The hilltop town of Sancerre France. But we are down below in the Loire valley.
There’s fourteen of us standing in a sloping vineyard. One vigneron, one Des and 12 Froggy Language Schoolgirls. Its Vincent and Adelaide Gralls vineyard and it seems they make a reasonable living off 4 hectares of vines. I’m standing apart from the group as I’m the accidental invitee and as everybody else is jibbering on in Froggy speak. This is another of Sue’s Language School outings. Its compulsory to speak Froggy otherwise you have to write a hundred lines, or spend time in the naughty corner. The outing, fifteen euro each thank you. I’m invited, as they, Sue’s girly classmates either A. feel sorry for me or B. feel sorry for Sue having me about or C. see me as the Sancerre mule that can carry things or D. the girls can try out their Froggy swear words on me. The one’s they are practising for when they get back home to use on their partner of the moment, when he/she gets snaky.
Adelaide picked up six of the ‘girls’ in her seven seater U bewt green black borderline aubergine Pajero. I waited behind forlornly with several ‘girls’ until her hubby Vincent, a well built muscly man looking a tad ‘under the pump’, arrived in his aubergine coloured one and a half cab ute. Vincent stops, looks at us, grunts a Bonjour, haul’s bits of cigarette packets, butts, corks, lunch wrappers, coffee cups, all the flotsam and jetsam of a busy vigneron’s life, out of the cab tossing it into the back of the ute where theres a micro waste digesting plant named ‘Les Bacteries’. I’m crammed into the dusty, squishy, narrow back seat behind Vincent. He puts his seat belt on, I try mine. It no work. Try again. It no work. Vincent takes off morphing into Chuck Norris as though he’s in a rush to meet James Dean taking us along as well. I’m not ready to meet James, but if Elle McPherson or Nicole Kidman is down harvesting his vines, goodo. After a hair raising Formula One ride with Vincent down the hill, across several fields, autobahns, goat tracks, a left turn at the Champs de Elysee, we arrive at his sloping vineyard having used up all my Plenary Indulgences. And any vacancies in my undies.
Vincent, spins the wheels, and disappears in a cloud of fine dust as he goes off to litter his ute again. Adelaide, his wife takes charge. She’s a full bottle of Sparkling Vigneron vintage about 1978, standing with a background of her metre high vines marching row upon row up the hillside. Two small square tables, one with bottles of wine, glasses, the other, local Chavignol goats cheese, chunks of bread, meat and olives. Its great. Especially the vino. The ground in which the vines have their many fine tootsies, looks like a hard limestone with chips and pieces up to 10cm all laying about as they were ripped from they earth in bygone days. Perhaps by one of those 12th century Huguenots who ploughed the field with Juliette the Ox. She doubled at nighttime as his wife. The vines seem to be growing in very rocky ground. Where’s the sand, the clay, the dirt. Actually, as the experienced Adelaide explains cheerfully, Its ‘Chalky Limestone and gives the wine a smoky flavour. Sure enough, when two of the rocks are rubbed together, you can smell smoke. Hows that work? Other of their vines grow in Silex soil, a mixture of limestone and clay. Theres 6,000 vines per hectare. Each vine provides a bottle. They average 24,000 bottles per year. And from that they make a Bien Vivant. A good living in Oz speak.
Some entrepreneurial person should market small pieces of Adelaide’s rocks. Two pieces in cute little cardboard boxes marketed as, ‘Smoking Rocks’. Rub them together and sniff smoke. Get high on rock smoke. Jeese, I’m on a roll. I get all these excellent ideas and then they slip from my mind. ‘Mum, how does one take out a patent on Smoking Rocks’. Cripes sonny boy, are you off your rocker. Never heard the likes of it. Now be a good boy and get your old Mum a glass of sherry. And, one of those ciggy smoke things your Dad always has hanging from his bottom lip.
I only catch a bit of what Adelaide is saying, as its in Froggy speak, but now and then, realising she has an interloper in the back stalls who coughed up his fifteen euro, she smiles beguilingly and breaks into Aussie speak. The schoolgirls all look at me, sympathise with Sue, possibly wonder why my lower false teeth plate isn’t in, its there in my pocket, and attack their wine glasses, pieces of cheese, meat and olives. We take a group photo. I’m the photographer as I’m not officially a schoolgirl nor a ‘Girlyman’. Then, as the wine sampling come plonk degustation soiree seeps into the schoolgirls hippocampus it causes a feeling of friendship towards their fellow man. As I’m the only man readily available, I’m reluctantly dragged into a group photo. Perhaps I am a ‘Girlyman’. It was an excellent introduction to Sancerre wine and the presentation by Adelaide, first class. Have a shooftee at firstname.lastname@example.org – un vair de vin? wee
Later, some of the schoolgirls, including mine, decide that a Saturday bus trip to Bourges 46 K away, would help relax their minds from never ending homework. Goodness me, did they have to study Nuclear Physiology like I did. Mob of wozzies. Bourges is where we got off the train from Paris nearly two weeks ago and joined other schoolgirls for the taxi trip to Sancerre. Its a two euro bus ride and this bus driver has a ticket machine. Technology by cripes, thank you Emmanuel Macron, Froggy la Presidente. A pleasant bus ride through rolling countryside, vines, fields of khaki corn awaiting ploughing, small villages, roadside lined with trees, then finally past crass commercial come retail box stores, we enter Bourges.
Clambering out, theres four schoolgirls and Moi, we set foot on a broad Boulevard, with fountains, trees, people and vehicles. In 2 minutes walk with a left, a right and there we are looking at Bourges ‘not to be missed’ Gothic Cathedral. All Cathedrals, Churches, Mosques, Temples, Synagogues, Bahai Houses and Bars should be ‘not missed’ just in case God is not who you were raised to believe he was. As a child, I saw Him as a white man, long hair like a hippy, always had his right hand raised as though he was an Indian Traffic Policeman, wore a long frock and had a mum who was a virgin. Thats before he fell foul of Sheriff Pontius Pilate a Collingwood Football supporter.
Bourges is reasonably Big Smoke hereabouts. In 1975 it had a population of 77,300 but since then, 11.2% of its population have knicked off to ‘greener’ pastures, i.e. Gay Paree, leaving the town bereft at 66,786 souls. Or the Black Plague has come back and the Froggy Health Authorities are staying tight lipped.
The ‘commune’ of Bourges nestles alongside and above a large marshy area at the river junction where the Auron bumps into the Yevre and they both continue on together as bigger puddles to meet the Cher River at Vierzon which then flows as an even larger puddle into France’s longest River, the Loire. We can see the Loire River from Sancerre and it looks tired, sluggish, sandbanks showing. Its been abused like rivers worldwide.
Theres a tourist train with three 20 person carriages in the Cathedral forecourt. Cough up seven euro fifty each and we are off weaving our way about the ‘not to be missed’ Cathedral, and down hill into the 65 hectares of what all tourists come here to see, the Old Town of Half Timbered Houses. Opps, sorry God, and the Gothic ‘Not To Be Missed’ Cathedral. The Rue’s in the ‘Old Town’ are narrow but the layout seems more orderly than Sancerre’s. Crammed with tourists, locals, cafes, shops, something for everybody, our tourist train weaves its way about with Hugo, the engine driver and coal stoker, doing a good job in not swiping pieces off the ancient Half Timbered Houses, pedestrians, cars or ancient us. And he does this whilst carrying on an enthusiastic travelogue in Froggy speak. We have English speak earphones, one ear plug for Moi thank you as I’m stone deaf in the left. But wait, thats not all. Ive got false teeth as well. Top and Bottom. Can I mention my Irritable Bowel Syndrome, no, well better not. The spines L2 jumps out of place occasionally to go visit its mates and it does this without filling in a leave slip. My hair is falling out, knees are wobbly, I get Charley Horse cramps as the Hamstrings descending from that Roman, Gluteus Maximus, who morphs into the Calf Muscles, objects to all the walking up and down steep Rue’s. In the morning, it takes a good half an hour to warm up my engine, engage the brain who does not know where it is for a while especially when mis-firing. I once looked at my lovely Bride whilst the brain was mis-firing and uttered, ‘Who Are You’.
The half-timbered houses are just that, built up off lower floor stone walls. Many of them are now due sadly, for retirement to the aged Half Timbered Houses home at the local Waste Management Plant. Many lean sideways, forward, backwards, upper floors are out of alignment with the one below, are propped, and held together by that attractive haphazard weave of adzed timber boards infilled with plaster or cement render on horse hair. Like ‘wattle and daub’ in Oz. Its worth a shooftee but not too much else about Bourges grabbed me. Modernistic dark ‘goth’ designed shopping malls with burger bars, tavernettes, cafes, frock, shoe and jeans shops in those malls are creeping into the magic that is the enclave of the Half Timbered Houses. Mind you, to be fair, I’m only in Bourges for 3 hours. Your’e just like your father sonny boy. All rush rush rush, making your mind up in a jiffy. ‘Yes Mum’.
OK, we do visit the Cathedral. I’m actually ‘over’ Cathedrals, God as well. Sorry God, but I’m overloaded and await the Second Coming for proof. Whether that turns out to be You, Kubla Khan, Jabba the Hutt, Obi-Wan-Kenobi, Jar Jar Binks, Tinkerbell or Barnaby Joyce, if you can turn my Bottle of Jamesons Irish Whisky into a carton, I’ll barrack for you.
Its awesome in the Bourges Gothic Saint Etienne Cathedral and they are supposed to strike the fear of God and awesome into one’s soul. According to UNESCO, its a Gothic Masterpiece, We collectively pay these people from UNESCO to record those things despite us knowing all the backhanders, snouts in the trough bizzo that undoubtably goes on. At one of my home towns, Exmouth West Oz, theres a prawning industry. When as a young man, with most of my faculties apart from one deaf ear, missing teeth and penchant for drinking beer and eating pancakes for breakfast and lunch smothered in Canadian Maple Syrup overlaid with thick chunks of bacon, this well before my Irritable Bowel syndrome kicked in, there was a U Bewt Prawning Industry at Exmouth. Over twenty prawn trawlers out in the Gulf of Exmouth a wide yawning ‘V’ shaped shallowish body of water. Then over the ensuing 55 years until now, theres only five or six of the very same trawlers left. This is a viable industry? But somebody in Government, a Functionary with loose tappets, decided that the Exmouth Prawning Industry should be proclaimed ‘Sustainable’. And it was as it helped sales to Japanese, Chinese and American squillionair’s including Donald, Vladimir, George at Lake Como and at Kim Jong-Un’s summer palace. How can it be so asked Professor Julius Sumner Miller as he poured a glass and a half of dairy milk into a block of Cadburys Chocolate.
Sorry, got carried away. Back to the Bourge’s Gothic Cathedral. Building started around 1190 and hiccuped its way along for a century or two. The building is 125 metres long compared with Paris’s Notre Dame’s 130 metres. They seemed to always have been short of money when building the Cathedral as it took a long time to finish. There were problems with the structure as well. The North Tower collapsed on December 31st 1506 and some of the flying buttress’s had to be further ‘buttressed’. It was built in a ‘Basilican’ format that is without any transept to form the traditional church/cathedral ‘cross’ floor plan as is usual. All points to a lack of funds, will and poor engineering.
However, the west, front facade, is bloody marvellous with five doorways the centre or ‘Doorway of the Last Judgement’ being the grandest. All are richly embellished, thick recessed stone surrounds. decorated, filled about with statues, heads of past bishops, angels, saints, gargoyles blah blah. You choose your entry doorway depending on when you last went to confession and whether you need your chakra re-aligned. Theres also a marvellous ‘Astrological Clock’ built by a very clever Jean Fusoris and Andre Cassart in 1424. It reads the hours, solar and lunar calendars as well as displaying the Zodiac signs.
Out the back of the Cathedral, is an equally fine stone building of three storeys the top one in the steeply pitched slate roof. Its got solid buttresses as well and a diagonal half timbered entry stair which leads to the first floor. This is the 13th century ‘Tithe Barn’ where the holy fathers kept their ‘Tithes’. A tithe is a one tenth part of something, usually produce of farmers and ‘turned over’ to the monastic pure of mind and soul, holy fathers. Here they stored grain, cereals, corn, vegetables, wine and if the farmer had ten children, one was stored in the Tithe Barn for use by the holy fathers as they saw fit.
As I pointed out some 500 words ago, I’m over Cathedrals, Churches, ancient heritage listed villages, but not Tithe Barns. I want One. Not over Jamesons Irish Whiskey 🥃 either.
Ooroo from the lovely French Lady Sue 😘, and her husband, the Rev Father Moi 😇.