Monday, 13 May 2002
Farewell to France
Annie and Leo, elegant as ever, stood on the steps of Dauzan bidding a fond farewell as the Beast crept down the drive. Their hospitality and generosity had been stretched to the limit by their unexpected guest but good manners and iron will ensured no trace of relief would flit across their smiling faces as they turned and re-entered their lovely home.
Life could now return to normal. The uncut grass, the unplanted lettuce, the unpainted walls; all the chores that had been so rudely interrupted by their unruly visitor could now be attended to.
Annie was looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the TV and a good night’s rest.
Leo hoped his hands would soon stop shaking.
Thomas, being a blind dog (not a guide dog for the blind, just blind) couldn’t make out what was going on but detected much less noise and distraction now that the loud, boisterous man had gone.
Peace and tranquillity returned to the valley of Gondrin.
I vowed as I left Dauzan to have an AFD. I got only as far as Menciet at the foot of the Pyrenees where I stopped at the geranium strewn -roadside bar to consult my map and had a swift sharpener to clear the head. I then decided that a trip over the mountains instead of round them was called for. I headed for Aire sur l’Adour, where I paused for lunch, then down south towards Orthez. I was heading for Pamplona by the back door.
It was just outside Salies de Béarn that I was stopped by the gendarmes. About 50 of them, carrying more weapons than I’ve seen outside of a movie, had set up a road block. There were motorcycle cops carrying rifles and others in full flak jackets, dogs and their handlers, a mobile communication centre on wheels, the lot.
I was waved over to the verge and told to get out. Documents! I handed over my Argentine passport and my Qatar driving licence. Where are you heading? Where did you stay last night? What is your occupation? Open the boot! He searched my dirty laundry bag but little else. He walked off with my papers and I waited by the side of the road watching the reaction of the other drivers as they were pulled over and searched. Some, like me, were relaxed and bemused; others, it seemed to me, were highly suspicious, twitchy, irritated, nervous; a few appeared to know their interrogators and joked a few words with them. After what felt like an age but probably wasn’t, the gendarme returned with my documents and waved me on. As I got into the Beast I asked, “Is this normal in France?”
“Yeah,” he said, “usual anti-terrorist roadblock. Do it all the time. ETA, you know. Basques.”
Drove on a little more warily and decided to stop earlier than planned here in St Palais.
Found a little hotel full of French travelling salesmen. The bar was heaving with tales of big orders and rich commissions. The dining room was peppered with single men, morosely reading their sales reports whilst drinking a modest pichet of red.
I ordered a full bottle of the Wine of the Month, Cote de St Mont from where I had just been staying, to go with the confit of duck and toddled off to bed untroubled by job prospects.
I must have decimated the duck population these last few days. Everything on the menu is duck. Duck (wobbly) liver, duck pate, foie gras, duck mousse, magret de canard, breast of duck, confit of duck, duck wings (like chicken wings but tastier), duck soup, even duck sausages. Leo reckons if they could come up with a duck dessert then they would really have got it cracked.
Went and had a slap-up meal on Sunday and broke away from tradition by having breast of pigeon for my main course. But I still had duck liver with truffles to start and the pigeon was stuffed with foie gras. Being in the heart of the Armagnac region I asked for a Cognac as my digestif. The spotty faced youth blanched and said, “But we do not serve Cognac, monsieur!” and brought a three page menu of Armagnacs to choose from. Hundreds of them. We declined the 1891 at €210 a glass and went for the much more reasonable €8 a glass. It came from the next village to where I had been staying and was quite delicious. A perfect end to a perfect meal with my perfect hosts.
More later on, must hit the road, Spain is only 60kms away.