I try to help people as much as I can when they might not ever be back here again.
And it’s easy to miss the beauty of the region, since it’s a little sleepy backwater trapped between some of the poorest parts of France and some of the richest.
Not only that, I’ve been kind of sad that I’m not French and I can’t offer an authentic French experience. I need to get a tabard in nylon and put my hair in rollers. I already wear men’s shoes from time to time, so I’ve got that covered. So I am trying to up the Frenchness and we have had nights of Jean-Jacques Goldman and Jacques Brel (Belgian, but claimed by the French) and I have been plying them with French wine and French cheeses, baguette and French pâtés.
We’ve had a few trips around the area. I took them to the chateau at Rochechouart. My love for Rochechouart is undisguised and unmitigated. It’s my favourite, except where I live.
The castle kind of perches over the edge of an ancient meteor crater. Sometimes, I think I would like to live in a castle, but it must be terribly lonely.
We took a detour by St Mathieu and Piégut Pluviers – though Piégut always amuses me. I call it Pie-gut, not Pee-ay-goo. I think it should be proud of its pie-eating ways. Maybe someone could twin it with Wigan? I know Wigan is twinned with Angers, but honestly, Piégut makes more sense.
I was just headed up through Rochechouart and I was explaining about Oradour-sur-Vayres and Oradour-sur-Glane. We stopped for a little at Oradour, since they told me that it’s just an abstract concept to Americans – it must be weird NOT to be surrounded by history. I always felt for the people who lived just outside Passchendaele. How could you ever forget the blood shed under your feet? It must haunt your days.
Oradour itself is a nice little town, and it feels quite lively as towns go. How, though, could you live there and not remember the 642 people who were executed by frustrated Waffen SS troops?
As my Nana says, it’s not really a place to take tourists.
At the same time, though, I do think it’s important to remember that World War II was not just about the Holocaust, as it seems to be for most Americans, but it was something that affected just about everybody in Western Europe. It’s easy to get all political and preachy, so I will keep it free from comment.
Anyway, we have been doing more cheerful things, like going for bike rides around the area and we’ve been down to Angoulême. It’s not very exciting, for those not in the know. I think they looked at the cathedral and the museum and then headed off down the hill towards the bande dessinée museum. I’m trying to restore their faith in the place by sending them out with Madame V’s daughter. They found a goat and some chickens last time they went. I know there’s more to life in Angoulême than that.
It must be very sad to be stuck in the countryside when you haven’t seen anything of the cities around. I guess there aren’t so many people with big places in the cities, though. It strikes me that you could stay in a country and be entirely oblivious to the fact that it has any cities at all.
It’s also sad because France just doesn’t have the landscape that America does, though it is achingly pretty round here, so what it has to offer is its history. That is enough in itself, of course. I’ve decided that no vision of France is complete without a trip to a vide-grenier, a trip to a market and a genuine encounter with a man in bleus de travail.
I think overalls and jackets in blue are compulsory wear for most men in rural France. I’d be alarmed if I saw a man who didn’t have big pockets. If he isn’t in blue and he doesn’t have big pockets, he has no business in the countryside. No business at all.
Yesterday, I realised I was wearing a fetching combination of fleecy welly socks, my crocs, bare legs (splattered with mud), winter-white legs, shorts, a paint-splattered tee-shirt and I hadn’t combed my hair. That’s how we roll, country-style. I just need a tabard.
Do you think it would be a step too far to take them to Emmaüs?