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Saturday, 19 May 2007

Offline Blogging about France

I am sitting in a room in a hostel in Berlin. The hostel is called "Generator." The reception floor is anti-skid polished steel, like you see on loading dock sort of area. The walls are a bright blue. There are drunk German kids shouting and running up and down the hallway. I think I may seek a different hotel come morning.

And now, back to our story

When I last left my story of my adventures in France, it was the evening of the 6th of May. On the 7th of May, I walked over to the tourist office in the morning and learned that the municipal campground for Orléans does not open until June. However, the nearby town of Olivet had camping, only 8 km away. I made a reservation and then called the campground to ask when I should arrive. 20:00. So We walked around the cool medieval stuff going on.

Medieval germans had machine-loaded cross bows. The bow was spring steel. To pull it back, two people used a winch and then one of them aimed and pulled the trigger while the other got read for the next shot. The same folks also demonstrated a trebuchet, launching a soccer ball at the cathedral. Then they set off a cannon and we had to leave, since poor Xena was ready to run all the way back to Holland from fear of the noise. As it was, she ran towards a cage bear, which she had surprising little fear of. Bears look a heck of a lot like dogs. Why haven't people domesticated them? I want a domesticated bear for a pet!

We went to the medieval market and it was nearly identical to the year before. The same booths in the same spots selling the same stuff. I felt disappointed at first for the lack of innovation, but realized that the search for innovation and the search for authenticity were often at odds. Having it the same very year is the point. The authenticity derives from the traditionalness, which comes from slow change. So then I felt better about. Well, that and a glass of honey mead.

One new thing was a vendor of natural horn trumpets made from the horns of former bovines. This instrument is what was meant by the word "bugle" until they came to be replaced by brass version. In modern French, they're called clairons, but in medieval French, they were called another word, which I can't recall, but is a cognate of the English word "bugle." They were used mostly for signaling, especially in military operations. Recall the horn of Boromir in The Lord of the Rings. They play only one pitch well and all the rest sound kind of choked. I got a zebu horn.

One of the food vendors took pity on Xena and brought her some steak. He was feeding it to her with a caution: "C'est chaud!" "It's hot!" She swallowed it anyway. Thus, all happy, we hopped on bicycles to head for the campground, free tourist map in hand.

We followed the directions provided by the tourist office, and it looks us over streams and next to old water wheels and stone buildings and little bridged and lakes with swans and by all sorts of flowers, and woods and nature. We went back and forth down the street looking for it and then went to a small island in the middle of La Loirette, a tributary of the Loir. It was 19:40. We were standing in a shaded meadow, next to an ancient waterwheel in a picturesque stone tower. The sunlight filtered down through the trees. It was incredibly beautiful, but we were totally lost.

A man biked by and I called out to him, asking if he knew where the campground was. Luckily, he did. He told us to follow him and lead us all the way there. Morever, when I was struggling to get my loaded bike and dog trailer up a steep hill, he went into a super low mountain bike gear and pushed it along. I don't even know his name.

The camp ground was nowhere near the location the tourist office woman had drawn on my map. It was about 5 km away from there, in fact on an island in the Loirette. The camp ground woman told us to camp in any part of of the tip of the island. It was a small green peninsula, with a picnic table, green grass, wildflowers and several trees, all of which were slowly dropping blossoms like lazy snowflakes. Some ducks were meandering around the island and quakcing, and coming up to peck around. The water floated lazily by, until disturbed by a crew team, quietly rowing past. It was entirely lovely. Xena ran in broad happy circles, pausing only to roll in the grass or chase the ducks. She was the happiest I had seen her in ages. Until I tried to get her back into the dog trailer. She trotted off, with the idea that she could avoid me by wading out into shallow water. But there was no shallow water, only a sudden drop off, so with a look of surprise, she plunged into the Loirette. She confusedly got back on the island and promptly started rolling in dust and dirt to dry off. Once this strategy was successful, I put her in the dog trailer anyway and started back to town for the evening events. She started trying to escape again and succeeded in getting half way out!

We showed up for the evening ceremony and illuminations. Like all big French public events, it started with a speech, which was pretty good about how French identity would not have existed today without Orléans in the 100 years war and Joan of Arc in particular. It went a little long. Then another speech started, so I wandered away in search of dinner. I still have never seen the illuminations.

The night parties were set to go until very late and included more cannon shots, dancers, musicians and all sorts of stuff. Some of the musicians had firecrackers, which they set off quite close to their audience. Between that and the cannon shots, Xena was terrified, so we went back to camp. I calculated later that we rode about 30 km that day, even though it was not supposed to be a biking day.

May 8

the next morning, I woke up exhausted. The ground was harder than I remembered from previous camping experiences. It had started to rain and attempts to get the dog under the rain flap had proved fruitless. The dog was wet, and I hadn't slept much. However, the campground provided bread. They gave us 2 croissants and a baguette. It was fantastic. We went back into Orléans for the parades. We missed the start of the first one, but still got to see the traditional dancers perform with traditional instruments. We were very close to the Brittany contingent, who had an extremely loud and fun bag pipe band. The music made me feel like dancing, which is not what I ever would have expected from a bag pipe.

The second parade began with a long speech from some official about how happy he was to be in charge of things this year and probably some other points which I missed. Then a perpetual scholar in the French Academy started to give a long speech about the historical and social role of Joan of Arc and how it's changed over the years.

this shall be continued

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