Thursday, 20 March 2014

Post 25 du Berry

Friday 7th March. I stopped in some woods last night, not much grass but the best l could do. When l got there a hunt had just finished and the huntsman was looking for a hound that had gone missing. He was wearing a wonderfully baroque outfit and had a lovely hunting horn. After blowing his horn for a bit the hound returned. In the morning it was a hard frost and l was glad to get on my way and out of the wood into the sunshine. As soon l got to a small verge l let the horse stop and eat some lovely spring grass for 15 minutes, l gnawed at a bit of crusty bread. This is lovely old fashioned countryside, small fields, woods, rivers and lakes and plenty of wildlife. I passed a farmyard with a large pig asleep by the back door of the farmhouse, there was also a donkey and goat and a selection of poultry , an old man waved to me.
I don't want to give the impression that everyone is friendly and hospitable here, some aren't and some are very difficult to communicate with. Today l stopped a man in a small village and asked him if there was a bakery, l've asked this many times before and have been understood without the slightest difficulty, but when he gives me a look of total incomprehension, it doesn't boost my confidence, so l try again, this time he mumbles, almost choking on the words as he swallows them, that he doesn't understand. Both bewildered, l patiently try a third time, this time something happens and he says, 'ahhh, une boulangerie,' the same as l've said it three times. This is why we have the expression,  'third time lucky.'
This kind of encounter exhausts me and could be very discouraging, especially if l've walked 30 km and am tired and hungry. Luckily this doesn't happen all the time , otherwise l might give up. The good thing about this sort of experience is that it reminds me to work harder at learning the language.
A lovely hot afternoon. l found a good place to stop with plenty of firewood, water  and grass and stopped there. Shame it's not also a wifi hotspot, but you can't have everything. At sunset l watched a skein of about 150 geese fly over, what a lovely sight.
In the evening l made some seasoning to put in the bag of my bagpipes, they were Ieaking slightly. I melted some rabbit skin glue in a bain marie on my stove,mixed it with some glycerine and some neats foot oil and a little powdered borax and poured that in and swished it about a bit,then let it drain out. There's lots of ways you could do it, just like skinning a cat. Played my pipes later, what a difference and what a joy to play them. People often think of bagpipes as a Scottish instrument, in fact there are many types in several different European countries, including England.
There's plenty to do, things to mend and repair, often with limited resources and tools, [ you can't carry much in a wagon, space is limited and you can't have too much weight or the horse will struggle on the hills]. You have to be able to improvise.
The next day l found a boulangerie, without difficulty!  The people l met were easier to understand and understood me. In the boulangerie the lady was very friendly, she asked if l was, ' Anglais?'  Then she said, 'Je suis Berrichon.' A bit further down the road, the Maire of the village  asked me if l'd slept well and that she'd enjoyed hearing me playing my bagpipes. [the pipes  I'm playing are from this region, they are called, La Cornemuse. Then she said, 'A bientot, peut-etre [see you again, maybe]?' Friendly encounters like this really boost my morale.
This is a lovely part of France and l have been looking forward to resting here for a bit, if l could find a farm or somewhere to stay. I have asked people if l can stay the night successfully, but l haven't asked if l can stay for a week. The horse and I need a rest and I've been walking along worrying about it and practicing in my head what l would say to the farmer. Today l arrived in a village; straight-away l noticed a lady in the street looking my way. It was as though she was waiting for my arrival and knew exactly what l needed, she immediately ushered me into a nice orchard, next to where she was standing, showed me a tap for water and invited me in for coffee and said it was fine if l stopped a week, all in French. She is called Collette and what a kind lady. To help me she speaks slowly and repeats it three times, just what l need. I'm so pleased. There is a nice cafe in the village and the lady there is very friendly too, we chatted for a while and she told me that this evening there is a session of traditional music.
9th March, Collettes Orchard 
The people who own the chateau came and chatted to me, it's a beautiful chateau. I was glad to meet them.
I had a lovely evening in the cafe and played some of the tunes, mazurkas, waltzes, polkas, schottisches and bourees. There were about three dozen dancers,  l watched one lady and thought how nicely she danced, later on she asked me to dance with her, l was really glad. The music was played on bagpipes, hurdygurdy, melodeons, violins, clarinette and an old man in his 80s, playing  a saw. [To play a saw you have to stroke it in the right way]. I left about 12.30 am, tired. The next day l chatted to the cafe proprietor and he said the last musicians left at 6am.
The cafe here has le wifi, and makes a good hot chocolate. One evening the lady in the cafe gave one of her customers a haircut. I told him it looked really good and he bought me drink. I was drinking, Kir, which is  cold white wine and blackcurrant liquor. It's rather refreshing on a hot day. As, [slightly by default], l am representing the UK l thought l should reciprocate and buy the man and his two friends a drink, and l was glad to. The total cost for the four drinks was about 5 Euros, a bit less than £5. Today  Bernadette, who plays the violin and Pierre, a melodeon player turned up and we played music for two hours, l felt really happy. Lovely to have some other people to play music with and hear some new tunes and some old ones l'd forgotten. It's been hot and sunny in the daytime but still chilly in the early hours and ice on the bucket of water in the mornings. Clear skies and the stars look great here.
Saturday, March 15th.
I've done 400 miles [640km] since arriving in France,  l'd estimated that it would take me 32 days to get here and would be about 356 miles, in fact it took me 31 days to get half way across France. The smaller roads l'm using account for the extra miles as they are more winding. It will be interesting to see how l get on with the next part of the journey. I've got huge hills to cross in the Massif Centrale, the weather will be hotter too. On the other hand the days are much longer, so l can set off earlier in the day and perhaps rest the horse more. We'll see.
Stallion donkey at St.Severe. Very Loud braying.
I headed south today and after 26 km [16miles] stopped at St. Severe in the middle of the village by a pond, there is some nice clover for the horse to eat. There is a chocolate coloured, stallion donkey in a paddock next to me and his extra loud braying is charming. Apart from the donkey, no one else in the village came to see me, often small French towns and villages appear to be deserted, occasionally an old lady will be looking out of a window, sees me coming and hurriedly shuts the shutters. I'm sometimes reminded of Rudyard Kiplings poem,
'If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie,
Watch the wall my darling while the gentlemen go by.'.....
The clock on the church strikes a few minutes before the hour and then on the hour, so you get two chances to hear what the time is. Jacque Tatti, made the film, La Poste here.
La Poste
I often get asked if l get lonely on my own and the answer is, although l love good company, l also enjoy solitude, perhaps we need both?  Curiously it's possible to be with people l like and love and yet feel incredibly alone, whereas when l'm alone l don't feel lonely.