Sunday, July 27, 2014

Here I Am

It's Sunday, and I finally visited the church I've driven by several times at Saint-Ciers-du-Taillon, one of the small villages scattered among the vineyards and sunflower fields here. I kept thinking "oh, I should stop and check it out" each time I passed by, winding my way through the narrow main street past the bakery and the butcher shop and the pizzeria whose terrace I ended up parking on the other day, accidentally, when I stopped to pick up some farce pour tomatoes at the butcher's shop that I really did plan on stuffing tomatoes with, but which I ended up just rolling into little meatballs and baking this afternoon in a hot oven, then eating while watching "Chopped: South Africa" and thinking that I would have done well in the competition, because I would have combined the sweet pumpkin-like squash with the corn grits and pan-seared cubes of that mixture instead of just making a polenta mush, and I would have created a savory jelly with the chicken feet, instead of deep-frying them, like all the other contestants did. And I definitely would have cut off the toenails first.

After spending the better part of the day on systems testing and laundry, I decided to go into Saint-Ciers-du-Taillon for a glass of wine; there's a bar/restaurant called Le Cheval Blanc that figures in Nikki's guide to local attractions, a sheaf of paper she leaves for the guests in each of the gîtes. But as I was driving up I heard the bells ring in the church - it was 7:00pm - and I decided to see what was going on inside, as I could hear music.

I walked in, and was greeted by two dozen people singing "Here I Am, Lord" in English. There are a lot of British people who vacation in this area - the two gîtes have been full of families from across the Channel, and the local Super U in Mirambeau has half an aisle devoted to "proper" tea and Weetabix and other groceries to make les rosbifs feel at home. The priest wasn't entirely comfortable doing his service in both languages, but had a white-haired British lay pastor to help out.

I didn't stay long, because the church wasn't terribly interesting on the inside - a 12th-century construction that had been pretty well entirely reconstructed in the 19th century - and the sound system was so echoey that I couldn't tell the difference between the parts of the service that were in French and those that were in English. The two young boys in the pew in front of me seemed equally uninterested, squirming away from their fair-haired parents' attempts to hush them, probably thinking of how they'd much rather be back at their own holiday rental, swimming in the chilly pool.

I had my glass of wine (or two) with une assiette de frites, which I almost had to eat cold, as I got caught up in a conversation/monologue with the proprietor, who - like many other French citizens - seemed to think that the United States was a much better place to live than France, at least in New York City or California, but not in the middle of the country. "They're pretty weird there, aren't they?" he commented. Then he left me to my book, Bill Bryson's "Neither Here Nor There", my red wine and fries, and a friendly local cat who joined me in the late-evening sunshine on the patio. It was just me and the cat, though eventually a local dropped by for his own Sunday drink, but he went inside to the bar. Cars passed through the town behind me, and the breeze picked up as the sun dropped in the sky.

I finished my wine (and left half the fries, as they really had gotten cold by that point), paid my tab inside, and pulled out of the parking lot at 8:30pm, with the sun still gilding the fields of sunflowers stretching out over the horizon. Ten minutes or less along the curvy vineyard-bordered lanes got me back home, and then I took the dogs for an hour-long walk up the road to a hay-filled grange and then down through the fields of corn and grapes, a quick hike through the woods back to the side road leading to the field behind the house, and here I am home again.

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