Le Grand Prix Retro in Le Puy Notre Dame, Loire Valley

Yesterday was the day of Le Puy Notre Dames’ famous Fete, “Le Grand Prix Retro”.  grand prix, le puy notre dame

Always held on the last Sunday in July it is a rare opportunity for the owners of pre-1935 cars and pre-war motorbike and sidecar combinations, not just to parade through the narrow streets of the village, but actually to race them!  It is a sort of scaled down Monte Carlo Rally but minus the wall to wall millionaires, sea views and super yachts. The food and drink is a bit cheaper as well! 

The Saturday before the races is always a little stressful, particularly when our gite guests arrive. Having spent hours driving to the LoireValley they then have to spend another hour trying to negotiate the closed roads and straw bale barriers that keep appearing, with no apparent logic, here and there throughout the village.  I, on the other hand, play hide and seek, continually glimpsing the roofs of their cars behind some insurmountable barrier, before they disappear down another dead end.  We could instigate another fête on that day called, ‘The Fête of the Maze’! 

However, all is forgiven by the next day.  At 10.00am prompt – or at least as prompt as you are ever going to get in a French rural village, 132 vintage cars including Buggati, Morgan, Delahay, MG, etc. start their races, joined by 50 motorbike and sidecar combos. These include machines from manufacturers like:- BSA; Terrot; Gnome Rhone; Norton and Enfield.  These races continue until 7.00pm in the evening when the winners are announced and the prizes given.  I have to confess that I can never quite work out how the winners are chosen and, what’s more, I have a sneaking suspicion that neither can the organisers!

The normally sleepy village is inundated with visitors from all over Europe; most of them busy looking at the hidden courtyards which lie behind the impressive gates and which are so much a feature of Le Puy Notre Dame, and some are even watching the racing.

The drivers, (over 70% from the UK), are accommodated throughout the village, many return year after year and are greeted like long lost sons.  

The Buvettes, (tented refreshment areas), do a roaring trade and by nightfall most people are pleasantly contented and not a little sozzled.

About three years ago we started doing a BBQ on the day of the fête just for a few friends and neighbours. If I can recall it started at 8 people the first year, then about 15 last year and then, when Sheila and I had finally put our heads together on the Saturday morning, we realised with shock-horror that there were no less than 30 people due to descend on us at midday on Sunday plus the 6 guests who were renting our gite accommodation.  All to be fed from a relatively small domestic BBQ. 

After a few moments stunned silence we ran around in circles for a while and then discussed how we were going to do it. So, this was the plan:

1. Prepare sardines and marinated crévettes well before and keep them warm in the hostess trolley.

2. Poach the sausages and put them in the hostess trolley so that it would just take a few minutes to brown and flavour them on the BBQ.

3. Pray for divine assistance.

Anyway, we thought being as we have had no rain for six weeks with the temperatures in the 40’s, it will be no problem. We will just keep everyone content in the sunshine with copious amounts of wine.

So, the day arrived and, of course, the heavens just opened up – unbelievable!

Sun umbrellas were performing pretty patterns as they flew through the air with the wind and standing in front of the BBQ was rather like being tied to the mast of a sailing ship as it ploughed through the Bay of Biscay, but, nevertheless, with a few volunteers holding a couple of umbrellas over my head we got through it without too much delay and, more by accident than design, with more volunteers helping Sheila to transport the food, every course arrived on time and well prepared.

When it had become obvious that the rain was going to continue we decided to move the tables into the wine chais.  Thus, for the first time in its long history, it was used as a dining room. In fact everyone seemed to enjoy the ambiance tremendously, sitting in front of the huge old wooden barrels.

One slightly bizarre aspect of eating in the chais was that Robert Guyon, the retired winemaker who was the previous owner of Le Clos des Guyons said that his father would be turning in his grave if he knew what was going on.

When I asked why, was it because of the possibility of foodstuffs tainting the wine?  He replied that no, it was because there were many women present and that his father would not allow women in the chais because he believed that a woman at the wrong time of the month would adversely affect the taste of the wine.  I could not really think of much to say after this revelation so I just asked what about the numerous lady winemakers, to which Robert just responded with a perfect gallic shrug.  It is pretty unbelievable that anyone would believe this, I mean, it wasn’t that long ago, but, even so, if any male readers are finding their stored wine tastes a bit off!!!……………..?

Oh, and given the normal application of Sods’ Law the sun re-appeared as soon as I had finished cooking.  C’est la Vie!!!

We can honestly say that judging by the smiles on everyones faces at the end of the afternoon which, I am sure, was not just down to the many bottles of wine consumed, our Clos des Guyons Fete seemed to have been a big success -so victory on the day in spite of adversity!!

à plus

Brian,  gite accommodation in the Loire Valley         


The Complexity of Paying for Ones Drinks

Since we have been running our gite accommodation in the Loire Valley I often wonder how doing the smallest and simplest thing in France can often lead to situations which often verges on the farcical. Take for example paying for your drinks when leaving the bar in Le Puy Notre Dame.

In our bar there are three main sessions per day. The first is coffee or coffee calva(dos) first thing in the morning, then there is the 1130 until 1230, midday session and then the evening meeting starting about 1730 with people coming and going until about 2100.  It is not compulsory to attend all three of course, but several do.  These appointed times are presided over by Lou Lou who is the bar owner, (Lou Lou is short for Lucien), and his wife looks after the bar in-between.  This is because it is quieter and no doubt gives her time to deal with the administrative chaos which I am sure he leaves behind given his habit of giving change for drinks out of the newspaper till, not to mention handfuls of crumpled notes from his pockets.  About twice a week I join the midday assemblage because I find this, by far, the most entertaining and, by a judicious juggling of priorities I can normally find the two hours afterwards to recover!!

I went in on the Monday morning after the French defeat by Italy.  Lou was leaning on the bar, his chin literally on it, morosely dragging his finger backwards and forwards through a little puddle of spilt beer in front of him and gazing whistfully at the live size replica of of the, “Coupe de Monde”, sitting on the bar in front of him.

“Salut Lou’, I said cheerfully, “Comment tu va”,

“Je peut bouger’, (I can still move) he murmured from the depths of despair.

“Come on it’s not that bad”, I responded, “I’ve got two teams in the world cup and still can’t win it!’

“True”, he murmured  “And I suppose each day will be a bit better”, as if he had just lost a favourite aunt.

Anyway he cheered up a little when I bought him his first Ricard of the day.  He is quite proud of the fact that, after a skirmish with the hospital, he has cut his pastis drinking down from the bottle a day to three quarters, a major achievement!!!

The normal suspects then started to arrival at irregular intervals.  Jackie, our gypsy like painter and decorator/glacier.  One-armed Serge, who, despite his handicap is a whiz at hunting and fishing.  Claude, a retired winemaker.  Roger, 83 and still going strong, who always says he will buy the next tournée, but never does.  Stephan, in charge of the Tourist Office and other bits and bobs throughout the village. It has been suggested, on more than one occasion, that they place the Tourist Office sign above the bar!! On the grounds that visitors are more likely to find Stephan au bar than au bureau.

Anyway, all goes well until people start to leave.  First of all there has to be the statutory attempt to leave, this deception is always followed by raucous shouts from the bar that some-one hasn’t yet bought a round and therefore it would be impolite to leave before they have done so.  At this, the escapee turns round, makes vehement objections that he hasn’t the time, that he must: eat/do the shopping/water the veg /go fishing/bury his grandmother,etc., until finally with a gallic shrug he returns to the bar and settles in to partake of his missing drink. Only after every individual has done this does the group start to break up in earnest. This means that no one person can be accused of prolonging the session past the limits of reasonableness. 

I can always tell when Lou has had a few and hasn’t been concentrating because when I ask him what the damage is he fixes me with a challenging look and asks me what I have had.  I look him straight in the eye and say I haven’t a clue. Thus, loins girded, as it were, negotiations commence. “How many rounds have you bought?”

“Two, I think”, I reply

“No, just one”, someone says, “Jackie, bought the second, because he said he had to leave. Of course he did not leave at the time, but, unfortunately did leave before he could verify that he had bought the second round.

“So, who bought the third round then?” enquires an interested party, often not even part of the group buying drinks.

So we will go on like this for another ten minutes, analysing who has bought what, until, finally, everyone is clear that I in fact have bought just one round.

If, as in the case of the day in question, I bought a drink or two before the rounds started, it is then necessary to do the whole thing all over again until that is also clear to everyone’s satisfaction. At which point Lou, who really hasn’t a clue, having got bored with the conversation ages ago, will say, call it ten euros. I will look expectantly at the assembled multitude, they will give their agreement with heads shaking sagely and that uniquely French gesture which involves holding the hand horizontal, palm down and fingers spread and giving it a slight waggle.  I pay my ten euros and then, of course, the round that I have missed, everyone is happy, an air of contentment settles over everyone and normal café life resumes until, that is, the next club member asks to pay his bill!!!

You could, of course, ask why I do not pay for each drink as I have them. 

What! And miss all the fun!  

à bientôt

Brian   Gites in Loire Valley  


The Fête of the Giants in Saumur + a football winge.

Having greeted our latest guests, given them some welcoming drinks and settled them into our gites in the Loire Valley we ambled down to Saumur to watch the Fête des Geants. This was originally instigated after the French World Cup triumph in 1998 when giants walked down the Champs Elysée to universal aclaim.  In 2002 they arranged it to coincide with Frances’ expected victory in that years Coupe de Monde, only to be sorely disappointed when the Team failed to qualify from the group.  This year the fête has been arranged as a stand alone event, mainly because the chances of France winning this years title seemed totally far fetched.  This view was reinforced by the way France’s ageing team just about crawled through their opening games, struggling against the might of the Ivory Coast and  Switzerland.                 .

On the French equivalent of Spitting Image they carefully explained the options before France met Togo in a match they had to win to proceed to the next round;  If France win by one goal and Sweden draw they will not go through, if France win by two clear goals they will go through etc. etc., you get the picture.  Such was the national disbelief in the effectiveness of their team, that the programme then went on to explain the options for France to get to the final. If the Brazilian team are kidnapped and sold into slavery then France will get to the Semi-Finals, They will beat England or Portugal in the Semis if all the opposing players catch chickenpox and are consigned to the terraces.

And then, suddenly, for no apparent reason, the players start to perform to their real ability and they are in the Final, with a real chance of winning it, taking the whole nation by surprise and leading to scenes of mass elation in the streets. The side effect of this is that the Fête des Geants was held the week before the Final. Tant Pis!

However, the Fête has enough going for it to be a worthy attraction in its own right. It features an hour long procession through the streets complete with floats, men on stilts, 4 meter high giants, (I assume there was someone inside the costumes)! And loads of marching bands and dance troupes

I always find there is always something slightly and delightfuly dotty about most French fêtes and this was no exception.  From the float depicting Snow White and the Five Dwarfs.  I assume that the EU Working Time Directive even applies to dwarfs and the others must have reached their limit.

Then there was a float which depicted a Sphinx with Tutenkamuns’ head.  Not his actual mummified head,  that would be much too grisly, but the famous gold death mask.  But also, mounted on the float just in front of the Sphinx was something that looked like an old British Rail Signal!  I haven’t got a clue what that was about.

In fact as I write this I cannot but think about the possibility of using a real head. You could not use King Tuts’ of course, the museum would never release it. So, you have to use someone else’s, someone who would not really miss it. The obvious solution would be the head of Kilroy-Silk, he rarely uses it, spending most of his time, as he does, talking out of his ass!

But, if we did that, I would lose my primary hate figure who is very important in relieving stress.  Sheila uses Sven Gormless Erickson and shouts abuse at him every time he appears on TV.  This is very odd as watching football is number 999 in Sheila’s list of things to do.  Coming just after standing in a bath and putting her finger in an electric light socket.  She cannot even tell you why she hates him.  I, on the other hand am quite clear; he is a useless, limp, brain-dead manager who talks an endless stream of b…….!  Oh, sorry, I forgot to include the words; overpaid, uninspiring, disloyal, conniving, venal and immoral.  And that’s the shortened version.  I have left a lot out. 

Then, just to make sure that he could not change my mind by doing something vaguely sensible, he leaves us with one of the most outlandish management decisions ever.  On a par with the British Airways decision, from a few years ago, to let graffiti artists practise on the tailfins of its aircraft,  he tells a schoolboy striker who has yet to appear on the bench for Arsenal to pack his satchel and come to the world cup and play against the best, most accomplished defenders in the modern game.  And the incredible thing is he has never even seen this lad play!  I will repeat that loudly just in case you missed it. “HE HAS NEVER SEEN THE LAD PLAY”.   Of course he has no chance of getting on the pitch.  Long John Silver, parrot and all, stood a better chance, and the poor lad spends the time writing an essay entitled, “Wot I Did on my (free) Holidays”.   Sven Gormless then says, in his last interview, “Well I took him so he would have some world cup experience which will prepare him for the future’!  Yeah, right Sven, bloody wonderful, so we lose this World Cup so that a child, who may or may not prove himself in four years time, can feel slightly more at home down in South Africa by virtue of doing sod all for three weeks in Germany.

He will forget  the experience anyway, most lads of that age even forget how to speak. 

But I’ve got a better idea, instead of taking just one untried Arsenal player, why don’t we take their whole reserve team to the next World Cup?  It is true that we will stand a better chance of collectively catching Leprosy than actually winning anything but think of all the useful experience these young players will gain!!  What a Pratt! 

Sorry about that folks, seem to have got a bit hot under the collar  and gone a bit off track.  I am better now, after that nice man in the white coat gave me a cold compress.      

So, what was I talking about?  Oh yes, the British Rail Sphinx.

Strange as this float was, there was an even weirder thing in the shape of the Belgian Leeks.  These were a troupe of guys from a Belgian Leek Society who wore costumes which were white from shoulders to feet with a tall green headdress going into ‘leaves’ at the top, three holes were cut into it for the eyes and mouth.  The overall effect was that of a Vegetarian Klu Klux Klan, they probably burn images of Nut Cutlets on the lawns of Meat Eaters.  Just to add to the perception of weirdness they played no instruments and did no dancing, apart from some mincing Maypole like skipping, but they were equipped with Tickling Sticks. Yes, I kid you not, Tickling Sticks, as if they had arrived in Saumur via. Knotty Ash. 

Doddy was undoubtedly having problems with the taxman again, so he probably persuaded the Diddymen to sell the Belgians a job lot of the now obsolescent Mark 2 stick, having been replaced by the much improved, heat seeking, Mark 3.  And did the leeks take to these with a vengeance!  mincing up and down and stroking people with their Mark 2s for all they were worth.

If anyone can tell me what that was all about, I would be delighted to hear, I’m totally nonplussed.

Whilst still trying to get my head around the Belgian Leeks the leader of a Caribbean  Marching Band suddenly appeared “au terrace” and started to harangue the clients in quite a hectoring tone. Apparently one of his troupe had asked to use the toilet in the restaurant.  The waiter had said yes, of course, but the owner stopped her and told her to use the public one across the road.  Now, no one but no one uses that particular toilet, even the germs stay out of it!  And to tell a troupe member with a huge feathered outfit to go into that cess-pit did seem a trifle unfair, especially as his restaurant was bursting at the seams with people who were specifically eating there to see the procession.  Perhaps he had been stroked by a tickling stick! All the eyes of the fifty or so diners fell accusingly upon the Patron who went red and wisely disappeared into the depths of his restaurant.  ” Why are you such a miserable, awkward  bastard”?  I yelled.  I didn’t really, of course.  But I felt like it. And I won’t shake hands with him again.   

The Troupe leader then had to return to his position as he was holding up the procession and a couple of stilt men were finding it difficult to stay upright without being able to move forward.

I never did find out if his colleague finally used the toilet. 

Incidentally the stilt men gave a wonderful display of formation dancing on stilts. Superbly done.

Everything then seemed to calm down a little. The rest of the parade was very well done. For the hundreds of families who were there with their children it was a obviously a very satisfying evening and that, at the end of the day, is what it is all about.

On the way out of Saumur we passed the VKKK., loading their gear into a coach.  They looked somewhat disorganised and I could not help thinking if they needed a manager.  I know just the man……. 

À bientôt   

PS.  A few days later it was the Fête de Rue St. Nicholas and, early in the morning we were sitting outside a bar, having a drink with two Leprechauns complete with green hair, huge,yellow bow ties, tartan coats, bright green trousers and yellow shoes.  Inside the bar their mates were playing a rarther slurrrrred version of Greensleaves,  20 metres  into the street, their drummer was banging away, obviously playing a different tune altogether.  Meanwhile a guy behind me was doing Charlie Chaplin immpressions pretending to stabilise a tree growing out of a litter bin.  …….Wonderful, normal service resumed!!!     

Watching the World Cup. 04/07/2006

Given that I am a pub person and I have come across very few French Bars that I do not like, it will come as no surprise that I prefer to watch The World Cup safely ensconced in some convivial establishment, a drink at hand and with the elation and despair of the moment almost tangibly ebbing and flowing around me.

However, it is clear, even to me, that pouring copious amounts of alcohol into my hard suffering liver every time the likes of Saudi Arabia kicks off against Tunisia is hardly fair, particularly as poor old Larry Liver can’t see a thing. Thus I decided, on grounds of pragmatism, that I would watch just England and French games “au bar” and the other matches, whenever I could, at home.

With this in mind I purchased a TV from Super-U for the astronomical price of €99 as our other two televisions are being hogged, rather thoughtlessly, by our current set of visitors on the feeble excuse that they have rented the two apartments.  Sheila says this is perfectly acceptable but I remain to be convinced!

It is true that the picture on our new TV is so small as to be the definitive proof of Quantum Mechanics but, by putting it immediately next to the couch, I can just about make out different coloured shirts running up and down the pitch, except, that is, on channel 6 whose commentators must be the unluckiest in the world because every time they feature a game it is played in the most horrendous blizzard. This is very odd because every other match is played in temperatures so hot that David Beckham spends all his time puking and losing 15 stone a match whilst, at the same time, having to drink enough water to irrigate the home counties for a day, in addition, referees are so affected by the heat that they forget that a player only has to have two yellow cards to be sent off and another thinks he has to use all 52 in the pack.

Still, c’est la vie as one says in these parts.

So, I watch my two teams in the Café de Ville in Doué la Fontaine. Not that this is the perfect solution.  One TV is mounted so high up on the wall that, unless you hide overnight in order to commandeer one of the first two tables early the following morning, the view is pretty much the same as on my own state of the art, ground breaking, quantum television.  The other TV is a huge Plasma thingy, about the size of a transit van but, for a reason which escapes everyone, is mounted low down adjacent to the toilets. Thus there is a never ending stream of heads and shoulders to-ing and fro-ing in front of the screen whilst they answer the calls of nature, the frequency of which, of course, increases in direct proportion to the time spent imbibing.  Now, for many people, this may bring back fond memories of the good old terrace days in the years BC (before chairs),  however given that I was cursed, by birth, to be a Port Vale fan congested terraces were something I have never had a lot of experience with. The only time anyone came near me was to ask if I had finished the copy of War and Peace I was reading.  I once had a friend who had a plan to build chalets and to create a terraced garden, a sort of Hanging Gardens of the Hamil Road End! 

Still, that’s another story!

Anyway, I called in the Café de Ville one afternoon to check the kick off time for France v Spain, and, over a chilled Rosé, was chatting to Eric, a perfectly normal, sober human being. Except, that is, for the fact that there was not a centimetre of visible hair and skin which was not dyed red, white and blue.  After about 10 minutes of conversation, he looked at his watch, mumbled something about it being time, said he would return and strode purposefully out of the bar together with a huge French football scarf.  He then proceeded to position himself in the centre of the yellow painted “roundabout” on the road outside and proceeded to chant, “Allez Les Blues,”  holding the scarf above his head and causing much rhythmical horn papping, hand shaking and not a few screeching brakes.  ‘La Patronne’, matter of factly, informed me, that he had been doing this, on the hour, for the last three hours. After exactly 15 mins, on the hour, he returned, sat down, and resumed the conversation as if he had never been away. 

When I asked him why he has started his one man campaign so early in the day.  He answered, with impeccable gallic logic, that it would be impossible to do it during the match as, of course, he would miss some of the action.

C’est clair!!