Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Memoirs of France II


I'm of the generation who believes in early to bed early to rise, more because after 20 hours of international jet travel, I innocently hope that my aches and pains will be better in the morning. But a hefty dose of jet-lag means that by 5.00am that same body is telling me its time to get up! But in winter in Bailly, it’s very dark for the next 3 hours and this morning it was seriously cold with a frost on all the roofs and cars. However, as long term parents, three hours to ourselves is always  a blessing and one which which cherished with shared delight today. Yet again I danced into the kitchen, and even after just a few days I think that my voice is improving! “lets go to Chartres I announced”. “Done” came the answer and so by 9.00am we headed off into the limp wintery sunlight through the frost touched countryside towards Chartres Cathedral, a place that only ever figured in my dreams and imaginations.
We trusted ourselves to “Madam Lash” our GPS device and she didn’t let us down, sadistically giving us directions which she knew we couldn’t follow, but she relented in the end and the spires appeared out of a pale blue winters morning sky.
Trying to describe Chartres, which others better skilled with words than I have failed to capture, is partly due to the deep emotion of this place. It’s not a building but a hymn to the gift of faith and a belief that there is a transcendent realm. It’s also a book retelling ancient truths mixed with human weakness and distilled with love and hope. It is also a story of Love. To see the ancient cobalt blues in glass created a thousand years ago by souls like us is to stand between times and hear a distant music that somehow, we all know.
Malcolm Miller has been sharing this story for 50 years and is still learning new stanzas of the aged saga that is Chartres Cathedral. He is an elegant scholar who shares his wisdom with witty insights and deep empathy to his beloved building. It was a privilege to share an hour with him: I hope we can spend some more time over the next 6 months.
On leaving the Cathedral, we were FROZEN! The temperature was below zero, but the gentle breeze ripped into our layered clothing and found all the easy ways in to the soft skin beneath. Thankfully we found a Boulangerie that sold fresh HOT mini pizzas which were delicious, and warm to hold too. We were regenerated and stepping back into our car, Madam L was in a benign mood and we sailed home in and easterly direction to the peace and warmth of our wonderful home.

I wish I had words to capture the sun in the lightly fogged fields, or its cold gleam in the bare branches of the forest, but it’s something that has to be experienced and I don’t have the words to bring that experience to life.
Tonight, our new neighbours have invited us for “aperitifs”: how gorgeously civilized!
The wonderful thing about going next door for an aperitif is that you don’t have to worry about driving! But when your neighbours barely know you and you don’t even speak each others language, then the potential for a strained few hours is high. But our guardian angel must have been on full-time duty as  we could not have met a nicer family, we could not have been offered more hospitality and we could not have be in a warmer, kinder environment. The family of Isabella and Alexis is a wonderful fusion of smiles, love and welcome! Their two sons, one 21 and the other 15 are in the Scouts, and at 8.00pm on a Saturday evening they came home from a scout meeting and greeted us like one of the family, having never set eyes on us before! And their daughters are not only young beauties, but charming, engaging, interesting and interested. We were offered “sweetmeats” of varying shapes, flavours and delights - even a special Epiphany cake with its hidden “favour”. We can all learn so much from the wonderful example of their politeness and  hospitality.
Our French stuttered along and their english flowed more easily, but neither side was too worried by any syntax errors as the evening wore on. It was a wonderful time and we will always have happy memories of it.

Today was Sunday and in our house that means Mass time. It was a frosty cold start and the walk to Mass best described as bracing. M was preoccupied with pain on the walk, but during the ceremony where they stand for prolonged periods here, she was in serious pain! The poor love was in a bad way for about an hour, but on returning home and lying down, the pain went and she bounced back. After lunch I went for a jog and M followed on the bike - gloriously pain free  - through the Foret de Marley, where in times gone past Louis XIV went hunting! We saw wild deer and pheasant and it was a total delight: then it was with childish delight that I ran down the last hill and came home, followed by a happy lady on her bicycle. This evening has been gentle bliss and we are so happy.


I just love these mornings: long, dark, lingering, making time seem more reasonable than it has for decades. Breakfast was prepared and eaten and then we headed for the supermarket to stock up for the invasion of tomorrow - daughter and young family arrive after the adrenaline rush of sliding down slippery snowed slopes in Austria. The French have the wonderful tradition of not working on Mondays if they can get away with it, and it’s to be recommended!   There are a smattering of grey haired folk to be seen wandering around a tad confused, but otherwise the gallic world continues to spin contentedly on its quirky axis.
The sun shone symbolically, although the icy breeze was the dominant partner in the weather department, but we decided to take the bikes to Versailles to visit La Trianon - the home of Marie Antoinette. It was wonderful, but we’d forgotten that on Monday, the French don’t like to work and so the place was shut! Poor us, we’ll just have to go back on another day!
This evening has been gentle and warm with M struggling a bit with her recovery. It is difficult to watch but although her body is doing it tough, her spirit is alive with the energy that she’s getting from this french visit. Rest and heal, rest and heal.


Minus four degrees and a brisk start to the day, but we went to the shops early and I bought a book in French which should be a good challenge: it’s by the man who wrote Shadow of the Wind, and it was written for children so it will be right up my street.

There is evidence to suggest
that those people who are
bilingual have a reduced risk
of developing Alzheimer’s
dementia. Other suggested aids
are staying fit, keeping up social
contact and eating a Mediterranean
styled diet.

Because it was clear and sunny and rain forecast for later in the week, we decided to go for a jog/cycle in the forest again. In the shade is was seriously cold and jogging felt harder than the other day: perhaps it was just that my muscles were frozen? But I  was coping well until a delightful man, 20 years younger than I drew level with me and asked whether I was running around the whole park. I would have thought that the purple colour of my face would have suggested otherwise. But it was nice of him to ask. I do find it hard to let people who have run past me - which is most people - actually get out of sight, so the last 2 kms was “faster” than I intended - which again was probably
good too.

Physical activity is not only good for helping reduce risks
of dementia but is also a key
lifestyle habit that has been shown
to help with managing Cardiovacular
Disease, Moods disorders such as Anxiety
and Depression, and reducing the risk
of suffering from certain cancers.

Later on the young family arrived and we had a delightful reunion and the kids were fantastic. We walked to the Boulangerie and bought fresh baguettes which son-in-law devoured with glee as we walked back up the street, much to the delight of the children. A lovely evening meal was prepared and eaten, and we all settled down for an early night. Tomorrow they leave early for Euro Disney, a place that M and I will happily decline: we have a fresh market, with vegetables, fresh meat, fowl and fish, to attend and which will be far more interesting than Micky Mouse and Co.

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