Friday, October 19, 2012

File under Francophile

At the end of last week's blog I was in Nantes, having picked up a nice prize for Code 1879. I was then asked to go on tour of the regions where I had won the vote (each region voted for their favourite, and the national result was based on those votes).

First of all, I had a day free in Nantes. I had managed to bring the rain with me from the UK, but even so the city looked resplendent. I managed to walk around, dodging showers, ordering coffee in  halting French and soaking up as much of the city as I could. The old part with its warren streets, and bars and restaurants were especially pleasant, and the exhibition marking Nantes ignoble role in the global slave trade, down by the river, was both moving and wonderfully presented. I decided I could happily in Nantes.

The next day, the rain and I decamped to La Roche-Sur-Yon in the Vendee. Without being too harsh, I'm not sure La Roche is the liveliest town at the best of times, but a wet Monday in October might not have been the best time to visit. I shared a very pleasant lunch with Sylvie, from the organisers of the prize, Cezam, even though her English was as bad as my French. Then I met the readers, answered some very searching questions, before being taken to a very, um, interesting restaurant. It was Scottish. I'm not even sure there are any Scottish restaurants in Scotland. There was Scotch Eggs on the menu (a hard boiled egg, encased  in sausage meat, covered in breadcrumbs and deep friend) and flambéed Grouse, as well as more than a choice of 50 different scotches to try. All they needed for authenticity was a Deep Fried Mars Bar for dessert.

The next day was Brittany, where it rained, just like it always does. I was driven to Brest, or rather a library nearby in Plagoustel-Daoulas. The readers there had no idea who had won, so I skulked behind some shelves until the big moment came. I was given a Breton smock as a gift, which might have fit a man twice my size, but after two entrecotes, three portions of frites, two omelettes, three hotel breakfasts, a lot of wine and a few beers, after only three days in France there was a chance it might be too snug by the end of the week.

The audience in P-D manages to contain its excitement when my win is announced
I was then driven to Vannes by the delightful Jeanne, who did that classic thing of telling me she couldn't speak good English before spending two days discussing books, politics, cuisine and all manners of things like she'd live in Blighty half her life, while I stumbled around with my 'Ou est la Discotheque?' French. My meeting in Vannes was the first time, and perhaps the last, I've ever addressed an audience in front of a sculpture of the Virgin Mary. Vannes is a beautiful old town. I decided I could quite happily live there

The next day I took the TGV to Paris. Any person who doesn't get a thrill about arriving in Paris is either a) dead or b) Nicolas Sarkozy. Even in the inevitable rain it looked as ravishing. I was whisked off to the business district to meet the readers, which was as pleasant as ever, before I had a day to myself to pound the pavement, sneak in the odd cafe noir, yet another steak frites before meeting a Parisian friend for a few drinks. As I made my weary way home, I turned a corner and was met by this sight, enough to rouse the heart of the weariest soul. I decided I could etc

The next and last stop was La Rochelle. This lovely little town has a special resonance for we Brits. The textbooks we learned French from at school was named after it, and the towers at the gates of its harbour are on the cover.

I remember that cover vividly; far more than any of the words within. There was just time for me to eat a piece of boeuf so rare a good vet could have had it back on it's feet, before I gave my last talk of the week. I would like to say I spent my last night in France walking cobbled streets, a small aperitif followed by a nourishing meal, but I'd by lying. By this time even my stomach was beginning to rebel against French cuisine, so that evening I dined dans mon chambre.

The next morning it was train to Paris and the Eurostar back to London, and a chance to reacquaint myself with my family. It had been an overwhelming week. Tiring but enormous fun. I can't wait to go back. To Catherine G, Catherine B, Catherine C, Cecile, Jeanne, Philippe and Sylvie, I offer my heartfelt thanks. My endless gratitude also to all the interpreters who turned my base words into homespun gold (I think): Ludivine, Yanne, Perrine and Jinane.

Je rapasserai.


Dan - Friday


  1. Wow, it sounds great! I love France. Could you seriously live there? I do dream about doing it from time to time. Love yer blog!
    Gem x

  2. I agree with Gem, Dan. Thanks for taking us with you on your victory lap tour. Viva la Perrier!

  3. If the kids were older, and my French not so naff (though it would improve) I could easily live there, Gem.

    Cheers Jeff!