Over 1200km and two weeks on the road have confirmed a few things for me. First a suspicion that I might be dating Robert Bengini. Second that the French spend their taxes considerably more effectively (read not a single bad road and outrageously good local flower displays). Third that I do, despite twenty years of protestation like pain au chocolat. In fact I'll devour twelve. Before lunchtime. And finally that this pace, a toe ahead of the tortoise and a foot behind the hare, is enriching in and of itself.
From the top. The gusto with which Diarmaid attacks a new language is formidable. Incidently For-mi-dable (please read in french.)...has been a popular go to phrase. If you've seen Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law you'll know what I'm on about. If you haven't, then the joy of Benigni's character is in the sheer erracity, energy and innocence with which he throws himself, and his poor language skills at an unsuspecting and/ or hostile host. And what's more Benigni is regularly the first to strike out.
I speak french only little . and. I work with my little flower (me?) at bicycles. we camping have a problem here no, very good? or c'est tres bein, tres bein shot at high volume at two bemused old blackberry pickers as we hurtle past on the canal. The latter accompanied by a open palmed sweep of the air (the routine reserve of a fictional Italian conductor). Still. Some are left dumbstruck but most, to our surprise, have made a real effort to converse. And albeit in vivid rejection that which affirms the French cliche of cool or chic we've lived out most of the last two weeks in French. Thanks to all but in particular to Dominique, Nellie and Claudine for their unfaltering patience. Dominique jumped out his car to talk to us half way up a hill. He had raced in the Tour De France. (Lest that's our translation) Nellie corralled Diarmaid into conversation on our first emergency swim in the Yonne, her sister was still bicycle touring into her late sixties. And Claudine let us camp on a grassy bank opposite the house in which she was born. Brought us a chilled glass of vin rose and sent us on our way with a home grown onion. Bon courage. Good luck, or take courage.
Our days have yet to become monotonous despite the necessity of a routine. Alarm at 5.45 porridge, pack and go. A process still in refinement we're yet to better an hour from bed to road. Those first few hours - when the mist unfurls its gentle clasp on the trees and the birds get their natter on are always my favourite of the day. You warm up with the world. And its an honour.
For many hours a day it's just me and Diarm. A solitude which has taken me somewhat by surprise. France is vast. And rural roads and villages often feel deserted. In part that's because the heat necessitates closed shutters but it also reflects the growing urbanisation trend. People want to live in cities. Villages are peppered with houses that lie empty. For significant stretches it is just us, wheat fields (at varying stages of defiance), the bikes and metal monsters. A colossal sprinkler: we've been caught out in that game more than once. The odd lone farmer. Having lived an urban life for the last 5 years having the chance to roll with the harvest is a prize winning ticket. I am slowed by it. Brought back down. And our pace and route has allowed us to chase the change from wheat to fruit and veg and now to wine.
As the heat of the day recedes we trickle down the smaller roads and look for a spot near a river or stream to camp. And knock on. Camping 'Sauvage' is illegal in France but so long as you ask it's rarely a problem. And more often than not it's the keeper of day's first meaningful interaction. A forest of wild boar, river bank, the verge of a small chateau (it's been done) we sleep in some pretty lush places. But it's not all harpsichords and romantic hue. We bedded down in a fishing car park the other night. Much to the disdain of the local youth who cruised in at 11pm for a smoke and catch up. Ah the soothing lullaby of the text message. Beep beep beeep beeep. beeep beeep beeep beeep. night beeep beeep beep diarm.
And so we happen upon our first top cycle touring tip. Knock on. It's the shizz.
En finalement - france we'll miss you thanks for your spectacular beauty, patience, bird life and apricot tartin. We'll be back on our bikes. No doubt. And to Netege and Thierry. For welcoming us into their farm (6 rabbits and 1 horse ?!) and taking us to drift on our backs down a river the day the thermometer hit 40. I'm tempted to pen your words on my pannier. It's not the way that matters but the way you do it. Too true or as D might pipe Vraiment, Vraiment. As for the tip:
Don't take a pee on sticky willow. It'll add 45 minutes to your early morning routine and they will coat both your padded shorts and your person.