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Smallville: Local Celebrations

Peter B Farrell is now homeward bound after a glorious holiday in France. But there are still sights to see, such as the Chateau where Leonardo da Vinci is buried, and the largest cathedral in the land.

“A long drive ahead.“ Kev, my brother, had worked out a route to Chartres, about 250 miles away. His wife Diana took the first turn at the wheel, leading us out of pristine Néris Les-Baines and along the Cher valley to the Chateau d’Amboise. We planned to visit the Royal Chateau...

“Home of the French Kings from the 15th Century; not only that but Leonardo da Vinci is buried there.” I fulfilled my usual role with the latest from the guidebook.

The Chateau and surrounding gardens were well preserved and restored; the French seemed to go to great lengths to conserve their historic buildings. In contrast to the UK where everything appears to be for sale to the largest bidder to balance Mr Brown‘s books. Our historic buildings and monuments seemed to exist on charity appeals to raise more money.

Bow Street magistrates Court, surely worth preserving for it‘s place in history, has just been sold off, probably to become a theme pub or hotel. It should be ready for when the new 24-hour drinking laws take effect.

We lunched in Amboise, joining the many tourists enjoying the warm sunshine before setting off for Chartres.

“Follow that MG. He seems to know where he’s going.” Diana tailed a British sports car to the centre of Chartres, ending up in a side street. Luckily we spotted a small hotel and coincidently parked alongside the MG. The occupant studied us for a few moments before driving off presumably to look elsewhere, while we booked in for the night.

After unpacking we took the short stroll into the city. Unfortunately the centre of Chartres was in the throes of road mending and development, with barriers, dust, smoke and noise. We left the centre and headed for the main tourist attraction, which rightly proved to be...

“La Cathédrale gothique du XIIe siècle.“ I had rehearsed in anticipation and followed up with... “Er, the largest in France.“

Fairly obvious.

The Cathedral,with its intricate stone carvings and incredible stained glass windows had withstood fire, wars and revolution. Luckily the glass had been removed and stored during World War II. Inside the nave a modern art display in the form of a series of large panels had a jarring effect, in contrast to the intricate detail and colour of the carvings and stained glass windows. A maze etched on the floor was being followed by a group of praying penitants, although not on their knees as would have been the case years ago.

Outside, we purchased the now obligatory postcards and souvenir guidebooks and followed the directions for a walk round the old quarter. Tired after taking in enough culture for one day, it was time to find a restaurant for the evening. Unfortunately it was proving difficult; a likely square was packed and we gradually edged back to the roadworks.

The sounds of a military band drew us to another small square. We recognised the rousing music as a song from our schooldays. A ceremony was about to take place; a line of veterans with their flags were accompanied by a unit of the French Army. From the ages of the assembled veterans it appeared to commemorate an episode from World War II.

Alongside a bust of Jean Moulins - who had been the leader of the French Resistance - a line of high-ranking officers greeted a young couple. We realised we were in the presence of les maqisards. A young man read out a speech and from witnessing this moving ceremony we understood enough to realise that the German occupiers had imprisoned and executed Jean Moulins. Perhaps the young couple were his grandchildren. Was the tune we heard the song of la Resistance? We would never know.

After the ceremony broke up we found we were once more among the roadworks, and not a pavement restaurant in site. However Diana’s instinct led us off the beaten track and we discovered a gem of a restaurant, which seemed to cater for the locals. We were made welcome and relished the menu on offer. The food was superb, accompanied by two bottles of vin rouge.

We became aware of a constant stream of customers with gifts, many dressed in their finest, who made their way upstairs. Apparently a family party was taking place.

“Appy birtday to you, ‘appy birtday to you...“

The raucous singing came from upstairs and incongruously in English.
“They’ve got to be cyclists.” Kev had noticed the family group at the next table. Two wizened men, lean and sunburnt perhaps from days in the saddle, wore bright yellow sports shirts emblazoned with a cycling club motif. They were accompanied by their wives and children. In the centre of the table a large platter was piled high with a display of seafood of every description.

“Yes, perhaps retired.” I added.

Their children however seemed impervious to the haut-cuisine and were devouring beefburgers.

People still made their way up and down the stairs, some of the younger women with difficulty. The steps weren’t designed to accomodate their pointed high-heeled shoes.

The evening unfortunately came to a close.

“Au revoir messsieurs, dames.”

“Must try and remember the words.“ We made our way back to the hotel humming the song of la Resistance.


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