Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Seeking the Real France

Last week a couple of my French cycling buddies stopped by to entice me out on an ‘arduous’ ride through the countryside. Their rides are always entertaining even if the main focus isn’t always on hard exercise, so off I went.
The ride had its usual little diversions to take attention away from our aching legs, including a scenic tour of a medieval village called Eymet and a little detour through the Sunday market in a village called Issigeac.
During the summer Issigeac has one of the most popular markets in the Dordogne region and is the last place you want to be taking a bike, with the narrow streets completely packed with locals and visitors alike.
We of course knew better, and struggled through the crowds while all around us people made witty jokes about how the Tour de France was in Paris that day. Oh how we laughed, as we trampled small children and upturned vegetable carts!
We eventually got near the end of the busy street, and further delays as one of our ‘team’ spent 10 minutes negotiating the price of enough red wine to fill his empty water bottle.
Soon we were underway again, but I never found out if he was drinking water or wine from that point on. Either way, it didn’t seem to slow him down or make him fall off so perhaps it isn’t important.
Towards the end of the ride, just when I thought we were on our way home, the other two suddenly veered off the road and down a stone track through the woods.
Seemed a bit unusual, but of course I followed along, what else would I do, and after a few hundred metres found that we had taken a back path into a field where a forthcoming fete was being set up, and where about 50 local farmers and pensioners were already busily crowded around what would later become the bar for the event.
I wouldn’t like to guess how long this secret gathering had been going on, invisible to the outside world (hours? days?) but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves hidden in the woods. which is of course the main thing.
We were all treated to a couple of glasses of free punch (a bit more alcoholic than what I’m used to when out cycling) and I was also treated to French being spoken in such a heavy regional accent (perhaps with a sprinkling of Occitan and a dash of drunkenness) that I could barely recognise the language, let alone join in for a chat.
In any case, since the main topic of conversation was ‘the growing characteristics of different types of barley’ I wouldn’t have had a great deal of useful knowledge to contribute anyway…

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