Issoire and Bourges but everything is shut

Up and out in the morning and considering the consumption of wine last night I was surprisingly alert as I got back in dear laden Bergman and spanked it down the toll roads to The Auvergne.

I was hungry and stopped at Bourges, only to discover that nothing in France is open on a Monday. Late last year Lou and I found lunch with vegetarian options on the cobbled streets by the cathedral. We sat on a bench in late autumn sunshine. We marveled at the buttresses. We goggled at the stained glass windows. We sighed at the iconography. It’s a gorgeous cathedral inside and out.

It was literally the only open door in town today though. Nothing to eat. And so unbelievably cold. I didn’t stay long. Just long enough to whistle stop the cathedral again and light a candle. Good old God, keeping the door open for us while he stands at our own door knocking.

Back on the road, hoping for better things from Issoire, stopping briefly for a three day old Croque Monsieur and a rubber coffee from one of the aires (which is what they call the service stations). They are less dominated by the fuck-you brands that turn everything to shit. You can still find MacDonalds and Pizza Hut and Starbucks etc, but there’s a bit more independence. Sometimes there’s a lovely one with actual food. I didn’t find it though so I was hungry as the dusk fell in Issoire.

There’s a little Indian restaurant in Issoire, Jasmine’s, which opens at 7pm even though it’s a Monday. I found it at ten to seven, and it was locked but the lights were on. Washed formica and strip lights. Generic curry and rice on the menu. We have the best curry in the world in London. This is only going to be disappointing, I think, as I try to work out what the hell is going on.

Inside was a concerned looking woman. Outside, possessive of his space, stood an uncommonly short man, faceblown by long days working outdoors. He was singing through the locked restaurant door in terrifying falsetto. Ten minutes later, when it was supposed to be open, I came back round and the situation had not changed, nor the tune. It creeped me out. She evidently didn’t want to open the door and I couldn’t blame her. I decided not to be a real customer and make her have to unlock to him. I went to a takeaway pizza place which, apart from Subway and the chemists was the only open door. I slung my disappointing pizza back into the car and hauled it back to my triannon.

The ice cold wind whistling down the ancient and modern streets in Issoire, the total lack of anything open – no bars, no restaurants, just pharmacies in their dozens – it didn’t endear me to the place. There was a restaurant in the square, lights on but shutters closed, lively conversation inside. I knocked: “What time do you open tonight?” “Ah no tonight we do not open.” In Issoire at 7 on a February Monday, either the staff are getting drunk without the punters or the singing gremlin is preparing his next victim to put in the curry. Hopefully tomorrow will be a little better. I’ve had enough cheese now thanks. Never thought I’d be saying that so quickly.

Last night spoiled me. The sheets here feel like plastic, and the huge room feels like it is intended to feel – a generic room in a party house. This place is for getting smashed as part of a group of twelve. This place is for all night thumping music and for shouting your head off. No party here tonight thank God. It’s just me. At least it’ll be quiet.

Over 500km to Barcelona and then it’s a difficult sleep in a chair on a crowded boat. I’m over halfway through the journey though. The miles go by fast on those toll roads. Joseph Campbell still droning away on the radio, helping me frame and rethink journeys and identity and psychology and how we seek meaning. He’s a product of his time, but there’s always a moment or two to take home from his extrapolations about myth to religion to science, about how tales grow from needs until needs grow from tales. I’m enjoying the thoughtholes. The miles feel shorter with JoJo even if he wouldn’t stand up in the Twitter age.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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