I've walked fifty flamin' miles
To a pub with no beer.
There are many different kinds of gites. At the municipal gites, you pick up the key, find your way to your lodging, and then you're on your own. Some of the private gites are very casual; others are quite formal, with lots of rules. The gite last night was run with Germanic, or should I say, Germaniac, efficiency.
There were rules for everything, posted everywhere. There were rules for the bed, rules for the sheets, rules for the washing up, rules for the rubbish, rules for the shutters, and rules for coming and going. My boots, rain gear, and pack cover had to remain in a lobby. I entered by one door, but had to leave by another. At 8:28 this morning, Jacques arrived to remind me that the gite closed at 8:30.
Don't get me wrong. I recommend this gite highly. Jacques et Jacqueline are excellent hosts, and extremely friendly. But you have to follow the rules. And I left a plug behind, because I was whisked out so quickly.
The walk this morning was essentially along two straight lines: ten kilometres beside the motorway, and then another ten through the forest. I headed out of town.
My old mate John from Perth has asked me about my favourite piece of music. Last year he set me off by asking a similar question about poetry. This time I won't go on at such length, because when it comes to music, I'm very much an amateur in both the English and French senses of the word. I lack the knowledge and understanding to appreciate the subtleties, so my criterion is pretty basic: the music simply has to carry me away. A piece immediately comes to mind: from the opera by Bizet, the Pearl Fishers duet sung by Jussi Boerling and Robert Merrill. This is one of those pieces which rises above the level of the rest of the opera. Great music is great all the way through. Other music has moments of sublimity where the composer achieves greatness in morsels. The Pearl Fishers duet is simply sublime.
Another example of this is in the opera L'Elisir d'Amore by Donizetti. The opera is moving along, and then suddenly, out of the blue, comes this absolutely magnificent aria, "Una furtiva lacrima", far superior to anything before or after. How could these composers ascend to such heights on those single occasions? Why did the muse so inspire them and then part?
I remember that the Pearl Fishers duet was ranked number three on a list of all-time favourites in a survey carried out by the ABC or BBC or CBC, I forget which.
And speaking of the CBC, I hear that the government is cutting funding again.
Some things I just don't understand.
Why doesn't the government want to fund an institution that is mandated to promote Canadian unity?
And the CBC did bring the country together. Great radio personalities like Bob Kerr, Clyde Gilmore, Max Ferguson, Peter Gzowski, and Sheila Rogers became national institutions. It wasn't just the music they played. It was the stories that went with it, that were shared from coast to coast. Or as they say now, from coast to coast to coast.
But what about us on the south coast of Vancouver Island? Shouldn't it be coast to coast to coast to coast?
I was certainly one of the people whose musical taste was broadened by listening to the ABC. I remember listening to a program in the mornings as I drove to school. It was called the Hospital Half Hour, no euphemism there, and was hosted by another one of those announcers who had become part of everybody's life. And they do: the great ones become part of the family. On that show, you would everything from Peter Dawson's "Road to Mandalay" to Kenneth McKellar's "The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen" to John Charles Thomas's "The Bluebird of Happiness".
Or this gem by Gracie Fields:
Poor little Willy, he's deaf and he's dumb,
Poor little Willy's insane,
His eyes is all goggled and gloomy and glum,
What a shame, what a shame, what a shame!
I don't think they'd play that one on the radio today, but I can hear her singing it now.
Eventually I arrived at the sleepy little town of Onesse and Laharie, and checked in at the gite which is part of the hotel. I took advantage of the sun and the wind to do my washing and put it out to dry. Then I went to the hotel, to buy a nice cold beer.
But the bloody pub had no beer!
Now I'm not really a beer drinker. But on a hot day at the end of a long walk, there is nothing to compare with a nice cold beer. And it's good for your health, restoring those essential body salts that you lose when you sweat.
But the pub had no beer!
"He's supposed to be here by now," said the landlady with Gallic frustration. I'm thirsty," I said. "Would you like a coca cola?" she asked. "Bloody hell!" I thought. "Or you can buy a bottle of beer at the shop." That would be bringing coals to Newcastle! But I wanted a draught beer.
A few weeks ago, I was introduced to Leffe, a very fine Belgium beer, and I drink it when it's on tap. Then I was invited to try another Belgian beer, a Rouge, and I ordered it, thinking it would be dark. It wasn't. It was sweet and quite horrible, a beer, perhaps, for people who don't drink beer, a beer, without meaning to be sexist, for the ladies.
I pottered around, and eventually the beer truck arrived, unloaded a couple of kegs, and all was well. The word must have got around quickly because people started appearing from all directions. This was the only pub in town.
In contrast to last night, this is a casual gite. I was taken to my room and told to show up at 7:30 for a casse-croute, he said, a snack. It was more than that. It was roast duck and lots of veggies.
I ate my meal in the bar under difficult conditions. The barman was shirtless, exposing a big gut and small breasts. A workman, who had been mixing concrete out the back, was now repairing some tiles on the floor. A third man spoke in a language I didn't recognize, but it must have been French. The three conversed in short, sharp bursts of sound.
Then they looked at me as they spoke. I wasn't sure whether they were talking about me or to me. I picked up Bon appetit. Then the third man asked me a question. I asked him to repeat it, but I still didn't understand. "Anglais?" said the workman translating for him. He was asking me where I was from. "Canada," I said. He followed up with staccato burst which I guessed to be about the fine weather for the next few days. I agreed.
At the end of the meal, the workman came over and apologized for disturbing me. The landlady, who'd been popping in and out to serve me, said, "You don't sound Canadian, your accent is English."
As I've mentioned before, Canada to many French is Quebec, and I suspect that some don't even know that there is an English Canada. I am something of a puzzle to them. I come from Quebec, but I'm obviously not a francophone. It seems to help when I say that I'm from Australia.