Frustration – and cheese
15 August 2005
Drove down to the wonderfully-named Troyes – France is big! I thought I must be a long way south until I checked the map and found I’m not that far from Paris! Into champagne country, although I didn’t see any vines at all so far.
Finally arrived at Chatillon-sur-Seine, about 50 miles south of Troyes, and had a frustrating time looking for Notre Dame des Graces. Turns out that she is not, these days, normally kept in the little church now dedicated to St Pierre (formerly the church of the Notre Dame abbey, built in the 12th century) but is in the church of St Vorles, but that, the old woman who seemed to be looking after the church told me, is closed. She didn’t speak any English and my French wasn’t up to understanding exactly why it was shut down. I went to see, but there was no sign of repairs going on. Odd. Even odder was the wall just opposite this little church, in a large car park. For no apparent reason there are three cows heads sculpted on a wall with no other purpose (above).
The “sensible” explanation might be that this is where the market is held – certainly the car park is large enough. But a closer look at the cow on the right revealed strange markings: sure, I get the alpha and omega – but what of the signs on the left of the picture? On reflection later I remembered that the letter “A” was based originally on an ox’s or cow’s head and you can see versions of that there.
Well, I wasn’t going to solve this one in an afternoon and was looking forward to visiting Auxerre.
Today was a bank holiday in France and everything was closed, so no maps, no tourist centres, no help at all. No-one I asked had heard of the church or any Notre Dame or miraculous statue in the area. I do have a plan for finding these churches already – normally I head for the top of the highest hill and failing that, for the oldest part of the town. Then I drive around at random and ask women of middle-age and above. Nothing worked. Discouraged, I gave up, having driven a hundred-mile round trip.
Still, I did see lots of fascinating buildings and ruins, both Roman and medieval – of course, no Reformation means there is lots more for a lover of old churches and history to see. I also drove through the village of Chablis and was rewarded with the sight of endless rows of vines. Now, all I know about viticulture (why isn’t it viniculture?) you could write on a postage stamp, but even I could see that these grapes must like well-drained soil and a position on the side of a hill, not too steep. The soil looked gravelly and very pale. For miles and miles, there was nothing else growing, except the ubiquitious fields of sunflowers on flatter ground and the odd cabbage in cottage gardens.
I noticed from signs on the road that I was following a famous wine-tasting route. Not much good to me! Perhaps I imagined, when I finally stopped to eat tonight, the slight curl of the waiter’s lip as I ordered an Orangina to go with my beautifully cooked meal, and drank the same with the plat du fromage that followed?
Incidentally, if French restaurants can manage to serve cheese at room temperature, why can’t we?