A few weeks ago I was surprised to find out that we were not, as I thought, camping on the Atlantic coast near La Rochelle for our holidays, but instead were heading down to Sarlat in the deepest Dordogne, a very beautiful pastoral region I got to know very well indeed some 30 years ago. I don’t tend to get very involved in holiday planning, but total ignorance of this year’s plans was a bit extreme even for me. I think I was cut out of the loop for extreme procrastination.
Anyway, I was fascinated to experience the drive down to the Dordogne three decades on. My friend Rowena (see the link to her blog Reading and Writing in the sidebar) will empathise with my conflicting feelings of revisiting this region. As students, we were exiled to the University of Limoges to study French law for a year, and the only way we psychologically survived the experience of being dumped in a provincial town of xenophobic French was to escape every weekend in an ancient Volkswagen into the glorious countryside all around.
Every outing seemed an expedition of mega-proportions because it took two hours at least to get anywhere on the single-carriageway D or (if we were lucky) N roads, trailing tractors and farm vehicles, and crawling through dusty roadside hamlets at regular intervals.
Goodness knows how many times we did the Limoges-Brive run on the N20, as I think it was. It seemed to be necessary to crawl through Brive to get anywhere of real interest. But we doggedly persevered, and were rewarded by some unimaginably beautiful views: the château of Beynac and Rocamadour bathed in evening sunlight; the wonders of the Gouffre de Padirac; and glimpses of dark green rivers meandering through the abundant greenness all around. Did it compensate for the awfulness of the university experience in a ZUP (a priority urban planning zone beloved of the French in those days which translated in reality into an urban environment of depressingly ugly buildings with no community or soul)? Hardly. But we survived. Just.
And so yesterday saw the family whizzing down L’Occitane (the motorway following the route of the old N20) and I simply could not reconcile the speed which which we shot past the big brown French Tourist motorway signs with the familiar names of all those sites, with those days of leisurely endless forays into the depths of Périgord.
We even stopped in Limoges for lunch. I didn’t recognize it. At all.