Saturday, August 08, 2015
Sur la Route: Sud
I looked over the long rolling expanse of neatly trimmed grass, caring not a whit that it was now a golf course. I was alone on the veranda of the Chateaux d'Augerville , allowing the coffee to bring heat into my body, surprised at the morning chill. Above me, the soft light brought color into the trees.
The sleepiness of this Sunday morning carried me along, as did the car through the open farmlands that would have been at home in the American Midwest. I had a quick ironic smile as I passed through the village of Dimancheville, where little moved but the birds. I imagined the Catholic inhabitants sitting idly in their homes, living the mantra of "never on Sunday."
The land stretched on, then began to rise and take on additional color. This was Burgundy again, and the tendrils of vineyards looked ready to reclaim all before them. (And metaphorically that might be true.) Only the chapels and abbeys stood safe, perched as they were at the great heights of the hilltops. We chose to take the backroads on this our return journey, bringing us into closer contact with the landscape. At this closer range, we were charmed with the region's beauty, and began to talk excitedly of a return visit to deepen our acquaintance.
As for tonight, we'd stay at the Chateaux d'Ige, nestled deep in a valley outside Mâcon. Our room was atop the spiraling stone staircase in the turret of this old fortress, though the view from our window showed little to protect outside of seemingly infinite rows of that tantalizing grape. The bells in the church tower began to chime, as if counting down toward a time when we could try out some of the region's famed Pouilly Fuisse. Most of our waking hours, we passed outdoors, either reading out on the lawn, or dining beside a Japanese garden that was more Monet than Mirei.
The following morning we took a brief drive through Mâcon, impressed with the line-up of buildings along its river. Within the spiderweb of narrow streets we found the famous Maison de Bois built entirely of wood, and within its roots we grabbed a take away coffee for the short drive to Lyon.
The caffeine began to rush through our systems as the traffic did just the opposite. Moments after entering the auto-route, we came to a complete halt due an accident up ahead. We tuned into traffic information on the radio, and at each repeat mention of the snarl, the number of kilometers blocked up was increased by three. This was the main north-south artery in the country, and as such, France had had a stroke. As if mocking the situation, just to our left, the Saône flowed cheerily on.
We arrived in Lyon 90 minutes later than planned for our meeting with my old college friend roommate. An incidental Facebook post a few days before had alerted my friend Derek to the fact that I was in Europe, and we soon realized that we'd both be in Lyon on the same day. He didn't mind our late arrival, being both jet-lagged and aiming for a low-key day since he would be representing the U.S. in the decathlon at the World Masters Athletics competition over the next few days. As it was, it was nice to spend a couple of hours together, strolling the lesser streets of the old city, catching up on eight years.
It took LYL and I a little bit of time to escape Lyon's clutches, and once free, we made our way toward the Alps. We paralleled them awhile before turning directly in after realizing that we'd chosen the wrong auto-route south. It was a fortuitous mistake as the detour would take us through some spectacular scenery, including an incredible descent down a series of serpentine turns that dropped us a thousand meters down the mountain face. The valleys which followed brought further delight, and it was easy to imagine that Napoleon too had been equally impressed by the Vercours landscape during his return from exile along these same roads. Though the man may have had other things on his mind at the time.
Bicycling the old Napoleon road seemed to be a popular summer pastime, and I too could see myself strolling these 300+ kilometers, as the River Durance brought me within nodding distance of a series of picturesque towns lined up between Sisteron and Digne. It was due to the combination of such beauty and my growing fatigue that we decided to stop over for the night and enjoy the drive for another day. We found an old silkworm farm to put us up, grabbing the last room at short notice though sadly on a day when its famous chef had a night off. A meal had a short drive away proved to be sufficient, and before long we drifted to well-deserved sleep beneath a bizarre choice of wallpaper that depicted a 1940s Manhattan skyline.
I awoke to the last efforts of a morning rainfall, which ceased the moment we entered Provence, as befitting the season. The heat never led up as we climbed and climbed, twisting and winding through the Gorges of Verdon. A village in the middle was perfectly placed for lunch, then we were back into the hills again, through villages and town of no known fame, yet each one absolutely perfect. They were sleepy in the midday, making even a coffee stop a formidable task. And at 4 p.m. they awoke again, and at 4:05, freshly caffeinated, so did I.
The roads grew smaller and smaller, until we were alone on the road, shaded by the increasing olive and fruit groves. The asphalt dropped away with the centuries to eventually become a dirt path, until it too thinned to enter a familiar gate that drew us in.
On the turntable: "Groovy Instrumentals"
On the nighttable: Francoise Sagan, "Bonjour Tristesse"