from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

la fuite d'eau & arsy men

Another stunning mediaeval hilltop town. Another impossibly beautiful shabby château. Another covetable old mas (farmstead), not quite ruiné, and no doubt going for an arpeggio. (Acquaintances of mine went that route – buying a cheap and gorgeous French château. He continued to work 3 days a week in England; she took up with local mayor. Marriage broken, château sold, return to England.)

More sun. Another Monet glimpse of languorous river. Crossing the Dordogne, pulling up to buy veg, the cashier bored and uncommunicative. Crossing back to the car park – and below Clarissa, the trusty sturdy campervan, a veritable flood of water from her ancient hoses. It’s hot; in the 30s (high 80s, and today 90s, in old money). The cashier couldn’t be more helpful – finding a local garage, ringing them, directing us. We top up the water and drive.

The prop and his chief mechanic cast a sly or maybe wry smile at each other, shake their heads, whistle a bit through their teeth, say it looks like several perforations, and that they can’t help. We need the VW garage in Perigueux, 30kms away. It's 5.15pm. We have till 6pm, apparently.

We have no directions, no GPS, no internet access. It’s rush hour and we follow a lorry uphill for what seems like miles, stopping to top up water a couple of times. We drive round and round the outskirts of Perigueux, snarled up in traffic, watching the temp gauge climb (shades of travelling back from the Hebrides in April). I ask a couple of people the whereabouts of a VW garage, and try to take in impossibly complicated directions. 

We get there, van and occupants steaming, at 5.50pm. The boss shrugs laconically, Gallically, unsmilingly. ‘Too late’, he says in French. ‘Come back at 8 tomorrow morning. And don’t drive anywhere.’ You mean – sleep in the van here, on an industrial estate, several miles out of town and away from fields, river, etc?

The only campsite we can find (for of course we do drive, a bit) is a 400-place-strong Dutch-owned holiday camp. It’s burgers or burgers for supper; but we find a tiny hidden corner under a pine tree away from the hubbub to watch the moon come up and listen to owls, and supper is instead an eclectic van-made salad.

So we slalom back down the hill and through the rush hour traffic this morning, watching the gauge, etc.

Arsy French bloke at Reception for VW garage – don’t get me wrong: I really like the French, and I think French men are sexy, but he was one of the arrogant kind – ignores us for a few minutes. Impeccable in his silver silk suit, (pointed) shirt cuffs immaculately aligned 1cm beyond jacket cuffs, all raised eyebrows and deliberate language, his unsmiling and supercilious-seeming incomprehension of my not-bad French means that suddenly all my grasp of said language eludes me. ‘Mais Madame,’ he keeps saying, telling me everything that’s wrong with my grasp of how French garages work, my ancient van in amongst all the glossy top-of-the-range VeeDubs (and where screenwash would cost me 5 euros; should I have leather seats – as if! – then I could pay 30 or 40 euros for polish for them), my disorganised paperwork, the fact that it takes me a minute to find the series number for the vehicle, my camping-hair (actually that’s my own inference). When he beckons us to drive forward he tells us off very firmly for closing the bonnet, despite the fact that with it open it blocks the entire screen and view, so we are in danger of eliminating all the above glossy VWS.

He sees the water under the van. ‘C’est un torrent,’ he says. ‘Une fuite’ – such a romantic word: I picture lovers fleeing, mermaids eloping, etc.

Then he suddenly cracks a joke – which I understand – and all is well. Except. Of course. He can’t possibly do anything today, and tomorrow we are due in Brittany.

Eh bien. Think of us at 8am tomorrow, when the whole saga is due for a re-run, hopefully this time with a hose to replace our single perished one.

Meantime, Perigueux is not a bad mediaeval city in which to spend a day (since we can’t really drive anywhere, except – against all advice from garage – back to the same holiday camp). We visit the cathedral with its statues of Joan of Arc, St Theresa the Little Flower, and St Anthony; and inform ourselves about the Madeleinian* period of prehistory, peaking at about 16,000 years ago, relevant to significant archaeological finds in the Dordogne area, in the Musée. (There’s much evidence too of the much older periods of human occupation, dating to around 400,000 years ago; and what might be the oldest rock art in the world has come from here; plus suggestions in relation to the brown bear that they were perhaps seen as creatures of veneration and ritual.)

I should have realised that the advertised exhibition of contemporary paintings, which has 'jaune' in the title, was entirely of the tour de france. I didn't, until we'd paid to go in.

And cafés, of course: though I’m not much in luck, as my decaff is expensive, disgusting and instant, and though the French do gourmet food, they don’t really get vegetarians, so my salad minus the ham is a very sad salad indeed, which I further wreck by accidentally spilling a vast quantity of salt on it.

On a more positive note, as a fan of Adam Thorpe’s exquisite novels and recent book On Silbury Hill, I’m persuaded by Sharon to try a collection of his poems, Nine Lessons from the Dark. (I have Voluntary, a recent collection, but didn’t really take to it.) Nine Lessons, on the other hand makes me gasp, I mean with pleasure, as I read it over my decaff.

Listen, I say to TM, aka Phil E Stein (self-chosen moniker), and read him an excerpt. Too obscure, he says, and proceeds to give me a lecture on poetry (it needs to stir one heroically, it should have rhythm and preferably rhyme – I consider it quite a coup that he now at least qualifies ‘rhyme’ with ‘preferably’ – and it should be instantly and coherently comprehensible to the rational mind).

I stiffen. Listen, I say back, I’ve had too much of arsy men already today, and it’s only 10 o’clock.

Eh bien. Zut alors. Au revoir.

* or perhaps that's the Proustian period and cakes...


  1. Just back from France myself! 'Une fuite' — ah, so many meanings! I did so enjoy reading this and your last post, Roselle.

  2. Thank you, Robert. Have 'happened' upon so many places on the French camino on our trip - no doubt you'll have walked them.

    Still in the garage. Hose replaced; waterpump une probleme still. Bateau booked at Roscoff for tomorrow. Arsy man being pleasant. Going to cost me a fortune, en plus.

  3. Oh what a tonic! Better than booze, (dare I say it?) sex, everything. Made us laugh an awful lot and that was good.

    Funny you should mention Phil E Stein, with whom, at times, I also live. Until, that is, I call him by that name which gives him cause to think again but not always change his mind!

    Anyway, keep them coming, Roselle. As I say – keeps the spirits up, wakes me up when I'm tired, etc. Brittany next stop, you say? Can't wait!
    Miri (for brevity) x

  4. Lovely post - so vivid and funny. So sorry about the van though.

  5. Miri, v glad it made you both laugh! Belinda, lovely to hear - thank you. Back home in the early hours; 100s of emails and phone messages. Then there are about 1000s of beans and pumpkins and apples to harvest. next instalment sooooonn. Love Rx


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