travel diary [France - Charante Region - 2008]

my parent's are trying to move to france (great timing huh?) and they're spending most of their holidays driving around france looking for properties. one of these times i went down to hang with them. so we were driving around the charente drinking cognac and calvados. eating too much cheese. and croissants. cakes. that kind of thing. all good fun. i'm not much one for introductions anymore, so forget it.


i sit in the airport for endless minutes. infinity on a small scale. smashing pumpkins keeping me company, my ears dulled, henry rollins in my backpack. watching the sky slowly lighten through all shades of bruise and plum. it's a beautiful warm morning, you don't get many of these in autumn. tonight tonight. today. 1979. thinking about how the whole world is going to come crashing down around you. how it wont ruin these beautiful mornings. how i like my reflection in the bulletproof glass, how i look like i'm going further than i am. how i should be. all shades of 6am bullshit. you always find a way.

on the plane i try to sleep. but i'm too tired. i'm tempted by the 2euro coffee, but decide against it. there's my downfall waiting to happen. i watch the guy next to me flip through his powerpoint presentation printout, making notes in pencil. i watch the wing wobble. flap. and all these fuckers wearing suits. i change my mind about the coffee but it's too late, she's only handing out refills. and besides, my wallet is a distance away i can't be bothered to travel. the best thing about flying is once you're above the clouds you're guaranteed glorious weather. perfect blues and blazing sunshine. i want to sink into the arms of sleep. i want cucumber for my eyes. i want a fresh fig. i want to survive an aeroplane crash. but not this one.

i've been waiting in this train station over an hour already. CDG airport terminal 2, it's a trying atmosphere. i entertained myself by trying to find a toilet i didn't have to pay for, which was tricky but ultimately possible. i've now explored everywhere i can gain access to. and there's a woman walking around with a sniffer dog. it's very distracting and not at all subtle. time could stop right now and i'd not notice. this is purgatory. the announcement jingle will drive me mad if i don't get out of here soon. but my train isn't even on the notice board yet. but that jingle. it says in my head "get your tshirts!". i've got through 60 smashing pumpkins songs already. there's only 101 more to go. me, i'm just sharing a moment with rollins. he's right, y'know.

get your tshirts!

opposite me is a woman in full burka and sun glasses. she gives away nothing, not a single aspect of herself. how can her child even recognise her? her husband sits there in his fucking jeans and tshirt. it makes me angry. i'm a strong atheist who believes in tolerance and diversity. but, fuck it.

finally on the TGV. SNCF. whatever. i've got my seat and my tshirts. blah blah blah. i'm happy i don't have to share seats with anyone. on the platform the guy infront of me reeked of alcohol and as soon as the train stopped two woman jumped out, hauling along two toddlers, and inhaled a cigarette before reboarding. everytime the train stops everyone gets off to smoke. and the toilet smells of smoke too. the french, bless them.

but now i'm running out of food and desperately need a coffee. sleep worked, but i don't know where i am. without a concious passing of the time i'm lost completely. so i got that coffee. it's hot and tiny and dark and beautiful. but it's called an expresso.

i'm passing through saint pierre des corps. or tours. it looks like a dump. but there's so much to like about the french landscape. the odd piece of wall still sitting there at the entrance to a field, a solitary arch. hundreds of wide swollen rivers. then the jutting cliff of poitier. rustic houses and orchards. even on this post-harvest miserable gray november day.

so here i am in the charente, somewhere just outside cognac. it's cold and raining, so instead of setting up the tent and freezing all night i've paid for a room in this strange house. it makes me wish i was on drugs. my piss smells like burnt PCB. that coffee i had earlier. the room has sent me back in time. it smells of aged. where are we, the 20s? soft pinks and wooden panelling, floral bed sheets, long dangly things around the lamp shades.

by now it must be 11pm and breakfast is booked for half eight. but when i switch out the bedside lamp it's completely pitch black. the toilet is gurgling. and it's one of those beds where the sheets are so tight you can't pull them out from under the matress. you're tied down. i'm not used to this silence. and i'm about to ravaged by a million tiny demons. they want to have sex with dead animals and they want to use me as a condom.


but it was all worth it. i just woke up from an awesome sleep. now i am writing on the toilet. wait, nix that. i got a hot shower and a humongous towel. then we took breakfast downstairs, bread, jam, fruit and yoghurt, with a friendly couple from belgium, cognac dealers in town on business.

yesterday, i met my parents in angouleme, briefly seeing the city by car before driving to cognac, and seeing it through the late evening rain. we had a coffee (a cappuccino, but with whipped cream?) and a brief walk around the town before heading into an indian/pakistani restaurant. all i'd eaten that day was a couple of sandwiches, so even if i'd been served tomato soup with a few peas floating in it i would have enjoyed it. it wasn't as bad as that, but it was far from what i know of indian cuisine. it was very light on the spices, and the palak paneer was made with emmental, as if they'd put in chunks of 'laughing cow' (that'll teach the vegetarians). it was interesting to say the least (also the most). in their defence, they had called it palak fromage, with no mention of paneer at all.

cognac is a cute little place though. the centre looks cast out of marble, and is more of a circle than a square, complete with your standard issue fountain and statue combo. totally ruined by the circling cars (chomp chomp chomp), of course, and all the hotels.

this time of year, driving around the cognac area, all the farms with their distilleries and breweries, you can smell the grapes fermenting. it hangs in the air like the morning mist.


i was woken up sometime around 8am. again. and there was no chance of me getting up. it was too cold. the temperature made me immobile, and nothing to do with the four blankets wrapped tightly around my sleeping bag. plus i couldn't see anything, the sun had barely begun to rise, yet to melt the frost that had formed in a thin crystaline layer across the ground and my tent. my hot water bottle had kept me warm most of the night, but around 5am it had gotten nasty cold. maybe that's why the dog was barking all night. he'd started shortly after the aeroplanes had stopped practicing. but it was the clear sky that did it, letting the heat escape up into the exposed milkway.

i'm only moaning because it's early. but now i've had my croissant and my eclair and i can start to slowly peel off the layers of clothing as the sun warms up the air. my toes are still numb, and they'll stay that way most of the day.

yesterday we'd driven from cognac to saintes, just another cute town. the local market sits in the shadow of the huge church, all fresh fruit and vegetables smelling amazing. you can smell the shallots and the fat celleriac. i miss these great food markets, farmers selling all their own produce. we bought butter, sheep's cheese, mushrooms, parsley and a fig. my first and only fresh fig of the year.

i'm currently sitting in a carpark in barbezieux st hilaire, soaking up the warm october sun, my feet almost back to life and enjoying the soft tarmac. i'm eating sandwiches and i can tell you the butter is incredible. i never butter my bread, but i could eat this butter on its own for every meal.

back to yesterday, we lunched in a friendly creperie that served such thin crepes they were almost like dosa. mine was drenched in cheese - emmental, goat's, blue and maybe even some mozerella. living in denmark you forget what cheese tastes like. and all i can think about is how when i took a shit this morning i could smell all that cheese. so much cheese. this always happens when i'm france. but let's not go there.

after saintes we drove to the coast, i'd been promised a weird town called royan that had been bombed to shit in the second world war and promptly rebuilt. only they rebuilt it around the idea of a tourist beach utopia and it went horribly wrong. the best thing about the town is the church. as you enter the town it's off in the distance, piercing the sky like a rocket on a launch pad. it's so convincing i wouldn't be surprised if that was by design. up close it's more like a car park or a factory, molded in concrete, like a cross between gaudi and coventry. that's the only way i can describe it. royan - coventry by the sea with a church that wouldn't be out of place on the death star.

i also need to mention our hilarious phrase book, which i read whilst sitting outside a royan cafe drinking a suspicious cafe creme. it'd be a bit too much getting out your guide book whilst having sex so you could translate, but nevermind. the section on extreme sports was especially funny. and getting married. you'd think by that point you'd be beyond the phrase book.

we went back to cognac, taking a quick visit to the centre so i could see it under nicer weather and take some photos.

for dinner, back where we were camping, we cooked the ceps in the butter, mashed some potatos, had carrots with parsely, it was a great feast. we played some myer, drank a lot, then went to bed.

back in the now, we're on our way to a property my parents have been considering, it's somewhere south of here. wherever south is. we just stopped off ath the paul giraud cognac distillery. we were here yesterday too, but he was on his way out. but this time we were invited into his house for tasting. lined up he has four of cognac of various ages - 8 to 49 years (grapes from the harvest of 1959).

the cognac dealer we'd met over breakfast had told us this guy was a proper master. i'd like to believe him. i don't know anything but cognac, but they were truly great. he was a fun guy too. although his cat had evil eyes. and after all that cognac i'm a little sleeply. at least i don't have to drive.


so you drink a little cognac in the middle of the day, drive through endless grapevines, rolling countryside, small hamlets and towns dotted all over, beautiful sunshine, streams and rivers. then you arrive at another cottage, there's a pile of leaves burning in the garden and the smoke drifts across the grounds. the late evening sun pushes its beam through and it's low level jesus rays everywhere. a field of corn descends into the valley below and everything glows just a little. drink some coffee. drink some wine. relax infront of the fire. it all goes a little dreamy. then later, sleeping on the mezzanine above the wood burner, the cat asleep next to you.

now i'm sitting on a bench over looking the valley, all orange and green, the morning mist still settled in its palm. my head all drowsy and murky from so many bottles of last night's wine. there's a slight chill in the air, a small amount of bitter resent at the encroaching winter, if you could call it that. winter. for late october it's comfortably warm and i'd be happy resting here for hours. not even the dog is bothering me, too busy cracking open walnuts with its teeth or just staring at me longingly. i myself have the constant taste of walnut in my mouth

dinner last night was another feast - vegetable soup followed by some kind of scrammbled eggs with potatoes, then cheese, then fruit flan. we chatted over various topics, including 9-11 conspiracies and the fabrication of terror threats. brilliant. and the son has a huge collection of donald duck comics, including many carl barks and don rosa stories. he showed me his favourites and i took great pleasure in being able to tell him i'd read them too.

and now picture me in riberac, i'm wearing shorts and tshirt and i love this pace because it reminds me of what summer felt like. the air has faint tints of continental beer and cigarettes mixed with creperie kitchen and patisseries, but it's still somehow fresh. i want to walk barefoot in the gurgling fountain. and again i've eaten too much cake. it's all too easy to go mad in the patisseries. the 'st marc' was incredible, hurray for burnt sugar. this was after dinner, which we'd taken in a posh restaurant, quails eggs and goat's cheese all the way. baked aubergine.

you'd be forgiven for thinking all they do in france is makde drinks from grapes and food from butter.


this is good because i can keep track of the date. without a diary i'd have no idea what the date is. i still don't know the day, but this way i won't miss my flight. this kind of thing happens when you sleep in a different bed every night. i think the weirdest thing is, everywhere we've been, excluding the maison de maitre, all the people we've met, they've all been english. even the estate agent (especially the estate agent) and the restaurant owner yesterday.

this weekend we're staying with old friends from rugby. they're got themselves a fantastic bit of land, complete with stream, waterfall and lake (pond maybe). their house is the strangest too, being build one block at a time. they have padded walls. it's genius. they also have a lot of cats - black, white, queenie and spastic. their old cats were called spunk, bos (brother of spunk) and puscat. the place before had animals called coca, cola, channel and cashew. what is wrong with you people?

dinner, again, was fantastic. homemade guacamole with bread and cheese, then quorn sasusages fried with shallots, proper english baked beans and chips. it's like being in france not at all. the night was all mad conversation, there was uncontrollable laughter, laughing about the most ridiculous things, and side by side with sombre talk of suicide. a jolly woman from brazil joined us after dinner, all life and smiles. then it turns out she works with alcoholics, her father commited suicide, then her husband died, and recently her son killed himself too. what can you do?

the sun is dying on the horizon, bleeding itself across the landscape. these truly are the last days. i'm dozing in the back of the van, reading my book, watching france go by in flaming orange and green. so many harvested grapevines standing naked. the sun is going to burst and spill. burning away all this mess. melting the concrete from the ground, the tarmac hissing and evaporating. scortching everything we've done wrong.

bordeaux is a cool city. i like how it's old but also a bit hip. the pedestrian area (i'd say pedestrianised, except we pedestrians have been around a lot longer than the cars) is all old and glorious buildings, gorgeous above the shopfronts. it's retained something, you can still see how nice it must have been before the hightstreet stores ran rampant through the city massacring the ground level. now butchered. i guess it doesn't help that it's a saturday. apparently.

the small french towns and villages are cost, but it's in the cities where it gets all stylish and sophisticated. some image or pretense of it. these people kill me. i'm inadequated. and this is where the majority of my feelings about bordeaux stem from. being told you don't look good enough, from beneath black berets and sharp skirts. behind cigarettes, murderous lips and emotive eyebrows. looks of disdain and boredem. i wish i could be as bored as you.

i like the cathedral too, although i didn't get to go inside. it's flat and wide, squating on the city. all spikey and too big to photograph. the river's impressive too, also unsettling wide. the whole scene is somewhere between the thames and the danube. and the big wheel helps. down by the river there's a huge water feature called something like "the mirror" - a thin layer of water that settles and reflects the sky. of course it never settles because there's always some stupid kid running through it (making better use of it than the rest of us though). and then every so often the water drains away and a very fine mist is released. people seem a bit hesitant at first, but soon enough everyone is running through it and getting moisture damage inside their cameras. me too, of course:

i went for a wander on my own and stumbled across a cute backstreet and courtyard, sunlight dripping down through the trees and onto beautiful benches, etc. i was about to start taking photos when i noticed there were only woman loitering around, and up the various narrow streets were woman at regular intervals sitting on tiny chairs and reading books. it freaked me out a little seeing a scene so weird, so i ran away. i presume i may have come across the uglier side of bordeaux, but who knows.

i had another terrible cappuccino (i enjoyed it enough, don't get me wrong, it just wasn't very good), all the whilst being disturbed by a guy playing bad violin and expecting money for it. we did some horrible shopping in those horrible ubiquitous department stores, and after that it was all a bit rushed. more streets, squares, getting tired, the usual.

we had a good dinner though. we risked another indian restaurant, this time because it claimed to be krishna, and the food was much better. it still lacked something, but it's hard to say what exactly.

what does it take to get a decent coffee in this country? i think it just has to be a very small one.


back on the move. we're currently heading to perigueux, and then back up to somewhere around riberac. and we just stopped in bergerac, which must be the most touristic place we've been to yet. it's a pleasant and well kept old town, but it's drenched in tourist signs and everywhere everything's in english. there isn't a person here who isn't a tourist. but then, it's sunday. france disappears.

last night we returned to the house quite late and started making dinner straight away, an epic lentil shephards pie. there were too many cooks and not enough neil young, but it was magnificent. at least in terms of cheese quantity. this holiday has reminded me why i love cheese. there's been so much cheese. and so many cakes and pastries. drinking every night. you can't live like this. but it's what holidays are for. i also tried to go to bed at a reasonable time, but it didn't work. the clocks have gone back so i had an extra hour in bed. i woke up with the sun anyway, my belly aching and churning through horrible angles. rebelling against all that cheese. too much pie and beer. from now on i'm going easy on the cheese. i don't need a repeat of my last time in france.

this morning has been exceptionally misty. my feet can't warm and photos just don't seem to work out. i'm happy i did my washing yesterday. by hand in the sink, kind of how it should be. it feels good. anyway, onwards.


i'm in good spirits, despite the rain that started at 6am. i must have slept well. i was in the tent again, and much better prepared this time. when we arrived here it was dark, so my first view of the campsite was crawling from my tent this morning. it's simple and standard and completely desserted. i stand behind the toilet block washing in the open-air sink, staring out into the murky greens and grey. brushing my teeth to a silence only penetrated by the gentle patter splash of rain on the corrugated plastic. plips in swimming pool. the weather yesterday, all week even, was too good to last. and this rain is almost comforting. that only problem is any wetness i pick up now is dampness i'm carrying back to denmark on the plane.

perigueux was another tourist town. the old part is somewhat dominated by the cathedral, a beast of a building sitting proud and mighty atop the hill, imposing itself on the surroundings. quite the view.

the old town is typically quaint, a labyrinth of narror streets that have managed to retain their old french feel. the rest of the town is a bit shit, to put it simply, apart from the ancient amphitheatre ruins. that and i got a vegetarian croque monsieur. it was substandard but edible. there's also a trompe d'oil gallery thath olds limited appeal, but it's rather small and overpriced.

i want a kiwi. or nectarine. pamplemouse.

we caught the picturesque town of brantome at dusk, bats flying through the air and wood smoke drifting across the river and through the tiny lanes. everywhere in the country people are burning piles of leaves and wood. it's a tasty atomsphere. the town is tucked neatly into a tight curve in the river so that it's almost completely surrounded by water. and almost horribly cute. another perfect tourist town. it barely feels real.

this is me barefoot on the train, hoping my shoes will dry before i reach paris. i have clean dry socks enough, but don't fancy navigating CDG airport in my slippers (i do, but i don't any trouble). the clouds are taking over, floating through the sky like a determined flock of air whales, them all chanting "doom" in moans too low pitched to be audible.

time wasn't enough for angouleme. in one way it was almost lucky the cartoon museum was closed, or else i wouldn't have had time to see much else of the city. all gloom and rainy barrage. my camera hates me for this. but it'll get over it. click click.

angouleme is obviously famous for it's street art, all those buildings painted so cleverly, and they're great. really. but what i like most is the 'unofficial' street art - the random doodles on walls, paste ups, etc. the more temporary street art has so much more cheeky character. it's way more interesting. and everywhere, but still hard to find. seeing it properly would require hours of exploring, time we didn't have. the best stuff i saw from the van and couldn't photograph. some of the rest is here:

for a provincial capital it's quite nice. i guess i like that rundown look anyway.

but what now? just waiting and moving. maybe it's weezer's time. i just hope no one comes and asks me to move. i'm not in my booked seat because i wanted to sit alone, just me and my bass taking up two seats. i'm packing a calzone brioche and an onion quiche for the journey. and after that, no dairy until christmas. this will be easy, the cheese is shit in demark.

it's a shame to be this close to paris and not visit, but nevermind. i'm happy to be heading home. and it's going well. i left the train at the correct station, no thanks to incessant screaming children scum making it impossible for anyone to hear the announcements. then the terminal shuttle train decided to emergency break, sending everyone flying. i kept my balance and would have been fine if it wasn't for the idiot on his phone two people down. he fell straight into the woman between us and i just couldn't support both their weight. she was quite hurt, but so it goes.

i ate the last of the cheese before the final security check, because apparently cheese is not allowed to be taken from the country. the french are very protective of their cheese it seems. also i managed to check in via SMS, which i didn't enjoy at all but felt obliged to try. it was totally redundant due to my luggage anyway.

now everyone is speaking scandinavian again and i feel i can relax a little. some cognac or calvados would be brilliant right now. i'd even settle for a decent beer. or sleep. fuck it.

were not wasting paper [or grammar]
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