The road home

A mean Mistral was blowing as we started our drive home. Despite tall lines of trees planted as wind breaks, vines were waving in leafy frenzy. We were taking our time, travelling through the Cotes du Rhone. We stopped in Vacqueyras for lunch and to buy wine. Café tables were covered in shreds of tree and most customers had retreated inside. The waiter brought out our drinks and baguette sandwiches. Vigorously wiping down our table he said,“On ne veut pas manger de la platane, n’est ce pas!” (We don’t want to be eating plane tree do we!)

We were making our way into the Ardeche on twisting roads and through gorges, staying over with Francoise near Le Puy. It was a route I wasn’t familiar with and it was good to stumble on three brocantes along the way. I could still squeeze in a pair of shutters, a lambswool stuffed quilt, a framed gouache of a bowl of roses, a small cupboard and a trug full of numerous smaller items – plus a few heads of garlic.

We spent two days with Francoise. The chateau was full of children and organic farm workers from around the world. Eleven pink plates were set out for lunch each day on the courtyard table in the sun. We picked fruit together, watched her flock of sheep, talked over her plans for her land and property. An avid conservator and environmentalist, Francoise had by chance intercepted several loads of wood on their way to the tip: shutters, floor boards, windows, beams from house demolitions. The remains now stood in an enormous pile outside one of the barns. We pulled out what we could salvage for me – some tall windows and some trestles just fitted into my vans. These would be restored in England – and the rest would go to fuel her wood burner.

Late one afternoon we dressed in hemp tunics and robes, Francoise tied lavender in my hair, and we went to la Fete du Roi de l’Oiseau, a Renaissance carnival, reinstated in Le Puy (famous for its lentils of course) in 1986. The population, young and old, had mobilised. Clowns, musicians, jugglers, flag throwers, aristocracy and peasantry all wandered the cobbled streets. Camps had been set up with wool spinners, sheep (some of Francoise’s), smoking fires, cooking pots, roasting pig’s heads. An alambic in one camp was slowly dripping potent liquid into a pot. “Have you tried it?” “Yes my throat is still on fire!” Flocks of geese were being herded through the crowds. There were archery contests, men rode horses through fire, brew was served in horn cups. A fabulous event.

Time to readjust and return to Autumn in England. In the ferry canteen the Mixed Vegetable soup looked marginally better than the usual glutinous Leek and Potato. However Madame at the till, standing hand on hip, was not having a good day. It was a new till and she was experiencing technical problems. We joined the long queue.


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