Monday to Thursday last week I drove back from the south of France via route nationale: no autoroutes (motorways with tolls) at all. It was slow but interesting, avoiding the deadening sameness of the motorway. My teen and I slept in the back of the van on a piece of hardboard and foam layered over my ‘buys’. The van was perfumed with bushes of fresh bay leaves and rain water grown rosemary, a gift from my mother, and, later in the journey, with pungent cheeses, a fresh cows milk made by monks in the Bourgogne, and Maroilles from the country of the ch’tis, the northern French.
The radio stopped working so the teen read me stories as I drove from a short volume of the work of Philip K Dick; it was surreal, lulled by the scenery into his claustrophobic schizophrenic world view, so obviously a product of the cold war. The stories are laugh out loud funny, often accurate predictions of the future with the odd lapse such as “he put a new carbon paper in his typewriter”.
On the way to Arras, I stopped at a relais routier restaurant. I wedged the door open with difficulty to be confronted by a grumpy old lady with black hairy chin moles and a cotton pinafore. The tables were set with red tablecloths, white paper napkins and duralex glasses.
“What do you want?” the lady growled.
“Er to eat lunch” I said adding “obviously”.
“How many are you?” she barked.
Her eyes narrowed. “Alright” she consented.
“Can I see today’s menu?”
She opened a large sticky plastic backed tome at the bar. Inside were two pieces of paper containing shaky painstaking old person’s handwriting. The menu was pure country French: rognons (kidneys) in red wine being one example. I knew the teen wouldn’t go for the selection so I left. I wish I had eaten there though. In ten years or less I doubt places like that will exist anymore. It occurred to me that the demise of French cooking coincided with the rise of the autoroute. All those small roads with tiny restaurants, where the chefs are often mothers and grandmothers, are now neglected. On the autoroute the view is bland and so is the food. The authenticity and character has been ripped out of travelling for the sake of those great modern destroyers: convenience and speed.
love your holiday report, I was there with you.
France is strange. you go into a boulangerie and say "une baguette, s'il vous plait". Reaction: "QUOI?"
Thank you. Glad you enjoyed my bohemian travels thru France.
The Curious Cat
Really enjoy reading about your adventures – lots of gorgeous photos here too! You are inspiring…you really are! xxx
Brilliant post, almost in tears; brings back so many memories. Sadly this year, my much more expensive little Polo (than your van), broke down at Folkestone – on the way OVER, dammit.
My first adult main course in France was Rognons and it instantly converted me to eating offal. That such places are rarer and rarer is such a shame, some of my favourite restos in France were also really, really eccentric.
Your experience with the forest reminds me of sleeping in a wood, with a friend in the passenger seat and hearing noises coming closer – I'm 6'+ and 16 stone and I had the car rolling and doing 40 mph within about 15 seconds!
thankyou Mr Chumbles!
So what did you do when you broke down?
i've had that too, breaking down as I've driven off the ferry, once on the way to a rave festival in Normandy. This French family took us in, lodged and fed us for 3 days until the car was fixed. I lost their address unfortunately so never properly thanked them.
Nice photos hope you had a fantastic time!