Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Notre Dame de la Rouviere, France

Friends: I arrived in Notre Dame de la Rouviere, village of Chicago friends Craig and Onni, just in time for its annual boules tournament. We could watch it from the back terrace of their 100 year old stone house in a field below large enough that six of the ball-tossing games could be contested simultaneously. It provided an excellent introduction to the community, as Craig knew many of the contestants. Most were residents of this small village. There were young and old, male and female, the town mayor, someone's Peruvian husband, a rabbit farmer, baker, English retiree, goat cheese-maker and on and on.

Boules is one of the favorite pastimes of the French, a game that can be played anywhere. I frequently saw it played last year along the Tour de France route by those biding their time awaiting the peloton. All one needs is a clearing of no more than 20 feet for two or four people to be able to toss their trio of heavy baseball-sized balls, trying to get them closest to a previously tossed smaller ball. After watching for a spell, Craig and I went off to the town's former boules court by the communal clothes washing area, to play a little ourselves. I also had some clothes to hang on the communal drying lines and needed to wash and ventilate my tent. Only once in the ten years Craig and Onni have lived in Notre Dame has any of their clothes turned up missing from the drying line. They suspected who the thieves might have been, went to the police and were able to recover their lost items.

Knowing one's court is a crucial element to boules. Playing surfaces can be akin to a putting green with unseen contours that make the balls trickle off in directions you wouldn't suspect. Before each round the smaller ball can be tossed wherever one chooses, near or far, left or right or straight ahead. The balls are fairly heavy. Putting the proper amount of back spin on them is also a crucial element. My wrist was sore after an hour or so.

It was nice getting an introduction to boules, but I was most looking forward to some biking with Craig on the intricate network of small roads through the mountains of the Cevennes that he knows so well. Unfortunately he was engaged in a major construction project on his house so he could only spare one day. When we set out the next morning, Craig only had a vague idea of where we might go, but there was so much to see it ended up being an almost all-day affair of over 70 miles, the longest ride of Craig's ten years here. We hadn't intended it to be, but once we started there was just one more thing after another that Craig wanted to share--a neolithic burial tomb thousands of years old, a spot where he had seen the Tour de France pass, a circle of 50 or so upright rocks in a farmer's field from the Stonehenge era, a dramatic canyon with a 16 per cent grade climb out and one lightly used road after another. "Let's try this road," Craig kept saying with seeming delight when we came to an intersection, even though it meant prolonging our ride.

Craig was particularly happy to be out on his bike, as his construction project had kept him off his bike for nearly a month, the longest deprivation he's endured in ten years. He's been hauling buckets of cement up stairs, so his legs were still strong, but the work has been so exhausting that he has had only energy to strum his guitar at day's end. His garden has also suffered. It is about a quarter mile down the road from his house on five terraces built into a cliff side. We did find time to plant raspberries, do some much needed watering and harvest some mulberries. Craig and Onni haul composting material from their house in an antique chamber pot, which always earns them strange looks from their neighbors, wondering about the plumbing in their house. As of now, they have one bathroom, but after their construction, which is adding a second floor over their kitchen, Craig plans to add a second bathroom.

Our ride prevented me from witnessing the Sunday church crowd. Notre Dame de la Rouviere's Catholic church is only used once every three weeks, and this was the week it was in action, which also meant the town library would be open for one hour after church. Otherwise, it is only open for a couple of hours on Tuesdays. Craig and Onni didn't know if this was their town's Sunday or one of the two other villages that the service rotates among. The chief reminder is a flurry of bells Sunday morning letting all know. The church bells signal more than the time. They chime two minutes before each hour and then on the hour so if you missed counting the number of chimes you can double check. They also chime once on the half hour and also an extra 18 times in two sets of nine at 7:05 in the morning to get everyone up and a similar pattern at lunch time and in the evening to let all know they can quit work and get dinner and get to bed. My bedroom window pointed right at the church bells a block away. Sometimes they woke me in the middle of the night, but mostly not.

I spent most of yesterday reading "Three Men on A Bummel," a book a retired English couple we had dinner with Friday night lent me. It was about a bike trip three Englishmen took through Germany in 1908. "Bummel" is an archaic English word for journey. The book was more about their comic impressions of Germany than about biking. In fact, of the 15 illustrations in the book, only one related to their biking. Still, it was a nice little discovery. I had a pleasant day sitting on one of he four benches in the town's square underneath the WWI memorial reading away. It would have been a total rest day for my legs if Craig and I hadn't ended the day playing ping pong for two hours until pitch dark on the town's outdoor table.

If Craig weren't slaving away with his two-man French crew today, we'd no doubt be off on a mini-bummel of our own. Instead, I'm back on my solo bummel to the nudist colony of Cape d'Agde, near the Ville Etape of Agde.

Later, George

No comments: