So sad to bid au revoir to the land of poubelles

IT’S hard to leave a place where the word for rubbish bin is ‘poubelle’. I mean, come on. Poubelle. Could there be a prettier word for such a utilitarian object? A thing stuffed with fag butts, rotting sandwiches, ice cream sticks, sweet wrappers, old newspapers and far worse — and yet still sounds like something from fairyland. Like Tinkerbell’s French cousin.

So sad to bid au revoir to the land of poubelles

It’s hard to leave a place where every single beer or wine, even the smallest glass, is accompanied by an offering of olives and miniature salty crackers, heart-shaped and diamond-shaped. Not in the five star hotels, mind, but in the most workmanlike of bars.

And where every teeny cup of coffee comes with a miniature gift of tiny biscuit or chocolate or something to unwrap like a very small present.

It’s hard to leave, but if you have teenagers champing at the bit to get back to their lives — hanging out with other teenagers in KFC, pretending to be gangsters and wishing they were tall enough to get into Straight Outta Compton at the cinema — you have little choice.

Would you like to live here, you might ask hopefully, as you drive through another beautiful village so historic and magical it’s like a film set.

There are endless such places — it is a join-the-dots of visual delight. Small towns where the local population takes one thing — chestnuts, lavender, lentils, cathedrals, olives, Joan of Arc, sunflowers, existentialism, whatever — and make it their focus, so the town’s entire identity is wrapped up in this one thing.

Such is this cultural singlemindedness that there is a Museum of Marron Glaces in a tiny Provence town, where the whole economy involves turning chestnuts into sweets, creams, pates, liqueurs and soup. In another town, the place runs on lentils and lace-making old ladies.

The teenagers are appalled at the idea of living in such places. Are you mental, they gasp. What would we do all day — walk around old churches? Go diabetic from sugary chestnuts? Get lentil poisoning? They just want to get home.

Halfway through the soaring Heidi scenery of the Ardeche, there is a plaintive demand — how many more mountains? They have beauty fatigue. One more herd of white Milka cows grazing blissfully against a panoramic background and they will crack up.

Happily for them, the landscape gets flat, ugly, and factory-strewn as we head north towards the ferry home. Billboards advertising fastfood flash past, causing them to whoop with glee.

They are fed up with white peaches and warm croissants and homemade fig jam, and long for the industrial tang of deep fried junk. Their mood elevates with every mile nearer the ferry port. Mine plummets.

In my bag is a sign stolen from a hotel room door, which I plan on hanging on my own bedroomdoor. Ne Me Pas Deranger. Which I think is French for ‘Go away, I have an axe’.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

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