Stairs as old as these, would creak would they not? Wood as old as the surrounding hills, worn own by the feet of a thousand people passing. Halfway down, the wood ends to be replaced by stone, similarly worn. The stairwell is dark, shafts of light creep in between the shutters, motes of dust float. This house is nearly 400 years old and authentically oozes antiquity from every aspect, fitting and construction. Modernity has been wedged into the nooks and crannies where it can to provide electricity and running water, but houses this old will not be cowed.
Our evolving morning ritual is that of loading the car with bags and bikes. The bikes are locked up together in the courtyard below, while the bags need to brought down stairs from the apartment. This is a nomadic life which has its drawbacks which for me include that I leave nothing behind. That is not easy. Planning is the key. Everything has a place, and routinised packing helps. As with many others, a key difference is the tech we now bring with us including the various leads.
Stepping out into the morning warmth to load up we are greeted by the Loire lazily flowing by just a few meters away. Saumur is stirring. Baguettes being bought, coffee poured, and Coiffeurs sharpening their scissors for the day’s battle with a million female hairstyles, some of which should be consigned to the history books or for display as objects d’art in fancy Parisian galleries. Dogs sniff other dog’s arses, cats sleep on window sills, grapes fizz on the vine as the sugars ripen. Our destination is much further up towards the source of the Loire at an old medieval city called Loches.
Arrival at the grand maison in the late afternoon means we can bimble into town for a cold beer. The three story stone mansion again must be ancient and stands directly opposite the gate to the old citadel. It could not be more French if you poured wine down its neck and explored its wife’s lingerie from very close quarters. Madame is elegant, dressed in blue and a cigarette, her two lap dogs fuss around her legs while she carries the air of a woman who has spent many a day frequenting the bars and cafes of the Pigalle in Paris. Art adorned the wall. Of note are saucy drawings by an artist called Brunot, born in Loches. They are black and white pencil sketches of young ladies in various states of ‘dishabille’ which does nothing to cover their blushes or cleavage. A very naughty man methinks was Brunot. He also sketched for that upright gentleman’s literature of choice ‘playboy’. Well, we are in France so lets go with the stereotypes.
While Grant and Kirsten were still in town, and ann was resting upstairs in the heat, I ask Madame if it was ok to smoke. She looked at me with incomprehension as if I had asked if it was ok to drink coffee. Monsieur joined us, bade me to sit down and plied me with wine. “C’est normals ici”, why would you not drink wine at this hour of the day? We then spent a pleasant hour talking.
Inevitably Brexit came up. It has already before, in passing conversation. I would have thought the French did not give a toss about it but so far I’ve found some do. Very much. The conversation soon turned to to ‘immigration’ and too many Muslims so that its not safe to walk some streets. I’ve heard this before. This is given as the main reason for Brexit. It is is strange though that in Loche and in France so far, I meet nothing but white indigenous French, no mosques or heard calls to prayer and not one aircraft was flown into a building. As far as I could see, Christmas could still be celebrated, churches were still open, and priests still had access to children. Non halal meat can still be gorged. Calves however still cower in fear in French fields knowing they will be eaten before their puberty, while the odd frog claws as its way towards to a pond missing its hind legs. At least they have been killed ‘humanely’. Nonetheless it is all immigrants fault. What ‘it’ is to a middle class family living in a old mansion, with saucy pictures while stewing their livers in excellent wine and foie gras is beyond me. Nonetheless the conversation in person was very amicable, indeed very much one of bonhomie. I think the wine helped as well as being in the same room room, instead of divided by a screen.
And later, after a quick siesta it was time for dinner.
Pastis as an aperitif is mandatory in France. If you refuse, you are taken around the back and given a good kicking. The wine list always seems to have the local stuff by the carafe for a reasonable price and so we opt for the Anjou Rose. And quite nice it is to. Grab the is hungry after a day in the saddle and goes for a starter. Slices of raw Tuna in a rich red cherry sauce that are so soft as to literally melt in the mouth. This is not like any tuna you have probably had. It has been seared around the edge, but the slice is red as a can be. Not for the squeamish.
We follow this with bass in beurre blanc, with ratatouille and wild rice. Now I grant that sounds like ‘meh’ but as an ensemble it works. It really really works. The fish crumbles in the knife, the sauce caresses each piece while the rice and ratatouille combine to send your taste buds into raptures. This is not fish and chips, which are of course delightful. And I’m not saying I prefer this to good old fish and chips. It is just different but elegantly so. Food as good as this demands a digestif but we refrain. But here we are, this is life. It is good. I could die tonight and be content.
Ann and I stroll around the old citadel before retiring to bed. It is dusk, the light is fading and the bats are out in force. The old city prepares for sleep, for drinking for consummation of unprovoked but nonetheless unbridled desires. Teenagers smoke, lovers canoodle under the stars and an owl hoots.
Vive La France.