Leonardo’s Alfas; vegetable aesthetics of Villandry; vive le vin de Saint Pourcain!

The runaround, after packing, checking out from the entirely adequate Belle Vue – especially after they gave us the room with the terrace, views over the Loire -, where the proprietress helpfully scaremongered in regard to the strikes, which are over nothing more serious than raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 – the trades union are against -, saying, Oh, no petrol! No transport! – and come into effect tomorrow – helpfully, because, of course, we will fill up in case we can’t get diesel for our C3 tomorrow or the next day – the runaround about where to find breakfast. A cool morning. We weren’t averse to sitting inside. Saw a brasserie where all the locals were sipping espressos. Entered. Were approached and told no food. No food? Croissants. OK. Croissants. Nothing on them. Nothing? How to know? Service here equivalent to withholding information. On a need to know basis.

We’d sat down on the red velour banquette. Thinking we could cut it with the village folk, the townspeople. No. Our waiter smiled when I said we were sorry we were going. Why was I sorry? There was nothing there for Q.

Up the hill to the Cafe des Arts, another figure resembling someone from the far distant past: J., let us call her that. Short hair. Brusque. Running out for a fag after sorting us out with a petit dejeuner formule – breakfast set menu – of croissant, weak doubles – see note earlier about doubles and strong meaning for the French long and weak – coffee, orange juices, natural yoghurts, baguettes, butter, jam, fine. All we needed.

Clos Luce, Leonardo da Vinci’s hangout under his sponsor, Francois I, a sad affair. Typically – perhaps -, the French more interested in the ethical views and philosophy of Leonardo than the pragmatics of representing his mechanical and scientific achievement. A speaker in a tree gave, in language of choice, a selection of the sayings of the great man. Leonardo on… love; …on death; …on life; …and so on. But the place was rundown. Many of the exhibits didn’t do what they were supposed to. I alerted the ticket lady to a leak on Leonardo’s breakfast table, escaping the bucket set on the floor. Which was, as China Mieville would say, attentively unseen by the other visitors. Along with the set of pressed tin shelves at the back of the room. I got into trouble with an American woman – Americans would seem likely candidates for the cult of Leonardo’s genius – insisting we not touch the poorly fabricated models of differential gears, fitted with handle, to turn. By hand. But the gardens were lovely to walk around, albeit that at the bottom of the grounds there sat a perfect row of Alfa Romeos with for sale signs discreetly in the front windows. Why we didn’t find out. Perhaps because Leonardo invented the clockwork car.

By car, then, to Villandry, via Tours, which was suddenly a metropolis, after Amboise. We went in search of Q.’s special ‘La Poste’ satchel but realised quickly it would be the greatest faff. Finding it. Finding parking. Straight through Tours. And on. On.

Distances have a habit of telescoping. 12 km is still 12 km 2 km further on. No consistency to road-signage. Regardless, we reached the chateau. Walked the renaissance gardens, the gardens of love, romantic, passionate, marital, fickle, looked down upon; the water gardens; the gardens of the sun; the maze; the herb garden; the endless decorative vegetable garden. Brilliantly conceived and executed. A wonder.

Our route carefully rehearsed via Michelin the night before, I noticed began some distance from where we were. Back to Tours. To make another tour of Tours. But finding the A85 we were off… at 130 km/h, ticket in hand for the other end. No one on the road. To pay 12.50 at the other end, near Bourges. Thence, special signs for us alone – Moulins. Turned out the N76 was closed, had been for a week, would be until the end of the month. So crawled behind trucks for ages.

Moulins is totally unlike anything except perhaps a faded bourgeois alpine town in… Bavaria? Except for the unmistakable Hausmannian houses. Our hotel, the Hotel de Paris, in the middle of renovations that have already taken years and will carry on for many more, according to our new friend F., who plied us with bottles of wine from the region, Saint Pourcain, all night, and presented with a flourish three bottles to take with us, on the house, secretly, our Hotel is emblematic of the place, grand, stuck in the middle of refurbishment, refurbishment having run aground, but nevertheless continuous. Charming F., with his All Blacks tie. The biggest rugby fan in France!