Getting up at five am was by now a necessity, to be underway before dawn and several hours into the journey before the sun gathered its full strength. The day before, Langres to Torcenay had been a walk out there and a return to Langres by train, once again the best solution to an absence of accommodation options.
The next day, a train at six back to Torcenay and a long walk into Champlitte made it a mid afternoon arrival. These days of walking in full sun, in the high thirties (at least), were manageable but made for certain kinds of desperation.
Dead and Alive
In many a dead and alive village, the cemetery (and the inevitable tap for graveside flowers) was my only goal. Regardless of any messages to the contrary, I would drink down copious quantities of cold, clear water, bathe my head and shoulders, fill bottles and finally hat, which would be dumped full on my head to make walking pleasurable for twenty minutes before the sun baked my head dry once more. Resurrection indeed!
The Lights going out in the World
So, it was that Champlitte involved a not untypical arrival. The woman at the Tourist Information showed me a British couple had been through in the last month and that the fabulous Loic was now eight days ahead of me. She tried to persuade me to stay but she had nothing to drink. I disappeared into the auberge across the road and sat alone in the dark interior ordering one drink after another: giant bottles of water, Orangina, café, beer – needing to bring my temperature down with the cold and ‘being desperately hungry for something to drink’ – if only there was a word for that!
Champlitte was charming but for some reason fleets of lorries monstered through the town; at breakfast the next morning, each time one went past, it was like the lights going out in the world!
The walk into Dampierre wasn’t long and so I was cross with myself for contriving yet another mid afternoon arrival. I was beginning to suffer in the heat now. It was impossible to drink enough. As I topped a rise, Dampierre finally came into view with a blue mirage shimmering at its heart: a vast, eight storey, blue glass tower, dwarfing the town and the entire landscape.
Fascinated as I was, I was taken aback to find it was the first place I came to that I could get a drink from and that it was a hotel. I sat there for an hour, speaking to no one, drinking water, Orangina, cocktails and eating ice cream, waiting for my temperature to come down. It was then I discovered this was the hotel I’d booked.
I had a room at the back on the seventh floor with balcony. Other than cathedrals and grain silos, I hadn’t seen a building of this scale in a month. Everything to do with the running of the hotel had shrunk to the inside of the brasserie on the ground floor, hotel reception and eighth floor restaurant abandoned. I assumed the intermediate floors were empty. Once again, I appeared to be the only guest. White elephant / blue mirage hotel.
As has so often been the case in restaurants and hotels I’ve visited this month, the family live and work together in the work space. The cavernous brasserie functioned. The patron had pool in the back where he and his mates whooped and hollered. His wife and his co-worker’s wife and small children from both families played day and night in the same area and husbands and wives took turns doing the work. It would be possible to imagine them never leaving. Fascinated, I hung out with them for the evening.
The Chinese Coach Party
In a moment, a stray Chinese coach party arrived. The patron, large, resplendent in his bare torso and apron, deposited them in rooms, of which there were plenty. He returned to the bar and resumed demonstrating to his mates how to down citronellas in one; he also had two beers to celebrate the result.
Gradually, the party of Chinese tourists gathered back in the brasserie. Now, in the spirit of pulling back to the core essentials, the brasserie only boasted one dish (in addition to ice creams and cocktails) and that was glorified cheese on toast (though not a Croque Monsieur). This was not to the Chinese tourists expectations and it was amusing to watch those tedious group dynamics we have all experienced, as different individuals attempted to lead the party this way or that, and others started to follow, and then thought better of it. Eventually, doing nothing much proved the inevitable outcome and cheese on toast was ordered by individuals used to eating in some of the finest restaurants in Europe.
Learn some Humility
None of which phased the patron who took me under his wing and poured forth extraordinary spirits from even more extraordinary bottles, on the house. They even got up at the crack of dawn to ensure I started the day with coffee, again on the house.
And, before I ever think of getting too smart about people in these posts I’m writing, I was also forced to revise my conclusions. The other floors were car parks, offices and apartments. The hotel part of the enterprise had been taken over by the patron’s parents. Shortly thereafter, his mother had died and now his father was ill. He had come back to help out. In twenty years time, he will grow fully into his character of ‘le patron’, an extraordinary, larger-than-life creation. I hope, when the time comes! I’m lucky enough to meet up with him again.