Sunday, July 13, 2008


Well, I’ve changed departments, and left the city for the country. I am back again – as I was last year -- in the Mayenne … somewhere where Normandy meets the Pays du Loire.

After a merry breakfast, accompanied by broadband video from New Zealand of little ‘Dobby’ running an excellent third at Addington, we set out from St Malo heading for Brian’s village of Couptrain, Mayenne. Thanks to a festival of closed roads, partly due to roadworks and party to the imminence at St Malo of the Tour de France, we found ourselves initially heading in diametrically the wrong direction, but we triumphed in the end and by afternoon we were here.

Brian’s house is ‘the smallest house in the village’. It is also extremely old, as you can see from the picture. It is on three floors... living-dining-kitchen on the ground floor, on the second, the master bedroom with new en suite bathroom (with super-powered shower!) for a house which originally had none, and, under the eaves, in a former attic space, a second bedroom. That’s me. You can stand in the centre, but you sleep literally under the eaves, because the roof slopes too steeply for a bed. I am here to tell you its deliciously comfy and I didn’t get out of it till 9am this morning!.

Today we visited the nearby town of Bagnoles de l’Orne. The name seemed familiar, and, when we got there, I remembered why. Bagnoles was a Victorian spa town and … well! There’s still plenty of the Victorian town there. Magnificent towering old hotels which I suspect are now apartments. And there is still, apparently, also plenty of the spa activity going on. Though now its called Beauty Something instead. The old casino is still there, spankingly bright and white alongside its pretty pleasure lake. Its all hugely picturesque, and decorated with more baskets and bacs of multicoloured flowers than I’ve ever seen in one sitting. For a moment, I wondered if it wasn’t all a bit much, a bit like the threatening thatch of Godshill, but somehow it isn’t. If it makes you want to grin a bit, you grin with warmth. For Bagnoles ia a lively spot. The market was going, and there are two restaurants that serve ‘les tripes’ … including a local variety ‘les tripes fertois’ named after the nearby village of La Ferté-Macé. They will, of course, have to be sampled.

From Bagnoles, we carried on to Carrouges. Carrouges has a rather stunning 14-15th century chateau, inhabited until just before the last war. The chateau has a moat with geese and ducks and carp, it has neat green grounds and gardens, but best of all it has a wonderful gatehouse, and a most spectacular effect of surprise. For you come upon your first view of the whole place on turning what looks like an ordinary village corner and … voila! The road stretched through the length of several city blocks to the towering gatehouse … wow! We didn’t go inside to see the bed where Louis the somethingth probably didn’t sleep, or whatever. No need. The Chateau de Carrouges had already made its effect.

And now we are back in the smallest house, ready to aperitif, and watching on DVD a French ‘spectacle’ allegedly having something to do with Le Roi Soleil. The French, who have gone down in history as the writers and composers of probably the greatest pieces of musical theatre ever created, have, in the decades since Les Misérables, been actively evening things up by putting on some of the blandest, sickliest, most brainless, tuneless, over-decorated, under-imagined, hilariously-‘danced’, badly-mimed, palely-cast excuses for ‘musicals’ ever penned and produced. This is one of them. Pass the Normandy cider. O, Lord! There’s a man up there pretending to be Molière… Pass the whisky! And the mute button. Thank the Lord I’m retired from the musical theatre.

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