Sunday, June 05, 2005

A Journey Through France

I've spent most of the past week driving through Spain and France, sometimes at the wheel and sometimes studying the 2005 edition of the Logis de France guide to 3,000 hotels and restaurants.

In the past we have picked up the new editions of this guide from the French tourist office in Piccadilly on visits to London. This year we were given the current edition at our first night stop in France, Arreau in the Haute Pyrénées.

We had set out that morning after spending two nights with friends who live near the Spanish fishing port of San Carlos de la Rapita. The day's drive had taken us alongside the lower reaches of the famous river Ebro, through the city of Lérida and across the grain fields of northern Spain to the three-kilometre Bielsa tunnel through the mountains.

I hate long tunnels and couldn't wait to reach the French end and enjoy the first sight of massed deciduous trees in spring leaf. Instead we emerged into the thick mist of a low cloud and had to drive gingerly down the mountainside, passing an old man plodding uphill with his dog.

On a sunny evening, the little town of Arreau, with a mountain stream rushing through it, would be a delightful place to potter and window-shop. Last Monday it was too chilly for strolling although we did pause briefly to look at a window display of wooden plaques with the footprints of bears and other animals from the surrounding forests carved on them. We're not souvenir-buyers ourselves, but I'm interested in what appeals to people who are.

Our room at the Hotel Angleterre was huge with a sofa for TV-viewing and a king size bed, but the view was dull; the closed shutters of the houses across the narrow street in front of the hotel.
Dinner was excellent, the best we have had in France for several years. The only other people in the dining room were two Americans and a French couple.

By Tuesday evening the weather had perked up and our room at the Hotel Beau Rivage at Mansle had a balcony overlooking the sunlit river Charente and an elegant bridge.
We went out to stretch our legs and then sat in the sun outside a café, watching the street life. However by dinner time the temperature had dropped. Although most of our fellow guests dined on the terrace above the hotel's riverside garden, we chose a table in the dining room and again had an excellent meal.

It was not until next morning, as we were leaving, that I noticed the hotel had a room with armchairs and a bookcase off the entrance hall.

The third and last night in France was spent at the Hostellerie du Vieux Moulin at Hédé where we've stayed before and had a memorable dinner. Since then the management has changed but the welcome was warm and the food good, if a bit too artistically presented to get full marks from us. I noticed some paperbacks, mostly English, for guests to borrow in the bar.

From Hédé to St Malo is a short run, allowing time to visit the Carrefour centre to buy wine and bread before catching the 11.30 a.m. Condor ferry to Guernsey, a crossing which normally takes an hour and three-quarters but this time was slightly delayed by sea fog.

The way people behave on ferries is interesting. Some seem to spend the crossing promenading. Some make a bee-line for the Duty Free shop. A high percentage snack and drink. I didn't see anyone reading apart from my travelling companion who was deep in a Spanish edition of Diana Davenport's The Power Eaters [Salvat Editores 1978].

Kiana, formerly Diana, Davenport

Looking for Diana Davenport online, I found this -

"Shark Dialogues Davenport, Kiana From Kirkus Reviews A giant, image-fevered, luxuriantly wordy saga of a Hawaiian family, focused on the powerful person of a "life-giver, life-taker" who encapsulates in her 80-year history the harsh realities and saving myths of Hawaii's native peoples. Throughout, there burns a carefully trimmed flamelet of rage at what Davenport (Wild Spenders, 1984, written as Diana Davenport) sees as the progressive pollution of the islands and the decimation of the people by the greedy commercial interests of, mainly, the US...the scenery intoxicating, the indictments sobering, and although the dialogue blooms into the pretentious…Davenport has the goods--mainly a powerful narrative surge--to get away with it. With a welcome Hawaiian glossary."
Also "Kiana Davenport was born and raised in Kalihi, Hawaii. Author of the critically acclaimed novel Shark Dialogues, she has been a Fiction Fellow at Radcliffe's Bunting Institute and the recipient of a Fiction Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in Boston and Hawaii."
But she doesn't seem to have a website.

First library visit in eight months

Yesterday morning I went to the Guille-Alles Public Library for the first time since last autumn. The two books I borrowed were Bookends by
Jane Green and Guy Hart-Davis's Windows XP Professional : The Complete Reference. 924 pages long, it weighs three pounds on the bathroom scales. Whether it will solve my problems with Win XP Pro remains to be seen.

Earlier I popped into Buttons, one of St Peter Port's three bookshops to ask them to order Pond Lane and Paris, a first novel by Susie Vereker from the new
Transita imprint whose aim is to please the neglected "mature woman" market.

Reading the opening chapter of Susie Vereker's book at Transita's website, I was surprised to find that her recently widowed heroine, Laura Brooke, is only in her mid-forties, younger than I had expected a Transita heroine to be.

I was also surprised by part of Laura's conversation with a friend from her schooldays, Bridget, after a chance meeting in London.

'So how old is Alice now? What's she doing?'
Laura was sometimes tempted to be economical with the truth when people asked her this question, because everyone else's daughter seemed to be reading Economics at Durham, if not Law at Cambridge. Or they'd just set up their own IT company and were making millions.
To Bridget she confessed that eighteen-year-old Alice was a nanny on a cattle ranch in Argentina and seemed determined to stay there. It had been a Gap-year job which, unfortunately, had turned into a permanent one.
'In the middle of the pampas or whatever? Isn't that a bit dull for a young girl?'
'Not if you're sleeping with your middle-aged rancher boss, it seems,' said Laura dryly.
Bridget laughed. 'So Alice has a man. What about you?'

Many mature readers will empathise with Laura's feelings about the enviable achievements of other people's children.

But will they share her apparently laid-back attitude to her young daughter being involved with a middle-aged man half way across the world? Will they, like Bridget, laugh at this revelation.

My feeling is that they won't: that, in Laura's place, they would have done their utmost to get to Argentina and rescue their daughter from what sounds like a disaster zone. That, in Bridget's place, their reaction would have been commiseration, not amusement.

However, even if slightly alienated by Laura's and Bridget's attitudes at this early point in the story, I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next and what the "sophisticated ambassador Oliver Farringdon" promised by the blurb is like.

More on this novel, and Bookends, later in the month.


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