Day Fifteen: In Search of Armagnac

Many years ago I had read a science fiction novel in which the lead character, one of those mischievous and clever anti heroes, who succeeded more by coyote-like cleverness than derring do — always my favorite type of character — always drank armagnac. Even the villains knew of his preference and no matter where he went, he was always able to order it. I’ve never seen it anywhere. Little Do Carmen, Zak and Leslie know, but this whole trip has been about my search for armagnac which comes from Condom (about 20 kilometres upstream from here). I had contemplated booking the trip from the Condom base but was unable to swing it. Thus I have driven my crew like dogs (basset hounds I think…) for 6 days of hard sailing to achieve my objective. This detour down the Baisé was little more than the fulfillment of my master plan. Today I achieve my ultimate goal: a cask of amontillado… I mean a bottle of armagnac!

This morning, for the first time ever, Carmen made me breakfast before we awoke. And for something completely different, she decided to go for baguette. After we had our fill, we set off on the walking-tour-of-doom sans Zak (who remained comatose).

First stop was the remains of the Chateau of Henri IV (1570s). It was 3/4 destroyed a few years after the French revolution but the wing that remained was pretty amazing. There were rooms dedicated to the history and family of this king of Navarre who became king of France. Down the spiral staircase of the remaining tower were rooms dedicated to ancient France and it’s gallo-roman past.

The walking tout then took us past a few old mansions/homes that weren’t open to the public. The neo classic Church of Holy Nicolas, built 1758-1856 was a nice architectural contrast to the gothic churches we’d seen. It’s purely decorative facade with gestures to all the classical elements gave way to an interior that was leaving the baroque behind but not yet the over ornamented indulgences of full out roccoco. The curved, painted ceiling left behind the pointed arcs of the gothic churches in favour of the stylized Greco-roman feel. The stained glass was gorgeous and a level of detail above anything we’d seen so far.

After we left the church we split up with C and L going for baguettes and heading back to the boat and me off in search of my armagnac. I asked at the info booth and they directed me to the big marché by the market square. Unfortunately it closed just as I arrived. On the way back I stole some wifi long enough to post the last 2 days sans pictures. Hopefully I can add the pictures later.

Lunch was waiting aboard and it was baguette dogs again with Carmen once again indulging in the sweet mystery of meat by-products. We set off again and Zak elected once again to remain behind.

First up was the pont vieux which we of course had seen already. It was apparently first erected in the 1600s and has been repaired according to the original specifications since. As we sat on the bridge we noticed a boat that had neglected to let of a crewman to open the lock before passing under the bridge. I got him to toss me the key card so I could start the cycle and another boat was crowding his stern and be couldn’t reverse.

After the cycle started a huge clang startled all the pigeons on top of the mill house and for a moment the sky was covered by a cloud of wings. Meanwhile the second boat was trying to negotiate the narrow lock. Two older gentleman and their wives. The wives might as well have not been there as all they provided was being in the wrong place and giving unneeded and unheeded advice. The fellow at the helm did a wonderful job of bumper boating his craft of the various pylons and walls to get it into the lock while the remaining crewman ran back and forth with a line in his hand but not actually doing much. Unfortunately the helmsman didn’t grasp the principle of controlling the boat first and kept ramming it into reverse and running for a line, only to have return to the helm in order to steer the boat back into the lock.

Eventually the gyrations ceased thanks to the help of a few of some fellows standing on the locks. I think it was the women who bothered me most. They didn’t lift a finger big there is one thing that 40 years of women’s lib have brought, it’s the expectation that however coddled a women may be, she should at least aid in whatever task is at hand to the best of her ability. Maybe it’s all the farm wives I grew up around, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone of any gender remain that inactive in an uncertain situation due to privilege.

The next stop was blocked off because of a huge limestone boulder which had fallen from the retaining wall above. I would have hated to have been in the next door home when it happened. Carmen’s’ incredible map skills (insert gentle and loving mockery here) were sufficient to get us back on course to the viewpoint high above the Baisé. Here Carmen stole some plum-plum-plums from a nearby tree and violently forced me to suck on one. Next was a few encounters with French cats. I think I would like to be a French cat.

The Church of Our Lady was across the river from Nicolas. It is a neo gothic construction that was actually built much later (1866-1878) but had all the familiar elements we’d been seeing for the last 10 days. On closet examination you realized that the buttresses and stone work were more decorative than functional. They built this church to look gothic even though they were no longer retrained by that level of architectural technology. Inside it was stunning. Hone was the painted ornamentation of Holy Nicolas. The stained glass was incredible although they had generally forgone the method of leading in favour of incredible detailed painting. The vaulted ceilings and massive columns evoked the great gothic churches without having to have the closed in feeling that 13th century building methods necessitated.

Since we’d seen the final items on list but one we headed off route to find my wifi again and, at last, my armagnac. The internet seemed to have vanished, but the store was open. I eventually found a bottle of 40 year old armagnac for 30 euro or so. I wait with anticipation being able to open it once we are home. We also picked some groceries and some wine. If for some reason Carmen fails to return, it will be the fault of the wine in the stores. This supermarket featured 2 aisles of French wine sorted by region and vineyards. A chart on the wall gave a 1-5 rating for each region, colour and year. FYI 2005 and 2000 were the best years across all regions of France. Carmen offered to lift her shirt while I stole the sign, but in the end we decided she’d left the flashy bra on the boat and it wouldn’t distract enough genders.

We hauled our loot back to the rabbit hole and unshipped the bikes for a ride through the royal park of Garenne. Next we checked out a few art galleries, and I captured some excellent Carmen video footage. Be sure and ask to see it when we return.

When we got back we decided to pause for a cold beer but alas all the places had closed in preparation for dinner. Back at the boat I cracked open a few Leffe bruin and caught up on my blogging. Leslie and Carmen started to relax in the bow but then Carmen, in an unusual fit of inability to chill, lept into the kitchen to start on dinner. Don’t know what came over her… : )

It’s now 7:58 and dinner is served and wine awaits. Stolen rosemary in tomato sauce with orange tomato salad. Carmen had ‘appropriated’ the rosemary 2 days earlier from a hedge outside a private residence. I had thought she had been raised better than that, but apparently you can only teach a H-chuk so much before the stubborn kicks in. Still it was tasty and when the suretè take her away, I’ll inherit her half of her imaginary twin brother’s wine cellar… Woot. A bottle of rose for dinner; Carmen actually like my pick this time.

Crib ensued. B&L vs Z&C. Z&C scraped up a bare wine in game one/bottle one. For game 2/bottle 2 Carmen changed into her cherry pjs to help her chances. She won. Sigh.

Next hand involves tea lights and crunk cards. C&Z were totally skunked…hah. But no one would dare Bruce to jump in the river… Sigh. In the end B & L triumph; third game; they were skunked.