France is an ancient land. The wayside inn of my recuperation had a history going back many centuries, and this just one of many. Opposite,Hotel de la Poste, a vast block of a building, lay empty. Home for pigeons. I have been looking at the architecture as I travel through, and many top floors lie unused, windows hanging or gone completely. There must be acres of vacant space throughout this huge country. Accommodation for the asking.
Some roadside dwellings have even greater appeal, fortified against unwelcome visitors.
Riding the length of France is a challenge. Not only are the distances great, but often the dead straight roads, undulating to the horizon,can play on your imagination(surely I’ve ridden this stretch already?) The arrival of a town, village or hamlet is a welcome distraction, although at many times they are often deserted. Perhaps daytime TV is popular here.
One aspect of this place which has always attracted me is the acknowledgement of strangers. Many times I have been sat in some establishment when arriving customers will not only give me a “bonjour” but a handshake as well. It makes you feel included. One of the clan. This brings me to another observation. We humans are intensely tribal, and all over Europe people have managed to retain their cultural integrity despite technology, media and transportation. I find this fact very comforting, because under a very thin layer of modernity, we are actually still sat around a fire in small groups, bonded together against the darkness and unknown.
The French in particular have a great sense of community and tradition, which may partly come from the distances between towns and villages. Each is autonomous; they have their own fetes, markets, music events, butchers, bakers, bars and restaurants. Self sustaining in fact.
Enough meditation, I am currently sitting out persistent rain in the town of Avallon, northern Burgundy. Tomorrow I hope to head off and visit another community not far from here. A medieval one, the castle reconstruction at Guedelon, which was featured on UK television last year.