Sunday, 13 May 2007

Un chien, deux enfants et le joie de vie

Who would have thought just one week in France would be so lovely? We’ve spent time in France before, but not like this. Last August we drove down with the Purdays to a sun soaked villa in the impressive and delicious Dordoigne. But holidays are different. Holidays have the rush of the getting there; the stress involved in finishing off a week’s work so you can take your earned break without leaving anything for anyone else to do in the office and at home. Followed by the frenetic dash to the destination. And once you’re there somehow each day has to be packed with as much experience, even relaxation, as humanly possible. So to enjoy France with no agenda, no time frame, just pure aesthetic existential appreciation, feels actually quite French and the way one should live in France.

Ben Hagemeyer said to me on the phone yesterday while walking Moses in a Porchefountaine wood (Versailles, Paris), that this trip will allow us all “to breathe”. Boy was he right. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed breathing so much in my life. Each breath deep, slow and thankful. Alive. Each tiny facial muscle carrying all the weighty tension of life in the city, of the expectations of work, of the relentless eking out a living, is being soothed. Simply by breathing in and out. The scales of my old skin are falling away. And we’re only one week in. Everything is still in front of us.

Last Sunday after a wonderful “bon voyage” from Alison, Gail, Kyla and Rouirc in the New Forest we set sail from Portsmouth and landed in Le Havre at 7.30 in the morning. Where to go first? All of France to choose from. Roughly heading south. Probably crossing into Italy after a visit to our dear friends from the Lifeline Walk, Monett and her son Michel in Valence, just south of Lyons. Yet all of that choice, just like in the Billy Connolly sketch about aisles of shampoos, can sometimes be strangely paralysing. We got over it pretty fast and headed for a campsite in Les Anderlys, on the banks of the Seine, just a few miles north of Giverny. Unlocked the bikes, set the kids free, plugged into the lecky, lit the gas Barbie (oh yes, the marvelous Mosiemobeel even has an outside gas port), opened a bottle of local plonc, turned up the volume on one of Joel’s albums and sat with Von watching 2 suave swans drift and preen themselves effortlessly along the river in front of us. I cried. Free at last. Free to enjoy my family. Free to enjoy life. Free to be.

Next day, day 3, we converted the hotel on wheels back to a driving machine, filled up with water and left at midday before we incurred another days charges. Parked up in the charming town square and looked for round for an open boulangerie or a boucherie. Der! France stops for lunch! So we went for our first excursion up the hill to the old ruins of the Chateau Gaillard. Simply stunning views from the top both ways along the Seine while reading a little of the historical geographic importance of this site involving various royal treaties between Richard Lionheart and Phillippe Augustus. Moses cordially acknowledged the significance of the moment with the first of his poops at altitude. Good boy. Returned back to the Mosiemobeel and feasted on fresh bagettes while watching life go by around us. Sweet.

After a little siesta (I’m gonna love these I just know it), we set a course for a piece of heaven on earth that is, of course, Giverny. We arrived too late to enter Monet’s gardens that day so the nice man on the door said we could stay in the car park next to the entrance. How cool is that? Free accommodation right outside Von’s only ‘must see’ destination in France. All set for first entry into the gardens bright and early in the morning. And what a morning it was. To see Von’s face mesmerised by the beauty of Monet’s creation will stay with me my whole life. She knew instantly this is what she wanted to do in her life. To build a garden like that. Now all we have to do is find land magnificent enough to build it on. Easy.

Josh took a billion photos. Ellie took a few. Then they sat with their A2 sketch books on a bench and drew what they saw. Again the tears welled up. This would beat any art class they would ever expect to have in London. It was the sense this type of experience would now be the norm that touched me most. Or maybe it was just the beauty of the irises that overwhelmed me! But I am in France. To live is to cry n’est ce pas?

Day 5, Paris. John and Joel you know how I know the French are gay? Have you seen that Eiffel tower? A bigger monument to the penis there is not. Millions of Frenchmen worship there every year. At night it lights up. Then at 10pm it sparkles for 5 minutes. Anyway, von and the kids went to the top while I lay in the sun with Moses in the Trocadero gardens on the opposite bank of the Seine. Paris was magical as usual. We were on one of its bridges in the evening when the tower sparkled. Ellie cried. With happiness. She couldn’t believe where she was. What she was doing. Or that it was really all happening. Bless. We nipped up the Avenue Montaigne to gape at Gucci, Nina Ricci, D&G, Chanel et al before heading down the Champs Elyses and almost missing the last train at midnight to our motorhome waiting patiently for us in Versailles.

Day 6. Decided to make our way to Dijon. 20 miles out of Paris on the A6 we took an exit to some chateau, just cos we could. The kids and I went for a ride and found a delightful little farm shop and stocked up. Parked up by the river Ecole in a space by the side of a meandering country lane, looking out on an archetypal rural landscape of wheat fields lined with trees, cooked up a succulent poulet noir stew and pretended we were eating out at a posh French gastro. We stayed the night at that impromptu place, just cos no one said we couldn’t.

Day 7. Popped into Chablis as you do. Picked up a couple of bottles in a 13th century Cave du Connasseur where another nice little Frenchman shared with us his knowledge of the various categories of Chablis that us English seem to be so enamoured with. Found yet one more idyllic and empty municipal campsite in Ligny-sur-something where we’ve recharged all our batteries for a couple of days. Just had what we’ve decided will be a weekly treat eating out at a local restaurant. The Auberge de Bief. Exquisite and charming all at once. The French sure can cook. Highly recommended if you pass this way.


Phil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil said...

(Whoops, sorry for the above)
Bonjour. Sounds like this journey and its wonderful implications for you all individually and as a family has at last hit home. Tears are a good sign: humble, grateful. Drink it in and savour - you've worked hard enough for long enough for it all. I'm so happy for you all.
If you're heading further south, Nice is a lovely town with an observatory and a great museum of art. Chur!

Scott said...

Sounds like an idyllic start to a fantastic journey.