SANCERRE EDITION. We are to spend three weeks here at Sancerre. Lots of boring stuff follows as Des tries to describe a hilltop village where they had to invent words to describe it. Bizzare, quaint, whimsical, capricious (settle down Des), but definitely pleasurable to the mind, eye and the taste buds. We are in the Sancerre River Loire valley wine area. Wee. Salute!
Saturday 22nd August. In two hours from Paris we arrive at Bourge’s Train Station, sorry, Gare de Bourge’s. Its pandemonium as our crowded First Class offloads together with the 23 other carriages containing paupers. Here, we all become ‘one of the crowd’. I like it that way. Bourge’s is big smoke. Population now 66,786. Julius Caesar came along in 52 BC and demolished the town killing all its inhabitants apart from 800 whimpering sooky souls. You can bet of those 800, about 50% were young strong boys and men prepared to work without whingeing. The rest would be pretty girls and women who were prepared to cook and have a lie down without whingeing when foot soldier Flavius Interuptus felt the urge. The town is located at the junction of the Auron and Yevre Rivers and has a Gothic Cathedral which has a World Heritage Listing. It is also famous for its ‘half timbered houses’. The other half, the bottom floors, are stone. There was a shortage of stone as Julius Caesars team of ‘whimperers’ used all the stones from the demolished houses, and the nearby quarries, to built a defensive wall about the town, a Temple to JC and a Beer Hall Pleasure Palace for Team JC. Thats it. Bye Bye Bourge’s.
We follow hurriedly along the platform after Sue’s new girlfriends, Bronwyn and Janice, Aussies, as they seem to know what they are doing and where they are going. Somebody from Coeur de France, Sue’s Language School, is switched on and has organised an 8 and a 4 seater taxis to transport us to Sancerre 25 k’s away, where we are to spend 3 weeks speaking Froggy. Apart from Moi. Its all ‘girls’ in our cab apart from Marius the driver and Desmond. There’s much gibbering as we motor to our new home. Most of it I cannot understand as my deaf left ear is facing the gibbering. I try to re-connect with that A380 to land it safely at Perth Airport or into that part of Guildford near to Alfred’s Burger Joint. But the lines are down. I hope Elle is still secure in her First Class capsule awaiting my return.
The countryside is pleasant once we clear the crass commercial and industrial outer fringes of Bourge where they seem to utilise, as in Oz, horrid looking ’tilt-up-concrete’ structures to house Tyre Marts, Mechanics, Kitchen Re-modellers, Gyms, Lighting, Carpet, Tile outlets and I shut my eyes until Sue behind me jabs me in the ribs.
Hey, this is pretty countryside. The road dips and weaves gently like the hills about, where paddocks of beige corn await ploughing. Then fields of grape vines tumbling steeply down the hillsides their leaves fraying as autumn moves towards winter and new life. Pockets of verdant green trees, trickling creeks, farmhouses that could only be French with steep slate roofs, dormer windows, chimneys topped by clay pots, slated hoods over the entry door, recessed windows with bright blue and dark timber shutters drawn back. Pots of bright red geraniums brighten the cream rendered walls. I love it.
Sancerre the village where we are to spend three weeks, had 2,511 residents in year 1810. At the 2008 census, only 1,697. A decline of 36.9%. The young have departed as there is no steady reliable work. In recent decades, rich Americans and Parisienne’s realised the magical qualities and quaintness of Sancerre, plus the cheapish house prices, have purchased run down ‘houses’ which are all leaning against and on each other. They renovate them and come for the holidays. And the wine. The village built on top of a natural fortress rising 312 metres and dwarfing the surrounding rolling hills, was laid out in drunken cobweb style by Monsieur Higgly Piggly who worked for Caesar. Extremely narrow Rue’s barely 3 metres width, squiggle about, meet up at small squares, then refreshed at the open space, take off again squigglying in a different direction. Perhaps it was all to confuse the enemy who came puffing up the hill, breached the rampart’s, then ran around in circles like they were in a maze. They were.
Down below is the River Loire. At 1,022 K length, the longest in France. Fed by eight other rivers. In flood, its a mighty force and is still in reasonable shape. Unlike Australia’s longest river, the Murray at 2,508 K, which is in appalling shape due to fiddling by inept, certifiably stupid politicians, bureaucrats, Nimbys, Dinks, brown nosing developers and those wearing Vibrating Yoga Pants. Tasmania has a river named ‘Break O’Day’. Love it.
The taxi off-loads us and our luggage onto a small cobblestoned downhill sloping square outside the Coeur de France. The language school. A grand three story building with a courtyard ‘out the back’. All the ‘schoolgirls’ disappear inside for a chin wag as they did not manage to discuss their whole lives and shopping expeditions that they had been on, in the taxi. I stand outside guarding the bags and saying ‘Bonjour’ to the occasional local who struggles by up the incline into the maze. Bored after an hour, I manage to arrange and balance the bags and their wheels, so that they do not charge off rattling across the cobblestones and down one of the Rue’s. In any direction I walk from the bags, about 20 paces at most, I come to a ‘house’ of two, three storeys, old, ancient, all a bit tatty. One of them, unoccupied it seems as its a very tired house, dates from the 15th century. I turn and walk back checking that the bags have not gone walkies.
Five Rue’s lead off or take flight from the cobblestoned ‘square’, all of them bend away. There are no straight line Rue’s. On the lower side of the square, two of the Rue’s nearly come to a point where theres a cute two storey steep slated roofed house. A weary looking, cobwebbed Taxi office below with largish plate glass window, single door and upstairs, two narrow windows with lace and gingham curtains from which an old lady spies on me. I wave, the curtains fall back.
Marianne, the headmistress and co-owner of school with hubby Gerard, disperses her schoolgirls into various Garrets nearby. We are taken down Rue Porte Vielle with Jeany a pleasant plumpish American lady near 70. Into what seems a narrow fronted House with an extremely steep pitched sideways running skillion roof. Inside, up 16 stairs lugging bags, and Jeany thats your apartment and Madame Sue and ‘Him’, the other called ‘Balzac’. A big surprise. A nice apartment, smallish, but all mod cons.
Cream tiled floors laid in square pattern, heavy 10cm x 150cm ceiling joists overlaid with flooring boards all supported on 30cm x 30cm adzed tree trunks that the white ants had a go at 400 years ago. Its rustic meets NY Chic. Settle Sonny Boy. ‘Yes Mum’. The lounge, a couch, relaxa chair, TV, DVD. Over there a round dining table to seat four, kitchen nook with oven, MWave, hotplates, full size fridge, plenty of ‘stuff’ to cook with. Sue is happy. Two windows looking three metres across into neighbours windows. Soon as they know our apartment is occupied, their curtains are drawn and shutters go across. In one corner of the lounge, a part spiral staircase in timber, narrow tread, fourteen of them, up to arrive at a small lobby. To the left, a bedroom. Sue’s side of the bed has a sloping roof which does not clear her head. Mines OK. I move the bed across so she no knock her cranium. To the right a large bathroom come laundry with a WM and a dryer. Tiled floors up as well but laid in diagonal pattern. One of those ‘Interior Designer’ personages has been here. Everything is thought of except wine, beer and whisky.
An hour later we are back in the ‘square’ and taken by taxi in groups of four to the ‘market’ down the hill at the village of Saint Sanur. Young Foort the taxi driver speaks no English. I no French, but I manage to find that he has three children. All small girls. Its a modern supermarket with two of the 12 or so rows of shelving given over to wine, beer, spirits and song. And I do, buying a 700ml bot of Jamesons for 30AUD. Sue a bot of white wine we are not overly sure of what or which grape. Hopefully not vinegar. Back up the steep hill to Sancerre, unload, and we are off with our map walking excitedly. Well, as excited as two elderly people can be, to see what the village holds for us. We much like what we see. Row after row of two to three storey wobbly thin aged houses, cottages all cheek by jowl, gable and hipped roofs, some skillion, all steep, mostly slate covered with many dormer windows. Higgly Piggly laid out the roofs also. Occasionally flower boxes brighten the scene, vines creep up here and there covering walls. Narrow public passages, tunnels and laneways lead off, then twist to interrupt tantalising views. Cats prowl warily in the shadows.
The main largish town square, Nouvelle Place, one can walk around its perimeter, being careful not to get run down by a car, in 5 minutes. Its not big. ‘I didn’t say it was big Mum, just largish’. Located near to the top of the ‘hill’ on which Sancerre is set, it has a spacious tented structure set up, no side panels. Here the village holds concerts, plays, dances. About, canopied sitting areas where the many cafes surrounding tend to their patrons. A Tabac shop, three flash looking wine purveyors, six of so cafes/restaurants, more down the steep side Rues, frock, gift shops, wine bars, curiosity shops, two bookshops. French books in the bigger one and the other a knick knack tourist orientated shop has a few second hand english novels.
Theres a Charcuterie (small meats), a Boulangerie (baker), a Patisserie come Chocolatier, few churches, heaps of history, quaintness, archaic buildings, one remaining defensive tower, a rather posh Chateaux right on top of the Sancerre’s peaky hill, and a tourist bureau. No fuel station, no supermarket. Perfect. Cars, vans, an early morn big rattly red tractor with red trailer, crawl/hurry up and down the Rues, grinding gears, revving motors. There are no signs to indicate which way the traffic should flow. Its France. The sidewalks, pavements where they exist, are barely one person width then melt into a kerb then widen again. One stands flat against a building as a vehicle passes slowly, hopefully. Young Raphael, Juliette and Ruben zip exuberantly past in Dads old tiny Peugeot van rushing to meet James Dean or their first ‘la affaire’.
Sue’s school mates are from all over the world. Molly (Mary) from Alaska, Kris NY City, just semi-retired. She is going to work her way through the local wine list. Hope she needs help. Rosie, from Washington DC, Lynda from Canada, Jo-Ellen from Alaska and NY City, Lilly, South Carolina, Christina South Africa, Janet New Zealand and our Aussies Bronwyn and Jan. Theres more but their names and impressions they made, fail me. A few blokes but they don’t count. All are from middle age to earths late Cretaceous period. Like Moi. Lawyers, editors, journalists, learners, academics regardless. So they say. Sue passes me off as a former Oz PM.
Rumourmongering over the years, I love rumours, is that Julius Caesar had a fort come palace built up on the hill where Sancerre now sits. Thats Oinks ago – about 52BC. Its a great defensive position for those who do not want to cark it early in their allotted lot as foretold by the Chinese Tea Leaf Reader, Fook No. Anybody wanting to run you through with a pike, sword, dagger, hit you with a mace, their Caltrap or brush Plutonium onto your hand, has to climb the bloody hill, through the bracken, poison ivy and then, puffing like buggery, scale the defensive wall. This whilst Sancerrians chuck boondies, pigs trotters, left overs, spores of the Black Death and warm Number Two’s at you whilst their noble Sancerre leader, Peppin de Short, sends an urgent ‘help’ smoke signal to Hugh Jackman.
The Coeur de France Language School girls are off on another Wine Degustation walk/tour in 40 minutes. At 1730. I’m invited as I’m rude to them. Thus remind them of their husbands/boyfriends/partners/girlfriends/trans/LGBHJZXzzz. I need to go put my make up on. And my false teeth in.
Ooroo, Bonjour and Wee from Her 😘 and Moi 🐒.