Home > Uncategorized > Part Trois – If it’s Monday, it’s closed

Part Trois – If it’s Monday, it’s closed

Napoleon’s curious put-down, that the British were a nation of shopkeepers, begins to make sense only in the context of the French attitude to commerce, which has amused, bemused and frustrated equally in the past month. Exactly four weeks in, I have made it to Besançon, about 750 kms from home, and the first stirrings of French commercial activity. Not only are there shops, but many are open, and not just today, some open for as many as four days a week.

The primary problem so far this trip has been fuel. Simply put, it is difficult to eat and find water each day in sufficient quantity. I reckon to have lost around 20lbs since the start of the trip, when I ought to have built muscle, simply because I can’t replace what I’m burning. On a typical day, I might pass through 12 villages, 9 will have no commercial activity at all, 2 will have a Tabac or a boulangerie which is closed, 1 will have a Tabac or a boulangerie which is open. Everything shuts on Sunday and Monday, most places work half days Wednesday (middle of the week, see), Friday (big day, Thursday) and Saturday (nach). Every day is punctuated by lunch which begins at 10:00 and lasts until 16:00. The working day begins at 9:00 and ends at 16:30. It is, in its way, quite magnificent. Life here is about the important things – family, friends and cycling around in Lycia one pieces. I love it. Great place, lovely people.

Water is more of a problem but can usually be secured from graveyards, which are also good for camping sauvage, as are woods. Someone asked me the other day if I wasn’t ever scared. Quite simply, no. Firstly, I am too tired. Moreover, I believe that God will protect me from evil, a belief that has firmed this trip. It is unbelievable how unfailingly nice everyone has been. I have traipsed through some terrible places as well as all the glory stuff, and no-one has even looked at me askew. Whenever I am really tired or hungry, something turns up, and those setbacks I do have are better viewed as tests. The intercession of St Bèniot and St Christopher has also, I’m sure, helped. Physically and mentally, I’m in top order, it’s remarkable how well the body responds to the withdrawal of nicotine, caffeine, alcohol and slinkhur.

The journey distinguishes itself by the sheer range of scenery. Roughly every 30kms, it changes again, and in the Champagne I went from rolling wheat fields to vineyards, to the canals, to grazing land and now to the mountains of Franche-Comte. The via Francigenia, after being found again, shows a priggish determination to take me through fields of cows, but other than that is behaving. I have had the chance to observe many cows up close on this trip, and am therefore well acquainted with their wiles. They are malevolent, insolent and terrible predictors of rain. They lie down whenever a passing cloud happens to suppress their natural ebullience, which is frequently, and not, as is commonly supposed, only when rain is immanent. It is easy to see why the Welsh prefer sheep.

On an unrelated note, it is my sad duty to pass comment on the toiletry habits of our friends and partners from the lowlands. As those of you who have travelled with me know, there is on average one instance of unbridled fury every month or so (usually directed towards German naturists), and this month’s was in Chaumont, to a portly, moustached Belgian gentleman exiting a toilet he had liberally decorated with matter a less imaginative person would have entrusted to the sewage system. In fact the toilets in Chaumont’s campsite were a nightmare, I have never had occasion to stand ankle-deep in human excrement before, and hope not to have to again. Terrible place. Incidentally, the resemblance of campsite toilets to an open cess pit seems directly correlated with the number of Belgian number plates on display. One can only imagine that they view their deposits in the same way as Italians view driving – not a mundane activity bound by rules and social conventions – but a joyous expression of self, liberating and free. Terribly odd, must be on account of their proximity to Germany.

Enough nonsense. To Switzerland! Incidentally, in answer to Karen, I am raising money, but it can’t be done online, one has to send a cheque to the Marrilac at:

Marillac Care
Eagle Way
Warley
Brentwood
Essex
CM13 3BL

I would urge you to do it. Great cause, good people.

Tx

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. August 2, 2010 at 4:19 am

    Hello,

    As guidewriters, pilgrims and ardent supporters of the Via Francigena, we appreciate comments and would like to include them on our website and perhaps in our next guidebook on the French section. Can we do that? Happy to send a complimentary copy of any of our books in return – take a look at the website.

    Babette

    • August 3, 2010 at 7:02 pm

      Dear Babette,

      I would be honoured. I had purchased all of your guidebooks prior to leaving and they have been brilliant. Unfortunately, I lost the first one somewhere near Tergnier, so have been largely making the route up since then, heading for Besancon where the second one began.

      Please do include me on your website, and feel free to make use of any commentary you find sensible. I hope to be able to write about this trip in book form when I return home, and should I be able to do so, I shall let you know.

      Thanks for the comment, and for the care and attention you have put into your via Francigena guides, they are outstanding. Please feel free to contact me at thomas.pascoe@hmc.oxon.org if there’s anything I can help with.

      Best wishes,

      Thomas

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