Today, October tenth, two of my siblings will be celebrating their birthdays two thousand kilometres southwest of here. To that course, the weather forecast this part of France is not too good; it’s raining now, in fact; therefore I’m altering my planned itinerary in order to dodge another soak like yesterday’s. The sleep, however, has been fantastic; one of those rare ones that grant me a real rest; warm the room, quiet the hotel.
For a change, I’m taking a speedway stretch (the first one in fifteen thousand kilometres of journey) for leaving Dijon behind as soon as possible. When I’m near the city, four customs policemen on bikes swarm on me signalling me to pull over. Then, not bothering to salute, they blurt out their authority and stare at me as if to check my response. Do they have a reputation for being tough guys and I should freak out? I don’t know. I just say, ‘very good; what do you want?’ ‘To search your luggage’, replies one; ‘do you mind to open your cases?’ As I’m doing it, I ask him ‘do I have a choice, anyway?’, but he doesn’t answer. While they’re checking, I’m asked the typical questions: where do you come from, where are you going, what do you carry. They only check my bags, but not the few places where you can hide compromising stuff in a motorcycle. What the hell are they after? Whatever. As nothing is found, they mount their bikes and ride away… obviously taking a French leave. As nice as my country’s Guardia Civil; c’est à dire, churls.
After Dijon, I retake my usual secondary roads, and shortly after, in Saulieu, I stop for a coffee and a croissant, my must-do breakfast while in France, that I’m not going to skip today even though it’s past noon. Quite a nice city, by the way (alike so many others in this country), but I’d rather not ramble it, lest the rain – that I’m hardly escaping so far – gets worse any minute.
Salieu lies within the boundaries of the strikingly beauty Morvan national park, that encloses settings similar to those I’ve been passing through these days back, only more astonishing: colours are denser and more contrasting, closer, almost tangible; chiaroscuros are intense, flora is more varied, fallen leaves make a thick bed, moss ornates the trunks, the ground is covered with primitive fern… This is, without a doubt, the prettiest stretch I’ve gone through in the whole journey, except of course for Norway. Pity I’m forced – because of the weather – to focus so much on the asphalt, lest I come across a wet patch after any of the many bends of this narrow road; by the way the last curves I’m going to find in many kilometres from now on, because these foothills are the last spur on my route until I reach the Pyrenees. Everything in between will be ratther flat, I think.
A couple of hours later I declare finished today’s stage – one of the longest so far, with 260 km – at a place called Le veurdre, a tiny and unwelcoming village 10 km after Saint Pierre le Moûtier with no other appeal than having a hotel; and a quite expensive one, at that: € 70 (instead 40-45 as I’m paying lately) for a very average room. This is because of no competition, I suppose. I’m in Peys de Lévis, ugly region without any charm, not only aesthetically, but in other senses too: the tender woman at the grocery, dry as a plum, doesn’t reply to my “bon jour”; then at the bar opposite, cold and soulless, they only serve wine and bottled beer; and another bar I find by sheer chance (not even having a sign), full of smoke, is still less appealing. Wasn’t France was a smoke-free country?
And by association of ideas, I wonder: is there any relation between the environment and people’s character? Does an ugly land turn its inhabitants dourer? An inspiring milieu, does it make for kinder people? Or is it the other way around?: do more sensitive people tend to populate the nicer places? This is not the first time I feel I’m finding such connections; but then, there being so many variables at play, this may just be a misperception on my part, influenced perhaps by my own mood, which in turn may be conditioned – now yes – by the environment; so, after all, such link I find between land and character, is it but my subjective impression? Well, if you’re a curious reader I set it out as an exercise for you.