June 30th, 2004

knitting sketch

Coulanges to Dompierre-sur-Bresbre

It rained overnight. It ALWAYS rains after we've cleaned the windows - we put a hex on the weather. MWNN was pleased that his new deck boards seem to be watertight and no rain water found its way into the bilge.

As we came through the second lock, I spotted a noticeboard advertising the shops at Pierrefitte-sur-Loire. As we were running low on fresh milk, and were down to only a few cherries for fresh fruit, I said I'd go. Did I ever tell you that French notices can be misleading? The instructions said:

After the next bridge, take the road to the church. The butcher, creamery, baker, alimentatiion is opposite the church.

First mistake - we saw two boats moored at the bridge. MWNN hauled in and I went ashore and began the walk to the church. Past two derelict farmhouses, out onto the main road, turned toward the town, passed the closed-down garage, took heart at a row of newly-built houses each side of the "D" road, reached the 40 km per hour sign announcing the beginning of the village, reached the sign for the shops, only another 500m to go.

The 'shops' turned out to be the Bar which sold everything, but no fresh milk. The lettuce was past its sell-by date so, having bought some peaches, bananas, some cooked roast pork and a piece of local cheese, I paid the bill and started to leave. Then I remembered that it was past the date on which the next bi-monthly magazine devoted to Angel/Charmed/Superman was due out. I asked if their was a newsagent (Presse) in the village and there was - another 100m away from the boat. When I reached it, not only was it the newsagent, it was a hairdresser and little supermarket. Madame was scrubbing the floor and the produce was fresh, so I bought a lettuce and some eggs.

On returning to the boat, MWNN had pulled it closer to the bridge and was talking to a back-packing cyclist - a Brit, Patrick Murray-Denny, who'd left England with a return ticket (just in case things didn't work out). He's touring Europe in his flat-bed truck, towing a caravan but was off up the towpath for 4 or 5 days on his mountain bike with camping gear and all his food (he suffers from many allergies, the result of over 20 years of ME) in his backpack. He keeps his computer business running from his laptop and is planning to spend some time in Spain organising mountain bike trecks.

We certainly meet some interesting people along the waterways. Unfortunately, not many of them are French. The French don't boat, although they are beginning to take boating holidays. The French DO fish but FEARSCLAVE is well aware of the uneasy truce that exists between boaters and fishermen. I've just finished reading a novel in which one of the characters gave the famous quote about God allowing men three score years and ten as his allotted time span, not including time spent fishing. Perhaps that's why there are so many very old Frenchmen around?

Did I say why that noticeboard at Pierrefitte was so misleading? As we set off again after the cyclist had left us, we steamed under the bridge and there, about 1 km from where we'd stopped, was a pull-in spot, with mooring bollards, just 50 yards from the Bar I'd slogged down the main road to find. Surprisingly (well it surprised ME, I don't usually react to the obtuse French this way), I didn't mind. The walk had been very interesting. Pierrefitte is one of those dying villages, so common in rural France. There are lots of empty properties. Shops and restaurants have closed down, the walled gardens of the Manor House is overgrown with weeds, althought the remains of a splendid pergola with roses growing over its arches bear witness to the splendour they once contained. The Chateau is still in private hands and in good repair, but the owners, M and Mme Daniel Henry don't seem to be an old established family - there are no Henrys named on the War Memorial. If we had understood that the shopping stop was where it is, I would have missed all this fascinating glimpse into the life and death of another pretty village.

We've just pulled into the mooring at Dompierre, where there IS electricity provided at the Locaboat hire base (been here since 1996) that is not marked on the cruising map. The Capitaine tells me there is good shopping in the town centre (500m). I specifically asked if there was a butcher's and bakers separate from the supermarket (you have to ask the right question to get the information you need out of the French).